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Fascist Tendencies in Russian Higher Education: The Rise of Aleksandr Dugin and Moscow University's Sociology Faculty

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This article illustrates a worrisome tendency in post-Soviet academia: the interpenetration between the social sciences and neo-fascist intellectualism. It details recent developments in the Sociology faculty of Moscow State University, which has appointed the obscurantist pseudo-scholar and propagator of extremely anti-Western ideas Aleksandr Dugin--a figure familiar to Russia watchers--as the director of the Faculty's Center for Conservative Studies and an acting Chair. Dugin has repeatedly acknowledged his closeness to the ideas of, among other fascist ideologies, Nazism, and uses the term "conservatism" as a cover for the spread of a revolutionary ultranationalist and neo-imperialist ideology. In recent years, he has built up a network of supporters in Moscow's higher echelons of power and established considerable foreign ties. If his behavior remains unchecked, Dugin could easily use the reputation of Moscow State University for further extension of his reach into Russian society.

"Ideas do matter!" announced Aleksandr Dugin, leader of the International Eurasian Movement, at a small gathering of academics and students in Moscow, on September 16, 2008(1). Dugin spoke at the oldest higher education institution in Russia--Moscow State University named after Lomonosov--where Dugin had just been elected head of the sociology faculty's Center for Conservative Studies. Moscow State's new professor was quoting American neoconservatives who, as Dugin reported, had once been merely a small circle of intellectuals, but who now rule the US--and, in fact, the entire world. Dugin announced that he saw the function of the Center as not merely involving the "introduction of conservative studies to the academic sphere," but also in "furthering dialogue between intellectuals and scholars with power structures," promoting "conservative" cadres to leading positions in the state apparatus, and creating a unified "conservative" intellectual sphere in Russia. He presented the Conservative Studies Center as being in competition with such bulwarks of liberal thought in Russia as Moscow's Higher School of Economics. In Dugin's view, it was only logical that his new think-tank had been attached to Lomonosov University in as far as Western intellectual-political centers too are located at prestigious academic establishments--like Harvard or Johns Hopkins, the Olin and Hudson Institutes, or the Hoover Institution (2).

Observers of post-Soviet academic life will not be surprised by this new development at one of the oldest, and, with 2,000 registered students, largest sociology faculties in Russia (3). Moscow State University's sociology faculty has for some time been internationally known less for its research than for its various scandals. Thus, in 1998, the faculty's Learned Council passed the political pamphlet "The Past, Present and Future of the Russian People," submitted by ultra-nationalist State Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky as a dissertation, for the acquisition of a Doctor of Science title. This was, taken individually, nothing special: In recent years, many prominent Russian politicians--from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov--have managed to obtain high research degrees from reasonably prestigious Russian universities during their active service in the legislative or executive branches of power. More often than not, they have done so under dubious circumstances (and with their theses, one sometimes suspects, having been produced by ghostwriters).

What was still peculiar in Zhirinovsky's successful bid to become a Doctor of Science was that the well-known parliamentarian did not have, and still does not have, a Candidate of Science degree--usually a precondition to be admitted to a doctoral program. That Moscow State's Sociology faculty registered a prominent politician without a Candidate degree as a doctoral student was, even in the specific circumstances of post-Soviet academia, something rare. Nevertheless, Zhirinovsky successfully passed the doctoral examination, and was, after some complications, registered by Russia's Highest Attestation Commission. Today he calls himself a "Doctor of Science" and can pride himself on having received this title from one of Russia's two or three most esteemed universities--as well as one of the country's oldest sociology faculties.

In 2002, a principal lecturer from the same sociology faculty at Moscow State University, Professor A'lbert I. Kravchenko, was found guilty of plagiarism by a Moscow court concerning his text book Politologiya (Political Science), published by Academia Press in 2001. Kravchenko was sentenced to pay the author of the book that he had plagiarized 1,000 rubles (approximately $40). In addition, the publisher was forced to put a note in Russia's leading publishers' journal Knizhnoe obozrenie (Books Survey) admitting the derivative character of Kravchenko's study (4). In spite of this verdict, Kravchenko not only continued to teach at Russia's top college, but also went on to produce further partially plagiarized textbooks that, moreover, are officially recommended as teaching tools by the Russian Ministry of Education. For some of these books, Kravchenko's immediate superior, the dean of the sociology faculty of Moscow State University and president of the Russian Sociological Foundation (as well as holder of many other prestigious posts), Vladimir I. Dobren'kov, functioned as a co-author. One of the books plagiarized by Dobren'kov and Kravchenko was published in the 2007 multivolume-edition Classical University Text Book, issued in honor of the 250th anniversary of the foundation of Moscow State University.

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Also in 2007, the faculty gained further notoriety when a group of students publicly protested against the situation in Dobren'kov's department. The protesters turned to the Russian and international press, not only pointing out the sociology faculty's dubious publishing activities, but also complaining about its lack of international contacts and its dated curricula (5). The students, in addition, reported that the dean's office had been distributing brochures that affirmatively quoted the infamous antisemitic pamphlet The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Confronted with these and other allegations, Dobren'kov labelled the students "extremists," and allowed some of them to be arrested by the police. However, as the conflict became widely reported by various Russian and Western outlets, in April 2007 the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, a government-organized gathering of representatives of Russia's civil society, discussed the scandal. The Public Chamber formed a Working Group consisting of prominent sociologists from Moscow and St. Petersburg that launched an official investigation into the situation at the Sociology Faculty. 

In the summer of 2007, the Working Group issued a first resolution on its findings, in which it stated that, among other points:
* the literature that students were recommended to read was "a rather tendentious selection of writings by Russian authors,"
* the contents of textbooks by Dobren'kov and Kravchenko were "to a considerable degree duplicate other texts, in most cases, without proper acknowledgements of this fact, in the footnotes," and
* in general, the textbooks by Dobren'kov and Kravchenko were "of a low quality." (6)

The Working Group informed the university and Ministry of Education that it would, in correspondence with further similar findings on textbooks issued by the faculty, apply for withdrawing the recommendation by the Ministry of Education from these books.
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In December 2007, the Working Group presented the final conclusions from its investigation. Here, it noted, among other things, a lack of cooperation from the faculty during the investigation. A number of final theses accepted by the faculty's chairs were "deeply ideological" and written "in a spirit of intolerance towards other cultures, and of isolationism."(7) Students who had at their examinations been unable to recall the names of internationally known sociologists nonetheless received high marks. 

The faculty's scholars have not published in leading Russian or international journals nor taken part in international conferences--a situation leading the Working Group to speak of "self-isolation" by the faculty. Instead, the report stated, the faculty aimed to educate its students in the field of "Orthodox-Christian sociology." Based on these and other findings, the Working Group recommended, among other alterations, changing the faculty's dean and its professorial staff (8).

In spite of the publicity that the investigation and its results received, none of the more substantial recommendations of the Public Chamber's Working Group have thus far been implemented (9). To be sure, the faculty's leadership did introduce some innovations. For instance, in 2008, it seemingly took a step against international isolation and hosted the American academic Paul Cameron, a tarnished pseudo-scholar known for publishing biased papers on homosexuals (10). Cameron's publications had been of such a nature that, among other reactions by scholarly organizations, the American Sociological Association, in 1986, felt it necessary to officially announce that "Paul Cameron is not a sociologist."(11) In 2009, the sociology faculty, in connection with the 20th anniversary of its foundation on June 5, took an even more bizarre action aimed at countering the impression of its international isolation. The faculty website published a fake letter by the president of the International Sociological Association, Michel Wieviorka--who had earlier expressed his sympathy for the protesting students--allegedly congratulating the faculty on its anniversary (12). In response, Wieviorka wrote a letter to the rector of Moscow State University demanding the removal of the letter (13).

An earlier reaction of the faculty to the critique by the Public Chamber was the activation of its ties to nationalist politicians and publicists in Russia. A group of students, with the help of the dean's office, founded a Socio-Political Club (14) that hosted, among other public figures, the famous Russian anti-American TV commentator Mikhail Leont'ev (15) and prominent nationalist politician-scholar Natalia Narochnitskaia (16). Later, the Sociology Faculty hosted, among similar public figures, the ultranationalist politician Sergei Baburin (17). These invitations were seemingly part of a scheme by Dean Dobren'kov to build up political support in Moscow's echelons of power. In as far as all state universities of Russia are part of an integrated system under the control of government, important appointments, academic policies or institutional changes at Russia's higher education institutions are matters of political pork and patronage.

When in 2008, Moscow State's sociology faculty founded its new Conservative Studies Center with Dugin as its head, it apparently followed similar aims regarding Dugin's appointment--hardly beneficial to the academic reputation of the faculty. Though Dugin was born and has lived all of his life in Moscow, a city home to several prestigious universities, he received his education in provincial colleges. Dugin earned his Bachelor's degree equivalent in philosophy from the Novocherkassk State Melioration Academy, his Candidate of Science degree from the North-Caucasian Higher School Scientific Center at Rostov-on-the-Don, and his Doctor of Science degree from the Juridical Institute attached to the Ministry of Interior of the Russian Federation at Rostov. Even many Russians may have never heard of these South Russian educational institutions. Nevertheless, in 2010, Dugin became acting Chair of Sociology of International Relations at Dobren'kov's faculty thus becoming also an official professor (and not only researcher) at Russia's leading university.

In the 1990s, Dugin--then still a relatively marginal figure--first attracted public attention with a number of esoteric publications in which he presented varied apologies for European fascism and proclaimed himself a follower of the "Third Road" and the German "Conservative Revolution."(18) In his first articles, Dugin re-interpreted world history as an eternal and deadly struggle between two antagonistic civilizations: liberal "Atlanticist" sea powers on one side and hierarchical "Eurasianist" land powers on the other (19). As Russia's undisputed leader of "neo-Eurasianism," Dugin did not hesitate to call the SS-Obergruppenfuhrer and organizer of the Holocaust Reinhard Heydrich a "convinced Eurasian," and the Waffen-SS, as a whole, an "intellectual oasis" within the Third Reich (20). In another of his early articles named "Fascism -- Borderless and Red," Dugin expressed excitement about the fact that, after the unsuccessful implementation of fascist ideology in Italy and Germany, there was now a truly "fascist fascism" rising in Russia (21). More recently, to be sure, he has become more cautious, and now refers to himself as an "anti-fascist." Nevertheless, as late as 2006, he admitted publicly that his ideas were close to those of the inter-war German Strasser brothers, who Dugin presented as parts of the German resistance against Hitler. Dugin failed to mention that, while Otto and Gregor Strasser indeed became opponents of Hitler in the early 1930s, they did so after having been leading functionaries and having played an important role in the surge of Hitler's National Socialist German Workers Party during the late 1920s (22).

In spite of Dugin's many violations of Russian political correctness throughout the 1990s, the leader of the International Eurasian Movement has, in recent years, become an influential political publicist and pundit. In 1998, Dugin first surprised students of the Russian extreme right when he managed to become an official advisor of Gennady Seleznev, then speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma. There have been also rumors that, during the 1990s, Dugin had links to one of Putin's closest KGB buddies, Viktor Cherkesov. In 2001, Dugin became a full member of Moscow's political establishment when he created his Eurasia Movement (later the International Eurasian Movement), the founding of which was widely reported in the Russian media. Since then, Dugin has been temporarilly linked to many prominent Russian public figures, including Russia's former Minister of Culture Aleksandr Sokolov and the former head of the ideology department of Putin's United Russia party-- as well as a current officer in the Russian presidential administration--Ivan Demidov (23).

It could well be that these and other connections in the upper echelons of Russia's political hierarchy have made Dugin a politically attractive figure able to provide Dobren'kov with protection. It appears that the sociology faculty's Dean wants to make Moscow State University's Conservative Studies Center the focal point of anti-Western "metapolitical" activity in Russia, and to create, in this way, a constituency of support for himself and his colleagues among the powers that be.

Dugin too benefits from the appointment. His new position at Russia's leading classical university gives him academic clout--the absence of which has, until recently, been hindering the acceptance of his rabidly anti-American history and politics text books at Russian schools and colleges (24). Moscow State University's sociology faculty provides the chief "neo-Eurasianist" with a prestigious site for workshops, press conferences, and interviews.
Dugin has been working for years to shift Russian elite discourse to the right (25). He and similarly oriented figures have succeeded in inserting into the mainstream the idea that the US is Russia's main problem and that "the Americans" are responsible for the various mishaps in recent Russian domestic and foreign politics, including the Orange Revolution and the 2008 conflict with Georgia (26). Dugin is now working toward establishing his "neo-Eurasianist" ideology as Russia's new foreign policy doctrine (27). In doing so, he uses the term "conservatism" as a cover for the spread of an actually revolutionary neo-imperialist program that amounts to a blueprint for an armed confrontation with Russia's neighbours and the West. The Conservative Study Center will help Dugin to further smuggle neo-fascist ideas into the Russian mainstream.

FOOTNOTES
1. "Konservativnyi 'think-tank'," Fond imeni Pitirima Sorokina, available at http://www.sorokinfond.ru/index.php?id=474 (accessed February 24, 2011).
2. For an in-depth analysis of Dugin's ideology, see Alexander Höllwerth, Das sakrale eurasische Imperium des Aleksandr Dugin: Eine Diskursanalyse zum postsowjetischen russischen Rechtsextremismus. Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society 59 (Stuttgart & Hannover: ibidem-Verlag, 2007).
3 Mikhail Sokolov, "Reformiruem li Sotsfak MGU? Institutsional'nye bar'ery na puti k studencheskoi revolyutsii," Polit.ru, May 25, 2007, http://www.polit.ru.
4 Natalia Demina, "Nauka Copy-Paste: Kak Al'bert Kravchenko iz'ial zapoved' 'Ne ukradi' iz pravoslavnoi sotsiologii," Polit.ru, August 24, 2007,  available at http://www.polit.ru/analytics/2007/08/24/plagiat.html (accessed February 24, 2011).
5. C. J. Chivers, "University in Moscow to Investigate Student Claims," The New York Times, March 22, 2007; Bryon Macwilliams, "Protest at a Russian University Attracts International Attention," The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 30, 2007.
6. "Rezoliutsiia Rabochei gruppy Komissii Obshchestvennoi palaty RF po voprosam intellektual'nogo potentsiala natsii: O situatsii na Sotsiologicheskom fakul'tete MGU," Polit.ru,  July 13, 2007, available at http://www.polit.ru/dossie/2007/07/13/opsoc.html (accessed February 24, 2011).
7. "Ekspertnoe zakliuchenie Rabochei gruppy Obshchestvennoi palaty RF po situatsii na Sotsiologicheskim fakul'tete MGU," Obshchestvennaia palata RF, available at http://www.oprf.ru/files/expert-dop/mgu.doc (accessed February 24, 2011).
8. Johanna Olexy, "Student Protesters Successful at Moscow State University," Footnotes: Newsletter of The American Sociological Association 35, no. 6 (2007), available at http://www2.asanet.org/footnotes/fn4.html.
9. For a detailed chronology of this whole story, see "Konflikt na sotsliogicheskom fakul'tete MGU: khronologiia," Laboratorium 1, no. 1 (2009): 305-309, available at click here; (accessed February 24, 2011).
10. Jim Burroway, "Paul Cameron's World," Box Turtle Bulletin, May 27, 2007, available at http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/Articles/000,020.htm (accessed November 24, 2009).
11. For further details see: "Council Acts on Cameron Case," Footnotes: Newsletter of The American Sociological Association 15, no. 1 (1987): 4, http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/1987/ASA.01.1987.pdf (accessed November 24, 2009).
12. "Sotsfak popalsya na sfabrikovannom pozdravlenii ot litsa prezidenta Mezhdunarodnoi sotsiologicheskoi assotsiatsii," Polit.ru, June 10, 2009.
13. Wieviorka's letter can be found here: click here (accessed November 24, 2009).
14 http://www.socio.msu.ru/?s=studlife&p=sklub 2110530 (accessed November 24, 2009).
15. "V glavnom vuze strany poiavilsia 'Obshchestvenno-politicheskii klub'. Pervyi gost' - Mikhail Leont'ev," Nakanune.ru, February 20, 2008, available at http://www.nakanune.ru/news/2011/01/22/2110530 (accessed November 24, 2009).
16. "Rossiia i russkie v mirovoi istorii," Fond imeni Pitirima Sorokina, available at http://www.sorokinfond.ru/index.php?id=210  (accessed November 24, 2009).
17. "Vialotekushchi vozvrat k stabil'nosti," Fond imeni Pitirima Sorokina, available at http://www.sorokinfond.ru/index.php?id=352 (accessed November 24, 2009).
18. Leonid Luks, "Der 'Dritte Weg' der 'neo-eurasischen' Zeitschrift Elementy -- zuruck ins Dritte Reich?" Studies in East European Thought 52, no. 1-2 (2000): 49-71; Markus Mathyl, "The National-Bolshevik Party and Arctogaia: two neo-fascist groupuscules in the post-Soviet political space," Patterns of Prejudice 36, no. 3 (2002): 62-76. 
19. Leonid Luks, "Eurasien aus neototalitärer Sicht -- Zur Renaissance einer Ideologie im heutigen Russland," Totalitarianism and Democracy 1, no. 1 (2004): 63-76.
20. Aleksandr Dugin, "Velikaya voina kontinentov [The Great War of the Continents]," in Konspirologiya [Conspirology] (Moscow: Arktogeya, 1992), 91-131, available at http://my.arcto.ru/public/consp/consp1.htm; Aleksandr Dugin, Konservativnaya Revolyutsiya [Conservative Revolution] (Moscow: Arktogeya, 1994), http://my.arcto.ru/public/konsrev/3way.htm.
21. Aleksandr Dugin, "Fashizm bezgranichnyi i krasnyi [Fascism -- Borderless and Red]," in Tampliery Proletariata: Natsional-bol"shevizm i initsiatsiya  [The Templars of the Proletariat: National Bolshevism and Initiation] (Moscow: Arktogeya, 1997 [WWW version]), available at http://my.arcto.ru/public/templars/arbeiter.htm#fash, 9-16. For an English translation of this article as well as a controversial discussion of Dugin's influence and fascism, see my exchange with Prof. A. James Gregor in Roger Griffin, Werner Loh and Andreas Umland, eds., Fascism Past and Present, West and East: An International Debate on Concepts and Cases in the Comparative Study of the Extreme Right. With a foreword by Walter Laqueur. Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society 35 (Stuttgart & Hannover: ibidem-Verlag, 2006).
22. For additional references documenting Dugin's fascism, see Andreas Umland, "Faschismus a la Dugin," Blätter fur deutsche und internationale Politik, no. 12 (2007): 1432-1435, http://www.blaetter.de/artikel.php?pr=2721.
23. Ivan Demidov, "Russkomu narodu neobkhodimo postavit' sebe tsel'," Evrazia.org, November 4, 2007, available at http://www.evrazia.org/article.php?id=164; Andreas Umland, "Moscow's Rising Influence Peddler," The Globe and Mail, March 17, 2008.
24. See, on this issue, Mikhail Sokolov, "New Right-Wing Intellectuals in Russia: Strategies of Legitimization," Russian Politics and Law 47, no. 1 (2009): 47-75.
25. For the social context and specifics of Dugin"s various activities, see Andreas Umland, "Toward an Uncivil Society? Contextualizing the Recent Decline of Extremely Right-Wing Parties in Russia," Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Working Paper , no. 3 (2002), available at click here (accessed November 24, 2009); Vladimir Ivanov, Alexander Dugin und die rechtsextremen Netzwerke: Fakten und Hypothesen zu den internationalen Verflechtungen der russischen Neuen Rechten (Stuttgart & Hannover: ibidem-Verlag, 2007); Andreas Umland, "Alexander Dugin, the Issue of Post-Soviet Fascism, and Russian Political Discourse Today," Russian Analytical Digest, no. 14 (2007): 2-4,  available at http://se1.isn.ch/serviceengine/FileContent?serviceID=PublishingHouse&fileid=D1478BA6-7E77-12D0-852A-B192187B74EC&lng=en.
26. See, for instance, Andreas Umland, "Putin"s 'Jackals'," The Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2007.
27. For diverging views and additional discussion of Dugin's ideas and relevance, see Leonid Luks, "Zum "geopolitischen' Programm Aleksandr Dugins und der Zeitschrift Elementy -- eine manichäische Versuchung?" Forum fur osteuropäische Ideen- und Zeitgeschichte 6, no. 1 (2002): 43-58; Marlene Laruelle, "Aleksandr Dugin: A Russian Version of the European Radical Right?" Kennan Institute Occasional Paper, no. 294 (2006), available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/topics/pubs/OP294.pdf (accessed November 24, 2009); Dmitry Shlapentokh, "Dugin Eurasianism: A Window on the Minds of the Russian Elite or an Intellectual Ploy?," Studies in East European Thought 59 (2007): 215-236; Anton Shekhovtsov, "The Palingenetic Thrust of Russian Neo-Eurasianism: Ideas of Rebirth in Aleksandr Dugin's Worldview," Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 9, no. 4 (2008): 491-506.

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============================================================================== Andreas Umland, CertTransl (Leipzig), MA (Stanford), MPhil (Oxford), DipPolSci, DrPhil (FU Berlin), PhD (Cambridge). Visiting fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution (more...)
 

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