Contradictions – the nuanced relationship between fascism and internationalism

Michaela Bax-Leaney

I would argue that the popular understanding of fascism, or at least my understanding of fascism, is one which by its very nature has a distain and distrust for that which lies beyond the borders of its state. If we understand fascism to be an authoritarian, strictly regimented society, then it would be expected that there would be a desire to keep out external corrupting, or worse, liberalizing influences. And yet, as Motadel and Ben-Ghiat show us, while an ideal world for a fascist might be one in which they do not need to engage with other nation states, that simply is not nor has it ever been a plausible reality. Thus, the ways in which fascism, and in the modern context the far right, engages on the international stage is utterly fascinating.

What particularly struck me in both Motadel and Ben-Ghiat’s academic pieces was the depiction of fascist interaction and engagement in the colonial project. In particular, as Motadel writes, “United in their global struggle against the imperial world order, Berlin’s anticolonial revolutionaries formed a nationalist international against empire.” Perhaps this reveals a juvenile understanding of the Nazi regime, but I would argue as it is popularly understood, Nazi Germany was inherently an imperial state, or at the very least sought to become one as they invaded, occupied, and installed their own form of government within conquered nation states. Of course, Motadel writes about revolutionaries within Berlin, not of official Nazi policy, but he does describe a pragmatic endorsement by the Nazi regime later in the war of these revolutionaries.

And, as Ben-Ghiat writes, Germany’s fellow European fascist state Italy embraced fully its role as a colonial power through its invasion and colonization of Ethiopia. It’s a notion that seems filled with contradiction – Motadel tells us that Berlin became home to some radical anti-colonial activism, yet history bears witness to dramatic engagement with both colonial and international stages by these fascist regimes, and all of this is read with the understanding that fascism is a rejection of empire and internationalism. It’s a sea of contradictions – but perhaps that is the point.

Works Cited  

David Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” American

Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945

(University of California Press, 2004), pp. 123-130.

One Reply to “Contradictions – the nuanced relationship between fascism and internationalism”

  1. Hi Michaela,

    I found your reflection quite interesting, especially with your argument in paragraph two that highlights the contradicting anti-colonial and anti-imperialist notion set by the Nazi regime despite their own imperialist goals during WW2. Indeed, I agree with your final sentence as well that “it is a sea of contradictions – but perhaps that is the point.” I wonder what point was being highlighted. The idea of a pragmatic alliance with anti-colonial nationalists would seem quite similar to Motadel’s comparison to the nationalist groups that align with themselves to undermine the EU. Perhaps, deep down, the imperialist idea is still strong within nationalist groups, but then they must depend on internationalism to be able to make their own expansion.

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