These days people like to compare any politician they dislike to Hitler. Such comparisons seldom work, but seldom doesn’t mean never.
Putin proves this by turning Russia into a Nazi state that in essence overlaps with Hitler’s Third Reich practically without remainder. All we have to do is put down the distinguishing features of Nazism and see how they apply to Putin’s Russia.
Umberto Eco once identified 14 features of fascism common to all regimes so described. That was a noble effort, although Eco listed as fascist some qualities that are also associated with conservatism, such as traditionalism. I’m not sure the great man distinguished between the two, but that’s a separate matter.
My own classification avoids such pitfalls. Let’s see if it works.
Sacralisation of the state. The good of the state, as defined by its leader, becomes the highest virtue.
Mussolini, who was a fascist rather than a Nazi, put it epigrammatically: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” As did Hitler, Putin preaches the same doctrine of statism run riot, with individuals seen as merely the state’s raw materials.
Hitler and Mussolini appealed to their countries’ pagan pasts, whereas Putin uses the Russian church as his propaganda arm, an enunciator of the sacral grandeur of Putin’s Nazism.
Populism combined with chauvinism. All fascist and Nazi regimes rally the masses by redirecting their national resentments into the conduit of jingoism.
It’s the regime’s task to correct an historical wrong and restore the nation to her past grandeur. For Hitler that was the Germanic conquest of the Roman Empire, for Mussolini the glory of ancient Rome.
In the same vein, Putin uses the most thunderous and nauseating propaganda this side of Stalin to rally his largely impoverished population to the banners of Russia’s past redemptive glory, under both the tsars and the Bolsheviks. He declares that his goal is to restore the Russo-Soviet empire stolen from Russia.
Externalising evil. Since Russia herself is a priori perfect, whatever privation people have ever suffered has to be put down to the perfidy of outside enemies.
All fascist and Nazi regimes, including Putin’s, cast the West in that role, especially those ‘Anglo-Saxon’ vermin inhabiting Wall Street and the City of London. Other enemies are always described as hirelings of the West.
Racist dehumanisation of enemies. Nazi regimes invariably depict their enemies, real or perceived, as not just evil but also subhuman – while seeing themselves as superhuman.
In the same vein, every war started by Putin proceeded under such slogans. Russians are supposed to be racially superior to Chechens, Georgians and especially to Ukrainians, who, unlike the other two groups, are denied their separate status not only as a state, but also as a people.
Russians, with their DNA featuring an extra gene of spirituality, are also physiologically superior to Westerners. Here Putin goes further than Hitler, who afforded near-parity to other Nordic peoples, and, at weak moments, even the English. For Putin, other Slavs, who are ethnically related to Russians, are their racial inferiors.
Seeing geopolitics as nothing but Darwinian struggle for survival. Nazi and fascist leaders see international relations as an eternal struggle among powerful nations. Power and physical brawn are the only things that matter. Nations weak of muscle are only grist to the mill.
They aren’t entitled to sovereignty, nor, under some circumstances, even to nationhood.
Internalising the good of the nation within the person of the leader. In Russia such idolisation of Putin is reaching Stalinist proportions, though his public support is still somewhat short of the 105 per cent Stalin tended to score.
Militarisation. This can be used either for actual aggression or blackmail. It also has an internal use: the unfortunate necessity to maintain a vast army is used as a justification for general poverty.
Acquisitive aggression against neighbours. Fascist regimes see expansionism as self-vindication. They equate greatness with size, the bigger the better. War also acts as a relief valve, bleeding off some of the internal pressure in the regime.
Yet Nazi regimes differ from fascist ones in their justification of aggression. They use as a pretext their former ownership of an adjacent country or parts thereof, or else the plight of their ethnic brothers in that country, such as Hitler’s Polish and Czech Germans – or Putin’s Russians in the Ukraine and, increasingly, in the Baltics.
State control of the media and their almost exclusive use for propaganda purposes. Sustaining public enthusiasm requires a population house-trained to respond on cue. Hence the use of media for that purpose, accompanied, as it is in Russia, by the suppression of dissenting publications and broadcast channels.
Any criticism of the state, however mild, is treated as enemy propaganda, treason or ideological sabotage. In today’s Russia, any journalist describing the war in the Ukraine as a war (rather than a ‘special operation’) is thrown in prison, where he is joined by the intrepid hacks who uttered the word ‘peace’ in public.
The more recalcitrant critics of the regime are simply murdered, both at home and abroad. There too Putin outdoes Hitler, who tended to stage sham trials before killing his political enemies. Putin often dispenses even with such parodies of legality.
The leader’s will replacing the rule of law. This refers to international and domestic law alike. Like other Nazi and fascist chieftains, Putin despises the rule of law not only in deed but also in word.
There he builds on solid foundations: contempt for the law is a traditional Russian feature. This is seen as an aspect of Russian spiritually, infinitely superior to Western legalistic casuistry. That theme is the leitmotif of many Slavophile writings, such as those by Dostoyevsky.
Creating or, if they already exist, cultivating likeminded groups around the world. The Nazis did that by financing their own network, including such organisations as Friends of New Germany, the German American Bund and the British Fascist Union.
Following the example set by his role models, Putin is actively cultivating neo-fascist groups in Europe, such as France’s National Rally, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Germany’s AFD, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik, Austria’s Freedom Party and so forth.
Taking his cue from the Nazi-fascist Axis, Putin is also allying Russia with other evil anti-Western regimes, such as those in China and Iran.
Corporatist economy. Unlike socialist or communist states to which they are closely related, fascist and Nazi regimes typically eschew de jure nationalisation in favour of de facto control.
In Putin’s Russia it’s possible to amass a large fortune only by Putin’s permission, which is granted only to his henchmen. What he calls ‘the vertical of power’ goes right through the economy, with the so-called oligarchs having only the leasehold on their wealth.
When they step out of line, their businesses are either destroyed or taken over by Putin’s cronies, while they themselves are killed or imprisoned or, if they’re lucky, allowed to flee abroad.
Allowing political opposition for window-dressing only. Or, increasingly in Putin’s Russia, not even that. Russia is de facto a one-party state, with its parliament as nothing but a clumsy theatrical production with no power whatsoever.
So far Putin’s Nazism hasn’t been adorned with such Hitlerite accoutrements as concentration camps, but one can confidently predict that they won’t be long in coming.
Should, God forbid, Putin win his war, the camps will be mostly filled with Ukrainians and their friends. amd we are talking millions. Should he lose, Putin will lose his claim to legitimacy. The only way for his regime to cling on to power, would be to unleash mass terror on a Stalinist scale.
One way or the other, even the minutest differences between Hitler’s and Putin’s regimes are going to disappear. Something to look forward to.