In Russia and the Russian-speaking intellectual and academic space, the creative legacy of Baron Julius Evola came much later than in other European countries – until the abolition of the totalitarian Soviet censorship, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Evola’s works had not been published in Russian. However, since the first half of the 1990s, the Baron’s name has been mentioned more often in Russia. In this article, we will talk about the fascinating process of Evola’s posthumous intellectual ‘journey’ to Russia and the people involved, those who made his ideas available to Russian-speaking readers.
1. Evola about Russia
Russia and Russian culture in the works of Julius Evola were mentioned mostly casually. Evola refers to the work of Vladimir Soloviev in ‘The Meaning of Love’ in Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex, where he describes the practices of the sect of whips and mentions Grigori Rasputin, refers to Fyodor Dostoevsky in Ride the Tiger and Revolt against the Modern World and several times to Dmitry Merezhkovsky1. One of Dostoevsky’s characters also received particular attention from Evola. This is Kirillov from the novel Demons. Evola devoted a separate article to the problem of Kirillov, ‘Kirillov and Initiation’, which was included in the second volume of the collection of works by the group ‘Introduction to Magic’. In this short essay, Evola attempts to uncover some esoteric intuitions hidden in Kirillov’s theory, which the Italian thinker believes may have been experienced by Dostoevsky himself. As for the practices and rituals of the Eastern Christian Church, crucial to Russia, they are hardly mentioned in Evola’s works. This is somewhat paradoxical, given Evola’s acquaintance with Corneliu Codreanu and his highly respectful attitude towards hm. It is also surprising, for example, that Evola praised the genius of Metternich but completely ignored the role of the Russians in creating the Holy Alliance.
In the meantime, we would like to stress Julius Evola’s interest in the work of the Russian painter Nicholas Roerich, to whom he dedicated an essay included in Meditations on the Peaks: Mountain Climbing as Metaphor for the Spiritual Quest. Evola had never been to Tibet, unlike Roerich, but believed that the spirit of the Himalayan mountains spoke through the Russian artist’s paintings. He thought Roerich was the first Westerner who succeeded in absorbing and conveying the magic of Tibetan religion. In a later video interview, recorded by journalists Jean José Marchand and Marco Dolcetta for the Archives du xxe siècle project on 18 October 1971 in Evola’s flat, behind the Italian thinker we can see a reproduction of Nicholas Roerich’s Milarepa, the One Who Harkened (1925). It depicts the ancient Tibetan teacher meditating high in the mountains. Evola’s house had no random symbols and objects, and this important detail says a great deal about his spiritual guidance.
Also noteworthy in this context is Evola’s article about one of the most important Russian politicians of the twentieth century, Pyotr Stolypin, published in Vita Italiana in January 1939. In it, the Italian thinker writes that ‘Stolypin was sent by Providence to save Russia’, fighting ‘poverty and bitterness’, which were the causes of the tragic Bolshevik Revolution. Evola praises Stolypin’s agrarian reform aimed at transferring land ownership to the peasants and argues that if Stolypin had not been killed by an anarchist-revolutionary, the agrarian reform alone, carried to completion, could have been the basis for the emergence of 30-40 million ‘prosperous landowners’ in Siberia – ‘a conservative and even reactionary force, the likes of which does not exist in any country in the world’. The murder of Stolypin in 1911, according to Evola, put an end to the future of Russia and brought the tragic drama of the revolution closer.
As we can see, references to Russia by Julius Evola are relatively rare. We believe that the main reason why the Italian thinker pays so little attention to Russia is that throughout Evola’s adult life, Russia was Bolshevik and politically represented a radical pole of ‘anti-Tradition’ – a technocratic, totalitarian, materialistic, unfree world in terms of Revolt against the Modern World – a world of ‘domination of the fourth estate’. The scathing criticism to which Evola subjects the Soviet Union in Revolt against the Modern World and Pagan Imperialism is mainly fair and seems more than justified if viewed from twenty-first-century Russia, which has overcome communist tyranny. All the more understandable is the growing popularity of Evola in Russia – a society in which Marxist materialism, dominant in its culture throughout the twentieth century, was unfortunately replaced by the dominance of capitalist materialism. In the 1990s, Russia experienced a revival of interest in spiritual teachings and literature of all kinds, as well as in alternative political visions of the world and its future. Evola’s texts were actively translated into Russian and gained an increasing number of readers, and a corpus of secondary literature in Russian gradually emerged.
2. Evola in Russia: the First Translations
How the works of Julius Evola first found their way to Russia remains unknown. It is known that this happened in deep Soviet times, when in the 1960s, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, two radical ‘dissidents on the Right’ – the philosopher Geydar Dzhemal (1947–2016) and the poet Yevgeny Golovin (1938–2010) – discovered Evola’s works in the Lenin Library, the central library of the Soviet Union in Moscow.2 According to their recollections, Evola’s books were ‘on open shelves’, meaning they could be consulted freely. Mark Sedgwick correctly noted when he asked Dzhemal, ‘The librarians who left Evola’s books open apparently never looked inside and did not realise how dangerous they were.’ Who was this mysterious person (or group of people) who deliberately selected traditionalist literature, among which were works not only by Evola but also by René Guénon, Titus Burkhardt, Frithjof Schuon and Ananda Coomaraswamy, right in the heart of Soviet Russia, remains a mystery. But the efforts of this anonymous intellectual were not in vain; in fact, largely thanks to him, an influential traditionalist school emerged in Russia, whose members were able to get acquainted with the books of the aforementioned authors at the Lenin Library. This story teaches us that devotion and diligent service to one’s humble cause, even in the most challenging and impossible circumstances, will indeed bear rich fruit in the future.
Dzhemal and Golovin were representatives of the so-called ‘Yuzhinsky Circle’, founded by the writer Yuri Mamleev (1931–2015). This was a group of right-wing intellectuals, understandably isolated from any public intellectual life in the Soviet Union (although Yevgeny Golovin, for example, managed even during the Soviet years to cooperate with major publishing houses as a translator and author of articles, most often not under his own name). Members of the circle, which was later joined by the thinker Alexander Dugin (b. 1962), were interested in mystical doctrines and the occult. They were attracted to Baron Evola’s works, to which they unexpectedly gained access. In the 1970s, they attempted a translation of The Hermetic Tradition, which, as Alexander Dugin recalls, was terrible. The lack of sources and the limited knowledge of the circle members made it impossible to produce a high-quality translation. At the same time, it was the first attempt to translate Julius Evola’s text into Russian. The translation was distributed as a samizdat3 and expanded the community of people who knew the name of Baron Evola. It should also be noted that in the 1970s, Aleksei Losev (1893–1988), a prominent Russian philosopher, philologist, and expert on antiquity, refers in his work The Problem of the Symbol and Realistic Art (1976) to Evola’s article ‘Das Symbol, der Mythos und der irrationalistische Irrweg4’ from the magazine Antaios (1/1959), edited by Mircea Eliade and Ernst Jünger.
The subsequent work by the Italian traditionalist that appeared in Russian was Pagan Imperialism, translated by Alexander Dugin in 1981 from a German edition and publicly released in 1992 after the revocation of Soviet censorship laws, with an unprecedented circulation of 50,000 copies. Evola’s early political manifesto met with a tremendous emotional response from Russian intellectuals who were sympathetic to the right-wing cause – Evola’s radical anti-communism, anti-modernism and anti-liberalism appealed to them and, during the gradual decline of Soviet power in the perestroika years, inspired the search for an alternative worldview.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Alexander Dugin became a prominent figure on Russia’s intellectual and political scene. The journal Elements: Eurasian Review, which he founded and in which Julius Evola’s name appeared regularly, became popular. Alongside Elements, a less mainstream journal founded by Dugin, Sweet Angel, which also mentioned Evola’s work, was published. In 1994, the Dugin-affiliated publishing house Arctogaia published The Conservative Revolution, which featured his article ‘Julius Evola, Imperialist Pagan’, outlining the main ideas of Evola’s pre-war political thought. In addition, at the end of the 1990s, the popular Moscow-based Radio 101 broadcast a series of Alexander Dugin, Evgeny Golovin and Georgy Osipov’s Finis Mundi programmes, dedicated to various radical figures in European culture and thought, among whom was Evola. These radio lectures garnered a cult following; their records are still listened to, and through them, many in Russia learned about Evola, his views and his life. Thus, it was Alexander Dugin who introduced the name of Julius Evola into wide circulation in Russian intellectual spheres, which must be acknowledged.
Evola had a significant influence on Dugin himself – he adopted some of the Italian thinker’s ideas. In particular, the traditionalist vision of resisting the encroachment of the modern and postmodern world through an appeal to the primordial tradition. At the same time, Dugin, like Armin Mohler, perceived Evola as one of the representatives of a broadly labelled ‘conservative-revolutionary movement in Europe’, on par with German reactionary modernists and National Bolsheviks, which is, however, a somewhat controversial approach. In Dugin’s political model, Evola’s thought (and more broadly, the ideas of traditionalism) was mixed with the views of Russian Eurasianism of the 1920s and 1930s (Nikolai Trubetskoy, Peter Savitsky, Georgy Florovsky, Peter Turchinsky) as well as the ideas of National Bolshevism (Ernst Niekisch, Nikolai Ustryalov) and the Orthodox Christian faith, a doctrinal mix that Baron Evola would hardly have approved. In the 1990s, Dugin co-founded the National Bolshevik Party with the writer Eduard Limonov (1943–2020) and the musician Yegor Letov (1964–2008). In 2003, he founded the International Eurasian Movement, which he leads to this day. It must be said that Eduard Limonov was also, apparently at the instigation of Dugin, influenced by Evola’s ideas. In an interview with Elements (No. 4, 1993), he cited him as one of his favourite authors, referred to his work Ride the Tiger in The Anatomy of a Hero and called him ‘a great philosopher’; in his book Sacred Monsters, Limonov devoted a whole chapter to Evola: about cult heroes in literature and politics.
Some Russian intellectuals who were interested in traditionalism also moved in parallel with Dugin and referred to the works of Evola. Thus, in 1996, The Metaphysics of Sex was translated into Russian from the French edition. It was translated by Vladimir Karpets (1954–2017), a jurist, filmmaker and poet who taught at several institutions of higher learning in Moscow. Later, he became a close associate of Dugin, and in 2004, he gave several lectures on Julius Evola as part of the courses of the International Eurasian Movement. Karpets also translated Evola’s Dadaist poem ‘La parole obscure du paysage intérieur’ into Russian. In 1993, another Moscow intellectual, Artur Medvedev, founded the journal Magic Mountain, around which authors interested in traditionalism, metaphysics and esoteric studies gathered. Over time, the publication developed into an important cultural platform (Mark Sedgwick even calls this journal the equivalent of René Guénon’s Études traditionnelles), where the legacy of Evola was also given attention. One of the Magic Mountain’s authors was Gleb Butuzov, a specialist in hermeticism and alchemy; he subsequently translated The Hermetic Tradition into Russian.
The influence of Evola’s ideas on another thinker, Geydar Dzhemal, who was significant for the Russian-speaking world, is also indisputable. The writings of the Italian traditionalist were probably introduced to Dzhemal by Yevgeny Golovin in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dzhemal made numerous references to Evola in his works and speeches ever since. Moreover, according to Dzhemal’s recollections, in Soviet times, he served as a guide to Evola’s books for Haljand Udam, a prominent Estonian Orientalist and translator of the Koran into Estonian. Udam, finding himself in conflict with the Soviet reality, turned to Ride the Tiger (he read it in French) on Dzhemal’s advice at a time of deep inner crisis and was thus saved from committing suicide. One can only marvel at the spiritual and intellectual courage and fidelity of the dissidents of the time. Despite all the censorship and danger from the official authorities, and the Iron Curtain that separated them from the rest of the world, they found their way to the heritage of traditionalism and spread its ideas in their circles.
One of Dzhemal’s students was the well-known Russian journalist, politician and public figure Maxim Shevchenko (b. 1966). Following Dzhemal, he also greatly respects Evola’s ideological legacy and mentions the Baron and his writings on various occasions in his speeches and articles.
3. Evola in Russia: Twenty-First Century
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Julius Evola became more prominent in Russia – his works are regularly translated. Special credit for increasing the availability of Evola’s texts in Russian goes to the Vladimir Dal publishing house from St Petersburg (Vladimir Kamnev is the director) and to the translator Viktoria Vanyushkina (1966–2013), who has translated the Italian traditionalist’s most important works.
In the 1980s, Viktoria Vanyushkina was a member of the ‘national-patriotic front’ Pamyat, the largest monarchist organisation in the late Soviet Union, headed by Dmitry Vasiliev. In the 1990s, she was involved in Russian far-right organisations. She worked for the magazine The Nation and the newspapers Shturmovik and Right Resistance. Her works were published in the magazines Magic Mountain, Golden Lion, Ancestral Heritage, and European. Vanyushkina was committed to the political convictions developed in her youth until her final days. However, unlike Dugin, she did not aspire to politics and did not want to become a political actor. In the ‘zero years’, she concentrated on translations; her focus was on the texts of Julius Evola, who was particularly close to her.
In 2010, Vanyushkina wrote about herself in her blog: ‘I should say that I am a deeply religious person (religious in the literal sense of the word – as we know, it comes from the word ‘connection’)… As a result, in secular history, I am only interested in events related to the mundane world. The rest is a warm-up for the mind, so you don’t lose your social skills completely.’ This aspiration ‘upwards’, to the transcendent, to ‘the upper world’ was especially akin to Evola, in whom she saw a true spiritual mentor. She devoted much of her life to making his works accessible to Russian readers.
In 2005, for the first time in Russian, appeared Fascism Viewed from the Right, The ‘Worker’ in the Thought of Ernst Jünger, Ride the Tiger and Men among the Ruins – all translated by Viktoria Vanyushkina. In addition to her direct translation work, Vanyushkina was also involved in educational work on the pages of her LiveJournal blog. She posted snippets of translations for free, participated in discussions, and initiated debates on topics related to Baron Evola, which have attracted an educated Russian readership sympathetic to right-wing views or interested in conservative thought. In 2009, Vladimir Dahl published Vanyushkina’s translation of Evola’s collection of articles, The Bow and the Club. She translated the first few chapters and the last chapter of Revolt against the Modern World about the USSR and the USA, but the work remained unfinished due to her tragic early death. The translation was subsequently completed by others and published by Prometeo in 2016.
Separate credit for promoting Evola’s legacy in Russia goes to the Tambov group of anonymous researchers, Ex Nord Lux. They undertook and published several collections (mainly from American editions), which published articles by both Evola and other traditionalists: René Guénon, Fridtjof Schuon and others. In 2008 they published Metaphysics of War and Tradition and Europe, and in 2010 the thematic collections of traditionalist texts Empire of the Sun and Castes and Races, which included articles by Evola, and in 2012 Lights and Shadows, a collection with a similar focus. In 2016 they translated and published Meditations on the Peaks, in 2018 The Path of Cinnabar, the Baron’s intellectual autobiography, and in 2022 the collection of Evola’s articles for East and West, the journal of Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, specialising in oriental philosophy, literature, archaeology and history, written in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
4. Evola in Russia: Now
At present, the leading publication activity connected with Julius Evola in Russia comes from us – the founders of a small community of researchers interested in understanding traditionalism and the ‘right-wing’ idea in general.
Over the past two years, we have produced a reprint of the translation of Abstract Art: A Theoretical Position (2019) with detailed commentary, as well as the first Russian translation of the essay Taoism (2020), also with detailed commentary.5 There have been presentations and public lectures on our published works and Metaphysics of War. In addition, this year, the first full-length monograph on Julius Evola was published by a Russian researcher, Dmitry Moiseev (b. 1987). In his book Julius Evola’s Political Doctrine in the Context of the ‘Conservative Revolution’ in Germany (2021), Moiseev undertook a thorough reconstruction of the evolution of the Italian traditionalist’s political views – from the early political publications and Pagan Imperialism through the political attitudes of Revolt against the Modern World and his attempts to influence practical politics to the late apolitical position for the post-war crisis time outlined in Men among the Ruins and Orientations. This book compares the political principles of Evola’s doctrine with the ideas of the German ‘conservative revolution’ thinkers, such as Oswald Spengler, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Ernst Jünger. It provides a comparative analysis of the significant similarities and differences between political traditionalism and reactionary modernism, which are two equally right-wing but distinct intellectual traditions. Many researchers tend to conflate these two traditions, especially within the Russian intellectual sphere.
Also, in 2019/2020, the Moiseev-Zhitenev group, with the participation of a number of young Russian researchers, held a public research seminar dedicated to Julius Evola’s key work Revolt against the Modern World in order to prepare a comprehensive historical and philosophical commentary on this crucial text (taking into account the discussion of the contemporary context and the changed spiritual and political realities), which is expected to be published in Russian shortly. With Dmitry Moiseev’s participation, Vladimir Dal published Essays on Magical Idealism in 2022 and is preparing a Russian translation of Evola’s philosophical works from the 1920s: Theory of the Absolute Individual and Phenomenology of the Absolute Individual, which will draw more focus to Evola’s appraisal in Russia as an idealist philosopher, rather than just being recognized as one of the primary figures of traditionalism. Also, thanks to the efforts of Moiseev, PhD, Evola’s name has started to be frequently referenced in the academic community, including conferences held at renowned Russian universities such as Moscow State University and the Higher School of Economics.
Currently in Russia, not only is Julius Evola’s work being translated, but it is also actively discussed and analysed. The new generation of researchers is studying and popularising the legacy of the Italian traditionalist in a contemporary Russian context, contributing to the formation and support of a sustainable interest in the figure of the Baron both among the reading public interested in traditionalism and right-wing ideas, and in the academic community.
1Dmitry Merezhkovsky (1865–1941) was a Russian poet and writer, translator and religious philosopher. He became widely known in European cultural circles in the first half of the twentieth century. His works were translated into French, German and Italian. Together with Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, he prepared a collection of Dostoyevsky’s works in German, published by Piper Verlag, which had a marked influence on the figures of the Conservative Revolution in Germany. Mussolini showed great interest in Merezhkovsky’s work on Dante in the 1930s; moreover, the Italian leader found time to meet the writer several times and talk with him about politics, art and literature.
2Mark Sedgwick, in his book Against the Modern World. Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, claims that by 1978 the Lenin Library had six books by Evola, one of which was a rare first edition of the Dadaist poem ‘La parole obscure du paysage intérieur’, of which only 99 copies were printed in 1921.
3Samizdat was the Russian intelligentsia’s response to the total censorship of the Soviet period. This term stood for uncensored books published without the official authorities’ permission. The distribution and even possession of such literature in the totalitarian Soviet society was prosecuted.
4German: ‘The symbol, the myth, and the irrationalist wrong path’.
It is quite possible that the archives of the Russian intelligence services contain a file on Evola, all the more so given that he was acquainted with the brother of Lt. Gen. Baron von Ungern-Sternberg in Vienna, and who was murdered by the Communists towards the end of the war. A lead worth chasing up, no doubt.