Looking West from Russia: The Eurasianist Folly

October 21, 2015 Topic: Society Tags: RussiaEurasianismEurope

Looking West from Russia: The Eurasianist Folly

Eurasianists who see Russia’s soul in raiders from the eastern steppes have always led their nation to danger and decay. Progress and prosperity have come under leaders who looked West.

Among such helpful concepts was Karl Marx’s theory of “the Asiatic mode of production,” which some of his followers would transplant to Russia. According to that theory Russia was destined to always remain a despotic, clique-ruled Asiatic society, with its very special social system based on state ownership of natural resources. This concept helped achieve the desired ideological aim: Russia, contrary to all basic historical and social parameters, was at bottom not European. A strong barrier was created that provided the fundamental, almost metaphysical separation of eternally reactionary and static Russia from eternally dynamic and progressive Europe. That theory opened up vast opportunities for the Western European Russophobic trend, and many politicians on the left and the right are still using it today. Heraclitus said: “The counterthrust brings together, and from tones at variance comes perfect harmony.” In this particular case, harmony occurred between the advocates of the “Asiatic mode of production” and the seemingly conflicting concept of Eurasianism.


CONCEIVED AS anti-Marxist, Eurasianism emerged mostly on Russian soil and was expected to explain the disaster that happened in 1917. It proceeded from the rejection of Russia’s Europeanism on ostensibly very different grounds. To a large extent this outlandish construct still fills, completely or partially, the vacuum that has developed in the proto-Marxist-Leninist minds of contemporary Russia’s half-educated establishment with the lifting of the haze of historical materialism.

The Eurasianists accepted many of the ideas of their predecessors, whose morphological understanding of Russian identity relied on the works of their predecessors, starting from Vladimir Odoyevsky, the Slavophiles and, later, Nikolai Danilevsky and Konstantin Leontiev, who caused a noticeable impact on the minds and hearts of Russia’s intellectual elite in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Vladimir Odoyevsky’s historical constructs were welcomed and developed by his contemporary Alexander Herzen. Herzen maintained that the West (to be more precise, Europe) had walked a long and glorious way, but had entered (already then!) the organic phase of disgraceful senility. Precisely for that reason, it invariably stumbles whenever it comes to doing the last historical job—translating the socialist dream into reality. Capable of this is only a new generation, the young and energetic type possessing a unique territory—the Slavdom in general and Russia in particular. Russia without Europe and, to a certain extent, against Europe.

On the whole, the Eurasianists are persistent in their efforts to collect and emphasize the elements of Russian distinctiveness and denial of historical similarities at the European and world levels. They meticulously collected the facts of Russia’s unique geographic features and of the ethnic composition of its population, stressing its kinship with the indigenous people inhabiting the Asian steppe, and keeping in sight even the aspects of race. Remarkably, priority in their studies is attached not so much to the people, as to the territory. It is this basic principle that some “place-development” concept is derived from as an absolute value. Nonlocal features are not utterly ignored, but they are always made subordinate to the local center of attraction and invariably cloaked in local garb. The reverse action of magnetism is practically ignored. The local flavor is transferred to the religious domain. Religion’s merger with territory results in the opposition of Orthodoxy to other branches of Christianity, and inside Orthodoxy itself the Eurasianists are particularly enthusiastic about proto-Orthodox religious phenomena, including various forms of paganism, which had ostensibly prepared the soil for Orthodoxy. The main antagonist of the “Russian religion” is seen not in paganism, and not even in Islam or Buddhism, but rather in Catholicism and other Christian confessions.

While the Slavophiles never claimed that Europe was alien to Russia, the Eurasianists postulate precisely that. In Eurasianist writings, one can invariably taste disgust towards Europe and emotional attraction to Asia. Eurasianists invariably get emotional and enthusiastic whenever they mention kinship, including spiritual kinship, with Asia, and both Russian and Orthodox factors get drowned in this feeling. In Soviet reality, beneath the veil of internationalism, the Eurasianists saw (in the words of Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy, a founding Eurasianist) a “spontaneous, ethnic identity and non-European, semi-Asian face of Russia-Eurasia”; they discovered “not an invented ‘Slavic’ or ‘Slavo-Varangian’ Russia, but the real Russo-Turanian Russia-Eurasia, heir to the great legacy of Genghis Khan.” In that sense the Eurasian constructs are in stark contrast with the ideas of the so-called Russian World (of course, if the term “Russian” is not applied to the Turanian peoples of the steppe), let alone of “Slavic unity.”

This transformation of the image of real Russia into that of the direct heir of the Genghis Khan’s empire is accompanied by the worship of the state, which has the “natural right” to infinite and limitless violence over an individual and any sociocultural and religious institutions. As Georges Florovsky wrote,

the Russian fate turns again into the history of the state, not only Russian, but Eurasianist, and the very essence of Russian historical existence is confined to “domesticating place-development” and to formalizing its statehood on an ever wider basis.

It is very clear that such official maximalism in combination with the rejection of European Russia and the exaggeration of its Turanian-Genghis-Khanian pseudoroots is an exact replica of propaganda products of late Stalinism. Only Stalin’s profile is missing. But profiles come and go, while the Eurasianist dreams remain. It is quite obvious that in the twenty-first century, in the age of growing interdependence, the doctrines described above are doomed. Attempts at implementing truly Genghis-Khanian plans for creating giant superstate structures, based on the territorial and ethnic “place-development” fantasies in the entire space of Eurasia, or a greater part of it, have been made more than once. They’ve all failed.

Among those attempts was the Napoleonic project to create a France-led, united Europe (incorporating a considerable part of Eurasia); Hitler’s Third Reich project that ended with the defeat of Nazism and its theories, which in some significant respects were very much reminiscent of the Eurasianist ones; and the Stalinist project of “socialist Eurasia,” which ended with the relatively peaceful collapse of the empire. There are enough reasons to postulate that the chances of Genghis Khan’s remote descendants look no better than those of his near descendants. And if the specter of Eurasianism still haunts Europe and its environs, the odds of it taking material shape are close to nought.

As for the possibility of creating a pan-European “center of power” over decades to come, I believe that speculations on that score are not utterly groundless. True, amid the Ukrainian crisis, when, according to Matthew (6:34), “today’s trouble is enough for today,” it is hard to foresee fundamental long-term trends of Europe’s future development. And yet, without forgetting the past and at the same time looking into the future, one cannot but recognize that the boldest and most successful steps in building Russia as a great and influential power were taken by Western-oriented rulers—Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander I and Alexander II. As for major isolationist projects (Nicholas I and the Stalinist version of the Soviet system), they ended either in military failures or in decay. Resumed attempts at translating into reality the dreams of global greatness with no resources beyond willpower are strategically deficient.


NO LESS faulty is the eupeptic hope that Russia may dissolve in featureless and one-dimensional globalism. Between the growing mutual dependence and the dissolution of big countries and cultures in that process, there lies at least a whole historical era. Only naive provincial neophytes and advocates of the utterly irrelevant “new political thinking” concept can ignore this.

So what do we have left? Russia is not part of some world center other than Europe. Only together with Europe could Russia form a center that deserves to be called “the center of power.”

Currently we are witnessing Europe’s attempts to shape its own long-term foreign policy proceeding from cooperation between “Old Europe” and the United States, while weakening and isolating Russia. This policy is strategically hopeless. None of Europe’s major actors, except for Britain, may like it. Such a configuration is a rudiment of the era where there were two large blocs plus the nonaligned movement, which is already a matter of history. The United States has existed all by itself all the way and it will continue this way; it finds NATO quite enough. And NATO has one voice, and the voice’s tone color is unmistakably American.

In that connection of tremendous importance was the attempt by the German and French leaders to play their own active role in settling the current Ukrainian crisis. Their visit to Moscow and further contacts in the trilateral format may have good prospects, circumstances permitting. How good the prospects will be largely depends on Russia—on our sense of proportion and diplomatic flexibility.

Russia’s skillful and competent assistance to the process of reaching an accommodation over Ukraine would create the chance to eventually turn into efforts toward a pan-European center of power on three legs: Paris, Berlin and Moscow. If the movement in this direction proceeds (though it will be a long, painful and twisted path), the problem of Ukraine’s admission to united Europe might be strongly adjusted, in terms of content and pace, to the formation of a future European “center of power” and, consequently, the creation of a united Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific.