sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

December 8, 2011

A Libertarian Antipode

Filed under: politics, Russia — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 4:57 pm

The occasion of the commie and Russian “opposition parties” edging in on Putin is a perfect excuse to post about my birth city’s dubious contribution to the red-brown political fringe.  Never let anyone tell that the union of Nazism and Communism is ancient history.

Russians took to the streets to protest the outcome of the rigged election, but who is protesting?  And what do they stand for?  Lets take a look at one of the main leaders of Russian opposition.

Son of an NKVD (KGB) operative, Eduard Limonov (nee Savenko, a Ukrainian surname) was raised in Kharkov, Ukraine following World War II.  In these days Kharkov was a Russian-speaking university town and a major industrial center.  Limonov, of course, didn’t go to college.  As a matter of fact, he left high school early.  He did, however, grow up in the industrial Saltovka suburb.

saltovka, kharkov

A bird's eye view of Saltovka highrises. I don't suppose this picture conveys the uniformity and desperation of the area. I grew up uptown which had a bit more character.

The English title of his autobiographical (all of his books are autobiographies — some novelist!) coming of age novella is Memoirs of a Punk.  I suspect the word punk was chosen for marketing purposes.  It smacks of post-industrial and self-conscious Da-daist urban subculture in the West, and Limonov, of course, is very much a poser.  He is rumored to have met Lou Reed in New York.

The Russian non-equivalent equivalent word for lowlife is syavka, or, since the 80s, gopnik.  Those are notoriously thuggish and humorless, and despise anything like individuality.  Anyhow, Limonov grew up in a lumpen proletariat suburb where as a teenager he robbed a restaurant.  Memoirs of a Punk culminates with a scene of gang rape.

Too ambitious for Saltovka, Limonov headed to the imperial capital to become a poet.  When I decided to post about Limonov, I checked out reader reviews of his books on Amazon.  Apparently some English-speaking readers are under the impression that prior to his arrival in the United States, Limonov was a famous poet.  That’s a stretch; he was more of a bohemian hanger-on.  Emigre Russian writers of note — Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn, Aksenov, Brodsky — all held tenured positions in top tier universities.  Limonov fell on hard times.

I suspect his first wife convinced Limonov that he was a great poet, but she left him shortly after setting her foot in New York City.  His most important novella is about dealing with her betrayal; more about it below.

Limonov’s uncorroborated account of getting kicked out of Russia is best that can be said his character.  He was approached by the KGB, and after he refused to become an informant, was offered either to leave Moscow or to leave the country.  I suppose the writer couldn’t bare to go back to the provinces, so he decided to see the world.

Limonov’s most famous literary creation, This Is Me, Eddie (Eto ya, Edichka), chronicles the adventures of his wounded ego in the United States.  Because parts of the book are obscene some readers hail it as “realism”.  His decidedly minimalist writing style does get annoying at times, probably because there is nothing minimalist about the author’s ego.  Some reviewers suggest that Limonov, who’d met Bukowski, was doing a Bukowski shtick for Russian readers.


The cover of a Russian edition of Eddie.

Some immigrants embraced the book because they saw in it a story of a new arrival trying to find his place in a strange land.  That’s  not what Edichka was, of course.  Ask Russian immigrants over 30 years old why they came to the United States, and they’ll say: “For our children”, but most made something of themselves in the New World.  Limonov had no children, wallowed in self-pity and lived on welfare — proudly.  Better books about immigrant and first generation experiences came out since the 80s.  I’m thinking about Bezmozgis and Shteyngart.

We were wracking our heads in my Russian Lit seminar trying to figure out why Eddie is considered an important 20th century Russian fiction.  According to the prof, Limonov is the only writer who, post-Bolshevism, deals with class, but that’s patiently not true.  Since about the 1960s Russian culture took a turn towards realism, and the lives of the underclass were portrayed with much empathy in books, film and song, like that of the bard Vysotsky.  Then again, that was not Marxist analysis.

Soviet cinema

A still from Little Vera (1988), a Perestroika-era Soviet film about the glib life of a lower class provincial teen.

Limonov is an important media personality, and if anything Eddie allows us to glimpse at a self-pitying immigrant writer constructing his persona for public consumption.  I wonder what kind of experiences were left out from the narrative.  If he knew Lou Reed, he might have met Andy Warhol, and was very much in on the ideas of literary shock-rock and shameless self-promotion.

It didn’t work too well on emigre circles.  Limonov started his American carrier in a Russian paper Novoye Russkoe Slovo, from which he was kicked out when one of his essays, titled “Disappointment” was reprinted in the official Soviet press.  While the writer attended Trotskist meetings, his former colleagues got in a habit of writing scathing editorials about the lowlife Limonov.

Yes, that was “Trotskist”.  Evidently one needs to be kicked out of the Soviet Union to become a Trotskist.  Eddie was published in the early 80s in France and quickly translated into several languages.  With that success under his belt, Limonov, who, I’m proud to say hated America with every fiber of his being, emigrated to France where he later received citizenship.  Stereotypical, I know.  In France he enjoyed tabloid notoriety with his singer wife.  When Gorbachev restored his Soviet citizenship he returned to Moscow, and that’s when his public persona really took off.

Early on Limonov was an Yeltsin supporter, but he also hob-nobbed with the Jewish anti-Semite Duma buffoon Vladimir Zhirinovsky.  Limonov became a “head of a Russian investigative bureau” in Zhirinovsky’s “shadow cabinet”, but the two quarreled.  Limonov thought Zhirinovsky was too moderate, and Zhirinovsky found Limonov too militant.

Duma fistfight

Zhirinovsky, savoring a 2005 Duma fistfight.

It’s tempting to dismiss Limonov as a hipster clown were he not militant in the most literal sense of the word.  Limonov took up arms on behalf of the Serbs in 1991-92, and hung out with Karadzic, a Serbian President later accused of genocide.

Back in Russia, Limonov formed the National Bolshevik Party.  Walking behind banners “Stalin, Beria, Gulag” and Nazi-like flags with hammer and cycle in place of the Swastika, young National Bolsheviks blended Nazism, Communism and a bit of anarchy for a good measure (you see, Limonov had six wives).  The first meeting of Nazism and Communism cost Russia a mere 23+ million lives — lets do it again!  A quarter of Moscow high school students have a positive opinion of skinheads.

National Bolsheviks

In leather and against the backdrop of National Bolshevik flag.

Limonov saw the future of his country in a union of nationalists and communists and spoke of the need to deploy Serbian tactics in former Russian provinces with large Russian populations.  His big idea is an empire that comprises all of Asia and Europe and ruled by Russia.  He rails against liberalism, democracy and capitalism.

The founder of National-Bolsheviks continued to write memoirs and essays, notably in his paper Limonka (meaning hand grenade).  In the 90s when Russia was waging a Chechen war, Limonov published calls for ethnic cleansing of the Caucuses.  In 2001 he was jailed on terrorism charges.  The writer was accused of stockpiling weapons for an invasion of Kazakhstan.  After his release in 2003 he attempted to visit his parents, but Ukraine refused to issue a visa.  Perhaps being ruled by Russia is not a Ukrainian idea of the good life.

In the second half of the 2000s Limonov formed an alliance with Russian liberals.  Losers can’t be choosers, and so Russian liberals took in any kind of dissident.  This one was calling for a bloody uprising and quoting Che Guevara.  No wonder people give up on Russia.

Protesting Putin

Major opposition leaders Limonov and Kasparov protesting Putin's cheating in the 2007 elections. I don't know what chess game Kasparov, a liberal, is playing, but I doubt he'd be playing it in a democratic country.

I am very fortunate to live in a country where we are all liberals.  American conservatives are classic liberals, and liberals are… well, we all talk of freedom and democracy, more or less.  Sure, our President did quip that it’s easier to get things done in China, and Democratic Governor Perdue  talked of suspending elections to sort out the recession.  Then she said she was kidding.

Here we note that rock-n-roll is kind of fascistic.  Recall Bowie’s drug-addled Thin White Duke stage.  Musicians are referred to as stars, kings and idols, but that’s not what we want in our politicians.  In general we like to keep our artists away from politics.  But what happens when one marries Western pop-aestheticism to Russian political pathologies?  Western tabloids are full of personal moral failures, but our stars rarely want to push the evil onto the world.  In Russia, one can do both.

Elvis Nixon

The King and the President: Nixon refused Elvis's offer to spy on fellow rock stars.

Eduard Limonov ran in several elections, but without much success — unless a good scandal counts for success.  He was once listed under his real name Savenko, ensuring a scandal.  Now that he expressed his intention to run for the Russian presidency next year, the liberals disowned him.  He remains, thankfully, a very long shot.



  1. you are very severe with Limonov.
    In France, a great writer Emmanuel Carrere has just published a book about Limonov, a best seller for 3 months.
    Is more than a biography, rather in the tradition of “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote.
    He recently received the Prix Renaudot.
    Emmanuel Carrere is critical but objective when he talks about Limonov ..
    as he writes: “It’s more complicated than that”
    It can be read in French (you can use the automatic translation of Google Chrome), it has been hacked (shh) on this site:

    Comment by Eric — December 9, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

    • “you are very severe with Limonov.”
      True. I judge them against the greats of the 20th century Russian literature, and he can’t keep up with that. He does qualify for some sort of a cult status being the first to write high-minded Russian porn and the first to write about the immigrant experience in the US.
      As for his personality, he’s a champion of Nazism and Communism — feh!

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — December 9, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

  2. “Limonov is not a fictional character. He exists. I know him.
    He was a lout in Ukraine; an idol of the Soviet underground under Brezhnev; a tramp, then a manservant to a millionaire in Manhattan; a trendy writer in Paris; a soldier lost in the wars of the Balkans;
    and now, in the immense chaos of Russian post-communism, an old charismatic chef of a party of young desperados.
    He sees himself as a hero, it’s possible to consider him as a bastard: I’ll reserve my judgment.
    His life is adventurous and ambiguous: a true novel. And I believe his life tells us something. Not only about himself, Limonov, not only about Russia, but about the history of us all after the Second World War.”

    This is how Emmanuel Carrère describes his last novel. What he doesn’t say is to what extent he has succeeded in creating a breathtaking contemporary epic novel from this extraordinary life, to be read without stopping in great exaltation. Most certainly because his knowledge of the subject is complete, his inquiry was thorough, having read all of Limonov’s books, of course, and what has been written about him, meeting him himself, and all the witnesses it was possible to contact, but especially because his talent as a narrator is immense, and that he masterly rendered not only the character’s complexity, but also that of his country and his time.

    This sounds fantastic, and like a great follow up to Lives Other than My Own, which came out earlier this year, and which we featured on Read This Next. FSG already bought the rights to this new book, although there’s no info available about when it will be available in English translation.

    Comment by Eric — December 9, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

  3. Following the book .. “Limonov” by Emmanuel Carrère

    Comment by Eric — December 9, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

  4. […] A Libertarian Antipode […]

    Pingback by Sunday Links: More Toy Commercials Edition » Conservative Hideout 2.0 — December 10, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

  5. Slightly off topic but have you ever been to Sochi? Is it nice?

    Comment by Harrison — December 11, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

    • Nope, I’ve never been to Sochi. Ukrainians usually vacationed in Crimea if we wanted to be seaside and Russians went to the Caucuses.
      I don’t know if Sochi is nice today, but it used to be touristy back in the day. Now Russians like to go to the Canaries or Egypt (even now, believe it or not).

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — December 11, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

      • I know the Crimea is popular. I read Sochi has the largest old growth forest in Europe.

        Comment by Harrison — December 12, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  6. I can’t add anything substantive here, but I gotta admit that when I read this:

    “if anything Eddie allows us to glimpse at a self-pitying immigrant writer constructing his persona for public consumption.”

    my mind automatically saw a parallel:

    if anything Obama allows us to glimpse at a self-pitying . . . writer contructing his persona for public consumption. Because that was my exact opinion of Dreams From My Father.


    Comment by nooneofanyimport — December 12, 2011 @ 6:34 am

  7. […] from Paris, France trying to romanticize the Russian opposition leader Communist Nazi Limonov.  Hence: He was a lout in Ukraine; an idol of the Soviet underground under Brezhnev; a tramp, then a […]

    Pingback by Am I Too Permissive re Comments? « sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue — December 13, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  8. […] the cities, peasant youth usually settled in nearly identical soulless suburbs.  Many newcomers filled the ranks of manual laborers and single mothers. M. Kugach “To the […]

    Pingback by Soviet City Youth in Kolkhoz « sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue — July 8, 2012 @ 11:07 am

  9. You’re a pathetic yankee lowlife burger-gulper, you’re a shitstain on the face of earth your CUNT-ry is the epitome of corruption and is nothing more than the puppet and the bitch of israhell and the fat Wall Street jew banksters…HEIL HITLER, HEIL STALIN, HEIL AHMADINEJAD!!!!

    Comment by Suleiman Kahani — July 25, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

  10. […] Anyhow, the troll goes by Suleiman Kahani, doesn’t like Wall Street bankers and appears to be a fan of Hitler, Stalin *and* A’jad.  I hope he stayed here long enough to enjoy this post. Share this:ShareDiggEmailPrintShare on […]

    Pingback by Iranian Metalheads « sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue — July 25, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

  11. […] the country –Gangan said he wasn’t interested in staying.  National Bolshevik founder Eduard Limonov once lived in the US; he hated it with a passion. So maybe the next generation of NazBols didn’t take to us […]

    Pingback by Incubating National Bolsheviks | sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue — October 26, 2015 @ 5:37 pm

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