Staunton, February 18 – As Vladimir Putin’s rule has taken on ever more features of fascism, analysts have focused on those fascist and proto-fascist writers he has cited in his speeches. But there may be a more immediate model: Admiral Kolchak who has been called Russia’s “first fascist ruler” by both his supporters and his opponents.
Three years ago, Mikhail Vtorushin researched Kolchak’s “fascism” (“The Phenomenon of Fascism at the Beginning of the 20th Century and Its Development in Siberia During the Civil War” (in Russian in the Omsky Nauchny Vestnik, no. 5 (2012), pp. 18-21.)
But now his findings and arguments are being disseminated to a much larger Russian audience by Pavel Pryannikov on the web site Tolkovatel, an especially important development because Vtorushin devotes as much attention to fascist practice as to ideology and because he is a historian at the influential Russian Armed Forces Academy.
As Pryannikov points out, “up to now even among the educated there is a view that ‘the White Movement’ in the Civil War was monolithic.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, among those opposing the Bolsheviks were people from the extreme right, the left, liberals, national democrats of the ethnic minorities and fascists.
To be sure, the last were identified as fascists only after the fact by Russian emigres who were struck by the parallels between the regime of Admiral Kolchak and that of Mussolini who called himself a fascist and by other parallels between tsarist Prime Minister Petr Stolypin whom they identified as a proto-fascist.
Sometimes those classifying Kolchak as a fascist were his opponents and did so to discredit him, but at others those doing so were his supporters and did so in order to praise what Kolchak did and to argue that his regime in Siberia was a model for the future government of Russia as a whole.
In his memoirs, K.V.Sakharov, a general who served under Kolchak, said that “the striving of the White idea to take the form of fascism in Siberia during the Civil War was only the first timid attempt,” but he added that “the White Movement in its essence was the first manifestation of fascism…not its foretaste but a pure manifestation of it.
Another Kolchak general, A.F. Matkovsky, said that the core of Kolchak’s idea was “the formula of ‘a united and indivisible Russia’ as ‘a democratic, legal and national state,” and that “it is time for all Russians to remember that they are children of Great Rus’ which could not fail to be a Great State. We are Russian and we should be proud of this.”
And Kolchak himself uttered words which remind one of Putin’s. “I was a witness,” he declared, of the failure of autocracy to prevent revolution and disintegration. And “I will not” seek to restore any system that cannot block such things but rather build a new kind of state capable of preventing them.
Kolchak attempted to implement Stolypin’s land program. He proclaimed the introduction of government guarantees for workers, including an eight-hour day, health insurance, and old age pensions. And all these things alienated the extreme right, as did his dropping of “nationality” from the Ogarev trinity of official nationality.
Liberals saw this as an indication of Kolchak’s support for the wealthy and his unwillingness to open the way for democracy which would have brought to power those who spoke for the poorest and most deprived groups. One of their number, the Social Revolutionary Ye.Ye. Kolosov was explicit on exactly that point.
As he put it, “Siberian fascist with Admiral Kolchak at their head represented a purely caste system of power, narrow and closed in on itself and consisting of the upper strata of the military circles. European fascism preserves a civilian structure … but the Siberian fascists subordinated the civilian authorities entirely to the military, reducing them to nothingness.”
What struck both supporters and opponents of Kolchak and his fascism, Pryannikov says drawing on Vtorushkin, was the enormous role intellectual advisors who had fled from central Russia to Siberia played in elaborating this system. Indeed, Pryannikov suggests that it is possible to speak of “’the philosophy of fascism of the Russian intelligentsia.’”
As Kolchak faced defeat at the front and in the rear, he turned ever more to the use of force against the population and any political opposition, something that drove ever more people into the arms of the Bolsheviks even if they had been opposed to them at the outset. As a result, the first attempt at Russian fascism failed.
After the Bolshevik victory in the Civil War, the Tolkovatel editor says, supporters of Russian fascism fled abroad writing and organizing where they could, “from small fascist parties in Manchuria, the US and Europe to the proto-fascism of Stalin and his Russian opponents in the Great Fatherland War.”
And he adds in conclusion: “the defeat of Germany and its allies in World War II delegitimized the idea of fascism, and only 70 years later, on the post-Soviet space is its renaissance beginning” – and like a century ago, Pryannikov says, “the intelligentsia is again its advance guard” with political leaders following their lead.