‘The Third International and the Intellectuals’ by Anatoly Lunacharsky from Communist International. No. 16-17. April-May, 1921.
The Western European comrades will scarcely need theoretical proofs, or such as may be taken from the almost four years’ experience of the Soviet practice in Russia, to recognize the fact that the conquest of the intellectual part of the population (the “Intelligentsia”) Is one of the most essential tasks of the great social revolution. It is literally a matter of conquest, because before the results of the imperialist war the intelligentsia of Western Europe in its majority, and of Russia- with the exception of a certain part of the young people and separate individuals engaged in the revolutionary movement- in general and in the aggregate was completely taken up with the every day business of life and was directly or indirectly bound up with the bourgeoisie and the old regime. Such part of the intelligentsia which does not think politically (and to the shame of this social group which pretends to be the salt of the earth there are many who do not think politically) became so to say the object of social action. The politically active classes—the landlords, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat—fought for the intelligentsia, as they did for the machines or the railways. But we must learn to possess morally even the dead stock which the proletariat has acquired possession of physically, during the process of the revolution, and this is doubly right in respect to the live stock which is represented by the politically inert mass of intellectuals.
Full of antipathy to the bottom strata, “which had dared to become the masters,” shaken by the destruction of the regime, completely unaccustomed to cope with the new requirements which are being proffered by the new conditions of life—this intelligentsia attempted at first to show a, so to say, active passivity, that is to say, a sabotage in a more or less organised form. The proletariat in Russia managed to reply to this sabotage with sufficient energy and the active sabotage was soon broken; but the same cannot be said of the passive sabotage. Up to now the intellectual middle class is snarling at the new Power, talking scandal behind the backs of the Communists, rejoicing at each failure, even at such that are to the detriment of the whole country, and grieving over their successes even when the latter are to the advantage of the entire nation as a whole.
To learn to conquer this mass means first of all to acquire its sympathies for the policy of the Communists, i.e. the sympathies of the greater number of these amorphous middle class elements; secondly, to induce them to proceed to good and useful work in their special branches of science, creating a corresponding plan for their utilization; and thirdly to create a certain regime which without resembling penal servitude and being repulsive to the intelligentsia, would nevertheless serve for a sufficient control over the work of those on whose sympathies we can in no wise reckon. The Communist Party in Russia is carrying on its policy in this direction in regard to the above mentioned middle class intellectual elements. In Western Europe, the pauperisation of the intelligentsia especially in such countries as Germany and Austria may drive a considerable part of it into a strong opposition against the bourgeois order, and this is already taking place. The situation of these elements may be alleviated and in its political triumph the social revolution may find the opposition of the middle class intellectuals very much weakened, while in a considerable part of this group it may even meet with welcome and assistance.
The opposite pole of this part of the intelligentsia, is the acutely political class-conscious intelligentsia, penetrated with a peculiar class instinct, draped in the garb of as peculiar a class theory. One must be under no illusions on this point. Whereas in Western Europe the Mensheviki, i.e. the right wing socialists frequently appear to be the voicers of the skilled proletariat which has been demoralized by the bourgeoisie, in Russia only a small number of skilled workers have stuck to the bottom of the so called social democratic party. This is the party of the intelligentsia; its inner meaning is quite clear. This is the young, as yet unfeathered bourgeoisie, deprived of the possibility of coping independently with autocracy and acquiring an honourable position for itself and the bourgeoisie; it played the role of conciliators between the industrial bourgeoisie as such and the more educated technically qualified part of the proletariat. To be a steward, a trusted and valued servant of the bourgeoisie and at the same time, a “leader“ of proletarians in clean coats and stiff collars is the ideal of a Menshevik. It is naturally he ideal of the Scheidemanns of all countries, with the only difference that the Scheidemanns have already a considerable workers audience, whereas that of the Mensheviki melted and dissolved at the very first thunder claps of the revolution.
Something similar to this are the intellectuals adhering to the social revolutionaries. Whole mountain loads of middle class intellectuals dumped themselves like rubbish into the Social Revolutionary Party in 1917. It was, so to say, the fashion to wear a social revolutionary red bow in one’s buttonhole. A kind of Russian galimatias, in which could be found side by side a profligate kind of anarchist, a pedantic critic of Marx, but slightly dyed blackhundred man, all strive to climb to power in Russia as non-class intellectuals and under the banner of the social revolutionary party. Naturally this friable mass crumbled down at the first serious blow dealt by the worker’s hand. Can one call the social revolutionary party a peasant party?— Yes, in so far as like the Mensheviki who sought support for themselves among the labour aristocracy, it endeavoured to find its support in the peasant aristocracy: but a worker aristocrat is still only a worker, while the peasant aristocrat is a speculator and properly speaking a regular bourgeois. This gives to the right wing social revolutionary party a marked aroma of a petty bourgeois exploiter character. Add to this the intelligentsia which quite openly, without any socialist pretext, aspired to the role of the trustworthy steward of the bourgeoisie, i.e. the intellectuals adhering to the Cadet (Constitutional Democratic party), and you will have the so called advance guard of the Russian intelligentsia. The same will be noticed in Europe and in this respect the intellectuals as part of the petty bourgeoisie, as a peculiar kind of brain workers, will attempt to create their own party or a conglomeration of parties which will be also a peculiar variety of our Russian Mensheviki, social revolutionaries and intellectual cadets.
Any reconciliation with these people is both unnecessary and impossible. They are still constituting the sharpest of oppositions. They are still dreaming of turning the wheel of history backwards, carrying on a pernicious propaganda among the non-partist intellectuals and the non-party masses in general. They must, properly speaking, die out politically. The best elements (and among them here are many very talented people) will in the end acknowledge their error and come to us by long and roundabout ways. There are certainly also some who like Saul will suddenly be able to see in a flash how the Evil One is misleading them and they will turn back. We have a whole number of respected friends and Communists who have come to us in this way. The project in this case is to a considerable degree, not the struggle for the soul of this part of the intelligentsia, but the struggle for the soul of the entire intelligentsia against this part of it.
Finally, a few words must be said in regard to the highly qualified intellectuals. I do not pretend in general to give a minute analysis in this article and I may probably return to my theme in more detailed work, but at any rate I shall have to divide the highly qualified intelligentsia into two important elements. A group of so to say European or All-Russian celebrities, and a group of the more highly qualified professors, engineers and technicians in general. I shall begin with the latter group. There is no doubt that the general staff of the technical personnel in the sphere of industry and agriculture, including also the professors of the higher technical schools is of such necessity to us, that neither our reserves of gold, nor any other assets of the state can be compared with it. The fates have willed that they should be the monopolists of science and knowledge and namely of such knowledge without which we cannot more onwards. One cannot include this group simply among the bourgeoisie, but at the same time one must say that it has been specially favoured by the bourgeoisie.
What can we expect in regard to it?
First of all I must point out a certain kind of danger. This group is so powerful that if the engineers in Russia or abroad (where they are incomparably stronger still) would manage to group around themselves the whole qualified technical personnel of the agricultural and industrial branches, if these groups would be clever enough to attain a peculiar semi-Communism and would, so to say, propose their services to us on the basis of agreement principles, then, in spite of their small number in comparison with the whole proletariat, they might occupy a much too prominent position during the period of transition to Communism. I have heard certain deep thinking analysts of our situation express apprehensions in connection with the well known speech of the eminent engineer Professor Sody in England on the danger of this transitional period becoming, to a certain degree, the hegemony of the technical personnel which the Communist Party, as the representative of the politically powerful but theoretically and technically sufficiently helpless proletariat, would involuntarily have to support.
It seems to me that such apprehensions are exaggerated, but no one will deny that under a correct comprehension of the line to be followed by them, under a more or less general transition to the Soviet position and a good organisation, these elements might simultaneously render us a great assistance and make claim to the very serious role of partial exponents of the whole movement.
Are there any symptoms which may be at the same time gladdening and disheartening in this orientation of the technical personnel? Yes, there are. The corresponding union of Arfa in Germany has acquired an intermediary and as yet unexplained but serious influence. Sodi in his speech asserts that an engineer and scientist are everything, whereas the bourgeoisie are making them nil, and hints at the possibility for the engineers to come to an agreement with the workers for the creation of a St. Simon’s triumph of the mental and physical workers over the idlers—is very symptomatic.
And is it not symptomatic that saying the epoch of the big strikes in Italy the technical personnel proved almost everywhere to be on the side of the workers?
The proletariat undoubtedly can only welcome the self-organisation of the engineers. The Russian engineers and scientists are too lymphatic, too dandified, too small in numbers to establish energetically or at least to see the possibility of a certain hegemony for themselves. Nevertheless however, the technical personnel and technical professorship are coming to an understanding with the Soviet much more easily than any other group of intellectual workers. Naturally they are also meeting with a more hearty welcome on our part.
A few words now in respect to the real salt of the earth, such as the prominent separate representatives of culture, both in the sphere of science and in that of art. On these heights the intellectuals acquire a special character. Here, in virtue of broadness of conception, individual talent, acuteness of analytic and depth of our power, people really frequently outgrew their own interests, or those of their groups. It is from such heights that Marx, Engels, Lassalle and Lenin have come to us. And we can state with pleasure that there is no lack of prophets who have turned their faces towards our rising sun. When one remembers how the greatest of Russia’s botanists Timiriazev, in his dying hour and literally in his last words before going to his eternal rest, blessed Lenin and his work, when one learns of the warm sympathies with the ideas of Communism of such people as the greatest. physicist of our times, Einstein, the greatest pedagogue, Nattor, when one hears of the pain taken by such luminaries of international brain power and creative genius as Bernard Shaw, Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse, Anatole France; when one receives such a nice sincere letter from such a typical leader of a highly ethical cultured intelligentsia as August Forel, etc., when one sees how a warm sympathy with the revolution is awakening in the hearts of the young people in the artistic circles, the literary expressionists of Germany and similar tendencies everywhere—then one comes to the conclusion that the intelligentsia, morally beaten by the war, shaken by the pauperization of the middle classes, is creating a sufficient basis for the passing over of the greatest minds and most sensitive hearts to the right side. And in Russia, people like Groky, Brussov, Serafimovitch. Mayakovsky belonging to different traditions, different ages, different stratifications of the intelligentsia, but nevertheless leaders of whole phalanxes of writers have come straight to the banner of Communism. Others are approaching hesitatingly as yet, but they are coming. The estimation of the revolution as given in some of the poems of Block, Max Voloshin, residing out of Russia, a typical representative not only of the intelligentsia, but also of its middle class narrow minded elements, Ivanov-Razumnik, testify to the possibility that ever newer intellectual circles are drawing nearer to the acceptance of the Communist evangile. Naturally there are many obstacles on the way. There is no doubt that the passage to Communism of the coryphaei that the recognition of the ideas of Communism by the best minds and hearts, especially those who are possessed with the artistic talent, of which Tolstoy says: a talent that fires other hearts; there is no doubt that their passing over to our side would exercise a powerful influence both on the politics of the actual moment and even more so probably on the young people who are in some circles still hostile to us, but who certainly are capable of being cured from the bourgeois venom which has not penetrated them too deeply. But I repeat, there are many obstacles to this: the acute individualism of the intelligentsia is its best representative; their ethical Tolstoyism; their horror of all violence which revolutionary surgery cannot do without and their consternation at the destruction which frequently touches even the most cultural achievements; the absence of skill in addressing the new audiences who are filling the theatres, auditoriums and libraries in Russia and will soon fill them in the whole world; the economic ruin aggravating the hard conditions of their physical existence and other unfavourable circumstances which one cannot remember and enumerate at once.
We are far from being able to say that, taken up by our war tasks and placed before the threatening economic crisis, we have done all that was necessary to place a few hundreds of the most prominent representatives of the intelligentsia in such conditions as to save them from the extreme pressure of the crisis. We have had no time to pay special attention to discussions with them and propaganda among them, like among the remaining part of the intellectuals. I think, however that now when we have thrown off the hand of war from our throat, at least for a certain time, now when we are fully engaged in the organisation of our economic management, we shall find time and means to take up directly the cause of our intelligentsia.
In the present article I wished to give an approximate picture of the conditions of the different strata of the intelligentsia and the prospects which are opening before us. We need the intelligentsia, we need it in the domain of technics, agriculture, public instruction, and chiefly we need it as the principal contingent of state agency; we need it also very much in the domain of art, which in its best part is even now an ennobling element favourable to Communism and which, with the gradual growth of the new art, must become a powerful assimilator between the old and the new. We need the intelligentsia, while in its greater part it is still in various stages of hostility to us, the more precious for us are those among the intellectuals who have passed over to our side or who are on the way to do so, and the more important it is to use all our efforts to assemble as great a number as possible of intellectual forces around the new axis of the world — Communism.
It is not necessary, I think, at the creation of a kind of International of intellectuals to demand from them a distinct doctrine, a Communist or at least Marxist train of thought. No extreme political demands must be made of them. The intellectual elements are incapable of attaining the heights of discipline and political class consciousness of the proletariat. One must remember that the red banner with which the intellectuals will in ever greater masses join- our procession, will always have rosy reflections and it would too irrational to say: “Either with us or against us,” (in regard to questions of theory or disciplinary training of these elements, their proletarian ethics, etc.). No, “whoever is against the bourgeoisie is with us” is the slogan which must form the basis for the organisation of an international at intellectuals.
The reader must not think that I really desire to propose the formation of an organisation on parallel lines with our International, but it would desirable that the international intellectuals more or less adhering to us, should call to each other, meet perhaps at some congress and pronounce before all the world their curse against the bourgeoisie and sympathies with us. Then, maybe, we, the Third International of proletarians, might be able to exercise a more organised influence on an international scale on this part of the human race which will have to live as a separate part of Society during many years yet, which is so necessary to us and which is not separated from us (like the bourgeoisie and the peasant exploiting elements) by impassible jungle but it is the best and nearest neighbor of the proletariat.
The ECCI published the magazine ‘Communist International’ edited by Zinoviev and Karl Radek from 1919 until 1926 irregularly in German, French, Russian, and English. Unlike, Inprecorr, CI contained long-form articles by the leading figures of the International as well as proceedings, statements, and notices of the Comintern. No complete run of Communist International is available in English. Both were largely published outside of Soviet territory, with Communist International printed in London, to facilitate distribution and both were major contributors to the Communist press in the U.S. Communist International and Inprecorr are an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.
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