The idea of proletarian culture, which gave the name to Proletkult (the full name of this organization is proletarian cultural and educational organizations), belongs to Alexander Bogdanov.
He was a very versatile personality – a doctor by education, who worked in his specialty during the First World War, when he was called up for the front, economist, philosopher, author of the general organizational science – tectology, political and social activist, scientist-naturalist, fantasy writer.
Being a very large and prominent figure for his time, Bogdanov was later forgotten and fooled. In different periods of his life, his different hypostases came to the fore and became defining, but all of them were intertwined and interrelated. First of all, there are some preliminary remarks about what, in my opinion, had a great impact on Bogdanov’s social and political activity and his scientific and theoretical research.
The first is his amazing confidence that people are able and even should organize their relations on a rational basis, based on what will be most useful to them. According to his memories, as a child he came to the conclusion that “it is worthwhile for people to take a reasonable look at their mutual relations in order to organize them harmoniously”. In fact, most of his works on social reorganization of society are based on this premise.
The second is his deep conviction that the proletariat is the class that will be at the head of the cardinal reorganization of society and the construction of socialism, not only because it is pushed to it by its economic position in capitalist society and the socio-economic development of society as a whole, but also because it has internal potentials that allow it to fulfill this grandiose task.
The third is the amazing integrity of his nature, his purposefulness, in the words of A.V.Lunacharsky, who knew him closely, “some monist instinct, almost fanatical desire to reduce the great diversity of being to the constantly repeating varieties of a few basic laws”.
Bogdanov’s undoubted talent as a popularizer is another quality that should be noted. And, of course, Bogdanov’s fiction. The plot of the novel “Red Star”, published in 1908, is quite dynamic – we can see the interplanetary journey, and the elements of hoaxation (a Martian came to the main hero as an earthling, then the main hero does not know that one of the Martians, with whom he communicates closely, is a woman), and love story, and the threat of conquest of the Earth and the extermination of mankind by the Martians.
The text of the novel is multi-layered: on the surface – a fascinating story, extraordinary adventures of the protagonist, strong feelings. A little deeper – those socio-political ideas about the structure of society of the future, which Bogdanov presents to the reader in an artistic form. But if you reread the novel, being familiar with the main works and ideas of Bogdanov, you are amazed how organically he weaves into the fabric of the artwork some of his ideas. Besides the fact that the novel contains many scientific and technical predictions and a description of many devices that facilitate the life of man, and scientific discoveries and principles of the structure of society, it describes the socialist societies built on Mars seen through the eyes of an earthman, who was chosen by the Martians after a long search throughout our planet (it was a Russian professional revolutionary Leonid).
The Martian society (and as Martians in the development have far ahead of earthlings, for the Earth it is a society of the future) at Bogdanov is constructed on reasonable relations between people. In the Martian society there is no admiration for the authorities. People simply admit that this comrade, for example, is more knowledgeable in this field of knowledge or technology, and trust him with leadership. And this is also one of the main ideas of Bogdanov, which, according to his own words, was born in his childhood.
A society built on Mars is a socialism based on production based on the principles of conscious collectivism, when every member of society consciously puts the interests of the collective first, or rather, for him his personal interests do not exist in isolation from the interests of society. All members of society are so reasonable and imbued with this spirit that they will not even think of wanting something that contradicts the interests of the collective.
Own sentiments arise in Martians only in childhood, and they explain this by the fact that a person in his development passes through all stages of development of society. But as they grow older, these feelings become extinct, including under the influence of collectivist education.
At the heart of the organization of production is the system of calculations, which is carried out by the central statistical mechanism that monitors “the movement of products in the warehouses, the productivity of all enterprises and changes in the number of employees in them. This way, it is clear how much and what to produce for a certain period of time and how many working hours it takes. Then it remains for the institute to calculate the difference between what is and what should be and report it everywhere. On the basis of these calculations, the volunteers report their willingness to change jobs.
Consumption is not limited to anything: “everyone takes what he needs and as much as he wants”, and “nothing like money is required, no evidence of the amount of work done or the obligation to do it, or anything like that,” because “there is no shortage of free labor … without it: labor is a natural need of every developed social person, and all sorts of disguised or explicit coercion to labor is absolutely … redundant” . This description of the society of the future almost literally coincides with that which Bogdanov gives in the article “Aims and norms of life”.
It is easy to notice that the society described in the novel is built on the principles of proletarian culture. The slogan of proletarian culture, which then became one of the main topics in his work, A.Bogdanov for the first time formulated in the platform of the group of left Bolsheviks “Vpered” (“Forward”) – “Modern Situation and Party’s Objectives”, which was published in December 1909, the author of the text was A.A.Bogdanov, and at the end of the platform it was indicated that 15 people took part in its work: 7 workers and 8 intellectuals. These included G. Aleksinsky, St. Volsky, M. Gorky, Domov (M. Pokrovsky), A. Lunacharsky, M. Lyadov, Maksimov (A. Bogdanov), Marat (V. L.). Schanzer) and Arkady (F.I. Kalinin), Arseniy (M. Yakovlev), Boris (V.M. Kosarev), Vasya (F.I. Syatkovsky), Leopold (Izrailevich), Stanislav (M. Lobanov), Yuli (I. Batashev) . These 15 people were listeners and lecturers at the First Higher School for Workers, organized by Bogdanov and his associates on Capri Island.
The authors of the platform believed that Bolshevism is “the most strict and consistent application of the ideas of scientific socialism to the Russian reality”, and paid special attention to its basis – the scientific and socialist worldview, which is more than politics and tactics. “The socialist consciousness of the working class should cover not only his direct struggle in the field of economics and politics, but his whole life. The root of the problem, according to Bogdanov, is that both the proletariat and the socialist intelligentsia bear the features of the bourgeois world, the imprint of its culture. One cannot break with this culture, nor can one accept it in its entirety. Therefore, “there is only one way out – using the old bourgeois culture, to create, oppose and spread a new, proletarian culture in the masses: to develop proletarian science, to strengthen truly friendly relations in the proletarian environment, to develop proletarian philosophy, to direct art towards proletarian aspirations and experience.
It would seem that this idea was absolutely abstract at that time, but it resulted in a practical conclusion – in Bogdanov’s opinion, the first stage of the socialist revolution should be the ideological revolution in the working class, and only after that can he become the leader of the social revolution. Otherwise, i.e. if the socialist restructuring of society begins before the socialist consciousness is brought up in the working class, the latter may lose its class independence and dissolve into the bloc in which it will lead the revolution. This situation also ran counter to the ideas of social democracy at the time, especially the Bolshevik part of it, which focused on combating the current regime, political enlightenment of the masses, propaganda and agitation.
The first attempt to implement a program to develop proletarian culture in a broad sense of the word, to develop the leaders of the proletarian struggle from the workers themselves, was the “forward” party schools in Capri and Bologna. They trained workers propagandists to replace intellectuals who had recoiled from the revolutionary movement, which was also discussed in the group’s platform. These schools were prototypes of the Proletarian University, the need for which Bogdanov spoke and wrote about. Classes in them were built on the principle of combining theoretical classes with practical ones, i.e. the acquired knowledge had to be immediately applied in practice – pupils wrote leaflets, published newspapers, gave lectures to each other, etc.
Having formulated the concept of proletarian culture in the platform of the “Forward” group, Bogdanov remained faithful to this idea all his life. In his article “Socialism in the Present” (1911) Bogdanov raised an unexpected question at first glance: whether socialism is possible in the present. And, stipulating that the answer to it depends on how socialism is understood, he answered positively. From A. Bogdanov’s point of view, the social system is determined by the labor relations of people, and the essence of socialism is the friendly organization of all production. But “consciously friendly cooperation” emerges in the working class already under capitalism, gradually replacing other relations, and it is important not so much its organizational design, but the awareness and feeling of its workers.
Of course, “until the labor relations of society as a whole become socialist, it is impossible to have any socialism in the property relations of people”, and yet, in Bogdanov’s opinion, socialism is not only the future, but also in the present – in the living class cooperation of workers’ organizations: “The conscious and friendly organization of the working class in the present and the socialist organization of the whole society in the future are different moments of the same process, different stages of the same phenomenon”.
As a consequence, the struggle for socialism includes not only the negative one – the struggle against the modern capitalist world – but also the creative activity – the “development of the socialist proletarian culture”. It should be emphasized that Bogdanov interprets the concept of culture broadly and emphasizes that “socialists should strive for the development of truly friendly relations”, which are the basis of this culture, “in all everyday practice of the proletariat. Therefore, it is necessary to “insistently and steadily fight” against such remnants of the past as “manifestations of individualism, ideological slavery, ideological barbarism, finding out their contradiction with proletarian socialism, their complete incompatibility with it. In addition, socialists must “vigorously fight, in word and in example, against any remnants of family slavery, not considering them to be private and unimportant. By this approach Bogdanov stood out from the Bolsheviks of that time, who largely considered family relations as everyone’s own business.
Another Bogdanov’s idea within the framework of a broad understanding of the term proletarian culture is that socialism also requires a new science, the characteristic feature of which will be its universality, “finding common ways of research”, overcoming the disciplines limitations and dissociations; and a new art, imbued with feelings, aspirations and ideals of the proletariat. Thus, “in all areas of life … creating its new forms, in an irreconcilable struggle with the old society, the proletariat will increasingly live in its own way, transforming itself in a socialist way, and then transforming the whole of humanity in a socialist way”.
In his work “Cultural Tasks of Our Time”, published in Russia in 1911. Bogdanov pays special attention to the organizing role of culture in the life of society. He turns to the analysis of the “organizational forms of being” of the proletariat and comes to the conclusion that ” friendly, or collectivist connection plays … a special role in the proletarian practice”, and “it is the friendly cooperation that is its specific form of organization for the working class”.
This friendly cooperation, or collectivism, has a decisive influence on all aspects of working class life, including its “morality” and “moral principles”, which are based on friendly solidarity. However, these principles and morality are fundamentally different from the pre-existing moral principles in that they are not based on coercion, they do not require the sanction of any authority, because “for a conscious member of the collective it is clear that friendly solidarity is a basic need of the collective, a necessary condition for its life and development, and that it arises from its actual unity in work and social struggle.
The February Revolution of 1917 for the first time raised the question of the possibility of socialist transformations on practical grounds. In 1917, a significant number of works by A. Bogdanov were published, both of a scientific nature and, for the most part, of a popular nature. In them, he focused on two main things: on the clarification and deepening of the concept of socialism and on the characterization of the revolutionary transformations taking place before his eyes.
“What have you seen in socialism so far? – asks Bogdanov. The property revolution, the change of the owner in society, i.e. a matter of class interest and material power of the masses. What should we see in it? The creative revolution of world culture, the change of natural formation and the struggle of social forms by their conscious creation, i.e. a matter of new class logic, new methods of joining forces, new ways of thinking.
In order to build a new society, a new science is needed, based on “a new type of organizational thinking,” the carrier of which, due to its position in society and the nature of its work, is potentially the working class”.
Mastering these new methods of proletariat is a necessary condition for the transition to socialism. This is a fundamental difference between Bogdanov’s ideas about the ways of coming to socialism and those that dominated Russian Marxism at that time. Not the seizure of power, not the political upheaval, not the change of the ruling classes will ensure the advent of socialism, but, above all, the internal transformation of that class, which is practically doomed to become a transformer of society by history itself and the development of society (in this case Bogdanov is a classic Marxist). But before transforming society, it is necessary to transform oneself, to realize oneself as a class, to develop and educate oneself to the necessary level of those features and properties, which in the conditions of capitalist society are inherent in the proletariat only in its infancy.
Bogdanov formulates this sequence very strictly: “until the labor relations of society as a whole become socialist, no socialism is possible in the property relations of people.
In order to solve its main task – the approach to socialism – the working class must “direct its efforts to master its organizational tools and to develop them in a systematic way on the full scale of the task. This is its culture program”, which fills “the gap between the minimum and maximum programs”.
Bogdanov did not consider the October revolution of 1917 to be a socialist revolution and therefore did not consider possible for him to take part in the Bolshevik transformations. Nevertheless, he did not move to the camp of open enemies of the Bolshevik regime. In a personal letter to Lunacharskiy in December 1917, refusing the offer to take up the post in the People’s Commissariat of enlightenment, he gave an exhaustive description of the Bolshevik system and a peculiar quintessence of his views on the coup d’état.
Confronting himself with the Bolsheviks who had seized power, he considered his duty to work for the distant future. His task, which he “will not give up to the end”, he saw as “the proletarian culture must ceased to be a question of discussion, a word that does not have a clear content”.
In the spring of 1919, in one of the lectures he gave at the Moscow Proletkult, Bogdanov emphasized: “Proletarian culture is defined not by struggle, but by work, not by destruction, but by creativity. Her soul is its positive elements. …A life imbued with collectivism, labor freed from fetishes, united in its goals and methods – what is it called? A socialist ideal. That is what proletarian culture is. Proletarian culture is a socialist ideal in its development”.
Being not only a theorist, but also a practitioner, A.A.Bogdanov took an active part in the activities of Proletkult activity to implement his ideas. But speaking about it, first of all, it is necessary to avoid wrong interpretations and distortions of Bogdanov’s ideas which have fixed in historiography as immutable truths. Moreover, because of these distortions, Bogdanov’s “heretical” ideas always hovered over Proletkult, and he himself had to be responsible for not always correct conclusions from his ideas and simply for the extremes and excesses allowed by the proletkulters.
In particular, contrary to the thesis widely spread in the Soviet historiography, Proletkult as a whole did not intend to “burn Raphael”, as it was written in V.T.Kirillov’s poem “We”, to which the role of the proletkult manifesto was attributed. On the contrary, already in the first issue of the journal “Proletarian Culture” in 1918 in the article of the head of Proletkult Lebedev-Polyansky it was said: “The working class, first of all, needs to master the culture of the capitalist world and take from it that knowledge without which it is impossible to move forward and from which it was removed by the ruling classes”.
The resolution of the First All-Russian Proletarian Conference (September 1918) stated: “The proletariat must comprehend all the achievements of the previous culture, learn from it everything that bears the seal of the universal”. It is easy to see that this thesis coincides with Bogdanov’s ideas.
In the same spirit, the attitude to the “old” culture was formulated in the Manifesto of the Executive Committee of the International Bureau of Proletkult, created during the II Congress of the III International (12 August 1920).
However, the Proletariat movement cannot be considered only as a movement of followers and supporters of Bogdanov’s ideas, although it was undoubtedly his main ideologist. It is much broader and more multifaceted, and its participants expressed and defended their views, which sometimes did not coincide with those of Bogdanov, and argued with it at conferences and meetings of Proletkult. Like any amateur movement coming from below, Proletkult was looking for his forms and methods to touch, it was a kind of “reconnaissance fight”. And, in our opinion, this is exactly what makes it interesting.
Before we talk about Bogdanov’s proletkult activity, let’s make a short excursion into the history of this organization. The first associations of proletarian cultural and educational organizations appeared in Petrograd and Moscow in the summer and autumn of 1917. The 1st city conference of proletarian educational societies was held in Petrograd from 16(29) to 19 October (1 November) 1917 under the chairmanship of A.V.Lunacharsky. It adopted the Statute of proletarian cultural and educational organizations and formed the Central Committee (CC) consisting of 20 people. A. V. Lunacharsky was elected Honorary Chairman, F. I. Kalinin was elected Chairman of the Executive Bureau, and N. K. Krupskaya was elected as the responsible department head: school department head.
The Lunacharsky resolution proposed: “1. the Conference stresses that the cultural and educational movement should occupy a place in the overall cultural development alongside politics, professional movement and cooperation”.
The acronym Proletkult was given to the Central Committee of Petrograd cultural and educational organizations at the meeting of the executive bureau elected by the conference on 28 November 1917.
On June 5-9, 1918 in Petrograd took place the Second citywide conference of proletarian cultural and educational organizations. And at the First All-Russian Conference of Proletarian Cultural-Educational Organizations held in Moscow on September 15-20, 1918, the All-Russian Proletarian Culture and Education Organization was formally established. However, the editorial office of the magazine “Proletarian Culture” was created on January 26, 1918 (it included Y.M. Steklov, P.I. Polyansky, P.M. Kerzhentsev, F.I. Kalinin, A.I. Mashirov). Since March 1918, the work of the editorial office was held in Moscow, and in July the first issue of the journal, which became a theoretical and guiding center of Proletkult, was published. From that moment Bogdanov became the permanent author of the magazine, and in September the First All-Russian Conference of Proletarian Cultural-Educational Organizations recorded his joining the editorial board.
A.A.Bogdanov’s articles have been published in all issues of the journal “Proletarian Culture” except № 6. In the program article of the first issue, as well as in the program of the group “Forward”, Bogdanov emphasizes that “the new culture should cover all areas of life and creativity, cover not superficially and partially, but deeply and in all their latitudes”, including proletarian policy, which should be free from bourgeois politics; friendly relations which should not be poisoned by “petty selfishness, careerism, competition of personal ambitions, thirst for power on the part of some, blind trust on the part of others”; proletarian science, which should process the knowledge accumulated by mankind “from the proletarian-labour point of view”; proletarian art, which is still in its infancy.
The first issue of “Izvestia” magazine received a huge review under the characteristic title “Proletarian culture. The first pancake is a coma”, which declared that “the general character of the magazine “Proletarian Culture” is eclectic, unbalanced, and bears the imprint of conspiratorial tendencies, reflecting not so much the development of proletarian creativity as the efforts of the intellectuals torn away from the proletarian masses”. In this review, Bogdanov, as “a man known in the scientific world,” is declared responsible for the content of the magazine, which “can only provide a bearish service to the cause of Proletkult.
Responding to this review in the article “From the Editorial Board” in the second issue of “Proletarian Culture”, Bogdanov rightly draws the reader’s attention to its tone, which is unacceptable even for a polemic article, and to the low level of polemics, illustrating it with concrete examples.
The article was a reflection of the position of the part of the ruling party’s leadership that has always been against Proletkult, seeing it as a competitor in influencing the working class. Especially acute during the first years of existence of Proletkult, which was the period of its flourishing as an amateur proletarian organization, was the polemic and struggle around its independence and autonomy.
The principle of autonomy of the organization was proclaimed at the first conference of Petrograd proletarian cultural and educational organizations under the Provisional Government. Lunacharsky wrote: “From the very beginning, I pointed to a complete parallelism here: a party in the political field, a trade union in the economic field, and Proletkult in the cultural field.
The Decree “On the Establishment of the State Commission on Enlightenment” of November 9 (22), 1917, signed by Lenin and Lunacharsky also proclaimed: “The class workers, soldiers, peasant cultural and educational organizations should have full autonomy”. However, the degree of autonomy of Proletkult and – since many people perceived its activities primarily as educational, a kind of form of extra-curricular education for adults – the scheme of its relationship with the People’s Commissariat for Education were the subject of constant discussion during the 1918-1920s.
These discussions revealed the following positions on the principles of existence of Proletkult in the Soviet state: “1) Proletkult should be accountable to the Communist Party’s Central Committee”. “2) Proletkultuts should be exclusively working organizations, but they may include intellectuals. “3) Proletkult is an independent organization, since the cultural activities of the proletariat are a special kind of labor movement and it should take an active part in the state construction”. “4) Interference of Proletkult in the activities of the state authorities is inadmissible. “5) It is necessary to coordinate the work of the Proletkult and the Department of Extra-School Education of the People’s Commissariat of Education.
After the Second All-Russian Conference of Proletarian Cultural-Educational Organizations held in Petrograd on June 5-9, 1918, proclaimed that proletarian culture, being “the culture of mankind”, can develop only by independent efforts of the proletariat, and Proletkult should exist independently of Narcompros, on August 13 in “Izvestiya” was published an article in which it was stated that “the tasks performed by the proletkults should be carried out by the Soviet departments of public education”.
The relatively private issue of the relationship between the local proletkult and the leadership of the national education system was an argument in the old dispute: whether the working class can develop its own consciousness and culture, or whether they should be vaccinated to it, introduced from the outside by a party whose leaders are firmly aware of the direction in which the working class should move in a particular political and economic situation, and on the basis of this knowledge claiming to express the will of the working class on all issues.
Of course, the Proletarian Culture magazine couldn’t miss such statements, and in its third issue an editorial article by A. Bogdanov appeared, in which it was rightly noted that the editorial note to Piskunov’s statements, which in themselves could only cause a smile, posed a threat to the whole Proletkult case.
Noting the existence of two different views on proletarian culture among educators, Bogdanov stresses that those who “do not recognize the cultural and creative independence of the proletariat,” under the term “proletarian culture” means simply the spread of existing culture in the working environment and are naturally inclined to combine this case with cultural and educational work among peasants and the bourgeois urban poor”, believing that this is the “Soviet point of view”.
Objecting to them, Bogdanov declares “Mixing the tasks of the political bloc with the cultural and class ones is the basis of these requirements. We categorically reject them.
Once again, as seven years earlier, Bogdanov stresses: “In the questions of culture, we are immediate socialists” and defends the view that “the proletariat must now, immediately, create socialist forms of thought, feeling, and life for itself, regardless of the relations and combinations of political forces. Therefore, it is unacceptable for the public education departments to join the proletkults or establish strict control over them.
In general, the heyday of Proletarianism paradoxically came during the most difficult economic years of 1918-1920, when the Bolshevik Party and the government were engaged in the survival of the regime under the blows of armed opponents on the fronts of the civil war. And at the end of the civil war Lenin was surprised to find out that there was a huge organization (the orbit of its activities included not less than 400 thousand people – a little less than it was in the RCP(b) – of which 80 thousand were engaged in various studios, published 15 magazines, was published up to 10 million copies of literature), acting under the auspices of the ideas of his longtime rival Bogdanov. Besides, the main goal of Proletkult, despite some “whirlwinds” and “levachestvo”, was – according to Bogdanov’s ideas – upbringing of a new man, a conscious builder of a new society, imbued with the ideals of collectivism and friendly cooperation, training of leaders and ideologists of the proletariat from his own ranks. And all this was planned to be done on their own, autonomously and independently, without the leadership of the Communist Party. Proletkult considered himself a force equal to the party and trade unions. If the party is a political organization, trade unions an economic one, Proletkult considered himself a “cultural and creative class organization of the proletariat”, the third force.
Moreover, the article “About the International Proletariat”, published together with the already mentioned Manifesto of International Proletkults, stated that “in the revolutionary atmosphere of the epoch, the growth of organizations should go quickly, and it is possible to foresee that in the near future the issue of the International Congress of Proletkults will appear…
The cultural upheaval is a necessary part and a necessary condition of proletarian socialism. In the field of culture, as well as in the economic and political field, the liberation of the workers’ should be work of the workers themselves.
Unfortunately, this independence and autonomy could not fit into the emerging vertical of the Bolshevik regime. The anti-Bogdanov and anti-proletkult campaigns initiated by Lenin in 1920 were intended to justify and substantiate the organizational measures to deprive Proletkultura of autonomy and to subordinate it to Narcompros. The famous letter of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks “On proletkults”, which appeared after the subordination of the Proletkult to Narcompros and was published in Pravda on December 1, 1920, was repeatedly quoted in subsequent years and formed the basis for historiographical assessments of Proletkult, despite the fact that many of the accusations contained in this letter were groundless.
The last time A.Bogdanov’s presence at the Plenum of the Proletkult Central Committee was recorded by the journals of the meetings on December 19, 1920, when Lebedev-Polyansky was dismissed from the post of the Central Committee Chairman, and Pletnev was elected to his place at the suggestion of the Communist faction. Soon Bogdanov left the Central Committee of Proletkult and Moscow Proletkult, which, however, did not save the organization from attacks of the authorities. In 1920, despite the resistance, Proletkult was officially subordinate to the People’s Commissariat of Education, in 1926 it was subordinated to trade unions. Although Proletkult existed until 1932, it was no longer an amateur proletarian organization, but a part of the party-state apparatus in charge of culture.