Nationalist Thought in Contemporary Russia

The Russian nationalist movement came to prominence in the late Soviet era and the early years of the Russian Federation. Russia had never existed as a consolidated nation-state; both the Russian Empire and Soviet Union were multinational states that never explicitly supported Russian nationalism. However, at various times the leadership of these states incorporated elements of Russian nationalism into their policies. Russian nationalism is linked to the mythical image of a primordial Russian community and advocates a “source of political power squarely in the hands of the [Russian] people.”[1]

There are various shades of Russian nationalism, and thus it is challenging to describe qualities that are uniform for all nationalist groups. Typical features of Russian nationalism include skepticism towards Western culture and politics, a belief in the greatness of Russia’s past achievements and the Russian people in general. In particular, the different shades of modern Russian nationalist thought contain diverse and divergent memories of the Soviet history and legacy. This paper will look specifically at two very different but influential versions of Russian nationalism, as expressed by the late-20th century novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn and by the modern, influential political scientist Alexander Dugin. This will hopefully give a better insight into the current state of nationalism in Russia and two paths that its development might take.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel laureate and perhaps the most famous Soviet dissident, extolled a particular romantic vision of the Russian nation and state. He rejected Russian imperialism and instead sought to highlight the contemporary moral failures of the Russian narod (people),[2] advocating the primacy of the Orthodox Church and Russian uniqueness. The cultural nationalism of Solzhenitsyn is quite different from the much more radical and intolerant nationalist strains that emerged in the late Soviet period.

The Pamyat’ (which translates as “Memory”) movement and other radical nationalist groups were far more statist and imperialist than Solzhenitsyn in their politics. Statists espouse a strong central Russian state, while imperialists support territorial expansionism. The memories of Russia’s and the USSR’s imperial expansions and great power status are paramount in the statist nationalist imagination. The writings of Alexander Dugin are reflective of this statist nationalist  ideology, as his writings support a strong expansionist Russian state, and have influenced several nationalist groups in contemporary Russia.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Nationalist Thought

Solzhenitsyn’s nationalist legacy differs substantially from the political philosophy of groups that emerged later in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. Solzhenitsyn developed his own vision of Russian nationalism that stood in stark opposition to the Soviet Union’s communist leadership. Raised in a Christian household, Solzhenitsyn’s time in the Gulag labor camps revived his Christian religious beliefs and anti-communist politics.[3] Solzhenitsyn’s religious outlook embraced the “Christian view of the fallen nature of Man, created in the image of God, but willful and rebellious.”[4] Solzhenitsyn was particularly skeptical of the “belief in Man’s ability to transform his own nature, to manipulate the universe and create an earthly heaven” because “Man’s nature is more or less constant.”[5] In this environment, man’s main quest is to live by a God-given objective “Truth.” Political ideologies, such as communism, only obscure this objective “Truth” from the Russian people. Solzhenitsyn’s strong Orthodox religious beliefs and his experiences in the Gulag system put him squarely in opposition to the Soviet Union’s secular communist system, which he perceived as oppressive of the traditional Russian character.

Solzhenitsyn was concerned about the well-being of the Russian narod. Solzhenitsyn’s concept of narod embraces the shared cultural and traditional roots of the Russian people. He was above all concerned about the moral health of Russian society, which, according to him, required religious faith and a return to the “natural laws that are stamped on [the Russians’] very soul.”[6] Russian Orthodoxy and the “natural laws” are necessarily intertwined, as the Orthodox faith is an integral aspect of the Russian narod. Other religious and ethnic groups are independent of the narod, lacking the necessary cultural and religious convictions that are central to the concept of Russianness. Thus, he wanted Russians to follow and submit to the God-given “Truth,” which is patriotic and independent of political ideology.  In his work, Will We Russians Continue to Be?, he explains that “patriotism is an integral and persistent feeling of love for one’s homeland, with a willingness to make sacrifices for her, to share her troubles, but not to serve her unquestioningly, not to support her unjust claims, rather, to frankly assess her faults, her transgressions, and to repent for these.”[7]

Solzhenitsyn’s nationalism took on a rational character—he did not attempt to gloss over the past mistakes of the Russian state or what he saw as the moral degeneration of the Russian narod. He believed that the communist system and the USSR’s imperial character had degraded the spiritual and moral health of Russians, especially by discouraging and suppressing the narod’s traditional Orthodox religious faith.[8] He attacked the very foundations of the communist state, deriding Lenin’s legacy as anti-patriotic and even anti-Russian. Solzhenitsyn, in such works as Lenin in Zurich (1977), depicts the anti-Russian foundation of the USSR. He describes Lenin as an ideological fanatic who cares little for the Russian narod, and is instead more concerned about the inevitability of international revolution.[9] Solzhenitsyn believed that the Russian people would be best served by reviving their traditional Orthodox religion and Russian traditions.

Solzhenitsyn’s Letter to the Soviet Leaders (1974), written before his 1974 expulsion from the USSR, is a particularly cogent explanation of his cultural nationalist thought. Rather than rejecting authoritarianism, he criticizes the communist state for forsaking the interests of the Russian nation through the suppression of religion and traditional Russian culture. He attempts to appeal to the Soviet leaders’ primordial Russian roots, hoping that they are “not alien to [their] origins, to their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, to the expanses of [their] homeland; and that [they] are conscious of [their] nationality.”[10] He chastises the state for following the tenets of Marxism-Leninism at the expense of national interests, particularly by supporting the rise of Mao Zedong in China, where “national considerations were completely lacking.”[11] Solzhenitsyn even praises Stalin’s revival of traditional values during the Second World War, writing that Stalin “unfurled instead the old Russian banner—sometimes, indeed, the standard of Orthodoxy—and we conquered!”[12]

Solzhenitsyn’s ideal Russia is one that reflects the bucolic and primordial peasant culture of the old Russia, rather than the industrialized and ideological Soviet Union. His distinct brand of Russian nationalism is thus populist and cultural in character; the Russian narod consists of the entire Russian agrarian and cultural community that is linked together through shared language, culture, religion, and familial ties. His Letter to the Soviet Leaders expresses his disdain toward the Soviet political elite, including those of Russian heritage, as those political leaders had long abandoned the primacy of the narod.

Despite Solzhenitsyn’s populist writings and ultimate concern for the welfare of the entire Russian narod over ideological or state concerns, he did not dismiss the importance of a Russian state for the Russian people. Unlike more virulent strains of statist nationalism, which glorify the memory of the state’s imperial and military past, Solzhenitsyn “advocated by, of and for Russians; he [wanted] the Russian nation to be congruent with the Russian state.”[13] The state should represent the interests of the narod, rather than imperialist or internationalist objectives. In Letter to the Soviet Leaders, he writes that:

A man’s mental and emotional condition is inextricably linked with every aspect of his daily life. People who are forced to drive caterpillar tractors or massive-wheeled trucks down grassy byways and country lanes ill-suited and unprepared for them, churning up everything in their path, or who, out of greed, jolt a whole village awake at first light with the frenzied revving of a chain saw, become brutal and cynical. It is no accident either that there are these innumerable drunks and hooligans who pester women in the evening and when they are not at work; if no police force can handle them, still less are they going to be restrained by an ideology that claims to be a substitute for morality.[14]

Solzhenitsyn blames the ideological character of the Soviet state for destroying the religious moral character of the Russian people and spoiling the primordial Russian land that is tied to the narod.

Instead, Solzhenitsyn wanted a Russian state for the Russian people—a state that expresses the will of the narod, rather than that of a political elite beholden to ideology. In The Gulag Archipelago (1973), Solzhenitsyn described the horrible effects of Marxist-Leninist ideology on the Russian people; communist ideology had allowed the creation of the Soviet Gulag system and turned Russians against one another in the service of the state. In the novel, it becomes clear that Solzhenitsyn felt that the entire Russian people, and indeed all citizens of the Soviet Union, were enslaved by the state’s inherently repressive communist ideology—the entire country lived in a virtual Gulag.

Ideology justified evil and degenerate behavior in the service of ideological objectives. In The Gulag Archipelago, he writes: “ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and cries but will receive praise and honors.”[15]

According to Solzhenitsyn, the Gulag system was a necessary product of the Soviet state, which was founded on an anti-Russian ideology that suppressed the cultural strengths of Russia. For this reason, Solzhenitsyn is far more positive about the history of the tsarist era. Before the Revolution, the tsarist government supported, rather than suppressed, the Orthodox Church. Imperial Russia was far more reflective of the cultural and religious sensibilities of the narod in his view. Solzhenitsyn’s more positive opinion of the tsarist era, in contrast to his view of the Soviet era, is reflected in The Gulag Archipelago. He juxtaposes the methods of interrogation in the tsarist and Soviet periods, referring to “a Tsarist prison, a prison of blessed memory, which political prisoners nowadays can only recall with a feeling almost of gladness.”[16] In Solzhenitsyn’s view, the tsarist regime, despite its faults, treated the narod far better than the godless Soviet regime. Solzhenitsyn was not particularly supportive of the Russian Empire’s expansionist and imperialist legacy; instead, he believed that the pre-revolutionary Russian state was far better than the Soviet one in promoting the will of the narod in line with its Orthodox and agrarian roots.

Solzhenitsyn’s writings are also notable for their criticisms of Western values and the deleterious impact of Western norms on the Russian nation. These trends are evident among many nationalist thinkers, both conservative and radical. In his famous 1978 commencement speech at Harvard University, Solzhenitsyn decried the West’s spiritual decline. He explained that “the tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually” and that “though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still remains a great deal of crime; there even is considerably more of it than in the destitute and lawless Soviet society.”[17] He also criticized the West for denying Russia’s “special character and therefore never [understanding] it,” as “today the West does not understand Russia in Communist captivity.”[18] He derided Marxism as a foreign Western import to Russia. In Letter to the Soviet Leaders, Solzhenitsyn explained that the USSR has “followed Western technology too long and too faithfully” and has “dirtied and defiled the wide Russian spaces and disfigured the heart of Russia, our beloved Moscow.”[19] The Soviet leaders must abandon the USSR’s imperial mission and communist ideology, but should not blindly adopt Western democracy and capitalism.

After Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994, he became increasingly critical of the post-Soviet regime and the nature of the USSR’s collapse. Solzhenitsyn resented the imposition of Western values, such as human rights and parliamentary democracy, on Russia. Addressing the Russian Duma in 1994, he commented on the failings of the past Dumas of the early 20th century, saying: “all this parliamentary experience doesn’t inspire us much and appears as a strict warning for the future.”[20] In Letter to the Soviet Leaders, he had criticized the concept of a “democracy run riot in which once every four years the politicians, and indeed the entire country, nearly kill themselves over an electoral campaign, trying to gratify the masses.”[21] Solzhenitsyn did not necessarily deny the principle of democracy, as long as it was a proper expression of Russia’s unique national character. Perhaps surprisingly, given his anti-imperial demeanor, he was also critical of the loss of what he considered primordial Russian land to newly independent states after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. He was particularly concerned about the fate of ethnic Russians left outside the Russian Federation, and hoped that eastern Ukraine, Belarus, and northern Kazakhstan would remain under Russian political authority.[22] He views these lands as tied to the Russian narod because of the dominance of Russian culture, language, and the Orthodox religion in these regions.

Solzhenitsyn de-emphasized the primacy of the Soviet state, instead stressing the well-being of the Russian narod over political ideological considerations. In his view, the primordial Russian narod is primarily agrarian in character, deeply connected to the Orthodox religion, the Russian language, and Russian culture. Solzhenitsyn’s anti-imperialism, in particular, separates him from the statist nationalists who glorify the memory of a strong, expansionist Russian state. For Solzhenitsyn, a multicultural Russian or Soviet Empire, rather than advancing the Russian nation’s prestige, instead saps the energy, resources, and cultural uniqueness from the narod. However, despite this important difference and Solzhenitsyn’s relative conservatism, he does share some important ideals with many other Russian nationalists. Solzhenitsyn idealizes the concept of the Russian nation and its religious and cultural roots. He also shares with other nationalists a mistrust of the West, a belief in Russia’s special and distinct character, and a preference for a strong and unitary, rather than federal, Russian state.[23]

Despite these broad similarities, Solzhenitsyn and statist Russian nationalists remained at odds throughout his lifetime. The right-wing statist nationalists denounced his return to Russia in 1994, blaming the author for his role in vilifying the Soviet state and contributing to the collapse of the superpower. During a public speech in Moscow following his return, Solzhenitsyn was heckled by Russian nationalists and other groups sympathetic towards the old Soviet order. Pravda published the denunciations of an important supporter of nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, who blamed Solzhenitsyn for the collapse of the USSR and for spreading a negative and violent stereotype of the Russian people in the West through such works as The Gulag Archipelago.[24] In turn, Solzhenitsyn ridiculed the statist nationalists for their imperialist tendencies, particularly the imperialist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), writing in The Russian Question (1995) that “it is impossible to imagine a worse caricature of Russian patriotism [than renewed Russian imperialism] and to suggest a more direct path to drowning Russia in blood.”[25]

The Rise of Radical Russian Nationalism in the 1980s

The concept of statist nationalism is very much intertwined with the memory of the imperial conquests of the Tsarist era, as well as the great power status and military victories of the Soviet Union. The rise of extremist and statist nationalist groups was most noticeable in the 1970s in the Soviet Union, and many of these organizations glorified the imperialist and military achievements of the Russian and Soviet states.

These groups drew heavily from the ideology of extremist right-wing organizations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Statist Russian nationalism has its roots in the ideology of Pan-Slavism, which became a popular intellectual current in the mid and late nineteenth century. Pan-Slavism emphasized the cultural and primordial unity of all the Slavic peoples, stressing the need for political or cultural unification. Although Pan-Slavism gained followers in many of the Slavic nations, Russian Pan-Slavism stressed the role of the Russian Empire in uniting or defending the various Slavic peoples and believed that Russian should become the language of all Slavs.[26] Radical nationalist groups emerged as a powerful political force in the late Tsarist period, particularly in response to the rise of various leftist revolutionary movements.

An extremist and Russian nationalist organization called the Black Hundreds became especially notorious. The Black Hundreds were notable for their virulent anti-Semitism, and the group was defined by its violent anti-revolutionary activity and anti-intellectualism.[27] The Black Hundreds were closely linked to powerful figures in the Tsarist state, particularly the Tsarist security services.[28] Thus, they were heavily statist in their ideology—the Black Hundreds and other extremist right-wing Russian nationalist organizations glorified the memory of Russian imperial conquests and were deeply anti-Western and xenophobic. In the 1970s and 1980s, statist and imperialist Russian nationalist groups adopted the ideologies of their nationalist predecessors from the prerevolutionary period. These groups advocated xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and a glorification of the statist past. During the late Soviet period, Pamyat’ (Memory), a nationalist group ideologically resembling the Black Hundreds, became the leading voice of intolerant Russian nationalism.

Pamyat’ and other groups were generally imperialist, supporting the primacy of Russian nationals in Soviet state structures. Statist nationalist organizations in the late Soviet era were preoccupied with traditional Russian heroes and united in their “opposition to the Americanization of Russian culture and to other alien influences.”[29] Nationalist organizations often averred that the Stalinist period “were golden years when Russians were able to truly live by Russian rules.”[30] In this way, Pamyat’ and other nationalist organizations of the late Soviet period generally followed the theory of the “single stream of history,” reconciling their support for both the prerevolutionary and Soviet states through the claim that the Soviet regime was legitimate because it represented the continuation of the Russian imperial state to the present day.[31] Thus, like the Black Hundreds, many of the extremist nationalist groups of the late Soviet era had close links with the state. Pamyat’ had powerful allies in the Soviet security services and the conservative camp of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), which emerged in opposition to Gorbachev’s reforms. Despite its connections with the Soviet state, Pamyat’ also vigorously promoted the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church, its historical connections to the Russian people, and its cultural legacy.[32]

Alexander Dugin and Statist Nationalist Thought in the Post-Soviet Period

Alexander Dugin is perhaps the most notable and influential Russian nationalist thinker in the post-Soviet era. His political writings, in contrast to those of Solzhenitsyn, are primarily of the statist and imperialist nationalist variety. Dugin is concerned with geopolitics and Russian expansionism, rather than the Russian narod or cultural traditions. Unlike many other radical Russian nationalist thinkers, Dugin openly acknowledges the influence of Western thought on his political philosophy, and he borrows heavily from the “New Right” intellectual currents in Europe.[33] Dugin’s emphasis on geopolitics rather than Russian culture and his adaptation of Western political theories also puts him at odds with other radical Russian nationalists. However, Dugin’s impact on statist Russian nationalist groups and political parties, particularly the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), is widely acknowledged by Russian political observers; the pro-Putin United Russia party, the CPRF, and LDPR all have ties with Dugin and his Eurasianist ideas.[34]

Eurasianism became popular among the Russian émigré community after the October Revolution, and it emphasizes the special character of the Russian state and nation. According to Eurasianists, Russia is a unique civilization that is neither Eastern nor Western. The Eurasianists, like other statist nationalists, believe in the concept of the “single stream of history” in which Russian statehood was preserved in the transition from the Tsarist to the Soviet regime.[35] Alexander Dugin is the most notable of the modern Eurasianist thinkers.

Dugin’s expansionist ideology is best described as eclectic, following in the footsteps of the Eurasianist tradition of the early 20th century. He has participated in Russian nationalist organizations for much of his life, even joining an underground study group in his teenage years in the USSR. During perestroika, Dugin became active in Pamyat’, which further influenced his nationalist thought and statist ideals. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dugin worked closely with Gennadii Zyuganov, the leader of the CPRF, and was instrumental in promoting Russian nationalist ideology within the Communist Party. Dugin was also involved in other minor political parties after the collapse, such as the National Bolshevik Party, which combines communist and nationalist ideals. His statist and Russian expansionist ideas have also influenced governmental figures since the election of President Putin in 2000.[36]

Dugin’s ideology stresses the importance of geography to Russian statehood, believing that Russia’s location in continental Eurasia necessitates the state’s imperial-expansionist character. Eurasian countries (many Eurasianists place the countries within Japan, Oceania, Asia, and most of continental Europe in this classification), inherently favor political stability, traditionalism, and collectivism over individualism and democratic political systems. In contrast, the Atlanticist powers, most importantly the United Kingdom and the United States,are individualistic, exploitative, and anti-traditionalist.[37] Dugin is particularly critical of rampant individualism in “Atlanticist” and Western societies. He writes that “liberalism must be defeated and destroyed, and the individual must be thrown off his pedestal.” The Western conceptualization of individualism as freedom is necessarily false, as “freedom can be of any kind, free of any correlation or lack thereof, facing any direction and any goal.” Dugin claims that his philosophy instead embraces “absolute freedom,” which is “the freedom of culture and the freedom of society” rather than that of individualism.[38]

Dugin’s political philosophy concentrates on the inherent geopolitical tension existing between the Eurasianist and Atlanticist powers. He argues that the political regimes of the Eurasian continent, as defined above, have vast, naturally constructed land-based empires that have united diverse peoples under single political authorities. He continues by arguing that Russia, as the center of the Eurasian landmass, is the most important of these historical Eurasian multinational states. Furthermore, he states, Russia and other Eurasian powers are inherently benevolent, particularly in contrast to the exploitative “Atlanticist” powers. Thus, Dugin believes that the Russian imperial state was expansionist, but was also non-exploitative and benefited the non-Russian peoples that submitted to Russian power. The Russian Empire, and later the Soviet Union, respected the ethnic differences under its power, allowing the flourishing of a just multinational state. In contrast, the “Atlanticist” colonial powers brutally subjugated their colonized people, setting up a system of oppression that suppressed indigenous traditions in the name of global capitalism.[39] In fact, Dugin rejects racism and ethno-centrism as an “Atlanticist” rather than a Eurasian quality. He explains that “racism, and not some other aspect of National Socialism” brought about “the collapse of Germany and the Axis powers.”[40] Indeed, globalization is inherently racist and is “based on the idea that the history and values of Western, and especially American, society are equivalent to universal laws.”[41]

Dugin’s statist nationalism shares the anti-Western and anti-American undertones of many shades of Russian nationalist thought. In his book, The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin attempts to lay down the framework for a new Eurasianist ideology. He finds three influential political theories—liberalism, communism, and fascism—insufficient. He demonstrates his opposition to the American-led liberal world order, which he describes as predatory and exploitative. Dugin hopes that a Russian-led Eurasian political order can oppose the “Atlanticist” world order currently dominated by the United States. He writes that the liberal order “has its foundation and origins in the idea of the struggle between species, that is, the feral destruction of the weak by the strong, or the validation of the strong at the expense of the weak.”[42] Luckily, the “Russian population has almost entirely rejected the liberal ideology in the 1990s” after the failures of liberalization.[43] He proposes that Russia join other anti-liberal and Eurasianist powers in a geopolitical alliance against the United States and its allies. For Dugin, Russia’s natural Eurasianist allies are Iran, Germany, and Japan.  These countries are not Russia’s natural allies because of ethnic considerations, but rather because of geopolitics and Eurasianist perceptions of Russian national interests.

Dugin rejects communism as a useful ideology, arguing “the second and third political theories [communism and fascism] are unacceptable as starting points for resisting liberalism [the first political theory].” It is necessary to rethink communism and fascism “in a new way, and only after we reject our trust in those ideological structures on which their ‘orthodoxy’ is rested.”[44] Despite his opposition to communism in the present, he does not dismiss the importance of the memory and history of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a strong Russian state, representing the multinational character of the Eurasian nations. Dugin believes in a strong, centralized, and multinational imperial Russian state in the mold of the Soviet Union.[45] He acknowledges “the important role played by Stalin’s Communist Party in securing the empire,” even while denying “the Communists themselves center stage” in Russian-Soviet history.[46] A strong Russian state, rather than communist ideology, secured the Soviet Union’s power and global political influence.

Dugin’s eclectic ideology and strong statist nationalism have had a profound impact on Russian politics, impacting both communist and nationalist Russian political parties. The CPRF, has adopted Russian nationalism, rather than Soviet communism, as the basis of its popular appeal. The CPRF still glorifies the communist past, emphasizing the nationalist and imperialist victories of the communist period in Russian history, as well as socialist ideology.[47] The CPRF has tapped into statist Russian nationalism to appeal to voters disenchanted by the collapse of the Soviet state and Russian superpower status. A CPRF campaign advertisement in 1993 included a song about the heroism of past Russian military heroes “from Aleksandr Nevskiy to Marshal Zhukov.”[48] The CPRF has adopted the memory of Tsarist and Soviet great power status in order to appeal to voter frustrations through statist nationalism and the promise of future Russian greatness.

The LDPR, influenced by Alexander Dugin’s strain of nationalism, has adopted a radical, statist Russian nationalism. The LDPR and its eccentric leader, Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, promote a renewal of Russian imperialism through the reestablishment of a Russian Empire. In Zhirinovskiy’s autobiography, The Last Drive to the South (1993), he lays out a vision of Russia expanding its conquests to the Indian Ocean.[49] Zhirinovskiy’s ideology has changed since the publication of his autobiography in 1993. While he no longer overtly supports Russian expansionism through military conquest, Zhirinovskiy still hopes for the re-unification of past Soviet and Russian territory through legal means. Zhirnovskiy stresses that he was never a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, directing his vitriol toward Soviet and post-Soviet leaders who tarnished the Russian state and people.[50]

The CPRF and LDPR both espouse statist nationalism in the mold of Dugin’s advocacy of a strong imperialist Russian state. Both parties are also strongly anti-Western. However, unlike Alexander Dugin, the LDPR and CPRF stress the ethnic and cultural character of the Russian people. Both parties have used extremist, racist, and anti-Semitic language in the Duma, and preach a far more ethnic version of nationalism than Dugin. Despite these differences, both of these “mainstream” non-governing political parties in the Russian Federation demonstrate the important peripheral influence of statist nationalism in the country.


Russian nationalism has become a powerful political and moral force in Russia since the late Soviet period. Different Russian theorists and nationalist groups define and use the idea of Russian nationalism in widely divergent ways, as exemplified by the cultural nationalism of Solzhenitsyn and contemporary statist strains of nationalism. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s writings focused on the cultural uniqueness of the Russian people, or narod, stressing the narod’s religious and traditionalist roots. Solzhenitsyn criticizes the Soviet state and its communist ideology for separating the Russian narod from its cultural traditions. He does not subscribe to the “single stream of history” concept and criticizes Russia’s imperial and expansionist history, both Tsarist and Soviet, for ignoring the best interests of the Russian people. Solzhenitsyn demonstrates skepticism of the West, particularly of the importation of Western institutions to Russia, and instead promotes a truly Russian state that is based on Russian cultural uniqueness.

Statist shades of Russian nationalism share some broad similarities with Solzhenitsyn’s ideals, but have quite different memories of the imperial and Soviet past, as well as the entire concept of Russian nationalism. The Russian state’s history, both Tsarist and Soviet, as a multinational empire has profoundly shaped statist Russian nationalism. Most statist nationalists share a primordial image of an ethnic Russian community, demonstrate anti-Western ideology and xenophobia, and emphasize the Russian nation’s Orthodox religion. Statist nationalist organizations recognize a “single stream of history” between the Tsarist era and Soviet period that represents a continuity of the imperial Russian state.

The ideologist Alexander Dugin has emerged as perhaps the most influential statist Russian nationalist thinker in the post-Soviet era, influencing the ideologies of two post-Soviet nationalist political parties, the CPRF and LDPR. Dugin’s political philosophy concentrates on geopolitics and the inherent tension between the American-led Western order and the Russian-led Eurasian order. Dugin idealizes the Russian imperial and expansionist past, which he describes as beneficial to non-Russians. Dugin also subscribes to “the single stream of history” concept and is positive about the memory of the centralized and powerful Soviet past. Dugin is notable for his particularly anti-Western ideology and his opposition to the importation of Western norms into Russian political life.

Geographically, Russia is a huge expanse, linking Europe and Asia, and extending to the shores of North America at the Bering Strait. It is no wonder that its cultural identity and visions of nationalism are also broad and disparate. Today, Russia still struggles to emerge from its legacy of oppression and find its own unique national identity. The important differences found in Solzhenitsyn’s cultural nationalism and the statist nationalism as espoused by Alexander Dugin reflect the country’s polarized national identity and two directions for the further development of nationalism and national identity in Russia.


Allensworth, Wayne. The Russian Question: Nationalism, Mobilization, and Post-Communist Russia. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998.

Carter, Stephen. Russia Nationalism: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

Dugin, Alexander. The Fourth Political Theory. London: Arktos Media Ltd., 2012.

Dunlop, John B. “Aleksandr Dugin’s ‘Neo-Eurasian’ Textbook and Dmitrii Trenin’s Ambivalent Response,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 25. 1/2 (2001): 91-127,143.

Ericson, Edward and Daniel Mahoney, eds. The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings 1947-2005. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2012.

Hosking, Geoffrey and Robert Service, eds. Russian Nationalism, Past and Present. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Lacquer, Walter. Black Hundred: The Rise of the Extreme Right in Russia. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Laruelle, Marlene. Aleksandr Dugin: A Russian Version of the European Radical Right. Washington: The Kennan Institute, 2006.

Laruelle, Marlene, ed. Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Merkl, Peter and Leonard Weinberg, eds. Right-Wing Extremism in the Twenty-First Century. London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003.

Rowley, David G. “Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Russian Nationalism,” Journal of Contemporary History 32.3 (1997): 321-337.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Letter to the Soviet Leaders. Paris: YMCA-Press, 1974.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. The Gulag Archipelago. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1973.

Shlapentokh, Dmitry. “Dugin, Eurasianism, and Central Asia,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 40.2 (2007): 143-156.

Tuminez, Astrid. Russian Nationalism Since 1856. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000.



[1] Pg. 1, Tuminez, Astrid. Russian Nationalism Since 1856. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000.

[2] The Russian term narod emphasizes the ethnicity of the Russian people, and differentiates between citizens of the Russian state (regardless of ethnicity) ethnic Russians (narod)

[3] Allensworth, Wayne. The Russian Question: Nationalism, Mobilization, and Post-Communist Russia. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998.

[4] Ibid., pg. 68.

[5] Ibid., pg. 69.

[6] Allensworth, “The Russian Question…”, Loc. cit.

[7] Pg. 473, Ericson, Edward and Daniel Mahoney, eds. The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings 1947-2005. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2012.

[8] Pg. 63, Carter, Stephen. Russia Nationalism: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

[9] Ibid., pg. century

[10] Pg. 8, Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Letter to the Soviet Leaders. Paris: YMCA-Press, 1974.

[11] Ibid., pg. 13.

[12] Ibid., pg. 17.

[13] Rowley, David G. “Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Russian Nationalism,” Journal of Contemporary History 32.3 (1997): 321-337.

[14] Solzhenitsyn, “Letter to the Soviet Leaders,” Op. cit., pg. 39.

[15] Pg. 174, Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. The Gulag Archipelago. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1973.

[16] Ibid., pg. 133.

[17] Ericson and Mahoney, op. cit., pg. 567.

[18] Ibid., pg. 563.

[19] Solzhenitsyn, “Letter to the Soviet Leaders,” op. cit., pg. 25.

[20] Rowley, “Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Russian Nationalism, loc. cit.

[21] Solzhenitsyn, “Letter to the Soviet Leaders,” op. cit., pg. 50

[22] Pg. 143, Lacquer, Walter. Black Hundred: The Rise of the Extreme Right in Russia. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1993.

[23] Rowley, “Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Russian Nationalism,” loc. cit.

[24] Allensworth, op. cit., pg. 59.

[25] Ibid., pg. 327

[26] Carter, op. cit, pg. 20.

[27] Ibid., pg. 30; Pg. 14, Laruelle, Marlene, ed. Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia. New York: Routledge, 2009.

[28] Laruelle, “Russian Nationalism…”, loc. cit.

[29] Ibid. pg. 212.

[30] Tuminez, op. cit., pg. 196.

[31] Tuminez, “Russian Nationalism…”, loc. cit.

[32] Lacquer, op. cit., pg. 218.

[33] Merkl and Weinberg, op. cit., pg. 254.

[34] Pg. 4, Laruelle, Marlene. Aleksandr Dugin: A Russian Version of the European Radical Right. Washington: The Kennan Institute, 2006.

[35] Pg. 108, Laruelle, Marlene, ed. Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia. New York: Routledge, 2009.

[36] Dunlop, John B. “Aleksandr Dugin’s ‘Neo-Eurasian’ Textbook and Dmitrii Trenin’s Ambivalent Response,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 25. 1/2 (2001): 91-127,143.

[37] Laruelle, “Russian Nationalism…”, loc. cit.

[38] Pg. 52-53, Dugin, Alexander. The Fourth Political Theory. London: Arktos Media Ltd., 2012.

[39] Pg. 109, Laruelle, Marlene, ed. Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia. New York: Routledge, 2009.

[40] Dugin, op. cit., pg. 43.

[41] Ibid, pg. 45.

[42] Ibid, pg. 57.

[43] Ibid, pg. 14.

[44] Dugin, op. cit., pg. 24.

[45] Lacquer, op. cit, pg. 139.

[46] Allensworth, op. cit., pg. 262.

[47] Tuminez, op. cit., pg. 194.

[48] Allensworth, op. cit., pg. 171.

[49] Ibid., pg. 194.

[50] Ibid., pg. 232.

About the Author

Chris Dunnett

Chris Dunnett recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in International Studies and Political Science. He plans to spend 2014 in Ukraine as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships program. Afterwards, he may return to graduate school to focus on either law or public policy.

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Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

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