28 August 2014

Putin leads Russia from Communism to Fascism

Russian president Vladimir Putin is on record as saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of the 20th century's major geopolitical disasters. Some might say this suggests he is an unregenerate communist but that, I suspect, is not the case. He was comfortable enough in the USSR, serving the state as a member of the infamous KGB, but I doubt he misses communism very much. The empire, yes, and certainly the strongman rule.

A communist would not, for example, restore the power of the church. Putin has overseen the reconstruction of some 23,000 churches that had been destroyed or fallen into disuse and returned all church property that had been seized during the Soviet era, making the Russian Orthodox Church the largest landowner in Russia. He has flaunted his own faith, into which—rare for a KGB agent—he was baptized as a child.

The support is mutual. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus', who has referred to Putin's rule as a "miracle," commented during street protests against Putin’s return to the presidency that “liberalism will lead to legal collapse and then the apocalypse.” Father Alexey Kulberg adds, “The President’s ideology for developing Russia coincides with the direction of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

That direction includes demonizing homosexuals, providing Putin with a convenient scapegoat. When the czars felt their people were getting fed up with their ruler, they would institute a pogrom as a distraction. As one Russian interior minister was reputed to have said, "If the people can't hate the Jews, they'll hate the Czar." Under Czar Putin, it appears gays are the new Jews.

So how do we describe this new Russia? Fascist would seem to fit the bill. Historian Roger Griffin describes fascism as having three core components: "(i) the rebirth myth, (ii) populist ultra-nationalism and (iii) the myth of decadence." This fits Putin's politics rather neatly: rebirth of the nation's spiritual traditions, encouraging chauvinistic attitudes, and rallying his people against the decadence of the West.

Rebels in the eastern Ukraine claim their violence is justified by excessive fascist influence in Kiev. How ironic. The fascism they should be concerned about lies in the east, not in the west.

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