by Keith Patchen
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Who was Alexandre Vladimirovitch Kojevnikov? To understand Kojev-nikov, who changed his nationality from Russian to French and his name from Alexander Kojevnikov to Alexandre Kojève, one must imagine an agent of influence for the Russian Intelligence Service -- the K.G.B. -- working at the centre of Europe and France's economic and international economic policy. One must also imagine a distinguished philosopher who influenced a generation of intellectuals and leading politicians in France and later throughout the West by his writings, disciples and students.
Complex and sophisticated and strategic K.G.B. influence and penetration operations require informed and intelligent appreciation as they are prima facie unimaginable in scope and ambition. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the identification of Kojève as an agent of influence would have invited ridicule and disbelief. For this reason, exposure of Kojève's espionage career did not occur until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the nightmare of all Soviet spies -- the archival revelations of a key defector.
Daniel Johnson, the English journalist who first reported Kojève's role as a Soviet agent to English readers in 1999 summarised his influence:
"Kojève's subterranean influence is ubiquitous. His ideas echo around our political arena. Francis Fukuyama's ‘end of history’ is recycled Kojève. So is Tony Blair's vision of a post-conservative, post-national, post-political, post-historical Europe. This miraculous mandarin turns out to be a malevolent mole. Nobody of this eminence has been exposed as a traitor on this level before."
Kojève‘s thirty-year career as a Soviet agent surfaced in 1999 when Le Monde cited a three-page French security service (D.S.T.) dossier, "L’Espionage de l’Est et de la Gauche" (Eastern Bloc espionage and the Left) which identified Kojève as having worked for the Soviets for thirty years -- "aurait travaillé trente ans pour les Sovietiques". Kojève would have played an important role in the networks of Charles Hernu and the K.G.B.: "Les deux hommes avaient partagé [du] U.N. bureau au Centre du Commerce Extérieur."
Charles Hernu was Kojève’s colleague at the French Ministry of Economic Affairs during the 1960s and became Minister for Defence in the government of François Mitterrand from 1981 to 1985. Hernu's role as a Soviet agent had been revealed in the French newspaper L’Express in 1996.
Documentation passed to the French service from an Eastern European intelligence service disclosed that Hernu had passed his first report to the Third Secretary of the Bulgarian Embassy on 16 March 1953. Hernu's product was routinely forwarded to the K.G.B. in Moscow.
In 1999 former K.G.B. archivist and defector Vasily Mitrokhin, who had unique access to operational records at K.G.B. headquarters from 1972 to 1984, provided independent collateral for the identification of Kojève as Soviet agent. Mitrokhin passed Kojève's identity and role to the British services and subsequently to the French intelligence services, as part of his extensive debriefing.
Kojève's biographer, Dominique Auffret, described the identification of Kojève as "inevitable" and said that it would have "befitted the astonishing person that he was". She quoted a D.S.T. source as stating that the "great interpreter of Hegel had been clearly identified as an agent of the K.G.B. (by the D.S.T.) which had been verified by the K.G.B."
The choice of Le Monde as a media outlet for the identification of Kojève's espionage role is significant. Le Monde, code-named "Vestnik" ["messenger"] by the K.G.B., had long been publicly identified with radical anti-American causes and was itself the target of Soviet penetration. Further, the choice of Le Monde would have deflected predictable criticism that right-wing conservatives were targeting Kojève.
Kojève's masterly tradecraft can only be deduced but must have been facilitated by his official visits to Moscow and Eastern Europe. He visited Moscow in October 1957, and revisited in 1967 where he met his long-time friend, Olivier Wormser, the French ambassador in Moscow. Kojève also visited Czechoslovakia, the Middle East, Cuba, Africa and Japan, privately and as a member of official delegations.
Kojève was an inveterate traveller and free from travel restrictions routinely applied to Western visitors to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Thus, he would have been well placed to make low-risk contact with Soviet intelligence officers; most likely working for the K.G.B.'s First Chief Directorate which conducted foreign intelligence operations.
The form of Kojève's contacts and communications with the K.G.B. remains unknown. He may have been under the direction of a Soviet illegal (Soviet intelligence officers working under non-official cover); he may have had "en clair" contact through official functions at which he passed secrets, papers or briefing notes to his case officers.
Kojève may have met Soviet officials as part of his official duties or during his "official" travels to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; he may have taken advantage of high-speed communications between agents and Moscow in the form of high-speed "burst transmissions" of information which took less than a second from transmitters which could not be easily located. Kojève's true identity would have been fiercely protected and known only to selected members of the Soviet Politburo, the Chairman of the K.G.B. and the Head of the First Chief Directorate and his cryptonyms constantly revised.
Paris had been the focus of Russian and Soviet intelligence operations targeted against émigré, revolutionary and conspiratorial groups operating throughout Western and Central Europe, since the opening of the Tsarist Okhrana's Foreign Bureau in Paris in 1883.
During the Cold War, the Paris K.G.B. residency typically ran more agents -- generally over fifty high-level agents -- than in any other country in Europe. Soviet penetration of French elites was facilitated by French revolutionary traditions which falsely identified the Russian revolution as a linear descendant of the French revolution, a disinformation theme which was promoted vigorously, the penetration of government by the Russian intelligence services in the Popular Front period, the largely mythical leadership of communists in the wartime resistance movement and the presence of communist ministers in the French government until 1947. The French Communist Party (P.C.F.) was the largest and most slavishly pro-Stalinist communist party in Western Europe. As an émigré intellectual, Kojève enjoyed celebrity-cult status.
Kojève also conspired in a benign operational environment. Russian and Eastern Bloc intelligence officers were free from travel restrictions in France. The French intelligence services were highly compromised and penetrated by the K.G.B., particularly in Kojève’s greatest period of influence, during the Fourth republic (1946-1958).
Soviet influence, disinformation and active measures operations, and the recruitment of intellectuals and academics and the Russian émigré community, had been prevalent in France for decades. To further appreciate the environment in which Kojève was recruited and operated, the prize-winning novel The Set Up by Vladimir Volkoff and Stephen Koch's historical study of cultural and intellectual treason in inter-war Europe and America, Double Lives, are indispensable reading.
Kojève's Early Life in Russia and Germany
Kojève was born Aleksandr Vladimirovich Kozhevnikov in Moscow, 11 May 1902. His childhood was spent in Moscow's fashionable Arbat district. His family were leading figures in the Russian intelligentsia. After the revolution his distinguished and wealthy family lost their fortune. The Soviet secret police, the Cheka, arrested him at the age of sixteen, for black-marketeering. He received a death sentence and whilst the other youthful offenders were shot, he was not. Family friends had intervened. Critical and life-saving interventions through friends and contacts were a theme of his life.
In 1920 he left Russia and travelled clandestinely, first to Poland where he was arrested as a suspected Bolshevik agitator for which he spent ten months in gaol. He later stated: "I was a communist; there was no need to flee Russia." In his own words he was a communist at the age of twenty. This event has been interpreted as part of his "legend" but like many events in Kojève's life is shrouded in ambiguity.
In Berlin in 1921 he began studying Tibetan, Chinese and Sanskrit. He also studied philosophy in Berlin and at the University of Heidelberg, where he commenced studying Russian literature. In that year, he was awarded a doctoral dissertation titled Die Religiose Philosophie Wladimir Solowjeffs (the religious Philosophy of Vladimir Soloviev) completed under the supervision of the famed German philosopher Karl Jaspers.
Soloviev (1853-1900) was a Russian religious mystic, literary critic and political commentator who sought to synthesise Eastern and Western philosophy. He was an important inspirational source for Kojève, who became a Sinologist in the 1920s and had a life-long interest in Oriental languages and philosophy.
In 1926, he moved to Paris, changed his name to Alexandre Kojève and acquired French citizenship. Kojève was aware through his cousin Koyre that there was little systematic study of Hegel in France. He elected to take his cousin's role, a decision facilitated by his cousin's timely departure for teaching and study in Egypt.
In 1938, the Soviet N.K.V.D., later to become the K.G.B., recruited Kojève. At this time, Soviet intelligence services were recruiting and developing long-term agents for the looming war but the precise circumstances of Kojève's recruitment are unclear: he may have been compromised (he allegedly had a mysterious sexual life); he may have been induced by financial reward; he may have wanted to support the "great Soviet experiment" or romantically identified with the Russian motherland.
A dominant theme in Kojève's life is personal survival framed in elegance, expensive apartments, mysteriously funded scholarship and study, and good living which required considerable financial support. At some stage in his development as a Soviet agent, Kojève would have accepted financial payment from the Soviets, if only as demanded to ensure his compliance. Kojève would have required substantial operational funds to penetrate the French elite structure.
As a strategic Soviet agent of influence Kojève created an informal personal intelligence service. He was a formidable net worker. He "influenced" and recruited many of his students for operational support and cover. Many later mistakenly vouched for his integrity. Some regarded him as a "Russian patriot", others regarded him as a "loyal son of France". However, Kojève was a loyal son of the Soviet Union who warmly referred to Stalin as "father". On hearing of Stalin’s death, Kojève cried.
Kojève's Influence on French Intellectuals
Kojève's intellectual ascendancy in France was facilitated by noted German and particularly Russian intellectual émigrés who lived and studied in France including Bernard Groethuysen, a Marxist who stimulated André Gide's interest in the "Soviet experiment", Nikolai Berdayev and Léon Chestov.
However, Kojève's celebrated small-group Seminars on Hegel held each Monday from January 1933 to May 1939 at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes established him as a radical and new interpreter of Hegel for a new generation of French intellectuals including André Breton, Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alexander Koyre, Pierre Klossowski, Eric Weil, famed psychoanalytical theorist Jacques Lacan, and noted conservative sociologist Raymond Aron.
Kojève's method of explication has been described as "Talmudic" and consisted of six years of line-by-line reading of Hegel's classic, "Phenomenology of the Spirit." Kojève, typically referred to his reading as "under the line."
Kojève introduced Hegel to a generation of intellectuals influenced by the prevailing intellectual traditions of Cartesian-rationalism, Bergsonian neo-vitalism, neo-Kantianism and Catholicism. He faced a formidable task and succeeded. Students and colleagues described him as a "enchanter", a spellbinder and a magician and a "magical" weaver of concepts. Above all, Kojève was a recruiter. Many of his students provided him with access to French bureaucratic elites; whether they were witting or unwitting access agents‚ remains controversial.
In his lectures Kojève stressed Hegel's belief in the role of Reason in shaping politics and history. The belief that "Man makes history" seemingly provided an escape from the nightmare of history, from Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence and death of God, Kierkegaard's sense of dread, Vilfredo Pareto's repetitive "circulation of elites," Robert Michels’ "iron law of oligarchy", which ensured control of democratic organisation by permanent office holders, and from Weber's iron cage of bureaucratic rationalisation and disenchantment of the world and Durkheim's cold modern wasteland of anomie.
French sociological tradition, primarily of a conservative orientation, had posited society as "external to the individual". According to Kojève's dramatic and existential reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind infused with Heidegger and Husserl, man no longer existed "outside history", but inside history, not as a spectator but as an actor engaged in the superior ontological state of Being rather than being.
Kojève and "The End of History"
According to Kojève, knowledge was derived through action. The inversion of the Cartesian maxim -- "I think, therefore I am" -- to "I act, therefore I am" underlines his belief in fascist voluntarism and "triumph of the will" and a Nietschean will to power.
Kojève's long professional and personal relationship with Carl Schmitt, the Nazis’ most brilliant theorist, demands further study. Kojève lectured on colonialism and capitalism in Berlin at Schmitt’s invitation and engaged in a long post-war correspondence with him. Kojève never expressed criticism of Schmitt, the father of decisionalism, Nazi jurisprudence and the Friend-Foe conception of politics. Kojève had a personal and political affinity with Schmitt and the pro-Nazi Martin Heidegger.
Violence was central to Kojève’s ontology. Underneath the laboured phrases of Hegelianism and Marxism he advocated a terrorist conception of history. Indeed, Kojève was the most brilliant theorist of terrorism in the twentieth century; his philosophical anthropology centred on conflict: the "bloody battle" or struggle of desire for recognition by the "other."
According to Kojève, desire, the awareness of lack in the subject, propelled man into the drama of history. Recognition of desire was impossible without a struggle to the death between men. Desire compels recognition by the Other which requires negation of the desired object. In Kojève's interpretation, the negation of the desired object was a philosophical rationalisation for class warfare, terrorism and mass murder -- in the name of history. To Kojève the Other -- who opposed the desire of the subject and human progress and history -- had no right to exist. The struggle to the death between master and slave was the source of human progress. The history of class struggle was reframed as the history of the struggle for recognition and dominance. The slave overcame the dread of death posited by Heidegger, who was an early and lasting influence on Kojève, by a commitment to revolutionary violence.
Kojève the Father of Postmodernism.
According to Kojève, "the end of history" or "absolute knowledge" and self-consciousness could be achieved only through the end of history or the abolition of all master or dominant narratives of the Enlightenment, Christianity and the West.
In this context Kojève stimulated the development of post-modernism. Hegel's "cunning of reason" and Max Weber's unintended consequences of action -- became in the post-modern lexicon, irony. As the Puritans’ sense of religious vocation had the unintended consequence of forming the spirit of capitalism, the resolution of the struggle for freedom and recognition had ironically created the one-dimensional modern universal and homogenous state. Philosophy would cease. All life would become a matter of administration. Man would be locked not in Max Weber's iron cage of rationality but in the cage of irony.
The diabolical dyad -- Being and Time -- would cease to exist as there would be no more contradictions in existence, since the desire for recognition would be satisfied by the "end of history" and the analgesic and amnesic effect of "the American style of life", or the satisfaction of "animal (non-human) pleasures". Irony would be victorious in that the struggle for freedom and recognition would result in conspicuous and compulsive consumption and mediocrity in all of its lack of splendour.
Kojève's Defence of Tyranny
Kojève admired the ruthlessness of the "strong men of history" that is, totalitarian mass murderers. He inquired of his correspondent, political philosopher Leo Strauss, whether Torquemeda and Dzerzhinsky -- founders of the Inquisition and the K.G.B. respectively -- suffered from bad conscience. Like Stalin and subsequent Soviet leaders he believed that those who did not accept the "universalisation of desire" in the "post State" or "rational tyranny" were "sick" and "should be locked up". Kojève valorised oppression.
Many intellectuals have a Caesaristic identification with authoritarian and totalitarian leaders. Kojève revered Napoleon and was intrigued by Hitler. Above all, Kojève revered Stalin and claimed he was "Stalin's conscience", a particularly bizarre form of identification.
Although Kojève privately informed Raymond Aron that only an imbecile "could not be unaware of the great terror launched by Stalin", he was reportedly "devastated as if he had lost a father" by Stalin's death in 1953.
Prior to Stalin's death, Kojève had written a letter to Stalin's French biographer, Boris Souvarine, proposing to philosophically underwrite Stalinism, a project in which he was largely successful. As George Steiner has noted, Kojève's Stalinism was "pivotal -- almost unique -- in any serious philosophy".
To Kojève, the victors write history. Stalin was a victor in Kojève's judgment and according to Kojève: "Sin will be pardoned. How? Through its success."
According to Kojève's terroristic conception of history "revolutionary history, world historical figures" that is, great leaders or great tyrants, are absolved of crimes against humanity. They and their "totalitarian parties should alone decide who should live or die". Terror is a triumph of the will.
Kojève's support for tyrants was clearly expressed in a letter he wrote to his friend the political philosopher Leo Strauss: "It would be unreasonable if the philosopher were in any way whatsoever to criticise the concrete political measures taken by the statesman, regardless of whether or not he is a tyrant, especially when the ideal advocated by the philosopher may be achieved at some future time." [Emphasis added].
Kojève during World War II
Kojève's activities during the Second World War are obscured in legend, partly self-created legend and partly perhaps suggested by the Russian intelligence service. The "resistance" period in his life remains most controversial. Whatever the truth, Kojève again narrowly escaped a firing squad and was again saved though the intervention of his personal contacts. Some critics claim that he collaborated with the Nazis at this time and that his identification with the aggressor, in this case, the Nazis, was so strong that he believed collaboration with a victorious Third Reich was justified, if it meant the survival of European/Latin supremacy in a French-led Latin Empire. How Kojève's plan accorded with the Nazis’ geopolitical plans for global racial domination is unclear but Kojève was a master of dialectical thinking defined by the Spanish writer George Semprun as‚ the art of always landing on one's feet.
Kojève in the Post War Period
In 1946 Kojève wrote that all interpretations of Hegel were "programmes for work and struggle and had the significance of political propaganda". Accordingly, after the Second World War, in the words of his friend, Raymond Aron, he "decided that he wanted to know how history happened. Like Plato he wanted to advise a tyrant, in the shadows exercise influence over the visible actors."
Such a task involved his penetration of the French government at the highest levels. A formidable net worker and recruiter with a charismatic and dazzling personality, Kojève was appointed in 1948 to a senior post in the Centre National du Commerce Extérieur of the French Ministry of Economic Affairs. This career move was typically facilitated by a former pupil, Robert Marjolin.
In 1950, Kojève wrote that the role of the philosopher in relation to the government was that of the adviser to the ruler. Philosophers such as Kojève should guide politics, as they were ideally placed to serve the State or government on the basis of their dialectical skills, their liberation from prejudices which permit a greater appreciation of historical reality and their capacity for holistic thinking. Kojève's views were not original and his conception of the role of the intelligentsia had been foreshadowed by Max Scheler and particularly Karl Mannheim in Ideology and Utopia (1922).
Although he claimed to love philosophy and regarded himself as a "sage", Kojève sought influence and power as it enabled him to serve the interests of his masters in Moscow Centre. As he wrote in 1950: "To want to influence the government is to want to influence the government in general. It is to want to determine or co-determine its policy as such." Rarely has the role of the Soviet agent of influence been so vividly defined.
Kojève remained an influential policy adviser and negotiator for the French government for thirty years, playing a significant role in creating France's and Europe's post-war economic institutions. A masterful persuader and negotiator, he was remarkably committed to bureaucracy, which he described as a "superior game" to philosophy.
Kojève dazzled Prime Minister Raymond Barré and the young Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. His influence may have peaked with his relationship with President Charles de Gaulle. He encouraged, through his network of contacts, De Gaulle's opposition to British E.E.C. membership, and his rebuilding of Franco-Russian relations with Khrushchev. De Gaulle looked to French leadership, as did Kojève, to lead a resurgent Europe in opposition to the looming global dominance of the United States.
Kojève was strategically placed to promote anti-American policies in the name of French national interests, Gaullism or European interests; he was an architect of G.A.T.T. (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and the European Union. He was also strategic adviser to Bernard Clappier. During this period he was Governor for the Bank of France and his old friend, Oliver Wormser, was one-time French ambassador to the Soviet Union.
In 1966, de Gaulle withdrew France from N.A.T.O.'s integrated command structure and made a triumphal state visit to the Soviet Union. Kojève was strategically-placed to influence, both personally and through his networks of influence, Soviet "active measures" (influence) operations in France; to destabilise Franco-U.S. relations; to encourage Franco-Russian rapprochement; and to distance France from N.A.T.O.
As Constantine Melnik, security adviser to the First Prime Minister of the Fourth Republic, noted: "More than any other political movement, Gaullism was swarming with agents of influence of the obliging K.G.B., whom we never succeeded in keeping away from de Gaulle."
Anti-Americanism in the name of Europe and French "high culture" appear to have been Kojève’s primary motivation in his political-administrative work in the highest circles of French government. French critics have described him as the "father of European anti-Americanism".
As early as the 1950s he wrote to Leo Strauss that a world socialist state might be realised through the gradual expansion of the European integration across the globe. As a "European" and "Russian", Kojève regarded the United States as a threat to "high culture" and viewed a United Europe led by France and Germany as the ideal bulwark against the "Americanisation" of the world.
1968 was a turning point in Western history. In an explosive mix of generational resentment, nihilism and unearned affluence centring on alleged opposition to the Communist-inspired war in Vietnam, radical students launched their attacks on the softest of all targets -- the centre for the study of self-hatred -- the modern university.
Kojève, the pioneer of the "long march through the institutions" therefore cast a cold eye on the student riots which erupted in France in May 1968. He coolly remarked to Raymond Aron that as there were no deaths during the riots it was not a meaningful event.
The Soviet agent who practised deception as an art form was a confirmed technocratic elitist who believed in rule from the centre and detested the visible intrusion of "the masses ", "the people" and "the politics of the street".
Kojève objected to the jejune leftists’ direct action and street demonstrations as they contravened the core concept in the Soviet lexicon: control.
On 4 June 1968, Kojève died of a heart attack whilst attending an E.E.C. meeting in Brussels. In Paris his apartment was reportedly mysteriously ransacked and his papers removed.
In Brussels one minute's silence was observed for Kojève: the Zelig-like, philosopher-ruler, world traveller, enigmatic linguistic polymath, intellectual, master bureaucrat, philosopher Prince, correspondent of Leo Strauss, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Schmitt, Karl Lowith, Karl Jaspers and Kandinsky, scholar, academic, technocrat, superlative negotiator, confidante of French presidents, libertine, student of physics and chemistry, dandy, sinologist, student of Indian, Chinese and Japanese languages, student of Islam, mathematics and physics, confrere of Europe's leading intellectuals and civil servants, holder of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, the father of post-modernism, and Soviet agent.
The literature on this topic is vast. The references listed below are the principal sources:
Kojève's role as a Soviet agent: "Europe's Greatest Traitor", Daily Telegraph (London), 2 October 1990.
Kojève's biography: D. Auffret, Alexandre Kojève: La Philosophie l’état, la fin de histoire, Paris, Grasset 1990.
"La D.S.T. avait identifié plusieurs agents du K.G.B. parmi lesquels le philosophe Alexandre Kojève", Le Monde, 19 September 1999.
"Le K.G.B. avait tissé à l’U.N. vaste reseau d’influence en France", Le Monde, 16 September 1999.
M. Price, "The Spy Who loved Hegel", Lingua Franca, Volume 10 (2), March 2000.
Vladimir Solovyov: "Christian Politics: Vladimir Solovyov's Social Gospel Theology", Modern Greek Studies Yearbook, Vol 10/11.
F. Fukayama, "The End of History and the Last Man", New York, 1992, which derived from his "The End of History?" The National Interest, Summer, 1989.
A. Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, Raymond Queneau, Ed. Allan Bloom, Basic Books, N.Y., 1969.
A. Kojève, Les Temps Modernes, 7 October 1948.
"Hegel, Marx and Christianisme Critique" (1946), cited in M. Roth, The Ironist's Cage: Memory Trauma and the Constructions of History, N.Y. 1995.
Vladimir Volkoff, The Set Up ["Le Montage"], London, 1985.
Stephen Koch, Double Lives: Spies and Secrets in the Secret War of Ideas Against the West, N.Y., 1994.
Soviet active measures are examined in C. Andrew and V. Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive, London, 2000, pages 600-623.
The author has drawn on: A. Neal, "The Promise and Practice of Deconstruction", Canadian Journal of History, 1995.
M. Lill, "The End of Philosophy: How a Russian émigré brought Hegel to the French", Times Literary Supplement, 5 April 1991.
The Kojève-Strauss correspondence centring on the interpretation of Hegel is documented in V. Gourevitch and M. S. Roth (eds.) Leo Strauss, "On Tyranny", N.Y., 1991.