In the broad sense the words "Russian philosophy" refer to all schools of philosophical thought pursued in Russia, regardless of differences among them. In the narrower sense the terms describe the religious-philosophical trend that flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Both uses have value: The first embraces the variety of interests among Russian philosophers, whereas the second points to their most distinctive contribution to philosophy in general. But even on the broadest level, the common preoccupations that were typical of major Russian thinkers shaped the physiognomy of Russian philosophy as a whole.
Philosophy in Russia developed in a variety of forms. Philosophical ideas permeated religious, political, and literary debates throughout the country's history. For a long time they were not articulated in what counted as philosophical parlance in the West, largely because of unfavorable historical conditions. But when these conditions changed, as they did, for example, in the late nineteenth and especially in the early twentieth centuries, there emerged a vibrant philosophical scene. This flourishing had been prepared within Russian culture, among other things, by its religious, literary, and scientific thought. Thus it should not be surprising that some theologians, novelists, and scientists are relevant to the history of Russian philosophy.
For various reasons Russian philosophy has been dominated, not to say oppressed, by pragmatic concerns. Realistic or utopian, philosophical thought in Russia is expected to be engaged. It is not an accident that Marxism, for which social practice is the criterion of theoretical truth, has had such a firm grip on the Russian polity. Even when Russian philosophy did reach the heights of speculation—as in the thought of Vladimir Solov'ëv (1853–1900)—it still bore the mark of "theurgic restlessness," in Vasilii Zen'kovskii's (1881–1962) words—that is, the desire to transfigure life. Still, when conditions were right, and sometimes despite harshly adverse conditions, Russian thinkers have achieved reflexive insights of uncommon depth.
Closely related to this is Russian philosophy's realist ontologism ; that is, the tendency to value the reality of being over and above the truths of abstract understanding. Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1948) noted that the Russian mind strongly doubts whether the creation of culture is justified in the face of life's problems. This doubt was typical of Lev Tolstoy (1828–1910) who disparaged art in contrast with the peasant's work. Paradoxically, this tendency was also responsible for the seriousness with which Russians have treated the arts and philosophy. Likewise Russian thinkers often sought justice more eagerly than truth because the former seemed more tangible and urgent than the latter.
Many commentators have insisted that Russian philosophy is also inherently religious and personalistic. While the aggressively atheist and collectivist Soviet Marxism is an inescapable counterexample, it cannot be denied that the themes of religion and personhood have occupied and continue to occupy a prominent place in Russian philosophical discourse. Fëdor Dostoevsky's (1821–1881) persistent interest is only the more familiar, especially to the West, among many manifestations of these themes.
Russian thought has a marked predilection for viewing things holistically. Russian philosophers have often been preoccupied with global, wide-ranging problems and visions of all existence as an integral whole. In metaphysics this trait is responsible for Solov'ëv's doctrine of all-unity. On the opposite end, this holism transmogrified into totalitarianism for which Stalinism stands as the most ominous example.
The evolution of philosophical ideas in Russia has been shaped by the persistent Slavophile-Westernist dichotomy; that is, tension between the impulses, on the one hand, toward national uniqueness and, on the other, toward closer affiliation with the West. However, from the earliest time these tendencies were so closely intertwined with each other that any attempt at a simple delineation is misleading.
And, finally, there is in Russian thought what Berdyaev called the "eschatological" orientation that can also be described as striving toward limits—in particular, the limits of thinking and of intelligibility of things. Like all the other features, this one also has had two opposite consequences. On the one hand, it makes Russian thought philosophically inclined in general, for it pushes rational enquiry to dwell persistently on ultimate questions. On the other hand, such a passion for limits could encourage, as it did in Berdyaev's own case, impatience with careful argumentation.
Russian philosophical thought cannot be properly understood apart from its historical development. Its constant and eager immersion in cultural, social, and political contexts, as well as its stubborn continuity, make a historical perspective necessary for grasping both the problems that it grappled with and the solutions that it proposed.
Philosophical ideas, properly so called, first appeared in Russia when Christianity was introduced in 988 by the Kievan Prince Vladimir. The prior, polytheistic view of the world was partially replaced with the Christian outlook, resulting in the fertile amalgam of Eastern Orthodoxy and Slavonic paganism called "dual faith" (dvoeverie ).
Universities and academic philosophy did not appear in Russia until the eighteenth century, nor was there a direct engagement with ancient Greco-Roman thought of the sort that shaped western medieval learning. Nascent Russian literature absorbed from Byzantium a number of early patristic writings, particularly those of the Cappadocian Fathers, in the form of religious-dogmatic texts translated from Greek into Church Slavonic. Anthologies comprising the writings of John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and John of Damascus introduced Russians to Christian Neoplatonist cosmology, metaphysical anthropology, and allegorical exegesis. Kievan Rus also imported the veneration of Sophia Divine Wisdom that found expression in architecture, icon-painting, and hymns.
In the mid-eleventh century this learning began to bear fruit when the first Russian Metropolitan of Kiev Ilarion described in his "Sermon on Law and Grace" history in terms of contrast between the law of the Old and the grace of the New Testaments, and argued the equal standing of Kievan Rus among Christian nations. Moral ideas were disseminated through "instructions" (poucheniia ) for righteous living that often contained philosophical ideas derived from ancient and Byzantine thought. Throughout the premodern period philosophy in Russia was viewed primarily as ancilla fidei and a path toward religious illumination. At the same time it was understood in broad terms: Plato, Fathers of the Church, and even certain icon painters were considered "philosophers."
Around the mid-thirteenth century this early flourishing was interrupted by the Mongol invasion. Bishop Serapion, who witnessed the sack of Kiev in 1240, was a proponent of the view that history was a series of catastrophes visited by God upon humanity for its sins. With Kiev devastated by the invasion, the center of religious and cultural life shifted to Vladimir and Moscow in the forested northeast that was less vulnerable to attack from the steppes.
In the fourteenth century the influence of hesychasm became pronounced, especially through the activities of St. Sergii of Radonezh (1314/22–1391/92). The Trinity-Sergius Monastery near Moscow that he founded soon rivaled Kiev's Monastery of the Caves as Russia's main religious center. St. Sergii's popularity and influence signaled the rebirth of Russian culture around the Grand Duchy of Moscow that in 1380 successfully challenged the Mongol rule. The icon painter Andrei Rublev (d. c. 1430), whose art had a marked contemplative quality, was another representative of this cautious revival. In 1371 the translation of the Areopagitic corpus appeared that had a lasting impact on medieval Russian thought. (More than seventy copies of this work dating to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are extant.)
Russia's final emancipation from the Mongol yoke followed soon after Byzantium's fall in the mid-fifteenth century to Ottoman Turks. Both events affected Russians deeply. Soon monk Filofei proposed that Moscow was the third Rome (after Rome proper and Constantinople) and "there will be no fourth" (cf. Zen'kovskii 1953, pp. 34–35). The idea resonated with Muscovite rulers who sought to establish themselves on the European scene. According to this doctrine, Byzantium had fallen because it departed from the true faith and Russia now inherited its mission.
Two major debates convey the atmosphere of the time. Led by the hesychast Nil Sorskii (1433–1508), the so-called "Nonpossessors" (nestiazhateli ) condemned accumulation of wealth by monasteries and sumptuous church ritual. Their opponent Iosif Volotskii (1439–1515) argued for economically strong monasteries that could help the unfortunate and have a part in social and political affairs. Nil Sorskii was, incidentally, among the first in Russia to refer to the "natural rights" of a person—a theme that gained currency in sixteenth-century religious and political polemics there. (As peasants were being enserfed, some religious writers argued passionately—but to no avail—against slavery as a violation of Christian principles.) The other dispute was the correspondence between Ivan the Terrible and Prince Andrei Kurbskii. The latter argued in favor of a sustained role of traditional aristocracy in government. The tsar's course, however, was to assert his absolute authority with the help of a new gentry that completely depended on his favor. Conducted with ostentatious cruelty the policy did solidify Ivan's autocracy but at a price: By the end of the sixteenth century Russia was in the throes of a major crisis.
On Nil Sorskii's side was Maksim the Greek (1470–1556), the most remarkable intellectual in Russia during that period. Originally a humanist scholar in Florence who later took monastic vows, he was invited in 1518 from Mount Athos to Moscow to assist in translating theological works. While a controversial figure for Russian ecclesiastical authorities, Maksim was nonetheless a scholar of European stature who helped spread philosophical knowledge in Russia.
With the seventeenth century came the painful "time of troubles": Russia's medieval complexion began to change into a modern one. By the middle of the century political and religious tensions erupted in a major schism (raskol ), which resulted in the separation from the Church of a large group of the so-called "Old Believers." Given the western leanings of their opponents, the energetic Patriarch Nikon and Tsar Alexis (reigned 1645–1676), the schism has been viewed as a struggle between medieval fideistic and modern rationalistic outlooks.
Early in the century Petr Mogila established a spiritual academy in Kiev, fashioned after Polish (Jesuit) models. Secular schools began to appear in Moscow and in 1678 the first institution of higher learning was founded there: the Hellene-Greek Academy. The curricula of these schools included logic, psychology, and physics. The budding academia was occupied by the controversy between the "Graecophiles" faithful to the Byzantine roots of their learning and the "Latinists" influenced by western scholasticism.
Inaugurated by the reforms of Peter the Great (reigned 1696–1725), the eighteenth century became the time of a rapid assimilation of western European thought. Philosophical ideas from Europe were absorbed along with progress in the arts, secular education, and science. With the establishment of the Academy of Sciences and universities philosophy attained an official secular status. From translation, publication, and dissemination of foreign literature in the beginning, Russian Enlighteners eventually moved to creating their own works.
The most urgent task for the new educated elite was the development of a secular national ideology. The medieval ideal of "Moscow the Third Rome" was being replaced with the secular ideal of the Russian Empire. The first modern Russian historian, Vasilii Tatishchev (1686–1750) saw, in the Hobbesian vein, the basis of monarchy as the agreement between the sovereign and his subjects rather than in the sovereign's divine right. He argued, in the proto-utilitarian spirit, that "the desire of well-being is inexorable in man and stems from God." (Zen'kovskii, p. 79). His younger fellow-historian, Prince Ivan Shcherbatov (1733–1790), sharply criticized the established church—even as his political sympathies remained on the side of landed aristocracy. Tatishchev and Shcherbatov differed on the most burning moral question of that era, the freedom of the serfs, but both saw the well-being of the nation, rather than its religious mission, as the chief goal of the state.
The ideas of the Encyclopaedists circulated widely among the educated Russian society. Empress Catherine the Great (reigned 1762–1796) was an attentive reader of Charles Montesquieu's treatise L'esprit des lois (The Spirit of the Laws, 1748) and maintained correspondence with Voltaire, Diderot, and d'Alambert. Her friendship with philosophes doubtless stimulated Voltaire's near-cult status among educated Russians. Unavoidably this interest had much to do with a facile imitation of the West but it also had its serious side. Playing the part of an enlightened monarch, Catherine undertook a relatively progressive, if halting and ultimately unfinished, governmental and legal reform.
The accelerated development of the arts and sciences in this period was epitomized by the polymath and poet Mikhail Lomonosov (1711–1765). A fisherman's son from a northern province, he became the first Russian scientist of European stature and was instrumental in promoting scientific research and higher education in his country. To him belonged the famous prophecy, in verse, that combined the zeal of an Enlightener with national pride: "The Russian land can give birth to its own Platos and quick-witted Newtons."
Simultaneously the traditional line of Orthodox theology was carried on by Paisii Velichkovskii (1722–1794) and St. Tikhon Zadonskii (1724–1783). Velichkovskii was a spiritual elder, the type best known from Zosima, a character in Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov. Arguing against the alleged sanctification of the created world in secular thought, St. Tikhon taught that the external world had to be transfigured rather than accepted on its own terms. Concentrated on righteous living and one's personal connection with the Absolute, this theology was a welcome reprieve, as Zen'kovskii notes, from the burden of justifying Russian state messianism.
A counterpoint woven of both secular rationalism and religious mysticism was created by the most remarkable philosopher of the Russian eighteenth century, the Ukrainian Grigorii Skovoroda (1722–1794). A "Nonpossessor" and itinerant philosopher of a Socratic mold, Skovoroda expounded an original doctrine that was inspired by ancient sources, patristic thought, and modern European philosophy. There was a Christian Neoplatonist note in his belief that man's proper purpose was an "erotic" ascent to divinity, as well as in his self-written epitaph: "The world tried to catch me, but has failed." His influence on the contemporary philosophical scene was, sadly, almost nonexistent; his works were not published during his lifetime and began to attract serious attention only in the nineteenth century.
A different quest for spirituality outside the Church was evident in the movement of Freemasons that started in Russia in the second third of the eighteenth century. In the 1770s there emerged among them a group led by Nikolai Novikov (1744–1818) and Johann Schwarz (1751–1784). Novikov's contribution was mostly as an editor and publisher: from 1779 to 1792 he published almost nine hundred titles that included, aside from Russian authors, translated works of Jacob Boehme, Voltaire, John Locke, G. E. Lessing, and Novikov's favorite, Blaise Pascal. These Freemasons combined respect for natural science with the primacy of morality over the intellect.
Alongside modern scientific realism the nascent Russian intelligentsia absorbed western utopianism. As in the West, however, utopia often served as a vehicle for social criticism. Vasilii Trediakovskii in his Tilemakhida (1766), a verse translation of François Fénelon's novel Les Aventures de Télémaque, described the torment of monarchs in Tartarus: they looked at their own monstrous images in the "mirror of truth." From Trediakovskii's poem came the epigraph to Aleksandr Radishchev's (1749–1802) Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (1790): "The monster is opulent, impudent, enormous, hundred-mouthed, and barking." The main target of Radishchev's moral sermon from the standpoint of natural rights was the inhumanity of the institution of serfdom. It was the most striking fruit of the Russian Enlightenment, and cost the author dearly: he was exiled to Siberia. Novikov was likewise imprisoned in St. Petersburg. Frightened by the French Revolution, the aging Empress was now perturbed by the liberties her subjects were taking.
The turn from the Enlightenment to conservatism among Russian intellectuals was vividly exemplified by the historian and writer Nikolai Karamzin (1766–1826). A proto-Westernist, he was originally attracted to Locke and Rousseau but his views evolved from a vague empiricism and tolerant sentimentalism to defending the expedience, for the stability of the state, of "enslaving people rather than prematurely freeing them." The French Revolution was the key factor in this striking change. Karamzin initially hailed it as "the triumph of reason" but then, as terror struck, condemned it as the collapse of the Enlightenment. He was among the first to give Russians a serious perspective on their own history. The poet Aleksandr Pushkin (1799–1837) compared his discovery of Russia's past to Columbus's discovery of America.
The Russian Enlightenment drew to a close when, after Catherine's death, Novikov was freed only to live out the remainder of his life in obscurity, and Radishchev, a few years after his release, committed suicide. But its ideas became an integral part of Russia's intellectual makeup. Its complex legacy contained mutually intertwined, conflicting themes, such as national identity and universal humanism, secularism and religious tradition, scientific cognition and mysticism, art and morality, theoretical quest for truth vis-à-vis social practice.
the golden age
Although rooted in a long-standing cultural and spiritual tradition, Russian philosophy proper was born in the nineteenth century. As it matured, it underwent several waves of foreign influence: idealist (especially German) in the 1830s and 1840s, positivist in the 1860s, Marxist in the 1880s and 1890s—to mention only the most poignant ones. Once it appeared, each strand remained an active factor in the continuing philosophical debate. Russian mentality has been described as inclined toward extremes, and the reception of Western ideas in Russia bears out this observation: their assimilation often meant radicalization. This was true of the "Nihilists" of the 1860s who developed a cult of natural science, and later of Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), who stripped Marxism down to its bare essentials and ruthlessly pursued his vision. Solov'ëv, by contrast, strove to synthesize diverse strands into a holistic idealist vision.
The famous phenomenon of the intelligentsia arose in this century. Recruited mostly from the middle class, the new educated elite developed a degree of self-consciousness one rarely finds in its Western counterparts. The idea of its "debt to the people," articulated in Petr Lavrov's (1823–1900) Istoricheskie pis'ma (Historical letters, 1868–69), shaped the ethos of this group. From the very beginning, though, the intelligentsia was torn by internal conflict and contradictions. Its admirers saw in it the "conscience of the nation," its critics an intolerant "monastic order" of political radicalism, and many of its members were convinced that the two were synonymous. In the meantime such major thinkers as Solov'ëv, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy resisted being included among its ranks. In the early twentieth century philosophers of religious orientation subjected the intelligentsia's atheist outlook to an unflattering critique. They were noisily rebuked both by radicals and liberals. Left-wing intelligentsia played a crucial part in bringing about the revolutionary turmoil of the early twentieth century—the turmoil that led to its own dispersal in the thin air of history. Originally the flag-bearer for social progress and against despotism, in the Soviet period it became an evanescent specter. Its relation to the so-called "Soviet intelligentsia" was too problematic to warrant a continuum between them.
Early developments in philosophical education were not auspicious. Organized on Wolffian principles, academic philosophy had enjoyed steady growth since the middle of the eighteenth century. From 1817 and until the mid-nineteenth century, however, it suffered from a crisis precipitated by a conservative turn in Alexander I's policy and then exacerbated by the oppressive rule of Nicolas I (reigned 1825–1855). The teaching of philosophy was abolished for long periods in gymnasia and universities. A senior official summed up the government's view of it: "Utility is doubtful, whereas harm is obvious" (Radlov, Ocherk istorii russkoi filosofii [Essay on the history of Russian philosophy], 1920, p. 7). To circumvent restrictions some professors taught philosophy under the guise of other disciplines, such as history or geology. Philosophical instruction continued uninterrupted, however, in religious seminaries and academies but it was not until the second half of the century that the situation of academic philosophy began to be more or less normalized. Yet even as conditions improved, Russian thought retained much of its nonacademic character. For various, mostly political, reasons prominent thinkers—be it Aleksandr Herzen (1812–1870), Solov'ëv, or Nikolai Chernyshevskii (1828–1889)—worked outside universities.
In the 1820s the first philosophical circle appeared; its members called themselves by the Russian equivalent of philosophes —liubomudry, "lovers of wisdom." The group's leader, Prince Vladimir Odoevskii (1804–1869), presented a Schellingian view of Russia's future in his utopian dialogue-novel Russian Nights (1844) in which he gave a modern version of Russian messianism. History moved, he rhapsodized, toward "a holy triunity of faith, science, and art." Anticipating Dostoevsky, he claimed that Russia was destined to accomplish this universal synthesis because of her "all-embracing multifaceted spirit."
Such optimism, however, was in sharp contrast to the somber skepticism of Petr Chaadaev's (1794–1856) Philosophical Letters. Chaadaev saw the West as the ideal of civilization; all other societies were, in his opinion, mere approximations to it, with Russia falling outside the category altogether. Chaadaev's bitterness was cast against the background of two recent events: Russia's victory over Napoleon in 1812 that encouraged hopes for the nation's greatness, and the crushing defeat of the 1825 Decembrists's uprising that extinguished hopes for reform and liberty. He was inspired in large part by Joseph de Maistre and Friedrich Schelling. He later fine-tuned his position to argue that Russia was called upon to resolve the contradictions that still plagued the West. The evolution of Chaadaev's views became typical for Westernists: from adulation of the West to disillusionment to seeing Russia's potential in her backwardness. The conviction that Russia was a "virgin soil" whose lagging behind could be turned to advantage as "the possibility of choice" became the cornerstone of Westernist constructions from Herzen to Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924). Chaadaev's caustic but profound outburst brought into existence two opposite trends, the Westernists and Slavophiles, whose mutual rivalry has since shaped, and continues to shape, the evolution of Russian thought.
Because of their intertwined destinies "Slavophiles" and "Westernists" come close to being the worst misnomers in the history of Russian thought. Both groups were deeply dissatisfied with the current conditions in Russia. Contrary to the xenophobic connotation of their name, many Slavophiles respected European learning and culture and kept abreast of recent Western philosophical thought. For their critique of the West they often borrowed ammunition from the West itself. Conversely, the Westernists' professed cause was to save Russia, and many of them even believed, such as Herzen, that Russia held the key to saving the West from the West's own woes. For both, the goal of "enlightening" Russia was of paramount importance, although they were divided on the possibility of "national science." Slavophiles defended the idea (without defining it clearly), whereas Westernists rejected it in favor of universal rationality.
And yet their differences were not trivial. Slavophiles believed that, enviably advanced as it was, Europe had come to an impasse and Russia had to avoid a similar fate. The West's original sin, according to Slavophilism, consisted in the rationalistic tendency of Roman Catholicism that was codified in the filioque ; that is, the dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son. Both early Slavophiles, such as Aleksei Khomiakov (1804–1860) or Ivan Kireevksii (1806–1856), and their later followers, such as Sergei Bulgakov (1871–1944) or Nikolai Losskii (1870–1965), accused Catholic theology of replacing the mystery of the Holy Trinity with a hierarchical scheme in which the Holy Ghost was subordinated to the other two persons. This eventually led, via scholasticism, to Protestantism and thence to modern secularism. The decline of the authority of the Church in turn weakened, Slavophiles believed, the foundations of communal life and created the West's atomistic individualism. Russia, they claimed, could offer an alternative because its culture still contained the original wholesome elements, unspoiled by the westernization of the previous two centuries.
Against rationalism in epistemology the Russian mind could offer, Kireevksii argued, the ideal of integral knowledge in which rational thinking and divine revelation would be properly balanced. Against individualism in social philosophy it could offer sobornost' —the concept that amalgamates "togetherness" with "conciliarism" (from "church council") and projects the ideal of an humanity united by love and faith, where the freedom of the individual is in harmony with the common cause. Khomiakov found its manifestation in the Orthodox Church and Konstantin Aksakov (1817–1860) in the Russian village commune. Russia's historical task was understood as universal, although it remained unclear how other nations, who had their own traditions, were supposed to accept Eastern Orthodoxy. Slavophiles' concern, however, was to outline Russia's potential place in the "family of nations" rather than to develop a specific strategy for attaining it. The mankind of the future was perceived, in Aksakov's terms, as a "choral person"—the notion that in the twentieth century was assimilated by Lev Karsavin (1882–1952) into his doctrine of humanity as a "symphonic person."
Westernists, on the contrary, insisted that Russia needed to join advanced European nations in pursuing economic, social, and political progress. Where Slavophiles envisioned sobornost', Westernists insisted on the legal rights of the individual. If Slavophiles found pristine purity in pre-Petrine Russia, Westernists blamed the country's slow progress on xenophobic medieval Russian tsardom. Their sharpest difference from Slavophiles, however, consisted in their hostility toward religion. In Herzen's words, there was an "ecclesiastic wall" between him and his opponents. The common limitation of both was their utopianism: One idealized Russia's past and the other, the West's present. Furthermore, for neither of them philosophy had independent value but was merely an instrument for achieving goals other than knowledge and understanding.
The reception of Schelling and Hegel casts a helpful light on the manner in which philosophy's tasks were conceived. Schelling's philosophy enjoyed a warmer reception—at least in the religious segment of Russian thought. In fact, there is some truth to Arsenii Gulyga's (1921–1996) remark that "Russian philosophy is a Schellingian." With Hegel Russians tended to distance themselves, even as they respectfully learned from him; in Schelling they found a kindred spirit. The view of the world as an organic whole has had more followers and fewer detractors in Russia than in the West; it retains importance there to this day. Schelling's doctrine of intellectual intuition proved particularly attractive to Russian thinkers. From Odoevskii to Solov'ëv they embraced the notion of an immediate meeting of consciousness with both inner and outer reality; in the twentieth century it inspired a whole intuitivist school. Chaadaev was deeply affected by Schelling's philosophy of revelation; Kireevskii and Solov'ëv, by his epistemology; Odoevskii and Bulgakov, by his Naturphilosophie ; and Aleksei Losev (1893–1988), by his aesthetics and philosophy of myth. Many of them found in Schelling's thought inspiration for viewing art and religion as (extrarational) sources of rational thinking.
Russian liberal thought was, by contrast, at its in-ception primarily Hegelian. Vissarion Belinskii's (1811–1848) and especially Herzen's engagement with Hegel's philosophy were typical. Both embraced Hegelianism in the beginning but then rejected what they perceived as its abstract universalism. Belinskii, on the one hand, got most of his Hegel via Mikhail Bakunin (1820–1900) who at the time was an overenthusiastic Hegelian. Herzen, on the other hand, attentively studied Hegel's writings firsthand. The result was, however, more or less similar. "(Hegelian) reason does not know," Herzen impugned, "this person but only the necessity of a person in general …" (Zen'kovskii, pp. 285–6). The main point of Herzen's dissatisfaction was the same as Karl Marx's: life is not merely about thinking, he insisted, but chiefly about acting in the world. Virtually all Russian philosophers turned away from Hegel upon initial acquaintance. Those consumed by revolutionary causes, such as Bakunin, blamed him for excessive contemplativeness, whereas Slavophiles and religious philosophers rejected his doctrine of a rationally cognizable absolute. Various parts of Hegel's system were adopted but only the rarest exceptions, such as Boris Chicherin (1828–1904), accepted its essential core, the doctrine of the absolute concept. Characteristically, Herzen found in Hegel's dialectic "the algebra of revolution"—a description that was later eagerly endorsed by Lenin. This appropriation epitomized the political pragmatism that was imposed on the German philosopher's speculative method.
Philosophers' concerns for "the concrete person" were nourished by the burgeoning Russian realist literature that paraded, in an intensely empathetic light, a series of characters whose suffering was a condemnation of a social order in which human dignity was out of place. Conversely, Russian thinkers frequently offered their insights in literary form. In fact, the most burning of the "cursed questions" that preoccupied the intelligentsia throughout its existence were articulated as titles of literary works: Herzen's 1847 novel Who Is to Blame? and Nikolai Chernyshevsky's (1828–1889) 1863 socialist utopia What Is to Be Done? The latter query proved particularly haunting: Leo Tolstoy in 1883 and Lenin in 1902 each wrote a work bearing similar titles.
Hegel and Schelling were soon replaced by Ludwig Feuerbach and Left Hegelians as socialist ideas were spreading among educated Russians. In the 1860s materialism propounded by Ludwig Büchner and others was added to the mix; it was embraced by the so-called "Nihilists" whose leading figures were Dmitrii Pisarev (1840–1868), Nikolai Dobroliubov (1836–1861), and Chernyshevskii. Pisarev's crude materialism, however, was not so much a philosophical position as a propagandistic means of destabilizing old religious and social values. Calculated to outrage, his maxim that "boots are more valuable than Shakespeare" was, in fact, a call to social activism as opposed to the aesthetic hedonism of the leisure classes. It was also a message about the utility of science and technology; that is, the business of the newly emerging class of physicians and engineers, contrasted with the aristocratic art of the previous era. The most articulate thinker of the "Nihilist" camp, Chernyshevskii, by contrast, argued for genuine art that would be a life-transforming praxis rather than idle entertainment. The rise of Nihilism marked the radicalization of Herzen's intellectually broad and humane liberalism, and the beginning of the latter's transmogrification into fanatical revolutionism.
In the late 1860s and 1870s the earlier materialism was absorbed into the broad social, cultural, and ideological movement called "Populism" (narodnichestvo ). Its intellectual leaders, Lavrov and Nikolai Mikhailovskii (1842–1904), combined positivist epistemology and materialist metaphysics with an evolutionist view of history. The Populists' goal was socialism in Russia, on the basis of the village commune. Their views about both the goal and the ways of achieving it, however, varied from the anarchism of Bakunin and Petr Kropotkin (1842–1921) to the conspiratorial terrorism (with a Marxist tinge) of Petr Tkachev (1844–1886). The Populists' main philosophical difficulty consisted in reconciling the individual's agency with positivist determinism. Like their materialist predecessors, however, these thinkers did not embrace a particular philosophy of nature or history for its intellectual merits but were interested primarily in using it for social change. It was Mikhailovskii who pointed out, memorably, the conflation of "truth" and "justice" in the Russian word pravda that has since come to signify one of the most pervasive features of the Russian philosophical mindset. It was also Mikhailovskii whose "subjective method" in sociology was intended to enhance the ability of "critically thinking individuals," as Lavrov called them, to influence the course of history. Populism later evolved into the political party of Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks' most powerful left-wing rival, and its ideas continued to exercise their influence well beyond its final collapse in the 1920s.
Less influential was the moderate liberal thought of such thinkers as Konstantin Kavelin (1818–1885) and Boris Chicherin (1828–1904) who defended, from an Hegelian position, the ideals of the law-governed state in political theory and the universal "higher synthesis" of religion and philosophy in epistemology. As the earlier Westernism was radicalized, so too the original, rather moderate Slavophilism was producing its own increasingly radical offshoots. Konstantin Leont'ev (1831–1891) offered a scathing critique, on aesthetic grounds, of contemporary Western society. Unlike Friedrich Nietzsche with whom he is frequently compared, Leont'ev ended not with a call for a proud Overman, but with a return to an ascetic Orthodoxy. Nikolai Danilevskii's (1822–1885) theory of "cultural-historical types" advanced a cyclical model of history in which the tired Romano-Germanic civilization was about to yield its place to a younger Pan-Slav one. Danilevskii's ideas had an impact on the "back-to-the-soil" group of authors (pochvenniki from pochva, the Russian for "soil"), whom Dostoevsky lent his not insignificant authority.
Dostoevsky was, incidentally, one of the first Russian thinkers who had a marked influence on Western philosophy. His explorations of the religious, moral, and psychological dimensions of the human condition made a deep impression on both contemporaries such as Nietzsche and later figures such as Albert Camus. Inside Russia Dostoevsky's ideas reverberated in the religious-philosophical school of the early twentieth century.
The more liberal patrimony of Slavophilism, however, was cultivated by Russia's first truly great philosopher Solov'ëv. Solov'ëv's philosophy was an impressive attempt to fuse together positivism, idealism, and mysticism. His early critique of positivism evolved into the assimilation of Auguste Comte's ideas into his own view of history as divine will unfolding toward "free theocracy." Comte's Grand Être was likewise absorbed, along with Gnostic, Cabalistic, Eastern Orthodox, and German Romantic ideas, into Solov'ëv's neoplatonist metaphysics of Sophia Divine Wisdom. Later Solov'ëv performed a similar operation on Chernyshevskii's positivist aesthetics by interpreting it in the light of his own doctrine of art as theurgy: that is, humanity's continuation of divine creation. Yet his syntheses were not eclectic but rested on a broad conceptual foundation and formed a more or less coherent system—the first created by a Russian philosopher. With his more eager, ecumenical acceptance of the West Solov'ëv modified earlier Slavophilism and worked to reconcile it with Westernism. Above all, however, his most lasting contribution consisted in the apologia of philosophical idealism. Solov'ëv and Dostoevsky remained lonely voices among the intelligentsia during their lifetime but by the time of Solov'ëv's death a reaction had already begun among a new generation of philosophers against secular ideologies and in favor of a serious engagement with religion.
While the rebirth of philosophical idealism was only dawning, however, its antipode was vigorously gaining ground. Marxism was known in Russia since the late 1840s but in its early stages it was only one among several currents of socialist thought. Nevertheless, it soon attracted significant interest: In 1869 Bakunin published (abroad) his translation of the Communist Manifesto, and three years later Russian became the first foreign language in which the first volume of Das Kapital appeared. By the end of the century Marxism became the most influential political doctrine among the intelligentsia. It established itself in competition with earlier socialist theories, primarily Populism. In contrast to Populists who wished Russia to avoid capitalism and leap, via village commune, directly into socialism, Marxists viewed capitalism as a stepping stone to socialist revolution. The abolition of serfdom in 1861 by Alexander II gave a strong impetus for the development of capitalist enterprise and, as the number of factory workers grew, socialist theorists began to pin their hopes on the new class. The key figure in the transition from Populism to Marxism was Georgii Plekhanov (1856–1918). His main concern seems to have been to elaborate a philosophical system based on Marxist precepts, while guarding the original doctrine against misinterpretation and revisions. A significant feature of Plekhanov's reception of Marx's ideas was their refraction through Frederic Engels's work. Russian Marxists did not always take care to distinguish Marx from Engels and often argued—in fact, often they simply assumed—the unity of the two founders' respective positions.
In the last quarter of the century Russian academic philosophy finally became the key factor on the philosophical scene. The generation of Solov'ëv and Mikhailovskii was receding into the past and most leading thinkers now taught at universities. Chicherin gradually developed his own system with an emphasis on the philosophy of right and of history. A Leibnizian revival was evident in the trend started by Aleksei Kozlov (1831–1931) that stimulated the development of personalism in Russian thought. The latter had an exceptionally far-reaching impact on such thinkers as Berdyaev, Losskii, and Lev Shestov (1866–1938). This was also the time when Kant's presence in Russian thought finally came to match that of Schelling and Hegel. The leading neo-Kantian Aleksandr Vvedenskii (1856–1925) concentrated on logic and philosophical psychology. Advocated by a number of scientists and philosophers, such as Vladimir Vernadskii (1863–1945) and especially Vladimir Lesevich (1837–1905), neopositivist thought was another major current in academic philosophy. It was concerned almost exclusively with the philosophy of science and empirical epistemology. Vernadskii's ideas later played an important part in what became known as Russian cosmism. The original tenets of this loosely defined trend were formulated by the (nonacademic) Nikolai Fedorov (1828–1903) whose eccentric hybrid of positivism and Christian eschatology aimed at the physical resurrection of all past generations.
the silver age
The flourishing of the arts and philosophy, roughly, from 1890 to 1925 is often referred to as the "Silver Age." It was marked by the rise of Symbolist poetry, modernist music, avant-garde art, and a general invigoration of cultural life. The Silver Age unfolded against the background of growing capitalism and a relative liberalization of political life, punctuated by wars and revolutionary turmoil. New developments in the arts underscored expectations of tectonic shifts in political history. The theme of an impending catastrophe—hailed as a purifying storm by some and feared as a fatal calamity by others—haunted artists and philosophers alike. Russia's humiliating defeat in a war with Japan precipitated the first, abortive popular uprising in 1905. The tsarist government agreed to halfhearted parliamentary reforms but they were undermined by the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and then annulled altogether by the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917.
Russian philosophy matured during this period. From the 1890s on government restrictions were loosening and in the early 1900s the autonomy of universities finally began to materialize. In 1889 the first professional philosophical journal, Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii (Questions of philosophy and psychology) was founded, followed in the first decade of the new century by several other publications specializing in philosophy. In 1897 the St. Petersburg University Philosophical Society was established and a few years later it was joined by the Religious-Philosophical Society in Memory of Vladimir Solov'ëv in Moscow and the Religious-Philosophical Society in St. Petersburg.
Contacts with European philosophy reached a high point. Russian philosophy was now fully integrated, if still as a minor partner, into the European philosophical culture. The most recent developments in Western thought were quickly assimilated by Russian thinkers; empiriocriticism and phenomenology were only the more notable among such new trends. The growing influence of Kant was mentioned above. Nietzsche's impact on the Russian thought of this period was profound and pervasive.
Two opposite, unequal trends dominated the scene during this time: Marxism and religious philosophy. The former was philosophically unimpressive but politically influential, whereas the latter, on the contrary, was politically insignificant but philosophically fertile. Their complex mutual interactions, ranging from antagonism to fusion, were the manifestations of a dynamic and visionary rather than rigorous Zeitgeist. Scientific positivism and political liberalism also continued, adding to the increasingly vibrant philosophical life.
The brand of Marxism that emerged as a result of Plekhanov's efforts and was now endorsed in the main by Lenin included the following basic components. It was founded on a materialist ontology; that is, the view that matter constitutes the source of all existence. Materialism was enhanced by a positivist epistemology that held modern science to be the only legitimate source of knowledge. Marxism considered itself a true—in fact, the only true—doctrine because it was a modern scientific theory. Its next key component, historical materialism, was the result of synthesizing the first two with Hegel's philosophy of history. And finally the whole was held together by dialectical materialism, also a permutation of Hegelian dialectics adapted to fit materialism and positivism. (Needless to say both Hegel's philosophy of history and his dialectics were drastically deformed in these hybrids.) Materialist orientation also dictated that all social and political phenomena be viewed as determined by a society's economic base. The latter developed, according to the theory, over periods of gradually accumulating quantitative changes leading up to abrupt moments of revolutionary qualitative change. The result was the view that history was logical progress from one socioeconomic formation to another, culminating in communism as the most rational system. There was no room for divine authority in this picture; militant atheism was an indelible feature of Russian Marxism. In an apparent contradiction to its own economic determinism, the key factor in the "inevitable" socialist revolution was Marxism itself as a doctrine of "scientific socialism." Further, despite being the most revolutionary class, the proletariat had to be educated; as Lenin argued, "scientific socialism" had to be instilled in its consciousness.
In ethics universal moral values were rejected as products of "abstract bourgeois humanism" in favor of the view that all values were determined by class interest. The corollary was that, as the revolutionary vanguard of society, the proletariat held values that were superior to those of any other class. In aesthetics a similarly class-based criterion was adopted: judgment about art was determined by which class interest it promoted. Leo Tolstoy's oeuvre, for example, was famously described by Lenin as "the mirror of the Russian revolution." These principles received a less stark complexion once they were combined with a dialectical view of history according to which new eras partially reject but also partially absorb the achievements of previous ones. Thus the proletariat was supposed to have inherited the best that world civilization had developed prior to socialist revolution. But the ultimate authority on all issues belonged to the proletariat's own vanguard, the Communist Party. Likewise Lenin's unabashedly utilitarian, ideological aesthetic eventually replaced Plekhanov's earlier, more nuanced attitude as the official "partisan principle" in evaluating art.
There soon evolved two currents in Russian Marxism: radical and moderate. Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks (the term "Bolshevik" literally means "a member of the majority") promoted the former, whereas the so-called "legal Marxists" that included Petr Struve (1870–1944), Berdyaev, and Bulgakov, advocated the latter. The radical trend absorbed from extremists such as Tkachev revolutionary voluntarism and justification of terror as a means of political change.
The main controversies that divided these currents had to do with whether Russia could bypass an extensive phase of capitalism and bourgeois democracy, and proceed directly to a socialist revolution. Lenin answered in a resounding affirmative, whereas his opponents, including Plekhanov, favored a less precipitous path. They feared that the dictatorship of the proletariat, which the Bolsheviks envisioned as the key instrument of transition from a semifeudal to socialist society, would be as oppressive as the tsarist regime. The question of eschewing a prolonged capitalist phase was also bound up with whether Russia could pursue the socialist path alone among nations. In classical Marxism progress toward socialism had been envisioned as an international process because capitalism was itself an international system, too entrenched for the proletariat of one country to overpower it. Russian Marxists split on the issue: The moderate wing laid stress on international cooperation and advocated waiting for ripe conditions in advanced European nations, whereas the radical wing insisted that it was possible to establish socialism in one country.
The main philosophical difficulty for Marxists stemmed from the materialist foundation of their doctrine and consisted in explaining how purely physical, unconscious matter could generate movement and, ultimately, consciousness. The argument that matter evolved in accordance with the laws of nature only raised questions about the origin of these laws themselves. Plekhanov and Lenin asserted that science disclosed what matter was but this claim lost its persuasiveness as new conceptions of matter were developed in physics and the hypothetical nature of these views became increasingly apparent. Lenin's statement that "matter is objective reality given us in sensations" was vague enough to accommodate idealism and thus created more problems than it solved. Similar problems haunted Marxist ethics. The critics of the dogmatic trend, such as Struve, complained that class interest did not provide a firm foundation for morality and, further, dissolved individual agency in socioeconomic forces. The dismissal of art as an activity with a distinct purpose was also problematic. Nor did philosophy itself fare better. "From Marx's and Engels' point of view," wrote Lenin in his essay "The Economic Meaning of Populism" (1894), "philosophy has no right to independent existence and its subject-matter divides itself [literally 'disintegrates,' raspadaetsia ] among several branches of positive science."
In evaluating its claims, however, it is critical to realize that Russian Marxism was first and foremost a doctrine of political action. Its logic, philosophy of history, social philosophy, epistemology, and even materialist ontology were adopted under the pressure of a specific sociopolitical ideal. It was the ideal of a strictly secular, modern society aimed at assuring the fullest realization of the immanent human potential by rationalizing the production and distribution of material wealth. The "superstructure" was to align itself with, and serve the achievement of, this goal. Hence Lenin's relentless defense of materialism, insistence on the scientific nature of Marxism, and uncompromising atheism. In Lenin's thought Russian Marxism's ideological pragmatism reached its apogee. Scant and unimpressive at best, his philosophical writings were all occasioned by topical debates and aimed at ensuring the resolve of the Bol-shevik party. The motivation for his most extensive philosophical work, Materializm i empiriokrititsizm (Materialism and empiriocriticism, 1909), for example, was to rein in his comrades Lunacharskii and Aleksandr Bogdanov (1873–1928) who had strayed into "God-building" and "empiriomonism." The only exception was Lenin's Filosofskie tetradi (Philosophical notebooks, 1914) in which a more serious engagement with Hegel was evident, but these were private ruminations published only posthumously. Materialism and dialectics were meaningless for Lenin unless they were employed for the communist cause. "Materialism," he wrote, "includes partisanship (partiinost' )." (Collected Works, Vol. 1, 1960, p. 401).
The moderate branch of Russian Marxism was more in earnest about resolving the philosophical difficulties of the doctrine but attempted solutions led to revisions of its original materialist, positivist, and deterministic tenets. The "legal Marxists" Struve, Berdyaev, and Bulgakov eventually abandoned orthodox Marxism in favor of philosophical idealism.
This was a sign of the opposite trend that became evident in the emergence of neo-Kantianism and especially religious idealism. The return to Kant was chiefly a development in academic philosophy, whereas the turn to religion swept along academics, independent thinkers, and artists. In later literature the appearance of a group of philosophers who drew inspiration from religion was described as a "religious-philosophical renaissance." The writer Dmitrii Merezhkovskii's (1865–1941) quest for a "new religious consciousness" was a more popular manifestation of this trend. Merezhkovskii initiated Religious-Philosophical Meetings in 1901–1903 as an attempt at a rapprochement between the church and the intelligentsia. The participating sides were ill at ease with each other and after Vasilii Rozanov's (1856–1919) characteristically shocking call upon the clergy to sanctify physical sex the meetings were stopped on government's orders.
Three publications mark the evolution of this trend in the first two decades of the century. The 1902 anthology Problemy idealizma (Problems of idealism) was an initial attempt to revive idealism as a viable contemporary philosophical position, followed by the Vekhi (Landmarks, 1909), a cutting critique of the intelligentsia's ideological dogmatism, atheism, and social isolation, and, finally, by Iz glubiny (De profundis, 1918), a reaction to the Bolshevik revolution as an anti-Christian act prepared by the spiritual, cultural, and moral crisis of the previous two decades. (This indictment was echoed by Rozanov who called the Revolution "the apocalypse of our time.")
The crucial problem that these thinkers confronted was the reconciliation of philosophy with religion. The impulse to embrace religion came as a result of recoiling from materialism and positivism. Many religious philosophers began as Marxists in their younger years and then underwent an idealist conversion. But an attempt to reconcile religion and philosophy led to the choice between fideism and rationalism. Like their predecessors, Slavophiles and Solov'ëv, Russian religious philosophers ultimately leaned toward the former. Ernest Radlov (1854–1928) even claimed in his 1920 Ocherk istorii russkoi filosofii (A survey of the history of Russian philosophy) that the tendency among Russian thinkers toward a mystical solution of ethical and epistemological questions was a "national trait." A closely related task that these philosophers pursued was defense of idealism. In many cases such defense involved rethinking the relation between ideas and empirical reality and resulted in a number of constructs: the "concrete idealism" of Sergei Trubetskoi (1862–1905), "ideal-realism" of Losskii, and "mystical realism" of Berdyaev. The "abstract" thought of German Idealism often served as a contrasting foil for these attempts to bring idealism closer to life.
At the same time the religious-philosophical school argued for a secular culture and philosophy informed by the Orthodox faith—domains that had been neglected, in their opinion, by the Russian Orthodox Church. Florenskii's 1914 classic Stolp i utverzhdenie istiny (The pillar and ground of truth) was perhaps the most monumental attempt to fuse together a modernist philosophical and aesthetic sensibility with Orthodox faith. The most important sources of inspiration for them included the thought of the early Slavophiles and especially of Vladimir Solov'ëv. In epistemology they questioned both extreme rationalism and extreme fideism but their attitudes varied widely. In method their approaches ranged from Losskii's strict adherence to formal logic to Semen Frank's (1877–1950) moderate dialectics to Berdyaev's aphoristic impressionism. In metaphysics many of them followed and further developed Solov'ëv's doctrines of all-unity and Sophia Divine Wisdom. Their views on philosophy of history encompassed Florenskii's admiration of the Middle Ages, at one pole, and Berdyaev's progressivist Christian socialism, at the other. In political philosophy they were likewise diverse: Ivan Il'in (1883–1954) rigidly advocated monarchism, whereas Viacheslav Ivanov (1866–1949) vaguely evoked mystical anarchism. The only thing that united them was the conviction that modern secularism had exhausted itself and the reinvigoration of philosophy and culture in general was to be sought in a union with religion.
A particularly notable contribution by this group was their writings on the history of Russian philosophy. Evgenii Trubetskoi's (1863–1920) classic study on Solov'ëv, Berdyaev's essay on Khomiakov, Gustav Shpet's (1879–1937) hypercritical survey, and Radlov's work mentioned above were part of this self-examination. A special place in this literature belongs to works on the "Russian Idea." Rooted in the writings of Dostoevsky and Solov'ëv, this trope grew into a body of literature created by several generations of philosophers. On the broadest level, it referred to the unique Russian type of consciousness, culture, historical destiny, and place among the peoples of the world. After the Revolution this tradition was further elaborated in Eurasianism and culminated in Berdyaev's classic Russkaia ideia (The Russian idea, 1946). It eventually reemerged in post-Soviet thought where it took on still other interpretive hues.
Along with metaphysical, epistemological, and political issues, an exceptionally preeminent concern for this group was art, which they viewed as a conduit for religious enlightenment. Evgenii Trubetskoi, Florenskii, Bulgakov, and Berdyaev all dedicated to art some of the most inspired pages of their philosophical prose. Their insights into icon-painting (which Trubetskoi described as "theology in color"), liturgy (which Florenskii interpreted as the Orthodox Gesamtkunstwerk ), and artistic creativity in general remain to this day exemplary in their subtlety and depth.
Even more than before Russian philosophy evolved during this time in an intense dialogue with the arts. The Russian avant-garde was often inspired by, and inspired in turn, the volatile mix of philosophical ideas. Among artistic movements Symbolism stood out, both in terms of its artistic influence and engagement with philosophy. Poets Andrei Belyi (1880–1934), Aleksandr Blok (1880–1921), and especially Ivanov keenly explored the philosophical dimensions of their art. Symbolists came to the view, rooted in Romanticism and Solov'ëv's theurgy, that art provided access to the "more real" plane of being and was a path toward spiritual or even cosmic transfiguration. Both philosophers and artists were fascinated with the limits of art. A wide array of artistic movements was driven by a desire to break down the barrier between art and life raised by Kantian disinterested aesthetic contemplation. The pivotal event of this period, the Bolshevik Revolution, did not initially stop this feverish activity but marked a watershed that inaugurated a new phase in the history of Russian philosophy.
the soviet period
Two major processes were under way in the 1920s: the decline of the Silver Age and the rise of Soviet ideology. The new government sought a total submission of philosophy to state ideology and the means by which this was assured ranged from administrative pressure to exile to physical annihilation of dissenting thinkers. Berdyaev's Free Academy of Spiritual Culture and the Free Philosophical Association founded by Radlov, Losskii, and others in St. Petersburg were short-lived attempts to continue prerevolutionary activity. Philosophers associated with both were expelled from the country in 1922 among a large number of thinkers and scholars unsympathetic to the Bolshevik regime. In 1921 the teaching of non-Marxist philosophy was banned and in 1923 philosophy was replaced by dialectical materialism in higher education.
The tasks of Soviet philosophy consisted in "developing" Lenin's patrimony (which meant strictly adhering to its key tenets), combating domestic and foreign "bourgeois idealism," justifying the Party's political decisions, and supplying methodology to the sciences. Formulated even before Soviet philosophy as such was in existence, these tasks remained unchanged throughout the Soviet period. As state ideology Soviet Marxism was based on the Plekhanov-Lenin interpretation of Marx and Engels's views that was soon branded "Marxism-Leninism."
The debate during the 1920s between the so-called "mechanists," such as Nikolai Bukharin (1888–1937), and "dialecticians," led by Abram Deborin (1881–1964), was "resolved" by a ukase from the Communist Party. The episode served to solidify the typical Soviet way of "philosophizing": The last appeal was not to logic and reason, but to the recorded opinion of the "classics of Marxism-Leninism." The highest authority in interpreting the latter belonged, in turn, to the leadership of the Party. The debate highlighted the paradox encapsulated in the expression "Soviet philosophy." On the one hand, Soviet ideology was based on a philosophical theory; on the other hand, this theory was dogmatically accepted as the final word in all ultimate matters. As a result, Soviet philosophy was implicitly burdened with the impossible task of reconciling the internal contradictions of Marxism—but only by appeal to Marxist principles themselves. The basic contradiction of the doctrine consisted in the fact that it insisted on the ontological primacy of matter over spirit but at the same time wished to be a theory (i.e., spirit) that changed the material world.
The untenable nature of this exercise did not escape contemporaries. Losev, whose eight volumes published between 1927 and 1930 were the swan song of the philosophical Silver Age, publicly called dialectical materialism a crying absurdity and challenged Soviet Marxists to acknowledge that their professed scientistic rationalism was at bottom as mythological as any theology. His was a lonely voice, however, and it was silenced forthwith by an arrest, confinement at labor camps, and a ban on publishing upon release.
The repressions of the 1930s were the lowest point in the history of philosophy in Russia. The pre-Soviet intelligentsia was either intimidated or physically annihilated. In 1937 Florenskii and Shpet were executed in the Gulag. Russia was being purged of its philosophy. To train the new cadre was the task of the recently established Institute of Philosophy in Moscow. There were some attempts to simulate philosophical activity but they were crude and tendentious beyond redemption. Stalin's chapter on dialectical materialism in the 1938 Kratkii kurs istorii KPSS (History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union [Bolsheviks]; short course) was not a philosophical work; it merely sealed the reduction of philosophy to ideological indoctrination for which epistemological or logical concerns were irrelevant. During Stalin's time the voluntaristic (i.e., ultimately terrorist) component in Russian Marxism overshadowed its other aspects. The three-volume Istoriia filosofii (History of philosophy) that appeared in 1940 brought to a simplistic pitch a tradition of interpretation established already by Lenin. The entire history of philosophy was presented as a struggle between "progressive" materialism and "reactionary" idealism. In 1947 Georgii Aleksandrov (1908–1961) published his Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskoi filosofii (History of Western-European Philosophy), based on similar principles of analysis.
This History figured prominently in Andrei Zhdanov's speech the same year, in which he announced to the new generation of philosophers the Party's orders to be "more creative." Zhdanov's admonitions had a certain positive effect: For the first time since the 1920s the history of Russian philosophy, for example, became a legitimate subject. To bolster Marxism-Leninism's pedigree Soviet authors ingeniously discovered materialism in the ideas of Russian thinkers. Radishchev, Herzen, and Belinskii were recruited into the ranks of Lenin's precursors. Pisarev, Dobroliubov, and Chernyshevskii were, somewhat more justifiably, painted as "revolutionary democrats" and their materialism as a spontaneous discovery of truth prefiguring "scientific socialism." Tendentious as it was, this work was a step forward from the previous period of forced oblivion.
In the meantime philosophers of non-Soviet orientation continued to write privately "into the drawer." After his release from the camps Losev wrote treatises on ancient mythology and aesthetics, as well as philosophical prose. His fellow-survivor from the Silver Age Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975) worked on his theories of literature and culture; and Vernadskii developed his doctrine of the noosphere. The ideas of these authors became known only decades later when their works contributed to the intellectual ferment of the 1960s–1980s.
After Stalin's death in 1953 and especially after Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 official condemnation of Stalin's "personality cult" a "thaw" began during which ideological constraints on philosophy were gradually loosened. Khrushchev made an attempt to boost slipping enthusiasm for communism by adopting a new program for the Party but the effect of its exorbitant promises was cynicism rather than renewed optimism. Leonid Brezhnev and the new generation of leaders who came to replace Khrushchev were even less capable of reviving the decaying ideology and from the late 1960s a period of ever deepening disillusionment set in that eventually led to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In the 1950s and 1960s Soviet philosophy became an increasingly complex agglomeration of disciplines and approaches. The list of permissible themes gradually expanded. The precept, for example, of sacrificing the individual to the needs of the socialist state began to be revised as the human person was cautiously explored as a philosophical subject. Debates on the nature of philosophy ended, thankfully, in an ambiguity as to whether it was a science, theory of action, or world view. The discussion of materialism and dialectics likewise led to a number of diverging positions that included even disagreement with Lenin. Restrictions were still in place and it was impossible to challenge official orthodoxy directly but attempts to solve its problems objectively tended to water down and sometimes even to dissolve its basic precepts. Some philosophers sought refuge from ideology in such relatively neutral areas as philosophy of science, logic, and other formal pursuits that became possible since the late 1940s. Formal logic was somewhat buttressed by the growing prestige of science and technology. Although difficult and limited, exchanges with the outside world gradually expanded through translations, visits, and conferences. Conversely, the work of some Soviet philosophers, such as the semiotician Iurii Lotman (1922–1993) and his colleagues in the so-called "Moscow-Tartu School," found international recognition.
From the mid-1950s on some pre-Stalin figures reemerged. In Losev's prodigious output from 1953 to the time of his death in 1988 the partial truths of Marxism found their place among the broader principles of a phenomenologically modified Christian neoplatonism. Bakhtin's dialogic theories of culture, literature, and the (moral) self similarly rested on philosophical foundations that were sufficiently deep not to be perverted by adaptation to Soviet censorship. Unlike Losev who remained virtually unknown outside Russia, Bakhtin has become a towering presence in the western humanities.
The reappearance of these and other authors demonstrated that communism had not destroyed the continuity of the Russian intellectual tradition. This was largely due to Russian classical literature that remained even in the worst of times the backbone of all humanistic learning and education in Russia. The other key factor was the "Aesopian" writing, stemming from nineteenth-century polemics, by which philosophers masked (transparently enough for the reader to grasp) the true principles behind their critique of philosophy, art, religion, and culture. Losev delivered, for example a blistering critique of modernity in his Estetika Vozrozhdeniia (The aesthetics of the renaissance, 1978) that was tacitly based on an Eastern Orthodox view. A similar line of thought was pursued by younger philosophers such as Piama Gaidenko (b. 1934), Iurii Davydov (b. 1929), and Sergei Averintsev (1937–2004).
Characteristically, the most gifted among the newer generation of philosophers had to abandon classical Marxist materialism. Eval'd Il'enkov (1924–1979) and Merab Mamardashvili (1930–1990) exemplified opposing positions on the dialectical method, almost Hegelian in Il'enkov's case and almost openly neo-Kantian in Mamardashvili's. Yet another, mathematical-formalist, argument against the officially accepted dialectical materialism was developed by Aleksandr Zinov'ev (b. 1922), who eventually had to emigrate and became a well-known writer.
In the 1970s and early 1980s censorship became more lax, allowing—although not without a struggle—the works of, and about, such authors as Solov'ëv and Fedorov to be published. Alongside Vernadskii's ideas about the noosphere, Fedorov's doctrine of the "common cause" served as an inspiration for the loosely defined, nonofficial movement of cosmism. The latter was merged with Eurasianism by Lev Gumilev (1912–1992) who proposed a theory of ethnogenesis as a process affected by cosmic energy. All this signified a halting but perceptible expansion of the boundaries of philosophical discourse that increasingly weakened the hegemony of dogmatic Marxism.
Following Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms from the mid-1980s and until the dissolution of the USSR the hegemony of Marxism rapidly evaporated. One of the leading authors in official Marxism, Ivan Frolov (b. 1929) admitted in his study Chelovek, nauka, gumanizm: novyi sintez (Man, science, and humanism: A new synthesis, 1986) that the truths of Marxism were not, after all, absolute. The admission was an attempt to preserve the relevance of the doctrine in the new situation. The history of Soviet Marxism came to an end when the floodgates that held back previously suppressed philosophical literature, both Russian and foreign, finally opened. The return of the works of prerevolutionary and émigré Russian philosophers was the most remarkable part of this revival.
russian philosophy abroad
With the emigration after the 1917 Revolution and the expulsion of a large group of thinkers in 1922 Russian philosophy split into two strikingly unequal branches: the one inside and the other outside the country. The Bolshevik government's intolerance proved to be a blessing in disguise. While all independent philosophical thought was brutally suppressed in the Soviet Union, many of Russian philosophers abroad created the largest and the best part of their oeuvres. This was true of Berdyaev, Frank, Bulgakov, Shestov, and Il'in, as well as of the younger generation of philosophers among whom Georgii Florovskii (1893–1979) and Karsavin deserve special note. Russian thinkers in exile collectively created a body of literature that fulfilled the promise of the Silver Age as the Russian "religious-philosophical renaissance." A comprehensive evaluation of this literature remains a task for the future.
Among the diverse trends that existed in Russian philosophy abroad two seem particularly notable from today's point of view: religious-philosophical and Eurasianist. The first was the continuation of the prerevolutionary religious idealism, whereas the second became yet another refraction of the old theme of Russia's destiny in a new situation created by the Bolshevik revolution. Berlin and then Paris were the centers of the first trend and Prague (as well as, briefly, Sofia), of the second.
Russian religious philosophy continued its preexile themes: critique of (Western) rationalism and the quest for integral knowledge; metaphysics of all-unity and sophiology; Russia's historical destiny cast in religious-idealist terms; and religious foundations of personhood.
The study of the history of Russian philosophy by this group became the culmination of the work begun in Russia. Zen'kovskii's two-volume Istoriia russkoi filosofii (History of Russian Philosophy, 1948–1950), Losskii's book of the same title (1951), Berdyaev's aforementioned essay on the Russian Idea, and Florovskii's Puti russkogo bogosloviia (Ways of Russian Theology, 1939) were towering achievements supplemented by numerous articles and essays by other authors. Their work was, collectively, the most important philosophical attempt to make sense of the Russian experience and especially of its last, vastly tragic phase. It is surprising how little would need to be changed, for example, in Frank's essay Krushenie kumirov (The Collapse of Idols, 1923), created before Stalin's repressions and World War II, if it were to be rewritten today.
Eurasianism began as a distinct movement with the publication of a collection titled Iskhod k Vostoku (Exodus to the East; Prague, 1921). It viewed Russia as strad-dling Europe and Asia in the geographic, geopolitical, and cultural-historical sense and enhanced the traditional Slavophile critique of the West by the Spenglerian sense of the "twilight" of Europe. Postcolonialist critique of Europe was prefigured in Eurasianism's claim that the western view of history merely promoted the West's ulterior interests under the guise of objective truth. The mistrust of the West was supplemented by the affirmation of the positive significance of the Asian element in Russian history and culture. Eurasianism had both a religious and a secular branch. The former was represented by such authors as Petr Savitskii (1894–1968) and Petr Suvchinskii (1892–1985), the latter by Florovskii and Karsavin. In Karsavin's case Eurasianism had a close affinity with the Solov'ëvian school. Nevertheless, for most Eurasianists religion was important only as a cultural-historical factor that contributed to the formation of Russia as a Eurasian entity. The religious theme in Eurasianism weakened especially after Florovskii left the movement. Some of his secular opponents went so far as collaborating with the Bolshevik government that they saw as the heir to the cause of great Russian statehood. Those who returned to Russia, however, perished eventually in Stalin's concentration camps. Eurasianism as a political movement declined in the mid-1930s with the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Many of its members made significant contributions to the social and human sciences: George Vernadsky (1887–1973) in history, Nikolai Trubetskoi (1890–1938) and Roman Jakobson (1896–1982) in linguistics. Suvchinskii was a prominent musical critic. The political influence of Eurasianist ideas was restored to life in the post-Soviet period when they became a source of inspiration for a widely divergent spectrum of ideological schools of thought, ranging from nationalists dreaming of a new Russian Empire to Soviet-style Communists.
Rather than being resolved, philosophical questions were merely suspended by the ideological freeze during the Soviet period and once constraints fell old divisions quickly reemerged. During the early and mid-1990s Russian philosophers were primarily occupied with bringing back formerly suppressed patrimony and rejoining the international philosophical dialogue. Berdyaev, Bulgakov, and Florenskii's writings were particularly favored during this period. But the list was quickly expanded to include the entire galaxy of Silver Age thinkers.
The second tendency—that is, restoration of contacts with the outside world—has by now resulted in a full spectrum of western and nonwestern influences without any apparent restrictions. Like several times earlier in history, Russian philosophers eagerly acquaint themselves with foreign philosophy: phenomenology, analytic philosophy, psychoanalysis, critical theory, poststructuralist thought, and a variety of nonwestern wisdom traditions. The old controversy between Slavophiles and Westernists was also apparently merely suppressed and has again become a notable factor in Russians' debates about their past, present, and future. The theme of the Russian Idea has returned in all of its prior permutations and now has been co-opted, among others, by communist authors who try to breathe new life into a doctrine that has lost much of its appeal. While the tradition of nonacademic philosophizing remains strong, the academy is now the backbone of philosophical life in Russia.
Soviet institutions, such as the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the journal Voprosy filosofii (Questions of Philosophy), have survived their original ideological functions. The teaching of philosophy in higher education occupies the same place as elsewhere in the world and occurs without any ideological constraints. Literature for instruction in philosophy figures prominently among philosophical publications. The current output of academic philosophers embraces all disciplines of philosophy and represents all shades of opinion one finds elsewhere. Numerous works are published on the history of Russian philosophy; they include both special studies and historical surveys. Another notable feature is the striking decentralization of philosophical life that is no longer confined to "the capitals" but is active in many centers of higher learning in the country. There are no overwhelming political parties among Russian thinkers of the early twenty-first century. Neither the surviving communism nor the revived nationalism seem to hold commanding heights. If there is a threat to philosophy today it comes not from the state or radical ideology but from different quarters. Russian philosophy has joined contemporary western and nonwestern philosophical traditions in surviving the onslaught of mass culture. The new freedom and the rich intellectual, artistic, and literary legacy encourage hope, however, that Russian philosophy will rediscover not only its roots, but also the creative inspiration from which it first sprang.
See also Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhailovich; Bakhtin Circle, The; Bakunin, Mikhail Aleksandrovich; Belinskii, Vissarion Grigor'evich; Berdyaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich; Bulgakov, Sergei Nikolaevich; Chernyshevskii, Nikolai Aleksandrovich; Chicherin, Boris Nikolaevich; Dostoevsky, Fëdor Mikhailovich; Fëdorov, Nikolai Fëdorovich; Florenskii, Pavel Aleksandrovich; Florovskii, Georgii Vasil'evich; Frank, Semën Liudvigovich; Herzen, Alexander Ivanovich; Ivanov, Viacheslav Ivanovich; Karsavin, Lev Platonovich; Kavelin, Konstantin Dmitrievich; Khomiakov, Aleksei Stepanovich; Kireevskii, Ivan Vasil'evich; Kozlov, Aleksei Aleksandrovich; Kropotkin, Pëtr Alekseevich; Lavrov, Pëtr Lavrovich; Lenin, Vladimir Il'ich; Leont'ev, Konstantin Nikolaevich; Losev, Aleksei Fëdorovich; Losskii, Nikolai Onufrievich; Lotman, Iurii Mikhailovich; Lunacharskii, Anatolii Vasil'evich; Mamardashvili, Merab Konstantinovich; Mikhail-ovskii, Nikolai Konstantinovich; Pisarev, Dmitri Ivanovich; Plekhanov, Georgii Valentinovich; Rozanov, Vasilii Vasil'evich; Shestov, Lev Isaakovich; Shpet, Gustav Gustavovich; Skovoroda, Grigorii Savvich; Solov'ëv (Solovyov), Vladimir Sergeevich; Tolstoy, Lev Nikolaevich; Trubetskoi, Evgenii Nikolaevich; Trubetskoi, Nikolai Sergeevich; Trubetskoi, Sergei Nikolaevich; Zen'kovskii, Vasilii Vasil'evich.
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Vladimir L. Marchenkov (2005)