Staunton, May 14 – Many have welcomed Vladimir Putin’s call to overcome the “red-white” division of Russians that has existed since the Civil War as a step toward the rise of a supposedly healthy Russian nationalism, but it is increasingly obvious that the only thing the Kremlin wants from the two sides is their commitment to imperialism rather than nationalism.
In a commentary on the Rufabula portal, Russian regionalist Anton Chadsky makes this clear. He writes that “up to today, Russia remains hostage to paradigms defined by the Bolshevik coup and the ensuing Civil War,” a divide that the Kremlin says it wants to overcome so the schizoid nature of Russian identity can end (rufabula.com/author/anton-chadsky/1195).
But he reasonably asks “what kind of national ideology can we speak if the nation still cannot define what is evil and what is good in its history” and argues despite all the Communists who have become Orthodox and all the Cossacks who carry pictures of Stalin, overcoming the divides of the immediate post-1917 years is not currently possible.
For such a unity to emerge, Chadsky argues, the Russian people will have to clean “the Augean stables of all the Soviet-Chekist propagandistic burden” that it still carries. Only then will it be possible to be objective, “to call executioners executioners and heroes heroes,” examples of which he says exist “on both sides of the barricades.”
Unfortunately, at least in the way that Putin is approaching it, the current Russian leadership is interested in extracting only certain things from the Reds and only certain things for the Whites. It isn’t interested in promoting social welfare as the Soviets at least said they were, and it isn’t interested in a restoration of the pre-1917 order as most of the Whites were.
Instead, Putin and his ideological entourage are interested in extracting only one thing that the two sides of the old red-white divide shared: a common commitment to imperialism rather than nationalism, a commitment that some have noted but that most seem to have forgotten.
And Putin and his team are explicit in rejecting the promotion of Russian nationalism because they understand that if the Russians were ever able to truly become a “state-forming” nation as the regime always say they are, the Russian Federation in its current borders would be unsustainable given the size and vitality of non-Russian groups within it.
One of the reasons that the Whites lost the Russian Civil War was because they were committed to the maintenance of a Russian empire “one and indivisible;” and one of the reasons the Reds won was because they appeared to promise something else but then imposed an imperial rule far more intrusive and violent than anything the tsars had.
And one of the reasons that some in the first Russian emigration –first the smenovekhovtsy and then others -- decided to support the Soviet experience is because they understood that the Soviets were effectively maintaining and even extending the empire, something their own groups had been unable to do.
If anyone had any doubts about this as a continuing phenomenon, a statement on Friday by the leader of the House of Romanov should put them to rest. She declared that she was proud that “Russia is returning to the imperial principles of the foreign policy of Nicholas II” (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/05/13/rossiya_vozvrawaetsya_k_imperskim_principam_vneshnej_politiki_nikolaya_vtorogo/).
(For background on the failure of the Whites to move from imperialism to nationalism and by extension of the failure of the Reds to do the same see the detailed new study by historian Sergey Sergeyev, “The Paths of Russian Nationalism: Catastrophe at Take-Off” at gefter.ru/archive/18535?_utl_t=fb).