Moving Beyond Money (Russia’s Alien Nations)

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 You can also find  all the previous entries here.


As befits a self-made billionaire, Andrei Gumilev, hero of the Ethnogenesis series’ Billionaire trilogy,  combines concern for his motherland with an ethos of self-reliance.  How else can one explain devoting an entire chapter of Book 1 to a business subplot that goes absolutely nowhere?  After making an attempt on Gumilev’s life, a young man named Krasnov is arrested and about to be sent away for life.  But Gumilev intervenes: he must find out why the man hates him so much.  It turns out that the Krasnov’s father had a genetic engineering research start-up that Gumilev bought for much less than it should have been worth, ruining the father’s life and leaving the son embittered (“You’re just a common pirate! You stole from my father, you stole his business! What do you need genetic engineering for?”)  Gumilev patiently listens to the youth’s rantings, then calls in the father, pressing the elder Krastov to admit the truth:  he had embezzled from his company and racked up enormous gambling debts and begged Gumilev to buy him out.

At this point, both father and son are humiliated.  But Gumilev is merciful:  he arranges to have Krasnov imprisoned under relatively decent conditions, with the prospect of a job upon his realize. He also offers a job to Gordeev,  the young man who helped apprehend Krasnov after the botched assassination attempt. He sees that Gordeev is a decent, but directionless person who could use a sense of purpose, and doesn’t want to reward him with mere cash:

“Handing out money isn’t in my principles.  But giving you a good, well-paying job, that I can do.  By the way, you’re no match for the would-be killer, he’s a unique specialist who will get his diploma, work for a while—he’ll be priceless.  While you were kicked out of school.  And when your grandmother left you her apartment, you sold it to buy a motorcycle instead of, say, investing it.  Or even just putting it in the bank.  The moral? You live from day to day.  Do you know how many people like that there are in Moscow?”

Gumilev’s behavior with Krasnov pere and Krasnov fils prove him to be a man who has not only earned his money honestly and in the best interests of his country, but who has also not allowed himself to see money as the immediate solution to all problems.  The caricatured New Russian is trapped within a very simple equation of money and goods, and cannot think is way out of it.  But Gumilev knows better than to simply throw money at a problem; instead, he uses the social and cultural capital that money has made available to him in order to help others solve their own problems.[1]  It’s not just a matter of believing in self-reliance.  Though money is one of our most pervasive vehicles for symbolic exchange, the New Russian’s understanding of it is confined to the realm of the Imaginary.  Money means access to material wealth, while material wealth demonstrates the possession of money.  For Gumilev, money functions on a level closer to the Symbolic: money provides not mere possessions, but possibilities.



[1] The first novel begins at the same time as Russia’s armed conflict with Georgia in 2008. His wife, Eva, begs him to find a way to help the poor people suffering at Georgian (not Russian) hands.  He arranges to invest in the rebuilding of the town of Tsvinkhal when the fighting is over, telling Eva, “I think that’s enough for now….You know I’ve always held the principle that if you want to feed a hungry man, don’t give him a fish, but teach him how to fish.


Next: Rich Russian Aristocrats from Outer Space