IAS Talking Points Seminar/ Power Vertical #4
Unedited audio recording available here.
Russia's Retrofuturistic (Anti-) Utopia: The Case of Eduard Limonov
🥒Professor Andrei Rogatchevski, IAS Visiting Research Fellow
🥒Peter Duncan (Senior Lecturer in Russian Foreign Policy, UCL SSEES)
🥒Sarah Wilson (Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art)
Eduard Limonov is a controversial yet influential Russian author and politician who was an underground poet in the USSR in the late 1960s – early 1970s and an exile in the West (mostly the USA and France) in the mid-1970s – early 1990s. He returned to Russia after the collapse of the USSR to pursue an anti-capitalist and nationalist agenda, chiefly by non-parliamentary means. in 1993 Limonov co-founded the extremist National Bolshevik Party (NBP). At its height, it numbered over 50,000 very active and highly visible members. The NBP was banned in 2007 and subsequently regrouped under a new name, The Other Russia.
The Other Russia (Drugaia Rossiia) is also the title of Limonov’s 2003 book outlining his views on what is wrong with society in Russia and elsewhere, and how these wrongs should be righted. It describes what Limonov believes is a genuine alternative to both capitalism and communism, encapsulating his own personal vision of Russia’s desirable future. Among other things, the book advocates a move to the countryside, and to new territories, to establish a civilisation of nomad warriors. An accelerated nation-building is envisaged, by means of special selection and intensive procreation with the help of polygamy, promiscuity and anti-abortionism; women’s chief role, before they reach 35 years of age, is to have at least four children. The preferred society structure would consist of armed communes with common property and common sexual partners, ruled by the Council of Communes. At the same time (as Limonov empasises in another, more recent book, partially functioning as a detailed auto-commentary to Drugaia Rossiia), his ideas should not be interpreted as a ‘sermon against scientific progress and a struggle against clever and handy technological achievements. No. We’ll be developing internet and genetics, as well as new, superior forms of television. Television and internet will be linking armed communes together into a united civilisation of free citizens’ (Neo-Bolshevism, 2014).
This bizarre retrofuturistic vision may well be implemented sooner rather than later. Several attempts to this effect have already been made. in 2001-03, Limonov served time in various Russian penitentiaries for gun running with a view to inciting separatism among Russian speakers in Northern Kazakhstan (Limonov’s biographer Andrei Dmitriev, an NBP member, characterises this goal as ‘seemingly utopian’). In Spring 2015, the media reported the formation of a military detachment called the People’s Republic of Kharkiv, made up of the Other Russia volunteers, who took part in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, planning to ‘liberate’ Kharkiv (where Limonov grew up) from the Kyiv rule and turn Eastern Ukraine into a ‘utopian state’ (Newsru.com).
Professor Andrei Rogatchevski presents and discusses Limonov’s thoughts on what such a state should be like and where and how it could be established; on the vertical/horizontal relationships and structures in such a state; and on the role of political aesthetics in it. Rogatchevski contextualises Limonov’s utopia (which can also be justifiably called an anti-utopia) within the Russian and European (anti-) Utopian and countercultural tradition, according to four parameters described by Dennis Bramwell Neuenschwander in his pioneering work Themes in Russian Utopian Fiction (1974): “the utopian concept of man, of his environment (principally involving the city), of social institutions, and, lastly, of science and technology”.
We discussed ruined cities, Scythians, full-sized sculptures as high as proletarians and other nomad warriors. Limonov, Sarah pointed out, is a *grande horizontale* who wants to be a *grande verticale*. On the question of styob or not-styob, Pete said that Limonov and Pussy Riot are the same in that they both do performance art with a last-instance serious (or sincere) message - but their messages are diametrically opposed to each other.