A Bolshevist Index Expurgatorius

Written: Unknown date, by Nadezhda Krupskaia
First Published: Pravda, April 9, 1924
Source: The Living Age, July-September, 1924.
Translated: Unknown
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Soviet History Archive 2005. This work is completely free.

THE Library Section of the Central Office of Political Education - Glavpolitprosvet - is doing a great work. But 'only he who does not plough has no crooks in his furrow,' and during the last two years some errors have been made.

One was last spring. I signed a circular excluding unnecessary and harmful books from the people's libraries. We know how the libraries were organized, especially the 'people's' libraries before the revolution. They were filled with moralizing discourses, religious booklets reflecting the viewpoint of the Black Hundred, - such as the anti-Semitic Visits of Our Lady to the Tortures, - monarchistic twaddle, and the like. Such literature still remained in the libraries at many places. Furthermore, on the shelves of provincial libraries there was still much patriotic literature from the time of the war, and other propaganda material written on topics current in 1917, such as the Constituent Assembly and the like. These libraries also contained many books and pamphlets interpreting decrees and laws which have long since been repealed; all of which was calculated to mislead the less-informed reader.

My circular discussed the necessity of excluding such literature from libraries intended for the masses. This was simply to defend their interests. The circular itself was not in error.

To the circular was added an unfortunate index of prohibited books, compiled by the Commission for Book Revision. This was appended to the circular I signed without my having seen it; but as soon as I did see it the list was repealed.

Why was this index a mistake? First, because it missed the mark. It excluded from the people's libraries the writings of Plato, Kant, Ernst Mach, and idealists generally. These philosopher-idealists are harmful without doubt. But to have their works in the libraries intended for the peasants and workingmen is not harmful - it is immaterial: the masses do not read Kant. The list could not make any actual change in this respect. Much worse was the fact that the list of excluded 'religious' books was very limited.

The prohibition of certain works of Tolstoi and Kropotkin was a mistake. It is true that the world-view of Tolstoi, with his belief in God and Providence, does not belong to a school of thought which should be popularized. Concentrating on one's self, centring all efforts on one's own perfection, nonresistance to evil, appeals not to struggle against evil - all this is contrary to what we Communists are teaching the masses. And these appeals of Leo Tolstoi are especially harmful in view of his exceptional talent. Yet the general reader of the present, day is already sufficiently saturated with collectivistic psychology; he is imbued with the fighting spirit. Therefore the sermons of Tolstoi are powerless to convert anyone; they only stimulate thinking. There is also nothing to be afraid of in the anarchistic tendencies of Kropotkin. Life demonstrates at every step that organization is a great power. Our recent experience has made the teachings of Tolstoi and Kropotkin unreal and ineffectual. Therefore the prohibition of their books is needless.

Consequently the odious list over which so much noise was, made by Russian émigrés and their foreign, sympathizers was held up and repealed immediately after its publication.

The second error was that the Library Section overlooked a sentence which should have been expurgated from an otherwise very interesting and important article by A. A. Pokrovskii. In the last paragraph of his thesis the statement occurs that 'a religion which is entirely free of superstitions as to the interference of the Highest Powers in the affairs of this world, which does not put up bars against or set traps for science, which accepts in principle the entire real world, recognizable, if not "to the end," then at least "to where infinity begins" - such a religion, if it can be called a religion, is not in reality our enemy, and it is not the business of our libraries to combat it.'

Here Pokrovskii makes a gross error. Such a religion is no less harmful than any other religion. It confuses the minds of the people as much as any other religion; it diverts them from the struggle for a new life, from the establishment of a real brotherhood of man upon earth. The fact that such a new religion hides behind science, acts under cover, smuggles God in, throws dust in the eyes, - the fact that it works with refined instruments, - makes it even more dangerous.

Pokrovskii, as is seen in all his essays, believes the aim of our libraries to be 'the final establishment of positive atheism in the mind of man, and the spreading of propaganda for a comprehensive, logical, materialistic world-view.' He describes how such propaganda should be conducted. His theses contain many highly valuable suggestions, which certainly must be adopted by our popular libraries if they are to proceed correctly. Pokrovskii has had great experience and has great love for his work; he has already labored long shoulder to shoulder with the Communists. We Communists have learned much from him and value him.

Yet he believes that, thanks to our low level of culture, an enlightened, or purely rationalist, religion cannot hurt us, and in general that 'a wedge can be driven out by another wedge.'

This is his error. To measure the harm of enlightened religion is indeed a hard task, but this does not change the situation. The Glavpolitprosvet should not have permitted this sentence to pass. Needless to say, that cannot affect our relations with this valued worker. Our duty is to apply in pratice the maxim of Vladimir Iliich (Lenin): 'We must know how to build Communism with non-Communist hands.'

To allow the assertion that an enlightened religion is harmless to pass without refutation would signify that this maxim is not understood. On the other hand, to condemn such a worker as Pokrovskii would imply an equal misunderstanding of the maxim.