Society and the Ruling Powers

(1915 - #203)

         There is no land, in which there has been such a sickly rift between society and the ruling powers, as there is with us. Our society always feels itself such, as though it had not created the historical ruling power and is not responsible for it. We are accustomed to regard ourselves as though in a conquered land, and the Russian state often has seemed to us as not our state. An eternally indignant opposition, which also is the only thing left us and which has fomented the incessant struggle of the ruling powers against society, has taught us to look upon the state aspect as something foreign, "theirs". "They" have regarded themself the bearers of the state national idea. Russian society is constraintly held in  condition of statelessness and there has remained to it nothing, except to construct stateless theories and on principle to cleave to a stateless opposition. A sense of civil responsibility is possible only for one, who is called to an active participation in civil life, who himself has to create new forms of life. But one who is cast off onto the sidelines and from the sidelines has ability to be indignant, tends readily to admit as immoral and vile any sort of participation in the state civil authority. And the Russian intelligentsia has not be given to even the thoughts, that there can ensue a moment, when it will be called to an active and positive participation in civil life, when the state will be "us", and not "them". The historically habitual alternative of a boycott on principle of everything civil has remained up to the present. The consciousness of an active citizenship among us is still weak. We are too accustomed to feel ourselves as slaves not at liberty and hence to revolt like slaves. Rarely possible among Russians is to be met the pride of a citizen in his fatherland. In the speeches of our extreme "leftists" is felt not so much the dignity of the citizen, conscious of his mature power, as rather the mutinous malice of the eternally downtrodden and oppressed. Russians too readily go into hysterics, in both their deeds and in their words are lacking the power of the citizen. Rare is the one who speaks among us, as one having power.

         And it is very remarkable and joyful a thing, that in the historic session of the State Duma on 19 July Russia truly heard citizenship speeches, full of citizenship worth and citizenship indignation. This utmost worthiness of the citizens of their fatherland, responsible for its fate, was sensed not only in the speeches of the progressivist Ephremov and the Cadet Miliukov, but also in the speeches of the nationalist Count V. A. Bobrinsky and the Oktobrist Savich. Beautifully citizen-like was the speech of the peasant Evseev. The feel of citizenship was absent only in the speeches of Mr. Markov II and Mr. Chkheidze. The talk of the two extreme representatives from the opposite positions from that of the Russian societal effort was totally irresponsible. But the words of Count V. Bobrinsky and Mr. Savich, expressive of moderate-rightist circles of Russian society, spoke to the growth of a free citizenship, which would transpire in Russia under the effect of the war and patriotic concern. The same awareness of citizen worthiness and citizen responsibility was sensed also in the speeches of P. P. Ryabushinsky, uttered at the session of the industrialists and in the military-industrial committee; in them is sensed the growth of the political awareness of an entire class: into the arena enters our third estate and powerfully demands its sharing in the state civil life. A maturity of societal power is sensed also in the speeches of Prince G. E. L'vov. And behind all this stands a new power -- the army, the armed people.

         These are all important symptoms of a change of attitude between society and the ruling power. And this new correlation can be characterised not as the growth of the negative opposition of society, but as the growth of the positive authority of society, as the assuming unto itself of power in the state. In political life everything is attained not by the pronouncing of abstract formulas, but by the obtaining of positive power and the consciousness of this power. And society assumes power for itself by this, in what it does positive for the war effort, for the defense of Russia, for victory, and by this, in that without the societal forces the state cannot conduct war, without the all-rural and all urban unions, without the industrialists, without the State Duma, without the free press it is impossible to advance the defense of Russia upon heightened a sense of duty. It is a matter of objective historical and civil necessity, though also with delay, but it summons broad societal forces to the matter at hand, to a sharing in civil state life, to authority. And now the societal forces would win a free citizenship not by means of a negative opposition, not out of a struggle for power, but out of a patriotic upsurge and a patriotic concern, not so much a demand for rights, as rather a fulfilling of obligations. And now the indignation itself against the ruling powers -- is a patriotic indignation, a fulfilling of the awareness of national responsibility. What is established is not a parliamentary and formal-juridical responsibility along with ministers of state, which presupposes a deep-rooted change of the state structure and at the present time is hardly possible, but rather a moral and factually real responsibility for the country. And this would give a jolt to a ruling power, bereft of civil an awareness and responsibility towards its great country, a ruling power, unworthy of its great land. A totally irresponsible ruling power can no longer be tolerated. During these days of historical tribulations our society has to become involved in the civil aspect and take upon itself power for a positive national effort. Such a national matter should transpire in all spheres: the rural zemstvos, the cities, in industry, in the State Duma, in the press. we begin to feel, that the state -- is us, that we are responsible for it, that we share in its growth or decline.

         Russians do not fully understand, that the state is a necessary function in the historical life of peoples, that it is created and works through the peoples themselves. However bad and rotten a given historical form of state might be, yet it is also compelled to carry on certain functions common to every people. For us, and for every society, for every people is necessary an army or court system, although the army or court system can be poorly organised, and we then also have to strive to improve them. The state always is called in its own way to contend against that chaotic element, such as would lead to the falling apart of the societal life of the people. But the state civil consciousness has always been weak not only for our society, but also for our ruling powers, which sooner instead would stand upon the basis of its patrimony and imagine, that through an inherited right it rules the Russian earth and people. Our "ruling" power has always been very capable of wreaking havoc and anarchy into the societal life of the people. After 17 October, when the State Duma was formed, the ruling powers failed to evidence the civil state awareness, that the State Duma is a state institution, an organic part of the state. The representatives of the ruling authorities continue to think, that the people's representation is but a sufferable societal opposition to the governing powers, themself the sole bearer and voice of the state. From the two opposite sides for us is merged the state with the government.

         But indeed the legitimate power of the people's representatives is quite more deeply-rooted a principle of the state aspect, than is the executive power of the government, which is but one of the transitory functions of the state mechanism. The State Duma itself has to first of all consider itself an organic force of the Russian state aspect, an expresser of the unity of Russia, and not merely one arena for party struggles. The State Duma is society, with its contending forces, it itself is a force, it preserves the Russian civil state aspect and Russian national unity no less than the governing power, and rather moreso. With the government ministers, who have proven unfit in this verymost threatening hour for the Russian state, there has been no sort of civil awareness nor responsibility as regards the capacity of being bearers of the principles of the state aspect. They have been reactionary spokesmen against the fundamentals of the state aspect. The war has brought a casting aside of mere bureaucratic functions and a turning to realities. The civil and national phraseology of our rightist bureaucracy has proven illusory. And the war in the same a has brought a casting aside the fictions of all the abstract political declarations, with a turning to the concrete. We have ceased to believe in the phraseology of the rightist-bureaucratic, the leftist social democratic or the doctrinaire-liberal. We now believe only in concrete realities and in deeds, in inward power, finding expression in concrete outward actions.

         The relationship between society and the ruling authority is entering upon a completely new phase. This new correlation first of all brings awareness of the unity of society and the army, which is an awareness all more and more. Russia has been led to ruination by those destructive circles, which the State Duma has acknowledged as worthy only to sit in the judgement dockets of transgressors. Russia will be saved and defended by all of society, by all the people. And that civil state position, which will in fact have been won by society, by a patriotic deed of saving the native land, cannot ever be taken away. This henceforth -- is greatest a reality and power, not an abstract fiction. The war has to cure us from the abstract formalism in politics -- it points to actual content, to the vitally factual. We have to leave off with the irresponsible boycott and the principle-entrenched opposition by people, standing as it were outside of Russia, outside the Russian state aspect, outside the national unity. We have to surmount the formal and on-principle opposition between society and the civil authority, have to conceive of ourself as a positive force, acting within the united Great Russia, as responsible citizens of their fatherland.

                                                 Nikolai Berdyaev.


  2010  by translator Fr. S. Janos.

(1915 - 203 -en)

OBSCHESTVO  I  VLAST'. Article originally published in literary gazette "Birzhevye vedomosti", 10 August 1915, No. 15017. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, "Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922", Izdatel'stvo Astrel', Moskva, 2007, p. 340-344.

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