Patriotism  and  Politics

Narodopravstvo, sept. 1917, No. 10, p. 2-4.

Patriotism  and  Politics

(1917 – #279)


      We, as Russians, are all too accustomed to say, that our native land is on the brink of ruin. We have been talking about this for so long, and our words are of such little effect, and their practical consequences so unremarkable, that soon there will be no one left to believe in the sincerity of our words. All the words have lost their allotted gravity and ceased to be effective. There occurs only a quick shuffling of ministers, who spasmodically try to form a strong national government, but this reconfiguration of the atoms produces the impression of a sickly impotence, and nothing essential is changed by it. This phenomenon, fully analogous to a “ministerial leap-frogging”, happened too in the final period of the existence of the old regime. The basic thrust of the societal will remains the same. To get out from the condition of this tragic impotence we need an inner psychical push, a different spiritual atmosphere to the ruling authority, more free, more loving of rights, inspired not by the greedy, by class and the all too human ideas, but by objective national and state ideas, such as are not dependent upon human caprice. Many admit, that at this terrible and tragic moment of Russian history, that Russia can be saved only by a patriotic upsurge, only by an exceptional exertion of national spirit. But we lack this impulse, there are only appeals for it and words about it. All the patriotic and statesmanlike words of the government, pronounced by the Moscow state assembly meetings, have thus remained merely words, without passing over into action. All this terminology, new for the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, signifies but that our infant statesmen are passing through grade-school and are learning by rote to pronounce the words: fatherland, nation, state. Essentially it would seem, that the power at this difficult moment should have belonged to those, who long since already had learned these words and whose psychology more closely relates to the saving of the state and its setting in order.

But in this exceptional time they want to save Russia by political combinations, essentially changing nothing, repudiating nothing, sacrificing nothing and risking nothing. These past several months already have realised such an inertia of the revolutionary authorities, which it took the span of a century to form under the old ruling authorities. The psychology of governance of the revolutionary democracy is too reminiscent of the psychology of the governance of Nicholas II. Compromises are made exclusively under the influence of fear and danger, and not from inner awareness of national duty. Our revolutionary politics is infected with falsehood, it is quickly going to rot and decay. The lie was set in place into the foundation itself of the ruling powers of the revolutionary democracy — no sort of an utmost and objective truth binding for all the people was set within this foundation. Everything was justified by the interests of social classes, of separate groups and of separate personages. But every ruling power, which is directed exclusively by the interests of social classes, inevitably has to fall apart. At the basis of a strong national authority inheres always something, standing higher than all the special interests. A ruling power by its nature cannot be either bourgeois, or proletarian, and it is conducted neither by class interests, nor the special interests of people, but rather by the interests of the state and the nation, as a grand whole. There is nothing easier, than to go astray in politics via the path of falsehood. The means for the political struggle imperceptibly gets substituted for the ends of life, and in the raging of political passions it is difficult to preserve alive the soul. This soul is being murdered by the dominance of interests and by the greedy struggle for power. Those, who value the health of the people’s soul, have to admit, that in patriotism there is something more primary and more connected with the spiritual basics of life, than mere politics. In the national feeling there is something more intimate and more profound, than a state mindset. And the political motives essentially have to be subordinated to the patriotic motives. One who is fighting for his native land, is fighting not for his own interests and not for foreign interests, but for a value, standing higher than any well-being of people. Every great struggle can be justified only as a struggle for one’s own truth and for God. And politics, lacking in this political core, will always be a lie and subject to rot. Now more than ever it can be said, that it is not a time for politics, estranged from the spiritual basics of life and merely shifting for itself and its vacillating and ambiguous elements. It is the matter involving the fate of a great people, and not only concerning its outward political and social fate, but also its inner fate, the soul of the people, which can become undone in the name of illusory benefits.


The great significance of the Moscow conclave of societal activists, gathered on 8-10 August, must be seen in this, that it was convened exclusively upon a patriotic impulse and it pursued the aims of national unity. This was not sufficiently appreciated by our press, not only the “socialistic”, which is dead to national motives, but also not the “bourgeois”. The Moscow conclave did not represent any sort of political combination, it was not a matter of class unity, it aspired to create a national bloc, into which there could enter representatives of all the classes and social groups, insofar as they were patriotically disposed towards the state. It cannot be denied, that within such an unity there could enter in the reasonably disposed and the conscientious peasantry, such that its popular basis could be very broad. Such a national bloc, or patriotic union, having united various parties and groups, could prove a formation stable and lasting. In it a truly national power would find its support. And it mustneeds be said, that this current in the Russian societal effort, which coalesced at the Moscow conclave, was disposed patriotically and nationally, at it there were expressed thoughts concerning the saving of our native land, rather than of that ambiguous creature, which we tend to call “revolution” and which all more and more is immersed in falsehood and moral rot. And if it were possible to criticise the Moscow conclave on something, it would be on this, that its national character was not strongly enough expressed, that there was too much, in the contemporary terminology, of the “nation in common”, and not of the nationally-Russian. There are three basic passions, which can be awakened in a people and which can become impulses in its historical fate, — the social class passion, the national passion and the religious passion. Unscrupulous demagogues have already employed the most base of these passions — that of social class. It has poisoned Russia, it has killed the feel for truth in the masses of the Russian people, it has formed in their souls a nihilistic apostasy. And only the awakening of passions national and religious can save the Russian people from total disintegration and decay. Concerning the religious passion this is not the place at present to speak, it is too immense a question, whereas the national passion cannot be that of the “nation in general” for political tactics, it is an arousing of a fiery element in the people.

In Russia at present there have formed three tendencies: the one wants unconditionally, without haggling and without further considerations to save our native land, in which it sees an eternal value, and it demands discipline in the army for ends patriotic and national; the second however wants conditionally to save the native land, and in its calculations it tends to say that the native land should be subordinated to the “revolution” and “democracy”, and it demands exclusively a “revolutionary” discipline; whereas the third would unconditionally betray their native land and demand its destruction in the name of worldwide revolution. To characterise these three tendencies, as “bourgeois”, “moderate-socialistic” and “extreme-socialistic” is both a conditional lie and nonsense. It is time to cease bestowing significance to a black-balling terminology, even though it fancy itself as of the intelligentsia. Only people, obsessed with false ideas or completely ignorant and limited, can see something “bourgeois” in the unconditional defense of one’s native land and in a national perspective, whilst terming as socialism either a conditional defense of one’s native land or else its outright betrayal. That which among us over the course of half a year they have tended to call a “socialistic” moment, represents an intolerable lie and fraud and is a smokescreen for the very lowest instincts of the masses and the shameless demagogic indulgence of them. About socialism at present in Russia it is impossible to speak, it does not at all exist, there is only a dragging in the dirt of the socialistic idea. Russian revolutionary socialism is a phenomenon completely reactionary, it is but the legacy of the processes of the disintegration of the old Russia. With us there is no sort of an healthy and creative democratic movement. Democracy is understood among us so distortedly, that it brings to mind some sort of a lampoon and caricature. The demonic obsession with the idea of equality is not democracy, since a true democracy is a search for ways of selection of the best, the establishing of a true inequality, and it is possible to imagine, that the mission of the Russian revolution — is an exposing of the falsehood, lying at the basis of the democratic principle, with its lack of desire to subordinate itself to an higher truth. The tangle of lies in democracy and the tangle of lies in socialism is a phenomenon morally ugly. And we most of all have need of a moral restoration of health to the nation, its spiritual renewal, an awakening of faith in the truth of God. The Russian people cannot worthily wage war, since it has lost faith in the sanctities, such as surpass every earthly blessing. War in the name of one’s own special interests, in the name of “land and freedom” cannot be justified. The terror of the war cannot be faced in the name of rational and utilitarian considerations. This tragic terror can only be faced by those, who believe in the ends of life and the sanctities, put higher than the givenness of empirical life with its limited interests. But faith in the Divine meaning of life has weakened in the Russian people, it has lost its strength in the most terrible moment of the struggle.


The tragic events, connected with the name of General Kornilov, are a telling indication that we continue to live in an atmosphere murky and ambiguous. In the way recent events have played out, there is the feel of demonic linkages of lies and intrigues. There is occasion to think, that the dark powers are in collusion against Russia and allow it no escape out of its tragic position. The powers now dominant in the Russian state are just as intolerant of truth and light, just as intolerant of them, as were the powers governing in the old order. The old powers lived exclusively by fear of revolution, and the new powers live just as exclusively by fear of counter-revolution. Both the one and the other condition are alike non-creative, alike degrading, both alike doomed with falsehood and fear of the light. This — is the path of a morbid mistrustfulness, imperceptibly passing over into a wicked vindictiveness, and crowned with provocations. This — is of the bleak realm of the underground mindset, from which our miserable land seems unable to escape. Even after the turnabout, which was to set us free, we continue to be choked with murky lies. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech are trampled upon for us. It is too clearly apparent for honourable people, that in the accusations against General Kornilov there was piled up a monstrous falsehood, deceit and intrigue. And all Russia ought first of all to demand explanations of the truth and for what is right, which cannot be sacrificed for anything in the world. It is impossible to tolerate, that a seal of compulsory silence should again be imposed upon our mouths. And if a disturbing lie is governing our lives, then it ought to be exposed and shouted about at all the crossroads. The revolutionary power can as little free itself from Bolshevism, as the pre-revolutionary power could free itself from the Black Hundreds, and therefore it cannot be national and patriotic. That which our revolutionary insipidness terms a “developing and deepening of revolution”, is a sip of the poison of Bolshevism, which in but a more diluted form is present also in the Social Democrat Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. The Bolshevik disease-germ has had an excellent culturing in the blood of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, and this — is but a new form of its age old social maximalism, which is but the flip side of its age old religious nihilism. The radical freeing from Bolshevism presupposes a spiritual turnabout. And until there is this desired spiritual turnabout, the ruling powers in the hands of the Russian intelligentsia never will be patriotic and national.

It is possible quite variously to view for the given moment the fateful clash between General Kornilov and the Provisional Government, but to deny the heroic patriotism of Gen. Kornilov and his supreme fidelity to our country is but malice of will or from greedy considerations. This has to be admitted from out of an instinct for what is right, irregardless of belonging to this or that party. Politics with its passions and calculations, its struggle of interests and struggle for power, ought not to obscure the vitally direct truth. every lie has to be cast down, and for this occurring there have to unite all those that are honest and upright, all that are conscientious in loving the light. The rising up against falsehood is a sacred right and a sacred duty of man. The whole of politics and all the social interests and the social arrangements — are nothing in comparison with the eternal light of truth, with the spiritual life of man. In a direct patriotic impulse there is an immediate vital truth, which there cannot be in politics. In Russia there has to begin an organic patriotic stirring and a demand for truth in politics. An atheistic politics cannot be other than a lie, it sacrifices what is right and true in the name of the well-being of people, whilst transforming this well-being into an idol. But higher than people’s avaricious well-being has to be posited the truth of spiritual life, without which there is not man, there is not in him the image of God, and there is not the people with a great historical destiny.

Nikolai Berdyaev

25 September 1917

©  2009  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1917 – 279 – en)

PATRIOTIZM  I  POLITIKA. Article originally published in the weekly Journal “Narodopravstvo”, sept. 1917, No. 10, p. 2-4.

First 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. 154-162.