The Rising Far Right in Russia

Article excerpt

THE subject matter of Walter Laqueur's pioneering new book, "Black Hundred: The Rise of the Extreme Right in Russia," is a phenomenon that is less marginal in today's Russia than the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society are in the United States.

The book helps to explain much that is otherwise inexplicable: why, for example, the Russian right has been sending hundreds of volunteers to help its Serbian brothers in their task of "ethnic cleansing" and why the weak government of President Boris Yeltsin has scarcely tried to inhibit them from doing so.

The hard-right groups that Laqueur describes favor authoritarianism, a strong state, collective rather than individual values, and a much larger Russia than the reduced one of today. They believe in the existence of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy aimed at subverting the Russian state and culture, and implemented mostly by the US, Israel, and the West. They hold that these countries and their agents - Yeltsin's government and most of Russia's intelligentsia - suffer from a Russophobia so acute that it motivates them to destroy Russian civilization.

By contrast, most of the moderate conservatives, whom Laqueur briefly discusses, contend that democracy is admirable in principle, but that each country has to find the institutions that accord with its history and traditions.

Laqueur is concerned mainly with the ideas, not the actions of the various groups on the extreme right, and with the roots of these ideas in the Russian and the European past, and in the philosophy of the contemporary "Nouvelle Droite" in France.

Thus, Laqueur examines the origins in the 19th century of the belief that Russia has a manifest destiny and mission different from and superior to those of the West. He shows how the ultra-right "Black Hundred" movement emerged at the turn of the century and, with generous government financing, supported the czar, attacked his opponents, and organized pogroms against the Jews. He describes the complex processes that led to the forging of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which purported to expose global Jewry's plans to rule the world. And he demonstrates the support received by the radical right from powerful elements in the Orthodox Church.

With the collapse of czarism and the rise of Bolshevism, Laqueur traces the development of these trends after they had been forced into exile abroad. He shows how Stalin made Marxism more palatable to some Russians by incorporating into it elements of nationalism. Also, from the early 1960s, the Communist rulers developed anti-Semitism in public by issuing thousands of ostensibly anti-Zionist publications attacking Jews. Simultaneously, a moderate Russian nationalism was allowed to appear in works of fiction. …