Russophobia and the Generic Villain

At this point, we are at the intersection of form and content, structure and ideology. In the previous chapter, I argued that conspiracy doesn’t have to be defined only in terms of a full-fledged plot (in both senses of the word); conspiracy can be a (paranoid) mode, a subject position adopted and discarded at will (or unconsciously).  But this chapter looks at the interdependence of conspiracy and plot, particularly the plot structures such as apocalyptic/disaster narratives and action-packed thrillersthat can so easily be filled with conspiratorial content.  Arguably, the entire notion of the “plot against Russia” is one such structure. 

The different instances of conspiracy discussed in this chapter vary significantly in terms of both ideology and the identity of the enemy.  Most of the time, though, the enemy represents some form of cosmopolitanism, globalism, or simply modernity.  Traditionally, this has meant the Jews.  Even if we set aside the long history of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, a particular conception of Jews (as all-powerful, anti-national cabal) is at the heart of the document on which modern conspiracy is founded: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  My point is that even when the enemy isn’t Jewish, the structure in which the enemy is inscribed is one that places him in the “Jewish” position.  Thus conspiracy by no means always has to be anti-Semitic, but if you want to add anti-Semitic content, the structure of conspiracy makes the addition effortless.

This is where Russophobia comes in, first as Shafarevich’s book, then as the broader concept described by its title.  The very fact that there can be any controversy at all over the text’s status as an anti-Semitic tract says something about modern conspiracy.  Even if we agree with Berglund that Russophobia is not anti-Semitic because it does not make anti-Semitism explicit, then the anti-Semitic misreading is the result not simply of (justifiable) Jewish paranoia, but of the similarity all such enemies have to the role of the Jews. Shafarevich doesn’t occupy a position on anti-Semitism and the plots against Russia, but rather a superposition, where the enemy is both Jewish and not necessarily Jewish at the same time: Schrodinger’s Jew.   

Russophobia, particularly when released from the confines of Shafarevich’s writings, becomes an all-purpose, blanket explanation for any disapproval of anything done by Russia or Russians. Russophobia need not be explained or proven to be invoked and possibly believed.  It turns a basic, paranoid subject position (the world is against us) and turns it into both an affirmation of the paranoid stance and the motivation for the enemy’s attack.  As a concept, Russophobia does not require a full-fledged conspiracy theory to justify its invocation, but what it does provide is, if not an ideology, than an ideological placeholder that covers all “anti-Russian” sentiment or activity.  Thus Russophobia is immensely convenient for Russian conspiratorial thought, occupying the all-important “enemy” space in a banal, under described manner. [1]  


how do you explain your hatred of russia?

how do you explain your hatred of russia?

Russophobia is an example of the semiotic deferral Derrida calls différance: it is a signifier that points not to an exact signified, but rather to a possibly endless series of signifieds.  As such, it needs no explanation when invoked, but is available for explanation by pointing to other, better developed theories of the enemy.[2]  

Russophobia is the explanation that explains nothing.  Which brings us back to where we started:  the apocalyptic narrative of Russia’s destruction by malign forces.  Why are the Enemies trying to destroy Russia? Because they hate Russia.  Why do they hate Russia? Because they are Russophobic.  As I said in the beginning of this chapter, the apocalyptic narrative has the positive benefit of confirming Russia’s crucial role in world history.  Russophobia is the abject other of Russia’s messianic mission; they are based on the same binary opposition (Russia/the world), but with the balance of power reversed. [3] Russophobia makes Russia both the victim and the explanation:  Russia’s enemies hate Russia because Russia is Russia. 

For the Russian conspiracist, all roads lead to Russia.  And they bring the Enemy with them.   

Next: Chapter Three, beginning with:

From Russophobia, with Love


[1] This is not unique to Russia; the American equivalent would be “Anti-Americanism” or  “They hate us for our freedom,” a phrase used as an explanation independent of any actual information.   The difference is that Anti-Americanism is not central to American conspiracy theories,  playing nothing like the unifying role that Russophobia plays in Russian conspiratorial thought. 

[2] Ironically, one of those theories could be the specific elaboration of Russophobia made by Shafarevich; more often than not, the word need not point back to Shafarevich and his book.

[3] Again, one could make a similar, but more limited argument for America:  Anti-Americanism as the abject other of American exceptionalism.  But, again, this is not a driving force for American conspiracy theorists.