Evgeny Rashkovsky (spiritual cultures), 1992

Evgeny Rashkovsky Interview Moscow June, 1992
He is a scholar at IMEMO but we talked over lunch in his apartment.

Spencer: . . . in the sixties?

RASHKOVSKY: Yes. Some of them have died. Some of them have been expelled.I am not sure they are instrumentally and (medically?) interested in these political issues. As for myself, I am more interested in the sphere of philosophy, theology, and metaphysics.

Spencer: I didn’t know they had people like you. I thought they were all pretty technocratic. How do you find yourself?

RASHKOVSKY: I understand them and sometimes I can speak their language. They have their business and I have business of my own.

Spencer: They allow you to do what you are doing without getting into trouble, hm?

RASHKOVSKY: In the time of Bolshevism, there were many troubles. But now? I think it is okay. I don’t want to have people marching behind me, it’s not interesting.

Spencer: You said something about having to work with a different paradigm, that something had happened to you in Jerusalem. I would like to know about that.

RASHKOVSKY: What happened to me in Jerusalem? You see, I studied different theological, gospel, talmudic, Judaic, Russian, and many other things for many things. I understood that every single thing in Jerusalem was loaded with meaning for me. The most striking thing for me in Jerusalem was the attitude toward ecological problems. Without ideology, without slogans. It is so difficult to have a living tree, but they do it. It is so difficult to have a child, but they do it.

Spencer: So you see something about ecology in the work you have to do?

RASHKOVSKY: I don’t know. I have to think about it.

Spencer: You say you are a child of the sixties, or a remnant of the sixties. Me too. I’m a fossil of the sixties. I was just talking yesterday with someone about whether people are like their parents, whether this generation can be seen as the sons and daughters of the people of the Thaw. Is their connection a generational, cyclical thing. . . .

RASHKOVSKY: You see, Metta, our sixties were quite different. Our sixties were not the new left, but the sixties of de-Stalinization. About about cycles? This idea is very new for me. I can’t say I haven’t thought about it, but I haven’t thought enough. I think our present-day children will continue to live __ a history that we have.

Spencer: Tell me about your sixties.

RASHKOVSKY: Some remnant of the sixties became chauvinists.. . . Former sixties people have resigned their heritage of the sixties. Our sixties had a special flavor. We were too emancipated in sex. To now I remember my former emancipation with a certain degree of shame. In sex, in many other things, but it was for the first time in Soviet history, people understood that they were not slaves, that they belonged not to the party, not to Bolshevism. Maybe they belonged to themselves, and maybe through themselves to something that was more novel than Bolshevism. This part of my family life, this part of my ____, and so on.

Spencer: People were caught up in a cultural reformation in the sixties.

RASHKOVSKY: This is more than a cultural reformation. This was a reformation in the very structure of man. This was the first experience of the socialist functionary to reshape himself. But you see, I remember that in this time I was a Marxist. I studied Marxology. It is interesting in many respects. But even in the sixties I had realized that my thinking about Marxism was incompatible with the Bolshevik system. This, for many of us, this way from Bolshevik commonplaces to Marxism is a [career. It is a way to culture? ??]

Spencer: I heard someone say that there were two kinds of text: those that were available to the public and those to specialists. Did you have access to the latter?

RASHKOVSKY: Oh yeah! It was the happiness of my life! It the decade of my life. In spite of graduating at the institute with excellent marks, I was an un-person. For a foolish student of history. I had graduated, but nobody wanted to put me to account after my graduation. And so some kind people helped me to go to one of the libraries, to the so-called abstracts of _____ literature for party bosses. And this was my job, working in a good library. Of course, I did my anti-communism (____) but it was interesting for me for five or six months. And then came Parsons, Fromm. And then came Tillich, (Berdayev?).

Spencer: (laughs) Parsons and Fromm were the life for you!

RASHKOVSKY: I liked it!

Spencer: I can’t imagine what Parsons could do for your soul!

RASHKOVSKY: Oh, for that, not Parsons but more Merton. Why Parsons and Merton for my soul? I am really indebted to them very much. From my youth I had a deep (No, it’s not correct to speak of yourself as deep!). I had some interest in the theory of human sciences and the sociological criticism of human sciences, of historiography, of socio-political structures of knowledge. And I have even some book on the history of science.

Spencer: So you started with Parsons and Merton, and it was quite a treat for you to be able to do that. And …

RASHKOVSKY: You know there was an institution called spetskhran. “Special keeping of ideological books” and as I had to write abstracts for my bosses, I had the possibility to take these books also. (Laughs.) Up to now, one of the last books of mine is the study of Eisenstadt.

Spencer: Last week I spoke to someone about Eisenstadt.


Spencer: I had forgotten that Eisenstadt was still around.

RASHKOVSKY: The first Russian book on Eisenstadt is one of mine.

Spencer: It is marvellous to get to know you and I think I should go. He is probably waiting.


RASHKOVSKY:The roots of satyagrapha include three elements of profane Christianity. The first is English legalism. It’s impossible to understand English legal institutions without its Christian context — philosophical and church and so on. The redeemer. Western Christianity was the condition sine qua non for the working out of English law. Gandhi was an English lawyer, and some elements of intermediate work is based in English law customs.

Second, European science, especially European cogito. [Descartes] I think this is one of the greatest derivations of the Christian heritage. This is subject of one of my books. Third, the idea of social charity—the genesis of it cannot be understood without its biblical and gospel roots.

For many, many years I had my research on Russian religious philosophy in biblical, gospel, and Talmudic studies, so for me this is the framework of my main work.

MS: Let me ask you about Ahimsa. I think it is an Indian concept, more Jain than Hindu. Would it not be the main element of Satyagrapha?

RASHKOVSKY: It’s a very relevant question But the traditional idea of ahimsa was a negative one, to preserve your own spiritual identity. Not-not-not-not — not to harm. But Indian culture does not even raise the question of “the other man.”

MS: Oh, I see. There is no ‘other’ in Hinduism. (We are all one.)

RASHKOVSKY: This is not individualism. This is cosmos-centrism, something else. But Gandhi was deeply infected by European ideas and by his compassion to his compatriots, discovered the problem of the other man. So Ahimsa in Gandhi’s idea is the idea of another man. A specialist in Gandhi correlates this idea of ahimsa with two ideas in Christianity — agape and the Buddhist idea of mahacara, the great compassion. But in Buddhism, as well as in Hinduism, every kind of compassion is done for ourselves, for the discovery of God in our own inside. Gandhi of course was Hindu, but the individuality of depressed, individuality of rich and self-contained, who without seeing the depressed man, without seeing poor Lazarus. . .

MS: What about Mahayana Buddhism, the notion of the Boddhisatvas, that you will not accept liberation until all other creatures are also liberated? Isn’t that a form of a notion of the other?

RASHKOVSKY: I think Buddhist charity and compassion are too metaphysical. It is not socially oriented. It does not discern man, plant, horse, love, etc. But it is a very important feature of Gandhian Satyagraha, discerning of man, discerning of sociality and through sociality the discerning of history. Of course there were some Hindu teachers (e.g. Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo) who tried to discern history but they have not been ____ by this problem of healing compassion.

MS: They also would not precede Gandhi.

RASHKOVSKY:What about Vivekananda, he was too philosophic, too aristocratic.I think this Christian, or quasi-Christian or transformed Christian, ______ Gandhi, had become the premises of universalization of the ideas of satyagraha in Europe, in the Catholic world, Korea, the Philippines. ..

MS: Korea? I didn’t know it was in Korea.

RASHKOVSKY:South Korea. There are some nonviolent groups.

MS: Well, I have to say that there are things about Hinduism that I have had trouble seeing in Gandhi’s thought. For example, although he professes to have been very much guided by the Gita, I can’t see how he really was, because the whole message of the Gita was to kill. We had a conference last year on the history of pacifism and one man gave a talk — he didn’t quite say it, but the gist of it was that Gandhi was not a pacifist. He gave lots of examples. I had been troubled by the incongruities in his biography: his participation in the Boer War, his recruitment of military people for the British. I had thought it was because he had done things early in his life but overcome that later. But no, he advised the Sikhs to use violence quite late in his life. I was told this by some Sikh students. I can’t make sense of that. Also, I couldn’t see how he could get nonviolence out of the Gita.

RASHKOVSKY:I will tell you. You see, it is allegorical.

MS: I knew that was the answer, but does that work for you?

RASHKOVSKY: Yes. This symbolizes for many peace-loving Hindus our inner struggle, our inner dark elements of our psyche, of our soul. In the Christian tradition, this problem is not developed well. I must do what I must do. What about the results, it’s not so important because the greatest importance is my being just now in the right way. If we stay in the Christian canon, Christian texts, there are such motifs in St. Paul. One motif is in Romans where he writes that he is ready even to perish, in the sake of his own Jewish people. In Thessalonians or someplace else there is a passage: It is not important for me whether it is hell or paradise, life or death. Only Christ. But this ____ heritage is not seriously studied and not seriously survived in Christianity. Only now, thanks to the Gita —

MS: You really do get that out of the Gita? I think that’s not an easy interpretation to see.

RASHKOVSKY: Excuse me, I know the Gita only in Russian, but let’s think together a little bit. What’s about the origins of Gita? It was originated in the midst of military customs. Why had it been the main text, not of the military, but of priestly castes, who were strictly forbidden to kill? The whole Mahabharata was one of the traditional texts of Brahmanic education. Do you know that he read the Gita after he had read the gospels for the first time?

MS: I think I did know that. Okay, but still, the fact is that in Hinduism it is clear that the Gita does provide a justification for caste in a practical way, in the sense that if you are born to be a potter, you’d better be a potter and if you are born to be a prostitute, you’d better be a prostitute. Try to do the best job as a prostitute that you can. I think this really is the way people think. This is applied as the rationale for the social system that did exist. It was not allegorical. It was the basis for the admonitions to do what your caste tells you to do.

RASHKOVSKY:If I were a Gandhian I would answer you as follows: What you speak about is the “caste way.” Maybe the jati karma is necessary for man, but sometimes the man — — you see, Gandhi did not oppose the caste system. He opposed only the underdog attitude toward man. I shall speak about the caste system a few minutes later but now, a man has many kinds of karma. Not only jati karma, but political, religious, and so on. So the idea of svadhara, not in caste categories but in existential categories, in terms of ideas of satyagraha. Of course, in the terms of Bolshevism, this is a kind of “Hindu revisionism.”

MS: [laughs] It’s perfect.

RASHKOVSKY: I have been born in this [tradition?] and came to you through it. So of course it was I think revised Hinduism, but mainly serious students of Hinduism, like the jati system, know this system, in spite of its slow dynamics, traditional leaders, had some elements of dynamism, a mechanism of re-thinking, and so on. And Gandhi, a child of the previous century, infected by European, Christian, utilitarian ideals —

MS: and nationalism.

RASHKOVSKY: (Nationalism is of course a very powerful thing but it is a kind of utilitarianism.) Infected by these things, he rethought this idea of karma as not jati karma but, par excellence, as existential [right?].And what’s future India? Even in the most utopian humanization of Indian society, I think that jatis as the main social units would stay, but of course they would be more flexible, more penetratable, and sometimes Indian sociologists fix many cases in which the great leveler makes some inter-caste borders more penetratable. So I think that Hinduism reproduces the caste system. And the caste system reproduces Hinduism, but I think there were more reasons to see that this caste system would be mechanical and only static. It has many dynamics and many field studies of Indian sociologists (I have read a lot of them) show us these elements and dynamics. Up to intermarriages.

MS: I am not a specialist in Indian sociology, but I guess that the challenge to that would be urbanization. You can move around and hide your origins more.

RASHKOVSKY:You see, many Indian sociologists treat this subject in the following way. Of course it’s a kind of departure for many groups from their traditional roles, their traditional prostituting or tailoring or something else, but to adapt themselves to new mass society, Indians, especially newcomers to cities, are to reorganize in new, rather rigid groups, to configurate with other groups, and then to have some patrons (patronic groups) and to have some _______ also.

MS: So it will go on forever.

RASHKOVSKY: I think it will be forever, but in more soft forms.

MS: Okay, tell me about British legalism.

RASHKOVSKY:I think such ideas as habeas corpus, magna carta, such idea as the _____ of parts in the . . . .

(end of side 1)

————————- • • • • • • • •
The idea of direct groups (troops?) was the direct sanction of intelligence (tortures???).

MS: So this was not part of Lenin’s contribution? This was somebody else?

RASHKOVSKY:Yes , I think Lenin wasn’t interested in legal matters, but Lenin gave one pivotal idea— revolutionary rationality. … So the system of concentration camps, the system of execution of hostages, then the system of torture also, which had been stopped for a time after the beginning of NEP until these Stalinist purges. All these systems were invented in Russia by Lenin and his comrades. Of course, all these things were practiced by some factions of the white movement also. But what about whites? They practiced all these things situationally. And what about the Bolsheviks? They did everything in direct connection with their weltanschaung.

MS:. Very interesting.

RASHKOVSKY: To speak of the idea of satyagraha in Russia I think is almost Greek, or as we say, Chinese grammar to us.

MS: You can’t easily connect it to Tolstoy?

RASHKOVSKY:I have written something about these connections. I think Tolstoy had no interest in — of course, Tolstoy’s influence on Gandhi was tremendous. But this was, I think, metaphysical and existential and so forth. But speaking from the position of this date, I think that Gandhi was deeper in his appreciation of legal matters. These matters were almost irrelevant to Tolstoy.

MS: I guess the comparison that would occur to me is that Gandhi was concerned about social justice and that, for example, when he avoided the use of the term passive resistance because he wanted to make it clear that the life of the satyagrahi couldn’t be passive at all but had to be very committed, almost as much so as a soldier. But Tolstoy’s approach was nonresistance, which means that it was hard to see him developing techniques for waging campaigns of reform or protection of the oppressed.

RASHKOVSKY: Just a moment. Gandhi’s nonviolence is the correlate of Tolstoy’s “nonresistance to evil by the means of violence.” We speak about nonresistance, but Tolstoy’s original term is “nonresistance to evil by means of violence.” Maybe you know that Tolstoy sometimes preached not to pay taxes, not to send recruits into army, and many Tolstoyans were, especially in Bolshevik times, were banished for their refusal.

MS: You would regard Tolstoy as an activist?

RASHKOVSKY: He had quite a different kind of existence. He wasn’t politician, he was artist. What about Gandhi: He was politician in spite of regarding himself as a praying man. They were quite different people. I think Tolstoy’s main themes were not directly social, not directly political. They were artistic. For many years I have opposed this mechanical perception of Tolstoy as political thinker. He had another kind of life, another kind of thinking. And what about Gandhi? This element was maintstream in his life.

MS: That is sort of the distinction I was getting at. And the third element?

RASHKOVSKY:Rational, self-analyzing thinking and practice. Then social charity.

MS: The charity point is obvious, I don’t have to work at that. But the Cartesian reasoning, that kind of logic seems not to be very central to Gandhi.

RASHKOVSKY:Maybe not central, but nevertheless relevant. This idea of rational self-observations.

MS: “My Experiments with Truth”.

RASHKOVSKY:Experiments with Truth. I just wrote even about this name.

MS: Okay, I’ll grant you that one. I feel I’m making you work you very hard.
(we go to the living room.)
I see you have Lech Walesa on your shelf. I want to know how people like Michnik had an influence here with people like you. I understand you know him or his work.

RASHKOVSKY:I have seen him only in Switzerland when he delivered a lecture. My being in Poland was a few days before Solidarity’s victory. I visited Poland in May, 1989, just before Polish elections and Solidarity’s victory. I haven’t seen Mr. Michnik at all but I had three meetings where I had the happiness to listen to Mr. Kuron. I think this gentleman is rather akin to Mr. Michnik in his ideas. These two gentlemen are two real satyagrahi, a la Polonaise. They are deeply rooted in Polish culture but it is almost impossible to understand them without understanding the influence of Gandhi.

MS: I have been in Poland three times, I guess. The first time was in 87 or so — it was exactly the day when there was an amnesty and a bunch of people were released. I went to the house of Jacek Czaputowich and spoke to him and Petr Nymchuk, who had just been released. One thing they told me was that there was not a single book on Gandhi available in Poland. They were very keen to get something translated into Polish. It was clear that wherever they got it, they had learned it. But they hated the word pacifist. How did they get the ideas?

RASHKOVSKY:I don’t know those men.

MS: They belonged to Freedom and Peace. (explains it as movement for coscientious objection that was related to Sooidarnosc). They told me they didn’t like pacifism, and I told them I saw them as the best living examples of pacifism.

RASHKOVSKY:Of course, it is very difficult to be a pacifist in Poland after Hitler. Being in Jerusalem I was told it was impossible to be pacifist in Israel. Instead of being pacifist, they had backed Mr. Rabin because of his opposition to hawks. As for myself, I don’t think I am pacifist. But the idea of the lesser harm and the idea of the possible future conversion of your adversary in your [friend?] , is a very deep and serious idea.
And about the idea of nonviolence taking off in Solidarity, I think that this brain trust of Walesa, which contained Mazowiecki, Michnik, Kuron, and others, this brain trust is the complex of people of very broad European culture.They knew Gandhi well and they didn’t need Polish translations at all. And it is symptomatic that after the time after this bloodless revolution, these people who made too much not only of the victory over Bolsheviks but also for the future stabilization of Poland, were to be expelled from the power, as Gandhi was expelled by the gun because somebody had put bullet in him.
For me it’s not only political science but also the issue of Gorbachev. The spirit is oppositional. Nothing to be done. But I think that sometimes the spirit might make an effort against itself, not in many historical …. Not to be too formal in his oppositions. Just now, if two great Russian satyagrahists, Sakharov and Father Alexander Men, who knew Gandhi very well, were alive, they would have many counterpoints with the present establishment, Gorbachev, but I think they won’t be too forward oppositionists. Do you know it is sometimes time to throw stones, sometimes it’s time to gather stones. I think (in spite of present-day Bolshevik establishment, maybe I am not right) but sometimes oppositionists (the spirit being oppositional by definition) is to try to gather stones.

MS: I appreciate your analogy. I am staying with some people now who are very much in opposition, and very critical, and I don’t think they are able to contribute much that way to programs that need to be done constructively. Ir does seem to me that the work now is quite different from the work of opposition.

RASHKOVSKY:Another thing. It is very important for us in Russia, for us to construct heart-to-heart small groups of people in science, in education, etc. to restore civil society because there is no statehood without these grass roots.

MS: I never read anything by Father Men. Is there anything I should look at?

RASHKOVSKY:I don’t know whether his works are translated into English but now they are translated into French. ______ Catholic publishing House, Descoy, now begins to publish his works.

MS: Oh, so he wrote a lot. I thought he was more an organizer or something along those lines.You were in Poland for how long?

RASHKOVSKY:Only for a fortnight.

MS: And you had conversations with leading activists in Solidarity?


MS: How much influence would you say there was across borders, from Poland into Russia, but also Czechoslovakia, GDR, Hungary, etc.How much influence would you say that Solidarity activists had in this country and in other parts of Eastern Europe?

RASHKOVSKY:About Czechoslovakia, Hungary, I don’t know much. But about Poland I think that thanks to Solidarity, thanks to this brain trust, Poland escaped great bloodshed. And Poland’s escape from great bloodshed maybe produced the escape of the whole world from World War. Do you agree?

MS: Yeah, I was in Krakow for a few days in 86 or 87, and I spent some time with a Parish priest. I think there is a big difference between Russia and Poland, which was a grass roots revolution, while the Russian revolution was . . .

RASHKOVSKY:— from the top. But you see, this Russian peace revolution has one very important grass roots aspect: social discreditation of the ideology of Bolshevism. Bolshevism wasn’t believed in and this was the work of — maybe atomized — but nevertheless _______. It is very important.

MS: I want to come back to this because it was very interesting, but I (I talk about the priest and the events in the Philippines). So ideas moved by example from the PHilippines to Poland, to Tiananmen Square, etc.

RASHKOVSKY:Even Korea. Mr. Sumsky knows about it.

MS: I started hoping to show that it was not true that the power of the Western military had won the Cold War by strength. It was more that the dialogue between the Eastern and Western peace activists had some influence on political culture or outlook. But people began to tell me that it really didn’t. Except for Gorbachev, it could have gone on for another hundred years.

RASHKOVSKY:Of course, the Russian system is tsaristic. The Tsar Reformator had come but remember the Tsar Reformator had the destruction of the economy, the defeat in Afghanistan, the defeat in arms race. His design was to correct this absolutism and make it a little less ______ but this system, the Bolshevik system, had no ideas, had no imagination to have another revolution. Even if it could kill this Gorbachev — he was two steps from death, you know. You have seen his face full of horror when telling about his goodbye in Crimea. This system was — which are the lessons from this change? That this Russian notion of the good tsar is not sufficient because the tsar is only the peak of the iceberg.

MS: But the other side is, how do you explain Gorbachev. How did he happen?

RASHKOVSKY:Many things helped him to happen. The Khrushchev spring, he was a student at that time. And many chief party bosses had seen the weaknesses of ____ as well as he himself. Then, being closely connected with the KGB, Gorbachev had — not sufficient, because spy information is not sufficient by definition — but he had better information than others had. Then he came to power during a time when the system only was oriented for triumphs and for marching forth.…

MS: Sumsky said that it is not either from the top or the bottom but only that Gorbachev would not have done it unless he thought the ground was prepared. I mentioned this to Likhotal, who said that the Russian population is still not ready, and if Gorbachev hadn’t come it would have gone on indefinitely …

RASHKOVSKY:I don’t believe that Russian liberalization will be finished soon. This is only the very beginning. It is very important to do something not to disturb people with the nationalistic mythology. Even Romanovs — have you learned that 2 or 3 days ago the Romanovs decided not to pretend to take the Russian throne. So even they understand that this mythology can do many evil things. I am a republican, but not doctrinaire. It is not too important for me what kind of legitimatization. The issue for me is democracy and human rights. And so, being a republican, I am happy the Romanovs understood.

MS: Tell me about your own pilgrimage.

RASHKOVSKY:After visiting Jerusalem a few days ago with Mr. Sumsky something changed in myself and I have to look for a new paradigm for working. But I work for a synthesis of Russian history, for present-day Russian administration and its relation to Russian history. This is my work. I just finished my work on Gandhi.

MS: He said something about the two of you should do something together on Gandhi.

RASHKOVSKY:I don’t know. If you knew Russian I could present you with some of my work on the hermeneutics of democracy.

MS: Have you thought of having it published in English?

RASHKOVSKY:I think I am too deeply rooted in Russian. For me it’s very important to ground democratic — So, you see, for many years I worked for Russian readers. I think I have many readers in former Soviet Union, especially the provincial intelligentsia.I don’t know why. So one of my tasks is to translate some fundamental democratic ideas into the language of Russian religious mentality. I think it’s very important work. In spite of my being a westernizer, I think the West doesn’t need this kind of work.The west has a language of its own — philosophical, religious, etc. The relationship is indirect, but nevertheless it is very relevant.

MS: In terms of the theological concepts you talked about in the kitchen?

RASHKOVSKY: Religious tradition and religious ethics makes some internal space of human personality. Maybe a man can even be an unbeliever, but somebody works for him, maybe prince, poet, maybe artist, maybe philosopher, who cultivates his inner space and the man without inner space, the society which has no man with inner space, this society loses its meaning, social constitutional, educational, cultural and other structures. This is despotic society. Of course, you may say that sometimes religious people are too conservative, too fundamentalist and so forth. You are quite right but you know that this kind of argument was deeply analyzed by Paul Tillich in his political theology.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books