How to Get a Breakthrough in Ukraine
The Case Against Incrementalism
AFTER 40 years of Communist rule the Soviet intelligentsia is still far from homogeneous. Each generation has been subject to quite different influences as gradually the vision of an unrealized revolutionary Utopia has been transformed --partly into a set of ritualistic utterances and practices, partly into stabilized institutions. There have been changes, too, in the intelligentsia's relationship to authority, as the still relatively free and even anti-authoritarian intellectual climate of the early and middle 1920s was replaced little by little by the rigidly orthodox intellectual atmosphere and ubiquitous controls of the Stalin era. There also have been changes in the social composition and in the sense of social identity of the intelligentsia, which reflected in turn the great social overturns and dislocations of the late 1920s and early 1930s and the subsequent stabilization of Soviet society. And, last but not least, there have been changes of emphasis in the intelligentsia's intellectual pursuits and concerns, following the "Second Socialist Offensive," with the emergence, full grown, of a society oriented toward science and technology. Each of these processes and patterns of change has left its mark in differing degree on the different generations of the present Soviet intelligentsia.
A visitor to Russia today quickly draws the impression that there are gaping chasms--which almost no continuities or points of contact seem to bridge--between major age groups in the intelligentsia. Three major groups stand out: the generation that had already reached intellectual maturity before the Bolshevik seizure of power, or at least before the imposition in the 1930s of totalitarian controls over Soviet intellectual life; the middle generation, including those between, say, the ages of 35 and 50, who spent almost all their adult life stifling under what has come to be called "the cult of personality;" and finally the group of young men and women who, while largely educated under Stalin, have begun to make their presence felt on the Soviet intellectual scene only under the more clement and chaotic conditions of the post-Stalin "thaw."
The survivors of the pre-revolutionary generation of the intelligentsia are now few in number. Yet one is struck by their extraordinary prominence and influence on the intellectual and particularly the academic scene. One finds these aging symbols of the past--complete down to their redingotes, pinces-nez and small Vandyke beards--still occupying the major chairs in Russian universities. One finds them still editing the major works published by the Academy of Sciences and still scurrying, with a busy and proprietary air, about the halls and offices of its various institutes; occasionally one even finds them, in their studios or salons, eagerly presiding over gatherings of young adepts of literature and the arts.
How do these men seem to be faring after four decades of war, revolution, penury and terror? They seem much older, of course, more frayed and more fragile, but at the core remarkably unchanged. Through these years of continuous pressure and stress most of them have managed somehow to hold onto the basic interests, values and personal style of life that they originally carved out for themselves, and even their energy, their zest for existence, seems unimpaired. While talking with these aging figures one sometimes feels as if one were resuming a conversation, interrupted for 30 or 40 years, exactly at the point where one had left it: the names of the same authors, the titles of the same books are cited; the same intellectual and aesthetic standards, the same basic likes and dislikes are expressed.
All this is not to imply that these men have maintained an active or even a passive hostility toward the Soviet régime. Quite the contrary, most of them seem to have made their peace with it, if only by burying themselves in the confines of their professional work. Indeed, at critical moments when the world threatened to engulf them, many made the pragmatic, crass compromise of writing books or delivering lectures in which they believed not one word. And even now, basking in the measure of recognition that the post-Stalin era has brought them, they generally display wily circumspection. Yet it is worthy of emphasis how slight an impress the events of the past 40 years seem to have made on them. Though the régime did largely succeed in controlling the nature of their writings and public utterances, there apparently were many (particularly among the litterateurs) who continued even at the height of the Stalin era to seek their own truths; and while their thoughts could not usually be published, they often received wide circulation in manuscript form. (To this day, some of the poems most popular in certain intellectual circles have never appeared in print.)
I vividly recall the passing comment of a prominent literary historian of this older generation as we were browsing in a book store. Pointing to the more recent volumes in a series that he himself had edited, he explained to me, with complete aplomb, and in impeccable if somewhat dated French slang: "These particular volumes still smell, I'm afraid--they appeared a little too early." I remember another conversation, about Russian historiography, with a formidable-looking old scholar, the author of monumental works on the early history of Russia. At the end of this talk, during which he had cited only standard pre-Soviet works on the subject, he observed, in the most casual manner: "It is a pity that Miliukov never finished his book on Russian historical thought; nothing to make up for it has been published in recent years." The fact that Miliukov, a prominent leader of the liberal Kadet party and the first foreign minister of the Provisional Government in 1917, has been denounced for many years as an arch reactionary had not apparently entered his mind. And finally I recall a talk with an aged and sickly writer, a Jew who had suffered much at the hands of the régime during the last years of Stalin's life. Despite all his disappointments, this ailing old man, brushing aside my own expressions of skepticism, valiantly strove to infuse me with his rosy, nineteenth-century faith in the inherent goodness of the Russian people and in the vast promise of modern scientific progress.
The sources of the inner resilience, security and assurance that the members of this generation commonly display appear to have been drawn largely from the traditions and style of life of the past, with manifestations as varied as their own pre-revolutionary or pre-Stalinist experiences. Those who spent some of their student years in Western Europe have kept the thoughts and values--even the speech and mannerisms--of the universal European culture. Others have sunk their roots deep in the history and culture of the Russian past, and have found there a secure basis for their own identity. Others still have somehow kept intact--despite the post-revolutionary experience--the touching cult of the People, the innocent Golden Populist credo of the old leftist intelligentsia. It might perhaps be said that for many of these men life came to a standstill 30 or 40 years ago, but that the experiences of those earlier times still uphold and nourish them.
The contrast between these old men of the Russian intelligentsia and those who immediately followed in their footsteps is of dramatic and tragic proportions. If the survivors of the old generation impress one with their continued preëminence, the members of the second generation, who spent all of their adult lives under Stalin's rule, are striking for their lack of real vigor and influence on the contemporary scene. What has happened to this middle generation which usually exercises so prominent a rôle in a country's intellectual life?
To a degree, the impression that it is largely absent from the stage is literally true; for this, we must recall, is the generation that was most nakedly exposed to, and most heavily decimated by, the great purges of the 1930s, the carnage of the war years and the obscurantist reaction of the postwar period. Yet physical bloodletting provides only part of the explanation.
These survivors are not all of a type. Some have the somewhat abrupt and "businesslike" manner, the rigidity in personal intercourse, the broad, squarish physical features characteristic of the "new" intelligentsia largely recruited from the ranks during the great social overturns of the 1920s and early 1930s. Others seem to reflect in speech and mannerisms their upbringing by the old intelligentsia. Many are found in positions of bureaucratic or official responsibility; they are administrators in universities and institutes, Party hacks of the press, literature and the arts. But some have also survived among the scholars and artists who were compelled to carry on their work somehow under the vigilant eyes of the official keepers of orthodoxy.
The differences between the eldest generation of the intelligentsia and their own immediate descendants, particularly in the fields of literature and the arts, are largely of an emotional rather than an intellectual character. In contrast to the impression of vigor and zest conveyed by most of the old men, many of their "children" appear to be facing the future with a feeling of futility and hopelessness. Indicative of their general mood is the answer I received from a quite successful middle-aged dramatist--a pupil of Vakhtangov, and thus one of the few prominent survivors of the golden age of the Soviet experimental theatre--when I asked what one might expect of the still younger (the third) generation of the intelligentsia. "Nothing," was his reply, "nothing at all. The young people don't really want anything. They just want to construct little boxes. Art is dead; it will be hard, very hard to resurrect it."
This aura of futility and defeat continues to be evoked despite the fissures in official orthodoxy that have appeared since Stalin's death--the hesitant, limited, almost intangible sense of movement that then began to permeate certain spheres of Soviet intellectual life. Why this deep-seated pessimism? It might be argued (particularly in the light of the official reaction following the Hungarian uprising) that the pessimism has been justified, but this would not be particularly germane, for what needs to be explained is an attitude which is largely confined to the members of this one generation. Perhaps the most relevant fact is that these middle-aged intellectuals have had to spend almost all their lives in a world out of control, a world which subjected many of them to early disillusionment and which compelled them, in order to survive, to make abject submissions or compromises. And, unlike their elders, they have had to make their arid journey without the support of a personal set of values, without even a brief or remote memory of an unsullied past, in short, without the basis for an independent identity that could stand up against their engulfing contemporary environment. Some of them will occasionally refer wistfully in conversation to the intelligentsia's traditional heroes and their works. But they are memories at second hand. These men appear to have come out of the long Stalin night utterly spent, and they look to the future with apprehension, in part, perhaps, because they face it with no inner reserves of energy, faith or self-respect.
It should be noted that intellectuals in this age group who were subjected to administrative exile or imprisonment during the Stalin era--and who, therefore, had little occasion or tendency to compromise--present a striking contrast to those who remained "free." Surviving deportees who have returned since the governmental amnesty appear remarkably unbroken. They seem assured, fearless, not unhopeful, and it is they who provide whatever intellectual leadership this generation is still able to offer.
The smell of defeat does not hang only about those descendants of the old intelligentsia who remained in the main current of Soviet intellectual life throughout the Stalin era. To a lesser degree, signs of uncertainty and disorientation may be discerned among the "new" intelligentsia recruited from lower social strata and hastily trained in the late 1920s and early 1930s. When one first sees them sitting behind their big desks or presiding at the head of their long green-felt conference tables these heavy-set cultural bureaucrats look quite formidable, and they display considerable authority as they deliver themselves of the latest platitudes of the Party line. And yet an observer quickly draws the impression, as he watches their dealings with their younger subordinates, that these men are largely going through empty motions, that they have lost much of their confidence in the importance of their positions and the significance of their acts.
What has happened since Stalin's death to upset the confidence and self-esteem of men who have successfully weathered so many crises? No doubt they were somewhat puzzled and embarrassed by the ensuing modest reassertion of traditional cultural values and by the attendant confusion in government policy. To a Western visitor, the manifestations of their plight may be quite comical. I recall a session at one of the Institutes of the Academy of Sciences at which one such "official type" solemnly reproached himself for having failed to pay adequate attention in the past to, of all people, the Russian Idealist philosophers of the nineteenth century.
But the harshest blow that these bureaucrats have had to suffer has been the destruction of their sense of the importance of their rôle in the creation of a new Russian culture. With all their servile conformance to the twists and turns of government policy, with all the personal ruthlessness that most of them displayed in "ideological" and bureaucratic in-fighting, many in this segment of the middle generation were sustained throughout the Stalin era by an ideal which gave them energy and purpose. They viewed themselves during those long years not just as policemen or sycophants, but as agents in the birth and shaping of a new and different culture, in the creation of a new and different intelligentsia that would be as energetic, disciplined and down-to-earth as the old one had seemed to them anarchic and divorced from practical realities.
To understand the naïveté and crudeness of this vision, to account for its survival through the Stalin era, one needs to recall that its keepers entered Russian intellectual life as outsiders, with no backlog of intellectual traditions or experience to guide them. The official ideology and cosmogony provided literally their only intellectual frame of reference; the rôle defined for them by the Party provided their only conception of proper activity in the development of Russian culture. Being themselves so much creations as well as agents of the Party in a world utterly divorced from their earlier experience, few of them had occasion to question the Party's objectives or their own mission. But now, after 30 years, this sense of historic destiny has finally been undone, partly as the result of the recent changes in the Party's policies, but mainly, I think, because the culture these men had dreamed of finally came to life and in the chaos of the post-Stalin era began to assert its presence.
What appears to have been most unsettling for these men in the post-Stalin "thaw" has not been so much the Party's vague, hesitant gestures at ideological liberalization--gestures often retracted almost as soon as they were made--but rather its increasing tendency to acknowledge that the achievement of success, even in certain cultural spheres, depended more on practical skill and experience than on the rituals of theory and dogma. It is, after all, precisely in this realm of professional ability that the "new" intelligentsia of the middle generation cannot help but sense its inferiority to the young men and women now beginning to assert their presence.
Indeed, the men of the Stalin era have been partly defeated by the very measure of their success. They are finding the youth, in the main, as rational, purposeful, down-to-earth, devoid of the "fatal" inclination to vast and "frivolous" theoretical flights--in short, as seemingly "useful" and politically safe--as they could have dared to dream. At the same time, these younger men and women are as steeped in certain scientific values and skills, as acclimated to certain intellectual experiences and pursuits, as their forerunners were not. And it is by virtue of these intellectual accomplishments--and limitations--that in many areas of intellectual life they have begun to express the sense of their superiority over the "new" intelligentsia of the Stalin era and to show that they consider its tutelage superfluous.
The sense of conflict and psychological distance that many in the Stalinist intelligentsia have begun to feel in their contacts with the young also reflects the measure of their historic failure. The young who have come to the fore appear to be politically safe. Yet while they may have adopted the general ideological framework and values of their makers, they perceive these as the limits rather than as the center of their world. Observing the intelligentsia of the Stalin era, they must have an attitude of indifference or even repugnance and disdain. Themselves dreamless, or animated by quite different and far more personal dreams, they cannot believe in, or indeed often perceive, the large and impersonal visions that animated their forerunners--their striving and straining for the realization of vast collective endeavors. They can see in them only despotic, "uncultured," obsolescent men, ignorant of the intellectual skills and scientific values in the name of which they purport to speak.
"We still have far too many people who talk about things they don't know anything about," a young Soviet scholar told me within the hearing of an official of his institute who had just delivered a long and windy speech. In the face of such verdicts, the bureaucrats of the Stalin era, and, generally, most of the "new" intelligentsia of the middle generation (whatever the power and authority they still hold), have finally begun to feel their age.
The young men and women between 25 and 35 who are now making their way in Soviet intellectual life are truly the children of the Stalin era. All their lives, they have known no other social order, no other ideology, no other vision of man and society, than those which the régime imposed upon them. And yet the gloomy forecasts of an all-pervasive state giving birth to a new race of de-personalized subjects have somehow not come to pass.
This is not to say that the failure of the régime has been unqualified or that the nature of the failure is immediately apparent. Indeed, a Western visitor is likely to draw from his first contacts an impression of almost universal ideological uniformity among the younger generation. There is an appalling kind of sameness about the assumptions they voice, and particularly about the terminology they employ in discussing broad political, social or philosophical questions. Thirty years ago, a significant percentage of the generation then young would have rejected, or at least ignored, official ideological categories; but today those of the same age almost uniformly consider themselves "socialist" in politics and "materialist" in philosophy, believe in the "Marxist" interpretation of history and venerate the "Leninist heritage"--about as unquestioningly as American schoolboys accept a stereotyped image of the American "Revolution."
Only as a visitor's acquaintances become more intimate and the conversation turns from generalities and abstractions does he discover that, although members of this generation abide by official ideology and use approved terminology, these are not reliable guides to their individual tastes, attitudes and thoughts. A young logician may call himself a "materialist," and if you prod him will comfortably defend the basic tenets of materialist philosophy; but this surface orthodoxy has not deterred him from absorbing the positivist outlook of most Western logicians in his thinking about specific problems encountered in his work. A young artist may consider himself a realist even while searching in Western and Russian aesthetic traditions for richer and more complex aesthetic forms. Young intellectuals, generally, may proclaim themselves to be "Leninists" and yet hunger for a political and social climate that would be more open to free and individual self-expression. (An extreme illustration of this was the argument advanced by a friend to the effect that, after all, Lenin himself had included representatives of other parties in the cabinet formed immediately after the October Revolution.)
All this is not to imply that the official ideology has now become easier to discard. On the contrary, as already observed, it is now almost automatically accepted by the young, partly because it provides the only general conceptual framework and language that they know, but chiefly, I think, due to the fundamental change in meaning that it has come to hold for them. Three decades ago, this ideology was supported by a distinct vision of Utopia; now that it has been at least partially realized in relatively stable institutions it has become largely indistinguishable from the diffuse ethos in which the members of this generation have been inextricably absorbed since childhood. While this transformation undoubtedly made them more prone to accept the ideology, it has also made them likely to give it a personal interpretation. Since it no longer rests on an abstract vision of the future but is merged with concrete and differentiated current perceptions, it no longer can be the same sort of guardian of their thoughts and feelings. The nature of this immediate experience has become the chief influence in shaping their attitudes and values, especially in their professional pursuits.
The past three decades have transformed the character of professional rôles so radically that the very meaning of the word "intelligentsia" has altered. As late as 30 years ago, the term still meant the selected few who were presumably engaged in exploring new ideas, new forms, new values, and in criticizing existing ones. Now it applies simply to all those who are engaged in occupations that require a degree of intellectual and technical skill. The change can be traced not merely in the increased proportion of young men and women now engaged in scientific or technical pursuits, but also very clearly in the general climate of this generation's intellectual life. Indeed, this "technocratic" orientation has become almost as characteristic of young historians or philosophers as it seems to be of young scientists and technicians, in that all show an interest in implementing "general truths" rather than in discovering them.
What are typical intellectual attitudes and values of the young? There is a genuine desire for professional competence, an urge to assimilate facts and to master the techniques required to organize and manipulate them skillfully. These traits are combined with a certain narrowness of outlook, a lack of urgent desire to explore new intellectual horizons or question basic theoretical assumptions. There is a relatively unquestioning acceptance of what are conceived to be the basic institutions and values of the existing political and social order, combined with a deeply felt urge to acquire autonomy in one's professional rôle and in a sector of private life. As one goes down the list of characteristics, the composite portrait that emerges differs little from the picture often drawn today of intellectual life in contemporary Western societies, and especially in the United States, under the impact of modern technology and mass communications. The analogy should not, of course, be pushed too far: even if certain universal tendencies of the modern age have been at work in Russia, they take distinctive shape and flavor in the Russian context.
Some of the differences are only of degree. For example, the concern of most members of the younger generation to become professionally competent is even more serious and sustained than in the West, while at the same time their intellectual horizon tends to be even narrower, their interest in any broad ultimate questions even flabbier. I might cite as example an extremely able and well-trained young Soviet logician who is very well read in the whole history of Western epistemology, from Aristotle, Leibnitz and Kant to Russell and Whitehead, but who is not in the least interested in the fundamental problems that preoccupied these great philosophers.
This narrowness of intellectual interest might be accounted for by the political controls and the observance of official orthodoxy within which this generation must operate. But I think other factors are more significant.
First, one is struck by a certain self-consciousness shown by this generation about the presumed attributes of their professional rôles--about their skills, their manners, even their dress. One is reminded of the attitudes of the nascent Russian intelligentsia in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries following the first flush of westernization. There is a similar concern with techniques, manners and forms rather than with basic objectives, a desire to be, and especially to appear, "cultured," a consciousness of station and some uncertainty as to precisely what are the prerequisites for it, a deeply felt sense of patriotism combined with a vivid sense of emulation of, and competition with, the West.
The intense and narrow professionalism of this generation also represents, I believe, a genuine form of self-emancipation. Their insistence on the all-importance of facts and techniques provides the safest as well as the most direct escape from the political hacks of the Stalin era. (And, by the same logic, the insistence of the latter on the "ultimate" implications of various intellectual and professional concerns, and therefore on the continued importance of ideological conformity, has constituted their chief defense.) Just as in the most innocuous manifestations of their attitudes--the desire for a private apartment, the urge to join in informal leisure activities of their own choosing (even if only the collection of postage stamps)--they reveal a deep desire for some individual autonomy, some personal privacy.
The same urge is expressed, more forcefully and directly, in the one area of intellectual life in which, occasionally, ultimate problems of value are squarely faced and explicitly discussed, namely in literature and the arts. Literature has always been the inner fortress of the Russian intelligentsia, and in the contemporary works of young writers, and particularly of young poets, its traditional visage is even now to be discerned. To be sure, the intelligentsia's traditional concern with ultimate questions and ultimate values is no longer expressed in the affirmation of broad, generous and ambitious world views, pregnant with immediate political and social implications. After 40 years of Soviet experience, it has now taken the form of a search for more modest, more personal, perhaps more human values. The rediscovery of truthfulness rather than the discovery of truth; the defense of a code of personal dignity and personal honesty; the apprehension of beauty in nature and in love; the determination to endure but not to compromise--these themes are frequently expressed in the poems (many of them unpublished) of the younger generation of writers and occasionally sift through the net of official censorship into published works of prose.
What does all this portend for the future? With all the urgency of their desire for some personal autonomy, most of these young people, it must be recalled, continue to feel loyal to the foundations of their social order--to socialism and its values, as they variously choose to define them. But we must also remind ourselves that the pattern of values and thoughts that a person consciously entertains at a particular moment does not necessarily reflect precisely the complex and unstable balance between those elements that attract him to, and those that repel him from, the social order under which he lives. A sense of loyalty often represents the only real alternative to the almost intolerable bitterness and loneliness that come from a feeling of total alienation.
As to the future attitudes of this generation of the Russian intelligentsia, much will depend in the last analysis on the future policies of the régime. In my view, most of its members still appear willing to support an authoritarian political order, in which--as has been the case through most of Russia's history--respect for higher authority is combined with the recognition of some priority for the needs of the State. But most of these young men and women do not appear to expect, nor will they willingly tolerate, the all-pervasive controls, the invasions of all areas of human privacy, that have been characteristic of the past. Such a diagnosis should not lead us to feel excessively despairing or especially superior. Authoritarianism, after all, assumes a variety of forms; and through most of human history individuals have had to seek, and often have managed to find, despite its restrictions, a measure of inner freedom and dignity.