This post is part of Chapter 2 of Russia’s Alien Nations: The Secret Identities of Post-Socialism, an ongoing feature on All the Russias. It can also be found at russiasaliennations.org. You can also find all the previous entries here.
In the Ethnogensis series, Andrei L’vovich Gumilev is the rich Russian who can be admired because he deserves to be rich. In fact, the source of his wealth and power transcends the problem of origins that haunts the new Russian, who cannot reasonably claim to have come by his wealth by legitimate means. Gumilev, we recall, prefers to think of himself as an aristocrat, and his alien DNA and storied lineage would certainly support such a claim. But it is the ability his DNA grants him that turns wealth into his birthright.
Early in the first novel, the narrator tells us that Andrei L’vovich’s strategy of investing in technology and employing the best and the brightest paid off better than anyone else would have imagined. He also has a knack for picking stocks that will pay off:
When he was asked how he calculated which shared he should buy, Gumilev only smiled and gently touched his finger to his forehead. Some interpreted that gesture as a not-so-humble reminder of his outstanding mental capacity, but Andrei had in mind his intuition. Intuition had always been his strongest suit.
This intuition has made him master of all he surveys. As we see later in the first novel, when he is looking down at Moscow from his office building:
The entire city was at his feet—and not just figuratively. Andrei Gumilev was the sort whom one called the master of his life, someone who has it made, a self-made man [this last phrase is in English in the original].
Which is it, then? Is he a self-made man who picked himself up by his bootstraps, an Ayn Rand hero in a post-Soviet YA adventure novel, or an aristocrat who was born into the role? Ethnogenesis combines all three scenarios. In the concluding volume of the Billionaire trilogy, former FSB General and artifact hunter Ilya Sviridov explains to Andrei L’vovich that he does not need an artifact because “you yourself an artifact…There are people in this world who can do thinks without an artifact”:
“Andrei L’vovich, how did you earn you’re billions? Did you simply go for a walk and find a wallet with a billion in it? Or maybe you got an inheritance from a rich aunt in Australia?… You earned your money, and earned it honestly. And since that’s almost impossible in our country, one has to assume that something helped you. …You have an unbelievably developed intuition. On a level that an ordinary person could never reach.”
Andrei L’vovich’s superpower, then, is a way out of the (anti-) utopian closed circle of post-Soviet capitalism. Just as the imperfect ideologues of the new (Soviet) world were not the ideal people to populate it, there was no part for creating a system of “fair” capitalism that was not based on corruption. The billionaire’s intuition skips over all the messiness normally associated with 1990s wealth creation by invoking a power that comes from beyond economics.
Such a move is entirely appropriate for the Ethnogenesis series as a whole. Lev Gumilev’s theory assumed a rising level of “passionarity” that sparked the creation of a new ethos. Where did this energy come from? Gumilev’s response was pseudoscientific handwaving: it came from “the cosmos.” Rykov’s Ethnogesis series fills in the gaps by making this alien energy literal and material, manifesting it in both the artifacts (which give their bearers superpowers) and the inborn abilities of those, like Andrei L’vovich, who bear alien DNA.
The Billionaire trilogy, then, is not just a reassuring just-so sorry about good rich Russians; it is a myth of origin about rich Russians not so much as an aristocracy (as Andrei L’vovich would prefer), but as either the passionaries who will reinvigorate the Russian ethnos or the beginning of a new ethnos of their own.
The right kind of rich Russians will be rich because they deserve it, and they will deserve it because they are special. Unlike Tuchkov’s neo-feudal New Russians, these rich Russians will use their wealth for the betterment of the breed.
The rest of us just need to be wise enough to appreciate their wisdom.
Next: Chapter 2 concludes in “Born This Way”