On the “Awakening of Civic Consciousness”
“A few revolutionists walk from house to house and knock at each door: “everybody in the street / it is outrageous to stay in the house!” And every conscience, the gimp, the blind, the crippled went to the market; none of them remained in the house! For half a century they ravaged, wailing and fighting. At home is misery, poverty and disorder, but the master is not interested in this. He went to the market to save his people – and this is easier and much more exciting that the unpleasant work from home.”
The fragment above belongs to Mihail Gershenzon, a critic of the Russian intelligentsia of the beginning of the 19th century, who ended up allied with the Bolsheviks. Leaving aside the biographical aspects, his text describes in a perfect manner also the manifestations of popular discontent in Romania these last few years and the West, as well. So, it has a particular relevance, which derives especially from the almost identical character(istics) of the modern intelligentsia in Russia, Romania or other places. In other words, we also have here a growing group of authentic revolutionists, dedicated to utopian causes.
In an essay about the tradition of Russian radicalism and the Russian literature, the literary critic Gary Saul Merson distinguishes three fundamental attributes of this class.
First of all, a member of the intelligentsia has a self-consciousness very precisely attuned to the class to which he belongs. The other seeds of identity which could conflict with his revolutionary ideology must be suppressed. His belonging to a more extended family, to a community, church, etc., evaporates in front of the single constant in the life of an intelligentsia: social change by force. So, a member of this class with fluid borders is negatively defined through what is opposed to his ideals, through the “critical thinking” and “moral passion” which consume him. A member of the intelligentsia is not necessarily an educated person, but it is almost compulsory for him to believe that he is an educated person, and that the burden of social salvation lies on his shoulders.
Secondly, he adheres, in a religious manner, to a set of ideological and metaphysical assumptions, which usually revolve around materialism, atheism, socialism and revolution. All these beliefs (they are not the only ones) are connected and, many times, it is only necessary to display a constant commitment to his strongest element to move fast on all others. All of the serious communists were materialists, atheists, by definition socialists, and many enough, permanent revolutionists. And, as noted by Merson, it is important not only to support certain things, but also to refuse to believe that, except idiots and villains, any person of good faith could support something else.
“Nobody shall listen to a philosopher suspected to be a “reactionary” (and what don’t we call a reactionary today?) because nobody is really interested in philosophy or truth per se”, wrote philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. A member of the intelligentsia is only interested in hearing the same slogans to which he adheres. For this reason, all other versions of reality must be eliminated. Form this results also the class racism, which irrevocably bans the people who would dare to present a heresy or another point of view.
A third defining attribute for the intelligentsia is represented by the complete politicization of life. Practically, there is no part of life that is not regulated by a political canon. Dostoyevsky, for instance, realized that the woman who was going to become his wife was not a revolutionist when she refused a cigarette. More than that, the writer thought, it is possible the she believed in God, and he was not mistaken. In that period, he said, it was known for a fact that a revolutionist must smoke. Today, together with the complete demoralization of the society, it becomes a little difficult to underscore the personal forms of anarchy/rebellion, because the abnormal became a norm, the vice became a virtue, and the virtue became pathology. However, for signaling one’s status, certain apparel, a body language and a discourse (speechifying) full of ideas, but especially ready-made words and stock phrases, offer convincing clues for the one questing for prospective revolutionists.
In the opinion of certain historians, no social class had a stronger impact on the world than the Russian intelligentsia. And personalities like Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky represent convincing arguments to support this theory. If we add to this unholy trinity characters like Mao or Pol Pot, coming from the same universe of utopian ideals with catastrophic results, the consequences of the ideas spread by this class become apparent.
What happened in Russia when the revolutionists began to dominate the educational system and, implicitly, the entire public debate is well known, though the body count is still being debated. The last Christian empire lay crushed to ruins, and on its remains perched the bloodiest class of politicians seen until then. It did not matter that many members of the intelligentsia were animated by great ideals, that they wanted a better life, not just for them, and suffered even personal sacrifices for this. From Vissarion Belinsky to Lenin and Stalin, there were more than a few connection points. So, if somebody expects that, locally, something good may result from the “awakening of civic consciousness” and from the street action of people clothed in high ideals, they are in for more than disappointment and a rude awakening.