"Pravda" as a higher "truth"
Copyright © 2003 by Hugo S. Cunningham
Original Russian text by N. K. Mikhailovsky is in public domain.
first added 20030516
latest minor change 20030516
Original Russian text
"Pravda" means both "truth" and "justice"
Every time the word "pravda" comes to my mind, I am exhilarated by its stunning beauty. Such a word is not, apparently, to be found in any [other?] European language. Apparently, it is only in Russian that "truth" and "justice" are called by the same word, and fuse together in one great unity.
"Pravda", in that great meaning of the word, has always constituted the object of my searches. "Pravda"-truth separated from "pravda"-justice, "pravda" of the theological heaven cut off from "pravda" of the practical earth, always offended me, not just left me unsatisfied. On the contrary, beneficient everyday practice, the highest ethical and social ideals, always seemed to me insultingly impotent, if they were turned away from truth, from science.
I never could believe, and do not believe now, that one cannot find such a point of view, by which "pravda"-truth and "pravda"-justice are hand in hand, each reinforcing the other. In any case, working out such a point of view is the most exalted of tasks that human intelligence can imagine, and there are no efforts too great to be expended on it.
--N. K. Mixajlovskij (1842-1904)
Source: page from unidentified Russian Orthodox calendar published in West. Date for entry: 11/III-1979 (26/II st. st.). Translation by HSC.
As any Russian-speaker knows, N. K. Mikhailovsky is correct about the etymology of "pravda." It is closely related to such words as "pravyj" ("correct"), "pravo" ("right", "law"), "pravilo" ("rule"), spravedlivost' ("justice"), etc.
"Istina," the other common word for "truth," is related to "istinnyj" ("genuine").
The Soviet view of Mikhailovsky:
Mikhailovsky, Nikolai Konstantinovich (1842-1904) -- a prominent theoretician of liberal Narodism, publicist and literary critic; a representative of the subjective school in sociology; editor of the journals Otechestvenniye Zapiski and Russkoye Bogatstvo. Lenin criticised Mikhailovsky's views in his book What the "Friends of the People" Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats" and other writings.
Lenin took a patronizing attitude toward N. K. Mikhailovsky's work ("a step backward from Chernyshevsky").
See, for example
V. I. Lenin, "THE NARODNIKS ON N. K. MIKHAILOVSKY"
in Put' Pravdy No. 19, February 22, 1914, Signed: V. Ilyin.
Note in particular Lenin's disdain for Mikhailovsky's advocacy of giving land to incorrigibly "bourgeois" peasants, a foreshadowing of Lenin's attitude in "War Communism" and Stalin's in Collectivization.
Even so, Lenin respected Mikhailovsky as, for his time, a worthy fellow-traveler in the struggle against Tsarist autocracy. Quite possibly Lenin had Mikhailovsky's "pravda" quote in mind when he chose the name "Pravda" for his Party newspaper in 1912.
The Party's embrace of the word "pravda" would eventually make this quote amusingly quaint. There was, for example, the common joke in later Soviet years, "«Net izvestij v «Pravde», i net pravdy v «Izvestiyax».» ("There is no news in 'Pravda', and no truth in 'Izvestiya' [another leading Soviet daily]." Some anti-Soviet Russians came to prefer the term "istina" for a "truth" of moral significance.
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