Staunton, March 26 — It is clear that Vladimir Putin has gone further in his confrontation with the West than many of those around him would prefer; but just as was the case with Adolf Hitler, they will threaten to oust him only when he begins to suffer defeat and his regime is at the edge of economic or military collapse, according to Igor Eidman.
The Moscow analyst thus cautions against the expectations of some that Putin will face a palace coup before that time, an argument he makes on the basis of a larger comparison between the regime Putin has built and the one Hitler did in Germany three-quarters of a century ago.
Fascism, Eidman argues, “is a disease of immature democracy,” one that many European countries suffered in the 1920s and one that Russia, whose social and political system is “approximately at the level” of those countries a century ago, is suffering from now. Indeed, “much in the history of Germany 1918–1938 and Russia 1991–2015 astoundingly corresponds.
The Moscow commentator points to five key similarities. First, he compares Germany in 1918 and Russia in 1991. Both suffered defeat in war, both lost territory and their empires, both felt that they were insulted and injured, both felt they had lost because of a supposed “knife in the back,” and both wanted revenge for their defeats.
Second, as many have done, he compares Weimar Germany with Yeltsin’s Russia. Both suffered staggering declines in the standard of living for most of the population, the undermining of traditional values and “the commercialization of all aspects of life,” disappointment with democracy, and the continuing popularity of restorationist groups.
Third, Eidman points to the similarities between the ways Hitler and Putin came to power.
Both were promoted by big business and bourgeois politicians. Both were aided by the close relatives of earlier rulers. And both benefitted from the desire of oligarchs to have a strong ruler who could “protect their capital and privileges” from an angry population and instability.
Fourth, he notes, both had to set up a fascist regime. Hitler took a little less than a year, while Putin has been working toward it already 15 years and has not yet put everything in place. The main reason for Putin’s slowness in this regard is that “unlike Hitler, Putin came not from public politics” but from the security services.
As a result, Putin has taken roughly as long as Stalin did to consolidate absolute power, but in the wake of the Crimean Anschluss which transformed him from primarily a backroom figure and “made him a real public politician, the ‘fuehrer of the nation’ [who] is capable of doing what he likes” both at home and abroad.
And fifth, Eidman compares the pre–1939 Hitler regime with Putin’s now.
Both leaders set as their main goal “revenge for the defeat of their predecessors” and “the restoration of the former status of both countries as superpowers in their ‘historical borders,’” something that required an “annexationist foreign policy.”
Domestically, both established a system of state monopoly capitalism under the rule of “a national leader,” who de jure (Hitler) or de facto (Putin) destroyed the multiparty system that had existed and subjected the opposition to repression — all of it in the case of Hitler and selectively in the case of Putin. Both elevated the role of the special services to unheard of heights.
Both transformed the media into agents of government propaganda, promoting “a chauvinist and xenophobic state ideology and militarism.” Both whipped up hatred of one or another country abroad. And both pushed the notion of “a foreign conspiracy” that meant their countries were “besieged fortresses” and that any opposition was “’a fifth column.’”
“The similarity of Putin’s Russia with Hitler’s Germany are obvious,” but “there are not a few differences,” Eidman writes. The main one is that “the process of establishing total control of the authorities over society has still not been completed.” Terror remains selective, there is no ethnic discrimination, and there are still some outposts of media freedom.
What is important to remember as well, he continues, is that “Putin and his entourage unlike the Nazis are not ethnic nationalist but rather chauvinists and clericals.” In that regard, Putin’s Russia is more like Franco’s Spain, Horthy’s in Hungary, or the early Mussolini’s in Italy.
But as in Hitler’s Germany, the remaining freedoms are being increasingly restricted.
“Is there a way out of this situation?” Eidman asks. He suggests that “hopes for some kind of palace coup are illusory” because in Putin’s Russia, “the ruling elite is united with its leaders in their fascist choice.” Most are from the old Soviet nomenklatura and for them 1991 was about privatizing the wealth of the country into their own hands.
For that, he and they were forced to “imitate democratic reforms … but as soon as privatization was mostly carried out, democracy became unnecessary and even dangerous to the nomenklatura” because it threatened a change of power and consequently a change in who owns what. Not surprisingly, like Putin, they see authoritarianism as their protector.
Consequently, Eidman concludes, there are only two possible directions for Russia’s development: “either further moves toward fascism which will threaten the country with terror and the world with war or an economic collapse and the collapse of the Putin regime.” But for him to be overthrown, Putin must first suffer obvious reverses.