33. Which Russia is Historical

There is a lot of talk in Russia today about the need to reconnect modernity with the past, to bridge the cultural gap between us and our recent ancestors, and rightly so. But what past are we talking about? There are many ‘pasts’, i. e. lines of inheritance; our future is determined by which line we choose. It turns out that we are talking about a reunion with the undeservedly forgotten ‘new order’ (1918 — 1991).

We are told: ‘The ”new order” is the same historical Russia, only the ideology and the flag were different’. Is it so? Can we accept such a ‘historical Russia’, what will it bring us, and is there no other, more reasonable understanding of the historical ground to which we could return?

In itself, a return to historical soil is a necessity. All revolutions end in restorations. Restoration is all the more important in Russia, with our ‘discontinuous’ culture, suffering — as is commonly thought — from constant jumps and ruptures. The task of restoring our connection with the historical soil is not meaningless; moreover, it is the next task of modernity.

However, the ‘discontinuity’ of Russian history should not be exaggerated. All European nations experienced their first break with the historical soil (not to say: the destruction of the private, national, in the name of the universal) at the time of Christianisation. Along with them, so did we. Some of them experienced the second break with the universal in the name of the private — during the Reformation. In the same way, Russia experienced, apart from the revolution, two ruptures with the former cultural soil: the ‘Christian’ rupture and the Peter the Great one.

In terms of depth and the degree, if I may say so, of scorched soil, the Peter the Great rupture does not compare with the ruptures of Christianisation and revolution. But if the Christianisation, at the cost of killing the sprouts of national religion and culture, brought us into the circle of distant relatives of Rome and Greece, the revolution took us out of any cultural environment. Mentally, Russia joined not the new world, but the worldview of a narrow sect of the 19th century.

Of course, there’s a hint of similarity to the Christian upheaval here, too. Christianisation also joined us to a sect. But this sect spread on the wings of pagan Helleno-Roman culture, whence both the strength and the goodness (in certain respects) of its influence — despite the fact that in Christianity, indifferent to creativity, the fruits of ancient culture entered in a preserved form, beyond its will.

(As for the further development of the new religion on the Russian soil, let me remind you that different Christian confessions are different ways of circumventing biblical truths, i. e. ways of living in such a way that these truths do not destroy life. Living ‘according to the truth’ is what sects are created for; when a sect becomes large enough and strong enough to be called the Church, it is preoccupied with another question: how to keep the ‘one truth’ from destroying the lives of believers. After all, there is no way to ‘live’ according to the Bible, especially according to the Gospel. The great churches have each found their own way around the Bible. The Russian branch of Christianity has also found it).

The difference between Russia and Europe is not in the ‘discontinuity’ as such, but in the depth of the cultural layer burnt out in times of upheaval. Having no direct Helleno-Roman inheritance, we did not have a large, reliable, deep-going cultural soil. ‘Of all the countries of Europe,’ says Alexander Saltykov, ‘Russia alone was not part of the Roman world.’ Let me continue the quote: ‘Russia, erecting the building of its history, has always been, continues to be, and perhaps will remain forever, in an extremely unfavourable, fatal position: it has to build without a foundation’.

Despite the absence of an ancient, millennia-old foundation, which could have been laid by direct succession from Rome and Greece, we have a foundation acquired: partly Byzantine, but more Peter the Great’s, Romanov’s, heritage, which was abandoned in 1918 by the revolution. This Peter’s foundation was the backbone of classical Russian culture and statehood from the 18th century to the year 1918. Russian culture built on it until its golden evening in exile, until the end of the 1930s. From it go all the cultural threads that can and should be picked up to pass them on…

Romanov-European Russia is our historical Russia, whose legacy awaits its heirs. However, we hear that no, historical Russia is the ‘new order’ of 1918 — 1991, and it is its heritage that we should accept. What is this inheritance and what is its ‘historicity’?

First of all, this is the ideology of the ‘new order’, i. e. a series of statements that distort the truth and help the subjugated people to come to terms with reality. These fictions, mostly of a moral nature, are familiar to all: ‘rule of the people’, ‘justice’, ‘equality’, ‘abundance’, ‘peacefulness (of the government)’. Not the least of these was the confidence instilled in the people that their state was the best; their life the most enviable…

These fictions of the ‘new order’ are now accepted with full confidence and are reproduced no longer as fictions, but as memories of what really used to be. However, this is an artificial memory of something that did not exist. The main feature of the epoch that is now offered to us as historical ground is its fictitiousness. Under the guise of ‘soil’ we are offered a mirage, the favourable outlines of a country that never existed. Tyranny, contempt for the individual, destruction of people and cultural values are not visible behind the veil of this mirage. The task is made easier by the fact that the most important art of the new order was the art of propaganda, and the most important department was the department of making mirages.

Thus the ‘new order’ now becomes the source of opinions and customs that should be preserved. Egalitarian culture is defended, everything non-egalitarian is repelled. The current confrontation with the West, insofar as it is conscious, is a struggle between an equalitarian culture and the ultimate liberation of personal uniqueness (alas, only in some areas prescribed by leftist fashion; there is no question of a real, unique individualism of the Mill’s kind).

After all, the main idea of the revolution was ‘equality’ — an openly counter-cultural idea. No culture grows out of equality. ‘Culture is the domain of the rich and powerful,’ said Vasily Maklakov, i. e. it is always the fruit of inequality. From the craving for simplification, from which the former Russian intelligentsia suffered, only an equalitarian enlightenment could grow, i. e. the enlightenment from which the individual is excluded. And this craving is old, and as it manifested itself before the ‘new order’, so it manifests itself after its collapse. If of our former intelligentsia Alexander Saltykov said:

‘A tendency to the primitive, to the flat, to the unpretentious — these are our natural tastes. Fear of peaks. Fear of deepening. Fear of the multifaceted, the complex. A tendency to simplification and to oversimplification. Tendency to everything rudimentary, mechanical, fragmentary. A dislike for the organic, for the whole. A dislike of syllogism, some fear of it and helplessness before it — this was noted by Chaadaev.

And the astonishing lack of curiosity, that lack of curiosity and laziness of thought that so discouraged Pushkin…’

— then the present one characterises itself with the following statements:

‘It is obvious that the tasks […] of educators are very clearly defined. And they are defined by the dominant capitalist ideology… If a teacher initially sets himself the goal of teaching only the ‘strong’, those who are able to independently assimilate the ‘read material’ of the lesson.., it will lead to the creation and increasing consolidation of socio-cultural inequality’.

As you can see, ‘inequality’, alignment with the strong is the ‘root of all evil’, which must be avoided at all costs. That it is possible to equalise people only in weakness, mediocrity, poverty is as unknown to the current advocates of equality as it was to the former ones. The more equality, the lower the level of personality. By equalising the strong and weak, you multiply weakness.

In other words, we are offered a restoration of the revolution.

The present false conservatism is built on the restoration of its ‘tradition’ — Socialist in its basis, although one can find Christian features in it as well. Why do I say ‘false’?

Let us ask ourselves, what does conservatism usually consist of? Conservatism is an aspiration to preserve the old forms and the content associated with them, and the forms are complex, not generally accessible; this aspiration has an aristocracy (not necessarily hereditary) as its carrier, i. e. a certain narrow circle that shares the old values. It is wealth and complexity that are ‘conserved’; every revolution is on the side of simplification and impoverishment.

Lech Wałęsa once simplified this idea to the extreme by saying that a conservative is someone who recognises ‘God and private property’. More broadly speaking, behind conservatism there is always a personality (where there is religion, there is a self-conscious personality) and the labour of generations of its ancestors (where there is property, there is respect for the labour of ancestors). Our pseudo-conservatism treats religion as a means, and has no ancestors — except for the generation of destroyers.

Conservatism preserves what is not given for free, but requires some effort; values that are not inherent in man from birth, but are acquired by labour… That is why it is never the conservatism of the majority. Or is it?

Let us remember the schism that opposed Peter the Great, a movement of many people and in certain localities almost all-encompassing (Solovki Monastery, which the regular army fought with); let us remember Russian ‘Populism’ that has taken hold of many people, too, with its deification of poverty and simplicity. Conservatism may protect the poor and simple; experience proves it. However, such ‘conservatism’ protects not complex, precious in every respect values moulded in certain forms, but forms without values.

The same can be said of our governmental ‘conservatism’. It is devoted to the forms (read: appearances) forged by the ‘new order’; if it suspects that there was nothing behind these forms — or that there was something just the opposite of what was said out loud — these appearances are dear to it for a number of reasons.

The point of view for which ‘historical Russia’ is the Russia of the ‘new order’ (‘only the flag and ideology were different’) is in some respects psychologically advantageous. It allows us to remain on the ground of all the fictions that justified the existence of this order. By remaining on the ground of fiction, we give this order the appearance of legitimacy, goodness, cultural value (choose the right word). By giving this order the appearance of legitimacy, we free ourselves from the need to re-evaluate values, and most importantly, from the inevitable disappointment, shame, and remorse. To declare the ‘new order’ to be historical Russia means to preserve our ‘great past’ no matter what. The past is a powerful means of controlling the present. This experience is well known to us from the times of the late ‘new order’, when the only justification for the present state of affairs (which was not brilliant) was the former military victories, i. e. the defeat of National Socialism by Class Socialism. In the shadow of these military victories, the horrors of Class Socialism, revealed in its native country, seemed to pale.

It is not only the ruling class that the new conservatism promises these benefits. The majority, for whom and in whose name the words ‘We are the first, we are proud’ are written on the walls, see the same advantages in the new ideology. There is no need to labour over the past any more: no need to re-evaluate, no need to doubt, no need to regret. As I have already said, this is a conservatism not of values, not of labour, but of laziness, of escaping from activity. That is why it is accessible to the majority, that is why it does not need aristocracy.

And it is impossible to say that the Romanovs consciously wished to rely in the new Russia on personal originality. They wanted Europeanism — from which personal complexity, personal uniqueness turned out to be inseparable. But the line of Russian culture, coming from 1917, is in fact a line of artificial simplification — not above the level of the party mind and party censorship, inheriting the Populism of earlier times.

For the inheritors of the ‘new order’ neither Europeanism nor originality is unattractive. Our conservatism of the majority is not White, but whitish. It rests on an invented commonality in simplicity and poverty. Fictitious because ‘unity in poverty’ is historically recent; dig deeper, and among the ancestors of today’s worshippers of equality one will find officers, merchants, factory workers, priests…

The revolution was the triumph of groundlessness. Our current conservatism is a reference to groundlessness as a ground, a search for tradition in an epoch that had no tradition and deliberately exterminated it, so that the future would have nothing to rely on. Do we need such a ‘historical ground’?

Restoring ties with a truly historical Russia, in the sense mentioned above, requires effort. It includes, as a condition, a re-evaluation of the events of the 20th century and our participation in these events. And the re-evaluation will inevitably affect not only the last century, but also our previous history, up to the Christianisation. We will not be able to accept anything from our past without re-evaluation.

The re-evaluation will also affect, as I have said, old subjects that have long been excluded from all discussion — including religion. We will also have to consider the following:

Two ‘old worlds’ glimmer on our horizon: the ‘pre-1918’ world and the ‘B. C.’ world. Both are denigrated and destroyed; both are nourishing to the individual; both are irretrievable in detail, but only as foundations for the future.

Not thinking of Russia outside Europe, we remember also that Europeanism is older than Christianity.

Christianity won not by its theology or its morality. It was the idea of personal communion with the deity, hidden in it, that triumphed. This ‘secret Orphism’ was recognised by Western man, tired of his beautiful but distant gods, weary of his rulers who wanted divine honours, and could not resist its power.

All our ideal images connected with life in the world are of Greco-Latin, pagan origin. The ideal of the warrior, the statesman, the vir magnus, is pagan. It cannot be presented with Christian features, because Christianity is non-doing, abstinence from doing.

Christianity has nothing to say about life. Life is for pagans, paganism is for life. Christianity is one continuous, wide thought of the postmortal — some counterbalance to the Old Testament, in which there is nothing or almost nothing about postmortality, everything is material, everything is just on this side. In a sense, Christianity is a response to Old Testament materialism.

Socialism in the last two hundred years has taken the place of the heir, if not the gravedigger, of Christianity. Through it passes the decomposition of any past Christian worldview. Socialism has become to the Old World what Christianity, which it hated, was to the ancient world. Reject, destroy, piously vilify lest it be revived — all the same techniques…

In re-evaluating Socialism, in freeing ourselves from the old illusions about it, we should also think about the religion that gave birth to it. We now see what we did not see before: the Old Testament is a utopian book, although this utopia is relegated to a fictitious past. More than that: the Old Testament is probably the first known broadly conceived ideological work, and immeasurably more influential than all of its Socialist reprints; more influential than Plato’s ‘Republic’.

There will also be consonances with the fate of Socialism in the future fate of Biblical religion. Christianity’s break with the Old Testament is due to the refraction of light at the boundary of two different environments. Gospel preaching rooted in the Old Testament was presented by superficially Europeanised authors to readers equally superficially affected by European (‘pagan’) culture. The New Testament was born in an environment of semi-enlightenment, i. e. partially affected by Western culture. After all, who are the ‘Greeks’ we know from the formula ‘Greeks and Jews’? Children of mixed marriages, people on the border of two cultural worlds. In two thousand years, Socialism will develop in the same nourishing environment (but not between peoples — between classes).

Christianity first of all infected the Old World. Without it, there would not have been its rapid spread among the young peoples of Europe. For it was not so much Christian preaching that conquered the peoples, but the higher Greco-Roman (created by the pagans) culture. The glow of that culture illuminates our twilight too.

The Bible was written in a world where many gods competed for the soul of man. Monotheism is a mental construct, not the fruit of undirected experience. As soon as the mind yields to religious experience, polytheism raises its head — which happens under the cover of ‘monotheistic’ religions. The gods are images of the invisible, necessary for us because we think in images and cannot think otherwise.  They are the focal points of our gaze, something between us and the divine. The gaze cannot dwell on the divine ground of the world: it has no name, it cannot be imagined, it is impossible or difficult to address. Whoever says that ‘gods are created by men’ is understating things. It is a bit technical, but it is true to say that the gods are the focal points for our prayers. On one side of them are we, on the other side is the Divine. How we imagine the gods depends not only on the content of our prayers, but also on the answer to them, because we receive only what we dare to ask…

All of the above are by no means questions of this day; nor even, perhaps, of tomorrow… But since the development of thought cannot stop, especially in times when the continuity in the education of mind and feeling has been lost, and the thinking mind has to form a new, its own, independent idea about all things, sooner or later we will have to think about them.

But we shall return to the aims and means of conservatism in Russia, stipulating that the religious component (in the sense of restoring certain ideas and forms of spiritual life) can hardly enter into it.

So, the government offers us such a restoration of the connection with the cultural soil, which is reduced to the acceptance of the ‘new order’ and, consequently, of revolution as the source of all our values and perceptions. (I note in parentheses that in this revolutionary unity the Christian Church is mysteriously included.) Such acceptance requires no effort of mind and feeling, but rather leads to inner peace. If we accept that the revolution and its fruits cannot be the foundation for future culture, we will have to accept that the only culturally fruitful ‘historical Russia’ is Romanov’s Russia.

Here the difficulty begins. Romanov Russia cannot be ‘restored’ in the sense in which it is possible, say, to ‘restore the USSR’. Moreover, it should not be ‘restored’ in any case, because it was (as we have discussed in previous essays) a complex unity, created by a long previous development. The only thing possible for us is to put this Russia in such a position in relation to the present one, which at the time of Peter the Great was occupied by Western Europe, and accordingly change our direction of view. A spiritual resettlement happened to Russia under Peter the Great, an acceptance of other ancestors and a different past than those we had, or in any case, self-adoption to these ancestors and this past. Such a spiritual resettlement is also possible for us.

Transition to a new cultural soil is both a replanting of spiritual experience (i. e. actually acquiring new ancestors, even if not by blood) and a replanting of certain attitudes and behaviours. A person who chooses a new spiritual homeland learns not only to think, but also to act differently. All Europeans experienced this at the time of Christianisation, and Russians also in the days of Peter the Great. (Another reason why our ‘new order’ should not be compared with the Peter’s case. In 1918 — 1991 it was not about a new Christianisation, not about the assimilation of a new way of acting and thinking, but about the systematic simplification of the historical image of the country and the person to the level allowed by the government).

Such spiritual resettlement will be helped by the legacy of the White Emigration. It is difficult to learn directly from the old Russia. Russia before 1917 was too comfortably Slavophile at the top and too Socialist in the educated masses. Purification from Slavophilism and Socialism was given only to the White Emigration, or rather to say — to a certain part of it (which can be very conditionally called the party of ‘Vozrozhdenie’, after the name of the newspaper that united the people of this mind). This purification may not have encompassed all Russian minds abroad, but it did take place, and its fruits have been left to us as a legacy.

It should be noted that the emigration justifies the White resistance to the ‘new order’ — even in spite of its military defeat. If there had been no General Wrangel and the Evacuation of 1920, we would have only continuity with the pre-1917 era, i. e., as stated above, with either Socialism or Slavophilism. The White Movement preserved for us the cultural line of European, Romanov Russia, purified from the extremes of both ‘advanced Europeanism’ (Socialism) and the Romantic reaction to this Europeanism (Slavophilism). Unfortunately, no one, or almost no one, made any effort to transfer this heritage to Russia when there was still an opportunity — in the 1990s; and now any heritage other than the Soviet one is of no value to us.

Is this spiritual resettlement possible? If we are still capable of culture, i. e. the way of perception and assimilation, it is possible. A cultured man is a man of learning. We make other people’s spiritual contents our own or recognise ourselves in them; otherwise there is no development. Barbarism, complacency, vulgarity are the condition of one who is ‘impermeable’ to other people’s spiritual experience. As for Socialism as a ‘historical soil’, I would like to remind you of Fiodor Stepun’s exhaustive characterisation of it:

‘The organic life of Russia was destroyed by the Bolsheviks with a finality unprecedented in history. All the long-established and clearly delineated types of Russian people were instantly withdrawn from circulation’. 

There can be no continuity with an order that purposefully exterminated any continuity. Socialism is not historical Russia, but its gravedigger. The memory of those who fight against history may be erased.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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