Staunton, January 12 – Fascism threatens Russia and even its continued existence as a territorial unit, Vladimir Pastukhov says, but that threat comes not from marginal “nationalist” groups many Russian liberals are so worried about but rather from the day-to-day actions of the Kremlin itself.
In a 2500-word article in yesterday’s “Novaya gazeta,” Pastukhov, a scholar at St. Antony’s College in Oxford and one of the most penetrating observers of the contemporary scene lays out his reasons for a conclusion that many in Russia and the West are certain to find unsettling and therefore likely to reject out of hand (novayagazeta.ru/politics/61737.htm).
A major reason for that, the scholar says, is that Russians think of fascism “exclusively” in terms of German Nazism “one of its more cruel and bloody versions,” rather than recognizing that “fascism has existed in more ‘vegetarian’ forms,” such as those which were institutionalized by Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain.
Their approach to governance, Pastukhov continues, which might be called “’soft fascism,’” is one towards which Russia is moving ever more closely by Moscow’s rejection of liberal values, chauvinism, a powerful state propaganda machine, persecutionof minorities, including sexual ones, suppression of independent courts, an oppressive law enforcement system, and a cult of personality around the leader.
The reasons this is so, he argues, lie in Russia’s longstanding and highly peculiar relationship to the outside world, but a clear understanding of that relationship can become the basis for a passionate liberalism that could challenge Moscow’s drift toward fascism and disintegration and save Russia from itself.
According to Pastukhov, “Russia has always depended on the international economic and poliltical conjuncture.” Its revolutions have occurred when there have been crises abroad, but while the rest of the world viewed these “transitional,” in Russia, they “as a rule” have proved to be “a fatal catastrophe.”
“Both the Bolshevik revolution and Gorbachev’s ‘perestroika’ were reactions to global historical tectonic shifts,as a result of which Europe and the world as a whole became different,” Pastukhov say.”But Russia itself did not become different: it disappeared” and only later reappeared in an unrecognizeable shape with unresolved problems old and new.
As a result, the scholar suggests, Russians developed the habit of viewieng any historical changes in “apocalyptic” terms.
The current situation is “in this sense no exception,” Pastukhov argues. The events of the last two decades and especially those since 2008 are seen in Russia as evidence of a permanent crisis from which there is no escape. “Russia does not believe in the future of the West,” although it has slightly more hope for the East.
But there is little recognition in Moscow that “iin reality, the changes which are taking place in the world are far from being of only one kind and not only threaten humanity but also open before it new horizons.” The breakthroughs in information technologies are “only the start” of far larger changes in the way people will live and work in the future.
And “anyone who carefully follows the life of contemporary Western society knows that the content of this life is in no way exhausted by this crisis” and that out of it will come not the end of humanity but a different world for most of its peoples, albeit clearly “not for all” and perhaps not for Russia.
Russians and especially contemporary Russian leaders are pessimists, Pastukhov writes. The elites in particular “lack a romantic imagination: they see the sufferings of the birth [of a new society] but they do ot hear the cries of the newborn” with all the hopes that those cries carry with them.
As was the case 150 years ago, “the Russian consensus is that the West is dying,” a view held across the political spectrum “from the black hundreds to the radical liberals” and reflecting near Russian unanimity in their dislike of capitalism.
“But the biggest pessimist in Russia, of course, is Putin,” who has become convinced that the outside world is rotting and that Russia must create a citadel to allow it to survive. Hence, the erection of “a new iron curtain in order not to allow the further dissemination” inside Russia of what Moscow views as the destructive ideas of capitalism, liberalism and democracy.
The Kremlin leader appears to think that he can “sit out the world crisis in this fortress” and “pretend to the role of the leader of a new Holy Alliance, which would unite all the archaic, tough, and cannibal regies of the world ... from Venezuela and Iran to Syria, Lybia, and North Korea.”
(This list, if one compares it with the one Russia formed for the first Holy Alliance, unintentionally highlights just how much the world and Russia itself have changed over the last century and a half, Pastukhov notes in passing.)
But because no one can say just when the West will collapse according to this scenario, Pastukhov continues, Putin is arming Russia, “the inevitable consequence of the course taken toward self-isolation.” “Russia naturally views the entire world as a potential opponent.” And thus “not Europe but Russia itself is erecting a ‘cordonne sanitaire’ around itself.”
While this military program may give a short-term boost to the economy, in the longer term, spending on defense, giving budgetary constraints made worse by giant spending projects like the Sochi Olympics, “will lead to the exhaustion of the economy, the growth of its disproportions, and the degradation of education, science and culture.”
But investments in the military are inevitably accompanied by the spread of “an ideology of militarization,” which becomes “in its turn the very shortest path to totalitarianism and fascism. (Anyone who doesn’t believe this should look on the Internet at television pictures from North Korea.)” Tragically, Russia has already gone a long way down this road.
Few Russians or others see this because they equate fascism with Nazism, which is its most extreme form, rather than see it as a broader kind of ideology and politics exemplified by Mussolini and Franco. If they were to consider these regimes, they would see that “all the signs preceding the formation of ‘soft fascism’ already exist” in Russia today.
But even “’’soft’ fascism” is “a catastrophe for Russia.” If institutionalized, Pastukhov says, that form of governance will open “a direct path to the dismemberment and destruction of Russia,” outcomes that Putin and his supporters say they are trying to prevent by implementing their “fortress” ideas.
“By presesrving the archaic features of Russia, [this form of rule] will deprive society of the chance to develop and in this way condemn it to still greater technological backwardness and as a result in the best case to a decades-long crisis of decay,” one that “ooner or later will bring Russia to a demographic catastrophe.”
Unless Russia turns away from this path, Pastukhov say, “Russia will not have any chance to control the territories east of the Urals and perhaps even east of the Volga” in the near future. Indeed, if Putin’s policies continue to be implemented, by the middle of this century, Russia as a whole will reach “a point of no return.”
Having lost its eastern possessions, he says, the new edition of “Muscovy will be converted into an east European Albania, a depressed territory with an aging industry, ineffective agriculture ... [and] a corrupt regime, under the control of criminal clans eternally fighting among themselves.” If that happens, Ukraine will become the dominant geopolitical player in the region.
Pastukhov points out that all this is “not a prediction but a warning about one of ht epossible scenarios of development in the framework of the ideological paradigm that has been established.” These outcomes are something Russians can and must struggle against, something they can do only if they recognize that the Kremlin and not the marginal is the problem.
Russians must recognize, he continues, that their choice is “beteen fascism and liberalism. Whoever hopes for a third path is deceiving himself.” But there is a problem: in Russia today, many assume that fascism doesn’t exist in the consciousness of Russians but that liberalism does.”
“The preservation of Russia as an independent and sovereign state in existing or close to existing borders,” he argues, “is possible only if the liberal project is realized.” But that will require a new and “creative” Russian liberalism based “not on the conception of human rights, the iimportance of which no one denies, but on the idea of the national rebirth of Russia.”