This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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An Obscure Philosopher
Back in 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin ensured that the remains of the Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin were transported from Switzerland and reburied in Russia, on the territory of the prestigious Donskoi Monastery cemetery in Moscow. The gravestone was installed with Putin’s personal money. A year later, the philosopher’s archive was purchased from the University of Michigan for 40 thousand dollars and relocated to Russia. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Putin has constantly been using Ilyin’s philosophical ideas in his speeches
But why is Putin paying so much attention to this philosopher who is otherwise unknown to the West?
Ivan Ilyin was a professor at Moscow University, who was arrested by the Bolsheviks (Russian Communists) six times and eventually sentenced to death in 1922 for anti-Communist activities but was instead expelled from Russia. Ilyin settled in Germany, and in 1923, together with other intellectuals expelled from Russia, founded the Russian Scientific Institute. It was there that he became the ideologue of the “White Knight’s Movement” (or simply White Movement) of Russian monarchists; the philosophical foundation on which Putin’s worldview rests. (The political coloring scheme was pretty much traditional back then – “red” for Communists and “white” for Monarchists.)
There is nothing reprehensible in this, except for one thing – Ilyin considered Fascism and National Socialism as special cases of the monarchist White Movement. But, no, Ilyin never was a fierce supporter of Italian Fascism or German National Socialism – all his life he had been a preacher of Russian Orthodox Christian Fascism only.
The Confusion over Fascism
At that same time, Ilyin made a serious blunder, having accepted the external attributes of Fascism for Fascism itself. He did not understand that Fascism, created under the leadership of the prominent Socialist Mussolini, belongs to the same Left ideology as Socialism and Bolshevism. It was Mussolini who built in Italy true “National Socialism,” in contrast to the Third Reich, where in fact “Aryan Socialism” (sometimes also called “Racial Socialism”) was created. Mussolini, as it is known, was furious at the fact that the NSDAP (National Socialist Workers Party of Germany, or simply Nazi) appropriated the term “National Socialism,” which, strictly speaking, does not apply to it.
Monarchism, like many other -isms, can be either Right or Left. As both Right totalitarianism and Left totalitarianism exist. Or right anti-Semitism and left anti-Semitism. Or Right and Left nationalism (although the use of the term “nationalism” outside of Germany, most likely, is incorrect). All these -isms are not separate ideologies; they are external, secondary attributes of one or another underlying ideology. Of course, humanity has already accumulated enough statistics to notice that totalitarianism and anti-Semitism are more inherent in the Left movements, and monarchism is mostly on the Right. But this is only statistically; such statistics say nothing about the dynamics of the ideologies themselves.
The Post-Ideological Ideology
Putin has repeated the same mistake as Ilyin; however, he did it not in the ideological, but in the political sphere.
Putin has accepted the external attributes of Ilyin’s White Movement for an ideology that could lead Russia to success. At the same time, Putin, like Ilyin, is trying to combine the incompatible, even though the fundamental ideology of the White Movement is not clearly defined.
As the apologist for the White Movement, Ilyin himself hesitated in determining which part of the political spectrum this movement should be positioned: on the Left or the Right. Ilyin has made many attempts to avoid the need for such a definition; in essence, he tried to create a “post-ideological” ideology.
In an article in 1928, “On Russian Fascism,” he first proposed the idea of a post-ideological social movement, “into where the political party spirit does not penetrate.” In the same article, Ilyin asks a rhetorical question: “When will we realize that there is no salvation in borrowing at all – for it does not matter whether democracy is adopted or fascism?” (Here Ilyin correctly distinguishes the difference between democracy and fascism). Ilyin argues that the White Movement “…is already on its way and must continue to follow the paths of independent creativity.” This “independent creativity” of Russian fascists in exile led to a very controversial idea of uniting Left-wing, Fascist ideas of organizing society and Right-wing Capitalist ideas for the main goal of monarchists – the restoration of the Romanov dynasty. According to historian James Pool, it was wealthy Russian immigrants in Germany who were more anti-communist and more anti-Semitic that Hitler himself, and who provided crucial financial support for the Nazis in their early years.
Thus, this movement is mistakenly defined by Ilyin as Left monarchism, ideologically close to Italian Fascism, but at the same time having arisen before it and, therefore, is its ideological forerunner. Ilyin admits the previously mentioned unforgivable error – he accepts the attributes of Fascism for Fascism in itself and does not see its Left, Socialist essence. But he was glad to be deceived because he – like many other anti-Communists – saw allies in any movement that opposes the Bolsheviks, Communists or Social Democrats in the fight against the Bolsheviks, who carried out a coup d’état in Russia in 1917.
Ilyin was unaware that the struggle of the Italian Fascists against the Italian Communists is not a struggle of opposites, but an irreconcilable intraspecific struggle. The same can be said about the bloody clashes in prewar Germany of the National Socialists with Communists and the Social Democrats. Later on, after the Second World War, in the 1948 article “On Fascism,” Ilyin complains that “Fascism had made several deep and serious mistakes that determined its political and historical physiognomy and gave the very name its odious tint, which does not get tired to be emphasized by its enemies. Therefore, for future social and political movements of this kind, it is necessary to choose another name.” (Note that the Fascist organization Antifa, sponsored by the Democrat Party of the United States, follow this advice).
Ilyin wanted to defeat Left totalitarianism in Soviet Russia with the hands of the Fascist “chevaliers.” But Left-wing totalitarianism – into which both Italian Fascism and the National Socialism of the Third Reich quickly and naturally transformed – was not capable of destroying the existential platform common to all other Left ideologies. Ilyin, even in 1948, contemporary to these events, was still in the thrall of illusions when he asserted that Fascism “arose as a reaction to Bolshevism, as a concentration of state-protective forces to the Right.” Thus, Ilyin supported the post-war myth of the Frankfurt school of Marxism that Fascism and National Socialism are Right-wing movements.
The slide of leftist ideologies into Left-wing totalitarianism, as it appears at present, is an inevitable consequence and a natural result of all Left-wing regimes. There are no exceptions to this rule. Beginning with the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century and ending with Venezuela of the 21st century, all Leftist regimes have evolved towards totalitarianism. (It is interesting to note that the French Revolution happened at about the same time and for about the same reasons as the American Revolution, but if France chose the Left path of development, then America chose the Right one; the end result of these two revolutions speaks for itself).
The Unrepentant Fascist
In the article “National Socialism. New spirit. I” (part II was never written), published just four months after Hitler came to power, Ilyin praises the Nazis and welcomes the “legal self-destruction of the Democratic-parliamentary system” in Germany. He emphasizes that Germany “managed to break the democratic impasse, without violating the constitution.” For Ilyin, the main thing was that in Germany, “everything that is involved in Marxism, social democracy and Communism is being removed.”
The tragedy of Ilyin was that until the end of his life, he did not understand that fascism and national socialism are close ideological relatives of both Marxism, Communism, and social democracy.
Ilyin eloquently writes that the seizure of power by the National Socialists is “a coup not of disintegration, but concentration; not destruction, but conversion; not violently lax, but powerfully disciplined and organized; not immense, but dosed. And what is most remarkable is that it causes loyal obedience in all sections of the people.” It is this direction of development of modern Russia that Putin chose for himself, who sees Russia as “powerfully disciplined” and “causing loyal obedience in all sections of the people”; at the same time, all his actions are formally carried out, according to Ilyin, “without violating the constitution.”
Ilyin himself felt the speed with which German National Socialism was evolving. Hitler came to power in January 1933, and in October of the same year, the Russian Scientific Institute came under the subordination of the Goebbels Ministry of Propaganda. In July of 1934, Ilyin was dismissed from the institute, of which he was one of the founders (it is known that in March 1934 Ilyin refused to cooperate directly with the Nazis, although he supported them a year ago, hoping for their effectiveness in the fight against the Soviet Communists).
In 1938, the world-famous Russian composer Rachmaninoff saved Ilyin from an inevitable concentration camp imprisonment by paying 4,000 Swiss francs of collateral (about $70,000 today), and Ilyin was given the opportunity not only to leave for Switzerland but stay there to live without fear of being expelled back to the Third Reich. Note that Rachmaninoff earlier, in 1923, saved another compatriot living in exile, Igor Sikorsky, by writing him a check for $5,000 (75,000 dollars today). That is how Sikorsky’s successful aircraft manufacturing company began in America.
What Will End Putin’s Enthusiasm for the Ersatz-Fascism?
So ended for Ilyin the passion he felt for Germany’s version of Fascism. What will end Putin’s enthusiasm for Ilyin? A former nuclear superpower, trying to build Capitalism with the help of totalitarian Socialist methods (and the current top power echelon of Russia simply does not know any other methods), is doomed to failure.
This conclusion is not based on Putin’s political mistakes, but his adherence to Ilyin’s controversial and pseudoscientific post-ideology. Putin’s political mistakes are simply a consequence of his post-ideological foundation. Just as Ilyin himself was willing to cooperate with anyone, even the devil himself, to inflict political defeat on Soviet communists, Putin decided to take advantage of Ilyin’s ideas about the White Movement to achieve his political goals.
What are these goals? Restore the USSR? Recovery of the Warsaw Pact? No, Putin does not want to repeat the past and be satisfied with the achievements of his predecessors.
The goal of Putin, like Stalin, is world domination.
It is precisely the world domination that is Putin’s, the creator of the Orthodox-KGB Caliphate in Russia, true motivation.
This nano-knight of the White Movement from the St. Petersburg slum, who unexpectedly catapulted to the Russian presidency, sees himself as the World Sovereign. Capturing parts of Georgia, parts of Ukraine, parts of Moldova, and parts of Syria is not just an “attempt to restore the USSR.” It was a dress rehearsal before attempting to seize world domination. It is for this purpose that Putin created (in the image and likeness of the Axis countries of Third Reich-Italy-Japan during the Second World War) the anti-American Axis of Russia-Syria-Iran-North Korea.
By the way, Ilyin had always put the word “Ukraine” in quotes, because he considered this country an integral territory of Russia, and his post-Soviet vision of Russia includes Ukraine as an organic part of Russia. The annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea peninsula by Russia in 2014 is a direct logical continuation of Ilyin’s worldview. Attempts by Russia to fully occupy the post-Soviet space will not cease as long as Russia’s leaders are supporters of Christian Orthodox Fascism.
Russia: Fulfilling Ideas of Post-Ideological Fascism
Putin punctually fulfills all the other points of Ilyin’s post-ideological program, including his (post-war) criticism of Fascism.
A truly Russian intellectual, Ilyin was sharply negative about anti-Semitism both in Russia and in the Third Reich. Putin, attracting Jewish oligarchs to power, managed, if not to eradicate, substantially suppress manifestations of state anti-Semitism in such a traditionally anti-Semitic country as Russia.
Criticizing Fascism, Ilyin also complains about the lack of spirituality of the Third Reich and the Nazi hostility towards Christianity. Putin also corrected this mistake by elevating the role of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ilyin was disappointed that the Nazi Party established a party monopoly in the Third Reich. Putin took this into account too – in modern Russia, there are many parties (although not a single party is in opposition to the Kremlin). At the same time, Putin follows a direct order from Ilyin that political parties in post-Soviet Russia should not act as an independent political force; they should simply exist to ritualize the elections.
Finally, Ilyin criticizes fascism for creating a totalitarian system; he argues that fascism should be limited only to “authoritarian dictatorship,” capable of “giving religion, the press, science, art, economy and non-Communist parties freedom of judgment and creativity to the extent of their political loyalty.” Putin took this recommendation into account – freedom of speech for journalists and citizens in modern Russia exists, but only “to the extent of their political loyalty” to an authoritarian dictatorship.
Putin’s problem is that he is building in Russia Right-by-definition Capitalism with the help of Left-by-definition ideology.
Such an approach guarantees the instability of Russian society and its inevitable collapse. Europe, for the most part, relies on the same convoluted theses as Putin’s Russia – Right-wing Capitalism and Left-wing ideology. Therefore, Europe so favors Putin, and so hates Israel, who has abandoned the left ideology, and America, which stubbornly refuses to accept Socialist ideas.
Nor is Putin missing many of Ilyin’s recommendations on working with Russian-speaking immigrants outside of Russia. Back in the time of Ilyin, this was an acute problem, and now, when about 30 million Russian-speaking citizens from the USSR are living outside of Russia, the ideological and propaganda treatment of this multi-million contingent in the spirit of Ilyin is considered by Putin to be a very high priority.
Russia: Saving the World not From Fascism, but With Fascism
Historian Timothy Snyder aptly noted that Ilyin’s view was that “Russia would save the world not from but with Fascism.”
Putin, not understanding the illogicality and inconsistency of Ilyin’s post-ideology, meticulously follows his teachings, and is introducing in Russia the external attributes of one of the bloodiest varieties of the Left ideology. He is trying to marry the militant atheism of German National Socialism with militant Christian Orthodoxy. This explosive mixture of contradictions hangs over Russia, like Chekhov’s textbook gun, which must fire. And it will.