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Soviet Dissident Culture under Putin: Alexander Dugin

Mark Sedgwick
American University in Cairo

During the Soviet period, Alexander Dugin was unknown and unimportant–a street sweeper
with a number of dubious friends who drank too much and discussed the obscure books that
they were reading in the Lenin Library and the Library of Foreign Languages.1 Today, Dugin
is well known in Russia, if not exactly a household name, is welcomed by the U. S. State
Department when he visits Washington, DC, and is an inspiration to certain Western
Europeans. At first sight, then, he is an intellectual “new Russian,” one of those whose
success is a direct consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This paper will argue,
however, that the Dugin phenomenon is in fact–to use Birgit Menzel’s words–“ a
continuation or an intensification of elements in Soviet civilization.”2 Dugin represents a
global philosophy and global trends, but in a form that could only be found in Moscow. To
some extent he reflects Russian circumstances, but to an even greater extent he reflects the
reaction to the Soviet Union that might be called “Soviet dissident culture.”
This paper will first very briefly review Dugin’s positions, career, and ideas; their
reception will only be considered occasionally, since more research is needed on this. The
paper will then identify ways in which the Dugin’s ideas reflect Russian circumstances that
predate the Soviet period, and that are therefore neither Soviet not post-Soviet. This done, the
paper will then address the central issue of what aspects of the Dugin phenomenon today are a
continuation of Soviet dissident culture, and what aspects represent a break with Soviet
civilization. It will be argued that the former–the elements that represent continuation–are
more important.

The Dugin phenomenon


At the present time, Alexander Dugin is four things simultaneously.3 Firstly and most
obviously, he is a frequent commentator on foreign affairs in the Russian media, and the
leader of the Eurasia Movement. In these capacities he is the leading spokesman for neo-
Eurasianism, an adaptation of the original Eurasianism4 which fits well with the nationalist
and anti-American positions that have become increasingly mainstream in recent years.

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Secondly, he is the founder of the Anti-Orange Youth Front, a street movement the size and
importance of which is unclear, and the author of a weekly program on Spas, the Orthodox
satellite channel. In these capacities, he addresses more precisely defined interests and
audiences. Thirdly, he is the moving spirit behind the New University, a regular lecture series,
and the author of various books and articles based on these lectures and similar sources. In
these capacities, he is the leading Russian spokesman for Traditionalism, an international
movement originating in the esoteric milieux of late nineteenth-century Paris, discussed
further below. Fourthly and finally, he is the leader of the International Eurasia Movement.
This not only represents Eurasianism in former Soviet countries such as the Ukraine and
Kazakhstan, but has some significance in Western Europe, where it is an inspiring example
for the extreme Right.
Dugin’s career started during the period of Perestroika, in Pamiat’–as did many other
careers.5 In the immediate post-Soviet period, he became active as a writer and journal
publisher highly critical of President Yeltsin and associated with both the CPRF (Gennadi
Ziuganov) and the nationalists (Aleksandr Prokhanov). Dugin helped bridge the ideological
gap between these two extremes of the Yeltsin opposition. He entered politics directly for the
first time in 1993 as one of three founders of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), along with
the novelist Edvard Limonov and the musician Egor Letov.6 Today’s Anti-Orange Youth
Front is an echo of the NBP, which–according to Mischa Gabowitsch–is best understood not
as a political party but as a youth movement.7 After various disappointments and a split
between him and Limonov, Dugin left the NBP in 1998. He came to the attention of a wider
audience in 1997 with the publication of Osnovi geopolitiki: geopoliticheskoe budushchee
Rossii [Geopolitical Foundations: The Geopolitical Future of Russia], which was widely read
and was especially popular with sections of the military.8 His journey from the fringes of the
opposition towards the establishment, which started with this book, continued with the
election of President Putin, to whom he declared his loyalty, and with the foundation of the
Eurasia Movement in 2001. Unlike the NBP, the Eurasia Movement was not a youth
movement, and included such figures as Dr Aleksandr Panarin, Mufti Talgat Taj al-Din,
Archbishop Andrian (the patriarch of the Old Believers), and Mikhail Leontiev. After a
flirtation with electoral politics during the 2003 elections,9 Dugin assumed his current roles,
listed above.

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Although Dugin’s most publicly visible persona has developed during these years, and
although his relations with the Kremlin have swung from firm opposition under Yeltsin to
(not always uncritical) support under Putin, his underlying ideology has changed little.
Russia, arguably, has moved toward Dugin, not Dugin toward Russia. Throughout, Dugin’s
underlying ideology has been Traditionalism, which is the key to his neo-Eurasianism.
Traditionalism is also the major esoteric source in Dugin’s Eurasianism, although he also
draws (less heavily) on other esoteric sources which are not discussed in this paper.
Traditionalism comes in two major strands, one spiritual or esoteric, and one
political.10 Both derive from René Guénon (1886-1951), whose early career in Paris during
the belle epoque was typical of the esoteric milieux of his time. As a young man, Guénon
joined the Martinist Order of “Papus,” Gérard Encausse (1865-1916), a quasi-Masonic order
which derived ultimately from the Theosophical Society, and enjoyed considerable–if
brief–success. After the First World War, Guénon distanced himself from these milieux,
become a severe critic of occultism, and attracted Catholic patronage. Guénon continued to
develop various ideas of esoteric origin, notably perennialism, and so lost Catholic patronage.
He later dismissed contemporary Christianity as esoterically bankrupt. His mature philosophy
was expressed in several books, many articles by him and his followers, and a long-running
journal. Its crucial elements are three: a condemnation of modernity based in a conviction of
relentless decline, a belief in the existence of a single original and perennial Ur-religion
known as the Tradition, and a conviction of the necessity of following a traditional esoteric
path within a traditional exoteric framework. Taken individually, none of these three elements
are unique to Traditionalism; what is unique is their combination.
By the start of the Second World War, Guénon had moved to Egypt and converted to
Islam; his followers then included French Freemasons, European Sufis, and Rightists in Italy
and Romania. The Rightists were less concerned with a traditional exoteric framework, and
more concerned with expressing traditional virtues in political action. Their model was not
the brahmin priest, but the kshatriya spiritual warrior.
After the end of the Second World War and Guénon’s death, these streams diverged.
I have relatively little information about Traditionalist Freemasons. Several groups of
Traditionalist Sufis came into being, none of which were large but some of which were
influential, given that their members were often persons of importance in European and

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American cultural and intellectual life. Traditionalist Rightism developed most in Italy where,
during the 1970s, the works of the most important political Traditionalist, Baron Julius Evola
(1897-1974), became the chief inspiration for activists who were at one point responsible for
an average of 80 terrorist incidents a month.11 Although generally seen at the time as a
political movement, the roots of Evolian political Traditionalism remained spiritual and
esoteric.12 Despite the breaking up of Traditionalist terrorism by the Italian police, there is
still definite interest in Evola’s works in Rightist circles in Italy and South America. In recent
decades, spiritual Traditionalism has spread from Catholic Europe and America to the
Muslim world, especially Iran, Turkey, and Malaysia. Its enthusiasts now include Jordanian
princes, and Britain’s Prince Charles.13
Dugin encountered the works of Evola in about 1980 through a group of “alternative”
intellectuals who had been reading them and discussing them since the 1960s. The more
senior members of this group included, at one time, the novelist Iurii Mamleev, the translator
Iuri Stefanov, the poet Evgenii Golovin, and the future Islamist Haydar Jamal. These and
others met regularly to share their private revolt against Soviet reality, drinking to excess,
experimenting with everything from alchemy to sex, and discussing the works of Evola and
other Traditionalists. Like all serious followers of Evola, Dugin also read Guénon. Once
circumstances permitted–that is to say, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union–Dugin, like
all serious followers of Guénon, adopted a “traditional” esoteric and exoteric religious path,
Old Belief. Like all serious followers of Evola, he also launched himself into political
action–action which is inspired and directed by Traditionalism.14

Dugin and pre-Soviet Russian circumstances


Dugin’s Traditionalism, then, is of entirely non-Russian origin. It is, however, adapted to
Russian circumstances. Dugin’s choice of Old Belief, for example, is distinctively Russian,
and neither Soviet nor post-Soviet. Most followers of Guénon have become Sufis, although
some in America have argued that Guénon’s dismissal of Christianity was a dismissal only of
its Protestant and Catholic forms, and have embraced Greek and Russian Orthodoxy abroad.15
That Dugin chose Old Belief rather than Sufism reflects the fact that he was a Russian in
Russia. Russian circumstances also explain why the variety of Old Belief he chose was
Edinoverie,16 which–unlike most varieties of Old Belief–recognizes the authority of the

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Patriarch, and is in return recognized by the mainstream Orthodox church. Dugin’s political
action may be inspired by Evola and Traditionalism, but that action takes place within Russia,
and is facilitated by good relations with the Church.
Russian circumstances also make one aspect of Traditionalism especially useful: the
belief in the existence of a single original and perennial Ur-religion, which is an excellent
basis for religious pluralism. Russia has for centuries contained more faiths than any Western
nation. Despite this, one of the most popular forms of Russian nationalism has always been
based in, or at least expressed in terms of, Orthodoxy. This is all very well, but necessarily
excludes Russia’s non-Orthodox inhabitants, and thus easily becomes a force towards
fragmentation–the precise opposite of what most nationalists seek. Traditionalist
perennialism, however, provides the answer. On the basis of a shared esoteric truth, Dugin
can easily include Muslims and Jews in his Eurasian Movement, and propose an Orthodox
alliance with Muslim nations, whether former Soviet republics or neighboring states such as
Iran and Turkey.
The inclusion of Iran and Turkey in Dugin’s Eurasianism is itself also a continuation
of a long-established Russian trend. Russian rulers from Catherine the Great to Stalin have
seen these two countries as natural appendages to the Russian sphere.
In three respects, then, the Dugin phenomenon is Russian rather than Soviet or post-
Soviet.

Dugin as a continuation of Soviet culture


Viewed from a slightly different perspective, however, Dugin’s Eurasianism and
Traditionalism appear not just as adapted to Russian circumstances, but also as a product of
Soviet culture, in two main ways. One relates to Traditionalism, and the other to Dugin
himself.
The first main way in which Dugin’s Eurasianism can be seen as a product of Soviet
culture is that some of the external factors that made the Traditionalism that lies at its heart
appealing elsewhere in the world were especially strong in the Soviet Union–not because of
Russian circumstances, as is the case with Traditionalism’s perennialism, but because of
Soviet circumstances. Traditionalism is an anti-modernist philosophy, and so has more appeal
in countries with problematic experiences of modernity than in countries with unproblematic

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experiences of modernity, or in countries with little experience of modernity.17 The Soviet
Union in some ways defined modernity, and Russia’s experience of that modernity was
certainly problematic.
Guénon condemned modernity for its loss of the sacred, its cult of the technical
sciences, and its illusory cult of progress. Nowhere was this more true than in the officially
atheist Soviet Union. Nowhere else were these two substitute cults more advanced, and
nowhere else was the cult of progress more obviously illusory. Guénon condemned the
materialism that underlay modern life; in the Soviet Union, materialism was not an
underlying factor that was visible to those who looked carefully, as it was in France, but
rather a major and official part of the dominant world view. In one of his most important
books, The Reign of Quantity, Guénon contrasted the “modern” emphasis on quantity, with
its attendant atomisation, and the “traditional” emphasis on quality, understood in a
metaphysical sense. Quantity (in this sense, not in the sense of abundance) rather than quality
was characteristic of Soviet life, again perhaps more than anywhere else.
One of Traditionalism’s major points of appeal has always been its condemnation of
modernity. Traditionalism has always had limited appeal in the West, because Guénon’s
characterization of modernity corresponds so little to most Westerners’ experience of
modernity that it easily appears a caricature. For those with experience of Soviet modernity,
however, Traditionalism could very easily seem to present an entirely accurate analysis.
Dugin, as has been noted, encountered Traditionalism in a circle of alternative
intellectuals. This circle remains in existence today: it no longer meets in kitchens, but many
of the lecturers at the New University are the same men Dugin discussed Evola with in the
1980s. This circle was an incidence of a characteristic social formation of the late Soviet
Union, and its influence on Dugin is the second main way in which his Traditionalism can be
seen as a product of Soviet culture. Circles of friends exist everywhere, of course. Late Soviet
circles, however, had special features that can be identified by comparing them to equivalent
Western circles–not to Traditionalist circles, which are rare and untypical, but to more
characteristic Western circles.
The first ways in which Dugin’s Soviet circle differed from a typical circle in the
West was in its compactness, and in the talent and intellectual quality of its members, which
was high. There are talented and clever people in the West too, of course, and Traditionalists

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tend to be clever, because Guénon is not easy reading. However, talented and clever people in
the West tend to be busy, and generally meet only occasionally. Their meetings are not the
main focus of their social and intellectual lives. In the Soviet Union, however, it was much
easier for the talented and clever to end up in compact and isolated groups that became the
main focus of their lives. This social formation–the compact and isolated group–is generally
associated with the religious sect. Its major significance, for our current purposes, is that the
mental world within it tends to develop with little reference to society in general, and
so–unrestrained–can easily go in unusual and surprising directions.
Despite their talent and cleverness, however, the intellectual formation of the
members of Dugin’s circle was weak, lacking in training in the rigorous application of critical
and analytic skills. Dugin, for example, is almost entirely self-taught: he received no formal
higher education, having been expelled from the Institute of Aviation in 1983, at the age of
22. Although others in the circle had received higher education, Soviet higher education did
not encourage the questioning and critical analysis that were the marks of a good education in
the West. This is one explanation for a striking difference between the reception of the works
of the Traditionalists, and indeed of esoteric authors in general, in Russia and in the West; it
is not just true of Dugin’s circle, but also of much Russian intellectual life in general, and so
helps explain not just Dugin’s ideas, but also their reception. In the West, the Traditionalists
are not taken seriously in mainstream intellectual life. This is partly a question of
fashion–Guénon is not acceptable the footnotes of Western academic papers, though Frantz
Fanon is. It is also a question of intellectual rigor and critical skills: since the rejection of
Guénon’s doctoral thesis by the Sorbonne in 1920,18 trained scholars have regularly
condemned Guénon’s work for its lack of historical method, its pronounced tendency to
ignore evidence that goes the wrong way, and its reliance on dubious or entirely unsound data
and sources.19 Like many other Russian intellectuals, however, Dugin and his circle was not
equipped to come to these conclusions.
A further and related difference between Dugin’s Soviet circle and a characteristic
Western circle is revealed by one of the standard definitions of “esoteric” used by social
scientists in the West. The esoteric, is has often been suggested, is “excluded knowledge.”
Such definitions are usually followed by examples that illustrate the rather narrow scope of
excluded knowledge in the West: the study of flying saucers is often given. Traditionalism

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might also be regarded, in the West, as excluded knowledge. The scope of excluded
knowledge in the Soviet Union, however, was rather wider. Traditionalism was not just in the
same category as flying saucers, but in the same category as Adam Smith and Isaiah Berlin.
Dugin’s initial encounter with Traditionalism, then, took place in distinctively Soviet
circumstances–and the continued existence in 2007 of something like that Soviet circle
indicates the continuing importance of those circumstances. Nowhere save in the Soviet
Union was it so easy for talented and intelligent people to take the Traditionalists so
seriously, partly because of their lack of intellectual training, and partly because of the
different scope and significance of “excluded knowledge.” Nowhere save in the Soviet Union
would a group of friends reading authors such as the Traditionalists be so tight, and so
important for its participants.
Dugin’s Traditionalism is also Soviet in a number of minor way. One of these is the
extent to which it attributes power to ideas. When I first met Dugin, he described Guénon to
me as “an undiscovered Marx.”20 The reference was clearly to the power of his ideas, not their
content. Soviet Marxism emphasized the power of the idea, and in some ways embodied the
power of the idea (though not quite in the way that had originally been intended). Dugin’s
belief in the potential power of another idea, in the power of correct analysis, is not without
parallel outside Russia, but is still redolent of Soviet culture.
A second minor way in which Dugin’s Eurasianism is a continuation of the Soviet
period is the composition of its opposed blocs. Dugin’s Atlantic/Eurasian distinction derives
from the pioneering British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder and the influential German
geopolitician Karl Haushofer, in which expression it dates from the interwar period. His
identification of America as the chief representative of modernity, and so as Russia’s chief
enemy, however, is a continuation of Cold War perceptions. Likewise, his Eurasian Bloc is a
essentially a continuation of the old Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact (save for the addition of
Iran and Turkey, which has already been discussed).
Dugin’s Traditionalism, then, is Soviet in these two minor ways, and in two major
ways: in terms of the correlation between Soviet reality and the nature of the modernity
Traditionalism condemned, and in terms of the nature of the group in which Dugin
encountered Traditionalism.

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Dugin as a break with Soviet culture
The Dugin phenomenon, however, also marks a significant break with Soviet culture. Firstly,
Dugin himself is something not known in the Soviet period: an independent thinker, and
sometimes a public and vociferous critic of the system. Under Yeltsin, he belonged very
clearly to the opposition. Even though he has since declared his support for President Putin on
many occasions, and clearly has supporters within the Kremlin, he remains independent. He
publicly criticized Putin’s decision after 9/11 to accept U. S. activity in Central Asia and
Afghanistan as a “major geopolitical mistake,”21 and is also critical of the verticalization of
power, agreeing with other commentators that current policies will ultimately lead to the
fragmentation of the Russian Federation.22 As other critics of the Kremlin fall mute in what
some see as a return to the Soviet model of public discourse, Dugin’s criticisms arguably
become more unusual, and more significant.
Secondly, Dugin’s apocalypticism may be a post-Soviet phenomenon. All
Traditionalists are apocalyptic in some sense, since the decline that they identify marks the
start of a new cycle. Dugin’s Eurasianism (if not his public media pronouncements), however,
has an unusually strong emphasis on the apocalypse. The reasons for this are not clear, but
may be related to Russia’s traumatic history since the collapse of the Soviet Union. As Dugin
wrote in his Foundations of Geopolitics in 1997, these events “are difficult to understand
unless interpreted as a sign of the times, announcing the proximity of the climax.”23
Finally, and at first sight most surprisingly, Dugin was one of the earliest to regret the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Appreciation of the Soviet system was not characteristic of
Soviet dissident culture, though of course some dissidents (including Limonov) who reached
America did see problems with the alternative.24 There are two explanations for Dugin’s
enthusiasm for the Soviet system. One is given by Dugin himself. His shift from dissident to
supporter of Soviet power is such a dramatic one that he himself has constructed a
“conversion narrative” to explain it. As sociologists well know, such conversion narratives
are suspect, since they are generally constructed retrospectively to make sense of events that
may have, in reality, happened quite differently. Anyhow, Dugin’s narrative has two parts: his
negative reactions on first seeing the West in 1989,25 and then a reaction against the crowds in
Moscow “demonstrating for democracy, freedom, and the market” in 1991.26 The point,
however, is not that the Soviet Union was good, but that Western democracy is worse. It was

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in comparison to the Westernized future possible threatening Russia in 1992 that the Soviet
Union became good. Since the threat of a democratic Russia has receded, Dugin has had
much less to say about the virtues of Soviet Union.
Another explanation relates to Dugin’s positive attitude to the Soviet Union during his
NBP period, when the NBP made liberal use of Soviet, as well as Nazi, symbolism. This was
in some ways serious: National Bolshevism did once exist, and has meaning. It can also be
seen as counter-cultural, however. Western counter-culture also makes use of Nazi
symbolism for its shock value, often without adhering to any Nazi ideas in any serious
fashion. The NBP was counter-cultural, as is indicated by its association with musicians such
as Egor Letov and Sergei Kurekhin, the musician whose “mystifications” included
maintaining on a major television channel that Lenin was in fact a mushroom. If Western
counter-culture makes little use of Soviet symbolism, that is probably because it lacks much
shock value in the West, where direct experience of Soviet reality was very limited.

Conclusion
All in all, then, the Soviet elements in Dugin’s Traditionalism and in his Eurasianism are
remarkably strong. Traditionalism was especially appealing to those who had experienced,
and reacted against, Soviet reality, especially the Soviet cults of science and progress. The
circumstances under which Dugin encountered Traditionalism were also typically Soviet, and
these circumstances go a long way to explaining his adherence to the doctrine. His subsequent
modifications of Traditionalism to form Eurasianism owe something to Russian
circumstances, but also owe something to the Soviet period. In comparison, the ways in
which Eurasianism represents a break with Soviet culture–Dugin as public critic, apocalyptic,
and an occasional counter-cultural enthusiast for the Soviet model–are less important.
This paper has focused on the origins and content of Dugin’s ideas. A similar analysis
might explain their reception. That, however, is a topic for another paper.

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Endnotes

1
Alexander Dugin, interviews, Moscow, August 1999 and January 2006. W here no other source os given,
information concerning Dugin comes from these interviews, corroborated where possible from other sources.
2
Description of this conference.
3
This section summarizes chapter 12 of Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the
Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). Updated
information is available in the forthcoming Russian translation of this book (Moscow: New Literary Review).
4
For the best analysis of this, see Marlène Laruelle, “Aleksandr Dugin: A Russian Version of the European
Radical Right?” W oodrow W ilson Center Occasional Paper #294 (2006).
5
He joined Pamiat’ in 1987 and left in 1989.
6
Of Grazhdanskaia Oborona (Civil Defense).
7
Email to the author, December 13, 2004.
8
Notably Lieutenant-General Nikolai Pavlovich Klokotov, an instructor at the General Staff’s Military Academy,
where Dugin had previously spoken at the invitation of Colonel-General Igor' Nikolaevich Rodionov.
9
Dugin transformed the Eurasia Movement into the Eurasia Party and announced an alliance with Rodina, under
Sergei Glazev. There was disagreement, however, about who would take the leading three places on the Rodina
list (and benefit from the attending publicity), and for this and other reasons, Dugin’s party withdrew from the
alliance.
10
This summary is drawn from the first chapters of Against the Modern World.
11
There were some 2,000 incidents in 1977. It can be assumed that half of them were the work of Rightists.
12
This paper does not give space to defend this thesis.
13
See various postings on my Traditionalists Blog, traditionalistblog.blogspot.com.
14
This is the thesis of Mark Sedgwick, “The Religious Roots of Political Action: Eurasianism in Russia, Israel,
and England,” forthcoming article submitted to the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.
15
Notably Jean Biès, a follower of Frithjof Schuon, whose arguments Dugin adopted. See his Metafizika blagoi
vesti: pravoslavnyi esoterizm [Metaphysics of the Gospel: Orthodox Esotericism] (1996).
16
Vladimir Karpiets, interview, Moscow, January 2006.
17
In the Islamic world, for example, Traditionalism is most popular in Turkey and Iran, the two countries with
the most problematic experiences of modernity: Turkey because Kemalist modernity is simultaneously
nationalist and in direct opposition to Turkey's cultural and historical past, and Iran both because the Shah's
modernity was similarly in direct opposition to Iran's culture and recent history, and because of the problematic
experience of the disappointing consequences of the Islamic Revolution. In the Arab world, where experience of
modernity has been much more superficial, Traditionalism is popular only in limited circles, notably among the
Moroccan Francophone elite–which, of course, has its own deep and problematic experience of modernity.
18
It was rejected by Sylvain Lévi. See Against the Modern World, chapter 1.
19
Traditionalists, in turn, condemn contemporary academic methodology. There are W estern academics who read
Guénon and Schuon, his chief follower in Sufism, but they are unusual, and keep very quiet about their reading.
20
Interview, Moscow, August 1999.
21
Dugin, “The Eurasia Movement at a Difficult Stage,” address to the Political Council of the Eurasia
Movement, Moscow, October 11, 2001, online at http://utenti.lycos.it/Archiv Eurasia/dugin_ps011011.html
(June 17, 2002).

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22
Dugin, Eurasian Mission (Moscow: Evraziya, 2005), pp. 30-31, 42-44.
23
The Foundations of Geopolitics, p. 97, quoted in Laruelle, “Dugin,” p. 6.
24
Limonov’s It’s Me, Eddie is one fine example of this.
25
He made several trips to the W est, addressing New Right audiences in France, Spain, and Belgium.
26
Interview, Moscow, August 1999.

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