Professor of Political Science at the University of Oslo and the New University College of Oslo. Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Human Rights House Foundation.
But Putin’s regime may change in a more fascist direction.
This is history. Opinions expressed in the text are at the author’s expense.
Political concepts are mobilization signs. They should encourage action and promote unity at home. Burn marks and shelves. They give identity, they dehumanize.
That is why it is so important to analyze ideological concepts and extract their mythical brilliance from them.
Like now, when Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would “de-Nazify” Ukraine. what does that mean? Is it cheaper to consider oneself a “fascist”?
Author Primo Levi said that every era has its own fascism. But what does this mean?
Is there an eternal outbreak? The author Umberto Eco thinks so and lists a whole fascist syndrome of reactions.
Or is fascism better understood as a historical phenomenon, limited to the interwar period in Europe?
Or does Levy see the legacy of classical European fascism as a kind of eternal brown streak in history, rooted in the reaction to the French Revolution – irrational, anti-human, anti-Marxist, violent and contemptuous of science?
In other words: a contradictory tradition of ideas around a single central idea, such as anti-democracy and leadership culture, which can be linked to different forms of order at different times and accommodate different parts of ideas – often without any methodologies and with contributions from traditions of mutually contradictory ideas?
Minimum fascist at all times?
It is conceivable that Levi would join Echo and imagine a kind of fascist “minimalist”. A nucleus, like ethnic worship, is surrounded by secondary ideas that in turn can vary with time and place?
Then we talk about the necessary and sufficient conditions to call a movement or regime a “fascist”.
After the invasion of Ukraine, there is now an international debate about Putin’s passing in this picture.
For example, one could argue that Putin has some characteristics of fascism, but not enough, that he could be called a fascist.
It becomes even more complicated when the term fascism is used in entirely new areas of politics. We hear, for example, of “environmental fascism” and “Islamofascism”. And now “Putin’s fascism”.
Former US President Donald Trump had the same discussion before. This leads us to ask: Is it conceivable that we are too bound by notions of the past to understand fundamentally the new that is still associated with the Putin-Trump phenomenon? A “post-fascist” fascism, so to speak?
Their relationship is striking, at least from the outside.
Wool balls in dark rooms
If the term “fascism” has any value beyond being an insult, we must take this phenomenon conceptually. This can be done by asking three questions:
1. What is the concept and history of the phenomenon?
“Descriptions of use,” as the philosopher Arne Ness called this approach. That is, how the concept of fascism has been used at different times by different people. A questionnaire.
2. What are the most distinguishing features of the concept of fascism today?
“Real” – or “Defining Essence”.
3. What should be included in the concept when we specifically discuss the phenomenon of fascism today?
Definition of “organizational”.
Definitions are important in all communications because they enable us to create clarity on what needs to be explained. Clarity is achieved by setting limits on what we are going to explain.
Without definitions, political debate, yes, all communication would be like throwing balls of wool into dark rooms.
The need for causal explanations
Tariffs have other advantages. Without a clear definition of the phenomenon, one cannot develop ideas about the causes of the phenomenon. This means that we also do not know where the enemy is and where he can be easily hit.
In other words: without an understanding of the phenomenon of fascism, there is no room for contrast strategies.
This is where the question becomes important as to whether or not Putin’s regime should be called fascist.
Revolutionary national renaissance
The English historian Roger Griffin has a proposal for a brief definition that captures the characteristic (definition of substance) of fascism as an ideology and form of a system (not always the same):
Fascism is a revolutionary form of violent and extremist secular nationalism with the goal of creating an alternative modernity through mass mobilization.
The goal is the rebirth and purification of the nation in the fight against all forms of national decadence and humiliation.
3D definition of fascism
Griffin’s definition can be further clarified. American historian Stanley Payne has a minimal definition of fascism.
The first paragraph is the fascist negation: anti-liberal, anti-Marxist, anti-conservative.
2. Ideology and goals
The second paragraph is the ideological characteristic of all fascism:
- Worship, emotional attraction with the goal of creating a modern secular world
- An authoritarian new nation-state that transcends traditional notions of the state, disdain for democracy, and human rights is seen as an anti-weak liberal legacy.
- A strongly organized and politically controlled national economy, whether it is called a national union, national socialist or national union.
- Prepare to use violence as a political tool and prepare for war.
- Imperialism, the strong will to restore the position of power of the nation vis-à-vis other nations and expand its territory by force.
3. Style and organization
- Mass mobilization and militarization of the public sphere, supported by a violent party militia that transcends all laws.
- The aesthetic of mass meetings and propaganda, the political liturgy with religious stylistic features, and theatrical leaders.
- The heavy emphasis on masculinity and strength in combination with an organic view of society, that each class has its own historically with stable tasks, changes threaten the whole traditional view of women.
- The upbringing of young people to other stages of life, the deliberate use of generational struggle in propaganda against the “age government”.
No anti-Semitism or racism
This definition contains no references to anti-Semitism – Benito Mussolini was not an anti-Semite until 1938, nor was Francisco Franco.
There are also no references to racism in the definition because racism does not belong to the general characteristics of fascism as a pan-European motive.
The issue of race and anti-Semitism led to a wide debate about the relationship between German Nazism and Italian Fascism. Nazism was racially motivated, and Italian Fascism was a totalitarian state.
This is why some scholars do not want to classify German Nazism as part of general European fascism. But this view is a minority.
Putin – a “fascist”?
It is difficult to assess Putin against these criteria. Putinism is a dynamic, variable, and selective target.
Putin’s regime satisfies the first of two fascist negatives.
And most importantly, Putin can hardly be considered a charismatic figure. His encounters with people have little in common with fascist rituals, although he did try his hand at a cult of Mussolini-like manhood.
Putin looks like a clerk in the state, helpless as Franco in meeting people, very different from Mussolini. But Putin’s manipulation of the constitution is reminiscent of a cult of leadership.
Only partial mass packing
Therefore, it is a bad thing to talk about the aesthetics of mass meetings in Russia. Militarism, yes, but mostly in rallies, and not in everyday life in the form, for example, of youth uniforms, as in the collective totalitarianism of everyday life that characterized classical fascism.
Fascism filled his whole life. Putin is not there – yet.
Putin does not have a party militia, although his police operate in similar ways.
Creating a new kind of human being – from Stalin and Mussolini to Hitler, the main goal of these totalitarian regimes – is far from Putin. At this point, he is authoritarian rather than totalitarian.
A national revival and purification, yes, in an anti-liberal and anti-democratic culture. The choice is patchwork.
Putin’s regime is understood as a conservative operation against the decadent West, which, with its tolerant defenses of lifestyle and consumption, poses a threat to Russia’s own civilization. “Operation Grab”, so to speak, will return to the heyday of Russia with the help of a strong state that is stable above all, according to the post-Soviet experience.
Nazi lawyer Carl Schmidt witnessed his renaissance in today’s Russia. His disdain for all parliamentarism meant the universality of state power. This powerful country uses the judiciary as a partner and aims to expand foreign policy through self-defined areas of what is “Russian”. The derogatory mention of Ukraine is a good example of this.
A Russian version of Franco and Mussolini?
In many ways, Putin is similar to Franco. Both are based on reactionary Christianity. Both perceive/see threats from outside as sworn enemies. Both/were against any secularization and revolutionary transformation, for example from the working class. Therefore, it is difficult to describe both as fascists in the strict sense of the word.
Instead, they are extremists, anti-democratic, conservative nationalists, and the military is the main instrument of repression.
Extreme violence characterizes Chechnya, Syria, and now Ukraine. In Franco’s case, tens of thousands were killed after the civil war victory in 1939. Mussolini’s fascism was violent from the start.
This does not prevent the Putin regime from changing in a more fascist direction, for example if the sanctions are more severe and create mass poverty.
The Russian economy can best be described as a mafia-type kleptocratic state-run government, with many elites living around a leader who enriches and enriches them.
Russia is not a Mussolini-style joint economic system. Nazi Germany was not a company at all. The Russian economy is more reminiscent of Hitler’s relatively independent and politically controlled capitalism.
Putin as a Russian fascist?
Historian Tim Snyder now believes that Putin is a fascist due to irrationality, Goebbels/Orwell hysteria propaganda, a cult of violence, a dream of empire, a tendency to worship death and contempt for the people of Ukraine. It is important for him to see society in a state of violence between Putin and classic fascism.
With a definition that I think should be used as a basis, it is bad – today – to call Putin a fascist.
It can be understood more as an anti-democratic, anti-liberal, liberating, extremist in Greater Russia who wants to purge his people of Western decadence and is not shy about violence in his nostalgic empire (but deeply fears popular participation).
Not Schmidt, Putin defines all politics as an indestructible friendship/enemy relationship and spares no means to advance the state’s unfettered power and aspirations for order.
Does history repeat itself?
Tim Snyder says history does not repeat itself.
But he says it is similar. In Putin’s case, that’s bad enough.
Putin resembles the classic expression of fascism, but he’s not quite there yet. A rather weak consolation.
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