Question #3: Is it fascism?
There is another question that emerges through the discussion about what Putin and the silovik
elites have in mind and through the outlook of who will develop a coherent state ideology in Russia. It is: is modern Russia a fascist state? It has been most fully examined by Marlene Laruelle who criticized Timothy Snyder’s theories
To paraphrase their positions, Snyder argues that in Russia, will has triumphed over reason and a fascist political regime has emerged, characterized by a cult of the leader, a cult of fallen ancestors and the myth of a lost golden age of imperial greatness. The upshot is that the coalition of Western democracies has no choice but to defeat fascism – a peace treaty is impossible. Laruelle objects that technically speaking, only the “party for war” in Russia adheres to fascist views, while otherwise the regime remains a conservative, right-wing, neo-traditionalist dictatorship that does not have an interest in mobilizing the population. This means that labeling the regime “fascist” is analytically incorrect; moreover, it is harmful in terms of finding a potential political solution to the war. There is no scenario in which Russia would suffer a military defeat similar to the capitulation of Nazi Germany.
Regardless of whose arguments seem more reasonable to you, the polemic itself seems productive, as it shows that the theoretical debate about modern Russia’s ideology has important, real-world consequences. Without understanding the current and future ideological character of the Russian state, it is impossible to construct any scenarios for the end of the war.
It seems that there is also a fourth question that has thus far been raised much less frequently, without an answer to which a conversation about the future is impossible.Question #4: What is the ideology of Russian combatants?
In the debates about Putin’s ideology, we can get carried away discussing its constituent parts and fail to notice that “ideology” itself as a concept is methodologically problematic. The first three questions that we discussed above relied heavily on political science tools and ideas about ideology as a clearly defined set of ideas with the following characteristics: 1) it is imposed from above and used by the political elite to legitimize its policies; 2) it is intellectually consistent and coherent and has clear boundaries that cannot be crossed; 3) it helps people interpret social reality and gives them a historical purpose; 4) it mobilizes the population. This understanding of ideology is most clearly formulated in the classic work of the sociologist and political scientist Juan Linz, Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes
Importantly, for Linz, only totalitarian states have state ideologies, which means that the vast majority of existing states do not have them (Linz calls “mentalities” the sets of ideas that circulate in authoritarian societies). Accordingly, it can be argued that modern Russia does not have an ideology. “In Russia, there is no clearly developed and pervasive state ideology. It is possible that if one were to appear – which had taken shape and was clear – the state would even lose some of its support,” write
the political scientists Margarita Zavadskaya and Alexei Gilev.
However, in the humanities and social sciences there is another set of ideas about ideology. They were formulated by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz
, who saw ideologies as symbolic systems that serve as a road map for a person in a complex social reality. In this approach, ideology is an inevitable reality. Every society has one, and it cannot be imposed exclusively from above. Ideology is always the result of creative adaptation on the part of each individual, who, out of the narratives available to him, puts together a picture of reality that gives meaning to his personal experience. This approach is important in that it expands our understanding of the producers of ideology and shifts attention away from its top-down production (through the speeches of politicians, initiatives of officials, works of intellectuals) and onto its everyday, bottom-up production.
The grassroots production of ideology is difficult to pin down through opinion polls, but we can access it through the writings, words and actions of people. Thus, we can see that in Russian society, not only the siloviki
, Kadyrov, Prigozhin and their associates share the values of the “party for war.”
Right now, tens of thousands of Russians in various capacities are fighting or helping their country to fight against Ukraine and are incorporating the war into their picture of reality.
Most Russian soldiers do not seem to know Dugin or Prokhanov, do not read Ilyin and have not heard anything about Gumilyov. They do not need them to independently give meaning to the war: “Over there are my comrades, over there is another world where it’s even more exciting than everyday life. It’s both dangerous and very exciting over there… It doesn’t matter how you look, how much money you have, a bullet won’t spare anyone over there, you can’t buy your way out with money,” says
Alexander, a soldier who got shell shock in the Luhansk region. “I would not be mistaken if I said that yesterday, through the combined efforts of your humble servant and assistants, 12 people were interrogated, all of them Nazis. They were a sorry excuse for warriors, their eyes were running, their whole appearance was crying out for mercy, but, as it must be, I was ruthless, scolding them with cross, individual and night interrogations,“ wrote an unidentified Russian officer in his diary
at the very beginning of the war.
Now, it is difficult to estimate what percentage of soldiers fighting on the Russian side share such views, though on the other hand, these statements show how ideological constructions are connected with the most important questions of identity and help answer questions like: Who am I? What am I doing here? What is the right thing to do in this or that situation?