Scattered Thoughts on Ivan Solonevich and His Conception of the Russian Monarchy

Ivan Solonevich (1891-1953) is one of the least appreciated of the Russian emigre writers. This group is little known among Americans since they fought an empire that the American elite did not oppose. An inmate of the GULag, Solonevich wrote on camp life before Solzhenitsyn. He argued that the camp was just a mini-USSR. The camp was the utopia of the Soviet ruling class.

Ivan Solonevich (1891-1953) is one of the least appreciated of the Russian emigre writers. This group is little known among Americans since they fought an empire that the American elite did not oppose.  They were political outcasts in the US, though not overtly persecuted. An inmate of the GULag, Solonevich wrote on camp life before Solzhenitsyn (the picture above is his GULag mugshot). He argued that the camp was just a mini-USSR. The camp was the utopia of the Soviet ruling class.

Solonevich’s writing was to lay the groundwork for a history that showed western standards as inapplicable to Russia, especially Old Russia. Both Solzhenitsyn and Solonevich lamented the poor state of Russia studies in the US and England. American academics insisted upon using western standards as if they were a priori universal. Further, without the Jewish influence, Russian history – really western history in general – becomes distorted beyond recognition. It would be like writing a history of American industrialization and not mentioning Andrew Carnegie.

However, context is everything. The context here is the connection between the great industrialists of the west and the USSR. Much of American or British foreign policy makes no sense unless a few things are mentioned. Soviet heavy industry did not grow from the ground like a bunch of smoking mushrooms. In 1920, the USSR was on the verge of starvation. The infamous “Thatcher Memorandum” of 1917 stated Wall Street’s desire to support the Reds at all costs, even so much as to organize a “volunteer army” with American tax money. In 1928, a famine yet again afflicted Russia, and, from 1928 and 1930, the US yet again bailed out the suffering Soviet regime.

Russia’s engineers and scientists were dead, underground, in prison or in exile. So where did their massive industrialization come from? It came from capitalist elites in the west. The Russian electrical grid was laid by General Electric. Her oil infrastructure came from the Rockefellers in New York. Their steel came from investors from Pennsylvania, including the Carnegie empire. Soviet automotives came from the massive Ford plant built in Kharkov in 1936. At the same time, Soviet scientists and technicians were studying in the US, often subsidized by the taxpayer. While no historian denies this, it doesn’t appear in any history except this writer and the late Anthony Sutton.

The US is dominated by corporations and conglomerates. The state cannot function without their credit, personnel and support. The state is their servant, not master. Thus, upon seeing a massive, yet disciplined, USSR with little industrial base left standing after a decade of war, the western elite saw a huge opportunity. The state was not going to stand in the way of investing in the Soviet Union and had no legal right to do so. In other words, the West created the USSR. Materialism and centralization have been the watchword of western banking since the Medici family.

This is the greatest open secret of the 20th century. Anthony Sutton’s three volume work on the subject, Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development (1968ff), details the corporate investment strategies in the Soviet Union without interruption and includes military-level technology. The “Cold War” had nothing to do with policy, since countries at war do not normally subsidize each other. Military assistance to the USSR was summarized in his work National Suicide: Military Aid to the Soviet Union (1973) proved, from internal corporate documents and other primary sources, that there was no “Cold War.” The US was never anti-communist and, in fact, built the USSR.

This is not to say that the US was not opposed to the USSR in certain instances, but this fact says little. Even the best of friends come to blows. Rather, an empire the size of the USSR will threaten the US regardless of any ideological factor. The USSR was too big for Washington’s comfort.

The American ruling class had only the vaguest idea of what “Bolshevism” was. It still doesn’t. There was no ideological confrontation. Rather, the sheer size of the USSR and its control over immense resources created friction between the two empires that led to disagreement. That the ruble was not convertible also created friction. Vietnam and Korea were wars that would have been fought even if the USSR were governed on English Manchesterian principles.

This preface is needed to make sense out of why the Russian emigres have been ignored. To call the US ruling class “anti-communist” is a blatant falsehood. The ruling class, which is different from the state, profited handsomely from its Soviet investments. Soviet dissidents were hounded by the FBI and seen as “subversives.” They were deemed such not because they were seen as communists, but because they were seen as anti-communist and worse, “Tsarist.” Marxism already dominated the American university, so this could hardly be a reason for suspicion. The royalist and “anti-Semitic” nature of the “Tsarist empire” was a direct threat to the American bourgeois ruling class. That was reason for suspicion.

While receiving the European Nobel Prize, Solzhenitsyn, especially after his Harvard Speech, was persona non grata in polite society. President Gerald Ford famously “snubbed” him, stupidly saying he just wants a “photo op” for the lecture circuit. Several high level cabinet meetings are on record as stating the official policy that detente “progress” was far more significant than meeting with Solzhenitsyn. Rather, the elite imported Josef Brodsky, a suitably Jewish liberal who ran afoul of the Soviet system.

Solzhenitsyn consistently accused the Department of State of working with the USSR to monitor his movements and neutralize his work. During the 1980s, he refused to disclose his whereabouts to any American government agency for this reason. By then, the dissident writer was too big to touch, so he was quietly dropped from his “public intellectual” status and Nabokov and Brodsky suddenly become the “faces of dissent.” Public attacks on Solzhenitsyn became so common in this era as to be a genre in itself.

Ivan Solonevich created the GULag memoir genre in his Russian in Chains from 1938.1 It detailed his first year in a camp and his own later escape. It was almost entirely ignored in the US. While stories of the “Holocaust” flooded bookshelves, Soviet camp experience was ignored. He was placed on a subversive list by the FBI soon after his arrival in the west. Anti-communist emigres were seen as either “crypto-communists” or, more significantly, “anti-democratic” agents of the “old system.” This attitude became more solidified after Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Speech. Solonevich noted that almost none of the inmates of the GULag had any connection with the “old system.” All were workers and peasants. Another faction that stood out were leftists who emigrated to Russia to help “build socialism.” These men actually believed the Soviets were about “labor freedom and justice.” They learned differently.

Solonevich was one of these “anti-democratic” writers. The modern world had created two systems the smart money gambled on: variations of Marxism and variations of capitalist, private-sector rule. Put more simply, the world was divided between socialists and liberals. “Conservatism” in the USA as it developed in the Cold War had little in common with the more traditionalist view Solzhenitsyn espoused. It was another redefinition of an old term and became little more than economic libertarianism.

These forced labor camps were far more than punitive institutions. The camps had their own industries. They were almost a full third of the Soviet economy. The camp directorate became very powerful as they commanded substantial resources and labor. Since Solonevich worked in the statistical department of the prison camps, his numbers can be trusted. After 1947, he said about ten percent of the adult population was in the camps at any given time.

To climb the Soviet ladder, one needed to denounce one’s neighbors. In American black gangs, killing someone is your ticket inside. This is a sort of an initiation. Its the same idea. It means many things. To denounce someone you know would also destroy all connections to your old life. No one outside the party would trust you. Any regime based on snitches creates a climate of distrust. The Party became your only friend and family. The more denunciations, the more useful the low-level member. Therefore, a huge incentive system was in place that rewarded the constant denunciation of one’s neighbors. Soon, no one trusted anyone. Collectivization is much easier when all social ties have been torn apart.

Socialism and capitalism are ideologically almost identical: they are both materialist, believe in “progress” and a linear view of history. Economic production is the main focus of both systems. They both see themselves as the apogee of the Enlightenment. They compete, so to speak, for the title of the “zenith of modernity.” Both systems explicitly claim to be based on “science.” Both justify their systems on Darwinian principles. Happiness tends to be defined in material terms for both systems. Both define “progress” as the gradual movement from religious to “scientific” explanations.

They are both technology-oriented, secular, anti-racist, anti-nationalist, feminist, cosmopolitan and universalist. They both reject any static conception of human nature, objective morality, the soul, natural law doctrine, monarchy and anything that might serve as an alternative foundation for loyalty. This would include the national community, the sovereign state, the family and the church. Importantly, they both believed that man was infinitely malleable and can be shaped into a “desirable” citizen with the correct structure of incentives.

For both systems, man is God. This means that man (or more accurately, the initiated), confront a flux of nothing that only becomes something once their will is stamped upon it. Neither believe in “nature” as an independent realm. Both use prison labor extensively. Both see man as a bundle of nerve endings with no inherent purpose. Both are nominalist to an extreme degree.

Both accept free trade and internationalism. Politics is viewed as a morality play between the “good guys” and their opposition with nothing in between. Both seek the gradual destruction of the family. Both create mass-level industrial armies concentrated in cities. Both tend to extreme centralization. Both rely on a single central bank that controls all others. Both explicitly seek the mechanization of agriculture.

The major difference between the two systems is that the communist version crudely employed a strong state to smash opposition. The liberal capitalist version, every bit as authoritarian as the Soviet, relies on private sector control to slowly alter the moral compass of the people. They act as a single will through groups like the Bohemian Grove. To put it simply, the Soviet system relied on the state and physical coercion. The west relies on the private sector and the use of psychology to control people. The former was more successful in the short term, but the latter would rule absolutely over decades.

In the west, it is possible that the ruling class can differ from the government and even declare war on it. This was the case in Vietnam, the destruction of Nixon and the present war on Donald Trump. In the USSR, the ruling class and the government were identical in all respects. This is a key difference.

Given all this, Solonevich was certainly a “subversive.” He was seen as a threat by both systems since his ethno-monarchism was a direct threat not only to capital, but to the entire Enlightenment upon which both systems rest. It is only in this context can his work be understood.

In place of modernity, Solonevich and Solzhenitsyn placed Old Russia. In contradistinction to the Enlightenment, Solonevich saw Old Russia as the height of the anti-liberal system. It was organic:

European absolutism arose from conquest. European kings were only “the first among equals,” of the most fortunate feudal lords, and before any European monarchy, there were never any moral goals. The European king was the protege of the ruling class. He, in general, was really an instrument of oppression of the lower classes.

While the point is clear, it is exaggerated. There were many western monarchs dedicated to social justice such as Otto I and III, and before him, Louis the Pious and even more, Louis IX. Absolutism – a misnomer – developed in the west as the nobility was crushed by the onslaught of modern science. In Russia, the wars of Ivan III and IV prove that Russia had the same problem. Few realize that the noble clans at the time of both Ivans were states in their own right. They had far more soldiers than the central government and had their own industry, trade and intelligence. Ivan IV was thrust into the unfortunate position where either Russia was to go the way of Poland, or the crown itself must become centralized and far stronger than it had been before.

The crown sought to exploit the urban and coastal elites, but these elites would soon become the most republican of them all. Both in Russia and the west, the nobility was at war with the crown, but only in the 18th century did the urban merchants gain the strength and self-confidence to strike out on their own. This is a wildly simplified model, but it is generally true. Making a similar point, he writes

Russian statehood grew out of the soil, not burdened by any dream. It developed organically. She did not know either the Inquisition or the religious wars. Our “schism” was only a very faint repetition of the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism, and what the “Nikonian Church” did to the Old Believers could not be compared to the St. Bartholomew’s Night or the exploits of the Spaniards in the Netherlands. And, most importantly, Russia – before Peter the Great – did not know serfdom.

By “dream,” Solonevich means “preconceived ideology.” This quote contains a profound truth in that its soil is the center of the nation: “soil” in all senses of the term from literal to symbolic. The Old Belief bore no relationship to the Protestant Reformation ideologically. It was its opposite politically and economically. Yet it had a vehement, divisive effect. However, the killings of Old Believers from the Solovki siege on led to far more deaths than the examples he uses here.

Sympathetic to the Old Believers, he realizes that the schism was a severe watershed in Russian history. When contrasted to the Reformation, of course, it pales in comparison in terms of its overall impact. Regardless of this problem, the point remains. The relative peace of the royalist system in Russia was the result of this organic origin. He explains,

The external history of Russia is a process of continuous expansion – from the fabulous times of Oleg to the hard days of Stalin. There was a short period of disintegration leading to Tatar captivity, but under Tsars, in revolutions and without revolutions, the country remained united. A child’s simple secret of cohabitation of 150 nations and tribes under a single state roof was found, a lost secret was found after Peter – the secret of social justice. But it was lost only by the people. Now, as it was in 1814 – with a very serious amendment to the Russian revolution – the Great Eastern Empire hangs over several dozen fragmented feuds of a dying Europe.

There’s “expansion” and then there’s imperialism. These are two different things. Russian expansionism was purely out of military necessity. These lost money in that their “subject states” were not commercial investments like the British imperium. Mentioning Peter in this context is an excellent contrast. He had no relationship to anything approaching social justice. He turned Ukraine against Russia for generations to come.

The Russian “people” might have weakened, but it was the elite, the Masonic aristocracy and the Jewish press that destroyed the empire and all of this was financed with British money.  The organic nature of the early Russian state-building is what permitted it to weather the many storms hoisted upon it.

Now we can say that the state-building of Europe – despite all its technical achievements – was an unsuccessful experiment and we can say that the state building-of Russia, despite the current revolution, was a successful one. Our “social scientists” would have to study European history in order to show us how not to build a society. . . But our “social sciences,” with the persistence of a true maniac, tried to shove us into European ways. Our academics was nourished in European terms which at home were indecipherable
(Most of the passages cited below are from Солоневич И. Л. (2010) Народная Mонархия. Институт Pусской Цивилизации. This is the edition found on the website of the Encyclopedia of Russian Civilization, edited by Oleg Platonov. All translations are mine).

This is the result of the Petrine order. The Russian church had its seminaries teach in Latin throughout the 19th century. Its iconography was highly westernized. Only the Old Rite kept the ancient icons alive. In exile, this changed. The noble class was the core of this movement, he is correct there. The Masonic infiltration to Russia’s upper classes completed what the Judaizers failed to accomplish centuries ago. The class basis of this development is also clear:

The Russian monarchy historically arose as a result of uprisings of the lower classes against the boyars and, as long as it existed, it always stood on the defense of the lower classes. The Russian peasantry fell under the serfdom during the absence of the monarchy, when the Tsars were exterminated and the nobility guarded the country.

The Russian monarchy, like most European monarchies, has a strong class basis. The nation is built by – as this author has termed – “structures of survival.” That is, customs and folkways – mindsets – that derive from suffering are the foundation of national culture and the nation itself. Gumilev speaks of “adaptations” to both the natural and social environment. This creates a people. Wars, foreign occupation, poverty and marginalization force a people to defend themselves or perish. A nation is a collection of these methods. He’s arguing here that the monarchy is the same.

Novgorod, Moscow’s nemesis in the early years of Russia’s development, was an oligarchy. In other words, it was a traditional republic where the main limitation of the state was its relationship to the property of the elite. This oligarchy, any oligarchy, will do anything to hang on to its power, including allying with Poland and even becoming Roman Catholic. This necessitated the invasions of Ivan III and Ivan IV, invasions that were very popular. The lower classes welcomed the Russian divisions as rescuers from oligarchy and the worst elements of feudalism. This leads him to say:

The Russian monarchy was only one of the results of an attempt to build a state not on legal, not economic, but on purely moral foundations – with the European monarchy it is united only by the commonality of the external form. But they are both named by the same name.

This is excessive idealization, but the point is generally true. It is also true that the letter of the law is taken less seriously in the east than the west. The Russian monarchy, like all else, was contingently built according to the needs of the day. If by “moral foundations” he means the rejection of oligarchy, then he is correct. The opposite of oligarchy is a monarchy dedicated to the common good. This is what separates an aristocrat from an oligarch. The aristocrat follows the church creating the state’s ideal purpose and form. The oligarch seeks to bend it to its will, as the Medici’s did in Rome.

Ireland, for example, was not a matter of “external form” imposed on a people except from without. It has an ancient ethnic consciousness. The same might go for Norway. France and Italy are likely more than two nations under a single roof, like Belgium, but it remains true that external form is really the definition of “unity” for westerners rather than actual, organic commonality. Formal unity is simple and quantitative. Organic unity is complex and qualitative.

For example, the Church of Rome contains many churches within it that do not accept the Council of Trent such as the Melkites of Antioch. So long as the pope is recognized as the head of the church, anything goes, so it seems. In this regard, Solonevich is absolutely correct. Orthodoxy, at its best, has a single faith, but its administrative unity is non-existent. Rather, it relies on internal, doctrinal unity rather than formal institutions.

This does not clash with the above statement where he says that Russia was built on no “preconceived dream” of justice, because there is a difference between principles and ideologies. The two are very different from each other. As is well known, Peter changed everything:

The starting point of all official judgments about Peter is as follows: Moscow monstrously lagged behind Europe. Peter, although barbaric, tried to put Russia on the same level as Europe [in terms of] technology, morality, social life, and so on. The official point of view of prewar Russia almost does not differ from official Soviet formulations. . . . In total, all this could be formulated as follows: barbarism, filth, backwardness of Moscow [against the] purity, humanity and progress of Europe. . . . Historians talk about Moscow filth versus European purity. The percentage of both is difficult to establish in Moscow or in Europe.

Even Peter himself assumed this argument. His claim to be “Russian” is only an ethnic one and certainly not an ideal one. Muscovite Russia to him was an enemy to be destroyed and he hated everything about it. Traditional Russian dress was banned in his Gnostic, “floating city” of Petrograd. He was an European absolutist in the sense that liberal ideology requires an authoritarian state to create it. No one adopts liberalism except at the point of a blade. Making matters worse, it was done with a small army of foreigners.

In his Political Theses, he makes this striking statement:

The power of Russian monarchs has always been limited, except for the eighteenth century, when it had almost no power at all. The organic Moscow constitution was crushed completely and almost without a trace by Peter the First. The history of monarchical power in Europe is the history of its limitation. The history of monarchical power in Russia is the history of its self-restraint. The European mind is the struggle for power, the Russian Constitution (except 1905) is a symphony; the Tsar, the Church and the zemstvo. All three types of power limited themselves and none attempted to invade its neighbors. We do not want the monarchy to invade the affairs of the zemstva, or for the Church to invade the secular government, or for the secular power to invade the domain of religion. These are things typical of the West. We do not want the struggle between church and state, a struggle that left a bloody trail in Western Europe; we do not want the defense of the country to be the subject of discussion of zemstvo assemblies, just as we do not want the central power to encroach on the freedom of human labor or culture at the local level. We do not want a struggle for power, we want sobornost, that which was the achievement of Muscovy and which Petersburg sought to destroy.

The first two sentences have to be qualified. The monarchy went out of existence for a time under the drunken finger of Marta Samuilovna Skavronskaya, the “successor of Peter” who mockingly took the name of “Empress Catherine I.” Foreign Freemasons under Ernst Johann von Biron controlled and raped the country for some time after that. The state had lost all legitimacy. The Bironovshchina or the “German Yoke” was just as oppressive as the Khazar or Mongol version. Once “Marta” was granted “power” over the country, the Russian state radically and widely shifted in orientation. It was no longer a state in any recognizable sense of the term.

Briefly, Russia received a legitimate ruler under Peter II, who quickly forgave the debts of the Russian people, fully aware of the illegitimate conditions under which they were created. While the son of Marta, his reclamation of the throne was his service to the Orthodox faith. Almost instantaneously, a large court plot developed against him. Unsurprisingly, it was led by the illiterate and deeply corrupt AD Mehshikov. Menshikov, like “Metropolitan” Theophan Prokopovich, was a potent symbol of the corruption of the age.

He despoiled peasants of their lands and absorbed entire villages thanks to his connections with the drunken whore, Marta. While governor in Poland, he worked with Jewish elites to despoil entire districts. He was at the core of the conspiracy against Alexei II (Peter’s son), since he would have sent such looters to prison. It wasn’t until 1727 when this merchant – he did not come from the nobility – was punished and his land taken. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and a major schism developed between the land and the crown, only serving to increase the ranks of the Old Belief.

Yet even Peter never tried to manipulate dogma. The British parliament had control over Anglican doctrine for ages, since bishops were represented in the House of Lords. Peter persecuted the church – laying the groundwork for most of the 18th century and the 20th – but he never tried to change or alter dogma in any way.

Solonevich says the Russian crown was formed precisely to keep such people from taking power:

Russian history [centers around] the support of the poor people of Vladimir who strengthened the people’s revolution under the successors of Andrei against Novgorod. Moscow supports the people’s revolution. . . Nowhere on the same period of Russian history, including the rebellions of Razin and Pugachev will you find any example of the people protesting the monarchy. On the other hand — you will not find a single example of an attempt of the monarchy to suppress the masses [or to] repress the lower classes. . . In the post-Petrine monarchy, nobles controlled policy and overthrew Peter II, Ivan Antonovich, Peter III and Pavel Petrovich. The oligarchy tried to remove Nicholas, but these oligarchs still remained for another century in the administration and slowly liquidated the monarchy.

This is the best quick description of the Russian monarchy in existence. This is what it was. It was the thesis of this author’s own book (though parts make him wince today), The Third Rome. This is the ideal under which the crown understood itself after the exile of the oligarchs by Ivan IV in Novgorod. He continues,

If the turbulent and violent Moscow taxpaying men, the North, the grass-roots masses of Novgorod, and even during the time of Troubles “last the people of the state of Moscow” so carefully supported Moscow princes and Tsars, [then] it is obvious that it is not because that mysterious Russian psychology which was obsessed with “political masochism.” It is clear that they did not think themselves or see themselves as politically powerless. The king was not limiting their freedom. He was a representative of their freedom. There were plenty of ways to eliminate the crown, but none were used until the westernization of the country (emphasis in the original).

That freedom can be something that can be “represented” or “manifested” sounds odd to western ears. Over the last five decades, the postmodern western man has seen words re-defined to the point that reading older literature is all but impossible. One of these words is “freedom.” Hegel mocked the “abstract right” of the French Revolution. The freedom to do what one wills is absurd. It implies freedom has no purpose and that all ends are more or less the same.

Given modern consumer capitalism, there’s good reason for this manipulation. Freedom, of course, meant independence, to act on reason rather than irrational impulse. What is called “freedom” today is precisely its opposite. In his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson defined freedom as that of the yeoman landowner. He didn’t depend on anyone for his sustenance. He was armed, part of a homogeneous community and had a clear sense of purpose. This and this alone is freedom.

Our historians, consciously or unconsciously, admit a very significant terminological overexposure, for the “serf,” “serfdom” and “noble” in Moscow were not what they became under Peter. The Moscow peasant was not anyone’s personal property.  He was not a slave. He was, approximately, in the same position as at the end of the 19th century an ordinary Cossack. The peasant was as much subordinate to his landowner as a Cossack to his Ataman. As the Cossack could not abandon his regiment or abandon his land, the Ataman could whip him – like a peasant landlord – but this was the order of the military-state subordination, and not the order of slavery. The beginning of slavery was laid by Peter.

A great mark of the amateur historian is one that imports modern, western terms and ideals onto premodern and non-western societies. They’re unaware of the absurdity. Plato is often castigated for his lack of concern for “civic rights.” This level of illiteracy is all over the university since meritocracy has long been abandoned in hiring and promotion. A historian needs to understand the world and language of his subjects. Today, the urbanized, secular, cynical, western professor believes he can approach the Orthodox world in the same way he can approach his department chair.  It makes for bad, though officially acceptable, history.

In the Russian example specifically, since it is a non-western world, this is painfully evident. Like Byzantium, there were no official titles in Muscovite Russia. These were the creation of Peter as the old nobility were phased out. Terms such as “boyar” are a “catch all” that western academics treat as if these were actual titles with standards and official insignia. It was an informal interest group, but not a titled one. There were titles granted for state service, but even the great families ruled by the force of their private armies, not by a noble standard.

“Noble” was to serve the common good, and is the same as “aristocratic.” It is often said that human beings naturally desire power, but this is too abstract. Men desire power without responsibility. When responsibility is added, few want it. The Russian emperor was absolute in this sense. He was absolute in responsibility, even if not in power.

The difference between authority and power is that the latter is just naked force. The former is the right to use such force. The Russian emperors were granted absolute authority, but to claim they had absolute power is absurd. At the height of Ivan the Terrible’s oprichnina, his standing army had just under 2,000 men under arms. At the same time, the boyar clans had private armies three and four times that size.

These scattered thoughts are not really scattered. They expose what Solonevich wanted to get across: that Russia couldn’t be judged under western standards. Before one could approach Russian history, the student would have to understand what the alternate standards are. These comments are a brief summary of these standards.

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