The Russian Revolution, 1917-1945

By Anthony D’Agostino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Intelligentsia and the West

The revolution that shook the world in 1917 had by that time been stirring in the minds of Russian intellectuals for at least a century. Radical notions of liberalism, democracy, socialism, and anarchism did not spring spontaneously from the workers and the peasants, those groups among the people whom they were said to benefit, but from the intelligentsiia. This is a Russian noun from the middle of the nineteenth century used to denote intellectuals. The entry for intelligentsiia in a prerevolutionary encyclopedia would also include, alongside a definition of an intellectual—one who thinks deeply about religion and social life, who interests oneself in philosophical rumination, who appreciates the arts, music, dance—an important additional idea: one who opposes the government. In Soviet-era encyclopedias, however, these ideas no longer appear. Instead we find something different: administrative and technical personnel, professionals, white-collar workers and civil servants, those whose work entails managing and superintending, those engaged in intellectual rather than physical labor.

Does the difference between the two definitions tell the story of a social transformation wrought by the Russian revolution? Can we say that the modern white-collar class had its origin among the various gentry intellectuals and raznochintsy (“men of all ranks”) who speculated on the perfection of society in the nineteenth century? Or, should we say that an economic definition of the modern intelligentsia was something that could only be guessed at before the revolution? Along with their ruminations about the society of the future the

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