‘Lenin and Art’ (1924) by Anatoly Lunacharsky from The Daily Worker Saturday Magazine Supplement. Vol. 3 No. 269. November 27, 1926.

from ‘V.I. Lenin in the Tretyakov Gallery’ by A.V. Semyashkin.
‘Lenin and Art’ by Anatoly Lunacharsky from The Daily Worker Saturday Magazine Supplement. Vol. 3 No. 269. November 27, 1926.

LENIN had very little time in his life to give close attention to art; and in that respect he usually considered himself totally incompetent. For that reason, as all dilettantism was foreign and hateful to him, he did not like “to give an opinion on questions of art. His tastes, however, were nonetheless definite. He loved the Russian classics, and he liked realism in literature, painting, etc. Once, in the year 1905, the time of the first revolution, he had the opportunity to spend a night at the home of Comrade D. I. Leshtchenko, which contained a whole series of Knackfuss monographs of the world’s greatest artists. On the next morning Vladimir Ilyitch said to me, ‘‘How wonderful is the realm of the history of art! How much work offers for the Communist! Last night I could not go to sleep till morning-—I examined one book after another. And it vexed me that I had no time to occupy myself with art, and that I never shall have!”

Several times I had the opportunity—it was after the revolution —to confer with Lenin at various occasions about matters of art. I remember, for example, that he once asked me over the telephone to go with him and Kamenev to see an exhibit of models for a statue which was to be set up oh the magnificent pedestal next to the Christ Cathedral in the Kremlin, from which the figure of Alexander III had just been removed. Vladimir Ilyitch examined all these models with a critical eye. Not one pleased him. For a long time he contemplated a monument in a futuristic style, and when asked for his opinion, he answered, “Here I comprehend nothing; ask Lunatcharsky.” Upon my remark that I saw no design worthy of execution, he was very happy and said, “And I thought you would set up some futuristic scare-crow!”

At another time a memorial of Karl Marx was under consideration. The well-known sculptor, M. manifested a particular obstinacy. He exhibited a large project for a statue called, “Karl Marx on the Four Elephants.” This unexpected conception appeared very curious to us, and also to Vladimir Ilyitch. The artist began to alter his design, and he did this three times; under no circumstances did he wish to forego the victory over his competitors. When under my chairmanship the jury definitely rejected his model and gave preference to a common design of a group of artists under the direction of Alyoshin, the sculptor M. rushed into the study of Vladimir Ilyitch and complained to him about the matter. Vladimir Ilyitch took his grievance to heart and asked me over the telephone to call in a new jury. He declared that he would inspect the model of Alyoshin and that of the sculptor M. himself. He actually came, and approved Alyoshin’s design; but that of the sculptor M. he also rejected.

Lenin and Lunacharsky on May Day, 1920 inaugurating the monument ‘Liberated Labor.’

In the same year the group of Alyoshin erected for the May celebration a miniature of Karl Marx on the spot where the memorial was to be placed. Vladimir Ilyitch walked several times around the statue, asked suddenly how large it was going to be, finally declared himself satisfied, added, however, turning to me, “Anatoly Vasilyevitch, remind the artist to see that the hair of the head be more like, so as to give the same good impression as does a portrait of it seems as if it were a little unlike.”

Already in the year 1918, Vladimir Ilyitch called me to him and told me that art ought to be used for agitation purposes; at the same time he presented two projects to me. First, according to his opinion, buildings, walls, etc., where bills are usually posted. should be furnished with large revolutionary inscriptions, several of which he at once suggested. Gen. Brichnitchev took up this project later, when he was director of the branch for mass-education in Homel. When I came to Homel, I found the city literally covered with these inscriptions, which really would not have been bad, had they been true to the original conception. Even the mirrors in a large restaurant, where an enlightenment committee was quartered, were written over with proverbs and citations. In Moscow and Leningrad this idea was never realized, neither in the exaggerated form of Homel nor in one resembling the conception of Ilyitch.

In conversation. May 1, 1920.

The second project dealt with the erection of memorials for the great revolutionists, and ‘on a very large scale. Provisional statues of plaster of Paris were to be set up in Leningrad as well as in Moscow. Both cities responded with enthusiasm to my suggestion that Lenin’s plan be carried out. It was intended that every monument be solemnly inaugurated with a speech on the particular revolutionist; the rest was to be left to enlightening inscriptions. Vladimir Ilyitch referred to this as “Monument-propaganda.”

In Leningrad this propaganda was very successful. The first of the memorials was by Sherwood and represented Raditchev. A copy of this monument was set up-in Moscow. Unfortunately the original in Leningrad was broken and has not been replaced. On the whole, because of their fragility, most good memorials in Leningrad did not last long. Among them I remember very good ones; for example, busts of Garibaldi, Shevtchenko, Dobrolubov, Herzen, and several others. The statues in a left radical vein proved less successful. When, for example, the cubistically styled head of Peryovskaya was unveiled, some of the spectators were quite ap palled, and S. Lilina made the positive demand that the statue be removed lmmedately. The memorial of Tchernishevsky also, was deemed too artificial by many. Most satisfactory was the monument of Lassalle by Selit. This statue, placed in front of the former city duma, is still Intact. I believe it Is of bronze. The monument of Marx by Matveyev, representing him standing, also turned out well. Unfortunately it was soon broken, and a bronze-head of Marx in the usual style, without the original plastic conception of Matveyev, took its place at the Smolny.

The Moscow monuments were less successful. Marx and Engels were represented in a sort of basin and received the designation, “The Bearded Bathers.” The sculptor K. surpassed all others. For a long time men and horses coming through Myaznitskaya street cast furtive, uneasy glances at a queer, spooky figure, covered by way of caution, with boards. It was Bakunin in the conception of the worthy artist. If I am not mistaken, the monument was destroyed immediately after Its inauguration by anarchists, who, in spite of their advanced point of view, could not tolerate such sculptural derision of their leader’s memory.

In general, there were few satisfactory monuments in Moscow. Better than the others is perhaps the monument of Nikitin. I do not know whether Ilyitch has given close attention to these memorials; at any rate, he told me once with a certain dissatisfaction, that the monument propaganda had turned to no account. By way of an answer, I pointed out the experience in Leningrad and the testimony of Zinoviev. Vladimir Ilyitch shook his head doubtfully and said, “Should all talent be concentrated in Petrograd, and in Moscow—only amateurs?” I was not in a position to explain to him this extraordinary phenomenon.

He also had certain skepticisms concerning the “Memorial-Tablet” of the sculptor, Konenkov. Not without humor Konenkov named his work “The Pseudo-Real Tablet.” I also recollect how the artist, Altman, once gave Lenin a bas-relief representing Chalturin. Vladimir Ilyitch was greatly pleased with the bas-relief, but asked me whether it was not a futuristic work. He was altogether adverse to futurism. I was not present when Lenin once visited a home of artists which, if I am not mistaken, had been inhabited by a young relative of his. Later I was informed of a discussion between him and the artists of this group, who were all of the radical turn of mind. Vladimir Ilyitch avoided serious discussion, Jested and ridiculed a little; but here, too, he declared that he did not consider himself sufficiently competent to talk seriously about the matter. Youth itself he loved, and rejoiced over its Communistic spirit.

In the last period of his life, Vladimir Ilyitch seldom had the opportunity to enjoy art. He was several times at the theater; I believe, without exception at the Art theater which he esteemed very highly. This theater always made an excellent impression on him. Vladimir Ilyitch loved music exceedingly, but its effect on him was too strong. For some time good concerts took place at my home. Bchallapln sang occasionally, Meltchlk played, or Romanovsky, the quartet of Stradlvarius, Kusevlsky and others. I often asked Vladimir Ilyitch to come, but he always was busy. Once he told me frankly, “Certainly it is a great pleasure to hear music, but you see, it affects me too much, I cannot stand It very well.”

I recollect that Gen. Tchurupa, who succeeded several times in bringing Vladimir Ilyitch to attend a concert at his home at which the same Romanovsky played, also told me that Lenin enjoyed the music greatly, but that he was obviously very agitated. I will add that Vladimir Ilyitch was very critical about the government theater. I pointed out to him several times that we enjoyed the theater at relatively moderate cost; but he insisted that state subsidies for this theater be abolished. In this matter Vladimir Ilyitch was guided by two considerations.

The one he named forthwith, “It is not fair to spend large sums on a magnificent theater, when we have no means to maintain the most primitive schools in. the villages.” The other consideration he brought out at a meeting, where I refuted his attacks on the great theater. I emphasized the unquestionably great cultural value of this institute. Vladimir Ilyitch screwed up his eyes sardonically and said, “And yet, no one can deny that it is a piece of the purest “feudal-culture.”


It does not necessarily follow that Vladimir Ilyitch was hostile to all culture of the past. Specifically, he considered “seignorial” the entire ostentatious courtly tone of the opera. Art of the past in general, and especially, Russian realism (including also tbs tendencies of the “Peredvishniki”), was rated very highly by Vladimir Ilyitch.

These are the facts which I can present out of my reminiscences of Ilyitch. I repeat that to Lenin his esthetic sympathies and antipathies never became principles.

Comrades interested in art remember the declaration of the central committee, concerning questions of art and directed severely against futurism. I have no further information on the matter, but I am inclined to think that Vladimir Ilyitch was in some way connected with it. Lenin at that time quite erroneously considered me a follower of futurism and a man who supported that view exclusively; and therefore, perhaps, he did not consult me before the publication of this rescript of the committee —apparently endeavoring to correct my behavior.

A difference of opinion, and a very acute one, existed between Vladimir Ilyitch and myself on the subject of the “Proletcult.” Once, in fact, he upbraided me very harshly. I will observe, first of all, that Vladimir Ilyitch by no means denied the importance of workers’ groups for the purpose of developing authors and artists out of proletarian ranks; he even considered an all-Russian federation of such groups advisable. But he feared the pretentions of the proletcult—the endeavor to take over the entire development of proletarian science and culture.

Lenin cuts the ribbon on a Kremlin plaque in memory of those who died for socialism. Moscow, November 7, 1918

This seemed to him in the first place entirely pre mature and a task surpassing the resources at hand; secondly, he was of the opinion that the proletarian would, by such a system, be caused to neglect the study and the acquisition of the already existing science and culture; thirdly, Vladimir Ilyitch obviously feared also the possibility of political dissentions growing up in the proletcult. He was quite annoyed, for example, by the important role played by A. A. Bogdanov in the proletcult.

In the year 1920, when the conference of the proletcult was in session, Vladimir Ilyitch asked me to go there and to point out definitely that the proletcult must work under the leadership of the people’s commissariat for enlightenment, that it must consider itself part of that institution, etc. In a word, Vladimir Ilyitch desired that the proletcult be drawn closer to the state, while he at the same time took measures calculated to intensify the relationship between the proletcult and the party. The speech I then made at the conference was fairly evasive and conciliatory. To me it seemed wrong to injure the assembled workers with a violent attack. Vladimir Ilyitch learned about the speech in a form still milder. He called me to him and there was an explosion. Later the proletcult was reconstructed according to the directions of Vladimir Ilyitch. I repeat, he never intended to dissolve the proletcult; on the contrary, he was sympathetic with its purely artistic pursuits.

The new artistic literary formations which grew up during the revolution received little attention from Vladimir Ilyitch. He had no time to occupy himself with them. At any rate, I know that the “Hundred and Fifty Millions” of Mayakovsky did not please Vladimir Ilyitch in the least. He considered this book to be affected and superficial. It is to be deplored that Lenin could not pronounce judgment on the later and more mature development of literature In the revolutionary direction.

The enormous Interest of Vladimir Ilyitch in the photoplay Is well known to everybody.

The Saturday Supplement, later changed to a Sunday Supplement, of the Daily Worker was a place for longer articles with debate, international focus, literature, and documents presented. The Daily Worker began in 1924 and was published in New York City by the Communist Party US and its predecessor organizations. Among the most long-lasting and important left publications in US history, it had a circulation of 35,000 at its peak. The Daily Worker came from The Ohio Socialist, published by the Left Wing-dominated Socialist Party of Ohio in Cleveland from 1917 to November 1919, when it became became The Toiler, paper of the Communist Labor Party. In December 1921 the above-ground Workers Party of America merged the Toiler with the paper Workers Council to found The Worker, which became The Daily Worker beginning January 13, 1924.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/dailyworker/dw-hr-1926/v3n269-nov-27-1926-TDW.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s