CPAC Goes All In On Fascism
Fascistpalooza Budapest-- aka, CPAC 2022 began yesterday with a keynote speech by Hungary's fascist hetman Viktor Orbán. Reuters covered the speech, which sounded like a hodgepodge of QAnon crap: "Progressive liberals, neo-Marxists dazed by the woke dream, people financed by George Soros and promoters of open societies... want to annihilate the Western way of life that you and us love so much... We must coordinate the movement of our troops as we face a big test, 2024 will be a decisive year."
Orban laid out 12 points which he said were key to ensuring a dominance of conservativism, including playing by their own rules, standing up for national interests in foreign policy and gaining control over the media.
"We must reconquer the institutions in Washington D.C. and Brussels," Orban said.
I don't have a clear understanding about why the EU and NATO tolerate a fascist state in their midst and why they don't just toss Hungary over to Russia and let the Hungarians embrace what they seem to crave. Last month Orbán's party won an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections. His Fidesz Party won 2,823,419 votes (52.5%) with the main opposition party, United for Hungary winning just 1,983,708 votes (36.9%), Orbán controls 135 seats in the 199 seat Parliament, with United for Hungary at 57 seats.
Tim Snyder struggled a bit yesterday to adequately define fascism in relation to Russia, while asserting that Russia is a fascist state. The closest he every came to mentioning the U.S., Trump or the Republican Party, was a brief nod to American fascist spokesperson Tucker Carlson. He's correct, of course, that the idea of fascism was never defeated. Germany, Italy, Hungary and their satellite states were defeated, but not fascism nor authoritarianism. We fought Germany, not fascism-- and that "we" includes-- more than any other country-- the Soviet Union. "As a cult of irrationality and violence," he wrote, "it could not be vanquished as an argument: So long as Nazi Germany seemed strong, Europeans and others were tempted. It was only on the battlefields of World War II that fascism was defeated. Now it’s back-- and this time, the country fighting a fascist war of destruction is Russia. Should Russia win, fascists around the world will be comforted."
Maybe not in New York, but readers around the world are scratching their heads and asking "what about the U.S.? The forever wars of choice in the Middle East are somehow different from Putin's war of choice in Ukraine? That would be a stretch. And when he claimed that Russia meets most of the criteria that scholars tend to apply to fascism, it' too obvious. "It has a cult around a single leader, Vladimir Putin. And the Republican Party doesn't?
When he wrote how "In 1939, the Soviet Union joined Nazi Germany as a de facto ally, and the two powers invaded Poland together," I could help but think of Ron DeSantis. "Nazi speeches were reprinted in the Soviet press and Nazi officers admired Soviet efficiency in mass deportations. But Russians today do not speak of this fact, since memory laws make it a crime to do so. World War II is an element of Putin’s historical myth of Russian innocence and lost greatness-- Russia must enjoy a monopoly on victimhood and on victory. The basic fact that Stalin enabled World War II by allying with Hitler must be unsayable and unthinkable."
Stalin’s flexibility about fascism is the key to understanding Russia today. Under Stalin, fascism was first indifferent, then it was bad, then it was fine until-- when Hitler betrayed Stalin and Germany invaded the Soviet Union-- it was bad again. But no one ever defined what it meant. It was a box into which anything could be put. Communists were purged as fascists in show trials. During the Cold War, the Americans and the British became the fascists. And “anti-fascism” did not prevent Stalin from targeting Jews in his last purge, nor his successors from conflating Israel with Nazi Germany.
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 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 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.”
We understand more about fascism than we did in the 1930s. We now know where it led. We should recognize fascism, because then we know what we are dealing with. But to recognize it is not to undo it. Fascism is not a debating position, but a cult of will that emanates fiction. It is about the mystique of a man who heals the world with violence, and it will be sustained by propaganda right to the end. It can be undone only by demonstrations of the leader’s weakness. The fascist leader has to be defeated, which means that those who oppose fascism have to do what is necessary to defeat him. Only then do the myths come crashing down.
As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbors. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won’t be just the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere. Even before the war, Russia’s friends-- Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Tucker Carlson-- were the enemies of democracy. Fascist battlefield victories would confirm that might makes right, that reason is for the losers, that democracies must fail.