Ivan Ilyin: The White Army

Speech delivered by Ivan A. Ilyin in Berlin, November 19th, 1923 (The 6th Anniversary of the Russian Volunteer Army). Translated by Mark Hackard from the text “Rodina i My”; italics are from the original.

One of the most genuine and spiritually significant victories accomplished in the history of man is the triumph of the Russian White Army. If we can take everything from this victory that was laid into it, then Russia will soon be reborn in power and glory and evince still unseen greatness. And this greatness will be a living edification and support for the rebirth of other nations. This is the primary meaning of our “White” existence and suffering.

Strategic naivete, historical ignorance, the inertia of prejudice or reactionary stubbornness are nowhere behind this claim. Our opponents and enemies can be sure that we are fully possessed of sufficient factual knowledge, historical cognition and political realism to understand the elementary and superficial, what they “understand”. But the fates of nations and states have yet a different, deeper dimension open to the religious spirit and closed to the heart without God. And to abide in this dimension allows the discovery of unique meaning behind all strategic, historical and political events…

First, we shall establish that the entire struggle of Russian patriots, both military and civilian, who attempted to prevent Russia’s defeat in the Great War and her complete decomposition in the Revolution, who attempted by armed force to overturn the power of internationalist adventurers, did not reach its direct goal. The war prematurely ended with the opening of the front, and the Revolution flooded into the entire country and sank, both in quality and intensity, to the very bottom. All of Russian culture, all Russian people, and all the land were made to stand face to face with revolutionary possession: with the blasphemy of the godless, the assault of bandits, the shamelessness of the madman, the attempts at murder. All of us had to look into the eyes of Satan, tempting us with his latest seductions and frightening us with his newest terrors.

Behind the entire external appearance of the Revolution- from documentation to execution, from the ration to the tribunal, from round-up to exile and emigration, from torture by hunger, cold, degradation and fear to stolen wealth and pretension to world power – behind all this is concealed the Revolution’s single and central reason, in relation to which all of these phenomena are but changing forms, a shell, the outer shape of things. This reason is given through the words spiritual seduction and religious inquiry.

The secret and deepest meaning of the Revolution is held in the fact that it is most of all a great spiritual seduction; a harsh, cruel test; it burns through souls and tempers them by fiery trial.

This test posed to every Russian soul the same direct question: Who are you? By what do you live? What do you serve? What do you love? Do you love that which you “love”? Where is the center of your life? And are you devoted to it, and are you loyal to it? The hour has struck. There are no more delays and there’s nowhere to hide. And there are not many paths before you- only two: to God or against God. Stand up and reveal yourself. For if you do not do so, you will be made to stand and show who you are: the tempters will find you in the fields and at home, at the mill and at the altar, in your property and in your children, in the spoken word and in silence. They’ll find you and place you in the light- that you announce without ambiguity whether you are with God or against Him.

And if you are against God, then you’ll be left to live. They won’t take everything from you, and they’ll make you serve the His enemies. They’ll feed you, indulge you and reward you; they’ll let you harm others, torment them and take away their property; they’ll give you power, profit and all the appearance of disgraceful esteem.

And if you are for God and choose the path to God, then your property will be seized, and your wife and children will be disinherited. And you will be wearied with deprivations, humiliations, darkness, interrogations and terror; you’ll see how your mother and father, your wife and children slowly, like a candle, melt away in hunger and disease- and you can’t help them. You will see how your obstinacy will not save your Motherland from downfall, souls from corruption, or churches from abuse. You will gnash your teeth in powerlessness and slowly grow feeble. And if you openly resist, then you will be killed in a basement and buried, unrecognized, in some unmarked pit.

Choose and decide…

No one in Russia escaped this trial; this test overtook every man: from the Tsar to the soldier, from the Most Holy Patriarch to the last atheist, from the rich to the destitute. And each was put to an unprecedented test- to stand before the face of God and testify: either by the word, which became equivalent to the deed, or by the deed, which became equivalent to death.

The ordeal was fiery and deep, for what began and took place- and what still takes place- is not based upon party or class, or even the whole people, but is an inquiry of man across the world, a spiritual division, a religious selection, a religious differentiation of humanity. This differentiation is still far from finished, and it has only just begun; Europe, already associated with it, will sooner or later see it roaring through her own depths. The twentieth century has only just begun its business of purification and settling accounts.

In this religious trial, taking the form of a world cataclysm, the victor will be neither the man who seizes power for a time somewhere, nor he who occupies some territory; for power can expose, can compromise and ruin an invader. And the occupation of territory can turn out to be fatal for the occupier. But the one who resists, who has already withstood the storm; that endured the trial and remained loyal; who found within himself love and the force of love for his choice; that found within himself a word equivalent to action, and committed an action equivalent to the resolve to die.

The victor is neither he who temporarily and physically overcame, and perhaps in so doing condemning himself; nor is it the man who became strong on another’s weakness, another’s nothingness and failure, the baseness of the mob and the darkness of the masses. For the true man of strength is strong within himself, by his creation, which opens in him ever newer power from the original charge of life; no, the victor is he who rose against: rose against seduction, not falling to it, and rose against terror, not taking fright.

It is he who in that terrible moment of choosing, that moment of great solitude- when no one will decide for you, and no one will notice when another’s advice is of no help- in that moment of great solitude, when man stands, longing- choosing between a shameful life and an honorable death; when man inquires into his own last darkness and depth- and instinct begs for life, even a shameful one, and the spirit demands loyalty, even in death; so the victor is he who in this moment of solitude before the face of God would not accept the dishonor of life.

And it is possible that death will not come, and that he will keep living, but namely then and therefore his life will not be shameful, and he will be a conqueror…

He triumphs who agrees to lose everything to save something of God’s.