20 years under Putin: a timeline

The Institute of Modern Russia continues the series of articles by prominent historian Alexander Yanov. The new installment focuses on the views of the third generation of Slavophiles who called for the neutralization” of Germany as part of the worldwide struggle against the Jews.


Photo by Travis Dove.


In my previous essays I promised to demonstrate that the third generation of Slavophiles was firmly confident of the idea that Russia, crushing Germany, would take its place among the superpowers on Mount Olympus. They infected their former opponents, Westerners, with this confidence as well. As you might expect, this confidence stemmed from their general perception of Russia’s role in the world, and their general vision for the world’s future. This vision reflected the features of the counter-reform regime (1881–1905) that gave birth to “the third” (let’s call the Slavophiles’ third generation “the third” for short). I have to start with these features.


“Russia Under Police Surveillance”

“Russia Under Police Surveillance” is actually the title of an article by Peter Struve, published in his magazine Osvobozhdenie (Liberation) in 1903. In it, the author summarized the outcome of the counter-reform regime in Russia as “the omnipotence of the secret police.” Can we trust an opposition member writing in a foreign magazine to deliver an accurate portrayal of conditions within Russia? As it turns out, even servants of the regime shared this diagnosis. For example, former head of the Department of Police A. A. Lopoukhin once stated: “Russia’s entire population was at the mercy of the personal opinions of the political police officials.” George Kennan, a relative of the famous diplomat, described it even more effectively. He thought of the Russian special services as “the ubiquitous regulator of human behavior, a kind of incompetent substitution for divine Providence.”

In other words, at the penultimate stage of degradation before Russia’s “national self-destruction,” the Russian autocracy became a police dictatorship. It became ideologically empty and intellectually impoverished. Is it surprising that the incarnation of Slavophilism generated by this dictatorship was like that too? Not a trace remained of its founders’ naive utopia, still flickering, as we recall, the reflected light of the Decembrist freedom. Nothing remained of the romantic impulses of the second generation—not of Dostoevsky’s Orthodox wing, nor Konstantin Leontiev’s dark Byzantine inspiration.

Instead, third-generation Slavophilism was characterized by three main postulates. The first was formulated by the famous “White General,” Michael Skobelev: “The way to Constantinople is not only through Vienna, but also through Berlin.” The second belonged to Sergey Sharapov: “The autocracy has finally acquired the look of the most freedom-loving and most desirable form of the government.” The last was based on the “discovery” of the currently popular Mikhail Menshikov, “the great patriot” and “the dynamic source of Russian thought,” in the words of our contemporary famous village prose writer Valentin Rasputin. The discovery was that “entering Aryan society, a Jew has the lowest humanity and doesn’t have human soul.”

“The third” had to renounce the whole ideological arsenal that it had received from the second generation. Their militancy, which caused the philosopher Vladimir Soloviev to refer to them as “the national Kulaks,” was over-the-top and resembled the half-mad fanfaronade of Czar Nicholas’s ideologues on the eve of the Crimean War. Here’s a sample: “Not long ago, [Konstantin] Aksakov had to fight for our distinct identity,” exclaimed Sharapov, “but what distinct identity are we talking about, if all in the West have already understood that the Russian genius will be not defending itself from Western attacks, but will instead turn everything around and conquer everything, and will bring to the world a new culture and ideals, and he will inspirit a new soul into the body of the senescent West.” But the Slavophiles’ biggest shift was something else entirely. Repeating a long-standing mistake of Ivan the Terrible, “the third” decided to ​​“turn on Germanes,” a suicidal move for Russia.


“The Turn On Germanes”

For Dostoevsky, France was the embodiment of all European evils. He predicted a bleak future for the country: “France has outlived its time, and has finally divided itself internally completely and forever... France faces the fate of Poland and will not survive politically.” As for Germany, led by Bismarck, who was “the only politician in Europe whose genius gaze penetrated the very essence of things,” all of Dostoyevsky’s sympathy was on her side: “What does Germany have to share with us? Its object, all of Western humanity! Europe’s west belongs to Germans’ destiny, and they are going to operate according to their principals instead of the Romanesque, and to continue to be its leader. And it leaves the East to Russia. The two great nations, in such a way, are destined to change the face of this world.”

At the penultimate stage of degradation before Russia’s “national self-destruction,” the Russian autocracy became a police dictatorship. It became ideologically empty and intellectually impoverished.

If this tirade reminds anyone of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, remember that it is not referring to Nazi Germany. As for the cynicism, well, the Slavophiles are the Slavophiles, and Soloviev probably had his reasons for leaving them. For us, it is important to note that Dostoevsky treated Germany in a manner that was more than friendly. Leontiev even proposed using Germany to destroy the “worst of Europe” because “the destruction of Paris will facilitate our business of culture in Czar-Grad [Constantinople].” Nikolai Danilevsky summed up such attitudes thusly: “Russia—the head of the emerging world; France—the representative of the departing world.” In all this, without exception, grandees of the second generation were united.

And suddenly Sergei Sharapov appeared, a rather young man at the end of 1880, and already the editor of The Russian Voice and the publisher of the influential Moscow Collector, and he turned all their priorities upside down: “In the coming world struggle for the Aryan race’s freedom, which is endangered as a result of an aggressive and immoral policy of Germany, the latter must be disposed of.” Agree that the turnaround is stunning. The substantiation too: “the French have already outlived their Latin civilization. [And since] the beam shines from the East, and it warms the heart, and this heart opens trustingly, so we will not meet with evil from France.”

But, Sharapov continued, “Germany is different. The child of the German-Latin world, which has no ideals other than those borrowed from the Jews, cannot help but hate a new culture, a new light of the world.” As we can see, “the neutralization” of Germany was viewed by “the third” as part of the worldwide struggle against the Jews, the head of which struggle was to become the “new light of the world.” Now you understand? “Not in the accomplished past, but in the desired future, Russia—by the common Slavophile ideas—aims to uncover the Christian truth about the land,” Sharapov maintained. From then on, it was “Russia against the Jews.”


The Face of the Future

I talk so much about Sharapov because he was the only member of “the third” who left us with an exhaustive answer to the goal I posed at the beginning of this text, a kind of program for his generation. “I wanted to give the reader a fantastic form of a practical set of Slavophile dreams, to show how it would be if Slavophiles’ views became guiding in the society,” Sharapov said. Sharapov’s utopian novel Half a Century was published in 1902 and depicted what, according to “the third,” Russia could expect after Germany had been “neutralized.”


Sergei Sharapov (left); Fyodor Dostoyevsky.


In one scene from the book, it’s 1951, and a Muscovite meets a man from the past and answers his puzzling questions:
“Is Constantinople ours?”
“Yes, it is our fourth capital.”
“Excuse me, but what are the first three?”
“The government in Kiev, the second capital is Moscow, and the third—Petersburg.”

Externally, the author complies with the Leontiev’s requirements: Constantinople is ours, and the government in Kiev also, but the meaning, the soul of Leontiev’s regulations—“to give Germany Peter’s dim window to Europe and all our useless and disgusting North-West [in exchange] for a quiet dominance in the South, which is full of a rich future and spiritual wealth”—was lost. There was no talking of converting Saint Petersburg into the “Baltic Odessa” and a simple trading port. Sharapov doesn’t care about spiritual wealth, but about territorial. In this he is eloquent beyond measure. So what are the boundaries of future Russia? According to Sharapov’s fantasy:

“Persia is our province, as are Khiva, Bukhara, and Afghanistan. The western border lies at Danzig. All of East Prussia, the Czech Republic from Moravia, past the border of Salzburg and Bavaria, falls to the Adriatic Sea. In this Russian Empire there are the Kingdom of Poland with Warsaw, Red-Gold Russia with Lvov, Austria with Vienna, Hungary with Budapest, Serbia and Croatia, Romania with Bucharest, and Bulgaria with Sofia, and Greece with Athens.”

Once upon a time, many years before Sharapov’s revelations, Leontiev predicted: “My feeling is that one day the Orthodox Czar will take in his hands the socialist movement and with the blessing of the Church will establish a socialist form of life instead of the bourgeois liberalism.” And he added for those who still did not understand: “and that socialism will be a new and harsh threefold slavery—to the community, to the Church, and to the Czar.”

Of course, for Sharapov, socialism was a taboo, it was not for him; he was not Leontiev; and Leontiev was also wrong about an “Orthodox socialist Czar.” But still, if we combine these two seemingly very different forecasts, one gets the impression that the true heir to the Russian idea was not the Orthodox, but the socialist Czar, Joseph—especially since the secret service terror was much more rigorous under Stalin than in Sharapov’s days. We will return to the discussion of this coincidence.

For now, we can only say that Sharapov was wrong on some details. He was mistaken about Constantinople and Greece, and Austria and Serbo-Croatia, too. Iran was not included in the Soviet-Slavic Empire, and when it came to Afghanistan, Russia was left with egg on its face. But the overall prediction of a giant empire that would stretch over half of Europe, and Leontiev’s anticipation that socialism would be “a new slavery”—this was true. Leontiev’s words had a completely different ideological stuffing, and they were right only for half a century, but they were justified.

What further proof do you need that Vladimir Solovyov was right, and Russia was sick? And that pre-revolutionary Slavophiles, with all their grotesqueness, guessed the nature of the disease much better then the liberals who were confident to the end that Russia was merely a belated Europe? And is there not a lesson in this for today’s Russian Europeans, seized by Putin, and ignoring the Izborsky Club’s projects?


The "Jewish Question"

Of course, according to Sharapov, in 1951, the Pan-Slavic Union was only a mask for the Russian autocracy, to be discarded as useless: “Excuse me, but this is ridiculous. Look how big Russia is and what a little appendage to it the Slavs are. Would it be fair to us, the winner and the first among all people in the world, to squat for the sake of equality with other Slavs?”

And who cares about the Slavs, when “in Moscow the excessive reproduction of the Jewish element has made the old Russian capital an entirely Jewish city?” After all, it got to the point that “the maximum percentage for Jewish students was abolished in all schools.” Even in the fantastical future, such liberal depravity terrified the author. Did Russia “neutralize” Germany, with its Jewish-borrowed ideals, to let this happen at home? Was it appropriate for “the first among all people in the world” and for “the new light of the world” to put up with the dominance of a people that “doesn’t have a human soul?”

This constant alternation of the terror regime and the liberalization regime, as we know, makes up the regular rhythm of the autocratic political process.

As we know, however, Sharapov was upset for nothing: The percentage of Jewish students was restored under Czar Joseph. And Moscow raged with hysterical campaigns against “rootless cosmopolitans” and “murderers in white,” testifying that Sharapov’s warning was heard. The socialist Czar indeed turned the Jewish question into the most critical issue facing Russia. And anyway, Moscow of 1951, you have to agree, looked more like Sharapov’s prediction than like Lenin’s vision.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, opinions differed as to what to do about that damned “question.” Sharapov proposed to the “Russian indigenous people who finally feel themselves masters of their land to boycott the Jews.” That is, to not take them any work, except for unskilled labor. Some of his associates, such as Vladimir Purishkevich, who led the Archangel Michael Union, and Nikolai Markov, the head of the Russian People Union (relying on the “the great patriot” Mikhail Menshikov’s dictum that “the people demand cleansing”), considered Sharapov’s recommendations too liberal, though. They demanded a more radical “cleansing.” For example, sending all the Jews somewhere in the Arctic Circle. According to many accounts, the socialist Czar was leaning toward this idea at the end of his days.


Rhythm of the Autocracy

As we can see, the “red devils” that seized power in Russia in October 1917 eventually turned into the “black devils.” The fact that all utopias, sooner or later, degenerate has been known for a long time. But the fact that they degenerate into their opposite has taught us the only Russian history of the twentieth century. Still, Sharapov did not understand this. He learned Russia’s history from Karamzin, not from Kliuchevskii; the reign of terror that gave rise to utopia, and to the campaign against rootless cosmopolitans “half a century” later, was not only transient—it was replaced with a regime of liberalization.

It was crushed by a giant, nationwide strike, by the constitution that the Slavophiles hated, and by “the thaw” and the rehabilitation of the terror victims. Moreover, this constant alternation of the terror regime and the liberalization regime, as we know, makes up the regular rhythm of the autocratic political process. And that’s why this rhythm worked, of course, not only during Sharapov’s life, but also after the death of Czar Joseph. As it has always worked throughout Russian history.

Let’s recall, for example, what happened in 1801 after Paul I “wanted,” in Karamzin’s words, “to become John IV and began to dominate through universal horror, thinking of us not as citizens but as slaves, [who could be] executed without fault, inventing new methods to terrify people every day.” Hadn’t then the regime of terror been replaced with “the perfect start of the Alexander days?” Hadn’t Nicholas I’s terror been changed by Alexander II’s Great Reform of the country’s “de-Nikolaization,” so to speak?

And didn’t the autocracy continue to function after the triumph of “the peasant kingdom” in 1917? Recall at least the unexpected change of “the red terror” and the transition from War Communism to the New Economic Policy in 1920, or the de-Stalinization in the middle of the twentieth century, or, finally, the restructuring or perestroika at the end of the millennium. And, after all, can we trust Alexandr Solzhenitsyn that “the Soviet development [was] not a Russian continuation, but its perversion in a completely new, unnatural way”? This development happened in a very natural way for the autocracy.

If Solzhenitsyn was right on something, it was in that the First World War interrupted the process of the next regime’s liberalization. We do not know how this liberalization might have ended were it not for the war. But we know that the war brought the country to a national disaster. On this—whether Russia could have avoided this terrible war, and the disaster—we will talk in the next essay.