The New Russia (1915-188)


The New Russia



    When the war began, we experienced moments of happy a faith, that there had ensued an end of the old divisions, the hostility of party, platforms and doctrines, that there no longer would be “rightists” and “leftists”, like two races, having no respect for each other as people, no “Slavophils” nor “Westernisers”, no “typical sorts” and “intelligentsia”. It seemed, that it is possible to have a sense of Russia, its sole visage, its whole organism. All the indeed doctrinising, as appended to life, had been a falling away from the being of Russia into a wont for abstract thought. The initial impressions from the war capsized all the doctrinalism. Granted, it was only in a single moment that we experienced the feeling of Russia outside the divisive categories. In a single moment became possible greater light, than we experienced in many a long year. In this lightning-quick awareness of the oneness of Russia was a truth, transcending all the platforms and all the doctrinal slogans. The united Russia — is a free Russia, gathering its strength, aware of its dignity. […] The Russians have been too accustomed to sense themself, as though in a conquered land, as not their own home. The German invasion has given the Russians joyful a feel, that they have their own home, their own native land. Suddenly it was felt, that it was possible to love the native land irregardless of “mindset”, not to love it merely in the “rightist” manner nor in the “leftist” manner, but simply to love it. There came a flash of awareness, that love for Russia cannot have a “trend”, it is initial and prior to all secondary distinctions, deeper than all the categorical determinations. In all lands there are parties and trends of idea, which are in conflict, but nowhere have the divisions gone so deeply, as in Russia. In Russia everything has been especially paradoxical and extreme. […]

The “rightists” have tended to think, that the true Russia is the official Russia. And the “leftists” have tended to think the same, and upon this basis they considered Russia itself as something false or non-existing, whereas truly existing they admitted was whatever the trend or party. The “leftists” ceded to the “rightists” a monopoly on feelings for Russia, renounced the age-old right to have one’s native land for oneself. Patriotism was considered identical with the attitude of the “rightists” towards the official Russia. Russia had eluded the “leftists”, did not obtain for them. The “leftists” had proven very yielding: they surrendered Russia to the “rightists”, and had left unto themselves merely their “trends”. Russia — became a matter of “they”, not “we”, and therefore all patriotism was disdainful. Russia — this is the official government. And essentially it was not a matter of Russia and the Russian people, but rather only a matter of official government as against the matter of trends, of party and of class. The false and official nationalism appeals to life and gives rise to internationalism, an abstract cosmopolitanism. The consciousness of the “leftists” is situated in a slavery to the “rightists”, tends to get defined and directed by the “rightists”. The “leftists” experience everything only in the form of an emotional reaction against the “rightists”, only in a negative opposition to everything “rightist”, and not in essence, not freely. “The “rightists” from their side are completely obsessed over the “leftists”, the “leftist” danger, the need to restrict, oppress and divide. The “rightists” get transformed into maniacs over all the dangers. Their slogans are totally negative, destructive, and not constructive. The “rightist” reaction begets the “leftist” revolution, the “leftist” revolution again in turn begets the “rightist” reaction, etc. It is such an inescapable circle, a nightmare. Neither the “leftists”, nor the “rightists” have been reflective of an authentic citizenship, a citizenship of the free sons of their native land. […] Bothe the “rightists” and the “leftists” alike little believe in themself and they all think, that “they” the enemy, are stronger. Actually, it is because that genuine power obtains with a true feeling for Russia, in being one with Russia.

There has been something slave-like in the attitude of Russians towards the state, something immature, not manly. The most typical Russian rightists and the most intelligentsia-inclined Russian leftists always have thought, that the state — is a “they”, and not “we”. The state is not a function in the life of the people, is not a construct of the people, reflective of its historical activity. The state is the utmost, standing over “us”, for some it is good, for others bad, not “our” power, but rather a foreign power, “their” power. […] The Russian state is perceived as something transcendent to the Russian people, something unapproachable from within for this feminine and stateless people. The Russian radical intelligentsia continues to sense the state as the legacy of the Varangians, but situates itself in constant an opposition to this legacy. Hence there occurs a constant confusing of the state with the government. But the government indeed is only a temporal and transitory function of the state. In the state aspect there are functions relative to the entire people. […] And to such functions relative to the entire people belongs, for example, the army, which defends the fatherland and all the people. The army, just like the courts and m[uch] el[se], for a certain while might be the weapon of a given government, but the army in its idea is “our”, and not “their” army, relative to all the entire people and the whole civil aspect, a Russian army. And this is vitally felt in a time of war. […] With us it has been not only the “rightists”, but the “leftists” also who have been lacking in a true correct-awareness, and therefore we have had so much fruitless opposition and so little struggle for legal rights in the English sense of this concept. Russian man is very passive. […] He loves for everything to shift to the “middle”, which he mangles. Our societal and political slogans are rooted in spiritual infirmities, in the feminineness and passivity of the Russian soul, in a certain incapacity to assert of itself power and strength. […]

In the Russian character there is a certain metaphysical hysteria, which Dostoevsky so powerfully sensed and revealed. There is no tempering of character. Russia is torn between two opposing realms — the realm of the “philistinists” and the realm of the “intelligentsia”. If in the “philistinists” there is servility towards the state, then also in the “intelligentsia” there is an inverted servility. Genuinely free are neither the one, nor the other. The realm of the “philistinists” is proud, that it is the authentic Russia, that only it loves and knows Russia. The realm of the “intelligentsia” is proud, that only it loves and knows freedom and justice, it only fights for the interests of the people. And eternally opposed are these two realms, they lacerate Russia and hinder the birth of a free Russia, aware of itself and its vocation in the world. A true national self-consciousness has not been attained by either the “philistinists” nor by the “intelligentsia”. The untruth of internationalism has been set in opposition against the untruth of a murky nationalism.


Russia in its moving has to pass over into a sort of different scale of measurement. It ought to begin motion not along the flat plane towards right or left, but rather along the vertical of depth and height. The flat plane movement towards right or left does not lead to any sort of an egress, a way out. This movement remains caught up in a vicious circle, eternally repeating a cycle of two reactions, it essentially is situated always in the grip of emotional reaction, and cannot be creative. Everything creative within history has always been movement along the vertical, and not along the flat plane, has been a movement of depth and height. And only on the surface of history has it seemed, that a progressive movement occurs along the flat plane. This was a shifting about of the points of intersection of the horizontal with the vertical, a projection onto the horizontal of the movement from the depths. Only the vertical and deep motion regenerates the fabric of life, creates new life, and does not merely redistribute the old matter of life, covered over anew with superficial veils. Every motion vertically at depth is religious, its impulses derive from primordial a freedom, from the sensings of God by man. The religious nature of this motion can also remain undetected, subliminal. The true, the creative motion is movement from within outwards, from freedom, and not from necessity, from the freedom of the spirit, freedom-loving by character. […] True movement […] is filial creativity.

With sorrow it has to be admitted, that the ideology of our national consciousness, reinforced upon religious a basis, is situated in the grip of emotional reactions, impeding their movement at depth. They fatally move horizontally rightwards out of a reaction against everything of the “intelligentsia” and the “left”. They judge about life not in essence, but with a constant gazing about both left and right. They therefore all remain within the same inescapable circle of mutual reactions of the “right” and the “left” camps. A cleansing from the dirt and an enlightened “legality” all remain upon the horizontal plane and do not improve the situation. Upon this path are sustained the old division and hostility, and have merely reinforced the former separation of Russia into two camps. With us has arisen a type of “concerned intelligentsia individual”, just as formerly there has been the type of the “concerned nobleman”. The concerned intelligentsia individual is very indicative of the crisis of the intelligentsia, but he is not a creative man, he is all still in reaction against his past. S. N. Bulgakov shows within him a sincere and pure movement along the horizontal plane “towards the right”, from religious impulses. And this example teaches us, that upon the flat plane, where “right” and “left” feelings hold sway, where the “philistinists” and “intelligentsia” remain set in opposition, it becomes impossible to have an united Russia and it is impossible to pass over to the creativity of a new Russia.

And here is still yet another representative of the “religious consciousness” — D. S. Merezhkovsky. He is moving along the flat horizontal “leftwards”, all in an attempt to unite religion with intelligentsia radicalism and no less than Bulgakov he is situated within the grip of an emotional reaction, not going into depth along the vertical. Completely hopeless and ineffective are all the attempts to unite religion with something, to seek for religion a buttress in external historical powers, and in turn for the external historical forces to seek a sanction in religion. And it is totally irrelevant, whether this transpire from the societal “right” and the traditional, or from the societal “left” and the revolutionary. Since religion is the creative energy of the free spirit, it regenerates life from within, immanently. Everything of the flat horizontal, historically external in religion is merely a projection of the profoundly inward, of the hidden unseen. And this projection is not religious life itself, but merely what is seen. Religious movement “right” or “left”, according to the criteria and categories of the external world, evokes a sort of sense of hopelessness. And thus is not engendered a creative and profound consciousness.


Russia needs to free itself from the traditional platforms, from the contorted slogans, from the dead doctrines. Oh, if only it could happen for us as Russians, — the awareness, that we should have to be not so much liberals, as rather freedom-lovers, not so much opportunists, as rather creators, not so much democrats, as rather seeing in each man the image and likeness of God and his higher dignity, not hysterical but rather volitional people, radicals not in the conditional, but rather the deep-rooted sense of the word, men moreso, and persons, rather than “leftists” or “rightists”. And this means, that we, as Russians, ought first of all to become manly with a fully mature and self-restraining will, and to stand firm. In us, as Russians, there ought to show forth a creative spiritual fount, the impulse to new life, from within, from the will, from freedom. Without this, Russia is doomed to the result, that for it the masculine principle will be the Germans, who always have pushed themself forth as a suitor for the feminine Slavic race, both in the life of the state aspect, as well as in the spiritual life, in the formation of thought. To be inwardly freedom-loving, the freedom of the spirit, the energy of a personal worthiness and personal legitimacy — these are necessary prerequisites for the creativity of a new Russia. Russia all still too much has lived in an impersonal collective, in the organism of natural an economy both in the spiritual and in the material. Its Christianity has been too much grounded in nature, too tied in with the natal existence. Russia has to go through a spiritual, a religious emancipation of the person, through a forging of what it is to be a person, of the personal spirit, to pass over to a collective not impersonal, not natural, but rather spiritual, constructively building. […]

A free societal aspect can be created only by the free in spirit, only by those conscious of their own freedom. And our “leftists” and “rightists”, our “intelligentsia” and “philistinists” cannot be termed people, free in spirit, creating from the depths of their will. A Russian societal renewal presupposes a Russian spiritual renewal, a renewal of the Russian creative will, a new spiritual rebirth of Russian man.1  The “idea” of a new Russia has to stand higher than all the old doctrines, the platforms, the party and current trend divisions. And the repetition of the old words — Slavophils, Westernisers, rightists, leftists — has gotten to be tediously tormentive, an hindrance to new life. The power of inertia drags upon us with the old slogans, the old categories, the traditional divisions of “rightists” and “leftists”. Thousand-pud weights hang on us and drag us downwards. The old sins still rule us. And our struggle for a free life always is poisoned, always is joyless, and too often fruitless by its hysterical emotional reaction.

The current world war provides an inducement for the rise of a new consciousness, a creative national consciousness. The war itself per se can create nothing, its nature is negative, it is moreso the end of the old, rather than the beginning of the new. But with us there is the will to believe, that a new historical period is beginning and that there awaits us something not foreseen by any sort of doctrines. the soldier, fighting for the honour and dignity of the native land, — is not a slave; he has to feel, that Russia — is he himself, and this valiant awareness is something he has to offer within Russia […]

A movement at depth is always liberating, and it surmounts every slavery. The current world period stands beneathe the standard of a confusing of planes, from a shifting about of the points of intersection of these horizontal planes by the vertical and in-depth movements. The world war itself is but an horizontal flat-plane projection of those stormy motions, which transpire within, in the depths, in the substrate of life. And an egress and way out from this manifest chaos can be sought only in deep creative movements. The new Russia, not torn asunder by the old disputes, and […] can be, by the creative action of the new man. And the new man — is the child of a new religious rebirth.

N. A. Berdyaev.

©  2011  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1915 – 188 – en)

NOVAYA  ROSSIYA.  Article originally published in the newspaper “Birzhevye vedomosti”,  23 jan. 1915, No. 14628. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, “Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922”, Izdatel’stvo Astrel’, Moskva, 2007, p. 276-281.
1 It has been established, that the English consciousness of the rights of man, the English sense of freedom was begotten of a religious movement, from the religious Reformation.