REES 395, 30 September 2003

REES 395, Thursday, 13 September
Michael Makin
“The Russian Intelligentsia”
Alexander II (reigned 1855-1881)
Leading intellectuals of the
Russian left in the early 1860s
Nikolai Chernyshevskii,
Dmitrii Pisarev,
Nikolai Dobrolyubov,
P. D. Boborykin
(1836-1921, claimed to have first given
currency to the term “intelligentsia” in the
Definition of the word intelligentsia
from the online encyclopedia of
Cyril and Methodius (
ИНТЕЛЛИГЕНЦИЯ (от лат. intelligens понимающий, мыслящий,
разумный), общественный слой людей, профессионально
занимающихся умственным, преимущественно сложным, творческим
трудом, развитием и распространением культуры. Понятию
интеллигенция придают нередко и моральный смысл, считая ее
воплощением высокой нравственности и демократизма. Термин
«интеллигенция» введен писателем П. Д. Боборыкиным и из русского
перешел в другие языки. На Западе более распространен термин
«интеллектуалы», употребляемый и как синоним интеллигенции.
Интеллигенция неоднородна по своему составу. Предпосылкой
появления интеллигенции было разделение труда на умственный и
физический. Зародившись в античных и средневековых обществах,
stratum professionally
in mental,иprimarily
развитие вengaged
creative labor,
the development and the distribution of culture.
The concept is often given a moral sense too, when the intelligentsia is
considered the embodiment of high ethical qualities and democratic
The novelists the radicals wrote
about, and who themselves wrote
about the radicals
Fedor Dostoevskii (1821-1881)
Sent to Siberia in 1849 for “radical” views,
returns to Petersburg in 1860. By mid-60s
is conducting a violent polemic with the
left, targeting Chernyshevskii in “Notes
from Underground” (1864), Utilitarian
thought in general, and Pisarev and
Dobrolyubov in particular in Crime and
Punishment (1866). His most “antinihilist” novel is Devils (1871-1872).
Portrait of Ivan Goncharov
(1812-1891) by the famous portraitist
Kramskoi. Goncharov’s novel
Oblomov (full version appeared in
1859) provides one of the classic
treatments of the so-called
“superfluous man” in its eponymous
hero, who famously hesitates to get
out of bed, fails in his courtship of the
woman he loves, but – in a significant
conclusion to the novel ignored by the
left – establishes an unconventional
liaison with a “simpler” woman than
his erstwhile beloved. The liaison
brings them both happiness and
establishes a semi-rural pastoral on
the edge of St Petersburg, restoring
some of the elements of the hero’s
idyllic “dream” of his childhood on a
country estate.
Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883).
wrote six novels and many short stories, often
providing sophisticated portraits of
psychological and social “types”. The term
“superfluous man” is his (from his “Diary of a
Superfluous Man”, 1850). Chernyshevskii used
his story “Asya” (1858) to provide a devastating
reading of the failings of the Russian gentry.
Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons (1862) was
appropriated by Pisarev as a positive portrayal
of the new generation of intelligenty from
beyond the gentry – the so-called raznochintsy.
They are portrayed in the novel as inspired by
“scientific” ideas and Utilitarian thought,
rejecting the Romantic values of the preceding
generation. Turgenev himself was generally
reluctant to express political views directly
(especially after an early encounter with
imperial displeasure), but very sensitive to the
intellectual environment of his day.
Count Lev Tolstoi (18281910). Also a portrait by
Tolstoi’s War and Peace
(1863-69) was intended, at
least in part, to illustrate the
positive role played by the
Russian aristocracy and gentry
in the establishment of moral
and social values, as well, of
course, as in the defense of the
country in the Napoleonic
Demographics – the Russian narod
Even at the end of the nineteenth century, however, Russia was
overwhelming an illiterate, peasant society – hence the acuteness
of the anxiety of Russia’s intellectuals. The literacy rate in 1897
was 21%. 80% of the population were legally classed as peasants.
From a description of a village in northern Russia at the end of the
nineteenth century (the photograph is modern) – population over 1,000;
the peasantry is engaged in raising crops and cattle, lumber, fishing;
there are two churches and a village school with fifty children.
Although the era of Russian
Modernism was quite different
from the age of Alexander II in
politics and aesthetics, its
leading authors remained very
preoccupied with social
questions. The greatest
Symbolist poet, Aleksandr Blok
(1880-1921), wrote a seminal
essay entitled “The People and
the Intelligentsia” (1908), and
agonized over his status as a
member of the latter.
The question of the relation of the intelligentsia
to the country as a whole is equally crucial,
although in rather different terms, for the
Soviet period, receiving abundant treatments –
it is, for example, self-consciously explored in
terms of its intellectual heritage in Doctor
Zhivago, the famous novel of the poet Boris
Pasternak (1890-1960). The novel was banned
in the Soviet Union and published abroad in
1957, effectively beginning the period of socalled tamizdat (publishing “there” (ie abroad)
rather than “here” (ie at home)). It was
published in the Soviet Union only in 1988, at
the time when the Russian intelligentsia was
achieving its cherished goals, only to see its
own significance effectively end with the
totalitarian régime which it had opposed. But
the “people” with whom the intelligentsia was
to be contrasted were no longer the same –
peasant Russia was fading away, and the
“people” were urban
Where is the narod now?
For comparison – the village described in a previous slide, as seen
in 2003
Koshtugi in July, 2003. The village has a school with about twenty pupils (and no running
water). The school covers eight years of the twelve-year curriculum (far more than the
nineteenth-century school which had fifty pupils), and will probably be closed within the
next couple of years. Most year-round inhabitants (fewer than 200) are elderly. The
population of the village now is smaller than the number of village natives who died at the
front in the Second World War. The only agriculture is very small-scale, subsistence farming.
The lumber industry is the only source of regular employment, and it is declining. The shell
of one church remains, although it is in such a state of disrepair that it is dangerous to enter.
Where is the intelligentsia today?
Left – group of academics at the end of a conference in provincial
Russia, October 2004. Right – Roman Abramovich, one of the world’s
fifty richest men (source of wealth – oil), for the last three years owner
of Chelsea Football Club (London), on which he has lavished the best
part of one billion US Dollars. The old intelligentsia is now largely
powerless and impoverished; “new Russians” (some from the old
intelligentsia) hold wealth and power