Staunton, August 11 – In 1922, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin expelled the cream of Russia’s intelligentsia by ships from Petrograd and Odessa and by train to Riga. The vessels which carried what became the intellectual center of the first Russian emigration came to be known as “the philosophers’ ships,” although the range of thinkers they carried was much larger.
(On Lenin’s “philosophers’ ship” and its meaning for Russian thought and culture, see V.G. Makarov and V.S. Khristoforov, “Passengers of the Philosophers’ Ship” (in Russian), Voprosy filosofii 7 (2003): 113-127; and Lesley Chamberlain’s Lenin’s Private War: The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the Intelligentsia (New York, 2007.)
Now, 99 years later, something similar in happening under Vladimir Putin. He is making life impossible for Russia’s best scholars, prompting ever more of them to leave in the hope they can continue their intellectual lives abroad. And some in Moscow, who recall Lenin’s tactic, are referring to the appearance of “philosophers’ jets” under Putin (t.me/SerpomPo/10564).
According to Russian government statistics, 10.8 million Russians, some seven percent of the country’s population, now live abroad. Many are not political emigres of the kind either ships or jets would carry but rather people looking for work. But the ranks of a political emigration are growing, experts say (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6113A6D724C67).
Their numbers are growing, primarily because of the increasing repression against intellectual and political freedoms in Russia, experts like Elena Yegorova of the Russian Economics University says; and the total emigration is far larger than the government currently admits.
She says that as many as 300,000 Russians left their homeland in 2020, nearly five times the number the government has acknowledged. Many are leaving to get jobs or protect themselves from the pandemic, but ever more are doing so for political reasons or because they are members of groups such as gays who are repressed in Russia.
Most of these are travelling by jet from Russian airports, something that means it is now far more appropriate to speak of multiple “philosophers’ jets” than of a single “philosophers’ ship.”