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Philosophical Idealism and Utopian Capitalism: The Vekhi Authors and the Riabushinskii Circle

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image of Russian History

The publication of the Vekhi ("Signposts") symposium in Moscow in 1909 was the literary event of the decade in Pre-Revolutionary Russia. Its critique of the radical collectivist traditions of the Russian intelligentsia in the name of "the primacy of spiritual life" was greeted with howls of condemnation from nearly every ideological camp. Contemporaries interpreted this appeal as turn away from the political struggle with autocracy toward mysticism and obscurantism. Historians have more charitably seen Vekhi as a way station in the ideological pilgrimage of its principal participants, Peter Struve, Nicholas Berdiaev, Sergei Bulgakov and Semion Frank, from Marxism through Liberalism toward more contemplative and ethereal realms of Idealist philosophy, Orthodox theology and imperialist nationalism. Both of these interpretative streams perpetuate the impression that Vekhi represented a drift from the practical to the spiritual, and that its message went, either deservedly or tragically, unheard and unheeded.It is argued here that Vekhi's philosophical discourse contained within it some very concrete social and economic prescriptions, and that its message in fact fell on at least some receptive ears. Vehki found an attentive audience among a small group of liberal industialists in Moscow, led by Pavel Riabushinskii. It served as a catalyst for the creation of an entrepreneurial group known as the Riabushinskii Circle, and opened the way for a remarkable collaboration between intellectuals and entrepreneurs that lasted until the Bolshevik Revolution, and culminated in Riabushinskii's "Utopian Capitalist" vision for Russia.


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