A Web of Secrecy: Synarchists, Cagoulists, and Bolshevists

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard Spence, Ph.D., University of Idaho

The 1930s has been called ‘a low, dishonest decade’. It saw the economic crisis, the rise of Hitler, the Stalinist terror, and the general decline of democracy. The big question is whether it was all a coincidence or a consequence.

A Bolshevik parade in St. Petersberg during the Russian Revolution.
Bolshevism was closely associated with Synarchism through other overlapping secret societies such as Martinism and Freemasonism. (Image: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

The morning of January 25th, 1937 was chilly in Paris. Russian émigré economist Dmitry Navachine finished breakfast and got his dogs ready for their walk. Few people were out strolling that early in Bois de Boulogne park. But none saw, or admitted to seeing, what came next. Navachine was attacked from behind and stabbed twice in the heart. Why hadn’t Navachine’s dogs barked? Did they know the attacker?

Inspector Marcel Guillaume—France’s greatest living detective—delayed his retirement to lead the inquiry. Immediate suspicion fell on the Soviet Union. It seemed awfully coincidental that a show trial in Moscow had started two days earlier. Its defendants were all accused of being part of a plot against Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin, a plot organized by Stalin’s arch enemy, Leon Trotsky.

The crime scene from the murder of Navachine, where officers are investigating his dead body.
The crime scene from Dmitry Navachine’s murder. He had different levels of associations with many secret societies such as Martinism and La Synarchie. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

Learn more about Masonic revolutions in America and France.

Navachine’s Associations with Secret Societies

So, who was Dmitry Navachine? Born in Kiev in 1889, he started out wanting to be a poet. Later, he turned to economics and socialism. He also became a Freemason of the Grand Orient of the Peoples of Russia. This was the tsarist empire’s largest Masonic body, an elite political fraternity.

Navachine joined at least two other secret societies: the Rosicrucians and the Martinist Order. In each, he swore oaths side by side with devout monarchists and future Bolsheviks. When the First World War broke out, Navachine was already a wealthy man. And after the tsar’s fall in 1917, a fellow brother Mason, Alexander Kerensky—then head of the Russian provisional government—sent Navachine to oversee Russian Red Cross operations in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Denmark was officially neutral during World War I, and Copenhagen was a center for all manner of intrigue. One conspirator operating there was the socialist businessman and Freemason Alexander Helphand-Parvus. He was the man who convinced the Germans to subsidize revolution in Russia, including Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks.

Learn more about the Bolsheviks, Masons, and the Russian revolution.

Navachine’s Nexus with High Politics and Finance

There were suspicions that Kerensky had sent Navachine to make contact with Parvus, or maybe with the Germans, with the aim of negotiating a separate peace. Regardless, from this point on, Navachine was up to his neck in secrecy and intrigue. He somehow gained Lenin’s confidence. And after the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, Navachine seamlessly entered the service of the Soviets.

In February 1920, he traveled to New York. A curious detail is that Navachine crossed the Atlantic on the same ocean liner as the London banker Ernst Schiff. Ernst Schiff was a nephew of one of the most important financiers on Wall Street, Jacob Schiff, a man who’d had his own connections to Russian revolutionaries, maybe even Leon Trotsky.

Who Navachine met in New York—and what he did—stayed secret. But one can be sure he wasn’t there for sightseeing. Barely a week after Navachine arrived—in another coincidence—Wall Street tycoon J. P. Morgan dispatched two special agents on a tour of war-ravaged Europe. Their mission was to investigate the dangers, and possible opportunities, posed by the spread of Bolshevism.

By 1921, Dmitry Navachine was settled in Paris, where he handled secret financial deals for the Kremlin. In 1925, he engineered the Soviet takeover of France’s Banque Commerciale pour l’Europe du Nord and became its head.

Simultaneously, Navachine built a reputation as an economist and established close relations with French bankers, businessmen, and politicians. It didn’t hurt that many of them were brother Freemasons.

In 1929, however, Navachine did an about-face. He quit the Banque Commerciale and joined the new Banque Worms in Paris. He also cut ties with Moscow. Navachine was a Trotsky man and despised Stalin. One intelligence report even labeled Navachine the chief of a secret pro-Trotsky organization. He supposedly managed its funds from his Paris office. That naturally raises the question of where those funds came from.

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

La Cagoule

It’s not hard to see why Stalin might want to have Navachine rubbed-out. But French Inspector Guillaume turned up clues pointing in another direction: to a shadowy right-wing secret society called La Cagoule or ‘The Hood’. Officially, their name was the Secret Committee for Revolutionary Action. They specialized in assassinations, bombings, and sabotage.

A bomb explosion carried out by the Cagoules in a building at Presbourg street.
La Cagoule was a right-wing secret society that carried out assassinations, bombings, and sabotage. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

The Cagoule’s politics were more or less fascist, but their exact loyalties were hazy. Members most obviously shared a hatred for the French Third Republic and the leftist parties that then dominated it. Though small, the Cagoule was well-funded by businessmen like Eugène Schueller, head of the L’Oreal cosmetics company. But what could the Cagoule possibly have against Navachine?

The Russian was an advisor to the Popular Front, the leftist coalition then in control of the Third Republic’s government. And Navachine was close friends with the Popular Front’s budget minister, Charles Spinasse. Navachine was supposed to have lunch with Spinasse the day he was murdered. But these clues yielded no breakthroughs.

The investigation petered out. And there were bigger things to worry about than a dead Russian. In November 1937, the Popular Front narrowly thwarted a Cagoule-led coup attempt. Two years later came World War II which led to the sudden, disastrous fall of France in June 1940; a disaster that many later believed had been planned and executed by someone.

Was there a hidden hand at work undermining democratic institutions and encouraging dictatorship? And was this hidden hand something called Synarchy? Synarchy is another of those secret societies or organizations that exist in the twilight zone where fact, fiction, and speculation blend.

La Synarchie

Unlike Fascism or Communism, it doesn’t get much discussion. Roughly, Synarchy means to rule together or joint rule. Nothing too sinister on the surface. But that leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

A portrait of French writer and occultist Alexandre St. Yves d’Alveydre.
The term Synarchism originated with French writer and occultist Alexandre St. Yves d’Alveydre. (Image: Paracelse at French Wikipedia/Public domain)

The term originated with a 19th-century French writer and occultist, Alexandre St. Yves d’Alveydre.

St. Yves concocted an ancient lineage for Synarchy stretching back to the fabled island of Atlantis. St. Yves touted Synarchy as the ‘normal organization of all societies’, establishing ‘harmonious cooperation’ instead of competition. But there was nothing democratic about it. Authority would belong to an enlightened elite.

This elite would divvy up power to technical, judicial, and commercial bodies headed by hand-picked experts. Secret societies also had an assigned role in the Synarchist utopia. They’d create a new class of oracles and priests to guide the masses.

In 1886, St. Yves formed a press syndicate to promote Synarchist ideas. His aim was to identify and recruit key persons in politics, business, and academia. St. Yves put all this down in a book, but suddenly balked at publishing it. Supposedly on the ascended masters’ orders.

Learn more about the Freemasons.

Synarchists vs. Bolshevists

The man who really got Synarchy rolling was another French occultist, a student of St. Yves, Gérard Encausse, or Papus. Papus became a spiritual adviser to Tsar Nicholas. Papus also set-up Masonic lodges in Russia, including the one Dmitry Navachine joined. Papus and a gaggle of French occultists had also formed—or re-formed—something called the Martinist Order. They claimed it was the revival of an 18th-century mystical order.

The chief of Vichy police, Chavin, in a separate but related murder case of Jean Coutrot discovered that St. Yves and Papus used Martinism as a cover to spread Synarchist ideas.

The bottom line is that Synarchy’s roots are firmly embedded in secret societies and occult doctrines. The First World War devastated the ranks of the French Martinists. Many bright young initiates filled cemeteries instead of positions of influence. There was a need to refill ranks quickly. And the war created another problem. The revolution in Russia unleashed the genie of Bolshevism.

Even if Bolshevism was a mutant strain of Synarchy, the western Synarchists wanted it contained in the Eurasian hinterland. So, in 1919, the surviving Martinists formed a Synarchist International to oppose the Communist International in Moscow. Supposedly, among the first fruits of this Synarchist counter-offensive were the emergence of Benito Mussolini’s fascists and the Thule Society in Germany: the same Thule Society that helped prepare the ground for Hitler.

Common Questions about a Web of Secrecy: Synarchists, Cagoulists, and Bolshevists

Q: What is Bolshevism in simple terms?

Bolsheviks were Russian Communists. They are also called the Bolshevik Communists.

Q: What is the religion of the Freemasons?

Freemasonry is not a Christian institution, though it is often considered to be the same. Freemasonry has often received considerable opposition from the religion as some consider it to be a secret society.

Q: What do Masons stand for?

Masonry is a fraternity with the central belief that each man can make a difference in this world. It tries to enhance and strengthen the character of the individual man

Q: What is the Masonic handshake?

Masonic handshake is a secret handshake within the society to distinguish and recognize apprentices and masters.

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