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Lunacharskii, Anatolii Vasil'evich (1875–1933)


Anatolii Vasil'evich Lunacharskii (also Lunacharsky), the Marxist philosopher and literary critic and Soviet administrator, joined the Russian Social Democratic Party in Kiev in 1892. Because of his political activities as a secondary school student, he was denied admission to Russian universities. He attended lectures at Kiev University and at the University of Zürich, where in 18941895 he studied under Richard Avenarius, who converted him to empiriocriticism. Lunacharskii returned to Moscow in 1897, was exiled to Vologda (18991902), and spent several years in western Europe between 1904 and 1917. He was the first Soviet people's commissar for education (19171929).

Lunacharskii's contributions to philosophy are concentrated in value theory (which he rather misleadingly called biological aesthetics), ethics, and philosophy of religion. Like the positivists, he denied the adjudicability of value disputes. "In order to show," he wrote, "that a given type of valuation is in its very root worse than another type, the scientist must oppose one criterion to another, but the choice between criteria is a matter of taste, not knowledge " ("K voprosu ob otsenke" [On the question of valuation], 1904, reprinted in Etiudy, Moscow, 1922, p. 55).

In ethics and social philosophy Lunacharskii was a "Nietzschean Marxist." He called himself an aesthetic amoralist and rejected the categories of duty and obligation, stressing instead free creative activity, the "artistic" shaping of ends and ideals. "Nietzsche," he declared, "and all the other critics of the morality of duty, have defended the autonomy of the individual person, the individual's right to be guided in his life solely by his own desires" ("'Problemy idealizma'," [Problems of idealism] in Obrazovanie 12 [2] [1903]: 133).

Lunacharskii called his individualism macropsychic, or "broad-souled," to distinguish it from "narrow-souled" (micropsychic) individualism. It approached collectivism in its stress on the historical community of the creators of culture.

Traditional religious attitudes and institutions, according to Lunacharskii, could and should be given a new, socialist content. The old religionssupernatural, authoritarian, "antiscientific"must be replaced by a new religion that will be humanistic, libertarian, and "scientific." The building of socialism and the shaping of the high human culture of the future will be a building of God (bogostroitel'stvo ). "Scientific socialism," Lunacharskii declared, "is the most religious of all religions, and the true Social Democrat is the most deeply religious of men" ("Budushchee religii" [The future of religion], p. 23). The religion of God-building will soften the sting of mortality by intensifying man's awareness of the "universal connectedness of life, of the all-life which triumphs even in death" ("Eshche o teatre i sotsializme [Once more on the theater and socialism], in Vershiny, Vol. I, 1909, p. 213). The new religion, imparting a sense of "joyous union with the triumphant future of our species," will be full of drama and passion, having its own "saints and martyrs." It will be worthy to stand beside medieval Christianity in the "universal arsenal of art and inspiration" (R. Avenarius: Kritika chistogo opyta v populiarnom izlozhenii A. Lunacharskovo [R. Avenarius: Critique of Pure Experience, Expounded for the layman by A. Lunacharskii], Moscow, 1905, p. 154).

See also Avenarius, Richard; Marxist Philosophy; Marx, Karl; Positivism; Russian Philosophy; Socialism; Value and Valuation.


works by lunacharskii

On Education: Selected Articles and Speeches. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981.

On Literature, and Art. Translated by Avril Pyman and Fainna Glagoleva. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973.

works on lunacharskii

Fitzpatrick, S. The Commissariat of Enlightenment: Soviet Organization of Education and the Arts under Lunacharsky, October 19171921. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

O'Connor, T. E. The Politics of Soviet Culture: Anatolii Lunacharskii. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983.

Tait, A. L. Lunacharskii: Poet of the Revolution (18751907). Birmingham: Department of Russian Language and Literature, University of Birmingham, 1984.

George L. Kline (1967)

Bibliography updated by Vladimir Marchenkov (2005)

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