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Pushing postcolonial studies and constructivist International Relations towards an uneasy dialogue, this book looks at Russia as a subaltern empire. It demonstrates how the dialectic of the subaltern and the imperial has produced a radically anti-Western regime, which nevertheless remains locked in a Eurocentric outlook.




The main point this book makes is rather straightforward: I argue that Russia must be viewed as a subaltern empire. This idea is not completely new, but its implications are strangely overlooked in the literature – or, rather, in many literatures for which this point is of some considerable significance. The aspect that does not get enough attention is of course not the imperial one – Russian imperialism has been studied from many perspectives, including those which are considered in this book. It is the subaltern side of Russia.‘s condition that in my view is not properly reflected upon. This is the reason, and the only reason, why this book stresses the subaltern part of the formula. I believe that both are equally important, and most of the time, I try to demonstrate that they are mutually constitutive. However, it is only the subaltern side that I analyse in detail, outsourcing the examination of the imperial element to the existing literature and the reader.‘s prior knowledge.

Viatcheslav Morozov

1. The Postcolonial and the Imperial in the Space and Time of World Politics

This chapter’s formative question concerns the limits of the postcolonial. In order to introduce my project in the context of postcolonial theory, I need to demonstrate that this theory can benefit from looking at Russia as a subaltern empire — a space which is both imperial and postcolonial — while also showing that it has evolved as such in the historical time of European civilisation. To do this implies addressing the question of limits: where and when does the postcolonial space begin? Does the postcolonial begin where the imperial ends, meaning that both are mutually exclusive? Does it begin at the end of colonialism, that is, after decolonisation?

Viatcheslav Morozov

2. Russia in/and Europe: Sources of Ambiguity

While the previous chapter offered an introduction to my project from the postcolonial perspective, the present one does the same job in relation to the disciplinary field of International Relations (IR), with the empirical focus on Russia. As I pointed out in the introduction, I am mostly interested in the approaches that view domestic and international politics as an integral whole and search for explanations at the intersections between different levels of analysis. This is still a vast body of literature to review, but this chapter concentrates on the approaches that try to account for the specificity of Russian political developments (including foreign policy) by looking at Russia’s historical experience and role in the world. This points, very broadly, in the direction of constructivist Russian foreign policy studies. I am less interested in rationalist approaches to IR and comparative politics — for the very simple reason that I have very little to say there. Constructivism, on the contrary, could significantly benefit from engaging with postcolonial theory, not just in terms of its own research agenda but also as regards the dialogue with other subfields of Russian studies (such as history, cultural anthropology and the like). This potential contribution is due to the positioning of postcolonial theory in three important respects: regarding the level of analysis, generalisability and the agency-structure problem.

Viatcheslav Morozov

3. Material Dependency: Postcolonialism, Development and Russia’s ‘Backwardness’

The central theme of this chapter concerns Russia’s material dependence on the global capitalist core. I argue that the best way of dealing with this condition is to view it as an effect of the uneven and combined development of global capitalism. I also rely on the existing studies to demonstrate that a material dimension can and must be integrated into the postcolonial perspective and that the concept of uneven and combined development can enhance our understanding of subalternity. At the same time, I view the material and the ideational not as ontologically separate layers of reality, but rather as analytical constructs that we use to make sense of the social world. Consequently, while providing a historical retrospective of Russia’s integration into capitalist modernity, I focus on both of these aspects and, first of all, on their mutual conditioning.

Viatcheslav Morozov

4. Normative Dependency: Putinite Paleoconservatism and the Missing Peasant

As the second chapter of this book demonstrates, there is a vast and diverse literature which describes Russia’s position in the international system in terms of identity, psychological complexes and power hierarchies. Chapter 3, in turn, suggests that comprehensive dependency on the capitalist core, an effect of uneven and combined development, constitutes the material foundation of the undecidable identity and the ontological insecurity that results from it. It is now time to return to the analysis of discourse in order to demonstrate that material dependency and identity-related insecurity are best understood as two aspects of one phenomenon — a subaltern condition fraught with an imperial legacy. Viewed in this light, Russia is located in an interstitial space — or, to put it more boldly, Russia itself is an interstice.

Viatcheslav Morozov

5. The People Are Speechless: Russia, the West and the Voice of the Subaltern

This chapter comes back to the issue of the representation of the subaltern, which was formulated in the beginning of the book. Empirically, I illustrate this problem by analysing the most recent developments in Russian politics, both at the domestic and international level. The phenomena I am primarily interested in are the dramatically intensified securitisation of the West in the aftermath of the 2011–12 political crisis and the intervention in Ukraine after the Euromaidan revolution of February 2014, which inter alia resulted in the annexation of Crimea. My argument is that, firstly, all of these developments are driven by the same logic — the logic of subaltern empire that is going through a period of instability and insecurity. As a subaltern, it feels threatened by what it perceives is an expansion of the Western empire, which through a series of ‘colour revolutions’ is consolidating its hegemonic position in world affairs. This feeling of insecurity provokes a series of defensive moves, some of which have already been described in the previous chapter. Indeed, the conservative turn in Russian politics can be read as an attempt to seal off the domestic ‘cultural space.’ from Western intervention. Apart from that, it translates into repressive measures against ‘the fifth column’ — those groups who are identified as representing the dangerous Western Other in the domestic political space.

Viatcheslav Morozov


In the mid-August 2014, as my manuscript was nearing completion, I came across a remarkable interview on an independent St. Petersburg- based news resource. What made the piece noteworthy was first of all the personality: Alexander Nevzorov burst into the media scene in the late 1980s with his blockbuster news show 600 seconds, which was strongly oppositional to the Soviet and, later, Russian authorities. During the 1990s, Nevzorov was a soldier of the empire: he fought against the government during the Moscow riots in 1993 and on the pro-Russian side in nearly all armed conflicts in the post-Soviet space. In parallel, he produced strongly propagandistic documentaries, full of pro-Soviet nostalgia and demonising the anti-imperial forces, from Chechen separatists to pro-Western liberals. He was elected to the Duma in 2000 and re-elected for three more consecutive terms, but kept a much lower profile throughout the 2000s, having immersed himself in horse breeding. During the presidential campaign of 2012, Nevzorov became one of Vladimir Putin’s authorised representatives and currently keeps this status, despite being an outspoken opponent of the annexation of Crimea and the intervention in Eastern Ukraine. He claims he has cleaned himself of the ‘imperial addiction.’: he supports the Ukrainian government in its military offensive against the separatists, while most of his friends fight on the other side, and a few of them have been killed. Paradoxically, he says he still supports Putin.

Viatcheslav Morozov


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