The Gazette

Russian Intelligentsia and the Bolshevik Revolution

In the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 there was a battle for the mind of the new Soviet man with artists and intellectuals engaged in the struggle between the old Tsarist and the new Soviet culture.

Prior to the First World War the intelligentsia had become one of the most significant groups in Russian society. The story of its origin and development through the nineteenth century is a fascinating one. Growing from seeds planted by dissident members of the nobility such as Radischchev and Novikov who, in the late eighteenth century, had dared to raise their voices in criticism of the inhumanities of serfdom, the intelligentsia had, a century later, become an influential and diverse group. Its basic feature was its impulse to criticise and oppose the fundamental iniquities and occasional barbarities of tsarism. Within this rather loose framework a hundred flowers bloomed. Scientists, painters, authors, professional people, teachers and lawyers in particular, were all represented in the ranks of the critical intelligentsia. A wide variety of types and intensity of criticism could be found from the relatively gentle admonitions of Turgenev, through the penetrating and trenchant parables and sermons of Tolstoy to the fulminations of Bakunin and Lenin. Criticism might take relatively subtle forms like the 'discovery' of the pain and suffering of the lower orders of society as in Repin's painting The Barge Haulers or it might lead to overt political violence and assassination, particularly of government officials from policemen to the tsar, most of which was attributable to militant intellectuals.

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