Anatolii Lunacharskii: Socialism, religion, and enlightenment

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Roland Boer has a new article out on Anatolii Lunacharskii’s controversial two-volume treatise, Religion and Socialism (1908, 1911). Lunacharskii was the first Soviet Commissar of Enlightenment, in charge of education initiatives throughout the fledgling socialist republic. His campaigns to fight illiteracy, making secular education available in the most distant reaches of the union, were highly effective. Moreover, Lunacharskii’s tolerant temperament toward independent cultural and artistic groups — i.e., not forcibly unionized or centrally run by the state — during his tenure throughout the 1920s stands in stark contrast to the Stalinist policies established in the mid-1930s, which put an end to such associations and civil society groupings. Also, he was fairly receptive to new literary and aesthetic styles and movements, especially compared to the prescriptions handed down by Zhdanov et al. at the Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934. Sheila Fitzpatrick’s first book is a study of the Commissariat of Enlightenment under Lunacharskii, and it provides an excellent institutional survey, as well as a portrait of the “Russian Faust” (a title given him by Mikhail Lifshitz).

Boer’s article with justice claims to be “first full engagement in English with Anatolii Lunacharskii’s near lost work, Religion and Socialism.” The reason the book is so obscure today is that it gave theoretical expression to the concept of god-building, an unusual tendency within prewar Bolshevism reviled by Lenin. Like many of the heresies that rocked the early Church in Roman Christianity, its contents are primarily known through texts written condemning it. Still, this point is easily exaggerated. It is not quite as rare as Boer makes it out to be. For example, in the gloss provided by his article:

Conditions: Lost and Found

Religion and Socialism is a work that has been lost and found. Its loss was hardly due to any lack of quality. The reason is, rather, its particular history. Lenin launched a spirited attack when it was published, persuading the editorial board of Proletarii to condemn it. Or rather, he lumped God-building in with the Left-Bolshevik interest in empiriocriticism and otzovism, as much for political as for theoretical reasons. Seeing the increasing appeal of these not necessarily connected positions among some younger and very articulate Bolsheviks, Lenin realized the need to quell the leftward push, thereby bringing philosophical questions to the fore. In hindsight, of course, he was probably correct, for a revolutionary push at the time would have generated an even fiercer reaction. But a side effect was the complete sidelining of Religion and Socialism. And given Lenin’s crucial role in the 1917 revolution and the subsequent establishment of communism in Russia, the few copies of the book were left to the dust and bookworms of forgotten archival corners.

The finding of such a work has thereby entailed a little sleuthing, for it has proved exceedingly difficult to find. The editors of the eight-volume Collected Works chose not to include Religion and Socialism in that collection. By contrast, the introduction to a separate volume, called Religion and Enlightenment, offers a statement concerning the waywardness of Religion and Socialism and cites Lunacharskii’s own somewhat halfhearted distancing from the work in his later statements. Religion and Enlightenment includes a wide range of material, including Vvedenie v istoriiu religii [Introduction to the History of Religion], lectures from 1918 which were reworked and published in 1923, and material that goes back to the early 1900s. Given this unfavorable early press and the subsequent Bolshevik victory, Religion and Socialism remained a work out of favor. A Yiddish translation of Religion and Socialism exists, but as far as the original work in Russian is concerned, only a few extant copies remain. The one in the National Library of St. Petersburg turned out to be too fragile to scan. Only after further inquiry (by my colleague, Sergey Kozin) was a copy found in the Lenin Library in Moscow. A high fee for scanning the two volumes resulted in a much-treasured copy being made, which is in our possession and is, to my knowledge, the only PDF version of it in the world. Since then, the text has been screened, converted into modern Cyrillic script (it was published before the 1917 language reform), and proofread. In addition to its republication in Russian, a translation is also planned.

An edifying tale, and evidence of his commitment. I do wish that Professor Boer had maybe approached me before sending his colleague on a wild goose chase to Saint Petersburg or shelling out a bunch of cash to the Lenin Library, however, because he might have saved himself some money. (The Lenin Library probably could use the funds, so it’s not too bad if viewed as a donation). Religion and Socialism has been available online for years now, free of charge, scanned by the University of Minnesota and Indiana University both. One page is missing from the second volume, but otherwise it’s all there. You can download them for free here, OCRed and everything:

Needless to say, I am less impressed by Lunacharskii’s god-building arguments than Boer. Lunacharskii has long been one of Boer’s favorites, alongside Ernst Bloch. His article does provide a very useful overview, though, even if the title is misleading. Misleading because it suggests that he deals with god-builders in the plural, whereas he really just deals with Lunacharskii in the singular (Maksim Gorkii and Vladimir Bazarov [Rudnev] are barely mentioned, if at all). Read it here.

  1. А.В. Луначарский, Религия и социализм, том I (1908)
  2. А.В. Луначарский, Религия и социализм, том II (1911)

Great to hear that a reissue in modern Russian is projected, as well as a translation into English. Boer brought up the 1921 Yiddish translation, published in New York, but forgot to mention the Italian translation prepared in 1973. In my next post, I’ll upload the full OCRed text of the document sans pre-reform orthography so that Russian readers can check it out. Though I should mention that the obsolete characters were removed in the copy/paste by a very crude find-and-replace method on Microsoft Office and not by painstakingly going through all 630 pages of the original in order to spell check.

For those who don’t know, Russian spelling was extensively reformed in 1917-1918 (by none other than Lunacharskii). The most important changes were

  1. the dropping of the hard sign “ъ” at the end of words, where it previously appeared in any word that otherwise would have ended in a consonant;
  2. the global replacement of “і” (the “dotted i” or “decimal i”) with “и” (i);
  3. the global replacement of “ѣ” (iat) with е (ie);
  4. a change in the genitive singular ending of adjectives, -аго becoming -ого, and -яго becoming -его.

Enjoy.

ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ (сидит на скамеечке) С РОДИТЕЛЯМИ ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ в рамке ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ Фотография. Таганская тюрьма1 ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ Фотография. Таганская тюрьма 2

Lenin-Lunacharskij-7 Lenin-Lunacharskij-10 16 Lenin-Lunacharskij-38 Lenin-Lunacharskij-51 Lenin-Lunacharskij-11 Lenin-Lunacharskij-137 Lenin-Lunacharskij-157 SONY DSC 19879970154_e8b3dfa534_o 4907eaf24d32a00dd424fd83d51ea885 464424173 24 1Луначарский 2 Anatoli Wassiljewitsch Lunatscharski mit Gattin Lenin-Lunacharskij-151 Lenin-Lunacharskij-94 LunacharskySmaller p001 Lenin-Lunacharskij-101 Lenin-Lunacharskij-98 q1835 А.В.ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ АДРЕС ЛУНАЧАРСКОМУ ОТ ЛЕНИНГРАДСКИХ УЧРЕЖДЕНИЙ КУЛЬТУРЫ ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ В ДНИ СОВЕЩАНИЯ ПО РЕФОРМЕ ВЫСШЕЙ ШКОЛЫ ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ бюст ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ в рамке2 ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ НА ТРИБУНЕ ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ ЗА ШАХМАТАМИ ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ Гравюра с рисунка Ю. П. Анненкова ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ 464443679 doc6cthkuwo6uc12sxht30x_800_480 801478360

2 thoughts on “Anatolii Lunacharskii: Socialism, religion, and enlightenment

  1. Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis is something you need to grapple with. If you’re serious about revolution, you need to engage with Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis.

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