The genuine wealth and health of a nation shows largely in its cultural achievements and cultural traditions. Unfortunately, the Russian nation cannot boast nowadays of neither former nor latter, and we are witnessing a decline in this country’s general cultural level. Many are possessed by the “market economy” of “national idea”. But only few people seriously care about the preservation and augmentation of culture proper.
The alternative to culture is barbarism. Barbarians have always jealously seen to it that culture does not rise too high and does not stay for too long. It was under pressure from barbarians that the great antique culture fell. At present under threat is the all-European culture of our times, of which Russian culture is an integral part.
It is thought that our culture is threatened by Islamic extremism. It is true. But, as common folk say, “it thunders not from a thundercloud, but from a dunghill”. Barbarism is within us. It corrodes us from inside. Therefore our priority task is that we ourselves should do our best not to slip into barbarism and preserve hotbeds of culture that are still with us.
A dramatic surge of European culture that started with the Renaissance epoch reached Russia by the 19th century AD. Russia saw a dawning and burgeoning of its own classical music, its own classical literature and other classics of its own. Russian culture was steadily moving upwards throughout the 19th century. It reached its peak in the person of our greatest men of genius, such as Leo Tolstoy, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and others. After that a kind of decline began to show.
But this apparent decline largely affected the realm of art, where one could rarely come across absolute men of genius. Still, art was maintained at a rather high level and was noted for the diversity of genres and trends. In the meantime, the cultural development’s “centre of gravity” was shifting to other spheres of human activity. The interest towards philosophy and religion was on the rise. A spiritual quest for truth and justice became nearly nationwide. In this sense, one can say that the tension of Russia’s cultural life was mounting.
By the early 20th century AD, Russia’s cultural life was more and more concentrating around the teaching of the German philosopher Karl Marx. The spectres of “social reorganization” and “people’s liberation” had already long been “haunting Europe”. The dream of the “golden age”, of the “kingdom of God” was not giving a moment’s peace to mankind. Marx’s teaching claimed to be affording a “scientific basis” for this dream to come true. Eventually, Russia found itself falling in Marxism’s arms.
The question of the “liberation of mankind” and a subsequent “world-wide brotherhood of people” had repeatedly been raised in the European culture of the modern times. Long before Marx, great creative personalities had, as a rule, come close to this range of problems. But no one of them had properly known how it could be accomplished.
Mozart sang of the ideals of equality, the good, and justice, and even became a freemason. One can find many compositions in Beethoven’s legacy, where one can distinctly hear the step of Napoleon’s troops bringing liberation to the peoples, all this crowned by everybody’s dancing in the street. Franz List actively supported revolutionary movement, at least, in his younger days, being, though, ordained a priest in his declining years. Our Russian man of genius, Alexander Skriabin, was planning to stage in India a grandiose Show, or Mysterium, based on the synthesis of arts, as a result of which all the people were supposed to become, at last, aware of their being brothers.
Marx created his teaching leaning on the philosophy of his compatriot Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The latter, among other works, had written “Die Wissenschaft der Logik,” whereby leaving all the cultural community puzzled. Many admired the laws of absolute development discovered by Hegel. But some did not want to believe that the said development only referred to the sphere of Spirit, that Truth was only a matter of Thinking, of Knowledge Itself. Our revolutionary and enlightener Alexander Herzen did not like Marx. But it was Herzen, who put into circulation a stock phrase, “Hegel’s logic is the algebra of revolution”. Really, he turned out to be a prophet of doom.
Karl Marx and his friend Friedrich Engels did not agree with Hegel’s virtual deification of Thinking and turned Hegel’s teaching “upside up”. That is to say, they decided to deify not Spirit, but Body, supposing It to develop and then realize Itself. But the Body they deified was, again, a rather theoretical Body, more commonly known as Matter. Nevertheless, it was still Body with all the ensuing consequences.
The laws discovered by Hegel, if applied to the “upper part” of this Body, human society, was apparently enabling one to make the mankind’s centuries old dream come true “here and now”. With that end in view, the most numerous and “exploited” social class, the hired workers, was taken as a basis. Before long, Vladimir Ulyanov-Lenin “adapted” Marxism to the Russian conditions. And here, at last, Marx’s teaching seemed to have worked. In 1917, Russia went through the victory of the communist revolution (at least, the Bolsheviks would love to believe this event to be so, and it may have really been the case).
This is it, one would think, it has happened! This is where you can move on from dreams to real deeds! Mozart could leave the Masonic lodge and safely join the communist party. Chopin, having inspired himself with his “Revolutionary Etude”, could set to real revolutionary work. Franz List could throw away the abbot’s soutane and put on a commissar greatcoat instead. Tolstoy would surely change his doctrine of non-resistance to evil into the one of an armed uprising. Beethoven could well place himself at the head of the people’s government. Tchaikovsky could freely raise his voice for the protection of human rights. Skriabin would undoubtedly scrap his venture with Mysterium and, most likely, busy himself with cinematography, the most popular and efficient of arts.
Thank God, all the above-mentioned cultural workers had happily passed to their rest by 1917 and could not with the best will in the world take an active part in that memorable event. As for those living cultural workers, they, mildly speaking, were not in a hurry to run, as the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky put it, “with their pants hitched up” after the “attacking class”.
Best representatives of Russian culture did not “understand” the revolution. Chaliapin, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bunin, Kuprin, Gorky, Nabokov leftRussia. Others were forcibly expelled from the country. Before too long, the remaining cultural workers would be exiled, this time, inside the country. Finally, they would be simply executed. Interestingly, among first executed were those who had ventured the revolution or rapturously received it.
Centuries old folk culture suffered the same unenviable fate. Folk art found itself virtually banned. To replace it, the Pyatnitsky Choir was set up. Russian communism turned out hostile to both professional and folk culture.
So, why did it happen? Marxism claimed to represent the supreme manifestation of culture as such. Lenin asserted that “one can become a genuine communist only when you enrich your memory with the knowledge of all those riches that the mankind has worked out”. And in general, the Bolsheviks were not at all accomplished “rednecks”. They were educated enough, and there were many bright and creative personalities among them. At their best, they were real artists of the revolution capable of captivating and guiding people of various backgrounds.
In general, they “wanted the best”. But it turned out even not “as usual”, but much, much worse. Why? Here one can put forward several explanations.
1. What happened in October 1917 was in reality not a communist revolution. The same view, in particular, was held by the Mensheviks, orthodox Marxists headed by Georgy Plekhanov, who called Lenin’s ideas “ravings of a madman”. In defiance of Marx, Lenin and his followers, i. e. the Bolsheviks, insisted on the revolution to be accomplished in an economically backward country. Although they conceded that the Russian revolution was supposed to subsequently spread to other, more developed countries and should be regarded as the beginning of a larger-scale communist revolution.
But Bolsheviks’ calculations proved wrong. Economically and politically more developed countries failed to uphold the Russian initiative. As a result, Russia stiffened for a long time in the posture of tense expectation, while the Russian communism turned out one of the most wretched and ugly occurrences in human history.
2. It is Marxism itself that is wrong. That is to say, wrong is a “corporeal” interpretation of Hegel’s “Logik”. Hegel may not have been right conceiving of God as the Knowledge Getting to Know Itself. But is it much more correct to conceive of God as the “Developing Matter”?
As the same Hegel put it, the history of philosophy represents not the collection of human errors, but, rather a picture gallery of divine images. In this sense, both the Hegelian idealism and Marxian materialism appear as rightful “images” in the above-mentioned gallery. Being considered in progress, in dynamics, both images are each correct in its own way. At the same time, both are, as they say, “historically limited” and, in this sense, fairly abstract and wide of the Prototype.
A materialistic image of God proposed by Marx and Engels should, after all, be recognized as a step forward, compared to that proposed by Hegel. This image is more tangible, more palpable. At the same time, it is more obtrusive. It breaks into everyone’s life, it knocks at every door. It declares Revolution. It is not without reason that Lenin defined Marxist philosophy as “militant materialism”.
The “Developing Matter” is not just a philosophical abstraction. This is a fairly structured and quite perceivable Entity. In the beginning, it exists in the form of a “nebula”. By operation of “internal contradictions”, It evolves, or develops. The evolution proceeds from inferior forms to superior, that is, from the “initial nebula” to a thinking and acting “human society”.
The structure, to say frankly, is turning out to be something that lacks elegance. This is a Leviathan of sorts. Or, using the image suggested by another our enlightener, Alexander Radishchev, “a fat huge beast, barking with its 100 maws”. Still, this image was consecrated, revered, worshipped, prayed to, and made sacrifices to.
Furthermore, the supreme manifestation of Matter, the thinking and acting Human Society, in turn, becomes more specific. It produces the supreme manifestation of Its own, Party. And yet, it is not all. To complete the picture, Person is needed to personify the entire Formation. And such a person cannot but emerge.
A materialistic image of God is built up to the top and acquires Its completion in the person of the Leader. It was not without reason that some Bolsheviks warned about a religious meaning of Matter. There even were so-called “God-creators” among them who openly considered philosophical materialism a religion, but tried to confine this to deifying the people. And it was no use for the Bolsheviks of the Lenin Guard to complain about inculcating a cult of the Leader. Because it is only in the personality cult that Matter shows in all Its glory, in all Its stature, arising from the “initial nebula”. In the end, it cannon but take on the traits of a personal God.
So, after a difficult and prolonged pregnancy,Russia, at last, gave birth. But the birth proved premature. Marx’s teaching may have been the highest cultural achievement of its time. But it did not appear to be the Truth that had been expected and sought after. The fate of traditional art and culture was unenviable there. All this was only needed to appease and glorify the Bantling.
However, if one is not going to perpetuate dialectical materialism and regard it just as an intermediate Truth, then everything is being put into place and acquires its logic. The “Developing Matter”, although It made a real mess of things, turned out a sufficiently viable image of God. It is a corporeal formation where the laws of absolute development are already applicable.
Moreover, the fact that Russia adopted Matter and endured Revolution makes it a preferential heiress of the great European culture. In the meantime, Germany, this “schola mundi,” the homeland of Hegel and Marx, effectively broke up with the main cultural tradition. Seduced by Friedrich Nietzsche’s prophecies, it slipped into nihilism and mythology. Matter, despites all Its clumsiness, does have certain advantages compared to the dubious glamour of the Übermensch.
Ultimately, it turns out that Mozart does enter the communist party. Beethoven places himself at the head of the people’s government. Liszt abandons all doubts and puts on the commissar greatcoat. Chekhov at last finds out what he lives for and gets down to building communism in a single country. Tolstoy calls on the masses for an armed revolt. Tchaikovsky refuses to kill himself and fights for man’s right to happiness. Chopin, from writing revolutionary etudes, moves on to the revolutionary struggle. And Skriabin tries his hand at cinematography.
You wanted it, gentlemen. So get it. You were brave and courageous dreamers, creators in Spirit, in Art, creators in pretence. But when it came to acting for real, you run and hide. The won’t work. Time comes to become aware of self as Matter and accomplish Revolution. The transition from idealism to materialism is inevitable. It is only a pity that it turns out not quite the “right thing”.
The Developing Matter appears triumphant for a moment. This Image had to be felt deeply and suffered through. And It had to be outgrown. Here, Russia came as the most sensitive and susceptible of European countries. It was not without reason that Lenin considered Russia the “weakest link” in the chain. One may say that the manifestation of another image of God followed the line of the least resistance.
However, this Image is not ultimate. In a sense, It is closer to the Prototype than der absolute Geist, but It is still wide enough from It. Besides, this Image is imperfect, like any other image. Therefore, one should not insist on it and should not extend Its reign. One had better pave the way for a new Image to show.
True, the development of culture leads to Revolution. But development continues also after Revolution. It means that culture continues to exist and develop somehow, too. But now it does so in a special way, with regard to the accomplished Revolution.
Culture continues to exist even when it is not needed, when there is no room for it. It is silent and inexpressible. It does not show. One can only judge of its being there from indirect signs. It abides latently, paradoxically, somewhere in an extra-professional, personal, existential sphere. For, strictly speaking, culture in its traditional form is impossible after Revolution.
The burden of culture is heavy, especially after Revolution. There are no genius people around. Moreover, there is no cultural community. Genuine, high culture has become a lot of the selected few, who are out of touch with each other. At the same time, it is the very “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” that may become prophetic of a new Revelation.
One would love to believe that today’s abomination of desolation may, for all that, become the ground for creating a new Image of God. One would also love to believe, that this Image will appear modestly and unpretentiously, like all great things. And who endures everything to the end, will witness It.
The Kingdom of God is bound to come in. It does not mean that we may idle about while waiting for it. It will reveal Itself only to those, who toil, who stay faithful to the ideals of Truth, Good, and Beauty, to those who, even after Revolution, have been able to not only preserve, but augment all the “riches that mankind has worked out”.
The Kingdom of God will reveal itself only to those who seek it. In the Russian culture, it was imprinted as the “Radiant Future,” which was supposed to be reached through many efforts, including a revolution, as one of those efforts. Nikolay Chernyshevski, yet another our revolutionary, wrote: “The future is bright and beautiful. Love it, strive for it, work for it, bring it closer”.
This thought, this yearning was later expressed more precisely by Anton Chekhov, who put it into one of his “Three Sisters’ mouth: “The time will come, when we will be gone forever, we will be forgotten, our faces, our voices, and even how many of us there were. But our suffering will be transformed into happiness for those who live after us, peace and contentment will cover the earth, and they will remember and bless with kind words all those who live now. My dearest, dearest sisters, our life is still not finished. We will go on living. The music is playing so happily, so cheerfully, that it seems, in just a little time, we will know why we live, and why there is all this suffering…”
As a matter of fact, human life does not differ from the life of am amoeba. And yet, there must be something we exist for. And while we exist, while we think and create, there is still hope that, some day, we will learn what for. Having gone through Revolution, we can say, that now the matter is not about some “historical” or “popular” future. Truly, this is about the formation of a new image of God, which will not avert us from the Prototype, but bring us closer to It.