Fascism’s Relationship with Internationalism: Paradoxical or a Means to an End?

By Julia Aguiar
In interrogating the question posed this week in the syllabus, the readings provided rich in further characterizing the ambivalence posited. In her analysis of Italian fascism, Ben-Ghiat grapples with Italian fascism’s relationship to modernity, intellectualism, and its struggle to deploy the arts. I found that Ben-Ghiat makes clear the paradoxical nature of fascism’s relationship to internationalism. Motadel characterizes fascism’s relationship to internationalism in a different way, underscoring the way that anticolonial internationalism was used by Nazi Germany’s fascist regime to weaken the sovereignty of adversaries’ empires. However, paradoxes are nonetheless revealed in Motadel’s articles. Above all, these readings make clear that fascism’s relationship to internationalism is constantly under flux and dependent on specific context.

Ben-Ghiat writes about the debate over how to best create a distinct “fascist art” which sought to be free of international influence while inviting the admiration and respect of the international world which would in turn legitimize its regime. This was especially true in the struggle against Americanization in Italy, and in the case of the Novecento movement, a desire to create an acutely Italian style of art which looked to the past so as to create historical continuity and remind the world of Italy’s long cultural traditions. The larger implications of Mussolini using art and culture as a tool of Italy’s fascist regime was that it gave the illusion that fascism cared about art and culture, encouraged artistic expression, and was a “regime of liberty”. However, this was far from the truth as can be seen through the regime’s heavy practices of censorship, violence, and surveillance. Italy’s fascist desire to create a purest Italian form of art and culture that was further legitimized by the attention of the international community while refusing to participate in an international exchange or dialogue of art is one of the ways that Ben-Ghiat makes clear fascism’s paradoxical relationship with internationalism.

Motadel considers fascism’s relationship to internationalism by looking to Nazi Germany’s support of anticolonialism during the interwar and WWII periods. He contends that the anticolonial network that operated in Berlin and was supported by Nazi Germany very much relied on internationalism. In assisting nations in their anticolonial work, Nazi Germany was able to further fulfill its fascist goals. However, inherent in this practice is a profound paradox. As Motadel writes, Nazi Germany was at once working to free the oppressed while committing genocide against Jewish and other marginalized people. Put another way, Nazi Germany had a complicated relationship with race in the way that it was willing to overlook the race of some groups if it was to its benefit while waging a war that was based so fundamentally on race. In this way, it is clear that Nazi Germany used internationalism as a means to an end. In his New York Times article, Motadel acknowledges the contradictory nature of “nationalist internationalism” in analyzing the contemporary alliance of Europe’s leading far-right nationalists groups. 

In further considering fascism’s ambivalent relationship to internationalism in a paradoxical sense and as an aid to fascism’s goals, I do not think one can be chosen over the other nor should it be given that fascism is ambiguous in nature. Instead, maybe we can see internationalism as a paradoxical tool of fascism.

Works Cited:

Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. “Conquest and  Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945, (University of California Press, 2004), pp. 17-45, pp. 123-70.

Motadel, David. “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” American Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877.

Motadel, David. “The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism but they Depend on it,” The New York Times.com. The New York Times, July 3, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html

2 Replies to “Fascism’s Relationship with Internationalism: Paradoxical or a Means to an End?”

  1. I too think we can see Internationalism as a tool of fascism. In a way it is illustrates the idea of steering away from individualism and promoting the idea of national intellectual unity. I internationalism and it relationship to fascism is used to strengthen the idea of the identity of the nation, while not particularly utilizing it for the strengthening the intellectual unity of more than one country. Like you said it is paradoxical in nature and used to strengthen the goals of fascism.

  2. This is an interesting assertion that Internationalism itself can be undertaken as a tool of a Fascist regime. David Motadel associated Internationalism as breaking from Empire. Noting that “Berlin, they forged a radical international against empire, characterized by transnational militancy and anticolonial solidarity”. Under the thinking outlined above it raises the question of withier the Fascist regime was simply interested in a new nation or if they favoured emerging as a new empire themselves?

    Ben-Ghiat pointed out that intellectuals of Italy were encourage by the Fascist regime to influence foreign thinkers, while simultaneously shielding themselves from external influence. As Motadel point out, Nazi Germany used internationalism to join the anti-colonial movement. Here, the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler used Internationalism to carry there ideals abroad. In this way they were behaving as Empires themselves. Therefore, to think through internationalism as a tool of Fascists states one need only question the role of Internationalism in the role of Empire.

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