Internationalism’s Relationship with Fascism

Prior to this week’s readings, I would have not considered the relationship between fascism and internationalism as ambivalent, rather I would have thought that fascism was against internationalism. However, as the articles by Motadel and Ben-Ghiat point out, fascist regimes did create networks centred around fascist ideology and had real interest in having Internationalist aspirations. In “The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt Against Empire”, Motadel showed that Berlin was a significant hub for anticolonial nationalists and had an ideological appeal to fascist (as well as other groups). Ben-Ghait focused on the Italian colonial motivations, specifically in Ethiopia. What I found very interesting in this article was that fascist groups started cultural exchange networks with other fascist groups in Europe, something that I would think would not be so intuitive at first glance. The networks created in both of these cases share two similar traits, the perceived credibility gained from connecting with other fascist groups, especially colonial aspirations (groups claimed that they their colonial aspirations were to bring modernity to the countries they conquered) and as a result of credibility came closer unity in ideological terms.

In order to support these claims of modernity and cultural change, fascist groups have to create an “Other”. The example Ben-Ghait illustrates is the “Aryanization” of Italy, which allowed Italian fascist to change the narrative around the idea Italy did in fact have a strong national identity and that be imposing racial laws, fascists could then blame “internal Others for Italy’s supposed backwardness and subordinate position in the European hierarchy”. By creating the “other”, the Italian fascists were able to unify their own identity domestically, project the claim they bring modernity to the “other” (Ethiopia), and gain credibility internationally through association with similar groups. The Hanebrink article also touches on the points above and more clearly demonstrates the idea of Othering in the interest of delegitimizing these groups for political or ideological gain. In Hanebrink’s article it is clear that while some prominent leaders in revolutions were Jewish, not all Jews were revolutionary or even shared any of the same ideas or views of these leaders. The process of “othering” the Jewish community, leading to the idea of Judeo-Bolshevism, was according to Hanebrink achieved through: “a long history of associating Jews and Judaism with heresy, misrule and social disharmony; well established beliefs in an international Jewish conspiracy, and the figure of the Jewish Bolshevik embodied in secularized form much older fears of Jewish fanaticism”. Once the idea of Judeo-Bolshevism was established, the repercussions were drastic, leading to many Jewish leaders having to distance themselves from revolutionary groups, although even this was typically limited in changing the publics view of them.

In a contemporary context, Motadel argues that internationalism and todays nationalist groups are not necessarily incompatible. This is due to internationalism as a concept presuming the existence and prominence of the nation state; nation states that can share a ‘common’ struggle that nationalists can rally around and, in some cases, work with other similar groups across borders. I think that internationalism can to some extent have a relation to nationalist and fascist practices and ideologies.

Is Populism the New Fascism?

Both populism and fascism are concepts that are often used in today’s media coverage. While populism and fascism are sometimes used loosely together, the traits of each have been well covered, albeit contentiously. However, the issue arises due to the definition of each is rarely agreed upon and defined definitively. This is problematic as it can lead to questions like the one posed by Federico Finchelstein: “should we brace ourselves for an ideological storm similar to the one fascism precipitated when it first appeared a little less than one hundred years ago”? Unpacking this question requires a great amount of attention due to its potential implications and requires the elaboration of terminology.

Fascism as a concept has seen great debate within the academic literature, from definitions such as “Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra nationalism” by Roger Griffin to more detailed and elaborate definitions by Roger Paxton. Paxton sets out a list of features to define Fascism (sense of crisis, primacy of group toward a superior, victimhood of the group, general sense of group decline, closer group integration, the beauty of violence, etc.)

Populism on the other hand is more traditionally defined as “a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups: “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite” (Cas Mudde ). Populist politicians typically claim that they alone speak for “the people” against the elites, with “the people”, often the difference between the groups is argued on a moral basis with the “people” being the morally superior going against the “corrupt”. It is important to note that populism defers from fascism as the concept does not fall into dictatorship, populism only manifests within democracies.

Finchelstein makes an important distinction that populism is a form or permutation of authoritarian democracy, whereas fascism is ultra violent dictatorship. I believe some of the confusion that manifests in media coverage occurs because of populist leaders rhetoric being misconstrued, while leaders like Trump may have illiberal agendas, that does not translate to a complete abolition of the democratic way, which would be the case if he was a fascist. This is what I believe is at the heart of Paxton’s idea of “echoes of fascism” when referring to rhetoric and agenda. Additionally, the “people” defined in populist literature is unlikely to match with a fascist understanding of the “group”. This does not mean that the groups found in populism and fascism would not share similar experiences, such as the features set out by Paxton. For example, populist leaders can use events such as the “immigration crisis” in Europe as a rallying call to spur the emotion of a sense of decline and accompanying perceived victim hood of the group who are losing out due to the crisis. It could be argued that the only difference between the populist using this technique and a fascist would be that the fascist would incite violence and go further in their calls to change the system, not just change it but dismantle it entirely.