NIKOLAI BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
WHO IS TO BLAME?
(1917 – #276)
One can consider it already apparent, that if the Russian Revolution has also been something good, insofar as during its first days it freed Russia from the nightmare of the collapsing autocratic power, then subsequently all the “developement” and “deepening” of the Revolution has marched off along a false path and has not produced any sort of good fruits for Russia and the Russian people. Fatal mistakes were made, the consequences of which many of us had foreseen and predicted. It was a repeat on a larger scale of 1905, and can anticipate a largescale reaction. In the Russian Revolution there has very quickly begun a process of disintegration and decay. It moral visage becomes all more and more repulsive. The Revolution was inspired not by any sort of creative and original ideas. There tend to predominate long ago discarded and decayed socialistic ideas. These moribund ideas have lost any moral hue and have been stoked by the unrestraint and fury of greedy interests and passions. These ideas have led Russia to disgrace and humiliation, and have plunged it into chaos. In the revolutionary socialistic circles there has begun a sobering up after the wildness and an awareness of mistakes, there has begun a learning of elementary truths by way of lessons plain to see. But this obvious lesson is had too dearly, and coming generations will call us to account for the too great efforts at learning by the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia in elementary school. We leave our descendants a twisted and ravaged legacy. We have received Russia from the old powers in a frightful form, sick and lacerated, and we have led it into a still worse condition. There occurred after the turnaround not a return to health, but rather the developing of a sickness, a progressive worsening of the position of Russia. It is not a new life that is being revealed and flourishing, but rather the old life, coming apart and rotting. If the consciousness of duty has always been weak in Russia, at present in Russia it ultimately has vanished. Where though to seek the culprit? Why so ugly that the Revolution is proceeding, why does the destruction within it take precedence over building, why does it conceal within it the seeds of a perhaps inevitable ugly reaction?
Revolutions never have happened all quite fine, in them always have been a falling away from reason, always they are connected with a piling up of evil from the old sins, always the negative aspect in them has been stronger than the constructive. But in the Russian Revolution there is much particularly its own, its own Russian ills and temptations, there is a requital for its own Russian sins. The cause of all the woes and all the sins of the Russian Revolution mustneeds be sought deeper, than is usually sought. These causes are not only in the false tactics, adopted by the socialist parties, not only in the Bolsheviks, not only in the economic backwardness and in the terrible pressure upon the Russian Revolution exerted by Germany. These causes are first of all in a false direction of spirit, in false ideas, by which over the course of many decades lived the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, and by which they poisoned the masses of the people. The Russian Revolution has seemed to be an attempt at a consistent application to life of the Russian nihilism, atheism and materialism, an enormous experiment, based upon the negation of all absolute spiritual principles in personal and societal life. From a philosophic point of view, the Russian Revolution is a pure psychologism, limited by nothing and subordinated to nothing, the uprising of an arbitrary caprice of the human masses against every ontologism. In “Vekhi” (“Signposts”) long before the present revolution there was shown the danger, threatening from the left, there was revealed the lie set at the basis of the revolutionary movement and the intelligentsia revolutionary world-view. Now the truth of “Vekhi” is being verified by living experience, and confirmed. And this truth has to be admitted now even by those, who made a fierce attack upon “Vekhi”. The Russia revolutionary intelligentsia, who are reaping the fruits of their activity within the course and the character of the Russian Revolution, and who themselves were cast beyond the pale by the dark masses of the people, for too long have lived by a false faith, a faith in idols, and not in the living God, and its soul was distorted by this falsehood and this idolatry, it was corrupted and lost its connection with the spiritual truths of life. The centre of gravity in life was transformed from the inner to the outer. The intelligentsia venom poisoned also the soul of the people, it corroded away from it the living God. The Bolsheviks — are the ultimate Russian nihilists, in them the nihilism of the intelligentsia is united with the nihilism of the people. The sources of all our misfortunes mustneeds be sought in the uniting of the nihilistic ideas of the intelligentsia with the darkness of the people. The revolutionary turnabout was itself a national deed, it was made by the Russian people, as a great goal, it was not the deed alone of the revolutionary intelligentsia or of the working class, it was not preceded by an intensification of the revolutionary-socialistic activity. But the Russian national revolution was misappropriated for themselves by the revolutionary intelligentsia circles and by the masses, which marched under their demagogic slogans. And this coincided with a religious crisis of the people.
In the Russian Revolution there is the gathering of the harvest of an old and stale Russian nihilism. Within it is sensed the breathing of this old, not new spirit. The Revolution was inspired by nihilistic ideas, it is directed first of all at the destruction of the hierarchy of values, the hierarchy of qualities, upon which is based the Divine world-order. The revolutionary-nihilistic hostility towards every hierarchism is of a spiritual nature first of all, rather than political or economic, and it reflects the psychology of the masses and their moral disposition. At the core of this psychology lies a feeling of envy towards everything that is higher, that is endowed with already established qualities. But never yet has creativity issued forth from this source. The nihilistic disposition and ideas amongst the masses yields strange results. Russian revolutionary socialism as regards its spiritual grounds is violence-prone, materialistic and atheistic, and this negative pathos conveys it into a sort of pseudo-religion. Russian revolutionary socialism is obsessed by a thirst for equality in what can never thus be. This temptation of an absolute equality leads to the extermination of all qualities and values, of all upsurges and ascents, in it — is the spirit of non-being. Being was conceived in inequality, in an heightening of qualities, in individual distinctions. In it the star from star is distinguished in glory. The “extinguishing of all qualitative distinctions” and of all the uplifting would be a return to the primordial non-being, wherewith is a complete equality, a total confusion. The uprising of the primordial chaotic non-being occurs periodically within history, whole societal movements can be reflective of its light. It would be a mistake, certainly, to identify all socialism and every socialistic movement with the spirit of non-being. There is possible a socialism of a completely different spirit. But atheistic socialism, in fancying itself a new religion, is certainly a religion of non-being. They have believed in the earthly total-bliss, the fabricated earthly paradise, because they have ceased to believe that there could be anything higher. When the religious hopes have dimmed and the spiritual life has weakened, there remains but to grasp at an earthly paradise, to utilise an instant of this meaningless life. The thirst for a difference holds sway.
Russian nihilism, which was a broad trend at the end of the decade of the 60’s, by bearing this name repudiates not only in words and not only in thoughts all the indisputable and absolute sanctities and values, it repudiates them and the spirit of everything associated with them, by the exertion of its will, it repudiates them in deed and in life itself. Nihilism not only has ceased to think about the other and divine world, it has ceased to be in communion with it. Not by chance has the Name of Christ been forgotten in our revolutionary movement and in our Revolution. It is not there within the souls, within the basic directing of spirit for choosing out a path. Words and names — are not chance accidental and conditional signs, as the nominalists think, they — are real energies of spiritual life. Upon this is based the significance of prayer. Least of all should I want to suggest, that the Russian revolutionary-nihilists — are wicked and bad people; among them always have been no little number of fine people, sincere, self-denying and ungreedy in their enthusiasm. But these people are under the grip of a false negative spirit, the nature of which they themself do not understand, and these people not rarely are situated in a condition of obsession. They are cast off onto the surface, torn off from the spiritual core of life, rotating within the outer orbits of life. In Russian nihilism and Russian nihilistic socialism there is no freedom of spirit, there is not the spiritual health needful for creativity, there is no sort of inner discipline, of subordinating man to sanctities standing higher than him. The revolutionary intelligentsia consciousness has repudiated all the objective spiritual principles, all the supra-human values, and it has subordinated human life to the caprice of the human passions, the interests and strivings for well-being and pleasure. Triumphant only are the utilitarian values. Everything is made subject to the good of individual people and to a mechanical quantity of people. The inward, the spiritual core of the human person is denied. Good and evil are acknowledged as relative and are evaluated as dependant upon societal usefulness. The moral decay of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia and of the Revolution itself was quite facilitated by the traditional identification of the moral and the good with the “left”, and the immoral and the evil with the “right”. Those therefore, who sensed themselves as “leftists”, have acknowledged for themself that everything is permissible. The religious feeling of guilt was replaced by the social feeling of victimisation, and this bestowed upon the soul an ignoble visage. The consciousness of obligations was replaced by endless demands and pretensions. The materialistic theory of the social medium ultimately paralysed the awareness of personal responsibility. They did not and they do not assign any significance to the personal tempering of will and discipline of character. According to this world-view and world-sense, the person sets forth his demands and pretensions, independent of his qualities and services. Irresponsible pretentiousness, having paralysed the awareness of obligations, is a moral ulcer, polluting Russian societal life. The noble and eternal feelings of respect and reverence have ultimately been cast out from the revolutionary-nihilistic type. The nihilism of our revolutionary consciousness is the offspring of an old and long slavery. A large portion of the guilt for this falls upon the guiding and governing classes, upon the moral decay at the top. Within these classes the heart long since already is deadened towards the sanctities, and they hypocritically used the sanctities for their own greedy ends.
Both at the top and at the bottom they have ceased to see the objective and spiritual principles in the state and in nationality, which instead they have subordinated to the arbitrary and subjective aims of social well-being. Some have fashioned themself an idol out of the autocratic state and tsarism and have worshipped it as God, while others — have done so from the people and the proletariat, and similarly worship it. The revolutionary nihilism, derivative of the reactionary nihilism, has tended to worship quantity over quality. All the spiritual realities and spiritual values are subjected to atomisation and fracturing. The church, the fatherland, the state, culture — all long since already have been subjected to decay and behind everything they have tended to see but naked interests. Marxism they would accept in Russia, as a theoretical justification of nihilism, as a cynical denial of spiritual life as a value and reality in itself. The Russian intelligentsia of the nihilistic sort are quite happy to learn from the German booklets, that there does not exist any sort of independent spiritual life and that all the values in it — are mere ideological veilings for vested interests, only reflections of economic activity. The state presents itself as an organisation of class domination, nationality — as the creation of bourgeois interests, the good and truth — as the reflection of economic attitudes. Marxism has found its reception amongst us first of all as a cynical nihilism, directed to the destruction of ontological realities. The cynical nihilism long ago already had been a vital practice of the right, among the dominant strata of the old regime, which resulted in a total moral collapse. Long since already there also triumphed the nihilism of the left and it found its justification within Marxism. The oppressions, the sufferings and hardships have morally given a noble aura to the Russian revolutionaries and have veiled over the spiritual consequences of the nihilism. But when the revolutionary nihilism itself began to govern and hold power, there became apparent its moral ignobility, its spiritual emptiness. Russian nihilism has combined with a sort of a peculiar moralism: all the spiritual realities are denied in the name of the morality of equality, in the name of the well-being of the people. Over a series of decades there was denied amongst the people the value of the fatherland, the value of nationality, and every national feeling was killed as being immoral. The politics of the old powers ultimately did attain an healthy national instinct. What however would it be amazing, is if the Revolution were to prove anti-patriotic and anti-national?
These nihilistic dispositions and thoughts flourished in the spiritual atmosphere of the underground, created by the acts of violence of the old, the decaying powers. The bureaucratic nihilism and the intelligentsia nihilism — are twins. The free creative spirit and free creative ideas lacked in strength at the top and lacked in enticement at the bottom, the left and the right were not governed by spirit, did not have a living faith in God and in the spiritual meaning of life. Russia long since already had fallen grievously sick in spirit, sending it into obsessive convulsions, in it the devils made merry, first the reactionary ones, then the revolutionary, first the Black and then the Red ones. Russian maximalism, hurling us from one extreme to the other, is a sickness of spirit, a metaphysical hysteria, an inward slavery. In the soul of the Russian people long since already there began the crisis of faith, the soul of the people was in agitation and found itself at the crossroads. And at such moments the soul is rendered defenseless against the many temptations. The old with its spiritual discipline was dying out in the soul of the people, while the new proved however to be a nihilistic negation. Thus was wrought out within the people that ugly aspect of soul, which yesterday led to the pogrom against the Jews and the leftist intelligentsia, and which today can lead to a pogrom against the “bourgeoise” and all of cultural society, as being too rightist. Over all reigns one and the same thirst for dividing things up, the envious glance at the spiritual and material riches of one’s neighbour. And this is accompanied by a total creative impotence, an incapacity for building up and a distaste for it.
Needful for the Russian people is an healthy and strong national feeling, but such there has not been and there is not. And there is not that national enthusiasm, which is necessary for the salvation of the native-land. We are being paid back for the old sins, we are gnawed at by the inherited ills. We need an inner cleansing and a spiritual turnabout, the ultimate expulsion within ourselves of all nihilism. Without a change in the human fabric, constituting society, it is impossible to reckon upon a more perfect societal life. From feeble human souls it is impossible to make a fine society, this would be but an outward shifting about of atoms. From this point of view no sort of external revolutions can change anything substantially. There is needed a spiritual tempering of the person, its inward rebirth, the elevating of its qualities. The human person cannot expect everything from a new society, it ought first of all as possible to give more to it. Regretably, in Russian cultural society, the liberal and enlightened, there is not that strength of spirit and that heated faith, which might save Russia from the demonic ragings. Purely liberal ideas — are warm-cold ideas, in them there is no fire. And it is necessary in truth to say: if the Russian revolutionary circles have confessed nihilism, then the Russian liberal circles have confessed a quite superficial enlightenmentism and a superficial positivism, which alike corrupt the spiritual life and impair the faith in spiritual realities. Russian liberalism in its inability to take wing was rendered nationally minded only during the time of war, and the Revolution has consolidated it in this frame of mind. But in it the national idea is lacking of deep roots, and for Russian liberals the patriotism in the masses is a question of political tactics. They are patriots through power. The spiritual national movement with us lies still ahead, it will take form after the surviving and making sense of the tragic experience of the war and the Revolution. It has to lead to an original societal creativity. It will not resemble the old nationalism. But it will also not resemble the traditional humanistic liberalism. Not only the old revolutionism, but also the old liberalism has to accept upon itself part of the blame for what is happening at present in Russia. The Russian Revolution is a chastisement by God for the obvious or secret nihilism at all the levels, of all the classes and all the currents, from the extreme rightists to the extreme leftists. The creative national movement and rebirth presupposes a spiritual crisis, a turning towards the deep, the Divine sources of life.
© 2005 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1917 – 276 – en)
KTO VINOVAT?. Article originally published in the weekly Journal “Russkaya svoboda”, aug. 1917, No. 18/19, p. 3-9.
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. 92-101.