Ilya Budraitskis is a Russian socialist and a refugee from that country. He talked with the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign recently on the issue of whether Russia is fascist. He raised many important related issues, and the entire transcript can and should be read here. Below we reprint his comments on this specific question and below that our thoughts. We also have here the entire discussion from Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign.
This question [of whether Russia is fascist] is so important, not only because of Russia, because of its its past and future, but because as I believe, this transformation of Russian regime also means a big challenge on the global scale, especially in the light of growing popularity of the far right, of various reactionary quasi fascist movements in Western Europe and US and Latin America, and so on….
But somehow, using the term in this kind of public debates, could also mislead us in the understanding what is fascism. Like, politically, theoretically, and so on, because mostly, the term fascism is now used as or seen as synonymous with pure evil….
So basically, we see the huge devaluation of the term fascism and that’s why It’s so important to redefine the meaning of fascism to understand what we’re talking about today. And to understand why we can say that there was some kind of fascist transformation of Russia after the beginning of the war….
We can identify the first line of the fascism as ideology. And that is where a kind of popular way of thinking about fascism, that there was some kind of set of ideas rooted in the reactionary conservative legacy of the of the 19th century. And these ideas, basically are responsible for the emergence of fascism in the mid 20th century. And this means that if you believe that fascism is a kind of ideology, you can identify what is fascism and what is not accord them to, let’s say, some kind of ideological characteristics. So if you don’t have some elements of this ideology, it means that it is not fascism. The second approach is the idea that the fascism is at first a movement. It is a movement of the petit bourgeoisie. a movement of some reactionary forces against revolutionary forces, as happened in European countries in Italy, in Germany, 1920s. And somehow, according to this approach then fascist regimes that were established after these movements came to power, just were just (the) transformation of the old state into the form of these movements. That came from the law. And the third approach is based on the idea that at first, we should analyze fascism as the political regime. So we can identify what is fascism and what is not only in the moment when this fascism is in power, where it exists as a sort of political power as a sort of social power. And I believe that this way of understanding of fascism is the most correct, is the most relevant….
I call it modern fascism… But the main difference from the classical fascism is that you don’t need to have any movements from below for the installation of such such a regime….
…. Of course, we can’t say that before February of last year, Russia was a sort of democracy. Of course, it was the authoritarian state….
And of course, all these 20 years were built around the neoliberal markets, the transformation of the Russian society in the very beginning of the 2000s….
So that Russia is a kind of vanguard of this movement over there. The fascist transformation in the Western countries as well….
As Ilya points out, this is an important issue for a number of reasons. First of all, as he points out at the end of his presentation, Putin represents a global tendency. That means that understanding Putin’s regime is vital to understanding this tendency. Nor can we simply slap the term “fascist” on everything that we find despicable. We need clarity, first and foremost to understand what is happening. Without that understanding, we cannot deal with it effectively.
I think that some of the movements that most clearly have a mass base and have gone as far as the fascists in Germany and Italy are some of the Islamic fundamentalists, especially the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS. In both cases they have a mass base which allows them to initiate reigns of terror against women, against LGBTQ people, and against religious minorities. Something similar may be under way in Uganda, but it hasn’t gotten that far yet.
Putin and Trump
Although there are huge differences, there are also some similarities between Putin and Trump. Putin came to power in a situation where the capitalist class could hardly be called a class. It was more just individuals who had transformed themselves from government bureaucrats to capitalists by stealing the state (government) businesses. The head capitalist bandit – Putin – managed to seize power, not just over all of society but also over his fellow bandits. As for the Russian working class, although it did engage in some strikes and protests, it had been weakened by decades of repression under the bureaucracy and it also had no alternative to the bandit capitalism that swept the country after 1990.
In the United States, the capitalist class is clearly a class with its own institutions – think tanks, news outlets, and two powerful political parties. All of this, plus the historic wealth of US capitalism, enables the US capitalist class to rule through democratic means. However, its influence has been severely weakened over recent decades. The continual promises that globalization and “free trade” would benefit workers has been proven to be a lie. That has created tremendous distrust in everything the capitalist media has to say. It’s been similar for the two main political parties. As for the working class, we have seen the disastrous decline in the only mass organizations the US working class has ever known – the unions. And the leadership of the unions, tied at the hip to the Democratic Party and to the employers, has done all it can to prevent an independent movement of the working class. The result is mass confusion and a revolt in some ways is tending to take the form of reaction through the MAGA movement.
Also, parts of the capitalist class are tending to forget the lessons of the great revolts in the US – the labor movement of the 1930s and the civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. Without the “discipline” of a working class, and given the crisis of capitalism, the US capitalist class is also tending to fragment and a “lumpenization” of the capitalist class has started. Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and “the Pillow Guy” are foremost examples.
In both countries a sort of a stalemate between the two major classes has developed. In the past, this developed when the two classes were powerful and were in major battle with each other. In this case, it’s just the opposite – the two classes are getting weaker, creating a huge vacuum. Into this vacuum the government power tends to step, partially independent of both classes. Isn’t that what’s happening with Trump and the MAGA movement? Neither class has any real control over it/them. And as for Putin, isn’t it a similar situation on steroids? Although they will be sure to try to profit from it, didn’t the great majority of oligarchs oppose the invasion? Isn’t that why so many of them are “falling out of windows” or “committing suicide”? Isn’t that why others in the past who had the foolhardiness to oppose Putin ended up in prison on tax fraud?
In Russia, the state (government), under control of one individual, Putin, has risen up above the two classes. He uses this freedom to loot not only Russia as a whole, but even the individual “oligarchs”. And in the US, that is exactly what Trump tried to accomplish and what he may succeed in doing yet. But they are both limited by the fact that they don’t have a mass base of dedicated, organized and armed, fanatics. Trump may have his Proud Boys and similar groups. And Putin may have similar groups, such as the Gray Wolves. But neither of these are organized mass forces, yet. So both Putin and Trump (if he returns to power) are limited as far as how far they can go, Putin less so than Trump. But even Putin has not been able to establish mass concentration camps and organize mass riots against, for example, LGBTQ people.
Historically, such forms of rule are called “Bonapartism”, named after Napoleon Bonaparte. In the US, we call it “dictatorship”. It is different from fascism in that the dictator doesn’t have a mass base and therefore can’t go as far. I think this applies to Putin. Nor is there an iron wall between “bonapartism” and fascism. Look at the examples of the military dictatorships of General Galtieri in Argentina (June, 1981 to December, 1982) and General Pinochet of Chile (1973-1990). Both went much further than Putin ever has done, but nowhere near as far as did Hitler or Mussolini. But both had links to fascists and, for example, had top officials who, rumor had it, hung pictures of Hitler and Mussolini on their walls.
Russia’s future if invasion succeeds
What would happen if Putin succeeds in his invasion? There already are the blood thirsty military bloggers, for example. They would be even more empowered. In that situation, could Putin not develop a mass force of fanatics bent of even more bloodshed both abroad and at home? Could there not be mass riots against anybody thought to be a traitor to Mother Russia and the same against LGBTQ people? And would they not demand even further military adventures? Would Putin – or whoever follows him – not accommodate, including building large-scale concentration camps?
In that case, an actual fascist regime could take hold. It would mean not only further invasions but also it would encourage the further development of outright fascist forces around the world. Among other things, that is why the world working class has it in their interest to ensure the full defeat of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. To return to the original and immediate point, all this shows why it’s vital to be really clear in the language we use – because behind clarity in our words lies clarity in our thoughts, or the lack of it.
Video of full discussion of Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign with Ilya Budraitskis: