The unprovoked attack on Ukraine has transformed most Internet pundits from world-renowned virologists and epidemiologists into experts in Eastern Europe geopolitics virtually overnight. Various explanations are offered, ranging from rational (“the restoration of the Soviet Empire” or “the irresponsible expansion of NATO to the East”) to irrational (“megalomaniac” or “madman” Putin).
Well, Putin is neither a-hundred-percent rational or a-hundred-percent irrational. His activities are manifestations of his ideology—and that aspect of the present war in Europe is often overlooked.
In 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin arranged for the transportation of the ashes of the Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin (pronounced as il’in) from Switzerland and reinterment in Russia at the prestigious Donskoi Monastery cemetery in Moscow. Putin’s personal funds were used to install the gravestone. The philosopher’s archive was purchased from the University of Michigan for 40 thousand dollars and relocated to Russia in the following year. Throughout the 21st century, Vladimir Putin has used the philosophical ideas of Ilyin in his speeches.
Why does Putin pay close attention to this obscure philosopher, otherwise unknown to the West?
Ivan Ilyin was a professor at Moscow University who was arrested by the Bolsheviks (Russian Communists) six times and sentenced to death for his anti-communist activities but was instead expelled from Russia. So, along with hundreds of distinguished Russian intellectuals, Ilyin boarded one of what turned out to be the infamous “philosophers’ ships.” Having settled in Germany, Ilyin, together with other expelled Russian academics, established the Russian Scientific Institute in 1923. It was there that he became the ideologue of the White Knight’s Movement of Russian monarchists (or simply White Movement), the philosophical foundation for Putin’s worldview. (During that era, the coloring scheme was pretty conventional—”Red” for communists, “White” for monarchists.)
However, the only reprehensible thing is that Ilyin regarded Fascism and National Socialism as special cases of the monarchist White Movement. Despite this, Ilyin was never a staunch supporter of Italian Fascism or German National Socialism. On the contrary, his entire life was dedicated to propagating the Russian Orthodox Christian version of Fascism.
Moreover, Ilyin made a grave blunder when he assumed the external attributes of Fascism in place of Fascism itself. It did not occur to him that Fascism, created under the leadership of the prominent socialist Benito 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, which actually created “Aryan Socialism” (sometimes correctly termed “Racial Socialism”). As is well known, Mussolini was outraged because the Nazi Party (National Socialist Workers Party of Germany) appropriated the term “National Socialism,” which, strictly speaking, does not apply to it.
As with many other ideologies, Monarchism can be Left or Right—just as both right-wing totalitarianism and left-wing totalitarianism exist. Likewise, there is right-wing anti-Semitism or left-wing anti-Semitism. There is also right-wing Nationalism and left-wing Nationalism (although the use of the term “nationalism” outside of Germany is most likely incorrect). These isms are not distinct ideologies. Rather, they are external, secondary attributes of one or more underlying ideologies. As humanity has accumulated enough statistics, it is evident that totalitarianism and anti-Semitism are indeed prevalent in left-leaning movements. Although this is only true statically, it does not speak to the ideology’s dynamic character.
Putin has carried out the same mistake as Ilyin; that said, he has done so in the political rather than ideological sphere. There was a dilemma facing Russia two decades ago: as a post-Soviet- Union country, it needed a unifying ideology. Communism was a non-starter; the return to the pre-Soviet Tsarism was not popular. Putin has discovered Ilyin and has accepted the external characteristics of Ilyin’s White Movement as an ideology that would help Russia achieve success. Despite this, Putin, like Ilyin, is trying to combine the incompatible while maintaining the vagueness of the White Movement’s fundamental ideology.
As the apologist of the White Movement, Ilyin himself hesitated in determining where the movement should be placed on the political spectrum: on the Left or the Right. However, Ilyin has avoided the necessity of such a definition; in essence, he sought to develop a supra-ideological—or rather post-ideological ideology.
His 1928 article, “On Russian Fascism,” introduced 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.” Because of the “independent creativity” of Russian Fascists in exile, the idea was developed that left-wing Fascist ideas of organizing society and right-wing Capitalist ideas could be combined to achieve the primary goal of monarchists—the restoration of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. According to historian James Pool, many wealthy Russian immigrants in Germany were more anti-communist and anti-Semitic than Hitler himself, and they supported the Nazis financially since the early years of The Third Reich.
As a result, this movement has been incorrectly characterized by Ilyin as Left Monarchism, ideologically close to Italian Fascism, but before it and, therefore, its ideological predecessor. In the above quote, Ilyin admits the previously mentioned unforgivable error—he accepts the attributes of Fascism as constituting Fascism in itself and does not see its Left, socialist nature. However, he was pleased to have been deceived because he saw allies in any movement that opposed the Bolsheviks, Communists, or Social Democrats in the struggle against the Bolshevik coup d’état in Russia in 1917.
In his ignorance, Ilyin did not realize that the struggle of the Italian Fascists against the Italian Communists was not a struggle between two opposing forces but an irreconcilable internecine struggle. A similar argument can be established concerning the bloody scuffles between National Socialists and Communists and Social Democrats in pre-war Germany. Later on, after the Second World War, in the 1948 article “On Fascism,” Ilyin complains that “Fascism had made several critical 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, it is necessary to choose another name for future social and political movements of this kind.” (It should be noted that the quasi-fascist group Antifa, sponsored by the Democrat Party, follows that recommendation).
Fascists in France and later on in Italy never saw themselves outside the socialist framework, but National Socialists in Germany initially positioned themselves as “not Right or Left.” They enjoyed this self-identification in the eyes of the worldwide anti-capitalist movement for some time. Then, suddenly, Joseph Stalin abruptly changed the game’s rules: he decided to exploit the left-right conceptual dichotomy (in an indeed narrow setting) to prosecute the slightest opposition to his dictatorial rule altogether. Any aberration from the orthodox Communist party line—no matter how small—had to be labeled. Hence, the “Right-deviationists” and “Left-deviationists” were born.
The “Left-deviationists” were deemed “too orthodox,” “too revolutionary,” so much, as strange as it may seem, for the taste of bloodthirsty revolutionary Bolsheviks. In contrast, the “Right-deviationists” were considered traitors to the idea of the planet-wide socialist revolution because they dared to consider building a workers’ paradise by cleverly exploiting mechanisms of state capitalism. Unquestionably, the word “capitalism” was anathema for communists. The “Left-deviationists” were on the left from Stalin, and “Right-deviationists” were on his right.
Instead of the rostrum at the French Assembly, Stalin positioned himself at the center of the ideological universe and thus had opened a new page in the “left-right” semantic journey. To rephrase it, Soviet Communists delineated intra-communist opposition as either left- or right-wingers. The left-right labels are no longer utilized to describe opposite political forces; from now on, they characterize deviations relative to the official Soviet Communist party line. Stalin used it initially to incriminate another fellow Bolshevik, his bête noire Leon Trotsky, but eventually, by the 1930s, it grew into a tool for massive party purges.
As it appears, the slide of Leftist ideologies into left-wing totalitarianism 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 historical epoch 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 result of these two revolutions speaks for itself).
The Frankfurt School of Socialism adherents were strongly pro-Soviet (a generous amount of them were veritably Stalinists) and, customarily, considered National Socialism a form of deviation to the Right from the mainstream trajectory of Soviet (i.e., International) Socialism. Consequently, they emigrated from pre-war Germany to the United States and brought this particular understanding of the designation.
Ilyin hoped to defeat Left totalitarianism in Soviet Russia with the help of the Fascist “chevaliers.” However, left-wing totalitarianism—into which both Italian Fascism and National Socialism of The Third Reich quickly and naturally evolved—could not destroy the underlying platform that both left-wing ideologies were built upon. 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 that Fascism and National Socialism were right-wing movements.
In the article “National Socialism. New spirit. I” (part II was never written), published just four months after Hitler got to power, Ilyin praises the Nazis. He 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.”
Ilyin’s tragic mistake was that he could not recognize that Fascism and National Socialism are close ideological relatives of Marxism, Communism, and other strains of left-wing ideology.
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 Putin’s actions are formally carried out, according to Ilyin, “without violating the constitution.”
Ilyin was also struck by the rapidity with which German National Socialism developed. Hitler came to power in January 1933, and the Russian Scientific Institute was placed under the control of the Goebbels Ministry of Propaganda by October of that year. In July 1934, Ilyin was dismissed from the institute, of which he had been a founder (it is known that in March 1934, Ilyin refused to cooperate with the Nazis, although he had before supported them and hoped they would be effective in combatting the Soviet communists).
In 1938, the world-famous Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff saved Ilyin from inevitable imprisonment and death in a concentration camp by paying 4,000 Swiss francs in collateral (about $30,000 today); this allowed Ilyin to not only flee to Switzerland but also to stay there and live without fear of extradition back to The Third Reich. It is worth noting that Rachmaninoff, earlier, in 1923, helped a fellow ex-pat from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, Igor Sikorsky, by writing him a check for $5,000 (about $75,000 today). That is how Sikorsky’s successful aircraft manufacturing business in America got its start.
In this way, Ilyin’s passion for Germany’s version of Fascism came to an end. Will Putin end his enthusiasm for Ilyin? A former nuclear superpower seeking to build capitalism using totalitarian socialist methods (and the current top leadership of Russia knows of no other method) is doomed to failure.
As such, this conclusion is not based on Putin’s political mistakes but instead on Ilyin’s convoluted, pseudoscientific post-ideological ideology. Essentially, Putin’s political errors result from his post-ideological foundation. In the same way that Ilyin himself was inclined to work with anyone, even the devil, to defeat Soviet communists, Putin decided to use Ilyin’s ideas about the White Movement in order to attain his political objectives.
What are these objectives? To bring back the Soviet Union? To reestablish the Warsaw Pact? No, Putin does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past and is not satisfied with the accomplishments of his predecessors.
The goal of Putin, like Stalin and Lenin before him, is world domination.
Putin, the architect of the KGB Caliphate in Russia, is driven by precisely this desire to dominate the world.
This nano-fuehrer of the White Movement from a St. Petersburg slum, who unexpectedly had catapulted to the Russian presidency, sees himself as the World Sovereign. Capturing parts of Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Syria is more than just an attempt to restore the Soviet Union. It was a dress rehearsal before the attempt to seize world supremacy. Toward this end, Putin created precarious anti-American Axis of China-Russia-Syria-Iran-North Korea (modeled after the Axis countries of The Third Reich-Italy-Japan during the Second World War).
By the way, Ilyin had always put the word “Ukraine” in quotes because he held this country an integral territory of Russia, and his post-Soviet vision of Russia includes Ukraine as an organic part of Russia. In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which was a direct result of Ilyin’s worldview. As long as Russia’s leaders support Russian Ersatz-Fascism, they will continue attempts to re-occupy the post-Soviet space.
In addition, Putin regards Ukraine, and all other countries, for that matter, not as sovereign states but rather as rebellious provinces within a future unified Orthodox Fascist Empire. It looks like the vast majority of the world leaders have finally comprehended this; even Switzerland had recently dropped its 207-years of neutrality due to Kremlin’s aggression toward Ukraine. Putin’s principal competitors in the world dominance endeavor—Socialist International (Socintern) and World Economic Forum—are left far behind, for they do not have access to weapons.
Putin punctually fulfills Ilyin’s post-ideological program, which includes Ilyin’s harsh post-war criticism of Fascism.
Having a strongly negative view of Russian and German anti-Semitism, Ilyin was a genuine Russian intellectual. By attracting Russian oligarchs of Jewish origin into power, Putin managed, if not eradicating, at least substantially suppressing manifestations of state anti-Semitism in so traditionally anti-Semitic a country like Russia.
Besides criticizing Fascism, Ilyin also complains about the lack of spirituality present in The Third Reich as well as the Nazi hostility towards Christianity. Putin also rectified the situation by elevating the role of the Russian Orthodox Church. In Ilyin’s opinion, the Nazi Party established a monopoly on party power in The Third Reich. Putin also took this into consideration—in modern Russia, there are many political parties (although not one opposes the Kremlin). Moreover, Putin follows Ilyin’s direct instruction that political parties in post-Soviet Russia are not to act as independent forces; they should plainly exist to institutionalize elections.
Finally, Ilyin criticizes Fascism for creating a totalitarian system; he argues 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 has apparently taken this recommendation literally. In modern Russia, journalists and citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, but only “to the extent of their loyalty” to the authoritarian regime.
The problem with Putin is that he is building Right-by-definition capitalism in Russia through the use of Left-by-definition ideology.
It is an approach that guarantees the instability of Russian society and its eventual collapse. The policies of Europe are essentially the same as those of Putin’s Russia: right-wing capitalism injected with left-wing ideology. Consequently, Europe favors Putin (to a certain degree, of course) and is against Israel, which has abandoned the Left ideology, and against the United States, which stubbornly refuses to adopt Socialist ideas.
In addition, Putin does not miss many of Ilyin’s recommendations regarding engaging Russian-speaking immigrants outside of Russia. During the time of Ilyin, this was an acute issue. However, now, when roughly thirty million Russian-speaking citizens from the former Soviet Union live outside of Russia, it is Putin’s intention to treat this multi-million contingent ideologically and propagandistically in the spirit of Ilyin.
According to Timothy Snyder, Ilyin was of the opinion that “Russia would save the world not from but with Fascism.” Note that Putin justifies—in a truly Orwellian manner—the current aggression toward Ukraine as an “Anti-Nazi special operation.”
Having no appreciation for the illogic and inconsistency of Ilyin’s post-ideology, Putin meticulously adheres to his teachings and, as a result, introduces one of the bloodiest varieties of Left ideology in Russia. Essentially, he promotes marriage between the aggressive atheism of Italian and German Fascism with the militant theology of the unique Russian Orthodox Christianity. Like Anton Chekhov’s textbook gun, this explosive mixture of contradictions has been hanging over Russia, ready to fire.
Putin earned the disparaging nickname “The Moth” during his affirmative years. This epithet followed him into the Dzerzhinsky Higher School of the KGB and was unofficially attached to him throughout his career with the KGB. However, upon becoming President of Russia, The Moth was in search of a windshield—and found one in Ukraine.
[Originally published by NOQ Report]