Monday, September 11, 2017

Russia Now in the Midst of Third Cycle of Formation of an Ethnic Russian Nation, Ikhlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 11 – There is no Russian nation at the present time, Yevgeny Ikhlov says, “for the very simple reason that the nation is a European (Western) conception of the end of the 18th and middle of the 19th centuries,” and the Russian social system even now to a large extend is still feudal or “mentally” even more primitive than that.

            But to say that, the Russian analyst continues, does not mean that a Russian nation will not ever be formed. Instead, he says, its formation is “inevitable,” despite the fact that the imperial authorities will in fact again seek to impede that development because it will threaten their rule (

                According to Ikhlov, Russia is in the midst of “the third cycle of the formation of a Russian ethno-nation.”  The first began 150 years ago with the idea of nations as “cultural-historical types,” an idea that led through slavophilism to the assertion of a distinctive “’Russian race’” and ultimately to the notions of the Union of the Russian People” and the black hundreds.

            But as long as Russian remains a medieval (traditionalist) social system, he continues, “it could exist only in three aggregate states: as an empire, as a zone of feudal fragmentation … or as part of an empire of a higher level such as the Horde” or the failed notion of “a Slavic-Baltic-Scandinavian Empire.”

            If its social system ceases to be medieval, Ikhlov argues, “Russia as a civilization will have the chance to become a democratic federation (a hypothetical United States of Russia) or a semi-governmental cultural-economic alliance, a kind of Russian Union.” But to date that hasn’t happened.

            And this delay in the formation of a Russian ethno-nation, he suggests, and the forced russification of non-Russians rather than the promotion of Russian national identity has had the effect of provoking the growth in the nationalism of the minorities of the empire.

            The second “step toward Russian ethnic nationalism began during the Soviet-German war” but “it was stopped by the old Bolshevik Khrushchev who decided as had Lenin to try to create a Soviet political nation, mobilized by a future-oriented utopia and again began to promote an imperial-messianic cultural universalism.”

            “The third step toward the formation of a Russian ethno-nation began with the end of the 1960s when the bankruptcy of the communist project finally became obvious,” Ikhlov says; “and it continues to this day.”  Further, he argues, “one of the results of this process” was the calm reaction of most Russians to the disintegration of the USSR.

            That event, at least immediately, did not lead as the two earlier cases to “a distancing from Western Europe but, on the contrary, was marked by an effort to become yet another European ethno-nation like the Germans and the French.”  That is why Russians have reacted so strongly to what many see as “’the Islamization’ of Europe.

            Russians have become uncomfortable with the idea that they, a great people, should have chosen as its pattern one that would reduce them to the status of “small peoples.” And as a result, Ikhlov says, Russians find it very difficult to understand present-day Germans and Frenchmen “who are conducting themselves like Soviet Russian internationalists” of Soviet times.

            What is going on, he suggests, is that Western Europe is renewing its process of seeking unity that was broken off at the time of the Moroccan crisis before World War I, and Russia is trying to become an ethno-nation of the kind that Europeans have left behind, with broader nationalist aspirations much as Germany had before World War II.

            “’Civilized Russian nationalists’” today say that “Russians are those who consider Russian culture their own. But the nationalists add to this formula ‘a few’ implicit ideas – the denial of the West, the rejection of liberalism, Stalinism, monarchism, Orthodoxy and faith in ‘a special path for Russia.’” 

            The Germans before World War I had a similar problem, but their defeat led to the subordination of a German “sub-civilization’ to the North German ethnic nation.”  Then, “the trauma of defeat” in 1918 led to the rise of Nazism.  Unfortunately, Ikhlov says, “Russian ethnic nationalism has been condemned to pass along the very same path.”

            It may even be the case, that this is a general pattern for “the transformation of [any] civilizational identity into an ethnic one.”

            Ikhlov then says that “the de-Marxificaiton of Russia again includes both of the historical processes that had been broken off earlier – the reduction of the civilizational distance from Europe and the crystallization of ethnic self-consciousness.” 

            Many fear that if Russia becomes nation state, it will fall apart. Such concerns are misplaced because nation states don’t disintegration, although they may lose some marginal groups. At the same time however, their existence does not guarantee domestic piece as both Hungary and Germany have shown. 

            The reaction of Russians to the war in Ukraine shows how far Russians have yet to travel before they complete the formation of a nation and thus a nation state. Had they been further along, they would not have backed this project and, more than that, they would have opposed repression directed against themselves.

            For people who remain imperialists, domestic victims of repressions are simply “bricks in the pyramid of the greatness of the state,” but for those who have become national, those victims remain victims, Ikhlov continues.  That explains the divide in Russia over Stalin, with imperialists celebrating him and true nationalists seeing him as a destroyer of the nation.

            But as long as Russia remains in a medieval state, the confusion between state and nation will exist, he says; and the medieval situation “is coming to an end, and can be prolonged only by a new catastrophic breakthrough toward the archaic, something that would transform the entire country into ‘a Donbas.’”

            “This means,” he says, “the imperial period is coming to an end as is the chance for establishing a new despotic government.” But that “does not exclude a period of revolutionary dictatorship” as long as that will “be sanctioned by a mass movement,” something that is not now in evidence.

            “Russian society does not want either a new messianic utopic or a mobilization for power,” he says, noting that no one now talks about the Izborsky Club’s call for both.  And then he concludes with the following argument about the current popularity Stalin is enjoying in Russia.

            According to Ikhlov, that “already is not nostalgia for power but the psychological basis for Navalny’s promises ‘to punish everyone.’” The Russian people who are not yet a nation are dreaming about taking revenge, a matter of justice in their eyes, rather than about restoring either his system or his empire.

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