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From Russia, With Hate

Neo-Stalinists of the New Right.

One of the most interesting features of the present intellectual ferment in the Soviet Union is the emergence of a new Russian (as distinct from Soviet) ideology. Unlike the disreputable and internally divided Pamyat, the members of the new Russian right are respectable and highly placed members of the establishment, government officials, writers, scientists, painters. They have their well-wishers in key positions from the Politburo downward, their own literary magazines, Nash Sovremennik (Our Contemporary, founded by Gorky), Molodaia Gvardia (Young Guard), Moskva. Patriotic clubs are proliferating to which people of different persuasion or ethnic origin have no access. This movement resembles an influential Masonic lodge, though the comparison would be strongly resented. Still, the similarity is uncanny: to a young man from the provinces arriving in the capital to gain fame and fortune in the media, in literature, music, or the visual arts, this cabal can bring publicity, open doors, and provide good notices, assuming that our hero subscribes to their doctrine.

In the beginning there was only Pamyat, a group of uniformed thugs that first appeared on the scene in the early 1980s. In order to camouflage their activities, these thugs portrayed themselves as an association for the restoration of churches, graveyards, and other such monuments.  The authorities turned a blind eye, but when they realized that Pamyat was not just fanatically anti-Jewish, but also that it would dearly love to hang the Communists and a great many other “anti-patriotic elements,” the official attitude became less benevolent. Pamyat and its supporters did not do well in the 1989 elections to the new Soviet parliament, however, and the authorities seem to have decided that instead of banning Pamyat they would encourage a variety of competing groups. Thus, during the past year a great number of local, regional, and nationwide organizations have come into being, with names such as Workers Front, Fatherland, and United Council of Russia, and Rescue (Salvation). All of them preach a return to patriotism, law and order, and other traditional values, and protest against the alleged discrimination of ethnic Russians. The Workers Front is bitterly attacking the (liberal) intelligentsia and demanding that the right to vote should be restricted to the factories—which means, in practice, that the majority of the population would be denied democracy.

This phenomenon of the new Russian right is rooted in the general crisis of Soviet society, in the disappointment with the Party, the unions, and other official organizations. It is a search tor new frameworks for action. Although communism has been a bitter disappointment, there is no love for capitalism; there is on the contrary, resentment against the nouveaux riches (according to some estimates, there are now 175,000 millionaires in the Soviet Union) who made their money not through honest work, enterprise, and inventiveness but by cheating the .Soviet worker, by black market activities, and so on.

Although estimates of the size of the New Right are unreliable, it is significant that at a time when most periodicals and newspapers are losing readers, the circulation of Nash Sovremennik has risen by two-thirds. There are some indications, though, that New Right organizations have not been doing too well among the workers. The striking miners and railway workers have pressed very specific social and economic demands that have little in common with the programs of the patriotic societies. The New Right s influence in the lower ranks of the Party and state bureaucracy, in the ranks of those afraid of losing their jobs in a major reform, and in some circles of the intelligentsia seems to be larger.

It is difficult, moreover, to point to any specific class or social group that displays particular affinities for the New Right. The geographical distribution of these notions is easier to establish. Sympathies for the New Right have certainly been stronger in declining regions (beginning with Leningrad), in badly run cities with outdated industries and major ecological problems, and in regions in which there is political and social pressure against the ethnic Russians by local nationalities. Like fascism, the New Right appeals not to any specific group but to the spostati, to the dissatisfied people of all classes—of which there are many in the Soviet Union.

According to a remarkable essay by the Moscow writer Mikhail Leontiev, in the Riga weekly Atmoda, the doctrine of the extreme right is largely based on fear of the “satanic forces” that undermine everything sacred to the heart of Russian patriots, exploit the people, install local mafias to corrupt the population, instigate social and national strife. Leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexander Yakovlev are mere puppets, manipulated by international financial corporations and Zionist billionaires. Old fashioned fascist or Stalinist doctrine, Leontiev says, would have little effect in the present situation, but as the disorientation of the masses is growing, the appeal of fear is great.

WHO ARE THE potential saviors of the Russian people in this hour of grave danger? Pyotr Stolypin's name is mentioned with increased frequency. He was the most capable statesman of the late czarist period, but he has been dead for a long time. Solzhenitsyn's authority is very often invoked. When he was in trouble, the far right attacked him as a traitor, but their attitude has changed over the last year or two (the fact that Solzhenitsyn has written at great length and with much enthusiasm about Stolypin may not be fortuitous). Lastly there is Yegor Ligachev, regarded by many as Gorbachev's main antagonist in the Politburo. We know, from a recent interview, that Ligachey is a great admirer of the writers who are the spokesmen of the right wing, and he shares much of their criticism of the destructive influence of the “liberals” in Soviet political and intellectual life. But Ligachev is also an old Communist; he would not find it easy to give full support to a movement in total opposition to Marxism, to the October Revolution, to the Bolshevik policies since the Revolution.

The emergence of the Russian nationalist movement does not come as a total surprise. Its leading advocates have been publishing their essays for 20 years or more. Under Khrushchev and Brezhnev they had to be much more circumspect; open attacks against Marxism and the old Bolsheviks would have been unthinkable. Today they are quite common.  T he doctrine of the New Right is, essentially, that the Russian people is gradually becoming a stranger in its own home, that it is biologically and culturally threatened by extinction. This notion rests, in turn, on the assumption that an immensely cunning and powerful enemy has decided to destroy the Russian people, its tradition, and its culture.  The enemy consists, above all, of Trotskyites, Zionists, and Masons, but also of anti-Stalinist historians, liberal novelists and playwrights, and advocates of economic perestroika who dream of reintroducing capitalism in Russia.

All these are, of course, code words. “Trotskyite” no more refers to Lenin's comrade-in-arms, who has been dead for 50 years, than “Zionist” means the followers of Theodor Herzl; and there have been no Masonic activities in Russia for the past 70 years. In fact, a Trotskyite is a Communist (perhaps a Social Democrat, or even a liberal) who happens to subscribe to an internationalist ideology, be it Marxism or liberalism or some other cosmopolitan creed. In this light, Marx too was a Trotskyite, and so were Lenin and Stalin; and Marx was a Zionist avant la lettre, because he was a Jew by origin.

THE VIEWS OF the thinkers of the New Right have been a matter of growing concern to the Soviet reformers, but of less concern to the Party hierarchy, which probably considers them a useful antidote to the “liberals.” Fascination seems a more appropriate reaction than horror. There are people of the left and people of the right in every country that allows freedom of expression, and there is no reason why the Soviet Union, if it is to become an open society, should be an exception. Certainly the ideology of the New Right is of great interest to a student of 20thcentury European culture; he will be reminded of Maurras and the Action Francaise, of the German Kulturkritiker of the right, of Knut Hamsun, and others, not to mention the right-wing thinkers among the Russian émigrés who now enjoy a great vogue.

Some Russian liberals take a less detached view—Leontiev, for example, in the article quoted above:  “The danger of a fascist coup is growing daily in our country, inasmuch as the fascist consensus is not limited to exalted youngsters with swastikas on their leather jackets, but includes representative elements of the creative and technical intelligentsia and strengthens its influence in the political establishment (the Party apparatus, the army, and the security organs).” What if a leading Western intellectual were to express solidarity with the Ku Klux Klan or with Lyndon LaRouche? Would he not be considered beyond the pale?

Members of this “Russian party” have angrily protested against their adversaries' practice of branding them “informers,” “fascist,” or “para-fascist.”  They would have a stronger case but for their own unsavory record, the appeals to the Party organs (including the KGB) to “take measures” against liberals and cosmopolitans allegedly undermining the moral of the Russian people. They were in the forefront of the campaign in the 1960s against the monthly literary magazine Novy Mir, the main bulwark of liberalism at the time; they asked for Solzhenitsyn's head; they now want to close down Ogonyok, the most popular weekly.

The Russian intelligentsia has been cut off for many decades from the rest of the world. Right-wing intellectuals may be genuinely unaware that their "facts" and arguments are not new, that they were widely aired by pro-fascist writers in Russia in the 1920s and 1930s. Perhaps they would be embarrassed to advocate these theories if they knew their antecedents and their consequences. One document widely circulated in right-wing samizdat in Moscow is based, in fact, on speeches made at the Nuremberg rally in 1936. When this became known, there was considerable chagrin; Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg, and Julius Streicher are not considered good company in Russia, even at a distance of 50 years.

Why the sudden preoccupation with the crimes committed by the Bolsheviks against the Russian peasantry and other classes in the 1920s? Surely the confrontation with current problems is even more important; and it is not a little strange to make Sverdlov, Trotsky, and Zinoviev responsible for policies carried out many years after their deaths by Stalin, Molotov, Zhdanov, and Voroshilov. It would be convenient if it could be shown that the revolutionaries who caused all the misfortunes to Mother Russia were of alien stock, but this, alas, is not easy to prove. For the Dekabrists (Decembrists) and the Narodovoltsy (radical populists) were no more Jews than Lenin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev (or Mao and Tito). There must have been some, even many, bad Russians who turned against their own people. Perhaps the whole Russian intelligentsia has been following false prophets.

THE “RUSSIAN PARTY” is not cut of one cloth. The apocalyptic wing, writers such as Vasili Belov, Yuri Bondarev, and Valentin Rasputin, maintain that the Russian people is on the brink of total disaster, that an attempt to save the nation must be made even at this late hour, though it may already be too late. But other ideologists of the extreme right, such as the writer Vadim Kozhinov, are much less alarmist. True, they say, Russia faces very serious internal problems in agricultural production, in its crime rate, in the spread of drugs, in its rebelling minorities. But seen in international perspective, these difficulties are neither unique nor even particularly severe. America has a much greater drug problem, Britain has to cope with the IRA, and so on.

Historically, the “Russian party” consists of two factions that originally differed on matters of principle. There are the Russian nationalists, whose homes are decorated with icons and pictures of Stolypin. They have no sympathy for Marx, who wrote nasty things about Russian history, and they loathe Lenin, a deracine Russian who had not the slightest interest in, or feeling for, Russian traditions. And there are the neo-Stalinists, who have little enthusiasm for the icons and for the “old women in old villages.” Stolypin (“the hangman”) is anathema to them. They would not be caught dead in a cathedral.

DESPITE THESE INTERNECINE differences, the new “Russian party” is united by three main planks: its populism; its belief that of all the Soviet republics, the Russian has been the victim of the most discrimination; and by its campaign against what it calls “Russophobia.”

The Russian nationalists have gradually accepted that, though the Revolution of 1917 was a disaster, it cannot be undone. Since they never advocated capitalism, but rather something akin to a conservative Standestaat, they find it relatively easy to embrace a populist platform, which is opposed to perestroika, the market, and private initiative. Their spokesmen, such as Mikhail Antonov and Anatoli Zalutsky (the latter is a Jew by origin), have charged Tatyana Zaslavskaya, one of the founders of Soviet sociology and an early member of Gorbachev's brain trust, with the destruction of the Russian village, and they consider the Gorbachev version of “enrichessez-vous” (that is to say, encouraging the cooperatives) exceedingly dangerous.

This is accompanied by anti-intellectualism. These writers rail against the nefarious role of the intelligentsia, the traditional bugbear of the Russian right for the past 150 years, who, they argue, have detached themselves from the people and forgotten their national roots. The "Russian party" has no sympathy for atonal music, or for Freud, Einstein, or Kafka, or for most of Western culture, mass and elite, of the past 100 years. But the neo-Stalinists have realized that the old Party orthodoxy has had its day. They understand that much of it will have to be jettisoned to attract the masses. This results in a left-wing populism of sorts. This trend, too, is not entirely new; it began in the 1930s under Stalin, but it has gathered speed in recent years.

And there is the matter of discrimination against the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The neo-Stalinists claim that the standard of living is lower there than almost everywhere else in the Soviet Union except the Central Asian republics, that every other republic has its own television network, academy of sciences, encyclopedia, publishing houses, and so on. The RSFSR does not even have its own KGB. Such a state of affairs obviously must be remedied.

All these complaints have some justification. But Soviet television is, in reality, Russian television; the same is true for the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, and so on. In the state and Party leadership, the Russian element is overrepresented, and the same applies to the army and other key positions in the Party, state, and society. The income level in the RSFSR is lower than in some other republics but this is owed to a variety of factors such as the poor quality of the soil in northern Russia and its lower productivity compared with, say, the Baltic republics.

To put right such “discrimination” work has now begun on a new Russian Encyclopedia. This raises delicate questions. Some purists have claimed that Jewish writers, such as Isaac Babel, belong to the history of Jewish literature, rather than to the history of Russian literature, and that there should be no room for, say, Chagall, even though he was born in Vitebsk. Should one include Pasternak and Mandelstam, who also do not hail from Vologda or Tambov? The best known and most loved Soviet comic writers were a team named Ilf and Petrov, but Ilf’s name at birth was Feinsilberg. Should one include half of their works, and which half? Should the entry "chess" be deleted from the Encyclopedia?  Valentin Sorokin, a poet writing in the August issue of Nash Sovremennik, favors deletion. He writes: “I do not wish that a Bashkir, Jew, Tartar or Georgian should compose poetry in my native language. I do not want it. I do not trust them. A Bashkir will not give me the music of my tongue but only a Russian.”

Such ideas have occurred to people in other countries in previous ages. For the time being, however, Pasternak and Mandelstam (not to mention Vysotsky and Galich) are more widely read and admired in the Soviet Union than Sorokin and even the most famous of his friends. And the neo-Stalinists have a bigger problem. What writers in Russian literature can be trusted? The classic dictionary of the Russian language, on which every Russian writer has depended, was composed by a 19th-century savant named Dal, who was Danish by origin. Pushkin had some African blood in his veins. Lermontov's ancestors came from Scotland. Gogol was a Ukrainian by origin, Herzen was half German, and there are even some suspicions about Dostoyevsky if one goes back far enough in what the Nazis called Sippenforschung (looking for your racial antecedents). The believers in the purity of Russian blood are left with Turgenev and Chekhov, whom they do not like because they were “Westerners.” There is also Gorky, but he wrote very bad things about the Russian peasantry, much worse than any of the accursed cosmopolitans.

FINALLY, THE MAIN component, the strangest component, of the thinking of the Russian right is its abhorrence of “Russophobia,” a concept that in its modem form dates back to the 1960s, and that has gained more and more prominence of late. It means the hatred and the fear of Russia and the Russian people. It is the title of a long essay by Igor Shafarevich, a well-known Russian mathematician, which was published first in samizdat some years ago, later by a Russian nationalist group in Munich, and eventually by the monthlies Nash Sovremennik and Kuban in the Soviet Union. According to Shafarevich, there has been a deliberate- attempt bv Western historians, and also by some Russian writers, to denigrate Russian history as backward, cruel, despotic, hostile to civilizations, a nation of serfs and a danger to all mankind.

Though such sentiments were voiced in hours of anguish by Pushkin and Lermontov, by Cha’adaev and Herzen and Chernyshevsky, these classics of Russian literature are not the villains Shafarevich has in mind. His ire is directed against the late Vasili Grossman, against Richard Pipes, against dissidents and émigrés not remotely as well known to the average Russian as Pushkin and Lermontov but far more convenient as a target,  r he Russophobes are said to hate Russia with a deep, burning, physiological hatred, because of her forests, fields, and climate, because of her customs, because of her history and culture. These haters include virtually the whole revolutionary movement beginning in the 19th century. Above all, they include the Jews, who are singled out because of their belief in their own mission, notably Heinrich Heine, the Hebrew poet Chaim Nahman Bialik, and George Marshall, former chief of staff and secretary of state. (The name Marshall, Shafarevich explains, is Hebrew, and means being a clown in the ghetto.) Shafarevich says that he will not die in peace unless he succeeds in bringing this message to his people.

FOR SAFAREVICH’s COMMENTS on more recent events, one has to turn to his long essay in the centrist-liberal journal Novy Mir in July 1989. Its theme is that Russia should not imitate the Western way of life, because the West is in the throes of a deep spiritual crisis, which will lead to a socio-ecological catastrophe. He has some very harsh things to say about the Western belief in progress, and in particular about the United States, which exploits the rest of the world to keep up its artificially high living standard. (Shafarevich is not a believer in Lenin's theory of imperialism.)

His anti-socialist convictions are second to none; his anti-Americanism and anti-liberalism are of the right, not the left. He concedes that Western liberalism has done much for the spread of humanism. But his humanism was always inwardly directed, for domestic, not foreign, consumption. He refers at length to the refusal of the Western liberal-progressive intelligentsia (Shaw, Wells, Feuchtwanger, Rolland, Einstein, Upton Sinclair) to speak out against the horrors of Stalinist Russia. He reports Solzhenitsyn telling him of his discovery, much to his surprise, that there exists a whole literature in the West about the Soviet concentration camps, but that nobody paid attention until his Gulag trilogy appeared; and in a similar way, Shafarevich continues, even Stalin's campaign against the doctors was virtually hushed up in the West. Only when things began to improve in the Soviet Union after Stalin's death did Western liberals begin to be heard: more proof that their real inspiration was not anti-Stalinist, but anti-Russian.

Strange arguments, stranger conclusion. In a recent interview in Knizhnoe Obozrenie (Book Survey), Shafarevich recommended the publication of a Russian émigré author named Ivan Solonevich.  The choice is interesting, for Solonevich advocated a “social monarchy” for Russia. Shafarevich forgot to mention that his apostle of social monarchy did not have Sweden, Norway, or Denmark in mind; he was, during the 1930s, one of the most fervent collaborators with Nazi Germany.

Is Shafarevich following in the footsteps of Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark, the great German scientists, leaders in their fields, winners of the Nobel Prize, who believed that Adolf Hitler was the greatest German who had ever lived? I have read his earlier nonmathematical writings and saw him interviewed on Moscow television a little while ago. He is in his 60s, fast talking, short of breath, not a demagogue, quite sincere, a man of character, not a forceful speaker, an eccentric perhaps, but not a fascist. Maybe he is right to warn against borrowing billions from the West. Perhaps copying Western institutions would merely result, as Shafarevich puts it, in becoming another Latin American country. But what is the religious-patriotic alternative to which he indirectly refers? Iran?

THERE IS A strong element of paranoia in the new Russian ideology. The search for the origins of this ideology takes one back to Dostoyevsky's Diary of a Writer, to a chauvinism that claims to be humanistic, that is partly religious in inspiration. But there is also an admixture of the Stalinist mentality. With all the hostility of the nationalists toward Stalin, these people are products of the Stalin era in Soviet history. It was one of the basic tenets of that age that giant conspiracies were afoot, at home and abroad, to bring down the Communist regime: that wreckers and spies were lurking behind every corner. A belief in the “hidden hand” may be found in many political cultures, of course, not least our own; but it has been particularly strong in Russia, where it was, for long periods, official state policy. The advocates of the Russophobia concept have never quite rid themselves of the legacy of the days when they marched in the ranks of the Komsomol, the Soviet youth organization, of its enthusiastic self-righteousness, its fanaticism, its absence of skepticism and self-criticism.

Another one of the central features of life under Stalinism was intellectual isolation. This generation has missed almost a century of world intellectual history. Now it discovers all kinds of thinkers, left, right, and center, Arnold Toynbee and Jean-Paul Sartre and Hans Freyer, positivists and metaphysicians, conservatives and radicals. They have no clear notion of how all these thinkers do or do not hang together, who was important and who was not. Shafarevich, for example, genuinely believes that the attitude of the Nation and the New Statesman toward Stalin and Stalinism was the attitude of all (or most) liberals in the Western world. He and his ilk are ignorant of Western reactions to the Moscow trials and the Stalinist terror (other than Feuchtwanger's book Moscow 1937). They prefer to believe that Stalinism was a global intellectual phenomenon “from Madrid to Shanghai” (in Kozhinov's words). This theory has a great many advantages. Why blame the Soviet people if everyone else applauded Stalin, too?

How can anyone with a modicum of common sense believe that Russophobia is the most important and most immediate threat lo the existence of the Russian people? Of course, there are those who do not like Russia and the Russians; they can be found among the minorities in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Baltic region, among Russia's neighbors in Eastern Europe and the Far East. But Shafarevich's preoccupation is with “spiritual Russophobia.” He and his companions have persuaded themselves that it is most rampant among the very people who love the Russian language and Russian literature, who dream about their past in Russia, who cannot end their not-so-happy and rather one-sided love affair with Russian culture. And Russian national consciousness is not such a tender plant that it would wilt at once if exposed to the winds of change. How many Englishmen are losing sleep as the result of the resentment against their country in various parts of the world? How many Americans worry about anti-Americanism?

IGOR SHAFAREVICH HAS been much in demand in recent weeks. He has appeared in the journals of the right as well as the left, he has been interviewed on national television with the deference due to a great thinker. He has been quoted in some journals with approval, in others with dismay. He has signed an open letter charging Oktiabr (October) with Russophobia because it published Vasili Grossman, and calling for action on the part of the authorities. Only yesterday, of course, he was himself at the receiving end of such “administrative” measures.

Such views are taken seriously in the Soviet Union today. It would be wrong to treat the neo-Stalinists as eccentrics. Firm convictions tend to have influence at a time of intellectual confusion. The Soviet Union now faces something akin to an ideological vacuum. Marxism-Leninism still serves as the state ideology, but there is no real conviction behind it. What belief can succeed it? The doctrines advocated by Shafarevich and his colleagues are certainly a serious contender. Some claim (mistakenly, I believe) that they are the only contender.

The opinions expressed by Shafarevich are not those of a voice calling in the wilderness. There have been dozens of similar essays of late; nor are his views particularly extreme. (Compared with other authors in journals such as Molodaia Gvardia and Nash Sovremennik, our academician is a paragon of sense and moderation.) How much political importance, then, should be accorded to this new-old trend? It certainly reflects the mood of some sections of the population. If the party of reform in the Soviet Union should suffer a major setback, these ideologists will be in greater demand. Liberals in and out of Moscow fear that it is only a question of time until Russia is engulfed by reactionary and obscurantist forces. It is true that the Soviet Union is passing through a serious crisis, spiritual as much as political and economic. But luckily there is no Gresham's law of history.

This article originally appeared in the February 5, 1990, article of the magazine.