Staunton, December 19 – Russians, polls suggest, would like to see Russia become a fascist state but it lacks one necessary ingredient, a genuinely fascist-type leader, Yevgeny Ikhlov says. As a result, it and they may be saved not by legal structures which unfortunately Russia does not yet have but rather by the absence of such a leader now or in the near future.
On the Kasparov.ru portal today, the Moscow commentator recalls that exactly two years ago he wrote about the way in which Putinism was increasingly acquiring fascist tendencies (e-v-ikhlov.livejournal.com/99032.html) not only because of the Kremlin leader’s plans but because of the Russian people’s attitudes (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=585783DE6F612).
“The evolution and transformation of Putinism occurs in waves, including periodic returns to ‘normalcy’ with a reduction in the level and harshness of political repressions, struggles against falsified criminal cases,” and so on, Ikhov says. But then these are followed by periods of even greater authoritarianism.
But one thing remains constant, he suggests: “Society wants fascism,” not in most cases the harsh and mobilized variant of Hitler but the softer kind of Mussolini or Franco or Salazar – and that means that Putin always can count on this to support him when he shifts from one direction to another.
“According to all the surveys,” Ikhlov continues, Russians, by significant majorities, “back more media and social network censorship, limitations on immigration, introduction of greater police control over private life and civil society, various kinds of state indoctrination, and an increase in the clerical and militarist component of this including in schools.”
Moreover, these same surveys show that “a significant number of people of all age cohorts accept the quasi-monarchical character of the powers that be and the means of its legitimation in the form of ritualized ‘elections.’” And they “especially like the foreign policy aggressiveness alongside indifference to its consequences: the war in the Donbass and in Syria.”
And Russians, again in super majorities, are pleased by the revival of a romantic image of their country, “connected with the idealization of their medieval rulers and imperial wars” and the accompanying isolation and even persecution of those who critically question any of this in public.
But at least so far, Russians “don’t need ritual-orgiastic mass actions in the Nazi style,” although there is some of that among the young and among those who would like to see Russian forces advance even further into Ukraine or drive into the Baltic states. But they do not yet set the weather.
Those who would like a full-blown fascist state in Russia are still “disappointed” because they lack a fuehrer who could “crystalize” Russian state fascism. Putin clearly is too bourgeois for this role, Ikhlov says. “There is in him no insane faith in his own higher appointment” either of the kind displayed by Hitler and Mussolini or that by Stalin.
Nor has the Kremlin ruler “built illusions as far as personal devotion to himself is concerned.” Putin is very much aware, Ikhlov suggests, that those who show loyalty to him now could and would easily show loyalty to someone else tomorrow, an awareness that also has consequences for his policies
At the same time, the Russian commentator continues, Aleksey Navalny “cannot be such a leader either.” It may be, Ikhlov says, that this is because like Putin, he is a lawyer and lawyers by their very nature aren’t inclined to the messianism that fascist leaders typically and perhaps necessarily must reflect.
Thus, for the time being, the transformation of Russia into a fascist state is being delayed not by strong legal structures but by the absence of a leader, an important but not necessarily permanent state of affairs.
At the end of his essay, Ikhlov reports the following: “About 30 years ago, the now late Andrey Fadin told me that Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin were similarly authoritarian in their natures and that had Dzhugashvili been president of the US he would have operated like Roosevelt and had Roosevelt been chosen general secretary of the Bolshevik party he would have behaved in a Stalinist manner.”
That conclusion highlights three things: the importance of institutions, the importance of culture, and the importance of individual leaders. In many places, institutions and culture are bulwarks against fascism. In Russia, unfortunately, the only check on them is the existence or non-existence of a leader prepared to move in that direction.