“A struggle for existence”

One of Hitler’s recurring tropes was the German empire’s and nation’s “remorseless struggle for existence.” Nazi officials beat that horse to death, and then some:

There can be no compromise in Germany’s struggle for its existence, no turning back, no wavering.

This is Robert Wagner, the Nazi Gauleiter of Baden from 1925-1945, speaking in March 1939, shortly after the occupation of Czechoslovakia. He was executed in 1946 for criminal actions while in office.

It [the year 1943] will doubtless go down in history as the most glorious of this great struggle for our existence.

This is Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister and soon-to-be plenipotentiary for “total war,” delivering his New Year Day speech around Jan. 1, 1944.

With the benefit of hindsight, one can detect a self-fulfilling prophecy in Wagner’s boastful phrase. Germany was in no way fighting for survival in 1939, of course. At the end of 1943 – in contrast – it appeared that the Nazi state, if not Germany, was indeed struggling for its very existence.

About eighty years later, on March 24, 2022, Vladimir Medinsky – one of Putin’s kind-of-intellectuals, and a presidential advisor at that – declared that…

…Russia’s very existence, as a Russian civilization, is at stake. I see but few parallels to this moment in history. The Time of Troubles; the eve of February 1917; the year 1989 – the demise of the USSR. This what the collective West is nudging us towards… We are being nudged towards the destruction of the political system, the destruction of the country.

This is Wagner and Goebbels, 1939 and 1943/44, rolled into one. My interpretation is this: At first, Russia claimed (among other things) that its invasion of Ukraine was a pre-emptive strike. Unexpectedly, Ukraine and the West struck back and a total collapse of the Russian economy and state suddenly became a near-term possibility.

Faced with this – if I’m reading Medinsky’s line of paranoid reasoning correctly – the Kremlin cast aside all vestiges of humanity. “We feel free to use any WMDs; to murder, torture, and maim at will.” There’s some recent evidence that the Russian soldiers’ propensity to rape, torture, kill and plunder is extraordinary by any contemporary standard.

On the other hand, Medinsky’s warning is also a surprisingly frank admission that the Kremlin regime could be on the verge of collapsing within a couple of years or even months.

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