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/




Galeev: 3 scenarios for Russia

2 04 2022

Among the more interesting Twitter analysts these days (as I’ve mentioned before) is Kamil Galeev. In a new series of threads, he examines three possible scenarios for Russia’s future.

The first is a North Korean scenario, in which Putin stays in power and all of Russia effectively becomes Donbass, i.e., a “hypermilitarized kleptocracy.” Galeev notes that “Russia has been lowkey drifting to the Donbass state for years. It’s an oil exporter that is running out of cheap oil and wants to stay highly militarised. Thus it must reduce life standards and personal freedoms.”

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The ethnopolitics of the Russian invasion

26 03 2022

When people ask “How can this be happening that two such close nations” — “brotherly” or “fraternal peoples,” as it’s often said — “are killing each other?” they are missing a crucial political piece, for which we need new terminology as well as a more complex set of lenses.

It’s helpful to compare this to the break-up of Yugoslavia, where similar questions were asked. To bewildered fellow Europeans, that break-up appeared to release an upsurge of primal, atavistic inter-ethnic violence that was incomprehensible except through the discourse of “Balkanism,” according to which the Balkans have long historically represented everything about Europe that was least European. The reality was more complex, and not all took up the effort to understand it.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine — with its inhuman fanaticism, as witnessed in the horrific assault on Mariupol (see below) and to lesser degrees in Kharkiv and other largely Russian-speaking, eastern Ukrainian cities — risks a resort to something similar, though it’s not exactly the Russophobia some have warned against.

Understanding the invasion requires examining not only the geopolitical and economic factors, which have been well covered in the western (especially left-wing) press, but also the histories and psychologies of imperialism (notably Russian), colonialism (ditto), ethnic chauvinism (especially Russian toward Ukrainians), Sovietization (of the entire Soviet population, but less so in western Ukraine, which experienced it for a shorter period), authoritarianism (Putinism) and its refusal (among Ukrainians), the draw of “Europe” for Ukrainians, and the basic connection to land that many Ukrainians feel “in their bones” even if that connection has been historically denied, if never fully severed, by those imperial/colonial histories.

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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.

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Laruelle on Putin’s ideological pasturelands

16 03 2022

Historian and political scientist Marlene Laruelle is unquestionably one of the leading western experts on Russian political thought. She has authored and edited numerous volumes including Russian Nationalism: Imaginaries, Doctrines and Political Battlefields (2018, and available in open-access), Understanding Russia: The Challenges of Transformation (2018), Entangled Far Rights: A Russian-European Intellectual Romance in the 20th Century (2018), and Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire (2008).

In her new essay for UnHerd, “The brains behind the Russian invasion,” Laruelle takes on what for some is the all-important question, “Who is the President’s Rasputin?” She examines several key candidates for such an ideological whisperer — Ivan Ilyin, Lev Gumilev, Alexander Dugin, Konstantin Malofeev, the Russian Orthodox Church’s Bishop Tikhon, the Moscow Patriarchate itself, and Putin’s close friend Yuri Kovalchuk — but argues instead that

The reality is more complex: there are multiple ideological sources who have blended to cause the disastrous invasion, all mediated through his “court” of  trusted people and group of military advisers, and many of whom unite in their vision of Ukraine as a country that needs to be brought back by force into Russia’s orbit.

More complex, then, but in some ways also more banal, in that the sources of Putin’s impulses may be much more broadly cultural:

Like many of his fellow citizens, [Putin is] probably saturated by political talk shows cultivating anti-Ukrainian feelings, as well as by patriotic movies celebrating the Russian Empire’s greatness and its territorial conquests. There may be no need then to look for a doctrinal text that would have inspired him, as the memory of Russia’s empire and the subordinated role of Ukrainians in it permeates so many components of Russian cultural life.

Putin’s worldview has been built up over many years, and is more shaped by his personal resentment toward the West than by any ideological influence. Readings of the classic works of Russian philosophy which insist on Russia’s historical struggle with the West, emphasise the role of Ukraine as a civilizational borderland between both, have simply reinforced his own lived experience. [emphasis added]

Why, then, such a seemingly disastrous decision to invade a country that will fight tooth-and-nail against the invasion? She blames this on “low-level intelligence-gathering.”

And it is here that the President’s mask slips. It becomes clear that Putin is an aging and isolated authoritarian leader surrounded by advisers afraid of bringing him a realistic assessment of the likelihood of victory, thereby accelerating Russia dragging a sovereign Ukraine along with the rest of Europe towards the worst catastrophe since the Second World War.

The entire article is worth reading. It’s accompanied by a video interview with Laruelle carried out by UnHerd‘s Freddie Sayers.

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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.”





“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.





Remnick from Moscow: on Putinism

13 08 2014

In his “Letter from Moscow: Watching the Eclipse,” Long-time New Yorker editor David Remnick provides a detailed and informative examination of Putinism and US foreign policy responses to it, with a focus on recent US ambassador Michael McFaul. The article is worth reading in full.

For more on Putinism’s growing role among global conservatives, see John Schindler‘s recent piece “Putinism and the Anti-WEIRD Coalition.”





Geopolitics: The Ukraine conflict in the multipolar world order

30 07 2014

Here are some recent pieces, from a variety of political perspectives, helpful for understanding the geopolitical implications of the Russia-Ukraine (and effectively Russia-U.S.) conflict.

Most of these focus on the recent Russia-China gas deal, and together they underscore the importance of the Russia-China relationship in the unfolding multi-polar geopolitics of the post-2008 world economy.

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Smith: “Truths & counter-truths”

28 07 2014

In “Truths and Counter-Truths: The Front of Information and Misinformation,” Fourth International (Trotskyist) activist Murray Smith provides a detailed analysis of the Ukraine-Russia conflict from a left-wing perspective.

Smith is a Scottish socialist who has been active in leftist politics in various European countries since the 1960s. Since 2009 he has lived in Luxemburg, where is a leader of the party “The Left” (déi Lénk), its leadership representative in the Party of the European Left, and associated with the European United Left-Nordic Green Left.

The article is thoroughly referenced and includes a very good summary of the Russian misinformation campaign. I highly recommend it. It can be read here.








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