In This Review

On the Ideological Front: The Russian Intelligentsia and the Making of the Soviet Public Sphere
On the Ideological Front: The Russian Intelligentsia and the Making of the Soviet Public Sphere
By Stuart Finkel
Yale University Press, 2007, 346 pp
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One often thinks of the Bolsheviks' assault on freedom in terms of newspapers closed, political parties crushed, and civil liberties eliminated. Indeed, all this is quite true, but it misses the more fundamental and revolutionary aspect of their innovation. For the inspiration was not simply dictatorial whim but also a deep bias against the very concept of a vibrant, open, and creative public sphere. For the Bolsheviks, this idea was nonsense -- a dangerous distraction from the transcendent truth of which they were the bearers. Finkel explores this underlying dimension as well as anyone has. His vehicle is an exhaustive retelling of the regime's wholesale attack on intellectual society in the early 1920s, the years of the supposedly semiliberal New Economic Policy. He deals, each in turn, with the destruction of the professoriate, of what today would be called nongovernmental organizations, of cultural and literary societies, and of the world of publishing. What was destroyed was not merely intellectual life and its essential fruits but also its very basis, a ravaging that today's Russia has not entirely escaped.