The Phantom of Intelligentsia: Russia and Poland
For a long time the intelligentsia has been considered a specifically East-European phenomenon, particularly Russian and Polish. The concept of intelligentsia as a social group first appeared among the young-Hegelian philosophers in Germany, and then it was transferred through Poland to Russia around the mid-nineteenth century. It has been adopted by the Western-European human sciences only in the late twentieth century, a rare example of the cultural transfer from the East to the West indeed. By that time the intelligentsia had been actually declared dead or declining by East-European intellectuals, writers and social scientists a couple of times. What was so unique about the East-European educated classes? Was it its social mission caused by the relative economic underdevelopment of the region? Or was it its reciprocal hostility towards the state, which made it a source of continuous political unrest? The course will attempt to answer these questions referring to the late nineteenth and twentieth century debates of Russian and Polish intellectuals: social scientists, writers, journalists and, last but not least, politicians. The texts will be discussed in their historical and political context. The impact of the struggle for the national survival in the epoch of partitions on intelligentsia’s identity will be emphasized in order to revisit the problem of the alleged uniqueness of the Polish case; the cliche of a “superfluous man” and its developments in Russia will be discussed. The ambiguous relationship of intelligentsia to communism, its changing social composition and its attitude toward the other social classes will also be analyzed. Finally, the problem of its alleged decline and death in the age of democracy and market-economy will be considered. The materials analyzed in class will consist of fragments of the literary fiction (beginning with the Romantic poetry and arriving at the contemporary prose), political pamphlets (especially from the period of Positivism and from the communist era), and movies (particularly from the time after the collapse of communism). Students will be encouraged to evaluate the questions of the exceptionality of the Russian and Polish intelligentsia, the credibility of its autostereotype, and the validity of the moral standards advocated by its “prophets”.