The intelligentsia (/ɪnˌtɛlɪˈɛntsiə/) (Latin: intelligentia, Polish: inteligencja, Russian: интеллигенция, tr. intelligencija, 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. As a status class, the intelligentsia includes artists, teachers and academics, writers, and the literary hommes de lettres. Individual members of the intelligentsia are known as intellectuals.

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 intelligentcja (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 authoritarian régime of Russian Tsarist autocracy, from the late 18th-century to the early 20th century.

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. 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.

European history

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.

In Europe the intelligentsia existed as a status class (social stratum) even before of 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. 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, 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 et al.; the intelligentsia "guide for the reason of their higher enlightenment."[failed verification]

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. 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).

In 2006, Dr Vitaly Tepikin identified the characteristics of the group 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 History in Poland

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.

Nonetheless, the writers Stanisław Brzozowski and Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński 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).


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.


Imperial era

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."

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.

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. 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. 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.

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" who 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, it is shit". (На деле это не мозг, а говно)

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.

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. 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.

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


Derived from the Russian cultural concept, the word intelligentsiya entered the languages of Europe; in English usage, "intelligensia" 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. 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.

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."

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. 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.

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

See also

  • Boborykin, P.D. Russian Intelligentsia In: Russian Thought, 1904, # 12 (In Russian; Боборыкин П.Д. Русская интеллигенция// Русская мысль. 1904. No.12;)
  • Zhukovsky V. A. From the Diaries of Years 1827–1840, In: Our Heritage, Moscow, #32, 1994. (In Russian; Жуковский В.А. Из дневников 1827–1840 гг. // Наше наследие. М., 1994. No.32.)
    • The record dated by 2 February 1836 says: "Через три часа после этого общего бедствия ... осветился великолепный Энгельгардтов дом, и к нему потянулись кареты, все наполненные лучшим петербургским дворянством, тем, которые у нас представляют всю русскую европейскую интеллигенцию" ("After three hours after this common disaster ... the magnificent Engelhardt's house was lit up and coaches started coming, filled with the best Peterburg dvoryanstvo, the ones who represent here the best Russian European intelligentsia.") The casual, i.e., no-philosophical and non-literary context, suggests that the word was in common circulation.
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