NIKOLAI BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
Russia and GreatRussia
(1918 – #296)
The nucleus of Russia — has been subjected to a maximum of disintegration in the process of revolution, it has become the hearth of Bolshevism. Many see in Bolshevism even a characteristically GreatRussian phenomenon. In the GreatRussian tribe there is a metaphysical sense of hysteria and tendency towards an impaired obsessiveness. And this has always been sensed in the GreatRussian sects, in the self-immolators [samosozhigiateli], in the khlysty, with genius it was reflected in the creativity of Dostoevsky, this belongs to the inability to admit of a relative right, in an exceptional tendency towards the extreme limits. LittleRussians [i.e. Ukrainians] are more reasonably inclined, in them is a strong instinct for self-preservation. In LittleRussia was not that spiritual tension, evoked by the Mongol Yoke, and always there too have been stronger Western influences. There is no GreatRussian nationality, just as there is no LittleRussian nationality, there is only a Russian nationality. But there exist tribal peculiarities, which to deny is impossible. And the GreatRussian peculiarities have proven fatal during the course of the Revolution. The power, having assembled GreatRussia, has now abolished its own thousand-year work of building. The Russian Revolution is essentially distinct from all the former revolutions in the world, and most of all from the French Revolution — it has broken up Russia, one and great, and it has grievously wounded the Russian national sense. Russia — the greatest state in the world — has crumbled apart in a few short months, having been transformed into an heap of rubbish. The work of the whole of Russian history, the work of assembling together Russia from the time of Ivan Kalita, the work of Peter the Great, the work of the whole of Russian culture — of Pushkin and Dostoevsky — is abolished, is destroyed, is declared an unneeded, evil work. In the Russian Revolution has become apparent a dark reactionary element, hostile to historical progress, hostile to every culture of a grand style. Such a renunciation of one’s own history, such a betrayal of a great historical legacy has never and nowhere ever been. This — is a suicide of the people, a refusal of its great past and great future in the name of the greedy impulse of a given moment, from the nihilism, gripping the soul of the people. The presently living generation of the Russian people has not held up under the historical tribulation, it has failed to want to bear the sacrifices, which the great tasks demand, it has recoiled from the legacy received from its forefathers, belonging not to it alone, but to all the descendants. Russia great and united, the great and united Russian state, the great and united Russian culture, was created not by our generation, behind it stand the exploits, the sacrifices and efforts of many generations, of all the whole Russian people over the expanses of its thousand-year existence.
The Russian people has its own singular and indivisible destiny, its own allotted portion in the world, its own idea, which it is called to realise, but which it can betray, which it can betray by the power of the human freedom inherent in it. The falling apart of the temporal connections, a complete rift between the past and the future, the desecration of the great graveyards and memorials of the past, the thirst for a destruction of everything former and departed, and not its resurrection for eternity, is a betrayal of the idea of the people, as a great whole, is a betrayal of the values, those non-transitory as regards its significance. The Russian people in a most responsible hour of its history has renounced the great in name of the small, the far-off in the name of the near, values in the name of a well-being illusory and transitory. Elevated to the place of Peter it is Lenin and Trotsky, to the place of Pushkin and Dostoevsky — Gorky and some no-name people. Pushkin foresaw this possibility and with genius revealed it in “The Bronze Horseman” (“Mednyi Vsadnik”). There occurred the revolt of Evgenii, the hero of the “Bronze Horseman”, against Peter, the revolt of childish people with their childish and partial interests against the great destiny of the people, against the state and against culture. And transgressed was the legacy of Pushkin:
Beautiful art thou become, city of Peter,
And unshakable stand, like Russia.
Let the conquered element
With thee become reconciled:
Their enmity and captivity of old
May the Finnish waves forget,
And by vain spite not disturb
The eternal dream of Peter!
The appearance of Pushkin himself only because Peter “had stretched Russia upon the rack”, he brought it into communion with world culture and prepared for Russia the allotment of a great people. But the childish Evgenii did not want to accept the great destiny of the people, he recoiled with fear in the face of the sacrifices, which this destiny demands.
Well tis, O wondrous builder!
Whispered he, spitefully shuddering,
Bye and bye concerning thee.
He could not reconcile himself with the ruin of his own personal and particular hopes, he could not take the clash of the great deed of Peter against his own childish deeds, against his own childish fate. A large part too of the Russian Intelligentsia have not reconciled themself with this, and now too the Russian people in revolt support it not. In the Russian Revolution and in the limiting Bolshevism expressing it there has occurred a revolt against Peter and Pushkin, the destroying of their creative work. The prolonged path of ideas of the Russian Intelligentsia from Belinsky on led to this revolt and destruction. The traditional Russian Populism always was hostile to having a great state and a great culture, it always demanded a casting down of values in the name of the people’s well-being and the people’s interests, the destruction of qualities in the name of quantity.
Many naive and inconsistent people think, that it is possible to repudiate Peter and preserve Pushkin, that it is possible to make a split within the single whole destiny of the people and its culture. But Pushkin is inseparably bound up with Peter, and he recognised this organic bond. He was an imperial poet, that of a great-powered Russia. Dostoevsky too is bound up with the deed of Peter and with all the Peterburg period of Russian history. The peculiar Slavophilism of Dostoevsky did not prevent him from appreciating Peter differently, than the old Slavophils regarded him. Every hero of Dostoevsky — is a Peterburg hero, of the imperial period of Russian history. Within their soul was reflected all the complexity of GreatRussia. The Russian great literature is bound up with the Russian great state. Russian literature told all the world about the existence of a single inseparable Russia, spiritually united by its one prevailing Russian language. The emanations of the GreatRussian language subjugated all the peoples, inhabiting Russia, by its spiritual strength they had to recognise the Russian literature as their own literature, and it evoked the awareness of belonging to a singular great literature of Pushkin and Gogol, of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. But now this prevailing significance of the Russian tongue has been infringed upon. The first to infringe have been the Ukrainians, who are committing an apostacy from the people of Pushkin and Dostoevsky, casting aside the dominant Russian language in the name of a LittleRussian dialect, to divide up Russia. There are proving thus victorious the spirits of particularism, of provincialism, of separatism. This spirits, these little devils are destroying Russia and Russian culture the same, as is the big devil of internationalism. There is being denied from various ends the existence of Russia, of the Russian people, of the Russian idea. The Russian aspect is being replaced by partial and particularistic definitions, among which is to be the GreatRussian. The GreatRussian people as it were does not want to exist any longer, it gives way to some new, some partial small formations, it is crushed from above by the abstract monstrosity of the Internationale, and from below by the egoistically-shallow national self-assertions.
Here is why it is necessary straight out and decisively to declare — there is no sort of uniquely GreatRussian culture, just as there is no uniquely LittleRussian culture, there is only a single Russian culture, united by the Russian great language, which is not a mere GreatRussian language. There is no GreatRussian history, there is only a Russian history. The formation of a northern GreatRussian state and GreatRussian culture would be a completion of the falling-apart of Russia, brought on by the sickness being experienced by Russia, as to its idea of itself. That there are provincial-district peculiarities of GreatRussia and the GreatRussian tribe, just like with LittleRussia and the LittleRussian tribe, no one denies. But the nationality is Russian only, and not GreatRussian nor LittleRussian, the culture is Russian, the state is Russian, encompassing many provincial peculiarities. GreatRussia is but one central core of Russia, around which formed the Russian state and Russian culture, but the whole significance of this core is in this, that it has been the bearer of Russian might and the Russian cultural idea.
Russia is not only a geographical concept, it is not only to be measured by its material expanses. Russia is first of all a spiritual concept, it possesses an inward scope, not attached to any sort of gubernias nor districts… Russia exists spiritually, as does the Russian people and Russian culture. It was conceived of within the thoughts of God, and its existence transcends our limited empirical existence. To destroy the intent of God is not within the powers of evil human caprice. No sort of material catastrophes can kill the spiritual existence of Russia. If from Russia there were to remain only one of the GreatRussian gubernias and within it only a small pile of people were to remain true to the spiritual existence of Russia and the idea of Russia, then even upon this small expanse, in this small pile Russia would continue to exist, and to pass over into the eternal. And banished even to the catacombs, we would continue to sense ourselves sons of Russia and would maintain fidelity to the Russian great culture of Pushkin and Dostoevsky, similarly like as, we would continue to sense ourselves Christians and sons of the Church, even after persecutions against the Church would drive us into the catacombs and there it behoove us to make our prayers. No sort of any external and material fate can compel us to betray the Russian idea. Fidelity to the end is possible even then, when there remains still no earthly hopes. And we would the sooner still lose all earthly hopes. Russia can still resurrect. Perhaps, it has to die, in order to resurrect to new life. In this is a great mystery of Christian redemption, existing not only for individual people, but also for entire peoples. Suffering is included in the Russian idea, as a necessary inner moment. Better there exist a suffering, sick and disorderly Russia, than well-ordered and self-satisfied states of GreatRussia, LittleRussia, WhiteRussia and other areas, conceitedly regarding themselves independent totalities.
The falling-apart of Russia, the separation of its borderlands has placed the GreatRussian centre in a tragic position. And it is necessary to restore to health and reorganise the GreatRussian centre of Russia. This is fully justified and healthy a movement. But it ought not be made subject to the infectious sickness of going to pieces and provincial particularism. The colonisation of the borderlands, which transpired across the whole expanse of Russian history, was not some evil oversight, this was an inwardly justifiable and necessary process for the realisation of the Russian idea in the world. The so-called GreatRussia itself per se could not have and cannot exist, it would be consigned to a miserable and wretched existence. It is impossible to think of GreatRussia without the south, without its riches. And it is impossible not to see a terrible betrayal and a terrible transgression in the destruction of all the whole work of Russian history, in its realisation of the idea of Russia.
The Russian people had to pass through an unprecedented humiliation and downfall, so that in it might be awakened a conscious national feeling and a conscious national activity. The persecutions starting up against the Church can have a tremendous significance in the restoring to health of the Russian people and its liberation from evil obsessions. The Revolution has infringed upon the holy and the saintly within the people’s soul, it has disclosed its anti-Christian nature, as earlier it disclosed its anti-national nature. And if the Russian people be still alive, if it has not ultimately perished spiritually, then in it there has to awaken an acute religio-national feeling. A great people can worthily exist, if it remains in its depths faithful to the eternal spiritual basics of its existence. France even after all its downfalls and changes remains at its basis a France medieval, Catholic, chivalrous, in it has not died off finally that spirit, which stirred the ancestors of the present-day French in their crusades. This has been sensed during the time of the war. The Orthodox Church is something holy not only for every believer, but also for the great entirety, the great spiritual repository of Russian culture, the spiritual basis for life of the Russian people. With the Church also is bound up the Russian idea, the vocation of the Russian people in the world. If the Russian people were ultimately to cease being a Christian people, then it would lose its significance in the world. There has to be perceived the Russian idea, national and religious, leading us out onto the world stage, and surmounting every sort of isolating national provincialism. History moves towards unification, and not towards disunification, i.e. Christianity has to conquer the pagan particularism within it. The Russian idea, inspired by an universal Christianity, will conquer also the terrible devil of internationalism, — that horrid distortion of the idea of the universal oneness and brotherhood of mankind.
© 2005 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1917 – 296 – en)
ROSSIYA I VELIKOROSSIYA. Article originally published in the weekly Journal “Nakanune”, No. 3, apr. 1918, p. 4-5.
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. 163-170.