Home > Uncategorized > Alexander Herzen: Six hundred thousand animated machines with bayonets. Military caste divides the people into two nations

Alexander Herzen: Six hundred thousand animated machines with bayonets. Military caste divides the people into two nations


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

Alexander Herzen: Selections on the military and war


Alexander Herzen
From My Past and Thoughts
Translated by Constance Garnett


We were kept in ignorance by the knout and the Tatars: we were civilized by the axe and the Germans: and in both cases our nostrils were slit and we were branded with irons. Peter the Great drove civilisation into us with such a wedge that Russia could not stand the shock and split into two layers. We are only just beginning now, after a hundred and fifty years, to understand how this split was made: there was nothing in common between the two parts; on the one hand, robbery and contempt; on the other, suffering and mistrust: on the one hand, the liveried lackey, proud of his social position and haughtily displaying it; on the other hand, the plundered peasant, hating him and concealing his hatred. Never did Turk, slaughtering men and carrying off women to his harem, oppress so systematically, nor disdain the Frank and Greek so insolently, as did Russia of the privileged class despise the Russia of the peasant. There is no instance in history of a caste of the same race getting the upper hand so thoroughly and becoming so completely alien as our military nobility.


Europe is approaching a terrible cataclysm. The mediaeval world is falling into ruins. The feudal world is drawing to a close. Political and religious revolutions are flagging under the burden of their impotence; they have accomplished great things, but have not carried out their tasks. They have destroyed faith in the Throne and the Altar, but have not established freedom; they have kindled in men’s hearts desires which they are incapable of satisfying. Parliamentarianism, Protestantism, are only stop-gaps, temporary havens, weak bulwarks against death and resurrection. Their day is over. Since 1849 it has grasped that petrified Roman law, subtle casuistry, thin philosophic deism, and barren religious rationalism are all equally powerless to hold back the workings of destiny…Europe is plunged in dim, stifling gloom, on the even of the momentous conflict. It is not life, but an oppressive, agitating suspense. There is no regard for law, no justice, no personal freedom even; everywhere the sway of the secular inquisition is supreme; instead of order upheld by law, there is a state of siege, all are governed by a single feeling – fear, and there is plenty of it…


There are peoples living a prehistoric life, others living a life outside history; but once they move into the broad stream of history, one and indivisible, they belong to humanity, and, on the other hand, all the past of humanity belongs to them. In history – that is, in the life of the active and progressive part of humanity – the aristocracy of facial angle, of complexion, and other distinctions is gradually effaced…


This living pyramid of crimes, abuses, and bribery, built up of policemen, scoundrels, heartless German officials everlastingly greedy, ignorant judges everlastingly drunk, aristocrats everlastingly base: all this is held together by a community of interest in plunder and gain, and supported on six hundred thousand animated machines with bayonets…


Science even more than the Gospel teaches us humility. She cannot look down on anything, she does not know what superiority means, she despises nothing, is never false for the sake of a pose, and conceals nothing to produce an effect. She stops short at the facts to investigate, sometimes to heal, never to punish, still less with hostility and irony.

Science – I anyway am not compelled to keep some words hidden in the silence of the spirit – science is love, as Spinoza said of thought and vision.

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