God Before Food: Philosophy, Russian Style

15 08 2007

lenin speech

Carlin Romano in The Chronicle Review

In 1922, a year of living dictatorishly, Lenin devoted astonishing time to handpicking intellectuals to be exiled from Russia. In missives to underlings, including a go-getter named Joseph Stalin, he railed against these “bourgeoisie and their accomplices, the intellectuals, the lackeys of capital, who think they’re the brains of the nation. In fact, they’re not the brains, they’re the shit.” He told Stalin in a note, “We are going to cleanse Russia once and for all.” An earlier Bolshevik poster already showed Lenin sweeping enemies from the globe over the caption, “Comrade Lenin cleanses the filth from the land.”

Lenin altered the law to permit external exile of the regime’s purported reactionary foes. That outdid the czars, since the state previously had transported enemies only to Siberia and the like. Lenin also mandated that police shoot exiles on sight if they returned to Russia. But he didn’t want to shoot them right awayWestern opinion still mattered then.

Like so much else horrific in Russian history, the foul strategy came to pass, abetted by Trotsky and others. Eighty-five years ago this month, on August 16 and 17, the regime arrested scores of intellectuals. On two other dates, September 28 and November 16, the GPU (secret police) ushered more than 60 Russian intellectuals and their families onto German cruise ships in St. Petersburg (then Petrograd). The September ship was the Oberbürgermeister Haken, the November ship, the Preussen. Involuntary passengers included the great Christian existentialist Nikolai Berdyaev, the philosophers Semyon Frank and Nikolai Lossky, and the literary critic Yuly Aikhenvald, who had translated Schopenhauer into Russian.

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