07.02.2006
Harvesting New Peoples
№1 2006 January/March

Throughout Russia’s history, its primary goal and geopolitical
strategy has been centered around the idea of “gathering together
lands.” This strategy would manifest itself in a sweeping
territorial expansion, ensuing in the social and cultural
adaptation of the new people from the new territories. Russia’s
rise was tightly linked to the absorption of lands, as well as to
the achievements and failures in the integration and assimilation
of foreigners.

This strategy involved all aspects of the country’s organization
and life: the structure of Russian statehood, the hierarchy of the
country’s social structure (enslavement of all its strata, from top
to bottom, together with its gradual emancipation) and the various
centers of opposition to state power (for example, the Cossacks’
defiance, the mid-17th century schism, and other ways of fleeing
from government yoke). The expansionist policy also determined the
relationship between the state and the Church and between the state
and the business community, the system of social institutions and
geographic self-identification, as well as priorities in developing
transport and defense.

AN ALL-OUT STRATEGY

Russia’s geopolitical strategy produced a state where the size
of its territory and natural resources would far exceed that of any
other country on today’s map. Russia also dominated in terms of its
population, where it only ranked behind two countries – China and
India.

Another most important result of this strategy was that
Russia  proved to be the only country outside Western Europe
that never fell into its colonial realm, even for a short time.
Russia defended itself at all times, even during the times of
turmoil – something that the Islamic countries, or the populous and
sophisticated civilizations of China and India proved unable to
do.

This means that the strategy of “gathering together lands”
proved its feasibility.
It was an all-out strategy. Russian historian Vassily Klyuchevsky
(1841–1911) wrote that Russia’s entire history was a history of
colonizing new lands. As a result of colonization, the Russian
people matured into a super-ethnos (a term offered by historian and
philosopher Lev Gumilyov [1912–1992]). This became possible due to
their unbending ability for assimilating other cultures, openness,
tolerance and cultural inquisitiveness. The policy of gathering
together new lands gave birth to a socio-cultural alloy, which
Dostoyevsky called “universal.”

However, after Vassily Klyuchevsky’s death, Russian history was
not always a history of colonization.
In the 20th century, Russia experienced both triumphs in its
expansionist policy as well as several large-scale geopolitical
disasters. It ceded lands and let whole countries and regions go;
that was the case with Poland, Finland and Kars. Russia fought
separatist-nationalist movements, yet still offered benevolent
gifts, such as the handover of the Crimea to Ukraine. At the same
time, it sought to grab lands that it could not possess in
principle, for example Afghanistan.

Russian philosopher and publicist Boris Mezhuyev mentioned more
than once that Russia was the only empire in the 20th century that
eliminated all kinds of discrimination (ethnic, racial or
religious) and gave equal electoral rights to all of its subjects.
This occurred as early as the time of the Provisional Government
(March to November 1917). The origins of this policy go down to the
provisions of the 1906 law on election to the State Duma that
granted franchise to the non-Orthodox population of the Russian
Empire.

To quote Boris Mezhuyev, “The explanation for the ease of that
decision was that Russia, unlike Britain or France, was very
reluctant to consider itself as a colonial power. Virtually the
entire Russian society, from monarchists to the extreme leftwing,
shared that stance in the early 20th century and especially during
the standoff with Britain at the end of the 19th century. That is
why our fellow countrymen still look at declarations on political
equality of all ethnic groups in the Empire as an absolutely normal
act, a kind of compensation for the impaired historical justice – a
move that even French Socialists did not venture to take when the
Popular Front controlled state power in the 1930s.”

In the middle of the 20th century, at the peak of its might
following World War II, Russia chose – for the first time ever – to
implement a totally alien method of organizing controllable space:
instead of absorbing new lands and peoples and proliferating its
right over them, it began to build a security belt of geopolitical
favorites (i.e. Socialist Community Countries) and timidly shielded
itself behind an Iron Curtain.

The pivotal change in the Kremlin’s policy at the end of the
1940s apparently became an overture to radical change.
Soon after, in the 1960s, the centuries-old colonization trend came
to an end. The Russian people began to move back to its historical
center, Muscovy, while that part of the nation that had developed
cultural affiliations with the West (this factor that did not enter
into limelight until the 1990s) began to shift westwards. The
Soviet authorities kept the facts about that tendency strictly
confidential, as if it were classified information on nuclear
missiles. However, the Kremlin’s traditional secrecy could not
eliminate the snowballing process.

Also in the 1960s, the net rate of the population’s reproduction
level dropped below zero. This tendency persisted (except for a
brief period from 1986 through 1988) and has not changed since
then. In other words, the replacement of the population receded
into the negative figures, as each new generation became
numerically smaller than the previous one.

The same years witnessed an unexpected relapse in male mortality
rates, which began increasing after a long period of decline. The
trend continues today: half of Russia’s male population now dies
before reaching retirement age of 60 years old.

Last but not least, in the 1960s Russia opted for a
self-conservation (remarkably, this happened at the time when its
ideological foe was going through a cultural revolution) and soon
found itself among the countries that were moving rapidly through
the ‘second phase of epidemiologic transition’ [the growing rate of
CVD diseases in the developing countries that has a tremendous
effect on mortality rates – Ed.]. As a result, the “shaping of a
new attitude toward man and man’s new attitude toward reality,”
proclaimed as the country’s goal, simply did not take place.
It is little wonder those processes ended in the geopolitical
collapse of 1991.

CHANGE OF BASIC STRATEGY

Our historical stance on space and population calls for a
dramatic revision. Why? Because we no longer have a demographic
surplus. Russia can no longer generate colonization waves that move
from the center toward the periphery and that are based on the
discharge of the indigenous people. The historic colonizing
potential of the Russian nation had a solid backing in the form of
its birthrates. Unbelievable as it may seem, in the late 19th and
the early 20th centuries Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian families
had a much higher birthrate than families in other nations, while
peasants in central Russia had more children than peasants in
Central Asia and the Caucasus. Quite naturally, the country was
bursting with energy at that time and could afford colonization
projects of any scale and size. The cynical phrase that declared,
“Why spare the people when the women will bear new ones,” had some
definite logic in it. Indeed, the demographic explosion in Russia
at the turn of the 20th century was so powerful that it solved the
geopolitical task of increasing the population on the huge open
space from the Carpathian Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. This is
now a thing of the past.

Today, Russia can no longer continue with its extensive
assimilation of immense spaces, to say nothing about using the
methods devised in the Gulag system (researchers often called
attention to the fact that the map of the Gulag camps coincided in
many ways with the map of the Soviet Union’s
industrialization).
Nor can Russia act according to agrarian policy by putting
colonizers on new land plots (as the Russian government did in the
Far East at the beginning of the 20th century). Times have changed
and the share of the agrarian population will continue to steadily
decline to a degree of insignificance.

This country will never again be able to plug the breaches,
which appeared as a result of managerial errors, with seemingly
cheap and inexhaustible human resources.

This means that a change of Russia’s geopolitical strategy,
which dates back five centuries, is now imminent. It is equally
apparent that Russia has the possibilities for making this change,
first of all, owing to a great geocultural periphery reaching out
farther than the post-Soviet space, which we still control despite
the Kremlin’s increasingly frequent foreign policy blunders.

Russia remains the world’s number one country in terms of the
size of its territory and natural resources, which furnishes it a
unique energy potential and an enviable share of the world’s energy
balance.

Meanwhile, Russia has been perpetrating the growth of
“anthropologic deserts,” that is, formerly high-populated areas
where traces of human existence are now fading away. Russians are
facing a drift of people resettling from east to west in huge
numbers; this is turning the country into a transit zone in the
system of a global exchange of the population. Russia is also
experiencing demographic pressure from its eastern and southern
neighbors. Simultaneously, Western civilization is determinedly
wheedling scientists and talented young specialists from
Russia.

All these processes reveal the necessity for a prudent new
geopolitical strategy that would consider increasing global
tendencies, together with the achievements Russia scored in the
course of its history; these factors will provide it insight for
opening opportunities.
That is why Russia should focus on the change of its geopolitical
strategy from gathering lands to gathering together peoples.

SUPPORT FOUND IN THE PAST

Russia is still capable of avoiding a geopolitical catastrophe,
in spite of the following facts:
– Russia lost lands along its western and southern borders in 1991,
together with the people living there; this cut down its numeric
strength by one half. (Remarkably, Russia lost almost everything in
the west and south, but retained the Kaliningrad exclave and the
North Caucasus. Excluding the sale of Alaska and the Aleutian
Islands it practically retained all of its eastern territory except
for several small islands on the Amur River which it recently ceded
to China. And yet it is in the east that Russia faces its greatest
geopolitical threat.);
– Russia lost the simple reproduction of its population – to say
nothing of extended reproduction. Due to this factor, coupled with
the insufficient development of lands to the east of the Urals and
demographic pressure of its overpopulated, worker-excessive
neighboring countries, Russia appears unprepared to address the
aftereffects of a global demographic transition;
– While unfolding the greatest project for new social relations and
the creation of a new type of man in the 20th century, Russia found
itself with a poorly organized social structure, its social
institutions destroyed and the prospects for their reinstatement
vague – at least over the short term;
– While stunning the world with an unprecedented pace of
industrialization, Russia proved unprepared for a post-industrial
breakthrough (Russia has very limited time for making the
transition, as it is being drawn into an alien global economy
network where it is apportioned the role of a perennial resource
supplier);
– Russia lost the Cold War, and now, like the loser of any war, it
must pay reparations to the victor who largely predetermines the
guidelines of its cultural policy. The result is that the rights of
the Russian people to and individual opportunities for
capitalization are determined not within the country, but by the
world at large – personified by Western civilization.

And yet Russia does have a chance for keeping a place for itself
in history.
The project for gathering together peoples can only be successful
if we devise an ideological pivot around which a nation – or the
New Promised Land, if we may borrow terminology from Christian
mythology – will begin to form. ‘Nation’ here does not mean an
ethnic and cultural unity or the flesh and blood, but rather the
spirit and language embodied in unassailable political principles.
This should be a new universal project that highlights eternal
values, such as the past projects of building the Third Rome or
Communism, or more contemporary projects formulated by the elites
of full-fledged actors in the historical process – by intellectuals
initiating the creation of a united Europe, politically oriented
followers of Islam, and neo-conservative Protestants in the U.S,
for example.

Whether this country will be able to exist in the future as
Russia (not in terms of ethnic denomination but in terms of its
cultural heritage) depends on which peoples this country will bring
together, how big their numbers will be, and what geocultural
project will be chosen. Or – as Dmitry Zhitin, a researcher from
St. Petersburg, put it – will this country follow in the footsteps
of Rome, which eventually became inhabited by barbarians and turned
into another chapter in history textbooks?

AWAITING CULTURAL REVOLUTION

Many things will have to be changed in Russia. We are standing
on the threshold of a genuine social and cultural modernization
process that exceeds that of Peter the Great. From a historical
perspective, it is comparable only to the transformation in space,
peoples, society and culture during the times of the Mongol yoke.
The radical turn that awaits this country has much the same
importance as the historical Muscovy Rus once had.

The main thing that the country will have to change is its
attitude toward man. There should be genuine humanization of all
spheres of life and activity – the armed forces, the penitentiary
system, relations between the people and government, education,
upbringing of young generations, and common patterns of
reproductive behavior.

Russia will never become attractive for millions of new citizens
and raise the living standards of its current citizens unless it
launches a humanization policy.
Therefore, the essence of Russia’s new geopolitical strategy,
whatever its actual form, should be a cultural revolution aimed at
markedly changing the attitude toward man and doing away with the
brutal decision-making process on vital issues by the powers that
be.