Felipe Fernandezarmesto

Only slightly under the influence

‘The Age of Russia,’ according to the doom-fraught speculations Oswald Spengler published in 1918, would succeed ‘the Decline of the West’. For a while, it looked as if he was right. Russia’s non-western credentials became part of the rhetoric of Soviet foreign policy. Hailed as ‘the future which works’, Russia was earnestly copied by escapers from colonialism, who wanted their newly independent countries to break with the West and bask in the ‘white heat’ of red technology. It was all illusory. Russia never offered an antidote to western-style modernity, just a variant of it. Now Russians sheepishly avow that they never really left the western fold. Among most individuals and states deluded by Spenglerian visions of Russian greatness, you can hear the rumblings of imperfectly digested humble pie.

Steven G. Marks, however, has exceptional ruminative powers and is still chewing the same old cud. His case in favour of a modern world shaped in Russia’s image is based on five claims. First, he thinks anarchism and terrorism were Russian gifts. Really, however, these were barbs in the western tradition which Russians adopted and sharpened. Kropotkin was the last great theorist of anarchism, not its originator. Bakunin was not the innovator Marks makes out: Bianco preceded him and Johannes Most, who succeeded him, excelled him in intellect. Marks is no more successful with his assertions about the Russian origins of modern anti-Semitism: indeed, he admits that Russians got the ingredients of their hatred from elsewhere and that his key text – The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – was adapted from French and German predecessors. So far, Marks’s modern world looks bleak. When, more cheerfully, he turns to the arts, he misrepresents pan-European movements as peculiarly or originally Russian. He asserts, for instance, that Russian artists inspired Futurism, but, though there were important exchanges between various similar schools – including Futurism, Vorticism and Constructivism – after the Great War, Futurism started long before Russian artists adopted machine-age aesthetics.

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