Snyder’s Distortions of Ilyin

by Gordon M. Hahn

Timothy Snyder has put out an incoherent video interpretation of Ivan Ilyin, of whom Snyder claims Putin is an admirer, offering no evidence. Snyder’s interpretation of Ilyin’s “three important ideas” is far from lucid and highly ‘interpretative’, to put it mildly. They are, according to Snyder: (1) social advancement is impossible because the social and political system is like an organism and freedom means knowing your place in the social organism; (2) democracy is a ritual for affirming collective support for the leader; and (3) the there are no facts and God created the world but it was a mistake, and only Russian nationalism can save the world. All of these are crude reductions of Ilyin’s philosophical ideas, adjusted to serve a propaganda purpose. In addition, Snyder claims Ilyin was a “fascist philosopher,” that Putin adheres to his “fascist” philosophy, and that both America and Russia each have an “oligarchy with racial overtones [www.facebook.com/BigThinkScience/?hc_ref=ARSIfCDY7XRHQsNztoiA5h2ssFOR6xdeU5mjXm6vsVrBKc0yvvan4yheVWClTIeukTY].

In terms of Ilyin’s politics, they were opposed both fascism and communism: He wrote: “We have seen leftist totalitarianism and rightist totalitarianism. We experienced both regimes including arrests, interrogations, threats and bans; and, moreover, we had the opportunity to study both regimes to the bottom of the barrel and relate to both of them with open moral and political repulsion”[Ivan Ilyin, Natsional’naya Rossiya: Nashi zadachi (Moscow: Algorithm, 2015), p. 184]. Further: “Dear God, rid Russia of any and all totalitarianism – leftist, rightist, centrist. In any case does this leave only the path of West European democracy?” [Ilyin, Natsional’naya Rossiya: Nashi zadachi, p. 188].

In terms of democracy, he believed — in some accordance with Russian’s eternal search for a ‘third way’ — that Western democracy was “formal” and not true democracy and leads to totalitarianism. Neither of which Russia was prepared for in any case until it was fully developed educationally, socially, and culturally, which would take some time, given the profoundly negative effects of Soviet rule. He proposed a limited form of constitutional and ‘enlightened’ authoritarianism that would raise and bring up the Russian people. This would include limiting the right to vote to those who had no criminal record, had an education, and other criteria.

In some ways, Ilyin’s views are similar to Putin’s expressed views and the political system as it has existed and developed during his rule. Ilyin also was particularly troubled by the Western leftist media’s writings on Russia; another view Putin subscribes to. Ilyin’s effort to find a third way between Western democracy and authoritarianism/totalitarianism may be regarded as misguided and futile, but it is hardly fascism.

It is of interest that Snyder does not offer viewers of his 5-minute video a single quote from Ilyin demonstrating the latter’s alleged “fascism” or Putin’s alleged support for Ilyin’s alleged ‘fascism.’ Indeed, he offers not a single quote from Ilyin or Putin at all to support his exaggerated claims. Ironically, while claiming Ilyin and Putin are fascists, Snyder has repeatedly ignored or whitewashed the rise of Ukrainian neofascism during and since the Maidan revolt and its ensuing fascist-tinged regime, which Snyder praises. This Ukrainian fascism is openly stated, advertised, and taken pride in and is easily documented, as I have done. More irony comes in that this video is posted on a site called ‘Big Think Science’, but here there is no science–only the post-fact, post-truth propaganda of the disinformation age (www.facebook.com/BigThinkScience/videos/1553872304724888/).

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About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California, www.cetisresearch.org.

Dr. Hahn is the author of Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the ‘New Cold War (McFarland Publishers, 2017) and three previously and well-received books: Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002);  Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007); and The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014).He has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media and has served as a consultant and provided expert testimony to the U.S. government.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. He has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kennan Institute in Washington DC as well as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

8 thoughts on “Snyder’s Distortions of Ilyin

  1. “Neither of which Russia was prepared for in any case until it was fully developed educationally, socially, and culturally, which would take some time, given the profoundly negative effects of Soviet rule”

    Mr. Hahn! To your information. Under the USSR Russian civilization reached the peak of its educational, social, cultural, let alone political development. Do you agree with Ilyin? What “negative” effects are you atlking about?

    “This would include limiting the right to vote to those who had no criminal record, had an education, and other criteria. In some ways, Ilyin’s views are similar to Putin’s expressed views and the political system as it has existed and developed during his rule.”

    In what instanced did Putin (not our Russian so-called liberals – him) argued to implement the elitist approach of limiting the right to vote of “undesirable” elements?

    “Ilyin also was particularly troubled by the Western leftist media’s writings on Russia”

    Mr Hahn! Your understanding of “left” and “right” looks peculiar. ALL Western media wrights mostly Russophobic nonsense about Russia. There is no meaningful “Left” or “Right” in the West – only old-timey liberals and “profressive” liberals, which are just two sides of the Centrism coin. Wake me up when someone in the West founds a successful partu either calling for the return of the God-blessed absolutist monarchy or for the seizure of the means of production from the capitalasts, but, untill then, your Americanized ways of defining [political] “Right” and “Left” are useless.

    As for Snyder – he’s a putz who found a cashcow now. Nothing could be done about it.

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    1. If you think Soviet totalitarianism was Russia’s best option in 1917, then I can’t help you. On your second point, note the words “In some ways,” preceding the comparison of Ilyin and Putin. On point 3, regarding left and right, yes, US media greatly exaggerates the state of affairs in Russia, but this has little to do with Ilyin’s time.

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      1. Mr. Hahn, you can do both: regret the destruction and loss of life during Russian civil war, and still appreciate incredible progress that country had made afterwards. You also have to be more honest in recognizing the fact that inherent evilness of the system is not the only explanation why governments faced with the threat to their very survival – whether it’s Assad in Syria today, or the Soviet leadership after the revolution – resort to an authoritarian rule.

        Was it a deliberate choice in case of Russian revolutionaries? No, not at all (as evidenced by Lenin’s multiple writings about the role of the democratic institutions in the new republic, and the immediate creation of the Soviets, i.e. local elected governments, across the nation following the revolution.

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      2. Russia would have much greater progress in the 20th century without the Bolsheviks in power as evidenced by the rapid development under the Witte and Stolypin governments and done so without the terror etc.

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      3. “If you think Soviet totalitarianism was Russia’s best option in 1917, then I can’t help you. “

        1) Here’s the thing. Either you’d have a “Soviet totalitarianism” (btw, are you sure you know the definition of the word “totalitarian”?) and have both the developmnet and Russia/SU at all, as a country, or you’d have Russia torn in pieces by the “international community”. Simple as that. As of early 20 c. Russia, there was not democratic alternative – either incompetent rulers or competent ones. Bolsheviks proved to be competent. Don’t like it all you want – “I can’t help you”. But that’s the truths.

        2) As for your “answer”:

        On your second point, note the words “In some ways,” preceding the comparison of Ilyin and Putin

        Name that “some ways” (in which Putin enacts Ilyin’s recomendations). I doubt that you can, but, who knows – maybe you gonna surprise me!

        3) And your answer has nothing to do what I wrote. I’m not talking about Western media’s “exaggeration” (the proper term here is “spin”) of Russia related news. The point I’m making that you are using lables “right” and “left” as pertains to the politics wrong.

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      4. “Russia would have much greater progress in the 20th century without the Bolsheviks in power as evidenced by the rapid development under the Witte and Stolypin governments and done so without the terror etc.”

        That’s nonsense, Mr. Hahn. If you were a proper historian you’d know that these now fashionalble cries about the “[Pre-Revolutionary] Russia That We Have Lost” ™, are phoney and based more on wishful thinking. Socialism was the only reasonable answer for Russia at the time. Czarist government was up to its gills in the (foreign) debt. No sane capitalist (or to be more precise – imperialist) country would have allowed Russia post the Great War to reap any benefits from the victory. Instead of imagining the history as 100% assured exponent line of progress, try to inject some reality. Without Bolsheviks Russia, best case scenario, would have languished like so many other Eastern European countries in the inter-war period (think – Romania or Poland) or, and that’s more probable, would have shared the fate of the inter-war China.

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About Gordon M. Hahn