Russia’s war-mongering president, Vladimir Putin, has many admirers in the West. Various notable European politicians have paid homage, including the leader of France’s far right National Rally party, Marine Le Pen; former prime minster of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi; and Britain’s Brexit leader Nigel Farage. Other prominent fans include President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, and of course the former president of the United States, Donald Trump.
That they would be admirers is not surprising. They are ideological soulmates. Putin, while starting his career as a KGB officer in the Soviet Union’s perverse version of communism, is a fascist at heart, as indeed are they. He has a nostalgic passion for Russia’s past, is inconsolable about his country’s loss of power and prestige, and is intent on making it great again. His fan club appreciates his nostalgia for “traditional values,” real and imagined, and his strongman resolve to return to them by any means necessary. In true fascist fashion, the end justifies the means.
Now they are back-tracking. His brutality against Ukraine has become embarrassing. We are witnessing déjà vu. We saw the same ideological faux pas on the part of the right in the 1930s. Many prominent people at that time were fascist, even Nazi, sympathizers, including Americans from the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh to the industrialist Henry Ford and Brits from Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail newspaper, to the pinnacle of royalty King Edward VIII.
These people feared the threat of communism and saw fascism as a deterrent. But when the big threat materialized it didn’t come from the left, it came from the right, and it came with terrifying brutality. Once again the threat to world order comes not from the communist left, or what’s left of it, but from the fascist right, as these contemporary sympathizers are learning to their chagrin. History may not repeat itself, but it has echoes.