Fascism

The Dictatorship

Yuri Felshtinsky, in a recent article discussing what he sees as Russia’s current gradual preparation for a major war:

Сейчас уже понятно, что никакой элиты нет. Есть довольно жестко отстроенная вертикаль власти. В конце 15-летнего пути все, что мы имеем в России, – это диктатура. Это диктатура не сталинского типа, а скорее мягкая диктатура фашистского типа, как при Муссолини или раннем Гитлере. Диктатура при открытости границы – а при Сталине границы были закрыты, при рыночной экономике – а при Сталине никакой рыночной экономики не было, без концентрационных лагерей, без массовых политических репрессий. Но эта мягкая диктатура в любой момент может превратиться и в более жесткую диктатуру – просто по законам жанра.

It is now clear that there is no elite. There is a rather rigidly constructed power vertical. At the end of a 15-year-old path, all that we have in Russia is a dictatorship. It is not a Stalinist dictatorship, but rather a soft dictatorship of the fascist type, like that of Mussolini or early Hitler. A dictatorship with open borders – under Stalin the borders were closed. One with a market economy – under Stalin, there was no market economy. One without concentration camps, without mass political repressions. But this soft dictatorship can at any moment turn into a more hardline dictatorship – simply by the laws of the genre.

The rise of antisemitism in Russia and the crisis in Ukraine

The Winnipeg Media Centre has published an analysis of the Putin regime’s campaign of disinformation and defamation against Ukraine, the basis of which is an attempt to incriminate the Ukrainian government and people with the charge of organized antisemitism. In fact, as the analysis shows, the rise of antisemitism is taking place not in Ukraine but in neighboring Russia, where officially sponsored fascist and neo-Nazi ideology is creating a situation not unlike the one that existed in Germany during the 1930s.

The analysis is divided into three sections:

The first section gives the view of the Ukrainian Jewish community and of organizations that monitor human rights. It is clear from these articles that Jews in Ukraine see neither the current Ukrainian government nor the groups that brought about the change of government as a danger.  On the contrary, they are unanimous in the view that the biggest threat to the safety and security of Jewish people in Ukraine comes from the militant separatists backed by the Russian state.

The second section presents articles by scholars who are following events in the Donbas area and in Russia. These researchers are among many who warn of an alarming rise in chauvinistic and xenophobic attitudes in Russia. They are particularly worried by the rise of fascist groups supported by the government, and by the development of a fascist ideology in circles close to Putin.

The third section presents articles that indicate what we can expect from governing circles in Moscow, and raises broader issues in connection with Putin’s propaganda campaign.

Ukraine as Antidote

In the wake of the large gains by ultra-right wing parties in the recent European elections, Timothy Snyder suggests in the New York Review of Books that Ukraine could provide an antidote to the problem. A country that actively wants to join the European Union and is willing to work for it could help the body to rediscover its purpose:

In the Ukrainian revolution, people fought carrying the EU flag; in the Ukrainian elections, people stood in line for hours wearing EU symbols. The European Union has been enlarging since its establishment as the European Communities, and it will and should continue to do so. A promise of further enlargement would not be expensive: on the contrary, the incentives for reform and for investment would reduce the need for future aid.

By contrast, Snyder says, the voters who in Scotland, France, England, Greece, Austria, Bulgaria and elsewhere in Europe voted for a return to the nation state are living in a parallel universe, and really voted for a “separation from the world”. Their detachment from reality is merely enabling Putin’s scheme for the Russian domination of Europe – the Russkiy Mir – for these nationalists and advocates of “independence” also support Putin’s aims and policies. However, “if Europeans voted the way Ukrainians did, Europe could count on a far more secure and prosperous future.”

Russia Today and Britain’s Far Right

In Searchlight on April 16, Gerry Gable noted that

A film crew from Russia’s RT Documentaries TV channel is coming to London on 19 April. Headed by producer Eldar Kazakov, they plan to interview representatives of as many far-right groups as possible for a long programme.

They approached Searchlight as they hoped we could give them contact details for some of these groups.

The article also mentions groups that RT don’t want to take part in the programme – these include the Traditional Britain Group and the Iona London Forum, which apparently have links with Vladimir Putin’s propagandist Alexander Dugin. As Gable observed:

Dugin is a close friend of Putin. I suggested Kazakov investigate Iona’s links not only with Dugin but with extreme right groups in Russia, Syria and Ukraine. Such a programme would be far more relevant than the one he was planning.

Putin has cultivated European extreme-right organisations and even invited their representatives to observe last month’s illegal referendum in Crimea.

Who is Fascist?

In this Al Jazeera article, Halya Coynash discusses the irony in the fact that accusations of “fascism” are being made against Ukraine by a Russian government that’s  increasingly establishing close links with the parties of the European far right. In addition,

A number of the main actors in the pro-Russian protests in the Donetsk region have strong links with far-right parties. Pavel Gubarev, for example, is a Donetsk business owner and the head of the “People’s Militia”. On March 1, he was supposedly elected “people’s governor” and led a crowd in storming the Donetsk regional administration building, demanding that a referendum be held on the oblast’s secession and calling for Russian military intervention. His detention was presented by Russian TV channels as politically motivated persecution. They preferred not to delve into Gubarev’s ideological roots as a member of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity Party.

Misunderstanding Maidan

This post by Brian Whitmore on Radio Liberty’s The Power Vertical blog appears to be based on a misunderstanding of what the Maidan protests in Ukraine are all about. Noting the rise of right-wing nationalism among younger Russians, Whitmore draws a parallel between this phenomenon and the presence of nationalist groups among the Ukrainian protesters:

This politically active youth has no memories of — and certainly no nostalgia for — the multiethnic Soviet Union. In Russia, this manifests itself in the antimigrant slogan “Russia for Russians” as well as in opposition to what nationalists call Vladimir Putin’s “Chekist regime.” In Ukraine, it manifests itself in a yearning to be free of Moscow’s influence and meddling — which all too often veers into overt Russophobia.

Perhaps the “overt Russophobia” should rather be seen as an expression of Ukrainian lack of “nostalgia” for the Soviet Union. As Andreas Umland is quoted as pointing out in an article recently published in the Financial Times, the nationalist groups in Ukraine represent only a small minority of the protesters

and have no chance of “becoming parliamentary or taking over”, even if the protests succeed in toppling Mr Yanukovich.

By all the evidence, the Ukraine opposition is largely democratic and anti-fascist. In Russia the situation is different: there the Bolotnaya protesters are a dwindling minority, while a Putin-enabled takeover by fascist or nationalist forces remains a real possibility. The “Rusomaidan” envisaged in the Power Vertical post looks unlikely to materialize.

Why Putin Is Still In Power

In late 2011 the Russian scientist, writer and political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky gave an interview to the Institute of Modern Russia that was headed: Which Will Fall First – the Regime or Russia as a State? In the interview, Piontkovsky predicted the collapse of Vladimir Putin’s government, though refused to speculate on how long it would take – it might be a process lasting only a couple of weeks, or it might be a long-drawn-out decline spanning several years. Piontkovsky looked to the spread of people power – the kind of power that was then making itself felt throughout the Middle East in the shape of the Arab Spring. This power had the ability to overcome the rigid structures of the state:

How did it all start in North Africa? In Tunisia, a relatively prosperous country by African standards, a young man set himself on fire because he couldn’t find a job. Putin’s regime has ripened to its end. But the end will come later rather than sooner, because of the already mentioned satiated, lazy, and cowardly elite. Still, today’s macroeconomic indicators place serious time limitations. And with serious budget deficits, ruble devaluation, and double-digit inflation, social outbursts will spontaneously form in various regions. All this will push the elite to a greater sense of courage. Which will fall first – the regime or Russia as a state – will become crystal clear to everyone in about three or four years from now. 

In late 2012, Piontkovsky published an article called Why Putin Will Be Gone in 2013,  in which he predicted that Putinism would fall for the same reason that the Soviet Union fell in 1991. The USSR, he wrote, collapsed “not because of falling oil prices, not because of Gorbachev’s ‘betrayal’, and not because of Reagan’s SDI bluff which so terrified the old men in the Kremlin. When in the mid-1980s the communist myth that had created the system finally died in the hearts and minds of ordinary people as well as those of the Soviet nomenklatura, Soviet communism was strategically and psychologically doomed. As Andrei Amalrik had predicted with such genius a quarter of a century earlier.” [my tr.]

Likewise, the Putin Myth of the strong man, the “father of the nation”, protecting it from the Chechen terrorists who were supposedly blowing up peaceful citizens in their apartment blocks, had run out of steam – Russia’s techno-financial elite, Piontkovsky argued, had lost faith in this myth, and without the elite’s support the Putin system could not survive.

Of course, Putin is still there, so Piontkovsky’s prediction was incorrect – as numerous columnists and observers have not been slow to point out. In an article titled Putin or Russia, published at the very end of 2013, Piontkovsky conceded the point, but insisted that the article’s “conceptual carcass” – an outline for a theory of the death of authoritarian regimes and its practical application to contemporary Russia – was still fully backed up by the events that had taken place in Russia during the past year. As a retarding factor, he pointed to the attitude of intellectuals like Leonid Radzihovsky, who for years declared that “Putinism is shit – but it protects us from fascism”. This, Piontkovsky argues, is no different from the statement by the Silver Age Russian essayist and philosopher Mikhail Gerzhenzon, who in the aftermath of the 1905 revolution declared in the essay anthology Vekhi that  “so far from dreaming of union with the people we ought to fear the people and bless this government which, with its prisons and bayonets, still protects us from the people’s fury.”

Now Piontkovsky no longer sees hope that Russia might witness the rise of a popular democratic movement like Ukraine’s Euromaidan. Apathy reigns – and, if not yet formally in power, the fascists are very nearly there:

It was not the masses that brought Hitler to power in January 1933, but a deal he made with the elites. And now ask yourself: what do the fascists in Russia need to do in order to take power without winning free elections, but as a result of the internal  evolution of the Putin regime, of a deal made with it by – may one say it – the “elites”? Is their task easier or harder? In my opinion, much easier. In their case they don’t have to convince 50 million voters. It will be enough to convince three or four villains of the national leader’s inner circle. And they need no convincing.  [my tr.]