Mikhail Gershenzon, "Introduction" to Vekhi, 1909

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Source: my translation of www.vehi.net/vehi/intro.html

The revolution of 1905-06 and the ensuing events were a kind of national test of those values which our social thinkers had viewed with the utmost devotion for more than half a century. There were some thinkers, though, who, using a priori reasoning long before the revolution, had clearly seen the errors of these spiritual principles. On the other hand, the lack of success of the social movement in and of itself is, of course, not evidence of the inherent falseness of the ideas which gave rise to it. Thus, essentially the defeat of the intelligentsia did not really reveal anything that we did not already know. But it did have a huge impact in another sense. First, the entire intelligentsia was deeply shaken and provoked to consciously re-examine the very bases of its traditional world view which, up to then, it had accepted blindly on faith. Second, the details of the events, i.e., the concrete form that the revolution and its suppression took, allowed those who did recognize the error of this world view to now see more clearly the sins of the past and to explain their views with more substantial evidence. And that is how this book came about. The contributors just could no longer keep silent about what had become for them matters of tangible truth. They were also sincerely convinced that their critique of the spiritual bases of the intelligentsia would lead to a more generally recognized need to re-examine them.

The men who have gathered for this task differ both on questions of "faith" and in their practical desires, but there is no disagreement about our task. The common idea is the recognition of the theoretical and practical superiority of the spiritual life over the external forms of society in the sense that the individual's inner life is the sole creative force of humanity. It alone, not the principles of the political order, is the sole firm base of any kind of society. The point-of- view of the Russian intelligentsia, which supports the entirely different principle of the unconditional primacy of social forms, is completely mistaken in the view of the contributors to this book as it contradicts the nature of the human spirit and will be practically fruitless. It is incapable of leading to the goal that the intelligentsia has set, the freeing of the people. Generally speaking, the authors do no disagree about the end goal. They investigate the world view of the intelligentsia from different angles, and, in a few cases, as, for example, on the question of the religiosity of the people, they seem to contradict themselves. But this results from the fact that the different contributors approach the question from different angles and is not evidence of a difference of opinion on the basic ideas.

We do not judge the past because its historical inevitability [what has happened] is clear to us, but we will point out that the path that society has taken so far has led it to a dead end. Our warnings are not new; they have been constantly repeated by our most profound thinkers from Chaadaev to Tolstoi and Solov'ev. But they have not been heard; the intelligentsia rushed on by them. Perhaps, now, awakened by a great shock, [the intelligentsia] will listen to [our] even weaker voices.

So what Gershenzon and the Vekhi authors were saying is that the the Russian intelligentsia had screwed up. This was clear from the disaster that was the 1905 Revolution and the ensuing events. The intelligentsia had focused so much energy on trying to re-organize the external forms of Russian society that it had missed the far more important task of stimulating the inner spirit of Russia.

Of course, a lot of Russians disagreed with Vekhi's assertion of failure (both of the 1905 Revolution and of the intelligentsia), and that accounts for the bitter polemics of the debate that followed.