Dmitri Yefimovich Furman about himself
Interview for the book ‘D.Y. Furman. Selected Works’ 2011. The Territory of the Future.

QUESTION: Dmitri Yefimovich, you appear to be one of the few Soviet and post-Soviet scholars who hardly experienced any impact of Marxism. One does not find it ( apart from almost ritual quoting of the classics) even in your juvenilia. How can you explain that?

ANSWER: I am afraid there is no comprehensive and accurate answer to this question – too many factors influence our personal development. Still I can assume that childhood ideological impressions definitely played their role. I was brought up by my grandmothers, my mother’s mother and her sister, thus it is they who are my family in the first place, and to some extent their mother whom I have still found alive, but also their brother Boris Vladimirovich Ioganson who in 1950s – early 1960s presided over the Academy of Arts and was a true honor to his family. The family was aristocratic and bourgeois, my great-grandmother was remembered even to dance with the sovereign emperor at Smolny prom as the best student. As I see it now the family ideology used to be common for a vast social stratum. They naturally hated the Revolution but perceived it as some inevitable recurring natural disaster. Revolution is always blood, chaos and ‘domain of boors’. But as soon as it’s over, it all calms down and life resumes its normal course. Russia turned queer, acquired some taint of awkward Jewish ideology, still it was the same old Russia, and members of that stratum with little or even no remorse changed sides beginning to serve the Soviet regime. My grandmothers’ brother Boris Ioganson used to bear arms in Kolchak’s White Army for quite a time, but after Kolchak was defeated he somehow joined the Red Army. Before the Revolution he had studied art under Konstantin Korovin, so in the new Soviet surroundings he found himself in the realm of Socialist Realism becoming its classical representative. He was in the White Army but painted ‘Interrogation of the Communists’. I don’t think he suffered much from ideological torments – Russia remains the same as well as Russian rulers, ideologies may change, but Russian artists have to celebrate Russian rulers and ideology they preach. To me it seems very similar to that solid and profound ideology of the Mikhalkov family who genuinely see nothing disgraceful about the Russian nobleman first writing the lyrics of the Soviet anthem and then of the anti-Soviet one. Religion played no significant role in this ideological system. In official nationality triad ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality’ orthodoxy appeared to be the shallowest component. It is from my grandmothers that I got the first and strongest, if I can put it this way, sociological insight. I even remember the circumstances under which my grandmother uttered the words I would never forget. She was accompanying me to school, and as we were crossing the traffic road all of a sudden I asked her: ‘Grandma Lida, is Stalin the tsar?’, and she replied seriously as if talking to an adult who was quite aware that they shouldn’t have touched upon that topic: ‘Yes’. I suddenly realized the difference between form and substance, forms vary but the substance is the same, I never discussed it with my friends, but gave it much thought. Aristocratic and bourgeois lineage of the Iogansons is far from making up my family. My surname and patronymic are Jewish. However biologically I bear no Jewish blood. I was born in 1943 as a result of either some hasty marriage or just a love affair my mother had with an artist, Russian by nationality, who soon after my birth went off to war never to return. My mother soon married another artist Yefim Moiseyevich Furman whom I have long considered to be my biological father. As far as I can judge, Yefim Moiseyevich was a decent man indeed and treated me the way he treated his own son, my brother, the true Furman. For years on some benevolent people have been trying to persuade me to change my Jewish surname to some simple, Russian, ‘real’ name, but I’ve always been kind to Yefim and felt ashamed to do so. Yefim Moiseyevich was not my mother’s last husband. Her third husband was also a Jew with heroic and romantic biography. There was indeed something absolutely inexplicable going on. Both grandmothers and granddad Borya in particular couldn’t stomach the Jews. Nevertheless granddad Borya’s son married a Jewess while his niece married even two Jews in a row. My second stepfather belonged to a Jewish revolutionary aristocracy. His father was a prominent RSDLP activist, then a trade representative in Germany and finally, as could be expected, was shot. His many other relatives were shot too. For some mysterious reasons, however, his son, my mother’s husband, who in wartime used to work for SMERSH and allegedly took part in surrender of Paulus, escaped that fate. In burning Budapest a beam fell over him and left him contused. He belonged to the type of people completely wrecked by Soviet power. He firmly believed in communism and Marxism-Leninism, but not in Stalin, of course, and dreamed, as I reckon today, of some new revolution. Now and then our house accommodated a big company of mostly Jews many of whom had gone through labor camps. They drank heavily. I recollect one statement grotesquely reflecting the style of their talks. One of them, as far as I remember Venya by name (a man with gilded teeth, since all of his own teeth had been knocked out during interrogations), who was rumored to have served time not only here but in an English jail in Alexandria, Egypt, cried out once: ‘Once party dictatorship was substituted by the Central Committee dictatorship, and the Central Committee dictatorship then came to be substituted by personal dictatorship!’ Thus, in my boyhood days I used to listen to every sort of talks and absorb versatile political ideologies. As a result I took to none of them. Marxism in our family existed in two forms – as an utterly formal faith of my grandfather Boris Ioganson who never believed in Marxism, but in the need to believe in something the supreme power ordered you to, and in some sectarian form of my second stepfather Venya whom I’ve mentioned earlier. A true Marxist may never grow up in such an environment. From the very beginning I felt kind of ideologically detached from all that was said and done around me. This detachment never turned into anger, it provoked interest rather than faith.

QUESTION: You still must have experienced strong Marxist indoctrination at school and at university. Hasn’t it affected you?

ANSWER: Curiously enough, but it affected me very little. Somewhere at school I got a very clear understanding that there were different creeds – Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and Marxism. Therefore my school Marxism was not something I had come to on my own, but something forced on me by the society similar to Islam of an Egyptian schoolboy. I liked reading Marx and even today when I recollect certain passages of his writings I marvel at his profundity and strength. But I have never ever considered Marxism to be some fundamental theory of social sciences. Marx was a smart man, but there were others no less smart than him. I have always been wondering about how faith works, why people believe in one thing and not the other.

QUESTION: On entering the university you opted for the Department of Ancient History. What were you motivated by?

ANSWER: As I opted for the Department of Ancient History I had no intention to become an antiquity expert, I was just willing to get certain qualifications (and I got them), to gain insight into the ancient world and then to proceed to other epochs and challenges. Actually in the course of my life I planned to study a number of religions and civilizations. In the history of the ancient world I was mostly attracted by struggle for power in early Christianity and processes related to establishment of the Catholic Church. Parallels with Marxist-Leninist history seemed quite obvious to me, besides they seemed not just parallels but the manifestation of some general regularities. I guess I was the only student at the Department of Ancient History who found genuine relish in studying Lenin and minutes of RSDLP conventions. Apparently I could defend a thesis and find my place at the Department but I wished nothing of the kind. Wider horizons attracted me.

QUESTION: But still what was your attitude to the Soviet regime? Were you a conformist?

ANSWER: Sure I was a conformist, but of an eccentric sort. I absolutely distrusted Marxism-Leninism, and all that sort of thing. Moreover, I was absolutely sure that in the long run (and only then) this country would follow the Western pattern of social order. I reckoned it would be distant future that I would never live to see. I believed that my scientific efforts purely anti-Marxist from both the objective and subjective perspective facilitated that shift. My conscience was clean here as I acted for the benefit of the society. But I had no intention to get into an open confrontation on issues that seemed highly preposterous to me. My reasoning went in the following way: millions of people believe in nonsense, but there is something immoral about telling them that they do so, what’s the point of shattering their faith if it gives them an opportunity to leave peacefully? It is another matter however that their faith in nonsense should gradually be shattered as well as their consciousness made ready for the shift. I didn’t understand the dissidents either. Talking about lack of democracy and freedom of speech in this country seemed to me so naïve and fatuitous. Even so I mixed with some dissident circles. And certain junior émigré rhetoricians used to come to my house and even drank vodka.

QUESTION: How did it then so happen that you started as a typically academic scientist but then turned into a political publicist?

ANSWER: Perestroika to some extent warped my life. But for perestroika I don’t know what I would have been engaged in – Hinduism or Buddhism. I was preparing for it rather seriously, I even made my own hand written copy of Bhagavadgita in Sanskrit with grammar comments now trailing somewhere at home. I had no wish to meddle in politics albeit they were pushing me hard into it. But already in 1990 and all the more in 1991 I asserted myself in the impression that we had taken the wrong path, that the authoritarian regime is ahead to replace victorious ‘democracy’. This impression was in sharp contrast with the mood of all my friends and family living in the state of democratic euphoria. I came to believe that owing to the specifics of my scientific past as well as to my purely personal features I realized something that others didn’t, so my civil duty was to speak about it. After 1991 I took a radical decision and by an effort of will gave up on my academic studies and entirely devoted myself to contemporary political science. There I was still trying to preserve my scientific approach and look for regularities in public life, compare similar processes, separate essence from externals. As an academic domain I have chosen comparative studies of political development in the post-Soviet states – this is a highly beneficial topic which allows deeper insight into contemporary Russia. I’m not the one to judge what came out of it and of all my scientific work in general, all I can say is that I tried my best.