In the aftermath of his disastrous unilateral invasion of the nation of Ukraine, many people on the left, and throughout society in general, are making an apt comparison between Vladimir Putin and Hitler. Despite the writing clearly being on the wall that Fascism is on the march in Europe again, some other small number of western leftists are defending Putin or his actions, or at least echoing his own talking points.
This is a bad business for those people who spent time building "big tent" movements on the left. If the Hitler analogy is accepted as true or upheld as conventional political wisdom, it means that some of the allies and comrades within that big tent are now fascist sympathizers who will ultimately need to be ejected, for no matter how big the tent, the left makes no common cause with apologists for fascism.
We always knew that the big tent approach crucial to certain types of left wing populism, were flawed insofar as so-called "red fascists" were always a constituent part of such alliances.
b) Take action against the contemptible pro-fascist nonsense in their own communities on a polarizing issue and expose themselves to the very real risk of losing friends.
This may explain why resisting this Putin-Hitler comparison is becoming an increasingly popular if ahistoric approach to reasoning with events in Ukraine.
Toronto based writer and anti-poverty community activist John Clarke, was very vocal out the gate on day 2 of the conflict in promoting certain whataboutisms, comparing Ukraine to Palestine, as though this were in any way a reasonable political position. Nevermind that the wars in Ukraine and Palestine differ fundamentally in their history, duration and intensity-- or that weaponizing the Palestinian struggle has been a longstanding trope in the Kremlin's public relations strategy, Clarke felt these were perfectly fair things to compare.
Clarke has recently shifted to open condemnation of Russia's actions and support for the Ukrainian resistance, while also urging people to avoid making rhetorical comparisons between Vladimir Putin and Hitler or falling for what he styles as "Washington's propaganda".
A few week's ahead of of Clarke's admonition, Toronto Star contributor Taylor Noakes wrote an article asserting that comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler was wrong because it left us no rhetorical off-ramps other than a confrontation with great evil. Noakes regularly tweets on the subject of communism and rebroadcasts sources from what would be termed the "Grayzone" including the works of the fascist sympathizer Max Blumenthal who is widely known to have courted the anti-mask and anti-vaccine movements. The Grayzone has been central in disseminating Kremlin propaganda and while it initially positioned itself as "antifascist" is immediately recognizable in the modern context as an outlet which not only vilifies Ukrainians in line with Putin's talking points, but which willfully promotes pro-Kremlin disinformation.
Russia might be punching below their weight in a supposedly "multipolar" world at least for now, but a fascist dictator is still a fascist dictator and irrespective of his power or competence we should be able to highlight their rhetorical similarities without admonition. Noakes asserts that this comparison is polarizing and certainly, polarization has been the goal. In fact, the term "Multipolar" has become a fascist dogwhistle inspired by the likes of Alexander Dugin, which hints we should uncritically accept Russia's actions in the world because they present an antidote to American imperialism. Russia is failing spectacularly at implementing Dugin's vision. We should be relieved, frankly that the garbage is taking itself out.
The exhortation from Clarke and Noakes then, is ultimately that we should avoid this comparison between dictators, but they ignore a fundamental truth: Adolf Hitler wasn't Adolf Hitler because of his immense military budget or his massive war machine, or his competent general staff.
On the eve of World War 2, Hitler was an unremarkable European militarist grinding an axe, who became the "Hitler" we know because of the things he did and said which violated the laws and norms of international conduct and which ultimately offended our sensibilities just as Vladimir Putin has done.
Of course there are clear differences between Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.
Differences aside, if we're being fully honest there are several clear and indisputible similarities:
- The Dictator's invasion of neighbouring countries under ridiculous pretext, for the purposes of territorial conquest of territory based on historic claim and styling this as the reclamation of lost prestige or opposition to some international world order that slighted their nation, is an indisputably similar.
- The Dictator's invocation of hateful tropes about gender to excuse this invasion and allegations about "globalists" or a conspiracy of stateless global elites who are traitors to the nation is indisputably similar.
- The Dictator's invention of a fascist international between both eastern and western chauvinist nations united by an ideology concocted from esoteric and syncretic fascism, styling itself as a Manichean force in a global holy war against moral degeneracy is indisputably similar.
- The Dictator's invigoration of a sympathetic international movement of far right figures who attempt coups, spread disinformation and advocate against the interests of their countrymen is indisputably similar.
(see: figures like Charles Lindbergh and political entities like America First as contrasted with Putin's extensive influence networks, including Russia's alt media ecology and figures like Steve Bannon)
- The Dictator's involvement of their respective country in a regional war, supporting an allied fascist dictator against a popular mobilization is indisputably similar.
"The Russian army is the last bastion against the satanic new world order". Literal quote from the official Russian Officer's Handbook. Captured by Ukrainian GUR, document appears authentic. pic.twitter.com/oAd3QaHUj7— Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) March 7, 2022
If the comparison of Vladimir Putin to Hitler is polarizing it is precisely because the Putinists, who would be comical if they were not so terrible, have sought for years the creation of their own separate, fascist polarity.
An American political cartoon from 1939 portrays Hitler as ignorant of recent history, oblivious to his impending doom. It still took four years and millions of lives for that doom to arrive.
Kevin Metcalf is the managing editor of Warp.media. He is an activist, polemicist and progressive content creator living in so-called Toronto, Ontario. He writes at the intersection of antifascist resistance to the far right, issues of national and international security, and international conflict. You can follow him on Twitter at Pomo_Cowboy