Stalin's flexibility towards fascism is the key to understanding today's Russia.
Timothy Snyder, Yale University historian and expert on 20th-century Russian history, writes for The New York Times: "Russia is fascist".
A cult around a single leader, a cult of the dead, a cult of empire: all these are criteria of fascism and the hallmarks of Putin's ideology. 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 obvious. It may be difficult for some to call a “fascist” country that fought and defeated fascism in World War II, in fact, even the Soviet Union was ideologically not as far from the regimes of Germany and Italy as is commonly believed. Putin is trying to erase this from history, but Stalin and Hitler were essentially allies until 1941.
Stalin's flexibility towards fascism is the key to understanding today's Russia. Fascism was first indifferent under Stalin, then it was bad, then it was fine until – when Hitler betrayed Stalin and Germany invaded the Soviet Union – it was bad again. But no one ever defined what it meant. Anything could be put into a box.
Communists were purged as fascists in show trials. During the Cold War, the Americans and the British became fascists. “anti-fascism” did not prevent Stalin from targeting Jews in his last purge, nor his successors from conflating Israel with Nazi Germany.
Soviet anti-fascism, in other words, was a politics of us and them. That is no answer to fascism. In fact, this is its beginning – because fascism begins with the definition of the enemy.
In Russia in the 21st century, “anti-fascism” simply became the right of a Russian leader to define national enemies. Actual Russian fascists, such as Aleksandr Dugin and Aleksandr Prokhanov, appear on TV and give interviews to the media. And Mr Putin himself has drawn on the work of the interwar Russian fascist Ivan Ilyin. For the President of Russia, a “fascist” or “Nazi” is simply someone who opposes him or his plan to destroy Ukraine. Ukrainians are “Nazis” because they resist.
But in Russia’s war against Ukraine, “Nazi” just means “subhuman enemy”, someone who can be killed. Hate speech directed at Ukrainians makes it easier to murder them, as we see in Bucha, Mariupol and every part of Ukraine that has been under Russian occupation.
Fascists calling other people “fascists” is fascism carried to the extreme as a cult of unreason. Calling others fascists while being a fascist is the essential Putinist practice. Snyder calls it "schizofascism." Ukrainians call it “ruscism”.
As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbours. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it will be a demoralization for democracies worldwide. Even before the war friends like Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orban were the enemies of democracy. Fascist battlefield victories would confirm that might makes right, that reason is for the losers
But it's not like that. And Ukraine today fights for this as well.
Leonid Nevzlin, t.me