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Anatoly Lunacharsky

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Soviet cogitations: 4764
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Jul 2007, 06:59
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
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Post 31 Jan 2010, 22:57
Here's a pretty admiring portait of Lunacharsky written by poet Korney Chukovsky. I know Lenin chastised him for being too soft, and too risky with intellectuals, but he was a fully committed Bolshevik who did the Soviet Union much good.

The People's Commissar of Enlightenment

by Korney Chukovsky


On the door was a paper held by a single tack. It read:

The People's Commissar of Enlightenment
A. V. Lunacharsky
available only on Saturdays
from 2 to 6

You could immediately tell it wasn't a rigorous paper. It hung diagonally, without the slightest pretension of official standing, and nobody paid attention to it: everyone entered that doorway as they pleased.
Anatoly Vasielievich - all Petrograd called Lunacharsky that - lived then in Maniezhny Pereulok, near Liteini bridge, in a small, modest apartment besieged day and night by dozens of people that anxiously awaited to receive council and aid.
Teachers, workers, inventors, librarians, circus artists, futurists, painters of all tendencies and species (from the realists to the cubists), philosophers, dancers, hypnotists, singers, Proletkult and ordinary poets, and actors from the ex imperial theaters arrived in an endless procession through the dirty stairwell to Anatoly Vasilievich's apartment, located in the first floor, and placed themselves in a narrow vestibule that, for all purposes, became the "anteroom."
What I'm telling happened in the year 18. Soon the paper that hung on the door was substituted by another one extraordinarily impressive that read:

The People's Commissar of Enlightenment
A. V. Lunacharsky
available at the Winter Palace
(such and such day)
and the People's Commissar of Enlightenment
(such and such day=
is not available here

But that didn't bother anyone, and already at nine in the morning the "anteroom" was filled with people sitting in a skinny couch, on the window ledges and in stools taken from the kitchen. Among that crowd I remember particularly well:

Vsievolod Meyerhold, still young-looking, unshaven, nervous, quick, like he had escaped a whirlwind of frenzied labor;
Vladimir Bejteriev, famous psychiatrist, drowsy, bearded, obese, with the blunt face of a farmer;
Napelbaum the photographer, articulate, sociable, dressed with a loose-fitting velvet blouse;
Mikhail Nikolaievich, son of Chernishevsky, short and quiet, caressing with his thick fingers the voluminous crimson tomes of the works of his great father, regarding which he wished to speak to the People's Commissar;
Oldenburg the academic, of small size, a bit serious-looking, loud like an infant, dressed with a democratic jacket that was too short for him;
the old novelist Yeronim Yeronimovich Yasinsky, quaint, silver-haired, handsome and imposing with arched brows and tiny, buttery eyes;
Yuri Annenkov the painter (we all called him Yurochka), ubiquitous, at ease and talented;
Alexandr Kuguel, theater connoisseur and fanatic, former king of reviews, ingenious, disheveled, with a curly mane and an evil smile in his hurt, tired eyes.
They all went to visit Anatoly Vasilievich to ask for council or aid. He was alone in his small room and received each visitor with a sparkling interest, as if he thought nothing more for a long time than to meet with the person to talk or even argue if necessary.
He started with me as soon as I opened my lips.
-Yes - he said-, you are very mistaken. All the time you praise your Whitman saying that he's the poet of democracy. But, what is democracy? Petty bourgeois spirit! A fraudulent smokescreen for the workers! A republic of small property owners! Yes, Whitman...
He got up with a juvenile agility and started pacing through the room, expressing his thoughts about the American "singer of democracy." His arguments, quick and sure, flowed without hesitation or pauses. He improvised them with artistic brilliance, in a natural manner and with incredible lightness. Suddenly he began saying words such as "irradiation of the spirit," "architecture of the universe," "fusion of the wills." But this emphasis fitted Anatoly Vasievich well, it harmonized with his singsong voice and his elegant, poetic diction. Without having to force his memory in the slightest, he recited me poems not just by Whitman, but also Verhaeren, Tiutchev and Julio Romains. It must be said that he knew a copious amount of poems by heart in three of four languages and he liked to recite them, with a small flair for the theatrical.
His voice gained in volume. It was like he were standing in a tribune, pronouncing a speech before a thick crowd and to me it seemed a bit violent to stoke that fire just for myself.
However, I could not completely accept his interpretation of Walt Whitman. I let him know, very disturbed. I remembered being very pleased with the tolerance, respect and simplicity with which he heard my objections. They were very clumsy and rushed, but he, with great benevolence, plunged in my thoughts and even helped formulate my arguments with the highest precision, to immediately, dissent.
He suddenly remembered that it was late and that the "anteroom" was filled with people. He opened the door and invited Meyerhold in, with whom, sometimes, he argued hours on end, often until very late in the evening.
We agreed that I would return in a few days to finish the discussion. Its purpose was to ask Anatoly Vasilievich to write a small article for the new edition of my book on Whitman. Anatoly Vasilievich agreed gladly, without making any bureaucratic objections and without minding that in a few pages the American poet would be interpreted very differently from how he saw it.
- The article will be ready the day after tomorrow - he consulted with his watch-. The day after tomorrow... at around four.
I knew that Lunacharsky worked nearly twenty hours per day, frequently forgetting to eat and without sleeping sufficiently for whole weeks. Meetings, consultations, conferences, assistance to political gatherings (not just in Leningrad, but also in Cronstadt, in Siestroriesk and elsewhere) swallowed all of his time. That is why, when arriving to his home at the agreed time, I was sure that he had not written the article. But behind the door to his room you could hear the clacking of a typewriter, and by the familiar words that came to my ear ("irradiation of the spirit," "universal architecture," "original note in a unique symphony"), I understood that Anatoly Vasilievich was dictating the article. He dictated without pause, with a speed that awakened in me my professional envy.
He would have finished the article immediately, but somebody entered his room.
He listened carefully to everyone, and if in what he heard he could find anything of interest, the typist had to remove the half-written article and type dictates on administrative dispositions, orders and petitions that he signed instantly, without hesitating in the least. As soon as the visits left, the typist once again inserted the page of the article and Anatoly Vasilievich continued dictating, from the very word he had left off, with the same rhythm and intonation.
The typist complained that recently, Anatoly Vasilievich had to write to the press in the same manner: with continual interruptions that threw aside the big theoretical and ideological issues for small affairs.
Nonetheless, it was apparent that this did not bother Lunacharsky at all. His work then (in 1918 in Petrograd) was distinguished precisely because he had to, side by side, solve huge state problems, sometimes with international repercussions, with a multitude of small questions, such as getting blueberry ice cream for a shelter of old actresses, or stockings for a children's home at the edge of the Okhta.
The cold, hungry life of the country ruined by war imperiously demanded of Anatoly Vasilievich that constant shuffle between the big and the small, and, as with all of his preoccupations, even the microscopic ones, he always saw in it a glorious purpose - strengthening the conquests of October and contributing one way or another to the birth and development of a new, unprecedented culture, of Soviet culture. He always gladly gave all of his energies to all of the small matters of his daily life, considering it a nobly purpose.
I still keep a few letters written by Anatoly Vasilievich from that time. All of them deal precisely with "small matters" that despite their tininess, had to contribute (and did) to the monumental forging of Soviet culture.
Here is one, very typical. To the left were some typed columns with these impressive words:

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
People's Commissar of Public Assets
Petersburg Section
12 of July, 1918
Nº 1501
Winter Palace

Under them was a seal that said "Russian Republic. Worker's Government. Commissariat of Enlightenment. Department of Art"

To the right you could read the following:

"To comrade Kornei Ivanovich Chukovsky

Dear comrade: I beseech you, since you are knowledgeable with the tales written by comrade Puni, to please give me in writing your competent conclusion if they are of value to the State Editorial.

People's Commissar

A. Lunacharsky."

People who do not know about those wondrous times may perhaps ask if one of the heads of the important High State of the revolution interest themselves in some children's stories written by a young unknown. However, as evidenced by the text in the letter, Anatoly Vasilievich was always careful about small details, in aid of his immense objectives. In this hurried letter we can see his personal interest in the quick creation of two important pieces of the future Soviet culture: the State Editorial, which only existed as a project and did not start for another year, and literature for Soviet children, which also did not exist at the time.
Now that the State editorials have published thousands of excellent books, classics in all branches of techniques, science and art, and our children's literature has for a long time enjoyed worldwide recognition, it is impossible for us to read without emotion this yellowy paper that refers to one of these giants - the State Editorial - when it was speck of dust that had to be championed by the first People's Commissar, and when the Children's Editorial did not even exist.
By the way, Anatoly Vasilievich was not only concerned with the arts because the State required it; his genuine artistic nature made him passionate beyond interest with children's stories, songs, dramas, and poetry. He warmly received with deep gratitude even the simplest of paintings, poems or musical pieces if they had a mark of talent. I saw him listening to Block (Alexandr Alexandrovich recited his poem Vengeance), to Mayakovsky, and to an unknown author that had written a historical drama in verse. Only a poet could listen to other poets like he did. I liked to look at him in those moments. The artistic cut of his personality could even be seen by the slight tilting of his head, in the way he arched his back, suddenly rejuvenated,in the emotion that made him clench his thin nervous fingers and in the devotion with which he gazed at the speaker.
Lunacharsky loved theater over any other art form: more than music, more than painting, more than poetry. In the theater he never felt indifferent; he was moved, he was indignant, or he felt an overflowing joy, and despite his many occupations, he always stayed until the end of the play, even if it was ill-performed.
When Monakhov, the famous operetta artist, agreed to represent, persuaded by Gorky Andreyeva and Blok, dramatic roles and created with great inspiration and psychological subtlety (in the year 19, in Petrograd), the image of King Phillip in Schiller's Don Karlos, Lunacharsky rushed backstage, before the actors could take off their make up, and kissed Monakhov in his pasty cheeks. Monakhov, usually quite reserved and serene, became extraordinarily moved by the impulsive greeting by the People's Commissar.
If a more expressive and brilliant example of the youthful enthusiasm that Anatoly Vasilievich felt for the stage was needed, it would suffice to mention the letter that he wrote later to Vakhtangov, mortally ill, when he was still under the influence of the debut of Turandot carried out by this master of the theater.

"Dear, very dear Evgeny Bagrationovich: I experience a strange sensation. You made my soul be as joyful as a cloudless day, weightless, filled with music...but at the same time I heard you were ill. Please be well, my dear, intelligent and gifted friend. Your talent is so diverse, poetic and deep that one cannot but feel love and admiration for you. Every single show of yours that I have seen are very promising and exciting. Let me think for a while. I do not want to write about you too hastily. But I will write my "Vakhtangov." It will not be an essay, of course, but a mere impression of all that you have given me, when you share your generous gift with the audience. Be well. I heartily take your hand. I congratulate you on your success. I expect something big, extraordinary from you.



You have to be madly in love with the theater to write to one of its representatives with such youthful passion



Lunacharsky demanded of himself, as a representative of State power, a thoughtful, active and tender love towards artists. He explicitly spoke of it in the article devoted to the memory of Mayakovsky. Referring to the death of the poet, he made the following confession:

"Not all of us are like Marx, who said that poets need a great deal of love. We don't all understand, and we did not understood that Mayakovsky needed great caring."

He took up that "caring" towards Mayakovsky almost from the first days of the October Revolution: he was his herald, his defender, his interpreter, and his friend. In the year 18, I saw them together more than once. To a superficial observer it would seem that Mayakovsky needed no "caring" at all: He kept himself in youthful joy, very independent. You needed the great sensibility of Lunacharsky to see that behind that façade, "a great longing of tenderness and love, a great longing for intimate sympathy...a yearning to be understood, and sometimes, consoled and caressed." "Behind that metallic armour that reflects the entire world - said Lunacharsky - beat a heart that was not only fiery and tender, but also fragile and easily vulnerable."
It was a great merit of Lunacharsky to have protected as much as he could, for the good of Soviet culture, that "fragile and easily vulnerable" heart.
The friendship between the poet and the People's Commissar were clear and free of any official bindings, it was that which would exist between two men rigorously faithful to their principles, and which ti would seem, excluded (on both sides) any tenderness. Mayakovsky, for example, never hid from Anatoly Vasilievich that he held great esteem of him as a brilliant critic, but that he did not regard highly his plays or verses. Later, he expressed this opinion publicly. In the year 20 a discussion was held at the Press House in Moscow, presided by Kerzhentsev, of these works by Lunacharsky. That discussion turned into a relentless judgment. The speakers, included Mayakovsky, unanimously criticized, for four hours straight, the theater works of the People's Commissar.
Anatoly Vasilievich was "sitting on the stage and, for four hours, heard the demolishing critique of his works...- recalled later Mikhail Koltsov-. Lunacharsky listened everything in silence and it was hard to imagine how he could object to such dense flurry of accusations. But at around midnight..., Anatoly Vasilievich took the stand. And guess what happened? He spoke for two and a half hours without anybody leaving, or even moving from where they were. In his amazing speech, he defended all of his plays and stroke his opponents dead, all together and each one separately.
When he ended, at around three in the morning, the entire room, including the harshest opponents of Lunacharsky, rose up in an ovation never heard in the Press House."
I did not attend to that memorable dispute, but I will never forget the fervor in Mayakovsky when he told me about it in Leningrad, deeply impressed still.
- Lunacharsky spoke like a god- Mayakovsky said to me-. That night, Lunacharsky was a genius.
That night, Anatoly Vasilievich walked back with Mikhail Koltsov.
"I was interested- recalled later Koltsov- in finding out the impression that that wearing battle had left him. But what he said to me was: Have you noticed that Mayakovsky seems sad? Would you know what is the matter with him?... and he added, concerned. "We have to see him and cheer him up." By the way, Mayakovsky, heated by the polemic, spoke of Lunacharsky's plays very harshly.
But that was later, when Anatoly Vasilievich moved to Moscow. In the year 18, in Petrograd, I heard him speak in public, at the most, three or four times, but that was enough to understand and feel the enormity of his talent for propaganda and improvised speeches. All of the times I heard him speak (in Petrograd and later in Moscow) were full improvisations. I remember that at the start of the spring of 18, he was about to visit Gorky, who then lived in Pretrogradskaya Storona.
- Kronverksky Pereulok- he said to the driver-. Gorky lived there then, and Anatoly Vasilievich visited him quite frequently, almost daily. This time we had barely got inside the care when he took out some papers - orders, projects, and documents- and with the speed that he was known for, he began to reread them carefully, preparing for his interview with Gorky.
But before we got to Kronverksky Pereulok, we had to stop. Back then automobiles were extremely rare, and many knew Anatoly Vasilievich's from a distance, and since they knew of his scheduled, they stopped him on the way. On this occasion, we were approached some sailors from the Baltic with their characteristic lords of the street assurance, armed from head to toe. One of them looked uncannily like Yesenin. After speaking some five minutes with the People's Commissar about some irregularities at the Peter and Paul Fortress, they made him promise he would go there that very day. Then we were stopped by some elderly workers, all of them of the Petersburg type that I knew since childhood - thin, introspective, quiet, bleak - and invited Lunacharsky to attend the opening of the Graphic Arts Club, which was located, if memory does not fail me, in Sadovaya street. Lunacharsky consulted with his schedule and promised he would be there.
I remember that I then realized what, later, especially in Moscow, I could see many times: that connoisseur of Botticelli and Richard Wagner, that lover of Ibsen, Maeterlink, Marcel Proust and Pirandello, felt among the proletariat like a fish in water, because those men were to him truly his brothers, and all of his work and knowledge were for them.

"You say you have no enemies? How is this so? Have you never spoken the truth, never loved justice?" - Santiago Ramón y Cajal
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