This is a (fairly) complicated discussion and authors are likely to somewhat disagree with the conclusion. There are indeed "lumpists" who declare Putin's regime fascist after a look mostly at similarities (as the question here does).
However (besides the rhetorical aspect with which "fascism" is used today to label almost anything) there is true scholarly disagreement on a deeper notion. Whether fascism was mainly ideological, mainly violence-oriented (both in terms of war as an ultimate goal and against internal against opponents) or if both characteristics are needed. Thus the problem with this question lies not as much with the present object analyzed but with conceptualizing the standard of comparison.
As Ted's answer actually presents (without clearly identifying its source)
Roger Griffin’s definition, I'll quote from Van Herpen's book:
Griffin’s method has been severely criticized, especially by historians.
Robert Paxton, for instance, wrote: “I shall not be very interested in
finding similarities—deciding whether some regime falls within the definition
of some fascist essence. That kind of taxonomy, so widespread
in the literature of fascism, does not lead very far.” And he added,
citing another historian: Marc Bloch, “Comparison (…) is most useful
for eliciting differences.”
Bear in mind that using Griffin’s definition one can find fascism
e.g. in the US antebellum South.
But to return to why some find this sole focus on ultranationalism
unsatisfactory in the definition of fascism:
The question is not so much if a definition of a “fascist minimum” is
possible. I think it is. The question is if Griffin’s definition formulates
this minimum in an adequate way – which I think it does not. The minimum
is formulated by Griffin in a too minimalistic way, which leads him
to omit an important feature of the fascist phenomenon.
But let us first
see how far we can agree with his definition. We can agree that fascism
is essentially a way of thinking, an ideology, that the mythical core of
this ideology consists of ultra-nationalism (a nationalism that takes on
a quasi-religious character), that it is palingenetic (which means that
it includes ideas and dreams of national rebirth and revival), and that
it is populist, which means that it is linked to the emergence of modern
mass democracies. But is this enough to define fascist regimes? I do
not think so. Because a “palingenetic form of ultra-nationalism” does
not indicate the way in which the realization of this national revival
Let us assume for an instant that this revival only was
envisaged as a cultural revival or as an economic revival of the nation.
In this case the fall-out of fascist regimes in the twentieth century
would not have been so disastrous as it worked out in practice.
Nolte, for instance, described the first phase of Mussolini’s regime, in which
Mussolini concentrated on the economic modernization of Italy, as
an Entwicklungsdiktatur—a developmental dictatorship. Had Mussolini
remained on this track, his regime would not have been much different
from many developmental dictatorships that sprang up in Latin
America or in South East Asia in the second half of the twentieth century.
But he did not. Because national economic development was not
an aim in itself for Mussolini, it was only a means. It was a means of
preparation for wars of conquest in the Balkans and in North Africa.
In 1934 he announced the transformation of Italy into a nazione
militarista and a nazione guerriera and prepared for expeditions abroad.
According to Nolte, “The fact that Fascism was first a developmental
dictatorship should not lead us to neglect that from the beginning its
most intimate, and even not secret, drive was directed towards war.”
The aim of Italian Fascism was not to be a developmental dictatorship,
but to be an Eroberungsdespotie (Nolte), a conquering dictatorship.
militarist character of fascism was not only directed against foreign
governments that stood in the way of the imperial project. This militarism
was double- edged: it was directed against two kinds of enemies.
It was first and foremost directed against its political opponents within
the country who were intimidated, physically attacked, and sometimes
murdered by the paramilitary militias of the fascist parties. Michael
Mann criticized Griffin’s definition because of his negligence of this
aspect of fascism. “Griffin also sanitizes fascism,” he wrote, “remaining
silent on its distinctively brutal violence and paramilitarism.” Mann
had a point: the use of violence is a characterizing feature of fascism,
just as its imperialist drive. A same approach could be found in Philippe
de Lara, who asked if fascism was characterized by a “primacy of
violence” or a “primacy of ideology.” “The doctrine, the Nazi beliefs,
are they the superficial envelope of a regime primarily characterized by
a situation and a type of power, or, on the contrary, are they the heart of
the matter? (…) [T]he Nazis did they believe in their myths?” De Lara
concluded that there was a primacy of both ideology and violence.
Following Gentile and Webber, a "thick" definition of fascism includes (three) other elements, but to summarize all 4:
- A political party with young middle-class leaders and its own party militia
- A mythical political religion emphasizing virility and the leader principle
- Ultra-nationalism, racism, and the restoration of national greatness
- The symbiosis of party and state, corporatism, totalitarian control and an imperialist foreign policy
These basically correspond to the organizational, cultural, ideological, and
institutional dimensions of fascism. The minimalist def is basically just the pure ideological one.
You can find many more write-ups on Putinism that barely or not at all
touch on any fascism comparison, while essentially agreeing on what Putinism is. (See e.g. the book of Taylor, The Code of Putinism.)
However, here I'm going to rely mostly on two sources that do touch on the comparison, to various degrees, namely an article of Fish and the book of Van Herpen Putinism: The Slow Rise of a Radical Right Regime in Russia. (The [sub]title of this book is actually a bit misleading as to the books' conclusion[s]; I do wonder the extent to which the editors influenced the [sub]title.)
Since the question emphasized similarities, some ways in which Putinism is sufficiently remote from fascism are stuff worth going over:
- the [lesser] extent of the personality cult
- the absence of a strong party; you'd be surprised how Putin treats United Russia as a 2nd cousin
- the constitutional shell game (Putin running the show as both President and PM)
- the anti-revolutionary character of Putin's regime, allied more with
right-wing religious figures (which in turn support him)
- the nominal, internal pan-culturalism tied with the above; any religion is fine as long as its (national) leader(s) clearly endorse Putin as the country's savior.
- ethno-nationalism most overtly directed towards neighboring countries (via Russian minorities there)
- otherwise weak overt social or economic ideology but a strong networks-based ruling clique ("Putinomics") with occasional pacification of potential resistive social elements (pensions etc.) The degree of redistribution (e.g. of oil revenues) to such segments of the population is substantially higher than in other authoritarian oil regimes.
At least one article (Fish) thus concludes that Putinism (especially if it survives Putin) is a true innovation in the realm authoritarianism.
Van Herpen's book spends much more time/space on the subject, so I'll have to be more selective, but by and large it agrees with Fish, albeit making more comparisons in the end and finding less overall originality in Putinism if other regimes or movements are considered.
But first, to add broad historical perspective to the similarities list:
the fact that contemporary Russia shares two important characteristics
with post- First World War Germany is a matter of concern.
These two characteristics are, first, a lack of experience of democratic
governance and, second, the sudden introduction of the institutions and
procedures of a modern electoral mass democracy. From the literature
on the subject (e.g. Samuel Huntington and Jack Snyder) it is known
that these two characteristics generally predict political turmoil, violent
power struggles, and praetorianism. The turmoil of Weimar Germany
ended with the advent of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. The turmoil
of post- First World War Italy ended with the advent of Mussolini
and Italian Fascism. The turmoil of “Weimar Russia” [Yeltsin's Russia] ended with the
advent of Vladimir Putin and “Putinism.”
All three leaders promised to
bring order, to reinvigorate and modernize the economy, and to restore
the national prestige of a humiliated country. This is, however, in itself
no sufficient reason to compare Putin’s system with the systems of the
inter-war era, because—apart from these similarities—there are also
a number of important differences between present- day Russia and the
systems of the inter- war era. There are at least 11 differences regarding:
- the ascent to power of the leader
- the role of the party
- the “centrist” self- image of the presidential party [by this it means the anti-revolutionary aspect]
- the absence in Russia of party militias
- the presence in Russia of an official anti-fascist state ideology
- the absence in Russia of state-sponsored racism
- the absence in Russia of totalitarianism
- the symbiotic relationship of the Russian state with the (Orthodox)
- the character of Russia’s power elite
- the role of mafias
- the maintenance of a pluralistic democratic facade
In my opinion, this (latter) list is a bit belabored (the author himself admits that the elements of this list don't have equal weight) but a few of this additional points are interesting enough, in my view.
The [method of] ascent to power is indeed a good point that in some sense
prefigured the rest of elements the regime... in the book's words
"the result of a successful infiltration policy". The book then argues that Putin's true party and power elite could be said to be the Siloviki (security apparatus) and this creates a regime with somewhat unique characteristics, much more based on dissimulation of its true nature.
And in line with this, there's the ostensibly anti-fascist ideology, which
actually has a broader/older basis in Russia:
Anti- fascism, for most Russians today, is not associated
with a criticism of dictatorship and/or human rights violations, but
with unique and unforgettable moments of sacrifice, heroism, national
pride, and imperial grandeur. [...]
In the present situation [...] in which Soviet patriotism
has made way for Russian ultra-nationalism, anti-fascism is not
understood as a criticism of the ugly, repressive sides of the existing
political system in Russia. On the contrary, since 1945 anti-fascism is
considered the inalienable historical legacy of the Russian nation that
finds its expression in a powerful state. The celebration of Russia’s history
and the glorification of the deeds of its heroes and great men and
women have become an integral part of this anti-fascist tradition. The
“Anti-Fa” (Anti-Fascism) group of the Nashi, for instance, has the task
of upholding the respect for war veterans, and to take care of the monuments
that commemorate the heroes who lost their lives in the “Great
Patriotic War.” In this way, a historical narrative is constructed in which
“anti-fascism,” “Great Patriotic War,” and contemporary national self-celebration
are blended. This national self-celebration finds its logical
conclusion in the present mood of ultra-nationalism. In a kind of
Hegelian-Marxian dialectic, anti-fascism has changed into its opposition,
ultra-nationalism. Ultra-nationalism is, according to Robert Griffin’s
definition, one of the basic ingredients of fascism. A clear expression of
this Nietzschean Umwertung aller Werte—a process in which values are
transformed into their opposites—is the invective “demofascists” which
is used in Russia to refer to members of the democratic opposition.
As the book notes, that absence of state-sponsored racism in Russia mirrors
its other veneers (e.g. democratic), meaning that racism is otherwise
fairly tolerated in society and there are few repercussions for being (a Russian) racist
in Russia. Not only that but as with other hidden networks of power in Russia,
there are serious questions who funds the most racist elements e.g. to pick one the several examples given in the book:
During the trial in 2009 of the Nationalist
Socialist Organization (NSO)—a racist skinhead gang which was accused
of 27 murders—it emerged that its leader, Maksim Bazilev, had 200
million roubles (4.8 million euros) on his bank account. He paid the
members of the gang each month a “salary” of 25,000 roubles (about
600 euros). Where did this money come from? Bazilev could not answer
this question. He committed suicide in a cell of the Interior Ministry
in Moscow, a building, however, known for its tight security measures.
According to Charles Clover, Moscow correspondent of the Financial
Times, the NSO had “numerous and not altogether transparent relationships
with Russia’s political and law-enforcement establishment.”
The book then observes that pragmatic reasons underlie this official opposition to racism, including e.g. ending the war in the Chechnya by co-opting the part of the ruling elite that was willing to submit to Putin.
The absence of state-sponsored racism, apart from being a question of principle, is therefore also a question of political prudence.
The other aspects of e.g. veneer of democracy are much better known, so I won't go over them here. The book by van Herpen (thus) says that a better parallel is with the
"proto-fascist" regime of Napoleon III, which also kept
a veneer of democracy. (The book argues this point at length comparable
with the previously discussed issues, but I won't go over the details here.
However (similarly to Fish's article) it also concludes that
Putinism is a system of its own kind
[...] calling Putin’s system
simply “fascist” does not do justice to its complex and multi-layered
character. Putinism is a totally new political formation. It is a multilayered
political formation which combines elements of Bonapartism,
“classical” inter-war era fascism (especially of the Mussolinian variant),
and modern Berlusconist populism.
And has this conclusion table in support of its thesis (image here):
Table 12.1 Putinism—A multilayered combination of Bonapartism, Berlusconism, and (Mussolinian) fascism
|Authoritarian government with democratic façade
|Fully accepts globalization
|Relative independence of the state from economic bourgeoisie
|Ethos of personal enrichment
|Ideas of national rebirth
|Reliance on secret police
|Control of the media: "videocracy"
|Aggressive foreign policy
|Lack of clear ideology: Ideology is built post hoc
|Flirtation with fascism
|Symbiotic relationship between the regime and the majority religion
|Party without a program: the party is a vehicle for the leader
|Goal is restoration of national prestige
|"Body obsession": the leader as "Botoxed politician"
|Alleged relations with the mafia
|Rewrites school history text books
|No official "state-racism"
As van Herpen book was written before Putin's moves in Crimea & Ukraine, it helps to add a bit on the [openly stated] ideological precursors of that move (from the Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right, 2018)... precursors which initially came from outside of Putin's inner circle but were incorporated into it.
Russia’s most highly placed state official with radical right connections
is the former nationalist activist Dmitry Rogozin (b. 1963), who was appointed
deputy prime minister in charge of defense and the space industry
in 2011. Like Zhirinovskii, Rogozin merges ethnic and imperial Russian
nationalism in his public statements. He asserted, for example, in his 2006
book Enemy of the People that “Crimea, Little Russia [i.e., most of mainland
Ukraine], Belarus, the Cossack Steppes of Kazakhstan, Transnistria,
and the Baltics are the core territory of the Russian nation [rodovaia territoriia
russkoi natsii],” thereby presaging Russia’s annexation of Crimea
and covert intervention in eastern Ukraine in 2014 (Rogozin 2006). During
the early and mid-1990s, he was on the fringes of mainstream Russian politics,
and one of the leaders of the Kongress Russkikh Obshchin (KRO,
Congress of Russian Communities)—an ethnonationalist organization established
in 1993 claiming to represent ethnic Russians left outside the
Russian Federation after the Soviet Union broke up (Ingram 1999). Rogozin
was first elected to the State Duma in 1997, and rose to national
prominence as a result of the surprisingly strong showing of the newly established
nationalist umbrella organization, the People’s Patriotic Union,
“Rodina” (Motherland) in the State Duma elections of 2003 (Titkov 2006).
Along with his equally prolific faction colleagues Sergei Baburin (b. 1959)
and Sergei Glaz’ev (b. 1961), a former presidential candidate and current
advisor to President Putin (Aslund 2013), Rogozin was one of the most
visible younger Rodina MPs, quickly gaining a sharp public profile and
emerging as a possible future national leader. The unexpectedly strong
electoral support for Rodina and growing popularity of some of its leaders
led the Kremlin, however, to instigate the dissolution of this organization
in 2006. Rogozin’s sudden rise to prominence may have also been a reason
that he was appointed Russia’s ambassador to NATO at Brussels for the
period 2008–2011, thereby cutting short his possible further independent
political development (Eijkelenberg 2015), before including him in the political
establishment as deputy head of government.