Russian nationalism through the eyes of an Indian nationalist – 1
by Radha Rajan on 28 Nov 2018 5 Comments

Solzhenitsyn and Russian nationalism


It is generally accepted now that Russia lost one-third of its people within the first three decades of communism; and this included the best among its thinkers, writers and political opponents - “in a rich, flourishing country, before the extermination of millions of our people, an extermination, moreover, that was no blind mass killing, but rather involved a specific targeting of the best that Russia had produced”. (Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia, page 10)


Excluding those that died in the Great Patriotic War against Hitler’s Germany, people who died in anonymity under the communist executioner’s guillotine during the October Revolution in 1917 and later in the Gulag and those that disappeared at nights were the stubborn resisters to Lenin, Stalin, communism and Stalinism. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Boris Pasternak, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Tilak, Aurobindo, Subramania Bharati and Savarkar are names which leap to the mind when we think of political writers and commentators who faced repression and persecution from despotic regimes - Stalinist Russia and British colonial India.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s extraordinary courage to speak the truth even under the most trying circumstances deserves special mention because not only did he speak bluntly about life in prison in Soviet Russia and his forced exile, he spoke in the US where he lived for twenty years between 1974 and 1994 as political refugee just as bluntly about western values, polity and society. Solzhenitsyn was as critical of what America and Europe represented in the twentieth century as he was of the Soviet Union and Stalinist repression.[i]


Solzhenitsyn’s courage and non-negotiable right of a nationalist to freedom of thought and expression is in marked contrast to Indians who continue to migrate to the US thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the Atlantic. Solzhenitsyn’s proud and repeated assertion of Russian nationalism and his Eastern Orthodox Christian identity even when he was in the US, enraged a section of the American political and academic establishment which had hoped Solzhenitsyn would enter into a Mephistophelian deal to sell his Russian soul to the country which gave him political asylum.


The US would have liked nothing better than to hold up Solzhenitsyn as a prized Russian convert to the American way of life; that would indeed have been a grand cold-war coup. It didn’t quite happen that way though. Solzhenitsyn not only clung to his Russian Nationalist and Eastern Orthodox Christian identity with pride and determination during his exile, but at the first available moment after the calculated and contrived disintegration of the Soviet Union, returned to his nation in 1994. His children however chose to stay behind in the US; a story not very different from that of non-resident and now PIO Indian families who opted for American and European citizenship.


Even before the debris from the shattered communist edifice had begun to come crashing down, Solzhenitsyn, still in political exile in the US, applied himself to the task of drawing a blueprint for re-building post-communist Russia. Kak nam obustroit Rossiyu (Rebuilding Russia), completed in July 1990 is a heroic attempt by a proud nationalist to give shape to his dreams for rebuilding the Russian nation. Solzhenitsyn dealt with issues as complex and critical as the territory of the nation, its moral rejuvenation, its economy, its political structures, its society; issues of governance and administration, schools and institutes of higher education, agriculture and the peasantry, environment, ecology, democracy and elections.


Solzhenitsyn did not pretend to play infallible prophet. He diagnosed the state of the nation and her people; he suggested the direction in which he thought the nation should move. Solzhenitsyn, while making it clear that he was not an expert on economics and that he did not have answers to every problem plaguing the nation, however made it just as clear that he did not subscribe to the escapist “west is best” formula for reconstruction - neither the western model of economy nor western popular or “pop culture”.


The Iron Curtain of yesterday gave our country superb protection against all the positive features of the West: against the West’s civil liberties, its respect for the individual, its freedom of personal activity, its high level of general welfare, its spontaneous charitable movements. But the curtain did not reach all the way to the bottom, permitting the continuous seepage of liquid manure - the self-indulgent and squalid “popular mass culture”, the utterly vulgar fashions, and the by-products of immoderate publicity - all of which our deprived young people have greedily absorbed.


Western youth run wild from a feeling of surfeit, while ours mindlessly ape these antics despite their poverty. And today’s television obligingly distributes these streams of filth throughout the land. To object to any of this is considered hopeless conservatism. But it is instructive to note the voices of alarm that have been raised in Israel about a similar phenomenon: “The Hebrew cultural revolution did not take place in order to make our country capitulate to American cultural imperialism and its by-products - western intellectual trash”. (Rebuilding Russia, pp 44-45, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1991)


It likewise seems clear that the price of withdrawing from communism should not be an inequitable sell-off of our mineral resources, our land, and especially our forests to foreign capitalists. It is a dangerous idea to attempt to salvage by means of foreign capital what has been destroyed by our internal disarray. Investments will flow into our country whenever high margins of profit will be anticipated. But western capital must not be lured in on terms that are advantageous to it but humiliating to us, in a come-and-rule-over-us style. There would be no rectifying this later, and we would turn into a colony.


Foreign investment must be permitted on the strict condition that the economic stimulation it introduces will be exceeded neither by the profits exported nor by the damage to the natural environment. These conditions will also spur native industry to approach the quality level of developed countries.


And although we may not soon reach the stage where our products have an appeal on the international market, it is also true that for a country of our size and wealth it is possible to manage with the domestic market alone for a considerable time. (Rebuilding Russia, pp38-39)

 It is a mind-boggling thought that Solzhenitsyn wrote about the dangers of foreign capital in 1990, just before the Bretton Woods nations conjured up a new wave of imperial/colonial economic exploitation of Asia, Africa and South America in the name of globalization. With great foresight and vision Solzhenitsyn wrote this even before former colonial powers would use the IMF to try and force proud nations, including Indonesia, Russia and South Korea, and nationalist leaders, including Suharto, Saddam Hussein and Mahatir Mohammad to their knees in supplication. That the IMF failed to entrap Malaysia and India is another story. Reading Solzhenitsyn is like reading Aurobindo’s pre-1910 political writings - blunt, visionary and unsparing in their analysis of the state of the nations’ polity, society and economy.

We have to wonder if the collapse of the Soviet Union and consequently of communism in Eastern Europe, Globalization driven by monstrous capital and the gargantuan market, the new political assertiveness around the world of the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, the increasingly intrusive role of the UN in the internal affairs of certain countries, America’s aggressive invasion of Iraq and setting up military bases in Gulf nations, were all not calculatedly inter-linked to serve the renewed American/White Christian, Trade-and-Church world-conquering mission.


Seventy-five years of communism and ten years of Boris Yeltsin may have destroyed much of Russia and her people - the nation’s soul, her religion, her churches, her family, her children, her lands, forests and her peasantry; the ever-drunk Yeltsin and his frequent public display of conduct unbecoming of a head-of-state which was until recently a super-power, most certainly affronted national dignity, but nothing could break the indomitable spirit of the Russian people. It was this fierce sense of national pride which drove Vladimir Putin, first as President, then as Prime Minister and now again as President of Russia to steer his country from out of the morass of alternating bouts of stagnation and chaos caused by communism and Yeltsin.


Even Solzhenitsyn was forced to concede, albeit despairingly and by implication only, that national pride was a great and in fact the only driving force which could lift a sinking nation up by its boot-straps.


Human beings are so constituted that we can put up with such ruination and madness even when they last a lifetime, but God forbid that anyone should dare to offend or slight our nationality! Should that occur, nothing can restrain us in our state of chronic submission: with furious courage we snatch up stones, clubs, spears, and guns and fall upon our neighbours, intent on murder and arson. Such is man: nothing has the capacity to convince us that our hunger, our poverty, our early deaths and the degeneration of our children - that any of these misfortunes can take precedence over national pride. (Rebuilding Russia, page 5)

(To be continued…)


The author is a political thinker and author three books: NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds (Ed. with Dr. Krishen Kak); Eclipse of the Hindu Nation; and Jammu and Kashmir: Dilemma of Accession.  

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