N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
ABOUT BOURGEOISNESS AND SOCIALISM
(1917 – #266)
Many a word, now enjoying wide currency on the streets, bears a character of magical effect; many a formula, now wending its way, assumes a sacral guise and is accepted by the masses not only without criticism, but also without understanding. And to such magical-incantational words belongs the word “bourgeoise” and “bourgeoisness”. This word at present has a grip upon the masses, the masses find themselves enslaved to this word, the meaning of which cannot be adequately comprehended. The word falls into a dark obscurity, not prepared to encompass complex meanings, and it does not enlighten the darkness, but instead only increases it. The incantation arouses some sort of dark instincts, corresponds to some sort of interests, but no sort of clear concepts and ideas can be connected with it. What is the understanding of “bourgeoise” at the present day? Under “bourgeoise” is understood not simply the industrial class, not simply the capitalists, not the “third estate”. With us at present the category of “bourgeoise” is employed in immeasurably more broad a sense. All of Russia, all of mankind is divided into two irreconcilable worlds, two realms — a realm of evil, of darkness, the devil — the bourgeois realm, and a realm godly, good, of light — the socialistic realm. In its own way in this psychology there is a re-experiencing of the old, age-old religious division and opposition, but in a distorted form. The Social Democrats, having poisoned the working masses with a destructive hatred for the “bourgeoise” and “bourgeoisness”, make use of these words in a social-class, materialistic sense, and upon their own social-class point of view they bestow an almost religious stamp. This positivist-materialist, social-class sense of the world cannot ultimately hold up. And the socialists, the materialists are compelled to admit, that “bourgeoisness” reflects a certain psychological disposition. A certain frame of values regarding life, not so much a condition of social matter, as rather an attitude of the human spirit towards it. A “bourgeois” disposition and a “bourgeois” set of values can be in a man, not belonging to the bourgeois class, no wise possessing property, and on the contrary, someone bourgeois as regards his class position can also be without such a “bourgeoisness”. It is quite indisputable, that “bourgeoisness” is a condition of the human spirit, and not the social-class position of a man, — it defines itself by a relationship of spirit to material life, by a spirit unfree and powerless to overcome the force of matter, rather than by material life itself.
The great strugglers against the bourgeois spirit in the XIX Century were Nietzsche and Ibsen, who were not socialists, they did not have any sort of relationship to the proletariat and at present, surely, they would be consigned to the realm of the “bourgeoise”, since at present the street wisdom consigns to the “bourgeoise” all the people of spirit. And perhaps the most vivid expression of the anti-bourgeois spirit in Russian literature was that of the reactionary, K. Leont’ev, — all his life’s work was a struggle against the impending grey-dull realm of Philistinism. His spirit was less “bourgeois”, than the spirit of all the “Bolsheviks” and “Mensheviks”, aspiring to the dull happiness of their earthly paradise. In France there is the remarkable writer Leon Bloy, unique as a Catholic, a reactionary’s reactionary, having nothing in common with socialism, and he rose up with an unprecedented radicalism against the primary foundations of bourgeoisness, against the bourgeois spirit reigning in the world, against the bourgeois wisdom. As a Christian, he revealed the metaphysical and spiritual grounds of bourgeoisness and he grasped the mystery of the bourgeois, as in opposition to the mystery of Golgotha. The “bourgeois” always prefers the visible over the invisible, always prefers this world — over the other world. Nietzsche would have said, that the “bourgeois” always loves more what is “closer at hand”, than the “remote”. The spirit of bourgeoisness is opposed to the mountain-heights spirit of Zarathustra. Ibsen would have said, that to the bourgeois spirit is opposed the spirit of that man, who stands the path of life alone. To the bourgeois, spirit is profoundly and essentially opposed — not the socialist and proletariat spirit, but rather the aristocratic spirit. The bourgeois realm is a realm of the quantitative. To it stands opposed the realm of the qualitative. The bourgeois spirit builds everything on the basis of welfare, felicity and satisfaction. The spirit such as is the polar opposite to it tends to build on the basis of values, it has to gravitate towards the great spiritual far-off. The bourgeois spirit therefore does not love and indeed is afraid of sacrifice, whereas the anti-bourgeois spirit at its basis is sacrificial, even when it asserts power. The bourgeoisness was not created by socialism, it was created by the old, the decrepit world. But socialism accepts the legacy of bourgeoisness, it desires to increase and develop it and carry this spirit on to an universal triumph. Socialism is but a passive reflexion upon the bourgeois world, it has been wholly defined by it and received all its values from it. In it there is no creative freedom.
The ideal of the ultimate arranging of this world and of an ultimate satisfaction and happiness in this world, killing off the thirst for an other world, is also a bourgeois ideal, is also within the bounds of bourgeoisness, an all-encompassing and just distribution of bourgeoisness over all the earth. The bourgeois spirit — is first of all an anti-religious spirit. Bourgeoisness is an anti-religious satisfaction with this world, the desire to assert in it an eternal principle and to fasten down the human spirit to this kingdom, in preferring the world — over God. And the very idea of the Kingdom of God upon earth, in this three-dimensional material world is a bourgeois distortion of a true religious expectation. In the old Jewish chiliasm there was a bourgeoisness, which has passed over into the new with its socialistic transformation. The bourgeois senses himself exclusively a citizen of this isolated world and of this surface of the earth, foreign to him is heavenly citizenship, the citizenship of other worlds. For the bourgeois, heaven is always exclusively contrived for the interests of the earth, and the other world — for the interests of this world. Suchlike is the religiosity of the bourgeois. And truly the anti-bourgeois is that one, who puts the holding of values as higher than well-being, puts the inward higher than the outward, sacrifice higher than satisfaction, quality higher than quantity, the remote higher than the near at hand, the other world higher than this world, the person higher than the impersonal masses, and who loves God more than the world and one’s own self. This means also the clash of two polarly opposite world principles. The bourgeois is a destroyer of the eternal in the name of the temporal, a slave of time and matter. The duping of the world, the duping of men and the human mob is also a basic trait. But the inward freedom of spirit, the victory over the power of temporality and materiality is also a victory over “bourgeoisness”. Christ condemned wealth, as being a slavery of spirit, as being chained down to this limited world. The meaning of this condemnation is not social, but rather spiritual, oriented towards the inner man, and it least of all can be used to justify envy and hatred for the rich. This envy and hatred is a bourgeois stirring of the human heart and reveals all that selfsame slavery of the human spirit.
And it mustneeds resolutely be stated, that within socialism there is nothing opposing the spirit of bourgeoisness, there is in it no sort of antidote against the ultimate reign of bourgeoisness in the world. A worker can be no less the typical bourgeois, than the industrialist or merchant, his economically oppressed position does not guarantee him any sort of spiritual qualities, and often it even deprives him of nobility of character. Bourgeoisness is not dependent upon belonging to a particular class, though whole classes can be caught up in a spirit of bourgeoisness. In essence, every class psychology — is bourgeois, and the bourgeoisness is conquered only then, when man gets above the class psychology in the name of higher values, in the name of truth. The workers and the peasants, in their purely class psychology, in their interests, can be spiritually bourgeois just the same, as the industrialists, the merchants and the land-owners, and this is nowise affected, in that the interests of the former be more just, than the interests of the latter. For a class socialism, making pretense to the creativity of a new culture, it is fatal that all the higher values, the values of spiritual culture, the values of “science and art” should have been created by the bourgeoise, in the social class sense. The working class has not created any sort of values, has not discovered the rudiments of creativity of a new culture, of a new spiritual type of man. It borrows everything from the bourgeoise, it feeds off it spiritually and fatally becomes “bourgeois” in the measure of its growth of being cultured, its consciousness, its sharing in the blessings of civilisation. For the fifty years of its most heroic existence, the socialist proletariat — this “messiah-class” — has created nothing. In the sphere of religious awareness, the socialist proletariat has appropriated for itself the old bourgeois atheism and the old bourgeois materialistic philosophy, in the moral sphere — the old bourgeois utilitarian morality, in the sphere of artistic life it has inherited the bourgeois alienation from beauty, the bourgeois dislike for symbolism and the bourgeois love for realism. The level of proletarian culture has not been lifted higher than the quite old, banal and as regards a more cultural segment — the long since decrepit “enlightenmentism”. The intellectual wretchedness of the socialist movement is striking. Is this how Christianity entered into the declining world of antiquity with its good news about new life? Where is it possible to find the signs of an original proletarian creativity? It is not the impulses of creativity, but rather the biding of interests that guides class psychology. The value itself of socialism was created by the bourgeoise, by the bourgeois cultural segment, to which belonged also the first utopian-socialists, and Marx, and Lassalle, and Engels, and the Russian ideologues of the Social Democrats, and of the Social Revolutionaries. For the proletariat, socialism is an interpretation of their interests and immediate instincts. And only for the ideologues from the bourgeois cultural segment has it been an idea, a value. How the interests and greedy instincts of some particular class can be transformed into an idea and value for separate figures who have emerged from other classes, — this is a most interesting problem of the psychology and ideology of socialism.
Socialism also is an ideal ultimately bourgeois, of a bourgeoisness as such equitable and universally spread about, the ideal of a forever attachment like serfs to this world in a bourgeois well-being. It would be foolish to expect from socialism a victory over the modern “bourgeois” culture — it would only carry it on further to its end. The bourgeoisness mustneeds be sought not in the outward forms of socialism, but in its inward spirit. This spirit regards quantity higher than quality, well-being higher than value, the impersonal masses higher than the person, satisfaction higher than sacrifice, the world higher than God, — this spirit is fastened down to this world, it is caught up in necessity, and not in freedom. Socialism through the present time has not come out with any sort of values, besides the values of material security, satisfaction and satiety. Spiritually it lives by values, created by the “bourgeois” world, its creativity, its sciences and arts, its discoveries. The promises to manifest forms of creativity purely proletarian, purely socialistic, have not been fulfilled, and the socialist movement draws away all farther and farther from the fulfillment of these promises. The socialistic spirit stands with an hostile attitude towards every sort of creative personal originality, in which only can there be sought an antidote against “bourgeoisness”. Socialism represents spiritually a leveling, it leads all to a median dull-grey level, it gains a certain raising of the level of equality at the dear price of the disappearance of all the heights. Listen to the talk of the Social Democrats, read their newspapers, their brochures, their books. They all say one and the same thing, they write all the same language, they repeat the same words, they relive the same dull-grey thoughts. Nowhere is there apparent the person, personal thought, personal creativity. It is almost to the extent of being vexatious. There descends a grey foggy mist and promises a grey paradise, a paradise of non-being. The ideal of socialism — is not creative, but rather expansive, not lofty, but equitable, and flat. The “bourgeois” world — is indeed half-fast and sinful a world, in it are no enduring values. Socialism desires as it were to affirm an ultimate “bourgeoisness”, a sacred “bourgeoisness”, an equitable, a correct, an wholistic “bourgeoisness”. The religion of socialism falls for the temptation of the loaves of bread, spurned by Christ in the wilderness. Socialism makes bread into a religion and for bread it betrays the spiritual freedom of man. Dostoevsky reveals this in his legend about the Grand Inquisitor. And Vl. Solov’ev also reveals this in his story about the Anti-Christ. Christ spurned the temptation of bread and taught to pray instead for daily bread.
I think, that the spirit of the materialistic class socialism, particularly in its Social Democratic form, is a deeply bourgeois spirit, a deeply anti-Christian spirit. But I say this not as an enemy of socialism. I think, that in socialism there is its own great truth and its own great question. But I think likewise, that the blame for the spiritual lie and untruth of socialism rests not upon it, but upon those social segments, which first entered upon the path of bourgeoisness, the path of the enslavement of spirit by materiality and class assertion. Socialism has but a reflective nature, it only continues on with the process, and does not start it, it lacks for initiative spiritually, and is only completive. The truth such as it is in socialism can only be realised in a different spirit, in a different spiritual atmosphere, in other than a materialistic consciousness, and without the class hatred, without pretension to the forceful establishing of the Kingdom of God upon earth, through some revolutionary cataclysm, but rather with a preserving of inward spiritual freedom. In the thralldom to its own passions, under the deceit of the interests and instincts of the masses there cannot be created a kingdom of freedom. The spirit of class hatred and malice leads to a denial of the image of God in man, it breaks down the idea of mankind and leaves it situated in an irreconcilable contradiction of the hopes of socialism itself. Social greed is an human sin, but social greed, established as an utmost sanctity, is already the spirit of the Anti-Christ. Everything is twofold within socialism and within democracy, — the truth gets jumbled together with lie, the light with darkness, Christ with the Anti-Christ. World life is entering into a period, when there is no longer a crystal clear clarity, there are no easily recognised boundaries, separating the realm of light from the realm of darkness. The human spirit has set facing it the greatest of trials and temptations. Temptations of the greatest evil can appear under the guise of the good. And there is needed a vigilance of spirit and a sobriety of spirit, in order to unriddle the twofold nature of socialism, which moves along in the world with a newly promised realm. And incapable of discernment are those, who remain in a condition of primitive drunkenness and spiritual slavery.
Into the still dark masses of the Russian people have been thrown — the seeds of hatred towards the “bourgeoise” and “bourgeoisness”. The meaning of these hateful words remains misunderstood for the masses. And the way in which the masses assimilate these conjurative words about the “bourgeoise” and “bourgeoisness”, tends to arouse something dangerous not only for the fate of Russia, the Russian state, the Russian people’s economy, but — a thousand times more importantly — for the fate of the very soul of the Russian people, a soul feminine, dejected and frail, not having gone the way of the severe school of self-discipline and self-direction. The preaching of hatred towards the “bourgeoise” and “bourgeoisness” also makes the Russian people “bourgeois”, distorts its Christian visage. For awhile we have still a quiet, a sort of benevolent anarchy, so characteristic for the Russian tribe. But there can come about something more vexing. And then the responsibility will fall not upon the people, but upon those segments of he Intelligentsia, which in having no wont for perceiving the deep meaning of words, tend to throw them around irresponsibly, and superficially. Thus within the Russian soul is killed what is holy, giving way to the rule of special interests. But the Intelligentsia itself ought to be preaching, that the basic division within the world and mankind remains not some temporal division into a realm “socialistic” and a realm “bourgeois”, but rather a division into realms of truth and of lie, of good and evil, a Kingdom of God and that of the devil, of Christ and that of the Anti-Christ. In the spiritual sense of the word, only Christianity stands forever against “bourgeoisness”. In it, the inner man gains victory over the outer man.
© 2002 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1917 – 266 – en)
O BURZHUAZNOSTI I SOTSIALIZME. Published originally in the weekly “Russkaya svoboda”, 13 June 1917, No. 8, p. 3-8, Petrograd-Moscow.
Republished in Tom 4 of Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of 1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, “Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii (Stat’i 1917-18)” (“Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)”, Paris, 1990, p. 19-28.