The term derives from the Russian word intelligentsiia, which denotes a social class of people engaged in mental and creative labor directed at disseminating knowledge and cultural values. In the Russian imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet traditions, the term “intelligentsia” typically refers to an intellectual class of people who think differently and who are critical of the existing political regime; as a manner of simplification, it is possible to suggest that the ultimate job of intelligentsia is to critique power.
   In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the term was used for self-definition of a certain category of intellectuals who did not find a niche in the Marxist-Leninist template of social classes. The ideology of the Bolsheviks—the majority of whom were, ironically, intellectuals—did not view intelligentsia as a social class; for them it was a stratum, encompassing individuals who did not belong to the established classes of exploiters and workers. This ambiguous status served the Soviet state in both practical and ideological ways. In the first instance, those in power were able to mask their real social affiliation under the mantle of intelligentsia and thus were able to escape the stigma of their nonproletarian backgrounds. In the second instance, individuals involved in arts, music, and other creative industries, as well as freethinking university lecturers and schoolteachers, could be branded as dissident intelligentsia, and purged. Therefore, the term intelligentsia simultaneously has negative and positive connotations in the Soviet political-speak, as well as everyday discourse, allowing the term to simultaneously refer to the best and worst of Soviet society.
   Genuine intelligentsia should be differentiated from the “priviligentsiya,” a concept that derives from two Russian words, “intelligentsia” and “privilege,” and refers to sections of Soviet nomenklatura>, who dominated cultural production and education in the USSR and who invariably had access to a high standard of living, health care, and other social privileges.
   Intelligentsia were most affected economically and socially in the transient period of the 1990s as the state lowered its support to creative professions to a minimum and as the former system of social and cultural institutions collapsed. In addition, the role of intelligentsia as the moral anchor of Russian society was diminished in a country with a decentralized, disengaged, and morally bankrupt social system. A new class of intellectuals appeared at the dawn of the new millennium, encompassing individuals working in media industries who managed to find new ways to communicate their ideas to interested groups.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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