The Historical Context of P.D. Ouspensky and A.R. Orage

The New Age

“That the object and purpose of the universal will of life is the creation of a race of supremely and progressively intelligent beings. The ‘New Age’ will devote itself ……. In the noble service of help to serious students of a new contemplative and imaginative order”.

The Theosophical Publishing Society issued Orage’s book Consciousness, Animal, Human and Superhuman which conveyed the feelings which Ouspensky experienced several years later…….”A new race of man was on the earth and there was no limit to their potentialities” (Tertium Organum). Both men believed in and searched for ways to access and develop this ‘universal awareness’. The ‘New Age’ pounded out the message of Social Credit theories which was the brain-child of C.H. Douglas, and when the New Age published Ouspensky’s Letters from Russia Orage himself turned vehemently against Bolshevism, which he regarded as the ‘the dictatorship of criminal elements’. In 1918-1919 Ouspensky passed a very difficult time in Bolshevik-occupied Essentuki, creating for himself the role of librarian hoping to protect the destruction of the books until better days. He left Essentuki in June 1919 and based himself in Ekaterinodar. 

It is believed that through the intervention of Orage in London he made contact with Major F.S. Pinder, the head of the British Economic Mission there. Pinder took Ouspensky onto his staff even though he had to pay his salary out of his own pocket.  Ouspensky’s duties were to write press summaries for the British Mission – hence the existence of Letters from Russia [2] from Ouspensky to Orage which appeared in the New Age [1]. The letters appeared as a sequel and ran in the issues dated September 4th, November 27th, December 4th, December 11th, December 18th and December 25th. (Ouspensky’s experiences to date had been, from 1907-1913, to write fairly regularly for a Russian newspaper, mostly on foreign affairs. Also at the same time he was working on various books based on the idea that our consciousness is an incomplete state not far removed from sleep: and also that our three-dimensional view of the universe is inadequate).

Ouspensky was deeply marked by the experience of political revolution.  The view of history which he expounded was of a huge biological machine – Nations and States the big two-dimensional creatures which existed in an unreal world of politics and economics – where everything acts according to one general rule, which can be called the Law of Opposite Aims and Results.  The Letters from Russia expressed the desperation of the times.

It was a year since Ouspensky had parted from Gurdjieff but he noticed that he had acquired a strange confidence………this was a knowing of the complete insignificance of the self which we normally refer to. Behind this petty creature of the imagination, Ouspensky felt the presence of another I which would be able to surmount the appalling disasters.  Two years earlier Gurdjieff had asked him if he could feel a new I inside him, and he had said no.  Now he did feel the presence of this I and knew that it existed as a result of his work with Gurdjieff [1].  

Extracts from ‘Letters From Russia’

Letter 1, July 25th, 1919, Ekaterinodar

“I understood: We know too much to be able to speak to you on equal terms.  We know the true relation of history and words to facts.  We know what such words as ‘civilization’ and ‘culture’ mean: we know what ‘revolution’ means and a ‘socialist state’ and ‘winter’, and ‘bread’ and ‘stove’, and ‘soap’, and many, many more of the same kind.  You have no sort of idea of them. We know that ‘war’ and ‘politics’, and ‘economic life’ – in a word, all those things about which one reads in the papers and in which those big two-dimensional creatures called Nations and States live and move and have their being.  We know that all this is one thing, but that the life of individual men and women is quite another thing, having no points of contact with the former except when it does not allow the latter to live.  We know now that the whole life of individual men and women is a struggle against these big creatures. You will ask how it is possible to live under such conditions.  And this is the most occult aspect of the whole question. I will answer for myself.  I, personally, am still alive only because my boots and trousers and other articles of clothing – all ‘old campaigners’ – are still holding together.  When they end their existence, I shall evidently end mine.”

Letter 2,   September 18th, 1919, Ekaterinodar

“The second group of news (having recently read a copy of the Times), makes me sure of the fact of the approaching of the future. I can feel in the letters, articles, etc., a pronounced feeling of fear. The chief topic at present is the high cost of living.  You begin to feel the neighbourhood of the precipice!” “In reality, Bolshevism is not a political system at all.  It is something very old, that at different times has borne different names. The Russian language of the eighteenth century knew a name, preserved until now – ‘pougachevchina’- which renders very well the essence of Bolshevism.  Pougachev was a Ural Cossack who pretended to be the deceased Emperor Peter 111 and who raised an insurrection against Catherine 11, and for a time succeeded in seizing half of Russia. He plundered the estates of the landowners, hanged their owners and priests, and gave the land to the peasantry. A classical description of the ‘pougachevchina’ is to be found in a novel by our poet Pushkin, ‘A Captain’s Daughter’. But Bolshevism of the twentieth century has one peculiarity – it is ‘made in Germany’, and Germany knows how to make use of it. Employing Bolshevism in 1917 to break up the Russian Army, Germany destroyed the danger menacing her Eastern front. You were in great peril and you know it.  But now you have decided that the peril is gone, and you are mistaken. Germany is not annihilated or even weakened. She is energetically and cleverly preparing a ‘revanche’. Her chief enemy is England, and the chief trump in her pack is Russian Bolshevism”         (Translated by Paul Leon).

Letter 3,   September 25th, 1919, Ekaterinodar

“Bolshevism is a poisonous plant: it poisons, even if extirpated or trampled on, the very soil in which it grew, and everybody who gets in touch with it. Perhaps those who fight it are poisoned more strongly by it than anybody else.” It was at that time considered obligatory to profess joy in regard to the Revolution.  All who did not feel it had to remain silent. (conversation) “Do you know”, said M, “there are idiots, even among cultured people, who feel happy in the Revolution, who believe it to be liberation of something.  They do not realize that, if it means liberation, it is liberation from the possibility of eating, drinking, working, walking, using tramways, reading books, having newspapers and so on.”        “Just so,” I said.  “people don’t understand that if anything exists, it does so thanks to inertia. The initial push from the past is still working, but it cannot be renewed. There lies the horror.  Sooner or later the energy will be exhausted and all will stop, one thing after another.  Tramways, railways, post …all these are working, thanks to inertia alone.  But inertia cannot last forever.” (Translated by Paul Leon).

Letter 4,  Ekaterinodar

“The Bolsheviks knew what they were aiming at: nobody else knew. This is the reason for their success.  Of course, their success is only temporary, as, generally speaking, nobody can be a Bolshevik forever.  It is a sickness from which people either recover or, if its germs have entered too deeply into the organism, they die. Lately the comparison of Bolshevism with disease has become common.  This is not sufficiently true.  Bolshevism is not only a disease; it is death, and a very quick death, or it is not real Bolshevism. Bolshevism in general is a catastrophe, a shipwreck.” “The Bolsheviks never considered agreements with seriousness. The chief aim of their game was to gain time and their chief object was to obtain power. The ‘comrade-Bolsheviks’ only laughed at the sentimentality of the ‘comrade-Socialists’, and using them as blind tools for their purposes worked for their aims and achieved what they wanted.” “The absurd idealism of the intelligentsia lived by ‘Do not overcome evil with evil’ but the Bolsheviks soon showed its real face.  It began openly to wage war on culture, to destroy all cultural values, and to annihilate the intelligentsia as the representatives of culture. Everything that did not help or foster the production of bombs was declared to be valueless, ‘bourgeois’, and deserving only of destruction and contempt. From the moment the Bolsheviks seized power, all newspapers were shut down.  Their place was taken by official or semi-official illiterate Bolshevik Tsvtias (New) or Pravdas (Truth).” “The provocation of the feelings of the people against the intelligentsia was a thing more easy to achieve in Russia than anywhere else, for the Russian ‘people’ are as a rule suspicious of every ‘gentleman’.  In Russia all epidemics of cholera are always connected with rumours of doctors poisoning wells.” “A special aspect of Bolshevism was the participation of the criminal elements….the ‘comrade-criminals’. Henry George said in ‘Progress and Poverty’ that our civilization does not require any foreign barbarians for its destruction.  It carries in its own bosom the barbarians who will destroy it. Bolshevism consists just in the organization and gathering of these barbarian forces existing inside contemporary society, hostile to culture and civilization”   (Translated by Paul Leon).

Letter 5.    Ekaterinodar

“The cause of the continuous rise in prices is, besides profiteering, the complete and fantastic inability on the part of the Government to manage its finances. Obviously we are rapidly approaching a time when life in Russia without profiteering will be impossible. Only by ‘barter’, having at any given moment some kinds of food on hands, will it be possible to continue living, as only goods are subjected to an in crease in value.”  (Translated by Paul Leon).

The Historical Context of P.D. Ouspensky and A.R. Orage compiled by JEB.

References

1). The Harmonious Circle, James Webb, Thames and Hudson, 1980 (pp 218-219).

2). Letters From Russia, P.D.Ouspensky, Routledge & Kegan Paul ,1978

3). The New Age. Editor A.R.Orage, London, 1919      

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