New Fascism Syllabus: Russia’s irrational violence

15 03 2022

The collaborative New Fascism Syllabus, which provides scholarly perspectives on 20th and 21st century fascism, authoritarianism, and populism, has been publishing analyses relevant to the Russian invasion of Ukraine since that invasion began on February 24.

The articles variously discuss the weaponization of historical memory including the rhetorics of fascism and “denazification,” the new martial masculinities in evidence on both sides of the war, the recent blossoming of Holocaust scholarship in Ukraine (and worries over its fate), moral complicity in Russia’s political censorship, and Western strategies and perspectives on the invasion.

Omer Bartov’s bittersweet reminiscence of the beauty of Ukraine, its deeply troubled history (he is a historian of the Holocaust), and its recent “heroic efforts to reforge itself,” entitled “My Ukraine is Not Yet Lost,” is particularly moving. Bartov writes:

The war, the genocide of the Jews, the ethnic cleansing of the Poles, and the imposition of an oppressive and vengeful Soviet regime, seemed to have put an end to the world of the borderlands that lasted for centuries and, despite its many warps, prejudices, vast inequality, grinding poverty, and occasional bursts of horrific violence, was also the birthplace of much beauty and creativity, precisely because of its mix of cultures, religions, and ethnicities.

Like several of the authors, Bartov worries that all of the progress made in recent years will be undone by Russia’s violent attempt to turn back the clock to a world ruled by imperial fiat.

Two of the articles dwell on the “irrationality” of the invasion. In Andrea Chandler’s case, it is Putin’s irrationality, which she sees in full evidence in the recent events, despite her best efforts to find reason.

The only way that I can make any sense of Putin’s actions in Ukraine is to imagine a secret-police frame of decision-making in which the strategic value of territory is detached from its inhabitants. This frame exaggerates the threat that a self-reliant Ukraine poses to Russian sovereignty: if we “lose” Ukraine, we lose our “krai” – so where will our new “krai” be? 

In Russian, krai (край) suggests “borderland” or “edge” (окраина), while in Ukrainian it is commonly understood as “our country,” “our land,” “in-land,” or “within-land” (україна).

In Alexander Reid Ross and Shane Burley’s “Into the Irrational Core of Pure Violence,” the irrationality is found in the “convergence” between Aleksandr Dugin‘s “neo-Eurasianism” and the war being waged by the Kremlin. While there is debate around the level of continuing influence Dugin’s neo-fascist geopolitics has on Putin’s own thinking, and so the authors may err slightly in overemphasizing it, there is no doubt that Putinism has been shaped by a broad swath of Russian ultranationalist, neo-imperialist (to the point of being messianic), Orthodox theocratic, and other far-right ideologists including Dugin, Ivan Ilyin, Lev Gumilev, Konstantin Leontiev, and cronies in the Russian media-political sphere such as Kiselyov, Malofeev, Prokhanov, and others.

The authors write:

the hypocrisy of the supposed “de-Nazification” of Ukraine can be found in the fact that the invasion has been, since 2014, the project of fascists, Orthodox ultranationalists, and Dugin’s own network of self-described “neo-Eurasianists.” From the start, the aggression against Ukraine was bankrolled by Dugin’s patron, Russia’s “Orthodox Oligarch,” Konstantin Malofeev. During the first years, on-the-ground efforts were led by Malofeev’s associates Alexander Borodai and Igor Girkin, an ultranationalist who participated in the Bosnian Genocide before becoming Malofeev’s security chief. Girkin and Dugin are listed together as among Russia’s “authentic high-principled Hitlerites, true Aryans” in a mordant article by Russian dissident Andrey Piontkovsky.

An influential figure amongst the alt-right and Europe’s fascist “identitarian” movement. Dugin’s ideology is somewhat more syncretic and convoluted than traditional Nazism: he believes in the total destruction of the modern world and the liberalism he feels it represents. This radical upheaval of the world would be followed by the rebirth of patriarchal blood-and-soil communities distinguished by a caste system ruled by warrior-priests, which he calls “political soldiers.” Dugin desires to see Moscow presiding over a Eurasian empire stretching from Dublin to Vladivostok in which Istanbul will return to Constantinople (or “Tsargrad”). For Dugin, the invasion of Ukraine represents merely the first step in this “Great Slavic Reconquista.”

With its apocalyptic struggle and “palingenetic” rebirth, Dugin’s program clearly falls into the “consensus” definition of fascism that historians like Roger Griffin have established. In 2015, Griffin himself demured from describing Putin as a fascist, and just last year referred to Putinism as a form of “resentment politics.” But seven years later, with the military invasion and the reasoning that led to it (and justifications provided for it), most of Griffin’s reservations no longer appear to hold.

Dugin’s projected alignment between Russia, Iran, India, and China appears to be incipient as Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine solidifies its own alienation from the “liberal-globalist” West.

The authors conclude:

Here, we have the irrational core of pure violence: the anti-European Europe, the anti-imperialist empire, the antifascist fascism, the anti-nationalist ultranationalism, and the defense against genocide through the obliteration of a nation’s existence and concomitant shelling of civilian targets. Without recourse to reason, Russia must resort to raw coercion, power politics, to exert its sovereignty, all while presenting its alternative to the unipolarity of the U.S. empire as the de facto liberatory choice. By offering itself as an enemy of the U.S., it hopes to court a new class of friends. Russian nationalism acts as part of the vanguard of far-right movements, helping to re-align geopolitics away from cooperation and toward a binary, illiberal opposition. 

Reid Ross and Burley see the Ukrainian resistance as a struggle against imperialism that “must be universalized on the level of a struggle for freedom and equality everywhere.”





Shekhovtsov: On Putin & fascism

4 03 2014

In his article “Is Putin a new Hitler (in the making)?“, political scientist and far right watcher Anton Shekhovtsov outlines the many connections between Vladimir Putin’s Eurasianist ideologues and the European far right.

Here is the case for considering Putinism a new form of fascism.

It may be one-sided, but it should be read alongside the defenses of Putin promoted by Stephen Cohen and others in the western left. It also demonstrates how the uses of the term “fascism” in this Ukraine debate need more analysis.





Budraitskis: The “fascistization” of Russia

5 11 2022

Writing in the Marxist journal Spectre, Moscow-based historian, political theorist, and cultural activist Ilya Budraitskis considers whether and how the term “fascism” is an appropriate descriptor for Putinist Russia. His article “Putinism: A New Form of Fascism?” draws on Karl Polanyi, Hannah Arendt, and other leftist thinkers to argue that Putinism is not an aberration, but is an outgrowth of the market rationality and “social atomization” of neoliberal capitalism in its “late” crisis phase.

In attempting to impose order on a crisis-ridden world, he argues, Putinism is a form — the clearest and most intensified to date — of a new “fascism from above.” Where in the first decade of this century, Putin’s “neoliberal authoritarianism” relied on technocratic management and “mass depoliticization, associated with increased consumption, enjoyment of ‘stability,’ and a focus on private life,” from 2011 it “began the process of ‘fascistization,'” by which the leader transformed himself into the defender of the “traditional family,” the “silent conservative majority,” and the “besieged fortress” of Christian Russia. Finally, with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the regime took “only weeks to establish a new political order,” which it did “with the utmost ferocity” and brutality.

Budraitskis concludes:

This is the “normality” and familiarity of Putin’s regime: it oversees the passivity and atomization of society, the reactionary anti-universalism of its rhetoric, multiplied by the utmost cynical rationality of its elites. And it is worth explicitly calling it fascist, not only because it fits that definition, but also so that the emancipatory movements of the present can understand the scale of the global threat to our common future.

The entire article can be read here.





Radynski: deconstructing Russia

9 08 2022

I find Kinga Dunin’s conversation with Ukrainian filmmaker and intellectual Oleksiy Radynski refreshing — not because Radynski is a nuanced, scholarly thinker, but because he is a creative, provocative, connective thinker, more Deleuzian in spirit than anything else, which is a missing element from so much thinking on the present Russo-Ukrainian crisis.

Scholars, for instance, will debate whether and how democracy functions in Ukraine (Mikhai Minakov’s and Matthew Rojansky’s 2018 piece was good on that, and here’s one attempt to update that), and whether and how Putinism fits the label of fascism (Cain Burdeau’s recent overview of those arguments is helpful). Radynski simply uses the terms to think with and beyond them.

On democracy, here’s an exchange between Dunin and Radynski:

KD: It’s turned out that the Ukrainian state is quite well organized, efficient, and works surprisingly well despite the war.

OR: This is not the power of the state, but of democracy. February 24 completely changed our vision of what democracy is. It was not the state that organized resistance, but the people who self-organized. Nothing in my life has brought me around more to people’s democracy. I think this is why Russia lost the battle of Kyiv, which one day, with hindsight, may turn out to have been a breakthrough moment in this war. They had a completely vertical and nondemocratic way of managing their military. The commanders of various ranks weren’t allowed to revise their action plans; they were supposed to march ahead, encircle Kyiv, and seize it. Perhaps it’s a weak argument for democracy, but as far as I know the Ukrainian army is fighting democratically, which means it’s in total disarray. It was so especially during the first weeks, when the territorial defense forces were forming and an incredible number of people wanted to join. This story is yet to be written, it was … Makhnovshchyna [referring to Nestor Makhno’s early twentieth century anarchist militia]. A kind of people’s army. There was something Cossack about it.

Radynski describes Russia as fascist in part due to its “blocking” of “the development of culture” (“What they use is some kind of newspeak, a necro-language,” whereas “we,” Ukraine, “are the only country where free speech in Russian exists for the time being”). He replies to Dunin’s question “So Russian culture should not be boycotted?” with the following:

This would be too big a favor to Russian imperial culture. Russian culture deserves a punishment much more severe than a boycott. It deserves a deconstruction. [. . .]

Deconstructing Russian culture means challenging the existing pantheon, now headed by “Tolstoyevski”—Tolstoy, the “good Russian,” and the mad right-winger Dostoevsky. And not by, let’s say, truly radical writers, such as [Nikolai] Leskov. After the deconstruction of this culture, we will also look in a completely different way at Ukrainian literature, for example at such a decolonial revolutionary as Taras Shevchenko.

He also mentions Vladimir Sorokin’s dystopian futurist novel Telluria. Radynski’s future Russia is a “deconstructed” one that has effectively “decolonized” and “disintegrated” into regionalist movements that can no longer constitute the kind of imperial power we see in full force today.

There’s an idealism here that ignores the potential violence of this “disintegration” as well as its impacts on global geopolitics. But it is a kind of “creatively deconstructive” thinking that’s needed to balance out the “realism” of the Mearsheimers, Chomskys (despite the latter’s anarchist ideals), Kissingers, and others who cannot see a future beyond present configurations.

Radynski has shared the following backgrounder on his Facebook page:

e-flux published an interview on the decolonization of Russia that I gave to Kinga Dunin around three months ago. In the meantime, the idea to decolonize Russia kind of skyrocketed. It’s no longer a niche thing: it’s actively debated at international forums, popular magazines and even at panels organised by the State Department. It’s been picked up as a scarecrow by Russian propaganda, which increased its visibility by a multiple.

But we have to be careful with the popularity of this idea in the West. The Russian Federation should be decolonized (read: dismantled) as a result of its own internal contradictions, and not as an outcome of external meddling: this would only lead to a stronger fascist reaction in Russia. What we should do is take advantage of those internal contradictions to help the oppressed peoples liberate themselves.

We in Ukraine are best positioned to take this advantage. Our post-colonial situation allows us to understand the Russian system much better than it understands itself. In addition, we know how to use Russian language and are able of freely doing this, while the total majority of people in Russia are not.

Radynski’s conversation with Dunin can be read on e-Flux Notes.





Understanding Russia

10 07 2022

Understanding how things got to this point — with a full-scale war waged on a country of 45 million and threats of nuclear escalation toward a possible third world war — requires understanding how Russia got to this point. This post aims to introduce a short set of recent readings that help us understand Russian attitudes today and their deeper history.

State propaganda

Perhaps the best place to start is with a flavor of the state propaganda machine. Julia Davis’s “Putin’s Stooges: He May Nuke Us All, But We Are Ready to Die” (Daily Beast, April 28) captures many of the dominant voices in Russian state media articulating the message the Kremlin intended for its audience of 145 million part-way through the current invasion. A few quotes should be sufficient to give the flavor here (in case the article is paywalled for you):

“World War III, no longer just a special operation, with 40 countries against us. They declared a war.” (Olga Skabeeva, host, 60 Minutes)

“The representatives of those 40 different countries are today’s collective Hitler.” (Mikhail Markelov, 60 Minutes)

“Personally, I think that the most realistic way is the way of World War III, based on knowing us and our leader, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, knowing how everything works around here, it’s impossible—there is no chance—that we will give up” [. . .] “That everything will end with a nuclear strike, to me, is more probable than the other outcome. This is to my horror, on one hand, but on the other hand, with the understanding that it is what it is.” (RT director Margarita Simonyan, on The Evening with Vladimir Solovyov)

“But we will go to heaven, while they will simply croak.” (Solovyov responding to Simonyan)

“If we decide to strike the U.K., we should rather decide to strike the United States… Final decisions are being made not in London, but in Washington. If we want to hit the real center of the West, then we need to strike Washington.” (Andrey Sidorov, deputy dean of world politics at Moscow State University, same TV program) 

Read the rest of this entry »




Is Russia fascist?

8 06 2022

The question of whether or not to call Putinism “fascism” has popped up repeatedly in recent writing. Historian Timothy Snyder recently presented the case in an op-ed for the New York Times, concluding,

A time traveler from the 1930s would have no difficulty identifying the Putin regime as fascist. The symbol Z, the rallies, the propaganda, the war as a cleansing act of violence and the death pits around Ukrainian towns make it all very plain. The war against Ukraine is not only a return to the traditional fascist battleground, but also a return to traditional fascist language and practice. Other people are there to be colonized. Russia is innocent because of its ancient past. The existence of Ukraine is an international conspiracy. War is the answer.

Others — including political scientists (Taras Kuzio, Alexander Motyl), philosophers (Jason Stanley and Eliyahu Stern), economists (Vladislav Inozemtsev), defense secretaries (Ben Wallace), and other commentators (Tomasz Kamusella) — have agreed, while some (cited here) have so far demured from that characterization.

Most recently, Kyiv’s Visual Culture Research Center director Vasyl Cherepanin has admonished the West for its unwillingness to see the creeping fascism in Putinism, writing:

But it was not the West’s far right or far left that helped to bolster Russia’s fascist regime. It was liberal democracies’ political centrists and financial elites who pumped assets into the Kremlin’s mafia-capitalist system – and became corrupted by it. Even as Putin turned Russian politics into a “special operation” and authorized political assassinations, state censorship, electoral manipulation, systematic repression, and military invasions of other countries, the Western liberal establishment, despite the “values” it claims to uphold, normalized him.

The question will be taken up by a panel, including at least two of the world’s leading experts on the topic (Roger Griffin and Marlene Laruelle) at an online seminar entitled “Rashism/Ruscism: Is Russia Fascist?” organized by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies and the Deutsche-Ukrainische Historikerkommission (DUHK) on June 23. (On the use of the term “Rashism” see here.)

Register for the free event here.

https://m.facebook.com/events/1198343214300865/







Skip to toolbar