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US Intellectuals’ Response To Protests Recalls Russian Intelligentsia’s At End Of Imperial Period – OpEd


The most striking thing that is taking place in the United States today is not the protests themselves but rather the reaction of the American intellectual stratum, Dimmitry Savvin says, because it is reminiscent of nothing so much as that of the Russian intelligentsia to protests at the end of the Imperial period.

“How that ended for the Russian people, Europe, Asia and all humanity,” he says in an article headlined “Is Our Past Your Future?” is something well known to all; but at the same time, he cautions against drawing direct parallels between the two cases because the two countries and their systems are so different (

But despite those differences, the editor of the Riga-based conservative Harbin portal says, there is one worrisome similarity: the moral and ideological-worldview transformation which the American intelligentsia and the students are undergoing are largely identical to the evolution their counterparts in Russia in the last quarter of the 19th century experienced.”

 Despite the stereotypes many share, “in the second half of the 19th century, socialism in Russia was considered the single intellectual mainstream, and Marxism was considered as a more or less obvious scientific truth.” As a result of those view, the universities sen tout several generations of revolutionary Marxists.

Russians on the right pointed to the following characteristics of such people: a sharp reduction in the educational and cultural level, extreme intolerance to those having different views, a willingness to use force against ideological opponents, a rejection of patriotism of any kind, hatred to the Church, an entirely negative view of Russia’s history, and “an absolute faith in the need for revolution.”

Russians with such views left the universities and filled the ranks of the intelligentsia and government officials as well, and both spread mass sympathy for the revolutionaries thus blocking the state, which had sufficient resources to move against the radicals, from taking measures in 1905 and later to prevent disaster, Savvin continues.

There is in this “a Russian lesson for America and Europe,” the Russian conservative argues. There were no objective reasons for a revolution in Russia in 1917, but there was a subjective one, the attitudes of the intellectuals that more or less rapidly spread to the population and that the government failed to counter.

“The revolution became inevitable not because an illiterate peasant from Oryol gubernia demanded a written constitution and a parliament,” the conservative Russian writer says. It “became inevitable because it had taken place long before February 1917 in the consciousness of the elites and the intelligentsia.”

“Those people who were called upon to defend the state themselves did not believe in its successor and thought they were defending something unjust. They had everything needed [to protect the state] but there was no will for struggle and as a result of this ideological and moral capitulation, political capitulation inevitably followed.”

“Knowing about this, it impossible [for a Russian] not to notice the obvious parallels to what has been happening in the United States,” Savvin suggests. The progressives of the 19th century and the progressives of the US now resemble one another, and those who were prepared to stand up to them were groups that in some cases have made things worse.

As a result, the moderates yielded and are yielding to the radicals because they find it impossible not to associate with their ideas and equally impossible to defend a political and social system which they know suffers from real problem.

It is of course not appropriate to be talking about “burying the US.”  Its reserves of firmness will last for a long time and unlike the Russian Empire which depended on the monarchy alone, the US has a whole range of “comparatively  stable political institutions which make the system essentially more stable.”

“But the fact that there is a large reserve of stability does not eliminate the fact that any reserve is by definition limited. And what is most important, a revolution which takes place in social consciousness easily paralyzes any, even the most reliable and effective political institutions.” That is a real risk.

What happens depends on the conservative side of the American political spectrum.  Too often the people there are afraid to speak about anything “except lowering taxes;” and those who are associated with them are “radicals and marginals” who promote conspiracy theories and everyday xenophobia.

The only way to overcome this problem is by “an appeal to one’s own traditions which include in legal discourse not only a free market but Christian values, genuine freedom of speech not tied hand and foot by leftist bans on ‘incorrect’ words and thoughts, and the right to preserve one’s own identity, religious, ethnic and cultural.”

Only Americans can answer the question as to how they can move in those directions, Savvin says.  If they come up with effective answers, well and good; but if they don’t, then “the risk that the Russian past will become the American future will become ever more real.”

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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