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The oprichniki as imagined by Sergei Eisenstein

Here we might note a similarity with Dugin. Dugin has long been fascinated by the oprichniki, the personal guard formed by Ivan IV ('the terrible') in order to counter the power of the elite of his time - the 'boyars'. At one point he seems to have imagined that the Wagner Group could fulfil this role. In May 2023 he had this to say about its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin:

'For Russians, he has become the main symbol of victory, determination, heroism, courage and resilience. For the enemy a source of hatred, but also of fear and terror. It is important that Prigozhin not only leads the most combat-ready, victorious and undefeated unit of the Russian armed forces, but also provides an outlet for those feelings, thoughts, demands and hopes that live in the hearts of the people of war, completely and to the end, irreversibly immersed in its elements.

'Prigozhin took this war to the end, to the bottom, to the last depths. And that element is shared by the members of the PMC “Wagner,” all those who move in the same direction and towards the same goal—the difficult, bloody, almost unattainable, but so longed-for, desired victory. PMC “Wagner” is not a private military company. The money has nothing to do with it. This is a brotherhood of war, the Russian guard, which was assembled by Yevgeny Prigozhin from those who responded to the call of the Motherland in the most difficult time for her and went to defend her, being ready to pay any price …

'Inside Russia, people accept Prigozhin unconditionally. He, without any doubts, is the first in this war. Whatever he says or does, it immediately resonates in the heart of the people, in society, in the broad Russian, Eurasian masses. It is one of the many paradoxes of our history—an ethnic Jew, an oligarch, and a man with a rather turbulent past is transformed into the archetype of a purely Russian hero, into a symbol of justice and honor for all people. This says a lot about Prigozhin himself and about our people. We believe deeds, eyes, and words when they come from the depths. And this dimension of depth in Yevgeny Prigozhin cannot be overlooked.'

And as the Oprichniki stood in relation to the boyars of Ivan's time, so Wagner stands in relation to the 'élites' of Putin's time:

'Russian elites are another matter. It is precisely because Prigozhin has made a pact with the Russian people, with the Russian majority, on the blood—his own and that of his heroes from Wagner—that he is most hated by that part of the elite that has not accepted the war as its fate, has not realized its true and fundamental motives, has not yet seen the mortal danger that hangs over the country. It seems to the elite that Prigozhin is simply rushing to power, and, relying on the people, is preparing a “black redistribution.” (29) For this part of the Russian elite, the word “justice” itself is unbearable and burns with the fires of hell. After all, Prigozhin is himself from this elite, but he found the courage to renounce the class of the rich, exploiters, cynics, and cosmopolitans, who despise all those who are less successful, and to move to the side of the warring, country-saving people.

(29) The 'black redistribution' refers to the idea of a peasant uprising to seize control of the land such as actually occurred in Ukraine in 1918-19.

'In such a situation, analysts who belong to these elites as a kind of domestics wonder: how can Prigozhin afford to behave with such a degree of determination, audacity, and autonomy? Isn’t he an experiment by much more influential—indeed, simply the highest—forces in Russian politics, who are testing, by his example, the readiness of society to introduce stricter rules and a more consistent patriotic, people-oriented policy?

'In other words, are not Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner PMC the forerunners of a full-fledged oprichnina? After all, even in the era of Ivan the Terrible, the oprichnina army was formed precisely in battles and also, as in the case of Wagner, from among the most courageous, courageous, desperate, strong, reliable, active – regardless of pedigree, title, status, rank, position in society.' (30)

(30) Alexander Dugin: The Wagner Factor and the Fairness Principle, 1st May 2023, 

If we imagine Prigozhin reading this, or at least having similar ideas in his own head, we may have at least one possible interpretation of his recent revolt and also perhaps an explanation of why Putin on the one hand slapped it down so severely (telling Prigozhin he didn't want an oprichnina) and on the other treated Prigozhin with such apparent leniency (recognising Prigozhin's good intentions). Dugin's Katehon website was slow in responding to the revolt but eventually yielded a short piece by Dugin and a longer piece by Natalia Melentyeva, who runs Arktogaia, Dugin's publisher. According to Dugin:

'the problem of passionarity has essentially become clear. When it is fatally lacking in the center of the system, it begins to spontaneously concentrate on the periphery. At one extreme, we see a clear excess of passionarity [Prigozhin - PB]. But on the other, there is a clear lack of it [the élites - PB]. This, apparently, is the main energy problem of the authorities. And it needs to be addressed. without delay.'  (31)

(31) Alexander Dugin: After the rebellion: bifurcation point, 27th June 2123, (machine translation). 'Passionarity' is a key term in the thinking of the ethnosociologist Lev Gumilev, son of the poet Anna Akhmatova, arguing that the part of society that feels strongly on certain matters has more weight than the mere numbers of a democracy.

The immediate problem, he agrees, has been handled very well by Putin and Lukashenko. But the basic problem - lack of commitment to the war on the part of the Russian élites (the boyars) needs to be addressed. Melentyeva develops a similar case at greater length. Suggesting that the response of the Russian people and military to Prigozhin's venture was ambiguous she concludes:

'Prigozhin's march is the culmination of deep processes taking place in our society. It would be a terrible mistake to reduce it to some secondary reasons, motives and grounds. 

'Prigozhin's march on Moscow is more than Prigozhin's march on Moscow.   

'In fact, this is an ultimatum of our society, presented to the authorities, which, restoring sovereignty, does not pay any attention to the fundamental basis of our Russian identity, which is associated with a heightened sense of Justice, an ineradicable will to build a solidary, friendly, communal  society. The Soviet period, socialism, was not an accidental period in our history. It is irresponsible to consider this period a deviation. A Russian person will never be happy individually, in a society where there is no justice, equality and love. And attempts to build an unjust society and preserve capitalism are doomed to a historical failure in our country.

'Prigozhin's march on Moscow is not the end, but a new beginning. And it would be better if this was the beginning of a REVOLUTION FROM ABOVE, with the preservation and strengthening of our state, and not the opposite.' (32)

(32) Natalia Melentyeva: Trip to Moscow: Prigozhin's left march, 29th June, 2023, This section of the article was written before Prigozhin's death. Katehon have responded quickly to the death giving him a mythical status. For example, Alexey Chadaev: 'For me, there is no doubt that Prigozhin belongs not to political or military history, but to a much deeper and more significant, folk-mythological history of culture; he is somewhere in the same place where Ermak, Khmelnitsky, Razin, Pugachev, Makhno, Kotovsky, Chapaev, Kovpak, or much less well-known, but his direct “forerunner” is the free Cossack Ashinov, who at one time helped the Abyssinian Negus to kick out the Italian colonialists from Ethiopia, to the bewilderment of his own sovereign, the emperor.' -