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Methods of the Modern Fascist

After attending enough fascist demonstrations, monarchist protests and outdoor conservative Orthodox services in Moscow, you start to recognize some of the faces.

There's Alexander Shtilmark, the bearded man with severe asthma who leads the tiny but fearsomely named Black Hundred organization. Vladimir Osipov, a grandfatherly figure who spent over a decade as a political prisoner in Soviet camps, often serves as emcee, keeping the program moving along and speaking on behalf of his own Union of Christian Rebirth. It is hard to miss the leader of Faith, Tsar and Fatherland, Father Nikon (Belavinets), a large Orthodox monk in a flowing black cassock.

Back on March 15, all three men were among the leaders of a crowd of several hundred people gathered in a cold drizzle near Kitai-Gorod metro to take part in a religious procession to Red Square. They were there to pray and protest the Russian government's new tax ID numbers that, they say, contain the number 666 and lead to a satanic takeover of Russia and the world. As might be expected, Satan's agents are Jews and Masons. They are responsible for the tax ID numbers ?€” not to mention the killing of Tsar Nicholas II and family, the Revolution and the break-up of the Soviet Union.

It is easy to dismiss these people, their ideas and followers as extremists of no consequence, political bottom feeders sustained by ideas hatched in 19th-century Western Europe. Their presence, you could argue, is inevitable in any country with a degree of political freedom, an unpleasant phenomenon to be noted and ignored, like a woman with her slip showing or a man with his fly undone.

Click here to buy "Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements" from

After reading Stephen D. Shenfield's new Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements this seems foolhardy. In a just-the-facts-ma'am style, Shenfield takes note of Father Nikon, Osipov and Shtilmark as well as much bigger fish like Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the recently deposed Alexander Barkashov and the recently jailed Eduard Limonov.

Shenfield, a researcher at Brown University, uses a methodical, often plodding, approach to his subject that begins with a survey of 28 different authors' views of fascism. Thus, he reaches a working definition that is broad enough to include leaders like Zhirinovsky who may not be strictly speaking a fascist but is "a fascist as most people understand the word."

Shenfield goes on to note parenthetically that, "Logical consistency requires that the ideologies that justified the European conquest and settlement of the Americas, Australasia and Africa also be considered in the popular sense, although they were not fascist in an academic sense."

To some extent, events are already overtaking "Russian Fascism." Limonov, by far the most colorful character in the book, was arrested last month in a small village in Altai. The leader of the National Bolshevik Party is now being held in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison on weapons charges that could bring him up to eight years behind bars.

Two weeks after Limonov's arrest, his deputy and chief theoretician in the National Bolshevik Party until 1998, Alexander Dugin, held a news conference to launch a new political party called Eurasia with a "radical centrist" platform, committed to supporting the government of President Vladimir Putin. An Orthodox abbot, a Hasidic rabbi and Russia's supreme mufti will help shape Eurasia's policy according to Dugin, an adviser to State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov.

In September, Alexander Barkashov's Russian National Unity, the country's largest explicitly fascist organization, with some 25,000 committed members, disintegrated as regional leaders questioned Barkashov's authority. Shenfield manages to describe the break-up in an afterword.

Compared to their counterparts in Germany, Italy and France, Shenfield writes, modern Russian fascists are at a distinct disadvantage as they have a weak tradition to draw on. Fuzzy-headed, 19th-century Slavophilism, which deeply colors today's Russian nationalism, is useless to fascists, Limonov has complained.

The docile Russian Orthodox Church is of little help, either. "The patient and long-suffering submission to God's will that Orthodoxy preaches can hardly imbue Russians with the heroic and 'revolutionary' spirit that is also essential to fascism," Shenfield observes.

All the same, he devotes considerable attention to Russia's largest faith, which he calls "a bastion of fascist tendencies." This is especially significant, Shenfield writes, because in recent years the lines between the church and the government have blurred to the point where Russia "can no longer be considered a secular state."

While noting that Orthodox fundamentalists and fascists share a belief in a Jewish conspiracy and both reject democracy and the Enlightenment, Shenfield shows that the mass of nominally Orthodox believers, who make up 50 percent to 75 percent of the population, have no such sympathies.

Lacking a coherent, consistent ideology, Russian fascist groups frequently rely on a single leader. This, too, creates problems. Shenfield cites Limonov's well-publicized bisexuality as a serious obstacle to his party's growth beyond its current 7,000 or 8,000 members. The gray personality of Barkashov, leader of Russian National Unity, is similarly problematic.

What sometimes gets lost in all the political analysis of "Russian Fascism" is that people are being beaten on a daily basis in Moscow because they have skin darker than that of a suntanned Slav, a nose too distant in shape from the potato ideal or black hair that is a bit too curly. Just ask the city's Azeri vegetable vendors, Indian businessmen or African diplomats.

The racially motivated beatings and occasional murders usually attract little attention. Police, as Shenfield writes, often sympathize with the attackers' goal of ridding the city of non-ethnic Russians. Most Muscovites have little direct contact with fascist violence. Shenfield does cite one elderly woman who was appalled by her National Bolshevik neighbors: "They beat up people, they steal, they display strange flags. They are evildoers."

Shenfield dutifully documents the platforms of the mostly tiny political parties that are fascist or semi-fascist. We learn, for example, that if the underground Russian National Union were to seize power in Russia, all couples would be required to produce a child within three years of getting married or face criminal charges.

By far the most significant party examined in "Russian Fascism" is Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, which Shenfield calls the most extensive party organization after the Communists'. But despite an exhaustive analysis, Zhirinovsky remains largely inscrutable to Shenfield, who concludes that the skilled orator is not "a convinced liberal nor a convinced fascist." Zhirinovsky's significance is that he "destroyed taboos that previously protected Russian society from fascism, such as the taboo on the open expression of ethnic hatred."

"Russian Fascism," chock full as it is of anti-Semites, angry religious zealots and genocidal visionaries, concludes with Shenfield's hopeful observation that "the crucial handicap and guilty secret of Russian fascism is that it is not really very Russian. For the Russian nationalists whom fascist organizations seek to attract, that is the worst of all sins."

"Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements" by Stephen D. Shenfield. 320 pages. D.E. Sharpe $66.95

Frank Brown is a freelance journalist specializing in religious affairs. Click here to buy "Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements" from

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