Eurasian Structuralism

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The article examines the socio-political consequences of the structural-linguistic concepts of N.P. Trubetskoy and R.O. Jacobson, as well as the structural-geographical theory of P.N. Savitsky. These scientists, who were the pioneers of the structuralism of the twentieth century, were at the same time the founders of the Eurasian movement, which tried to compete with the Bolshevik doctrine in 1920-1930s. The sociolinguistic principle of “linguistic unions” and the morphological concept postulated by N.S. Trubetskoy became the basis for the semantic picture of the Eurasian space proposed by R.O. Jacobson, which resulted in a socio-political development construct that has not exhausted its potential so far. The morphological and phonological approaches of these two linguists were supported by the structural-geographical concept of P.N. Savitsky, who showed the prerequisites for the emergence of a Eurasian community not only at the linguistic, but also at the geographical and economic levels. Linguists pointed to the connection between language and thinking, which forms the idea of extant and due, which gave arguments for the assertion of the axiological proximity of the Eurasian peoples. Geographer P.N. Savitsky confirmed these conclusions with his research on the formation of the economic kinship of the population of Eurasia on the basis of a single space. Using these concepts, Russian structuralists created a socio-political doctrine about the special role of Eurasia, its separate path, opposite to the western direction of development. Applying certain provisions of F. de Saussure, the founders of Eurasianism created the teleological syntagma ideocracy - demotia - soviet, which determined the structure of the Eurasian socio-political space. The combination of elements of the Eurasian structure is interpreted collinearly of the triad proposed by F. de Saussure langage - langue - parole. The ideocratic system, verified by demotia, determines the activities of the soviets. It follows from this that the teleological syntagma of the Eurasianists, ideocracy - demotia - soviet, was the antithesis of the Bolshevik syntagma communism - Soviet authority - soviet. Ideocracy here is the opposition to communism, and demotia is opposition to Soviet authority. Thus, the structure of the Eurasian state was finally determined. Ideocracy was understood by the Eurasians as a political system, demotia, as a way of social control of the system, and in this case soviets were supposed to become an instrument of self-government, uniting the structure of the Eurasian state from top to bottom.

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Eurasianism is one of the most interesting and original trends in Russian socio-political thought. Of particular interest is its connection with the structuralist modeling of socio-political processes in Russian society. One should admit that not all Eurasians were close to such  an approach. However, N.S. Trubetskoy and  P.N. Savitsky, the founders of Eurasianism, set the tone which for a long time determined the main direction and influenced other members, such as R.O. Jacobson, N.N. Alekseev and others. At that time, structuralism was just emerging and the concept itself had not yet been established, although the ideas of the Swiss linguist F. de Saussure increasingly influenced in the second decade of the 20th century a number of sciences related and non-related to linguistics.

Like any other trend, Eurasianism is characterised by heterogeneity (Karsavin, 1926, p. 124). Its founders were representatives of different schools and even different fields of scientific knowledge, and its further development, which included members of once different political movements, only exacerbated this diversity. But the heterogeneity has not devalued the foundations of Eurasianism, complementing additional facets and bringing it to a new level of hermeneutic potential. At the same time, the “omnivorousness” of early Eurasianism led it to a crisis in the 1930s, when differences in ideas about future development began to conflict with each other.

Initially, despite the differences in approach, the Eurasians were moving in the same direction. They needed to theoretically justify the subject of their study. Therefore, at the first stage they tried to prove the unity of the field of research, using the methods of the science in which each of them was proficient. In this article, firstly, we will touch upon a very important aspect related to the structuralist foundations of Eurasianism. Until now, it has received little attention (Glebov, 2010; Dugin, 1999, pp. 5—25; Sutormin, 2014, p. 126). Secondly, the main elements of the parsed structure will be analyzed. And, thirdly, the teleological component of the Eurasian doctrine’s structure will be explored, to which the participants of the movement attached great importance (Savitsky, 1923).

Our study is primarily aimed at studying the original Eurasianism. We are referring first of all to the ideas of N.S. Trubetskoy and  P.N. Savitsky, the founding fathers of Eurasianism, which were sharply criticized immediately as they were outlined.  A.A. Kiesewetter issued one of the most critical definitions of Eurasianism. In 1925, he described Eurasianism as “a mood which imagined itself to be a system.” This kind of mood was generated by associations with the First World War and “the establishment of Bolshevism in Russia” (Kiesewetter, 1925, p. 50). In other words,  A.A. Kiesewetter moved the Eurasian concepts from a mental category to a sensory one. We do not share this point of view. Moreover, it seems that the methodology of Eurasianism and partly its instrumentality have a certain potential even within the modern political paradigm.

Let us begin by examining A.A. Kiesewetter’s reproach for the lack of systematic Eurasianism, since it is both a rebuke of its unscientific nature and of the fact that this concept lacks structure. The context of the reproach of the famous historian and politician, who represented the Kadet Party, is obvious. Since the beginning of the 20th century in the scientific world there was an acute need for new systemic theories, which would not only explain current social phenomena and processes, but also predict events. This state of affairs was due to many factors. Without going into a detailed analysis of this issue, we will only point out what is directly relevant to the topic of our study — counter-Marxism and geopolitics.

The first trend was related to the desire to create a systemic theory that could compete with the ubiquitous teachings of K. Marx, which claimed to provide an exhaustive explanation of all social processes. Here W. Sombart and  M. Weber were the most successful, proposing their own ways of structuring society and its dynamics (Sombart, 1987; Weber, 1934).

The second trend was born out of a desire to create a doctrine in which geography, politics, history, ethnography, economics, psychology and almost every other science relevant to society were inextricably linked. Geopolitics came to the fore here. Its founder and systematist, the Swedish political scientist R. Kjellén, put forward a program of unification of all aspects of social knowledge within the framework of political science (Kjellén, 1917). The Eurasians’ attempt to combine counter-Marxism and geopolitics is very indicative in this respect.

In Russia, the most original concept, claiming to be universal was put forward by A.A. Bogdanov, one of the most famous Marxists, whose attempts to further develop the Marxist doctrine were sharply criticized by  V.I. Lenin (Ilyin, 1909, p. 295). In 1913, two parts of “Tectology — universal organizational science” were published, followed by the publication in 1922 of the final three-part version (Bogdanov, 1922). In his work, long before L. von Bertalanffy, A.A. Bogdanov actualized the systems approach as a universal principle of cognition by describing different types of social structures. Perhaps this work was familiar to A.A. Kiesewetter, and in accordance with its provisions he required the Eurasians to structure their ideas on the transformation of Russia, so that they acquired explicit systemic properties. However, the historian’s reproaches were in vain. The Eurasians could hardly be blamed for their lack of systemicism.

We will not analyze in detail the famous concept of P.N. Savitsky, which revealed the idea of Russia-Eurasia through the method of place-development. The concept is based on the study of historical-political and geographic-economic features of Russia, which already points to systemic features (Savitsky, 1921a). The systematicity (consistency) here is quite obvious and one can only argue about its level, the complexity of the proposed system, or its compliance with Russian reality. In subsequent works, the structure of the described Eurasian system became more complex (Savitsky,  1921b, pp. 119—124) in order to achieve its completeness both in the “Formulation of 1927”1 covering all sides of social and political life (up to the sanitary and hygienic measures and landscaping issues) and in the “Scientific Tasks of Eurasianism” (Logovikov, 1931b,  pp. 53—63).

The concept of N.S. Trubetskoy was no less systematic. It developed ideas which would later be used by structuralists. N.A. Berdyaev, who generally criticized the Eurasians, recognized only N.S. Trubetskoy’s “Turanian-Tatar concept” as original in their teaching (Berdyaev, 1925, p. 134). The beginning of this concept was N.S. Trubetskoy’s book “Europe and Humanity” (Trubetskoy, 1920). It served as the basis for the seminar in which the participants, in particular P.P. Suvchinsky,  G.V. Florovsky and P.N. Savitsky, raised the question of the need for a Eurasian ideology. Naturally, N.S. Trubetskoy as the seminar’s “instigator” had the greatest influence on the development of the methodological foundations. He subsequently developed the theory of ontological structuralism and the concept of the dependence of the Eurasian language union on geographical features with another prominent linguist and Eurasianist R.O. Jacobson.

This, at first glance, purely linguistic and already well-established research, is associated the concept of N.S. Trubetskoy on the stability of Slavo-Turanic interactions. As it developed into a political plane, it took the structural form of Russia-Eurasia, and became one of the ideas that gave rise to the concept of multipolarity. Later this acquired a special foreign policy implication, which consisted in the Eurasian call to liberate the peoples of Asia and Africa  from colonial dependence (Trubetskoy, 1925b,  pp. 57—58; Trubetskoy, 1922, pp. 305—306).

The meaning of the concept was as follows. While exploring the ancient states of the Indo-European languages, their further development and mutual influence and using the analysis of lexical features, N.S. Trubetskoy came to the conclusion that in terms of value Slavic peoples feel affinity with their eastern neighbours, and the peculiarities of their neighbourhood  with Western Europeans affect the similarity  in the sphere of life activities. “The ‘soul’  of Slavs was drawn to Indo-Iranians, ‘body’ — to Western Indo-Europeans, because of geographical and material conditions” (Trubetskoy, 1921a, p. 92).

Later, after the division of the Slavs into three branches, the eastern Slavs were the least affected by the western influence due to the peculiarities of their local development. He brings evidence to this fact even in the peculiarities of musical culture, drawing attention to the eastern element in the Russian ritual and wedding songs (Trubetskoy, 1921a, pp. 97—99). In this regard, one should admit that the Eurasians attached particular importance to the issues of musical culture, considering it an important element of the consciousness. The nature of such attention also lies in the fact that such prominent representatives as P.P. Suvchinsky and  A.S. Lurie, being active musicologists and publicists, actively promoted Eurasian values in the musical environment. They argued that it was impossible to liberate Russia either by military or political means. Instead, they promoted the idea of cultural liberation as an alternative that would free the country from Bolshevik captivity. P.P. Suvchinsky and  A.S. Lurie assigned an important role in cultural liberation to the ideological and propaganda potential of musical works (Suvchinsky, 1922, p. 127). In 1928—1929 in the newspaper “Eurasia” there were articles describing musical works in the Eurasian context. A.S. Lurie composed his own operas and symphonies so that they were as consistent as possible with the “Eurasian worldview.” A number of well-known Russian composers in Western countries shared similar views. V.A. Dukelsky became the author of several articles in Eurasian editions, while A.N. Cherepnin in one of his interviews in 1933 expressed the conviction that “he, like a Russian in art, should fulfill  the Eurasian mission” (Korabelnikova, 1999,  p. 203). The service of the mission was expressed in the fact that the musical interpretation of symphonies acquired by composers I.F. Stravinsky, S.S. Prokofiev,  V.A. Dukelsky and A.N. Cherepnin features that met the objectives of national music building (Vishnevetsky, 2005, pp. 7—15, 153).

Returning to the analysis of the structuralism of N.S. Trubetskoy, it should be stresses that in addition to a number of arguments of ethnographic and psychological nature that characterize the special relationship of Russians with the Turanian world (Trubetskoy, 1925c, pp. 370—375), the scientist paid special attention to the linguistic aspect of the interaction. The issue is specially analyzed in the “Babel Tower and Confusion of Languages.” N.S. Trubetskoy postulated the sociolinguistic principle of “linguistic unions,” according to which the languages of peoples who have been neighbors with each other since ancient times acquire common features. Developing this idea, the scientist formulated the morphological concept. Its novelty lays in the fact that all languages are structured not only genetically, by families, but also non-genetically, that is, by unions (Trubetskoy, 1923a, pp. 116—117).

N.S. Trubetskoy’s concept was supported by the historian P.M. Bitsilli, who advocated the synchronicity and internal unity of the history of the Old World. In this regard, he saw the cultural task of his time in finding ways to synthesize Eurasian cultures, which should represent unity in diversity. In this regard, he saw the cultural task of his time in the search for ways to synthesize the cultures of Eurasia, which should represent unity in diversity.  P.M. Bitsilli gave a special role in solving this problem to Russia, which, according to him, was not only a mediator, but also a model for the synthesis of Eastern and Western cultures (Bitsilli, 1922, pp. 334—335, 339).

Although P.M. Bitsilli’s collaboration with the Eurasian movement was short-lived, it contributed to the further development of  N.S. Trubetskoy’s ideas and influenced the structuralist concept of R.O. Jacobson. Considering Eurasia as a whole, the researcher discovered the existence of the Eurasian language union (Lubenskii, 1931, p. 288). The phonological features of this union are the absence of polytony (monotony) and differences in the consonant timbre (Jacobson, 1931a, p. 8). On this basis, R.O. Jacobson distinguished between ‘centrals’, which in addition to phonological features have pronounced forms of declension, and ‘peripherals,’ which are characteristic of Western Europe, South and Southeast Asia (Jacobson, 1931b, pp. 51—52).

Proposed by N.S. Trubetskoy and  R.O. Jacobson, the semantic picture of the world showed the linguistic commonality of the Eurasian society, both at the original and acquired levels. It pointed to the deep axiological unity of the peoples inhabiting the continent, which provided an arguing basis for conclusions of a political order. In general,  N.S. Trubetskoy and R.O. Jacobson were the continuators of the direction proposed a century before them by the German geographer W. von Humboldt, according to whom thinking was conditioned by language specificity (Humboldt, 1822). Using this idea, N.S. Trubetskoy and R.O. Jacobson created a structuralist phonology, which formed the basis of Russian and Western structuralism. In particular, it provided the structuralist context for N. Chomsky in creating behavioural science on the basis of a generative (universal) grammar and was, therefore, called a discovery of the greatest importance (Chomsky, 2006, pp. 62—63, 65).

In the teachings of N.S. Trubetskoy and R.O. Jacobson, the perception of the existing Russian socio-political reality and the collective ideas of the ethnos about itself based on the method of “self-knowledge” were combined (Trubetskoy, 1921b, pp. 72—78). Linguistic arguments were often used as evidence. The reliance on language to explain social phenomena has since become quite common.  At that time, the hypothesis of linguistic relativity of American linguists E. Sapir and B.L. Whorf appeared, which directly related all cognitive processes to the structure of language (Whorf, 1941, pp. 197—215). The latter implied that the structure of language determines the paradigm of thinking, which fully corresponded to the ideas of N.S. Trubetskoy about the nature of the fundamental difference in the worldview of the Western Europeans and the Eurasians (Trubetskoy, 1920, pp. 13, 25—26, 53—55).

In the late 1930s, M. Heidegger used similar arguments, claiming that it is the word, being an existential being (Das Wort ist das wesende Seyn), which makes the being  exist (Heidegger, 1998, p. 140). Like  N.S. Trubetskoy he believed that it is language that largely shapes our ideas about what is extant and what is due. The approach of  N.S. Trubetskoy received the support of the well-known Eurasian lawyer N.N. Alekseev, who tried to introduce the methods of structural linguistics into the field of jurisprudence. Discussing the institutional significance of language, he argued that the phenomenon of language is “federalist” than the phenomenon of law, since language and culture are not as coercive as the latter (Alekseev, 1931, p. 215).

Because of this, no matter how the Eurasian theory develops in the future, it will always be compared with those structural-linguistic meanings and their cultural-historical basis, which N.S. Trubetskoy put into it. Therefore, considering Eurasia as a kind of semantic space, one can conclude that it is not so much a nomination of reality as a sociopolitical statement. Transformed into a political declaration and then into a political action, Eurasianism “forced” (in the words of its founders) to become an opposition to Europe and “Latinism” (Trubetskoy, 1923b, pp. 127—128).

In this regard, N.S. Trubetskoy’s thoughts on the vital necessity of Eurasian nationalism are quite revealing, since without its unifying force, Russia-Eurasia is bound to fall apart, which would be a disaster for its constituent parts. Subsequently, this was reflected in the “Formulation of 1932,” which declared “patriotism-nationalism” to be a phenomenon that unites all the nationalities of Russia-Eurasia based on the common fate.2 Such a statement, firstly, shows that although the Eurasians were reproached for their ideological connection to the Slavophiles, they did not perceive the Russian community as the basis of Russian statehood. Strictly speaking, they were against any community, considering it a historical relic. Secondly, they rejected politically unjustified Slavophilism/Panslavism/Neoslavism.

The Eurasians took the ideas of autarchy and the perennial hostility of the West towards Russia from N.Ya. Danilevsky, who  considered community as one of the foundations of folk life. The basis of this hostility lays  in the differences in cultural and historical types (Danilevsky, 2015, pp. 480—481).  N.S. Trubetskoy stated that the future Russia-Eurasia should eradicate the spirit of European civilization and build its statehood on a non-European basis (Trubetskoy, 1925b, p. 57).

In this respect, the Eurasians were closer to the views of K.N. Leontiev, who believed that traditional peasant communities would be replaced by corporations with strict statutes, but with a “family character” (Leontiev, 1996). His ideas, together with those of other scholars close to Narodnichestvo (A.I. Herzen and others),3 subsequently led to the creation of the Eurasian concept of demotia. The Eurasians were criticized for this by liberals (P.N. Milyukov, N.A. Berdyaev). P.N. Struve perceived the Eurasianism as populism, which he constantly fought against, only somewhat modernized. However, he recognized that the Eurasianism was a multifaceted phenomenon, some aspects of which should be welcomed (Struve, 1922,  pp. 228—229).

One of these aspects of the Eurasianism, although not in P.N. Struve’s understanding, was its geopolitical content. The Eurasians interpreted socio-political processes spatially. Their distinctive feature was the fact that they complemented the geospatial perception of the social world with a linguistic-phonological concept. N.S. Trubetskoy, not formally referring himself to geopolitics, in contrast with  P.N. Savitsky, sought to give a clear answer to the question of what is meant by Eurasia in the geopolitical sense. In particular, he pointed out and tried to justify the spatial characteristics of geopolitical Eurasia, beyond which he considered it inappropriate. In this respect, his negative attitude to the thalassocratic concepts of Anglo-Saxon geopolitics, which sought to control the entire world, and to the concepts of expansion of vital space (Lebensraum), which were setting the tone in German geopolitics, was evident.

In general theoretical terms, N.S. Trubetskoy and other Eurasians (P.N. Savitsky, G.V. Vernadsky and others) have certain similarities with the ideas of French geopolitics, originating from  P. Vidal de la Blanche. In the works of this geographer, the main focus was on the development of the territory (French, in this case). N.S. Trubetskoy proposed a latitudinal dominant as a geographical criterion of Eurasian space, defining the Eurasian borders within the northern part of the continent. Foreign political expansion in the meridional direction, in his view, is theoretically incorrect (there are  states-civilizations with their own traditional culture — Persia, China, etc.) and, therefore, highly undesirable. He considered the exit beyond the circle of the territories that were once part of the Russian Empire to be undesirable and erroneous. In this sense, the doctrine of the Eurasians was intensely hermetic, and its essence can be expressed by the Archimedesque appeal: do not touch my circles (Noli tangere circulos meos!).

Thus, the geopolitics of the Eurasians was a mixture of the civilizational approach, associated with the ideas of N.Ya. Danilevsky on cultural and historical types with some Western European concepts of the early  20th century. P.N. Savitsky was particularly committed to the geopolitical conceptualisation of the Eurasian doctrine. According to  R.O. Jacobson, he was “a gifted visionary of structural geography” (Jacobson, 1996, p. 244) and naturally more inclined than others to confide politics by geography. Therefore, he was more influenced by the ideas of P. Vidal de la Blanche and H. Mackinder than other Eurasians.

These geographers laid the foundation for the French and English geopolitical schools, and their concepts were well known at the time. Although P.N. Savitsky can only find a few traces of the influence of the P. Vidal  de la Blanche and H. Mackinder school (Heartland concepts), his desire to interpret the Eurasianism as a Russian geopolitical school is evident. P.N. Savitsky spoke of a desire to write a book on geopolitics, compiled geopolitical tables (Savitsky, 1931b, pp. 102—104) and in his letters he defined himself as a geopolitician.4

The Eurasianist P.N. Savitsky was close to P. Vidal de la Blanche in what the former called “the question of the geography of man.” The essence of this question was the idea that each region represents a huge natural potential, and the mission of the peoples who inhabited this region at different times is in the disclosure of certain aspects of it. According to P. Vidal de la Blanche, it is the people, who set the direction for the use of nature, which allows its individuality to be revealed (Vidal de la Blanche, 2020).

Arguing in a similar way, P.N. Savitsky speaks of the new meaning that the vast Eurasian steppe acquired in connection with its inclusion into the Russian state. Nomadic pastoralism was replaced by sedentary agriculture, which not only set a new level of interaction with nature, but also laid the basis for the integrity of the Eurasian space (Savitsky, 1922, pp. 350—354). The similarity between the concepts of P.N. Savitsky and  H. Mackinder, firstly, lies in the following: both proceeded from the fact that Russia-Eurasia is the world Heartland (Mackinder, 1919, p. 191), or the “core,” the “heartland” of the Old World (Savitsky, 1922, p. 355). Secondly, both contrast the political aims of the maritime and land powers, speculate about the role of nomads in world politics, and regard Russia as the heir of the Mongol Empire (Mackinder, 1904,  pp. 426—428, 436).

According to P.N. Savitsky, “in the space of world history, the West European sense of the sea as equal, although polar, is opposed by the only Mongolian sense of the continent.” P.N. Savitsky attributes the same sense of continent to the Russian pathfinders, which, from his point of view, explains the scope of development of the vast expanses of Eurasia (Savitsky, 1928; 1922, p. 345). This idea was most accurately expressed by K.A. Chkheidze, one of the prominent figures of the movement. He showed that the topic of geopolitical analysis of Russia as a mainland state is extremely important for Russian Eurasianism (Chkheidze, 1931, p. 114; 1927, pp. 32—35).  In this regard, it should be noted that the theme of the mainland state under consideration by  K.A. Chkheidze represented a development of M.F. von Taube’s idea about the phenomenon, which he translated from the German language as “great power” or “world power” (Gross und Weltmacht) (Taube, 1910, p. 3). M.F. von Taube argued that such a ‘historical super-personality’ is super-state and super-national, i.e. it constitutes a union state or a union of states (Taube, 1910, p. 6). This state is so vast that it extends to an entire continent, and in the limit to two continents. Variants are possible with a ‘two-member America’ and a ‘three-member Eurasia, consisting of Europe, Asia and Africa’ (Taube, 1910, pp. 37—38). The idea formulated in 1904 by M.F. von Taube anticipated the concept of pan-regions by  F. Naumann (1916, pp. 231—261) and  K. Haushofer (2001, pp. 255—261) and proved to be very popular among the Eurasians.

On the whole, despite the undoubted influence of contemporary geopolitical ideas on the Eurasians, they were more conceptually dependent on the structuralist theory of F. de Saussure. His idea that “linguistic activity has an individual side and a social side, and one cannot be understood without the other” (Saussure, 2000, p. 18) was creatively revised by N.S. Trubetskoy and R.O. Jacobson. Based on Humboldt’s idea, they transferred Saussure’s theory of morphophonology to the socio-political sphere. As a result, the linguo-axiological space of N.S. Trubetskoy and  R.O. Jacobson, supplemented by the ethno-geographical dimension of P.N. Savitsky, became the basis of the socio-political construct of Eurasianism. Its basic elements were the triad of ideocracy — demotia — soviet. This triad, consisting of complementary political concepts, should be understood in the spirit of Saussure’s ideas about syntagmatics. In this case, we are dealing with a construct which is a teleological syntagma or, if we replace Saussure’s categories with the terminology of R.O. Jacobson,  a syntagmatic contiguity of teleological components (Barthes, 1975, p. 140). In this universalism ideocracy represents the determinant, while demotia and soviets are determinants in descending order.

Each component of the syntagma had a special meaning in the social structure conceived by the Eurasians. Initially, however, the presence of “soviets” in this construct aroused surprise and even rejection among contemporaries, as it gave rise to direct associations with Bolshevik Russia. The inclusion of the institution of councils in the structure of the Eurasian state was explained, on the one hand, by the possibility of using a ready-made form that was already widespread in the Russian expanse. On the other hand, the representatives of the movement believed in the ability of Eurasian society to be reversible and hoped for the transition of the soviets to their original basis. For this reason, the Eurasians took a close look at the institution of soviets, which they saw as a form of popular self-government along with democracies and stressed its deep historical roots. In accordance with the necessity of combining the diachronic and synchronic approach of F. de Saussure (Saussure, 1971, pp. 129—134), the Bolshevik soviets were perceived by N.S. Trubetskoy and R.O. Jacobson as the current state of elements of the established system, evolving towards Eurasianism. However, in political terms, they were more interested in the synchronic (vertical) aspect of the phenomenon of the soviets, rather than in the diachronic (evolutionary, horizontal) aspect.

The idea of soviets appealed to Eurasians as a ready-made form of organization, developed historically and justified its effectiveness in the course of a radical restructuring of the state apparatus. Of course, such an approach was already categorically rejected by a significant part of the Russian emigration, since the recognition of soviets as a legal form of government seemed completely unacceptable to them. Therefore, the Eurasians, along with the task of declaring their political credo, faced the problem of proving the instruments and forms of future political reform. In this context, the soviets were the focus of particular attention, as they were to be used as an example to show the expediency of some of the social changes carried out by the Bolsheviks.

It is noteworthy that although the Bolsheviks themselves, as the initiators of the revolutionary changes, claimed to have followed the script of K. Marx, the explanations of what had happened differed even within the Marxist milieu. One part of world social democracy sided with the Bolsheviks, believing their Marxist phraseology about the victory of the socialist revolution in Russia and the proletariat, whose dictatorship would then lead to the emergence of a classless state. The other doubted the possibility of building socialism in a separate and, for that time, medium-developed country, where the proportion of the working class was very small.

As a result, two of the most common Marxist explanations of what had happened emerged. According to the first, which in Russia was considered Bolshevik, the level of technological and social development of society was not of fundamental importance for the implementation of the proletarian revolution and the further building of socialism. In order not to diverge too much from the teachings of K. Marx, revolutionary processes in developed countries were to be stimulated in every possible way, and after their success, to unite with them, thus eliminating the theoretical differences as well. The second approach, which was considered Menshevik in Russia, was characterized by a tendency not to move too far away from Marx’s revolutionary criteria. For this reason, the Mensheviks gave priority to the level of social development and were more oriented towards formational rather than situational conditions for the realization of a revolutionary situation.

The soviets appeared in Russia as a result of revolutionary processes and immediately after their emergence became representatives of the working masses (Parvus, 1906, p. 215). It is difficult to say how K. Marx himself would have reacted to these events. On the one hand, he was an ardent supporter of the socialist revolution, but he was tensely anticipating it in another part of Europe. K. Marx did not take the Russian revolutionary movement too seriously, as he did not see any significant social support for it and in general, his ideas about Russia were formed in the 1830s—1840s, when it was perceived by some Europeans as a gendarme of Europe. In addition, K. Marx, by his own admission, was not a Marxist.[5] He was led to this declaration by an acquaintance with the activities of his French supporters in the late 1870s, who, in his opinion, misinterpreted his theory. Perhaps, this shows once again his authoritarianism and intolerance for views that differed from his own, a point that was repeatedly reproached by A.I. Herzen and  M.A. Bakunin (Herzen, 1957, pp. 157—160, 165—167).

In this regard, it should be emphasized that one of the important differences between Bolshevik practice and classical Marxist theory was precisely the creation of soviets which acted as organs of self-government. K. Marx did not write about such bodies as a form of political power. Perhaps, this may be due to the fact that he, like many prophets before him, rarely went into detail when predicting the future. Therefore, the Bolsheviks turned to the French as the revolutionary trendsetters of the 18th and 19th centuries, on whom K. Marx himself was largely guided. From the French, the Bolsheviks adopted the ideas of committees, communes, revolutionary terror and enemies of the people, but the French were not familiar with the soviets.

Soviets as a mode of self-government, naturally non-partisan, emerged in Russia during the revolutionary movement of 1905. In the course of the February Revolution they were again in demand (Milyukov, 1921, p. 66). Giving an interview on March 19, 1917, Prince G.E. Lvov, the head of revolutionary Russia, put it this way: “In the field of local self-government the program of the Provisional Government is made by the power instructions of life itself. In the form of local public committees and other similar organizations, it has already created the germ of local democratic self-government, preparing the population for future reforms. In these committees, I see the foundation on which local self-government must rest until new bodies are created. The Commissars of the Provisional Government, sent to the places, have the task not to stand on top of the created bodies as the supreme authority, but only to serve as an intermediate link between them and the central government and facilitate the process of their organization and formalization” (cited in: (Milyukov,  1921, p. 67)).

Describing these events in hot pursuit,  P.N. Milyukov, a member of the cabinet of Prince G.E. Lvov and once his comrade in the Party of Constitutional Democrats, in 1920 expressed great skepticism towards the soviets, considering them a combination of utopianism and abstract ideology. For this reason, he called for a revision of democratic programs associated with self-government, through which liberals, “having given nothing to the people, wanted to create ‘everything’ ‘through the people’” (Milyukov, 1921, p. 15).

The Bolsheviks thought differently. The political potential of the soviets was well known to them and they subsequently tried to use them as a foothold for the advancement of communist ideas. A major success was achieved in  1917 when they managed to “Bolshevize” the Petrograd Soviet, thus creating the preconditions for the October Revolution. In an attempt to build on this success, the Bolsheviks wanted to incorporate the ‘Soviet’ movement into the Bolshevik social model, seeking to equate communist and Soviet power. However, the difference between the two was too obvious. The peasant uprisings of 1918—1921, which engulfed a number of central Russian provinces, Western Siberia and Altai, were both anti-Bolshevik and pro-Soviet. The most famous was the Kronstadt uprising of revolutionary sailors, ruthlessly suppressed in 1921, who put forward, among other things, the demand to purge the soviets of communists and turn them into a non-party organ of self-government. The uprising was eliminated by the former leader of the Petrosoviet in 1905 and 1917, L.D. Trotsky. He was one of the leaders of the Bolshevik state, often referred to as Soviet Russia, at the time of the uprising’s suppression. L.D. Trotsky defined the uprising not only as a counter-revolutionary, but also as an anti-Soviet rebellion. However, even after being expelled by his political opponents from the Soviet country, he continued to stand up for what he believed  to be right.6

The Eurasians held a different view. Carefully observing the course of the civil war, and then the course of building a new state, they also saw in the soviets a great potential for national self-organization on a national scale. The only thing they did not like about the Communist approach was the Bolshevization of the soviets. According to the Eurasians, this instrument of interaction between the central government and the population lacked the purpose for which it was originally created for. In fact, not only the freedom of decision-making at the local level was taken away from the soviets, but also the freedom of expression in relation to the actions of higher authorities. The Eurasians believed that under the guise of democracy, the soviets were being used by the Bolsheviks as a tool to influence the country’s population. Therefore, while advocating the creation of an all-class and supranational state, the Eurasians declared their rejection and even the need to fight against the Bolshevik content of the “forms forcibly imposed by the communist authorities on the nationalities of the Union.”7At the same time, they valued the institution of the soviets, seeing them as an important element in the structure of the future Eurasian state. According to the “Formulation of 1927,” the Eurasians saw the Soviet system as a body for establishing the people’s will and selecting representatives for the supreme structure of the Eurasian state.8 As L.P. Karsavin put it: “The foundations of a state system appropriate to the culture of Russia-Eurasia have already been laid. This facilitated the task of our generation” (Karsavin, 1927, p. 239).

The Eurasians recognized the Soviet system, not power. For them power should be demotic. They perceived demotic power as the only possible power in Russia-Eurasia, since only such power would be able to ensure the solution of those social, religious and cultural problems which the Eurasians set for themselves. Like power, laws had to change as well. Moreover, as in the case of Soviet regime, the Bolshevik legislation could initially be adopted as a starting point. It should have been cleared of its class orientation and made demotic, i that is, nationwide (Alekseev, 1927a, p. 22). The soviets would then perform the function of selecting the ruling stratum for  the ideocratic state, which N.S. Trubetskoy  had pointed out as a goal (Logovikov, 1931a,  p. 134).

Among the emerging in 1918—1921 political actors, the idea of soviets as instruments for the implementation of their ideas was very popular. In Germany, after the events of November 1918, many revolutionaries began to be guided by the Russian experience. Consequently, the concept of Soviet power became widespread among the Germans. The power of the soviets was proclaimed in Hamburg, Bremen, Leipzig, Chemnitz and Sachsen-Gotha. Even in Heidelberg, a workers’ soviet arose, which included the famous sociologist Max Weber as a representative of the local university. However, the expanding institution of soviets in Germany received an unexpected blow from the Reichsrätekongress (Assembly of Soviets of the Empire), which tried to assume the role of the Reichstag. The Social Democrats who had won a majority there, fearing the victory of the Russian model, which they saw as too radical, opposed the consolidation of the soviets as the constitutional basis for the young German republic.

Despite the defeat in Berlin, the idea of the soviets continued to march victoriously through cities and countries. Soviet republics seemed to appear everywhere. In addition to the territories of the former Russian Empire, including Poland, the Baltics and Finland, they emerged in Germany (Bavaria, Alsace, Bremen), Romania (Banat), Slovakia (Presov), Hungary (Hungary, Baranja Bahia), Italy (Labin), Persia (Gilan). Even on a distant European fringe, in Ireland, an ephemeral Soviet republic (Limerick) appeared. Although the existence of soviets and soviet republics outside the former Russian empire lasted for weeks and months or sometimes days, the institution itself seemed very promising. According to R.O. Jacobson (2012), the greatest poet of the 20th century Velimir Khlebnikov even tried to calculate the time of the emergence of new Soviet republics.9

Representatives of non-Marxist strands of Russian social thought also looked closely at the phenomenon of the soviets. This was particularly true of those who saw the radical demolition of the former imperial foundations of political power in Russia as inevitable, but at the same time focused not on hegemonic Marxism or democratic liberalism, but on the centuries-old experience of the people as the natural basis of collective creativity.

This was the position from which the so called Smenovekhovites (Changeoverists) attempted to assess the Russian events. Thus, the former “kadet” N.V. Ustryalov, who by 1921 had changed his direction to the “Smenovekhism” close to the Eurasians, believed that the new force entering the world defines itself only by its own goals. It acquires the law only in case of victory, which  N.V. Ustryalov defined as “the normative force of the factual” (Ustryalov, 1921, p. 7). At the same time, in his article entitled “Patriotica” published first in a Harbin newspaper and  later reprinted in the Prague collection  of the Smenovekhovites (Changeoverists),  N.V. Ustryalov wrote that “the recent slogan of the Kronstadters about ‘freely elected soviets’ comes to mind involuntarily” in connection with the Bolshevik Sovietization of Russia.[10]  N.V. Ustryalov, accepting the idea of soviets, opposed the forms of its implementation. That is, he was satisfied with the “negative” activities of the Bolsheviks, the part that corresponded to the opening of the second verse of the Russian translation of the International: “We will destroy the whole world of violence to its foundations.” However, he expressed his rejection of the continuation of the “positive” part: “And then we’re ours, we’ll build a new world.”

In this respect, the Eurasians also agreed with the Smenovekhovites (Changeoverists). They also held the view that the former autocratic regime was unviable, but they imagined the construction of a new world differently from the Bolsheviks, although they were not against using a whole range of institutions which had developed under them. The Eurasians intended to preserve the Soviet system with all its institutions (congresses and the Central Executive Committee) “as an organ for determining the people’s will.” But power should be transferred to demotic, i.e. popular, associations. According to the Eurasians,  the freely expressed will of the citizens  had to implement their political decisions through territorial associations (demotics).11 The principal difference between the new associations was that the relationship between the demotia and the soviet would be carried out on a new ideological basis: the place of communism was to be taken by Eurasianism. The difference between demotia and democracy was the complete popular control over the making and execution of decisions, which made impossible the populism and corruption inherent in the democratic regimes of Europe (Sadovsky, 1923, p. 170; Savitsky, 1931a, pp. 43—44).

The Eurasians saw the Russian-Eurasian state as ideocratic. This meant that its highest principle was to be the Eurasian idea, which N.S. Trubetskoy called “the ruling idea” (Trubetskoy, 1927a, pp. 3—20). Politics, culture, economy and all other spheres of life would be subordinated to this idea. The pillars of the idea were God, the state and the people. Without speaking out against religions of eastern origin, the Eurasians gave a special place to Orthodoxy, believing that in the vast Eurasian expanse this very faith had a special unifying meaning in all senses (Savitsky, 1925a, pp. 18—19). In the economic sphere there should be a reasonable combination of  planned and individual beginning, creating the conditions for a public-private economy, since the highest vocation of the individual is to serve the common cause. P.N. Savitsky calls this type, which combines the personal-economic and the state beginning, the economic power (Savitsky, 1925b, pp. 427—438).

Another important characteristic of the economic structure of Russia-Eurasia was to be autarky. P.N. Savitsky directly links autarky to the Eurasian doctrine of Russia as a “symphonic personality” and the thesis of its geographical, historical, ethnographic and linguistic specificity (Savitsky, 1932, p. 51). The aim of autarchy did not imply the isolation of the country from the outside world. It pointed to the desire for complete independence from it and the special role of the Eurasian state. Trying to show the differences between Eurasianism and the existing regimes in Western Europe and the USSR, P.N. Savitsky declares Eurasianism to be not only autarkic but also “super-socialist” (Savitsky, 1931a, p. 8).

Not all Eurasians accepted socialism.  N.S. Trubetskoy rejected it on the simple grounds that it was a product of Western civilization and, therefore, nothing good could come out of this construct (Trubetskoy, 1925a, p. 72). But for most others, socialism did not cause idiosyncrasy (Karsavin, 1929).

The super-socialism, described by  P.N. Savitsky, did not mean anti-capitalism so much as etatism, by which was meant the special role of the state in ideological and social relations, as well as its self-sufficiency. It followed from this that the Bolshevik system, according to the Eurasians, needed a strong correction, especially in ideological terms. Here they intended to replace the communist idea with the Eurasian one.

At the same time, the Eurasians wanted to leave a significant part of the new structure that had developed under the Bolsheviks, and use it for their own purposes. The Eurasians were sure that by nominating their deputies to the higher soviet, the lower ones could control the higher ones. The soviet sees the delegated deputy not as a function of an abstract party program, but as a living “person, expressing their collective consciousness.” In this way the soviet embodies a genuinely demotic principle: the expression of the will and “worldview of the whole by an organized minority” (Karsavin, 1927, p. 217).

In other words, while retaining much of the former structure the Eurasians intended to set a new goal of development, thereby changing the meaning and nature of the links among the elements of the structure. As a result, the Eurasian system was to replace the Communist system (in its Bolshevik version). According to the Eurasians, it would embody one of the models of continental super-subjects going back to the ideas of Genghis Khan (Vernadsky, 1927, pp. 157—158). The unifying idea of this super-actor — Russia-Eurasia was the Eurasian idea, which had religious (Orthodoxy), linguistic (Eurasian language union), geographical (unity of Eurasian space) and cultural (similarity of cultural and economic types) grounds. The Eurasian idea, perceiving the peoples inhabiting Eurasia as a symphonic personality, a multi-people nation (Trubetskoy, 1927b, p. 28), was supposed to reformat the space of Russia-Eurasia on new principles, conjugating through the principle of demoticism two most important state bases — the divine and the people. It was also implied that the federal power, embodying ideocracy in state practice, would have its support in the elected soviets of different levels, which were controlled through demotia.

Thus, the participants of the Eurasian movement wanted to create a new phenomenon of political existence on the basis of ideocracy: federation as a form of unification of Eurasian peoples, demotia as a system, soviets as a way of self-organization. In this, a Eurasian symphony would find its manifestation, embodying the conciliar beginning of Eurasianism (Karsavin, 1926, p. 124) and as an ontological integrity representing the spiritual unity of the entire Russian community (Karsavin, 1927, p. 201).

The concept of wholeness resulted from the development of the idea that individual linguistic units are interconnected. F. de Saussure extended these connections through the opposition of the signifier and the signified to social phenomena, which led to the concept of mutual influence of linguistic and social phenomena. Structurally, this implied that the signified could influence the signifier or, to put it another way, an element of language could correlate a social phenomenon. In the Eurasian linguistic-geographical social space, this was reflected in the special role given to the three social notions already mentioned: ideocracy, democracies and soviets.

Ideocracy was understood by the Eurasians in two ways. Firstly, they referred to ideocracy as the supreme power of the future state, based on the service of God and the people of Eurasian spaces. Secondly, ideocracy was understood as a form of organization of the Eurasian state, presented to them as a harmonious structure of the future social system, based on the triad of ideocracy — democracy — soviets. The Eurasians believed that by transferring this structure to the field of Russia-Eurasia, they would be able to initiate the desired systemic changes. It suited them well that one of the necessary elements of the structure — the soviets had already been legitimized by the Bolsheviks. All that remained was to breathe the spirit of Eurasian ideocracy into the soviets and bring them under demotic control.

Concluding the analysis of the structuralist influence on the Eurasian socio-political concept, a parallel between the Eurasian triad and another Saussurean construct, which the Eurasians were probably guided, should be emphasized. Earlier, we drew attention to the connection between the triad and the syntagmatic concept of F. de Saussure, where the triad is treated as a teleological syntagma. Now let us point out the collinearity of the triads: langage — langue — parole (linguistic activity — language — speech) and ideocracy — demotia — soviet. F. de Saussure understood langage as a system, langue as an instrument, and parole as a sign (Zolotukhin, 2016, p. 331). It followed from the given paradigm that the system predetermines speech through language. R.O. Jacobson continued the development of this idea, pointing to the teleological meaning of utterance and its inherent internal hierarchy: “This is the central place in structural linguistics, as I defined it following Trubetskoy” (Jacobson, 1996, p. 183).

The combination of elements of the Eurasian structure is interpreted in a similar way: the ideocratic system, verified by democracy, determines the soviet. In this case, the teleological syntagma of the Eurasians ideocracy — democracy — soviet is the antithesis of the Bolshevik syntagma communism — Soviet power — soviet. Ideocracy is here in opposition to communism, while demotia is in opposition to Soviet power. Thus, the structure of the Eurasian state is finally determined. Ideocracy is understood by the Eurasians as a political system, demotia as an instrument of social control of the system, while the soviets in this case play a significant role of a “powerful tool” (Alekseev, 1927b, p. 259), uniting the structure of the Eurasian state from bottom to top.


1 Eurasianism (Formulation of 1927) // Eurasian Chronicle. Vol. IX / ed. by P.N. Savitsky. Paris: n/d, 1927. P. 3—14. (In Russian).

2 Eurasianism. Declaration, Formulation, Theses. Prague : Eurasianist Publishing, 1932. P. 24. (In Russian).

3 Introduction // Exodus to the East. Premonition and Accomplishment. Statement of Eurasians / ed. by  P.N. Savitsky, P.P. Suvchinsky, N.S. Trubetskoy,  G.V. Florovsky. Sofia : Izdanie evraziitsev publ., 1921.  P. IV. (In Russian).

4 State Archive of the Russian Federation. Fund 5783. Reg. 1. File 366. P. 75. N. Savitsky. Correspondence with representatives of the Eurasian movement on editorial, propaganda and personal matters. 28 July — 14 March 1928. (In Russian).

5 Engels F. To Konrad Schmidt in Berlin. London,  5 August 1890 // Marx K., Engels F. Works. Т. 37. Moscow : Gospolitizdat, 1965. P. 370. (In Russian).

6 Trotsky L. D. The Hype around Kronstadt // Bulletin of the Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists). 1938. No. 66—67. (In Russian).

7 Eurasianism. Declaration, Formulation, Theses. Prague : Eurasianist Publishing,1932. P. 24. (In Russian).

8 Eurasianism (Formulation of 1927) // Eurasian Chronicle. Vol. IX / edited by P.N. Savitsky. Paris: n/d, 1927. P. 7. (In Russian).

9 Khlebnikov V. Predictions // Khlebnikov V. Collected Works : in 6 vol. Т. 6. Volume 1 / ed. by R.V. Duganov. Moscow : IMLI RAS, Nasledie publ., 2005. P. 286.  (In Russian).

10 Ustryalov N. “Patriotica” // Novosti zhizni. 1920. June 17. (In Russian).

11 Eurasianism (Formulation of 1927) // Eurasian Chronicle. Vol. IX / edited by P.N. Savitsky. Paris: n/d, 1927. P. 6—7. (In Russian).


About the authors

Andrei V. Shabaga

Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7610-9721

PhD, Dr. of Sc. (Philosophy), Professor, Department of Theory and History of International Relations

Moscow, Russian Federation


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