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Anatoly Lunacharsky
Анато́лий Лунача́рский
People's Commissar of Education
In office:
November 26, 1917 -
Prime Minister Vladimir Lenin
Personal Information
Born November 23, 1875
Poltava, Russian Empire
Citizenship Soviet
Nationality Russian
Political party Communist
Alma mater University of Zurich
Occupation Journalist
Religion Atheism

Anatoly Lunacharsky (Анато́лий Васи́льевич Лунача́рский) was a Bolshevik politician, writer, translator, critic and art historian. He was an active participant in the October Revolution and served as the People's Commissar of Education.

Early Years

Anatoly Lunacharsky was born in Poltava, Ukraine, which at that time part of the Russian Empire. He became interested in Marxism at the age of fifteen, while studying at the gymnasium in Kiev. In 1895, Lunacharsky entered the University of Zurich, where he studied philosophy and natural science. He focused on analyzing works by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, among other materialists, and was greatly influenced by the idealistic views of the lecturer Richard Avenarius. Empiriocriticism, based on the viewpoint that only direct experience could be relied on as a basis for knowledge, became the foundation of most Lunacharsky’s works.


The same year he entered the University of Zurich, Anatoly Lunacharsky joined the Social Democrats. He returned to Russia in 1898 and began his revolutionary activity. Within a year, Lunacharsky was arrested and exiled.

In 1903, the RSDLP split into Mensheviks (derived from the Russian word “minority”), led by Julius Martov and Bolsheviks (“majority”), led by Vladimir Lenin. Lunacharsky decided to support the latter. Over the next six years the difference in philosophical opinions of Lenin and Lunacharsky sharpened and grew into a political disagreement. Anatoly Lunacharsky had developed ideas of “God-building,” considering socialism as a way of entering the “promised land” on earth, while Marxism saw as a culminate point the day when humankind would be liberated from dependence on nature and the supernatural.

Lenin criticized Lunacharsky’s ideas and Lunacharsky didn’t support Lenin’s extremism and insisted on parliamentary means of gaining power. In 1909, Anatoly Lunacharsky, together with Maxim Gorky and Aleksandr Bogdanov (Lunacharsky was married to his sister), formed the left-wing group “Vperyod” (Forward), which was in opposition to Lenin. Gorky, Bogdanov and Lunacharsky started a school for Russian socialist workers on the island of Capri. In 1910, all three revolutionaries moved to Bologna and there continued their teaching activity up until 1911.

In 1913, Anatoly Lunacharsky moved to Paris. After the outbreak of Great War, he took an internationalist anti-war position. He actively disagreed with the Mensheviks regarding their strategy and tactics in the revolutionary struggle. After the February Revolution of 1917, which resulted in the downfall of the Russian Empire and declaration of the Provisional Government, Anatoly Lunacharsky left his family in Switzerland and returned to Russia. He re-joined the Bolsheviks and in October 1917 was appointed Commissar of Education Enlightenment (Narkompros), equivalent to Minister of Education and the Arts.

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