The intelligentsia is a social class of intellectuals and social groups close to them (e.g. artists, school teachers), which can be also seen as a class of mental workers in opposition to non-working aristocracy or business owners on the one hand and to manual laborers on the other.
The term first appeared in Poland in the first half of 19th century. It was popularised by Polish philosopher Karol Libelt and became widespread in Polish science after the publication of his Filozofia i Krytyka (Philosophy and Critics) in 1846. It was later accepted into Russian in the 1860s and was popularised by a writer Pyotr Boborykin . From there it came into English and several other languages. In English this word is often applied to the "intelligentsia" in Central European and Eastern European countries in the 19th - 20th centuries. The distinction was based on the economical and cultural situation of intellectuals in these countries, different from the one in Western Europe or North America. These differences were caused by various historical processes, whose influence still is disputed by historians. Presence of long-lasting autocratic regimes or national suppression in this region, or lower level of literacy in these countries than in Western European ones (in the 19th century) are among them. This situation motivated local intellectuals to elaborate a system of common values and a sense of internecine sympathy.
Additionally, the intelligentsia of Central and Eastern Europe, being divided mostly by national dependence, fostered a sense of responsibility for one's nation, up to the belief, that progress of a nation mostly depends on cultural level of intelligentsia of the nation. This self-confidence often led Eastern European intelligentsia to play a role of non-existing political opposition, and position of intelligentsia always had significant consequences to revolutions or national liberation movements in Central and Eastern Europe.
Presently, some authors point to an ongoing extinguishing of intelligentsia in Central and Eastern Europe or a changing of the intelligentsia into a class of intellectuals or simply a middle class. In this case also a new tendency, to make opposition between intelligentsia and intellectuals, is seen.
The Intelligentsia in Poland
In Poland, after the partitions, Polish society was divided into nobles and peasants, while cities in general remained very weak. But the need for educated specialists created a new class of people: educated, hired professionals: clerks, medics, lawyers etc. They were recruited mainly from amongst former nobles, but also from other circles.
The Polish intelligentsia specifically was considered the backbone of the modern Polish nation. Members of the intelligentsia were well aware of their social status and of their duties, of which working for the country and patriotism were considered the most important. Most of the Polish intelligentsia was massacred during World War II.
Today, members of the Polish intelligentsia are not necessarily educated people, but people sharing common values: literate, patriotic, believing in their duties etc. However the concept is eroding and the class is slowly disappearing.