29. Kingdom of the Intelligentsia

Piotr Struve once remarked: the misfortune of Russia was that it had too many intelligentsia, and too influential one. Many people will find this judgement unfounded. After all, intelligentsia and intellectuals in Russia seem to be all-powerful, necessary goods, especially after the establishment of the ‘new order’, which, in the opinion of some, fought brutally against them. Is it so?

Let’s talk about the intelligentsia and the ‘new order’.

1. Definition

First of all, let us define the subject of the speech. What do we mean by intelligentsia? All those who are literate? All those who have received an education? All those who are not engaged in physical labour? This question has been discussed many times in the past century. I will focus on the definition given by Struve. The intelligentsia, he says, is not the same as ‘the educated classes of society in general, including the church, the bureaucracy, and the urban class’. And further:

‘The intelligentsia is not a class, not an estate, not an educated stratum of society in general, and not any aggregate of classes and groups established on the basis of any external characteristics. The intelligentsia is a part of the educated class, united by a certain social worldview, a special self-consciousness peculiar to it’.

In other words: ‘’intelligentsia’ is a part of the educated class, stuffed with a certain ideological charge, […] the whole essence is in the ideological stuffing’. This ‘ideological stuffing’ in Russia was one or another ‘political truth’. The indispensable elements of ‘intelligentsia’ were also: the absence of religion, and non-nationality, understood as alienation not to the ‘popular’ Russian culture (which had enough supporters), but to the Russian-European, imperial one, which was mentioned in these essays above. Intelligentsia is enlightenment without tradition, its horizon is limited by intellectual fashion; intelligentsia is always today, it has no yesterday. All this is included in the extended definition of intellectuality given by Prince Alexander Volkonsky:

‘Four main characteristics defined a member of the “intelligentsia”: 1) possession of an academic diploma; 2) detachment from the native soil (des déclassés); according to this characteristic, a member of intelligentsia would be both a lawyer from the capital who was ashamed of his peasant mother and Prince Kropotkin, who broke not only with everything bad that was in his environment (this would be only commendable), but also with what was right and worthy in this environment; 3) a negative attitude to the Church’s beginning, and consequently to the existence of objective truth; when the existence of the latter was not completely denied, it was at least a denial of the reflection of Truth in the divine revelation already given to us. Hence the boundless subjectivism of the entire worldview… until thought was caught in the grip of the political confession of a given party; 4) a negative attitude at least to Russian authorities, and usually to all authorities and all statehood (apart from the dream statehood of the future ‘new humanity’). Those who realised that they had only the first point in common with these people could not classify themselves as intellectuals.’

Thus understood, the ‘intelligentsia’ was a force of the ‘left-wing’ in the sense indicated in the previous essays, i. e., charged with the offensive moralism characteristic of biblical religion, [1] but without its core — faith proper. For the sake of this moralism it once strove for revolution, then it justified its deeds, then it helped the ‘new order’. There were those who repented; Alexander Blok opens the list of them, but this list is not numerous. Towards the end of the existence of the ‘new order’, a break began in the intelligentsia’s attitude towards it, but we will talk about this later.

2. intelligentsia and the ‘new order’

Struve says, among other things, that one should distinguish between the intelligentsia and ‘the educated classes of society in general, including the church, the bureaucracy, and the urban class’. The ‘new order’ eliminated the classes he listed and — it is no exaggeration to say — created the kingdom of the intelligentsia. If the rulers from beginning to end were ignorant members of the ‘party’, their will was carried out by people who had received a certain education and were ‘stuffed with an idea’ in the sense mentioned above.

It is in vain that the intelligentsia wants to be seen as the exclusive victim of the ‘new order’. The victim was the former educated classes, and along with them all those rooted in national history and culture, all those with a past. Unlike them, the role of the intelligentsia, i. e. of ideologically charged and educated people, was not exclusively suffering. The machines of propaganda, upbringing and education were moved by their hands.

And the later ‘new order’, after the end of the terror, had an undoubtedly intelligentsia-like appearance — with a library in place of a temple, with utility in place of meaning. Everything complex, important, profound was removed from this library (except for Dostoevsky, who was permitted at the time by mistake). It was dominated by the ‘popular science’ worldview long known to the Russian educated public, with its easy, universally accessible explanations of everything that surpasses geometry.

To this day, the intelligentsia is ambivalent about the ‘new order’. While condemning the ‘people’s power’, it approves of the revolution. This bifurcation is possible because some see an abyss between the ‘new order’ and the intelligentsia. The latter is supposedly neither in word nor in deed guilty of the former; the ‘new order’ was the persecutor of the intelligentsia — and only that. The intelligentsia appears, as I have said, as the main victim. This is far from the truth. The intelligentsia welcomed the collapse of the Old World and throughout the existence of the ‘new order’ has been a carrier of its ideas — with the exception of the last ‘Soviet’ decades, when the (previously impossible) type of cynical intellectual that dominates today was developed. We will talk about intellectual cynicism a little later.

Intelligentsia, on the one hand, is self-reproducing; on the other hand, it is self-reproducing with a lowering of its level. The lowering of the level is natural when there is no reliance on the past; when education is limited to the transmission of a certain amount of knowledge; when the self-knowledge given by religion and art is not imprinted on the personality. What was part of a wider cultural world cannot become a whole — unless the intelligentsia ever stratifies and new, independent parts of it create their own tradition. But the tradition is being created too slowly. This is the main difficulty of modern culture: in order to be, culture needs tradition, but you cannot create it soon and at will, you can only join an already existing one. And modernity does not have the desire and ability to return to history, to join an already existing tradition, because such a return would devalue all the petty values and all the petty idols of the epoch.

A cultural world from which all components except the ‘intelligentsia’ have been removed awaits unanimity. ‘This was sometimes a paradox, but now the time gives it proof’. The intelligentsia is a class with common thoughts. Mental heterogeneity is given only by the difference of upbringing, education and learnt tradition — and all these forces have long ceased to operate. The kingdom of the intelligentsia is a society of like-minded people. This follows not only from experience, but also from Piotr Struve’s definition: ‘a part of the educated class stuffed with a certain ideological charge’. An idea either captures a certain circle entirely, or remains alien to it.

‘Idea’, as applied to the intelligentsia, is almost the same as faith. Faith is all-encompassing, jealous and exclusive. Only the laws of faith are applicable to the development of the intelligentsia. Either its member believes, or he is cast out. The history of Russian thought is the history of exiles. The history of Russian faith (since the middle of the 19th century) is the history of intelligentsia. The irreligiosity of the intelligentsia does not contradict this — on the contrary, it confirms it: one faith excludes the other.

There was a certain harmony between this self-replicating layer and the ‘new order’ that some people these days recall, hoping even for its return. Children ‘studied in circles’, adults read ‘popular scientific literature’… There was no place for an independent personality in the circle of these activities.

And one more thing must be said. When all the educated classes except the intelligentsia left the scene — even it, in its former composition, proved insufficiently groundless for the new power. Afraid of the relatively old culture of the Russian Centre and North-West, this power called the South to its aid.  In the 1920s, Odessa defeated Moscow and St. Petersburg. To this day, the cultural line of ‘Odessa’ has no opposition; Moscow and St. Petersburg have left no heirs. To be more precise, their inheritance is books. At the same time, the return of the line of Russian culture preserved by the White emigration — which has not lost its national (i. e. imperial, Romanov) roots and has overcome the revolutionary temptation — is undesirable for almost everyone in Russia, because it will leave no room for Soviet and post-Soviet false idols. For the now flourishing ‘creative class’ it is most profitable to leave national culture where it is — in the archives.  [2]

So, under the ‘new order’, the library did not only stand in the place of the temple. Worse: the works in it were carefully selected. One cannot help but be amazed when looking at the books published at that time. The vast majority of them are not written out of a fervent, sincere desire to create this particular book, to do this particular job; there is no personality behind almost any book, unless it is a volume of classics — sanitised by propaganda and what I have called in previous essays ‘the art of looking past things’. All these are books for entertainment, not affecting the soul and mind. Even humanitarian knowledge has been dried up and neutralised, expressed with the help of jargon that exhausts creative labour and reader’s understanding.

3. Self-cognition in jargon

The loss of clear, transparent, penetrating into its subject speech meant much more than a mere decline in literary quality.

I have already said that people from whom the epoch has taken away the ability to express complex thoughts understand themselves no more complexly than they can express themselves. Everything is simplified: the understanding of themselves, their place in the world, the world and life in general. Even the ‘learned’ class is speechless, or rather — the more ‘learned’, the worse, because only speech incomprehensible to the speaker himself, full of ‘words with vague meaning’ is considered ‘scientific’, as Zoshchenko pointed out.

After all, what does it mean to take away the ability to express thoughts accurately? Not just words are taken away, the most primordial concepts are taken away. Instead of ‘landmark’, a semi-educated person says: ‘an interesting cultural and social object’. This is unspeakably comical and meaningless, but in the speaker’s opinion it denounces his scholarship. When applied to philosophy, to any thinking about the deep and primary, it leads to babbling, to grinding up scraps of other people’s thoughts, to attempts to replace thinking by comparing quotations.

There is no self-cognition in jargon, there is no poetry. Poetry requires clarity, supreme awareness; vague words are not suitable for it. Self-knowledge is given either by religion or poetry, or a combination of both. Here and there a man finds ready-made formulas, which he can either literally apply to himself (which everyone does in childhood and youth) or use in the search for a formula of his own, not borrowed. The human is shaky, indeterminate, ambiguous; the cast-iron words of the ‘monkey language’ (Zoshchenko’s expression) do not express it. Poetry is best suited to convey the ‘human’,

‘an account of how God (life, the essence of time) permeates man; a religious experience from the side of the individual in it’,

as Boris Poplavsky says. Shakespeare, the Bible — best educate the self-conscious personality precisely because they are the least ‘scientific’, they are about the private, the personal, the secret. Those who have been brought up by the conventional ‘library’, ‘popular science worldview’, who are sure that ‘there is nothing complex in man — simple processes of excitation and inhibition’, will never come to higher development. We are what we believe and — I would add — what we can express.

4. Cynicism as a defence technique

Remoteness from cultural roots, loss of the ability to express thoughts clearly, refusal of self-cognition — combined with the continuous lies of the ‘new order’, which every even partially thinking person tried to resist — distorted the old intelligentsia type fundamentally.

The intelligentsia, thanks to some dark subterranean roots, had long seen virtue in abstaining from cynicism; exercised, if not faith, then trust in a certain range of subjects. The type of the intellectual cynic developed rather late, when the ‘new order’ had become a laughing-stock from a threat, but it was still not safe to laugh loudly. Nowadays, this type has grown, strengthened, and blossomed. Even at the beginning of the last century, or indeed, even in the ‘outland Russia’ of the 1930s, this type was extremely rare, almost unheard of.

However, even then there was Georgy Adamovich, the prototype of the Russian literary man of modern times, that is, a chilled cynic. ‘This is the feeling of worthlessness’, said Adamovich, ‘that will kill literature. It’s as if you were taking off leaf after leaf: this is unimportant and that is unimportant (or ridiculous in the case of irony), this is nothing and that is just trifle, leaf after leaf, ruthlessly, in anticipation of the truest, most necessary thing, and there is none’.

This phrase — ‘everything is unnecessary’ — crowns a certain type of development. It proves that a materialist has nothing to do in art, in the field of thought, because if everything dies, then everything is meaningless, everything is unnecessary, why work? And modern Russian culture is ruined not only by semi-enlightenment, but also by the universal materialism, imbibed from childhood, the belief that there is nothing but matter in the world. Except for success and money, except for the patronage of the authorities, whom they are ready to applaud until their generosity runs out, and yet hate them only because they are authorities. The fruits of such a ‘culture’ are not even poisonous — they are insignificant.

Adamovich and his followers are killed by the lack of experience of spiritual life. Adamovich’s lack of experience is inexcusable, owed to his inner dryness and gracelessness; his followers’ lack of experience is forced, brought up from childhood. They know things and only things; spiritual life for them is something distant, perhaps ‘churchly’… ‘In art’, Ivan Lukash replied to Adamovich, ‘the artist’s originality is the only important thing. He must first of all (and this is the most difficult thing) become… an independent being, leave everything alien, except his own, if there is one, and ‘be himself’,’ i. e., to continue Lukash’s thought, he must get used to living within himself. The children of the ‘new order’ do not know how to do this. They live only ‘in the collective’ and ‘with the collective’, only with external goals and for external goals…

The task of the cynic is to devoid of meaning all around him. If this cynic is engaged in literary criticism, for example, he needs to prove that Russian writers only dreamed of simplification and shapelessness. For such a critic, the whole purposeful and form-shaping Romanov era — with Pushkin, Dostoevsky, complex (and always unrecognised by contemporaries) thought — is intolerable; it must be reduced to an unimportant value. Then Adamovich makes ambiguous references to Chekhov: Chekhov, you see, never once mentions Dostoevsky because he realises his insignificance. The cynic in general is inclined to refer to others, to ‘everybody knows’: he is uncomfortable alone.

And the cynic also likes to feel ‘modern’. He sends everything unnecessary to the past, to his backward ancestors. For such a mind, everything important, integral, life-determining — was ‘once before’, but has long since ceased to exist; modernity for these people is empty, devoid of any meaning; meanings and values were in the past, modernity can only ‘study’ them. In reality, everything important is eternal — hence today: philosophy, God or gods, fate, the struggle for culture (I add) against revolution…

Cynicism destroys not only the soul affected by it. It also prevents any general cultural development, i. e. movement ‘onwards and upwards’. When cynics take the upper hand, culture turns into a swamp where ‘everything is unnecessary’ except success and money. But we should recognise that in its origins, intellectual cynicism was a means, if not of resisting the revolution, then of adapting to its all-encompassing lies.

5. ‘Revolution’ as a moral concept

Let’s talk about revolution.

‘Revolution’ is as vague, confusing a word as ‘intelligentsia’. As a rule, a certain moral pathos is associated with it: ‘the uprising of the people’, ‘resistance to oppression’, and so on. This pathos is completely international, the same in Russia under the ‘new order’ and, say, in the United States. This is not surprising, for the modern West is also a child of rebellion.

‘Revolution’ these days is a purely moral concept. In revolution, ‘historical’ thinking sees what our ancestors called the ‘punishment of the Lord’. It is time, however, to debunk this notion, to strip it of its moral charm. It is time to realise that the revolution is an accident. It has nothing to do with the ‘rebellious people’, the ‘struggle for rights’ and the like. The people are invested in the riot made possible by the collapse of the state order, but this happens after the revolution.

In Russia, the ‘revolution’ was preceded by a long period of mental confusion caused by the leftist movement, the roots of which stretch back to the last quarter of the 19th century. The true meaning of inequality is to enlighten the unenlightened and educate the uneducated from the heights of wealth and culture. In Russia, on the contrary, the middle-upper class was disgusted by its own culture (read: strength) and dreamed of equalising the educated with the uneducated. Voluntary weakness was its ideal.

Аlexander Saltykov recalls the time of his studies at the Polivanov Gymnasium (1880s):

‘We had another stream coming from the outside, from the surrounding atmosphere. It was a stream of general simplification, purely Bolshevik in essence. In some respects it rejected the entire hierarchy of the established values of life. Such was the case in our gymnasium. What was it in the others? It is enough, however, to look through the journals of that time — and even of an earlier epoch — to see how Bolshevism pervaded Russia, even though it had no name yet, through a thousand gaps, and sometimes even by wide roads, over the course of dozens of years’.

Throughout the reign of Nicholas II, the further, the more Russia was in a fog of Marxist and Populist (simplificating) dreams, in the deception of the ‘new order’. The revolution became a truly experienced and realised past only for ‘outland Russia’. White emigration was not just a ‘continuation of former Russia’. On the contrary, it was the Russia of the future — a living overcoming of the revolution and of the Populist, simplistic spirit that had led to it; in ‘mainland’ Russia, on the contrary, the simplistic spirit had triumphed, culture had returned in the 1860s and remained there, only to fall into various debauchery after the fall of the ‘new order’.

It must be emphasised that there was never a ‘revolution’ in Russia in the childish sense that the leftists give to this word. There was a coincidence in time of three heterogeneous phenomena: the essentially religious agitation of the minds of the ‘intelligentsia’, the vague peasant discontent fuelled by urban propaganda, and the soldier’s, or rather deserter’s, revolt in the year 1917. To all this was added the weak will and ‘Christian’ sentiments of the Emperor. Without the first of these circumstances — the mental damage to the intelligentsia — the third would not have played a fatal role either. As for the peasantry, the intelligentsia had just deprived it of the confidence in the Tsar on which the Russian state had been held. One need not be a monarchist to assert this: simple common sense is enough…

6. Conclusion

It would seem that all of the above is pure cultural archaeology that has nothing to do with modernity. In reality, all of the above forces are still active today. The cultural stratum that sees itself as a community of the elect persecuted for the truth, offensive-moral when it comes to opponents and condescending when it comes to friends — is now stronger than ever. The continuing decline in educational attainment (more and more ‘facts’, less and less ‘education’), the ease of exchanging opinions and absorbing superficial information provided by the worldwide network — all this contributes to its flourishing.

As for the ‘idea stuffing’, the leftist movement of our days has found a new focus: the liberal idea, which offers people, in the field of opinions and behaviour, not a ‘competition’ but a fruitless form-making, and as far as possible in secondary issues. (What is surprising: this belief in ‘form-making’ is freely combined by many with a belief in the ‘last truth’, accessible only to the chosen few.) Often this form-making is presented as a bona fide preserved Hellenic heritage. The claim is unfounded.  The essence of Hellenism: competition as a way of finding the best.  But the liberal idea is convinced that there is no ‘best’; and socialism knows its ‘best’ in advance. Where there is ‘one truth’ — what ‘competition’ can there be?

I make the usual reservation: competition is an aristocratic idea; mere form-making, about which liberals are so fond, have nothing in common with competition and the search for the best. In general, the so-called ‘tolerance’ and ‘pluralism’ are deeply alien to all competition. They demand admiration for any activity, even if it is devoid of any value, or even worse, with a negative value. Those who claim that the modern West has Hellenic roots are ignorant of the fact that competition without evaluation and without the idea of the best would have been, in the view of the Greeks, empty pastime.

Let us be neither liberals nor members of the intelligentsia. Let us seek the best, and the ‘best’ not in terms of morality, especially not in terms of party morality. The best, defined morally, is too accessible to distortion and depends on which enemy that morality is to be directed against. For the man of mental labour, dignity without pretensions to ‘chosenness’, depth of thought, clarity of speech, self-cognition — these are the kinds of the best that are generally available, with some effort, and which do not depend on our understanding of morality. And if they do not serve to combat ‘world evil’, so much the better.  Dehumanisation, as the experience of the latest socialisms has shown, so as not to refer to earlier epochs, comes just in the way of the last and decisive struggle against ‘evil’.

[1] Offensive moralism manifests itself in the desire to censor the world. Deeply ignorant but highly ideological people prescribe to writers, philosophers and scientists the ‘correct’ content of their mental labour, or even its external forms. The question, ‘Isn’t this breast too naked?’ is not usually posed by a cobbler. Every prude is sure that if we forbid mentioning an object, the object itself will cease to exist and will no longer bother anyone. The last example is the prohibition in the West of the word ‘blind’ in a figurative sense (e. g., ‘blind search’), as if it offends the blind. The blind are offended by blindness. Prudery is not a whim, not an extreme, but a natural consequence of a moralistic worldview.

And now (in the year 2023) time gives us more and more surprising examples of prudish thinking: now the West is convinced that it is possible to damage Russia by banning the word ‘Russian’.

[2] The unconditional ‘acceptance of the revolution’ fostered by the new order makes even a philologist, who recognises the beauty of traditional spelling, add that ‘of course there is no need to restore anything’. This is also their attitude to the former cultural line: ‘of course, it is not necessary’.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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