The Strength of Russia


The Strength of Russia

(1917 – #254)


It is said the Germans, only now during the time of war, have gotten a sense of the strength of Russia and admit that it is great a power. Prior to the war they tended to look down on Russia. This will sound paradoxical. The Germans all the while sense themself as victors, they have occupied our land. And yet it would seem, that not only the Germans, but all the peoples of the West in perplexity also will have to halt afront the enigma of Russia and admit the power of Russia forever by all the evidence. The peoples of the West, in accord with their total frame of mind, all their history of schooling on this, tend to define the power of a state , the strength of power of the national life according to its organised aspect, the order and self-initiating of a people, the revealing and developement of all the energy of a people. But Russia represents great difficulties for these traditional notions of European man concerning the strength of power. The Germans, the French, the English alike can only exist and keep organised, by an exertion of all their powers, by a disciplined intensiveness. The Russians — are the sole people in the world, who can permit themself an extensiveness in everything. If the Germans had permitted themself for a short while that chaoticness and disorganisation, which we admit as customary a basis of Russian life, they would have been defeated and perished.

Russia, only Russia alone can permit itself the luxury, which no other one people of Western Europe can permit itself. During the time of war these peoples have to intensely exert all their powers and bring the extent of organisation into utmost a degree. Only the Russian people can sit tight, neither pulling themself together nor intensely straining themself. And in truth it can be said, that the war has uncovered not only the sins, the ills and weakness of Russia, but also its enormous strength of power, incomprehensible to reason. This paradoxical fact has to alarm the peoples of Europe and in them evoke envy. Too much has been bestowed the Russian. The existence of Russia  – is paradoxical, and contradiction is its law.


I myself, inwardly having the feeling of Russia and in myself sensing the Russian nature, am compelled to sense it as both perishing and undefeatable, as strong and weak, disintegrating and yet having a great future. This contradiction mustneeds be accepted and lived through to the end. It is alike a mistake and wrong to thus believe in Russia, that there is nothing poor and weak to be seen in it, as likewise thus not to believe in it, that there is nothing good nor strong to notice in it. Russia is undergoing terrible a time, which can only be compared with that of the time of troubles era. All its furthermost fate is being decided: whether Russia will emerge towards broad and free a life in the world and thus enter into a period of flourishing, or whether a decline has begun in it leaving it unable to have its say in the world. There ensues an hour, when the Russian people has to master its inner chaos, to gird up and discipline its spirit. Faith in the freedom of man and the freedom of the people in determining their fate impels us to admit, that the people can also perish, that the state can also disintegrate, if all the details be ignored. A blind measure of faith in the givenness of a thing is a denial of human freedom in the realisation of a task. To the Russian people much has been given, but there is still more awaiting it. A responsible awareness ought to make one see this. Forewarnings are given to the various peoples and they can ignore the details. Faith in Russia ought not to be irresponsible.

We cannot but sense the great power of Russia even in a period of its powerlessness and disorganisation: Russia is incommensurate with other peoples and lands. Russia — is terribly rich both spiritually and materially, within it lie lodged vast potential powers, all still dormant. Germany has done everything, that it could, it has become overstrained in its exertion, it has nothing more to say, and nothing more that it can do. It has reached the edge and the limit. Russia however has manifest only an insignificant portion of its powers, it is not exhausted spiritually, has not overtaxed all its powers. On the one hand, Russia has been a wastrel and permits itself luxury. This — reflects the extravagance of an extensive culture. On the other hand, Russia is stingy with the historical manifestation of its inner powers, it preserves them inwardly. In it there is no lavish throwing around of its powers upon an intensive culture. This contradiction is very characteristic for Russia. There is an inner force in Russia, which leads it out of its difficulties and saves it in all the difficult periods of its history. But Russian man does not love to exert himself beyond the necessary extreme. The inward strength of power in Russia is totally manifest only in the most extreme instances, under the powerful crush of undergoing an historical tragedy. Usually it remains in reserve. But always there is hope, that at the very edge of doom, in the most tragic moment, this hidden inner force of Russia will awaken and come into active a condition. And always upon this inner power there remains hope. But in the inner core of Russia is hidden an enormous power and inexplicable wealth, which is apparent to the peoples of Europe, cramped as hey are and easily exhausted, everywhere stumbling up against boundaries both spiritual and material. The spirit of the Russian people courses its way in boundlessness and vastness, in the elemental. It has not yet gotten concentrated nor formed still for historical manifestation and action. In such a condition are situated also the material inward aspects of Russia, undeveloped for intensive a culture. This dwelling of the Russian spiritual and material powers in potential a condition engenders both the Russian extravagance and the Russian historical miserliness.


Russia indeed can allow itself that, what no other people in the world can allow itself. But it would be immoral to take too much comfort in this. The has to start an end to the irresponsible psychology of being rich, of being wastrels in the expenditure of one’s riches and miserly in the expenditure of one’s working energy. Russia is entering into very responsible a period of its historical existence. And it is summoned by history to a responsible organisation of its inexplicable powers. The active involvement of whatever a people into the arena of world history presupposes a transition from extensive into intensive a culture. Russia all still lives a provincially locked-in existence and its state economy has been still all too reminiscent of the economy of the provincial Russian landowner of the old type. Of suchlike a type has been not only the state economy of Russia, but also the economy of spirit. The Russian swaggering about has been irresponsible. The world war is leading Russia into the world cycle of events far more deeply, than all the preceeding world influences upon Russia. The psychology of a provincial landowner of the old type has become impossible already for Russia. Insufficiencies of a spiritual undergirding, of self-discipline, of an active, human energy have also led Russia to a rotten process in its outer trappings. The rotting clothes are falling off Russia, and it is subject to the danger of remaining naked.

But it is impossible to go bare amongst cultural peoples, for it is too fraught with immense dangers. We not only have to get clothed upon with new clothes, we have to don ourself in armour. Spirit has to master the Russian diffuseness of emotion. Spirit has to give form to the body of Russia and guide the life of this enormous body.

But our task cannot be merely negatively protective. Russia is facing an entirely new period of world historical existence. It has to either actively enter into this period, or ultimately fall out from world history and passively fade away into the East. This mans also, that Russia stands at an historical crossroads and is experiencing a very responsible moment of historical choice. Russia either has to be a certain great East-West, the uniter of two historical worlds, uniting mankind into universal an unity, or it will be great, but not the great East, disunitive to the unity of all mankind, bearing disunity into world life. The first, the great path, to which Russia is called, is possible only in the instance, that the Russian people and Russian man ceases to rely upon fate, upon chance, upon the “evil eye”, upon “luck”, upon non-human forces, and he rather oneself show a strength of power, to organise one’s power. The fundamental question for Russia — is the question of awakening the human self-initiating of the people.

Tiutchev said, that “in Russia one can only believe”. But Russia is entering upon that period of historical existence, when it has to also admit the lack of belief in it. And this means, that the faith in the power of Russia has to pass over into a manifestation of the power of Russia. Russia as disclosed and currently manifest presents great difficulties for believing in it. There has to begin a disclosing and manifestation, supportive to this faith. Upon faith is based the initial stage in the life of a people, but the subsequent stage has to be based upon knowing. The peoples of Europe do not believe in Russia and it is impossible to demand this faith of them. But they also do not know Russia, and lack the wherewithal to know it. Russia has to render its power accessible to knowing by all the world. And for this, what lies concealed within the bosom of Russia has to be revealed, what is hidden has to become clear, what is potential has to pass over into active a condition. The hour ensues for ultimate a disclosing of the inner power of Russia.

N. A. Berdyaev

[4 January] 1917


©  2010  by translator Fr. S. Janos.

(1917 – 254 -en)

SILA ROSSII. Article originally published in the literary gazette “Birzhevye vedomosti”,  4 January 1917, No. 16018. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, “Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922”, Izdatel’stvo Astrel’, Moskva, 2007, p. 476-479.