The German Influences and Slavism


The German Influences and Slavism

(1917 – #277)


The struggles among parties and classes, with their political and social passions, is causing many to forget, that the Russian revolution is transpiring under the atmosphere of a terrible war, and that all the party groupings with their loud slogans are taking place under the pressure of the war. The parties with their programmes and tactics cannot at present appear in their pure form, they are all dissimilar to how they were in peacetime, in the calm conditions of political activity and the social reformation of society. At the present tragic moment of Russian history, all the parties are determined first of all by their attitude towards the war and towards international politics. In Russia at present there exist really only two parties — the party of the patriots, wanting to save their native land, not having lost the healthy sense of the nation and the state, aware of their responsibility of all the future of Russia, and conversely the party of the non-patriots, denying the independent value of nationality, indifferent towards their native land, to its honour and worth, betraying it either from a fanatical adherence to abstract utopias and false internationalistic ideas, or from a craven mercenary greed. The division into “bourgeois” and “socialistic” parties possesses at present only a literal significance, and this — is conditional a phraseology. Plekhanov’s “Unity” socialistic group has been termed “bourgeois” exclusively for its patriotic stance. And the Black Hundredist elements, hiding themselves under the mask of Bolshevism, are wont to be termed “socialistic” for their anti-patriotic stance. This is not at all a matter of socialism, essentially. The serious discussion about socialism is historically here inopportune and misplaced. I would not, on my life, now endorse socialism for the Russian people and the Russian state. It is possible to acknowledge a certain truth to socialism, but in the given historical hour I would be for every party and every class, that is patriotically and nationally disposed, that would want to save our native land from ruin. Only such parties and such classes can be considered truly progressive. The anti-patriotic, anti-national, anti-state socialism is deeply reactionary, and for it there should be no place in a future free Russia. The Russian revolutionary socialism has with us morally failed and disgraced itself, since it has proven itself non-patriotic, not for the nation and the state, at a moment of a greatest danger for our native land, and upon it hinges a wicked overshadowing of the German influence. Russian internationalism reflects a seamy side of German imperialism. This — is objectively so, irregardless of the subjective mindset of individual internationalists, who might be sincerely attracted to this idea. The patriotic activity of Kerensky most recently is not typical to our revolutionary socialism. More typical is Mr. Chernov or the Menshevik internationalist Martov, not to mention the Bolsheviks. It constantly has to be remembered, that to a remarkable degree our parties represent fictions, party labels — conditional signs. Behind these signs is hidden the real struggle, signifying quite other than what is expressed in words.

Internationalism on Russian soil is Germanism, Russian pacifism is a German debilitating of the Russian national will. What have the internationalistic and pacifistic ideas on Russian soil led to? They have shaken the unity of the Russian state, they have killed within the people our sense of national bonding-together, they have demoralised and disintegrated the Russian army, they have undermined all the Allies confidence in us, they have brought Russia to humiliation and disgrace. The fruits of internationalism are bitter for Russia, but very sweet for Germany. The German influences ought not invariably to be considered to be behind all the corruption, the spying and betraying of the Russians. With us no few have proven to be traitors, betraying their fatherland and proclaiming pro-German slogans, they were there in the old order and they are here in the new. But this is not the essential thing. The important thing is this, that too many Russians are situated under the German influence, inwardly poisoned by its venom, in the grip of devils, set loose by the Germans against Russia, and they have lost their national semblance. The Russian people has weakened not only materially in its struggle with Germany, it has weakened first of all spiritually, it has not conceived is own idea in the world conflict, it has not gathered its spiritual powers for the enduring of those sacrifices and tribulations, necessitated by this conflict. In the terrible moments, bearing upon the fate of the people, when the war has been combined with revolution, the Russian people is lacking for its own word, it speaks in a foreign tongue, it pronounces foreign words — “internationalism”, “socialism” etc, distorting the European sense of these words, spitting them out in a stumbling tongue. The Russian people both could and ought to have its own word in this historical hour, when there is raging the terrible struggle of the Slavic world and the Germanic world. But the passivity and femininity of the Russian people, its wont for foreign influences hinders it from conceiving its own idea and speaking out its own word. It was needful for Germany, that in the hour of struggle the class passion should win out over the national passion, and these two passions — are basic to the life of various peoples.


The German spirit, manly and forceful, tended to enslave the Russian soul earlier on, than when it set out to enslave the body of Russia. And it has acted via various paths. The international temptation with the Social Democrats has been one of the paths of the Germanisation and enslavement of the soul of Russia, of the depersonalisation of the Russian intelligentsia. But for Germany itself this international Social Democracy has remained something national, and it has been one of the expressions of the Germanic idea. For all those, to whom such an assertion may seem unjustified, I advise to read through a remarkable indeed book by K. Marx, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany”. This book tends to be little known or understood. Such a strong and sharp mind, what a brilliant talent in a publicist! How could this original and sharp mind beget all those drab grey Marxists, impossible to distinguish one from the other? But then too, Tolstoy did beget the Tolstoyans! Marx speaks the strong and powerful language of German imperialism, in him are no traces of humanitarian internationalism and pacifism. He eloquently conceives of the racial calling of the Germans to civilise the Slavic East, and in the Germanisation of the Slavs he sees a progressive revolutionary process and even almost the classic formulas of German imperialism. The German race — is the higher; the Slavic race — is the lower. The higher race has the right to conquer, to colonise and civilise a lower race. The self-determination of lower nationalities is reactionary a matter. How far removed Marx is, from the declarations of his disciples on the theme of “without annexation or indemnities” and “the free self-determination of peoples”. Marx argues that “from the time of Charlemagne the Germans have gradually directed persistent efforts at conquest, the colonisation or, in extreme measure, the civilising of the European East”. (“Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany”, p.79). Concerning the liberation efforts by the Polish he said: “It would however be disputable still, whether it be proper that whole districts, settled primarily by Germans, and large completely German cities should be ceded to a people, having nothing to show of an ability to emerge from feudal a condition” (p.80). Concerning the Czech liberation efforts he says: “Bohemia in future should exist only in the capacity of a component part of Germany, even though part of its inhabitants have continued over the course of several centuries to speak not in the German tongue” (p.82). Here is how Marx characterises efforts towards unification and liberation by the Slavs: “There was conceived in the work offices of certain Slavic dilettantes of historical science that laughable anti-historical movement, which schemed at naught else than the subjection of the civilised West to the barbaric East; the subjection of the city to the village; of trade, industry, science — to the primitive agriculture of the Slavic outposts. But behind this laughable theory has stood a dreadful fact — there has stood the Russian empire, in each movement of which appears pretensions to regard Europe as an appanage of the Slavic race, and in particular there is the singularly strange component part of this race — the Russians; this is an empire, which with its two capitals — Peterburg and Moscow — all which has not found its centre of gravity, for as long as Tsargrad [Constantinople], in which each Russian peasant sees as the true genuine metropolis of his religion and his nation, for as long as Tsargrad fails to be rendered the active residence of the Russian emperor” (p.83-84). As we see, Marx did not tie in the Russian gravitation towards Tsargrad with the interests of a capitalistic bourgeoise, he was not merely banging his head with the routine spiel from all the common spots, he saw here first of all a gravitation of the Russian peasantry with its religious and national world-outlook. In Marx there as serious hatred towards the Slavs and towards Russia, he was a Turkophile, he was a German down to the marrow of his bones in questions of international politics. The same also was old Liebknecht, an hater of Russia, always preferring the Turk over the Slavs. As regards the [1848-51] war with the Danes over Schleswig and Holstein, Marx says: “These are districts, undoubtedly German by nationality, language and inclination, needful for Germany both for the guarding and developement of its maritime movement and trade” (p.86). This is all very expressed in the spirit of German imperialism. And here is a very characteristic spot: “Thus have the Slavs ended… the German attempts to conquer for themself an independent national existence. The shattered remnants of numerous nations, where the nationality and political manner of life has long since faded and which therefore already over the course of a thousand years they have been compelled to live under, makes proper their conquest by a stronger nation… all these past their prime nationalities — the Bohemians, the Croats, the Dalmatians etc, have attempted to utilise the common period of unrest in the year 1848 for a restoration of the political status quo, as it existed 800 years after the Birth of Christ. The history of the elapsed thousand years ought to have shown them, that such a step backward is impossible; that if the whole area to the East from the Elbe and the Zaale, never settled by a coherent family of Slavic peoples having affinity amongst them, as has happened with the German, this fact then but indicates an historical tendency together with this physical and intellectual ability, for the German nation to subjugate its old Eastern neighbours, to swallow up and assimilate them; it indicates that this assimilating tendency of the Germans always has served and still serves as one of the mightiest means of spreading Western European civilisation to the East of the European continent” (italics mine — N. B.) (p.116-117). “How can they (the PanSlavists) expect, that history will march a thousand years backwards on account of certain withered peasant communes, while on every stretch of land inhabited by them they are surrounded on all sides by Germans” (p.117).


Who could imagine, that these forceful words were written by the father of Social Democracy, rather than by some German imperialist, that they were written by the prophet of internationalism, rather than by one of the German national idea? The modern German Social Democrats, reborn into social imperialists, as they ironically term themself, tend to follow along on the course set by their teacher Marx. Marx was sufficiently intelligent, talented and original, as to understand in his finer moments the significance or race, to recognise its connection with the world imperialism of that state and people, the culture of which he was raised and educated in. Marx himself was never so doctrinaire as are his disciples and followers. Although Jewish by blood, he to  sufficient degree sensed himself a German and with the eyes of a German he looked at world events. And this does him honour. But we however, fools that we be, we think, that Marx was an internationalist on humanist grounds, that he wished for the brotherhood of peoples, that he commanded no making of “annexation” and presupposed free self-determination for all peoples. People are very naive, all these Russian chaps, dreaming about the brotherhood of peoples, about the free self-determination of nationalities, about internationalism and deriving the basis for the idea from the German Social Democrats! Actually, all these Russian stupidities are taken seriously by not one German, even though he be a Social Democrat. Marx approved of all the “annexations”, made by the chosen German race, and he did not allow for the free self-determination of the lower Slavic race. Marx would have approved of the “annexation” of all of Russia, as a spreading of the German civilisation into the barbaric East. Marx knew, that history is an harsh struggle of powers, and not some humanist sentimentality. With the German there can be the idea of internationalism, but this will be the internationalism obtaining after the fulfilling by the German race of its civilising mission, after the Germanisation of the Slavic East and the subordination to Germany of all the Near East. For the attaining of this worldwide and all-human end the German never would allow himself to grow teary and slacken over any sentimentalities, from any abstract high-minded ideas. This he would leave to the Russians. International Social Democracy — is totally German in spirit. It is also one of the German influences, hindering the Russian people from realising, that in the world is occurring a great worldwide historical struggle between Slavism and Germanism, of two hostile forces within history, and that the Slavic race will either emerge from this struggle victorious, repulsing the pretensions of Germanism and fulfill its own mission within history, or it ill be brought down and hacked apart. In the revolutionary element at present has been extinguished the Russian and Slavic consciousness. And in the quenching of this awareness, behind which stands an healthy racial instinct, the propaganda of German Social Democratic ideas has played no small part. Socialism can be national, but in Russia socialism has been made into a weapon of powers, hostile to our race, it impedes Russia from the fulfilling of its Slavic calling.

The Russian and Slavic feeling and consciousness with all its powers has to be awakened. We need a mobilisation of the national spirit. And recollection about the German self-consciousness of Marx is very useful in this regard. Against the German mindset of Marx concerning a world vocation of civilising by the German race in the East, we have to oppose our own Russian mindset concerning the mission of Slavism, which still has not had its own say in the world. We believe, that a strong Russia will provide a greater freedom to the world and to all the peoples of the world, than would a strong Germany, and that in the Slavic spirit there is greater an universality, than in the coercive German spirit. Howsoever great might  be the significance of the Russian Revolution in Russian history, yet the world struggle of peoples is an event still greater in its significance, than is the Revolution. The Revolution has erupted because of the war, and it can be thought of only in connection with the war. The Germans have got their own idea in the worldwide struggle. Is there an idea with us? The Russians have shown such vulnerability, that they have fallen under the spell of a German idea. But our final word has still not be said.

N. A. Berdyaev

“Narodopravstvo, No. 6, p. 2-4,
9 August 1917




©  2010  by translator Fr. S. Janos.

(1917 – 277 -en)

GERMANSKIE  VLIYANIYA  I  SLAVYANSTVO. Article originally published in the weekly Journal “Narodopravstvo”, 9 August 1917, No. 6, p. 2-4.
Initially 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. 145-153.
Subsequently republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, “Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922”, Izdatel’stvo Astrel’, Moskva, 2007, p. 599-604.