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Iver B. Neumann
Russia and the Idea of Europe: A Study in Identity and International Relations

Iver B. Neumann. Russia and the Idea of Europe: A Study in Identity and International Relations. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 253 p.

ISBN 0415113709

Neumann @ Amazon.com

The book outlines the Russian debate about Europe as it has unfolded over the last two hundred years and demonstrates how - despite enormous changes in setting - the debate has nevertheless turned around a tightly limited number of ideas. The author demonstrates how this debate is central to the current Russian political situation.


The Russian debate about Europe has focussed on a tightly limited number of questions, which has been answered by a very limited number of ideas. The preceding chapters have demonstrated how these ideas have been generated and transformed by one another within a public political space controlled by the Russian state. In discussing Europe, the Russians have also clearly been discussing themselves, and so the debate is an example of how Russians have talked themselves into existence.

Having spent the eighteenth century copying contemporary European models, the Russian state went on to offer its citizens two different models to identify with. During the nineteenth century, the Russian state represented itself as 'true Europe' in a situation where the rest of Europe had failed the best in its own tradition by turning away from the past values of the anciens rйgimes. During the twentieth century, the Russian state represented itself as 'true Europe' in a situation where the rest of Europe had failed the best in its own tradition by not turning to the future values of socialism.

What will be the position of the state in the Russian debate about Europe at the threshold of the twenty-first century? There always exists the possibility that some entirely new idea will appear and be adopted by the state - perhaps as a reaction to some unexpected new development in Europe. It seems highly likely, however, that such a new idea would have its roots in European thinking. This prediction is made bearing in mind that all the participants in the debate have drawn on European ideas to forge their own. Where the constitutionalists and, later, the liberals are concerned, they always acknowledged their intellectual debt to Europe. Yet the romantic nationalists as well as other positions which are not for the time being present in the debate - like populists and Bolsheviks - and who frequently protested their independence of European thinking, were nevertheless also deeply indebted to it. It was demonstrated above how the early romantic nationalists adopted German romantic national thinking to their own ends, how the populists paid homage to European thinkers, and how the Bolsheviks predicated their ideas on European ones. When a contemporary anti-modern romantic nationalist like Solzhenitsyn rails against Western civilisation, he does so within European literary genres like the novel and the essay, availing himself of European-developed media like the newspaper, in a public debate upheld by conventions developed in Europe, in a formal language with its roots in Europe, availing himself of linguistic archaisms in the way pioneered by German romantic nationalists. In short, it has always been the fate of Russians and others who have wanted to forge a non-European, anti-hegemonic debate that such debates cannot fail to maintain ties to Europe, if only inversely so, because of the very fact that they are patterned as attempts to negate the European debate, and therefore remain defined by it.

Given the incremental development of the debate demonstrated above, however, it seems unlikely that some entirely new idea will emerge and then be taken over by the state. It is far more probable that the basic elements of the state's position already exist somewhere in the bowels of the debate. If the above-standing genealogy does not warrant specific predictions about the position of the state, then it may be used to predict which ideas will dominate the debate in the middle - and perhaps even in the long - term (Wжver, Holm & Larsen, forthcoming). This may be done by using the genealogy as a catalogue of the major frameworks, moral assessments and ideas about the Russian relationship to Europe which are in circulation at the present moment, and also previous ideas which are only one step removed from ideas which are already in circulation, and which can therefore easily be reinserted into the debate. I sum up the debate by first summarising the romantic nationalist position, then proceed to the liberal position, and make comparisons and predictions as I go along.

One prediction can, however, be made immediately: as the stigma of socialism left by the collapse the Soviet Union and the Bolshevik position and the fascination of the liberal position to westernisers start to taper off, some kind of social democratic or socialist position will re-constitute itself. So many of the ideas presented in the past by Russian socialists, populists, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks retain their contemporary relevance that it would indeed be remarkable if, for the first time since the 1840s, the debate about Europe should be without one or even two variants of a socialist position for much more than a few years.

The romantic nationalist framework gives pride of place to the organic nation, understood as a living being where each part is dependent on the others, and where no basic conflict of interest can therefore exist. The state is seen as the 'head' of the organic nation, embodying its will, defining its interests and defending it against harmful internal microbes and external onslaughts. The well-being and good fortune of nation and state are guaranteed by God or a functional equivalent thereof - for example the course of history.

At the end of the Gorbachev period, a new alliance between old Bolsheviks and romantic nationalists began to take shape. The similarities between the frameworks of the old Bolshevik position and the romantic nationalist position are such that it takes little effort to latch some old Bolshevik ideas onto the romantic nationalist position: If 'the party' is substituted for 'the nation' in the definition of the romantic nationalist framework given above, then it reads like a definition of the old Bolshevik framework. The Bolsheviks also set great store by the organic tie between the party and the people, the absence of conflict and the coincidence of interests: 'Plany partii - plany naroda' - 'The plans of the party are the plans of the people' - was a ubiquitous slogan in the old Soviet Union. And if most romantic nationalists see God as supporting their position, then Bolsheviks have always seen History as being on their side.

There exist empirical examples of what such variants of romantic nationalism might look like in the Eurasianism and smenovekhovstvo of the 1920s, and in the writings of Antonov and others in Veche during the early 1970s. Whereas these coteries were made up of romantic nationalists who had to accomodate themselves to the limits of debate laid down by the Bolshevik state, however, the new 'National Bolshevism' will be formulated by old Bolsheviks who attempt to accomodate themselves to a romantic nationalist position which is already in place, and which aspires to become the state's position.

The romantic nationalist position incorporates two different moral assessments of Europe, and it is the difference in thinking at this level which defines the two variants of the position - the xenophobic and the spiritual. Since there is no clear-cut line either between the thinking of the two wings or between its carriers, they must be considered parts of a continuum. The most xenophobic elements see Europe as being clearly morally inferior to Russia - an enemy at the gate with its tentacles inside the living Russian nation. During the last two years, this variant has almost crowded out the spiritual nationalists. Two other moral assessments made by romantic nationalists have therefore been marginalised: Pozdnyakov's drawing on Danilevskiy's that Europe belongs to another civilisational type and therefore defies moral classification by Russian criteria, and Likhachev's drawing on Solov'ev's that Russia and Europe are moral equals.

Different proposals for the relationship between Russia and Europe arise from the different moral assessments. The xenophobic romantic nationalists stress defence or even a national liberation struggle against Western 'occupation'. One possible relationship which has once again begun to be spelled out by Prokhanov and others, is Ustryalov's idea that Russia's foreign policy must be unabashedly aggressive and imperialistic, and that only a physically powerful state can possess a great culture. Danilevskiy's and Trubetskoy's suggestion for all-out war is only one move away from that. This idea may re-emerge when the xenophobic romantic nationalists once again decide to go on the offensive against the state, as they did in September 1993. The marginalised views within the position, which may come back to resuscitate the pluralism of the position, belong to Pozdnyakov and Solzhenitsyn, who want to move in the direction of isolation (although the latter also stress the aspect of Kulturkampf), and Likhachev, who wants a spiritual partnership.

If the romantic nationalist framework stresses nation, state and the harmony of interest between the two, then the liberal framework stresses state, society, individual and the possible conflict of interests between them. In order to keep the always latent conflicts in check and secure a certain degree of harmony, the state should be a Rechtsstaat, where - to use Spinoza's classical formulation - the King's documents should take precedence of the King's will. In other words, the state should guarantee and implement a state of law where written, non-retrospective rules regulate relations between as well as within state and society. The latter should be a civil society, that is, it should to some extent have an existence independent of the state, in the economic as well as in other spheres. The individuals constituting society should have rights guaranteed by the Rechtsstaat, and should have the opportunity to participate in the organisation of civil society.

The differences between the liberal and the romantic nationalist frameworks have been much discussed by the participants in the Russian debate. For example, romantic nationalists from Odoevskiy, Shevyrev and especially Konstantin Aksakov to Shafarevich have contrasted their own organic framework to the liberal mechanistic framework. They have seen Russian political life as a struggle between a harmonious Land which embodies their own ideal, and a conflict-ridden city society which demonstrates the horrors of the liberal ideal. When Shafarevich ridicules the multi-party system as the guarantor of civil war, he applies a general romantic nationalist critique of the liberal position and Europe to one of its contemporary manifestations. In this way he also demonstrates in what sense he and other romantic nationalists are warranted in seeing Russian 'westernisers' - today represented by the liberal position - as a 'westernised' and therefore alien element whose political position dovetails with the one which is dominant in Europe and the West.

Since the liberal and the romantic nationalist frameworks are incompatible as to basic questions like the ontological status of the individual and the state and the nature of the good life, and since they - after two hundred years - show few signs of dialectical potential, the debate about their relative merits seems set to continue in the same tracks. As seen in the moral assessments made by its xenophobic wing, however, the romantic nationalist framework opens for a Gleichschaltung of the nation whereby its organic character is attempted secured by rooting out the carriers of the liberal position. Indeed, if there cannot exist any basic conflict inside the nation and the liberals nevertheless insist on perpetrating one, then they must constitute an illness in the body politic. They should therefore be surgically removed before they can contaminate the entire organism. If the xenophobic wing of the romantic nationalists should succeed in their bid to take over the state apparatus and should spell out this possible implication of their position, it seems likely that they would attempt to redefine public political space in such a way that the romantic nationalist position would be the only position left in the debate.

The liberal framework gives rise to an even more tightly circumscribed set of moral assessments of Europe than does the romantic nationalist framework. The romantic nationalist framework allows for moral comparison to be based on different criteria, and therefore opens for a shifting of the ground of comparison in cases where Europe may be seen to be superior in some fields, but not in others. The Russian debate about Europe furnishes a number of examples of how romantic nationalists, when confronted with the lower economic output, standard of living or military capability of Russia as compared to Europe, have written off such comparisons as insignificant compared to others. For example, faced with the more efficient European economic model of industrialisation, slavophiles insisted that Europe had paid for it by its spiritual death, while Russians had retained a richer spiritual life and were therefore morally superior to Europe. Furthermore, slavophiles hinted that the greater European military prowess was due to the inherently violent nature of European states, while the Russian state was peace-loving by comparison and therefore less effective militarily, but more advanced morally. An argument similar to the former is made by Solzhenitsyn, who, following the slavophiles and Dostoevskiy, argues that the Russians are morally superior to people of the West because they have grown spiritually as they have been faced with hardships such as communism, which have not been present in the West. Shafarevich writes that the West may be richer than Russia, but then again it is more prone to economic crises. The two are at one in insisting that Western economic models are morally inferior to their own vision of a Russian old-style village economy because the latter is ecologically sounder.

Liberals cannot shift the ground of moral comparison in the same way: for them, the moral assessment unequivocally rests on the degree in which the Rechtsstaat, civil society and individual rights are in place and are functioning. Consequently, Europe has always been regarded by liberals either as morally superior to Russia if viewed synchronically, or as morally equal to Russia if viewed diachronically. They tend to see Russia as steadily developing along the same lines as Europe, and therefore as being of a kind with it - practically as well as morally. The proposed relationships with Europe are, therefore, those of partnership or apprenticeship.

One classical formulation of this was made by Turgenev when he - in refutation of Gertsen's insistence that Russia was a cousin of Europe who had taken little part in the family chronicle but whose rustic charms were fresher and more commendable than those of her cousins - held that Russia was a girl no different from her older European sisters, 'only a little broader in the beam' (Turgenev, 1963: 65). The anthropomorphisation aside - that was hardly out of character for an eighteenth century constitutionalist but would, if only for its organic connotations, certainly have been so for a contemporary liberal - this insistence that Russia is just like Europe, only a little slower and a little less subtle, was initially the assessment made by the Russian state under Yel'tsin's leadership. The state took over the liberal position, and tended to see Russia as an apprentice returning to European-based 'civilisation'.

This did not last long, however, before the idea of apprenticeship had to give way to the idea of partnership. The idea of apprenticeship was marginalised as most liberals and also the state rooted their positions not only in a moral assessment of Europe, but also of Asia: If it is true that the liberals cannot shift the functional ground of moral comparison, they are as free as are the romantic nationalists to change the geographical ground of comparison. When Dostoevskiy wrote that 'In Europe we were hangers-on and slaves, whereas we shall go to Asia as masters. In Europe we were Asiatics, whereas in Asia we, too, are European. Our civilizing mission in Asia will bribe our spirit and drive us thither' (Dostoevskiy, 1954: 1048), it can be taken as a recommendation to perform just such a change of the geographical ground of comparison. And indeed, whereas Eurasianist romantic nationalists took up this line of reasoning in the 1920s, today both romantic nationalists and liberals are doing so, and always to circumvent comparisons with Europe only.

Eurasianist liberals still want Russia to copy European models, but they want it to proceed not at a breakneck pace, and they want the debate about Europe to be complemented by a debate about Asia, ostensibly so that Europe will not serve as the only basis of comparison. In this way, comparisons with neighbouring countries will not be so demoralising, and the chances that Russia may keep up westernising reforms will increase. The Eurasianist liberals respond to the dilemma formulated by Russian liberals from Milyukov to Sakharov - that is, how to criticise domestic opponents who are seen as non-European without compromising Russia's Europeanness in the eyes of Europe itself - by refusing to admit the dilemma and representing Eurasianism simply as a necessary detour to further westernisation.

As noticed at the end of the preceding chapter, however, the state's move from one variant of a liberal position to another may not be enough to bring about the needed stable configuration of political space. The state has proven too weak to banish the romantic nationalists from the debate and keep its own position unchanged. If the state is not to be taken over by them, it must either accept the use of phisical force as a regular technique to keep them from taking over, or it must steer towards some middle ground in the debate. Since the romantic nationalist and liberal positions do not seem to have much dialectical potential, holding the middle ground may be tricky. Yet there exists a variant of romantic nationalism which shares with the liberals a moral assessment of Europe as equal with Russia. True, spiritual nationalism is for the time being marginalised in the debate, and it does not look more promising as a lasting state rhetoric than did the liberal variant of seeing Russia as an apprentice to Europe. It is therefore not obvious that the state's moving towards this destination would be sustainable, or that it would dampen the tension in the debate. The xenophobic nationalists may simply be encouraged to renew their assaults on the states. Nevertheless, if the state should decide to make a new move, a move in this general direction seems most likely. In practical terms, the state would then start dabbling in organic rhetoric, emphasising the unity of people and state. It would emphasise the 'destiny' of Russia in taking the practical and spiritual lead in the former Soviet Union and the Balkan, as Europe's representative. National pride would become a key concern. There would be an obvious tension between the declared goal of acting as Europe's representative in the traditional Russian sphere of interest on the one hand, and maintaining good relations with Western Europe and the United States on the other. This would spell the return of the dilemma faced by tsarist Russia throughout the nineteenth century, and coming to a head at the time of the Crimean War. That parallel is also a reminder that some contemporary variant of the 'official nationality' of that period may easily be the result, should the state begin to steer in the direction of romantic nationalism.

I would, however, like to round off this book not by predictions about the Russian state's future position on Europe, but by reflecting on its place among the growing number of works on culture and international relations (Neumann & Eriksen, 1993). The justification of such studies is sometimes seen simply as a matter of salvaging what may be called little, local stories (Lyotard, 1984):

Thus the significance of the concept of culture in the analysis of contemporary international relations is not that it offers a convenient category of socio-scientific explanations, or a convincing account of human nature, or a helpful classification of the difficult forms of human practices there have been. Rather it hints at all the uncertainties of modernities, and at a multitude of struggles - on the grounds of tradition or postmodernity, of gender, race, religion and ethnicity, or socialism and capitalism, of the Other, of the future, of the local community, of the state and of the planet - to reconstitute the conditions of human existence in the face of tremendous structural transformation (Walker, 1991: 12-13).

Granted, it has value to excavate the different Russian ideas about Europe, both in and of itself as a reminder of the variety of international thinking, and instrumentally because they colour not only today's Russian political process generally, but may also colour the state's position specifically.

Privileging the state's position is, however, already to move beyond the territory claimed for studies of culture by Walker, and to approach the question of the importance of the system of states for Russian ideas about Europe. In addition to all the little stories, two grand narratives of how European hegemony formats the Russian debate about it are lurking in the material presented above. The first is Marx', of how the capitalist mode of production forces other modes of production out of business. The second is that of the mercantilists and international relations 'realists', of how the anarchical structure of the system of states forces states to copy the most effective models for sosial organisation around. Invoking this theory and referring to it as no less than the goddess of fate, Kenneth Waltz (1979: 127-128) has formulated this idea in the following manner:

The fate of each state depends on its responses to what other states do. The possibility that conflict will be conducted by force leads to competition in the arts and the instruments of force. Competition produces a tendency toward the sameness of the competitors. [...] It is this 'sameness', as effect of the system, that is so often attributed to the acceptance of so-called rules of state behavior. Chiliastic rulers occasionally come to power. In power, most of them quickly change their ways. They can refuse to do so, and yet hope to survive, only if they rule countries little affected by the competition of states.

Indeed, the material presented here seems to support the idea that the exigencies of the states system impose a certain 'sameness'. As demonstrated time and again in the Russian debate about Europe during the last two hundred years, it is likely that any regime, no matter how bent it may initially be on following a specifically Russian path of development, will discover that maintaining the position of Russia in its international setting may demand a certain copying of European models. This was the thrust of Minister of Finance Reutern's advice to Tsar Alexander II more than 130 years ago, when he warned that

Without railways and mechanical industries Russia cannot be considered secure in her boundaries. Her influence in Europe will fall to a level inconsistent with her international power and her historical significance (quoted in von Laue, 1963: 9).

In other words, if the Russian state should disregard those developments in Western political and economic models which translate into a consolidation of Western hegemony and superior Western military capabilities, and should instead give priority to another path of development, the price may be further international marginalisation. Indeed, the Bolshevik state went for exactly such an anti-hegemonic strategy, and it ended in tears: it was probably the insight that the state's economic base could not sustain the concurrent level of political and military activity which made Gorbachev call off the state's anti-hegemonic strategy and go for some kind of accomodation to Western hegemony.

Utkin, whose ideas about Europe were the last to be discussed above, is in the exalted company of Gertsen, Trotskiy and Trubetskoy when he takes the consequence of the pinch identified by Waltz and insists that Russia cannot simply disregard Europe's dynamism. Moreover, when I have had the chance to present the material to experts on Ottoman, Persian, Japanese, Chinese or other civilisations which have struggeled with coming to terms with European hegemony, they have immediately and invariably spotted a structural similarity between the Russian debate and the debates inside those other states. (McNeill, 1963: 605 et passim). This suggests that the states which possess the most effective economic and political models, and which by this token will in the long term form the core of the states system, exert a structuring influence on the debate about the core in peripheral states.

This question has vexed theoreticians from Hegel to Marx to Gramsci to Gilpin to Fukuyama, and I do not intend to enter that debate in its full historiosophical range. Instead, I would like to make two points about processes precipitating it. The first concerns the making of such positions, and the second the proclivity of their bearers to take over the state.

First, although a main conclusion which can be drawn from the material presented above is that developments in the Russian debate about Europe are gradual, and that even discontinuities on the level of the position of the state have deep roots in the debate itself, one cannot for these reasons alone rule out the coming of new anti-hegemonial positions, chiliastic or otherwise. All one can say is that such a new position will in all probability to a large extent be made up of elements already present in the bowels of the debate, and that it will need to be in gestation for some time. Drawing among other things on the present genealogy, the analyst should have ample time to spot it even before it has formed into a fully fledged position.

Secondly, few would argue that what constitutes a rational analysis rooted in the exigencies of the system of states will necessarily deter romantic nationalists or others from trying to impose their position on the state. One thing is that the ideas of the romantic nationalists about Russian-ness (russkost') may be seen as defying rationality altogether: 'The rhetoric of russkost' does not merely defy logic in the conventional use of the term. It defies the very idea of logic, fact intellect, rationalism, learning, and objective truth. The very use of facts by the opposition is suspicious - somehow unspiritual and un-Russian' (Parthй, 1993). On a more balanced note, if what is real is rational, it also means that not yet imposed schemes are 'real' to those who hold them. In today's Russian debate, there only exist two models which challenge the Western ones, and they are both equally ill-defined. The main romantic nationalist model favours a tightly disciplined, militaristic society, while an even more diffuse model turns on resuscitating an idealised version of the pre-Petrine Russian pastorale. Yet the characterisation of these models as 'un-rational', 'diffuse', 'unrealistic' and the like by Russian liberals and other outsiders will hardly deter Russian romantic nationalists (or future revolutionaries for that matter) from trying to implement them. Whether or not it is a fair prediction that the implementation of these models will only increase the power discrepancy between Russia and Europe and will - if only for this reason - have to be abandoned at some later stage, is immaterial in this regard. The example of the Iranian reaction to the coming of modernity in the late 1970s is a reminder against thinking otherwise.

While it is a fair point that the existence of a system of states imposes a certain 'sameness' on its member states, and, it may be added, on their debates about the outside world, it is hardly logically necessary to oppose this to the working of hegemonic rules. The point of departure for this study was how Russians, in trying to impose ideas of Europe on one another, were also trying to impose their own idea of what Russia's political order should look like. This was not set out as a hypothesis to be tested, and so it has not been proven or even explained. However, I hope the material has demonstrated how such a perspective is warranted and how it can deepen our understanding of this process (Hollis & Smith, 1991a: 68-91; 1991b). If this point is taken seriously, however, then the question is not one of whether or not the rules as they emanate from European-dominated international interaction structure the Russian debate. Not only do they structure them; they constitute them. The question I have tried to answer is how (Baudrillard, 1977).

The epistemological underpinnings of the present study make it only partially fit to answer the bugle calls of a Walker or a Waltz. The place in the literature that I would like to claim for it is rather as a complementary critique of the literature on 'international society'. As noted above, an international society was defined by Hedley Bull as 'a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values', which by dialogue and consent have formed 'a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions' (Bull, 1977: 13; Bull & Watson, 1). Members of the 'English School' writing on international society have often drawn attention to the cultural underpinnings of international society:

all historical international societies have had as one of their foundations a common culture. On the one hand, there has been some element of a common intellectual culture - such as a common language, a common philosophical and epistemological outlook, a common literary or artistic tradition - the presence of which served to facilitate communication between the member states of the society. On the other hand, there has been some element of common values - such as a common religion or a common moral code - the presence of which served to reinforce the sense of common interests that united the states in question by a sense of common obligation (Bull, 1977: 316).

However, although there has been no lack of calls for empirical research into how these underpinnings come about and are reproduced (e.g. Wight, 1977; Vincent 1980; Buzan, 1993), the attempts to do so have either focussed on the expansion of international society itself (Bull & Watson, 1984), or on diplomatic culture (Gong, 1984). By setting out Russian reactions to having been as it were 'expanded upon' by the historical European core of international society, I hope to have demonstrated how in one instance the process of expansion divided the intellectual culture of one particular state. That divide will hardly dissipate before, and if ever, Russians, Europeans and third parties alike talk about Russia as forming part of the core of international society.

Оригинал: http://www.nupi.no/russland/PUB/Iver/Iver_front.html


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