Russian Nationalism through the eyes of an Indian nationalist – III
by Radha Rajan on 30 Nov 2018 10 Comments

Solzhenitsyn, nationalism sans geopolitics


America and Europe did not expect Putin’s Russia to rise up from the ashes of the Soviet Union; a Russia that looked increasingly like her old self – not only putting the steel of national pride and resolve back in the spines of her people but also asserting herself in world affairs. This Russia did by surmounting a self-inflicted suicidal handicap of loss of national territory; and because Vladimir Putin realized not only the merits of Rebuilding Russia but also its gross errors in judgment and set himself to the task of regaining Russia’s sphere of influence in the former Soviet republics.


While it is true that Rebuilding Russia gave the floundering nation a sense of purpose and set realistic goals for national resurgence, Solzhenitsyn played right into the hands of America and Europe when he advocated the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. Russia was Imperial Russia from the days of Peter the Great and the Russian Empire at its peak was second only to the Mongol Empire and in history only the third largest empire after the British and Mongol empires. Unlike the British ‘Empire’, the Russian Empire was one vast expanse of contiguous territory. From the reign of Peter the Great (1672-1725) until the reign of Alexander III (1818-1894), father of the last Tsar Nicholas II, the small Muscovite duchy extended east and west, north and south until it included much of Central Europe and Central Asia.


After 1917, the Russian republic was the seat of Soviet power and a thinker of Solzhenitsyn’s mettle should have known that rebuilding this shattered nation not only entailed rebuilding the nation internally but also restoring her former status in international politics. In 1990, when he wrote Rebuilding Russia, it would appear that even after living in the US for twenty years, Solzhenitsyn did not understand that size mattered if a country had to be a force to be reckoned with in geopolitics; he also did not understand that in geopolitics, a nation never surrenders any asset which its adversary continues to possess in any measure.

Kautilya defined nation or rashtra as being both the territory and the people belonging to that territory. This means the real and only wealth of a nation is her territory and her people; all other wealth and well-being derive from here. Solzhenitsyn may not have had the benefit of Kautilya’s wisdom, but having known two super power nations from close quarters it is baffling why he advocated dismemberment of the Soviet Union when the US not only retained all its territory but was aggressively expanding its sphere of influence across continents.

Solzhenitsyn’s answer to this baffling question is contained in Rebuilding Russia and reveals that he may have been a nationalist but he had no sense of geopolitics; and in the times when he wrote his essay, the internal affairs of any country was closely linked to geopolitics, specifically super-power determined geopolitics. When Solzhenitsyn made the horrendous mistake of asking for the disintegration of the Soviet Union, he was asking for a unipolar world with America constituting the only and as would soon be realized, megalomaniac pole. We are forced to conclude that Solzhenitsyn either had no sense of geopolitics or did not want to do geopolitics.


Peoples of non-Abrahamic religions and civilizations understand ‘nation’ differently from those professing the Abrahamic faiths. While Hindus describe their nation in terms of what unites people through commonly shared beliefs, values, and worldview determined by the unique concept of Dharma, peoples of Abrahamic faiths fragment themselves on the basis of how minutely they differ from each other. And that is why separatism and secessionism are inherent to Christians and Muslims and that is why the US and the Vatican conspired together to dismember the Soviet Union and the communist eastern bloc.


Any ancient and deeply rooted, autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth’s surface, constitutes an autonomous world” is Solzhenitsyn’s definition for what constitutes a nation; by this definition Russia was a nation, he told his audience in Harvard. But Huntington went far beyond Solzhenitsyn in his essay on the clash of civilizations and placed Russia within the larger context called ‘Orthodox’ – nations whose people belonged to the Eastern Orthodox Church.


Solzhenitsyn described the basis of Russian nationhood as being Slavic and Orthodox. The communist bloc comprised the Soviet Union, China, and countries of Eastern Europe and Asia. While East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia were placed in the Russian orbit by virtue of their being, in the main, Slavic people, North Korea and Vietnam were placed in the Chinese sphere of influence, again by virtue of racial and civilisational kinship.


Slavs constitute the largest ethnic and linguistic group in Europe and are broadly categorized as the eastern Slavs (Russian, Ukrainian and Belorusssian), western Slavs (Czech, Slovak, Slovene and Lusatian and other small groups in East Germany) and ‘Yugo’ or southern Slavs – Serbs, Croats, Bulgars, Bosniaks, Montenegrins and Macedonians. As mentioned, people of Abrahamic faiths have zero tolerance to differences or the ‘other’ and the Slavic people, like other ethnic linguistic groups in Europe fragmented themselves further on the basis of religion, language and culture.


The Slavic people’s religion and culture may be categorized in two broad groups - that which was derived from the Catholic Church and that from the Eastern Orthodox Church. The intra-Christian religious/cultural divide is further heightened by the difference in script: eastern orthodox countries use the Cyrillic (an adaptation of the Greek script), named after the two brothers Cyrill and Methodius from Thessaloniki (Greece) who brought Christianity to the Slavic people; the Catholic countries use the Roman script.


America, European Union and the Vatican were the only winners when the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated. From the debris of these two nations arose new Catholic nation-states - Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. The mighty Soviet Union, successor to Imperial Russia, had ceased to be and the world was left to confront an ascendant, belligerent and now unchallenged bully trio - America-NATO, Europe-EU and the Vatican-WCC dichotomies.


They were all Slavs, they were all Christians – Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Slovenes, Ukranians and Belorussians; and yet, the US and the Vatican and even Solzhenitsyn did not see them as one people; the US and the Vatican because their intent was diabolical while Solzhenitsyn was trapped in the mindset caused by his suffering in the Gulag. New countries were created from old-denominational countries, language countries and countries like Kyrgyzstan which like Pakistan was just so much territory, important only for its geographic positioning as watch tower overlooking China.


After all, how were Russians, Ukranians and Belorussians different from each other, how were Serbs different from Croats, Czech from Slovaks or both from Slovenes? The idea behind disintegrating these two countries was simply to move the fragments within the orbit of the Vatican, NATO, EU and WTO. In short, tear them apart for the vultures to prey upon. While America inherited the world, Europe picked up the rubble from the debris.


Solzhenitsyn’s brilliant essay may have been titled Rebuilding Russia, but it suffered from his partial vision. Having lived in the US for twenty years, Solzhenitsyn experienced both the virtues and evils of western polity and culture. When communism ended, and with it the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn was afraid that Russia would be overrun by Europe and Americanism and that is why he cautioned Russia’s leaders and people against seeking the easy way of west-is-best for rebuilding the country.

It is here that one confronts Solzhenitsyn’s existential dilemma - was Russia just another European entity or was she different? Solzhenitsyn asserted that Russia was not just any other western country but had a distinct identity of her own, a racial and religious identity: Slavic and Orthodox. He was not the first to define Russia thus. Tsar Nicholas I and later Tsar Alexander III and thinkers like Kropotkin and Bakunin all described Russia as Slavic and Eastern Orthodox. The idea being - they were a distinct race and they had a distinct religion. They all, including Solzhenitsyn, saw Russia as European and within Europe, as a distinct nation. But this is simply not true; even if one did not include the Ukraine and Belarus, less than one-third of Russia is on the European side. Divided neatly by the Ural mountain range, most of Russia is in Asia.


The Imperial Russian Empire extended as deeply into Central Asia as it did into Central Europe and so, at least from the time of Peter the Great, the peoples of Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have shared common history. More pertinently, the ruling Russian Slavic race has no documented history prior to the advent of Christianity into the region in the 9th century. ‘Russian’ has historically included the ‘Great Russians’, the ‘Little Russians’ as Ukranians are affectionately known and Belorussians. Imperial Russia was the huge tree that grew from the seed that was Muscovite Duchy while Moscow was born from the womb of Kiev.


The history of Russia is no different from the history of any Muslim and Christian kingdom and its people; history has always been the story of conquest of territories not their own and after subjugation of the native peoples, the conquest was completed with imposition of the victor’s religion and culture upon the subject nation. This fact, that Abrahamic empires were not an organic whole but artificial constructs comprising alien entities will have to be kept in mind when critiquing Solzhenitsyn’s prescription of jettisoning territory as being the first step in restructuring Russia.


Hindu empires were civilisationally different in character because even empires and emperors were subordinate to and subject to Dharma

Great emperors or Chakravartins brought large parts of this land under their empire; India has experienced Golden Rule under each of these great emperors, a testimony to the deep sense of nationhood in the people of this bhumi. The vijigisu (world conqueror) and the Chakravartin ruling over his mighty empire could effortlessly maintain social stability and harmony only because of this sense of nationhood derived from adherence to sanatana dharma.

The seat of empire has historically moved from the North, to the East, to the West, to the South, and the people of these regions, under different Emperors, have experienced a shared sense of belonging to a nation under the Chandelas, Senas, Palas, Mauryas, Guptas, Marathas, Cholas and Pandyas.


These mighty empires and dynasties welded the people of this bhumi into an organised state only because the people had a sense of common nationhood and, more importantly, the rulers were part of the nation and derived their legitimacy to rule not only because they belonged to the nation they ruled, but also because they subscribed to the civilisational principles and values that defined the sense of nationhood of the people they ruled. (Dr. MD Srinivas, Center for Policy Studies, Chennai)


Solzhenitsyn advocated disintegration of the Soviet Union for the following reasons -

-         Quoting political thinker Sergei Kryzhanovsky, Solzhenitsyn called for jettisoning the Central Asian, Baltic and trans-Caucasian republics on the ground that “the Russian heartland does not possess the reserves of cultural and moral strength necessary to assimilate the peripheries. That [effort] weakens the Russian national core.

-         Today’s Kryzhanovsky’s words are a thousand times more valid: We don’t have the strength for sustaining an empire - and it is just as well. Let this burden fall from our shoulders: it is crushing us, sapping our energy, and hastening our demise.

-         The time has come for an uncompromising choice between an empire of which we ourselves are the primary victims and the spiritual and physical salvation of our own people.

-         Holding on to a great empire means to contribute to the extinction of our own people. And anyway, what need is there of this heterogeneous amalgam? Do we want Russians to lose their unique characteristics? We must strive, not for the expansion of the state, but for clarity of what remains of our spirit. By separating off twelve republics, by this seeming sacrifice, Russia will in fact free itself for a precious inner development, at long last turning diligent attention toward itself.

-         The twentieth century Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin has written that the spiritual life of a nation is more important than the size of its territory or even its economic prosperity; the health and happiness of the people is of incomparably greater value than any external goal based on prestige.


One does not have to amputate one’s limbs to become spiritual or religious. Solzhenitsyn’s condition after release from the Gulag is stunningly similar to Aurobindo’s after he was released from prison on May 6, 1909. Both Aurobindo and Solzhenitsyn turned to religion and spirituality to strengthen them for the ordeal of prison life. But after they were released from prison, both turned away from public life, both became recluses and both privileged religion and spirituality over polity and economy not only in their private lives but also offered it as prescription for national life.

There could be another explanation for Solzhenitsyn’s prescription that Russia must cease to aspire for super power status if she had to generate the energy to heal and re-discover her national identity. This explanation may not be as farfetched as it seems. Solzhenitsyn lived in the US during the Reagan years and it was in March 1983 that the Reagan administration fabricated the military fantasy called the Strategic Defence Initiative or Star Wars, a fantasy which not surprisingly was given up when its objective was met.

One insidious and persistent rumour had it that Reagan and Thatcher cooked up the fantastic missile-shield defence programme only to push the Soviet Union into a financially crippling arms race. The thought may have been planted in Solzhenitsyn’s mind then that the Soviet Union must cease to be if Russia had to live. And when Gorbachev begged to be invited to the 17th G-7 meeting in London in July 1991 and when the G-7 nations refused Gorbachev’s plea for more western economic support for his country, Reagan’s diabolic SDI objective had been met. The Soviet Union disintegrated soon after just as the member countries of G-7 had plotted and hoped for.


Solzhenitsyn should have looked at India to know that surrendering territory is not the answer to any problem; even after surrendering territory Hindus have not summoned the will to deal ruthlessly with Hinduism’s adversaries nor realized the need to have a self-conscious Hindu state as the ultimate protector of Hindus and Hindu dharma. Solzhenitsyn’s nationalism was trapped within the Cold War political idiom. He wrote Rebuilding Russia in 1990 and had he not been a recluse and had he observed international affairs closely, he would have realized that no American political thinker or philosopher, no Chinese thinker or philosopher would write about dismembering their countries as solution to any problem.


The Soviet Union was not a 20th century artificial entity. The Soviet Union and communist eastern bloc or Eastern Europe resembled the Imperial Russian Empire and except for minor differences, Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union together with the eastern communist bloc were almost congruent. When Solzhenitsyn called for giving up territory he failed to factor in the fact that the small and humble Muscovite duchy became Imperial Russia because her borders had to be pushed to expand until they reached natural defence barriers against invasions - mountains and oceans to the west, east and the south.

When Stalin mobilized his countrymen to dig their feet in until Hitler’s Nazis died from the cold, he was doing what Imperial Russia during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I did to Napoleon in 1812. National pride and national resolve even in Stalin’s Russia was the same as it was during the time of Nicholas I. Solzhenitsyn failed to gauge the depth and power of national pride to overcome adversities. Solzhenitsyn, like Aurobindo between 1893 and 1909 could have kindled the fire of national pride and resolve to protect the territorial integrity of his nation; instead he played right into the hands of the US and EU when he called for Russia to sacrifice the empire in favour of spirituality.


Russia had to wait ten long years for a Chandragupta to emerge in the person of Vladimir Putin. Putin heeded Solzhenitsyn’s advice to re-assert Russia’s Slavic and Orthodox identity. But he learnt lessons from Kautilya too. He knew better than Solzhenitsyn that no nation gives up territory and survives; he also knew that an emperor not only ruled directly over conquered territory, but that as emperor he also had to expand his sphere of influence.

Putin’s Russia is slowly but surely beginning to look like Imperial Russia of yore. Putin has reversed every one of the made-in-America coloured revolutions in Central Asia and in the trans-Caucasian republics intended to isolate Russia physically and deny her access to energy sources and territory for pipelines to transport oil and gas. The US wants a uni-polar world and multi-polar Asia while China wants a uni-polar Asia and multi-polar world. It remains to be seen what Hindu India and Putin’s Russia want and whether they have the political resolve to realize that objective.


(To be continued …)


[For a better understanding of Russia’s continuing American travails, read: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s speech at the UN


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. 

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top