Being an Orthodox theocracy, Russia initially considered her growing size and strength as serving a divine purpose. In Muscovite Russia of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, this idea appeared in the shape of the doctrine of Moscow as the Third Rome (Moskva - Tretii Rim), a messianic doctrine that was based on the legacy of the Byzantine Empire (the `Second Rome'). The latter had proclaimed itself as the future universal Christian empire with a divinely ordained mission to extend its Orthodox `truth' to the entire world. After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, this train of thought was adopted by the Grand principality of Moscow, who had claimed title to the spiritual heritage of the Byzantine Empire.
The Grand Princes of Moscow proclaimed themselves as successors of the tsars of Byzantium, investing themselves with the title `Tsar, autocrat, chosen by God.' Orthodoxy, the cornerstone of Russian nationalism later on in history, was often used to argue against the secularised and superficial West. It represented pure and true Christianity in contrast to Catholicism, which was seen as the heir to Roman paganism, and Protestantism, which is viewed as the gateway to barren individualism. Needless to say, this train of thought implied that the rulers of Russia had the right to rule and protect all the Orthodox people in the world and, by implication, to bring them under Russian suzerainty. Moreover, as Orthodoxy was proclaimed the only true Christian faith, the rulers considered themselves universal Christian sovereigns, i.e., the rulers of all the 'Christians.’ Thus, Russia's imperialistic policy of geographical expansion during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries could be theologically justified. Solzhenitsyn's explanation is characteristic: “In our view, we could not leave Christian peoples without help wherever they lived on the earth.”
What differentiates Russia from the West? Historically, the most fundamental distinction is confessional. As is well known, more than a thousand years ago, Russia accepted the eastern branch of Christianity, Orthodoxy, which had far-reaching consequences for Russia's entire history. Being considered the only pure and true religion, Orthodoxy was used as an argument against the secularised and superficial West, where Catholicism was based on the rationalist heritage of pagan Rome, and Protestantism was conducive to excessive individualism. But actually, Russia separated itself from the mainstream of Christian civilization that flowed westwards. Consequently, Russia played no part in Europe's classical heritage represented chiefly by Roman law, i.e., a rationalized legal system. Instead of feudalism, Russia had a patrimonial rule," and Gemeinschaft instead of Gesellschaft prevailed. This being the case, in pre-revolutionary Russia, the process of modernization and secularisation of state and society was much slower and less influential than in most West European countries, where religion had been separated from politics at an early stage. The Russian Church was never an independent institution as it had from the very beginning placed itself more docilely than any other church at the disposal of the state. `For Byzantine theorists, it was axiomatic that the church could not subsist without the protection of the state.'
The relationship between church and state was symbiotic: being upheld by the secular authority, the spiritual one supported the former and its policy. In a word, as the Emperor's will was justified by religion, a real secularisation of state power was excluded. The inherent conservatism of the Orthodox Church made it perceive church tradition, not the Gospels, as the ultimate authority. Even in our days, this traditionalist thinking sometimes manifests itself within the Russian Orthodox Church and the rhetoric of some national patriot thinkers. In the nineteenth century then, there was a continuous exchange of ideas between Slavophilism and German nationalism. The influence of German idealistic romanticism on original Slavophilism, in general, has already been mentioned. More specifically, Johann Gottfried Herder's philosophy of history inspired the Slavophiles to emphasize the organic character of development and society. Yet, the Russian idea was not a copy of German national thought ('Teutonophilism') as Orthodoxy colored it and, consequently, still represented traditionalism. The degeneration of the Russian idea towards the advocacy of imperial chauvinism and Panslavism and outright anti-Semitism during the three last decades of the nineteenth century had its approximate nationalist parallel in Germany. According to A. Dugin, `the national archetype of the German soul and the geopolitical position of the Germans make them like the Russians most predisposed to the ideology of the ‘Third Way.
The intellectual interaction between both currents of thought manifested itself in reciprocal influences. Among the thinkers belonging to the second generation of Slavophilism, Nikolai Danilevsky (1822-85), the chief theoretician of Panslavism, deserves to be mentioned as having anticipated geopolitical thinking. In his magnum opus, Rossiia I Evropa (Russia and Europe) of 1869, he advanced a theory of cultural types of civilizations as the main divisions of humanity. Of these different cultural types conceived by him as `self-contained and self-sufficient entities, the `Slavic cultural-historical type' was considered superior.
Paralleling the German nationalists' idea of reuniting all Germans using seizing all the territories that they inhabited, Danilevsky preached a Slavic Anschluss of sorts. He advocated the repossession of Constantinople, the capital of the former Greek-Orthodox Byzantine Empire. He urged the Slavs to liberate themselves from Turkish and German domination and join Russia, informing one great Slavic empire headed by the Russian tsar. Danilevsky became `the most eloquent spokesman of the believers in a Russian imperial mission.
In Danilevsky's writings, there are some remarkable signs of modern secularised political thought contrasting with his usual Orthodox traditionalist argumentation. He actually advocates a policy of strength in declaring that Russia could only fulfill her historical mission after transforming herself into a giant superpower. The alleged `spiritual decay' of the West and Russia's alleged national interests served Danilevsky as a moral justification of a strategy of imperial expansionism. In plain language, in his argumentation, Orthodox messianism was replaced by geopolitical thinking.
The third generation of Slavophilism that appeared at the turn of the twentieth century professed nothing but unbridled anti-Semitism. When Danilevsky had been an exponent of the confrontation between Russia and a `rotten West,' the new nationalists presented a more simplified view, that of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Formally, until 1917, Russia's foreign policy was colored by this Orthodox messianism. Actually, the Russian tsars were realists and resorted more and more to a pragmatic policy of furthering Russia's own imperial interests dictated by geography. Expansionism served the purpose of creating new and safer borders. This could be seen in the drive towards the north and the east, where Russia got sea borders in the sixteenth century. Later, the need for warm-water ports became more and more pressing to meet strategic trade interests, this implied expansion to the west and the south. Peter I and Catherine II made Russia a Baltic and a Black Seapower in the eighteenth century. Russia waged numerous wars against Turkey to conquer Constantinople and get access to the Mediterranean. Russia failed to achieve this goal as Turkey was backed up by the European great powers France and England, who did not want Russia growing too strong.
However that may be, in Russia, the germs of geopolitical thinking had been born behind the scenes of official religious messianism. During the second half of the nineteenth century, with the emergence of imperial statist nationalism, the real geopolitical motives for Russia's continuing territorial expansionism were more or less openly admitted, as Danilevsky's writings testify to. In a word, instead of serving as God's instrument in history, Russia had to further its own imperial interests exclusively and accomplish its own geopolitical mission in a Darwinist world of struggle for survival. This new thinking resulted in two inter-related geopolitical doctrines - the Russian imperial idea and panslavism. The former emanating from the establishment proclaimed legitimism and traditional conservatism. In a way, this idea proclaimed already self-sufficiency, more or less. Panslavism, for its part, was a movement among national-minded thinkers and publicists like Danilevsky who pleaded for a great Slavic empire headed by the Russian tsar.
Under the Soviet regime 1917-91, these geopolitical considerations continued to serve as the basic principle in foreign policy. Stalin's spectacular great power policy during and after Second World War is a good case in point. In fact, his geopolitical orientation was a synthesis of the old imperial idea (autarchy) and panslavism. The former manifested itself in Stalin's policy of isolationism, the latter in the incorporation of Eastern Europe into the Soviet bloc, the so-called socialist camp. In Soviet propaganda, however, expansionism was never called by its proper name - geopolitics was officially considered a reactionary bourgeois doctrine - but explained as being part of the international class struggle as promoting the cause. Thereby Soviet power policy could be justified as promoting the cause of the international proletarian movement.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Danilevsky's geopolitical ideas were paralleled and even surpassed by the German national socialists' geopolitical projects. The aforementioned semi-fascist Russian extreme right is often called the `Black Hundred' (chernosotentsy). The name refers to the paramilitary groups that belonged to the Union of Russian People (Soiuz Russkogo Naroda), the most important rightist party that had emerged before the first Duma elections in 1906. The new message of the Black Hundred was that the fundamental confrontation of the contemporary world was `Russia versus Jewry.' The idea of a Jewish conspiracy against Russia was gaining ground among Russian nationalists mainly due to the appearance of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Protokoly Sionskikh Mudretsov), an infamous forgery attributed to the tsarist secret service, the 'Okhranka.'
The anti-Jewish dimension of the Russian idea had already become a key issue in Russian domestic politics by the 1880s. However, this phenomenon differed from the traditional confessional anti-Semitism cultivated from time immemorial by the Russian Orthodox Church. The new kind of anti-Semitism had come from the crisis-stricken Germany, where it served as a backlash movement against the accomplished political and economic Emancipation of the Jews. Among the German modern anti-Semites, the radicals represented racial biology and the moderates who wanted to oust the Jews from public service (ibid.). The latter category became predominant among Russian rightists after the revolutions in 1917 when the Russian Jews got access to government offices.
As an ideological phenomenon, the Black Hundred was `a halfway house between the old-fashioned reactionary movements of the nineteenth century and the right-wing populist (fascist) parties of the twentieth'. Adhering to Orthodoxy and monarchism, its members were traditionalists, whereas, as one of the movements years later declared, the spirit of this Russian movement was almost similar to that of national socialism. The view that there was a coincidence of interests between Jewish revolutionaries and Jewish capitalists, in fact, anticipated one of the main planks of nazism. The Black Hundred advocated direct action against the Jews, the alleged enemies of the Russian people. In plain language, the Russian semi-fascists initiated pogroms and eliminated Jewish deputies to the Duma. The state subsidized these activities, which were carefully coordinated with the efforts of the secret police (the Okhrana) to quench the socialist and liberal opposition.
In tsarist Russia before 1917, all the extreme right organizations described the socialists and the liberals as a destructive anti-Russian force. They referred to the large proportion of Jews in the upper echelons of the opposition parties - particularly within the Menshevik and Kadet parties. The subsequent rise of Jews to prominence within the Bolshevik party was proof of a Jewish conspiracy. The exchange of ideas between German and Russian rightist movements culminated in the export of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Germany in 1918. By that, the Russian semi-fascist nationalists repaid their debt for the German anti-Semitic doctrine conveyed to them in the 1880s.
In the 1920s, however, geopolitical thinking manifested itself undisguised among now mostly Russian nationalist-minded émigrés in the shape of Eurasianism. It was influenced partly by the late Slavophilism of the 1870s and 1880s, partly by German geopolitics in Carl Schmitt, K. Haushofer, and Ernst Niekisch. On the other hand, in the Soviet Union, geopolitics had no chance to be permitted as a separate doctrine as even national bolshevism could exist only behind the facade of Marxism-Leninism. Geopolitics became officially accepted as a political theory only in post-totalitarian Russia. Its rapidly growing popularity was, probably, due to—the new frustrating situation after the break-up of the Soviet empire. With 25 million Russians living beyond the frontiers of the Russian Federation, the idea of restoring the empire and the former Soviet Union's status of a superpower was harbored by considerably large quarters of society. Geopolitics became the new ideological panacea for Russian-minded state patriots who often called themselves Eurasians (evraziitsy) or neo-Eurasians (neo-evraziitsy). As has been noted, this category of nationalists can be found within the Establishment in general and within the army and other power structures in particular. Neo-Eurasianism includes aspects of both traditionalist and `modernist' thinking. Imperial thinking and orientation belong mainly to the first category, whereas the latter is characterized by urbanism and industrial, technological, and military-industrial projects.
Rejecting the possibility of a universal civilization, the Eurasians pointed out the detrimental impact of the expanding European (Romano-Germanic) culture on other civilizations. This being the case, Nikolai Danilevsky's view of contagious rotten Europe was more or less revived. Russia's future was considered to be in the East. As a concept, Eurasia was defined as a politically, historically, and culturally indivisible territory that coincided with imperial Russia. It constituted an organic and harmonic totality and needed protection from alien cultural influences. Thus, Russia should not copy European institutions but preserve its own traditions. In plain language, this implied a traditionalist policy. Spiritually, Russia should return to its pre-Petrine state - Muscovite Russia that had been an Orthodox theocracy.
However, besides being traditionalist, Eurasianism included elements of modern nationalist thought. In particular, the new science of geopolitics was more or less adopted by the Eurasians. Moreover, even germs of German racist thinking can be found, particularly in Trubetskoy's writings colored by unsophisticated cultural anthropology. The attitude of the Eurasians towards Italian fascism was almost benevolent. Their view of the ideal, culturally autarchic, and 'ideocratic' state was influenced by the principles of a corporative system of society. Soviet Russia, for its part, provoked contradictory feelings. Among the Eurasians, there were those who more or less sympathized with the Soviet regime. At the same time, they hoped that Bolshevism sooner or later would be replaced by Eurasianism. In their view, there were some positive features in the Soviet system, such as a strong government with a clearly identifiable ruling group (the communist party) and the Soviets permitting ordinary people to participate in governing the country. Nikolai Alekseev, the leading political scientist in the Eurasian movement, advocated `a Russia with Soviets, but without communists. In a word, Russia should abandon Marxism, reject the communist party, and adopt Eurasianism as her new guiding doctrine.
In the 1920s, geopolitical thinking manifested itself undisguised among Russian nationalist-minded émigrés in the shape of Eurasianism. It was influenced partly by the late Slavophilism of the 1870s and 1880s, partly by German geopolitics in Carl Schmitt, K. Haushofer, and Ernst Niekisch. On the other hand, in the Soviet Union, geopolitics had no chance to be permitted as a separate doctrine as even national bolshevism could exist only behind the facade of Marxism-Leninism. Geopolitics became officially accepted as a political theory only in post-totalitarian Russia. Its rapidly growing popularity was, probably, due to—the new frustrating situation after the break-up of the Soviet empire. With 25 million Russians living beyond the frontiers of the Russian Federation, the idea of restoring the empire and the former Soviet Union's status of a superpower was harbored by considerably large quarters of society.
Geopolitics became the new ideological panacea for Russian-minded state patriots who often called themselves Eurasians (evraziitsy) or neo-Eurasians (neo-evraziitsy). As has been noted, this category of nationalists can be found within the Establishment in general and within the army and other power structures in particular. Neo-Eurasianism includes aspects of both traditionalist and `modernist' thinking. Imperial thinking and orientation belong mainly to the first category, whereas the latter is characterized by urbanism and industrial, technological, and military-industrial projects. In the early 1930s, the movement was split as the numerous anticommunist Eurasians withdrew and, in fact, moved towards the extreme right, i.e., the National Alliance of Russian Solidarist, a network of Russian fascists originally based in the exile community and national socialists. In 1992, the ideas of Eurasianism became a fashionable umbrella ideology for numerous Russian nationalist movements and groupings. `Eurasia' became a codeword for Russia's lost imperial identity emphasizing the differences between Russian and European civilizations. Concepts like the `Eurasian space' (evraziiskoe prostranstvo) implying the territory of the former Soviet empire, 'Eurasianism' or `Russia's geopolitical interest as a Eurasian power' became frequent in the national patriots' vocabulary. As time went on, the slogans of almost all political movements, including those of Zyuganov's communists and Yeltsin's liberals, became more or less colored by Eurasianism. This thinking coincided with a renewed interest in the traditional strong Russian state. The idea was that the Russian state needed to be strong, powerful, and centralized to rule its vast territory. This being the case, Russia should not be too democratic, the argument went. In principle, this train of thought became a common denominator for the nationalists and communists in the opposition and the liberals in power.