Unsolvable problems of Russian nation-building. Or solvable?

MOSCOW, 08 Nov 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

In order to seriously enter into a discussion about the theses presented by colleagues on the Russian imperial project, it is necessary to be in the topic quite deeply, first of all, to know history, or rather, the problem of the Russification of the Russian Empire. Russification in it is not the discovery of America through a window by modern patriots, but a problem that has long been solved by many generations of Russian tsars. A lot of experience has been accumulated here. And therefore, everything we have now is not a coincidence and not a dislocation of history, but its direct consequence.

First of all, it must be understood that today the Russophile patriots are promoting the idea of Russification, without reaching precise formulations of what it is and without taking into account past historical experience, unsuccessful for quite objective reasons. Russia is a unique multi-ethnic empire where Russian political elites have realised a fact: we exist surrounded by nation-states. Their strength is based on a sense of nation. And Russia can resist their influence only by formulating its own idea of a nation, turning a diverse population into a nation.

Aleksandr III began to do this, nation-building projects in the Russian Empire arose and were implemented from the highest level. But the nations within Russia had different levels of national consciousness. It was in Europe that everything was homogeneous and the project worked clearly. In the Russian Empire, what worked for Russification in one place had the opposite effect in another. Combined with urbanisation and the destruction of traditional forms of social organisation, social conflicts escalated and instead of consolidation, destabilisation emerged.

The involvement of citizens in the construction of the empire (social elevators) was, as it is now, problematic, and estates, classes and parties are subject to degradation. Stratification began in them, they lost unity in the process of modernisation, and the Stolypin reform led to the resettlement of layers of the population capable of self-organisation across the territory of the Empire, who, not seeing their civil rights to participate in politics, formed a revolutionary trend in Imperial history.

The Russian authorities were forced to focus on the European models of the formation of civil nations. Russification ended (and still ends) in failure, for the following reasons:

1. The very concept of nation and nationality has not been elaborated and is not enshrined in legislation.

2. In approaches to the Russian theme, Russianness itself has a mixed character – confessional, cultural-linguistic and racial-ethnic. All three categories conflict with each other and make it impossible to consolidate the definition of Russianness as a concept.

3. The approaches to the formation of a “truly Russian” nation on a narrow ethno-cultural foundation are in conflict with an attempt to form a single national community based on the Russian language and Orthodoxy, which were actively implanted on the national border areas, as well as in Siberia (for obvious reasons, the harder they tried, the stronger the rejection was) and on a broader foundation of defensive Russian political nationalism. It operated with the concepts of “Russians” and “non-Russians”, where “Russians” were all who were not “non-Russians”, but “non-Russians” were all who were not “Russians” (recall, there were no uniform criteria, with the exception of belonging to Orthodoxy).

For some imperials, it is still a question whether an ethnic Russian (dad and mum are Russians), who speaks Russian (belongs to Russian culture), but is a Muslim by religion, is still a Russian person.

“Russians” lived with “non-Russians” in an interspersed manner, there were few compact zones of residence for Russians. They settled far from each other, communication was weak, various local groups with their own cultural characteristics were formed. As a result of the general Russian culture, the basis for the formation of the nation did not arise, but subcultures arose. The cultural gap was aggravated by the gap between the elite and the masses.

This phenomenon exists everywhere: in India, in China, in European countries. Nation-states, in fact, are shaky symbioses of peoples who keep their dialects and remember their differences. That is precisely why it is more difficult to sew empires than to destroy them.

Three vectors of Russianness – confessional, linguistic and racial-ethnic – periodically conflict, are divergent and do not allow the formation of a Russian nation according to consensus criteria for the majority. Therefore, socialist propaganda achieved greater success at the beginning of the 20th century, largely successful precisely because of the national problems of the Empire. Since Russians were more developed than non-Russians, this gave rise to their accusation of chauvinism, and forced linguistic Russification faced a wave of Russophobia, both in the national border areas and then in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Unification through Russification has been criticised in Russia both on the left and on the right. The national border areas had a different status, their elites had different degrees of loyalty. It was the inseparability of social and national issues that allowed the socialist mainstream to win in Russia: the social and economic problems of the Empire were understood as actions of the central government against certain national groups.

Class international unification stitched together the Empire better than the national one through forced Russification. Up to now, the Russian government has been using the internationalist social paradigm, trying to re-interpret it in the spirit of liberalism, since it has rejected internationalism and socialism in principle.

The Chinese, for example, exist as a nation and at least five different states. Neither in Hong Kong, nor in Taiwan, nor in Macau, nor in Singapore do they consider themselves Chinese and categorically do not want to integrate into the People’s Republic of China. And China itself is teeming with dialects and is capable of falling apart without a hard hand, which history has proved repeatedly. In India, Sikhs do not consider themselves Hindus. To us, they are all Hindus and Chinese, but not to themselves.

With Russians, this is also possible – Baltic and Ukrainian Russians are far from being eager irredentists. And Russia will not begin to drag them socially, as Putin said bluntly. And if you start to separate Russians from Ukrainians and Belarusians, you will admit that local nationalists are right, and this is already a political mistake.

In this regard, it should be noted: some of the theses of Russophile patriots are quite controversial (italicised), and here are the reasons.

1. “A state structure. Empire, constitutional monarchy. Only another dynasty, not the Romanovs)) A Duma, where representatives of the main estates sit instead of parties, and further scaling of elected councils to the zemstvo level.”

Utopia. A constitutional monarchy is a mockery of a monarchy, in fact, it is a republic, a European roof for the domination of the financial bourgeoisie and the globalist oligarchy. The estates in Russia are splitting under the influence of modernisation, as are the parties. Russia does not need such a Duma – they have already stepped on this rake and it ended with the collapse of the state.

2. “The economy is state-owned, like under de Gaulle. A market economy, with an emphasis on the development of small and medium-sized businesses, but playing by the rules set by the state in the national interest. Strategically important industries are controlled by state corporations. Zero key rate, cheap loans for businesses and the public. Mortgage – 2%)”.

Eclecticism and utopia. The market in general is a liberal (capitalist) category, even being born outside of capitalism, it leads to it with inevitability. The economy is driven by monopolies, not by a small private trader feeding on scraps from the table of monopolies. And it is in the national interest if you have a system of capitalism. All the talk about the good of competition is a screen and a lie.

In addition, a zero credit rate is a path to hyperinflation, which the US and China are now facing: financial bubbles and the risk of a domino collapse. Inevitably, we will have to look for money for the rehabilitation of the largest systemic banks.

3. “The simultaneous development of innovative megacities and agrarian low-rise Russia. The former are responsible for progress – the latter for provisions and demographics.”

This is the worst strategy possible: to advance in two divergent directions. It is necessary to concentrate resources on one thing. Otherwise, neither one nor the other will work. In addition, low-rise Russia is not going to give birth, and neither is megalopolis Russia: the ideological fillers are not those that are needed for this.

4. “Ideology – Russian Christian imperial nationalism. A hybrid of American Trumpism and Russian right-wing philosophy of the 20th century (Ilyin, Solonevich, Shafarevich), adapted to the realities of the 21st century.”

Another utopia. For Christian nationalism, Russians need to go through the Baptism of Rus’ once again. Not everyone in Russia is a Christian who paints eggs in church at Easter and goes to Baptism for water. Active Orthodox is no more than 10% of the total number of Orthodox. The country was largely “pagan” (other beliefs and atheism), and has remained so.

In addition, it is necessary to determine which criterion is being used in the understanding of Russianness: religious, linguistic or racial-ethnic, or all together? Without this, everything is useless, and my colleagues do not have clarity here yet. Now the most passionate Russian nationalism is atheistic. That is, cultural-ethnic. How will you cram Orthodoxy in there? Or will you wage war with this branch of Russian nationalists? Here is the end of Russian nationalism as a conception.

In addition, Solonevich with his utopia of a people’s monarchy is closer to Western theories of the republic than to Russian autocratic traditions. Shafarevich is a linguistic and cultural nationalist, and Ilyin somehow completely sympathised with Hitler. These are all moth-eaten heroes, it’s better to choose Lev Tikhomirov from them as a reference point. But in any case, these are the heroes of yesterday.

5. “Propaganda. Despite all its disadvantages, a gingerbread image of the great Russian Empire is being promoted for young people and children, so that children play as Paskevich and Nikolay the First, and not Batman.”

Propaganda is not cartoons, but capital investments, which Russia is not capable of making now either because of poverty or because of the ambiguity of meanings. Nikolay I is a dubious hero, and Paskevich is completely losing to the pioneer heroes and Matrosov and Pokryshkin. Why do we need Paskevich, or are you ashamed of Pokryshkin? You didn’t say anything about the heroes of the Second World War, and this is the closest to us.

Furthermore, as the experience of Soviet-Russian rock culture, the same Cinema, DDT, Agatha Christie shows, we need not Paskevich, but “Ivanman”, using the analogy with Batman. That is, a modern hero who grew up from the modern urbanised city catacombs of Russia, and has the necessary energy of the Image, so that later, in 20 years, he will become a Legend and an Egregore. Paskevich, exclusively even because of his last name, will never become a legend for modern youth.

6. “Propaganda of new ethics: LGBTQ, radical feminism, transgenderism, abortion, excluding medical facts are prohibited.” There are no questions, only two hands “for”.

7. “Foreign policy. Russia plays the role of America in the 60-70s, the stronghold of white Christian civilisation and traditional values (in our case, Russian Orthodoxy), however, if there is no direct threat to our interests or direct benefit in some political conflict, we do not enter there. Purely national pragmatism. Before every Karabakh, Russia first asks the question, what will we get out of this for our people? And only then does it enter there or look from the side.”

It’s not possible to do it in this way. Russia should not play the role of America – it has already been caught up with and overtaken, the primordial secondary. It has to play its part. For Russia, in any conflict in any corner of the world there is its own benefit and threat – we are global, and everything in the world is interconnected. As they sang in a children’s song in the USSR: “Everything is my business!”. Not to get into a conflict without a direct threat and benefit is the logic of Ukraine, not Russia.

And there is no Christian civilisation in the world. Russian Orthodoxy is in a state of crisis and is split with all other Orthodoxy – the conflict in Ukraine with Bartholomew has shown this. Catholics and Protestants are enemies both to us and among themselves. You are going to bring this to the world? Then go to the doctor! Sort yourself out!

Purely national pragmatism – this is not about Russians. The question is “What am I going to have with this goose?” It cannot be the basis of Russia’s foreign policy. Although national interests include pragmatism, pragmatism alone is the lot of the weak, manoeuvring between the strong. Sometimes pragmatism advises giving up. But Russians, as is known, do not give up, and Russia is not always guided by pragmatism. Especially in matters of war and peace.

And this is only a small fraction of the problems that arise and are very difficult to solve.

The Russian national unifier has been an open topic for a very long time. We are not the first to face this problem. There are a lot of questions that arise due to the historical features of the formation of Russia as a state. And that is why social concepts in relation to Russia (Justice, Honour, Dignity) have a much greater potential for solidarisation than those related to religion, nationality and cultural-linguistic characteristics.

Social concepts are also controversial, but it is better to choose the lesser of two evils. The problem is that all approaches have already been tried and have shown their shortcomings at different times. And there are no ideal new ideas, and there won’t be any. It may be disappointing, but this is reality, and it is in it that we have to act and find solutions. And this is the biggest difficulty of our situation.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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