Thursday, August 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: To Save Russia and Himself, Putin Must Become a National Bolshevik, Izborsky Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 8 – While he is unlikely to use the term itself, Vladimir Putin has little choice but to return to the ideas of National Bolshevism, an ideological trend from the 1920s whose followers combined a rightist commitment to the powers of the state with a leftist one to a greater role for the state in the economy if he is to save himself and Russia as well.

                In the current issue of “Zavtra,” Valery Korovin, director of the Moscow Center for Geopolitical Expertise and a member of the extremely influential Izborsky Club, makes exactly that argument in some detail ( On the importance of the Izborsky Club, see

            “Of course,” he says, Putin probably will never employ this term because of its somewhat “odious” history.  But there can be little doubt that he and those around him now feel compelled to “study the heritage of the National Bolsheviks as elaborated at the beginning of the 20th century” as an ideological basis for the contemporary Russian state.

            National Bolshevism of that time, Korovin recalls, combined support for the integrity of the state as demanded by the White Movement with the socialist economic and political arrangements instituted by the “Red Bolshevik state project.” And that combination, albeit under new terms, is needed to keep Putin in power and “to preserve the country.”

            The Izborsky Club member begins his argument on this point with an insistence that “liberalism or in ideological terms liberal democracy which puts the individual and his interests at the center of things has been the main threat to [Russian] statehood over the course of the last two centuries.”

            Because “liberalism elevates the particular over the general and the individual over the whole,” he continues, it “contradicts the worldview of the Russian majority.”  Thus, Russian leaders must reject liberalism’s “leftist” politics in which the individual has the highest value and its “rightist” economics which gives “unlimited power to the market and private property.

            In their pure forms, neither the leftist ideology of Marxism nor the rightist policies of liberalism are sufficient to meet the task of rejecting liberalism “with its threat to the existence of the state as such.”  Instead, Korovin argues, what is needed is just the reverse: “the domination of leftist economics and rightist politics.”

            That is especially the case because Russia has never been a nation state on the European model. Instead, it has been and remains “an empire, that is, a combination of all social models, from ethnic through collective subjectivity of the big people to elements of the presence of a political nation in the cities and an eccentric civil society in the megalopolises.”

            A century ago, “in a completely surprising and metaphysical way,” a group of writers led by Nikolay Ustryalov and Petr Savitsky, who came to be known as the National Bolsheviks, recognized the need to combine the rightist commitment to a powerful imperial state and a leftist commitment to a socialist economic system.

            Although they were denounced by the Soviet government and generally ignored by others, these National Bolsheviks or more precisely the logic behind their arguments, Korovin insists, had enormous influence and explain the rise of Stalin as “a national leader” who combined both rightist politics and leftist social programs.

            Bolshevism, the Izborsky Club member notes, represented the leftist element in this combination, but “over the course of all of Soviet history in the ideological model of the Soviet period, the rightist element of placing a high value on the state as such was retained” and indeed has continued even now.

            If one considers the current situation, one can see that “Vladimir Putin when he came to power already in his first term began to lay out his policy as a rejection of liberalism” of the kind offered by Yeltsin. By so doing, the Russian president “moved toward the rightist model, toward the ‘White’ model” that the National Bolsheviks had supported.

            During his first two terms, in fact, Putin was “a thoroughgoing supporter of the market but at the same time a great power advocate.” His “liberal patriotism” was “a purely rightist ideological model with its markets and great power focus.” But the liberal market elements have proved destructive, and Putin is being forced to move away from them.

            Putin is getting rid of these liberal elements, but that does not mean he is turning to fascism as some think. “In principle,” Korovin insists, that ideology is “impossible in Russia.” However, in making this turn, Putin has found himself without a clearly defined ideology, something he and the country needs if he and it are to go forward.

            Indeed, the Izborsky Club member continues, Putin has now found himself at a dead end with regard to his “’White’ ideology of liberal patriotism.’” And he will continue to do so unless he adds to that the leftist economics that National Bolshevism accepted and even promoted in the past.

            According to Korovin, “Putin is a realist not only in foreign politics but as is becoming ever more evident in domestic politics as well.” His realism reflects his commitment to the values of the state over those of ideological “preferences’” and his effort to “balance between right and left” as a way of preserving his rule.

            But such a position cannot continue indefinitely, the commentator says, and without a clearly expressed ideology, its failure and his is “only a question of time.” Consequently, the Russian president must base himself “on a leftist economics and a rightist politics” – the combination offered by the National Bolsheviks and implemented by Stalin. 


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