June 5, 2007


Iran's practical nationalism (Dmitry Shlapentokh, 6/06/07, Asia Times)

Iranians have recently demonstrated interest and appreciation of their country's past, including the 6th-century BC Achaemenid Empire. This topic has become extremely sensitive, as violent Iranian reaction to the recent movie 300 demonstrated. This changed approach to the distant past demonstrates what in the Russian Revolution was known as "national Bolshevism", the transition from belief in world revolution to emphasis on the importance of the state. [...]

The ideology of the early Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution was, in many ways, similar to that of the Iranian revolution. The history of the czars, actually the entire history of Russia, was discarded, relegated to the place of, as Leon Trotsky put it, "icons and cockroaches". The sources of inspiration for the revolution were outside Russian borders: the "prophet" Karl Marx was born in Germany, and the holy book - Das Kapital - was originally in a foreign tongue.

Their Mecca and Medina, the passion and heroic feats of the Russian Revolution, their Karbala, where they were martyred for the "salvation of humanity", were also in foreign lands, embedded in foreign histories. The Bolsheviks looked for inspiration to the French Revolution and the Paris Commune of 1871, giving them much more attention than their native historical tradition.

The early Bolsheviks also discarded the state, making it not a goal in itself but a springboard for worldwide revolution, close to the revolutionary Iranian state and the Taliban quasi-state in Waziristan. Like the Iranian revolutionists and the Taliban, the Bolsheviks had no respect for their oppressive national history. The rulers of the past were denigrated and their effigies destroyed, along with priceless artifacts from the treasuries of the country's long history.

As time progressed, however, the nature and perception of the regime started to change. The worldwide revolution did not happen, and the Red Army horde, which supposedly strove to liberate toilers all over the globe, was stopped near the gates of Warsaw. At the same time, many Russian intelligentsia discovered that under the coating of the Soviet regime was the same old Russian Empire. The revolution not only changed the socioeconomic matrix but also reinvigorated the state, bringing a stronger elite into play.

These observers were quite aware of the regime's despotic nature and brazen repressiveness. In contrast to most emigres and foreigners, however, they did not see the regime as hindering the rise of the state. In fact, they saw the brutal elan of the regime as a sort of prerequisite for Russia's glory, believing that after reaching a degree of security, the regime would relax its iron grip. The sense of change, the solidification of the regime, its economic and geopolitical success - its problems notwithstanding - also started to be understood by the Soviet elite.

Profound changes in ideology took place. Russia was no longer seen as just a springboard for worldwide revolution; it became the goal in itself. The revolution was seen as a force not so much to liberate the proletariat worldwide as to forge a mighty Russian state, not a break with but a continuation of historical tradition. Not surprisingly, the view of the Russian past also changed. The great Russian rulers re-emerged in official discourse in all their glory.

That identification with ancient rulers and the conspicuous opulence that went with it was fatal to the Peacock Throne.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 5, 2007 7:30 AM
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