Solzhenitsyn and the Russian Question
From the desk of John Laughland on Sat, 2008-08-09 06:55
The death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn produced predictable reactions from Western commentators. Yes, they said, he was a moral giant for so bravely exposing the evils of the Soviet penitential system in The GULag Archipelago; but he later compromised his moral stature by failing to like the West and by becoming a Russian nationalist.
A perfect example of this reasoning was Anne Applebaum’s piece in The Guardian. Herself the author of a history of the GULag, she wrote,
In later years, Solzhenitsyn lost some of his stature …thanks to his failure to embrace liberal democracy. He never really liked the west, never really took to free markets or pop culture.
Such comments reveal more about their author than about their subject. We are dealing here with something I propose to call geo-ideology: the alas now widespread prejudice that “West” and “democracy” are identical concepts. In the minds of such commentators, moreover, the “West” is also identical with “free markets” and “pop culture”. The “West”, apparently no longer means “the Christian religion” or even that body of inheritance from the magnificent treasure-house of the cultures of Athens and Rome. Instead it means MTV, coke and Coke.
At every level these assumptions are false. Let us start with “free markets”, the endlessly repeated shibboleth of the globalisers. By what possible criterion can Russia be said to have a less free market than the United States of America, or than the majority of European Union member state? One of the key measure of the freedom of a market is the amount of private income consumed by the state. The income tax rate in Russia is fixed at a flat rate of 13% – a fraction of the 25% or so paid in the US, 33% of so paid in the United Kingdom and the 40% or more paid in continental Europe. As for pop culture, Russia unfortunately has plenty of it. Her youth are just as imbued with it, unfortunately, as the youth of Europe and America.
The comments also fail to present the reader with any serious analysis of Solzhenitsyn’s political position. The author makes vague and disparaging references to the unsuitability of Solzhenitsyn’s “vision of a more spiritual society” and to his “crusty and old fashioned nationalism” – judgements which appear to owe much to the Soviet propaganda she says she rejects. But she fails to allow the reader to know just what she means. Surely, on the occasion of a man’s death, it might be opportune to tell people about what he thought.
Anyone who reads Solzhenitsyn’s astonishing essay from 1995, The Russian Question at the End of the Twenteith Century, will see that this caricature is nonsense. There is nothing irrational or mystical about Solzhenitsyn’s political positions at all – and he makes only the most glancing of references to the religion which, we all know, he does indeed hold dear. No, what emerges from this essay is an extremely simple and powerful political position which is easily translated into contemporary American English as “paleo-conservatism”.
Solzhenitsyn makes a withering attack on three hundred years of Russian history. Almost no Russian leader emerges without censure (he likes only the Empress Elizabeth [1741-1762] and Tsar Alexander III [1881-1894]); most of them are roundly condemned. One might contest the ferocity of Solzhenitsyn’s attacks but the ideological coherence of them is very clear: he is opposed to leaders who pursue foreign adventures, including empire-building, at the expense of the Russian population itself. This, he says, is what unites nearly all the Tsars since Peter the Great with the Bolshevik leaders.
Again and again, in a variety of historical contexts, Solzhenitsyn says that Russia should not have gone to the aid of this or that foreign cause, but should instead have concentrated on promoting stability and prosperity at home.
While we always sought to help the Bulgarians, the Serbs, the Montenegrins, we would have done better to think first of the Belorussians and Ukrainians: with the weighty hand of Empire we deprived them of cultural and spiritual development in their own traditions… the endless wars for Balkan Christians were a crime against the Russian people… The attempt to greater-Russify all of Russia proced damaging not only to the living national traits of all the other ethnicities in the Empire byt was foremost detrimental to the greater-Russian nationality itself … The aims of a great Empire and the moral health of the people are incompatible … Holding on to a great Empire means to contribute to the extinction of our own people.
There is literally nothing to separate this view from the anti-interventionist anti-war positions of Pat Buchanan (author of A Republic not an Empire) or Ron Paul.
After dealing with both the horrors of Communism, Solzhenitsyn of course turns his attention to the terrible chaos of the post-Communist period. Here again, his concern for the Russian people themselves remains consistent. He writes,
The trouble is not that the USSR broke up – that was inevitable. The real trouble, and a tangle for a long time to come, is that the breakup occurred along false Leninist borders, usurping from us entire Russian provinces. In several days, we lost 25 million ethnic Russians – 18 percent of our entire nation – and the government could not scrape up the courage even to take note of this dreadful event, a colossal historic defeat for Russia, and to declare its political disagreement with it.
Solzhenitsyn is right. One of the most lasting legacies of Leninism, which remains after everything else has been swept away or collapsed, was the decision to create bogus federal entities on the territory of what had been the unitary Russian state. These entities, called Soviet republics, contributed only to the creation of bogus nationalisms and of course to the dilution of Russian nationhood. They were bogus because the republics in question did not, in fact, correspond to ethnic reality: Kazakhs, for instance, are and remain a numerical minority in Kazakhstan, while “Ukraine” is in fact a collection of ancient Russian provinces (especially Kiev) and some Ukrainian ones. This bogus nationalism allowed the Soviet Union to present itself as an international federation of peoples, rather like the European Union today, but it was exploited by Russia’s enemies when the time came to destroy the geopolitical existence of the historic Russian state. This happened when the USSR was unilaterally dissolved by three Republic leaders in December 1991.
And this is the key to the West’s hostility to Solzhenitsyn. The man the West exploited to destroy Communism refused to bend the knee to the West’s continuing attempts (largely succesful) to destroy Russia herself. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Anne Applebaum, an American citizen, is the wife of the Foreign Minister of Russia’s oldest historical enemy, Poland.
Mixed bag # 2
Submitted by marcfrans on Sat, 2008-08-09 18:58.
1) I did not question Mr laughland's "historical views of AIS". I ONLY criticised some of his more nutty statements, and that is also why I gave it the title of "mixed bag".
2) I have no illusions about 'national preferences', especially in government contracting. In Sweden, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, I suspect that Mr Laughland would be very much in favor of such 'national preferences'. I have a more 'open mind' on it, seeing both sides of the coin so to speak. But, a "free market" doesn't have to be a universal one. As always, the perfect can be the enemy of the good. Essentially, what matters here is genuine competitive conditions and absence of (judicial) arbitrariness.
for the sake of contradicting Marcfrans
Submitted by Armor on Sun, 2008-08-10 00:12.
Marcfrans said: "But, genuine democracy is virtually nonexistant outside the West."
...or within the West!
Western identity lies in white people, not in their form of government. I think white people tend to be idealistic. This is why they like the concepts of democracy and justice.
"The "free market" has little to nothing to do with the size of the state."
There is a connection between the two.
- For example, if the school system is entirely controlled by the state government, it leaves no free market for opening private schools and providing education.
- If TV and radio stations are controlled by government, people must pay taxes for the service, and are left with less money to pay for what they are really interested in. I think there isn't a free market in the western mass media, since most of it is run by the extreme left.
- If every young man must spend two years in the army, it hurts the free market too. (but not as much as it hurts the freedom of young men).
"The quality of markets has to do with the process of income CREATION in the economy. The level of taxation has to do with EX POST income (RE)DISTRIBUTION and also with the provision of 'public goods'. "
Bigger government usually means a smaller free market sector. According to you, what matters is not how big, but how free is the free market. It sounds like usual Marcfrans: contradiction for the sake of contradiction.
Marcfrans sounds like a free market advocate. In my opinion, the main reason we should encourage free market is because it is usually more efficient, not because it gives more freedom of choice. But there could be a country with a free, not very efficient economy, and there could be another country with a tightly controlled economy that works well. In any case, western identity has nothing to do with protecting free markets. On the contrary, economic measures that improve efficiency sometimes have detrimental effects on the social fabric of a country. In order to protect our western identity, it is more important to dismantle big government than trade barriers, as most western governments have now turned against their people. We need freedom of choice in the fields of education, culture, newspaper opinions, political representation, but for example, it doesn't matter if we have to pay our gas bills to a private or state company.
Submitted by marcfrans on Sat, 2008-08-09 17:42.
As usual, there is much to agree and much to disagree with in Mr Laughland's exposition.
1) True enough, the West and democracy are not identical concepts. But, genuine democracy is virtually nonexistant outside the West. There are of course exceptions, and democracy is clearly a relative concept and a matter of degree.
2) Mr Laughland has a poor understanding of the concept of "free markets". The latter involves genuine 'free' entry to markets, the effective and 'neutral' enforcement of contracts, and truly independent or 'neutral' adjudication of conflicts/disagreements. The quality of "free markets" is directly linked to the quality of the political system and especially the quality of an 'independent' judiciary. Two points:
-- Mr Laughland thinks that Russia has as much of a free market as Western countries. He is very mistaken. For example, does he think that the political system in Sweden allows the Swedish prime minister to ARBITRARILY interfere in a specific "free" market (say, to which he is linked via some commercial interest) in the same way (or to the same extent) than the Russian Prime Minster can under the current Russian political system? If he does think that, then he got his head in the sand. Does he also think that the state of the free market is the same in say Venezuela as in the Netherlands?
-- Mr laughland confuses the nature of markets with the size of government (relative to GDP). The "free market" has little to nothing to do with the size of the state. Take the example of Sweden again. It has very competitive "free markets" (which explains largely its high per capita income level), but it also has a very high level of taxation (and thus a 'big' government) for purposes of financing income redistribution and social welfare provisons. By contrast, countries like the US and Japan also have relatively "free" markets (just like Sweden), but combined with much lower taxation levels. The quality of markets has to do with the process of income CREATION in the economy. The level of taxation has to do with EX POST income (RE)DISTRIBUTION and also with the provision of 'public goods'. Mr Laughland is confused on such matters. While it is probably a 'good' thing that Russia today also has a relatively low level of income taxation (like say Japan and the US) , that in and of itself says nothing about the quality or state of its "free market".
3) There is little doubt that Solzhenitsyn was concerned about the welfare of the Russian people, and which sensible democrat would argue with his criticism of past Russian imperialism. But, for Mr Laughland to equate such opposition to (past) Russian (tsarist and soviet) "imperialism" with the "anti-interventionist and anti-war" positions of Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul, that doesn't even pass the laugh-test. Is he equating "imperialism" with "war" or with "intervention", just after having told us that one should not equate "the West" with "democracy"? Apparently in his mind all participants in wars and interventions are "imperialists" or have imperialist intentions. Do we need more 'evidence' that naive-left dogmatic thinking has infected a certain part of the ethnically-obsessed political 'right' in the West?
4) Finally, if the West does not equate with "democracy", neither does it equate with phenomena like "MTV, coke and Coke". Freedom and democracy mean self-determination. Surely 'free' individuals can ALSO choose to self-destruct. It may well be that "MTV, coke and Coke" are not tolerated in Saudi Arabia and other places, but neither are politial freedom and self-determination. Yes, we need to teach young people proper moral standards. Indeed, no "free market" can be achieved and maintained over time, without the maintenance of proper moral standards, because widespread societal 'acceptance' of political corruption is antithetical to morality AND to free markets. Mr Laughland runs the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Conclusion: I would take Anne Applebaum's judgements on such matters as the "free market" and the 'condition or state' of Russian politics, almost anytime over Mr Laughland's. And, not because she is married to the Polish Foreign Minister, but because of the demonstrated quality-content of her many writings.
Submitted by traveller on Sat, 2008-08-09 18:18.
I know that you don't like the writings of John Laughland most if not all of the time, but here I would like to point out that his point about the historical views of AIS is correct. Comparing it afterwards to Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul was a mistake.
His comment about the view of geo-politics by AIS and the pieces of Russia as "redesigned" by Stalin with the ensueing problems of today was also correct.
As far as free market was concerned he was wrong but then again, Mr. Laughland has proven in the past not to be an economist, I sincerely hope he doesn't have a L.S.E diploma.
Against that you put the Swedish example, which is generally known as a free market country, as long as you don't try to compete as a foreign company against a Swedish company with a Swedish manufactured product!!! You stand no chance for:
1) a government contract
2) passing inspections by Swedish inspection companies according to Swedish specifications.
In the sixties and seventies I had a lot of experience with this and the only way I could beat this nationalistic preference system ingrained through all layers of society was to let the Swedish customer fight it out for me. I never ever succeeded to obtain a government contract, they didn't even bother hiding their chauvinism.
This just as an aside, but it is comparable to Russian nationalism. Further, try to get into the Norwegian oil market, they are absolutely no different from the Russians, they will kick you out within 5 seconds.
I had the experience that at the Russian/Norwegian border in the Norwegian town of Kirkeness I had to pass the Norwegian border police. I will never do it again. This simple police man told me in no uncertain terms that the North of Russia was "THEIR" home market(Murmansk) and that I had no business to be there. He also photocopied all documents I had with me, totally illegal, although in Norway???
I guess I should have told him I was muslim, that would probably have given me a free passing(LOL) if I read Fjordman correctly.
Submitted by Armor on Sat, 2008-08-09 10:49.
"geo-ideology: the alas now widespread prejudice that “West” and “democracy” are identical concepts. In the minds of such commentators, moreover, the “West” is also identical with “free markets” and “pop culture”. The “West”, apparently no longer means “the Christian religion” or even that body of inheritance from the magnificent treasure-house of the cultures of Athens and Rome. Instead it means MTV, coke and Coke."
I used to think what made Athens and Rome possible was the white race. But now I realize that the essence of the West lies in democracy, free markets (except for schools), and the entertainment industry of the mass media. When our western governments organize naturalization ceremonies for Javanese and Afghan immigrants, they should give them a pin with the national flag, an MP3 player, a can of coke, a dose of Coke, and a civics manual explaining how current western democracy isn't sick at all.
@ John Laughland
Submitted by traveller on Sat, 2008-08-09 08:53.
This article is spot on.
I disagreed many times with some of your writings, but this one is perfect.
By the way West Ukraïna is mostly old Polish territory.
Lviv(Lvov today) was a Polish capital.