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Fascist Tendencies in the Russian Emigration

I found an interesting bit on White Russian émigré politics from the book Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies and Movements. The author is Stephen Shenfield, so take it with a grain of salt, but it’s an interesting classification. Excerpt follows.


Fascist Tendencies in the Russian Emigration

After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, millions of Russians found themselves in exile, mainly in Europe, China, and Manchuria, though also in the Americas and other places. Most of the Russian émigrés did not integrate themselves into their new countries of residence, but maintained a vigorous political and intellectual life focused on Russia, to which they hoped eventually to return. Émigrés political thought, the broader import of which may at the time have seemed marginal, now acquires a new significance as a result of the growing interest in it in post-Soviet Russia.

A large majority of the Russian émigrés—Nazarov (1993) estimates the proportion at 80 percent—were “Whites” who had been supporters of the tsarist regime. Some of them had taken part in the Black Hundreds. Many White émigrés remained monarchists of a traditional kind, dreaming of the restoration of the old order. As the years passed, however, increasing numbers of émigré political activists begun to reconsider their views on light of new conditions. Among these, four tendencies can be distinguished:

  1. The Outright Fascists. The rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s inspired some émigrés to develop specifically Russian variants of fascism and to found Russian fascist parties. The largest and best organized of these was the All-Russian Fascist Party of Konstantin Rodayevsky in Manchuria. In Germany there was the Russian National Socialist Movement, and in the United States the All-Russian Fascist Organization of Anastasy Vonsyatsky. Mention should also be made of Ivan Solonevich, editor of the journal Golos Rossii [Voice of Russia] and an influential intellectual figure in the Russian fascist movement, whose works have recently been republished in Russia (Solonevich 1997). Some émigrés joined foreign fascist movements, including the German national-socialists.
  2. The Fellow Travelers. Besides the outright fascists, there was a large section of émigré opinion that, viewing fascism from the vantage point of traditional monarchism, sympathized with it to some degree, but also entertained serious misgivings about it and maintained a certain distance from it. It is in this category of fellow travelers of fascism that the influential philosopher Ivan Illyin, whose works have also been republished in post-Soviet Russia (in 1993, 1997), is best placed.
  3. The National-Bolsheviks. This is the term commonly attached to the group led by Nikolai Ustryalov, originally known as the “sign-post-changers” [smenavekhovsky], after their manifesto “Changing of Signposts” [Smena vekh]. They reconciled themselves to the Bolshevik regime, recognizing it as the historically legitimate successor to Tsarist Russia (Hardeman 1994; Shlapentokh 1997a).
  4. The Eurasianists. Yet another group created a new totalitarian ideology and movement known as Eurasianism. The works of one of the central figures among the Eurasianists, Pyotr Savitsky, have also been republished in Russia (Savitskii 1997).

Let us consider the ideologies of these groups, and in particular the relationship that each of them bore to fascism, in more detail.

The Outright Fascists

Analysis of the program of  Konstantin Rodzayevsky’s All-Russian Fascist Party (ARFP) shows that the core of its ideology was an adaptation of classical Italian fascism to contemporary Russian conditions. Communism was to be replaced by a “national-labor state” built on corporativist principles, with a population organized in national unions of workers, peasants, and the professions (Prussakov and Shiropaev 1993, p. 4–19). The new order would draw its inspiration from the tradition of the Assembly of the Land.

As mentioned in chapter 1, Russian fascism was viewed as being different from Italian and German fascism inasmuch as it was to follow communism rather than liberal-democratic capitalism. In Russia, therefore, it was the task of fascism not to constrain but to expand human rights: private property was to be recognized, as were “the freedoms of labor, religious belief, scientific creativity, and even within certain limits freedom of the press and speech.” The state would guarantee the basic welfare of the population, outlaw speculation, prevent the degeneration of “creative entrepreneurial capital” in the “anonymous capital” of of trusts and syndicates, and block the penetration of international capital, maintaining for that purpose a monopoly of foreign trade.

The ARFP extended its relatively liberal approach to civil rights to all but one of the non-Russian ethnic minorities. All peoples of Russia who had participated in the national revolution were to be granted cultural autonomy, and the possibility of a federal state structure was not excluded. The sole exception was to be the Jews, who would be tolerated only as undesirable aliens, for they were “the main culprits in the destruction of the Russian nation.” The party emblem showed a worker gripping the snake of “Judeo-Communism” in his fist and poised to finish it off with a hammer.

In the introduction to their commentary on the program of the ARFP, Prussakov and Shiropaev (1993) stress another distinction between Russian émigré fascism and Nazism; the Russian fascists rejected “biological racism of the Rosenberg type,” basing their beliefs instead on Orthodox Christianity (p. 3). A religious orientation is also reflected in the motto: “God, Nation, Labor” (Stephan 1978, p. 337). The anti-Semitism of the ARFP was directed against the Jews not as a race, but as a religious community. In this respect they remained within the Black Hundreds tradition.

Ivan Solonevich needs to some extent to be considered separately. Ont he one hand, he allied himself with Rodzayevsy’s party, and he did not conceal his sympathy with Hitler, expressing regret that Russia had not protected itself against the Jews as Germany had done. On the other hand, while calling for “a synthesis of the national with the contemporary,” he was uncertain whether post-communist Russia should be a monarchy or a republic, although in either case it would have to use dictatorial methods (Solonevich 1997, pp. 70–71, 331). Solonevich had yet to complete the transition from traditional monarchism to fascism.

The Fellow Travelers of Fascism

In an article in the Russian “patriotic” journal Nash sovremennik on the relationship between the Russian emigration and fascism, Mikhail Nazarov offered an apologetic interpretation of the pro-fascist mood among the White émigrés. Like many other right-wing Europeans at the time, he explained, the émigrés saw in fascism above all an ally in the struggle against communism, overlooking the contradiction between their own Christian outlook and the racist paganism of the Nazis. However, as the Nazis’ real nature became more evident, especially in the wake of German aggression in World War II, émigré organizations increasingly grasped the necessity of clearly separating themselves from Nazism (Nazarov 1993, pp. 125–25).

The philosopher Ivan Illyin was the most prominent representative of this fellow-traveling tendency, marked by critical sympathy for fascism. Ilyin himself remained a monarchist, though he saw the need for a transitional “national dictator” after the collapse of communism, one who would stop the chaos, restore order, defend Russia from enemies and embezzlers, and initiate the spiritual reeducation of the people (Ilyin in 1993, pp. 139, 151).

Ilyin described fascism as a “complex and multi-sided phenomenon [that] arose as a healthy and necessary reaction to bolshevism, as a concentration of state-preserving forces on the right.” Other praiseworthy features of fascism were its patriotic feeling and its search for just social reforms. However, fascism was marred by six “deep and serious errors”—namely hostility to Christianity and to religion in general; totalitarianism; one-party monopoly, leading to corruption and demoralization; nationalist extremism, belligerent chauvinism, and a mania for national grandeur; a tendency towards state socialism; and “idolatrous caesarism, with its demagogy, slavishness, and despotism” (Illyin in 1993, pp. 67–70).

The first of Ilyin’s objections does not serve to separate him from fascism in the generic sense, which, as was demonstrated in the last chapter, is compatible with a variety of religious orientations. Nevertheless, a person who rejects totalitarianism, chauvinism, and ceasarism can hardly be considered a fascist. We might also note his reference to the traditionalist conservative regimes of Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal as positive alternatives to “fascism” (Ilyin in 1993, p. 70). Ilyin sensed that he shared many of his premodern values with the fascists—hence his perception of them as basically well-intentioned people who had made unfortunate “errors”—but he could not bring himself to accept the new order. Of course, the fascists, like their totalitarian cousins on the left, did not welcome criticism, however “sympathetic” it might be, making the position of their fellow travelers rather an awkward one.

The National-Bolsheviks

“National-bolshevism” as an explicit ideology was mainly the invention of Nikolai Ustryalov (1890–1938), an émigré living in Manchuria. Although he had been the director of the press agency of the White Admiral Kolchak, he had also been active in the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party, and so should not perhaps be counted as a “White” émigré.

It is necessary to make a clear distinction between the early and the later phases of Ustryalov’s movement. In the beginning, national-bolshevism meant recognition of the positive national role that the Bolsheviks had played, irrespective of their ultimate antinational aspirations, in preserving and restoring the Russian state. At the same time, the hope was entertained—as it was by many Western liberals—that the Bolsheviks would gradually shed their antinational Marxist-Leninist doctrine and evolve into subject as well as objective Russian nationalists. The adoption of the New Economic Policy in 1921 was seen as a sign that things were moving in the right direction.

The Soviet regime, however, did not change either as rapidly or as radically as the national-bolsheviks had anticipated. As I shall show below, Soviet ideology stabilized as an amalgam of internationalist Marxism-Leninism and Russian nationalism. Had he remained true to his original nationalist rationale, Ustryalov would have distanced himself from the Bolsheviks. Instead, he did the opposite. The mountain had not come to Muhammad, so Muhammad went to the mountain! By the mid-1930s, Ustryalov was praising the USSR not as an embodiment of Russian statehood, but as a prototype of a future united humanity. And it was from this internationalist point of view that he rejected fascism (Hardeman 1994, pp. 54, 223). The label of national-bolshevism was retained out of inertia, but it was no longer accurate as a characterization of the ideology of Ustryalov and his circle.

The Eurasianists

The Eurasianists constituted another movement within the Russian emigration. Their leading figures were Pyotr Savitsky and Prince Nikolai Trubetskoi. The focus of their ideology was the idea of Russia not as part of Europe or Asia, but as a distinct “cultural-historical world,” which they called “Russia-Eurasia” or “continent Eurasia”—an idea that they took from Danilevsky and developed further.

The Eurasianists rejected Russian nationalism in the ethnic sense. Russia-Eurasia was to be understood as “a special kind of symphonic personality” to which all its peoples had contributed (Savitsii 1997, p. 99). The Eurasia of the future would be not just for Russians, but for all Eurasian peoples, “an assembly [sobor] of peoples” in which every people would be “assigned a place corresponding to its cultural capacity” (Savitskii 1931, p. 42). Even the Jews might find a place in the Eurasian Symphony (Shnirel’man 1996).

The Eurasianists occupied in some respects an ideological space in between the national-bolsheviks on one side and the monarchists and fascists on the other. Like the national-bolsheviks, they saw int he Bolshevik Revolution a positive as well as a negative significance for Russia. For the Eurasianists, however, its positive significance resided not only in the restoration of Russian statehood, but also in the separation of Russia from Europe. Savitsky proposed to retain the basic political structure of the Russian regime, comprising a one-party system, the ideocratic selection of rulers, and a reformed system of Soviets as a non-Western form of popular representation. Marxism-Leninism would be replaced by an “Orthodox Eurasian-Russian” ideology (Savitskii 1931, p. 42; 1997, pp. 58–59). He also advocated a system of socialism based on Orthodox religious precepts and the concept of “stewardship” [khoziainoderzhavie] instead of property, although these ideas aroused controversy among the Eurasianists themselves (Savitskii 1997, pp. 217–53).

Eurasianism was clearly a totalitarian movement. Savitsky himself set out the areas of similarity that existed between Eurasianism and Italian fascism and between Eurasianism and bolshevism. Savitsky himself set out the areas of similarity that existed between Eurasianism and Italian fascism and between Eurasianism and bolshevism. The Eurasianists regarded their ideology as a “third maximalism” alongside bolshevism and fascism. Bolshevism was perhaps the more important of the two as a source of inspiration: Alexander Dugin reports a participant in the Eurasianists movement as telling him that Savitsky dreamt of being like Lenin, “a leader and prophet of the masses” (Savitskii 1997, p. 437).

What most of all distinguishes Eurasianism from fascism, as it has been conceptualized in the last chapter, is the absence of a sense of the present as a period of decadence. The Eurasianists were attached to tradition—Savitsky called it “the spiritual backbone” of Eurasia (Savitskii 1997, p. 99)—but they did not believe that modernity in general or the Bolshevik Revolution in particular had disrupted it in any serious way.

In 1945, Savitsky was arrested in Prague by the Soviet army, and sentenced to ten years in a labor camp for anti-Soviet activity. He was released and rehabilitated in 1956, and returned to Prague, where he died in 1968 (Savitskii, pp. 438–39). While imprisoned he happened to meet the young historian Lev Gumilyov, son of the famous poets Nikolai Gumilyov and Anna Akhmatova, who became his pupil. Later Gumilyov, after his release and rehabilitation, transmitted the Eurasianist doctrine within the Soviet elite, and by the 1980s it had its adherents in the Central Committee, the General Staff, and the Foreign Ministry (Yasmann 1993, pp. 24–25). In this way, one school at least of Russian émigré thought was to have an unanticipated impact on Soviet society.

It is striking that, of the four émigré groups that we have examined, three were attracted to one of the two powerful totalitarian ideologies of the time—that is, either to fascism or bolshevism—and the fourth constructed a new totalitarian ideology of its own. Perhaps there were some among the White émigrés who developed in a democratic direction, but I am not aware of their writings.