Back to Solzhenitsyn index
Back to article index


'But surely someone exists? And how can one deny human beings a future? Can human beings be prevented from going on living? We hear their weary, kindly voices sometimes without even seeing their faces - as they pass by us somewhere in the twilight, we hear them talking of their everyday concerns, which they express in authentic - and sometimes still very spontaneous - Russian speech, we catch sight of their faces, alive and eager, and their smiles, we experience their good deeds for ourselves, sometimes when we least expect them, we observe self-sacrificing families with children undergoing all kinds of hardships rather than destroy a soul - so how can one deny them all a future?

'It is rashness to conclude that the people no longer exists. Yes, the village has been routed and its remnants choked, yes, the outlying suburbs are filled with the click of dominoes (one of the achievements of universal literacy) and broken bottles, there are no traditional costumes and no folk dances, the language has been corrupted and thoughts and ambitions even more deformed and misdirected; but why is it that not even these broken bottles, nor the litter blown back and forth by the wind in city courtyards, fills one with such despair as the careerist hypocrisy of the smatterers? It is because the people on the whole takes no part in the official lie, and this today is its most distinctive feature, allowing one to hope that it is not, as its accusers would have it, utterly devoid of God. Or at any rate, it has preserved a spot in its heart that has still not been scorched or trampled to death.

'It is also rashness to conclude that there is no intelligentsia. Each one of us is personally acquainted with at least a handful of people who have resolutely risen above both the lie and the pointless bustle of the smatterers. And I am entirely in accord with those who want to see, who want to believe that they can already see the nucleus of an intelligentsia, which is our hope for spiritual renewal.' (pp.264-8)

Like Shafarevich he quotes Pomeranz saying: "The mass can crystallize anew into something resembling a people only around a new intelligentsia. ... I am counting on the intelligentsia not at all because it is good. . . . Intellectual development in itself only increases man’s capacity for evil ... My chosen people are bad, this I know ... but the rest are even worse." But he continues the quote, saying: 

'True, "before salting something you must first become the salt again," and the intelligentsia has ceased to be that salt. Ah, "if only we possessed sufficient strength of character to give up all our laurels, our degrees and our tides ... To put an end to this cowardice and whining ... To prefer a clean conscience to a clean doorstep and to school ourselves to make do with an honest slice of bread without the caviar." But: "I do believe that the intelligentsia can change and that it can attract others to follow in its footsteps ..."

'What is clear to us here,' Solzhenitsyn complains, 'is that Pomerants distinguishes the intelligentsia and sets it apart in terms of its intellectual development, and only hopes that it will also possess moral qualities.

'Was this not at the heart of our old error which proved the undoing of us all - that the intelligentsia repudiated religious morality and chose for itself an atheistic humanism that supplied an easy justification both for the hastily constituted revolutionary tribunals and the rough justice meted out in the cellars of the Cheka? And did not the rebirth of a "nucleus of the intelligentsia" after 1910 arise out of a desire to return to a religious morality - only to be cut short by the chatter of machine guns? And is not that nucleus whose beginnings we think we already discern today a repetition of the one that the revolution cut short, is it not in essence a "latter-day Vekhi"? For it regards the moral doctrine of the value of the individual as the key to the solution of social problems. It was for a nucleus of this kind that Berdyaev yearned: "An ecclesiastical intelligentsia which would combine genuine Christianity with an enlightened and clear understanding of the cultural and historical missions of the country." So did S. Bulgakov: "An educated class with a Russian soil, an enlightened mind and a strong will."

'Not only is this nucleus not yet a compact mass, as a nucleus should be, but it is not even collected together, it is scattered, its components mutually unrecognizable: many of its particles have never seen one another, do not know of one another, and have no notion of one another’s existence. And what links them is not membership in an intelligentsia, but a thirst for truth, a craving to cleanse their souls, and the desire of each one to preserve around him an area of purity and brightness. That is why even "illiterate sectarians" and some obscure milkmaid down on the collective farm are also members of this nucleus of goodness, united by a common striving for the pure life. And the covetousness and worldly wisdom of the cultured academician or artist steers him in exactly the opposite direction - backward into the familiar lurid darkness of this half century.

'What does an "axis" or "branch" for the "crystallization" of an entire people mean? It means tens of thousands of human beings. Furthermore, it is a potential stratum - but it will not overflow into the future in some huge and unobstructed wave. Forming the "backbone of a new people" is not something that can be done as safely and lightheartedly as we are promised, at weekends and in our spare time, without giving up our scientific research institutes. No, it will have to be done on weekdays, as part of the mainstream of our life, in its most dangerous sector - and by each one of us in chilling isolation [...] 

'By deliberate, voluntary sacrifice.

'Times change, and scales too. A hundred years ago the Russian intelligentsia thought of sacrifice in terms of the death penalty. Nowadays it is considered a sacrifice to risk administrative punishment. And in truth this is no easier for abject, browbeaten characters to stomach [...] 

'It would be better if we declared the word "intelligentsia" - so long misconstrued and deformed - dead for the time being. Of course, Russia will be unable to manage without a substitute for the intelligentsia, but the new word will be formed not from "understand" or "know," but from something spiritual. The first tiny minority who set out to force their way through the tight holes of the filter will of their own accord find some new definition of themselves, either while they are still in the filter, or when they have come out the other side and recognize themselves and each other. It is there that the word will be recognized, it will be born of the very process of passing through. Or else the remaining majority, without resorting to a new terminology, will simply call them the righteous. It would not be inaccurate to call them for the moment a sacrificial elite. The word "elite" here will arouse the envy of no one, election to it being an extremely unenviable honor that no one will complain of being passed over for: come and join us, we implore you!

'It is of the lone individuals who pass through (or perish on the way) that this elite to crystallize the people will be composed.'