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/




Decolonialism and the invasion of Ukraine

22 03 2022

Placing the Russian invasion of Ukraine into the context of postcolonial and decolonial theory can be a tricky business. This post takes a few recent articles as its starting point to explore some of its ambiguities.

Decolonization, take 1: Ukraine and Russia

Writing in e-Flux journal (and reprinted in left-wing German magazine Taz), Oleksiy Radynski, filmmaker and cofounder of Kyïv’s Visual Culture Research Center, astutely untangles the deeply colonialist underpinnings of Putin’s war on Ukraine and Ukrainians. In “The Case Against the Russian Federation,” Radynski briefly pursues two fascinating lines of argument. (Each of them has been developed in greater depth by others, but not to my knowledge combined in such a concise and currently relevant way, thus my focus on it here.)

The first argues that Putin’s, and many Russians’, anti-Ukrainianism — the “deep ethnic and political hatred towards Ukrainians” evident in his recent speeches — is a disavowal of that which threatens them internally. Ukraine today represents “a radically different Russia,” with the disavowal working in both directions.

Read the rest of this entry »




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.”





The face of 21st century fascism

24 02 2022

Fascism, as defined by those who study it, typically includes three key elements: a perception of deep historical grievance and/or a belief that the modern world is in some way irredeemably decadent; a desire for vengeance and/or national, collective, and/or historical ‘rebirth’ (‘palingenesis’ is the scholarly word for that); and submission of individual will to collective will, often though not always embodied in a cult of the leader or ruler. Modern fascism, as we saw last century, is also industrialized and technological; it mass produces its victims.

The first two elements have become more and more obvious in Putinist Russia. Putin has built on a deep sense of historical grievance, and his desire to rebuild Russia in all its former “glory” has been often articulated, not least in his speeches this past week. Up until yesterday, however, Putin’s fascism (like Trump’s) has been debated, but generally not admitted.

Fascism’s presence, since the end of the second world war, has seemed mostly individual — with lone killers committing mass murder in Oslo, Christchurch, El Paso, and elsewhere — or small-scale and cellular, with neo-Nazis found everywhere, from the US to Germany, France, Ukraine, and beyond, but nowhere near attaining power. (Whether ISIS and its kin in the Muslim world qualify as forms of fascism has also been debated, without clear resolution.)

Putin’s decision to use the second largest military in the world to achieve his palingenetic goals in ways that threaten millions of people has, I believe, changed the landscape of contemporary fascism. Many fascists and ultra-rightists have looked to Putin as a potential savior of the world against liberalism, globalism, and western “decadence.” The war in Ukraine can now be seen as Putin’s decisive response. That he claims he is “denazifying” Ukraine is, of course, completely consistent with fascism’s predilection for the “big lie.”

We now see the face of 21st century fascism: deeply aggrieved, cold and calculating, and starkly technological. This is our new world.





Motyl on fascism in Ukraine vs. Russia

6 02 2015

In “Is Ukraine fascist?” Rutgers University political scientist Alexander Motyl examines the case for finding fascism in Ukraine as opposed to Russia.

He’s pretty fair, despite his overstated conclusion. (I don’t think Russia has conclusively become fascist, even if many of the elements of that process are well in play.)





DNR & LNR play anti-Semitic card

5 02 2015

Following the collapse of the Minsk ceasefire talks, the leaders of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” held a joint press conference which ended in a bizarre anti-Semitic jibe against current Ukrainian leaders.

The entire press conference is worth watching, but the part in question begins at around 13’20”. It’s clear to me that they are aiming it at President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Yatseniuk, Speaker of Parliament Volodymyr Groysman (those are the three most powerful politicians in Ukraine today), and probably Dnipropetrovsk governor (and pro-Kyiv oligarch) Ihor Kolomoisky, all of whom are known or thought to have Jewish roots and who, collectively, show how irrelevant ethnicity has become in Ukraine.

That these two guys see themselves as fighting for their “cossack” fiefdom (supported by a resurgent Great Russia) does not bode well for the future of the region.

http://youtu.be/knMWlB4c_cY





“Bike Show” agitprop

13 08 2014

An Olympics-scale performance staged on August 9 in the Crimean military port of Sevastopol depicted the official Russian version of Ukraine’s Maidan revolution — complete with huge dancing human swastikas, lynchings, burnings, firings of Kalashnikovs, and symbols depicting the US (dollar signs, eagles, the Eye of Providence), the Right Sector, and the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.”

Ostensibly organized by Russian biker club “Night Wolves” (Ночные волки) but clearly with a massive budget, the performance was broadcast nationally on the Rossiya-2 (Russia 2) state television network. Rather like Cirque du Soleil staging some Al-Qaedaesque millenarian nightmare, and bringing to mind Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, it is a disturbing example of what happens when cultural institutions are harnessed in the name of wartime propaganda.

Mat Babiak, editor of the Euromaidan Press web site, provides a detailed analysis (with numerous still photos) here. The original show in its entirety can be viewed on Rossiya-2. The web site for the “Triumphant Bike Show,” which began in Moscow and ended in Sevastopol, is here. For some images of the bikers themselves, see Google’s image database.

While the comments on the Euromaidan site reflect the shock, dismay, and befuddlement of Ukrainian viewers, those on the Russian Twitter feed express the delight of many Russian “patriotic” viewers.





Shekhovtsov on the far right

12 07 2014

Anton Shekhovtsov’s “Look Far Right, and Look Right Again” provides a sober assessment of the nationalist far right both in Russia, where it is well established, and in Ukraine, where it is making more inroads than some concede (but not as many as others claim).





Young: on where the fascism is

23 05 2014

Here’s another useful summary of things from Cathy Young (Ekaterina Jung).

(While I don’t always agree with her liberatarian-leaning political positions, she is a respectable journalist. I share it only because the Russian state media, i.e., propaganda, narratives are still so pervasive.)

 





Right Sector vs. United Russia

11 05 2014

Survey results carried out by Public.ru for the month of April show the number of mentions in Russian media of Ukrainian far-right grouping “Right Sector” — whose leader, Dmytro Yarosh, has 0.7% support according to the latest poll results — was second among all Russian or Ukrainian political organizations.

The only group that was mentioned more frequently was the Russian party in power, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia.  That party received 19,050 points according to the methodology used, compared to Right Sector’s 18,900. Both were well ahead of others. (See results below.) The survey covers television, radio, print and electronic media in the Russian Federation.

Given that Right Sector is (a) not a party, (b) not in Russia, and (c) has miniscule support in the country where it does exist, this data tells us something very interesting about Russian media. Read the rest of this entry »








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