The Position of Russia in the World

Russkaya svoboda, may 1917, No. 5, p. 8-11.

The Position of Russia in the World


There are those, who turn their gaze upon Russia, as comprising a certain sort of reality, upon its national unity, and the question concerning its position in the world, amongst other peoples, tends to alarm and disturb them. For people of a firm national awareness and patriotic mindset the questions of international politics always hold great significance, they cannot in this regard remain unconcerned. The honour and dignity of Russia, its position in world life, its historical vocation and the strength for its fulfilling — all these questions are very real, very complex and responsible. And to these questions, always the people of an international socialistic mindset have tended to be indifferent. To them this has all seemed very simple. Simple indeed seems always that reality, of which one has no grasp. For resolving the problems of international politics, our socialistic minded intelligentsia are totally unprepared, and even less so prepared for this are the masses of the workers. Within this current the thought has never been worked out nor has the heart beaten stronger, over the might or weakness of Russia as a whole, bearing a singular visage before the world, whether it will uphold its dignity or collapse. With us there has been too little by way of thinking, in the extended circles, about the world-historical vocation of Russia and the Russian people, about its existence upon the world stage, about the say it should bespeak to the world, and the spirit, that it should imprint upon world life. The world entirety, the world stage has always seemed to our socialistic and revolutionary consciousness exclusively but for the triumph of internationalism, as a cosmopolitan directing of every national idea and even of national existence itself. The whole complex cycle of problems, connected with the ordering of the surface of the earthly orb, with the struggle of nationalities and imperialisms, with the smallish and the larger historical bodies, not only are dealt with simplistically, but even are completely ignored. These problems have an aspect unique in themself, they are not conjunctive with social problems nor resolvable by any sort of purely social movements, by any sort of modifications in the correlation of classes. There exists the world historical Eastern Question, bequeathed to our generation via the history of prior centuries. No sort of triumph of democracy, no sort of social turnabout can decide the Eastern Question, in which are concentrated a whole series of concrete historical questions — concerning the relationship of Europe to Asia and Africa, concerning the fate of Turkey and the Balkan peoples, concerning the world historical gateways, which lead from East to West and from West to East. The world war is but an acutely tragic moment in the worldwide problem of East and West.

In the present historical hour Russia can fall victim to a profound ignorance in regard to these world questions and to the ignorance of the simplistic illusions begotten thereof. The Russian people for too long has been held in slavery and has endured this slave-like existence, narrowing it down horizontally, holding it in the grip of a dark ignorance. The old powers, having decayed and fluttered downwards, were powerless to resolve the world problems, which have faced Russia; all the time it balanced on the very edge of treason and betrayal of the fatherland. And it failed to provide the Russian people the possibility to become enlightened, to get prepared for the deciding of the fate of Russia, and assume responsibility. This slavery was rooted in the emotional passivity of the Russian people. And at present this selfsame passivity and selfsame irresponsibility can be sensed in the revolutionary maximalist passions now set free. To entrust responsibility for the resolution of all the acute and agonising questions, raised by the world war, to entrust it to the international proletariat, to the socialist internationale — means to abdicate from oneself all responsibility and to live in dreams and illusions, in which there is not a dram of reality. But this wont for an irresponsible dreaminess can lead to quite fierce a squaring of accounts, the awakening from the dreamland can prove quite frightening. It would be folly to entrust the deciding of concrete historical tasks to a power, which does not exist and which derives from dreams. Serbia, Belgium and Poland cannot rely on a resolution of their fate by depending upon a non-existent internationale. This would mean in fact for these lacerated and divided lands that their fate would be decided by the German proletariat, which meanwhile displays no sort of an inclination towards internationalism. At present in Russia internationalism in practise signifies a defending of Germany and German socialism, signifies an outlook moreso imperialistically and nationally against France and England, against French and English socialism. What this meanwhile would establish is not a worldwide brotherhood of the proletariat, but merely a brotherhood of the Russian and German proletariat. Would this not be horrid a thing, would this not too closely resemble the brotherly feelings of the representatives of the old regime towards the German government, their mistrust and hostility towards France and England? The fate of Russia would be relegated over to the force of fictions and phantasms, and they would want to defend it by a power, which does not exist and which evidences no sort of signs of reality, except for the dreamland of the Russian social democrats. The real powers of genuine history however continue to act and they act against Russia, readying its degradation and humiliation. If even it be granted, that after the war the internationale will prevail, then still it is impossible to presuppose, that it will prevail prior to the finish of the war, during wartime. Let Germany show for real its internationalism! Meanwhile however it occupies our territory, it has carved up several lands, and it all still senses itself a conqueror. From the Russian dreamland, from the fantasies and utopias France also can get carved up, and then the eternal shame will fall upon Russia.

There exist international relationships, international tasks and international obligations, as an unavoidable reality. This reality compels one to admit it and to awaken from dreamy thoughts. In Russia a social republic cannot be established, isolated from the world in its international outlook. The green sort of Russian kids from the intelligentsia and the people by short shrift would get cured from the irresponsible dreamings and get compelled to an awareness of realities. This would deliver a terrible blow to Russia as a great power, would plunge the Russian people into degradation and misery, but for a long time would cure them from dreams about the internationale. Russian internationalism, which now is so in fashion for us, will not unite us with the peoples of Europe, but will ultimately instead disunite us from them. We would anew risk remaining the solitary East, and upon us just like formerly the peoples of the West would look, as upon Asiatics, unprepared for entry into the cultural life of Europe. Internationalism will not unite us with Germany, but it will disunite us from France and England. The attitude towards Russia was one of contempt under the old regime, incapable of upholding our prestige. It can prove even more contemptuous after the turnabout that has happened. If among the entire people there is no will to upholding the honour, the dignity, the greatness and power of its own native land, then no sort of government, no sort of a bunch of people of loftier an awareness can accomplish anything. But the will of the Russian people is an uncertain factour, the people has not said its say. And I believe, that it will be otherwise, than from the words of those, who would usurp the will of the people and regard themself the voice of the people, whilst being a minority. There occurs at present the selfsame violation of the will of the Russian people, as was also under the old regime. The will of the entire people is a certain qualitative matter, not merely quantitative, and the true will of the people has to be reckoned as regards all the history of the people, from its remote past and remote future, and not alone merely from the interests and instincts of the present day. The will of an historical people cannot be clearly expressed in a climax of passions, in a struggle of greed, in the uprising of a part against the great whole, departing its roots for an eternity. In such moments individual persons can better conceive of the aims of all the people, the idea of all the people, than can the masses. But these individual persons have to have the support of the masses of the people. It is impossible to force a free people to love its native land, to defend it, to think about the remote reasons for its existence upon the earth. The people itself has to freely conceive of this and assert its will towards higher aims. But it would be improper to hide the fact, that the position of Russia facing the world now is truly tragic and frightful, it can be brought low spiritually and ravaged materially. And by way of answering for it will be only the appeals of social dreams and fantasies. It is impossible to permit the aloneness of Russia in the world. It has to have allies in Europe and such allies can only be England and France. It has to be faithful to the allies and pursue common goals. Only then will it for real, and not merely in dreams, enter into all humankind, into the world culture, onto the world expanse. The dreamy internationalism would however squeeze us back into Asia and isolate us. It would doom us to a solitary ignominity. Let this not be so, let the Russian people rise up against this, and save Russia as they did during the Time of Troubles and in the Fatherland War! Let there awaken in us the spirit of a free and knightly-noble citizenship!

N. A. Berdyaev

2 May (1917)



©  2012  by translator Fr. S. Janos.

(1917 – 263 -en)

POLOZHENIE ROSSII V MIRE. Article was originally published in the weekly Journal “Russkaya svoboda”, 1917, No. 5, May, p. 8-11. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, “Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922”, Izdatel’stvo Astrel’, Moskva, 2007, p. 530-533.