Staunton, February 6 – Unlike the authors of the 1918 collection From the Depths and the 1974 volume From Under the Rubble, the members of the Russian intelligentsia participating in a new collection, Passions around October, appear to have given up on the possibility of repentance and the spiritual recovery of the Russian people, Aleksandr Tsipko says.
In a Nezavisimaya gazeta essay today, the Moscow philosopher-commentator says that in his view, the new volume fully deserves to be put alongside the earlier works as a picture of the state of thinking of the Russian intelligentsia. What is shows is anything but hopeful as far as the future is concerned (ng.ru/ideas/2018-02-05/7_7166_extrim.html).
Only one of the 50 authors of the new book, Tsipko points out, talks about the need to examine and condemn the past and repent of the role of the population in what happened under the Soviets, “a serious change” that suggests, the idea of repentance may have “finally died” among the Russian intelligentsia.
One of the authors, Yakov Mirkin, provides an important clue as to why this has happened, Tsipko says. In his essay, “In Russia the trend to simplification and the archaic is stronger than the trend toward development,” Mirkin suggests that “the present-day post-Crimea Russia does not have any illusions about the spiritual development of the Russian man.”
“There is no basis to believe that the Russian collective man is capable of spiritual enlightenment and to a recognition of the inhuman nature of Soviet power. Even more, he is not capable of repentance for the sins of his own long dead forefathers who killed with their own hands Orthodox Russia together with its saints.”
“The tragedy, Mirkin writes,” in the words of Tsipko, “is that the very Western parts of the heavy Russian character have remained without change.” The Russian, in Mirkin’s words, “is accustomed to be subordinate, accustomed to obey verticals and the state … accustomed to serve … This collective man knows his own low value.”
According to Tsipko, “the image of the contemporary collective man described by Yakov Mirkin is in no essential way different from the image of the Russian man created by the authors of From the Depths almost a century ago.”
“All the specific characteristics of Russian national character which allowed the Bolsheviks to easily deceive ‘peasants in a soldier’s uniform,’ have in fact been preserved to this day. One-dimensional thinking, maximalism, shifts from one extreme to another, the principle ‘all or nothing’ … and the eternal search for enemies instead of recognizing one’s own mistakes and miscalculations.”
These archaic Russian qualities are “really alive” and represent a brake on the development of the country, Tsipko argues. But there is a key difference between the authors of From the Depths and those of the Passions around October: The former believed that the Russian people by some miracle could recover his soul; the second don’t believe in that miracle.
Tsipko says that the value of the new book is that “its authors, many of whom passed through the long school of Soviet life not only have freed themselves from the old apocalypticism … but have made out the mechanism of the destruction of the spiritual health of the Russian man by Bolshevik ideology.”
Like the authors of From Under the Ruble, the authors of the latest collection see the tragedy arising from the constant use of lies by the Soviet system. “What is most important,” Tsipko says, is that the authors uncover “the close link of the initial extremism of the system” and the need for the use of all means to force the population to “live by lies.”
For the Soviet system to work, the authors of the new volume say, according to Tsipko, it needed “constant lies with which the state tried to convince people that the unnatural is natural, that an eternal deficit is better than affluence, and that nowhere in the world does anyone breath as freely as does the Soviet man.”
The new book poses squarely the existential question: did the habit of living by lies die alongside the Soviet system or has it been preserved? And almost unanimously, the authors of its essays give “a negative answer to this most important question for contemporary Russia.” Some directly assert that living by the lie “continues to this day.”
A century ago, Russia’s leading members of the intelligentsia stressed that the Russian people might recover through a process of spiritual enlightenment. Now, with few exceptions, its representatives place ever fewer hopes that that will prove possible.
The single thing in their essays that gives any grounds for optimism, Tsipko says, is the view of these authors that “the future of Russia” must be “based on a profound recognition of the value in itself of human life and the values of European humanism.”
“I am glad,” the philosopher says, “that the authors of the collection Passions around October insist that “the individual must be above society and the state’ and that the main task of any Russian government must be ‘the care of the people.’”
A century ago, Semyon Frank wrote that “perhaps our faith in the miracle of the revival of Russia as the rising from the dead will not be justified, but all the same out duty is to insist that everyone understand where, how and why we fell into this abyss.”