Transnational Movements of Ideas in The Late 1960s

1968 has been a pivotal year for many European countries. The “Red” tide that was threatening Western Europe became the detonator for the rise of neo-fascist movements both in Italy and France. This transnational event which expansion all over Western Europe transformed the political landscape, found its origins in universities and youth movements.

In Italy, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) which transitionally associated with the communists, broke away after 1968 and set itself as an all right-wing party with the intention to be more attractive and national. However, the association with the Destra Nazionale (DN) and its attraction to revive the fascist party, led to violence and terrorism in the 1970s.

In France, the newly decolonization of Algeria was resented as a failure and partisans of French Algeria favoured the creation of neo-fascist and anti-communist movements such as Occident and la Féderation des Etudiants Nationalistes (FEN). The creation of the New Order (Ordre Nouveau) and the influence of Alain de Benoist and the GRECE collaboration (Groupement de Recherche et d’Etudes pour la Civilisation Européenne) contributed to the creation of a new rightist culture.

The similarity of thoughts that was in France and Italy spread to Portugal during the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution. The influence of De Benoist was visible with the participation of intellectuals and the publication of numerous magazines and books which used scientific methods to demonstrate the inadequacy of egalitarian Marxist societies.

What Portugal and France had in common was a struggle to overcome post-colonialism and the creation of a New Right allowed a more powerful political presence that rejected the two superpowers in place at that time in order to favour a European path. Using immigration as a scapegoat, the idea of nationality and traditions laid the path for a transnational movement that substantiates itself through ideas and culture.

What transpires from these readings is the departure from rigid and old-fashioned regimes toward the creation of political movements that foster on deception and protests to present an alternative path that supports traditional values and which goal is to appeal to mass population. But, is there really a new path with new ideas or are these ideas more the antithesis of older ones ? Can the New Right rally enough people without digging too deep in a dark past ?

Works cited :

Tamir Bar-On, “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite.” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 45, no. 3 (July 2011): 199–223.

Andrea Mammon, “The Transnational Reaction to 1968: Neo-Fascist Fronts and Political Cultures in France and Italy.” Contemporary European History, vol. 17, no. 2 (May 2008): 213–236.

Riccard Marchi, “The Nouvelle Droite in Portugal: A New Strategy for the Radical Right in the Transition from Authoritarianism to Democracy.” Patterns of Prejudice vol. 50, no. 3 (July 2016): 232–52.

Voices of The Past : Their Long Journey to Recognition

How much place was given to the voices of the Holocaust survivors in history and how was it presented to the general public ? This question rises many more interrogations about the trials conducted in the after-war period and how the then politically divided Germany reacted to testimonies of survivors and perpetrators. It all comes down to the different treatment of the information brought to light and how the de-Nazification process differed between Eastern and Western Germany.

If Eastern Germany proved to be harsher in sentencing perpetrators and accomplices, it appears that the Western Germany showed some leniency in their interpretation of the law, resulting in delayed pursuits of criminals and lesser sentences. The rationale often presented was that former perpetrators were now well integrated into a new society, that they were much older and weaker or with some farfetched logic that crimes committed without the victim being aware of, were a lesser offense.

What about the testimonies ? Right after the war, they were sometime doubtfully perceived, and many judges questioned their validity. Evidences started to weigh more in the 1960s and 70s as more modern technology allowed survivors to record their stories. Although oral history could be transcribed in writing, it still rose questions of authenticity. Ghost writers have accentuated events or contextualized them in an attempt to make a testimony stronger .

At the same time, a hierarchy between survivors emerged leading to a new state of marginalization. For example, homosexuals, Roma and prisoner functionaries found themselves in the midst of a controversial debate about victimhood and belonging to the “holocaust survivor” category. The terms holocaust and genocide are deeply connected words to the point where debates about memorials rise questions as well.

The later recognition of the testimonies paralleled a need to give a voice to the victims before it is too late. The difficulty of Germany to accept and live with this dark past is progressively fading as a new generation of historians and scholars bring these testimonies to the public. The use of videos and movies contributed to this exposition and benefitted from cultural changes starting in the 1970s. In parallel with a search for a political identity that many Western countries sake ( USA, France…), movies displayed accounts of what victims experienced. Although the American view of early movies such as “ Judgment at Nuremberg”  from Stanley Kramer was biased with the choice of the director to represent specific victims,  it nevertheless generated many significant movies in the 80s and 90s which tended for a public from a different generation.

How can we explain the different application of the law between Eastern and Western Germany before the reunification ? As we have seen how complicated and gray the classification between accomplices and perpetrators can be, why do you think the lower ranked Nazis received harsher sentences than the commanding officers who signed the orders to kill thousand of people?

Works cited:

Mary Fulbrook, “Discomfort Zones” and “Voices of the Victims” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp: 314- 336, 361-377.

Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): 497-522.

Matteo Salvini: A Populist Politician with Strings Attached to Far-Right Movements. Op/Ed #1

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian Lega Party is a political chameleon as many sources claim including former party members. He is also a twenty-first century politician who masters the art of social networks and likes to provoke reactions with his statements. His recent political career started off when he became the leader of the Lega Party. The Northern League or Lega Nord is a political party that participated in the 2018 General Election in Italy. Started as a coalition of regional political parties from Northern Italy at first, it has been in place since 1991 and led by Matteo Salvini since 2013. If the party favoured regionalism and federal state at its beginning, it now has changed to a more nationalist view, targeting illegal immigration and particularly non-Europeans and Muslims immigrants. Whilst flirting with other far-right parties within Europe such as the National Rally in France and the Freedom Party of Austria, the Lega has progressively gained popularity within the country and stands as the third largest movement at the latest 2018 General Election.

Many newspapers and magazines wrote about the far-right rally that took place in Rome on October 19th  and how it echoed the “March on Rome” that led to the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini on October 27th, 1922. Was the date chosen on purpose? It is hard to say but the coincidence seems significant whether Salvini accepts it or not. In an interview published on October 19th in a French magazine called Le Point, Salvini when asked about the similarity refutes the term of “March” and eludes the question asked by the reporter to finally blurt out that fascism like communism was not existing anymore. The association of these two regimes is surprising and contradictory but like mentioned above, Salvini likes to create polemics.

An interesting fact mentioned in the interview is Salvini’s interest in the Middle Age period. Many articles and books demonstrated that the myth of medieval era was adopted by far-right politicians as a justification for nationalism and Judeo-Christian traditions. As Salvini defines the Middle Ages as a romanticized vision of gothic times, it reinforces his ideological views as closer to Mussolini than he wants to admit.

Opposed to Matteo Renzi, the prime minister and member of the Democratic Party , Salvini plays the card of autonomy and regionalism but nevertheless acknowledges that unity is primordial to win. When told that he is perceived as a populist by Europe, he brushes it off by taking it as a compliment.

It is tempting to make a parallel between Salvini and Mussolini’s rise to power. Although violence and repression have not been present with the Liga yet (the actions of external violent movements are considered opportunistic for now), Salvini started in politics as a socialist like Mussolini. Whereas Mussolini expressed strong anti-Semitic feelings, Salvini is determined to fight the illegal immigration which is mainly represented by non-European Muslims.

Benefitting from a major support from the Italian population who grow tired of illegal immigrants, Salvini used this situation to build a solid political agenda in which he relied on the population’s opinion, hence his definition of being populist. Playing on his image of regular Italian man and using humour, he made himself the only possible opponent to Renzi’s socialist government. But his statements about immigrants are not without consequences. As mentioned in the BBC article from September 24th, the stigmatization of immigrants was after all the beginning of persecutions during the Mussolini’s era. Also, his association with far-right European movements is not pleasing everyone, including the French president Emmanuel Macron who strongly opposed him in the matter of European unity.  His skepticism about the European Community echoes the idea of nationalism and his alliance with far-right parties (Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia), are just examples proving his determination to make some changes nationally and if possible in the European Community.

 With Italy politically divided and weaken inside its own government and with a vengeful return of Salvini after he resigned from his position of Deputy Prime Minister last August, it is likely that the populist leader has not said his last words.

Works Cited:

Geary, Patrick. Myth of Nations. The Medieval Origins of Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Giuffrida, Angela. “Thousands Take to Streets in Rome for Far-Right Rally.” The Guardian, October 19, 2019.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/19/thousands-take-to-streets-in-rome-for-far-right-rally-salvini

Le Fol, Sebastien and Anna Bonalume. “Je Crois au Paradis , Je Crois à L’Enfer”. Le Point, Octobre 17, 2019.

https://www-pressreader-com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/france/le-point/20191017

Mackay, Jamie. “The Far Right in Italy is Blocked but Not Banished.” The Guardian, September 26, 2019.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/26/italy-far-right-matteo-salvini

Reynolds, James. “Matteo Salvini: Can Italy’s populist leader return to power?.” BBC News, September 24, 2019.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44921974

Killer Women: A Radical View of the Holocaust

Women are often attributed to be nurturing and caring beings however survivor testimonies from the Holocaust give accounts of the gruesome killings and torture committed by women. This seemed an impossible and incomprehensible thought for the majority of the population. Wendy Lower dispels this belief  in her book called Hitler’s Furies and reveals the atrocities that were perpetrated by women on the Eastern Front during the Third Reich.  Lower categorizes the women in witnesses, accomplices and perpetrators, and she follows the journey of several women in an attempt to understand the reasons why they embarked to the East and what changed them to act in such manner.

Beginning at the interwar period when Germany was still reeling from the loss of territories and the “ unfairness” of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the author highlights the pressing campaign and the possibilities for higher and better living conditions in the East that attracted young women from various background to join the Nazi party. Under the increasing rise of anti-Semitism, women will justify their actions and participate directly or indirectly in the genocide.

The book is simultaneously intriguing yet sickening because of how the author described the women’s actions and their justifications for each. In the three chapters that describes the different categories of women, the reader is baffled as to how much cruelty and irresponsibility were manifested by some women. Because of this, gender was not determinant in committing violence. To support this, the author notes psychological studies that have been conducted in order to determine if killings were more common by men rather than women and the conclusion was that in a specific context, women could demonstrate as much cruelty as men (159).

When the war ended, testimonies against these women came about together with some memoirs from former nurses or secretaries. The author established a connection between the Nazi ideology and the women’s obedience which for some perpetrators should exonerate them from punishment. For the majority, the sentence was not proportionate to their acts (some women did not acknowledge their active participation in the Holocaust, arguing they merely signed papers or they “ helped” shorten the pain of the ill patients), some even managed to escape justice for decades. This book offers a radical vision of the role of women during the wartime. To summarize, women played the complex role of being nurturing toward their children yet vicious killers of Jewish children.

How much agency had these different women when faced with the possibility to help the victims ? How can we understand their indoctrination? Can we separate them in the aforementioned categories and put different degrees to guilt ? And lastly, were the punishments or their absence gender-biased ?  

Homosexuality and State

Sexuality under authoritarian regimes has been approached with surprising results. If masculinity prevailed in Nazi Germany [and to a lesser extent in Romania], the non-conformity to gender role for women has created suspicion and further investigation from the Gestapo. Although lesbianism was not forbidden by the Nuremberg Law, it nevertheless was used as a starting point to look for any activities that could be perceived as against the state. In the case of Ilse Totzke, her “ non-conformity” to normal female representation led to testimonies and denunciations by neighbours, just on the fact that she was not part of the community. Her actions and contacts with Jewish people were less a concern for them than for the Gestapo which patiently build a case to deport her, based on these accusations.

In another place and time, homosexuality was tolerated in Soviet gulags in a twisted way to control the population. If homosexuality was criminalized starting in 1933-34 and subject to penalties and captivities, it was nevertheless accepted in gulags in a very ambiguous way. If the Soviet state did not encourage same sex relations between prisoners, it worked in their favour on a logistic standpoint: same sex relations are infertile therefore the population did not expand and the care for infants and mothers is not weighing on the economy. Ostracized by the society, prisoners re-created a new society based on dominant and submissive sexual relations which in a way reflected the social divide that existed on the outside. But when the gulags started to close in the 1950s, prisoners found it difficult to blend with the outside population and many intellectuals violently rejected the facts, blaming the government for accentuating the difference between “socially friendly” prisoners [common criminals] and “socially alien” prisoners[opposed to the political regime].

These two examples show how much homosexuality was used by the state according to its instant needs. Ilse Totzke was not targeted at first by the Gestapo due to her sexual orientation or appearance but because she represented a threat for the collective society. Her fate was sealed once her anti-state actions became tangible. Homosexuality ban in the Soviet Union followed an ambiguous route between the 1930s and the 1950-60s, alternating between tolerance and rejection as it suited the Soviet power. Both cases illustrate the difficulty to live in a society that based its normality on gender role and where any deviation could threaten the stability of the regime.

Sources :

Dan Healey, “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the Gulag after Stalin” Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2017).

Laurie Marhoefer, “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943” The American Historical Review 121: 4 (2016): 1167- 1195.

Trains, Cruises and Theatres: How Culture Impacted the Life in Italy and Germany During the Rise of Fascism and Nazism.

What transpires in Shelley Baranowski’s book Strength Through Joy is the attempt and overall success to democratize tourism and to show the social and racial harmony among the tourists who took part of these all-paid vacations. Multiple examples illustrate how this social harmony was not as simple or cohesive as hoped though. Party members benefitted from greater accommodations or access to extra activities whilst the workers were confined to small cabins and the regulated activities. The tourism en masse did not yield the expected enthusiasm among the local establishments where private clientele deliberately separated from the travellers. Single women were the subject of scrutiny due to their fraternization with the locals and their seemingly provocative attitude toward men. Another example is presented with the regional divide that fuelled some racist comments among Germans themselves.

All these trips were attended by undercover surveillance agents which role was to report on every daily event. These organized cruises and trips were the showcase of the superiority of the Third Reich and the author mentions multiple times how the racial and social component  played a role in their success. Rewarding the workers with free tourism was the way to boost the productivity, especially in the armament industry and it was also a mean to support the propaganda through the voices of the people and not only the party.

Italy which did not have the same financial power to propose such trips, used a different approach to rally more people under the fascist ideology. Like for Germany, the mass-consumption was the pitfall to avoid but the nationalization of markets helped Italy to create a national consciousness that was sustaining the build of a new “Italian” identity ( De Grazia, 152). Radio as a popular source of entertainment became the mean to reach a far-out rural population which was crucial to the idea of an Italian identity. Movies and traveling theaters (although differentiated between professionalism and amateurism), facilitated the diffusion of a regulated mass culture that reinforced the idea of collectivism . Italy favoured traditional popular pastimes which were heavily controlled by the state in order to erase class or regional differences.

The difference between Germany and Italy in the matter of popular culture diverge according to these two readings. Italy, less successfully though, did propose trips. But overall, the activities were more practiced nationwide as a way to endorse nationalism and fascism  through traditions and cultural identity. On the other hand, Germany went countrywide and  beyond its borders to display its racial and material superiority. The element of racial difference weighs heavily in the way Germany showcased itself, even toward Italy which was seen as less developed and disciplined.  

Sources:

Shelley Baranowski, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 1-10, pp. 162-98

Victoria de Grazia, The Culture of Consent: Mass Organisation of Leisure in Fascist Italy (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 151-86

Was There a Fascist Culture in Italy ?

Fascist Italy did not happen overtime. From the need for Mussolini to restore an order that he considered absent to the modern Italy that looked toward the future, many different steps were crossed with a certain hesitation in regard to how fascism should rally a population that was not entirely favourable to support its ideology. Ruth Ben-Ghiat details in the first chapter of Fascist Modernity: Italy (2004) how compromises have been made and how political propaganda used culture and art to disseminate ideas for both the sake of internal unity but also transnationally by comparing to other nations who in the eyes of the fascists captured a darker side of modernity.

The issue for Mussolini was to be able to integrate the intellectuals in his ideology firstly at a national level then at an international scale as his aspiration for expansion grew stronger. The author navigates between these two goals by using references to culture and art in general. Through control of the press and by carefully choosing members for organizations that ensured that individualism was not detrimental to the collectivity, censorship drew a model for fascist art and culture that very much resembled the one that was taking place in Germany in the 1930s and which culminated in 1937 with the “ Degenerate Art” exhibit in Munich. The term “degeneration” was wildly used as well as “non-productive” to describe a society that relied on too much individualism and not enough collective effort. Mussolini in his 1927 Ascension Day speech used medical terms to support his statement on the necessity to regenerate the nation which resembles the Nazi ideology very much without targeting a specific race at that time yet.

But with openness to other countries come comparison and fear of the other. The author dedicates a sub-part of the chapter to the experience that Italian travellers encountered in the USA, Soviet Union or Germany. She greatly highlights the conflict that Italy faced especially with the USA which has always been admired and an important emigration land for many Italians and unfortunately how the mass-consumerist society perverted its culture. In this passage, it is interesting to see how Italians perceived these dystopian countries as a downfall to avoid. The strength of this chapter is to explain how politics played a role in culture and art to disseminate an ideology based on modernity whilst keeping it on a short leash. The distorted ideas about the American society are the proof that Italy was struggling between adopting a new attitude toward modernity and staying conservative with the patriarchal traditions and national identity.

Source:

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

On The Importance of Using The Right Word

Emmanuelle. M

Defining fascism has always been a difficulty as it is connected to very dark moments in history. When it is used to describe present events or personalities, one is confronted with the risk of mistaking it with populism in the majority of the cases. Historians have been arguing about the origins and the exact definition of fascism for years, but everyone agrees on the fact that fascism is not a unique concept or an ideology but rather events that happened at a certain time in Italy and Germany , and that these events started as a reaction to modernity. Distinctive places are given to Mussolini’s fascism and Hitler’s Nazi regime in Gilbert Allardyce’s article, who highlights the differences in their respective goals in regard to military, stage in modernization  and racial position. Corroborating these variations between Italy and Germany, Robert Paxton describes how fascism was manufactured in both countries and how historians interpreted them over the years that followed their fall.

These distinctions are critical to be able to unequivocally describe the rise of new populist movements in today’s Europe and America. When one looks at the multiplication of right-wing movements in the European landscape or the recent election of Donald Trump in America, it has been pretty clear that people have been eager to describe them as fascism. The Vox in an article from Dylan Matthews in May 2019, synthetized the differences between fascism and populism with the example of Trump. By using scholarly documentation such as Paxton’s book on The Anatomy of Fascism, the emphasis is put on the individualistic personality of Trump whereas fascism is about collective interest. However, ambiguity can be detected in the violence that surrounds fascism and populism. As far-right movements take advantage of populist leaders to demonstrate their ideas with violence, it could be easy to assimilate populism and fascism. But, the web article and scholarly articles explain that the violence present during fascist Italy or Nazi Germany had underlined motives in a battle against capitalism and represented a proletarian violence which is far from being the case in Trump’s America. Regardless, the public promptly described such violent acts as part of fascism.

The choice of words is crucial in politics as it may lead to the misuse and the misunderstanding of what a seemingly emergent power can be. As explained by Allardyce, fascism is multi-faceted, but it should not be confused with populism.

Sources :

Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept,” American Historical Review 84 (1979): 367-98.

Dylan Matthews, “I Asked 5 Fascism Experts if Trump whether Trump is a fascist. This is what they said” Vox May 19, 2016 https://www.vox.com/policy-andpolitics/2015/12/10/9886152/donald-trump-fascism

Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), pp 3-23