From Solidarism to the Third Way: The French Far Right and Russian Anti-Communist Movements
Le Project on the Transnational History of the far right met en ligne une nouvelle étude de Stéphane François et Adrien Nonjon, From Solidarism to the Third Way: The French Far Right and Russian Anti-Communist Movements, IERES Occasional Papers, no. 16, February 2023 “Transnational History of the Far Right” Series :
For the past ten years or so, Russia has exerted an undeniable pull on radical right-wing movements in Europe, starting with those in France. Russia has enabled some political leaders to refresh their arguments about sovereignty through extended continental cooperation, as well as about strengthening their power in the face of the so-called Anglo-Saxon world. Moscow has also impressed with its illiberal regime, which some see as a desirable model for their own societies. While this honeymoon owes much to the transformations that have taken place in Russia during Putin’s presidencies since 2000, we should remember that it was an observable constant as early as the twentieth century, although it has never been a consensus position.
Since the interwar period, certain currents of the French radical right simultaneously committed to a struggle against communism and to connect with some groups inside the Soviet Union. Cooperation with Russian émigrés and their main anticommunist movement, the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists (Narodno-Trudovoi-Soiuz, or NTS), allowed a fringe of the French extreme right not only to extend its field of action to the far reaches of Europe, but also to diversify its ideological references by borrowing the concept of “solidarism.”
Despite the geographical and intellectual distance between French and Russian solidarism, the two share an aversion to the cleavage between “right” and “left” and were attracted by the fascist experience. Echoing the Cold War and its bipolarity, these doctrines gradually shifted and, borrowing from each other in mutual fascination, formulated the notion of the “Third Way.” While the original form of solidarism has vanished today, its ideological heritage remains tangible, especially when it comes to the links between individual members of the French extreme right and Russian supporters of osobyi put’ (“special way”), such as the National-Bolshevik Party and its Eurasianist faction in the early 1990s.
This paper proposes revisiting the bonds that united the French extreme right and Russian anti-communist movements between the 1960s and the mid-1990s around the notion of a shared “Third Way.” Through the history of these relations, we show that ideological exchanges have profoundly marked the evolution of “tercerist” thinking, with its different essences and meanings.
“For the Tsar and the Soviets”: The Solidarist Origins of Russian Anticommunism
Born in the 1930s among the second generation of Russian émigrés in Europe, the NTS crafted an ideology that was nationalist, anticommunist, anti-liberal, Christian, and corporatist, advocating a third way between socialism and liberalism. Its slogan was “Neither communism nor fascism, but national labor solidarism.” Indeed, inspired by the French solidarism of the early twentieth century—that of Léon Bourgeois and Célestin Bouglé—it aimed to overthrow the Soviet regime using not only citizens’ initiative groups, but also media and culture. From its foundation in the 1930s up until the USSR’s demise, the NTS proclaimed its mission to be fighting “for the regeneration of Russia under the banner of solidarity,” as well as establishing a solidarist society, largely inspired by Italian fascism, corporatism, and nationalism. Mainly clandestine, it attempted to subvert and destabilize the Soviet regime.
The NTS banked on attracting the masses of refugees fleeing the Bolshevik revolution. The League of Nations estimated in 1926 that one million people had fled Russia since the Revolution. To this considerable number were added prisoners of war and Russian citizens of the former imperial possessions. In total, “Russia in exile” is estimated to have numbered nearly nine million people, most of whom found refuge in Europe. If these exiles all rejected the new regime, they were nevertheless divided between the smenovekhovtsy, relatively young and pragmatic partisans who wanted to return to the country and participate in building the new state to prevent Russia’s collapse, on the one hand, and the old guard of the emigration, “fathers” who were opposed to any compromise with the Bolsheviks, on the other.
As these factions confronted each other and blamed each other for the fall of the Tsarist Empire, different groups gradually emerged among the diaspora. The supporters of direct action divided into two main groups. The first was the Russian All-Military Union (ROVS), founded on September 1, 1924, under the command of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich and General Wrangel, which numbered several tens of thousands of veterans of the Great War and the Civil War of 1917-1922. It militated for a violent terrorist struggle against the Bolsheviks. The second was the Brotherhood of Russian Truth (BRP): born in 1922 in Poland out of the newspaper Russkaia Pravda, it was a monarchist-inspired organization without a specific ideological program or doctrine. Although smaller than the ROVS, it had strong networks among peasant circles in Belarus. It was led in a collegial manner by a council of “brothers” and likewise advocated terrorist acts against the Bolsheviks.
In 1924, young Russians in exile in Bulgaria founded an association with the aim of “preserving the national heritage and undertaking, as far as the meager resources they could muster would allow, a struggle for the liberation of the fatherland.”Called the Russian National Youth Circle, this association quickly found several intermediaries abroad and established itself in France, in the towns of Rioupéroux Knutange and la Ferrière-aux-Etangs, where it recruited in industrial and mining centers. It became in 1927 the National Union of the Russian Youth; under this name, it organized a congress in Paris in 1928. New cells soon appeared in Yugoslavia, China, and Japan—while in Poland, a militant circle was formed around the newspaper Za Svobodu(For Freedom).
However, most of these groups were unstable and fighting with each other. The NTS was competing with the Mladorossy(Russian Youth) movement led by Alexander Kazem-Bek. The Mladorossy presented itself as a political entity that drew inspiration from monarchists and revolutionaries. According to Kazem-Bek, “Communism in Russia can be modified and replaced by an exclusively national, maximalist movement capable of an effort as intense as the communist effort. We make common cause with those in Russia who, perhaps for the time being only, are doing national work under the communist flag.”The slogan of the movement was “For the Tsar and the Soviets.”
The National Union of Russian Youth advocated for the various anticommunist resistance groups to unify their means and methods of action. To this end, the Aubert Entente Internationale Communiste (Anti-Communist League) organized a conference in Saint-Julien-en-Genevois in the spring of 1930. Representatives of the latter in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, France, Czechoslovakia, and Latvia took the opportunity to meet clandestinely in Belgrade to seal their union, which prefigured the NTS.
The future NTS came into being on July 15, 1934. At the instigation of its president, Viktor Baidalakov, various Russian youth associations decided to unite and form the National Union of Russian Youth, later the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists. The movement included such notorious figures as Arkady Stolypin, the son of Piotr Stolypin, Tsar Nicholas II’s prime minister who was killed in 1911. During the Second Congress of December 25-28, 1931, the movement took the name National Union of the New Russian Generation (NSNP) to distinguish it from other anticommunist movements within the diaspora. In addition to setting aside the old guard of the diaspora and reaffirming the idea of overthrowing the Soviet regime, the movement—on the fourth day of its Congress—defined the modus operandi of its struggle to be clandestine action through cooperation with the ROVS or the BRP.
If the NTS beginnings were challenging, it was nevertheless able to rely on several diaspora newspapers that were infiltrated by its militants: Za Svobodu in Poland; La Russie et le monde, led by Piotr Struve; and Le Courrier de Russie in France. The NTS then became relatively dynamic, creating sections in Poland, Belgium, and even in the Far East, where it rivaled Konstantin Rodzaevski’s Russian Fascist Party.
NTS’ primary mission was to send emissaries to operate clandestinely in the USSR itself—though all those caught were liquidated by the Soviet police. The invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the Allied response a few days later were met with mixed feelings among NTS members. Although their activities diminished by repression from the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union, whose armies occupied territories where the NTS operated, some NTS militants participated alongside the Nazis in Operation Barbarossa against the USSR in June 1941, serving as translators and bureaucrats. During the rest of the Second World War, some militants were also involved in the Committee for the Liberation of the Russian Peoples (KONR), which was part of the collaborationist Vlasov Army.
In the eyes of NTS members, the work of political subversion was to be carried out on Soviet territory despite the German occupation. As the Nazis advanced into Soviet territory, NTS activists were able to come into contact with prisoners who had been deported to Germany to contribute to the wartime economy. The many POW camps became recruitment grounds for Vlasov’s collaborationist efforts. The NTS issued propaganda to demonstrate its independence from Germany; the Gestapo would arrest over 100 NTS members, officially for contacts with British intelligence, in 1944. Those members who had chosen to join the Red Army out of patriotism were eventually arrested and liquidated by the Soviets.
Despite bouncing back after the Second World War and the world’s partition in two opposing blocs, the NTS remained a small organization in terms of personnel. After the war, it tried to send as many documents as possible to the USSR in a bid to spread its ideology through counter-propaganda. On January 12, 1949, the NTS Council agreed to resume its activities, particularly its clandestine ones, in the Soviet Union. Some Russian solidarist activists were kidnapped in Western Europe by the Soviet secret services. For example, in West Berlin in 1954 the Stasi kidnapped and tortured Alexander Trushnovich, who later died of his wounds in a diplomatic vehicle. His main activities included distributing dissident-authored leaflets, brochures, and books among the population. Many NTS German members were involved with the radio station Radio Liberty, which broadcast from the German Federal Republic to the USSR with the support of the CIA.
Between the 1940s and the collapse of the communist bloc, NTS activists disseminated several samizdat writings and clandestine magazines, the best-known being Posev and Grani, which popularized dissident authors such as Alexander Galich; Bulat Okudjava; Georgi Vladimov, the head of the Moscow underground section of Amnesty International; and the famous Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Posev has survived to this day, both as a magazine and as a publishing house. After the USSR disintegrated, the NTS ceased to exist as a clandestine movement and its main militants left for Russia. It became instead in 1996 a nationalist and conservative movement on the margins of the political scene, before ceasing its political activities.