After the Soviet collapse, the Harvard Project, once its own independent force for xenophobic paranoia, is superseded by the Houston Project. Or, to be more precise, it is subsumed: annexed, like a disputed discursive peninsula, by a larger, neighboring narrative with quasi-imperial ambitions. For Americans, this produces a peculiar imaginary geography, where Harvard and Houston (two names rarely uttered in the same breath) coexist on opposite sides of a shared border. For the early Putin era, though, this game of topographical Boggle is actually prophetic: ideas (Harvard) are trumped by oil (Houston). Not to mention the fact that Putin’s first terms in office coincide with the presidency of a former Texas governor. An imaginary, evil Texas is the perfect straw man to petrify a petrostate.
The Houston Project, while as much a flight of fancy as the Protocols or the Dulles Plan, appears to share one of the few saving graces of the Harvard project: it is not the result of plagiarism. In fact, it seems to be entirely unsourced. Appropriately enough for a digital phenomenon, it may not even have a clearly defined original. The earliest discussions that I’ve found are based on the reinterpretation of the Harvard Project by General Konstantin Pavlovich Petrov (1945-2009).
After a long career in the military hierarchy, Petrov turned to politics in 1991, when he developed the “Concept for Social Security” (Концепция общественной безопасности), a name whose appeal partly lay in its abbreviation (КОБ is reminiscent of Stalin’s nickname, “Koba”). Kicked out of the military in 1995, he turned to neopaganism, assuming the spiritual name "Magus Meragor," though he stuck with the more conventional "Petrov" in his public life.
He took up politics in earnest, and in 2000, founded the “‘Union’ Conceptual Party” (Концептуальная партия “Единение”) (КПЕ), which lasted for seven years. The “Union” Party’s general line consists of familiar red/brown paradoxes, particularly the fusion of Stalinism with Russian Orthodox piety (the Russian abbreviation for the Soviet Union, “СССР”, is said to stand for “Святая Соборная Справедливая Россия” (Holy Synodic Just Russia). The Party in general and Petrov in particular were fond of a large variety of conspiracy theories, and did not hesitate to bring the “truth” to anyone who would listen.
Petrov’s death in 2009 at the age of 64 would give rise to a whole new set of conspiracy theories about his “murder” (with the CIA naturally being the most likely assassin). But for our purposes, it is his 2004 audio lectures and their subsequent publication in book form (in 2008) that are of primary importance. In these books and lectures, he establishes his version of the Harvard Project, which quickly gets reinterpreted by conspiracists as the precursor of the Houston Project. Petrov himself refers to the Yuri Begunov’s 1996 book “Mysterious Forces in Russian History” (“Тайные силы в истории России), but my edition contains only three mentions of Harvard, all of them relatively benign.
Instead, Petrov simply informs us that Soviet Intelligence in the early 1980s managed to get its hands on the so-called Harvard Project, which consists of three volumes: Perestroika, Reform, Culmination. Perestroika is more or less what one might expect: a reinterpretation of Gorbachev’s reign as the fulfillment of a the CIA’s evil plans for the Soviet Union’s downfall. Reform conveniently assumes that a new leader takes power; this man’s job is to liquidate the Soviet Union, the Communist Party, the Soviet Army, the global socialist system, and, of course, socialist consciousness. Part Three (“Culmination”) is a bit more novel: it involves the genocide of the Russian people in order to free up the country’s resources and make room for the rest of the world’s population.
It is this last part that gets rebranded as the “Houston Project.” The reason for the emphasis on genocide and ecological destruction is the subject of the next post.
Next: So Many Feelings