Timothy Snyder has an in depth and interesting piece on Ivan Ilyin, Putin’s Philosopher of Russian Fascism up at The New York Review of Books. Born in 1883, dead in 1954, Ilyin was a special sort of intellectually perverse Christian crackpot who:
“understood history as a disgrace. Nothing that had happened since creation was of significance. The world was a meaningless farrago of fragments. The more humans sought to understand it, the more sinful it became. Modern society, with its pluralism and its civil society, deepened the flaws of the world and kept God in his exile. God’s one hope was that a righteous nation would follow a Leader into political totality, and thereby begin a repair of the world that might in turn redeem the divine. Because the unifying principle of the Word was the only good in the universe, any means that might bring about its return were justified.”
He’s your basic fascist but also not. Or was and then was not. They tend to bend their expression with the trends and Ilyn, who had a history of backing the wrong horse, had ample experience in altering the expression of his noxious ideas. Perhaps it was this experience that allowed him to bend his ideas towards times and trends that had not yet found their moment. He seems to have anticipated post-modernism and modified fascism for use within it. Craving the fall of the Soviet Union, planning ahead towards it, his work has a particular emphasis on adapting fascism to post-Soviet Russia.
“The problem with prewar fascism, according to Ilyin, had been the one-party state. That was one party too many. Russia should be a zero-party state, in that no party should control the state or exercise any influence on the course of events. A party represents only a segment of society, and segmentation is what is to be avoided. Parties can exist, but only as traps for the ambitious or as elements of the ritual of electoral subservience. (Members of Putin’s party were sent the article that makes this point in 2014.) The same goes for civil society: it should exist as a simulacrum. Russians should be allowed to pursue hobbies and the like, but only within the framework of a total corporate structure that included all social organizations. The middle classes must be at the very bottom of the corporate structure, bearing the weight of the entire system. They are the producers and consumers of facts and feelings in a system where the purpose is to overcome factuality and sensuality.”
Or particular interest is his belief that The Leader should emerge from the realm of fiction.
“Putin was an unknown when he was selected by post-Soviet Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, to be prime minister in 1999. Putin was chosen by political casting call. Yeltsin’s intimates, carrying out what they called “Operation Successor,” asked themselves who the most popular character in Russian television was. Polling showed that this was the hero of a 1970s program, a Soviet spy who spoke German. This fit Putin, a former KGB officer who had served in East Germany. Right after he was appointed prime minister by Yeltsin in September 1999, Putin gained his reputation through a bloodier fiction. When apartment buildings in Russian cities began to explode, Putin blamed Muslims and began a war in Chechnya. Contemporary evidence suggests that the bombs might have been planted by Russia’s own security organization, the FSB. Putin was elected president in 2000, and served until 2008.”
But we should not, probably, view him or the systems he advocates for as specifically Russian phenomenons. These issues and problems, the poison dirt that they grow from, are hardly limited to Russia. In our own case of these good ol’ United State of America:
“Donald Trump is another masculinity-challenged kleptocrat from the realm of fiction, in his case that of reality television. His campaign was helped by the elaborate untruths that Russia distributed about his opponent. In office, Trump imitates Putin in his pursuit of political post-truth: first filling the public sphere with lies, then blaming the institutions whose purpose is to seek facts, and finally rejoicing in the resulting confusion. Russian assistance to Trump weakened American trust in the institutions that the Russia has been unable to build. Such trust was already in decline, thanks to America’s own media culture and growing inequality.”
His work is used but not directly adopted. It’s just a weapon in the service of the ruling classes. That’s the ultimate transnational ideology of our era. (One which he recommends and describes.) The use of everything and anything as weapons in the service of power. That’s the fascistic core of his thought that remains intact and relevant, even as his other ideas are rendered either impracticable or inconvenient by those who hold him dear.
What a repulsive creature, he was.
What vile ideas, he had.
What a total time of shit, this is.
Anyway . . .
This is quite a good and interesting piece, of value to anyone looking for a better understanding of Russian and American politics and their intersections and reflections than is currently offered by a lot of the media. Too much of the current reporting on these issues seems like a cowering avoidance of responsibility or a reflexive throwback to the comforting familiarity of cold-war narratives. It’s often both. And it often leads to a conclusion that Trump is under the influence of Russia. That’s possible. To my mind, it’s much more likely that, whatever their nationality, kleptocrats share a common set of interests. In such a case, blackmail is really unnecessary. They’re on the same team.
We’re on a different one.
No pee tape required.
As such, these kleptocrats have the same sort of ideas and tactics. An important one is post-truth. The enemy of post-truth, of course, is clear definition. It’s meaning. In laying out some of the philosophy that undergirds and is weaponized by the Hallucination Regime, this piece helps us to define this phenomenon and allows for a more lucid understanding of the crass mechanics of this machine’s operation.
Taking something a bit out of context from a different piece, Is Conspiracy Fiction Too Dangerous? by a different writer, Ned Beauman:
As the filmmaker Adam Curtis describes the tactics of the Russian propagandist Vladislav Surkov, the aim “is not to win the war, but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception, in order to manage and control…A ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it is undefinable.”
We’re in a poisonous fog. We better mask-up. We better define.