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  1. a SOCIAL STRATUM of INTELLECTUALS with a self-appointed responsibility for guiding the future welfare and development of the nation. The term is of mid-19th-century Polish and Russian origin, and is like CASTE in that some sociologists consider it applicable only to a particular place and time, whilst others believe it to be more generally extendable.
  2. any constellation of educated, but unpropertied, individuals with some consciousness of its distinctive role either in a national society or in a culture area transcending national boundaries. For example, there have been intelligentsias in this sense in some African societies before and after independence.
Intelligentsia’ and ‘INTELLECTUALS’ are not synonymous. Thus there have been and are intellectuals in Britain but not an intelligentsia in either sense 1 or 2 .

The first sense of intelligentsia arose in the 19th century when Poland was partitioned between Prussia (later Germany), Russia and Austria. Those few who possessed the secondary school leaving certificate, the matura, and who thus knew their Polish literature and history, considered themselves to be guardians of the national culture. As such they supplied the leadership for many oppositional movements. Very often they were the sons of pauperized nobility and GENTRY; they retained gentry values and disdained the bourgeois pursuits of trade and industry. Following the restoration of the Polish state in 1918, the intelligentsia played a leading part in government and administration but was then decimated in World War II.

After 1945, the Communist Party claimed for itself the leading role in the development of Poland and set out to eliminate all rivals. The ‘classical’ intelligentsia ceased to exist. According to the official Marxist formula, the new Poland had two ‘nonantagonistic classes’, the workers and the peasants, and the stratum of the intelligentsia. Reference to a separate stratum (not class) of the intelligentsia acknowledged that its relation to the means of production was similar to that of the working class, yet aspects of its culture and consciousness continued to set it apart. Entry to the intelligentsia was now defined in terms of completion of higher, rather than secondary, education, and the majority of graduates were now in science and engineering. This led to a distinction between the creative or cultural intelligentsia, and the vastly more numerous technical intelligentsia whose residual attachment to old intelligentsia values was much less evident.

In 19th-century Russia, a declassé fraction of the nobility sought to maintain elements of its traditional style of life in an urban setting (thereby guaranteeing its distinction from the BOURGEOISIE), whilst leading the nation to its destiny. The latter required abolition of tsarism, and the residues of feudalism, by whatever means, and a general commitment to progressive causes. Following the October Revolution in 1917, the creative intelligentsia at first flourished, but Stalin could not countenance its independence and put an end to it. The official Marxist formula of two classes and the stratum of the intelligentsia kept alive the term but that is all.

Sense 2 of the term intelligentsia is consistent with the German Intelligenz. Alfred Weber originated the notion of a socially unattached intelligentsia, but it is Mannheim's formulation which is best known: ‘In every society there are social groups whose special task it is to provide an interpretation of the world for that society We call these the intelligentsia’ (MANNHEIM, 1936). He suggested that they tend either to affiliate voluntarily ‘with one or other of the various antagonistic classes’ (cf GRAMSCI on organic INTELLECTUALS), or try to fulfil ‘their mission as the predestined advocate of the intellectual interests of the whole’ (MANNHEIM, 1929).

More recent analyses of the class position of the intelligentsia include Konrad and Szelényi (1979) and Gouldner (1979). According to Konrad and Szelényi's account of ‘intellectuals on the road to class power’ in the industrially backward state socialist societies of Eastern Europe, the intelligentsia were ‘organized into a government-bureaucratic ruling class’, and took the lead in modernization, ‘replacing a weak bourgeoisie incapable of breaking with feudalism’. Gouldner (1979) argues that in all parts of the emerging world socioeconomic order, humanist intellectuals and the technical intelligentsia constitute a new class which contests the control of economics hitherto exercised either by businessmen or by party leaders (cf BELL on INFORMATION SOCIETIES).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a social stratum consisting of people professionally engaged in mental work, primarily of a complex and creative kind, and in the development and spread of culture. Introduced by the writer P. D. Boborykin in the 1860’s, the term “intelligentsia” passed from Russian into other languages. At first, the term referred to educated people in general, and even today it is often used with this meaning. According to Lenin, the word “intelligentsia” includes “in general, all educated people, the members of the liberal professions, the brain workers, as the English call them, as distinct from manual workers” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 8, p. 309, note). Various groups of the intelligentsia belong to different social classes, whose interests are served, interpreted, and expressed in an ideological, political, and theoretical form by the intelligentsia.

As the intelligentsia developed, its lack of social and political homogeneity became more pronounced. The precondition for the appearance of the initial forms of the intelligentsia was the separation of mental labor from physical labor. In addition to the great majority of the people, who were engaged exclusively in physical labor, social groups emerged that were freed from directly productive labor. The new groups directed public affairs, including the administration of government, law, and economic work, or worked in the arts and sciences. The exploiting classes established for themselves a monopoly on mental labor. However, it was not an absolute monopoly.

The earliest group belonging to the intelligentsia was the priestly caste. During the Middle Ages the place of the pagan priests was taken over by the Christian clergy, whose elite members belonged to the class of feudal lords. Some of the physicians, teachers, artists, and other members of the intelligentsia were originally serfs or slaves or members of the lowest strata of freemen. During the Middle Ages the role of the intelligentsia of the oppressed classes was played by wandering scholars, storytellers, teachers, and actors, as well as by experts on the holy scriptures—common people who sometimes held views radically opposed to the state. In antiquity and in the Middle Ages intellectual work was regarded as a privilege of the propertied classes. However, even then a service intelligentsia appeared, including philosophers, physicians, alchemists, poets, and artists who made a living by selling their services to the nobility. In China the service intelligentsia—educated officials—enjoyed the highest social prestige, and in Europe, as centralized states developed, intellectual retainers of the monarchs found their way into high government positions.

The scientific, literary, and artistic intelligentsia, and to a lesser extent, the engineering and technical intelligentsia, underwent considerable development during the Renaissance, when both the intelligentsia and culture in general became markedly secular. Increasingly, the intelligentsia was drawn from the lower classes: for example, Leonardo da Vinci was the son of a notary, and Shakespeare, Spinoza, Rembrandt, and Benvenuto Cellini came from artisan or merchant families. The work of the Renaissance intelligentsia was for the most part antifeudal and humanistic. A number of intellectuals, such as Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Rabelais, endeavored to transcend the framework of speculative scholastic culture. I. Campanella, J. Hus, and T. Miinzer were among those who became ideologists of the exploited lower classes, and writers, thinkers, and philosophers such as Luther, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Calvin, and, later, Voltaire and Rousseau laid the ideological foundation for the Reformation and the bourgeois revolution.

The history of the intelligentsia actually begins with the consolidation of capitalism. With the accelerated development of productive forces, the need for mental workers grew, as did their number. Nonetheless, even in the most developed countries, at the beginning of the 20th century the proportion of the intelligentsia among the economically active population did not exceed several percent (4 percent in the USA in 1900). Lawyers, teachers, and physicians made up the largest contingents of the intelligentsia in that period.

However, the rise of mechanized industry created a demand for engineers, mechanics, and technicians, putting an end to the predominance of the humanities among the intelligentsia. Members of the engineering and technical intelligentsia, who take part directly or indirectly in the production of commodities, belong to the group characterized by Marx as the “collective laborers” (K. MarxandF. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, pp. 431, 516–17; vol. 26, part 1, pp. 138, 421–22). However, Marx also took note of the special position of engineers and technicians, which entitles them to supervise production workers. The part of the intelligentsia that works in the state-administrative apparatus directly or indirectly performs functions that inflict repression and oppression on the working people. The duality of the intelligentsia’s social position was also noted by Lenin, who pointed out that the intelligentsia belonged “partly to the bourgeoisie by their connections, their outlooks, etc., and partly to the wage workers as capitalism increasingly deprives the intellectual of his independent position, converts him into a hired worker and threatens to lower his living standard” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4, p. 209).

In the period of premonopoly capitalism a considerable part of the intelligentsia rose into the ranks of the bourgeoisie, including the big bourgeoisie. Because the demand for the services of specialists by far exceeded the limited supply, the intelligentsia had the opportunity to obtain substantial payment from the capitalists, as well as other social and economic benefits. At the same time, the ranks of the intelligentsia were swelled by people from the privileged strata of society (for example, the intelligentsia of noble origin in Western Europe, Russia, and Poland). On the whole, the tendency toward the proletarianization of the intelligentsia during the initial stages of capitalism was later overriden by the tendency of the intelligentsia to rise into the bourgeoisie.

Although even in the early period of capitalism the majority of the intelligentsia worked for wages, a considerable number of its members were independent entrepreneurs (for example, 37.9 percent of the US intelligentsia in 1870). The majority of lawyers and physicians were independent entrepreneurs. This phenomenon gave rise to the phrase the “liberal professions,” which even today is often applied by bourgeois sociologists and statisticians to the entire intelligentsia. In practice, the majority of the intelligentsia in the period of early capitalism belonged to the intermediate social strata (sloi). (Compare the term prosloika [intermediate stratum], which has become firmly established in Marxist literature.)

A number of factors explain why most of the intelligentsia holds bourgeois or petit bourgeois world views: the closeness of the engineering and technical intelligentsia to the entrepreneurs, the weakness of their contacts with production workers, and their tendency to work in isolation, as well as the income level of most members of the intelligentsia, which is significantly higher than that of the mass of workers, and the bourgeois way of life of most of the intelligentsia. The consciousness of being “an elite” became noticeable among the intelligentsia in the early capitalist period and was reinforced by the intelligentsia’s actual monopoly on mental labor and by the difficulty of entering its ranks. At the same time, from within the intelligentsia there emerged revolutionary-democratic elements who overcame their bourgeois ideology and upheld the interests of the workers. Having comprehended the objective laws of social development, the most advanced representatives of the intelligentsia developed a consciously socialist viewpoint and introduced it to the working class. This was the course taken by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and many other figures in the workers’ and socialist movement. Scientists and inventors and writers and artists of the capitalist epoch made an enormous contribution to the treasure house of human culture.

In the epoch of imperialism, with the universal development of highly mechanized industry and particularly with the beginning of the scientific and technical revolution, the growth of the intelligentsia accelerated sharply. This was related to the increased importance of nonphysical labor in production and in the economy as a whole, as well as to the rising level of education of the population. In the USA in 1970 the intelligentsia made up approximately 20 percent of the economically active population—a proportion that is constantly growing. In less developed countries the percentage of the economically active population that belongs to the intelligentsia is noticeably lower, although it, too, is rising. The professions and trades involving intellectual labor are no longer distinguished by their privileged position. The present-day intelligentsia is increasingly drawn not only from the propertied but also from the laboring strata of society.

The mechanization and automation of production and the vigorous development of science have caused a particularly rapid growth of the engineering and technical intelligentsia and above all, of scientific personnel, whose number doubles approximately every ten years. In the most advanced countries these groups already make up from one-third to half of the entire intelligentsia. Engineering and technical personnel (30–50 percent or more of all employees) are particularly important in major monopolistic enterprises and in the most modern branches of industry, whose capital is highly organic (for example, the electronics, missile, nuclear, and chemical industries, instrument manufacturing, and the production and use of electronic computers).

The separation of the ownership of capital from the entrepreneurial functions of the capitalist, the increasing complexity in the administration of enterprises, and the intensification of capitalist competition have been accompanied by the steady growth within the intelligentsia of the proportion of administrators (managers) and other high-level functionaries and their staffs—engineers, economists, cyberneticists, and mathematicians. With the growing trends toward state-monopoly capitalism and a swollen state bureaucracy, the intelligentsia has been bureaucratized: that is, an increasing proportion of the intelligentsia finds itself in bureaucratic positions in government administration and in the management of state enterprises and government services. Many prominent members of the intelligentsia, including scientists and other types of intellectuals, are being drawn into serving in bourgeois governments, which previously attracted only the services of lawyers.

As a result of the class struggle of the proletariat and in connection with production needs, a number of capitalist countries have appropriated funds for medical services, education, and other social needs as a part of the cost of the labor force. This has led to the growth of such groups of the intelligentsia as physicians and teachers, who serve broad masses of the population directly, although not to the same degree as they serve the upper strata of society. The intelligentsia’s reserve group—that is, the students—has undergone particularly rapid growth. In 1950, the world student population totaled 6.3 million, and in 1968, 23.1 million.

The growth of the mass communications media (television, motion pictures, radio, and the press), the reorientation of political organizations toward a mass clientele, the spread of “mass culture,” and the activation of an ideological struggle by the ruling circles have given rise to a “knowledge industry” and to broad contingents of the intelligentsia (journalists, propagandists for political parties, sociologists, and psychologists) that participate in the production and particularly in the use and distribution of the industry’s products. This phenomenon demonstrates the standardization and increasingly mass scale of the work of growing numbers of the intelligentsia, signifying the loss of their status and their feeling of exclusiveness. Under contemporary capitalism certain privileged groups, such as the legal profession, have also lost their former exclusiveness. The number of actors, artists, and musicians is declining relative to other groups, and in some cases, absolutely. With the decline in the influence of religion, the social prestige and attractiveness of the clerical profession have diminished, and the number of religious professionals has decreased. On the other hand, new professions have emerged, such as social engineering and human relations, which use more sophisticated techniques to indoctrinate the working people.

Under contemporary capitalist conditions members of the intelligentsia fall into various social classes. The main tendency, which is constantly growing stronger, is toward the proletarianization of the intelligentsia. This is reflected, above all, in the shift to wage labor for the overwhelming majority (80–90 percent). Precisely for this reason, the intelligentsia is frequently identified with the concept of office workers (sluzhashchie), although it is inaccurate to treat the two terms as synonyms. The majority of the wage-earning members of the intelligentsia, who sell their labor to employers and experience capitalist exploitation, tend to become assimilated with the working class. Not only almost all of the intelligentsia employed in production technology but also the majority of the intelligentsia providing services, such as lawyers and doctors, work for wages.

Even those members of the intelligentsia who remain formally independent and continue to own offices and consulting rooms find themselves increasingly subordinated to big capital in the form of bank credit, the nature of their clientele, or the system by which business orders are placed. The term for these groups—the “liberal professions”—has become anachronistic. Some members of the intelligentsia combine wage work with private practice, thus intensifying the duality and contradictoriness of their position. From the ranks of the intelligentsia emerge specialists who are qualified as businessmen and who establish their own professional enterprises, such as major law firms, private clinics, and scientific research corporations, where dozens or hundreds of specialists work for wages. With the increase in the social and economic importance of education and general culture, the social prestige of certain intellectual professions has grown, and there are greater opportunities for specialists to rise in society.

The shift from individual labor to work in large groups has been accompanied by a tendency toward a rapprochement of the main part of the intelligentsia and the working class. More often than before, engineers and technicians work directly on the assembly line or at machines, performing the functions of highly skilled workers. The proletarianization of the intelligentsia is also manifested in the similarity of its material position to that of the working class. The lower strata of the intelligentsia are often paid less than skilled or even semiskilled workers, and a number of professions that do not involve physical labor are seriously affected by unemployment. There is a growing gap between the living standards of the higher and lower strata of the intelligentsia. However, the proletarianization of the intelligentsia is not a static condition but a process that varies with the level of economic development of a country. Among the intelligentsia in the advanced capitalist countries the proportion of capitalist entrepreneurs is not high (approximately 5 percent). Specialized managers, whose high salaries and income from dividends exceed the value of their labor, should be considered part of the bourgeoisie. In the advanced countries, approximately 5–10 percent of the intelligentsia work independently, do not have employees, and belong to the petite bourgeoisie.

In the less developed capitalist countries the intelligentsia is less numerous, and certain groups within it, especially the engineering and technical workers, taking advantage of their monopoly on knowledge and acquiring ownership in the means of production, swell the ranks of the bourgeoisie. In recent decades the intelligentsia has been the main source for the formation of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, whose members hold the higher posts in the administrative machinery of a number of young nation states and use their official positions for their personal enrichment. In developing countries with more fixed social power structures (India, Iran, and Turkey), the way of life of many members of the intelligentsia in the lower levels of state service (teachers, for example) is similar to that of the proletariat. Revolutionary-democratic groupings within the intelligentsia, such as progressive officers, often emerge at the head of national revolutions and remove the old bourgeois-feudal ruling group from power.

The role of the intelligentsia in the social organization of labor is determined by its subordination to the bourgeoisie. Only a small part of the intelligentsia does genuinely creative work, whereas the work of the majority consists primarily of carrying out assignments. This tendency has been reflected in the growth in the relative number of specialists in the middle and lower echelons, such as technicians, laboratory workers, nurses, medical assistants, and lower-level civil servants. For example, in the USA in 1900 there was one nurse for every 11 doctors, whereas in 1967 there were three intermediate or junior medical personnel for every doctor. By 1950, the number of laboratory workers in the USA exceeded the number of creative scientific workers. These changes in the professional structure of the intelligentsia are also evidence of its social differentiation.

In connection with these phenomena, many sociologists increasingly use the term “intelligentsia” to refer only to what was once considered the upper stratum of the intelligentsia—those intellectual workers who are engaged in the higher, more complex forms of intellectual activity. The strata of the intelligentsia in whose work the functions of implementation and execution prevail are increasingly identified with a social group called “workers engaged in nonphysical labor.” Thus, having lost its basis as a single concept, the term “intelligentsia” is being treated more and more as a waning historical category.

In addition to the proletarianization of the intelligentsia, another process takes place under capitalism—the creation of a “working-class intelligentsia” (Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4, p. 269). The category embraces activists in the Communist and workers’ parties, progressive trade unions, and other workers’ organizations in the capitalist countries. At the present stage, the working-class intelligentsia is undergoing particularly intensive growth as a result of the rise in the cultural and educational level of the proletariat and the growth of its political consciousness.

Its immediate economic interests impel the intelligentsia toward ever wider participation in the class struggle, on the side of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. With increasing frequency, different contingents of the intelligentsia are resorting to the specifically proletarian instrument of the class struggle—the strike. Having passed through the stages of forming corporate organizations (in the early 20th century) and later, autonomous trade unions (the mid-20th century), the intelligentsia that is engaged in production is increasingly entering the nationwide trade-union organizations of the industrial proletariat.

The intelligentsia’s extremely heterogeneous world view is determined by the contradictory ideological and political functions of various groups of the intelligentsia, which range from social criticism to defense and justification of the existing order. This heterogeneity is the source of the sharp social and ideological conflicts within the intelligentsia. Characteristic of many members of the intelligentsia is an individualism associated with their social origins (mostly petit bourgeois or bourgeois) and traditions, the specificity of their productive functions, and the nature of their work. Inasmuch as a number of professionals (for example, prosecutors, judges, and clergy) can only function smoothly when they adhere to views supporting the status quo, they tend to support the capitalist system. Fairly broad circles in the engineering, technical, and scientific intelligentsia favor the independence and neutrality of the intelligentsia in social conflicts, a point of view that often gives objective support to conservatism. Popular in these circles are ideas advanced as early as the 1920’s by such intellectuals as H. G. Wells and T. Veblen, concerning the providential role of the intelligentsia or of particular groups within it for the present and particularly for the future. Social critics of bourgeois society—opponents of the “consumer society” such as J. Benda, H. Marcuse, J. P. Sartre, L. Mumford, and T. Roszak—accuse the technocratic intelligentsia, which collaborates with the monopoly bourgeoisie, of betraying the cause of progress and the intelligentsia’s proper function as the creator of higher spiritual values.

The proletarianization and democratization of the intelligentsia has had an effect on its world view. The very nature of its work and social role has brought the democratic majority of the intelligentsia into conflict with capitalism and its inhuman goals and values. Among the intelligentsia, a form of social criticism that is opposed to all types of apologetics is growing stronger, and the conflict between the democratic and bourgeois-technocratic wings of the intelligentsia is becoming sharper. Many members of the intelligentsia are refusing to cooperate in the militarization of society and the mass alienation of the individual personality. They advocate peace, a genuine democracy, and evolution toward socialism. The most advanced elements of the intelligentsia, such as A. France, M. Andersen Nexø, T. Dreiser, H. Mann, P. Eluard, F. and I. Joliot-Curie, Picasso, and R. Guttoso, have linked their fates with the struggle of the proletariat and with the Communist parties.

The Communist parties in the capitalist countries, which are waging a struggle for the creation of a broad anti-monopoly front headed by the working class, favor a close alliance with the intelligentsia, proceeding from Marx’ thesis that communism is the alliance of science and labor. Sharply criticizing the views of the bourgeois intelligentsia and helping broad strata of the intelligentsia to overcome their individualistic attitudes, the Communists emphasize that the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and the establishment of a socialist system correspond to the essential needs of the intelligentsia. They criticize anti-Marxist views and theories, which either overemphasize or underempha-size the role of the intelligentsia in modern social development. On the basis of facts, the Communists demonstrate the Utopian character of the aspirations of certain circles of the intelligentsia to an independent social role and to power over society. By clarifying the real social position of the basic mass of the intelligentsia, the Communists also combat prejudices against the intelligentsia, which survive among certain backward strata. “Broad strata of the office workers have become allies of the industrial working class, as has a significant section of the intelligentsia, who have been reduced to the position of proletarians by capitalism and who have recognized the need for a change in society” (Programma KPSS, 1971, p. 38).

Socialist society. After the overthrow of the bourgeois order, broad strata of the democratically minded intelligentsia are drawn into active participation in socialist construction. The party of the working class directs a deliberate process of attracting the old intelligentsia to the ideals of socialism, giving them an awareness of their social usefulness and opening up to them the prospect of applying their skills in all fields of social development without any obstacles. At the same time, as a result of the cultural revolution, which provides all strata of the working people and the more backward nationalities with access to education and culture, a new intelligentsia is formed, which gradually merges with the old one to form a single socialist intelligentsia. These processes do not take place without difficulties and conflicts. The working-class parties are obliged to struggle not only against lumpen-proletarian mistrust of the intelligentsia but also against the disdain and hostility displayed by some of the older specialists toward the workers’ and peasants’ power.

Having assumed the leadership of the state, the Communist parties adopt a tactful and thoughtful approach toward the needs of the intelligentsia, endeavoring to provide them with the maximum opportunity for creative work and to establish comprehensive collaboration with them, for “without the guidance of experts in the various fields of knowledge, technology and experience, the transition to socialism will be impossible” (Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 178). The international Communist movement rejects any minimization of the role of culture and the intelligentsia in socialist construction, as well as such persecution of the intelligentsia as has taken place in China under the pretext of a “cultural revolution.”

The numerical growth of the intelligentsia under socialism accelerates as the economic and cultural level of society rises, often outstripping other social groups. The number of engineering, technical, and scientific workers grows particularly rapidly. The socialist intelligentsia is recruited from the working class and peasantry, and to a lesser degree, it reproduces itself. A precondition for its further growth is the uninterrupted development of culture and of the educational level of the whole population, in particular, the introduction of universal secondary-school education. Sociological research shows that under socialism the chief motivation for intellectual labor is an orientation toward creative work and its social usefulness, particularly because under socialism, as distinguished from capitalism, the direct material benefits of such work fade to secondary importance.

As the scientific and technical revolution and the advance toward communism proceed, a more complex structure of professions and qualifications develops among the socialist intelligentsia, whose members include engineering, technical and scientific workers, writers and artists, educators, health personnel, and administrative workers. Distinctions may be drawn among groups within the intelligentsia on the basis of the degree of creativity or the different levels of skill or responsibility required by their work.

The rapprochement of all classes and social groups and the overcoming of the fundamental differences between mental and physical labor—processes that are characteristic of the period of transition to communism—are manifested in the rising cultural and educational level of the mass of workers and peasants, the growth of the relative importance of professions for which a secondary education is a minimum requirement, the increased number of jobs that require a combination of physical and mental labor, and the growing participation of the working masses in public and social administration.

Typical of the socialist intelligentsia are close, everyday contacts with the workers and peasants and the absence of social exclusiveness. The intelligentsia actively participates in constructive labor and adheres to socialist ideology. Between the intelligentsia and the rest of the population in the socialist countries there is no antagonistic contradiction.

During the transition to communism the importance of the intelligentsia will grow steadily. As a specific social group the intelligentsia will continue to exist “until we have reached the highest stage of development of communist society” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 44, p. 351). When the labor of every person takes on a creative character and when the scientific, technical, and cultural level of society has reached unheard of heights, the intelligentsia “will cease to be a specific social stratum” (Programma KPSS, 1971, p. 63).


Pre-Revolutionary Russia and the USSR. In the feudal period the intelligentsia was small. Basically, it reflected the interests of the class of feudal lords. The intelligentsia began to take shape in Kievan Rus’, with the appearance of the first mathematics teachers, physicians, chroniclers (Nestor), and writers of secular literature, including the creator of The Tale of Igor’s Campaign. At the turn of the 15th century such artists as Andrei Rublev, Feofan Grek, and Daniil Chernyi were active, and the 16th and 17th centuries produced such figures as the architects Barma, Postnik, and Feodor Kon’, the military technician Andrei Cho-khov, and the mechanics Sh. Virachev and A. Virachev. At this time professional actors also emerged, a significant number of whom were originally serfs.

In the 17th and 18th centuries educational institutions were established for the purpose of training the intelligentsia. The development of capitalist relations caused a significant growth of the intelligentsia. In the 19th century the main centers for educating the intelligentsia were universities such as those in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Kharkov, and Kazan, as well as certain technical and agricultural institutes and academies. Essential changes took place in the makeup of the intelligentsia: the relative number of the intelligentsia of noble origin declined, while the proportion of intelligentsia of bourgeois and petit bourgeois origin rose. By the mid-19th century the stratum of the raznochintsy (intellectuals of no definite class) had developed.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the intelligentsia made a great contribution to the development of Russian and world culture. Among its most distinguished members were such scientists as M. V. Lomonosov, N. I. Lobachevskii, D. I. Mendeleev, K. A. Timiriazev, A. M. Butlerov, N. I. Pirogov, and K. D. Ushinskii, poets and writers such as A. S. Pushkin, A. S. Griboedov, M. Iu. Lermontov, N. V. Gogol, N. A. Nekrasov, I. S. Tur-genev, L. N. Tolstoy, M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, and T. G. Shevchenko, and composers such as M. I. Glinka, P. I. Tchaikovsky, and A. S. Dargomyzhskii. Outstanding contributions to national and world culture were made by the artists K. P. Briullov, A. A. Ivanov, I. E. Repin, and V. I. Surikov, and the actor M. S. Shchepkin. Progressive members of the intelligentsia from the nobility and later, the raznochintsy took an active part in the struggle against tsarism (A. N. Radishchev, the Decembrists, A. I. Herzen, V. G. Belinsky, N. A. Dobroliubov, and N. G. Chernyshevsky).

At the end of the 19th century the intelligentsia made up 2.7 percent of the economically active population in Russia, and the part of the intelligentsia who were engaged in material and intellectual work, 1.3 percent. According to the census of 1897, the intelligentsia numbered 870,000, of whom approximately 95,000 worked in material production, including 4,000 engineers, about 3,000 veterinarians, 23,000 employees in railroad and steamship offices, and 13,000 in postal and telegraph offices. There were 263,000 members of the intelligentsia engaged in purely intellectual work, including more than 3,000 scholars and writers, 79,500 schoolteachers, 7,900 trades and arts teachers, 68,000 private teachers, 11,000 governesses and tutors, 18,800 physicians, 49,000 medical assistants, pharmacists, and midwives, and 18,000 artists, musicians, and actors. The most numerous group in the intelligentsia consisted of those who served in government, in the administration of capitalist industry, or on the large landed estates. This group totaled 421,000, including 150,000 employees in civil administration and 43,700 generals and officers.

During the age of imperialism the growth of the intelligentsia in the Russian Empire accelerated steadily. In the 20 years from 1897 to 1917 the intelligentsia doubled, totaling more than 1.5 million by 1917. Between 1896 and 1911 the number of physicians increased by 61 percent and the number of primary schoolteachers by 70 percent. By 1913 the number of engineers had almost doubled (7, 800). The distribution of the intelligentsia in various parts of the empire was extremely uneven. For example, in 1913, Middle Asia had one-fourth as many phy’sicians per 10,000 inhabitants as European Russia. There was a growing tendency for a greater proportion of the intelligentsia to come from the well-to-do strata of the rural and urban petite bourgeoisie. Thus, the number of rural teachers who came from the peasantry or the petite bourgeoisie was six times greater in 1911 than in 1880 and accounted for 57.9 percent of all such teachers. The proportion of the members of the “liberal professions” in the intelligentsia declined, and the relative number of members of the intelligentsia serving in state and private establishments and enterprises rose.

The composition of the intelligentsia was not homogeneous. The higher levels of the state bureaucracy and the officer corps belonged to the landed nobility and tended to hold monarchist and Black Hundred views. The upper ranks of the scientific and technical, medical, and artistic intelligentsia and of such groups as the journalists and attorneys tended to belong to the bourgeoisie. As a rule, they upheld the views of bourgeois liberalism and pursued a policy of collaboration with the tsarist government. To a significant degree, they made up the cadres of the Cadet Party (Constitutional Democrats). The largest part of the intelligentsia consisted of petit bourgeois elements—basically, primary school teachers, intermediate technical and medical intelligentsia, and minor civil servants in factories and offices. In its social origins and economic position this part of the intelligentsia was close to the mass of the urban petite bourgeoisie and to the peasantry. The mass of the democratic intelligentsia took part in the Revolution of 1905–07, following the lead of the proletariat, although not without some vacillations. After the defeat of the revolution a considerable portion of the democratic intelligentsia fell under the influence of the liberal bourgeoisie. In 1917 the petit bourgeois intelligentsia supported the struggle of the people in the February Revolution.

A small working-class intelligentsia developed, consisting of workers who had been able to obtain an education under capitalism. The Bolshevik Party played an enormous role in the development and political education of the working-class intelligentsia by introducing Marxist-Leninist ideology to the rank-and-file proletariat. Intellectuals of bourgeois and petit bourgeois background who adopted the Marxist revolutionary standpoint also belonged to the working-class intelligentsia, which was the consistently revolutionary wing of the intelligentsia as a whole.

The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 laid the foundation for a new period in the history of the Russian intelligentsia. The Bolshevik Party endeavored to win most of the intelligentsia as allies of the proletariat in the socialist revolution and socialist construction. However, it was not possible to accomplish this goal all at once. Only a small part of the intelligentsia, above all Bolshevik Party members, fought for the establishment and consolidation of Soviet power. They made up 1–1 1/2 percent of the entire Russian intelligentsia (5–7 percent of the party membership at the beginning of the October Revolution). After the victory of the October Socialist Revolution many of the workers and working peasantry who were most literate and most devoted to socialism began to rise in the state administration. Among the prominent figures in culture and the arts who gave their support to the dictatorship of the proletariat in the first few months of its existence were K. A. Timiriazev, K. E. Tsiolkovskii, N. E. Zhukovskii, I. P. Pavlov, A. A. Blok, V. Ia. Briusov, and A. S. Serafimovich. By contrast, many intellectuals joined the counterrevolutionary parties—the Octobrists, Cadets, SR’s (Socialist Revolutionaries), Mensheviks, and bourgeois nationalists, which fought actively against Soviet power.

During the October Socialist Revolution and the period immediately after it, the majority of the intelligentsia vacillated a great deal. The experience of the first year of Soviet power and the lessons of foreign intervention and White Guardism were the determining factors in the shift of the intelligentsia toward Soviet power, which began in late 1918. This was a prolonged and complicated process. The Bolshevik Party tried to help members of the intelligentsia to overcome their doubts. Lenin’s struggle against the “left Communists” and the workers’ opposition, who were trying to promote a hostile attitude toward the intelligentsia, was very important in the struggle to win over the intelligentsia to Soviet power. The Communist Party educated the intelligentsia in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism. The result of its work was the active participation of the intelligentsia in the construction of the socialist economy and culture and the strengthening of the defensive power of the Soviet state.

One of the chief results of the cultural revolution in the USSR has been the education and training of the people’s socialist intelligentsia, an “army” of many millions. The Communist Party carried out this task primarily through the development of higher education. In the academic year 1914–15 there were 127,000 students in the country, whereas in 1940–41 there were 812,000 and in 1971–72, 4, 597,000. A major role in training cadres of the intelligentsia was played by specialized secondary schools, in which the number of students rose from 54,000 in 1914–15 to 4, 421,000 in 1971–72.

As a social group the Soviet intelligentsia is characterized by a complex internal structure. In the postwar decades it has grown quantitatively and undergone fundamental qualitative changes. In 1926 fewer than 3 million persons were engaged primarily in intellectual work in the USSR, as compared to more than 30 million in 1971. According to census data, in 1939 there were 1,620,000 engineering and technical workers; in 1959, 4, 045,000; and in 1970, 8, 450,000. The number of primary and secondary school teachers in 1939 was 1,206,000; in 1959, 2, 023,000; and in 1970, 3, 033,000. In 1939, there were 122,000 physicians; in 1959, 338,000; and in 1970, 566,000. In pre-revolutionary Russia there were 11,600 scientific workers, whereas in 1971 in the USSR there were 1, 002, 900, including 26,100 holders of doctoral degrees and 249,200 doctoral candidates in science. The Soviet Union has one-fourth of all the scientific workers in the world. Among specialists with a higher or secondary education employed in the Soviet economy the proportion of women was 29 percent in 1928,36 percent in 1940, and 59 percent in 1971. In 1928 the country had 58,000 agronomists and experts with a higher or secondary education in animal husbandry and veterinary science, and in 1970, more than 1 million. In the national republics the intelligentsia has grown rapidly. In Kazakhstan, for example, the number of physicians in 1913 was 200, in 1940, 2, 700, in 1950, 6, 400, and in 1971, 31, 100.

In the USSR the people’s socialist intelligentsia consists primarily of individuals of working-class or peasant background. The Soviet intelligentsia draws its members from all nationalities. It is guided in all its activities by Marxist-Leninist ideology. The Soviet intelligentsia has made a great contribution to the causes of building socialism, achieving the socialist industrialization of the country and the collectivization of agriculture, solving the tasks of the cultural revolution, strengthening the armed forces of the Soviet state, and defending the homeland in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45.

Together with the working class and the kolkhoz peasantry, the intelligentsia helps to build communism. It plays a great role in creating the material and technical bases for communism, in making socialist intellectual culture flourish, and in developing science and technology, especially at a time when the scientific and technical revolution is proceeding rapidly. The Soviet intelligentsia has made outstanding contributions in raising the country’s military might, in struggling resolutely and intransigently against bourgeois ideology, and in educating the Soviet people in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism.

The party accepts the most advanced sections of the intelligentsia into its ranks, uniting on a voluntary basis “the most advanced and conscious elements of the working class, kolkhoz peasantry, and intelligentsia of the USSR” (Ustav KPSS, 1971, p. 3). In early 1970, of the 14 million members of the party approximately 6 million were engineers, technicians, agronomists, teachers, physicians, or other specialists. As the construction of communism proceeds, the class structure of Soviet society will evolve toward social homogeneity. Gradually, the fundamental distinctions between manual and mental laborers are being eliminated. The cultural and professional standards of the workers and peasants are steadily rising toward the standards of the intelligentsia. Scientific and technical progress promotes the continuous growth of the intelligentsia’s importance and social role. The Communist Party and the Soviet government show great concern for the intelligentsia, strengthen its unions of creative workers and its organizations, and constantly strive to further its ideological tempering and to increase its professional and political activity and its role in meeting the goals of communist construction.



Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2d ed., vol. 23.
Marx, K. “Teorii pribavochnoi stoimosti.” Ibid., vol. 26.
Engels, F. Anti-Dühring. Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. “Chto takoe ‘druz’ia naroda’ i kak oni voiuiut protiv sotsial-demokratov?” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. “Proekt programmy nashei partii.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “Chto delaf?” Ibid., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. I. “Shag vpered, dva shaga nazad.” Ibid., vol. 8.
Lenin, V. I. “Partiinaia organizatsiia i partiinaia literatura.” Ibid., vol. 12.
Lenin, V. I. “Otvet na otkrytoe pis’mo spetsialista.” Ibid., vol. 38.
Lenin, V. I. O literature i iskusstve[Anthology], 4th ed. Moscow, 1969.
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Leikina-Svirskaia, V. R. “Formirovanie raznochinskoi intelligentsii v Rossii v 40-kh godakh XIX v.” Isloriia SSSR, 1958, no. 1.
Leikina-Svirskaia, V. R. Intelligentsiia v Rossii vo 2-i pol. 19 v. Moscow, 1971.
Konstantinov, F. V. “Sovetskaia intelligentsiia.” Kommunist, 1959, no. 15.
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Klassy i klassovaia bor’ba v razvivaiushchikhsia stranakh. vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1967–68.
Fediukin, S. A. Sovetskaia vlast’ i burzhuaznye spetsialisty. Moscow, 1965.
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Erman, L. K. V. I. Lenin o roli intelligentsii v demokraticheskoi i sotsialisticheskoi revoliutsiiakh, v stroitel’stve sotsializma i kommunizma. Moscow, 1970.
Nadel’, S. N. Nauchno-tekhnicheskaia intelligentsiia v sovremennom burzhuaznom obshchestve. Moscow, 1971.
Galbraith, J. Novoe industrial’noe obshchestvo. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from English.)
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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