Staunton, July 19 – Not every people becomes a nation either because its origins are too linked to an imperial state which opposes the completion of a national revolution by its largest ethnic component or because it lacks the opportunity to pursue the kind of great goal for itself rather than for others that sets it unifies its members, Vadim Sidorov says.
The question, posed most clearly by General Andrey Vlasov in 1945 Sidorov says in a chapter of his new book, The Uncompleted Revolution, is whether they can complete “the national revolution” that many of the peoples of the Russian Empire began in February 1917 but that the ethnic Russians saw deflected into a neo-imperial project by the Bolsheviks.
Drawing on the works of two Russian nationalist theorist, the late Petr Khomyakov and Aleksey Shiropayev, Sidorov argues that Russians can become a nation only if they detach themselves from the empire, something they can do only by promoting the development of multiple Russias.
Any effort to keep Russia in one piece, he says, will subvert the possibility of the completion of the national revolution by reinforcing rather than ending the ways in which the imperialism of the Russian state and the denial by that state of any possibility for Russians to advance from a people to a nation.
Put in simplest terms, if Russians seek to complete their national revolution within a single state whatever its borders as most so-called Russian nationalists want, they will remain a people subordinate to and controlled by an imperial state. Only by being open the emergence of multiple Russian states, Sidorov says, can the Russians hope to become a nation.
According to the analyst, “the world is entering a post-national era, and the Russians also will have to take part in it.” But the question is will they do so as a nation or as a people which has not yet gone through the national stage of development. The danger of that, Sidorov suggests, is still very real.
And the consequences could be just as disastrous as the Bolshevik efforts to “bypass capitalism and bourgeois democracy by jumping immediately to socialism.” How that ended, Sidorov says, is of course well-known. Bypassing the national stage of development would be equally fateful.
In 1917, Sidorov argues, “the essentially Russian revolution did not want to take the form of a national revolution and continued as an imperial revolution, the result of which became the restoration of the empire on a new ideocratic basis” and the blocking of any moves by Russians to become a genuine nation.
That might have been avoided, he continues, because during the Russian civil war, a variety of Russians spontaneously arose in various parts of the country. But the Bolsheviks suppressed them, aided by the view that either “’the entire’ Russian people’ had to go through that revolution as one whole or it would not pass through it at all.
Such a view remained unchallenged throughout the Soviet period even among those who classed themselves as anti-Soviets and reinforced the links between the Russian people and the imperial state. But beginning in the 1990s, it was challenged by a growing chorus of writers led by Khomyakov and Shiropayev.
As Khomyakov pointed out, “Russian nationalists want to combine things that cannot be combined by building a nation state on an imperial basis.” The result of that is that the Russians “remain an imperial quasi nation, with the corresponding mental maps and myths” but without a mobilizing agenda of their own.
What that means, the late analyst says, is that any resolution of “the Russian question” is possible only if it is approached from beyond the usual boundaries of nationalism as the nationalists understand it and instead recognizes that the necessary but insufficient condition is for Russians to “free themselves from the empire.”
“It isn’t enough to recognize that Russian statehood is an imperial survival of the past, the archaic heritage of the tsars, an historical relic,” Khomyakov argued. “What is important to understand that ‘Russianness’ is the product of the empire, one of its unofficial or semi-official (at the level of the well-known Stalinist toast) basic institutions.”
What is paradoxical, the late writer says, is that “despite the super-national or even anti-Russian character of the empire, the later has become part of the Russian people to such an extent that at times it is difficult to divide them.” And that means that only radical measures can lead to the two being broken apart.
Shiropayev makes a similar argument, Sidorov says, and comes to what for many Russian nationalists is an equally unsettling and unacceptable conclusion that there needs to be “a new conception of Russia” and “a new conception of the Russian people” and that these things will be possible only on the basis of a federation without an imperial people at its center.
“In other words,” he says, “a national revolution for present-day Russians [must be] a revolution of a multitude of nations” arising out of the Russian people “and not just one” which by working to hold things together would in fact mean that the ethnic Russians or perhaps better those who speak Russian and view themselves as an ethnic whole would behave as imperialists.
Despite what many Russian nationalists think, the emergence of multiple Russias, all using the Russian language does not mean that they would become “a divided people.” As Sidorov notes, “citizens of many countries speak English, Spanish or Arabic, but no one considers them ‘divided peoples.’”
“A pluralist mnogorusye [multii-Russias] – the term is Shiropayev’s, in the frameworks of which people of Russian origin and language instead of remaining slaves of the empire will acquire their own real political status as subjects in a multitude of new countries,” Sidorov says. In that event, their “national revolution will reach a successful conclusion.”
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