Intelligentsia as a Liberal Concept in Soviet History, 1945–1991
There was no liberalism as a consistent political and intellectual movement in Soviet history; it was destroyed by the Russian revolution and the Bolshevik terror. During the Cold War scores of Western observers searched for “liberals” in Soviet society. Instead, they found the intelligentsia, which remained—in the period after Stalin’s death—a remarkably tenacious collective subject that embodied real and imagined liberal, as well as socialist, qualities. This chapter explores these main qualities, as well as the structures of Soviet life and experience that maintained them. The core mission of the intelligentsia was to transcend the state and society created under Joseph Stalin to create “socialism with a human face” based on intellectual and cultural freedoms, but without capitalism. In 1968 this concept was smashed by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. It resurfaced in Gorbachev’s perestroika two decades later. The chapter argues that intelligentsia’s aspirations helped Gorbachev’s reforms take a democratic and liberal turn, and perhaps even blocked an authoritarian alternative. At the same time, the beliefs and choices of the Soviet intelligentsia contributed to the rapid collapse of the Soviet economic system and state. Both the intelligentsia and its “liberalism” perished under the rubble.