The Far-Right Book Every Russian General Reads
Alexander Dugin is a far-right Russian theorist who might be dismissed as a crackpot if his ideas for a fascist empire weren’t required reading for Russia’s military high command.
02.26.18 5:13 AM ET
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY LYNE LUCIEN/THE DAILY BEAST
In his native Russia, he is a prominent author and activist famous for promoting fascism at home and advocating for a vast Eurasian empire—a dark mirror of American “Globalism.”
Outside of Russia, very few people have heard of Alexander Dugin, the 56-year-old political philosopher and analyst whose views are so extreme that he has been denied entry into the United States—not too surprising, perhaps, since in this country he is worshipped by the likes of Richard Spencer, David Duke, and others on the violent far right.
Fascist or not, Dugin’s theories are influential, at least in Russia. In 1999, he became special adviser to then-Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev. More important, his seminal work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, in which he promotes the idea of a vast Eurasian empire that looks east, not west, is required reading at the General Staff Academy for every Russian military officer above the rank of colonel.
But in the West, Dugin’s book is dismissed as the work of a crank, when it is acknowledged at all. Only a 2004 article from John Dunlop of the Hoover Institution underlined this book’s influence. Dunlop rightly argues that the brand of fascism promoted by Dugin enabled “nationalist” strategists to reassert, with some precision, Russia’s enlarged boundaries. Yet Dunlop, too, dismisses Foundations as “insane and repellent,” as does a July 2016 article in Foreign Policy by Charles Clover. Arrogantly but also complacently, neither author mentions, let alone takes seriously, Russia’s subversion of U.S. democracy.
The most noteworthy thing about Dugin’s book, though, especially given that it roughly blueprints both Russia’s recent aggression toward its neighbors and its destabilization campaign in this country, is that until very recently The Foundations of Geopolitics was never translated into English, not even in a version sponsored by the CIA.
In 2017, a bollixed translation was published, but the translation was apparently done by a computer, without even a named author. This, too, is, unsurprising: During the Cold War, Marx and Lenin were translated by people commissioned by Russians, but few American scholars or intelligence people had any incentive to read them. In regard to intellectual work by “enemies,” ignorance is often bliss.
Foundations engages with obscure strains in 20th-century fascism, relying heavily, for example, on theorist Julius Evola, who advised Mussolini and the SS and promoted extreme misogyny as well as racism for use by the Russian elite. All sex for Evola is rape and a woman outside the home “a monkey.” He and Dugin both sneer that modern men—not to mention gays, lesbians, and transsexuals—are “feminized.” In the Evola-Dugin playbook, sexual and racist anxieties lie at the root of today’s Russian fascism. And with but slight qualification, one can see Rob Porter, Steve Bannon (an Evola fan), Roy Moore, and Donald Trump as decadent facsimiles.
Nevertheless, it seems foolish not to read Foundations carefully, but to do that we need a decent translation. To that end, I encouraged Grant Fellows, a student of Russian history and politics and my research assistant, to do a translation. His versions of important passages appears below.
Dugin’s words prefigure the testimony before Congress of the National Intelligence and CIA directors as recently as February 13: “We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople, and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” National Intelligence Director Dan Coats told Congress. And going forward, CIA director Mike Pompeo added, “We have seen Russian activities and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle.”
The chief aim of Foundations is to revive Evola’s fascist idea of traditionalism, which calls for the eradication of any trace of modern, polyethnic, egalitarian, feminist, and democratic cultures—“American globalism”—in favor of a vast, Eurasian, authoritarian empire of racially pure regimes in which women are confined to the home and breeding. That empire would unite regimes across Europe and extend to the United States and Latin America.
Beginning in the late 19th century, geopolitics has been the study—in the United States, Germany, and now Russia—of how to forge vast empires. In 1997, during an imperial low in 1997 for then collapsed Russia, Dugin first urged the creation of “Eurasian” influence. He thought of this largely as a matter of covert operations and information wars rather than, as in Crimea, naked Russian aggression. Urging murderous conquest of Donetsk, however, Dugin egged on the invaders to “kill, kill, and kill!” Such bloodthirstiness was enough to put Dugin temporarily out of favor even with Putin.
Dugin and Putin are not always on the same page. For instance, Putin has tried twice to join NATO to cooperate in Europe and has thus not always been set on fascist expansion. Nonetheless, in revenge for a disintegrated Russian sphere of influence, Dugin speaks for a wide elite audience, often including Putin, about breaking the power of “soulless,” “cosmopolitan” American “Globalism.”
Twenty years ago, Dugin wrote presciently about creating a Trump-like presidency: “At the global level, for the construction of a planetary New Empire the chief ‘scapegoat’ will namely be the USA—the undermining of whose power which (up to the complete destruction of its geopolitical constructs) will be realized systematically and uncompromisingly by the participants of the New Empire. The Eurasian Project presupposes in this its relationship of Eurasian expansion in South and Central America to remove its output from under the control of the North (here, the Hispanic factor could be used as a traditional alternative to the Anglo-Saxon) and also to provoke every kind of destabilization and separatism within the borders of the USA (it might be possible to lean on the political forces of the African-American racists). The ancient Roman formula of ‘Carthage must be destroyed,’ will become the absolute motto of the Eurasian Empire, because it itself will absorb the essence of all geopolitical planetary strategy awakening to its continental mission.” (Chapter 4 “The Re-division of the World,” p. 248)
“Dugin’s ‘Foundations’ prefigures the 2016 covert information or signals assault to destabilize the U.S. electoral process.”
Like many in Russia’s military elite, Dugin advocates a “White” Russian Orthodox empire against Chechen rebels and other Muslims. He also aims to sow division in the United States, offering as a depraved “White” racist, an ugly projection: “lean on the political forces of the African American racists,” by which he presumably means Black Lives Matter, which is in fact a nonviolent movement protesting police murders of innocents.
Stirring racist violence among his followers is the most profound form of “destabilization,” though Dugin’s advocacy of sowing “chaos and disruption” also applies to Trump’s threat in November 2016 to denounce a “rigged” election, as well as Trump’s obsequious embrace of Putin in Vietnam in November 2017, excoriating “hack leaders” of the CIA and FBI.
In Foundations, Dugin also reveres the preachments of obscure English geopolitician Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), who argued that Russia is the heartland of the world. Dugin adds that in Russia’s “relations from the Heartland position, it is clearly necessary to oppose actively the USA’s Atlanticist geopolitics at every level, in all regions of the Earth, striving to unleash maximum demoralization, deception, and in the final account, the defeat of the enemy.” (Chapter 5 “The West’s Threat,” pp. 366-67)
Last October’s news about Russian operations on Facebook reaching 126 million viewers and organizing rallies in Utah and Texas and employing sometimes unwitting, paid American agents during the 2016 presidential election are all illustrations of Dugin’s 1997 tactic.
“It is generally important,” Dugin wrote, “to introduce geopolitical chaos within the American daily experience by encouraging all manner of separatism, ethnic diversity, social and racial conflict, actively supporting every extremist dissident movement, racist sectarian groups, and destabilizing the political processes within America.” [ch.5, “The West’s Threat,” p. 367]
In Foundations 20 years ago, Dugin spoke of a U.S. “national sovereignty” regime exiting NATO and—as John McCain and George W. Bush underlined last October 17—forfeiting its global power. Dugin avers: “While simultaneously supporting isolationist tendencies in American politics, those circles (often right-wing Republicans) believe the USA should confine itself to its own internal problems. The position Russia has been placed in is supremely favorable.” [p. 367]
Dugin’s Foundations prefigures the 2016 covert information or signals assault to destabilize the U.S. electoral process, a destabilization that, according to James Clapper, former head of National Intelligence, this destabilization succeeded more wildly than Dugin (or Putin) dreamed. “Every geopolitical level of the USA should be involved simultaneously,” Dugin writes, “similar to the anti-Eurasianism of the Atlanticists: ‘sponsoring’ the disintegration of the strategic bloc [Warsaw Pact], governmental unity [USSR], and furthering ethno-territorial problems under the guise of regionalism, which accomplished Russia’s progressive disintegration up to its complete destruction. The Heartland will force the Sea Power to pay in the same coin. This is basic symmetrical logic.” [p. 367]
Dugin’s notion of “symmetrical” payback highlights three vengeful points.
First, Russian intelligence has long understood U.S. actions to destroy the Soviet Union. “Symmetrically,” Dugin argues, a “White” Russia aims to—and in 2016 succeeded in—shattering the American empire. In Dugin’s terms, Russia seeks to be the New Rome in a global “Eurasia.” Consider its work in Brexit in 2015, and the Trump election in which the administration has now sundered NATO.
In 1990 and 1997, under President Boris Yeltsin, Russia applied to join NATO but was rebuffed. At a 1997 NATO summit, President Bill Clinton promised Yeltsin falsely that NATO would not expand up to Russia’s borders. In 2001, Putin asked for entry into NATO, and President Medvedev in 2010 called for a Europe-wide collective security structure. If NATO had included Russia in the post-Cold War era, a functioning democracy might have survived.
Instead, the U.S. expanded NATO and engaged Russia even on its borders in Georgia and Ukraine (I leave aside the merits of independent, democratic movements in these societies.) Consider how John F. Kennedy responded to the USSR putting nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962. Why would one expect even a capitalist Russia, demeaningly excluded from Europe, to respond differently to a threat of a pro-NATO regime on its border?
Second, in 2014, the Russians recorded Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland on her “secure” phone bad-mouthing NATO and naming the new leader of the Ukraine. That Russian signals intelligence was effective against ordinary U.S. precautions, as Dugin foresaw, could have been gleaned by Hillary Clinton’s operatives (Nuland may have warned about this, to some extent). But Russia, they thought arrogantly and complacently, could never—never—reach the United States.
Were Russia not a “White” power, furthering violent attacks on black and Latin people and on the wellbeing of most ordinary Americans, as well as the ugly empire Dugin projected in 1997 in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the U.S., one might see its stand against American aggression as morally justified. Instead, as Dugin’s schooling of Russian officers underlines, Russia seeks to create a rival empire with even more horrific aims.
Third, the United States coined the term information warfare. Intelligence agencies under Obama used it first in 2012 for the “Stuxnet” virus that destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz. Presciently, on February 1, 2012, former CIA head Michael Hayden warned: “This is the first attack of a major nature in which a cyberattack was used to effect physical destruction rather than just slow another computer or hack it to steal data. Somebody crossed the Rubicon.”
In 2014, Obama dissed Putin: “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors—not out of strength but out of weakness.” That neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton grasped the possibility of information warfare being turned against the U.S.—even as Russia tested it under American eyes in the Ukraine in 2014—signals the sort of hubristic overconfidence that Thucydides spoke of regarding the decline of the first democratic imperialism in Athens in the 5th century BCE.
In Dugin’s words, the bizarrely “symmetrical” Russian operation in 2016 did to the American presidency what Nuland and Clinton had threatened against Putin.
At a strategic February 2016 “InfoForum” in Moscow, Andrey Krutskikh, a senior Kremlin adviser, menacingly announced that Russia was planning an information assault on the November election which would be equivalent to the first Soviet nuclear explosion: “You think we are living in 2016. No, we are living in 1948. And do you know why? Because in 1949, the Soviet Union had its first atomic bomb test. And if until that moment, the Soviet Union was trying to reach agreement with [President] Truman to ban nuclear weapons, and the Americans were not taking us seriously, in 1949 everything changed and they started talking to us on an equal footing.
“I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having ‘something’ in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”
In November 2016, Dugin crowed aptly about Trump’s victory: “Trump’s ascent puts a decisive end to the unipolar world. Trump has directly rejected U.S. hegemony in both its mild form, which the Council on Foreign Relations insists on, and in its harsh form, as the neocons call for… This means that the unipolar world is liquidated not only under the pressure of other countries, but from within America itself. The peoples and states of the world can finally take a deep breath. The expansion of globalism has been stopped at its very center. The new multipolar world means that the U.S. will henceforth become one of several poles of world order, a powerful and important one, but not the only one, and more importantly one that has no claims to being exceptional.”
Ironically, given Trump’s soft-pedaling of Russian intervention, Putin has subordinated the United States. As Dugin boasts, Trump has already split NATO, the foremost Russian political objective. And, except for revelation of Michael Flynn’s being a paid foreign agent by Acting Attorney-General Sally Yates and pressure from below, the administration intended to do Russia other favors. Further, as former acting CIA director Michael Morell underlined on Christmas Day 2017, the Russians were even then spreading anti-immigrant lies on Facebook: “In a single week this month, Moscow has used these accounts to discredit the FBI after it was revealed that an agent had been demoted for sending anti-Donald Trump texts; to attack ABC News for an erroneous report involving President Trump and Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser; to critique the Obama administration for allegedly “green lighting” the communication between Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak; and to warn about violence by immigrants after a jury acquitted an undocumented Mexicanaccused of murdering a San Francisco woman.’
Dugin’s account of geopolitics is also fundamentally dishonest. While Foundations extols Nazi advocates of Lebensraum in the East, he often “forgets” Hitler’s genocidal assault on Russia. And fascinatingly, Dugin‘s Foundations ignores the American historian Frederick Jackson Turner, who argued for an ever shifting westward “frontier” wiping out indigenous people. German imperialists, notably Hitler, saw the genocidal American “Wild West” as a model for the “Wild East” of Poland and Russia. Turner worked closely with Friedrich Ratzel, a German geopolitician, who coined the term “Lebensraum”: vast continental “living spaces” to be settled by those who murdered or enslaved indigenous inhabitants. Ratzel’s student Karl Haushofer taught the term to Hitler and agitated widely for conquest of the “Wild East” during the Nazi regime.
But Dugin bizarrely denies Haushofer’s role in invading Russia. Like the violent American Right, Dugin wants to recreate an imaginary Russia not as the defeater of Nazism in World War II—his book does not once name “the Great Patriotic War,” as Russians refer to the conflict—but as a now White Fascist Sun for orbiting racist autocrats.
In The Daily Beast last Dec. 11, I pointed out that initial exit polls used by the American State Department to test the fairness of elections abroad showed Hillary Clinton in the lead in four swing states and also revealed large discrepancies with machine-recorded results. This is, unless disproven by argument, profound evidence of the corruption of the 2016 American election.
In addition, led by Professor Alex Halderman’s testimony on June 23 of last year, 120 computer scientists warned Congress of the ease of manipulation of U.S. election machines which leave no paper trail or on which the paper trail can be turned off, as they were in Ohio in 2016. Easily hackable machines, by domestic enemies or foreign ones, must be replaced by paper ballots to secure upcoming American elections (currently, the U.S. ranks as having the 61st least safeguarded elections among democracies in a Harvard/University of Sydney study).
Yet in addition to using bots targeting likely Republican voters, the Russians tampered with voter registrations and perhaps even the machines to elect Trump. This systematic cyberwarfare is the most successful act of aggression inside the United States ever achieved by a foreign power. Though others executed the tactics, Alexander Dugin was the architect.