Staunton, March 29 – Just as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is giving the world a geography lesson about places few knew about earlier, so too the Kremlin leader’s efforts to find an ideological justification for his ever more authoritarian and aggressive political system is offering a lesson in the history of some hitherto neglected political thinkers.
One of the most curious sources for Putinism appears to be a Russian prince who broke with the National Bolsheviks when he discovered they were agents of the Soviet secret police, married Boris Savinkov’s widow, developed his own doctrine about Russian fascism, always defended Russia against Germany, and died in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.
But if Prince Igor Shirinksy-Shikhmatov is a curious source, Pavel Pryanikov argues, he may be an extremely useful one because unlike many better-known Russian emigres who flirted with fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, the prince never allied himself with Hitler and always called for the defense of Russia under whatever name against foreigners (ttolk.ru/?p=23343).
Following their defeat in the Russian civil war, many White Russian emigres tried to find an explanation for their loss. “The overwhelming majority of them,” Pryanikov says, “came to the conclusion that the only ideologies capable of defeating the Bolsheviks were national socialism or fascism (in one or another variant).”
Among these groups were the so-called “national maximalists,” who broke with the national Bolsheviks over the degree of the latter’s cooperation with and subordination to the Soviet security agencies and who formed in the 1930s a Union of Revolutionized Solidarists to promote change in the USSR without violence or cooperation with foreign powers.
The leader of the national maximalists was Prince Yury Alekseyevich Shirinsky-Shikhmatov. The direct descendent of Chingiz Khan, the prince was born in 1892 into the upper reaches of the extreme right of the tsarist bureaucracy, served in the Northwest Army during the Russian Civil War, and lived as a taxi driver in Paris after the defeat of the White Russian cause.
Shirinsky-Shikhmatov married the widow of SR leader Boris Savinkov and even adopted Savinkov’s son, Lev. As Pryanikov points out, in the early 1920s before his return to the USSR and death, Savinkov was “one of the first Russian fascists and saw Benito Mussolini as his ideal.”
The prince’s group, centered around the journals “Utverzhdeniye” and “Zavtra” never was that large. According to the Tolkovatel blogger, it had about 300 supporters in Europe, half of whom were in France and Belgium, and another 100 or so in the United States, Manchuria, and Australia.
During World War II, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov refused to work for or even cooperate with German occupation authorities in Paris, called for the defense of the Soviet Union against Germany, and as a result was arrested and dispatched to Auschwitz where he was executed sometime in 1942.
Shirinsky-Shikhmatov’s political program called for religious freedom, a confederal state “with a strong central power,” basic freedoms, “the coexistence of state and private property under the general control of the state by planning,” a strong national defense, and support for liberation movements in the colonial world and workers in capitalist countries.
What set him apart from other Russian émigré fascists was Shirinsky-Shikhmatov’s ideas on how these values might be promoted in the USSR. He rejected the views of the Smenovekhovtsy who believed that the best way was to cooperate with Moscow and those who favored illegal armed struggle or open cooperation with foreign powers.
Shirinsky-Shikhmatov favored a “third path,” what some called “the masonic way.” That involved the promotion of his ideas via the recruitment of supporters from among those within the Soviet elite who had doubts about where the communists were taking the country and rely on them to transform the situation.
The prince and his entourage were certain that his group should count “not on the intelligentsia or the bureaucracy,” both of whom had been “perverted in the worst Westernizer understanding,” but rather on religious sectarians and on those who were “outside of the clientelist corporations.”
According to Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, “over the last 300 years, the First and Second Rome have externally triumphed over the Third.” But “the Russian messianic idea in its religious form has remained alive” in religious sects and in the Slavophiles and their philosophical and political descendants.”
Moreover, he wrote, “the Bolsheviks have unconsciously fulfilled a certain part of the high task: they have destroyed the inheritance of Peter I, but this is only the first part” of what needs to be done. After them, a future Russian state “must be built not on the foundation of the principles of ‘pagan-Roman morality,’” but rather “on the basis of the ethics of collectivity, cooperation, and ‘the common task.’”
Russia’s eventual fascist revolution, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov was sure, would require the establishment of “a dictatorship of the people” led by a dictator who would emerge from the military or security services and gain the kind of popular support necessary to transform the country.
Such a leader, the Russian émigré thinker suggested, would be capable of throwing off the “false pseudonym” that was the USSR and “proclaim to the entire world the terrible but genuine name of the country – Russia.” As Pryanikov notes, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov did not live to see his “dream” realized.