Mending Broken Bones: Russian Nationalism and the Fate of Russia
He who wishes to serve the proletariat must unite the workers of all nations, fighting relentlessly against bourgeois nationalism and his own and that of others. He who defends the slogan of national culture belongs in the ranks of the nationalistic philistines and not among the Marxists.
Vladimir Il’ich Lenin, ‘Critical Observations on the National Question’ (1913)
Patriotism is a feeling of total and permanent love for one’s Motherland, with a readiness to make sacrifices for her, to share her misfortunes, without any obsequiousness, without any support for unjust claims, and openness in the assessment of her flaws, sins, and repentance for them.
Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, Russia in Ruins (1998)
© Frank Ellis 2009
If you wish to grasp something of the Russian spirit/soul (dukh/dusha) - Russians have a great deal to say about both – Russian culture, history and thought all of which contribute to the sentiments of national identity and have forged the way Russians feel and reflect upon ideas such as Fatherland (Otechestvo) and Motherland (Rodina), I know of no better way than to read the work of Russia’s greatest writers. Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852), Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883), Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Fedor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) and in the twentieth century, Anna Akhmatova (1888-1965), Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), Vasilii Grossman (1905-1964), Viktor Astaf’ev (1924-2001) and, for me, the great moral and intellectual titan of the last century, the unashamed patriot, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), are a surer guide to the nature of Mother Russia than so much of Western historiography and its commentariat. On the other side of this divide, and hostile to any assertion of a unique Russia, and committed to her destruction, stand the revolutionary fanatics of the late nineteenth century and their heirs, the Bolsheviks, who crucified Russia in the name of class war and internationalism, and whose social engineering together with their Maoist comrades marks the apex of twentieth-century genocide. In this protracted battle of ideas and so much blood and suffering we can find some kind of insight into what it means to be a Russian in the early twenty-first century.
Of all the nineteenth-century Russian writers who have concerned themselves with the nature and essence of Russia and her place in the world, Dostoevsky remains the most prophetic, and disturbingly so. The Devils (1871-1872) and The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880) are uncompromising assertions of the nature of good, evil, man’s need of God, and to borrow an idea from Viktor Frankl, man’s search for meaning (man’s desperate need for meaning). It is Dostoevsky’s view that without the nation (Russia) and without the God that cares for Russia, the people are rendered mere raw material vulnerable to the machinations of ideological fanatics. Here then is a point of attack for those who wish to subvert and to destroy the nation: tell the people that the nation is an abomination; attack the culture that nurtures and sustains it; turn the next generation against their mothers and fathers. One reason why Dostoevsky was regarded with profound suspicion throughout the Soviet period was because he clearly understood the nature of the revolutionary movements that had emerged in Russia and to where their creed would lead. In fact, The Devils is core reading, if you wish to understand the mindset of the modern terrorist and the self-loathing which seems to be such a prominent feature of the left-liberal psyche.
In the twentieth century, the obvious defender of Mother Russia, her religion and folkways was Solzhenitsyn. Virtually all his major works, from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) which made his name, to First Circle (1968), Cancer Ward (1968), Gulag Archipelago (1973-1975-1976) and August 1914 (1971 & 1989), are imbued with a profound love and understanding of Russia. In two long essays published after his return to Russia in 1994, The Russian Question at the End of the 20th Century (1994) and Russia in Ruins (1998), Solzhenitsyn analyses what he quite rightly calls ‘Russia’s endlessly cruel century’1, exploring, inter alia, the nature of Russian nationalism and the manner in which, beginning with Lenin after 1917, all forms of Russian national identity and consciousness were suppressed or opportunistically co-opted by the party. The value of these two essays for the theme of Russian nationalism as a whole is that they provide a thorough historical overview of the trials and tribulations of Russian nationalism in the twentieth century from before 1917 through the Soviet period and beyond. Moreover, and I think this is important: they are the thoughts of a man who experienced the Soviet concentration camp system first hand.
Strong nationalist sentiments or patriotic feelings of any kind especially those which have grown over a long period and are deeply embedded in the national culture are a major obstacle to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism (and multiculturalism). Any attempt to reverse these social affinities and loyalties would, if it relied on purely peaceful means, take decades even centuries to overcome, if at all, and despite the view among the party that the victory of communism was inevitable - capitalism in all its forms was doomed - Lenin was not going to wait until the peasants, bourgeoisie, landowners and emerging industrialists, the “masses” in the jargon of class war, were persuaded of the benefits of the common ownership of the means of production and gratefully abandoned the pursuit of profit and private property. 1917 was Year Zero, the tabula rasa, when the errors of some two thousand years of man’s history were to be rectified by the teachings of Marx and Lenin, at least in Russia, to begin with.
The question here then is what makes a nation? What are its main constituent parts? Can a nation be instantly remoulded according to some Marxist-Leninist or multiculturalist blueprint? Nations – England, France, Germany and Russia – do not spring up ready made: nations are born and there must have been a time when the nation did not exist. We can take it for granted that the people who formally coalesce into the nation, either through war, habit, assimilation or some other form of commerce, do so because they share things in common. These are language: blood (genes); shared territory; expanding family and kinship ties; some founding event that brought them together (4th July 1776 in the case of the USA); and a history of shared oppression and liberation. Or maybe they enjoy the great blessing of occupying an island which binds its inhabitants together and over the centuries they have looked to the sea for profit and security. Each nation believes that it is blessed by God; that God has selected it for some special purpose; that in its hour of need God will protect them. In this regard can there be anything more desperately moving, dignified and inspiring than the words of the Boer Covenant made with God before the Battle of Blood River in 1838? Likewise, Churchill’s magnificent defiance in that summer of the Spitfire and Hurricane touched something very deep inside all those who listened to him. Faith, sense of national purpose, hardships overcome and national humiliations inspire art, the myths, the stories, histories and epics that the nation creates for itself which in turn inspire our children and their children and provide succour in adversity. During the Russo-German War 1941-1945, Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1865-1869) was endlessly read, and during the darker days of Stalingrad Soviet propaganda unashamedly appealed to Russian military campaigns of the past, to the deeds of Alexander Nevskii, Alexander Suvorov and Mikhail Kutuzov.
The Bolshevik Assault: Russkii & Rossiiskii
What I have cited is, I grant, a sketch of a complicated area but the thrust is clear: the nation emerges and survives; it is precious thing. If, as in the case of England, it has survived the centuries, it must possess toughness and tenacity. Yet, the historical changes that create the forces which facilitate the birth of a nation never rest. No nation can take its survival for granted. In this regard we must see the historical forces unleashed by Marx and Engels which were picked up and amplified by Lenin and his successors into Marxist-Leninism as an example of those forces which are inimical to the nation state and its survival. How does the Marxist-Leninist, in the case of Russia, set about destroying the nation state? If the nation state is indeed made up of some or all of the constituent parts I have listed then the communist nation killer must unravel the work of the centuries. After 1917 this meant that Russia was attacked on many levels: the symbols and substance of culture; language; history; education; and religion. Bolshevik propaganda devoted much time and effort to discrediting the idea of Russian patriotism as something bourgeois and counter-revolutionary. It must be pointed out that this assault on national identity and culture to which Russia was subjected was by no means confined to the Russians: Ukrainians, Belorussians, Kazakhs, Chechens, Volga Germans, Estonians, Letts and Lithuanians and Jews were denied expressions of their histories and expected to celebrate Soviet internationalism and to make it the focal point of their emotional and intellectual allegiances. To quote Lenin once more: ‘Marxism is irreconcilable with nationalism whether it is the most “just”, “pure”, subtle or civilised. In the place of any form of nationalism Marxism advocates internationalism, the merging of all nations in a higher unity, which grows before our eyes with every extra kilometre of railway line that is laid, with every international trust, with every workers’ union (international in its economic activity, and so in its ideas and aspirations)’.2
The clergy of the Orthodox Church were prime targets of Bolshevik terror. Priests were arrested, harassed and executed; churches were destroyed and deliberately defiled and abandoned as relics of an age whose time has past. One of the most remarkable men of Russia’s Church was Father Pavel Florensky whose fate typifies the savagery used against the Church. His main theological work, The Pillar and Ground of Truth, was first published in 1914 and was widely perceived as a major contribution to Russian religious thought. In fact, Father Florensky was far more than a theologian: he was a physicist, engineer, inventor and historian and is often referred to as Russia’s Leonardo da Vinci. Yet, as far as the Soviet secret police was concerned, he was a dangerous traditionalist and enemy of the Bolsheviks.
A central theme in the flood of party-sponsored hatred directed at Father Florensky and the Trinity-Saint Sergei Monastery where he worked and lived was that the priests, and the aristocrats who had sought sanctuary there, represented the old Russia. They were the past which the Bolsheviks had to destroy or to discredit in order to consolidate their power and so be able to carry out their communist transformation of Russia. Eventually, Father Florensky was arrested and exiled. After this spell of exile he returned to teaching, publishing, The Imaginary in Geometry (circa 1932/1933). Falsely accused of being a member of a counter-revolutionary organization, he was arrested again in 1933 and sentenced to 10 years in a corrective labour camp under the catch-all provisions of Article 58 of the Soviet Criminal Code. After enduring many unspeakable torments at the hand of the Bolsheviks, he was eventually shot on 8th December 1937 in the Solovetsky monastery. The case of Father Florensky is symptomatic not just of the hatred that the Bolshevik state felt for the Orthodox Church and its deep roots in Russian history and in the nation’s spiritual life, but of general hatred directed at all forms of moral and intellectual excellence.
Independence and self-sufficiency were other virtues that were attacked by the Bolsheviks. The collectivization programme, Stalin’s Final Solution of the Peasant Question, carried through in the early 1930s was intended to destroy once and for all the ancient rural way of life and to impose party rule on the countryside. This human catastrophe from which agriculture has yet to recover resulted in the deaths of some 11,000,000 peasants. Ukraine suffered the most with circa 6,000,000 being deliberately starved to death and to this extent it was also a genocidal attack on all forms of Ukrainian cultural and national identity. In Andrei Platonov’s The Foundation Pit (1987) which was banned for most of the Soviet period, being finally published during the glasnost’ years, collectivization is portrayed as a form of madness, a plague of Biblical proportions. We largely see it through the lens of grotesque and black humour yet Platonov is unable to maintain this detachment permanently and through the cracks in the façade we witness the slaughter of a people in slow motion as they starve to death in prolonged agony. Russia under the Bolsheviks is a world in which nothing seems to make any sense, a precursor of the Maoist insanity that will tear China apart. Meaning has been banned or exiled. Birds, plants and insects just want to die and people engage in bizarre, Pythonesque behaviour as chaos and madness take over the world. Among the gruesome kaleidoscope of party-inspired insanity we find flashes of terrifying loneliness and sadness as some of the characters remember Russia before the Bolshevik calamity. Here are the thoughts of a peasant who has been orphaned, as it were, by the revolution: ‘His homesick mind kept imagining a village in the rye, the wind blowing up above as it gently turned the sails of a wooden mill and ground the corn for his peaceful daily bread. That was how he had lived until, recently with ample food in his belly and family happiness in his soul...’3
One element of the assault on Russian national identity concerns the two Russian-language adjectives which are used to signify Russian. To Westerners this may sound too arcane to be taken seriously yet it is a matter of great import and in fact has some obvious parallels with nationality adjectives in the West. The Russian language uses two adjectives to represent Russian. The first adjective is russkii which refers to the language, a Russian male, female (when suitably inflected), literature and history. Russkii is the marker for ethnicity (race). The other adjective is rossiiskii which is intended to transcend the narrowness of ethnicity (race) so as to include, for example, non-ethnic Russians who are citizens of the Russian Federation. The noun that corresponds to the adjective rossiiskii and which is derived therefrom is rossiianin (nominative singular) and rossiiane (nominative plural).
In Russia in Ruins Solzhenitsyn points out that after 1991 a sustained effort was made by the media to inculcate the use of rossiiane (citizenship) instead of russkie (ethnicity/race).4 The artificial nature of rossiianin is clear. To quote Solzhenitsyn: ‘Not a single non-Russian citizen of Russia, in answer to the question “who are you?”, will refer to himself as a “rossiianin”, but with precision will say: I am a Tartar, I am a Kalmyk, I am a Chuvash or “I am a Russian” (russkii), if in his soul he truly feels himself to be such’.5 The use of rossiiskii by the state media is intended to support a supra-nationalism, yet, as in the United Kingdom, it is the majority, in this case the English, who suffer. Some time ago, Gisela Stuart, the German-born, Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Edgbaston expressed concern at the increasing use of “English” by her constituents, instead of “British”, to denote their national identity. Since she can never be English, she presumably finds it threatening that so many English people are casting off the incubus of Britishness, which used to be a highly effective form of supra-nationalism; and one that inspired loyalty. Mass immigration, combined with the imposition of multiculturalism, has destroyed this category or severely weakened it, possibly beyond recovery. And, of course, what the British National Party means by “British” is not the same thing as the BBC and the Conservative and Labour parties.
According to Solzhenitsyn, the general contempt for russkii goes back to the period immediately before 1917. Already among the intelligentsia or their imitators, there exists a general enmity and indifference towards the nation state, the very idea of the national (well documented in the work of Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky). One wonders just how many of these people who publicly sneered at Russia before 1917 and sought to ingratiate themselves with the revolutionaries by indulging in poses and pretences of radical politics, were later purged and murdered by the Bolsheviks as “enemies of the people”. Solzhenitsyn refers to a perceptive article written by Petr Struve, ‘The Intelligentsia and the National Face’, which was published in the Petersburg paper, The Word (10th March 1909). Struve argues that the Russian intelligentsia has immersed itself in rossiiskii and in the process it has covered up or hidden its national visage: ‘Nationality is something far more indisputable [than race or the colour of one’s skin], and at the same time something subtle. It does not become us to dissemble [with regard to the sense of Russian national feeling] and hide our face. I, and every other Russian, we have a right to these feelings […] The more clearly that is understood …the fewer misunderstandings there will be in the future’.6 There were to be no misunderstandings in the future, since unlike too many of the Russian educated class which was playing a game, Lenin was murderously serious and intended to destroy the Russian national consciousness so eliminating a rival to Bolshevism.
At the 10th Party Congress in 1921 the elimination of Russian chauvinism was declared to be one of the party’s main tasks. Anatolii Lunacharskii, The People’s Commissar for Enlightenment, in an article entitled ‘The Idea of Patriotism is an Idea which is utterly False’, stated that the ‘the teaching of history towards creating a sense of national pride, national feeling and so on must be discarded: the teaching of history which thirsts after examples of the past to find good patterns to emulate, must be discarded’.7 The result was a deliberate policy of targeting Russian history, culture and language. Such indeed was the fervour to transform Russia in the 1920s that a certain Ilia Ivanov approached the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment with the suggestion that Russian citizens be crossbred with African apes.8 All the measures taken by the Communist Party after 1917 to destroy Russian national consciousness and indeed all attempts to solve the nationalities question with regard to non-Russians would be fully consistent with some of the attributes of genocide set out by Raphael Lemkin in the 1940s.
Nationalism Post 1945
Even though Stalin and the party had successfully exploited Russia nationalism during the Great Fatherland War (1941-1945) in order to save the Soviet regime and then deployed it against Jewish cultural figures and doctors in a wave of vicious anti-Semitism, before he died in 1953, the imperatives of holding a vast multinational empire together required the re-assertion of Soviet internationalism at the expense of Russian national identity. It was one thing to encourage Russian nationalism with the Germans closing in on Stalingrad, it was quite another to encourage the same for too long after 1945, with the start of the Cold War. The reasons are clear enough: if the Russians can promote their national identity, then so can Ukrainians, Volga Germans, Kazakhs, Jews and Chechens. In fact this was already happening. It is not widely known in the West that various mixtures of Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Belorussian separatists and nationalist groups waged an insurgency against the Red Army and the internal security troops of the NKVD (the precursor of the KGB) which only came to end in the 1950s. Again, it was expedient to use nationalism against the occupying Germans but it came with obvious dangers for the stability of the Soviet empire.
A speech delivered by the chairman of the KGB, Iurii Andropov to the Communist Party in April 1973, the full text of which was published only as recently as 2003, reveals the depth of concern among the Soviet politburo for the threat posed by religious and nationalist groups operating inside the Soviet Union. Suslov reported that the KGB had successfully carried out a series of ‘prophylactic measures’ against those engaging in ‘the most evil nationalism’.9 He noted that in Ukraine, Armenia, Latvia and Lithuania a number of these nationalists had been prosecuted. Interrogated, they confessed that they were supported by organizations based in the West. Moreover, noted Suslov, ‘Western subversive forces place considerable emphasis on exploiting Zionism in their anti-Soviet aims’. ‘And here, it goes without saying, it is not so much a matter of Jews emigrating to Israel, the scale of which is not that large, as much as the attempts to create a so-called “Jewish question” in order, once again, to be able to exploit it so as to discredit the Soviet system’.10
The mass publication of long-forbidden novels and the almost endless stream of revelations about Stalin’s terror and genocide which characterised the glasnost’ period (1985-1991) did not, as Gorbachev had hoped, rescue the Soviet system: it completely destroyed any residual credibility and led to the final collapse of the Soviet experiment which had started in 1917. Glasnost’ gave a massive boost to the many and justified nationalist grievances among the Soviet republics. All sensed that the Soviet empire was mortally wounded: that the time had come to reassert their national identities and culture. Precisely this scenario had been envisaged by the American historian, Richard Pipes, over two decades previously. In 1967, he had written: ‘On the other hand, all the evidence available both from within the Soviet Union itself and from historic parallels with other countries indicates that the nationalism of the minority peoples of the USSR (like that of the Russians themselves) has grown and intensified since 1917. There is a great deal of nationalist frustration in the Soviet Union. Unless the Soviet rulers face up to it and begin the process of decentralization voluntarily, it is likely someday to explode in a most destructive manner’.11
Among Russians the loss of empire, of great power status, acquired with so much sacrifice and the realisation that communism had killed so many and maimed so much, prompted a search for an answer to a question that periodically recurs in Russia’s history ever since it was first posed by Alexander Herzen in his novel, Who is to Blame? (1845-1846). Unfortunately in seeking answers to an old question, nationalists of various hues have shown themselves to be highly susceptible to conspiracy theories along the lines that; communism had been a huge Masonic-Zionist plot; or that all Russia’s ills could be laid at mysterious foreign plutocratic forces backed by NATO. The similarity between the theory of a Masonic-Zionist plot to account for Russia’s plight and the German nationalist explanation of the Dolchstoßlegende (the stab-in-the-back legend) used to justify the defeat in World War One, later to become official Nazi party ideology, hardly needs to be stressed.
If certain nationalist groups, notably Pamiat’ (Memory), went off the rails in looking for answers to Russia’s plight rather than acknowledge the fact that the West, whatever else it did or may have done, did not inflict the ideology of Marxism-Leninism on Russia, so did those who favoured market shock therapy and with it the message of universal human values. To this end Russia and her people were reviled and subjected to the kind of loathing that were it directed at any other ethnic (racial) group would bring forth accusations of Nazi-style racism. Solzhenitsyn provides some samples: in ‘that country’ – ‘the whole people blend into a reactionary mass’; ‘the emphasis on any truth residing in the people is self-deception’; in that country even ‘Christian foundations are practically always interwoven with the depths of moral baseness’; ‘More evil has been brought into the world by Russia than by any other country’. Russia is variously described as ‘human pigsty’ and ‘a cesspit’. Russian Orthodoxy is described as ‘a Hottentot religion’.12 As Solzhenitsyn points out this trend could be found in the underground publications of samizdat. Thus: ‘The Russian idea is the main component of Bolshevism’; ‘the Russian people are oppressors and therefore do not deserve the right to nationalism’. Russian nationalism is described as ‘racist Russianism’.13 The village prose writers, the derevenshchiki, who had called attention to the decline of rural life, were singled out as extremists and the organisers of pogroms. This group, incidentally, includes, two outstanding writers, Valentin Rasputin and Viktor Astaf’ev. In The Damned and the Dead (1992-1994), a war novel that rivals Grossman’s Life and Fate (1988) in its moral and spiritual profundity, Astaf’ev develops the theme that the German invasion was divine punishment for Russia’s abandoning God. Russia’s salvation, he argues, is to be found in Russia’s rediscovering the sense of the sacred. This is not the message that Russia’s secular Westernizing liberals wanted to hear.
Nationalist groups have responded vigorously to what they regard as the organised denigration of Russia by foreigners and domestic, xenophile propaganda. Russian National Unity (Russkoe Natsional’noe Edinstvo) and The Movement Against Illegal Immigration (Dvizhenie Protiv Nelegal’noi Immigratsii) exemplify this resistance though in markedly different ways. Russian National Unity was founded by Alexander Barshakov in 1990 and derives much of its purpose and inspiration from Russian Orthodoxy, or rather Barshakov’s particular interpretation thereof. In 2003, Barshakov told his followers that: ‘Our people have been chosen to preserve true Orthodoxy in the world until the Second Coming’.14 The appeal to the doctrine of the Third Rome promulgated by Philotheus of Pskov in the sixteenth century is obvious. Philotheus interpreted Rome’s and Byzantium’s succumbing to apostasy as a shift in political and religious power and influence. As he famously noted: ‘two Romes have fallen, the Third Rome stands and a fourth Rome there shall not be’. According to Barshakov, Russian National Unity was targeted by the Russian authorities, who feared his growing fame and reach. Barshakov suspected traitors (Judases) and in December 2006 started again, forming The Alexander Barshakov Movement. Membership is open to anyone who shares the movement’s ideology and who ‘believes A. P. Barshakov’.15 In a brief statement which explains the need for the new organization, Barshakov’s comrades state that: ‘The new movement best meets our aim – the purging of Russia and opposition to the Satanic manifestations of modern civilization, and equally the operational principles of our organization and our striving for loyalty and harsh discipline’.16
The Movement Against Illegal Immigration has much in common with the views expressed in American Renaissance. The preamble to their programme for dealing with legal and illegal immigration goes to the heart of the matter. Immigration is not a right but a privilege and one which is quite rightly subject to the interests of the indigenous population not the would-be immigrant: ‘We are the masters in our own home and the master himself has the right to decide in which room to accommodate a guest, for how long and indeed whether to let him in at all. This is particularly the case, if someone turns up at your home solely with the purpose of robbing you or trying to drive you out of your own home’.17 The organization also calls for the deportation of illegal immigrants and harsh penalties for those who enter Russia illegally. It also demands that all persons who have entered Russia since January 1991 with the intention of living there or seeking employment should be required to take examinations in Russian language, history and culture. It also recommends that official government posts should be denied to people who have resided in Russia for less than 15 years. The charter and various policy recommendations set out by The Movement Against Illegal Immigration are rational, responsible, enforceable and long overdue. They provide a ready model for other nations threatened by mass immigration.
The various manifestations of Russian nationalism that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union were and remain part of the wider struggle to define post-Soviet Russia and the direction she should take. Another question, which the Bolsheviks claimed to have solved, re-emerged after 1991, where did Russia belong: was she a European nation, Asiatic or somewhere in the middle? Are the political institutions of Western liberal democracy suitable for Russia? One solution that gained some support was Eurasianism (evraziistvo). According to Solzhenitsyn this is the view that ‘Russia belongs organically belongs to Asia and that Russia’s future must be built on the basis of kinship and unity with Asia’.18 Solzhenitsyn’s response to Eurasianism is characteristically blunt. It is, he argues, a sign of weakness, a lack of moral, intellectual and spiritual courage in Russia’s history; it would be renunciation, denial of everything Russian and would result in Russia’s being swallowed up in the growing Muslim population: ‘If you are threatened with national extinction then salvation is not be found here [Eurasianism]. If we manage to stand our ground then it shall only be on the stony path of our own resources, on the extensiveness and duration of our statehood, culture and Orthodox faith. And if we do not stand our ground, that means we go under’.19
The dissolution of the Soviet Union created another problem for Russians and their survival as a people the importance of which for Russians and Russian strategic thinking the West does not seem fully to understand. When the Soviet republics declared their independence, millions of Russians scattered throughout the old Soviet Union were abandoned to their fate. Solzhenitsyn refers to these Russians as the otmezhevannye, the ‘unacknowledged or forgotten ones’. Despite all the talk and propaganda of the Soviet version of multiculturalism, enshrined in floods of propaganda and slogans, resentment towards Russians festered underground and has now come out into the open. The way these Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics have been treated may well be one factor contributing to the explosive, often violent resentment towards non-Russian groups in Russian cities today.
Solzhenitsyn is probably correct when he asserts that there is no example in history whereby a government has sacrificed so many of its people. The plight of the 7,000,000 Russians in Kazakhstan is especially bad. When Russians had somehow managed to return to Russia from the newly independent republics, they faced a wretched existence, rejected and despised by their own people. Solzhenitsyn interprets this behaviour as another ominous development: ‘And this is the most terrible sign of the decline of our people. There is already no sense of national unity, no well-disposed desire to accept our brothers, to help them. The fate of the rejected refugees is a terrible prediction of our own, all Russian fate’.20 One might put a cynical slant on this situation and argue that Russia has deliberately been unwelcoming to Russians trying to return since as pawns in the calculus of Realpolitik they are more useful where they are. They provide a ready-made casus belli if it ever suited Moscow and, of course, they provide plenty of opportunity to accuse those states that harbour large Russian minorities of being guilty of persecution. Or is Solzhenitsyn closer to the truth? Perhaps the real reason fellow Russians have been abandoned is indeed spiritual exhaustion and apathy. I wonder whether the silence on the part of the West to stand up for oppressed white minorities in South Africa and Zimbabwe is part of the same problem.
The presence of large Russian minorities cast adrift in what are independent nations some of which aspire to membership of NATO has potentially very serious military consequences. The proposal that Ukraine or Georgia should be permitted to join NATO is a direct assault on Russian national pride. It incenses the Russian government who quite rightly ask what purpose other than to threaten Russia this NATO expansion serves. Fear, honour and interest are, according to the author of the History of the Peloponnesian War (c.440-404 BC), the three main reasons states go to war. Russia’s relations with all the former Soviet republics are affected by the Thucydidean triad. The red line for Russia is Ukraine. Kiev occupies a special place in Russian history and Russia does not want to see Ukraine join NATO. Sevastopol is another sore point. The Russia-Ukraine agreement which provides for joint use of the naval and harbour facilities expires in 2017. Ukraine does not want to renew this agreement and Russia will not want to leave. Sevastopol reminds Russians of the way they stood up to the British and the French in the Crimean War, and the city’s place in Russian literature has been secured by Lev Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Stories (1855-1856), his account and observations of his time at the front as an artillery officer. How this matter will be resolved is anyone’s guess. Russia might simply refuse to go, or go, subject to Ukraine’s not joining NATO or ever permitting any troops other than those of Ukraine to be stationed there. Whereas Russia might tend to confine its treatment of the Baltic states to the occasional bout of cyber war and diplomatic awkwardness, I have no doubt that Russia would exploit the presence of Russian minorities in Ukraine to protect what it sees as legitimate cultural and historical interests. Above all it is a question of honour. War between Russia and Ukraine is a very real possibility. Bear in mind that Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty commits all members of NATO to aid another in the event of an attack. The moment Ukraine enters formal membership negotiations with NATO will be the moment when diplomatic tension and the risk of war will rise dramatically since this will be the most propitious opportunity for Russia to launch a pre-emptive strike before membership is sealed with an exchange of signatures and the provisions of Article 5 come into effect.
The end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War inspired a remarkable consensus – remarkable for its optimism, historical ignorance and naïveté - that the future belonged to liberal democracy. According to this thesis which had first been postulated in an article by Francis Fukuyama in 1989, and then expanded into a book (The End of History and the Last Man, 1992), liberal democracy and the free market triumph over communism, marked the end of history. Part of the package was the assumption that universal human values would also triumph and that all states had to adopt them or would adopt them. Anticipating Pat Buchanan’s scathing references to the Western advocates of ‘democratic fundamentalism’21, who, regardless of innate and long-standing cultural and historical differences in other states, seek to impose liberal democracy (the American version) on the rest of the world, Solzhenitsyn has criticised those in Russia who propagandized the ethos of universal human values as ‘radical democrats’.22 When the Soviet Union invaded the socialist states of Eastern Europe or threatened to, in order to suppress any manifestations of independence and the possibility that these states – East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Poland (1970 & 1981) - might break away from the Soviet sphere of influence and the Warsaw Pact, such military action was justified as rendering ‘fraternal aid’ to socialist states in distress. These interventions were widely condemned for what they were: blatant acts of aggression. Solzhenitsyn, ever alert to what he sees as a double standard and hypocrisy, points out that under the banner of spreading universal human values and democracy, NATO attacked Serbia. These he says, are not referred to as aggression but as ‘peace-keeping operations’.23 Solzhenitsyn has a point.
Race and Nation
My reading of Solzhenitsyn suggests to me that although he is not oblivious to the question of race in the formation and survival of a nation he tends to fall back on a person’s self-definition as the decisive criterion (see above). For example, he cites, with obvious approval the remarks made by General Petr Wrangel during the Civil War on what it means to be Russian: ‘ “He whose heart is Russian is with us”. One cannot put it more precisely. Nationality does not directly reside in blood but in one’s heartfelt allegiances and in the spiritual cast of one’s personality’.24 Such an approach might be acceptable with very low numbers of enterprising, Russophile immigrants. Under the pressures induced by mass immigration it patently collapses. Russian culture, soul, language, patriotism and all the other manifestations of the Russian nation are the product of people - Russians - not Somalis and Chinese. There are, in fact, good grounds for the view that patriotism and other forms of group loyalty have a biological basis (see, for example, J. Philippe Rushton’s published research on genetic similarity theory). So, biological and genetic factors cannot just be ignored as if they were of no consequence, and, indeed, at a moment in man’s history when so much is now known about them, with much more to come, the sole reasons for continuing to ignore biological and genetic factors in immigration policies can only be due to wilful obscurantism and the ideological, relativist exigencies of multiculturalism.
Not all Russians share the Solzhenitsyn view. In The Study of Race: The Science of People’s Inherited Differences (2nd edition 2007), a thoroughly researched book, Vladimir Avdeev sets out an exceptionally detailed case for the importance of race not just as a genetic and biological phenomenon, but as the decisive factor in the evolution and survival of a nation, and even as a way of understanding and preventing conflict. In the preface to the first edition, Dr A. N. Savel’ev, a deputy of Russia’s State Duma, pays full tribute to Avdeev’s work and acknowledges its significance. He readily notes that the study of race can be jeopardised by ignorant xenophobes, but he points out that: ‘xenophilia, the abnormal love for everything alien and hatred for one’s own, for one’s own nation and its culture’ is just as dangerous.25 In the preface to the second edition, Dr Valerii Solovei, who is affiliated to the Gorbachev Foundation, highlights the central problem facing any researcher in the field of race that would be instantly recognizable to anyone living in the West: ‘When I first saw Vladimir Borisovich Avdeev’s book, The Study of Race, my reaction to the title was somewhat ironic: this is just another pseudo-scientific tract concerning the mysticism of “blood” and “soil”. The instinctive, immediate character of this reaction points to the considerable moral and cultural burden associated with the term “race”, which a priori arouses negative connotations. Put simply, any judgements to do with racial matters are perceived from a position based on a presumption of mistrust, a lack of scientific rigour and even of a reactionary nature. Moreover, this response is expressed far more strongly among the class of professional, intellectuals in the arts to which the author of these lines belongs than among the public at large’.26 The publication of Avdeev’s book in Russia highlights that in contemporary Russia there is greater intellectual freedom to discuss these themes than in the West. I could not imagine any elected official in the USA writing a positive appraisal of Michael Levin’s Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean (1997 & 2005) or J. Philippe Rushton’s Race Evolution and Behaviour (2005). Whether the publishing success of Avdeev’s book in Russia will exert any influence on Russian policy towards immigration and related areas remains to be seen. Yet there can be no doubt that many of Avdeev’s conclusions on the nature of race and racial matters directly pertain to the survival and prosperity of Russia as a Russian nation. Racial awareness and the measures recommended by The Movement Against Illegal Immigration are consistent with one another. The organization’s blueprint to deal with illegal immigration contains no explicit reference to race yet there is a strong presumption that race matters and that if the necessary measures are not adopted (or something along those lines) Russia will cease to be Russian. Nor are these fears that far removed from Solzhenitsyn’s defence of Russians and their rights. Without the Russian people ‘there is’, he notes, ‘no one to bear the responsibility for the preservation of the state. The fate of the Russian people will determine the fate of Russia as well’.27
One can readily acknowledge that patriotism and nationalism can be abused and exploited for unwholesome ends but they are not inherently sinful. The desire on the part of Russians to preserve their great nation, their culture, and the agonising over her future, is normal. Indeed, every nation has the right to protect itself and ensure its survival. That is why a nation’s young men have always gone to war. As the Russian sage reminds us, ‘Love for one’s country is just as natural as love for one’s own family’.28 That love, as in the nations of the West, has been trampled on, mocked and marginalised as something unwholesome, even wicked in pursuit of something unattainable; something that is construed and propagandised as progress yet always breaks down or can only be maintained with coercion and terror (but not indefinitely). Russia now finds herself in the aftermath of the many decades of terror which was initiated with the self-inflicted Great October Catastrophe of 1917 which ended in 1991. Many generations will come and go before finally Russia overcomes this terrible legacy.
In the last line of a short poem that has appealed to Russian and non-Russian observers of Russia ever since it was published in 1866, Fedor Tiutchev (1803-1873) tells us that: ‘One can only believe in Russia’. Writing as an Englishman, I believe in Russia. I venture, though with some trepidation, to assert that the path to Russia’s overcoming her infernal, communist century and finding her way home lies in her returning to her spiritual roots, above all to her national Church, to her organic forms of art, to the forms of internal governance that best suit Russia’s needs not the ideological platform of multiculturalism and the noisome, meddlesome importuning of the European Union and the United Nations. Institutions indigenous to Russia are the ones that will nourish and sustain her and the nation since they encapsulate the national soul. All else is confusion, penury, sorrow, the road to extinction.
1 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Rossiia v obvale (Russian in Ruins) Russkii put’, Moscow, 1998, p.3.
2 Vladimir Il’ich Lenin, ‘Kriticheskie zametki po natsional’nomu voprosu’ (‘Critical Observations on the National Question’, 1913), Sochineniia, volume 20, OGIZ, Moscow, 1948, pp.17-18.
3 Andrei Platonov, The Foundation Pit (Kotlovan) trans., Robert Chandler and Geoffrey Smith, The Harvill Press, London, 1996, pp.69-70.
4 Russia in Ruins, p.174.
5 Russia in Ruins, p.175.
6 Cited in Russia in Ruins, pp. 129-130.
7 Cited in Russia in Ruins, p.134. .
8 Dmitri N. Shalin, ed., Russian Culture at the Crossroads: Paradoxes of Postcommunist Consciousness, Westview Press, Colorado and Oxford, 1996, p.106.
9 A. N. IAkovlev, ed. et al, Lubianka: organy VChk-OGPU-NKVD-NKGB-MGB-KGB 1917-1991 spravochnik, in the series “Demokratiia”, Rossiia. XX VEK, Dokumenty, Mezhdunarodnyi fond, Moscow, 2003, p.727.
10 A. N. IAkovlev, ed. et al, Lubianka: organy VChk-OGPU-NKVD-NKGB-MGB-KGB 1917-1991 spravochnik, in the series “Demokratiia”, Rossiia. XX VEK, Dokumenty, Mezhdunarodnyi fond, Moscow, 2003, p.728.
11 Richard Pipes, ‘ “Solving” the Nationality Problem’, Problems of Communism, September – October 1967, vol. XVI, Special Issue, Nationalities and Nationalism in the USSR, p.131.
12 Russia in Ruins, p.141.
13 Russia in Ruins, p.140.
18 Russia in Ruins, p.44.
19 Russia in Ruins, p.45.
20 Russia in Ruins, p.71.
21 Patrick J. Buchanan, Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, Crown Publishers, New York, 2008, p.420.
22 Russia in Ruins, p.28.
23 Russia in Ruins, p.29.
24 Russia in Ruins, p.174.
25 The Study of Race, pp.5-6.
26 The Study of Race, p.8 (emphasis in the original).
27 Russia in Ruins, p.132.
28 Russia in Ruins, p.154.
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