The Russian political regime after February 24 is often called fascist, but serious studies on this topic have not yet appeared. Yale University history professor, author of several books on fascism, totalitarianism, and European history, Timothy Snyder, in an article for The New York Times, tried to explain why such an interpretation is acceptable. We publish it in the translation of Galina Yuzefovich.
professor of history at Yale University
As an idea, fascism was never defeated.
As a cult of irrationality and violence, fascism was invulnerable in any dispute, and as long as Nazi Germany retained its power, it continued to tempt Europeans and residents of other countries. Fascism was defeated only on the fronts of World War II. But now he has returned, and this time Russia has become the country waging a fascist war of annihilation. If she manages to win, fascists around the world will feel more confident.
Alexander Dugin at a rally in support of Donbass. Moscow, August 2, 2014Evgeny Feldman
We err in limiting our fears of fascism in a certain way, shaped by Hitler and the Holocaust. Fascism was born in Italy, was very popular in Romania (where the fascists professed Orthodoxy and dreamed of purifying violence), had adherents throughout Europe and America. And in all its forms it was based on the idea of the triumph of will over reason. WHAT IS FASCISM
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Because of this, it is difficult to give a satisfactory definition of fascism. There is an ongoing debate – often bitter – about what lies at the heart of fascism. And yet today’s Russia meets most of the criteria that researchers tend to agree on. It has a cult of one particular leader – Vladimir Putin. In Russia, there is a cult of the dead, built around the Second World War. She has a myth about the golden age of imperial greatness left in the past, which must be restored through healing violence, namely, the bloody war in Ukraine.
Ukraine is not the first time becomes the object of a fascist war. The capture of this country was the main goal of Hitler in 1941. Hitler considered the Soviet Union, then in control of Ukraine, a Jewish state. He planned to replace the Soviet power with his own and seize the fertile lands of Ukraine: the USSR, according to his plan, should then plunge into the abyss of hunger, and Germany should become an empire. Hitler imagined that this would be easy, since the USSR, in his opinion, was an artificial entity, and the Ukrainians were a colonial tribe.
It is hard not to notice here the striking resemblance to the war waged by Putin. The Kremlin describes Ukraine as an “artificial state” whose “fake” status is “reinforced” by a Jewish president. A further line of thought suggests that after the elimination of the compact Ukrainian elite, the unorganized masses will gladly accept Russian domination. It is Russia that is depriving the world of Ukrainian food today, threatening the global south with starvation .
It is difficult for many to recognize today’s Russia as a fascist state, because the USSR of Stalin’s times positioned itself as an anti-fascist state. But such usage has not helped in the past to give a clear definition of fascism. It does not help even now – moreover, it is seriously disorienting. With the help of America, Great Britain and other allies, the Soviet Union managed to defeat Nazi Germany and its allies in 1945. However, on this basis, it should not be opposed to fascism.
Until Hitler came to power in 1933, the USSR saw fascism as nothing more than another form of capitalist enemy. The Communist parties in Europe were to see enemies in all other parties. In fact, such a policy contributed to the rise of Hitler: despite the fact that the German communists and socialists outnumbered the Nazis, they could not agree among themselves. After this fiasco, Stalin adjusted his policy, calling on the European communist parties to form a coalition to counter fascism.
This arrangement did not last long. In 1939, the USSR allied itself with Nazi Germany, and, being de facto in the status of allies, the two superpowers jointly invaded Poland. The speeches of Nazi leaders were printed in the Soviet press, and Nazi officers praised the effectiveness of the Soviet authorities in regard to mass deportations. Today in Russia they do not talk about this, because such a view directly contradicts the laws on historical memory. The Second World War became part of Putin’s historical myth of Russian innocence and lost greatness: relying on it, Russia declared its monopoly on sacrifice and victory. It has become illegal to say—and even think—that by making a deal with Hitler, Stalin contributed to the outbreak of World War II.
Stalin’s flexibility towards fascism is the key to understanding today’s Russia. At first, Stalin was indifferent to fascism, then it became bad for him, then excellent, and only then – after Hitler betrayed Stalin and Germany invaded the Soviet Union – he turned out to be bad again. But no one has bothered to determine what this concept itself meant. In fact, fascism turned into a shell that could be filled with any content. Communists were publicly tried and repressed as fascists. During the Cold War, the Americans and the British became fascists. No amount of “anti-fascism” kept Stalin after the war from persecuting the Jews , and his successors from trying to liken Israel to Nazi Germany.
In other words, Soviet anti-fascism was part of the ideological confrontation “they against us.” It was not a genuine response to fascism. After all, fascist politics, as the Nazi thinker Carl Schmitt wrote, begins with the definition of the enemy. Since Soviet anti-fascism had no other purpose than to point out and mark the enemy, it thereby left a loophole for the return of genuine fascism to Russia.
In 21st-century Russia, the term “anti-fascism” has simply come to mean the right of the Russian leader to determine the enemies of the state. Real Russian fascists – such as Alexander Dugin and Alexander Prokhanov – received a rostrum in the Russian media. Putin himself drew ideas from the writings of the Russian fascist Ivan Ilyin , who lived between the world wars. For the President of Russia, any person who tries to oppose him and his plans to destroy Ukraine has become a “fascist” or “Nazi”. Ukrainians were declared “Nazis” simply because they refused to recognize themselves as Russians and are resisting.
A time traveler who arrived today from the 1930s would easily recognize the fascist regime in Putin’s regime. The Z symbol, popular processions, propaganda, the idea of war as an act of cleansing violence, mass graves around Ukrainian cities – all this leaves no room for doubt. The war in Ukraine is not just a return to the traditional fascist foothold, but also a recreation of traditional fascist practices and rhetoric. Other nations exist in order to colonize them. Russia is not to blame for anything because of its glorious past. The existence of Ukraine is the result of an international conspiracy. The only possible answer is war.
Since Putin calls his enemies fascists, it can be hard for us to accept that he is actually a fascist. But in the course of the Russian invasion, the word “Nazi” simply means “hostile subhuman” – one whom the Russians have the right to kill. Hate speech directed at Ukrainians makes it easier to kill them, as we see from the events in Bucha , Mariupol and other parts of Ukraine that have been under Russian occupation. Mass graves are not a tragic accident, but a natural consequence of the fascist war of annihilation.
Fascists who call others fascists are fascism taken to the illogical limit in its worship of the irrational. This is the final point at which hate speech turns reality inside out, and propaganda turns into pure spell. This is the maximum triumph of will over thought. Calling others fascists while being a fascist is the basis of Putin’s method . The American philosopher Jason Stanley calls it “subversive propaganda” . I proposed the term “schizofascism” . Ukrainians have a more elegant definition – they call it “rashism” . On May 2, the release of Signal, a new email newsletter from the creators of Meduza, was devoted to the term
We know more about fascism today than we did in the 1930s. We understand what it leads to. We need to unmistakably recognize fascism, because in this way we will understand what we are dealing with. But to recognize does not mean to neutralize. Fascism is not a position in the discussion, but a cult of the will that gives rise to a mystical myth about a man who heals the world with violence, and this myth will be supported to the end by propaganda. You can defeat him only by demonstrating the weakness of the leader. The fascist leader must be defeated, therefore those who oppose fascism must do whatever is necessary to do so. Only in this way can fascist mythology be crushed.
As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world, and the fascists have already begun to attack their neighbors. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it will not just mean the destruction of democracy by brute force – although that would be terrible in and of itself. This demoralizes Democrats everywhere. Even before the war, Russia’s friends – such as Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Tucker Carlson – were enemies of democracy. The victory of the fascists on the battlefield will be a signal that truth really lies in strength, that prudence is for losers, that democracy is doomed.
Had Ukraine not resisted, this spring would have been a dark time for democracy advocates around the world. If Ukraine does not win, the darkness could last for decades.