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Lessons from fascism in Russia

The biggest problem is not that people believe lies; it’s that they believe everyone is lying to them

Vladislav Surkov (left) with Vladimir Putin

A lot has already been written about people believing things which are verifiably untrue. Just look across the Atlantic, if it’s too uncomfortable to look closer to home. This article isn’t about all that. It’s about something more subtle and dangerous: often, people believe that everything around them is either a simulacrum or an outright lie.

The United Russia party, the political party through which Vladimir Putin consolidated Russian fascism in the past decade, has this down to Vladislav Surkov, who for many years was the deputy head of the presidential administration and the chief architect of the Russian “post-truth politics”. Overseeing party and government propoganda, the innovation of Surkov’s methods are something particular to the twenty first century.

Surkov has access to generous funding from the Russian government. He has used taxpayer funds to assist United Russia’s youth party, Nashi, the Russian equivalent of the Hitler Youth, who are trained for street battles with potential pro-democracy supporters.

But he also goes further. Surkov has funded a number of entities which passionately hate each other – communist parties, neo-Nazi groups, anti-Putin liberals, and red-blooded nationalists. And he has made no secret of his methods.

So why would the Russian government foster all these different groups, some of which are opposed to the government itself, only to out itself as cynically sponsoring a false pluralism?

To attack the idea of truth itself. Blurring the lines and discrediting all forms of opposition by depriving them of a moral foundation. What’s the point of fighting against the government of one set of crooks and thieves, if they will be replaced by another set of equally corrupt politicians? The people are deprived of an alternative once any form of opposition is tainted.

Governments all over the world can use people’s money – the money gathered from people who pay their taxes, or the money donated by business – to argue that the government is right. This is political propaganda as we know it, the kind that increasingly targets not only television audiences, but Maltese citizens aged thirteen and over on Facebook.

They can also use that money to argue that everyone is wrong. When that happens, when we’re told everyone is corrupt, then progressivism and social justice fall by the wayside.

When everything is a lie, then the realities which matter so much to real people – whether taxpayers are subsidising social workers and caregivers for mental health, or a series of shell companies in the British Virgin Islands and their shareholders – become a matter of who can shout the loudest.

Scepticism is a virtue; mass nihilism is politics.

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