Interview with Mikhail Remizov

Mikhail Remizov, author of the book Russians and the State, and president of the Moscow-based Institute for National Strategy, is considered one of the sharpest minds among Russian conservative intellectuals. I had the pleasure of interviewing Remizov a few weeks ago while in Moscow. Below is my translation of the interview. Happy reading!


Paul Robinson (PR): I am writing a book on Russian conservatism. But, as you know, philosophers like Samuel Huntington have said that there is no history of conservatism. Do you think that there is a link between the conservative views of thinkers today and those of thinkers in the past?

Mikhail Remizov (MR): Well, if we look at a document like Karamzin’s Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia, which one can consider one of the earliest manifestoes of the conservative worldview, then we find the same leitmotivs which remain topical today. You know that this memo was given to Alexander I and was a critique of his reforms and foreign policy, as well as an apologia of autocracy. Judging by this memo, the basic line of Russian conservative thought consists above all of a distrust of government reformism, of the reformist syndrome, of the desire to restructure activity according to an abstract plan. Moreover, these plans are borrowed from abroad. This line is relevant today, as the liberal reformist syndrome is very clear in the Russian government. If we look, for instance, at how it has reformed the system of education, then we see that it has been done mechanistically, in accordance with Western models and standards, without thinking of the effect and content of those standards. This is reformist syndrome in its purest form, when the authorities and the experts around it consider themselves progressive, consider that they are cleverer than everybody else, take Western models and begin to apply them mechanistically, but end up with an entirely different result. You can see this in the system of Unified State Exams and the so-called Bologna standards and citation ratings, which are being introduced into education here. And conservatives today apply the same methodology to criticize this reformism.

Mikhail Remizov

Another line which has been relevant to Russian conservatism throughout its history is the criticism of Europeanism, not as the foundation of Russia’s European identity but as the ideology of foreign policy expressed in the form ‘Russia for Europe’. This was the policy of Alexander I. He was drawn into the Napoleonic Wars and the Holy Alliance by the ideology of ‘Russia for Europe’, not ‘Russia for Russia.’ Beneath this was the idea of dynastic prestige and the aspiration to win the respect of the all the monarchical courts of Europe, in order to become an equal member of the European concert of powers. This was the basic aim of Russian policy, not the resolution of some internal, national tasks. And this became the subject of Karamzin’s criticism. But it’s not a matter of the European identity of Russian culture. That’s something else.

Karamzin’s third criticism, which has been relevant to all phases of Russian conservatism, was the domination of foreigners in government. When the government is raised up above society, it rests on forces alien to that society. Under Nicholas I, it was Germans. Under the Bolsheviks, it was the Caucasian and Jewish elites. And this was criticized by Karamzin and then by Solzhenitsyn. The only thing which has changed is the names and ethnic consortia which the government relies upon so that it doesn’t have to depend on society, on its own people. That is, this tendency for the government to rely on foreigners and non-Russian corporations, consortia, is another continual subject for criticism by Russian conservatism.

Nicholas I had a telling phrase, ‘The Russian nobles serve the state, but the Germans serve us’ – that is to say, ‘us, the Romanovs.’ Recently, I read a book in which the author reversed this quotation. He evidently thought it was a mistake, insofar as he thought that Russians haven’t yet worked out an abstract understanding of the state, but the Germans of that time had worked it out, and so the Germans were capable of differentiating between the person and the state as an institution. And so he reversed the quotation and wrote that Nicholas I said that the German nobility serve the state, but the Russians serve us. But in reality, Nicholas I said the exact opposite, his reasoning was different. A Russian considers that the sovereign has obligations towards his compatriots, but the Germans served the dynasty because they understood that otherwise their position in this country was hopeless. Also telling from the point of view of the sovereign’s obligations is Karamzin’s letter to Alexander I after the patriotic war of 1812, in which he boldly criticized the Tsar’s plans to hand back the Polish Kingdom, those Western Russian lands which were acquired after the partition of Poland. That is, those lands of Ukraine and Belorussia which, according to Russian historiography, were truly the historic lands of Kievan Rus’, and in conquering which the Russian Empire had merely retaken what belonged to it. And Alexander I was thinking of giving them back to the Poles as part of the Polish Protectorate. And Karamzin wrote, ‘Sovereign, this isn’t your pocket watch, which you can put wherever you like. This is your patrimony (votchina), which belongs to your tribe. And your right to rule it is limited.’ And the feeling here is, on the one hand, support for autocracy, and on the other hand a desire to limit it by national interests.  And this is one of the dilemmas of Russian conservatism, which Karamzin traced quite clearly. And conservatives today similarly reproach the Kremlin for a lack of national orientation. That is, they repeat the same things as Karamzin, Shishkov, and Rostopchin told Alexander I, who exploited the patriotic upsurge in 1812, and then completely rejected it. That is, he betrayed those who had secured this upsurge and who had believed in him.

The fact that Karamzin, in his rejection of reformism, defended serfdom isn’t relevant to today. But the method of argumentation which he used to defend this harmful institution is, i.e. this methodology of conservatism, of conservative evolutionism, and a rejection of harebrained reformist schemes. The agendas of gentry agrarian conservatism and contemporary conservatism are different, but many figures of thought, emotionally dominant ideas, and the emphasis on accepting one’s own historical heritage and one’s own national identity, are identical. The difference is that the situations of early and contemporary conservatism are very different. If earlier conservatism defended the institute of the decaying agrarian society, dynastic monarchy, clericalism, and so on, then conservatism today defends the collapsing institutions of the modern which are connected with the national state of classical rationality, and with what one might call classical European values, against the postmodern and contemporary European values. And these classical European values arose as a synthesis of conservatism and Enlightenment.

PR: You mentioned the Russian opposition in the time of Alexander I. In the West people now speak more and more of the conservative turn in Russia. In particular, they characterize Putin as a conservative, a nationalist, even an ultranationalist. But in your book Russians and the State, you criticize Putin and his nationalities policy. Does that mean that conservativism remains an oppositional phenomenon?

MR: In principle, both yes and no. On the one hand, conservatives in Russia have plenty of reasons to be dissatisfied and very many reasons to be in opposition. On the other hand, Putin in his third term has adopted a policy in the spirit of values-based conservatism. He began his political career as a decided technocrat, or rather a liberal technocrat with muscles, a liberal technocrat able to use force, as he did in Chechnya, capable of strong decisions, and in this sense flirting with the expectations of the conservative majority. Putin’s third term contains quite a lot of signs of a conservative turn. But supporters of this conservative turn have very many reasons to criticize him for not following through, for the fact that it’s all largely rhetoric.

A second issue, which is characteristic of Russian conservatism, is that there is quite a large aspiration towards solidarism. That is, the idea of free trade and somewhat unlimited free enterprise in the spirit of Ayn Rand isn’t characteristic of Russian conservatism. Rather, Russian conservatism is solidaristic. But our society is anti-solidaristic and the political model is also anti-solidaristic. Russia is a champion in social stratification and the state isn’t seriously trying to fix this problem. Putin speaks of sovereignty, but nonetheless concentrates Russian money in American currency which at any time could be blocked and so he’s a hostage of this financial lever of influence. Our government to a large degree has a symbolic character; the vertical of power isn’t a vertical of control.

And there are issues which are contested among conservatives, for instance those connected to the choice between the models of an imperial or a national state. Within the framework of the imperial model, one can purchase good relations with the Central Asian republics at the cost of mass immigration into Russia. This is a questionable policy in the model of the national state. But both models are arguably conservative. So, for instance, in the Putin system an open immigration policy is described not in terms of liberal freedom of movement but in geopolitical terms. But there are quite strong conservative arguments against this immigration policy, which are connected to the idea of a national state and the expectation of cultural homogeneity. So, conservatives disagree on this matter.

One can also talk about disagreements between Soviet and White conservatives. Both are to some degree conservative. Left-wing appeals to the Soviet experience aren’t common in our society. Rather, appeals to the Soviet experience are painted in conservative colours. This is one of the forms in which some people see our tradition. So, there are quite a few lines of division within conservatism.

PR: If we continue this thought, it appears that Russian conservatism is quite heterogeneous. Do you think there is something common to all this? That all these groups share one foundation?

MR: Probably. For me the main indication of conservatism is that it is a type of political thought which puts the common history and the common heritage at the centre of its social political project. Conservatives in Russia are those who say ‘Russia first’, that everything is built around Russia as the highest value, around its historical heritage, its historical memory. This is the fundamental social wedge – the historical national identity, which one way or another is connected with the image of Russia in time and space. In some sense, this is a political, values-based, patriotic worldview.

There is a difference between left liberal and conservative thought. Conservative thought centres on the question of the joint heritage, liberal thought on the question of creating a more just society, ie. the project of realizing individual freedom. There are aspects of each which its opponents also promote. But the difference is what lies at their centre.

As a methodological term, or as the title or slogan of parties fighting elections, there isn’t any conservatism in Russia. It would probably be misunderstood or it would take too long to explain it. So when we speak about conservatism in Russia, then this isn’t the language of the political process, but the language which we use to speak about the political process.

PR: And where would put yourself on the conservative spectrum? In your book on Russian statehood you spoke about nationalism, but not about conservatism.

MR: Well, the book was about the nation, about nationalism.

PR: But did I understand correctly that your opinion is that Russian nationalism is necessary for a genuine Russian democracy?

MR: Yes.

PR: It seems to me that this somewhat resembles traditional 19th century national liberalism. Do you consider yourself a conservative, a liberal, or a democrat, or some combination of all of these?

MR: Like I said, the agendas of contemporary and feudal-agrarian conservatism are different. The institutes which conservatism cherishes are the fruit of Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment, of Enlightenment and political Romanticism, of Enlightenment and conservatism. In principle, our contemporary education system is a synthesis of these. It is mass education, but its foundations are 19th century aristocratic models of personality and upbringing. We took the aristocratic model of the person and tried to spread it to the broad masses of society. It’s the same with the national state, community, society. And this creates a dilemma: community is dying, a mass but alienated society is growing. Mature modernity is made up of a symbiosis of Enlightenment and conservative responses to Enlightenmen. Thus, conservatism is the co-author of the moderne of the contemporary epoch. Conservatives have much to value in this epoch. But the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s, and all which followed after it, was a revolution against this project of the moderne, the co-authors of which were conservatives, and which was cherished by them. So, in some way, the difference between the conservatism which opposed the French revolution of 1789 and that which opposed the French revolution of 1968 is dictated by the difference in the agendas of their opponents. But, of course, it’s not only a matter of the 1968 revolution, but much more.

As far as liberalism is concerned, liberalism was inverted and it changed its attitude towards the idea of the nation. It reversed its point of view. In the time of John Stuart Mill, the nation was viewed as a fellow-traveller; now the nation is viewed as an obstacle to emancipation. The time when liberalism went hand in hand with nationalism is in the past. In my opinion, if we are talking about logical connections, then nationalism defined as a tendency to construct politics around the idea of the nation isn’t so much liberalism as republicanism. If we take the distinction which Hannah Arendt draws between liberalism and republicanism, and also the theoretician Robert Pettit who writes about republicanism, then liberalism, roughly speaking, is built around the figure of the individual person, and republicanism around the figure of the citizen. And part of being a citizen is community. The principal element of the republican understanding of freedom is that co-citizens don’t try to dominate one another – not minimum state interference, but a recognition that nobody is superior to anybody else, because they are all part of a nation. This understanding of freedom, as the lack of domination of some over others within the framework of a society is part of the logical construction of the idea of nation. The liberal understanding of freedom with its metaphysics of human rights, doesn’t fit with this, they are incompatible. So, the idea of nation is founded on the republican understanding of freedom, not the liberal one. In this sense, I am not a national-liberal but a national-republican. And I think that the idea of nation is impossible without this republican idea of rejecting domination within a society. Liberalism has changed its attitude to nationalism; it was a temporary symbiosis. Now the two are in opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, personally I am an unconditional supporter of democracy, but on the understanding that democracy is the idea of legitimization of power, and that in contemporary society there is no alternative. But the exact procedure can change. And I don’t identify nationalism with conservatism. In my opinion, conservatism is just one of the options for preserving in the contemporary world those elements of solidarity which were dear to conservatives and to traditional society.

I’ve already spoken of the loss of those warm social ties which were part of community. What conservatives have in common is that they regret their loss and think about restoring them. On one hand, one can try to do so via the nation. On the other hand, one can try to do so through corporation or some type of communitarian forms. [Alisdair] MacIntyre considers the problem of creating community in contemporary society important, but doesn’t think that nation is the solution. He is a communitarian, who sees the solution as lying in small forms. Nationalism is just one of the answers to the conservative question of how to reactivate traditional types of social connections in contemporary society. Nationalism is one of the options open to conservatives.

PR: You said that Russian culture, in your opinion, is a European culture. But there are many conservatives who say that Russia is a separate civilization, a Eurasian civilization. Do you consider that Russia is part of European civilization, and if so does that mean that Russia’ future must lie in Europe?

MR: How to understand the idea of civilization is a big question. If you consider a civilization to be a project built around religious or quasi-religious values, some project of organizing life, the image of man, society, power, then in Europe we can see a new civilization being built, one which is connected to a new set of quasi-religious coordinates founded on the religion of human rights and emancipation. And in this sense it is a new post-Christian civilization. Again, that is if we view civilization as a project, not as roots, but as a project. But if we understand civilization in terms of its roots: antiquity, Christianity, a certain Jewish component through Biblical thought, plus Slavic, Celtic, German, Indo-European roots, myths, then we are quite close to Europe. We have common roots. And our cultural codes are also similar. If we look at Russian stories and those of the Brothers Grimm, we can see one and the same subjects. But if we see civilization as a project, then, no, we are now separate civilizations.

PR: There are those who say that if the projects differ so much, then there must be conflict. But there are others who seek some type of compromise with the West. In my opinion, the Russian government is always seeking some such compromise. But there are those who say that no compromise is possible, and so Russia must prepare itself for conflict. What’s your position on this? Do you think that a compromise with the West, or with Europe, is possible?

MR: These are two different questions: will our relations be conflictual, and are we part of Western civilization? If we suddenly wanted to be part of Western civilization, the result would be the most conflictual relations with this very Western civilization. If, together with Europe, we build a Big Europe, this could even be the most conflictual scenario, because Russia fought against the Central and Eastern European powers precisely at those times when it insisted that it was part of Europe in a geopolitical sense. The more Russia became involved in European affairs – and again, Alexander I is a good example, it’s all a result of Russia’s big European games – when Russia said, ‘We are Europe’, it sought European allies. It’s very important for it to be on the same side as real European powers. And then, all the European powers in some magical way united and conflict arose between Russia and a more or less united Europe. So it was in 1812 and again in 1941. These wars are the result of Russia’s European strategy, and not the other way around.

The more we insist that we are part of one civilization, the more likely it is that there will be conflict. Thus, when I say that we have different civilizational projects, then it seems to me that we must construct our civilizational project separately, not trying to refashion Europe as well. If we say that we have a common civilizational project, a conflict of core values will arise. And this will create the soil for a bitter and quite prolonged opposition in which we reject each other’s values. But if we recognize that we have different civilizational projects and call for co-existence, then we have grounds for compromise.

PR: But Western liberals think that their project is universal and other projects don’t have the right to exist.

MR: Exactly. Our conflict is one against universalism. Are we doomed to this conflict?  I see Russia not as a superpower, like in Soviet times, which opposes the Western world and gathers together its own world, but rather as a rebel province of the global empire. That is, there was an empire which was quite loose and constructed around a definite religion, like the Holy Roman Empire. In that case, it was a civilizational community founded on Catholicism, with a sort of centre in the persons of the Pope and the Emperor. Now the ideological basis of the global empire is the religion of human rights and emancipation. It has its priests, its intelligentsia, its mass media. It damns heretics. There’s no inquisition, but you can kick people out of universities. In other words, there are repressive mechanisms in the sphere of soft power. And there’s hard power, absolutely technological and all-pervading, as in the United States. The Empire has not just one lever, but an entire complex of all-pervading control from above. And these were the historical conditions when Russia decided to gain autonomy from this global empire. This is a very risky undertaking, but not a hopeless one, as weaker provinces are often able to secure such autonomy in the event that the costs of control exceed the benefits of subordination. When the Americans eventually won their independence they were weaker than the British Empire, but the costs of control were too great and it wasn’t worth maintaining control at any price.

So, this conflict will end when Russia can defend its autonomy in the global order, and this requires a more complete approach to sovereignty than Russia has demonstrated to date. We need more than weapons, more than speeches in Munich, we need more independence in the financial and technological spheres, and far more psychological self-sufficiency than we currently have. The Russian elite and to a large degree the Russian intelligentsia have the consciousness of the provincial periphery. They lack psychological self-sufficiency. They are oriented to the global metropolis. Most of them don’t have any idea of internal sovereignty. If we can construct a more complete sovereignty, a more self-sufficient country, then we will have good relations with the West, as the global empire won’t try to subordinate us at any cost.

PR: I want to continue this theme and ask a little bit about the economy. If you want to have autonomy and fight against globalism, does that mean that you agree with the ideas of left conservatives such as Sergei Glazyev who seek economic autarky? Or should Russia continue the process of integration with the world economy?

MR: I largely agree with Glazyev. The starting point here must be the idea of finding the optimal balance between integration in the global economy and autarky. At present, the balance is far from the optimal, that is to say we are specialized in favour of poverty rather than in favour of wealth. Within the global division of labour, there are those who specialize in types of activity which create wealth and those who specialize in activities which lead to poverty. Argentina, for example, was beautifully integrated into the world economy as an agrarian country, and specialized in types of activity with diminishing returns, i.e. agriculture. Thus, when after the war the global economy changed its view of the value of what Argentina produced, it became a remote province. It’s the same with us, except not agriculture but raw materials. Correspondingly, we are too dependent on the global economy and a non-optimal specialization.

First, we must become a more independent economy, the scale of the internal market and internal exchange should grow proportionally to the scale of external exchange, i.e. import-export. This is how it is for countries like the USA and China. For all their enormous external exchange, their internal market is much larger than Russia’s. Thus, our first task is to raise the level of internal exchange in the structure of our GDP. This isn’t autarky, but shifts the balance in that direction.

Second, we need to be integrated into global systems, but integration on the principle of partnership with developing countries for whom we are far more interesting as a technological partner than as an industrial partner. The structure of our trade with India, Indonesia, and the Philippines is much more favourable for us than the structure of our trade with the EU or with China. Integration, yes, but integration which gives us the opportunity to realize the production of manufacturing industry and not just raw materials. And this type of integration is most possible with developing countries. So, more autarky and a different integration.

PR: It seems to me that there is a contradiction between anti-universalism and the idea of anti-globalism, because anti-globalism is itself a universalistic idea. In your book, you say that Russia shouldn’t have any universal mission. But then you also say that if such a mission arises, it should be anti-globalism. It seems to me that you contradict yourself saying that you are against universalism but also that you have this idea which has a universal sense.

MR: You know, it seems to me that there is a difference between universalism and universality, just like there’s a difference between rationalism and rationality. Rationalism is irrational. Rationalism is an overvaluation of the mind. But rationality is the ability to think soberly. Rationalism is a metaphysic implying the dominance of the intellect over the will, emotions, intuitions. An intellectual person will regard his own intellect critically because he understands that the intellect is far from everything in the structure of the world, in the structure of human personality. But rationalism implies that the intellect resolves all problems, that one can achieve complete transparency with the help of intellect. Thus, yes to rationality, but no to rationalism.

It’s the same with universalism: it’s a specific way of projecting political goals, which are of value only when they are of value to everybody. In this sense it’s a vulgarization of Kantian thought: act as you would if your will was a principle for universal legislation. A maxim is thus valued according to the extent that it can be universalized, its value is founded on the fact that it is acceptable by all. But then there’s Nietzsche’s ethics, which says that values are chosen, biased. I, for instance, am biased regarding my relations to my family, my people, my ancestors, and this is the essence of value. I have the right to introduce something into society only in the event that I’m talking about myself, about concrete existence realized in myself. So, we have the model of corporate-estate representation and the parliamentary model. The parliamentary model is people who have an opinion about the general good; these opinions clash, and they discuss them. In the other model, you represent some form of social being and you speak about interests which are important for, say, peasants, industrialists, aristocrats, and so on. This is a different way of projecting values. And both can be considered universal. I associate conservatism with an anti-universalistic scheme of projecting values. And the fact that this type of projection of values can be done successfully in different countries doesn’t contradict this. Anti-universalistic thought can be universally accepted.

PR: My last question isn’t about conservatism, but simply for my own interest. What do you think about the political situation in Russia and about public opinion? In the West it is often said that Russia’s problem is Kremlin propaganda. That people watch too much television, they watch Kiselyov, and consequently their minds are controlled by the Kremlin through television. If only Russia had a free press, then everything would be completely different. What do you think about this? Is that the way it is, or is there some other reason why Russians think they way do?

MR: Of course, the mass media, the federal channels, are an important instrument of the government’s stability. This instrument works primarily through control of the agenda, not through direct propaganda. It’s more effective. That is, they formulate the agenda, what’s discussed, what the limits are, and what’s not discussed, and through this they are more or less able to control the situation. But if we talk about society’s values, then in the 1990s the mass media was in the hands of pro-Western liberals but this didn’t prevent Russian society from viewing the bombardment of Serbia in 1999 in the way it viewed it – as if they’d bombed us, but simply couldn’t because we have nuclear weapons. This was a turning point in the psychology of many people, who previously were on the fence or weren’t very politicized. And this happened despite the mass media, not thanks to the mass media. And patriotic discourse was preserved in the 1990s in various forms despite the mass media, and not thanks to it. In a way, the more of this Western liberalism there was on television, the more this patriotic non-conformism crystallized.

I was studying at university in those years, and I remember that nearly all thinking youth were either red or nationalist or something non-conformist. It was a type of non-conformism with regard to our mass media, our politicians, our establishment. Now one of the problems we have is that as patriotic consciousness has been become official, it’s started to be associated with the state and conventionalism. I think that students are very different now. There’s more left-wingers of the 1968 type, ‘I don’t know what I want, but I strongly protest.’ In this sense, official patriotism has backfired. It hasn’t made the population more patriotic, it’s made patriotism more conventional. And it’s laid the groundwork for the next generation to move in the opposite direction.

It wasn’t Putin who made the people desire the reunification of Crimea. Rather, Putin decided on the reunification of Crimea because he understood that if he didn’t he would lose his leadership. An uprising had already started in Sevastopol, it practically began on 23 February, and Moscow paused for a week and didn’t do a thing. Remember that on 23 February the uprising began and the people elected Chalyi as People’s Mayor, in other words as the anti-Ukrainian government. It was a mini anti-Ukrainian city revolution. Our mass media didn’t say anything about it. It insulted Ukraine, showed what was happening in other regions, how bad the people in charge were, and so on, but they were afraid of showing this subject. They didn’t know how to react to it, and the government didn’t know either. And after a week, the organizers of the uprising received through their own channels a message from the leaders of the Black Sea Fleet that they supported them.

So a decision was made, but was it because they were afraid of an American base in Sevastopol? Instead, there will be an American base in Odessa. What’s the difference? From the geopolitical point of view, the Black Sea is a cul-de-sac. It’s naïve to explain all this from the point of view of naval geopolitics or military strategy. The Black Sea’s a trap. Have a base in Odessa, have one in Kharkov, wherever you like. The basis of the decision lay in society’s moral psychology and political leadership. That is, if we and Putin just watch what’s going on in Sevastopol, and lose all our national self-respect, then without doubt we will lose respect for Putin as leader. So he didn’t push Russians to take Crimea, but he was implicitly forced by public opinion to take a decision which, as far as I can judge, he deeply disliked.

PR: So the government follows public opinion and doesn’t lead it?

MR: In this case, it isn’t public opinion. I don’t think that they took a poll, even though polls can be done quite quickly. Our sociologists can carry out a vast sociological survey in one day and get some sort of results. It’s an implicit public opinion, a knowledge of what our society is, of how it viewed the Russian rebellion in Sevastopol. In principle everybody understood this. If reunification hadn’t happened, then it really would have been necessary to create some propaganda, to switch over to some other subject, and yet it wouldn’t have worked. Putin as a political leader would have been broken. And those same people, the liberals, would have despised him and openly laughed in his face, and complained that he hadn’t decided to act. Naturally, patriots and conservatives wouldn’t have supported him. Nobody would have supported him sincerely, only those who are get a wage from the government and are obliged to it. The entire base of moral political support would have disintegrated.

Primarily, of course, this is a historical self-consciousness, which is somehow projected into public opinion. Of course, there are subjects on which public opinion is more plastic. All sociologists know that party ratings are dependent on where they are placed in the questionnaire. There’s a mass of psychological experiments, where they tell some sort of story and then ask questions, and you get a completely different set of answers depending on the order of the questions. In this sense, public opinion is really plastic and one can direct it. But there are some fundamental, principled questions in which the government has to follow public opinion and not the other way around. It was like that with Yugoslavia. Russian diplomats in 1999 did all they could to help the Americans, but all the same they were obliged to send troops to Pristina in order to save face in front of their own society. Russian public opinion is more sovereigntist, more conservative than the Russian government. This is definitely the case. At this time, the government has a problem from the point of view of public opinion on account of its failure to make a decision about Donbass. It’s forced to switch to other themes, so that this isn’t mentioned. From this point of view, yes, there is some control over the agenda. But the influence this has isn’t quite how it’s seen in the West.

8 thoughts on “Interview with Mikhail Remizov”

  1. This is absolutely fascinating. Brilliantly done, both the questions and, I have to say, replies. The response from Remizov on universalism was particularly important, though the passage on Nietzsche gets complex. I think what he is saying is that universalism, like globalization, is the imposition of a homogenizing philosophy and anthropology. It’s an oversimplification of the human personality — henceforth, all differences should be trivial: some people like raspberry jam, others like strawberry. Remizov thinks some nations, such as Russia, can and should insist on defending a stronger set of differences than those that can be reduced to the universal ‘I have a right to eat whatever kind of jam I like.’

    Remizov thinks in the tradition of Russian (in essence, Christian) personalism. Here the key is that the differences between people are profound: everyone is unique in an important, not a trivial sense. But people are also profoundly in solidarity at the same time. Relationship does not contradict difference, but quite the reverse. US style globalization, to the contrary, sees relationship as predicated on the trivialization of all differences.

    To bring it into a practical key, this passage is the one our geo-politicians and statesmen should focus on, at whatever point in the future we manage to regain those job descriptions in our national leaderships:

    “PR: But Western liberals think that their project is universal and other projects don’t have the right to exist.

    MR: Exactly. Our conflict is one against universalism. Are we doomed to this conflict? I see Russia not as a superpower, like in Soviet times, which opposes the Western world and gathers together its own world, but rather as a rebel province of the global empire.”

    It is important that Remizov does not make a point, as would, say, a Solzhenitsyn, of always justifying Russia. Russia is not always right. Russia’s efforts at integrating with Europe in the wrong way have caused problems in the past, and will do so again in the future. Remizov sees the key to the solution as something in Russia’s hands; it can solve these problems through its own correct course, and only if it does so. I think this is a very significant and promising policy line, likely to be influential in the current Russian atmosphere, where thinking people inside Russia, with the exception of the most pro-American contingent among the liberals, have virtually given up on the US being even capable of reaching a compromise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I’ve already spoken of the loss of those warm social ties which were part of community. What conservatives have in common is that they regret their loss and think about restoring them. On one hand, one can try to do so via the nation. On the other hand, one can try to do so through corporation or some type of communitarian forms. [Alisdair] MacIntyre considers the problem of creating community in contemporary society important, but doesn’t think that nation is the solution. He is a communitarian, who sees the solution as lying in small forms. Nationalism is just one of the answers to the conservative question of how to reactivate traditional types of social connections in contemporary society. Nationalism is one of the options open to conservatives.”

    I disagree with Remizov a bit here, because he treats the question of small communities vs. the nation as being (at least potentially) an either/or question. I think this may have been true in the past, but is not a plausible way of looking at the question now. On the one hand, a nationalism not founded on the basis of small communities will lack real content. If the nation isn’t intrinsically rooted in small communities where people live their day-to-day lives, the nation is just an abstraction like any other. I think this is very visible with Europe’s nationalist parties. They have no real concrete communities to belong to, so they project the “nation” as a community, but it’s purely notional. On the other hand, I think, given modern conditions, small communities have a very difficult time surviving if they aren’t supported and sustained by a national framework. Tony Judt wrote about this. Faced with the anonymous power of large groups (especially corporations), the only weapon in the hands of small communities is communitarian politics. Engaging in this type of politics naturally draws together the small communities that make up the nation-state.

    “We have common roots. And our cultural codes are also similar. If we look at Russian stories and those of the Brothers Grimm, we can see one and the same subjects. But if we see civilization as a project, then, no, we are now separate civilizations.”

    I think this is a key distinction. The danger of speaking about “civilizations” is that there’s a risk of falling into a certain “essentialism” that sees civilizations as permanently fixed. According to this type of thought, if you can show that two countries have similar cultural roots, you’ve shown that they belong to the same “civilization” permanently. But of course two countries can go in fundamentally different directions, starting from the same point. In my view, the turn that Western Europe and North America have taken in the last 50 years has been so decisive that it no longer makes sense to talk about, for example, France and Russia belonging to one “civilization”. Given this development, I think it’s an interesting question what’s going to happen to Central and Eastern Europe. These countries have traditional attachments to Western Europe, and a tradition of hostility to Russia. However, in terms of their values and the direction of their politics, they now in many ways have more in common with Russia than the West. Poland recently is a great example of this, as its politicians shift back and forth between sniping at Germany and Russia. The conflicts over refugees (and particularly refugee quotas) have made this internal division in Central/Eastern Europe all the more acute.


  3. Remizov is talking out of his ass concerning Alexander I and Nicholas I and the reasons they did this or that. Like – he’s totally fucking deranged. Like this:

    “Tsar’s plans to hand back the Polish Kingdom, those Western Russian lands which were acquired after the partition of Poland.”

    This is enormous bullshit. Grand Duchy of Warsaw was comprised of the former Polish territories which Austria and Prussia got during past partitions and which Napoleon deprived them of. Technically speaking, as the duchy, it was subordinate to another Bonaparte’s creature – the kingdom of Saxony. The whole hullaballoo during the Viennese congress was about Alexander’s plans of reincorporation of the whole now former Duchy of Warsaw “with their compatriots” in Russia, with the granting of constitution and autonomy but without spreading this status to the territories of Belarus and Ukraine (long ago part of Russia thanks to Catherine II). Austrian (which under Metternich became chummy with Britain) raised a hue and cry, Prussia demanded compensation old-style in Saxony and the proverbial shit in silk stockings (that’s C-M. Talleyrand) was spinning his webs of intrigue. In the end Prussia and Austria got some of “their” Polish lands back.

    [Oh, and Alexander I during the Congress snubbed Metternich several times. Also – Russian Czar was more popular with the ladies]

    “And in this sense it is a new post-Christian civilization.”

    Bullshit once again. Just ordinary pagan (if not animist by now) counter-revolution. People there have plenty of “gods” easily fitting their pockets. Only it’s a pantheon of tje maddened worshipping of the Unspeakable, the Great Old Ones and Things From Beyond Good and Evil.

    “It has its priests, its intelligentsia, its mass media. It damns heretics.”

    That he gets right.

    “Russian public opinion is more sovereigntist, more conservative than the Russian government.”

    And this too.


    1. >This is enormous bullshit. Grand Duchy…..

      Probably Remizov says about the unrealized “plan Oginski”
      “In 1811-1812. there was a “plan Oginski”, named for the developer of M. K. Oginski. The project involved the creation of a province under the name “the Great Duchy of Lithuania” on the territory of Vilna, Vitebsk, Volhynia, Grodno, Kiev, Minsk. Mogilev, Podolia provinces, Bialystok and Tarnopolsky areas. The center of the provinces of Vilna, under the chairmanship of the Imperial Governor. All senior positions should be taken by the local natives. As the laws recognized the laws of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish language was made the official.
      Alexander I approved the project,”

      Liked by 2 people

  4. It really is fascinating how similar this analysis is to that of Canadian nationalists in the late-1950s and 1960s, right up to the Waffles. Even Diefenbaker had some incoherent echoes of this view. George Grant could just about be substituted entirely for Remizov, while Sam Gindin recently wrote: “Socialist parties are distinguished first of all by their commitment to working people and their vision of an egalitarian, solidaristic society that supports the full development of the potentials of all. Socialists understand that this can’t be done without reaching beyond capitalism with its class divisions, subordination of all values to the pursuit of competitiveness and profits, and thin democracy limited by minority control over the economy and communication.” Even Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, in their different ways, were critics of what Remizov terms “western universalism.”

    Canada has generally been the test case for new features of this “western universalism,” and, as a peripheral resource-based economy tightly tied into globalized value-chains, we have often been intellectually colonized by liberal-internationalist views (for good and ill). Unlike Russia, as we are small in population and sit next to the US, we have rarely had the capacity (or the will) to resist US-led “universalism,” but our analysis when we have tried has been much the same as Remizov’s.

    The problem is that, in our experience, simple reliance on nationalism as a vehicle for resistance has often been a self-defeating strategy. It seems to me that an increased emphasis on Russian “solidarism” is a better strategy than a reliance on nationalism per se. The communitarian option is not option at all, as discussed by Harold Laski in Authority of the State — only a sovereign, currency-issuing government with a monopoly over the means of coercion within its realm has the power to resist.


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