The  Power  and  Psychology of  the  Intelligentsia


The  Power  and  Psychology
of  the  Intelligentsia*

(*this article was written prior to the Bolshevik turnover)

(1918 – #292)


  Here already it has been several months, with Russia facing unresolved tasks — to create a strong state power from an human material, totally unprepared for the holding of power and for determining the fate of the state, unprepared as regards all its past, unprepared as regards its mental frame of mind to not be called to power nor rule in the state. Over the course of the “unfolding” of the Revolution the power gradually passed over to the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, to the Russian Social Revolutionaries and the Social Democrats, i.e. to people, who in their dreams never imagined, that they might actually come to power, and whose whole world-outlook and psychology denies the very principle of holding power. The tumbling over from the underground into a ministry — is no easy thing, it can be mentally maddening. The Russian socialistic intelligentsia had no presentiment, had no thoughts, which might have prepared it for holding power. The Russian revolutionary-socialistic intelligentsia had crystalised into a peculiar race, into a peculiar variety of people, which could be recognised even by its physical appearance, and this race was incapable of governance. Its governing and holding of power is anthropologically, psychologically and morally something ridiculous. This variety of people cannot create an aesthetic style of holding power, as might be but repulsive. The shouted about lack of power is not only aesthetically repulsive, — its aesthetic non-acceptability is likewise an indicator of spiritual unpreparedness and untruth. By all its very blood and all its thoughts our revolutionary intelligentsia has always denied the holding of power, and for it the struggle with the autocratic power passed over into a denial of the state, the nation, and history. The revolutionary intelligentsia has lived with utopias and dreams of a perfect social order. And at that blissful point in time, when this social order ensues, it presupposes the absence of every sort of holding of power, since every having of power is from evil. Prior to this desirable moment, however, there has to be an irreconcilable opposition to every sort of power, there being needful permanent revolution. The absolutisation of the revolutionary psychology makes impossible any participation in the holding of power. The Russian revolutionary does not imagine it possible for him to participate in power prior to the realisation of socialism, and yet he would tend to imagine for himself the realisation of socialism as the final blessed surmounting of every holding of power, of everything to do with the state. For him the holding of power would either be something too premature, or too belated. He is accustomed to experience a religious absoluteness in societal life, where everything is relative. And this distorted religious feeling has not been to a strengthening morally, instead it has led to a moral distortion and decay. The soul of the Russian intelligentsia has fallen under the grip of false gods and idols.

No sort of positive habits of constructive a societal and state outlook have preceeded the sudden and catastrophic appearance in power of the Russian intelligentsia. The intelligentsia has been accustomed to sense itself alienated from its native land, from its history, from the legacy of ancestors, from the whole of the state and the people. Never has there opened before it the perspective of the span of history and never has it directed its will to creative tasks. Its psychology was caught up in its own narrow circle, stuffy and stifling. This world of the intelligentsia has been completely self-enclosed world, dwelling within its deeply provincial interests, its own party considerations, speaking in its hideous jargon, setting itself in opposition to the breadth of the universal and historical. This was a sectarian like little world with all the peculiarities of the sectarian psychology. Foreign to it was a language national and a language all-human. The sectarian is not capable of thinking about the great entirety nor is he able to direct his will to this entirety, and in this he is distinct from the churchly man, who senses himself within the universal whole. The sectarian psychology of the revolutionary intelligentsia has led to an extreme simplification of the thinking process. All the complexity of life has eluded his sight, visible only is a direct straight line, God’s whole manifold world is rendered either on the “right” or the “left”. The sectarian psychology of the intelligentsia never was creative nor productive, it was totally in the grip of a thirst for division and redistribution. The intelligentsia sectarians never wanted to recognise any sort of objective principles of societal life, and to them this seemed “bourgeois”. The fate of the state and society was relegated by them to the domain of human subjectivity, everything was explained by the evil or good will of people and classes. The cosmic and natural grounds of human society always remained unconceivable and unacceptable for the intelligentsia sectarianism. Limited by nothing, the subjective moralism has led to an immoral violence against the objective nature of society and state, to the immoral denial of principles, set higher than the subjective arbitrary will of people and their subjective well-being. This has been a moralism of the underground and the renegade, for which there does not exist any great mystery of the whole nation and world, there does not exist any mutual responsibility. And here now the elemental historical surging wave lifts to the summits of power these sectarians, accustomed to live in the underground, as renegades from the national entirety, and to deny the state, the fatherland, and the pre-eminence of history.


The whole revolutionary history of the Russian intelligentsia has accustomed it to irresponsibility. It never was summoned to responsible deeds within Russian history. The responsibility for the woeful state of Russia, for all the evil of Russian life, the intelligentsia tended to lay on “them”, the ruling power, in opposition to the people, but never upon itself. The banishings, the prisons and the executions morally strengthened the sense of irresponsibility. The hapless Russian intelligentsia was accustomed to a persecuted position and in everything it regards as blameworthy its persecutors. One who lacks the vocation for a constructive life, who as it were is thrown overboard, is one who is deprived the possibility to develope and strengthen in himself a sense of responsibility. The intelligentsia was accustomed to confess the most irresponsible theories and utopias, which never were credible in actual experience. In its self-contained little world, the intelligentsia came up with the most extreme teachings, but never did it seriously prepare itself for the vital testing of these teachings. For several days prior to the turnover, the representatives of the revolutionary intelligentsia did not even realise, that it had befallen their lot to take upon themselves the responsibility for the fate of a great state. Even after the turnover occurred, when all the obstacles on the paths to democracy had fallen, the revolutionary democracy relegated to the Provisional Government almost the same structure, as it had applied to the old government, it transferred over its old habits onto the new Russia. It is incapable of putting aside its underground and mutinously negative revolutionary psychology. The professional revolutionaries have continued on with making revolution even then, when there is no one and nothing to make it against. The irresponsible sense of revolutionary opposition has been totally carried over also into the liberated Russia. And it mustneeds straight out be said, that the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia is, perhaps, a very inert and very reactionary inheritance, received by the new Russia from the old Russia — it lives in the old, it breathes with the old and negative feelings, it is incapable of being pervaded with a creative psychology. This — is the product of people, organically incapable of the constructive view for a new life.

These people started with this, with committing an immense crime — in the dark masses of the people they spread the seeds of class malice and hatred and brought about the act of the rising up of class against class in monstrous proportions, auguring the death of the state and the nation and transforming Russian life into a living hell. Then these very people became alarmed at the deed wrought of their hands, they tasted the bitter fruits of their destructive work and hastily they began to do the elemental schooling of state and national learning, and certain of them by rote began to pronounce the word fatherland. Having received the rule of power, they began without success to set right certain of their mistakes, for example, they tried to revive the army, but alongside this they made ever newer and newer mistakes. The Russian socialistic intelligentsia faces the danger of being swept away by the very element in the people that it has set loose. The revolutionary intelligentsia itself began to destroy the liberated new Russia, and having come to power, it is powerless to try to set right the consequences of its destruction. It has not been the creative, but rather the destructive deeds that brought the Russian socialists to power, and this path has begotten a tragically impotent holding of power. The weave of soul of these people is such, that they are incapable of rule. The holding of power — is not an intelligentsia trait. When the revolutionary intelligentsia ceased to be persecuted and changed into persecutors, they displayed features of a frightful moral ugliness. They were incapable of worthily bearing the burden of power, since first of all they understand power as a right, and not as an obligation. For one to worthily hold power, it is necessary to be done with the revolutionary psychology, to get into communion with the mystery of the whole and the mystery of succession. “Revolutionary ruling power”, just like “revolutionary order”, — is an absurd word combination. The attempts to create a “revolutionary ruling power”, relying upon the revolutionary psychology, over the course of several months have made for an atmosphere in which the governing power is creating bedlam and has begotten appearances morally ugly. After the revolutionary turnover occurred, it became necessary to organise in Russia a new order of life, to enter upon construction and creativity. Instead of this healthy path — a path of national renewal, — with us they produced a revolution on to infinity, they set upon a path of destruction and lacked the ability to give up on the old revolutionary psychology, begotten of oppression and brotherhood. The revolutionary democracy cannot rule, this — is an old, and not a new democracy. As a builder of life, as the builder of a new Russia there can be only the democracy of a new type of outlook, with a developing sense of responsibility, with a developing instinct for productivity, with a strong awareness of the national and state totality and having a bond with the historical past, i.e. a creative national democracy. The democracy ought also to create an aristocracy, i.e. the selection of the finest. The revolutionary democracy, however, which is but the revolutionary intelligentsia, is putting the finish to its history with the Russian Revolution.


Our socialists simultaneously fight for power, while in every way which they can they discredit the “bourgeois” holding of power, and they are likewise afraid of the holding of power, they do not want to take upon themselves the fullness of responsibility. Having lost neither their shyness nor scruples, the Russian socialists are ill at ease over what in the Revolution they tended to call “bourgeois”, yet the socialists are now at the top, and the bourgeoise squeezed into the background. This — is a paradox of the Russian Revolution, which disquiets the Russian socialists, such as are not ultimately bereft of a sense of responsibility. The socialistic structure at present cannot be introduced into Russia, a land industrially backward, wretched and uncultured, with its working class unenlightened and unorganised, and amidst an indisputable social antagonism of the peasants and workers. And indeed the socialistic order is an abstraction, while manifold social reforms are what is concrete. The radical socialistic experiments at present are throwing Russia backwards, splintering it. And forthwith the socialists demand participation in the organisation of power, without them cannot be made the “bourgeois” revolution, but they have need of them only as a smoke-screen, in order to shift from their own shoulders the immense sense of responsibility. As soon as s coalition is formed, the socialist elements demand, that the bourgeois elements completely fulfill their programme. Such indeed was the attitude of the old powers towards the liberal elements of Russian society: in dangerous moments they were prepared to call on them, but with them it was a matter of preserving intact the old regime. The socialist influence has caused much woe and has led Russia to great disgrace, but the socialists do not want to assume completely upon themself the answerability for these misfortunes and this disgraceful state of affairs. The revolutionary democracy is fighting for total power, yet it does not want to deal with that power, which unexpectedly has fallen to its lot.

It is with fear that the representatives of the socialist intelligentsia have scampered up to the summits of power. Their own shouts against the bourgeoise have placed them in a tragic position. They have morally fallen out on top. These people could morally undergo persecution, but they cannot morally undergo being in power. The ruling ability does not flow in their blood, they do not belong to the sort that are rulers. The Russian socialist intelligentsia having power is a phenomenon of tragic impotence. It cannot create an aesthetically viable style of holding power and it is doomed to a moral unseemliness and collapse. A man, having fallen into a situation too unsuited and impossible for him, becomes impotently paralysed, he aesthetically becomes lacking in ability and it is only with difficulty that he remains upon the moral heights. History has set a trap for the Russian socialist intelligentsia, and beyond the ecstatic moments of its power and glory it faces a grievous payback. To me it is quite clear, that with the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia being in power and with its experiments, which it makes upon hapless Russia, represents its finish, its graveyard, the proving out of the falseness of its basic ideas and principles. With us the ruling Russian socialism is now taken too seriously, we are too frightened and beset by it. This however — is a false perspective. All this prevailing “revolutionary democracy” is but an expression of Russian chaos and Russian darkness. This is a matter of illusions and mirages within Russian life. Within the Russian Revolution there has been too much of the unreal, many a declaration which can be snatched away at any moment, and theatrical forms, nowise active of real personages. The authentic realities lie hidden, and the real interplay of powers is not at all such, as it would seem on the surface. With us there was created a myth about the Bolsheviks, and this myth has assumed the appearance of reality, but the Bolsheviks also shake with terror at the prospect of counter-revolution and the return of the old masters, and they belong to a sort, not for long called to rule. Momentarily their rule will be a spectre, one of the nightmares of the great soul of the Russian people, nothing more. Sooner or later in Russia there has to be a real, a strong national state power. This power might be varied in whatever its shading, but it cannot be a power of the revolutionary intelligentsia, — a breed, doomed to extinction. There will be a new power, stronger and more integrated, not consumed from within by the old sicknesses, not debilitated by moral reflections, and capable of fulfilling severe duties. There cannot be in power those, who still on the eve did not know, whether war is permissible and justified in defense of the fatherland, who were doubtful whether to maintain order in the land by forceful measures and thereby avert anarchy, and who reflected Hamlet-like over the repulsive severity of every manner of state. The coming Russian democracy, if it is to be, will have nothing in common with what at present is called “revolutionary democracy”. And if we are to have an healthy socialist movement, then it will have nothing in common with the Russian revolutionary socialism, now having its orgy. Russia has to find itself a manner of people, truly capable of rule, a new aristocracy.

Nikolai  Berdyaev

Jan.-Feb. 1918

©  2007  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1918 – 292 -en)

VLAST’  I  PSIKHOLOGIYA  INTELLIGENTSIYA.  Article originally published in the Journal, “Russkaya Mysl”, jan.-feb. 1918, p. 95-100.

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. 198-206.