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Lesley Chamberlain, The Philosophy Steamer: Lenin and the Exile of the Intelligentsia.

Lesley Chamberlain, The Philosophy Steamer: Lenin and the Exile of the Intelligentsia. 414 pp. London: Atlantic Books, 2006. ISBN 1843540401. 25.00 [pounds sterling].

S. L. Frank, Saratovskii tekst [Saratov Text], ed. A. A. Gaponenkov and E. P. Nikkina. 285 pp. Saratov: Izdatel'stvo Saratovskogo universiteta, 2006. ISBN 5292035076.

Paul Gundersen, Paul Nicolay of Monrepos: A European with a Difference. 2nd rev. ed. 76 pp. Helsinki: Nekyme Publishers, 2004. ISBN 9519058109. 5.00 [euro].

The discovery in Saratov of Semen Frank's diary for the first hall of 1902 is a major event for scholars interested in the life and work of this Russian philosopher. Frank was dean of humanities at Saratov University during the Civil War, and he likely left the diary behind when moving to Moscow in 1921. The very survival of the manuscript is remarkable. (1) The text of the diary, along with a number of other unpublished items by Frank and his wife, Tat'iana, appears in Saratovskii tekst, a volume expertly compiled and annotated by A. A. Gaponenkov and E. P. Nikitina and published by Saratov University Press.: The book adds to the growing body of writings by Frank that is in the public domain and reflects the increasing Russian interest in Frank. (3)

Frank's 1902 diary is important because it provides a window onto a crucial moment in his life. Frank's phase as a Marxist, as both an activist and a thinker (one of the so-called "Legal Marxists"), was over. He had recently returned to Russia from Germany, where he had spent two years following his expulsion from Moscow University for his involvement in the university unrest of 1899. After completing his degree at Kazan University, he spent the winter of 1901-2 in Yalta, where most of the diary entries were written. At that time he chanced upon a copy of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, which affected him profoundly, and had some kind of spiritual experience that, he later recalled, altered the direction of his life: "The foundation of my spiritual being was set in place or, rather, consciously revealed itself to me ih the winter of 1901-2." (4) It was a turning point, then, in his journey toward idealism, neo-Platonism, and Christianity.

The diary indicates that Frank was in a very unhappy state: he was burdened by loneliness and longed for a friend to whom he could unburden himself; he was troubled by an affair he was having with the wife of a close friend, Fania El'iashevich, that was to last up until his engagement to Tat'iana in 1907; and more generally, he felt that his life had no direction or meaning. In the first entry, on 31 December 1901, Frank observed that he had often lost courage and a sense of meaning in his life, and that unless he gathered all his strength he would perish. The diary was evidently his way of trying to get a grip on himself. Full of insecurity, he repeatedly turned to literary sources to try to make sense of his suffering; for example, the diary opens with a quotation from Pushkin's "Elegy" (1830) that includes the line, "I want to live in order to think and suffer" (31). Yet at the time it all seemed to no avail. In the last entry, written in Berdiansk on 23 June, Frank lamented that he felt no better than he did at the beginning of writing the diary, and indeed that he was worse off, since he was now nearer the grave (83). It was only later that Frank came to believe that an important change had taken place in his life at this time.

In view of the fact that a few years later Frank turned to metaphysics, and then to religion, as a way out of his difficulties, it is noteworthy that at this point he firmly rejected metaphysics. He suspected that the growing metaphysical interests of Petr Struve and Nikolai Berdiaev were not intellectually serious. (5) He declared, "They want metaphysics, and say: let us start believing in it"; and he asserted that if, facing death, he was agitated by the idea of destruction, he would take bromide or try to forget himself but would not begin to believe in "old women's tales." Frank preferred a reasonable life to a happy death. These points were refined some weeks later when he wrote that he endorsed metaphysics as an experience bur rejected it as an object of thought; it was not possible to prove the existence of such things as God or the objective moral law, and it was an error of philosophers, from Kant through Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, to try to do so (37, 70).

There was an element of what could be called either individualistic self-assertion or juvenile self-indulgence in the diary. In a paragraph talking about people who had risen "above the crowd," and referring to Christ and Socrates, Frank mentioned that open conversation with himself was his "only comfort," and that he himself belonged to the rank of "great people" (krupnye liudi [67]). Doubtless it was this element in his character that found solace in the teachings of Nietzsche. Nietzsche legitimized Frank's need, clearly evident from the diary, to assert his individuality. At the same time, he also spoke to his desire to find a moral code that was not religious. Certainly the quest for a philosophy that combined individualism with ethics was the central focus of "Fr. Nitsshe i etika 'liubvi k dal'nemu'" (Friedrich Nietzsche and the Ethic of "Love for the Faraway"), Frank's essay in the important volume Problemy idealizma (1902). (6) The diary does not in fact contain much new material on Nietzsche, but what there is brings out the depth of Frank's response to him. He wrote of the German philosopher, "Great Nietzsche, my only friend, teacher of all lonely, poor, and striving people! I bow before your shadow," describing him as an "inexhaustible spring of boldness and of a deeply noble, pure, and moral self-perfection" (40-41).

Although Frank's spiritual experience of the winter of 1902 did not involve a Christian conversion in any way, it legitimized his interest in developing his inner life, and in this sense helped pave the way for his conversion to Orthodoxy in 1912. Frank's faith was hard-won. The conversion itself was made more difficult by the fact that Frank had been born into a Jewish family, although he said later that his Christianity was a natural development from the religious life of his childhood. In subsequent years, his philosophy increasingly reflected Christian themes, but the grain of melancholy that was already evident in his diary never disappeared. Frank's half-brother, Lev Zak, once suggested that Frank's mind was permeated by the pessimism of classical Greek thought, and that it was only in the last weeks of his life in 1950, when he was very ill, that he discovered a profounder, and indeed more Christian aspect to his faith. (7)

Frank's religious outlook and journey were very much intellectual ones. A different type of faith can be found in the example of Baron Paul Nikolay (1860-1919). Nikolay, who came from a distinguished aristocratic family, studied law ar St. Petersburg University before working in the chancellery of the Senate. In 1889, he attended the evangelical Keswick Convention in Britain, where he met the peer Lord Radstock, who was influential in Russian aristocratic circles, and had a life-changing Christian experience. In 1899, he left his job in the Senate to engage in full-time religious work. Eventually, he became the Russian leader of the World Student Christian Federation, an organization headed by the American evangelist and ecumenical pioneer John R. Mott, who was also general secretary of the American YMCA from 1915 to 1928. Much of Nikolay's work was run from the Monrepos estate, the family home on the Gulf of Finland that had been acquired in 1788 by Nikolay's great-grandfather Ludwig, who was at one point tutor of Tsar Paul. There have been four previous biographies of Nikolay, none of them in English and the last of them in 1950, so Paul Gundersen's Paul Nikolay of Monrepos: A European with a Difference is the first proper introduction of Nikolay to the English-speaking reader. The book is not an academic study but a spiritual portrait that argues for the enduring relevance of Nikolay's experience and insights.

Nikolay comes across as a dedicated person, with an impressive social outreach. For example, in the years 1896-1908 he visited more than 20 prison towns in Russia to meet prisoners and deported people, seeking everywhere to have personal evangelistic talks, as well as sometimes speaking to larger groups. Gundersen suggests that he had the "sense of strategy of a reformer." The main focus of his work soon became the universities, where he became the undisputed leader of the Christian student world of Russia and Eastern Europe (7, 29). Like Frank, Nikolay had a deep respect for the individual. Talking about each person's unique calling, he used to say, "I want originals, not copies" (33).

It is perhaps not surprising that Nikolay's Christianity was different from the religion of philosophers like Frank and Berdiaev. Like many evangelicals, Nikolay was suspicious of intellectualism. Nikolay, we are told, "avoided professional theologians who lacked an experience of the heart." At the same time, Nikolay was suspicious of emotionalism in religion, believing that the faith of people who were guided by their feelings often fell away when hardships came. Faith needed to be rooted ih a strong moral framework and fed by regular times of morning prayer and quiet (33-37). Nikolay was also able to appeal to students with philosophical minds. Vladimir Martsinkovskii (1884-1971), who publicly defended religion against Commissar of Enlightenment Anatolii Lunacharskii after the Revolution, found his faith through the influence of Nikolay while studying in the History-Philology Faculty at St. Petersburg University in 1904. Nine years later, after working for some time as a Russian language teacher, he abandoned his career--like Nikolay, for full-time religious work among students. In 1919-21, he lectured in ethics at Samara University, attracting much attention for arguing for the inseparability of ethics from the idea of God. (8)

The evangelistic activity of Nikolay and Martsinkovskii, which attracted many adherents, was often focused more on engaging the will than appealing to the intellect, and in this they differed from Frank and Berdiaev. Yet there was also common ground between these streams. The fact that Nikolay, a Lutheran, and Martsinkovskii, an Orthodox, could work closely together testified to the ecumenical outlook that their religious movement represented, and in this they were close to the two philosophers, whose thinking was also nondenominational. Ih emigration, these religious streams converged. When Frank and Berdiaev arrived ih Berlin ih 1922, following their exile on the "Philosophy Steamer," it was Mott's YMCA that gave funding for the foundation of their Religious--Philosophical Academy. Martsinkovskii, who was expelled from Russia in April 1923, was part of the same wave of forced emigration. Nikolay remained in Russia, with large numbers attending his funeral after he died at Monrepos ih 1919.

Lenin was always fiercely opposed to ideas that contained a religious dimension, and he believed that political control was impossible without the consolidation of cultural and intellectual power; the universities, which were the home of the religious--philosophical intelligentsia, had to be brought into line. In this context, the decision to send men like Frank, Berdiaev, and Martsinkovskii into exile was not surprising. At the same time, their departure was also a turning-point ih Soviet history. Stuart Fiukel, the author of a forthcoming monograph on the events of 1922, has noted that the expulsion of the philosophers, along with the formation of Glavlit and the expansion of the security apparatus for monitoring intellectuals, significantly altered the relationship between the Soviet state and the intelligentsia; henceforth the regime refused to tolerate a more liberal concept of the public intellectual sphere. (9) Ironically, Lenin probably saved the lives of the exiles, since they might well have perished under Stalin. More than that, he gave them a chance to continue to write and publish ina way that would have been impossible if they had remained ih Russia. Most of Frank's greatest works, for example Nepostizhimoe (The Unfathomable [1939]), Svet vo t'me (Light ih the Darkness [1949]) and Real'nost'i chelovek (Reality and Man [1956], published posthumously), were written in emigration.

The story of the departure from Soviet Russia of Frank, Berdiaev, and others by boat ih the autumn of 1922 is the focus of Lesley Chamberlain's well-written The Philosophy Steamer, the first book-length account of this episode to appear in English. (10) An ambitious work, Chamberlain's book is also an attempt to draw some larger conclusions about the meaning of the expulsions in Soviet and 20th-century European history. In her introduction, Chamberlain asserts that the subject of the Philosophy Steamer has been neglected by Western historians because many of them discreetly sympathize with Lenin's secularist rationale for the expulsions: in their view, men like Frank and Berdiaev did indeed represent a harmful mysticism that was a threat to Russia's advance to modernity. This secularist assumption, she suggests, fails to address the fact that whereas ih the West in the 20th century liberal values could stand without a belief in God, in Russia, because of the country's autocratic political traditions, these values had no ground of their own to stand on and needed to be defended by religion (8, 272). Chamberlain also posits the intriguing idea that Lenin's moral vision was less unique than is often assumed; his choices were replicated by tendencies in the West. Noting that Lenin "banished the inner man," she states that Western thought also followed an "atheist, rational, and anti-inward course" in the 20rh century (276, 279).

While thought-provoking, Chamberlain's arguments are not without their difficulties. In seeking to reclaim the significance of the Russian philosophers, she does not point to their actual philosophy. In defending their religion not on the grounds that it contained important truths but that it offered a Russian way into liberalism, she undermines their significance as thinkers. Ih another account of Russian philosophical thought, Motherland (2004), Chamberlain states that the Russian religious philosophers "represented no way to build a modern state," but she nevertheless notes that their "function" ih Russia was vital because they gave Russia a form of checks and balances. The argument seems to be that they should be taken seriously because they were dissenters of a sort. Nevertheless, she dismisses their ideas as "retrograde pseudo-philosophy, the unhappy casualty of a century of repression." (11)

At the same time, Chamberlain's own philosophical position is confusing. On religion, she herself endorses Lenin's view that the modern world does not need religion to make it a decent place. She also says, however, that there is a need for guidance from a source outside ourselves, and suggests--rather lamely--that our only hope is to trust in our own discrimination, while at the same time stating that our capacity to discriminate can also be manipulated. Here, she says, the Russians had an advantage: "The idealists didn't succumb to these terrible post-modern, post-rational problems because they thought a Christian education taught the right kind of discrimination" (8, 271). She perhaps acknowledges the uncertainty at the heart of her own thinking when she states, at the end of Motherland, "[Russia] exists on the edge of a Western culture where we too no longer live in the centre." (12)

For all their so-called backwardness, the Russian religious philosophers were asking very modern questions, and their ideas will likely have an enduring appeal to anyone who believes ina modernity that involves some combination of faith and reason, religion and humanism. Yet it is also true that the religion of men like Frank and Berdiaev lacked the sense of strategy and practical engagement with social issues that Nikolay, for example, had. The religious streams represented by Frank and Nikolay--the philosophical and the more social and evangelistic--could have complemented each other well. Unfortunately--if you regret Russia's turning away from faith--their convergence was too late, or too slight a thing to take Russia down a different road.

School of History

University of Kent

Rutherford College

Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NX

United Kingdom

(1) See E. P. Nikitina, "Istoriia odnoi 'Tetradi,'" in S. L. Frank, Saratovskii tekst, 16-28.

(2) As well as the diary, the book contains a manuscript with a course of lectures on German idealism from Kant to Schopenhauer, dated to roughly 1910-11, a lecture/summary of lectures on the essence of art, written no earlier than 1910, some other short philosophical notes by Frank, and two sets of reminiscences by Tat'iana Frank, as well as a transcript of an interview she gave in 1976 (Saratovskii tekst, 112-234).

(3) Another important collection of documents by Frank is Neprochitannoe: Stat'i, pis'ma, vospominaniia, ed. A. A. Gaponenkov and Iu. P. Senokosov (Moscow: Moskovskaia shkola politicheskikh issledovanii, 2001). New studies of Frank include G. E. Aliaev, Filosofskii universum S. L. Franka (Kiev: Parapan, 2002), in Ukrainian; and Stanislav Nikulin, "S. L. Frank kak istorik russkoi filosofskoi kul'tury" (Candidate of Sciences diss., Moscow State University, 2007).

(4) Frank, "Predsmertnoe," Vestnik "RSKhD," no. 146 (1986): 121.

(5) Berdiaev and Struve were by this time becoming increasingly interested in idealism. Notably, in Subjectivism and Individualism in Social Philosophy (1900), Berdiaev tried to reconcile Marxista with Kantian transcendental categories, and in his lengthy introduction to the same work Struve called for some kind of Christian democratic morality. See Philip Boobbyer, S. L. Frank: The Life and Work of a Russian Philosopher, 1877-1950 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1995), 24.

(6) Boobbyer, S. L. Frank, 26-27.

(7) See ibid., 30, 72, 224.

(8) Dimitry V. Pospielovsky, A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Antireligious Policies (Basingstoke. UK: Macmillan, 1987), 1: 39; Paul Tikhonov, "Paul Nikolay and St. Petersburg University," ih Paul Nikolay of Monrepos and His Relevance Today (Seminar Report) (Helsinki: Nakyma Publishers, 2006), 76.

(9) Stuart Finkel, "Purging the Public Intellectual: The 1922 Expulsions from Soviet Russia," Russian Review 62, 4 (2003): 591,603, 608. Finkel's Ou the Ideological Front: The Russian Intelligentsia and the Making of the Soviet Public Sphere will be published by Yale University Press in late 2007.

(10) For the central Russian work on the subject, see Mikhail Glavatskii, "Filosofikii parakhod". God 1922-i. Istoriograficheskie etiudi (Ekaterinburg: Ural'skii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 2002).

(11) Lesley Chamberlain, Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia (London: Atlantic Books, 2005), 216, 92.

(12) Ibid., 284.
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Title Annotation:Saratov Text; Paul Nicolay of Monrepos: A European with a Difference
Author:Boobbyer, Philip
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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