It is a cold evening in Moscow. A small group of misfit followers are gathered by an old brutalist style Soviet monument, dedicated to the revolution of 1905. They fly a set of flags, the offensive mixes of blue, black, and red of Russian Separatists, but more chiefly the red and white flag like that of the Nazis, but with the expected swastika replaced by a bluntly drawn “Limonka” (or “small lemon”), the famous hand grenade of the Soviet Army. A slight man with sharply cut shock of white hair, and a beard closely resembling that of one Leon Trotsky is standing in front; Eduard Limonov is giving his monthly speech.
Details of Limonov’s life are plenty across the web. The son of a middling KGB officer, he showed promise in youth and quickly squandered it in delinquency. He followed the avant-garde literary scene in Moscow, before fleeing to New York, supposedly having been made to do so after refusing to become an informant.
He despised it there, and outlined his experiences in his most famous book, It’s Me, Eddie. After some time, Limonov finally returned to Russia, after which he founded and left the National Bolshevik party, and remained a significant figure in all of Russia’s political opposition movements until his death, although coming more into line with the Kremlin following the annexation of Crimea.
For us however, Limonov’s most significant element lies not so much in anything he wrote, nor is it the outrage he baited from any particular quarter. Rather, what is important is the disappointment that seeps through all western accounts one can find of him and of his National Bolshevik progeny.
On paper he fits almost perfectly an archetype that has been fed to us: the outcast, the exile, the rebel, who fights the most excessively oppressive, ossified, conservative system, yet once he has toppled his foe we need not fear.
No, here in the American Cultural Sphere, the rebel that we know and love will give us a reassuring smile and a wink, and let us know that once the old foe is gone a good replacement is in hand. The Market shall prevail, led at the top by mature technocrats who present well at press conferences, but with a comfortable level of Social programs and safety nets! And all will be well, and anyone will be able to do what they like behind the privacy of their own doors (bought courtesy of a 40-Year Mortgage plan, no fixed rates of course) and a single tear of joy will roll down the cheek of Francis Fukuyama. By God, with futures like these a “Limonka” hand grenade looks a lot prettier.
He lived a life that left a little for everyone to criticise. The initial example is what is now almost typical of the Provocateur-par-excellence, descriptions of all kinds of sexual activity; decadent, hedonistic, and depraved. Yet, he delivers this in a style that is most commendatory of the great modern continental authors, where the reality of sexual relations is looked upon with the unforgiving anatomical eye of a surgeon, reminiscent of Celine and Houllebecq.
“Even young women are disgusting when they eat. Usually they’re voracious and greedy, especially after a few weeks of having sex with you, when they’re certain that you are theirs and they can relax. This is when you see them the way they are. Poor boy, you imagined she was a princess, an angel. She gobbles the pieces of meat like a python, grunts over the brown sauce, wraps her lips in thick red wine, hisses voluptuously with the mixture of pineapple and coconut – she copulates with the food.”
Contrast this passage (relatively tame by Limonov’s standards), with the usual slop of “erotic” writing from any given modern writer.
Unlike them, Limonov is not concerned with impressing the reader in smarmy self-satisfaction at the level of sexual access attained. Nor is it the softer and more desperate approval seeking of certain others. Those who play to bored middle-class wives, who themselves vicariously slurp up the dregs of sexual activity from such lowly creatures (a most abominable symbiotic relationship worthy of all bottom-feeders!). No, when Limonov talks sex, he seeks to show us a pitiless gaze on life, putting the thing we perhaps worship the most in his sights, and if it offends, so be it. He mockingly robs Social-Liberalism of the great baubles it dangles before the masses, smashing them on the ground before us, so that they’re shown for the trinkets they are.
An obituary in the Jacobin expresses dismay at his involvement with Serbian paramilitaries in Bosnia. This was the man who had innovated a fashion of minimalist black-dress while he was a literary exile in Paris (My god! How tasteful we would be, explaining the origins of such a plain black turtleneck in the smoking area of a D4 gaff or Workmans!). How could such a man sit in the Bosnian hills and fire down into Sarajevo?
And yet, to those with any knowledge of history, who know how deep the roots that bind Slavic and Orthodox nations can run, and how deep they ran in our own nations not too long ago, this is no mystery.
A man who flew Russian flags over Sevastopol decades before Putin annexed it, and who was jailed for gathering arms and planning an insurrection of the Russian minority in Kazakhstan, who advocated the resurrection of the very entity that sent him into exile, how could this be any further for the hopes and expectations we could hold for our little Russian rebel?
Limonov shocks us as he shows a real and uncomfortable aspect to “the Russian opposition”. That it is not the budding core of neo-liberal economics and left-liberal cultural reformism, that it is not all “Pussy-Riot”, but that it is a vehement and vital manifestation of the old world re-emerging from Soviet permafrost in a violent indignation at the sight of modernity.
Limonov straddles the twin dissident figures of Russia, from the Soviet era to the modern, he embodies the figures of the Émigré and the Oppositionist. And finally he represents the dashing of the Liberal world order’s hopes, as he reverts to something more primordial in the Orthodox soul.
The disappearance of his work from the Western library is certainly a loss, and a shrinking of our window into the Russian spirit. This act is perhaps encouraged by the embittered remnants of the cultural-radlibs, erecting a barrier to modern Russia. More than hiding anybody else, they are hiding themselves from that which they do not wish to understand