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Is Anarchism Russia's Solution?

A column by Russian TV journalist Andrei Loshak is making waves in Russia, with over 400,000 people having read it so far. (Read it in English here.)

In the piece, Loshak detects a major change in the public attitude to the state. “Instead of anxiety and apathy," he argues, "wrath comes to the fore.” Furthermore, he answers the two eternal, “cursed questions” of Russian thinking about society: “Who is guilty?” and “What is to be done?”

Loshak's answer: the state is to be held responsible, and the solution, surprisingly enough, is anarchism.

He paints a dire picture of contemporary Russia, recounting IKEA's run-in with the authorities, or the case of Hermitage Capital Management investor William Browder and the subsequent scandal that erupted over Browder’s advocate Sergei Magnitsky, who was jailed and died after one year in prison.

He also notes the decay in Russian law-enforcement agencies, with its corruption and cover-ups and the shooting spree of police major Yevsyukov, which Loshak says marks a turning point in public consciousness.

That the corrupt state is responsible for this misery is not a surprising conclusion, but anarchy as the solution? With Russia these days mostly in the bellicose conservative-chauvinistic corner, suggesting anarchism seems to be rare and unexpected.

Loshak quotes the philosopher Nikolai Berdyayev who once said that “Russia is the most antistate country in the world. Anarchism is a phenomenon of the Russian spirit. It is characteristic of our far left as well as our far right. The Slavophiles and Dostoevsky were just as much anarchists as Bakunin, Kropotkin, or Tolstoy.”

To Loshak's mind, citizens -- with regard to the failing state -- should react with dignity to cynicism, with composure to moral decay, and, instead of cutting each other’s throats, should offer a helping hand.

But Loshak's argument makes several blunders.

Firstly, he grossly idealizes what he understands as the Russian strand of anarchism. This can be clearly shown by his depiction of a village in the Urals, which has been described as the “anarchic ideal of Count Kropotkin” -- in some way similar to Slavophiles praising the village community as the cradle of true Russianness. (From another perspective, the village can be seen as a place of dilapidation, heavy drinking, and ruthless morals.)

Secondly, Loshak confuses two concepts that should be kept separate: the state and those in power. By praising anarchistic forms of self-government, he automatically excludes any kind of statehood. In an infamous letter, Leo Tolstoy wrote:

This curious so-called science of law, which is essentially outright nonsense, conceived and disseminated not 'a coeur joie' as the French say, but with a distinctive and bad aim: to justify malicious deeds committed by people of the idle stratum.... For the ones in power, law is actually called the permission, which they gave to themselves, to force the people they govern to do what is beneficiary to the potentates. For the subjects, on the other hand, law is called the permission to do what is not forbidden for them.

Consider the impact if such a stance would become mainstream.

What Russia really needs is to reconcile with the state and aspire towards a Russian form of good governance with all its necessary checks and balances.

Otherwise, this strand of thinking could well lead to what Khodorkovsky recently described as a traditional Russian scenario: bottom-up and with blood.

-- Fabian Burkhardt

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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