Aleksandr Dugin's Eurasianism
by Justin E. H. Smith
I have been reading Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics (Russia’s Geopolitical Future), and translating bits as I go. This 1997 work is widely appreciated among Russian military and foreign-policy elites, and while there is broad official denial many believe that Dugin has a more or less direct line to Putin as a strategy advisor and as an ideological tutor.
Dugin promotes the ideology of ‘Eurasianism’, which involves the following core ideas. First, that world powers divide naturally into sea-based ‘thalassocracies’ and continental ‘tellurocracies’. Second, that Anglo-American dominance throughout most of the world since the 19th century has been based on maritime domination, but the empire that was built up in this way extends itself too far, where it does not belong, when it implants itself on the European continent and seeks to influence the geopolitical fate of not just the Balkans, Ukraine, or Georgia, but indeed Germany or France. This, on a proper geopolitical understanding, is Russia’s job: there is a corridor extending ‘from Dublin to Vladivostok’ that is Russia’s ‘Near Abroad’, and it is therefore Russia’s historical destiny to push NATO out of these zones and to end the Pax Americana that has held in Europe since the end of World War II. In a newly aligned world the United States, now remodeled as a sort of ‘greater Oceania’, will be permitted to keep its regional hegemony over a good portion of the world. But it must stay out of Eurasia.
I am in fact sympathetic to the sort of geopolitical approach Dugin is attempting, even if his claims are generally backed up by little supporting argument or evidence, and his principal accomplishment within the Russian context of the 1990s seems to have been the demonstration of a certain mastery of the canonical texts of Western European political theory, notably Carl Schmitt. It seems clear enough for example that the US appropriation of the North American continent, and the claiming of California early on as a state (1849), when the ‘Indian Wars’ still raged in much of the interior, had everything to do with an ambition to use this bi-coastal positioning for control of the two oceans. Hardly had California been incorporated when Hawaii, and then the Philippines, entered into the sights of the US government as constituting their own ‘Near Abroad’. There was a similar motion eastward by the Russians intent on appropriating Siberia two centuries earlier, and they arrived at their own Pacific coast by the 1630s. But there does not seem to have been any comparable intention to use this access to two oceans for maritime global domination. Rather, the eastward movement was part of a millennia-long pendular pattern that includes the establishment of the hordes that had come from the other direction, and that always had as its goal only the domination of the continent, not the world. The Russians were securing control of the North Eurasian interior that had previously belonged to the Siberian Khanate, which in turn was a remnant of the same Mongol Empire that a few centuries earlier had extended to the Baltic Sea.
Again, the continent in question, on the Eurasianist view, includes Europe as a proper part. I really cannot understand why the shadow Russia casts over these parts is not perceived more sharply, or with greater dread. One frequently reads dismissals in the Western media, to the effect that it’s all bluster, that Russia is in no position economically to really mount a plausible counter-hegemony within its sphere of influence, let alone at a global level. But Russia isn’t terribly interested in economic dominance. It’s often acknowledged in these dismissive articles that the one thing Russia does have that makes it something of a contender is its full arsenal of nuclear weapons. It is insinuated that these don’t amount to much, because they are effectively unusable. But this is a sort of reassurance that one can only offer oneself if one is not paying close attention to the extreme ideological conditioning that the Eurasianist camp is performing on the military and foreign-policy elite in Russia. There are indeed Eurasianists on record as saying that nuclear holocaust would be preferable to the ongoing national humiliation of NATO hegemony within the former Soviet bloc. This is not about gruesome beheadings by criminal gangs like ISIS, or about the prospect of disadvantageous trade relations with a growing China and the possibility of ensuing proxy wars for regional dominance in the South China Sea. This is about a continent that is destructible hundreds of times over by nuclear weapons that are fully armed and ready, and a current Russian regime that is seriously mulling the idea that such a destiny for humanity is less bad than putting up with the circumstances of its present destiny: not being listened to or respected.
Mikhail Gorbachev is currently warning about the imminent ‘return’ of the Cold War, but this seems far too mild. There is now rumbling among certain members of the Duma about the possibility of putting Gorbachev himself on trial for treason: that is, for allowing the Soviet Union to break up. What Gorbachev allowed, in effect, was for Russia to lose its hegemony over the Near Abroad, and Putin now calls this loss ‘the greatest tragedy of the 20th century’. Not the Holocaust, not Hiroshima, but the loss of Soviet power. This is what Putin is now committed to restoring, and perhaps, indeed, in an even more extensive form than the USSR could manage.
An official line is taking shape in the Putin regime according to which the Gorbachev-Yeltsin chapter amounts to a sort of recapitulation of the Bolshevik period, a temporary descent into chaos, while Putin is, if not a new Stalin (who remains a target of at least superficial offical criticism), then at least the bringer of a new period of law and order that bears some important similarities to the Stalin period of Soviet history. While Stalin pretended to be a continuator of the legacy of Lenin, however, this time around Putin is happy to position himself as counter-revolutionary, as the negation and opposite of everything Gorbachev might have hoped to see for Russia’s future. The Soviets could continue to tell themselves to the very end that their attempts at establishing satellite regimes throughout the world were in the end a matter of ‘exporting revolution’. Today by contrast there is no concealing the real character of Russia’s campaign for greater regional hegemony: imperialism.
I’m certainly not pleased about US-NATO domination of Europe, and I believe it is crucal to continue striving for alternatives to the Pax Americana. But replacing one empire with another is not a viable alternative, and when it comes down to it I’m prepared to say that I strongly prefer the present arrangement. More importantly, so do the great majority of people living east of the former Iron Curtain, and west of Russia proper. It is therefore a question of support for self-determination, rather than of one empire over another, that compels the strong denunciation of Russian imperialism. Naturally, also, in the current political and economic crisis, some opportunistic leaders in the region, notably Viktor Orbán in Hungary, are prepared to declare liberal democracy a complete bust and to threaten a realignment towards Russia. Such a realignment would practically guarantee another 1956: a popular uprising against a sell-out regime, and a harsh crackdown sponsored by the power to whom they’ve sold out.
The case of Orbán is also telling: while a particularly misinformed understanding of Russia’s role in the world sees that country as a sort of valiant counter-hegemon, Orbán’s reasons for orienting towards Moscow are not that he prefers a genuinely radical and progressive alternative to the tepid and false promises of liberal democracy, but because he represents a genuine and full-fledged fascism of the sort that Russia pretends to be opposing in Ukraine. His regime sponsors or threatens pogroms against Roma and Jews, and it has created a general climate of xenophobia more oppressive, at this point, than anywhere else in Europe. This is what small countries like Hungary get when they trade in liberal democracy for a reorientation toward Moscow. I am certainly not trying to say that liberal democracy is not a great disappointment, or that we don’t have the right to hope for something better, but only that whatever that better thing is will not come from Moscow.
So, I am not promoting ‘hawkishness’; I’m not at all interested in joining the chorus sung now by George Soros and many others, which says that moral support for the Ukrainians means nothing if we do not also provide them with missiles. On the contrary, I think the best thing that can be done is to express such moral support –or, rather, political solidarity– with anti-Putin forces within Russia, rather than allowing the imperialist regime there to stand, in our imaginations, for Russia tout court. This is the picture of Russia with which the vast majority of self-identified western leftists are perfectly happy to rest content, as if Russians could have no will other than the one embodied by the state. This is nothing more than a prejudice, and a great failure on the part of the western left.
Here are a few excerpts from Dugin’s treatise:
There is virtually no geopolitician who would be removed from participation in the political life of his state. From this flows the evident partiality of all of them, without exception. The geopolitician, approaching his scientific research, is necessarily obligated to determine his own position on the map of geopolitical poles; from this the point of view will depend, from which he will undertake to analyze all world processes. In the entire history of geopolitics we do not find a single author who would be indifferent to the fate of his state and of his people, who would not share its fundamental ethical and historical orientation. This is made apparent with particular clarity in the distant poles by Anglo-Saxon authors, who impeccably and unambiguously follow the logic and the value system of the Sea Power, the thalassocracy, formulating their theories from the position of the unconditional defenders of Atlanticism; Russian Eurasians, equally consistent in their faith in the ideals of the heartland, do not even subject to doubt the absolute ethical and historical preeminence of the ideocracy of Russia-Eurasia…
A more complicated matter is that of the French, who have a theoretical choice in their self-identification either as a thalassocracy, or as a tellurocracy. In the first case, there follows a solidarity with the Anglo-Saxon world, with Sea Power; and in the second case, Germanophilia ensues. Both variants involve clear national sympathie. Theoretically both of these tendencies are present among French geopoliticians, but the more developed geopolitical conception has been worked out by the group of ‘Atlanticists’ following Vidal de la Blache, who remains the central figure in this area. His geopolitical antipodes, Lavalle and De Gaulle, largely acquiesce in his theoretical point of view.
Germany is also in a dual situation. If on the whole its geopolitical view is substantively oriented in a continental and Eurasian direction, this orientation is limited by a complicated relationship to the Slavic world, to Asia, and particularly to Russia. This limitation is so significant as to bring about attempts by Germany to voluntaristically compare its Middle European position with the Middle Eurasian one, ignoring in this way the historical meaning of Russia-Eurasia, and these attempts are so stubborn, that in both world wars Germany was compelled to fight not only against the thalassocratic powers, but against its logical Eurasian confederate Russia (USSR). It can be said that a ‘non-Eurasian’ continentalism is characteristic of German geopolitics. Such a situation sums up all of German history in a geopolitical formula, and predetermines the very structure of German national consciousness.
The necessity for the geopolitician to initially determine his own position on the geopolitical map of the world and its poles… has helped to bring it about that this science has developed almost exclusively among the representatives of the world bowers, having an ambition to becoming a ‘world power’ (Weltmacht), a ‘superpower’: an ambition to attain planetary domination.
Нет, практически, ни одного геополитика, который был бы отстранен от участия в политической жизни своего государства. Отсюда вытекает очевидная пристрастность всех без исключения. Геополитик, приступая к научным исследованиям, обязательно должен определить свое собственное место на карте геополитических полюсов; от этого будет зависеть тот угол зрения, под которым он станет анализировать все мировые процессы. Во всей истории геополитики мы не встречаем ни одного автора, который был бы безразличен к судьбе своего государства и своего народа, не разделял бы его основной этической и исторической ориентации. Особенно ярко это проявляется на крайних полюсах англосаксонские авторы безукоризненно и однозначно следуют логике и ценностной системе Sea Power, талассократии, формулируя свои теории с позиции безоговорочных сторонников атлантизма; русские евразийцы столь же последовательны в своей верности идеалам heartland’а они даже не ставят под сомнение абсолютное этическое и историческое превосходство идеократии и России-Евразии…
Сложнее обстоит дело с французами, у которых есть теоретический выбор самоидентификации либо талассократия, либо теллурократия. В первом случае, следует солидарность с англосаксонским миром, с Sea Power, во втором германофилия. Оба варианта подразумева ют безусловные национальные симпатии. Теоретически обе эти тенденции присутствуют среди французских геополитиков, но наиболее стройную геополитическую концепцию выработала группа ‘атлантистов’, последовате лей Видаля де ля Блаша, остающегося центральной фигурой в этой области. Его геополитические антиподы Лавалль и Де Голль с теоретической точки зрения значительно ему уступают.
У Германии тоже двойственная ситуация. Если в целом ее геополитическая мысль ориентирована преимущественно континентально и “евразийски”, эта ориента ция ограничивается сложным отношением к славянско му миру, к Азии и особенно к России. Это ограничение настолько существенно и попытки Германии волюнта ристски уравнять свое срединно-европейское положение со срединно-евразийским, игнорируя тем самым историческое значение России-Евразии, настолько упорны, что в обеих мировых войнах Германия вынуждена была воевать не только против талассократических держав, но и против своего логического евразийского союзника России (СССР). Можно сказать, что для германской геополитики характерен “неевразийский” континентализм. Такая установка резюмирует в геополитической формуле всю немецкую историю и предопределяет саму структуру германского национального сознания.
Необходимость для геополитика изначально определить собственную позицию на геополитической карте мира и ее поясах… повлияла на то, что эта наука развивалась почти исключительно у представителей крупных держав, имеющих амбиции стать “мировым могуществом” (Weltmacht), “сверхдержавами”, достичь планетарного господства.
Piece crossposted with Justin E. H. Smith’s website