The Kremlin is careful to project different images of Russia to the different foreign audiences it hopes to influence.
For the Western right, in particular the nationalists and populists who are more sympathetic to Vladimir Putin, it paints an image of a traditionalist state where Christianity has been reborn, where men can be men, and where the insanities of the woke European and American “establishment” are totally rejected. Meanwhile, the Western left is on the receiving end of messaging that shows Russia as a victim, a peaceful country reacting defensively after getting pushed around by the American empire.
Last week, catering to an internal audience, the Kremlin sought to put on a different face, at the “International Anti-Fascist Congress” held during an annual military exhibition. The messaging was closer to the version fed to the Western left on some points of substance, but in style it is a chip off the old Soviet bloc. Based on the available materials from the congress, it was a kind of official re-statement of the current ideology of the Kremlin, or at least of the Russian Defense Ministry, and the emphasis was on the Nazism of the West. The ideology that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is broadcasting, or the remnants of an ideology, shows the continuity between the Soviets’ idea of their enemies and the enemies that Shoigu says he is fighting today.
Shoigu opened the Congress with a very Soviet speech, taking on the slippery task of defining fascism in the first minutes: “The staunch anti-fascist Georgi Dimitrov called fascism bestial chauvinism, medieval barbarism, and unbridled aggression against other peoples and countries.”
A word about Dimitrov. This “staunch anti-fascist” was the head of Communist International from 1935-1943, one of Stalin’s stable of activists who went on to be the first Communist dictator of Bulgaria. The quote Shoigu chose is just a small part of a longer disquisition from 1935, near the height of Stalinism, titled “The Class Character of Fascism.” Dimitrov’s quote there is part of his description of German fascism, the “most reactionary variety of fascism … the shock troops of the international counter-revolution … the instigator of a crusade against the Soviet Union, the great fatherland of the working people of the whole world.” According to Dimitrov, “Fascism is the power of finance capital itself.” He wrote that fascism could take different forms in different countries—sometimes in the form of social democracy and sometimes in the form of dictatorship—but that in every case fascism is a method of the “domination of the bourgeoisie.” In other words, fascist Germany in 1935 was similar to the United States of 1935 or the U.K. or France of 1935; it is just that in the supposedly “free” countries finance capital had better camouflage or had not yet come to the state of crisis where dictatorship was necessary.