The Soviet Mind

The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism

Edited by Henry Hardy
Foreword by Strobe Talbott
Glossary by Helen Rappaport
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 242
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    The Soviet Mind
    Book Description:

    Isaiah Berlin's response to the Soviet Union was central to his identity, both personally and intellectually. Born a Russian subject in Riga in 1909, he spoke Russian as a child and witnessed both revolutions in St. Petersburg in 1917, emigrating to the West in 1921. He first returned to Russia in 1945, when he met the writers Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak. These formative encounters helped shape his later work, especially his defense of political freedom and his studies of pre-Soviet Russian thinkers. Never before collected, Berlin's writings about the USSR include his accounts of his famous meetings with Russian writers shortly after the Second World War; the celebrated 1945 Foreign Office memorandum on the state of the arts under Stalin; his account of Stalin's manipulative 'artificial dialectic'; portraits of Osip Mandel´shtam and Boris Pasternak; his survey of Soviet Russian culture written after a visit in 1956; a postscript stimulated by the events of 1989; and more. This collection includes essays that have never been published before, as well as works that are not widely known because they were published under pseudonyms to protect relatives living in Russia. The contents of this book were discussed at a seminar in Oxford in 2003, held under the auspices of the Brookings Institution. Berlin's editor, Henry Hardy, had prepared the essays for collective publication and here recounts their history. In his foreword, Brookings president Strobe Talbott, an expert on the Soviet Union, relates the essays to Berlin's other work. The Soviet Mind will assume its rightful place among Berlin's works and will prove invaluable for policymakers, students, and those interested in Russian politics, past, present and future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9633-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Strobe Talbott

    Isaiah Berlin believed that ideas matter, not just as products of the intellect but as producers of systems, guides to governance, shapers of policy, inspirations of culture and engines of history. That makes him a figure of iconic importance for the Brookings Institution and others like it in Washington. Whatever their differences, these organisations are dedicated to the importance of ideas in public life. They’re in the business of thinking about the hardest problems facing our society, nation and world – and thinking up solutions. That’s why they’re called think tanks.

    Berlin probably would have had something gently teasing to...

    (pp. xix-xlii)
    Henry Hardy
    (pp. 1-27)

    The Soviet literary scene is a peculiar one, and in order to understand it few analogies from the West are of use. For a variety of causes Russia has in historical times led a life to some degree isolated from the rest of the world, and never formed a genuine part of the Western tradition; indeed her literature has at all times provided evidence of a peculiarly ambivalent attitude with regard to the uneasy relationship between herself and the West, taking the form now of a violent and unsatisfied longing to enter and become part of the main stream of...

    (pp. 28-40)

    The train left Moscow and arrived in Leningrad very punctually, nor was there any obvious NKVD agent in the compartment on either side of ours. No food was served on the way to Leningrad; moderately attractivebelegte Broetchen¹ were offered at the usual fantastic prices on the way back. Tea flowed copiously from the guard’s samovar during both journeys. Everyone was polite and well behaved; we were not accosted by tipsy Soviet colonels.

    The centre of Leningrad shows virtually no destruction, and the restoration and renovation of public buildings, to which much attention has been devoted, seems now to be...

    (pp. 41-52)

    Osip Emilievich Mandelʹshtam was born in St Petersburg in 1891 and died in a Soviet prison camp. He belonged to a generation of Russian writers who revolted against the unbridled mysticism, the self-dramatising metaphysical dreams, and the conscious ‘decadence’ of the Russian Symbolist writers. Their master was the remarkable and still under-valued poet Innokenty Annensky, the withdrawn fastidious classical schoolmaster who taught Greek in the famous Lycée in Tsarskoe Selo. An absorbed and patient craftsman, remote from the political passions of his day, austere, aesthetic, and contemplative, Annensky was a preserver and re-creator of what, for want of a better...

    (pp. 53-84)

    In the summer of 1945 the British Embassy in Moscow reported that it was short-handed, especially in the matter of officials who knew Russian, and it was suggested that I might fill a gap for four or five months. I accepted this offer eagerly, mainly, I must admit, because of my great desire to learn about the condition of Russian literature and art, about which relatively little was known in the West at that time. I knew something, of course, of what had happened to Russian writers and artists in the 1920s and ’30s. The Revolution had stimulated a great...

    (pp. 85-89)

    Boris Leonidovich Pasternak is the greatest Russian writer of our day. No one, not even his bitterest political or personal critics, has dared to deny that he is a lyrical poet of genius whose verse has achieved immortality in his own lifetime, and whose unique position in Russian literature the verdict of posterity is unlikely to alter. The publication abroad of his novelDoctor Zhivagohas brought him world-wide fame such as no Russian writer since Gorky has enjoyed. Like Gorky (with whom he otherwise has little in common) he accepted the Revolution. Unlike Gorky and other gifted writers of...

    (pp. 90-97)

    Since my qualifications for speaking on the Soviet Union are nothing more than a knowledge of the language, and a period of four months¹ spent in Russia, mine are fugitive impressions only. I have used the word ‘insulate’ rather than ‘isolate’ because, while ‘isolationist’ correctly describes that section of American opinion which desires to dissociate itself entirely from the outside world, this is not Russia’s attitude. She is ready to take a part in international relations, but she prefers other countries to abstain from taking an interest in her affairs: that is to say, to insulate herself from the rest...

  11. THE ARTIFICIAL DIALECTIC: Generalissimo Stalin and the Art of Government
    (pp. 98-118)

    We are living in an age when the social sciences claim to be able to predict more and more accurately the behaviour of groups and individuals, rulers and ruled. It is strange, then, to find that one of the political processes which still causes the greatest perplexity is to be found not in some unexplored realm of nature, nor in the obscure depths of the individual soul, intractable to psychological analysis, but in a sphere apparently dominated by iron laws of reason, from which, supposedly, the influence of random factors, human whims, unpredictable waves of emotion, spontaneity, irresponsibility, anything tending...

    (pp. 119-129)

    I spent four months in Moscow towards the end of 1945 and returned after eleven years’ absence, in August 1956. The changes which I found, although considerable, did not seem to me to be as far-reaching or radical as the reports of some Western observers had led one to believe. During my relatively short stay¹ I had less opportunity of observing either institutions or individuals than in 1945, and the impressions which follow are therefore inevitably somewhat more superficial.

    I entered the USSR via Leningrad, which physically has vastly improved since the immediate post-war days of 1945. The streets were...

    (pp. 130-165)

    One of the most arresting characteristics of modern Russian culture is its acute self-consciousness. There has surely never been a society more deeply and exclusively preoccupied with itself, its own nature and destiny. From the 1830s until our own day the subject of almost all critical and imaginative writing in Russia is Russia. The great novelists, and a good many minor novelists too, as well as the vast majority of the characters in Russian novels, are continuously concerned not merely with their purposes as human beings or members of families or classes or professions, but with their condition or mission...

    (pp. 166-170)

    You ask me for a response to the events in Europe. I have nothing new to say: my reactions are similar to those of virtually everyone I know, or know of – astonishment, exhilaration, happiness. When men and women imprisoned for a long time by oppressive and brutal regimes are able to break free, at any rate from some of their chains, and after many years know even the beginnings of genuine freedom, how can anyone with the smallest spark of human feeling not be profoundly moved?

    One can only add, as Madame Bonaparte said when congratulated on the historically...

    (pp. 171-228)
    Helen Rappaport
    (pp. 229-234)
    H. H.
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 235-246)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)