“…A third front was needed, the battlefront of truth – truth to be achieved in freedom at whatever cost.” –Donald Lowrie, Rebellious Prophet: A Life of Nicolai Berdyaev, 1960
In a time of death and destruction, during Lenin’s reign of terror in 1922, why did he round up 160 spiritual philosophers and send them out of the country on a luxury steam-liner headed for the West? How did they, and their ideas, survive? Not just survive, but continue to persuade undermining even the most dedicated Party leaders’ faith?
Seventy years later, as part of the transformational policies of a Revolution from Within leading to the fall of Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, these ideas were returned to full light in Russia.
This is the story of determination, unlikely partnerships, and concepts that are increasingly relevant — worldwide.
Freedom, Creativity and Compassion sit at the heart of this book as the author ties the events from over a century ago back to parallels occurring today.
In 1922, the Bolshevik government expelled some 160 prominent intellectuals from Russia on what is now called “The Philosophers’ Ships or, in Russian, “filosofskii parokhod“. Since 2000, certain writers have commemorated this event around the time of its 80-th, 85-th, and 90-th anniversary… here are just a few:
On August 27, 2002, The St. Petersburg Times published the article by Andrei Zoltov, Jr. entitled, “Shipping Away a Generation of Intellectuals.” [i]
On October 8, 2007, Russian Profile published the article by Alexander Arkhangelsky, “In Memory of a Lost Chance: The Cost of Unfreedom.” [ii]
On November 28, 2012, in a post to the Ghulf Genes blog, Arsen Darnay wrote “The Ship of Philosophers.”[iii]
Among The 160 were many of the leaders of Russia’s Spiritual Renaissance who advocated a Third Way“: neither for the Tsarist regime nor the Bolsheviks; neither for Capitalism nor Communism; neither for Materialism nor Idealism. They believed human beings are spiritual beings living a material experience and promoted a Personalist view of social development:
They encouraged humans to seek paths to knowledge informed by reason but, at essence, inspired by faith.
The 160’s worldview of a peaceful, harmonious and spiritual world governed by creative freedom converged with other movements at that time such as: French Personalism, Existentialism, Catholic Action, and Ecumenism. Later, these ideas had an impact on the Catholic Worker Movement, Vatican II, Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement; Freedom movements in Eastern Europe like Solidarnost’ or the Velvet Revolution; and groups working to form the European Union.
These ideas still resonate today in the Conscious Living Movement; New Age Spiritualism; Unity Consciousness; Sustainable Living and others…Above all, their tales are one of overcoming great odds and tyranny – not through force – but through appealing to the hearts and minds of people… everywhere.
The 160 predicted what was to befall their country a decade before the Russian Revolution. They were Lenin’s political opponents. A year before he expelled them, they enlisted the American Relief Administration in a massive famine relief effort, saving the lives of more than 20 million Russians.
The 160 were the writers and artists that remained as the last vestige of Russia’s great classical culture. They were spiritual philosophers, reminding the people from all classes and all occupations about their Russian soul, their native beliefs, federalism and free, organic, local community alternatives.
The 160 were the first resistance to Bolshevik tyranny. As conditions in Russia became more and more horrific, their titanic yet non-violent struggle… their Revolution from Within…spread in homes, in factory kitchens and public meeting rooms, in churches and temples, in prisons and labor camps. It inspired workers, soldiers, sailors and peasants, God-seekers and atheists. Like the first crack in a concrete foundation, a tiny flicker of freedom and light returned to Russia and it grew….
Years later in the late 1980s, the leaders of that same Communist Party that had originally expelled The 160, now staged a massive restructuring and democratization effort that led to the demise of Communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The 160 inspired this new generation of Communist Party leaders – these architects of internal change. Foremost among them was Alexander Yakovlev – the Soviet Minister for Ideology and Propaganda – who helped Premier Mikhail Gorbachev define glasnost’ and perestroika. He also returned the banned writings and ideas of The 160 to Russia.
How did The 160 and their ideas, survive? Not just survive, but continue to persuade for generations, in the end undermining even the most dedicated Communist Party officials…
Click here for Extended Bibliography of References
Biographies of the Main Characters
Lists of Participants in the French, American and Russian Organizations featured in the book
- The 160
- The First Russian Philosophical Society founded by Vladimir Solovyov (1897-1921)
- Bratstvo Sviatoi Sofii
- The Famine Relief Committee (VKPG) in 1921
- Kadets (Russia’s Constitutional Democratic Party)
- The YMCA Representatives (Mayak & Russian Division)
- Jacques Maritain’s Cercle Thomistes (1919-1939)
- Guests invited to the first meeting of the Oecumenical Circle on January 14, 1926
- Cahiers de la Quinzaine: Studio Franco-Russe – 14 sessions lasting from 1928-1932
- Berdyaev’s Clamart Tuesdays (Meudon Mondays) 1928-1939
[i] Andrei Zoltov, Jr. “Shipping Away a Generation of Intellectuals.” The St. Petersburg Times, August 27, 2002.
[ii] Alexander Arkhangelsky, “In Memory of a Lost Chance The Cost of Unfreedom”, Russia Profile October 8, 2007.
[iii] Arsen Darnay, “The Ship of Philosophers”, Ghulf Genes (http://arsendarnay.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-ship-of-philosophers.html) November 28, 2012.