Category Archives: Books

More Blood  

 

Today, by a remarkable coincidence, one day after I posted about the Bloodlands as they were called by Timothy Snyder, Winnipeg Free Press columnist Allan Levine commented on the same issue based on Snyder’s other book. Levine’s maternal grandfather born in those Bloodlands west of Kyiv. He was 12 years old when World I broke out and 15 years old when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia after the horrors of that war. In my post I quoted how as Snyder said this in his book   The Road to Unfreedom, “together, some ten million people were killed in a decade as a result of two rival colonizations of the same Ukrainian territory”.

 

Levine’s grandfather was a Jew who lived in a part of that region that was constantly fought over by various powerful and brutal  forces.  This reminded me of another book I had recently read by Phillipe Sands called East West Street. It is a fascinating book about the origins of the notion of crimes against humanity and genocide. It is no accident that a number of the most important people involved in that history also came from that same region. One of them was Rafael Lemkin who invented the word “genocide.” He came from Lviv a city much in the news these past 2 months, but I had never heard of it before I read that book. Here is a section of the opening chapter of the book about that city:

 

“Between September 1914 and July 1944 control of the city changed eight times. After a long spell as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s “Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria and the Grand Duchy  of Kraków with the Duchies of Auschwitz and Zator”—yes it is that Auschwitz—the city passed from the hands of Austria to Russia, then back to Austria, then briefly to western Ukraine, then to Poland, then to the Soviet Union, then to Germany, then back to Soviet Union, and finally to Ukraine where control resides today…the  streets of Lviv are a microcosm of Europe’s turbulent twentieth century, the focus of bloody conflicts that tore cultures apart.”

 

It is like hyenas and lions fighting over a carcass. During these times the city never moved, but its name changed many times from Lemberg, Lviv, Lvov, and Lwów. Now Putin wants to rip it back into Russia one more time and he doesn’t care about how many people he has to kill to do that  or whether they are women or children.

 

Levine’s grandfather was lucky—very lucky—to escape to Canada in 1921. Levine says that during the 12 years of 1933 to 1945, “upwards of 50 million civilians and soldiers were killed during those 12 terrible years.”  I think he meant they were killed around the world.  But this was the bloodiest part of that world because more than 10 million people died there. But that was then; this is now. As Levine said,

“Now, with the atrocities perpetrated by Russian soldiers on Ukrainian civilians near Kyiv, Mariupol, Bucha, and other cities, Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again reignited the horrors of the bloodlands. And to what end?”

 

Levine quotes from Snyder’s other book, Bloodlands, about how Stalin and Hitler “pursued transformative agendas with no concern for the lives of individual human beings.”  That is what fascist dictators do. And that is exactly what Putin is now doing. He, like them, is trying to build up a society on the basis of lives which are meant to be sacrificed. And sacrifice them Hitler and Stalin did and now Putin wants to do exactly the same thing. This is another great moment in history. Are we up to the challenge of confronting this radical evil? That is why this issue is so important and why I am obsessed with what is happening in Ukraine. I fear there will be more blood.

Bloodlands

Many of us have not paid much attention to Ukraine until this year. That is a mistake. Ukraine is important. And very interesting.

Europe is well known around the world for colonizing countries for its own benefit. When I was young, I actually believed they did that to spread civilization to the world. That seems almost unimaginably naive now.

What is not commented on as much is Europe colonizing other parts of Europe–colonizing itself in other words.  In no part of Europe was this more significant than Ukraine. First, the Soviet Union under Stalin colonized Ukraine. That was Stalin’s attempt to make Ukraine and Soviet Union one. It was a shot gun wedding.  After that there was the attempt by Nazi Germany to colonize Ukraine. Again this was another bloody union. Neither of these imperial powers used seduction—only brute force. When this also failed, Russia quickly stepped in to fill the void. It would do what Germany was not able to do for long.  As Yale Historian Timothy Snyder who is an expert on Ukraine,  said  in his book The Road to UnfreedomNo other land attracted as much attention within Europe. This reveals the rule: European history turns on colonization and decolonization.” That is why Snyder in another book referred to this area, that included Ukraine, as “the Bloodlands.”  He named an earlier book after that. That  is what Putin is trying to do again.  He wants to join the ranks of Stalin and Hitler.

Everyone wanted the bread basket of Europe. That was and is Ukraine. That is still true. Joseph Stalin realized that Soviet Russia unlike other European countries had no overseas possessions such as India, North America, or South America. He did not think that was fair. It really wasn’t fair for any country to possess other countries, but that was not relevant. Every European country thought it had the God-given right to exploit other countries. As a result, Soviet Russia had no alternative but to exploit its hinterland. Since Germany had no hinterland left, it exploited what it could. Here are some astonishing numbers that Snyder drew to our attention:

 

“Ukraine was therefore to yield its agricultural bounty to Soviet central planners in the First Five-Year Plan of 1928-1933. State control of agriculture killed between three and four million inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine by starvation. Adolf Hitler saw Ukraine as the fertile territory that would transform Germany into a world power. Control of its black earth was his aim.  As a result of the German occupation that began in 1941, more than three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine were killed, including about 1.6 million Jews murdered by Germany and local policemen and militias. In addition to those losses, some three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine died in combat as Red Army soldiers. Taken together, some ten million people were killed in a decade as a result of two rival colonizations of the same Ukrainian territory.”

 

Think about that. Let those numbers sink in. And I learned none of this in High School. How ignorant could I be?  Answer: very ignorant. For good reason, Snyder has called these lands “Bloodlands.”

In the western Ukraine the western districts which had been part of Poland before World War II, Ukrainian nationalists resisted the imposition of Soviet rule over them. Hundreds of thousands of those Ukrainian resisters were deported to the concentration camps called the Gulag. More bloodshed again.

Many of those prisoners were still alive when Stalin died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Stalin. In the 1960s and 1970s Ukrainian communists joined their Russian communist comrades and together ruled the largest country in the world. According to Snyder, Russian communists never denied that Ukraine was a nation, they just thought Ukraine would be better off under Russian rule. That is what colonists always believe. They are exploiting the colonized for their own good.

In 1991 the failed coup against Gorbachev opened the way for Boris Yeltsin, the new Russian ruler, to lead Russia out of the Soviet Union. At the same time, Ukrainian communists agreed with Ukrainian oppositionists that Ukraine should also leave the Soviet Union. As Snyder said, “In a referendum, 92% of the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine, including a majority in every Ukrainian region, voted for independence.”

These are the people that Putin says are tyrannized by Neo-Nazi Ukrainian leaders into forcing Ukrainians to stay separate from Russia. Many Russian agree with Putin.  According to Gwynne Dyer, writing in the Winnipeg Free Press,

“In a telephone survey of Russians three weeks ago by Lord Ashworth Polls 76% said they supported the “special military operation” in Ukraine, 81 % said it was necessary to protect Russian security, and 85% had a favorable view of Vladimir Putin. The numbers are untrustworthy of course; would you always tell the truth to a stranger ringing up out of the blue and asking dangerous questions? It was also striking that a majority of the youngest group (18-24 years old) actually opposed the war, so there’s some hope if you want it. But a clear majority of Russians strongly back the invasion of Ukraine.”

 

It seems unbelievable that so many Russians would support their leader. It shows the power of lies. It shows what happens when powerful countries fight over weaker ones. Blood land is created.

George Orwell once said if you want a vision of the future imagine a boot stomping a human face forever.

 

 

Sexual Politics: from western democracy to Russian Christian fascism

 

Long before Putin, Russia’s political leader, Leonid Brezhnev had a permanent enemy—the decadent west.

 

Later, Putin found the same enemy to be useful, but he added a twist—a sexual twist. Ivan Ilyin had described his enemies as sexual perverts. By that he meant homosexuality.  Putin found this accretion to his enemy of choice complementary.

 

In the Russian elections of 2001 and 2012 people who wanted their votes counted were painted as mindless agents of sexual decadence rather than believers in democracy. In accordance with the teachings of Ivan Ilyin, Putin and friends saw the sexual deviants, as they described them, as a threat against the purity of Russia.

 

On December 6, 2011 one day after people protested against the fraudulent elections in Moscow the president of the Russian federation at the time referred to them by a  homophobic slur. Vladimir Putin, at the time the prime minister about to become President said on national TV that the white ribbons the protesters wore reminded him of condoms. A little later when Putin was visiting Germany he told Angela Merkel that the protesters in Russia were “sexually deformed.”

This has been a repeating theme among Russian fascists, not unlike American fascists. They are united in Christian opposition to what they considered  the sexual deviants.

Timothy Snyder described a conference on human rights in China where a Russian diplomat argued that

“Gay rights were nothing more than the chosen weapon of a global neoliberal conspiracy meant to prepare virtuous societies such as Russia and China for exploitation. President Putin took the next step at this personal global summit at Valdai, a few days later, comparing same-sex partnerships to Satanism. He associated gay rights with a Western model that “opens up a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.”

 

I find this repeating theme in fascist societies around the world interesting. What is the connection between sexual hatred and fascist camaraderie across international borders? It has been as clear and consistent in the US as it has been in Russia. Why is that?

 

According to Snyder, this was all part of an organized campaign of deflection:

“Human sexuality is an inexhaustible raw material for the manufacture of anxiety. The attempt to place heterosexuality within Russia and homosexuality beyond was factually ludicrous, but the facts were beside the point. The purpose of the anti-gay campaign was to transform demands for democracy into a nebulous threat to Russian innocence: voting = West= sodomy. Russia has to be innocent, and all problems had to be the responsibility of others.”

 

The fascists disparaged their opposition as sexual deviants because they have no good arguments on their side.  So they called them names instead.  That is a common way to defend an indefensible position. That is part of the reason Snyder referred to theme as Christian fascists.

 

The Big Lie and Putin as Redeemer

 

Vladimir Putin began his political career claiming to champion democracy.  That was how he persuaded Yeltsin to appoint him his successor.  Putin saw himself as the only person who could fill the position of the purely innocent redeemer.  Putin started off by discrediting democracy and its institutions. As timothy  Snyder said,

“In discrediting democratic elections in 2011 and 2012, Vladimir Putin took on the mantle of the heroic redeemer and placed his country on the horns of Ilyin’s dilemma. No one can change Russia for the better so long as he lives, and no one in Russia knows what will happen when he dies.”

 

The Soviet Union started out as a world revolution that failed.  After the collapse of Communism Russia, established a constitutional republic, legitimated by democracy. It would have a parliament with free elections. All of that was on paper.  But in Russia paper rarely matters.

Ivan Ilyin had thought that when the Soviet Union collapsed it would be replaced by a fascist dictatorship. What else would a Christian fascist propose? Although his ideas did nothing after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the oligarchs thought his ideas might be useful. Ilyin had thought a pure redeemer would emerge from a realm of fiction and act from a spirit of totality—i.e. the totality of Russia. The pure redeemer for the pure nation.  That miracle never happened, yet, as Timothy Snyder explained,

“Yet a feat of scenography by skilled propagandists (or, in the Russian phrase, “political technologists” might create the appearance of such an earthly miracle. The myth of a redeemer would have to be founded on lies so enormous that they could not be doubted, because doubting them would mean doubting everything.”

 

This is the fundamental insight of the autocrat. It was endorsed by Hitler then Putin and later Trump. A big lie could usher in big power. As Snyder said,

“It was not so much elections as fictions that allowed a transition of power a decade after the end of the Soviet Union, from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin. Then Ilyin and Putin rose together, the philosopher and the politician of fiction.

 

Sadly, democracy never took hold in Russia.  Power never changed hands after an election.  This is exactly what Trump tried in 2020, but he failed, because the US had enough democratic institutions with enough believers in democracy to thwart his grab for power, but this apparent stability seems more illusory than real.

Ivan Ilyin did not foresee one development of the transfer of power in Russia, namely, that the extremely wealthy would choose Russia’s redeemer. Snyder described that scramble for power this way:

“The wealthy few around Yeltsin, christened the “oligarchs” wished to manage democracy in his favor and theirs. The end of Soviet economic planning created a violent rush for profitable industries and resources and inspired arbitrage schemes, quickly creating a new class of wealthy men. Wild privatization was not all the same thing as a market economy, at least as conventionally understood. Markets require the rule of law, which was the most demanding aspect of the  post-Soviet transformation. Americans, taking the rule of law for granted, could fantasize that markets would create the necessary institutions. This was an error. It mattered whether newly independent states established the rule of law, and above all whether they managed a legal transition of power through free elections.”

 

The western countries, led by the GeorgeH.W.  Bush regime was incredibly naïve about this.  Putin was not. The redeemer was far from innocent. And as a result everyone was left with a mess. And now we are all paying a hefty price for that.

 

Enormous Lies

 

The ideas of Ivan Ilyin played no role in the collapse of communism. They came to prominence after communism fell when the Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats began to consolidate authoritarian power. To do this with a colour of right they had to create a fiction that could justify this. And for this, they found Ilyin’s ideas enormously useful.

 

In the service of these ideas the Russians produced an incredible array of highly skilled propagandists so that “a Russian redeemer should emerge from a realm of fiction.” As Timothy Snyder said,  in his book The Road to Unfreedom these Russian,

 

political technologists” might create the appearance of such an earthly miracle.  The myth of the redeemer would love to be found on lies so enormous that they could not be doubted, because doubting them would mean doubting everything.”

 

Again note the similarity to both Hitler and Trump both of whom also used the big lies. The bigger the better. What Hitler, Putin, and Trump all learned was that the bigger the lie the harder it is not to believe it.

Hitler under stood this: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” And Trump followed suit

Putin: Ivan Ilyin’s Disciple

 

After he died Ivan Ilyin’s ideas were largely ignored for about 50 years. Then they were revived with vigour, by “post-Soviet billionaires.” The oligarchs in other words, found his ideas congenial. They found these ideas enormously convenient to justify the incredible inequality in Russia. As Timothy Snyder said,

“Putin and his friends and allies accumulated vast wealth beyond the law, and then remade the state to preserve their own gains. Having achieved this, Russian leaders had to define politics as being rather than doing. An ideology such as Ilyin’s purports to explain why certain men have wealth and power in terms other than greed and ambition. What robber would not prefer to be called a redeemer?”

Thus, the ideas of Ilyin became the ideology of Putin and his cronies. The ideology of Christian fascism replaced Marxist ideology. They are no more communist than the Chinese leaders. Of course, all of this was amazingly similar to the practice of Soviet power before the collapse of communism. All Soviet citizens had been educated in that system so this felt familiar and comfortable to them compared to the anarchic kleptocracy that followed a brief near neo-liberalism after the fall of communism. It came as a relief to Russians, as fascism came as a relief to Germans and Italians in the 1930s.

This brings me back to the politics of eternity.  As Snyder said,

“The politics of eternity cannot make Putin or any other man immortal. But it can make other ideas unthinkable.  And that is what eternity means: the same thing over and over again, a tedium exciting to believers because of the illusion that it is particularly theirs. Of course, this sense of “us and them,” or as fascists prefer, “friends and enemies,” is the least specific human experience of them all; to live within it is to sacrifice individuality.”

 

Once again, it is amazing how Trump fits in once more. He hinted he wanted to be president for life, like some of his dictator pals. He wanted to be added to Mount Rushmore. And he was serious. And of course, Trump saw the world as one of friends and enemies. Everyone who did not do and think like him was an enemy. Those who paid obeisance were friends, so long as they did not stop. Of course, the incredible inequality in Russia is mirrored in the United States.

 

Russian Christian Fascism

 

Timothy Snyder described Ivan Ilyin’s nationalism this way after the revolution of 1917:

“Ilyin thus portrayed Russian lawlessness as patriotic virtue. “The fact of the matter, “ he wrote, “is that fascism is redemptive excess of patriotic arbitrariness.

 

Again, this is music to Putin’s ears.

 

Snyder sees religion as playing an important role in Russia fascism just as it does in American fascism:

 

“Ilyin’s use of the Russian word for redemptive, spasitelnii, which means released a profound religious meaning into politics. Like other fascists, such as Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf he turned Christian ideas of sacrifice and redemption towards new purposes.  Hitler claimed that he would redeem the world for a distant God by ridding it of Jews.  “And so I believe that I am acting as the almighty creator would want, “ wrote Hitler. “Insofar as I restrain the Jew, I am dong the work of the Lord. “  The Russian spasitelnii would usually be applied by an Orthodox Christian, to the deliverance of believers by Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.  What Ilyin meant was that Russia needed a redeemer who would make the “chivalrous sacrifice” of shedding the blood of others to take power. A fascist coup was “an act of Salvation,” the first step towards the return of totality to the universe…To make war against the enemies of God was to express innocence. Making war (not love) was the proper release of passion because it did not endanger but protected the virginity of the national body…True “passion” was fascist violence, the rising sword that was also a kneeling prayer.”

 

All this follows from the core belief that that the  nation is pure, innocent and holy. Hence, in effect, Ivan Ilyin argued for Christian fascism. His fanaticism was theological. To love God meant to fight his enemies without restraint or limit.  Anything else was evil. The leader of that fight would be the redeemer. One can see how Vladimir Putin would find a fantastic role for himself. He would be the redeemer of Russia. The redeemer must be strong and uncorrupted. He must be a man like Hitler, Bolsonaro, or Donald Trump.

 

For these reasons Snyder said, “Fascism, however, is about a sacred and eternal connection between the redeemer and this people.” This was an idea later implicitly endorsed by Trump and Putin. As Snyder said, “A fascist presents institutions as the corrupt barriers between leader and folk that must be circumvented or destroyed.

 

Snyder described the fascist leader in a way that would include Hitler, Putin, and Trump:

 

“The redeemer should be regarded as “leader” (gosudar) “head of state,” “democratic dictator,” and “national dictator,” an assemblage of titles that recall the fascist leaders of the 1920s and 1930s. The redeemer would be responsible for all executive, legislative, and judiciary functions, and command the armed forces.”

 

I would submit that this is perfect description of what Hitler, Putin, and Trump have each tried to achieve, with varying degrees of “success.” According to Snyder Ilyin would make Russia a “zero party” state. This again was taken up by Trump in 2020 when the entire Republican Party platform was Trump. No policies were needed. Whatever Trump wanted was the platform. The Republican Party all but disappeared in the 2020 presidential campaign. If I thought Trump ever read, I would think he must have read Ilyin or at least got a précis from Putin. Ilyin thought Russians must overcome democracy “by political habits that excite and sustain Russians’ collective love for their redeemer.” The resemblance to Trump and Putin is remarkable. As Snyder said, “Voting should unite the nation in a gesture of subjugation.”

Ilyin had the same attitude to law as Putin and Trump:

“By “law” he meant the relationship between the caprice of the redeemer and obedience of everyone else. Again a fascist idea proved to be convenient for an emerging oligarchy. The loving duty of the Russian masses was to translate the redeemer’s every whim into a sense of legal obligation on their part. The obligation, of course, was not reciprocal. Russians had a “special arrangement of the soul” that allowed them to suppress their own reason and accept “the law in our hearts.” By this Ilyin understood their to suppress their own reason in favor of national submission.”

 

Isn’t this exactly the doctrine enunciated by Trump’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz at Trump’s impeachment trial and later enthusiastically endorsed by Trump and his minion Rudy Giuliani. Whatever Trump did was lawful. What he wanted was lawful. And amazingly, only 1 Republican voted to impeach Trump and later, more than 73 million Americans voted for Trump in the presidential election that followed. More than73 million Americans voted for fascism!

 

In Russia this was all given a religious gloss. Here is how Snyder described it:

“The Russian nation, summoned to instant war against spiritual threats, was a creature  rendered divine by its submission to an arbitrary leader who emerged from fiction. The redeemer would take upon himself the burden of dissolving all facts and passions, thereby rendering senseless any aspiration of any individual Russian to see or feel or change the world. Each Russian would experience this immobility as freedom. Unified by their redeemer, their sins washed away in the blood of others, Russians would welcome God back to his creation. Christian fascist totalitarianism is an invitation to God to return to the world and help Russia bring an end to history everywhere.”

The sleep of reason leads to  treating the nation  and its leader as holy.

Holy Nationalism

 

Timothy Snyder in his book The Road to Unfreedom, explained eternity politics this way:

“Like all immorality, eternity politics begins by making an exception for itself. All creation might be evil, but I and my group are good, because I am myself and my group is mine. Others might be confused and bewitched by the facts and passions of history, but my nation and myself have maintained a prehistorical innocence.”

 

The leader and the people have a mystical relationship transfused with innocence in a corrupt world. Ivan Ilyin, who inspired Russian fascism,  saw this connection between the leader and nation as pure and holy.  Putin who became the disciple of Ilyin adopted this position. Only utter purity and can justify crimes in the name of the nation. Because the nation (Russia) is so pure and holy all manner of crimes are justified in its defence. Any invasion is justified if it employed in the holy cause of the nation. For the purity must be protected at all costs. As Snyder said,

“What Ilyin saw was a virginal Russian body.  Like fascists and other authoritarians of his day, Ilyin insisted that his nation was a ‘creature,” an organism of nature and the soul, an animal in Eden without Original Sin.”

 

As a result of its innocence “Russia does no wrong; wrong can only be done to Russia. Facts do not matter and responsibility vanishes.

According to Snyder,

“Ilyin saw in Russia virginal Russian body. Like fascists and authoritarians of his day, Ilyin insisted that his nation was a creature, ‘an organism of nature and soul,’ and animal in Eden without original sin. Who belonged within the Russian organism was not for the individual to decide, since cells to not decide whether they belong to a body.  Russian culture, Ilyin wrote, automatically brought ‘fraternal union’ wherever Russian power extended.”

 

This is why Putin insists that no matter what Ukrainians say, Ukraine is an indivisible part of Russia. He got this idea from Ivan Ilyin.

Ilyin was not a communist. He was a Russian nationalist. He believed Russia had been contaminated by communist ideas which came from the west. Russia was too good to resist these toxic ideas. Underneath Russia was good.  No acts could be too extreme for something so holy as Russia. It interests me, that this of course, is exactly what Americans often say about their holy nation too. Nationalism tends to be the same everywhere.

All actions, no matter how horrendous, are justified to defend such a holy nation. And such an attitude leads directly to massacres in Ukraine. And then no lies are too outrageous to legitimate in defence of the holy nation.

Totalitarianism

 

The final stage on the road to unfreedom is totalitarianism. To Ilyin, the thinker who inspired Putin and many of his supporters,  this was nothing to fear since it accorded with their vision of the final stage. According to Timothy Snyder, Ilyin’s final vision is as follows:

 

The vision was a totalitarian one. We should long for a condition in which we think and feel as one, which means not to think and feel at all. We must cease to exist as individual human beings. “Evil begins,” Ilyin wrote, “where the person begins.” Our very individuality only proves that the world is flawed: “the empirical fragmentation of human existence is an incorrect, a transitory and metaphysically untrue condition of the world.”  Ilyin despised the middle classes, whose civil society and private life, he thought, kept the world broken and God at bay.

 

The key ingredient I would suggest is not to think.  The sleep of reason brings forth monsters, as Goya said, and the leading monster is fascism or totalitarianism it’s bigger meaner brother.

 

Yet the road of totalitarianism is never without bumps. Even in Russia which has a lot of experience with totalitarianism. As Snyder said, “Totalitarianism is its own true enemy, and that is the secret it keeps from itself by attacking others.” This is what we now see in Ukraine. That is why what is happening in Ukraine right now is so important. Ukrainians are heroically resisting, but totalitarianism is on the line in Ukraine. That is why we should all be taking it so seriously. This is more than a war. We should all be paying attention. 

 

 

Christian Fascism

 

I had never heard of the idea of Christian fascism before I read Timothy Snyder’s book The Road to Unfreedom.

 

According to  the historian Timothy Snyder, Ivan Ilyin was a philosopher from a noble family in Russia who found in the disastrous situation that Russia found itself in after World War I that he wanted to oppose Bolshevism and the instrument he chose for that purpose was Christian fascism.  Interestingly, this was the same instrument chosen by Putin and Trump. There are deep historical roots to that process. Ilyin’s ideas though became popular much later, after the fall of Communism even though Ilyin had died 30 years earlier in 1954.

 

Vladimir Putin adopted Ilyin’s views as the intellectual foundation for his oligarchy. According to Snyder, “Ilyin was a politician of eternity. His thought held sway as the capitalist version of the politics of inevitability collapsed in the Russia of the 1990s and 2000s. As Russia became an organized kleptocracy in the 2010s, as domestic inequality reached stupefying proportions, Ilyin’s influence peaked.”

 

Very few people in the west have been aware of the influence of Ilyin. I know I never heard of him before I read Snyder’s The road to Unfreedom. His name has come up much more often after the second war in Ukraine. Snyder says Ilyin reached magnificent heights in Russia after the fall of communism and the brief interlude that followed. Snyder said, “he has become the philosopher for our time. No thinker of the twentieth century has been rehabilitated in such grand style in the twenty-first, nor enjoyed such influence on world politics. If this went unnoticed it was because we are in the thrall of inevitability: we believe that ideas do not matter.”

 

According to the Romanian thinker E. M. Cioran, Christian fascism embraced the ideas that before history God is perfect and eternal. But once he begins history, God seems “frenetic, committing error upon error.” Ivan Ilyin, Putin’s inspiration, took up this idea. He thought it would take a philosopher like himself to regain the solid ground of reality—i.e. the divine totality that would avoid the spiritual and moral relativism” that God’s “mistake” led us into.

 

Ilyin realized that the politics of from the 1880s to the early 1910s were the politics of globalization, just as they were again later from the 1980s to 2010s. In both eras the conventional wisdom was that export led growth would bring enlightened politics and end fanaticism. During the First World that optimism broke down. In the 2010s Trump and the resentful class to whom he appealed, showed that this optimism had also broken down in America. As Snyder says, “Ilyin regarded fascism as the politics of the world to come.”  And of course so did Trump and his 73 million voters. The phrase politics of the world to come, reminds me of what George Orwell said, “If you want an image of the future imagine a boot stomping a human face forever.”

 

Ilyin in the 1920s was in exile in Italy and he was disappointed that the Italians arrived at fascism before the Russians. Just as Trump later yearned for fascism when he looked at Putin and a host of other tyrants around the world and wished he could be like them. Trump always found dictators and tyrants more congenial than the leaders of the world’s democracies. That is not as surprising as it might sound. Trump naturally swam in the waters of tyranny. That was where he felt most at home. Ilyin was also impressed with Hitler. Just as Trump was impressed with Putin. Like liked like.  Ilyin actually spent most of his time from 1922 to 1938 in Germany.

 

The attraction of Hitler for Ilyin was the same as for so many fascists: “Ilyin saw Hitler as a defender of civilization from Bolshevism. The Führer, he wrote had “performed an enormous service for all of Europe” by preventing further revolutions on the Russian model.”

 

This is an important thought to remember. Capitalists are quite comfortable with fascists, because the real enemy is communism, or even socialism. In fact historically, capitalists are more friendly with fascism than democracy.

 

At this same time in Europe ,American capitalists were swarming to adopt Hitler as a congenial ally. Communists those were the real enemies of American capitalists. The connection between capitalism and fascism is deep. The connection to democracy is much more tenuous. It was therefore no surprise to see American capitalists enthralled by Trump, notwithstanding his obvious authoritarian tendencies. Later many were enthralled by Putin.

 

As Snyder pointed out, “Closely related to the fantasy of an eternally innocent Russia includes the fantasy of an eternally innocent redeemer, who does no wrong and therefore will not die.”