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Antisocialism and the rehabilitation of fascism
This isn't being driven by Ukrainian workers - it's coming from the international ruling class.
The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians would, in the United States, fall on a political spectrum ranging from radical left (owing to the persisting legacy of Soviet communism) to a kind of banal Eastern Orthodox conservativism. Fascism, correctly understood as a radical eliminationist and expansionist ultranationalism that emerges when the middle class displaces the stress of severe economic precarity under capitalism onto minority scapegoats — fascism can still only be found among a narrow albeit dangerously powerful fraction of Ukraine’s population. Persisting characterizations of Ukraine as a nation of fascists are not just grossly inaccurate, nor are they merely cruel to a nation of innocent civilians suffering a horrific war of aggression. This line is also dangerously reactionary, serving at once to both legitimize the Kremlin’s preposterous “denazification” rationale for invasion and to displace our own problem with fascism onto another country as some foreign, exotic phenomena.
It contradicts none of this to add that the faction of our ruling class aligned with Ukraine in this war are using it as a pretext to villify socialism at the cost of rehabilitating twentieth century fascism.
This, in an age of democratized propaganda where everyone sees themselves as agents of political PR campaigns, seems to be one of the most unpopular things you can possibly say. Not that Ukraine is mostly a nation of ordinary liberals and conservatives, or that our ruling class is engaged in Nazi apologetics — but to insist that both are true. However inconvenient it may be to Ukrainian and Russian war propaganda, it is just the truth that our fascist sympathizers remain overwhelmingly localized to the ruling class. Anti-imperialist and “anti-imperialist” media factions may both think it rhetorically clever to skew this truth in one way or another, but it’s a game that, to me, seems absolutely unconscionable. To the victims of fascism in the past and the victims of fascism today.
In just the past week we’ve have seen two incidents of fascist revisionism among North American government officials that were ghastly even by the grim standards of the United States and Canada.
On Tuesday, Canadian House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota stepped down only a few days after leading the country’s parliament in a standing ovation for Nazi collaborator Yaroslav Hunka. During World War II, Hunka fought for the Germany’s criminal Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary organization; but this didn’t stop Rota from praising him as a war hero who “fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russian aggressors.”
And only last evening, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that “Soviets buried” the horrific Nazi massacre of tens of thousands of Jewish Ukrainians at Babyn Yar. The Soviet army of course famously liberated Babyn Yar from the Nazis in 1943, tried the perpetrators, and (obviously) widely publicized the atrocity committed by their enemies.
It is striking how contrary both lines are, not just to how the radical left talks about the Nazis, but to how the ordinary liberal establishment accounts that have dominated academic scholarship and conventional wisdom for nearly a hundred years. The Hunka incident was so outrageous that it took only a few days for the Polish government to call for his extradition for war crimes. Blinken’s claim that Soviets buried the Babyn Yar massacre is so absurd that it is directly contradicted by Ukrainian historian scholars working with the official Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv, who recount that within months
reports began to appear in the Soviet press. On January 7, 1942, Pravda published an official statement condemning the shooting of Jews in Kyiv and other cities: “A horrific massacre of pogroms were committed by the German invaders in Kyiv…a large number of Jews, including women and children of all ages, were assembled at the cemetary in the city of Kyiv; before the shooting everyone was stripped naked and beaten… They were shot with submachine guns. There were many mass murders… and these bloody executions were especially directed against unarmed and defenseless Jewish working people.”
In this light it seems implausible to believe that Rota and Blinken have acted from ignorance — or even from conviction. Leftists who are rightly horrified by this propaganda may be tempted to believe that our ruling class is acting out of some knowing ideological commitment to fascism qua fascism; but in the context of prevailing opinion among the liberal ruling class, the more plausible explanation is that they are acting out of cynical commitment to capitalism. They see in the war against Ukraine an opportunity to leverage rightful outrage at Kremlin imperialists against the memory of communism, and they’re taking advantage of it.
Both incidents also serve as dark case studies of how ruling class revisionism is becoming normalized in the general public. Shortly after the Hunka affair, for example, Canadian Liberals were faced with a choice: condemn Rota or downplay the scandal. Popular opinion soon forced Rota to resign — but not before a wave of Liberal partisans backed themselves into rationalizing Hunka’s appearance. One typical response came from Canadian journalist Mark Bourrie, who decried criticism of Hunka as “ill-informed” and “ignorant”; another came from Toronto Guardian columnist Ted St. Godard, who pleaded that “Hunka at one mind-numbingly complicated messy time made tough arguably soul-crushing choices to survive”.
So one can see how the public, driven by antisocialism and banal partisanship, have begun taking their cues from elite Holocaust revisionism. Another incident over the past week shows this vividly: Democratic Socialist America’s refusal to host an article on Ukraine written by non-member Eric Lee. Particularly at issue was the article’s reference to “Symon Petliura, a leader of the Ukrainian People’s Republic and a deeply controversial figure in the country’s history.” Petliura also, it turns out, presided over the deaths of as many as 50,000 Jews under his command as Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian People's Army. That DSA objected to Lee’s complete omission of this history — characterizing Petliura as “controversial” instead — should have itself been completely uncontroversial.
Instead, however, DSA faced an unhinged wave of academics like Gabrielle Cornish and Paulina Kewes, along with sundry hacks like Neil Abrams and Michael Weiss declaring their outrage that DSA pulled the article. Setting aside those who defended Petliura explicitly, however, what I found striking were the critics who plainly had little idea what the row was actually about. And they didn’t need to be prompted by powerful or influential revisionists like Rota or Blinken, either. All they needed to see was a controversy where they could villify socialists as “tankies” and partisans of the Kremlin; the historical revisionism, in many cases, was just an afterthought.
But it’s a dangerous afterthought, and the normalization of fascist apologetics outside the halls of power in America is happening whether or not some people are being cynical about it. One also finds it in the creepy defenses of Putin’s invasion and Wagner iconography, of course; and most often, one finds it in home-grown good ol’ American fascism, in the local fringe movements that continue to make inroads into mainstream US politics. That’s what I find most disquieting about today’s political climate: not that we can find fascism anywhere, but that it seems to be almost everywhere.
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