“Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.”
—William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus
In his 1990 pamphlet “How to Revitalize Russia,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “When our fathers and grandfathers threw down their weapons during a deadly war [World War I], deserting the front in order to plunder their neighbor at home, they in effect made a choice [his italics] for us, with consequences for one century so far, but who knows, maybe for two.” Thus the chaos that made the Bolshevik coup possible was set in motion by the decision of Russian peasant-soldiers to abandon the front and seize the land of their more prosperous countrymen. The great writer-philosopher calls on Russia to seek her national revival first through personal repentance, for, in his view, Russia’s travails are not the result of blind historical forces, nor are they wholly caused by the machinations of internal and external enemies, but are chiefly the fruit of the decisions and actions of individual Russians.
Solzhenitsyn is a Russian nationalist. He sees his country reborn within the framework of her own history and traditions, but he is also a practicing Christian who recognizes that the sin of Adam is also the sin of Russians. To nationalists of Solzhenitsyn’s persuasion, the Russian nation is an extended family, connected by blood, common experience, and history. The nation is not an ideology, separate from the people themselves, and these nationalists do not indulge in what Conor Cruise O’Brien has called the “deification” of the nation, a singularly modern phenomenon. Russia is not a savior or messiah for the world (though she may play a special role in it), because, for these nationalists, Christ will suffice.
But for others, Russian nationalism replaces religious faith. Russia, reduced to an abstraction, is their god and, as the greatest and most virtuous force in human history, will play the messianic role of the world’s savior, leading mankind to “world peace,” or socialism, by whatever means are necessary to fulfill a national destiny made inevitable by the dialectics of history. It is unimportant whether they call themselves “patriots” or “communists,” whether they see Lenin or Peter the Great as a demi-god, for all nationalists of this stripe see the history of the nation as a continuous progression, under czars and commissars. Polish dissident Adam Michnik has called nationalism the “final stage” of communism, and the extremist coalition of “redbrowns,” triumphant in Russia’s December elections, is not misnamed.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky has been the most notable beneficiary of the redbrown triumph. He is colorful, brash, and outrageous. His party’s strong showing in the December elections should help to dispense with the once widely held image of him as a clown and buffoon, a man not to be taken seriously. If that did not, then his recently published autobiography, The Last Drive to the South, should. Zhirinovsky is a man with a plan, which, according to his book, he has mulled over for some time. Zhirinovsky writes that, even as a “small boy,” he was aware of “something great,” an “ultimate idea,” which was to guide him to great “heights.” He felt that he would lead Russia to the end point of her history, the “resolution” of her “global task,” a task that he eventually identified as her last “great historical mission,” a mission which would usher in a period of world peace and stability.
The historical process in which Zhirinovsky sees himself as instrumental will reach its culmination via the “drive to the south,” a Russian Blitzkrieg that will expand the borders of the Russian imperium to the shores of the Indian Ocean. Russia’s southern border, now racked by conflict, will once and for all time be secured by the “pacification” of the barbaric Georgians, Azeris, Turks, Iranians, and Afghans. Thus will Russia (and the world) be saved from the “Islamic threat,” thus will she resist being “driven into the tundra” where “nothing can breathe and develop.” Russia will be freed of the threat of extinction inherent in her existence in an “unviable region,” meaning the northern latitudes where a truncated Russia is confined. She will gain a warm-water “platform,” an access to the world’s markets by the hospitable waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Russia’s allies India and Iraq (this explains Zhirinovsky’s personal friendship with Saddam Hussein and his party’s willingness to send “volunteers” to help defend this ally whenever America threatens him) will act as guardians of Russia’s flanks, and the world will naturally be divided into spheres of influence by the great powers, ensuring stability and world peace in the 21st century.
“I dream of Russian soldiers washing their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and switching to summer uniforms forever,” he writes. Russia will thereby “insure stability throughout our region,” which will serve “the world community as a whole.” The future Russia will “grow rich” as a result of “the north” matching its “heavy industry” with the “raw materials” of “the south.”
Zhirinovsky acknowledges some rough spots on the way to the millennium, since there will naturally be resistance, and once the “drive” is an accomplished fact, part of the south’s population “will migrate to the north in a quest for work. Unfortunately, some of it will die because the south does not currently have sufficient medicines.” This unpleasantness, in Zhirinovsky’s eyes, is merely a phase of “natural survival, assimilation, and adaptation” on the way to a “world order” based upon his notion of spheres of influence, which, in the era of the global economy, will establish a true “economic order,” thus rationalizing world affairs.
The last drive to the south, the consolidationist phase of Zhirinovsky’s Grand Vision, will be preceded by the restoration of the Russian Empire within boundaries similar to those under the imperial regime, a restoration whose first cause is the humiliation that the Russian people have experienced since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the grand themes of The Last Drive to the South are humiliation, restoration, and consolidation. These themes are linked to the historical process that will culminate in the “last drive”: humiliation giving way in the short term to restoration, while in the long term consolidation will bring prosperity and tranquillity.
In The Last Drive to the South, Zhirinovsky links his life and fate to the future of the Russian nation: his own humiliation is a metaphor for the humiliation of all Russians. He repeatedly reminds his readers of the crushing poverty he was raised in, of the discrimination he claims he experienced at the hands of ethnic minorities, of the dull teachers (usually Jews) who deliberately blocked the advancement of a bright but overly independent student, of the hidebound bureaucrats who did not recognize or appreciate his intelligence and potential, and of the “toadies” who denounced him to the watchdogs of ideological purity. Zhirinovsky lets the people know he is one of them. He is a man who makes visceral connections with his audience when he tells them: “For decades you have been deceived, made fools of and stuffed full of various dogmas. . . . I shall represent you . . . those of you who received, and still receive in these terrible years, only 200 rubles and live in two-room apartments. . . . You are made to do nothing but work—work so that those at the top get rich.”
As Zhirinovsky has suffered at the hands of jealous plotters and fools who could not see his potential for leadership, so Russia has suffered at the hands of a world that not only does not appreciate her greatness and the historic role she plays in world history (Russia saved the world from the Mongols and the Turks, from Napoleon and Hitler, but the world is not grateful) but that also actively seeks her subjugation. In Zhirinovsky’s discourse, external enemies (usually Jews and Western capitalists) have allied with internal collaborators (Jews and the current Russian government) in a plot to turn Russia into a Western colony, a colonization that may well result in the ultimate extinction of the Russian people. “Nobody will help Russia,” writes Zhirinovsky. “Gorbachev and Yeltsin made all kinds of concessions to the West, the United States,… [and] Israel. And what did they get for it? Nothing.”
As Russia’s humiliation is linked to Zhirinovsky’s own personal humiliation, so the restoration of the Russian Empire and the consolidation of her gains (which will be reflected in the restoration of jobs and security through a revitalization of the military-industrial complex and a new era of prosperity to be realized following the drive to the south) are contingent on Zhirinovsky’s personal political fortunes. Indeed, he has often warned the Russian electorate, “If I do not win the elections, I will not be the loser. You, the inhabitants of Russia, will be the losers.”
Though Zhirinovsky’s vision of the drive to the south is his own specific prescription for healing what ails the Russian bear, the worldview he subscribes to is widely held among red-brown partisans. In the July 3, 1993, edition of Sovetskaya Rossiya, a bastion of national bolshevism among Russian newspapers, Russian Communist Party Chairman Gennady Zyuganov published a lengthy article entitled “The Russian Question,” in which he discussed the development of an “ideology of national rebirth” as a means of “snatching the [political] initiative out of the hands of those who hate Russia.” Zyuganov wrote of the necessity of explaining to the “masses” just “who is destroying Russia, how this is being done and why.” The answer was predictable: ” [The West] is afraid of our might as a world power. It has a self-interest in weakening, dismembering, and, if possible, enslaving Russia.” These efforts to enslave Russia, “over a period of more than a thousand years,” are the “maniacal” work of “secret political societies, religious sects, and mystical dogmas.” Sovetskaya Rossiya once ran a front-page photo, mocked up in the best National Enquirer manner, purporting to show Boris Yeltsin in Masonic regalia.
One of the genetic characteristics of the particular brand of nationalism that Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov represent is its dualism. If Russia represents the apex of world historical development, and the Russian nation (this is often posed in racialist terms) the highest stage of human evolution—with an historical mission to fulfill, a mission that may entail the subjugation of inferior nations—then it stands to reason that the evil forces of inferior Western civilization would seek to undermine and destroy her.
Zhirinovsky’s nationalism is the nationalism of victimology, the nationalism of scapegoating, the self-pitying nationalism of those who blame everyone but themselves for the troubles of their country. It is a nationalism for cowards, for people whose identity can be defined only in terms of victimhood. This brand of nationalism is not specific to Russia, anymore than its preoccupation with conspiracy theories is. The litany of scapegoating, of self-pity and self-glorification, of conspiracy theories and grand millennial schemes is redolent of Hitler’s speeches, of the puffed-up, posturing quality of Mussolini’s diatribes, of the paranoia of Stalin’s witchhunts, and of the hate-mongering on our own shores, from the wild Afrocentrists and Jew-baiting black nationalists. Regardless of whether Zhirinovsky becomes Russia’s leader, the worldview evident in The Last Drive to the South reveals much about our potential saviors of the world, who are all too abundant in contemporary Russia.
[The Last Drive to the South, by Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Moscow: Pisatel) 143 pp.]