Andrei Lyubegin—“Nationalism 2.0” Activist and Right-Wing Reformer
Andrei Lyubegin is an alumnus of the famous Russian right-wing journal Sputnik and Pogrom and then the lesser known and shorter-lived “Vendee” project. Sputnik and Pogrom was the largest right-wing publication of its kind in Russia and was quite a phenomenon at its time. Vendee was something more akin to the “Neo-Reaction” blogs in the English-speaking blogosphere. Andrei was the head organizer of the largest club of “intellectual nationalists” in St. Petersburg and has made it his personal project to understand and chronicle the history of the post-Soviet nationalist movement in Russia. He runs the “Baza” channel on VK and cooperates with other nationalists online. Full disclosure, I know Andrei quite well and run a podcast with him where we interview other right-wingers and talk about the news of the day, in Russian. Andrei is a somewhat controversial figure in the nationalist scene, mostly because of his frequent criticisms of the leadership. Whether or not Andrei was correct in his views or not, the simple fact is that he has outlived (literally in some cases) most of the people who disagreed with him and is one of the few people who has been left standing in this field from the old days at this point. So, by my reckoning, he must be doing something right and that makes him worth listening to.
Alright Andrei, you know the drill at this point. Who are you and how did you become the nationalist that you are today?
Right, well, I come from a small town in Russia—Rybinsk. There are several factories there, the typical commieblocks and a nice center from Imperial times and so on. As for how I got here, I like to say that Russian nationalism is all about climbing a ladder of shit, if you will. I started with a group of something akin to skinheads in my little town. I didn’t join them, no. I got my start by critiquing them and pointing out what they were doing wrong. I always knew that there were problems with the right-wing movement in Russia. The kids I grew up with were simple factory boys that quickly got in trouble with the FSB because of their right-wing radicalism. My best friend was beaten by agents, interrogated and incarcerated for being too vocal in his views. My other friend decided to seize the means of production one day, pulled out his revolver and tried to seize the factory that he was an employee at. He was a big fan of The Turner Diaries. In fact, we all were. American right-wing literature was quite popular in Russia among the youth of the 90s and 00s. Needless to say, my friend’s rebellion came to an end quickly. He served his time and then he joined the airborne troops, just like the other friend did, actually. They’re both serving in Ukraine now.
Point being, I didn’t like what we were doing. I figured that we were living on borrowed time and that sooner or later, the FSB would get around to arresting us if we carried on in this way. At about this time, I finished my education, moved to St. Petersburg and the famous journal Sputnik and Pogrom was established, of which I was a big fan. But, even then, I critiqued their work at first. Still, credit where credit is due, they brought new ideas to the right-wing. Instead of sitting around and pining for the long-awaited RaHoWa and planning an armed revolution, we suddenly got exposed to “Intellectual Nationalism” which Russia sorely lacked. We even heard of Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique series of books at around this time. We organized lectures on his work at our club.
A different kind of person was attracted to this sort of nationalism. People who were interested in their national culture, people who took an interest in their national history and so on—basically people who were more intelligent suddenly appeared on the scene. Even after the closure of the magazine, the effect that the magazine had on right-wing strategy and ideas cannot be denied. I was an early organizer of what can be called Nationalism 2.0 or “Intellectual Nationalism.” We had clubs that met to hear lectures and so on. This was all during the time of the Russian Spring of 2014 which saw the return of Crimea and an upsurge in patriotic feeling in the country. Our Petrograd Book Club (for fans of Intellectual Nationalism) became the largest nationalist organization of its kind in Russia. At the time, there were people from the National Democrat movement (liberals) and from the Rodina party (socialist-nationalists) all rubbing shoulders with us. This situation struck me as strange, but I will have more to say on this later.
At some point, Egor “Pogrom” Prosvirnin, the founder of the magazine and the biggest name in Russian Nationalism at the time, decided to hire me to rework the format of the club and make it into an active organization involved in political activism. We got together, declared ourselves the leaders of the so-called intellectual nationalist movement and started making headway. The magazine brought new people into the movement and our club organized the people who wanted to get more involved. Our first order of business was to open clubs all over the country and we eventually ended up opening 40 successfully.
Unfortunately, we had to spend a lot of time flushing out provocateurs and self-serving saboteurs. For example, we had a group of people from Ivanov that declared themselves a part of our network. As it turned out, these were actually local Rodina party officials who wanted to cash in our popularity. Rodina, you have to understand, was on its way out. It was a dying organization trying to stay relevant. Furthermore, in Russia, the people don’t trust the political parties because they consider them corrupt—and rightly so. And so, it was important to us that we stay clear of that association.
Anyway, the Russian Spring turned out to be a false thaw. The enthusiasm waned, and Egor Pogrom, who had ridden the wave of patriotic interest, began lashing out at his own dwindling base of supporters. Egor’s site was then banned by the Roskomnadzor and he refused to fight the ban, even though it was possible to get around it. The articles deteriorated in quality and his drug problems only exacerbated the problem. In the end, Egor ended up killing himself by imbibing drugs and jumping off his balcony in the center of Moscow. But I saw the writing on the wall before that.
The problem that quickly became apparent to me with our movement was that we had these so-called “nationalists” among us who weren’t even conservatives. They were oppositionists, first and foremost. And there was this attitude promoted by the leadership that we ought to be willing to rub shoulders with anyone that was against the government. Discontent continued to grow in the movement because one group of people, especially around Egor himself, was pro-drugs, anti-Orthodox, pro-Feminism, pro-punk rock, etc. Eventually the movement split because it had too many people in it that had absolutely nothing to do with one another. Furthermore, it was clear that we, the nationalists, were being used by other groups who showed up with money, media connections, and friends in the West.
Speaking of the West, you guys were gaining momentum right around the same time as the Alt-Right in America, right?
Yes and the American Alt-Right had a huge effect on us in Russia. Of course, the Alt-Right ended up being a laughingstock and, if anything, the lesson that we got from the Alt-Right was basically to avoid being like the Alt-Right. Still, there were many talented people who were inspired by what the Alt-Right managed to do right. Their enthusiasm, their memes and their way of forcing their way into the public spotlight inspired us. In many ways, we are still using the aesthetics of the Alt-Right in Russia today. The old aesthetic was entirely different—it was basically red flags with hammers and sickles or swastikas. Or the Imperial flag of Russia—the yellow, black and white one. Activism was largely confined to street marches like the infamous “Russian March.” The influence of the Alt-Right cannot be overstated in this sense. We suddenly started using slick designs, vaporware, green frogs and a different rhetoric. We began copying the model of internet activism instead of running people into police batons and spending the night in jail cells. Just like in the West, this new format was appealing to the youth. I count three main influencers who pushed for this new approach—myself, Kirill Nesterov, and Anatoly Karlin (to some extent).
Do we really want to go into detail about these eccentric e-personalities?
I think it’s worth bringing them up because they were part of a larger problem on the right.
For example, Nesterov got big making videos popularizing Alt-Right ideas in Russia, which got millions of views. Unfortunately, he developed a drug problem because of his association with Egor Pogrom, who was his supplier. He had a public mental breakdown, denounced Russia and all Russians and left the country. He’s in Cyprus last I heard and publicly supports Ukraine on the internet now. Karlin also did drugs with Pogrom (common knowledge in the movement), called Russians “sub-humans” on his Twitter for not masking up during the Corona hoax and seems to have dropped out as well. The point here I’m making is simple: drugs and right-wing politics do not mix. The conservative faction of the movement understood this. You need “conservative nationalism,” not just “oppositionist nationalism,” to avoid these tragedies that are a byproduct of pursuing a Libertine lifestyle. This is why we are still around and they are not. The largest problem that we faced in the nationalist movement in Russia was the problem of old associations with oppositionists. There were always people within the movement that had absolutely nothing to do with the ideas of conservatism or nationalism, but who were only interested in using us as a battering ram against the government.
I noticed this as well and have frequently critiqued Nationalists for allying with Liberals in the FSU as well.
Yes. Take, for example, Constantin Krylov, who everyone and their mother in the Russian right-wing knows about.
He was a large proponent of this alliance with the Liberal opposition and did more than anyone to normalize the idea and bring it about. And now a few words about Krylov: he was a Zoroastrian, a drug user, a constant criticizer of Russian culture and a man who always dreamed of running away to live in Italy. This man was considered a nationalist. Do you see the problem with this?
How could someone like this be considered a Russian nationalist by any sane person? In America, despite all the problems that the right has there, there is at least some common understanding of what a nationalist ought to be.
Yes, although you certainly have your strange idiosyncrasies in America as well, as you well know. Such as support for large corporations or Zionism.
But let me provide you with another example—Egor Kholmogorov.
He is on RT now and friends with Margarita Simonyan, despite critiquing her liberalism for years.
The running joke about this man is that even his readers do not read what he writes. This is because he has a style of writing wherein one can’t figure out what he is saying. He appears to be saying everything and anything. From what we can understand of what he says though, he doesn’t actually believe in ethnic Russian nationalism. His is an ideological sort of nationalism. That means that if one follows the right ideology, the right set of ideas—his of course—then one can be counted as Russian. The problem is that no one can understand exactly what his ideology is. Furthermore, he has openly stated that he would be in favor of importing Ethiopians into Russia because they are Orthodox and because they have the so-called “Russian soul.”
What’s worse, he actually seems to believe this and isn’t saying it to avoid getting into trouble or to advance his career. These people have no place in nationalism, but, in Russia, there is no quality control at all.
This is a common theme at this point—lack of internal policing on the right and some sort of ideological schizophrenia, no?
Yes! And while we’re on the topic we really should spare a few words about Mikhail Svetov. He was the leader of the Libertarians of Russia—an opposition group that held street protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In Russia, we can’t help but notice that Libertarians seem to have a hard time understanding the concept of age-of-consent laws. Svetov, for example, was quite open about his gore-and-torture fetish and his preference for pre-pubescent girls on his infamous blog. He was eventually arrested, released and then fled the country. His movement, which tried so hard to take over the Russian nationalist scene, crumbled soon after as the rest of his people also got in trouble with the law—most for their similar Libertine proclivities. These people were all comrades, members of the Russian nationalist movement at some point. No quality control. No common platform.
But I think I’ve made my point.
Instead of focusing on the negative, what about something positive that you or the movement has achieved. Is there anything that you’re proud of?
Well, the survivors of the Sputnik and Pogrom shipwreck got together and formed the Vendee magazine. For the first time, we began to delve into the ideas that actual Russian nationalists in the past had written about. If, before, we were simply copying the West, we suddenly started discovering our own intellectual tradition. We continued to publish nationalist ideas, but the thing that I am most proud of are the alumni of the magazine that went on to do their own successful projects after Vendee closed down as well. They went on to start their own groups and projects on Telegram and [social networking site] VK. Our movement decentralized and new people joined of their own accord and then started working on their own projects on their own.
This is where you come into the story, Rolo.
You joined our podcast, “Russians Forward,” and then we transitioned to “Culture of Discussion.” We were pioneers in the podcast format in the Russian right-wing. There were no podcasts or even interest in podcasts before this. In America, everyone has a podcast from what I can tell. But, this new format is still in its nascent stages in Russia.
Our group started appropriating the idea of “cancel culture” and putting it to good use online. We harassed many personalities and companies for promoting homosexuality or making anti-Russian statements and exerted pressure on them through the use of internet mob tactics. This method is now being used by larger, mainstream conservatives in Russia now. I consider us pioneers in this field. We had to fight against literally everyone to prove that this method was both necessary and effective. Just like in America, our right-wingers were largely toothless and obsessed with playing by the rules, even though our opponents didn’t. Now, they all act like it was the most obvious thing in the world. I am proud of the effect that we had working with our small internet guerrilla outfit. For the first time in living memory, the Russian right is on the offensive against the Liberals. We are cancelling them, they are not canceling us.
Things have changed quite a bit in Russia haven’t they?
The entire political landscape in Russia has changed in recent months.
Everything has shifted to the right, and what was once considered fringe and extreme is now mainstream. The aforementioned Egor Kholmogorov, who once wanted to import Ethiopians, now talks about the Russian ethnos, something that he used to deny even existed a few months ago. Alexander Dugin, who is famous in the West for being a Russian nationalist, also used to refuse to acknowledge the biological reality of race. Now though, he claims that the Russian ethnos is even more important than the Russian government or any nation-state structure—that the Russian people exist as a distinct entity and that their interests have to trump all others!
From the side of the government, the word ‘Russian’ has been recently added to the constitution. The constitutional court declared that the Russian people are the “state-forming” ethnos of Russia. That is, Russia has other ethnicities sure, but that the Russians created Russia. This was done before the special operation, mind you. Then, the infamous 282 hate speech law was drastically softened years ago and no one except Islamic terrorists gets in trouble over it. Judging by everything that the government is doing, we are seeing a serious turn to the right. The government is also leaning heavily into Orthodoxy. Funny enough, Liberals used to accuse the Orthodox of being Russia’s Taliban. Nowadays, I think they may be more right than wrong—and that’s a good thing!
Readovka, the patriotic media site, believes that the government will no longer be able to ignore or repress nationalists going forward. This is just speculation at this point, but it makes sense to me when the situation is taken into context. Readovka has some alumni journalists from Sputnik and Pogrom and Vendee working for it, by the way. They get millions of views.
But the main problem, despite all our recent efforts to rectify this, is that we do not have a true nationalist school of thought yet in Russia. The Poles, the Germans, and many other nations do have this intellectual tradition, even if they do not use it. We need to work out our own model of nationalism using our own historical context, our internal and external situation, and so on. Our people do what they can, but we need an anti-university (antiversitet) that does the work of explaining our ideas and building a working model. The closest we have is the work of Alexander Dugin, but this is simply not enough. We need an internal and external program. We need to explain our ideas. We need to stop borrowing our thinking from the West and trying to graft it onto our own society. Because we were repressed for so many years, we have a problem with culture and content-production. But I think this will change soon.
Right-wing culture is on the upswing.