Irish Crimean: British liberal pseudo-history on Bolshevism


September 18, 2017 – Fort Russ News – 

Op-ed by Padraig Joseph McGrath – “The Irish Crimean”

A few months ago, a Moscow friend of mine brought me Lesley Chamberlain’s 2006 book “The Philosophy Steamer: Lenin and the Exile of the Intelligentsia.” He knew that I’d enjoy it for ironic reasons, and indeed I did . 

A pretty typical British liberal pseudo-historian selling the usual propaganda. Oh, the Bolsheviks were such uncultured beasts – they had no appreciation for the finer things in life.

Oh yes, how sapiophobic the Bolsheviks were.

At one point, Chamberlain argues that the Bolsheviks, by removing the liberal intelligentsia, were guilty of the programmatic “lumpenization” of Russian society.

This line of argumentation left me quite aghast. So, during the Tsarist period, literacy was about 20%, and by 1930, literacy in the Soviet Union was over 90%. By the late 1920’s, working-class people were going to university for the first time. Is this what Lesley Chamberlain means by “lumpenization?”

Chamberlain goes to extreme lengths to lionize liberal intellectuals such as Berdyaev and Lossky. Oh, the Bolsheviks victimized them so horribly, blah blah blah…. They were such humane, civilized, learned men – they believed in gradual social reform. In other words, they were well-intentioned, idealistic liberal idiots, Lesley.

We still have these kinds of well-intentioned liberal idiots in Russia. Most Russian liberals are just cynical and outrageously corrupt, like liberals everywhere else, but there are still a few well-intentioned idiots, the ones who don’t realize that hypocrisy is the lubricant that necessarily makes the liberal machine tick. Gorbachev was one of those well-intentioned idiots, at least initially.

Two interconnected points which I found particularly amusing about Lesley Chamberlain’s book were:

1. Her insistence that intellectuals like Berdyaev and Lossky were never replaced – that they were a permanent, detrimental loss to Russian culture and society.

Of course, of course, Lesley, because even if you send the ordinary lumpen folk to university, they still won’t be capable of intellectual work – they just won’t be up to it. To be capable of intellectual work, you have to be bourgeois, right?


2. In her hagiographies of Berdyaev and Lossky, Chamberlain still manages to portray them as insufferably haute-bourgeois, and she appears not to realize just how unattractive this makes them. In Chamberlain’s account, people like Berdyaev and Lossky saw themselves as the natural intellectual leadership of Russian society. The hilarious thing is that, while Chamberlain is characterizing Berdyaev and Lossky in this way, she can’t see anything wrong with this assumption – she seems to simply take it for granted that bourgeois intellectuals such as Berdyaev and Lossky should have been deferred to as the natural intellectual leadership of Russian society.

That’s when I fell on the floor laughing.

So I’m grateful to my Moscow friend – that book had immense comedy-value. This is what happens when an English bourgeois pseudo-historian with no self-awareness writes a hagiography of Russian bourgeois intellectuals, who also appear not to have had very much self-awareness. 

But maybe I’m just shooting fish in a barrel – everything about this author’s prose and analysis just screams “lightweight.”

Padraig McGrath was born in the Republic of Ireland in 1973. He has lived in Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, and has published journalism and commentary on social and philosophical issues for a number of media for 15 years. He moved to Simferopol, Crimea in December 2013, 3 months before Crimea’s re-unification with Russia, and still lives there.

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