Staunton, October 31 – In the century and a half since the first Crimean war, Russia has experienced three waves of Bolshevism, Vladimir Pastukhov says, the result of the unresolved clash between the Slavophiles and Westernizers and the special role of the Russian religious impulse as the bridge between them.
But now the third wave is coming to an end, the St. Antony’s College historian says, and it can be followed only by “a completely new force” which will consist either of “genuine liberals or genuine fascists” and not the simulacrum of each with which Russia has been living in recent times.
According to Pastukhov, in recent months, Russian society and not just the urban intelligentsia has awoken from its “deep political sleep” and “unexpectedly entered into motion.” What is striking about this development even to the most superficial of observers is “the religious nature of this movement.”
“’Crimea is ours’” is “not so much a political slogan as a symbol of faith,” he continues. Not that of the church or of Christianity, of course, but rather of the opponents of Christianity Dostoyevsky described in “the possessed” and that are “genetically connected with Russian bolshevism which is deeply hostile to Christianity.”
Consequently, the rise of Eurasianism which is closely tied to this trend virtually to the status of a state ideology in Putin’s Russia represents, Pastukhov argues, “the third and last stage of the evolution of Bolshevism” and presages its “complete and final dissolution.”
“The religious nature of Bolshevism and its deep connection with Orthodoxy and its rootedness in Russian culture were no secret already at the beginning of the 20th century,” the historian notes. “’Vekhi’” was written about it. Indeed, one can speak about the three component parts of Bolshevism: Westernism, Slavophilism, and the Orthodox religious tradition which allowed for the combination of the other two.
In the middle of the 19th century, Russian culture entered into a state of crisis: Russians were no longer prepared to be “pupils” of Europe. Instead, they wanted to reaffirm their own history by “rising from their knees” and acting independently. At the same time, Russia was falling further behind Europe economically and was aware of the dangers that entailed.
And that in turn led to a split in the upper reaches of Russian society between the Westernizers who concluded that Russia must change itself and become European and the Slavophiles who argued that Russia must “break with Europe and return to pre-Petrine values.” (It is important to note, he says, that such splits are typical of countries trying to catch up.)
This split was exacerbated by Russia’s challenge to Turkey, “the sick man of Europe,” an action that led to the first Crimean War and Russia’s defeat in that conflict. But that war also sparked the rise of Russian populism which swamped the Slavophile-Westernizer debate and gave rise to Bolshevism, “a sectarian political trend which in a strange way combined within itself radicalism Westernizing impulses with no less radical isolationism.”
Bolshevism had “enormous modernizing potential,” Pastukhov continues, and it is “possible” that “the ‘bolshevization’ of Russia” provides an explanation for why Russia did not have a reformation: “The Bolshevik was a secular ‘Orthodox reformer’” and thus it should not have surprised anyone that after 1991 Bolshevism was “converted” back into Orthodoxy.
However, after fulfilling their modernization mission, the scholar says, the Bolsheviks degenerated into an uninspiring ritual system, thus “repeating the fate of Russian Orthodoxy. But the Bolshevik impulse didn’t disappear; it only went underground. And what followed was “the second coming of Bolshevism in Russian history.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, “the old discussion between ‘Westernizers’ and ‘Slavophiles’ burst out anew but already as an internal discussion of two ideological fragments of Bolshevism,” a pattern that was concealed by the focus on consumerism which meant that “the second Bolshevization of Russia was carried out under ‘Westernizer’ banners.”
But Bolshevism’s second coming proved no less destruction than the first, Pastukhov says. “The mechanical and uncreative borrowing of alien institutions did not have anything in common with real liberalism. The reformers set up private property and capitalism” in exactly the same way that their predecessors had “destroyed them.”
As a result, the St. Antony’s scholar argues, “the economic and political system of Russia did not have anything in common with real capitalism or real democracy.” But this “coming” of Bolshevism did not last long: it ended definitively on August 17, 1998, with the default. As a result of that, “the hopes of the population for a better life ceased to be associated with market and democratic reforms.”
The Putin regime is “the direct result of the 1998 crisis,” and it “gave birth to that mass political and social apathy, at times shifting into depression, without which the establishment of this regime would have been impossible.” But the 2008 economic crisis woke up first the urban intelligentsia and then the population, setting the stage for the third wave of Bolshevism.
The liberal intelligentsia was “able to rock the boat” but not take control. And then with the seizure of Crimea and the articulation of Eurasian as the doctrine of the state, the masses were put in motion and the third wave took off. But it was incomplete because after 20 years of post-Soviet existence, what was left were “two lifeless political asteroids” – “Russian neo-Westernism and Neo-Slavophilism.”
In each case, there has occurred a kind of “ideological crystallization, as a result of which the dominant trend in both political sectors became fundamentalism, that is, the most radical, the least flexible, the least tolerant and the most dogmatic wings” of both. That in turn meant that these two antagonists increasingly at least in terms of style resembled one another.
The occupation of Crimea brought these two together other ways as well, with members of each supporting the new Eurasianism. Consequently, it is possible to suggest that “the history of Bolshevism in Russia is coming to an end. Having been born during the first Crimean war, it most probably will end in the second Crimean war.”
At the same time, the Russian “’patriotic’ movement” is nothing more than “an absolute political and ideological fake,” and Eurasianism as a doctrine lacks its own creative foundation and “genuine charisma.” Consequently, its ability to hold all this together is very limited.
According to Pastukhov, Russia still has not made “its chief historical choice. But this will not be a choice between Bolshevik Westernizers and Bolshevik patriots.” Most Russians are now “outside the influence of these two ideologies which have lived out their time.” Only “a completely new force” will be able to take their place.
That force could be “either genuine liberals or genuine fascists,” but one thing is already clear: “the false ‘Eurasian’ wave” of Bolshevism isn’t going to keep a “volcanic” explosion from below from overturning much that those at the top of the political system assume cannot be changed.