PROLETKULT - (short for, "Proletarian Cultural and Educational Organization").

Formed in 1917 under the leadership of A.A. Bogdanov and A.V. Lunacharsky, the Proletkult advocated the cultural education of workers in order to foster the development of a new, distinctly proletarian culture which must arise and replace the doomed culture of the bourgeoisie.

For the Proletkult, art was not only a reflection of life from the viewpoint of a given class--it was also a means of organizing its collective labor. The First All-Russian Conference of the Proletkult proclaimed:

Art organizes social experience by means of living images, not only in the sphere of cognition, but also in that of feeling and desires. As a consequence it is a most powerful weapon for the organizatioin of collective forces, and in a class society, of class forces.

The proletariat must have its own class art to organize its own forces in social labor, sruggle, and construction. The spirt of this art is that of labor collectivism: it perceives and reflects the world from the point of view of the labor collective.

Some members of the Proletkult, such as the poet Vladimir Kirillov, maintained that the art of the past was of no use to the new dominant class. He shouted, "In the name of our tomorrow, we will burn Raphael, we will destroy museums, we will trample the flowers of art."

Bogdanov, however, claimed that the art of the past would still be of use to the proletariat, through, of course, a critical reworking of it from the collective-labor point of view. In commenting on the beauty of the Venus de Milo, Bogdanov wrote:

The gods have died. The goddess has ceased to organize her former collective; however, people have felt the great organizing force of this statue, they have beheld the beautiful. And from the moment they behold it they are forever bound to one another by something in common.
Nor did the Proletkult insist that the new literature and art be created only by pure proletarians; those of proletarian "orientation" were also welcome.

To help develop the new proletarian culture, the Proletkult organized literary studios to provide working-class readers with an elementary literary education. Courses were given on ancient and modern literatures and on the history of culture. The basic techniques of metrics, rhythm, versification, dramaturgy, artistic prose and criticism were also taught. Established writers--including Bely and Khoasevich--took part in its educational programs. In 1920, approximately 80,000 workers were enrolled in the classes provided in over 100 provincial branches of the Proletkult. They published over 30 separate journals.

The Proletkult irked the Communist Party with its insistence on being an autonomous body entirely independent of the Party and the government, despite the fact that the Soviet government was giving it financial support.. Trotsky and Bukharin disputed the notion that a purely proletarian culture was possible, and Lenin was dead-set against its independence..

In 1920, the Party got the Proletkult to adopt a resolution affirming that: a proletarian culture could arise only on the basis of the "bourgeois" thought and culure which already existed; and that the Proletkult must function as a subordinate body within the People's Commissariat of Education.

Following this change, the Proletkult's influence and membership slowly shrank. It was liquidated in 1932 along with all other literary organizations in connection with the creation of the Union of Soviet Writers.


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