What follows are the first two paragraphs of this academic article (sans footnotes), which is part of the Russia’s Great War and Revolution Project and published in Russian Culture in War and Revolution, 1914-1922, Book 2: Political Culture, Identities, Mentalities, and Memory. Ed. Murray Frame, et al. Russia’s Great War & Revolution, 1914-1922. Bloomington: Slavica, 2014, 199-220. To see the rest of the article, download the PDF below.
The concern with a religious society that Bulgakov identified in Russian thought penetrated well beyond the strand of Christian philosophy he represented—a strand that was nevertheless prominent and influential in Russia’s Silver Age (c. 1890–1920) of cultural efflorescence, and that remained so in the Russian emigration. The problem is arguably inherent to Marxism-Leninism, which Bulgakov and other opponents of the Bolsheviks cast as an ersatz religion of this-worldly eschatology—a fruitful line of thinking that has been pursued and debated in later scholarship. And in the early 1920s the Bolsheviks still tolerated, however uneasily, a “God-Building” strain of Marxism that sought to make the socialist project explicitly into a religion of humanity.
Meanwhile, many of late imperial Russia’s leading philosophers and public intellectuals had spent the years between the revolution of 1905–07 and the final Bolshevik triumph in the Russian Civil War becoming increasingly reticent toward revolution and urgently trying to cultivate a religious Russian national identity as the basis for unity and future development. The experience of living with and through this failed idealist social project is the tragic human story this article attempts to convey as it examines Russian philosophy in war and revolution. For many Russian idealists, including Bulgakov, this story ends with expulsion from the nascent Soviet Union in a handful of deportations that have come to be referred to collectively as “the Philosophers’ Steamboat.”