OWe cannot understand what is happening in Ukraine right now if we call Russian President Vladimir Putin a mere madman without making an effort to understand his disturbing geo-philosophical project.
The thought of Augusto Del Noce (1910-1989), one of the greatest Italian philosophers of the 20th century and a specialist in Marxist doctrine, offers useful interpretive tools to grasp Putin’s objective. In the early 1970s, I worked as Del Noce’s assistant at the University of Rome-La Sapienza. He and I maintained a strong intellectual friendship until his death.
According to Del Noce, the idea of revolution finds its most complete and coherent formulation in the Marxist passage from speculative philosophy to the philosophy of praxis. Marx’s famous eleventh thesis of the Theses on Feuerbach (1845) – “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; it is a question of changing it” – expresses a new relationship between revolutionary thought and reality. It is in praxis, that is to say in the historical result of political action, that the truth of ideas will be measured.
In passing from theory to action, however, Marxism comes up against an internal contradiction. The revolutionary idea implies two incompatible objectives: the need to destroy the old order of values and the need to found a radically new order. In the aftermath, the two goals cancel each other out. By pursuing the revolution, Marxist thought arrives at its own renunciation, since Marxism itself is a product of the values of the old order. Indeed, it discredits any claim to truth that it has in itself. The result is an absolute nihilism that collapses the idea of revolution, according to Del Noce.
It is from this contradiction that arose the conflict between the two heirs of Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. Trotsky accused Stalin of having betrayed the revolution, because he strengthened in Russia what he should have abolished: the state, authority, bureaucracy. Stalin answered, quoting Marx, that it is in practice that the revolutionary verifies the force and the truth of his thought. In Russia, even after Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet regime failed to achieve Lenin’s goal of the eventual “withering away” of the state – instead, it strengthened the state. The Soviet dictatorship of the proletariat, supposed to be a transitional phase in the process of the liberation of humanity, crystallized into the most massive police state in history.
When the foundations of the Soviet empire began to crumble, came the era of Mikhail Gorbachev. perestroika in 1985 to try to save the communist revolution through metamorphosis. But perestroika failed and the KGB apparatus attempted to direct the self-dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was replaced by Boris Yeltsin while, according to Russian sociologist Vladimir Schlapentokh, the communist empire was replaced by a “feudal” empire characterized by the collaboration between organized crime and the former communist regime. nomenklatura.
Del Noce died in 1989, a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He foresaw that Marxism would have to yield to the pragmatism of technological civilization. The separation of Marxism from the sacred leads to permissiveness, since the loss of the transcendent dimension inevitably reduces human life to the pursuit of pleasure. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union was signed in Nice on December 7, 2000. The charter, which entirely ignored Europe’s Christian roots, seemed to serve as a symbolic realization of communist theorist Antonio Gramsci’s goal of “a complete secularization of all life and all customary relationships. The same year this charter was approved, Vladimir Putin was elected President of the Russian Federation. From the beginning, he defined his political position against Gramsci and Gorbachev.
Gorbachev wanted to complete the process of de-Stalinization started by Nikita Khrushchev without abandoning the teachings of Lenin. “The ideological source of perestroikais Lenin, he declares, asserting the need for a “reinterpretation” and a “recasting” of Lenin’s works in order to fully understand the Leninist method. In this sense, Gorbachev can be considered a post-Leninist, as he tried to get rid of Stalinism and return to Lenin.
Putin, on the contrary, is a post-Stalinist, as he refers to Stalin rather than Lenin. Putin portrays Stalin as the patriot who restored territorial unity and moral greatness to Russia during World War II. According to Putin, it was thanks to the Georgian dictator that after May 1945 the USSR again became a great power. Stalin’s regime won the “great patriotic war” by evoking the national feeling and spiritual solidarity of the Russian people, destroyed by class internationalism.
For Putin, Stalin redefined the role of Soviet Russia in World War II by reclaiming its patriotic values and opposing Nazism. But he also reclaimed his religious values by “reinventing” the Moscow Patriarchate, which previously seemed to have been erased from history. After the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, on the night of September 4, 1943, Stalin was visited by Metropolitan Sergius of Moscow and Kolomna, Metropolitan Alexy of Leningrad and Novgorod, and Metropolitan Nikolai of kyiv and Galich. They met in the presence of Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov; Vsevolod Merkulov, head of the NKGB; and Col. Georgii G. Karpov, head of the Fourth Department of the NKGB’s Third Secret Political Directorate, whose responsibilities included monitoring and suppressing religious organizations. Historian Adriano Roccucci identifies this meeting as a turning point in relations between the Church and the Soviet power.
At this meeting, Stalin, in order to involve the Russian Church in his plans to expand Soviet influence, authorized the convening of a council and the election of a new patriarch. Four days later, on September 8, a council of bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church met in Moscow. Nineteen bishops participated. Some of them were transported to Moscow by military planes. At this council, the elderly Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky, 1867–1944) was elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’, the first patriarch after the death of Tikhon (Bellavin, 1865–1925). A synod of six members was also elected, including Alexy I (Simansky, 1877-1960), who after Sergius’ death in 1944 was elected patriarch. In 1946, Alexy supported the dissolution of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. In March of that year, in fact, the Soviet authorities imposed the convocation of a council in Lviv. This council dissolved the Union of Brest of 1596, forcing Greek Catholics under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was granted free use of the buildings of the newly dissolved community.
Stalin’s two patriarchs were replaced by Pimen (Izvekov, 1910-1990), who was on a mission to show the world the goodness of USSR politics, and Alexy II (Riduger, 1929-2008), a representative of the group of “Brezhnev” hierarchs. Finally, in 2009, Kirill (Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev) was appointed head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill had been active in the KGB, alongside Putin, since the 1970s, as evidenced by declassified documents from the Moscow archives.
Two years after Putin’s inauguration as President of the Russian Federation, Orthodoxy was declared a “state religion” under the reformed 1997 Religious Freedom Law. This law recognized Islam, Judaism and Buddhism as “traditional” religions, but not Catholicism. The Catholic Church is prohibited from carrying out any form of “proselytism” in Russia. Russia’s “imperial mission” involves not only Putin’s geopolitical ambitions, but also the ambition of the Moscow Patriarchate to exercise its religious authority outside Russian borders and throughout the ex-Soviet space, against what called “undue interference” by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and – above all – by the Vatican.
After the fall of the Soviet regime, starting with the 1968 Revolution, the nihilistic dimension of communism spread throughout the West in the form of Gramscianism and Freudo-Marxism. In Russia, Putin has recovered the messianic dimension of communism by proposing to Europe a “path of salvation” which passes through the severance of geopolitical ties with the United States and the severance of religious ties with the Church of Rome. In Putin’s proposal, the transcendent dimension of religion is absorbed by the political, reversing the primacy of religion over politics that has always characterized the spiritual tradition of the Christian West. This is the reason why, today, we must consider Putin’s geo-philosophy as the antithesis of an authentic Christian theology of history.
Putin’s post-Stalinism is opposed above all to the Church of Rome, because it offers an alternative to the self-dissolution of the West. Unsurprisingly, the church Putin fights most against today is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, as it is a living testimony to the possibility of rediscovering the authentic religious soul of Russia – found in the heritage of Saint Vladimir in Kyiv, not Stalin’s Moscow Patriarchate.
Roberto de Mattei taught at the universities of Roma-La Sapienza, Cassino and Europea di Roma, and worked with the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences under Cardinal Walter Brandmüller.
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