Around the time of the burgeoning revolutionary government and consciousness in Russia, four thinkers contributed to a debate on culture, religion, art, and the state. In their works, Blok, Lunacharsky, Gershenzon, and Ivanov, all put forth their views on the role of the state and the proletariat, on the role of values, and, to an extent, on the problem of the role of the intelligentsia in the new culture. The problems that arose during the transition period surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 were problems of integration: how to integrate old values with the new, and what the role of various sectors of society would be under the new government. The various ideas put forth about "culture" helped to shape the new state and lead Russia into a new era, in what was a time of radical societal change.
[...] [But] what we see is the proletariat taking this hoard of values out of the hands of the few and into its own (Ivanov 54)." What Ivanov sees as a conscious act of reappropriation, Gershenzon criticizes as being responsible for cultural stagnation: "It is quite possible and this in fact is my actual belief that, at this moment, in its effort to gain possession of these values, the proletariat is mistaken. It feels it needs them as such; in truth they are of no use to it except as stepping-stones to something new. [...]
[...] The emphasis in the new revolutionary culture is, for Blok, on the collective will of the people, and in this sense he is in agreement with the principles of the state. In his discussion of culture, in the article "The Collapse of Humanism", Blok makes the distinction between civilization and culture. Culture is seen as being imbued with vitality in a way that civilization is not. A true culture, Blok argues, embodies the spirit of the people and is filled with "music", but is periodically replaced by civilization in what is a historically inevitable cycle. [...]
[...] Thus, Lunacharsky argues for Russia's cultural heritage, though in a sense he is arguing at the same time for cultural renewal when he writes: "In general, the proletariat must assimilate the legacy of the old culture not as a pupil, but as a powerful, conscious, and incisive critic." (184) The proletariat provides the content for the form of the artist's work (191). For Lunacharsky, furthermore, the role of the artist is closely connected to that of the state. In his essays "Theses of the Art Section of Narkompros and the Central Committee of the Union of Art Workers Concerning Basic Policy in the Field of Art" and "Revolution and Art", he addresses the role of the state in the new society and culture. [...]
[...] He criticizes Gershenzon, furthermore, as being a member of this group, though perhaps unknowingly: "To almost all our 'intelligentsia' taking the term in its strict sense of a social and historical category Egypt is alien and culture is slavery. You are flesh of the flesh and bone of the bone of our intelligentsia, your scuffling with them notwithstanding." (60). Gershenzon denies this characterization. In his final letter to Ivanov, Gershenzon is highly critical of the idea of historical inevitability; of the idea that "the ultimate development of culture will bring us back to the original sources of life." This idea is antithetical to Gershenzon's concept of continuity and renewal. [...]
[...] Furthermore, Gershenzon closes with an insightful criticism of Ivanov's concept of renewal: regards to] your second proposition, that every man should overcome culture by fiery death in the flames of spirit . You cannot have it both ways: if culture through its own development leads us unerringly back to God, an individual, need not put myself out . In fact, I am duty-bound to [this path] in order that culture proceed along its appointed path, in order to speed its longed-for consummation This criticalness of duty and an "appointed path" characterizes Gershenzon's rebellious reaction to the old religious tradition, which in part may be understood from the standpoint of his Judaism (to Ivanov's Christianity/intimacy with the Christian tradition). [...]
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