Tobias Stone. July 31.
On Russian Fascism
In 2014, just before he was murdered by Putin’s regime, the Russian opposition politician, Boris Nemtsov said in an interview: “Russia is rapidly turning into a fascist state. We already have propaganda modelled after Nazi Germany. We also have a nucleus of assault brigades…That’s just the beginning.”
The use of the word fascism to describe Putin’s Russia was discussed recently in the New York Times by Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale and expert on the topic. Snyder reminds his reader that Fascism should not be viewed only through the lens of Hitler and Nazi Germany, “Fascism was Italian in origin, popular in Romania — where fascists were Orthodox Christians who dreamed of cleansing violence — and had adherents throughout Europe (and America). In all its varieties, it was about the triumph of will over reason.”
Fascism is about a mixture of victimhood and violence, brutalisation and control, theatre and display, language and action, war and fear. Fascism creates enemies within and enemies abroad. It sows fear and anger to justify war, and uses war to justify control. Fascism is about creating an enemy in the ‘other’ and dehumanising them, which is why it is so often linked to genocide.
A unique feature of Russian fascism arises from the country’s battle against Hitler. Because Nazi Germany was fascist and the Russians fought against them, Stalin was able to frame his dictatorship as anti-fascist. This narrative has been continued by Putin, who paints Ukrainians as fascists and Nazis because they oppose Russia. According to this narrative, anyone opposing Russia is a fascist, and this gaslighting allows Putin to create a Russian fascist state behind the veil of being anti-fascist.
Snyder points out that the word fascism in Russia was always just used to describe an enemy, not any particular political system. “Stalin’s flexibility about fascism is the key to understanding Russia today. Under Stalin, fascism was first indifferent, then it was bad, then it was fine until — when Hitler betrayed Stalin and Germany invaded the Soviet Union — it was bad again. But no one ever defined what it meant. It was a box into which anything could be put. Communists were purged as fascists in show trials.”
By defining the others as fascists and Nazis, Putin juxtaposes Russia with the fascists, and therefore deflects any idea that he and his regime are now fascists. Snyder says: “Calling others fascists while being a fascist is the essential Putinist practice. Jason Stanley, an American philosopher, calls it “undermining propaganda.” I have called it “schizofascism.” The Ukrainians have the most elegant formulation. They call it “ruscism.”
Putin’s fascism has evolved to embrace violence, hatred, brutality, and the same paranoia that came to define Stalin’s Russia — everyone is an enemy, encroaching on their border, determined to destroy Russia, and every enemy is a fascist that needs to be destroyed.
The brutality of Putin’s regime underlines its fascism. This internal brutality has been seen openly in the failures of its military in Ukraine. Low morale has been attributed to a great extent to the way rank and file soldiers are themselves brutalised and mistreated by the army. Russia is violent towards its own in a way that is hard for Westerners to comprehend. The Economist sites a Levada poll suggesting that “10% of the Russian population has experienced torture by law-enforcement agencies at some point. There is a culture of cruelty. Domestic abuse is no longer a crime in Russia.” Ten percent does not sound large, but keep in mind Russia has a population of 145m, so this accounts for more people than the entire population of Belgium being tortured by their own state.
And Russia has once again become a country in which the simple use of words, such as ‘war,’ can land you in prison. People are stopped randomly in the street and arrested if they have anything on their phone suggesting they are not entirely in line with the official narrative, on Putin or on his war. Russia is now a harsh dictatorship in which people are not even allowed inner thoughts or private conversations that contravene the dictated narrative, and in which a militarised security state uninhibited by rules or laws can enforce order indiscriminately. This is a full return to Stalinism, with random extra-legal arrests, imprisonment, and murder.
If people cannot think, speak, or write their dissent out of fear, whilst at the same time they are enveloped in a fog of propaganda carrying only one message, then it becomes hard to know if you are alone or one of many in thinking critically of the regime. The Economist explains how “the state publicises opinion polls showing that the majority of Russians support the “special military operation”. The main reason people support Mr Putin is that they think everybody else does, too. The need to belong is powerful. Even when people have access to information, they “simply ignore it or rationalise it, just to avoid destroying the concept of self, country and power…created by propaganda,” notes Elena Koneva, a sociologist.”
This combination of total control over information, and total control of people through violence and fear is fascism. Underpining this new fascism is the state security infrastructure. In a long essay in Foreign Affairs magazine, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan trace the progression of the FSB under Putin. “In contrast to the largely surveillance-oriented agency of previous years, the FSB has become a far more expansive arm of an increasingly ruthless state. In its sweeping reach into domestic society, foreign affairs, and the military, the FSB has begun to look less like its late-Soviet predecessor, the KGB. It now resembles something much scarier: the NKVD, Stalin’s notorious secret police, which conducted the great purges of the 1930s and maintained an iron lock on Russian society into the early years of the Cold War.”
They reference FSB attacks on journalists, but also on businesses that continue to buy foreign parts, or even healthcare providers that use foreign medicines. The similarity with Stalin’s Russia is the shutting down of the country completely from the outside world, and a nationalism that becomes ideologically so extreme that people are considered traitors just for having foreign friends or buying foreign goods.
Soldatov and Borogan observe that “the NKVD was designed for a regime that was constantly at war: with its own political enemies, with former comrades in the country and abroad, and with the West. And what made the NKVD so powerful — and so feared — was that it answered only to Stalin, not to the Communist Party or the Soviet government.” This is the parallel they now draw with Putin’s Russia and the FSB. Because Russia no longer has the pillars of a state or a government, the FSB is under Putin’s direct control, and is expanding into every aspect of Russia domestic and foreign policy.
The reasons we need to call Russia fascist are firstly because it is, and secondly because this should lead our political leaders to recognise a strategic reality; fascism is unbending. By its nature, a fascist leader cannot compromise, cannot be seen to lose, be weak, or to negotiate. Fascism is an absolute, just like religious extremism, founded on a single view of the world that can have no other perspective. Fascism is not rational, it is brute force. In order to justify itself and remain in power, fascism creates a binary world in which only the fascist state is or can ever be right. Everything else is the enemy, bent on its destruction, and must be met with force.
Calling Russia fascist should clarify Western, African, and Asian policies on energy and foodreliance on Russia. We are no longer negotiating or dealing with a government, a rational political body, or an entity existing within a global legal framework. It is clear that Russia will use everything it can in its war, from energy and food to signing and then ignoring legal documents like peace treaties to gas contracts.
All of this points to the reality we faced with Nazi Germany, that the only way to confront fascism is to defeat it. All of the writers quoted here conclude that whilst Putin is in power, Russia will continue to be a violent, disruptive, and destabilising nation that has no limits to the harm and damage it is willing to commit to its own people or any nation that confronts it. Any country that wants global stability and peace, needs to unite to defeat Putin’s fascism.
Another article from the same author: