Anatolii Vasilevich Lunacharskii

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Lunacharskii, Anatolii Vasil’evich


Born Nov. 11 (23), 1875, in Poltava; died Dec. 26, 1933, in Menton, France. Soviet statesman; one of the founders of socialist culture; writer, critic, and art historian. Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1930). Member of the Communist Party from 1895. Son of a high official.

As a Gymnasium student, Lunacharskii joined the Marxist study group of an underground student organization in Kiev (1892) and disseminated propaganda among workers’ circles. Between 1895 and 1898 he was in Switzerland, France, and Italy, studying philosophy and natural science at the University of Zurich. He also studied the works of K. Marx and F. Engels, the classics of 18th-century French materialism, and 19th-century German idealist philosophy and established close ties with the Emancipation of Labor group. Returning to Russia in 1898 he was engaged in revolutionary work in Moscow; he was arrested in 1899, exiled to Kaluga, and later transferred to Vologda and Tot’ma (1900-04). For Lunacharskii, the turn of the 20th century was a period in which his striving to evolve a Marxist outlook conflicted with his leaning toward the idealist philosophy of R. Avenarius, a conflict that was later reflected in his philosophical and aesthetic views. Emphasizing the role of subjective and biological factors and coming under the influence of empiriocriticism (Principles of Positive Aesthetics, 1904), he nevertheless gave primacy to social and class criteria (Marxism and Aesthetics: A Dialogue on Art, 1905).

After the Second Congress of the RSDLP (1903), Lunachariskii became a Bolshevik. In exile he engaged in propaganda work and contributed to periodicals. At V. I. Lenin’s suggestion he went abroad in 1904, joining the editorial boards of the Bolshevik newspapers Vpered (Forward) and Proletarii and participating actively in the struggle against Menshevism. Lunacharskii worked under the guidance of Lenin, who highly valued his literary and propagandistic talent. At the Third Congress of the RSDLP (1905) he spoke on the subject of armed uprising, and he attended the Fourth Congress (1906). He represented the Bolsheviks at the Stuttgart (1907) and Copenhagen (1910) Congresses of the Second International. Between 1904 and 1907 he played an important role in the struggle for Lenin’s revolutionary tactics. But he also had serious philosophical disagreements with Lenin, which deepened during the years of reaction (1908-10). Lunacharskii joined the Vpered group and helped establish the factional party schools on Capri and in Bologna. Under the influence of empiriocriticism, he preached bogostroitel’stvo (god-creating) (Religion and Socialism, vols. 1-2, 1908-11; Atheism, 1908; Philistinism and Individualism, 1909).

Lunacharskii’s political and philosophical errors were sharply criticized by Lenin in Materialism and Empiriocriticism. In aesthetics, however, Lunacharskii remained a consistent proponent of realism, a critic of decadence, an advocate of the link between art and the ideas of socialism and revolutionary struggle, and a theoretician of proletarian art (The Tasks of Social-Democratic Artistic Work, 1907; Letters on Proletarian Literature, 1914; an article on M. Gorky’s plays).

During World War I (1914-18), Lunacharskii was an internationalist. Returning to Russia in May 1917, he sided with the mezhraiontsy (interaction group) of the Social Democrats, with whom he was admitted to the party at the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP (Bolshevik) in 1917. During the October days of 1917, he fulfilled important assignments for the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee. After the October Socialist Revolution he served as people’s commissar of education (1917-29). During the Civil War (1918-20) he was a plenipotentiary representative of the Revolutionary Military Council of the republic at the front and in front-line regions. In September 1929 he was appointed chairman of the Academic Committee under the Central Executive Committee of the USSR. In 1927 he became deputy leader of the Soviet delegation to the League of Nation’s disarmament conference, and in 1933 he was appointed the USSR’S ambassador to Spain. He was a delegate to the Eighth, Tenth, Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Party Congresses.

A man of vast learning, an outstanding theoretician of art and literature, an original critic, a writer and playwright, and a publicist and orator, Lunacharskii made a great contribution to the creation of socialist culture. His name is closely associated with the establishment of Soviet schools and a system of higher education and vocational training and with the reorganization of scientific institutions, theaters, films production, and publishing. Together with N. K. Krupskaia, M. N. Pokrovskii, and others, Lunacharskii worked on fundamental questions concerning the theory and practice of public education. He rallied the old intelligentsia to the Soviet government and the Communist Party and helped raise a new intelligentsia from the ranks of workers and peasants.

In his work and writings Lunacharskii devoted much attention to such problems as culture and socialism, the intelligentsia and the revolutionary masses, the relation between the party, state, and art, the tasks and methods of party leadership in the arts, and the significance of the cultural heritage for the literature and art of the victorious working class. Insisting that the proletariat was the sole heir to the cultural values of the past and rejecting nihilistic leftism, Lunacharskii maintained that questions of the assimilation of the artistic heritage were closely related to problems of proletarian socialist art and literature. He was the first major theoretician and critic of Soviet art. He played a large role in the development of Marxist aesthetics and art criticism and made an enormous contribution to the struggle for ideological richness and artistic diversity in socialist art.

In his articles and speeches, Lunacharskii was the first to assess correctly many Soviet artists, literary groups, and artistic currents. In his writings, perceptive sociopolitical descriptions are combined with subtle aesthetic analysis of works of art. He was among the first to show the significance of Lenin’s epistemological and historical principles for art and systematized Lenin’s statements about literature (Lenin and Literary Criticism, 1932). In his Socialist Realism (1933) he laid the groundwork for a new method of Soviet art. His contacts with foreign artists helped rally progressive artistic forces to the Soviet Republic. A friend of such Western artists as R. Rolland, H. Barbusse, B. Shaw, and B. Brecht, Lunacharskii was, in Rolland’s words, “an ambassador of Soviet thought and art respected by everyone.”

The works of his last years attest to Lunacharskii’s revision, on the basis of Leninism, of certain erroneous aspects of his philosophical and aesthetic views.

Lunacharskii’s works on the history of revolutionary and philosophical thought include Karl Marx: On the Occasion of the Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth, 1818-1918 (1918), From Spinoza to Marx (1925), Baruch Spinoza and the Bourgeoisie (1933), and articles on N. G. Chernyshevskii (1928). He also wrote several plays, notably, The Royal Barber (1906), Faust and the City (1918), and The Chancellor and the Locksmith (1921). His memoirs, including Stories About Lenin (1959), contain vivid personal reminiscences of the October Revolution of 1917. He is buried in Moscow on Red Square, near the Kremlin Wall.


Sobr. soch.: Literaturovedenie, Kritika, Estetika, vols 1-8 Moscow, 1963-67.
O teatre i dramaturgii, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1958.
V mire muzyki. Moscow, 1958.
O narodnom obrazovanii. Moscow, 1958.
Stat’i i rechi po voprosam mezhdunarodnoi politiki. Moscow, 1959.
O kino. Moscow, 1965.
Siluety. Moscow, 1965.
Ob izobrazitel’nom iskusstve, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1967.
Vospominaniia i vpechatleniia. Moscow, 1968.
“Neizdannye materialy.” Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vol. 82. Moscow, 1970. (With bibliographical index.)
Sta’i o sovetskoi literature, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1971.
“V. I. Lenin i A. V. Lunacharkii.” Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vol. 80, Moscow, 1971.
Ob ateizme i religii. Moscow, 1972.


Lunacharskaia-Rozenel’, N. A. Pamiat’ serdtsa: Vospominaniia. [2nd ed.] 1965.
Kairov, I. A. A. V. Lunacharskiivydaiushchiisia deiatel’ sotsialisticheskogo prosveshcheniia [Moscow, 1966.]
Liftshits, M. A. “Vmesto wedeniia v estetiku A. V. Lunacharskogo.” In A. V. Lunacharskii, Sobr. soch. v 8 tt., vol. 7. Moscow, 1967. Pages 587-613.
Dement’ev, A. G., and I. A. Sats. “A. V. Lunacharskii i voprosy sovetskoi literatury.” In Istoriia russkoi sovetskoi literatury (vol. 1, 1917-29). Moscow, 1967.
Lebedev, A. A. Esteticheskie vzgliady A. V. Lunacharskogo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1969.
Bugaenko, P. A. A. V. Lunacharskii i sovetskaia literaturnaia kritika. Saratov, 1972.
A. V. Lunacharskii o literature i iskusstve: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel;’, 1902-1963. Compiled by K. D. Muratova. Leningrad, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.