The latest in our series of translations of Russian national-conservative intellectual Egor Kholmogorov.
For the first part, see: Russians in the 2oth Century. Part I: Origins to WWII.
Incidentally, while counter-mainstream commenters in the West are hardly well compensated, this is unfortunately doubly true in Russia. If you have enjoyed our translations of him, a contribution to Egor Kholmogorov would be much appreciated:
- Paypal: holmogorowATyandex.ru
- Yandex Money: 4276380058863064
Considering the disastrous state of US-Russian relations, the West’s lack of Russia expertise is no longer just regrettable, but potentially catastrophic. So far as neoliberalism.txt is concerned, Russian nationalism basically consists of Stalin, Dugin, and The Foundations of Geopolitics (or rather its Wikipedia summary) – a narrative that the American Alt Right and European identitarians uncritically buy into (e.g. searching “Dugin” on Counter-Currents or AltRight.com yields hundreds of results, vs. virtually zero for Kholmogorov, or Sputnik & Pogrom). This conveniently makes it very easy to dismiss more nuanced and genuine right-wing Russian perspectives.
Expanding the English language presence of other Russian intellectuals is probably by far not the worst way to go about remedying this sad state of affairs.
Russians in the 2oth Century. Part II: Late Stalinism to the Present Day
Translated by Fluctuarius Argenteus
From the Genocide of Tradition to the Era of the Russian Party
However, the post-WWII Russian national revival was highly ambiguous and unstable. Right after the first signs of a political shaping of Russian national sentiment came the harsh backlash of the Leningrad Affair. The show trials led to the extermination of government officials that came to prominence during the war and bore certain traits of Russian national consciousness. The campaigns against “cosmopolitanism” and “kowtowing to the West” did little to strengthen Russian patriotism and much to inflame xenophobic passions that, in the long run, turned against the Russians themselves.
After Stalin’s death, the Soviet leadership started regressing to pre-war ideological dogmas. As early as 1955, they unleashed a fierce persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, using all the classic tricks of the Union of the Militant Godless, save for the physical elimination of the priesthood. Churches were shut down and destroyed, church services were routinely obstructed and impeded. Thus began the construction of the Russian person of the ottepel era: a godless enthusiast of science and progress, almost devoid of aesthetic feelings that were replaced with futuristic optimism.
One of the telltale signs of an ongoing profound “reprogramming” of the Russian nation was the liquidation of “unpromising villages”, a campaign unleashed in 1958 mostly in Central and Northern Russia – that is, the heartland of the Russian nation. The traditional Russian system of settlement in a network of small villages was uprooted. Russian peasants, forcibly removed from their traditional habitat, were herded into “urban-type settlements” that bore more resemblance to concentration camps, quickly evolving into hotbeds of alcohol abuse and criminality. A simultaneous mass housing construction campaign did much to improve the living conditions of the Russians but was also followed by social and economic maladaptation: the cohesive whole of traditional culture was destroyed to make way for the worship of the television set.
The psyche of the 1960s Russian was denationalised to the extreme, with traits of national identity forsaken in the name of modernist urbanism and a mixture of principles that were Occidentalist and Soviet (but patterned after the West) in nature.
Ilya Glazunov. Ilya Glazunov. The Contribution of the Peoples of the USSR to the Development of World Culture and Civilization (1980).
A sudden change came in 1965 soon after Khrushchev’s downfall. An ethnic revival swept the Soviet Union, with only limited support from the Communist establishment. The so-called “Russian Party” was formed out of a part of the 1960s Soviet intelligentsia and second-tier apparatchiks. It was largely a grassroots civic movement organised by enthusiasts, reaching its apex during the celebrations of the sixth centenary of the Battle of Kulikovo in 1980 (afterwards, this trend tragically reversed).
Georgy Sviridov. Snowstorm Romance.
The main manifestations of the Russian Revival were the protection and partial restoration of Russia’s medieval architectural legacy (first and foremost, Orthodox churches) and the spread of a vogue for everything Old Russian, which became something of a marker of ethnic Russianness. There were close counterparts to Western folk revival, in music (e.g. the great Russian composer Georgy Sviridov), design, ethnic symbolology. Nearly every household used to have a calendar with a picture of the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl as a symbol of rediscovered Russianness. After the end of overt persecution, the “religious fad” (as it was dubbed by indignant Komsomol agitators) made a comeback.
Essentially, Old Rus became a legally permissible symbol of Russian tradition in a climate where the later medieval era and the Imperial period were “ideologically compromised”. Self-identification with Old Rus became a form of ethnic Russian awareness, especially in urban areas. A new urban Russian identity found its reflection in the runaway popularity of Ilya Glazunov, who used contemporary pop art techniques to infuse ethnic Russian imagery with a sharp symbolism.
The literary icon of the Russian Revival was the Pochvennichestvo group, which were first and foremost linked to the “village prose” movement in literature. One of their greatest concerns was the defense of Russian nature against destruction by the “great construction projects” of Socialism, in particular, a protest against the flooding of traditional Russian territory during the construction of enormous man-made water reservoirs. The driving force of the “village prose” was a protest against the destruction of the Russian village on the basis that it was “unpromising”.
While the “villagers” tried to stay within the confines of the Soviet system, Alexander Solzhenitsyn adopted a much more radical position. Over the 1960s, he evolved from a humanistic Narodism critical of the repressive Soviet system to a stark distinction between the Soviet and the Russian and a firm emphasis on the revival of Russianness from underneath the Soviet yoke. In his Letter to the Leaders of the Soviet Union , Solzhenitsyn proposed his own programme of de-Communisation in the USSR as a condition of preserving the Russian people. Using the image of the Chinese menace, relevant in the 1970s USSR, Solzhenitsyn called on the Soviet leaders to abandon fidelity to the Communist ideology, invoked by the Chinese, in favour of Russianness, and start settling the wide expanses of Russia instead of exporting revolution:
I am mostly concerned with the fate of specifically Russians and Ukrainians, both being faithful to the old proverb (“grow where you are planted”) and more profoundly – due to the incomparable suffering that we have endured. And I write this under an ASSUMPTION that you have mostly the same concerns, that you do not shy away from your origins, your fathers, grandfathers, ancestors, and the nature you grew up with, that you are not devoid of nationality…
Under the central planning that we are so proud of, we could have avoided despoiling Russian nature by creating inhuman agglomerations of millions. We did exactly the opposite: sullying our wide Russian expanses and disfiguring our dear Moscow, the heart of Russia…
The Russian hope for winning time and winning salvation lies in our vast North-Eastern expanses, not yet defaced thanks to our 400-year clumsiness, we can build not an insane all-devouring civilisation of “progress” – no, we can start with an already stable economy and populate the land according to its requirements and principles. These vast lands give us a hope of not dooming Russia to die in the crisis of Western civilisation. (And, thanks to wasteful collectivisation, there is much empty land even closer.)
Let us remember Stolypin and give him his due without dogmatic bias. In 1908, in the State Duma, he prophetically uttered: “THE LAND IS THE SOURCE OF OUR POWER IN THE FUTURE, THE LAND IS RUSSIA”. And regarding the Amur railway: “If we stay asleep in lethargy, the Amur region will be permeated with foreign influences, and, when we wake up, it might turn out to be Russian in name only…”
The national leaders of Russia, faced with the menace of a war with China, will still have to rely on patriotism and patriotism alone. When Stalin made the same turn during the war – remember! – no one was surprised, not a tear was shed for Marxism, everyone accepted this as the most natural, Russian, and our own thing to do!
Essentially, Solzhenitsyn offered a compromise that would encompass a gradual transformation of the Soviet state. While keeping its power and reshaping it on the basis of nationalism, the Soviet leadership would jettison Communist ideology and reinvent itself as a national autocracy.
Russian history has made me into an opponent of any and all revolutions and armed insurrections. This includes future ones: those that you [the Soviet leadership] desire (not in our country) and those that you fear (in our country). Through my studies, I have grown convinced that mass bloody revolutions are always injurious to the nations that they affect… Over the last half-century, Russia’s readiness for democracy and multi-party parliamentarianism could have only decreased. Their sudden introduction now would only lead to a new and grievous repetition of 1917…
Russia lived with authoritarianism for a thousand years, but at the onset of the 20th century it still preserved much of the nation’s physical and spiritual health. This, however, was due to fulfilling one important condition. That authoritarianism had, if only at its source, at its beginning, a strong moral foundation. Not an ideology of universal violence, but Orthodoxy, yes, seven centuries of the Orthodoxy of Sergius of Radonezh and Nilus of Sora, not yet twisted by Nikon, not yet bureaucratised by Peter…
Everything depends on what kind of authoritarianism we are to expect in the future. It is not authoritarianism itself that is intolerable; it is the everyday ideological falsehood. It is not authoritarianism that is intolerable; it is despotism and violence, insurmountable violence…
Our country should be governed by considerations of an internal, moral, healthy development of our people: the liberation of women from wage slavery, especially from hard physical labour; setting right our schools and the education of children; saving our soils, waters, the entirety of Russian nature; restoring healthy cities; settling the North-East…
An amazing fact: even though Solzhenitsyn was forcibly expelled from the USSR and could not engage in any real dialogue with the Soviet establishment, some practical aspects of the 1970s Soviet policy followed the course chartered in the Letter to the Leaders of the Soviet Union. In the mid-1970s, the destruction of the Russian countryside gave way to welfare programs for the “Non-Chernozem Zone” – tardy but still useful for strengthening the basis of national life – as well as an intensified development of the North-East and the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline, envisioned by Stolypin and mentioned by Solzhenitsyn. Unsurprisingly, however, the Soviet leadership didn’t even consider Solzhenitsyn’s call for an ideological shift.
Solzhenitsyn’s Letter caused his ideological breakup with the Liberal dissident intelligentsia led by Andrei Sakharov. The row between “Westernisers” and “Nativists”, both in the USSR and among émigrés, reached levels of acrimony unseen since the final third of the 19th century. The mathematician Igor Shafarevich, a like-minded thinker and Solzhenitsyn’s close ally, circulated an essay called Russophobia in samizdat, killing all prospects of reconciliation between the two camps. In the essay, he branded the Soviet Liberal intelligentsia a “small people” opposed to the “big people” [the Russian majority of the nation]. Like Solzhenitsyn, he saw the essence of the Russophobia of the “small people” in them ascribing the entirety of Soviet atrocities to the “innate nature of the Russians”, their national character, and the Russian historical tradition as a whole.
The Russians Nailed to the Cross
One could imagine that the Soviet system would find a way to merge with Russian ethnic tradition and give birth to a more or less viable synthesis. However, those hopes were dashed in the 1980s with the dramatic self-destruction of the Soviet régime. Moreover, one of its first precursors was manifested in Andropov’s crackdown on the “Russian Party”. As a result of its suppression, it entered the era of Perestroika – with its cutthroat competition of ideologies and reform projects – in a drastically weakened condition.
For other Soviet republics, Perestroika was synonymous with an upsurge of nationalism and Russophobia. Everywhere in the USSR, the Russians were subjected to pogroms, persecutions, and expulsions that varied as per the traditions of the local dominant ethnic groups. However, the Russians themselves experienced the same processes as a form of national nihilism, fawning adulation of everything Western, and a surging Russophobia of the intelligentsia.
A national and traditional alternative to Communism was heavily marginalised and ridiculed by the Perestroika press that linked all talk of ethnic Russian problems to the Pamyat Society, while the “democratic” camp denied those problems existed at all.
By the time of the destruction of the Soviet Union, a veritable vivisection of the historical territory of the Russian people, the Russians failed to achieve the degree of awareness and consolidation that would have helped to resist this breakup or to at least use it in the interests of the Russian people.
Allegations claiming that Russian nationally-minded politicians welcomed this breakup and supported the idea of “Russian sovereignty” are delusional. On the contrary, Yeltsin pushed the sovereignty of the RSFSR in the name of a “multinational people” and challenged ethnic autonomies to “grab as much power as you can swallow”.
Transnistria was the only place where the Russians managed to mount a resistance sufficient to stop their assimilation into foreign and emphatically anti-Russian projects of nation-building. The fate of the Russians in Central Asia was dire, with local radicals pushing the policy of expulsion while the government of the Russian Federation turned a blind eye to ethnic Russian refugees. The so-called Ichkeria of Dudaev and Maskhadov became a bloodstained page in the history of the Russian people due to a near-total ethnic cleansing of its Russian population. With the tacit approval of the European Union, the Baltic states maintain discriminatory policies against their “non-citizens”.
The situation of Russians in the Ukraine turned to tragedy. A nationalist frenzy led to ever-increasing attacks on the Russian language and Russian identity that had as their final goal not only a suppression of the identity of the country’s ethnic Russian citizens, but its complete replacement. Education curricula, linguistic policies, and TV propaganda gradually remade Russians into Ukrainians that were expected to hate Moscow for standing in the way of the country’s “European choice”.
In 2014, this aggressive de-Russification erupted into open military conflict, the final outcome of which it is at present impossible to predict. We can notice an obvious Russian insurrection of national liberation in Novorossiya, but, due to limited Russian government support, it is unclear whether the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics would be able to go “the way of the Crimea” and gain independence, or whether they will get pushed back into the Ukraine under the aegis of the “Minsk Agreements”.
In the Russian Federation proper, the first post-Soviet decade was a time of semi-official Russophobia, with anti-Russian doctrines daily proclaimed in the press and on TV by the intelligentsia. The word russkiy became taboo and was gradually supplanted by the more politically correct rossiyskiy. The government favoured the interests of all ethnicities and minorities while completely ignoring the Russians.
This effectively stimulated the collapse of the Russian ethnos. Some groups, such as Cossacks and Pomors, saw that identifying as separate nations was more advantageous, especially given that government sponsorship of ethnic culture specifically catered to minorities only. Groups with fantasy identities sprang up, such as “Ingermanlanders”, while others such as “Siberians” even managed to contrive an artificial language.
The post-Soviet period threw the Russians as an ethnic group into a spiral of horrific demographic collapse. Birth rates fell through the floor while mortality soared, fuelled by drug abuse, alcoholism, street and organised crime. The phrase “the Russian Cross” entered Russian popular speech, referring to the intersection of two lines denoting soaring mortality and plummeting birth rates. Experts earnestly claimed that the Russian population would shrink to 50 million, and analysts routinely fed the papers with scenarios of Russia’s imminent collapse.
An “against the grain” factor of this period was a massive resurgence of Orthodoxy. Millions of Russians returned to the faith, churches and monasteries were reopened, and Orthodox rituals and worldviews returned to everyday life. The Orthodox Christian identity became the main marker of self-awareness for countless people. As a rule, the Orthodox renaissance was inextricable from a sense of belonging to the Russian historical, cultural, and aesthetic tradition.
From a rejection of the 1990s “liberal hell” there came a growth of national awareness as a form of resistance to Russia’s plunge into darkness and self-annihilation. The motives of “I feel sorry for the Empire”,“we’ll have our revenge”, “don’t let them bring us to our knees” were brought together in a forceful, if ideologically vague, rejection of a decadent reality. And all of this energy of resistance was marked by the word “Russian”.
It seems all the more natural that, with the self-reconstructive processes of the Russian state relaunched in the early 2000s, the entire trend depended on a larger role for Orthodoxy and an assimilation of ideas and energy accumulated by the Russian resistance in earlier decades. It is not usual now to see those ideas and their heralds manifest in government policies.
Nevertheless, it is still premature to speak of a normalisation of the Russian people’s place in Russia.
The Russian Question in the 21st Century
The 20th century, both in its Soviet and post-Soviet legacy, left Russians with a number of extremely difficult problems:
- The Russian ethnic group is torn apart and dismembered by state boundaries that came into being after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Certain newly independent states pursue a deliberate and consistent policy of attacking the Russian language and ethnic identity.
- The national habitat of the Russians has shrunk, and their demographic situation is precarious. Two decades of calamitous population collapse have given way to a fragile equilibrium that can change for the worse at any moment.
- Russian ethnic awareness has been artificially dissociated from its Orthodox Christian origins and is presently subjected to dangerous attacks, running the gamut from denial of Russian history and traditional Orthodox values to overt Russophobia, e.g. statements on Russian “genetic deficiency” disseminated by certain media from within Russia itself.
- Even the Russian language, the only official language of Russia according to the Constitution, is a constant target of opprobrium. Its status is put into doubt or denied in some regions of the Russian Federation, and the time reserved for its study in school curricula is curtailed in favour of regional languages. The compulsory study of minority languages is imposed even on ethnic Russian students, who are not native speakers.
- Fundamental Russian traditions of environmental adaptation have been forcibly eroded. The campaign against “unpromising villages” wrecked the traditional Russian network of settlements. A total hyper-urbanisation that went hand in hand with the destruction of villages, towns, cemeteries, and churches led to the shrinkage of family memories to three generations at most.
Solving these problems is paramount for the Russian Federation as a state. The very existence of the state is dependent on the direction of the activity and energy of the Russians. A decline of that energy immediately leads to obvious signs of state collapse. Conversely, a growth in Russian activity, as happened in 2014, brought Russia back to being a Great Power. While discussing the “Russian question”, we speak of either unity and development, or the collapse and degradation of Russia as a state.
The cohesion of the Russians and the Russian state is the principal guarantee of Russia’s territorial integrity. The Russian people, Russian culture, and the Russian language have always been and still remain the main factor of Russia’s unity. Regarding such remote enclave or semi-enclave territories as Kaliningrad Oblast, the Crimea, Sakhalin, or the Kuril Islands, their unity with Russia is mainly sustained by the virtue of them being populated mostly by Russians, and moreover, Russians with a heightened ethnic awareness of living at the “frontier”. If not for this “Russian factor”, had everything been dependent only on geopolitics and geography, those territories would have been irrevocably lost during the early 1990s crisis.
Incidentally, even though Kaliningrad is the most “recent” Russian territory, it has stronger ties to the country than many 19th century acquisitions. This is due to it being populated almost exclusively by Russians. We can state with utmost certainty that the level of a particular region’s integration into Russia, its level of compliance with federal laws and regulations, is directly tied to the percentage of Russians in the area. Regions where their numbers are insufficient tend to become ground zero for interethnic conflicts, terrorism, radicalism, and more or less overt separatist propaganda.
Map of ethnic Russian percentage in Russia (via Seva Bashirov).
It is imperative to emphasise a very strong link between ethnic Russian presence and traditionally practised Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is effectively an alternate form of Russian ethnic presence, and by and large an analogue to Russianness. We could delineate the following three types of Russian regions:
- Regions dominated by the ethnic Russian population and Orthodoxy. Their integration is near-absolute;
- Regions with a non-dominant ethnic Russian presence, but with a dominant Orthodox tradition. There, integrating factors prevail over disintegrating ones;
- Regions with a low Russian and Orthodox presence. In these regions, the level of disintegration is so high that its containment requires special political (and sometimes law enforcement) measures.
As a sui generis type, we could single out regions where, amidst a high Russian percentage, Orthodox identity is constantly attacked by certain cultural, religious, or ideological minorities. Those are mostly large metropolitan areas or borderlands. In such regions, we can detect extremely contradictory ideological trends, including outbursts of radical nationalism (including ethnic Russian nationalism), the emergence of groups nihilistically opposed to the government, and the erosion of national awareness among Russians.
The growth of the ethnic Russian population, both absolute and relative to the population of specific regions, the bolstering of Russian identity linked to Orthodox Christian tradition and the historical memory of the nation, is the guarantee of Russia’s cohesion as a state. The stronger its Russianness, the stronger the unity of the state. Conversely, demographic and cultural decline amongst Russians can only undermine the integrity of the Russian state.
 Saints Sergius of Radonezh (1314 – 1392) and Nilus of Sora (ca. 1433 – 1508) are often credited with developing a specifically Russian tradition of monastic life and ascetic mysticism within the larger Orthodox communion.
Nikon (1605 – 1681), Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1652-66, enacted a series of reforms bringing church liturgy and doctrine closer in line with that of the Constantinople Patriarchate, which was seen by many as an attack on Russian traditions and provoked a church schism that endures to this day.
Under Peter the Great, the office of the Patriarch was abolished, and the Russian Orthodox Church was completely subsumed into the government apparatus, losing even nominal autonomy.
 A bureaucratic term comprising most of Northern and Western European Russia, dominated by low-fertility soils and low-yield agriculture.
 A Russian nationalist movement founded in 1980, now largely dormant. Its heyday was during the early Perestroika years, when it became one of the most prominent nationalist organisations. However, it quickly fragmented into several factions, most of them espousing anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, which made Pamyat supporters an extremely easy target for Liberal ridicule and Russophobic propaganda.
 The difference between russkiy and rossiyskiy, both technically meaning “Russian”, is quite difficult to convey in translation. Essentially, the former adjective is more traditional and has strong historical and ethnic connotations, while the latter was meant to invoke allegiance to the modern Russian state regardless of one’s ethnicity (and swiftly acquired connotations of “related to any ethnicity living in Russia EXCEPT the Russians themselves”).
 Memetic phrase from the classic Soviet Ostern White Sun of the Desert (1970), used as a sometimes ironic, sometimes earnest expression of shame and guilt for the gap between Russia’s potential and its sorry state.