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Lenin's Private War: The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the Intelligentsia

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Overview

In 1922, Lenin personally drew up a list of some 160 'undesirable' intellectuals - mostly philosophers, academics, scientists and journalists - to be deported from the new Soviet State. 'We're going to cleanse Russia once and for all' he wrote to Stalin, whose job it was to oversee the deportation. Two ships sailed from Petrograd that autumn, taking Old Russia's eminent men and their families away to what would become permanent exile in Berlin, Prague and Paris. Lesley Chamberlain creates a rich portrait of this chilling historical moment, evoked with immediacy through the journals, letters, and memoirs of the exiles.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Recounted in fascinating detail...Chamberlain brings these forgotten figures back to life with great skill and sympathy."--William Grimes, The New York Times
"Lenin's Private War is infused with a deep understanding of the rich history of Russian thought."--The Seattle Times
"Movingly describes the experience of exile in ways that echo that great exile novelist Nabokov himself...Chamberlain has a rare gift."
--Sunday Telegraph

"Compelling, laudably unsentimental and deeply significant to the history of ideas."
--The Guardian"Both learned and absorbing…Chamberlain has written a fine monument to a generation of thinkers who addressed questions of contemporary relevance and deserve to be better known."
--The Economist

William Grimes
This little-known chapter is recounted in fascinating detail by Lesley Chamberlain in Lenin's Private War. It is a tricky tale to tell, because the names involved are unfamiliar. The idealist philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev still commands attention, but fellow passengers like the literary critic Yuli Aikhenvald, the religious thinker Semyon Frank, the sociologist Pitirim Sorokin and the medieval historian Lev Karsavin are known only to specialists today. Nevertheless, the writers and thinkers expelled in 1922 represented a grievous loss… Ms. Chamberlain, a British historian and the author of Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia, brings these forgotten figures back to life with great skill and sympathy, reconstructing their intellectual milieu and making a strong case for the importance of their banishment as a turning point in the road from revolution to Communist tyranny.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Companion to Chamberlain's Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia (2007, etc.) detailing the Bolshevik suppression of non- and anti-Bolshevik intellectuals. Lenin, no enemy of intellectuals as such, was at least good enough to send his philosophical opponents into exile, even some who had supported the Whites in the bloody Civil War; by the time Stalin came to power, the exile was to the Siberian gulag or the grave. But it is true, as Chamberlain reveals, that Lenin had developed a rather particular hit list by the summer of 1922, including professors, physicians, writers and especially "Petrograd writers" and "Anti-Soviet agronomists and cooperatists." Chamberlain catalogues Lenin's quarry, most from Moscow and St. Petersburg. One was the Christian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, who considered himself a socialist and whose sin of commission was, writes Chamberlain, that he "spoke for something decent and good, at once radically modern and medieval, and he was wise about Russia." Not so Lenin, who sent Berdyaev and many other Orthodox thinkers out of the country on a slow steamer out of Kronstadt, off into exile to places such as Prague, Berlin and Paris. Some were taken decades later by the Red Army and went to the gulag after all; most, such as Berdyaev, died without ever seeing Russia again. Surprisingly, one of Lenin's targets, the novelist Evgeny Zamyatin (We), "avoided deportation in 1922 but left with permission from Stalin in 1931." Almost all of the exiles continued their scholarly and literary work, writing at difficulty and at a distance from their sources; if anything, their stature as critics of the Soviet regime was furthered and enhanced by being outside the countryand free to speak. Readers of Solzhenitsyn, Nabokov and other exiles may not know of these figures, many of whom are obscure even to Russians. Though the story is but a footnote to history, Chamberlain makes good work of it. Agent: David Marshall/Marshall Rights
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312367305
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 1.44 (d)

Meet the Author

LESLEY CHAMBERLAIN is a writer and reviewer distinguished for her wide-ranging work from travel (in the Communist Mirror) to philosophy (Nietzsche in Turin). Her most recent book is Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia. She lives in London, England.

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Read an Excerpt

Lenin's Private War

PART I
' ... the Leninist bacchanalia ...'
Victor Frank, 'Lenin and the Russian Intelligentsia'
 

'Never, of course, have I thought of "chasing away the intelligentsia" ...'
Lenin to Gorky, 13 February 1908

1
The Night Before
 

 

WHO WERE THE men on the Philosophy Steamer? Lenin thought of them as the class enemy, but how did they think of themselves, and what was their world like before it was so violently disrupted? The contrast between the machinery of the totalitarian regime and the lives of real people it affected leaps out of the reminiscences of writers like Berdyaev and Lossky.
The most famous name on Lenin's list of unwanted minds, Nikolai Berdyaev, was surprised at the extreme nature of his treatment by the Bolsheviks, because he thought that both he and they were socialists. But he became resigned, sold his possessions and, like his fellow professors, resolved to face his ill-wishers with courage and stoicism. On 27 September, by that well-known railway line which links Russia's 'Asiatic' with its 'European' capital, he arrived in Petrograd from Moscow. The first, easy stage of his irreversible journey abroad was now behind him. The trains were not in the best of conditions that year, but that was nothing new. As a Russian Berdyaev felt he belonged to a people more resilient than most, one which had shown in recent years that it could put up with almost anything. After his experience during the Revolution, when a bomb dropped in the courtyard of the family home and then again during the Civil War when a basement near his bookshop was blown up, nothing frightened him. A train without heating and without water he hardly noticed.
He was forty-eight. With him on his last Russian train were his fifty-one-year-old wife Lidiya Yudifovna, Lidiya's younger sister Evgeniya Rapp, estranged from her husband, and their mother Irina Vasilievna Trusheva. Though she would live another eighteen years, Berdyaev's mother-in-law was not in good health and walked with a stick. The Berdyaevs were a conscientious family of an old-fashioned kind, who looked out for each other, as well as for strangers in need.
Berdyaev's Petersburg colleague, Professor Lossky, not himself to be expelled for another two months, had offered to put up the party for the night. His address was Kabinetskaya Street, about ten minutes' walk south from where the Fontanka river flowed under the city's central thoroughfare, the Nevsky Prospekt, and about the same distance from the Moskva railway station. In fact the station was still referred to as the Nikolaevsky after the last tsar, Nicholas II. The tsar was murdered in 1918 but Russia was only slowly becoming Sovietized. At the station Berdyaev, a wealthy man while still in his own country, called a cab, while a few streets away preparations were made for his arrival.
Interesting Russian families from the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia came together in a subdued Petrograd that night: the Berdyaevs and the Losskys, and the Trushevs and the Stoyunins, the families into which the two men had married. The Berdyaevs, with their family seat in Kiev, were aristocracy. Nikolai's father was a military man, and his mother half-French, Her mother was the Comtesse Choiseul. French was thus one of Berdyaev's languages from infancy, and a maternal influence was Roman Catholicism, which took its place alongside his father's Orthodoxy. Berdyaev never disdained his privileged background. Instead, like two of Russia's most famous aristocratic revolutionaries, Alexander Herzen and Peter Kropotkin, he aspired to the classic imperative of noblesse oblige.1
Kropotkin was already an adult when he rebelled against his army background, but Berdyaev left military cadet school in his mid-teens. Like Herzen he studied philosophy and in the 1890s philosophy led him directly to Marxism, and thence to a repudiation of it and a clashwith both the tsarist government and the upcoming Bolsheviks. For his part in revolutionary disturbances at the University of Kiev, Berdyaev found himself in a mild form of internal exile from 1902--4. Thereafter, and especially after the 1905 Revolution, he embarked on a packed career as a teacher, social campaigner and public figure that only ended with his death abroad in 1948. All this was consistent with Berdyaev's position as an intelligent, a member of the ultimately mixed-class intelligentsia. From cradle to cathedra, his task was to help the Russian peasantry and lower classes find their place in a more dignified and just social system than tsarism represented.
Berdyaev met Lidiya, the daughter of a notary, in Kiev in 1904, just after his return from exile and her release from prison. Both the Trushev girls were well educated, and had spent a year or so in Paris perfecting their accomplishments. But in the way of the educated Russian middle class Lidiya and Evgeniya were also socially aware, and had in their late teens naturally fallen into the Populist way of 'going to the people' and teaching both general subjects and political awareness in the backward countryside. After indulging in 'revolutionary activities' in 1903 they were held for three months in prison, where they went on a hunger strike.2
The meeting of Berdyaev and Lidiya fulfilled an idealistic yearning for love and understanding on both sides, and after Lidiya divorced her first husband in 1904 they married. Neither partner seems to have had a pronounced sensuality and according to Berdyaev their marriage was unconsummated, leaving him saddled for life with 'the fateful problem of sex'.3 Nevertheless they forged a lifelong bond of shared religiosity and social commitment, coupled with the habits of leading a cultivated life. They read the classics, listened to music and followed political developments from day to day, and they lived frugally. Nikolai's character was stormy and solitary, Lidiya was nervous and sometimes hysterical, but somehow this quintessential pre-Freudian pair complemented each other perfectly. It is probable that Lidiya and Evgeniya when young were too hastily married off to men who were of the right class but were not choices of the heart, sinceEvgeniya also left her husband, Rapp. As an unmarried woman, she became -- rather like Martha Freud's sister Minna -- part of her sister's family and a devoted friend of her brother-in-law. Indeed, when Lidiya died Evgeniya cared for Nikolai in his last three widowed years and he dedicated his autobiography to her.
The Losskys were both less political and less eccentric than the Berdyaevs. Nikolai Lossky's provincial origins were also far more modest, though not lowly. His paternal grandfather was an Eastern-rite Catholic priest and his father was a forest warden who became a district police superintendent. Nikolai was one of fifteen children. They lived in a small town near the Russian--Latvian border, in what was a largely Polish area. A bright, quiet boy, he made his way with ease through school until he ran into a political barrier. In his late teens he fled abroad from the repercussions of being a political critic of tsarism and began his tertiary studies in Switzerland. In his twenties he married into the educated middle class, what one might call Russian haute bourgeoisie.
Lossky was also a philosopher, but one in the academic tradition, which removed him, at least in manner, from the more individualistic and charismatic world of Russia's mystical thinkers. Berdyaev's warnings and predictions and visions concerning the social and spiritual life of his contemporaries never pretended to be scientific, whereas Lossky, in his quest for goodness and truth, laid stress on rationality and method and could expect to have his work reviewed in an international professional publication like Mind. Yet in practice the distance between the contributions to philosophy of Berdyaev and Lossky was not so great, because both were thoroughly Russian, working in a different time-frame from Anglo-American argument and differing also from Continental European philosophy. They reached back to structures of thought long discarded by mainstream rational thought in the West. At a time when Wittgenstein and Russell were insisting on the primacy of precise language coupled with mathematical logic, Lossky was trying to revive the work of the seventeenth-century rationalist and deist, Gottfried Leibniz. Berdyaev drew his inspiration,even more radically, from the mystical tradition born in Ancient Greece. His sources were Plato, neo-Platonists like Plotinus, the Greek Church Fathers, Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth century and the anti-rationalist Jacob Boehme two hundred years later.
In his History of Russian Philosophy, written in the early 1950s, Lossky would write of Berdyaev:

Berdyaev is particularly concerned with the problem of personality. It is a spiritual not a natural category. It is not a substance, it is a creative act ... Some of his thinking is not in strict conformity with the traditional doctrines of the Orthodox and Catholic churches ...4
Berdyaev, paradoxically much more modern in spirit than Lossky, was interested in what today would be called performative acts of cognition. He was a maverick figure, who took chances and refused to belong to any particular time or tendency. His vocabulary was often vague and mystical but one of his achievements was to grasp the importance that twentieth-century thinkers would accord to subjectivity.
That September evening in 1922 the two philosophers sat for hours ruminating. There was much to report, Berdyaev was garrulous, and both were well informed. The city of St Petersburg, where Lossky had studied, married and was bringing up his children, was part of the family identity and a part of it which perhaps had taken the greatest battering of all in the last decade. 'Piter', as it was colloquially called, had been renamed Petrograd at the beginning of the war with Germany, because the tsar found the traditional name too Germanic. The linguistic move, though intelligible, was discomfiting, and became a token of the city's self-alienation in the early years of the Soviet takeover. Prior to having its status as capital city removed, and being further renamed Leningrad in 1924, Piter would be deliberately run down as the hub of European Russia, and something of that debilitation could already be felt.
In 1922 the philosophy department where Lossky had worked for sixteen years was under Bolshevik pressure to close. An Institute ofRed Professors was already working up a suitable sociology to underpin Soviet academic life. The St Petersburg girls' high school which Lossky's mother-in-law, Mariya Stoyunina, had founded with her husband and run in the family name for more than thirty years, had recently been forced to go co-educational and change its name to a number. As Gymnasium No. 1, however, it was still functioning, on the lower floors of the building where the Losskys lived in Kabinetskaya Street, and with its reputation for excellence intact.5
Amongst Madame Stoyunina's present pupils was the Losskys' second son Boris and his friend 'Mitya' Shostakovich, already a pianistic prodigy. Shostakovich's sister Mura also attended, as did Olga and Yelena Nabokova, sisters of the future novelist Vladimir Nabokov, before the family fled in 1919. The Nabokovs, a well-known conservative family, were in a dangerous situation following the Revolution, because Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, the novelist's father, had been a minister in the Provisional Government which the Bolsheviks overthrew. Had Nabokov senior remained in Russia he would have been in danger of his life.
The Stoyunina school remained, for a few more months, one of the great clearing-houses for the children of the Russian pre-revolutionary professional class to establish themselves in their parents' footsteps. Before the merger of some establishments, and the closure of others, prior to the complete Sovietization of schooling, privileged boys had gone to the Shidlovskaya Academy. All the top people, across the political board, from the man who was briefly Prime Minister in 1917, Alexander Kerensky, to Lev Trotsky, now Lenin's Commissar for War, sent their sons there. But now in these mixed, transitional times, a perekhodnaya situatsiya, as Russians say, patterns were breaking. The Kerenskys had also fled abroad. No one could know what kind of world was about to emerge after November 1917, least of all the young Shostakovich whose life and music would be tormented by Soviet ways.
Daily life in 1922 had the character of a switchback. On the one hand things felt almost normal after the Civil War and the Famine,while on the other persecution, imprisonment and murder lurked around every corner. Despite the goods in the shops and the cafés and theatres restored to life, and happier faces on the boulevards, the political year had been horrific, with the show trials of the clergy from April to June, and the trial of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), Lenin's former allies, in July. Sentences of death were passed on men whose only crime was to belong to the opposition. In the midst of the trials, in May, the head of the Orthodox Church was arrested. Patriarch Tikhon was held indefinitely while the Bolsheviks replaced his church with a more compliant model, called, with deliberate and heavy irony, zhivaya tserkov, 'The Living Church'.
The growing power of this fake institution enraged Berdyaev as he prepared to leave the country.6 The very term was a typical Bolshevik ploy, meaning the opposite of what it said and designed to deceive simple minds. The way the Communists tampered with the Church, and murdered its priests, confirmed general suspicions about the nature of the revolutionary ruling ideology. The great Russian philosopher of the previous generation, Vladimir Solovyov, had warned, just before his death in 1900, of the coming of Antichrist. Frank, Karsavin, Ilyin, Vysheslavtsev, Aikhenvald, all prominent members of the intelligentsia, felt the spirit of Christian Russia was in danger. Lossky, a devout, lifelong believer, sustained by a personal God the way Berdyaev was not, did not express himself so passionately, but he had no doubt of the evildoings of the day which coupled with the usual human vices to blight the new era.
In his eloquent autobiography Lossky remembered how he had been forced to wait for a chair of philosophy in Petrograd until the relatively late age of forty-six. He was not a man to bear grudges, but he might have wished for an easier career path, especially as he was not the kind, unlike the flamboyant Berdyaev, to build his worldly adventures into his writing. The member of Faculty who had stood in his way for years, and who had even once told him, 'you get a chair over my dead body', or words to that effect, was now a leading member of the 'Living Church'. Every generation has its godlessopportunists and the one in Lossky's midst was a moral philosopher -- and priest -- called Professor Alexander Vvedensky.
The Living Church member Berdyaev focused on, however, was Robert Yurievich Vipper. Vipper, a sixty-three-year-old historian and expert in religious studies, was the Bolsheviks' replacement for Tikhon as head of the new Church. Vipper had compared the present moment in ecclesiastical history with the great watershed in European history when Martin Luther dissented from Rome, but that to Berdyaev was an outrage. Far from being equal to the emergence of Protestantism, the phoney Living Church was an invention of 'the bureaucratic Petersburg mind' on which the whole phenomenon of Bolshevism could be blamed. On the eve of his departure from Russia most of Berdyaev's key ideas about the country's fate were already formed. This one concerned the harm Russia's modernization would wreak, if guided by 'the bureacuratic Petersburg mind' to follow Europe down a secular, rational and technocratic path.
It is a commonplace of Western political science that Soviet Communism evolved partly as a substitute for and continuation of Russia's traditional collective religosity. The ruthless wielders of political power in twentieth-century Russia, first Lenin then Stalin, derived at least some of their authority from the religious craving of the people for unity and belonging. But as an alternative to these theories, which highlight Russia's unique weaknesses, Berdyaev concentrated instead -- half a century and more ahead of his time -- on what European thinkers after the Second World War would call the danger of 'the Enlightenment project'. In his battle with Bolshevism and with Communism this was the message he repeated over and over, that without a sense of the transcendent it was difficult to see how humanity could remain in touch with its greater aspirations towards spiritual freedom and moral self-determination. Technology, the rise of a world entirely geared to human need, and in which nature appeared to be reduced to a convenience, was for Berdyaev likely to blunt the kind of sensitivity in human beings essential to their refined cultural survival.
And so Berdyaev had a heated exchange with the Losskys about 'the bureaucratic Petersburg mind'.7 To any Russian it would be clear that Berdyaev was referring in part to the city's founder, Peter the Great, who built his stone palaces on the marshy banks of the Gulf of Finland against vast natural odds. The phrase also evoked the spirit of Pushkin's poem 'The Bronze Horseman' which dramatized the struggle of the humble individual against the mighty power of the ruler. One of its subtexts was the moment when the eighteenth-century tsar who opened Russia's window on Europe exposed his people to his 'Enlightenment' experiments with new 'technology'. Pushkin wrote about this fundamental clash of homespun Russian and modernizing Western values in the nineteenth century and Lenin enacted it again with his Soviet experiment in the twentieth. If there was such a thing as 'the bureaucratic Petersburg mind' it evidently spanned three centuries. In each case the problem was a process of Europeanization and rationalization imposed upon formless, suffering, traditional Russia. Lenin stood for reason as a principle of social order, and he stood for technological advance, but both of these worked in opposition to the traditional forces of religion and tradition -- and a perverse kind of goodness.
Watching Berdyaev, with his long hair and hard, bright, visionary eyes, from across the table, Boris Lossky and his elder brother Vladimir, already at university, had their first intellectual taste of 'the magnificent figure of the Moscow oracle' that night. They resisted him, because he was not how they supposed a philosopher should be. A more plausible intellectual model was their father, a Fabian socialist and a Westernizer who loved England.
They considered Russia's recurring struggle between tradition and modernization. What Lenin had introduced to it was the Marxist class war. That was why both these distinguished families were on their way out of Russia. The Losskys were indeed Russian haute bourgeoisie, who led domestic and professional lives on a par with their counterparts in Berlin and Paris and represented a level of civilization the growing Russian metropolitan middle class could be proud of. Theykept a French-speaking maid, Mazyasiya, and a governess for their children. They went to concerts and opera, they travelled, they knew languages and they kept abreast of international developments. Then suddenly, into this almost Proustian world, at a time when Lyudmila Lossky was expecting their fourth child, Leninism broke in. The day Andrei Lossky was born, in May 1917, the family could hear the sound of riderless horses galloping down neighbouring Ivanovskaya Street. The Bolsheviks had attacked and were seizing control of a 'bourgeois' printing press. A group of Cossacks sent to defend the printers was thrown into confusion when the raiders frightened their horses and caused a stampede. The incident was one of a series contrived by the Bolsheviks since the February Revolution to weaken the Provisional government and, coinciding with Lyudmila's confinement, it passed into family legend.
A year later, when the Losskys' ten-year-old daughter Marusya died of diphtheria in one of those outbreaks of disease which seemed already to set the seal on Russia's isolation from the world in 1918, the Losskys began to feel ever more vulnerable. Through 1920 and 1921, at the height of the famine which killed millions on the lower Volga and thousands in the cities, they only survived with the help of food parcels sent by a former Stoyunina pupil who had married in England. (Her name was Natalie Duddington, née Ertal, and she would earn a name as a prolific translator into English of Russian literature and philosophy.) Contact with abroad marked the Losskys out politically while they were still in Russia, but it helped them reshape their later lives. Three-year-old Andrei was so grateful for the gifts of tinned milk delivered to his family via the American Relief Administration (ARA), which was working to ease the Russian famine, that he fell in love with that notional Anglo-Saxon world where the word 'milk' originated and grew up an Anglophile. Meanwhile his father Nikolai wondered already if the family should not emigrate, when, hard on the heels of Civil War and hunger, he had to struggle to come to terms with the cold-blooded murder of several of his close colleagues and their wives, and one of the country's great poets, Nikolai Gumilyov, in the so-calledTagantsev Affair of August 1921. The GPU, still known by its pre-1922 name the Cheka, was growing in notoriety. Nikolai Lossky knew he had to make plans to move abroad even if he was reluctant to act on them.
Berdyaev would never have emigrated, had he not been forced. He identified his whole being with something he felt to be Russian Truth, and for which he needed to be in Russia to contribute. Berdyaev believed in Russian exceptionalism, and in his own. He did not think the Russians were a Western people and hoped the distinction would work to their advantage. As things looked to him in 1922, Russia had not surrendered itself to European civilization and 'the international city'. It still had indigenous culture and religion, and could make a world of its own. Its unique flower was still in the making, and, although the internationalist Bolsheviks were trampling the seeds, Russia was the country where he wanted to be. In fact, Berdyaev agreed with much that had been said by the Austrian theorist of history Oswald Spengler in his recently published Decline of the West,8 that Russia was the rising civilization in Europe, in the latest stage of its history.
The urgency of Berdyaev's desire to rescue Russia from a great mistake made him excited that September night and his voice grew louder. The Bolsheviks were changing the streets, the institutions, the university, the language. They didn't understand the sacredness of traditional life. On the other hand Berdyaev was ready to concede that the Revolution was good for the soul, that people needed shaking up, so he didn't altogether disapprove of the present upheaval, only the prospect of a barbaric outcome. A man waiting for the Russian people to be reborn, he was a fiery type who might have been invented by Dostoevsky. Always fierce, always angry that anyone should doubt he was right, he was a fervent judge of the moral condition of the world.
Lossky, saner, more prosaic, couldn't agree. But at the same time he simply couldn't understand who would want to destroy his way of life. What had the Losskys and their kind done? His boys and their friends, as they inherited the best of what Russia had to offer, helpedfill the world with talk of literature and music and art, and they led gentle lives. What was wrong with that? Another of the men on the boats, the writer Osorgin, would express exactly the same middle-class consternation in a novel he wrote a few years later, depicting the destruction of educated life after the Revolution.
Osorgin's A Quiet Street embodied and memorialized the social capital Bolshevism destroyed. Possibly modelled on the household of another future exile, the Moscow professor Alexander Ugrimov, it makes slightly unreal reading today, despite its realistic portraits of suffering. To its defenders like Osorgin and Lossky, Russia's pre-revolutionary culture was superior because it took the best from Russia and from an older Europe superior to the present. They defended traditional Russian culture despite the Empire's political weaknesses. Their country's unusual place in the world, and in European history, seemed to them a great good, because its ethos was not tainted by a misplaced faith in science and technology to solve every human problem. The most admirable Russian culture, shot through with educated Christian traditions, was still more a matter of idealism than materialism, and that distinguished it from the progressive West.
Lossky loved the culture that was slipping away from him, and he kept hoping to keep it alive. But then he remembered a story his son Boris, Borya, had told him, that one day a servant girl who worked for the family had rounded on them petulantly and retorted: 'All your Pushkin-Lyagushkins! They will go to the devil now, you see.' Boris had a good eye for detail and recalled many things. In his own memoirs he would recall how his parents and the Berdyaevs had supper on that unforgettable evening in September 1922.9
Lenin was an astute, silent presence among the gathered members of the two families. He probably could have traced the shape of the conversation in advance. He knew the intelligentsia he was part of. He knew he would have to bring the key aspects of private life, like the Church, and like the proud, Europeanized identity of St Petersburg, under state control. Russia had a natural maximalism which made itripe for totalitarian control and Lenin felt no hesitation about exploiting that weakness and effectively taking over from God and the tsar, God's representative on earth. God was the people's superstition, their opium, as Marx said. Now Lenin would be their opium. The Russian masses would do as they were told, behave as he wanted them to, because Lenin was in God's place, and the tsar's. It was the intelligentsia that had to be tamed. In 1922 the intelligentsia was the great problem.
One difficulty outsiders always experience in trying to understand Russian history -- and this despite reading Dostoevsky -- is how in the end all individuals seem to be automatically caught up in political and religious conflicts. But commitment had been in the nature of an intelligent Russian life since the early nineteenth century. The moral imperative derived from the idea that no thinking person could be neutral in the face of tsarism. A good man was bound to fight against the autocracy. In the West it was a different, but related, idea that Marx pioneered, that the struggle for a decent life entailed a conflict between the bourgeoisie, which had power and capital, and the proletariat, which did not. As a result, every man either by virtue of his birth or his commitment pursued the interests of one class or the other in everything he did. What marked the last decade of nineteenth-century Russia was how these two ways of thinking coalesced. Every intelligent Russian had a stake in a better future for his country, whether he or she was Marxist or not. Reform was the world Lenin and the expellees shared, and it created the backdrop for the last passionate episode in the life of the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia.
The main reason why Marxism was so popular in university and journalistic circles in 1890s Russia, and why those who would change Russia would be Marxist, was the absence of any other way of thinking likely to bring about long overdue social and political change. The only real alternative, Populism, centred on a romanticized admiration of the peasantry and on Russia's unique social and historical circumstances. Its peaceful and specific nature was widely cherished. But the truth remained that Populism was a sentimental vision without apolitical engine behind it. Marxism was dynamic, global and presented itself as scientific. The theory of peasant socialism was stillborn beside the vigour of Marxist economics. Sergei Bulgakov, Semyon Frank and Pyotr Struve all studied Marxist economics before breaking away.
In truth Berdyaev, Semyon Frank and others around them were always liberals. But their Western-style gradualism, with its eventual target of greater equality and justice for all, had no counterpart in Russia, and for a while they had to call themselves Marxists in the hope of getting something done. Their mature careers took shape around the realization that they would have to find a special Russian way of expressing the core human values upheld in the West by political liberalism. Their language couldn't be Marxist, but what it should be, in order to uphold Russia's peculiar political and moral needs, was never certain. For better, for worse, they chose the language of religion.
All the Russian liberal thinkers wanted reform and welcomed an end to the imperial order by one means or another. Only in philosophy they objected to Marxism's fundamental tenet, materialism, as both uncongenial and un-Russian. When Berdyaev published his first book, in 1900, with a long introduction by Struve, it was to make clear that Russia's social and political reform should be driven by spiritual values. There should be a revolution of the human person before all else. The idealists were distrustful of a materialist theory of history that made individuals less than men of Christian free will.
Berdyaev, Frank and Bulgakov combined aspects of political liberalism, philosophical idealism and socialism in their various ways of thinking. The importance of transcendent moral values made them Christian rather than secular socialists. They were closet liberals but who shared a quest for social justice with Marxism. Before the Revolution Berdyaev and Frank envisaged a very slow unfolding of socialism in Russia. Since that goal was likely to be far in the future, the country's immediate, relatively pleasing prospect was a long period of Russian closeness to the West. On the other hand Russia and the West would never be the same. The thrust of everything Berdyaev,Frank and Bulgakov wrote from the turn of the century reflected a Russia politically compatible but spiritually distinct from Europe.
The religious philosophers were directly opposed to the international, but in effect isolationist, ideology Lenin was trying to impress on the newly awakened Russian people. Party organization and ideology aside, Lenin was their opponent from the moment he published his 'philosophical' position in 1909, when he made clear in Materialism and Empiriocriticism that he hated religion and its preachers. Lenin considered that spokesmen for religion were only one more arm of the 'bourgeoisie' which was anxious the world over to defend its property and financial interests against the proletariat and exploit that propertyless class which had no capital. The 'materialist' Lenin forced a class-war identity on his 'idealist' opponents in philosophy by branding them bourgeois apologists. But in fact Berdyaev and his kind resisted materialist economics because they believed that without religion moral standards were difficult to determine. Lack of concern with morality was a weakness of Marxism. There was nothing in Marxist materialism which guaranteed universally, regardless of social class, the sanctity of the individual. That was what made them anti-Marxists above all.
The two sides were competing on different planes. They had a conflicting idea of what philosophy and politics were about. Lenin's instruments were class warfare and historical inevitability, tools borrowed from Marx, combined with his own political machinations and scurrilousness. The idealists by comparison were politically naive, but they had philosophical learning and the history of Christianity and Western mysticism on their side.
For most of the period between 1903 and 1917, when the idealists built up an unprecedented cultural strength and influence, Lenin was in voluntary exile from Russia. When he returned there was bound to be a clash between Lenin, the self-styled Marxist internationalist, and these men of 'the Silver Age', many of whom had mystical visions of modern Russia. The mystical thinkers were teaching at the universities and philosophical-religious institutes and societies, and writing prodigiouslyin the press. They shared with some Marxists a passionate exploration of the philosophy of hope; but their focus was on the hope which underlay centuries of Christianity, not secular egalitarianism. Socialism was mainly a secular political movement in the West, but not so in Russia where Christian socialism was richly represented. The Russian religious idealists encouraged effort and conscience and imagination on an individual basis. With their adaptation of traditional Christian teaching, and also with a spiritual interpretation of land and labour, they aspired to make Russia a moral country, whereas Lenin, by contrast, believed in the 'science' of Marxism to make Russia an efficient, modern industrial society, secular and collective in character. It was in this sense that the two camps clashed -- the religious men with their 'idealism' and Lenin with his 'materialism'.
On the night of 27 September the Losskys and the Berdyaevs ate a meal together, perhaps a zapekanka of baked vegetables and potatoes, plain food for old times' sake, drank their tea and went on talking about these intractable things. As Vissarion Belinsky, literary father of the nation, once said, 'We haven't yet solved the problem of God and you want to eat!' They hadn't yet solved the cultural problem of Bolshevism. How could they stop talking? The most obvious thing about Lenin was the tyranny of vulgarity he was pressing on Russia. He was the latest in a line of crude, violent upstarts in Russian history. He used vulgar language. No one in the history of philosophy had ever expressed himself so bluntly and with such violence. He spoke of religion as getting off on the dead.10 The brutishness of what was being foisted upon educated Russia veered from the painful to the laughable.
Take the way, Lossky said, that they had hounded Kizevetter, whose history lectures were so popular. The Bolsheviks wanted to drive him out of the history faculty, indeed to banish him from the university altogether, so they stencilled a big poster saying 'COMRADES! AS MANY OF YOU SHOULD GO TO BUKHARIN'S LECTURE AS GO TO THE LECTURES OF PROKOPOVICH AND KIZEVETTER!' and hung it at the back of the room.11 Prokopovich, forewarned that he would be banished, had already leftRussia. As for Kizevetter, he was arrested the same night as Lossky and Berdyaev and subjected to a miserable trick. He didn't want to leave Russia, and he was an eminent man, an elder of the academic community, on whom, perhaps, the Bolsheviks should not be seen to be inflicting such a fate. So they waited until he had sold everything, even his apartment, then offered him a reprieve. He could stay in his beloved Russia if he so wished. The sarcasm was typical of the ignorant executives recruited by the political police to carry out operations like the 1922 purge. The truth was Kizevetter could hardly stay in Russia with no job, no possessions and no apartment. The trick reduced him to despair.12
Lyudmila Lossky wondered how Piter struck her guests. Many visitors found the city half-dead in 1922, but Lyudmila felt loyal, and hopeful that the New Economic Policy (NEP) would pay a social dividend. The 'War Communism' which had prevailed until the previous year had almost destroyed the country by freezing commerce with the outside world. But these days things had loosened up to such a degree that the Nevsky Prospekt, the main Petrograd thoroughfare, was being called the NEPsky.13 Thanks to the NEP the trams were running, the shops were full, people had time to stop and talk, it was almost like the old days.
Neither she nor they were quite convinced. Indeed, Lossky reverted to the story of his illness after the appalling Tagantsev Affair, which had deprived him of several of his colleagues. That was when he and Lyudmila had seriously thought of leaving the country as a family. Someone had told them of a trick worth trying. First Nikolai had to escape over the border into Finland alone, then Lyudmila should go down to the morgue and identify some poor tramp as her husband. That done, she would be free to travel with her children abroad without arousing suspicion. But either the scheme didn't sound too convincing or they weren't desperate enough. So instead they hung on to a useful contact abroad in Tomas Masaryk, who had visited them in 1918 and was now the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia.
Masaryk, the author of a vast, unfinished work on the historyof Russian thought, sympathized with the plight of the liberal intelligentsia in Russia, and had offered to make it easy for Lossky to visit the spa of Karlovy Vary for rest and recuperation. So when the GPU called midway through August, and asked Lossky to come down to its headquarters on Gorokhovaya Street, the professor thought it was to pick up his Czechoslovak visa. What a fool he was! No sooner was he down at the GPU office, the counterpart of the Moscow Lubyanka, in fact just around the corner from Kabinetskaya Street, than he found himself arrested. On the other hand the mindset and the modus operandi of the political police, by no means always violent, not even always primitive, was unpredictable. Berdyaev told the story of how he had been arrested in 1920 and interviewed in the Lubyanka by the chairman of the Cheka himself and been treated rather well. Chairman Dzerzhinsky had even listened politely to Berdyaev's lecture on why Communism wouldn't work.
Berdyaev was brave, sighed the Losskys. But lucky too. Everyone these days needed luck, whatever their moral character.
Luggage, Lyudmila began. How did you manage to pack everything? But the Berdyaevs didn't have much between them because in addition to duty being payable on certain items, there were strict regulations governing what they could take out: two complete suits of clothing, plus whatever they travelled in.14 Lenin's victims planned to beat the restrictions by getting on the Haken wearing as many layers as they could manage, with every pocket filled with something or other, and of course wearing a hat. But they could hardly take their books. Also absolutely forbidden were icons, gold and jewels. Berdyaev grew gloomy and wondered how they could survive abroad without broaching the deeply alien activity of 'speculating in stocks and shares'.
He really didn't want to emigrate. One horror in prospect for the moral exiles was to be confused with the decadent émigrés like the conservative poet and mystagogue Dmitry Merezhkovsky and his wife, the poet Zinaida Gippius. Those two, tsarist exiles but supporters of the White cause in the Civil War, and who had owned a flat in Paris since before the Revolution, were out of a different world, atleast as Berdyaev saw it. Nor could he do anything but argue with Pyotr Struve, who had also fought with the Whites and now lived in Masaryk's Prague. For the left-leaning Berdyaev the proper thing would have been to stay in Russia and battle it out with the Bolsheviks over what Communism really meant. His politics were a shade of red, full of contempt for the bourgeois materialist West, and therefore they should let him stay. But with a mixture of self-importance and resignation he recited what they told him down at the Lubyanka. 'They hope in the Kremlin that when you find yourself in Western Europe you will understand on which side justice lies.'15 The Bolsheviks believed they were teaching the dissenting intelligentsia a lesson. The expulsions had something to do with that.
Berdyaev didn't like being taught a lesson and was already working out how he would retaliate. He would found a journal, and an academy abroad. He would set up a rival Russia to question every Bolshevik move. And when the Leninists died of their own poison the exiles would be on hand to restore true Russian culture. Emotionally Berdyaev and his idealist colleagues would take the spirit of Russia with them in their suitcases. No customs man could ask them for a receipt for that. Nor stop them. They would take with them the invisible and the ineffable essence of Russia and preserve it for eternity.
Privately, Berdyaev was a troubled man. His mother had suffered from liver disease during his childhood and her cries of pain at night had left him traumatized. He was a disturbed adult, who, with the addition of further unknown psychic ingredients, could seem possessed. He was like one who held the clue to a transfigured world no one else could inspect. With his consciousness pre-secular and bizarre, he was, in his way, a prime symbol of the mystical world the 'rational' Lenin wanted to banish. Moreover he had an unfortunate tic, which gave him the appearance of a Dostoevskian epileptic.

We wanted to shake hands with him, when he suddenly lurched to the right and thrust out his palm as if to push us away. First his mouth opened like the jaws of a lion and his tongue hung out, thenfor five to ten seconds he struggled with himself, making something like hypnotic movements with his hands, pointing his fingers, as if trying to chase the tongue back into its proper position.16
Boris Lossky also remembered that once a young woman came to his father, asking how to defend herself from the harmful rays emanating from the Berdyaev spirit. She said they had entered her like the devil. This was the kind of case that Freud studied in his day, and which he wrote up as the case of the deeply troubled, indeed insane, Dr Schreber. Somehow Berdyaev's tic expressed everything that was wild, woolly, neo-medieval and deeply inconvenient about his religion of creativity. And still his way of thinking had some merit because it embraced imagination and freedom.
The problem with appraising what Russia was losing or gaining by expelling Berdyaev was almost the whole problem of what modern Russia should become. It had both positive and negative sides. As Freud showed, in the days when some degree of religious or mystical thinking was second nature to most people at the end of the nineteenth century, the morbid imagination tended to conjure up wild spiritual-erotic scenarios to explain the 'truth' of existence. Perhaps Berdyaev's talk of creativity and the divine amounted to no more than that. Perhaps it was perverted because born of a politically frustrated culture, as well of a sexually frustrated man. Yet in despotic Russia, as Dostoevsky knew, it was the disturbed man who spoke out for the sacredness of the person. Berdyaev had huge weaknesses. His writing style was prolix and his philosophy was not an argument but a statement of belief. His gift was not analytical. Freud and Lenin -- with Nietzsche and Marx four of the half-dozen great architects of the twentieth century -- were properly Berdyaev's enemies (though he had a great admiration for his own version of Nietzsche). Still Berdyaev spoke for something decent and good, at once radically modern and medieval, and he was wise about Russia. He knew the country could not give up its Christian hope, and its mysticism, without risking losing its humanity altogether.
Left alone in Lossky's study Berdyaev ran his eyes over the rows of fine Russian volumes on the shelves: Igor Grabar on the history of art, the Wanderer painters, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, the latest history by Ivanov-Razumnik. In his diary he wrote with a typical excess of words: 'Now that the moment comes to take leave of my country ... the experience is more agonizing than I would myself ever have thought possible.'17 What is to become of Russia? Supposing Spengler got it right when he said that historical fate, the fate of a culture, exists only in the sense that fate exists for a flower. If this is true then what we in Russia are losing is not even tragic, it is simply over. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Berdyaev had a seizure in the night which made him cry out. The maid Mazyasiya sleeping next door had a terrible night. 'He's a monster, madame. You should have heard him shouting. I could hear these cries of "No! No!" I thought someone was being murdered. I'll never sleep next to him again. Never! If he stays, I'm leaving. S'il reste, je pars. Tant pis!'18 But, since they were all going, it didn't really matter.
And so the time came. At two in the afternoon on 28 September, in accordance with the Russian custom governing all departures from home, the Losskys and the Berdyaevs sat for a moment and collected their spirits. The two wives said prayers, Lyudmila almost silently, Lidiya ostentatiously crossing herself. Then the large party went downstairs -- five flights -- to where three droshkys were waiting, and left in convoy for the Kronshtadt pier.
LENIN'S PRIVATE WAR. Copyright © 2006 by Lesley Chamberlain. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     ix
Acknowledgements     xi
A Note on Translation     xii
A Note on Transliteration     xii
Introduction     1
Part I
The Night Before     13
The Paper Civil War     34
The Janus Year     77
Arrest and Interrogation     100
Journey into Exile     131
Part II
Joining the Emigration     173
Prague     187
Berlin     204
Paris     230
Ending Up     255
Part III
The Sense of What Happened     265
GPU Report on the Arrests of 16/17 August 1922     299
The Lists of Deportees from Moscow and Petrograd     305
The Lives     313
Notes     330
Bibliography     378
Index     388
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