Is Putin's regime already fascist?

May 17, 2022
A pro and con discussion between the Russian sociologist Greg Yudin and the German journalist Roland Bathon on the nature of the post-February 24 Russian regime.
Greg Yudin, 2019. Source: Facebook
Greg Yudin

While the war in Ukraine rages, it's easy to overlook the fact that Putin’s own political regime is undergoing a dramatic change. Until now, it has been Bonapartist, as Putin portrayed himself as the only politician in the country and national leader and relied on a passive public to support him in plebiscitary elections. With the outbreak of the war, however, Putin's Bonapartism took on a distinctly fascist tinge.
Bonapartist regimes arose in countries that quietly sought revenge for defeats they had suffered, including France under Napoleon III and Weimar Germany. Karl Marx said Bonapartism is based on a mass resembling a “sack of potatoes.” That is to say: there are no horizontal connections between individuals in society. The public is malleable and susceptible to manipulation, and this malleability carries with it the danger of fascist transformation.

Such a change is now taking place in Russia. The ominous letter Z has become its symbol. At first, it only appeared on billboards and official propaganda. Then, more and more anti-war activists discovered it together with threats on their apartment doors. Now, many are forced to line up in a Z at their workplaces for pictures for social media. The same is the case at universities, schools and even kindergartens.

At work, supervisors ask their employees if they have relatives in Ukraine. Special lecturers visit universities and schools to explain the meaning of the terms "special military operation,” "denazification" and "fake.” Students must take tests to make sure that they have internalized Putin's view of history – permeated with resentment, bitterness and revenge. The time when one could “stay out of politics” is over; now, conformity is required.
"After the outbreak of the war, the willingness to use violence rose dramatically. Those detained at anti-war rallies were not only beaten, but even tortured and sexually abused. Perhaps the most menacing thing about this new face of Putin is the new ideology".
In February, Putin coined the term “denazification.” He is obsessed with ridding Ukraine of an imaginary “Nazism,” after which Ukrainians, it is thought, should turn into normal Russians again. Calls for national cleansing have been made by senior government officials and publicized by the state media – their direct result is the massacres that the whole world saw in Bucha and will likely see in other Ukrainian cities.

Fascist regimes are based on the triad of leader, state and society. Putin long ago ruled out any possibility of his opponents participating in government. A few years ago, civil servants learned the principle “no Putin – no Russia.” Now, Putin is closing the final gap – between state and society: any criticism of the war is labeled high treason and punished by deductions and dismissals at work, fines and imprisonment.

It is time to acknowledge that Europe is threatened by a fascist regime. If it is not stopped now, it will be too late.
Roland Bathon, 2022. Source: ips-journal.eu
Roland Bathon

Before the Ukraine war, Russia could be called an autocracy. Opposition activity was only possible under increasing restrictions, though there was still a critical press – those who refrained from activism were free to express opposition privately as they wished.

Since the war began, totalitarian elements have appeared, according to many experts. This is reflected in the fact that society increasingly must show an active commitment to the doctrine of the “Russian world,” composed of all sorts of bits and pieces of Russian history. The content of this state doctrine is now also being incorporated into the educational system. At the same time, almost any form of opposition was de facto made impossible by law. Given these developments, some members of the opposition are already warning of a new “fascist regime.”

However, this is by no means a consensus, even among recognized Russian regime critics. Abbas Gallyamov, a one-time speechwriter for Vladimir Putin and now a Kremlin expert in emigration, does not believe that Russian society is already fascist. In view of the unfolding events, he considers Russia “divided and confused.”

In fact, the emergence of totalitarian elements does not yet indicate totalitarian rule – even if the government aspires to it. As Gallyamov points out, establishing totalitarian rule requires solid power and a long time. Currently, power depends on the support of the majority of the population. At the beginning of the war, many succumbed to a nationalist frenzy. Economic problems, however, will hit the population hard in the coming months. Russian analyst Andrey Pertsev believes that popular support for the government will fall if the bitter war is not won quickly and leads to impoverishment.

The opposition is not dead either. In the metropolises, among the younger and educated resistance to the war is still strong. These people, who are Westernized, have nothing to do with the rising “Russian world.” Only bureaucratic higherups, consumed by self-interest and corruption, appear reliable.

A fascist state is not only totalitarian, but also characterized by extremist right-wing thinking – which distinguishes it from totalitarian communism, for example.
"Putin as the authoritarian leader is conservative, even reactionary, but not a right-wing extremist in a classical sense. He values Russia's multiethnic nature, praises Islam and is not inclined to populism or conspiracy theories".
His vision of a strong, large, tightly run Russia is a wild mix of tsardom and Soviet Union, but not 1930s Germany.

So why are some Russian regime critics openly using the concept of fascism to describe the Putin system? Besides the internal turmoil caused by harsh repression, they are basically concerned with the same thing as Vladimir Putin as he tries to sell the attack on Ukraine as “denazification” – in Russia, which was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1941, fascism is synonymous with absolute political evil. “Fascism” has quickly become a catchphrase to show how reprehensible the political opponent is, and Putin's current policies are undoubtedly reprehensible.

Original version published in German here.
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