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The intelligentsia ( /ɪnˌtɛlɪˈɛntsiə,-ˈɡɛnt-/ ) [1] [2] (Latin : intelligentia, Polish : inteligencja, Russian:интеллигенция, tr. intyelligyentsiya,IPA:  [ɪntʲɪlʲɪˈɡʲentsɨjə] ) is a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labours that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society. [3] As a status class, the intelligentsia includes artists, teachers and academics, writers, and the literary hommes de lettres. [4] [5] Individual members of the intelligentsia are known as intellectuals.


The concept of the intelligentsia status class arose in the late 18th century, in Russian-controlled Poland, during the age of Partitions (1772–95). In the 19th century, the Polish intellectual Bronisław Trentowski coined the term inteligencja (intellectuals) to identify and describe the educated and professionally active social stratum of the patriotic bourgeoisie who could be the cultural leaders of Poland, then under the control of the Russian Empire from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. [6]

In Russia, before the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), the term intelligentsiya described the status class of educated people whose cultural capital (schooling, education, enlightenment) allowed them to assume practical political leadership. [7] In practice, the status and social function of the intelligentsia varied by society. In Eastern Europe, intellectuals were deprived of political influence and access to the effective levers of economic development; the intelligentsia were at the functional periphery of their societies. In contrast, in Western Europe, especially in Germany and Great Britain, the Bildungsbürgertum (cultured bourgeoisie) and the British professions had defined roles as public intellectuals in their societies. [5]

European history

The philosopher Karol Libelt identified the intelligentsia status class as associated with social progress, yet willing to work for the State. Karol Libelt.PNG
The philosopher Karol Libelt identified the intelligentsia status class as associated with social progress, yet willing to work for the State.
The Russian writer Pyotr Boborykin defined the intelligentsia as the managers of a society and as the creators of high culture. Pyotr Dmitryevich Boborykin.jpg
The Russian writer Pyotr Boborykin defined the intelligentsia as the managers of a society and as the creators of high culture.

In Europe the intelligentsia existed as a status class (social stratum) even before intelligentsia, the term, was coined in the 19th century. As people whose professions placed them (physically, economically, and socially) outside the traditional places and functions of the town-and-country monarchic social-classes (royalty, aristocracy, bourgeoisie) of the time, the intelligentsia were an urban social-class. [8] In their status class functions, the intellectuals had involvement with the cultural development of cities, the dissemination of printed knowledge (books, texts, newspapers), and the economic development of rental-housing (the tenement house) for the teacher, the journalist, and the civil servant.

In his 2008 work The Rise of the Intelligentsia, 1750–1831, [9] Maciej Janowski identified the intelligentsia as intellectual servants to the modern State, to the degree that their state-service policies decreased social backwardness and political repression in partitioned Poland.

The Polish philosopher Karol Libelt coined the term inteligencja in his publication of O miłości ojczyzny (On Love of the Fatherland) in 1844. In the Polish language, the popular understanding of the word inteligencja is close to Libelt's definition, which saw the inteligencja status-class as the well-educated people of society, who undertake to provide moral leadership, as scholars, teachers, lawyers, engineers, etc.; the intelligentsia "guide for the reason of their higher enlightenment." [8] [ failed verification ] [10]

In the 1860s, the writer Pyotr Boborykin popularised the term intelligentsiya (Russian: интеллигенция) in Imperial Russia; he claimed to have originated the concept of the intelligentsia as a social stratum. [11] [12] [13] The Russian word intelligentsiya derived from the German word Intelligenz (intelligence) and identified and described the social stratum of people engaged in intellectual occupations; moreover, Boborykin also expanded the definition of intelligentsiya (producers of culture and ideology) to include artists (producers of high culture). [11] [12]

In 2006, Dr Vitaly Tepikin identified the characteristics of the group [14] comprising the intelligentsia as follows:

  1. the advanced for its time moral ideals, sensitivity to the neighbor, tact and gentleness in manifestations;
  2. active mental work and continuous self-education;
  3. patriotism, based on faith in his people and selfless, inexhaustible love for small and big motherland;
  4. the creative tirelessness of all the units of the intelligentsia (and not just the artistic part of it, as many people consider it), asceticism;
  5. independence, the desire for freedom of expression and finding it yourself;
  6. a critical attitude to the current government, the condemnation of any manifestations of injustice, anti-humanism, anti-democracy;
  7. loyalty to one's convictions prompted by conscience under the most difficult conditions and even a tendency to self-denial;
  8. ambiguous perception of reality, which leads to political fluctuations, and sometimes – and the manifestation of conservatism;
  9. an aggravated sense of resentment due to lack of implementation (real or apparent), which sometimes leads to the extreme closeness of the intellectual;
  10. periodic misunderstanding, rejection of each other by representatives of various groups of the intelligentsia, as well as a single squad, which is caused by bouts of selfishness and impulsivity (most often characteristic of artistic intelligentsia).


19th century

The surgeon Ludwik Rydygier and his assistants. (Portrait by Leon Wyczolkowski) Wyczolkowski Ludwik Rydygier with his assistants.jpg
The surgeon Ludwik Rydygier and his assistants. (Portrait by Leon Wyczółkowski)

In 1844 Poland, the term intelligencja, identifying the intellectuals of society, first was used by the philosopher Karol Libelt, which he described as a status class of people characterised by intellect and Polish nationalism; qualities of mind, character, and spirit that made them natural leaders of the modern Polish nation. That the intelligentsia were aware of their social status and of their duties to society: Educating the youth with the nationalist objective to restore the Republic of Poland; preserving the Polish language; and love of the Fatherland. [5]

Nonetheless, the writers Stanisław Brzozowski and Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński [15] criticised Libelt's ideological and messianic representation of a Polish republic, because it originated from the social traditionalism and reactionary conservatism that pervade the culture of Poland, and so impede socio-economic progress. Consequent to the Imperial Prussian, Austrian, Swedish and Russian Partitions of Poland, the imposition of Tsarist cultural hegemony caused many of the political and cultural élites to participate in the Great Emigration (1831–70).[ citation needed ]

World War II

After the Invasion of Poland (1 September 1939), by Nazi Germany and the Soviet union, in occupied Poland each side proceeded to eliminate any possible resistance leader. In their part of occupied Poland, the Nazis began the Second World War (1939–45) with the extermination of the Polish intelligentsia, by way of the military operations of the Special Prosecution Book-Poland, the German AB-Aktion in Poland, the Intelligenzaktion, and the Intelligenzaktion Pommern. In their part of occupied Poland, the Soviet Union proceeded with the extermination of the Polish intelligentsia with operations such as the Katyn massacre (1940), during which university professors, physicians, lawyers, engineers, teachers, writers and journalists were murdered. [16]


Imperial era

Vissarion Belinsky Vissarion Belinsky by K Gorbunov 1843.jpg
Vissarion Belinsky

The Russian intelligentsiya also was a mixture of messianism and intellectual élitism, which the philosopher Isaiah Berlin described as follows: "The phenomenon, itself, with its historical and literally revolutionary consequences, is, I suppose, the largest, single Russian contribution to social change in the world. The concept of intelligentsia must not be confused with the notion of intellectuals. Its members thought of themselves as united, by something more than mere interest in ideas; they conceived themselves as being a dedicated order, almost a secular priesthood, devoted to the spreading of a specific attitude to life." [17]

The Idea of Progress, which originated in Western Europe during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, became the principal concern of the intelligentsia by the mid-19th century; thus, progress social movements, such as the Narodniks, mostly consisted of intellectuals. The Russian philosopher Sergei Bulgakov said that the Russian intelligentsia was the creation of Peter, that they were the "window to Europe through which the Western air comes to us, vivifying and toxic at the same time." Moreover, Bulgakov also said that the literary critic of Westernization, Vissarion Belinsky was the spiritual father of the Russian intelligentsia. [18]

In 1860, there were 20,000 professionals in Russia and 85,000 by 1900. Originally composed of educated nobles, the intelligentsia became dominated by raznochintsy (classless people) after 1861. In 1833, 78.9 per cent of secondary-school students were children of nobles and bureaucrats, by 1885 they were 49.1 per cent of such students. The proportion of commoners increased from 19.0 to 43.8 per cent, and the remaining percentage were the children of priests. [19] In fear of an educated proletariat, Tsar Nicholas I limited the number of university students to 3,000 per year, yet there were 25,000 students, by 1894. Similarly the number of periodicals increased from 15 in 1855 to 140 periodical publications in 1885. [20] The "third element" were professionals hired by zemstva. By 1900, there were 47,000 of them, most were liberal radicals.[ according to whom? ]

Although Tsar Peter the Great introduced the Idea of Progress to Russia, by the 19th century, the Tsars did not recognize "progress" as a legitimate aim of the state, to the degree that Nicholas II said "How repulsive I find that word" and wished it removed from the Russian language. [21]

Bolshevik perspective

In Russia, the Bolsheviks did not consider the status class of the intelligentsiya to be a true social class, as defined in Marxist philosophy. In that time, the Bolsheviks used the Russian word prosloyka (stratum) to identify and define the intelligentsia as a separating layer without an inherent class character.

In the creation of post-monarchic Russia, Lenin was firmly critical of the class character of the intelligentsia, commending the growth of "the intellectual forces of the workers and the peasants" will depose the "bourgeoisie and their accomplices, intelligents, lackeys of capital who think that they are brain of the nation. In fact it is not brain, but dung". (На деле это не мозг, а говно) [22]

The Russian Revolution of 1917 divided the intelligentsia and the social classes of Tsarist Russia. Some Russians emigrated, the political reactionaries joined the right-wing White movement for counter-revolution, some became Bolsheviks, and some remained in Russia and participated in the political system of the USSR. In reorganizing Russian society, the Bolsheviks rid themselves, by fair and foul means, of class enemies, by way of deportation on Philosophers' ships, forced labor in the gulag, and summary execution. The members of the Tsarist-era intelligentsia who remained in Bolshevik Russia (the USSR) were proletarianized. Although the Bolsheviks recognized the managerial importance of the intelligentsia to the future of Soviet Russia, the bourgeois origin of this stratum gave reason for distrust of their ideological commitment to Marxist philosophy.

Soviet Union

In the late Soviet Union the term "intelligentsia" acquired a formal definition of mental and cultural workers. There were subcategories of "scientific-technical intelligentsia" (научно-техническая интеллигенция) and "creative intelligentsia" (творческая интеллигенция).

Between 1917 and 1941, there was a massive increase in the number of engineering graduates: from 15,000 to over 250,000. [23]

Post-Soviet period

In the post-Soviet period, the members of the former Soviet intelligentsia have displayed diverging attitudes towards the communist regime. While the older generation of intelligentsia has attempted to frame themselves as victims, the younger generation, who were in their 30s when the Soviet Union collapsed, has not allocated so much space for the repressive experience in their self-narratives. [24] Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the popularity and influence of the intelligentsia has significantly declined. Therefore, it is typical for the post-Soviet intelligentsia to feel nostalgic for the last years of the Soviet Union (perestroika), which they often regard as the golden age of the intelligentsia. [25]

Vladimir Putin has expressed his view on the social duty of intelligentsia in modern Russia.

We should all be aware of the fact that when revolutionary—not evolutionary—changes come, things can get even worse. The intelligentsia should be aware of this. And it is the intelligentsia specifically that should keep this in mind and prevent society from radical steps and revolutions of all kinds. We've had enough of it. We've seen so many revolutions and wars. We need decades of calm and harmonious development. [26]


Derived from the Polish cultural concept, the word intelligentsiya entered the languages of Europe; in English usage, "intelligentsia" identifies the intellectual status class in the countries of Central Europe (e.g. Poland) and Eastern Europe (e.g. Russia) in the 19th and 20th centuries. A narrower term 'intellectuals', according to Pierre Bourdieu, can be applied to those members of intelligentsia who not only work using their intellect, but also create cultural wealth.[ citation needed ] The emergence of elite classes of intellectuals or well-educated people had been observed in other European countries (e.g., intellectuels in France and Gebildete in Germany.)

In contemporary usage, the denotations and connotations of the term Intelligentsia include the intellectuals and the managerial middle-class whose professional and societal functions are the creation, distribution, and application of knowledge throughout society. [27]

The sociologist Max Weber defined the intelligentsia as a major social category (status class), which is essentially distinct, in their social function, political attributes, and national interests, from the other social categories of society. In Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, Weber used the term intelligentsia in chronological and geographical frames of reference, such as "this Christian preoccupation with the formulation of dogmas was, in Antiquity, particularly influenced by the distinctive character of 'intelligentsia', which was the product of Greek education." [28]

Mass intelligentsia

In the 20th century, from the status class term Intelligentsia, sociologists derived the term mass intelligentsia to describe the populations of educated adults, with discretionary income, who pursue intellectual interests by way of book clubs and cultural associations, etc. [29] That sociological term was made popular usage by the writer Melvyn Bragg, who said that mass intelligentsia conceptually explains the popularity of book clubs and literary festivals that otherwise would have been of limited intellectual interests to most people from the middle class and from the working class. [30] [31]

In the book Campus Power Struggle (1970), the sociologist Richard Flacks addressed the concept of mass intelligentsia:

What [Karl] Marx could not anticipate . . . was that the anti-bourgeois intellectuals of his day were the first representatives of what has become, in our time, a mass intelligentsia, a group possessing many of the cultural and political characteristics of a [social] class in Marx's sense. By intelligentsia I mean those [people] engaged vocationally in the production, distribution, interpretation, criticism, and inculcation of cultural values. [32]

See also

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  1. "intelligentsia noun – Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes". Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
  2. "intelligentsia". Dictionary.
  3. Pascal Ory and Jean-François Sirinelli, Les Intellectuels en France. De l'affaire Dreyfus à nos jours (The Intellectuals in France: From the Dreyfus Affair to Our Days), Paris: Armand Colin, 2002, p. 10.
  4. Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1983) Rev. Ed., p. 170.
  5. 1 2 3 Kizwalter, Tomasz (October 2009). transl. by Agnieszka Kreczmar. "The History of the Polish Intelligentsia" (PDF file, direct download). Acta Poloniae Historica: 241–242. ISSN   0001-6829 . Retrieved 16 December 2013. Jerzy Jedlicki (ed.), Dzieje inteligencji polskiej do roku 1918 [The History of the Polish Intelligentsia until 1918]; and: Maciej Janowski, Narodziny inteligencji, 1750–1831 [The Rise of the Intelligentsia, 1750–1831].
  6. Billington, James H. Fire in the Minds of Men (0000), p. 231.
  7. Oxford English Dictionary, p. 1387.
  8. 1 2 Szpakowska, Malgorzata. "Dzieje inteligencji polskiej do roku 1918 [History of Intelligentsia Before 1918 in Poland]". Zeszyty Literackie (Literary Letters): 1 / 6. Retrieved 16 December 2013. Dzieje inteligencji polskiej do roku 1918 ed. by Jerzy Jedlicki. Vol. I: Maciej Janowski, Narodziny inteligencji 1750–1831; Vol. II: Jerzy Jedlicki, Błędne koło 1832–1864; Vol. III: Magdalena Micińska, Inteligencja na rozdrożach 1864–1918. Warsaw, Polish Academy of Sciences Institute of History – Neriton, 2008, s. 260, 322, 232.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. Janowski, Maciej (2008). Jedlicki, Jerzy (ed.). Birth of the Intelligentsia – 1750–1831: A History of the Polish Intelligentsia, Part 1. Geschichte Erinnerung Politik: Posener Studien Zur Geschichts-, Kultur- Und Politikwissenschaft. 7. Translated by Korecki, Tristan. Peter Lang Edition (published 2014). ISBN   9783631623756 . Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  10. Dr hab., Prof. UW Andrzej Szwarc (2009). "Kryteria i granice podziałów w badaniach nad inteligencją polską" [Criteria and Divisions in Research of Polish Intelligentsia]. Instytut Historyczny UW (University of Warsaw Institute of History). Archived from the original on 17 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. 1 2 С. В. Мотин. О понятии «интеллигенция» в творчестве И. С. Аксакова и П. Д. Боборыкина . Известия Пензенского государственного педагогического университета им. В.Г. Белинского, 27, 2012 (in Russian)
  12. 1 2 Пётр Боборыкин. Русская интеллигенция. Русская мысль, 1904, № 12 (in Russian)
  13. Пётр Боборыкин. Подгнившие "Вехи" . Сб. статей В защиту интеллигенции. Москва, 1909, с. 119–138; первоначально опубл. в газете "Русское слово", No 111, 17 (30) мая, 1909 (in Russian)
  14. Tepikin, Vitaly (2006), Culture and intelligentsia. Ivanovo: Ivanovo University Press, p. 41-42.
  15. Boy-Żeleński, T. (1932) Nasi okupanci | Our Occupants.
  16. Fischer, Benjamin B. (1999–2000). "The Katyn Controversy: Stalin's Killing Field". Studies in Intelligence. CIA (Winter). Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  17. Berlin, Isaiah. A Remarkable decade. Published in: Russian Thinkers, Penguin UK, 2013, ISBN   978-0-14-139317-9
  18. Сергей Булгаков. Героизм и подвижничество . Вехи (сборник статей о русской интеллигенции), 1909
  19. Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Old Regime, p. 262.
  20. Pipes, Richard. Russia Under the Old Regime p. 264.
  21. Ascher, Abraham. The Revolution of 1905: Russia in Disarray, p. 15.
  22. Lenin, V. I. (1915). Letter from Lenin to Gorky.
  23. Smith, Steve (1983). "Bolshevism, Taylorism and the Technical Intelligentsia in the Soviet Union, 1917–1941". Radical Science Journal (13): 3–27.
  24. See Kaprans, M. (2010) "Retrospective Anchoring of the Soviet Repressive System: the Autobiographies of the Latvian Intelligentsia." In Starck, K. (ed.) Between Fear and Freedom: Cultural Representations of the Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. P. 193–206.
  25. See Procevska, O. (2010). "Powerlessness, lamentation and nostalgia: discourses of the post-Soviet intelligentsia in modern Latvia." In: Basov, N., Simet, G.F., Andel, J. van, Mahlomaholo, S., Netshandama, V. (eds). The Intellectual: A Phenomenon in Multidimensional Perspectives. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press. ISBN   978-1-84888-027-6. P. 47–56.
  26. "Putin's most interesting quotes on Obama, gay rights and Syria". 4 September 2013.
  27. Ehrenreich, B. (1989). Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. New York: Harper Collins
  28. Weber, Max. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, ISBN   0-520-03500-3 p.462
  29. "We think, therefore we are -".
  30. Rockhill, Elena (2011). Lost to the State. Berghahn Books. p. 141. ISBN   978-1-84545-738-9.
  31. "Melvyn Bragg on the rise of the mass intelligentsia".
  32. Flacks, Richard (1973). Campus Power Struggle. Transition Books. p. 126. ISBN   978-0-87855-059-3.

Further reading