Solzhenitsyn, Russian nationalism and anti-Russian hysteria

If we are to believe that Moscow, in its invasion of Ukraine, is contemptuous towards Ukrainian statehood, then we should not be surprised. Anticommunist Russian nationalism has been dismissive of Ukrainian claims to nationhood for years. Russian anticommunist dissidents, feted for decades in the West, expounded Greater Russian ethnic chauvinism over the airwaves. Hostility to non-Russian ethnic groups, including Ukrainians, has been part and parcel of Russian nationalist dissenter ideology for years.

The racism of the anti-Soviet Russians did not impede their careers as celebrity dissident intellectuals in the American empire. Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn – two writers and essayists hailed as courageous heroes in the West for combating Soviet tyranny – expressed a vicious Russian ethnic chauvinism, which involved denying Ukraine its nationhood. Such sentiments are now considered repellent by the corporate media that once welcomed them.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Soviet-era dissident and internationally celebrated novelist (he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1970), expressed a Greater Russian chauvinism that corresponds to Moscow’s current thinking regarding Ukrainian sovereignty. Best known for his novels exposing the gulag system, the anticommunist Solzhenitsyn was a racist Greater Russian ultranationalist, driven by Orthodox beliefs. He advocated a resurgent Russian empire which would, among other things, combine the Crimean peninsula and the Donbas (Eastern Ukraine) under Russian control.

Solzhenitsyn, after returning to Russia in the 1990s, was quite forthright in praising the administration of Vladimir Putin. Uniting Russian ethnic chauvinism with social conservatism, Solzhenitsyn found common ground with Moscow. It is no secret that Solzhenitsyn was an antisemite, dabbling in preposterous ‘Judeo-Bolshevik’ conspiracy theories, which are the hallmarks of far right ideology. In 2007, as Solzhenitsyn was in ill-health, Putin awarded him with a state prize.

Solzhenitsyn never regarded the Ukrainians as a separate and distinct people, but simply ‘little Russians’, and proposed a Slavic union combining Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Interestingly, he cynically deployed Jewish commissar characters in his works, thus surreptitiously suggesting exclusive Jewish responsibility for the 1917 revolution and the doctrines of Bolshevism. This malignant slur has been recycled in different ways by far right movements around the world today.

Yasha Levin writes about usefully weaponised dissidents over at his blog. Weaponised dissidents are useful devices in the ideological arsenal of the American empire. Another example of a politically useful dissident which Levin raises is that of Joseph Brodsky, Russian-American poet and educator. Awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1987, Brodsky was hailed in the US as a courageous opponent of Soviet tyranny. Teaching courses at Yale, Columbia and other prestigious universities, Brodsky was given a platform to express his views.

His views involved, among other things, racist hostility to any notion of Ukrainian independence. A Greater Russian nationalist zealot – similar in outlook to Solzhenitsyn – Brodsky expressed open disdain for Ukrainian independence, especially in the early 1990s with the dissolution of the USSR. The very real possibility of Ukrainian statehood emerged at the time, and Brodsky made his views perfectly clear in a poem he wrote on the subject. Referring to Ukrainians with an ethnic slur, he denounced moves towards Ukrainian independence.

The current Russian constitution commits the government to policies which respect ethnic minorities in the Russian federation. Moscow officially supports the teaching and maintenance of non-Russian languages spoken by the numerous ethnic minority groups. This is the bare minimum expected of a government which claims to be a pluralist democracy.

In the current climate of Russophobia, with demands to ban everything Russian, it is instructive to examine how our own political climate changes with regard to the imperatives of the American military-industrial-financial complex. Calls for the banning of Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, vodka and Russian cigarettes is the height of juvenile puerility. When the United States invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia – among other nations – there were no calls to ban Mark Twain, F Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway on account of their nationality.

Maligning an entire culture and civilisation because you oppose the actions of its political leaders is precisely the kind of creeping totalitarianism we claim to combat in the West. Should we ban the work of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), Russian psychologist whose findings are an integral part of every university level psychology course? In fact, we have only a limited understanding of Pavlov’s work in the West.

He was interested in more than just salivating dogs and ringing metronomes. He was aiming for a comprehensive understanding of the workings of consciousness – an appreciation of the subjective factor. While primarily a physiologist, he understood that the workings of the mind, while undergirded by physiological processes, could not be reduced to only those workings. His work on the mind-matter duality as a scientist overlapped with the corresponding discussion by philosophers on the subject.

Registering opposition to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is one thing; promoting anti-Russian hysteria is quite another. A harmful and propagandistic preoccupation, let’s not give in to the blanket demonisation of an entire civilisation.

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