Timothy Snyder explains how Russia is a fascist state today and why that matters.
Soviet anti-fascism, in other words, was a politics of us and them. That is no answer to fascism. After all, fascist politics begins, as the Nazi thinker Carl Schmitt said, from the definition of an enemy. Because Soviet anti-fascism just meant defining an enemy, it offered fascism a backdoor through which to return to Russia.
In the Russia of 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, were given time in mass media. And Mr. Putin himself has drawn on the work of the interwar Russian fascist Ivan Ilyin. For the president, a “fascist” or a “Nazi” is simply someone who opposes him or his plan to destroy Ukraine. Ukrainians are “Nazis” because they do not accept that they are Russians and resist.
A time traveler from the 1930s would have no difficulty identifying the Putin regime as fascist. 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 very plain. The war against Ukraine is not only a return to the traditional fascist battleground, but also a return to traditional fascist language and practice. Other people are there to be colonized. Russia is innocent because of its ancient past. The existence of Ukraine is an international conspiracy. War is the answer.
Because Mr. Putin speaks of fascists as the enemy, we might find it hard to grasp that he could in fact be fascist. But in Russia’s war on Ukraine, “Nazi” just means “subhuman enemy”— someone Russians can kill. 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. Mass graves are not some accident of war, but an expected consequence of a fascist war of destruction.
Fascists calling other people “fascists” is fascism taken to its illogical extreme as a cult of unreason. It is a final point where hate speech inverts reality and propaganda is pure insistence. It is the apogee of will over thought. Calling others fascists while being a fascist is the essential Putinist practice. Jason Stanley, an American philosopher, calls it “undermining propaganda.” I have called it “schizofascism.” The Ukrainians have the most elegant formulation. They call it “ruscism.”