The Philosophers’ Ships


Figure 14. The Philosophers’ Ship (name which Historians today have used to dub the ships carrying the 160 expelled from Russia to Stettin in 1922).

As the ships carrying The 160 that Lenin expelled began to arrive in Germany, they provoked a certain flurry of excitement among the some 700,000 Russian émigrés who had already arrived and settled there. Most of the intelligentsia now living in Berlin knew, at least by reputation, many of the exiled. Alternately, they were loved, envied, hated and—by some—viewed with outright suspicion as potential Bolshevik spies.

The ship Oberbürgermeister Haken left Petrograd, Russia, on Sept. 28. The second ship, the Preussen, left on Nov. 16.[i] Both steam ships arrived in Stettin, Germany, and left the exiles to make the short train ride from there to Berlin. None of the exiles was left destitute or homeless: Alexander Kerensky (former Prime Minister of the provisional government before the Bolshevik coup d’état in November 1917), arranged for lodgings for most of them; friends and relatives provided the rest.

Peter Struve, Nina Struve Vasiliy Bogucharsky, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Semyon Frank.

Peter Struve, Nina Struve Vasiliy Bogucharsky, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Semyon Frank.

The Contemporary View

 “People in the West may find it difficult to understand the emotions of Russians, as they emerge from generations of grueling repression that were the outcome of a hijacked destiny…”

Some Russians today have noted that, despite irrefutable evidence about the Bolsheviks’ deliberate suppression of native Russian culture, religion, and ideas—most emphatically those of the spiritual philosophers with the 1922 expulsions—many influential academics cannot seem to accept that it was propaganda that was pounded into the Russian psyche.

Even in the 1990s, some Russian writers, teachers and professors were still denying the disclosed truth, preferring to parrot Trotsky’s justification for the expulsion of The 160:

These elements we send away and will send away in future are nothing in a political sense. But they are a potential weapon in the hands of our enemies. In case of new military conflicts that cannot be excluded in spite of our peaceful policies, these irreconcilable dissident elements will be military-political agents of the enemy. In that case, we will have to shoot them in accordance with the rules of war. This is why we prefer to deport them now, beforehand in the quiet period. I hope you will not refuse to recognize our prudent humanity… [ii]

055584Many contemporary Russian commentators lament that despite the movements of transparency with perestroika and glasnost’, which so radically transformed the hearts, minds, and government of Russia, this act is still often cast in the light of a “humanitarian gesture, ” and not the suppression of the opposition—a viable Third Way.

People in the West may find it difficult to understand the emotions of Russians, as they emerge from generations of grueling repression that were the outcome of a hijacked destiny—to understand the irony and dismay that their own modern-day Russian intellectuals are still brushing off the story of The 160 with an apology that the Bolshevik leaders were just being humane. Volkogonov attributes this conflicting ambiguity to shame:

Lenin never concealed his belief that the new world could only be built with the aid of physical violence… And indeed there was to be enough terror of every kind.

After many decades we Russians condemned it, refusing for shame to answer the question of who had started it and who had made it into a sacred object of revolutionary method. I do not doubt that Lenin wanted earthly happiness for the people, at least for those he called “the proletariat.” But he regarded it as normal to build this “happiness” on blood, coercion and the denial of freedom.[iii]

Having finally moved beyond such misdirection, and observing the Bolshevik manipulations throughout this story, it is not hard to see through such self-justification by Trotsky or other official spokespersons for the regime.

Lenin had a very real fear about the alternatives—Sobornost’ and Godmanhood—which the spiritual philosophers championed; and he was equally threatened by the ideas of liberalism, civil rights, and organic communities, which the Kadets, SRs and Cooperatives steadfastly promoted. The threat these ideas posed to his ideology and his regime was made evident when the Bolshevik regime collapsed 70 years later.

Lenin and the 160

Lenin's StudyLenin kept a copy of every publication these writers produced.[iv] And his library was restricted to all but the most loyal members of the Communist Party. This library furnished many of the writings that were to be republished under Yakovlev and Gorbachev’s transformation of communism in the Soviet Union during the 1980s and the works contained within t also clearly inspired these architects of perestroika and glasnost’.

Lenin’s prominent role in compiling the list of intellectuals to be banished, compounded by his careful account in his archive, makes clear that being “humane” was the last thing on Lenin’s mind when he expelled The 160. The tirade that Lenin wrote to Stalin in June 1922 admirably illustrates the point. Lenin was frustrated that the expulsion was taking so long.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”10pt”] Lenin Letter to J.V. Stalin in June 1922

Comrade Stalin,
On the matter of departing Mensheviks, Popular Socialists, Kadets and so on from Russia, I’d like to raise several questions seeing that this operation, which was started before I went on leave, hasn’t been completed even now.
Has the decision been taken to “uproot”’ all the [Popular Socialists]? Peshekhonov, Myakotin, Gorenfeld, Petrishchev and the others? In my opinion they should all be expelled. They’re worse than any [Socialist Revolutionary] as they’re more cunning. Also A.N. Potresov, Izgoev and all the staff at Ekonomist (Ozerov and many, many others). The Mensheviks Rozanov (he’s an enemy, a cunning one), Vigdorchik, Migulo and anyone else of that ilk, Lyubov Nikolaevna Radchenko and her younger daughter (I hear they’re sworn enemies of Bolshevism); N.A. Rohzhkov (he has to be expelled, he’s stubborn); S.L. Frank, the author of The Methodology. Mantsev’s and Messing’s commission must draw up lists and several hundred of such gentlemen must be expelled abroad without mercy. We’re going to cleanse Russia once and for all.
Like all the people on the Ekonomist Ozerov is the most relentless enemy. All of them must be chucked out of Russia. It should be done all at once. By the time the SR trial is over, not later, and with no explanation of motives – leave, gentlemen!
All the authors in The Writers’ House [Dom literatorov], Mysl’ in Petrograd; Karkhov must be ransacked, we have no idea what is happening there, it’s abroad to us. We must clean up quickly, no later than the end of the SR trial.
Pay attention to the writers in Petrograd (their addresses in Novaya ruskaya kniga No.4 1922, p37) and also to the list of private publishers (p29).
With Communist Greetings,
Lenin[v] [/pullquote]

This does not sound like a judicious, carefully considered, “humane” judgment. It sounds more like a mobster, a character from The Godfather film, planning a hit.

***end of excerpt from Revolution from Within***


Read other testimonials to the Philosophers’ Ships as other 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]

Gregory, Paul. “The Ship of Philosophers: How the Early USSR Dealt with Dissident Intellectuals.”  The Independent Review, v. 13, n. 4, Spring 2009 pp. 485–492.

Razin, Alexander V., and Tatiana J. Sidorina, “The Philosophers’ Ship,”  Philosophy Now Issue 31 (2001).

[i] The Berdyaevs sailed upon the Oberbürgermeister Haken in November from Petrograd to Stettin with some seventy other members of the expelled and their families. There they were provided with a train to Berlin. In his autobiography, Berdyaev thanked the German government for their assistance in providing visas for him and his family. See Lowrie, 158.

[ii] Razin & Sidorina.

[iii] Volkogonov, Lenin, xxxix.

[iv] “Lenin watched with concern the activity of the Russian idealists. In his Kremlin library could be found the books of Alekseev, Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Volinskiy, Ivanov-Razumnik, Ilein, Karsavin, Lapchin, Novgorodtsev, Rozanov, Stepun, Trubetskoy, Shpet, Frank, Iakovenko; but not because he had any sympathy with their views. Most of these authors were included in the deportation lists.” Kogan, 65.

[v] Volkogonov, Lenin, 362.

Comments are closed.