Initially Marxism was pursued in Russia as an extreme form of Westernism (the doctrine of applying the Western society principles to the development of Russia). The first generations of Russian Marxists fought and undermined all outdated principles of pro-revolution intelligentsia, such as its "populists" movement (intelligentsia's making unity with common people by living and working alongside with them). Russian Marxists hoped industrial development of Russia will result in liberation, the idea not accepted by "populists". Development of industry under capitalism was supposed to establish and develop the working class, which is the future liberator. For this reason, Marxists supported the idea of turning peasants into industrial workers – proletariat, yet "populists" opposed it. Marxists believed they found a genuine social basis for revolutionary struggle for liberation. They said the only social force they could count on is proletariat. The revolutionary character should be developed in this social class. Revolutionaries should not address peasants who rejected their ideas, but go to factories and speak with workers. Marxists in Russia were pragmatists because they lived under conditions of establishing capitalism in the country. The first Russian Marxists wanted to lean for the objective laws of society and economics, they did not believe in the role of personality in history.
Marxists attacked in contempt the Utopian socialist ideas of "populists". While the character type of a Russian revolutionary "populist" was emotional, a Russian Marxists was of an intellectual type. Because of the conditions in Russia which resulted in spreading of Marxism, Russian Marxists emphasized the elements of determinism and evolution in Marx's doctrine. They argued with the Utopist ideas, hated day-dreaming and were proud that they were able to discover the truth of scientific socialism which guarantees them victory founded on the objective laws of the society. The economic necessity and laws of the society development will result in establishing Socialism, Russian Marxists believed. They liked to speak about the development of producing forces which were their main hope. They were interested not only in Russia economic development as the positive purpose and good, but also in establishing the instrument for revolutionary struggle. These were the principles of the revolutionaries' psychology.
One could think the purposes of Russian revolution oriented intelligentsia stayed the same as they used to be. However, it obtained a new instrument for struggle, new ground under its feet.
Marxism was a more complex intellectual theory than the ones revolutionary intelligentsia used before and demanded more mental work. Marxism was considered to be a revolutionary instrument, primarily as the instrument of struggle against old doctrines which proved not to be practical. Marxists opposed the tactic of terrorism and therefore at the beginning made the impression of less radical and fierce revolutionaries than socialists-populists (or socialists-revolutionaries as they called themselves later) being involved in terrorist acts. But it was the wrong perception, although even the police was misled by it. Russian Marxism arising was a serious crisis for Russian intelligentsia and undermined the foundations of its philosophy. Other doctrines resulted from Marxism were developed.
One should understand the key idea of Marxism and its duality to understand the other Russian doctrines resulted from it. Revolution was religion and philosophy, not just struggle in social and political life. There was a need of Russian Marxism corresponded with this philosophy of revolution and its totalitarian outlook. Lenin and Bolsheviks fit it. Bolshevik characterized himself as the only orthodox (totalitarian) integral Marxist, he did not accept division of Marxist outlook into parts and taking a certain part from it. In fact, this "orthodox" Marxism was Marxism transformed in Russia which primarily accepted the Messianic, mythological and religious sides of Marxism which caused the exaltation of the revolutionary will and put forward the revolutionary struggle of proletariat under the leadership of the organized small fraction of society inspired by the elaborated proletarian idea. Russians did not pay much attention to Marxism's determinism, its evolutionary and scientific sides.
This orthodox totalitarian Marxism has always requested holding materialist beliefs and at the same time had strong elements of idealism. It showed how powerful the idea can be in human's life if the idea is total and corresponds with the people's instincts. In Bolshevism Marxism proletariat stopped being considered as an empirical reality, in this capacity proletariat had no meaning for Russian Marxists. It meant the idea of proletariat, and this idea could be implemented into life by a small fraction of society. If this small fraction is completely absorbed in the titanic idea of proletariat and the fraction members' revolutionary will is exalted, if the fraction is well-organized and disciplined, it can make wonders and change the determinism of the society laws. Lenin proved in practice that this is possible. He made revolution in the name of Marx, but not according to Marx.
The communist revolution in Russia was made in the name of totalitarian Marxism being the religion of proletariat, but despite all Marx said about the development of human societies. Revolutionary populists failed but Marxists were able to make revolution resulted in Russia's skipping the stage of capitalism development. The first Russian revolutionaries considered the capitalism stage to be inevitable for society. Skipping capitalism corresponded with the Russian people's instincts and traditions. At that time the illusions of revolutionary populists were rejected, the myth of the people of peasants failed. The people did not accept revolutionary intelligentsia. There was a need of a new myth. It was replaced by the myth about proletariat.
Marxism dissected the idea of the people as one organism into classes having opposing interests. The myth of proletariat was a renewed version of the myth about the Russian people. The Russian people was equalized with proletariat, Russian Messianic ideas were equalized with proletarian Messianic spirit. Soviet Russia of workers and peasants was created where the people-peasants was united with the people-proletariat contrary to Marx's belief that peasants is a reaction-driven class of small bourgeois. Bolshevism was less Utopian and the most realistic theory corresponding perfectly with the situation in Russia in 1917. Bolshevism accepted some genuine Russian traditions, such as Russians' search for universal social truth, which was understood as the extreme, and the Russian methods of using violence in executing power. This was predetermined by all the process of Russian history, and the weakness of the’ creative spiritual forces in Russian society. Communism proved to be inevitable destiny of Russia, spiritual moment in the destiny of the Russian people.
Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948).
From the book "The sources and the idea of Russian Communism" (First was published in 1937 in English).
Translated by Andrei Nesterov