The danger of a fascist or national socialist takeover in Russia was a topic of frequent discussions in Russian media in the 1990s and it is an undisputable fact that there were numerous rightist movements that could be classified as fascist or national socialist. Many of them had their own storm troopers, i.e. paramilitary formations of armed young men dressed in uniform or camouflage. The requisites of these men often included swastikas of different shapes.
Many of these rightist movements and organisations established contacts with their ideological allies in the West. This could be seen from numerous rightist and anti-Semitic publications that were sold or distributed in Moscow, St Petersburg and other Russian cities. Furthermore, through these media, information about Western rightist ideologies and movements was, and still is, channelled to Russian readers - in most cases the national patriots or their supporters. In a word, they began to `Westernise'.
The extremist national patriots are too divided to constitute a real threat to the existing order. Side by side with the aforementioned `Westernised' national patriots there are their `traditionalist' colleagues yearning for the prerevolutionary past of Russia. The strength of all extremists lies in their ability to influence others' political argumentation, in particular that of the moderate and pragmatic nationalists who form the overwhelming majority among Russians opposing Western-style liberal reforms. Furthermore, even in the ongoing general political and ideological discussions and debates in Russian media the influence of rightist nationalism is palpable.
With some reservations, under Boris Yeltsin's rule even the democrats in power as well as Gennadii Zyuganov's communists in opposition became affected by the ideas of Russian conservative nationalism. This being the case, all the main political forces were more or less gravitating towards rightist attitudes and ideas. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) is ideologically heterogeneous but so far dominated by its nationalist wing spearheaded by the party leader Gennadii Zyuganov.
On the whole, a gradual shift towards attitudes coloured by Russian conservative nationalism characterised Yeltsin's Russia. The Western-style liberal reforms had resulted in great disappointments for `the man in the street'. There was a growing need for finding alternatives to Russia's neoliberal Westernisation.
After the bankruptcy of Marxism-Leninism and the fall of totalitarian socialism, leftist ideologies - Zyuganov's `leftism' is verbal, not real - have not been very popular in Russia. For the time being, instead of a strong and influential social democratic party like those in Western and Central European countries, there are several small, insignificant social democratic organisations in Russia. One of them has Mikhail Gorbachev as its leader. A real labour movement in the European sense has not yet materialised in Russia.
This being the case, the idea of a conservative alternative to Yeltsin's liberal reforms and pro-Western policy was gradually gaining momentum generally in the broad layers of society. In the ongoing general political debate, in particular in the mass media, there were more and more people suggesting that strong state power, strict order and discipline be reestablished in Russia. Along with these attitudes, there was the timehonoured yearning for a strong and efficient Russian leader. The new mood in society was gaining momentum especially from August 1998 on, when the rouble collapsed.
What could be the reasons behind this worldwide rightist trend? In our view, there are, at least, the following ones, taking the 2003 poll in account that we mentioned in the introduction one could ad:
First, the political and ideological situation in the world totally changed after 1991. The Western political and economic model has triumphed over totalitarian socialism. Neoliberalism, or the doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism, has become the dominant ideology not only in the West but also in most parts of the rest of the world. Furthermore, globalisation is already replacing national economies of states with an uncontrolled transnational economy.The radical leftist alternative to neoliberalism is rather unpopular after the bankruptcy of the Soviet experiment. Furthermore, globalisation has, in fact, diluted European social democracy and made it gravitate towards the principles of neoliberalism. Today, the only serious challenge to neoliberalism can come from the right.
Second, neoliberal globalisation seems, in fact, to pave the way for a populist right in the rich part of the world. Unrestricted and uncontrolled laissez faire capitalism resulting in polarisation of society invokes the principle of the survival of the fittest, i.e. social Darwinism that happens to be one of the characteristics of fascism as well as of national socialism.
In history, the same free-market regime prevailed at the turn of the nineteenth century until it was destroyed by World War I. The chaotic development of the 1920s and 1930s led to economic hardships culminating in the Great Depression with protectionism and political antiliberal nationalism as a consequence in most European countries.
Today, Western national states have lost their economic sovereignty. They are dependent on the deregulated global economy with its unpredictable international stock market and fierce capitalist competition. The danger of an economic breakdown in some part of the world - we know what happened in 1998 in Southeast Asia and Russia - is always possible.
The world race to achieve maximum efficiency and minimum wages (a tendency among the biggest manufacturers to shift production from the industrial countries can already be seen) threatens now the well-being of the middle layers of the Western society. With the massive job insecurity, and the growing unemployment in several branches, a real fear for the future is spreading throughout the Western world. Everywhere there is the same programme of reducing public expenditure and eliminating social services. The welfare state seems to be withering away. This creates a breeding ground of rightist populism, the leftist alternative being much less attractive today. There is a drive towards the past, when order, national traditions and some economic prosperity seemed to co-exist, at least for the middle class.
Third, the rightist tendencies in the West are fuelled by xenophobia and outright racism – a consequence of the growing immigration that has been sweeping the Western world in the late twentieth century and still continues to thrive. Immigrants in general, and those representing other cultures and races in particular, are mostly perceived as parasites by middle-class citizens who have lost or are about to lose their previous economic status. In multinational Russia, as we have seen, there are some parallels with this situation in the West. We remember the typical cliché attitude, according to which non-Russian nationalities have lived and prospered at the expense of the blue-eyed Russians. On the other hand, it is true, this is not due to external immigration as in the West. Yet, in Russia with a birth-rate that is lower than the death-rate there is a demographic need for a growing immigration in the years to come. For instance, already now there are people from former Soviet Central Asiatic republics trying to find jobs in Russia where the wages are much higher than in their own countries. This development will probably continue and accelerate with the same consequences as in the West.
Fourth, deregulated globalisation has created new international dangers. For instance, an international borderless market has been accompanied by an international borderless terrorism. As we have already seen in this study, in combating terrorism Russia as well as the West have resorted to policies that are sometimes quite repressive. This has been in line with general rightist attitudes favouring the creation of a police state.
An Historical Overview of Russia’s Geopolitical Thinking
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 Moscowy 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 as an argument against the secularised and superficial West. It was to represent pure and true Christianity in contrast to Catholicism, which was seen as the heir to Roman paganism, and to Protestantism, which it 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”.
By 1945, the Soviet Union was like a carbon copy of Hitler's Germany in some important respects: its system had become dictatorial, nationalist and anti-Semitic. Disguised as Soviet patriotism Russian nationalism had manifested itself in the form of large-scale deportations of ethnic groups like the Crimean Tatars and Volga Germans, who were suspected in having collaborated with Germany. During the war, the occupied territories had been a hotbed of anti-Semitism. This ideological climate reached even the ranks of the partisans and the Red Army . Russian traditional anti-Semitism was refueled by its German modern equivalent.
After 1945 and, especially, with the outbreak of the cold war in 1946, a far-reaching isolationism took effect in the Soviet Union. The political atmosphere became outright xenophobic, and the anti-Semitic feelings were to intensify. In 1948-53, this policy continued as a campaign against `Zionists' and `rootless cosmopolitans' . In plain language, the state and party hierarchy, the arts and the theatres, the universities and colleges and the mass media should be cleansed from Jews.
The poorly camouflaged anti-Jewish campaign culminated in November 1948, when the Jewish anti-fascist committee was disbanded and almost all its members arrested. A show trial of Jewish doctors was held in March 1953. Stalin saw in the trial a way to prepare the ground for exiling the Jewish population from the centre of the Soviet Union and largely responsible for the growth of Israel during the 1950’s followed by the decade of the Israeli “six day war”.
Before the deportation the aforementioned Jewish doctors should be executed by hanging. This anti-Jewish campaign could be interpreted as a Russian version of Hitler's Final Solution. However that may be, Stalin's death put an end to all these projects. In the Brezhnev era, the influence of national socialist thinking was to revive, at least partly, along with national bolshevism within the establishment when society became strongly militarised. In the late 1970s, something like a `fascistisation of young functionaries' of the party, Komsomol and state apparatus could be observed. Books about the Third Reich gained popularity and it became `fashionable to praise the firmness of the leaders of the Third Reich - Hitler, and Himmler and Bormann even more.
The struggle between Westernisers and conservative nationalists in contemporary Russia is traced back to the problems of Western modernisation: Marxism and liberalism being products of the Enlightenment are confronted with conservative traditionalism. In this context, Russian thought is viewed as having been influenced also by Western conservative thought, in particular by German philosophy including its extreme manifestation, national socialism. On the other hand, among the Russian political émigrés after 1917 there were several radical conservative thinkers who, on their part, could give their German allies new impulses. In Soviet Russia, Russian radical conservatism appeared in the shape of national bolshevism.
Post-Soviet Russia of the 1990s is divided and polarised as a consequence of unbridled capitalism that many Russians call `robber capitalism'. The mood of the society is becoming more and more conservative, the attitudes become coloured by pessimism, social Darwinism, anticommunism, rejection of egalitarianism, etc. There are suggestions to find a strong authoritarian leader à la Augusto Pinochet as well as appeals to bring about a national reconciliation.
In the middle of the 1990s, organisational forms of conservative nationalism still had weak articulation. There were four different politically relevant parties or movements: Zyuganov's communist (de facto national bolshevik) party representing theoretically radical but actually moderate statism (imperialism), Vladimir Zhirinovsky's liberal democratic party representing a more extreme statism, Alexander Lebed's moderate and pragmatic party advocating a police state of sorts, and national socialist Alexander Barkashov's paramilitary movement, Russian National Unity (Russkoe National'noe Edinstvo, RNE), advocating the creation of a monoethnic Russian state.
Serving as an alternative to both Marxism and liberalism, conservatism has undergone a metamorphosis under the influence of modernisation: the Christian world outlook has gradually been replaced by more secular conceptions. This evolution culminated in fascism and national socialism in parts of Europe. A similar process has taken place in Russia: before 1917 Russia was a Caesaro-Papist autocracy, the Soviet era could be labeled a de facto ideocratic autocracy, whereas Yeltsin's Russia represented a secularised and, at the same time, Westernised authoritarian rule.
In Yeltsin's era, both traditionalist and `modern' versions of Russian nationalism coexisted, but the latter was more and more getting the upper hand. The traditionalist slogans in favour of a religious monarchy were replaced by visions of a secularised authoritarian police state of sorts.
As regards the statists or great power nationalists, religious messianism was replaced by the view of Russia's geopolitical mission in a social Darwinist world. Ethnic nationalism (racism), on the other hand, was more and more shifting from confessional anti-Semitism to pseudo-scientific or occult theories of the Jews as an inferior or evil race. Furthermore, even white power-mentality and eugenics have become part of modern ethnic nationalism in contemporary Russia.
Serving as an ideological antidote to universalism and globalisation, geopolitics has made a political comeback in the 1990s in Russia as well as in the West. In Russia, this conservative worldview has mostly been interpreted in terms of geographically antagonistic political cultures or civilisations.
Russian geopolitical thinking with deep roots in history has always influenced the country's foreign policy - under the Soviet regime it was disguised. Only after August 1991 was geopolitics officially accepted as a political doctrine. Neo-Eurasianism became the most important and influential version of it. This anti-Western theory had its roots in Eurasianism, a theory introduced by Russian émigrés in the 1920s. It was based on two conceptions: the view of a declining West and the conspiracy theory. The first-mentioned view has its precursors even in the West - in Friedrich Nietzsche's and Oswald Spengler's writings as well as in the national socialists' worldview.
The view of the decrepit West, however, has always been combined with the so-called conspiracy theory according to which the West is a hotbed of evil forces conspiring against Russia. In plain language, all misfortunes and shortcomings in Russia's history can be explained as having been caused by the West dominated by Jews and Masons.
Today there are mostly three different geopolitical strategies to save Russia. Geopolitician Alexander Dugin (who translated occultists like Rene Guenon and Julius Evola into Russian) views the task in restoring the empire and expanding it through alliances with Germany, Japan and Iran.
Party leader Zyuganov is more pragmatic: in his view, the privileged West ruled by a cosmopolitan elite and trying to dominate the world is opposed by the rest of the world. Russia should not integrate with the West but strive to attain autarchy. In foreign policy, Russia could serve as a geopolitical equaliser in a multipolar world of clashing civilisations.
And Zhirinovsky, on the other hand, wants to reintegrate the dissolved empire through economic and other sanctions against unwilling former Soviet republics, and to make Russia a strong military great power. He suggests a final repartitioning of the world into spheres of influence: North America dominating Latin America, Europe dominating Africa, Russia dominating Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. and China/Japan dominating Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia. Russia needs only to accomplish `the last push to the south' through a Blitzkrieg and extend its borders to the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. This thinking has manifested itself in much smaller military operations such as the wars in Chechnya.
The Russian ethnic nationalists reject the great power statists' dream of a restored multinational empire and suggest instead the creation of a monoethnic Russian state. This thinking is coloured by racism in general and anti-Semitism in particular. European confessional anti-Semitism, in particular in Germany, was secularised about a hundred years ago and replaced by racial biology. The same development can be seen in contemporary Russia, even if religious Judophobia still plays an important role in society. Being less articulated than German national socialism the Russian extreme right is more obsessed by the aforementioned conspiracy theory than by eugenics.
Different theories on the Jews' role in Russia's history have been this past decade been presented by 1) Igor Shafarevich who resorts to a codeword for the Jews - `the small people'. They are viewed as having played a decisive role in revolutions 1917 as well as in the terror that followed in the 1920s and 1930s.
2) Yurii Begunov views the dissolution of the Soviet Union as well as the painful reforms in Yeltsin's Russia as having been engineered by a Western international elite - Masons and Jews - who want to transform Russia into a colony of the West.
3)The Russian national socialist party leader A. Barkashov, on the other hand, is depicted as representing Hitlerite racial biology. He proclaims the need for creating an armed resistance movement against the supposed Jewish dictatorship in Russia.
Finally Putin's rise to power was a logical consequence of two contradictory tendencies in the country. On the one hand, there was the irreversible process of political and economic modernisation and Westernisation of Russia including its integration with the West. At the same time, this development had painful social consequences: disorder, a deteriorating economy, polarisation of society, and `criminal capitalism' in a corrupt state and society.
On the other hand, there was a growing conservative pessimistic mood in society as a consequence of the humiliating break-up of the Soviet empire as well as of the fact of general disappointment with the reforms. These sentiments were articulated in the emergence of nationalist and 'red-brown' parties opposing Yeltsin and his government. The establishment was more and more influenced by nationalist attitudes as were Zyuganov's communists, and later on, in 1998-99, the liberals. On the other hand, modernisation influenced many nationalists who adapted themselves to secular argumentation and pragmatic thinking. Putin's rise to power is shown as mirroring the new drive towards national unity in politically torn Russia. There is, at the moment, no organised politically important opposition against the new President who has somehow combined economic liberalism with statist nationalism, including a police state authoritarianism of sorts.