‘Rushism’, the ideology of the third millennium
by Stefano Caprio

Rushism is the new ideal of conquest in the post-global world. Instead of cultural levelling, everyone is trying to win against everyone. After almost a century of laying in the background, weapons are heard again, like at the end of La Belle Époque, a time when the invention of electric lighting, radio and cars seemed to have definitively let humanity out of the caves.

There are many ways to explain the ideology of the Russian World, the Russkiy mir, which Putin chose to promote through war with the whole world, via the invasion of Ukraine. This is a throwback to Russia’s medieval mission as the “Third Rome”, embodied by Patriarch Kirill who thunders from churches, head covered by a klobuk, the rounded mitre Byzantine hierarchs wore.

Putin is often compared to some tsars from the past, like Ivan the Great, who unified the lands, and Nicholas I, known as the “gendarme of Europe”, who based his power on narodnost, “popularism” as opposed to the populism of the revolutionaries. The list of rulers includes Stalin who espoused the notion of “universal communism in one country”, a Slavophile version of Marxist internationalism.

The philosopher Alexander Dugin, one of Putin’s current advisers, speaks of “Eurasianism” as the "fourth ideology", coming after liberalism, fascism and communism, based on the Orthodox and autocratic tradition of the many Russias of the past. Dugin’s thesis seems indeed to sum up the main traits of this new synthesis, starting with “fascist communism” of which Dugin himself became a leading proponent in the 1990s, exemplified by the red-brown party founded by another visionary, Eduard Limonov.

This thesis is based on the “end-of-liberalism” theory, dismissing Western-style democracy as a tool by the powerful to deceive people, who think they are the source of the government power. Such a vision echoes the amused reaction by Peter the Great, who in 1698 watched a meeting of the first parliament in history, the House of Lords in London, during the reign of William III: “It is funny to see the people telling the truth to the sovereign,” he said when in fact the truth is always and only what is decided by the sovereign.

The Russian World is authoritarian, hierarchical, discriminatory, and aggressive. It is a new form of totalitarianism, between “power of the people” and the “dictatorship of the proletariat” claiming the “moral superiority” of one side over the others, of one nation over the others, of one person over every system. 

It is a new form of fascism and racism wrapped together; not eugenic but “spiritual” and theocratic. By playing on the homophony of words, Ukrainians have called this ideology rashism (Рашизм), russism (русизм), a portmanteau of Russia, racism and fascism, sometimes also spelled rushism.

Starting obviously from the term Фашизм, fascism, Ukrainians have played on the English pronunciation of Russia (rɐˈsʲijə, Rashia) to come up with rashism, the new Russian fascism, similar to Расизм, racism. This is not inconsequential given the “superiority complex” that many pro-Putin Russians have. 

Rashism is the new ideal of conquest in the post-global world in which in lieu of cultural levelling, relations entail everyone against everyone. It is not only about “my country first” but a preventive strike against “invasions” (by immigrants, pandemics, immorality, the East, the West).

At a press conference last month at a Kyiv subway station, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that rashism will be included in future history textbooks and Wikipedia pages as something akin to Nazism. He was reacting to Russia’s claim of Ukraine’s “Nazification”, understood as the invasion of Western values and interests into the Russian world, even more than the idea that Ukraine was ruled by an authoritarian regime, which in itself is not a problem for Moscow.

Several Ukrainian politicians have followed Zelensky. Former Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych called on the international community to condemn "the ideology and practice of Russian Z-rashism”. A former Ukrainian lawmaker, Boryslav Bereza, insisted on the use of the term rashism, even before the president did. On 11 March, two weeks after the start of the invasion, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, proposed the term to journalists of the international press who, so far however, have not used it much since non-Slavs find it hard to pronounce.

Nevertheless, the word has already been added to Wikipedia in various languages, including English, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, but not in Italian nor, of course, Russian, in translation from the original Ukrainian version. In fact, the word was used in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, but then hibernated until Putin's current “special military operation”.

According to some, the term goes further back, to at least in 2008, and Russia's war against Georgia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a rehearsal of the Ukrainian war. A Ukrainian journalist, Ostap Kryvdyk, claims to have been the first to use the word rashism in a 2010 article in reference to “the ideology and practice of the regime in power in the Russian Federation", on which the Wikipedia page is based, the latter serving today as world’s source for official definitions.

Going further back, some suggest that rushism appeared in 1995, used by then Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, who called it a "very serious, chronic and dangerous Russian disease”. Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev, who carried out attacks across Russia, wrote a letter to Putin in 2001 (appointed president in 2000 to “wipe out terrorists”) saying that “your Greater Russian illusion, which you dream of while you are with mud up to your neck, will make us all sink into the same slime. This is rushism.”

In 2004, another Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov, argued that “rushism has existed for 200 years, much more than Italian-German fascism, but now it must die, after making the Chechen land suffer so much. We shall twist its neck.”

However, it is in Chechnya that Putin started to build his power, crushing all local aspirations for autonomy, not only in the Caucasus, but across the entire Federation. Today the latest successor of Chechen leaders, Ramzan Kadyrov, is one of the most fanatical defenders of rushism.

During the first decade of the third millennium, he was involved in the fight against international terrorism when Russia seemed united with the West and the Americans who wanted to "export democracy" all over the world, a plan now slammed as “US imperialism” which Putin opposes.

Since 2010 it became clear that the real problem was not Islamic terrorism, certainly a threat not to be taken lightly but limited to groups of people who were finally eradicated. The problem today is that within certain states in the international community, be they democratic or not, we are increasingly faced with an uncertain future as human rights and social prerogatives no longer hold, peoples rebel, new inequalities appear as do new vulnerable and uncontrollable forms of communication. As Berdyaev put it: We are really in the new Middle Ages.

Rushism has several traits that must be dealt with even after the Ukrainian war. Russia’s “special civilising mission” echoes the aspirations of other peoples and cultures, from the Chinese and the Turks to the Indians and the Brazilians, not to mention the Americans and Europeans themselves, each trying to define the meaning of “brotherly peoples”, assigning the roles of senior and junior brothers.

The difficulty in integrating elements of the cultures of other peoples, of immigrants as well as aspects of the digital age, the use of religion and mystical doctrines that go even against science and medicine, as seen during the pandemic, show the limits of the “global civilisation”.

Equally important, geopolitics is back in fashion, once upon a time a major focus in the age of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Churchill. News bulletins and talk-shows around the world can no longer do without maps to show the occupied areas of Ukraine or the countries involved, delineating the contours of empires in Asia, Europe and the whole world, like the rotating globes of Renaissance rulers who dreamt ways to discover the Indies and conquer the world.

Above all, rushism once again highlights the importance of weapons, warfare and violence, which appeared to have been pushed to the backburner for almost a century. Like in the late 19th century and La Belle Époque, when the invention of electric lighting, radio and cars seemed to have finally let humanity out of the caves, to live in a perfect and resplendent world, we too deluded ourselves into thinking that Internet connections, computers and the ubiquitous smartphone could solve all the problems and mysteries of life.

After two years of COVID-19 and more than two months of war in Europe, we seem to be on the verge of a Third World War, the “piecemeal" Third World War against which Pope Francis, unsung prophet of our time, has been warning for many years.

We are all rushists, cavemen of the 21st century, unable to find a way out, nor see the light of faith or reason. Like several times in history, Russia’s is a warning to the whole of humanity, that we too not end up destroying everything we built.