Foundations of Russian Nationalism
By Robert Steuckers
Translated by Greg Johnson
Throughout its history, Russia has been estranged from European dynamics. Its nationalism and national ideology are marked by a double game of attraction and revulsion towards Europe in particular and the West in general.
The famous Italian Slavist Aldo Ferrari points out that from the 10th to the 13th centuries, the Russia of Kiev was well-integrated into the medieval economic system. The Tartar invasion tore Russia away from the West. Later, when the Principality of Moscow reorganized itself and rolled back the residues of the Tartar Empire, Russia came to see itself as a new Orthodox Byzantium, different from the Catholic and Protestant West. The victory of Moscow began the Russian drive towards the Siberian vastness.
The rise of Peter the Great, the reign of Catherine the Great, and the 19th century brought a tentative rapprochement with the West.
To many observers, the Communist revolution inaugurated a new phase of autarkic isolation and de-Westernization, in spite of the Western European origin of its ideology, Marxism.
But the Westernization of the 19th century had not been unanimously accepted. At the beginning of the century, a fundamentalist, romantic, nationalist current appeared with vehemence all over Russia: against the “Occidentalists” rose the “Slavophiles.” The major cleavage between the left and the right was born in Russia, in the wake of German romanticism. It is still alive today in Moscow, where the debate is increasingly lively.
The leader of the Occidentalists in the 19th century was Piotr Chaadaev. The most outstanding figures of the “Slavophile” camp were Ivan Kireevski, Aleksei Khomiakov, and Ivan Axakov. Russian Occidentalism developed in several directions: liberal, anarchist, socialist. The Slavophiles developed an ideological current resting on two systems of values: Orthodox Christendom and peasant community. In non-propagandistic terms, that meant the autonomy of the national churches and a savage anti-individualism that regarded Western liberalism, especially the Anglo-Saxon variety, as a true abomination.
Over the decades, this division became increasingly complex. Certain leftists evolved towards a Russian particularism, an anti-capitalist, anarchist-peasant socialism. The Slavophile right mutated into “panslavism” manipulated to further Russian expansion in the Balkans (supporting the Romanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks against the Ottomans).
Among these “panslavists” was the philosopher Nikolay Danilevsky, author of an audacious historical panorama depicting Europe as a community of old people drained of their historical energies, and the Slavs as a phalange of young people destined to govern the world. Under the direction of Russia, the Slavs must seize Constantinople, re-assume the role of Byzantium, and build an imperishable empire.
Against the Danilevsky’s program, the philosopher Konstantin Leontiev wanted an alliance between Islam and Orthodoxy against the liberal ferment of dissolution from the West. He opposed all conflict between Russians and Ottomans in the Balkans. The enemy was above all Anglo-Saxon. Leontiev’s vision still appeals to many Russians today.
Lastly, in the Diary of Writer, Dostoevsky developed similar ideas (the youthfulness of the Slavic peoples, the perversion of the liberal West) to which he added a radical anti-Catholicism. Dostoevsky came to inspire in particular the German “national-Bolsheviks” of the Weimar Republic (Niekisch, Paetel, Moeller van den Bruck, who was his translator).
Following the construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad under the energetic direction of the minister Witte, a pragmatic and autarkical ideology of “Eurasianism” emerged that aimed to put the region under Russian control, whether directed by a Tsar or a Soviet Vojd (“Chief”).
The “Eurasian” ideologists are Troubetzkoy, Savitski, and Vernadsky. For them, Russia is not an Eastern part of Europe but a continent in itself, which occupies the center of the “World Island” that the British geopolitician Halford John Mackinder called the “Heartland.” For Mackinder, the power that managed to control “Heartland” was automatically master of the planet.
Indeed, this “Heartland,” namely the area extending from Moscow to the Urals and the Urals to the Transbaikal, was inaccessible to the maritime powers like England and the United States. It could thus hold them in check.
Soviet policy, especially during the Cold War, always tried to realize Mackinder’s worst fears, i.e., to make the Russo-Siberian center of the USSR impregnable. Even in the era of nuclear power, aviation, and transcontinental missiles. This “sanctuarization” of the Soviet “Heartland” constituted the semi-official ideology of the Red Army from Stalin to Brezhnev.
The imperial neo-nationalists, the national-Communists, and the patriots opposed Gorbachev and Yeltsin because they dismantled the Eastern-European, Ukrainian, Baltic, and central-Asian glacis of this “Heartland.”
These are the premises of Russian nationalism, whose multiple currents today oscillate between a populist-Slavophile pole (“narodniki,” from “narod,” people), a panslavist pole, and an Eurasian pole. For Aldo Ferrari, today’s Russian nationalism is subdivided between four currents: (a) neo-Slavophiles, (b) eurasianists, (c) national-Communists, and (d) ethnic nationalists.
The neo-Slavophiles are primarily those who advocate the theses of Solzhenitsyn. In How to Restore Our Russia?, the writer exiled in the United States preached putting Russia on a diet: She must give up all imperial inclinations and fully recognize the right to self-determination of the peoples on her periphery. Solzhenitsyn then recommended a federation of the three great Slavic nations of the ex-USSR (Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine). To maximize the development of Siberia, he suggested a democracy based on small communities, a bit like the Swiss model. The other neo-nationalists reproach him for mutilating the imperial motherland and for propagating a ruralist utopianism, unrealizable in the hyper-modern world in which we live.
The Eurasianists are everywhere in the current Russian political arena. The philosopher to whom they refer is Lev Gumilev, a kind of Russian Spengler who analyzes the events of history according to the degree of passion that animates a people. When the people are impassioned, they create great things. When inner passion dims, the people decline and die. Such is the fate of the West.
For Gumilev, the Soviet borders are intangible but new Russia must adhere to the principle of ethnic pluralism. It is thus not a question of Russianizing the people of the periphery but of making of them definitive allies of the “imperial people.”
Gumilev, who died in June 1992, interpreted the ideas of Leontiev in a secular direction: the Russians and the Turkish-speaking peoples of Central Asia were to make common cause, setting aside their religious differences.
Today, the heritage of Gumilev is found in the columns of Elementy, the review of the Russian “New Right” of Alexandre Dugin, and Dyeïnn (which became Zavtra, after the prohibition of October 1993), the newspaper of Alexander Prokhanov, the leading national-patriotic writers and journalists. But one also finds it among certain Moslems of the “Party of Islamic Rebirth,” in particular Djemal Haydar. More curiously, two members of Yeltsin’s staff, Rahr and Tolz, were followers of Eurasianism. Their advice was hardly followed.
According to Aldo Ferrari, the national-Communists assert the continuity of the Soviet State as an historical entity and autonomous geopolitical space. But they understand that Marxism is no longer valid. Today, they advocate a “third way” in which the concept of national solidarity is cardinal. This is particularly the case of the chief of the Communist Party of the Russuan Federation, Gennady Zyuganov.
The ethnic nationalists are inspired more by the pre-1914 Russian extreme right that wished to preserve the “ethnic purity” of the people. In a certain sense, they are xenophobic and populist. They want people from the Caucasus to return to their homelands and are sometimes strident anti-Semites, in the Russian tradition.
Indeed, Russian neo-nationalism is rooted in the tradition of 19th century nationalism. In the 1960s, the neo-ruralists (Valentine Raspoutin, Vassili Belov, Soloukhine, Fiodor Abramov, etc.) came to completely reject “Western liberalism,” based on a veritable “conservative revolution”—all with the blessing of the Soviet power structure!
The literary review Nache Sovremenik was made the vehicle of this ideology: neo-Orthodox, ruralist, conservative, concerned with ethical values, ecological. Communism, they said, extirpated the “mythical consciousness” and created a “humanity of amoral monsters” completely “depraved,” ready to accept Western mirages.
Ultimately, this “conservative revolution” was quietly imposed in Russia while in the West the “masquerade” of 1968 (De Gaulle) caused the cultural catastrophe we are still suffering.
The Russian conservatives also put an end to the Communist phantasm of the “progressive interpretation of history.” The Communists, indeed, took from the Russian past whatever presaged the Revolution and rejected the rest. To the “progressivist and selective interpretation,” the conservatives opposed the “unique flow”: they simultaneously valorized all Russian historical traditions and mortally relativized the linear conception of Marxism.
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Robert STEUCKERS (éd.), Dossier «National-communisme», in Vouloir, n°105/108, juillet-septembre 1993 (textes sur les variantes du nationalisme russe d’aujourd’hui, sur le “national-bolchévisme” russe des années 20 et 30, sur le fascisme russe, sur V. Raspoutine, sur la polémique parisienne de l’été 93).
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Steuckers, Robert. “Foundations of Russian Nationalism.” Counter-Currents Publishing, 16 April 2014. <http://www.counter-currents.com/2014/04/foundations-of-russian-nationalism-2/ >.