Excerpt on National Bolshevism from Martin A. Lee's _The Beast Reawakens_

Ernst Niekisch
Ernst Niekisch : A founder of ‘National Bolshevism’ in the 1920s

An overview of the origins and developments of National Bolshevism. The text is from Martin A. Lee's 1997 book The Beast Reawakens, pages 311-323.

Submitted by Comrade Motopu on June 15, 2018

Here Come the National Bolsheviks

His Serbian hosts couldn’t have been happier when Eduard Limo­nov, one of the most charismatic of the new wave of Russian nation­alist leaders, donned battle dress and joined a sniper detail at a military outpost perched in the hills of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Televi­sion cameras recorded his gleeful expression as the handsome Rus­sian impresario took aim and squeezed off a long burst of machine-gun fire in the direction of Sarajevo down below. Limonov loved to pose for photos with Serbian irregulars when he visited rump Yugoslavia shortly after the outbreak of the civil war. The Russian press subsequently reported that the Bosnian government had put a $500,000 bounty on his head — a story that further enhanced Limonov’s status as a cult hero back home.

“Russians and Serbs are blood brothers,” Limonov crooned. He was among the more than one thousand volunteers from Russia who flocked to Yugoslavia as if on a pilgrimage. Bound by ethnic ties, a shared Cyrillic alphabet, and the Christian Orthodox faith, high-profile Russian nationalist delegations regularly turned up in Belgrade, where they were welcomed by top Serbian officials. They all came to fight for Serbia, Russia’s traditional military ally — a gesture that put them distinctly at odds with German neo-Nazi mercenaries who sided with Croatia. En route to joining a Chetnik regiment in a Serbian-held enclave in Bosnia, Limonov was feted by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

Like their German counterparts, the Russian “mercs” who toured the Balkans saw it as an opportunity to sharpen their military skills in preparation for future confrontations closer to home. Limonov and his colleagues spoke of employing “Serbian tactics” (otherwise known as “ethnic cleansing”) in an effort to regain areas of the former USSR where Russians were heavily concentrated. Russian fighters figured in numerous armed conflicts in neighboring ex- Soviet republics, including Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Limonov bragged of smelling gunpowder in five different combat zones.

For Limonov, war was life at its peak. A novelist by profession, he saw no contradiction between his calling as an artist and his military kick. Aptly described as the “leather-clad bad lad” of Rus­sian radical politics, Limonov had spent eighteen years abroad as a dissident writer — first in New York, then in Paris. He counted among his heroes the Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin (“our na­tional pride”) and Stalin (“the Bolshevik Caesar of our country in its best period”). Limonov also admired the Italian futurists who inspired Mussolini, and he recognized a kindred spirit in Yukio Mishima, the Japanese ultranationalist who committed hara-kire in 1970. “Mishima and I belong to the same political camp,” Limonov explained. “He is a traditionalist like me.”

But Limonov’s modus operandi was hardly traditional. It was as if he had fashioned his crop-haired, bare-armed, movie-star image after “Eddie-baby,” the bisexual persona he embroidered in a series of fictionalized autobiographical adventures. With his charming hoodlum air, Limonov quickly developed a reputation as the Johnny Rotten of the Russian expatriate scene. At one point during a writ­er’s conference, he reacted to an anti-Russian gibe by slamming a British author over the head with a champagne bottle. Limonov enjoyed giving the literary finger to more-staid Russian exiles who were vexed by his maverick writing style, which at times seemed like a cross between Ernst Jünger and Henry Miller. Aleksandr Solzhenit­syn despised young Eduard, calling him “a little insect who writes pornography.” But Limonov was quite popular in Russia, where his novels became bestsellers when they were finally published in the early 1990s.

Limonov had a definite bone to pick with Soviet dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, who idealized the West without any firsthand ex­perience of what it was like. After living in New York City for six years, Limonov concluded that American society was anything but a dream come true. He ridiculed the banality of American culture and dismissed democracy as little more than window dressing for unaccountable corporate powers that dominated Western politics. He believed that far from being a panacea for Russia’s ills, this kind of “democracy” would only make matters worse. “We are a ruined country, a country that is dying,” said Limonov. “Only a national revolution can save us.”

Limonov ended his lengthy exile and returned to Russia, where he joined the growing Red-Brown opposition. On February 23, 1992, he attended a militant protest march in Moscow. “It was the first time I saw the red flags with the hammer and sickle flying together with the black, yellow, and white flags of old Russia,” Limonov recounted. “It was absolutely gorgeous, a perfectly natural combination.” But the demonstration turned violent, as Limonov and other extremists clashed with police. One person died and doz­ens were wounded in what proved to be a harbinger of much blood­ier battles in the months ahead.

To rescue his troubled homeland, Limonov prescribed several remedies — reviving pre-Communist Russian culture, creating a true socialist economy, and widening Russia's borders to include areas in the nearby republics with predominantly Russian populations. “It’s an absolutely sick situation,” he asserted. “More than twenty-five million Russians living outside their country. At the very least, the new borders of Russia should correspond to the ethnic borders of the Russian people.” Limonov also maintained that Rus­sian foreign policy should emphasize contact with old allies, such as Iraq and Cuba. He even favored giving nuclear weapons to Serbia.

As for a possible German-Russian tryst in the future, Limonov felt this was “wishful thinking, unfortunately, because it would do a lot of good for both countries.” He believed that German priorities would inevitably clash with Russian interests in the Balkans, Kali­ningrad, the Ukraine, and other areas. In this respect, Limonov differed from Aleksandr Barkashov, who was more optimistic about a rapprochement with the Germans. Although they viewed them­selves as comrades in the same struggle, Limonov felt that Barka­shov’s Nazi fetish was counterproductive. “The swastika has no chance in our country,” said Limonov. “We lost so many people in the war with Germany that we are immune to it.”

In an effort to carve out a unique niche for himself on the Red- Brown landscape, Limonov created the National Bolshevik Front (NBF). The Front was an amalgam of half a dozen groups of mostly young people who shared Eddie-baby’s intuition that overt neo-Nazi manifestations would not get very far in Russia. National Bolshe­vism was deemed more congenial to the masses. After two of its members were arrested for possessing hand grenades (Limonov claims they were planted), the NBF generated a publicity flash by calling for a boycott of Western goods. “We want the Americans out of Russia. They can take their McDonald’s and Coca-Cola with them,” Limonov declared. At political rallies, his organization chanted refrains such as “Ruble yes, dollar no!” and “Yankees go home!”

Although the slogans lacked originality, Limonov insisted that National Bolshevism was the most avant-garde political movement in the world. Actually, it was by no means a new phenomenon. National Bolshevism had a long and complex history, daring back to the 1920s. Championed by writers such as Ernst Niekisch and Ernst Jünger, it was one of several non-Nazi fascisms that percolated m Germany’s conservative revolutionary mix before Hitler seized power.*[see asterisk below] For the most part, the German version of National Bolshe­vism remained an intellectual curiosity — unlike in Russia, where it emerged as a significant political tendency within both the ruling elite and certain dissident circles.

The roots of National Bolshevism in the USSR can be traced to the tumultuous period following the October Revolution. In order to stabilize the new regime and win the civil war against the “Whites,” Vladimir Lenin and other Communist leaders realized they had to make concessions to Russian ethnic sentiments. By cast­ing “1917” in national terms and identifying themselves with Rus­sian interests, they hoped to assuage some of the malcontents of the czarist empire, which was rapidly crumbling.

Many of the Whites switched sides when they realized that the Bolsheviks offered the best hope for resurrecting Russia as a great power. This was a crucial reason why much of the czarist High Command joined the Red Army. Former czarists made up about half of the 130,000-member Red Army officer corps. The Bolsheviks also incorporated elements of the protofascist Black Hundreds (the Russian gangs that instigated anti-Jewish pogroms in the early 1900s) into their ranks. The steady stream of defectors from the ultra-Right contributed to the rise of National Bolshevism in Mother Russia and laid the basis for the Red-Brown alliance of the future. †[See cross below]

* Whereas the eastern orientation of many conservative revolutionary intellec­tuals was largely a matter of foreign policy, Ernst Niekisch saw some advan­tages in Communism, as long as it assumed a national form. But Niekisch, Germany’s leading proponent of National Bolshevism, was never a member of the German Communist Party. He was, however, enthusiastic about Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia. A radical anticapitalist, Niekisch maintained that Soviet Russia was Germany’s only effective counterforce to Versailles and “the decadent West.” Waxing poetically, he mused: “Where Germanic blood mingles with the Slav, that is where a true state exists. . . . In the east, from Germanic- Slav stock, Prussia rose to greatness.” [End of asterisk note.]

† During and immediately after the Bolshevik power grab, hundreds of thou­sands of Russians abandoned their homeland to escape the violence, chaos, and destitution of a country in the throes of revolution. Many of these embittered refugees joined fascist exile organizations, such as the National Toilers’ Alli­ance, which sought to topple the Soviet state. But other right-wing nationalists took a different tack.
After the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922, the official ideol­ogy of the USSR developed into a kind of National Bolshevism as Stalin took up the banner of “socialism in one country.” Stalin’s famous dictum was tempered by geopolitical considerations: Com­munist Russia sought to reassure capitalist Germany that the spirit of Rapallo would take precedence over exporting world revolution. [End of cross note.]

In the wake of October 1917, some Russian anti-Communists came to view the Bolshevik takeover as a positive development. One of the more notable converts was Professor Nikolai Ustrialov, who changed his mind about the revolution after fleeing his native country. Ustrialov felt that the defeat of the Bolsheviks would be a great tragedy because they offered the best hope for “reestablishing Russia as a Great Power.” As far as he was concerned, the internationalist verbiage spouted by Bolshevik leaders was merely camouflage, a useful tool for the restoration of Russia as a unified state and for its future expansion. “The Soviet regime will strive with all its power to reunite the borderlands with the center — in the name of world revolution,” said Ustrialov. “Russian patriots will fight for this too — in the name of a great and united Russia. Even with the endless difference in ideology, the practical road is the same.”

Although he rejected Communism as an alien import from Europe, Ustrialov insisted that the Bolshevik revolution was an authentic expression of the Russian spirit. Calling for an end to the civil war, he urged all Russian nationalists to collaborate with Lenin. This was the upshot of a collection of articles by Ustrialov and several other right-wing émigrés published in Prague under the title Smena vekh (Change o f Landmarks) in 1921. The Smenavekhites thought of themselves as “National Bolsheviks,” a term Ustrialov first discovered while reading German newspapers that reported on the political philosophy of Ernst Niekisch.

As Mikhail Agursky notes in The Third Rome, the Soviet government subse­quently opted to subsidize the Smenavekhist review, which functioned as the principal National Bolshevik tribune in Russia during the early years of the USSR. Sanctioned by the Kremlin, the views of Ustrialov began to exert a subtle influence on the Soviet political system. He spoke for many right-wing extremists in Russia when he praised Stalin’s strong hand. “One cannot help rejoicing in seeing how (the Communist Party] is now being led on a confident iron march by the great Russian Revolution to the national pantheon prepared for it by history,” he declared. Although Ustrialov was later executed during one of Stalin’s maniacal killing sprees, some of his Smenavekhite colleagues not only survived but went on to play important ideological roles in the Soviet Union. The Soviet historical encyclopedia indicates that several former Smena­ vekhites held leading positions in government and society.

When Hitler double-crossed his Soviet partner and invaded the USSR, Stalin roused the Russian folk with nationalist rhetoric about fighting “the Great Patriotic War.” Of course, internationalism was still touted as a central Communist tenet by Stalin, whose Georgian roots enabled him to cloak his extreme Russian chauvinism.

During the Cold War, Soviet officials sought to motivate the masses by whipping up Russian pride. At the same time, they contin­ued to mouth the requisite Marxist-Leninist incantations. The result was an uneasy synthesis of Communism and Russian nationalism, which contradicted yet reinforced each other. Soviet leaders realized that playing the nationalist card was conducive to fortifying a patri­otic mood. But there was always the danger that it would trigger a backlash among ethnic minorities in the USSR (which it did) and undermine the internationalist doctrine that was still a key source of legitimacy for the Kremlin. German scholar Klaus Mehnert aptly compared Soviet Russia to an airplane running on two ideological engines — one Marxist-Leninist, the other nationalist — that were never entirely in synch. Sooner or later, the two motors would cease to function as a viable pair. Under the circumstances, a crash landing was inevitable.

The National Bolsheviks were well positioned to survive the wreckage. Unlike the dissidents who challenged the legitimacy of the Soviet Union and often ended up in labor camps, many National Bolsheviks had accommodated themselves to the system in the in­terests of maintaining a powerful state. Instead of rejecting Com­munism outright, they sought to minimize its significance by emphasizing “traditional Russian values.” This resonated with a deeply entrenched nationalist faction within the Soviet ruling elite. The dissemination of National Bolshevik ideas by certain state-run media* was a clear indication that powerful forces — including important sectors of the Communist Party apparatus (particularly its youth organization) and the Red Army — regarded such views as politically expedient and desirable.

* The main National Bolshevik mouthpiece in the late 1960s was Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard), the official journal of the Communist Youth League. In poems and essays devoted to the resurrection of the “national spirit" and “land and soil,” this xenophobic magazine exalted the Soviet military and trum­peted Russian racial superiority. Instead of engaging in Marxist class analysis, Molodaya Gvardiya writers often juxtaposed Russian spirituality against crass American materialism. Dismissing modern Western civilization as “barbarism in a cellophane wrapper," the journal warned that Russian youth were in danger of becoming “transistorized.” Democracy was depicted as a product of social degeneration, and strong-arm governing methods were cheered. The Molodaya Gvardiya publishing house also printed immensely popular science fiction nov­els, a genre replete with thinly disguised racist and anti-Semitic themes. Its rabidly nationalist orientation notwithstanding, Molodaya Gvardiya was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor by the Supreme Soviet on the fiftieth anniversary of the journal’s founding.

During the Brezhnev years, National Bolshevik ideas were also featured in Veche, a dissident journal published in West Germany, which functioned as a sounding board for various strands of Russian nationalism. Gennadii Shimanov, an occasional contributor to Veche, hailed Russians as “God’s chosen people” and described the Soviet Union as a “mystical organism,” a “spiritual detonator” for all mankind. Another Veche author, Dr. Valeri Skurlatov, pub­lished a “Code of Morals,” which advocated the preservation of racial purity and the sterilization of Russian women who have sexual intercourse with for­eigners. [End of asterisk note.]

When the titanic crack-up finally came in December 1991, the nationalist serpent emerged from its Communist cocoon with a full set of teeth. It slthered into the hothouse of post-Soviet politics, where neo-Stalinists collaborated with monarchists, fascists, Ortho­dox Christians, pagans, conservative ecologists, and other strange bedfellows. They were all spinning in a weird ideological vortex that defied standard interpretation. “What’s going on in Russia is a whole new kind of politics,” Limonov asserted, “with new goals and new movements that cannot be categorized or classified according to the old vocabulary of Left versus Right. These definitions belong to the past. To apply them to [post-Soviet] Russia is wrong.

This notion was shared by Alain de Benoist, who visited Russia in March 1992 and participated in several public meetings with prominent opposition figures. For a number of years, the leading French New Right philosopher had argued that it was important to move beyond the traditional Left/Right dichotomy. Since the end of the Cold War, this cleavage had become completely antiquated, according to de Benoist. Rather than Right against Left, he felt it made more sense to think in terms of the establishmentarian center” versus all antisystem forces on the “periphery,” The center ver­sus the periphery was a concept that appealed to his Red-Brown hosts in Russia. They were also delighted to hear de Benoist’s harsh criticism of “globalization” and his depiction of the United States as the supreme enemy.

Eduard Limonov first encountered de Benoist in Paris, a city that bored the Russian exile because, as he put it, “there is no war there.” Nevertheless, he frequently returned to the French capital, where he hobnobbed with various iconoclasts, including another ardent proponent of National Bolshevism, Jean-Francois Thiriart. The ec­centric optician from Brussels had recently come out of political retirement, and he welcomed the chance to share his thoughts at a colloquium in Paris. At the time, Thiriart was working with the Belgian-based Parti Communautaire National-Europeen (PCN), a small organization composed of former Maoists and neofascists who agitated against “American-Zionist imperialism” and “cosmo­politanism.” Run by Luc Michel, a self-described “National Com­munist” with a long history of neo-Nazi associations, the PCN reprinted and distributed several books by Thiriart, who held forth as the group’s ideological leader.”

In August 1992, Thiriart led a delegation of National Commu­nists from Western Europe to Russia, where he discussed his views with leading members of the political opposition. Whereas Ewald Althans and his German cohorts always made a beeline to Aleksandr Barkashov’s neo-Nazi lair, Thiriart met with a mostly different cast of Red-Brown characters. While in Moscow, the Belgian extremist carried on like a geopolitical know-it-all, dispensing advice to people such as Yegor Ligachev, the top conservative within the Soviet Polit­buro and the de facto deputy of the Communist Party until Gorba­chev dumped him in 1990. During their conversation, Ligachev warmed to Thiriart’s proposal for a continental partnership that would unite Europe and Russia as a counterweight to the United States. But Ligachev added the following proviso: “1 think that an authentic unification with Europe can be possible only once we have reestablished the Soviet Union, perhaps under a new name.” Thiriart nodded in assent.

“Eurasia contra America” —this was the main point of conver­gence between Thiriart and his retinue of newfound Russian comrades, which included a dreamy-eyed, thirty-year-old journalist named Aleksandr Dugin. It was Dugin who first suggested to Eduard Limonov that they establish the National Bolshevik Front. An influ­ential figure in Red-Brown circles, Dugin helped write the political program for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, led by Gennadi Zyuganov, who also strategized with Thiriart. Zyuganov rarely referred to Marx or Lenin, preferring instead to elegize Russia as “the dreamer-nation” and the “mobilizer-nation.” Dugin’s influ­ence was evident when Zyuganov declared, “We [Russians] are the last power on this planet that is capable of mounting a challenge to the New World Order — the global cosmopolitan dictatorship.”

A vociferous critic of “one-worldism,” Dugin founded and edited a journal called Elementy that ran a lengthy and laudatory article about Thiriart in its inaugural issue. The young Russian shared the European New Right’s fascination with the Conservative Revolution of the 1920s. Dugin tried to set up something like a New Right network in Moscow, but de Benoist was put off by his feverish nationalism. Elementy simultaneously glorified Russia’s czarist and Stalinist past, while praising everyone from Arthur Moeller van den Bruck to Heinrich Himmler. Its readers were treated to the first Russian translations of Julius Evola, the Italian Nazi philosopher and “traditionalist” much admired by neofascists throughout Eu­rope. But Dugin never bothered to disclose Evola’s affiliation with the SS. “Dugin is a paradoxical man who can support ten points of view or more at the same time,” Limonov said of his close friend and political collaborator.

In addition to Elementy, which was geared toward an intellectual audience, Dugin had a hand in editing Dyen (The Day), a fiery, nationalist newsweekly with a huge circulation. Billed as the voice of “the spiritual opposition” in Russia, Dyen ran excerpts from The Protocols o f the Elders o f Zion and reported favorably on neo-Nazi movements in the West. Its political humor column was filled with vulgar anti-Jewish jokes. Each issue featured a section on “conspiratology” (a word coined by the editors), which included zany sto­ries about how Yeltsin’s brain had secretly been altered during a visit to the United States. Dyen claimed that those who rallied to Yeltsin’s call during the abortive coup in August 1991 had been “zombified” by “psychotropic generators” housed in the U.S. em­bassy in Moscow.

Wild conspiracy theories were a staple of Russian right-wing extremists. In this respect, they were no different than their neofas­cist counterparts in other countries. But Dyen’s “conspiratology” had the endorsement of several members of the Russian parliament, who sat on the paper’s editorial board along with former KGB General Aleksandr Stergilov. Most significant, Dyen functioned as the unofficial mouthpiece for the National Salvation Front (NSF), Russia’s leading Red-Brown umbrella organization. Dyen’s editor in chief, Aleksandr Prokhanov, was cochairman of the NSF, which encompassed the usual mish-mash of ideological tendencies. Na­tional Bolshevism not excepted.

While he was in Moscow, Jean Thiriart attended several planning sessions with neo-Communists and right-wing nationalists that cul­minated in the formation of the National Salvation Front in Septem­ber 1992. Eduard Limonov was involved in launching the NSF, and he also served on its steering committee. Headed by Limonov and Dugin, the National Bolshevik Front was one of more than forty militant opposition groups that joined the NSF and endorsed its call for the overthrow of the Russian government. In its initial mani­ festo — which Dyen dutifully published — the NSF assailed the “rapacious experiments” of the Yeltsin administration, including privatization, the lifting of price controls, and other shock-therapy techniques that resulted in enormous hardship throughout the country. Yeltsin countered by trying to ban the NSF. He also threatened to crack down on Dyen and several other ultranationalist newspa­pers, but Yeltsin’s efforts were stymied by members of the Russian parliament, many of whom supported the Red-Brown opposition.

Thiriart kept abreast of this evolving power struggle after he returned to Brussels. He intended to visit Russia again, but the seventy-year-old Belgian died from a heart attack in his sleep on November 23, 1992. After his sudden passing, Thiriart was eulo­gized in several nationalist press outlets in Russia, including Dyen, which published some of his writings. One article implored his Na­tional Bolshevik colleagues to work toward the construction of the grand Continental power bloc that he had long envisioned. “It is imperative to build ideological, theoretical, and political bonds between clear thinking elites of the former USSR and Western Europe,” said Thiriart. “This revolutionary elite must unite and prepare to expel the American invader from European soil.”

Thiriart’s Western European disciples proceeded to set up a sup­port group known as the European Liberation Front (ELF), which maintained regular contact with the leaders of the National Salva­tion Front in Russia. By coincidence, the European Liberation Front was the same name chosen by Francis Parker Yockey and his British cohorts in the late 1940s, when they tried to develop an under­ ground neo-Nazi network that would work in cahoots with the Soviet Union against American occupation forces in Europe. The latter-day ELF consisted of “National Communist” grouplets in sev­eral European countries, including Belgium, France, Italy, Switzer­ land, and Hungary. Each of these small Red-Brown hybrids was comprised of neofascists and neo-Stalinists who embraced Thiriart’s political credo.

The ELF cheered when the leaders of the National Salvation Front announced that they had formed a shadow government in Russia and were preparing to take power. In September 1993, Yelt­sin summarily disbanded the Russian parliament. This presidential decree set the stage for the bloody confrontation between Yeltsin loyalists and the so-called “patriotic forces” who gathered at the Russian White House, where the parliament normally functioned.

Sensing that the long-awaited civil war was about to begin, Limo­nov and his supporters flocked to the parliament building. They were joined by thousands of Red-Brown extremists, including Bar­kashov’s black-shirted storm troopers who brought their weapons with them, expecting a fight. As tensions escalated, the European Liberation Front dispatched several people to Moscow to under­ score their solidarity with the Russian opposition. Michel Schneider, a French neofascist representing the E L F (who had previously ac­companied Thiriart on a trip to Moscow), was among those injured in the White House when Yeltsin finally convinced the army to send in the tanks in early October.

Hundreds were killed during the assault and many more were wounded. Limonov and several opposition leaders were thrown in jail. But Barkashov and dozens of armed resisters escaped through a network of underground tunnels after putting up a fierce fight. A few weeks later, Barkashov was shot by an unknown assailant from a moving car. Security officials arrested Russia’s top neo-Nazi as he lay recovering in a hospital bed. He, too, was headed for prison.