Western traditionalists might feel an affinity for certain aspects of Vladimir Putin’s drive to restore the Russian state. Such sentiments are often justified. Putin is unapologetic in his defense of actual national interests and has deftly reclaimed the Kremlin’s sphere of influence in Eurasia. In the August 2008 war with Georgia over South Ossetia, he delivered the Russian response to Washington’s creation of the Kosovo client state and stood firmly against American globalism. Open Society NGOs were expelled from Russia on his orders, and oligarchic influence curtailed, if only to an extent. The current Prime Minister has also initiated pronatalist campaigns to reverse post-Soviet demographic freefall and strengthened the Orthodox Church’s social profile. While Putin may be credited for carrying out these policies, other aspects of his rule betray the ideological indifference of a technocrat and myopic opportunism.
Putin’s liberal tendencies are first and foremost evident in his chosen successor to the presidency, Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev might style himself a reformer in the spirit of Tsar-Liberator Alexander II, but his pretensions fall flat. The president’s worldview is shaped by the same empty liberalism that has arrested Russia’s post-Communist cultural recovery from the 1990s to today. His closest advisers are virtually indistinguishable from the official front-men of financial elites in the West—their modernization projects are intended to strengthen the primacy of the oligarchs, and they hail mass immigration from the Caucasus and Central Asia as a disposable labor resource and political dependency. In the typically bourgeois formula of Calvin Coolidge, the business of Russia Inc. is business—production, consumption and profit. For the global civilization that Russians are entreated to join, there is no value higher.
Generations of Westernizers have sought to remodel Russia according to Enlightenment ideals, showcasing their enormous destructive force upon a people rooted in faith and tradition. Such was the case with the Bolsheviks and Yeltsin’s shock reformers, and so it would be with the new cohort of bankers and corporate managers. Russia could become a crystal palace of transparency, but its corruption would only be displaced to the level of advanced spiritual decay common in the EU and much of the United States. Market-powered hedonism has already made significant inroads in Russia’s major cities, along with all the execrable phenomena of the entertainment cult. Beyond making money, shooting heroin or watching reality television, what meaning might life hold? The business of postmodern empire is the traffic in desire and despair.
The 16th century monk Filofei’s messianic vision of the Third Rome is derided by contemporary observers as political nonsense, yet still it abides in the Russian consciousness. Putin is engaged in balancing Moscow’s warring clans, but he alone has had the power to single-handedly enact a genuine shift in ideological priorities toward the resurgence of Russia as a great culture. Is this nation brought into being through heroic struggle and sacrifice consigned to serve as the resource base of the global economy, or does it have a calling beyond mere temporal purposes? In his criticism of Putin and the current regime, scholar and nationalist Andrei Saveliev points the way to a cause higher than demagogic manipulation and material gain- the rebirth of Great Russia, worthy successor to Byzantium and protector of Eastern Christendom, a power to inspire holy dread in the Brave New World’s controllers.
The first half of the interview series Revolt Against Oligarchy can be found here.
Andrei Saveliev has a PhD in Political Science from MoscowStateUniversity. He was an elected deputy of the FourthState Duma on the "Rodina" ticket (2003-7) and the right-hand man of Rodina's leader, Dmitry Rogozin. He is chairman of the unregistered political party Velikaya Rossiya (Great Russia). He is the author of over 300 articles and several books, including Political Mythology (2003), Nation and State: A Theory of Conservative Reconstruction (2005), The Image of the Enemy: Racial Studies and Political Anthropology (2007). He currently teaches courses on the Sociology Faculty at MoscowStateUniversity.
Alfred Smith is the alter ego of a graduate student somewhere in the UK. He was happy to perform this interview and skilled translation for Alternative Right during a recent trip to Moscow.
Some of Alfred Smith's writings, as well as the entire interview with Dr. Saveliev, can be found at The Devil’s Review.
Could one call Putin a Russophobe?
He ought to be so called. A man who denounced as ‘idiots and provocateurs’ those who repeat the phrase of Tsar Alexander III ‘Russia for Russians!’ has clearly defined himself as a stranger to our people. He decided to interpret the thesis that ethnic Russians are the ‘state-forming people’ in a liberal manner, adding the word ‘only’: ‘only for Russians’. Of course, that was never the idea at all. But the opposite thesis seems to be the guiding principle of Putin and his followers: ‘Russia without Russians.’ And here his energy is astounding. Not only the destruction of any social action by Russians, but the colonization of the country by tens of millions of foreigners—both legal and illegal immigrants. We call this the ‘policy of replacement immigration.’ Putin doesn’t like the Russian people, so he is replacing them with another people who will be easier to control. Migrants, you know, are pleased to become slaves of the liberal bureaucracy, but the native peoples of Russia demand a welfare state and government that is accountable to them. They’re too high-maintenance.
Putin’s worldview was formed in the Soviet secret services, where Russophobia was unquestioned. In Chekist [KGB] circles Russian nationalists were always considered the most dangerous. It is no coincidence that Putin never uses the word ‘Russian’ (russkiy) when speaking of the people. I have not been able to find a single occasion in which he said ‘the Russian people’ (russkiy narod). He might say ‘Russian language’, ‘Russian culture’, but even this occurs rarely enough. ‘Russian people’ he has never said once. Clearly he has forbidden himself to say it.
Putin’s worldview formed under the influence of Anatoliy Sobchak, one of the leaders of the ‘democrats’ who made it their goal to dismember our country and rob it blind, and then achieved this goal. For them the USSR was an ‘evil empire’, not their Motherland afflicted by communism. They struggled not against communism but against Russia. And they preserved communism, both in the opposition, and in their consciousness. Sobchak was at the same time a communist and an ultra-liberal. There is no contradiction here. It’s only one step from internationalism to cosmopolitanism. From world revolution to betrayal of the Motherland is no step at all—it’s one and the same.
Russophobia has become the core of Putin’s politics. Under Yeltsin it was accidental – the result of the take-over of the media and major Soviet publishers by inveterate scoundrels. Under Putin it has been given a systematic foundation. All Russian nationalist civic organizations have been destroyed. There aren’t even any cultural organizations operating independently of the authorities. But there are fake organizations which are created by the authorities so that real ones will not arise. The authorities bring in hired provocateurs and pursue a plan aimed at creating ‘managed nationalism’. Fake radical organizations receive monetary support, and young people are drawn into them. Then the young people who have been riled up by these provocateurs are subjected to mass repression by the state.
Under Putin the infrastructure of Russian communities abroad has been totally destroyed. Russians were deceived by the supposed concern the authorities showed for them and by ‘Congresses of Compatriots’ which were front organizations. In the place of ethnic Russian communities, bureaucratic organizations were formed which are understood to be agencies of Moscow. In the best case scenario, local notables keep them on a short leash, allowing these Russian organizations to do only what suits the interest of the local ethnocracy. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Kremlin view this as an entirely ordinary state of affairs. This is how they themselves deal with Russian civic organizations in Russia proper. What we have is an alliance between Russophobes at home and abroad.
Under Putin practically all pro-Russian media has been eliminated. There’s not a single pro-Russian television programme, not a single pro-Russian radio show, not a single pro-Russian newspaper with nationwide circulation. There is some fictive pro-Russian media, for example the talk show ‘Russkiy Vzglyad’ (Russian View). Of the Russian Press there remain only two publications, the journal ‘Russkiy dom’ and the newspaper ‘Russkiy vestnik’ which are distributed mainly via church parishes. The number of copies sold is quite modest. The commercial networks through which liberal publications and various ‘glamour’ and pornography are distributed are not accessible to us.
What is more the various charges filed against the remaining small pro-Russian media are used by the office of the public prosecutor to justify political repressions. All of this is documented in the annual analytical reports ‘Russophobia in Russia’. In 2010, even compared to last year which was itself pretty bad, one sees that the repressions have greatly intensified. They’re not just shutting down publications, they’re charging people with so called ‘hate crimes’—the number of such charges has gone way up. The politically motivated Article 282 of the Criminal Code is constantly being used. This process has been spearheaded by high officials in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the office of the Public Prosecutor. Without missing a beat, the judges return guilty verdicts, violating constitutional norms and even elementary common sense.
How would you evaluate the Russian government’s immigration policy?
Putin’s immigration policy is what we call ‘the policy of replacement immigration’: the replacement of native peoples with new arrivals, foreigners. This policy is tied to the interests of the oligarchs who take these immigrants and form them into a class of slaves who have neither social nor political rights, live under monstrous conditions and receive slave wages. The appearance of this class also serves as a mechanism for crushing the native peoples’ struggle for social rights. Because on the labour market, an immigrant who has no rights, no capacity to defend his interests, is much more profitable for an employer than a native resident, who, upon being hired, demands that his rights be observed and that there be payments into his retirement fund and other benefits.
Today it is easier to hire an illegal immigrant, who demands no more than that his physical survival be secured. This has changed the situation in Russia. Native residents have fallen into a bad situation. And it is reinforced by government decisions which are justified by the aim of overcoming the demographic crisis by bringing in immigrants. Serious demographers from the very beginning said that this would not resolve a single problem, and would create many new ones. And they were right.
The main problem with illegal immigration is that it is destroying our sense of national community: the formation of ethnic enclaves, which have no intention of assimilating or joining with the civic communities that have formed in the Russian Federation. The situation does not even approach the American idea of the ‘salad bar’ (living next to each other, but not together), because here there is no unifying substance. In Russia this looks more like ‘vinegret’, that is, randomly and unevenly chopped up pieces of various vegetables, tossed together arbitrarily. It is impossible to predict what such cooking will taste like in the end, except that it will in no way accord with Russian traditions.
In Russia a unique situation has developed: it has never happened before that millions of arrivals from Asia, most of whom speak no Russian should colonize Russia’s central regions. It used to be that Russians were brought in to Asian and Siberian societies and basically dominated there as leaders because they excelled the other peoples in their inclination for hard work, culture, and education. They created leading industries, enlightened half barbarous tribes, and created for them the conditions necessary for their survival and defence against external enemies. Now Russia is being filled with a stream of uneducated people who speak no Russian and have not even mastered their own national culture. This is the sort of human material which is most suitable for oligarchy. From it arise either ignorant slaves or pitiless criminals.
Such are the foundations of Putin’s immigration policy. First he allowed massive illegal immigration numbering the millions, then with the passage of some laws, the majority of the illegal immigrants were legalized.
This, obviously, is leading to catastrophe- to cultural collapse. Because the way of life and thought that defines historic Russia is not being reproduced. The oligarchy does not care what population is subordinated to it. A slave need not have any national characteristics, it’s just a person, just a beast of burden. What thoughts it may have, what it may strive for, is of no interest.
Are there any causes for optimism in Russia?
There are causes for global optimism, because the global oligarchy has turned out to be worthless. I regard what is now happening in the world as the beginning of a new era. This is the move from domination by liberal oligarchies to new a nationalist reconstruction.
I’m not saying that the existing nationalist organizations will come to power, but that new organizations will arise, that existing elites who were focused the global market will change their orientation, seeing that a turn toward national interests provides their only chance for survival.
In Russia the rhetoric is already changing. Putin now says that the Americans cannot be trusted. The crisis of 2008 frightened him, everything he was counting on fell through, and his policies turned out to be completely ineffective.
This change of orientation as the old era gives way to the new will happen not in the mind of a single individual, but among many people. The desire of self-preservation will bring them to the conclusion that new rhetoric, different orientations, and even different people in power are needed. Naturally, marginal nationalist groups are not needed in power. But from the ranks of the marginalized (artificially marginalized, composed of people who were pushed aside by repressions) the most capable people will be recruited. The economic and political elites will sooner change their orientation than be replaced. In this sense, we have reason to be optimistic on a global scale.
In Russia we have reason to be optimistic because the global processes and our own crisis are felt particularly sharply by us. Because in our country the bureaucracy and oligarchy are especially cynical, and are prepared to rob the people to the point that they can no longer survive. When a person is placed in such a life or death situation, he wakes up rather more quickly. Therefore I surmise that in Russia the processes of transformation leading us into the new era will proceed more intensively than in other countries.
The intellectual elite is for all intents and purposes ready. Moving as I have lately among university professors, I see that the orientations have changed dramatically. The socialist and communist myths have not returned. And the liberal and globalist myths have already lost any attraction, and are sooner regarded with hostility. Research is being conducted on nationalist and patriotic ideas. I see that dissertations are being defended on nationalism, historical conservatism, the Russian Empire, Russian emigrant philosophy. Nobody cares anymore about the travails of the Shestidesiatniki (men of the 1960s), or the journalism of Perestroika. All this is old hat, it’s boring. But the period of the Empire, Russian philosophy—this is what researchers are interested in; this is what they’re working on.
Russian conservatism is a topic that concerns and interests everyone. And I even think that at the next elections in 2012 Putin, Medvedev and perhaps some other politicians will appeal to the electorate with a totally new doctrine in which Russian conservatism will be central. They won’t talk about global problems, or foreign investment, or the expansion of Russian business in other countries. They will talk about national interests, Russian culture, Russian identity and so on. This will be the dominant theme. After this will follow a cardinal shift in the orientation of the government and the country will turn from its self-destructive path toward renewal.