From Classical to Pragmatic Eurasianism

_  Yuri Kofner, editor-in-chief. Eurasian Studies. Moscow, Ferbruary 10th, 2015.

Evolution and consolidation of the Eurasian movement

The great “red” era (1917-1991) of the Eurasian civilization has passed. But in our time arises a new so-called “purple” era in Eurasia. This era is yet defined by the mechanical and pragmatic process of an economic integration of the post-Soviet states into a political and economic bloc of a new format – the Eurasian Economic Union (2015). But more and more this process in now being influenced by the deep philosophical views of the Eurasian movement on the future structure of Russia-Eurasia (at least we would like it to be that way and we are committed to this aim’s fulfillment). These views are generally known under the name of “Eurasianism”.

Development stages of the Eurasian movement

Eurasianism is both a philosophical and political movement that was born during the 20’s and 30’s of the 20th century and continues to exist in different formations to this day – especially in Russia and Kazakhstan. The Eurasian ideology’s history can be divided into three main stages:

1. Classical Eurasianism, the initial movement from the 1920’s and 1930’s, as well as the teachings of the Soviet historian Lev Gumilev.

2. Pragmatic Eurasianism developed since 1994 by Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan and Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia

3. Neoclassical Eurasianism, proposed and developed by young Russian intellectuals since 2009.

Thus during various stages the political nature of the Eurasian movement was manifested in different ways:

Classical Eurasianism

The classical or early Eurasian movement was born within the white Russian emigration to Europe which took place in consequence of the 1917 Russian revolution. Its founders were prominent members of the Russian intelligentsia: prince Nikolai Troubetzkoy, economist and geographer Peter Savyzky, lawyer Nikolay Alekseyev, historian George Vernadsky and many others. Along with their philosophical works, the beginnings of the political aspirations of these “Eurasianists”, as they called themselves, became apparent in the mid -1920’s. But only in Berlin in 1932 they founded the Eurasian Party, which aimed to the overthrow of the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union and to transform it into a so-called Eurasian Union by changing the state ideology from communism to Eurasianism. Classical eurasiansists, basing their ideology on the school of Russian social-Orthodox thought, opposed both Bolshevik and Nazi totalitarianism, as well as rejecting liberal individualism of the Western democratic societies.

The eursianists proposed the reconstruction and improvement of the USSR along “Eurasianist” lines in all areas of life: in culture (by creating a multiethnic Eurasian nation), in it’s foreign policy (by aiding the emancipation of non-Western peoples around the world) , in the economy (by the development of a mixed economy), in it’s administrative structure (creation of a Eurasian federation), it’s political and legal system (creation of so-called demotic ideocracy) , in it’s social (by the creation of the Guarantee state), religious (by the revival of the role of traditional confessions in society), and spiritual spheres (by providing “positive” freedom as opposed to liberal permissiveness) .

With all confidence it can be argued that the essence of classical eursianism lies in the so-called “Third Way”, i.e. the quest to find a “golden mean” between and a dialectical unity of initial opposites, such as: East and West, liberalism and conservatism, socialism and capitalism, the interests of both the individual, society and the state, the interests of large and small nations, traditionalism and progress; and so on.

In any case, classical Eurasianism certainly represents a continuation of Russian social philosophy imbued with the light of Eastern Christian thought, from where very intriguing concepts derive, such as “positive liberty”, the “Society of universal labor” and the “State of Truth”.

Despite his well-known saying – “if Russia will be saved, it will be only as a Eurasian power, and only through Eurasianism”, Lev Gumilev’s sphere of interest was purely scientific (ethnology, historiography, etc.), so his contribution to Eurasianism should be described as “apolitical.”

Pragmatic Eurasianism

The aim of Nazarbayev’s, Putin’s and Lukashenko’s pragmatic Eurasianism is also to form a Eurasian Union. However, there are significant differences between their views and that of the classical Eurasianists. As it’s name already says – pragmatic Eurasianism is less philosophical in it’s approach and mainly dedicated to the pure mechanical process of post-Soviet economic integration, which by the will of it’s authors builds on the lessons of the European Union. For this reason, one can rightly argue that pragmatic Eurasianism is not a continuation of the deep philosophical universalism that classical Eurasianism has to offer, but, in effect, a mere development and further application of the European integration school (Jean Monnet, D.Mirani, A. Spinelli, E.Haas as well as other Western scholars).

At the same time we should not in any case underestimate the distinguished contribution made exclusively by the Kazakhstani president Nursultan Nazarbayev to the Eurasian philosophy’s development and its adaptation to the realities of the turbulent 21st century (both in theory and in practice). Areas of his contribution include: the economy and the social sphere (by modernizing and implementing the “Society of universal labor” concept mentioned earlier), Kazakhstan’s foreign policy (it was Nazarbaev, not Putin who first proposed the post-Soviet integration, as well as putting forward the «G-Global» concept), in its political system (the creation of the People’s Assembly), and so on. In contrast to other member states of the Common economic space only in Kazakhstan “Eurasianism” is being thought as a compulsory subject in the country’s leading universities.

Nazarbayev’s Eurasianism still draws many of the classical Eurasianist ideals, the main one being the rejection of Western “pseudo values” such as individualism and consumerism.

However, it can be summarized that, in general, due to its lack of deep philosophical and universalist views, pragmatic Eurasianism in its current form is being perceived by the population (especially in Russia) as a project of the elite and bureaucrats. It has not yet become a real political and moreover popular movement such as classic Eurasianism was (though not among the peoples of the USSR, but still among a large part of the Russian intelligentsia).

Neoclassical Eurasianism

A resolute attempt to overcome this “ideological hunger” by the populace is presented in the ideological works and practical activities of the “Eurasian Studies” think tank (author), as well as a number of Eurasianist think tanks, such as the EurAsEC Institute (led by Vladimr Lepekhin), the Institute for demography, migration and regional development (led by Yuri Kroupnov) , the Eurasian Economic Youth Forum (chaired by Mikhail Fedorov), the leftist “Red Eurasia” movement (led by Rustem Vahitov) and the Gumilev Center. All of these organizations are trying in their own way to develop a more or less comprehensive and demanded Eurasian ideology of a new format, which can be called “neoclassical Eurasianism”.

There are also several research and educational institutions and individual scientists in Russia, which do useful work studying the Eurasian integration process and the Eurasianist ideology. However, due to the obligation to maintain scientific objectivity, they can not substantially participate neither in the modern Eurasianist movement, nor the development of the new Eurasian ideology. As such could be considered: the Information-Analytical Center on post-Soviet studies at Moscow State University (led by Alexei Vlasov), the Faculty of Eurasia and the East at the Chelyabinsk State University (chaired by Galina Sachko), the Center for security-political studies at the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations (Alexei Podberezkin) and distinguished scientists such as Alexander Shatilov (Financial University), Anastasia Gacheva (Nikolai Federov Museum), Martin Beissswenger (MSU, HSE), Bulat Nazmutdinov (HSE) and others.

Despite the overall integrity of this phenomenon, there are certain differences between the approaches and ideological content of their individual interpretations of “neoclassical Eurasianism”. The “Eurasian Studies” think tank and “Red Eurasia” movements, as well as the Gumilev Center, see themselves as direct followers and successors of the Eurasianist movement of the first half of the 20th century and thus consciously undertake the consistent adaptation of classical Eurasianist works and other works of Russian socio-orthodox thinkers to the realities of 21st century. Such an approach is missing with the other above mentioned organizations. “Red Eurasia” continues the tradition of leftist Eurasianism from the 1920’s and 1930’s and effectively develops a Russian version of the Latin American 21st century theological liberation ideology. The Gumilev Center borrows primarily from the 1910-20’s intellectual and cultural movement of the “Scythians” (Block, Yesenin, Zamyatin, Ivanov-Razumnik, Petrov-Vodkin, etc.), and tries to develop a form of so-called “new scythianism”. The EurAsEC Institute, the Institute for demography, migration and regional development and the Eurasian Economic Youth Forum all share a so-called Eurasianist “development ideology” based on a new Russian technocracy.

By developing its own version of “neoclassical Eurasianism” the “Eurasian Studies” think tank, more than all the others lays claim to the universality of its ideology and thus incorporates both traditional (slavophilia, classical Eurasianism, socio-orthodox philosophy of Berdyaev, Bulgakov and Solovyev, Russian cosmism, scythianism) as well as newer ideas and theories (liberation theology, new Russian technocracy, pragmatic Eurasianism) into its outlook.

Common features of “neoclassical Eurasianism” are as follows: Firstly, a supportive stance on Eurasian integration based on the principles of pragmatic Eurasianism (which is opposed to the concept of Russian neo-imperialism). Secondly, statism, as in overall support of Vladimir Putin’s policies (of course with some elements of constructive criticism). Thirdly , a common understanding of the integrity of Eurasian history and geography, i.e. an assertion of a distinct Eurasian cultural subcontinent. And finally, an overall, but not fanatical condemnation of neoliberalism and Westernism.

Allies and opponents of Eurasianism

In modern Russia and Ukraine there are a number of NPOs which do not officially declare themselves Eurasianist, but still have more or less Eurasianist standpoint. In Ukraine such include: The Ukrainian Choice (of Victor Medvechuk) , the Citizens’ Union of Ukraine (Alexei Natalenko), the Slavic Guard (Vladimir Rogov), Donbas for the Eurasian Union (Anton Bredikhin). Within Russia there are the following: the People’s Liberation Movement (led by MP Evgeny Fedorov) , the “Essence of Time” ( Sergey Kurginyan), the Great Fatherland (led by writer Nikolai Starikov) and others.

I would like to emphasize my view that not neoliberals, “westernists” and national separatists present the biggest threat to the Eurasian movement’s success, but two other groups, as one would say “from the rear”.

The first group consists of ideologically devoid passive bureaucrats and young government oriented careerists who verbally support “the President’s project” as so far as in even declaring themselves “Eurasianists”, since they see in it a profitable trend, either for personal enrichment, or for career advancement. At the same time, members of this group neither know and do not want to know anything about Eurasianism, nor about the political and cultural subtleties involved in the Eurasian integration project.

The second group is made up of young radicals and supporters of fanatical anti-liberalism. They support Russian imperial ambitions, ultra-conservatism, fascist-like statism and as such arbitrarily declare the Eurasian integration being aimed at building an “Eurasian empire” or a new Soviet Union (in terms of political centralization, forced Russification and a planned economy). Thus (consciously or not), they frighten off the initially pro-Eurasian republics’ population and provide “external” critics of Eurasianism – neoliberals, Westernists and national separatists – with the material to prove their allegations against the Eurasian project.

Both groups act as “internal” adversaries to the Eurasian movement since they discredit it, distort the Eurasian ideology’s true nature (look above) and with either their hypocrisy or their blind anti-liberalism contribute to the further tearing apart of society and strengthening the camp of the Eurasian movement’s “external” opponents.

Of course, constructive criticism and reasonable pluralism of opinions within the movement should be welcomed by all Eurasianists. And perhaps on can never get really rid of impostors. Nevertheless, every effort should be undertaken to dismiss any harmful deviations and to support the school of moderate revived Eurasianism, both by public statements and by seeking to coordinate and unify all Eurasianist movements and initiatives relevant.

Conclusion

We need to accept the fact that in the 21st century the Eurasian movement is not part of a uniform doctrine, but is divided into different currents of thought and action: moderate neoclassical Eurasianism, pragmatic Eurasianism, the technocratic development ideology, leftist Eurasianism, new scythianism and so on. This is a natural and even desired process, since healthy competition is the best incentive for development. But we must not forget that we are all Eurasianists, and that we have a common goal – building a strong and righteous Eurasian Union. Only together, only as a united front, we can fulfill the coming renaissance of Russia-Eurasia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *