Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 7

The Seeds of Fascism in Russia

By Vasily Andreev

A fascist movement has existed in Russia in various forms for approximately ten years. This year, the "brown plague" began to spread to Moscow State University, which is renowned for its liberal traditions. On January 30, 1996, approximately ten students from the history department of Moscow State University held a party "for their narrow circle" to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of Adolph Hitler’s coming to power in Germany. At the party, they announced the creation of a Nazi-style student movement called the Russian Liberation People’s Movement (ROND). This was the name of extremist group established by Russian emigrants in Germany in the 1930s, of whom the student Nazis consider themselves the successors.

The appearance of radical nationalist student groups is a result of the spread of nationalist ideas among Russian youth, which reflects the general shift toward the right by the Russian general public. Such groups have appeared not only at Moscow State University, but in some twenty other universities in Russia — primarily in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In the 1960s and 1970s, alongside the democratically oriented wing of the Soviet dissident movement, a nationalist wing also took shape. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the democratic movement emerged and began to develop rapidly, however, the nationalists faded into the "shadows." It was not until after August 1991 that they raised their heads. Until that time, the small and scattered national-patriotic groups were unnoticeable in the stormy sea of democratic activism. The revival (I use the term advisedly) of Russian nationalism is a consequence of the general decline in the democratic movement in the country and the formation of a well-structured opposition to the course formulated by Yeltsin and Gaidar. After the collapse of the USSR and the beginning of radical economic reform, two trends have formed in the opposition camp: a Communist trend and a nationalist trend. The contemporary Russian national-patriotic movement therefore can in no way be called a "child of perestroika." In order to reach its present state, this movement had to pass through a forty-year period of development.

The ideology of Russian nationalists is based on the following three basic points:

· the "inherent superiority" of ethnic Russians in the country’s political, economic, and cultural life;

· the new Russia’s dominant role in the world;

· and the existence of a worldwide plot against the Russian state and its people.

Some nationalist groups propose resolving the country’s national problem by "expelling all aliens, i.e., non-Russians, from the country’s social life" (a quote from the program of the Russian National Unity Party led by A. Barkashov). Others propose that the ethnic groups which constitute the population of the Russian Federation should be represented proportionally in the country’s power structures. A similar idea is currently part of the program of the Party of Russian Nationalists, the National Front party and a number of other nationalist parties.

Modern "Eurasians" — such as writer A. Prokhanov, essayist A. Dugin, and other proponents of the doctrine of Russia’s particular destiny in light of her position between Europe and Asia — have a great deal to say about the leading role of the "new Russia" in the future of the world. More radically disposed nationalists speak of Russia as the future "savior of the white race from an invasion of the yellow and black races." Among those involved in the "plot against Russia," the nationalists name the traditional suspects among the extreme Russian right: "Yids," "Masons," and a "new world government" which rules the entire planet under orders issued by Jewish-controlled banks. The majority of contemporary Russian nationalist organizations profess nothing but the traditional set of dogmas described above; their inability to add anything new is testimony to the fact that the rightist opposition does not have a clear vision of its cause or its ultimate goals.

As far as tactics of political struggle are concerned, Russian nationalist parties do not differ radically from one another. Their arsenal of political methods includes ostentatious street marches and rallies (the real virtuosos at organizing such parades are Dmitry Vasiliev, a leader of Pamyat, and A. Ivanov-Suzarevsky, a leader of the People’s Nationalist party). However, the majority of contemporary nationalist organizations limit their activities to holding small, closed meetings for a narrow circle of supporters.

It is precisely the rightist youth organizations of this sort that are developing rapidly today. At present, the ROND student group is rapidly gaining political capital by relying on young people who aspire to join the political elite. In less than a month, the numerical strength of ROND doubled. This result can primarily be attributed to ROND’s rejection of political extremism in its program documents and its definition of its paramount task as the study of the history and ideology of nationalism in Russia and throughout the world, and the elaboration of a common doctrine for Russian ultrarightists. By joining ROND, students do not fear for their career, public ostracism, or prosecution under the law.

The "National Front" party led by Ilya Lazarenko was established in the fall of 1994. The program of this organization calls for authoritarian rule (by a leader responsible to the people) to be established in Russia and reversion to a planned economy. "National Front" members do not number more than 20 activists, but there are a considerable number of sympathizers. The activities of the party boil down to holding numerous meetings, primarily timed to mark the anniversaries of important events in the history of the Nazi party.

The Russian National Union, led by Aleksei Vdovin and Konstantin Kasimovsky, is also a small organization. However, this organization has a powerful printing infrastructure (it publishes the newspaper Shturmovik and the magazine Natsiya) and its own video studio. The Russian National Union often holds rallies — small but obstreperous — in support of the Bosnian Serbs, Saddam Hussein, or the white population of South Africa. The leaders of the organization have extensive connections with ultraright organizations in the West. During the Duma elections, the Russian National Union, together with the People’s Nationalist Party (led by A. Ivanov-Sukharevsky), tried to create an election bloc named "Russian Action." After the attempt failed, the Union nominated several candidates in single-member districts of Moscow. Some of these candidates were (for various reasons) refused permission to register, while those who did register failed to win the elections. Thus no one from the Russian National Union managed to enter the Duma.

The "Werewolf Legion," an extremist organization led by Igor Pirozhok, is composed primarily of young people from fifteen to twenty years of age. This organization sticks to the German pattern of Nazism. It is not involved in political activities; instead, its members devote much attention to combat training and staging terrorist acts. They have committed a series of terrorist acts against religious sects, as well as against meetings of the Democratic Union and Anpilov’s Russian Communist Workers party. They were also planning to stage terrorist acts in movie theaters where "Schindler’s List" was playing. At this moment, the majority of "Werewolf Legion" leaders are being prosecuted on murder charges for having killed a member of their organization. All of them are facing lengthy imprisonment. Nevertheless, the organizational network of "Werewolf Legion" has generally been preserved. As soon as the leaders return from prison, the group may quickly come back to life.

Unlike these youth groups, which are growing, nationalist parties which have existed for a long time are now in a state which can be described as protracted decline. The oldest association of Russian nationalists, the Pamyat National Patriotic Front led by Dmitry Vasiliev, has almost vanished from the political scene. Having been fairly active from 1985 to 1987, Pamyat was plagued by a series of splits in the subsequent three years, as a result of which it lost up to 80 percent of its members. The organization has yet to recover. In spring 1995, Dmitry Vasiliev made an indecisive attempt to return to politics, when, together with a group of his cohorts, he attended the organizational conference of the above-cited "Russian Action" election bloc, which was held on the premises of the Komsomolets movie theater. However, his attendance ended up in a pointedly demonstrative withdrawal of the Pamyat group from the hall. Pamyat has not appeared in Russian politics since that time.

The general crisis suffered by the nationalist movement in Russia has not left the LDPR of Vladimir Zhirinovsky untouched. Unlike other rightist parties, the LDPR is not rooted in the Orthodox-Monarchist movement — the common tradition of the "old" nationalist parties. Neither does the LDPR subscribe to the doctrines of Western ultrarightists. The LDPR can thus be characterized as a populist-nationalist party, a party that uses nationalist slogans only because they are popular with a certain part of the population, for example, residents of Russia’s border regions. In the last State Duma elections, the LDPR received approximately half the number of votes than it had received in the 1993 elections. This dramatic decline in popularity is largely the result of Zhirinovsky’s failure to coordinate organizational work within the party, and his failure to establish closer connections between the party and the general public. In addition, Zhirinovsky has always flatly rejected the idea of cooperating with other nationalist organizations. These factors may result in Zhirinovsky’s defeat in the upcoming presidential election.

Once strong, the National-Republican party led by Nikolai Lysenko (notorious for his scandalous acts in the State Duma, such as vandalizing a Ukrainian flag and punching Father Gleb Yakunin, a democratically oriented priest), split into two separate parties in late 1994. Each of the two successor parties — one led by Lysenko, the other by Yuri Belyaev — claims the name "National-Republican Party of Russia." The split resulted in the Lysenko group’s failure in the Duma elections of December 17, 1995. Moreover, other rightist parties have refused to support Lysenko as the nationalists’ common presidential candidate. At the moment, his group is leaning towards supporting Boris Yeltsin, while Yuri Belyaev’s group is leaning towards Gennady Zyuganov.

The Russian National Unity party led by Aleksandr Barkashov, which emerged from Dmitry Vasiliev’s Pamyat, has been unable to recover from the consequences of having been too actively involved in the events of October 1993. In fall 1993, the Russian National Unity was forced to go underground. Not until the 1994 amnesty did the party become legal again. During this period (1993-1994), several RNU members were arrested and attempts were made to arrest a number of others, including Barkashov. Following legalization, Russian National Unity entered a period of internal discord — a tradition of the "old" parties of this type. A raid by unidentified assailants on RNU headquarters and Barkashov’s public apology to Jews and Caucasians served to promote the process of the disintegration of the RNU. Barkashov’s apology strongly discredited the RNU in the eyes of other nationalists. The organization did not take part in the 1995 State Duma elections and to date has made no declaration of its participation in the presidential election.

All Russian nationalists without exception have long been in favor of creating a single, all-Russian, ultrarightist movement. However, this task has yet been realized. Not a single viable purely nationalist coalition has been established since the collapse of the USSR. On the eve of the 1995 State Duma elections, an attempt was made to establish an election bloc comprised exclusively of ultrarightists: the "Russian Action" bloc, which embraced members from the Russian National Union, People’s Nationalistic Party, and a number of other, smaller groups. However, this bloc failed to develop into a full- fledged electoral bloc for organizational reasons. The remaining ultrarightists were forced to look for allies among the non-nationalist opposition. Today, Russian ultrarightists have also failed to come to terms regarding a common presidential candidate. To date, the nationalists’ efforts to unite have produced the following major results. A number of parties belonging to the second, "old" group of nationalist organizations have developed a desire to ally themselves with "young" nationalist organizations. The desire of "old" nationalistic parties to strengthen themselves by allying themselves with younger organizations of this sort is probably the result of the older leaders’ preoccupation with organizational work and internal fighting, which prevents them from finding a way to appeal to the broad public. They want the "younger" groups to do this job. In addition, the leaders of the "old" groups plan to use their "young comrades" as manpower for their personal guard units and military formations.

Consolidation along these lines will hardly do the nationalists any good. In the first place, a number of organizations are being left out of the alliances now being established. Secondly, alliances of this kind will not overcome existing intra-party conflicts. Instead of confrontation between individual parties, now there will be confrontation between coalitions. Let us recall the term "left-right opposition" invented during the Stalin era. At that time, the term was used to describe a bloc (which never existed) composed of representatives from the left wing (mainly associates of Trotsky) and the right wing (Bukharin men) who united for the common cause of fighting against the Bolshevik mainstream.

The present situation of the Russian right-wing opposition, however, gives this artificial term genuine political content. As a matter of fact, the Communists and the nationalists have long attempted to unite into a common opposition bloc. The ideological basis for such a union has long been in preparation. Significantly, both the Communists and the nationalists have willingly made concessions to each other in the field of ideology. In 1993, Gennady Zyuganov stated that roots of Russian communism should be sought not in Western Marxism, but in Orthodox Christianity and the Russian collective (obshchina). On the other side, the well-known contemporary right-wing ideologist A. Yeliseev has conducted a campaign against the development of capitalism in Russia for nearly two years in the pages of various publications. Another nationalist ideologist, A. Shiropayev, wrote a long article devoted to Russian national-socialism that was published in the magazine Heritage of the Ancestors. In characterizing Russian national socialism, Mr. Shiropayev does not use the Nazism of Hitler, but the socialism of Stalin as the model. The programs of nearly all the notable nationalist groups contain more or less radical anti-capitalist rhetoric.

The only politician who has made a practical attempt to unite Communist and nationalist components within a single party is the writer Eduard Limonov. On May 1, 1993, Limomov issued an "Order to Establish a National-Bolshevik Front." Currently, he is the leader of the National-Bolshevik party. According to Mr. Limonov, the essence of national Bolshevism is combining the most extreme forms of social protest with radical national resistance. In 1993, Limonov’s party was labeled "red-brown," a term that has been used to characterize all Communist-nationalist alliances that have emerged since that time. In practice, however, all attempts to unite the two major opposition camps have had little success. Two coalitions of this kind were established in 1992: the National Salvation Front (headed by Ilya Konstantinov) and Russian National Assembly (led by Aleksandr Sterligov). Both groups embraced nearly all the prominent figures of both the left and right opposition. However, by early 1993 the majority of the rightists withdrew from the National Salvation Front and Russian National Sobor, explaining that in both associations, Russian nationalism had been replaced by Soviet patriotism.

Recently, some nationalists have opted to support Gennady Zyuganov for president, including Yuri Belyaev and Sergei Baburin (leader of the Russian All-People’s Union, a moderate organization). The remaining nationalists have opted to support Boris Yeltsin, a decision which was made at a recent conference. Unexpectedly, the idea to support Boris Yeltsin for president was advanced by Eduard Limonov. The initiative has been welcomed by part of Lysenko’s supporters and by members of a number of other nationalist organizations. D. Vasiliev has given his formal agreement to support Boris Yeltsin for president.

Thus we can only conclude that Russia’s ultrarightists are seeking to ally themselves with those who enjoy real political influence in Russia. In this context, supporting Boris Yeltsin is a purely tactical move (the rightists are seeking to improve their own position by taking advantage of the sympathy of a considerable portion of the Russian population for the incumbent president), while their alliance with Zyuganov has, from nationalists’ viewpoint, more far-reaching aims. Nevertheless, in the long run, an alliance between the Communists and the nationalists will not be of any real use to the latter. Those nationalists who have opted to support the Communists (as well as those who have opted to support Boris Yeltsin) will be doomed to play a secondary role; Gennady Zyuganov’s party has its own, powerful organizational structure and is not much in need of assistance from the ultrarightists.

As far as the more distant future is concerned, an alliance of these two major opposition forces will hardly be stable. The current anti-capitalist rhetoric of the nationalists is definitely a trick designed to attract part of the Communist electorate. The Communists will not reconcile themselves to this loss and will have no choice but to fight the nationalists. In the near future, the crisis of the Russian nationalist movement will become further aggravated. The bankruptcy of their chosen tactics for the presidential elections and the collapse of their alliances with interim partners will serve to hasten the disintegration of the right-wing as a whole and will prompt new splits in individual parties (with the possible exception of the LDPR). Given that no realistic path to overcome their crisis is foreseeable, the role of nationalists in Russian political life will diminish further.

Translated by Aleksandr Kondorsky

Vasily Andreev is a free-lance journalist specializing in national issues.