What Is to be Done Now?

Russia’s renowned Symbolist poet Alexander Blok (1880-1921) perceived the First World War, the 1917 Revolution, and the resulting Civil War as the apocalyptic unfolding of a new era. The following text from May 13th, 1918, is his response as an artist to these events. Translated by Nina Kouprianova.

I must answer a question which concerns every responsible Russian citizen: “What is to be done now?” Above all, I will allow myself to determine my own attitude toward this question.

First, “responsible Russian citizen” is an old and relative term. All three of these words are werewolf-words. I fear werewolves. In order to defend myself against them, in the very least, I must specify one thing: I have never been, and will never be a “Russian citizen” in the way that the old Russian liberals understood this term, no matter how much my soul is hounded. I am an artist and, therefore, not a liberal. I consider elaborating on this matter redundant, and there is no space to do this here.

Second, I can answer the question, “What is to be done?” only as an artist. I will not tackle the issue of food supplies, substituting an empty throne, parliamentarianism, and demonstrating cross processions down the avenues, even though I, too, lack bread like everyone else.

Nonetheless, in a certain sense, as I understand it, I am a “Russian citizen.” And since the “writer’s words are the essence of his work,” then I consider it my duty to answer the question that not only concerns me, but burns at me from inside: what must the artist do now?

1) The artist must recognize the fact that there is no more of that Russia, which was, and there will never be again. There is no more Europe that was, and there will never be again. Perhaps, both revelations will arrive in tenfold horror making life unbearable. But there also won’t be the kind of horror that was. The world entered a new era. That civilization, that statehood, that religion—have died. There is a possibility that they could return and continue to exist, but they lost Being, and those of us who witnessed their ugly deathbed contortions are now condemned to watch them rot and turn to dust—in as much as there is still strength left in us. Let us not forget that the Roman Empire existed for about five hundred years after the birth of Christ. But it only existed, bloating, rotting, and turning to dust, since it was already dead.

2) The artist must set himself ablaze with wrath against everything that attempts to galvanize the corpse. In order for this wrath not to degenerate into anger (anger is a great temptation), he must protect the flames of knowledge about the era’s greatness of which no anger is worthy. One of the best ways to do so is not to forget about social inequality without belittling the great content encapsulated in these two small words by using terms like “humanism,” through sentimentality, political economy, or journalism. The knowledge of social inequality is a superior kind of knowledge, cold and wrathful.

3) The artist must prepare himself for even greater events to come and, having met them, he must be able to bow before them.