Russkaya svoboda, apr. 1917, No. 1, p. 6-12.

N. A. BERDYAEV  (BERDIAEV)

The Psychology of a Survivable Moment

(1917 - 259)

         Still quite recently, yesterday, it would seem, some very wise Russian people had gathered and they held agonising conversations, on how to find a way out of the mess, into which Russia has fallen. And in a sort of inescapable gloom the wise people left it all up to chance and to fate. In only but few remained faith in the instinct of the Russian people, which always has managed to find a way to save in the difficult moments of historical life. And the Russian people in so doing has proven, that it is a great people and worthy of a great future. On the brink of destruction, in an inescapable position, under the threat of terrible an enemy with inspiration and genius it managed a most brief, bloodless and harmless of revolutions. Everything happened unforeseen, not by plan, not by calculation. The Great Russian Revolution did not resemble typical revolutions. This was a sort of impulse amongst all the people, an upheaval of the nation in general. Suchlike were its first days. The ultimately rotted top structure was gone, and no one was sorry about it. The unprecedented vileness of the old powers united everyone top to bottom. The Russian revolution -- was the most national, the most patriotic, the most deriving of the people from of all the revolutions, the least in matters of class as regards its character, not "bourgeois" and not "proletarian". That which occurred in Moscow on 1 March, when all the army went over onto the side of the people, produced the impression not of a revolution with its bloody struggle, but rather of happy an holiday celebration amongst the people. The instinct of the people had found a way out, just as it had found it during the Times of Troubles era, just as it had always found it, and had not allowed Russia to perish. A prolonged revolutionary struggle during the time of war would have been ruinous for Russia. And here with the speed of a lightning-flash, in enormous an unity there was swept away the old powers, which hindered Russia to live and spread forth a prolonged and oppressive nightmare, from this ghastly enchanted realm the Russian people emerged into a bright realm of freedom. And the striking thing, is how ingloriously perished the old and formerly sacred realm -- it found not a single chivalrous defender, all the servants of the old order hastened to desert it, they all proved to be charlatans. In this regard the royalists of the French Revolution stood higher. Where indeed the sincere and true defenders of the old regime? Where the spiritual powers of reaction? The last of the autocrats, Nicholas II, has killed the sense of loyalty, has murdered the monarchistic idea and has torn it from the heart. In the elements of Rasputinism was drowned the remnants of loyal devotion to the old monarchy and dynasty. In these murky elements perished also the last remnants of a connection of autocracy with the Orthodox Church.

         Striking also was the lack of discomfort and ease, with which the revolutionary turnabout transpired for the Church almost mechanically, the imperial chair was removed from the Synod, and there occurred some small changes in prayers for Divine Services. The clergy has proven completely loyal in regard to the new powers. There have not been any sort of signs of clergy resistance to the downfall of the thousand year sanctity on the part of the representatives of the clergy. No sort of clergy religious agitation has been sensed in clergy circles, no signs of activity or initiatives. Long ago already there evidently occurred a spiritual upheaval, and the external catastrophe merely confirmed it. Of the sacred status of the autocracy long ago already nothing remained, except the outward decoration. And indeed there never did exist a mystical connection of autocracy with Orthodoxy: the connection was but a matter of national historical and of lifestyle.

         If much was unforeseen in what has transpired, then one thing was foreseen -- the neutral role in the turnabout played by the army, and otherwise it could not be. By thousands of bloody threads the revolution was connected with the war, it obliged almost all to the war and reminded one of one’s duty in regard to the war. This correlation of war and revolution is for us very contradictory and paradoxical. For a long time the war, evidencing the unfitness of the old regime, forestalled a revolutionary turnabout. Many, sincerely aspiring for a free life in Russia, out of patriotism became reconciled to finishing up the war with the old powers remaining in place. But the war also however terribly facilitated the revolutionary turnabout in Russia: it rendered it rapid and united. The war transformed the whole army into something of the people and therefore it facilitated its passing over to the side of the people. Now many elements, in the depths of their souls being conservative, have become reconciled with the new powers out of patriotism, and out of fear of harming the war effort by discord. The general staff, undoubtedly, has sanctioned the revolutionary turnabout out of patriotic motives, and for maintaining unity in the army.  And this special connection of the revolution with the war cannot be sundered, it has to be continued. Patriotic indignation has enabled the overthrow of the old powers, the suspicion of treason and betrayal has morally finished off the old power; its incapacity to get atop the tasks of the defense of the country has rendered objectively impossible its further existence. This patriotic defensive motive of the Russian revolution obliges it to continue on with the war and intensify the free powers of the people for the war. In this is its justification of national a character. It is not the first time in history that powers, under the force of revolution, happened to wage war. The French Revolution had to wage war. And it mustneeds be said, that the question concerning the war at present is a most anxious and important question for a free Russia: it has to be at the forefront of patriotic tasks. The Russian people has to define its free-citizen attitudes towards the war, has to realise, that in its own hands sits the fate of Russia, its honour and its dignity. Failures in the war are dangerous to the very cause of freedom. The victory of Wilhelm could readily be transformed in Russia into a victory of counter-revolution. The dark powers could lift their head, and there could be attempts at a restoration. A defeated and humiliated Russia would be unable to be reborn into a new and free life -- it would be thrown backwards. The more lofty and civil consciousness of the workers has to lead to a remembering, that a real improvement of position of the working class stands dependent upon the worthy and independent existence of Great Russia. Advances are needed not only of the bourgeoisie, but also of the workers themself, of all the Russian people, of all its coming generations: on this depends the economic developement of Russia. The problem of the improvement of the position of labour in Russia is insoluble if unrelated to the problem of Great Russia and its place in world life. A non-national, abstract existence of the working class is impossible. Only a national democracy is possible. The international social-democratic mindsets are merely moments of delirium, after which is inevitable a sobering up and being thrown backwards. One should not underestimate the danger of counter-revolution and restoration -- in the case of revolutionary excesses. In France indeed it was only after 80 years following the great French Revolution that there was established a durable democratic republic. In a land, accustomed to a lengthy period of slavery, not immediately at once and not easily can there be established the people’s self-discipline and free citizenship. Free citizens are not created in a single day. The task of nurturing democracy in Russia -- is very difficult and serious a task, and the greatest hindrance upon its path is that of demagoguery. If we have a fracturing of the unity of the all-national impulse, with the growth of discord, if in deciding the fortunes of the state there prevail principles of class struggle, if there be attempts to prolong the revolution in a social-class spirit, if among the masses there prevail the Social-Democrat "Bolsheviks" with their anarchist-revolt tactics, then counter-revolutionary attempts are inevitable and will have justification. It is unseemly to incite violence against a significant portion of the Russian people and society. It would present the danger to the liberal possessor classes to feel, that the new regime for them is more dangerous than the old regime. Thus grow thoughts of restoration. "Bourgeois" fear already begins to be sensed, and this unlofty outlook in certain circles poisons the joy of the resurrection of an entire people to new life. The impossibility at present of a "proletarian" revolution is realised by all the somewhat reasonable social-democrats.

         The new powers, undoubtedly, face entering upon the path of bold reforms in the spirit of state socialism, upon the path of the socialisation and regulation of our economic life. This has to, certainly, lead to a clashing of the state itself with the diverse interests of the industrialists and land-owners, the workers and the peasants, to a limiting of these interests and desires. Another path at present is impossible for the state. There has to be revealed the broad possibility for the organisation of democracy and the defense of the interests of labour. But all this can happen under the standard of a national civil welfare and its inevitability cannot have anything in common with the striving of whatever class for control. The creative instinct ought always to win out over the "sharing" instinct.

         We have lived through an ecstatic moment of uplift among all the people, which will remain forever in the memory of the people. More at depth a view would have to admit, that within the social fabric has occurred a turnabout not so profound and not so radical, as might seem. There has fallen away the rotting head, all has become stirred up and set in motion, But a profound regeneration of society cannot occur in a single instant. Russia comprises within itself some several historical eras: in the depths of Russia exists the inner core, which dwells still back in the XIV Century. Much of the old will continue to act under a new outer covering. In revolutions, much involves merely a change of attire. Not all revolutionaries become new people. The revolutionaries of today can prove to be very old-fashioned people, full of despotic and cruel instincts. And to determine the real specific effect of all the active powers is not so easy, as would seem under superficial a glance.

         The working class of the large cities always plays a large role in the days of revolutionary turnabouts. But still this does not signify, that its role corresponds to its real place in the social and state-organism of Russia. The formation of a soviet of workers deputies was an essential corrective to the absence of democratic organisations, of the labouring strata of the Russian people. But the Russian people itself is not some whatever class, it represents immeasurably more mysterious a power, and this power is not subject to quantitative a reckoning. No one themself in truth monopolises the voice of the Russian people. The greatest metaphysical, moral and aesthetic error of the extreme democratic ideologues mustneeds be sought in this, that these ideologues see the reality of societal life only in the quantitative aspects and not in the qualitative aspects. The innate and inseparable qualitative aspect eludes this type of democratic consciousness. Therefore the societal problem presents itself as a mechanics of quantities. But there exist qualities in societal life, not squarable with any sort of quantities and incomparable with quantities. Thus, for example, the quality of compositioning the organisational aspect and of responsible societal an effort. Our qualificatory Zemstvo and State Duma are based upon poor an election law. But this imperfect rural Zemstvo and the imperfect State Duma all have played a certain qualitative role within our societal and state-civil life, and without them the turnabout would not have happened, as it happened. The chief thing about the initial qualitative aspect mustneeds be seen in people, in the forging of the person, in the traits of the person, irrespective of class position, in the spiritual life of people, not attributable to any sort of material medium, in cultural traditions. Every creative cultural power has a right to a particular role in the societal building up of Russia and cannot be rendered totally and mechanically on a level with the powers of lower a cultural level. This would be in an utmost sense of the word, unjust. Inevitable and justified would be a qualitative selection of persons, of creative powers, of cultural levels. The truth of democracy can only consist in the establishing of conditions, favourable for a manifestation of qualities, for the selection of a true aristocracy. The truth of social democratism demands, that a person should be defined and occupy a place in life according to his personal qualities and talents, and not in terms of a social-class and material position. But this truth collides immediately with the idea of a mechanical levelling. It is even possible to posit suchlike a paradox: if an ideal social democracy were possible upon the earth, then its truth would be in a manifestation of a qualitative inequality of people. One's belonging to the working class does not guarantee having any sort of qualities and does not give specific rights to social building, equally just as belonging to the industrial class. Democracy cannot be posited upon purely formal a basis. The empty form of democracy does not represent any utmost benefit. The centre of gravity has to lie in the content, and not in the form of democracy. And this presents us a close looking at the basic task -- the spiritual nurturing of democracy, creating higher a type of culture for all the people.

         That which occurred during the first days of the revolution, was a manifestation of the spirit of all the people, in this equally participated both the chairman of the State Duma, Rodzyanko, in his past an Oktobrist, playing in 1905 more rightward a role, and consequently the workers, consequently the soldiers, -- this was a matter involving all Russia, its fate. In such an impulse among all the people, extending from top to bottom, there is a great spiritual value. And it would be vile to imagine, that this impulse was merely for the brief moment, that already has begun class and party hatred and malice, that the democracy should want to conceive of itself not as national, but rather of class. It would be ruinous to tie in the spiritual problem of the limiting of an all-classes empowered democracy by an asserting of whatever social interests, contrary to the interests of labour. It is possible to fight for very bold and radical social reforms and at the same time from purely a spiritual point of view oppose democratic absolutism, which is not so much political a form, as rather a false direction of spirit. We have become free from the grip of our despotism, and for this, merely to fall under the grip of another despotism,-- instead we want, ultimately, freedom! In contrast to the all-powerful democracy stands the lofty culture of the person, and not the greedy interests of the person and his social group.

         For us, as Russian writers, one of the consequences of the turnabout happening in Russia  has especial a significance. The revolution has to produce in Russia freedom of the word, a freedom to which Russian literature has so passionately aspired. But freedom of the word, just like every freedom, cannot be conceived of as merely formal and external. Freedom of the word is inwardly and spiritually something sacred. The word is an expressing of spiritual life, and its freedom is posited dependent upon spiritual life. Freedom of the word has to be spiritually won. The formal abolishment of censorship is not yet a winning of freedom of the word: this abolition merely opens the path for work on liberation of the word. Freedom of the word is not a profligancy and bacchanalia of the word.  Freedom of the word, as also in general the freedom of man, presupposes ascetic an effort, self-restraint and self-discipline, a self-rectifying of the word. The word, though set free from slavery to external censorship, can begin to go to rot, and then its freedom becomes impossible, it can fall into slavery to quite vile elements. Already a boorish and unruly spirit has burst out in the daily press, Already makes the rounds talk so emotionally disagreeable and ugly, that this presents a peril for the soul of the people, having accounted itself so fine in the moment of turnabout. The triumph and dissipation of elements among the masses does not beget freedom. There is needed a spiritual enlightenment of these mass elements, the revealing in it of the principle of the person. For us is necessary a spiritual self-discipline, a struggle for qualities against the power of quantities. The spirit of freedom is always the spirit of the qualitative, and not the quantitative. And freedom of the word is a lofty quality of spirit.

         I believe, that in the Russian people, in its emotional composition there is a special qualitative democratism, there is a great love for freedom and lesser a bourgeoisness, than in the soul of European peoples. But these higher traits of the Russian soul can become obscured and brought to ruin. Quench not the spirit, cherish the purity of the word! -- here is the summoning, with which we have to incessantly recourse to the Russian people and society. The world war in the final end has to shake up the foundations of the old societal arrangement. The whole world anticipates very radical social changes. But that which is created as a result of the world catastrophe, will not be socialism in the old sense of the word, it will be something unforeseen and unexpected. The spirit, which will enliven the new social order and new social forms, has to be already within us, has to proceed from our freedom. The Russian revolution cannot but have  its say to all of Europe: it would stir up the peoples of Europe and get their stagnating blood circulating more rapidly. But God grant it not be an example that we give to the peoples of Europe, not to be an example of anarchy and elemental disintegration. The example should only be of a lofty upsurge of spirit, only a positive thirst for a free and loftier life. We have to be very strict towards ourself, to be very discerning in the occurrence, of what is from God, and what is from evil. We, as Russians, are less burdened by our past, than are Western people, and we can be more free in our creativity of a new life. This is to our great advantage. But in this is also hidden the danger of a rupture of the connectedness of the times, wherein can perish many values. Everything that was of value in the past should pass over into the future. But this transition can occur only through a fiery and cleansing catastrophe.

                                    N. Berdyaev.

©  2011  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1917 - 259 - en)

PSIKHOLOGYA  PEREZHIVAEMOGO  MOMENTA.  Article originally published in the weekly "Russkaya svoboda", apr. 1917, No. 1, p. 6-12. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, "Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922", Izdatel'stvo Astrel', Moskva, 2007, p. 501-507.


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