By Yurii Sheliazhenko, World BEYOND War, March 15, 2022
Increasing animosity between Russia and Ukraine makes it hard to agree on a ceasefire.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin persists in military intervention claiming he is liberating Ukraine from a regime that, like fascists, kills its own people.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy mobilizes the whole population to fight against aggression and says Russians behave like Nazis when killing civilians.
Ukrainian and Russian mainstream media use military propaganda to call the other side nazis or fascists, pointing to their right-wing and militarist abuses.
All references of that sort are simply making a case for “just war” by appealing to the image of demonized enemies from the past entrenched in archaic political culture.
Of course we know that such a thing as just war can’t exist in principle, because the first victim of war is truth, and any version of justice without truth is mockery. The idea of mass killing and destruction as justice is beyond sanity.
But knowledge of effective nonviolent ways of life and a vision of a better future planet without armies and borders are parts of peace culture. They have not been spread enough even in the most developed societies, much less in Russia and Ukraine, states that still have conscription and give children a military patriotic upbringing instead of peace education for citizenship.
The culture of peace, underinvested and under-popularized, struggles to deal with the archaic culture of violence, based on bloody old ideas that might is right and the best politics is “divide and rule”.
These ideas of the culture of violence are probably even older than fasces, the ancient Roman symbol of power, a bundle of sticks with an axe in the middle, instruments for flogging and decapitation and symbol of strength in unity: you can easily break one stick but not the whole bundle.
In an extreme sense, fasces are a metaphor for the violently gathered and expendable people deprived of individuality. The model of governance by stick. Not by reason and incentives, like nonviolent governance in a culture of peace.
This metaphor of fasces is very close to military thinking, to killers’ morale ousting moral commandments against killing. When you are going to war, you should be obsessed with the delusion that all of “us” should fight, and all of “them” should perish.
That’s why Putin’s regime cruelly eliminates any political opposition to his war machine, arresting thousands of antiwar protesters. That’s why Russia and NATO countries have banned each other’s media. That’s why Ukrainian nationalists tried hard to prohibit public use of the Russian language. That’s why Ukrainian propaganda will tell you a fairy tale about how the whole population became an army in the people’s war, and will silently ignore millions of refugees, internally displaced persons, and males in age 18-60 hiding from compulsory enlistment when they are prohibited from leaving the country. That’s why the peace-loving people, not war-profiteering elites, suffer the most on all sides as a result of hostilities, economic sanctions, and discriminatory hysteria.
Militarist politics in Russia, Ukraine, and NATO countries have some similarities both in ideology and practices with the horribly violent totalitarian regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. Of course, such similarities are not an excuse for any war or trivialization of Nazi and Fascist crimes.
These similarities are more broad than manifestly neo-Nazi identity, despite the fact that some military units of the sort have fought both on Ukrainian side (Azov, Right Sector) and on the Russian side (Varyag, Russian National Unity).
In the broadest sense, fascist-like politics is trying to turn the whole people into a war machine, the fake monolithic masses supposedly united in an impulse to fight a common enemy which all militarists in all countries are trying to build.
To behave like fascists, it is enough to have an army and all things related to the army: compulsory unified identity, existential enemy, preparation for inevitable war. Your enemy need not necessarily be jews, communists, and perverts; it can be anybody real or imagined. Your monolithic belligerence need not be necessarily inspired by one authoritarian leader; it can be one hate message and one call to fight delivered by countless authoritative voices. And such things as wearing swastikas, torchlight marching, and other historical reenactments are optional and hardly even relevant.
Does the United States look like fascist state because there are two sculptural reliefs of fasces in the Hall of the House of Representatives? Absolutely not, it is just a historical artefact.
The United States, and Russia, and Ukraine look a bit like fascist states because all three have military forces and are ready to use them to pursue absolute sovereignty, i.e. to do whatever they wish in their territory or sphere of influence, as if might is right.
Also, all three are supposed to be nation states, which means monolithic unity of the people of the same culture living under one almighty government within strict geographical borders and because of that having no internal or external armed conflicts. Nation state is probably the dumbest and most unrealistic model of peace you can ever imagine, but it is still conventional.
Instead of a critical rethinking of archaic concepts of Westphalian sovereignty and the Wilsonian nation state, all the flaws of which were revealed by the Nazi and Fascist statecraft, we take these concepts as indisputable and put all the blame for WWII on two dead dictators and a bunch of their followers. No wonder that again and again we find fascists nearby and we wage wars against them, behaving like them according to political theories like theirs but trying to convince ourselves that we are better than they are.
To resolve the current two-track military conflict, West v East and Russia v Ukraine, as well as to stop any war and to avoid wars in future, we should use techniques of nonviolent politics, develop a culture of peace, and provide access to peace education for the next generations. We should stop shooting and start talking, tell the truth, understand each other and act for common good with no harm to anybody. Justifications of violence towards any people, even those who behave like Nazis or Fascists, are not helpful. It would be better to resist such wrong behavior without violence and help misguided, militant people to comprehend the benefits of organized nonviolence. When the knowledge and effective practices of peaceful life will be widespread and all forms of violence will be limited to a realistic minimum, people of Earth will be immune to the war disease.