The Intelligentsia Is Dead -- Good Riddance

At a certain point at the height of the revolution Lenin energetically cursed the Russian intelligentsia, saying that it is simply govno, or shit. And in a way he was probably right, since during the days of October 1917, the Petersburg intelligentsia acted like cowardly toads and failed to defend democracy and the Constituent Assembly.


Having done everything to shatter the old society and overthrow the monarchy, the Russian intelligentsia came to power after the February Revolution, bickered with one another and for half a year brought down several government cabinets. As a result of the chaos of ideas, idle talk and intrigues, power was allowed to fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks.


Lenin, for his part, never considered himself to be part of the intelligentsia. He never wore a hat in the Kremlin and preferred a simple proletarian cap. But despite such a negative relationship to hats, there was of course a Bolshevik elite. They were extremists, terrorist demons and admirers of the guillotine, but they were part of the intelligentsia, not the proletariat or peasantry.


There is one decisive difference between the intelligentsia and other parts of society: Only the intelligentsia defines goals and formulates ideals for the entire nation and assumes the right of leading other classes by its ideas. This was the case throughout the 70-year history of Soviet power.


Village workers did not decide how to live or what to plant; this was done by the Kremlin intelligentsia, and the farmer's every step was dictated from the party heights: Left! March in step! Forward to the collective farm! We'll overtake America! The proletariat had even less opportunity for independence or defining its own goals and values. No, it was paralyzed like a zombie by decrees from the party intelligentsia: Our common goal is communism! World Revolution! Nuclear missiles! We know more than anyone else how to serve the people, the governing elite assured us.


Even the Orthodox Church, which was formally separate from the state, received its goals and tasks from atheists: The goal of Orthodoxy is peace in the whole world! Even the priests were assigned to churches with the permission of the regional communist party.


My intention is not to criticize communists. That theme already belongs to the past. Rather, it is to look at the leading role the intelligentsia played and tries to play in relation to the rest of Russian society. The party, as everyone knows, was only one arm of the intelligentsia that was used to control the people. Another was ideology. And what self-confidence and ambition was invested in ideology. And how contrary opinions made tempers short.


I remember when I first met dissidents who descended on us in the provinces from the capital and with the fervor of party agitators cursed the party, the KGB, the people, history. I was a student and held my breath as I listened to this abusive language. Here was a ray of freedom in a dark kingdom.


Today the situation has changed. The party has fallen. The Soviet Union has collapsed. Many have ceased working on collective farms and have taken up private agriculture, and the working classes have for the first time gained the opportunity to strike, which they immediately used. And the intelligentsia became lost. Writers, political scientists, journalists, philosophers all suddenly saw that they no longer had anything or anyone to lead, direct and educate.


All at once, there was a deep abyss that lay between the intelligentsia and the people. Attempts of former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to build socialism with a human face, or the efforts of former prime minister Yegor Gaidar to put forward monetarist ideas found no response. Alexander Solzhenitsyn returned from the United States to his homeland and steadily lost his audience. The former fathers of Russian democracy who stood by Andrei Sakharov also lost their influence.


What a paradox. Freedom of speech, glasnost and a multi-party system seem to have deprived the intelligentsia of almost all of its levers of influence on society. Writers lost their readers. The national cinema disappeared, giving way to Hollywood. The circulation of all journals declined. Scholars descended into poverty. The brain drain to the West increased.


There remained only one means of exerting influence on the masses -- the press and television. The news media thus became a new branch of power. But the press had changed dramatically. Today it reflects a wide spectrum of public opinion; a randomness of thought and instability of values.


No one is setting common global tasks for the people. No one is taking on the role of a sower of the seeds of good and justice. The humanistic intelligentsia has distanced itself from controlling society's ideals. There is a feeling of anxiety in the air. Russian society senses it does not have goals for development. This is why the authorities have appealed from the Kremlin heights for the people to formulate a national idea of development.


The idea of the intelligentsia in Russia has been an opiate for so many years that the country cannot do without it. But a crisis of ideas is evident in society. The sail is set but, as Alexander Pushkin once wrote, where are we to sail?


I don't think, however, that the situation is hopeless. Russian society is going through difficult but natural mutations. It is in the state of a chrysalis: Yesterday it was only a low-lying, hungry caterpillar, and today it is a dead cocoon. But it only seems dead. Inside is a maturing butterfly waiting to break out into the day of light.


In fact, in the bosom of the former intelligentsia, a new elite has begun to be formed, which must set new tasks, not for the workers or the farmers, but for itself. The formation of a new intellectual elite is a long a painful one. In the past, it did not require great efforts to be part of the intelligentsia. Before, if you had a higher education, read books, went to the theater, disliked Mexican soap operas, knew who Jean-Paul Sartre was and wore a tie to work, then you were a member of the intelligentsia.


This is no longer the case. To be an intellectual, you must now have not a tie but intellect. Moreover, this intellect must be accompanied by moral goals. Sakharov, with his childlike belief in the triumph of good over evil, was one such intellectual.


Russian society needs something like the Roman Club, the group of philosophers who work for the Vatican. Recently, the pope astonished the world with the announcement that Darwin's theory of evolution did not contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church. Such a statement became possible only as a result of the activities of secular intellectuals in the Holy See. I can only hope that at some time something similar will occur in Russia, and that the Orthodox Synod will announce that evolution and creation do not contradict one another.





Anatoly Korolyov is a writer whose most recent novel is "Eron." He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.