by Flo Read
Thursday, 10
March 2022
Video
16:26

Investigating Aleksandr Dugin and the “soul of Russia”

Freddie Sayers speaks to Marlene Laruelle about the far-Right philosopher and Putin's endgame
by Flo Read

Aleksandr Dugin, the ultra-nationalist Russian philosopher and erstwhile organiser of the National Bolshevik Party, has been referred to as ‘Putin’s brain’. Professor Marlene Laruelle, the world’s leading expert on Dugin, says his influence is no longer direct. Dugin’s stated mission is to preserve the “Russian soul” and expand the Eurasian empire in defiance of the West. Today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increasingly isolated global position feels like some of these visions have become a dark reality.

Freddie Sayers sat down with Laruelle to seek a deeper understanding of the oft-quoted concept of the “Russian soul”, what Dugin wants and how Putin might be able to help him get it.

Given the images coming out of Mariupol and Kharkiv, Dugin’s philosophy of violence now makes for disturbing reading. He has long agitated on behalf of the separatist regions in Donetsk and Lugansk, where Putin first sent troops as a preamble to full-scale invasion in Ukraine. His only complaint about today’s events, Laruelle predicts, would be that the Kremlin took so long to act.

Meanwhile, formal sanctions on Russian finance and exports are pushing the country towards economic isolation, also as per Dugin’s grand plan. But informal cultural sanctions are where Laruelle sees the greatest threat. As well as the mass exodus of Western brands from Russia, the country’s oldest exports, literature, music and ballet, are being unceremoniously banned abroad. The Cardiff Philharmonic has pulled Tchaikovsky from their programme. The Royal Opera House has cancelled a show by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. Frankfurt Book Fair has suspended the stand for Russian novels. If this is not a proxy war against the Russian soul, Laruelle asks, then what is?

In attacking Russia for what it is and has been, rather than what Dugin or Putin might like it to be, Laruelle says the West is making a mistake. She is clear that Russophobia will only increase support for strong-man Putin. Banishing Russia’s greatest artistic achievements plays into Putin’s most extreme suspicions, which Dugin has long-since encouraged.

Events in Ukraine have opened a potential path for Dugin’s prophecy to be fulfilled, Laruelle warns. New methods of repression are available to Putin that simply didn’t exist in the 1990s. Autarky and self-sufficiency might provide an attractive alternative to the failing global economy, but Dugin would pursue this at the cost of human rights. Will he have his way?

If the Russian soul requires a strong sense of self to survive, then it is in a moment of crisis. Cosmopolitan young people from Moscow and St Petersburg are leaving the country in droves to seek a more European-aligned life elsewhere. The Russian government and its people are split between a return to a lost Byzantine past and a Westernised future.

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Tom Watson
Tom Watson
3 months ago

There was a BBC show a few years ago – ‘Tunes for Tyrants,’ looking at music in the Soviet Union and Third Reich – that I remember made reference to a controversial concert broadcast(?) in Britain during the war, controversial because the programme included Beethoven (or another major German composer, I forget exactly whom). The whole point being that Germany per se was not the great enemy – Nazism was, and we claimed all that was best in civilisation for our side. An episode we would do well to remember today.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

Well remembered.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
3 months ago

If we allow ourselves to indulge in Russophobia we are betraying the very values which set us apart from Putin.

Andrew F
Andrew F
3 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Question is what is Russophobia?
What is such for people in The Western Europe is different for people of Eastern and Central Europe who experienced centuries of Russian aggression, occupation and genocide.
In current situation with Russia attacking another European country complaints about Russian restaurants getting cancellations is pathetic.
Russians need to understand that their actions are despised.
So their response should be overthrow of Putin and not complaints about their culture being cancelled.
If i recall music of Wagner was not performed in Israel for quite a while.

David Simpson
David Simpson
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Centuries!!! the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe from 1945-1989, with our agreement. Remember Napoleon and 1812. And have you forgotten how many millions of Russians died in both world wars, as our allies. Russians are not our enemies, and never have been. Putin and his KGB and oligarch cronies are another matter.

Hendrik Mentz
Hendrik Mentz
3 months ago

Much to dwell upon here. For me central was Sayers’ leading question (>25:06): ‘can it be that Aleksandr Dugin has some things right (as well as many things wrong)?’, and Laruelle’s reply (>26:01) that people/humankind (in the ‘West’/in our Brave New World) need more than consumerism. People need ‘rootness’, connectedness.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 months ago
Reply to  Hendrik Mentz

I too found that question central, even though I find Dugin’s philosophy obnoxious as a whole.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
3 months ago
Reply to  Hendrik Mentz

Too true – but some countries feel it ok to want tha trootedness via guided missiles and a denial of their responsibility for their recent history. At least the Germans felt serious remorse for their recent history and did not crack on with rebuilding their ’empire’ as soon as they could ‘get away with it ” !!!

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 months ago

An excellent discussion. This is one of the few I’ve encountered that get behind the general moral outrage against what has been happening, and takes the trouble to ask “Why?”
I have found few other strong answers to that one-word question. One is an earlier article in UnHerd by Giles Fraser, “Putin’s Spiritual Destiny.” Another is the discussion in “Anglican Unscripted” (especially Nos 121 and 122), where the two American Christians who run it discussed the historical thought behind Putin’s actions, the dangers inherent in the West’s demonisation of everything Russian, and the band-wagon of self-righteous virtue signalling that ignores the very serious failings of the Ukrainian government.
That is not to condone Putin’s actions. However, like Marlene Laruelle, I have been dismayed at the self-righteousness with which the West has reacted. Tchaikovsky’s music has been cancelled in concert programmes. The Bolshoi Ballet’s visit to London next summer has been cancelled. Various organisers might be concerned about provoking protests; but the notices announcing these cancellations speak only of these events being inappropriate or unwelcome, or of the cancellation being a mark of protest.
We might find Dugin’s philosophy obnoxious and unhealthy. (I certainly do.) But to tar all of Russian culture, and by implication the Russian people, is itself an obnoxious and unhealthy reaction. As Marlene Laruelle points out, it is likely to drive Russia in directions that, for the West as well as for Russia herself, are even more obnoxious and unhealthy.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
3 months ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

I personally dont think that russians are demonized per se – but certainly their history engenders some suspicion as to future behaviours which now appear well-founded – so again not demonised but rather fearful……

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
3 months ago

Excellent! I really found that interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks Freddie & Marlene!

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
3 months ago

Excellent. I’ve been waiting for this, more philosophical/cultural debate on Russia & Russians. France has had a significant influence on cultural developments in Russia (Diderot, Dostoyevsky), historically and this influence had a profound impact on Russian politics & culture for centuries.
Studying Russia in the 80s, we learned about the ‘massive’ Russian soul; it goes deep and you can feel it when you are there. And when you are there, 11 hrs time difference away from Moscow, to the east, closer to China, in Khabarovsk or Vladivostok, it is utterly European.
In terms of religion, I feel Russia has shamanic approach to the Orthodox religion in a way that makes the ‘religious’ practice more everyday & culturally unique.
It makes me really sad also, to see the demonisation of Russia & Russians; it is worse than it was during the cold war and at least then we could revere Gogol & Akhmatova, we could love the ballet and the music.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
3 months ago

Refusing to Tchaikovsky’s music because of what Putin did in effect shows Putin to be right unfortunately. The West refuses what’s good with Russia alongside what’s bad with Russia. This tells Russians the only way that they’ll be accepted in the Western world is to lose their identity.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
3 months ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

I disagree- people are mostly accepting of others if they feel safe etc. How come no countries on Russia’s perimeter feel safe – and how is that an ‘inappropriate western problem/attitude.’ It is like the fearful bully saying ‘it is ok for me to make you scared because I am scared’ – hogwash. The only way for the bully to be accepted is by behaving well – for a decent period of time so that trust can build again. Russia has made a crap job of that !!! and now no one will trust them for a long time – how is this the west’s fault – perchance were you a school
ground bully ?? or were large and unaffected ??

Hugh Eveleigh
Hugh Eveleigh
3 months ago

I learnt much from the discussion which, as one comes to expect, was stimulating and incisive thanks to the questions and responses. As a matter of coincidence a few minutes before listening to the broadcast I heard that an orchestra in Cardiff had cancelled the performance of a programmed item by Tchaikovsky because .. well I suppose the reason centred on the Russian nature of the composer. Extraordinary and bizarrely wrong. As the discussion showed it is far better to embrace the wonderful literary and musical culture that Russia has as that strengthens our resolve far better than cancelling. Were I a conductor I would have changed the programme and made it all Russian but I suppose would have been twittered to death by the outraged.