Staunton, April 9 – Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a close aide to Patriarch Kirill and the head of the Synod’s Department for Relations between the Church and Society, is pushing the notion of a popular or even socialist monarchy as the most appropriate form of government for Russia, an idea that has its roots in the works of Ivan Solonevich, an émigré thinker.
Chaplin’s suggestion has provoked much opposition by Russians who view it as an effort to further clericalize the country, but it has also attracted support from some who believe his proposal is less the basis for any immediate action than the occasion for discussion of Russia’s uniqueness and need for a government that reflects that fact.
In a Svobodnaya Pressa commentary, Vladimir Bondarenko argues that those criticizing Chaplin now have failed to understand either that the Russian churchman has not said anything new or that his ideas are not appropriate subjects for discussion as Russia tries to make its way in the world.
The idea of a popular or socialist monarchy as the best form of governance for Russia was developed by émigré thinker Ivan Solonevich, who is remembered if at all for his book Russia in a Concentration Camp which introduced the term GULAG to a wide audience but who should be remembered for his role in creating the Popular Monarchy Movement.
Solonevich was attacked on all sides for this notion, Bondarenko says, but most of those condemning him never paid attention to the details of his argument or the ways in which his call reflects Russia’s special historical position.
He quotes the émigré editor as saying that “the Popular Monarchy Movement starts from the axiom that Russia has its own path, has worked out its own methods, is proceeding to its own goals, and that as a result, no political borrowings from outside can lead to anything except catastrophe.”
Solonevich (1891-1953) was convinced that Russia by virtue of its size and history can and must follow its own model and no one else’s. “It would be completely stupid to convince gypsies in the superiority of ‘functional property’ and Jews in the desirability of building a European empire.”
“However, for some reason, an attempt to impose on Russian political orders which grew out of West European feudalism as equally self-evident stupidity,” he wrote. Russia can copy others, but it must choose rather than having others choose for it – and that means, he said, that it must promote its own unique ideas as well.
“One would have to be blind,” Bondarenko suggests, “not to see that Russian people always had strong aspirations to collectivity, a socialist ideal of justice and also to a strong power and its monarchical form.” That was true in the time of Ivan the Terrible, true also in the times of Peter the Great. And it was true as well even under Stalin.
In one sense, what Chaplin has suggested is nothing more than a revival of the Uvarov trinity of “Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Nationality.” And it is entirely appropriate to link socialism with its roots in Christianity to that idea, especially given that in some socialist countries, a monarchical principle is at work.
Is there not an inherited dynasty of the Kims in North Korea or the transfer of power from one brother to another in Cuba? the commentator asks. “The intermixture of monarchy and socialism did not begin today and it will not end tomorrow.”
To speak as Chaplin has, Bondarenko says, does not mean that any steps will be taken toward a monarchic autocracy in the near term or that there will be a new move toward Russian socialism. “One need not fear the words.” He is talking about “a natural selection of elements necessary for the improvement of our state,” elements of “monarchy and socialism.”
And Chaplin is right to focus on faith, because “without faith any administration will be harmful. It will fall into dictatorship,” just as many things suggest “Putin’s course” is leading. And he is also right to talk about hereditary monarchy because in such a system, each ruler thinks longer term and not just about taking care of his own retirement.
Bondarenko concludes his essay by saying that he “doesn’t expect there will be a coronation of Tsar Vladimir or any other tsar in the near future. But reflections about the character of power, one organic for Russia are extremely useful:” a popular monarchy is would “not be the worst form of government” for the country.