Discrimination in Wartime Fascism

Étienne Plourde

Wartime fascism, it turns out, had very few absolute tenets.

Even the idea of racial supremacy – perhaps the first, infamous, element that will come to the mind of most asked about fascism – was warped to fit the needs of the regime. From one side of the mouth, the fascist State spouted racist tropes to manipulate its population towards the New Men and the New Women it desired; from the other, it sought to arouse collective consciousness amongst, and bolster the position of, those very groups it denigrated.

 That isn’t to say, of course, that the entirety of fascist bigotry was a psychological game; to put it quite coldly, the sheer scale of the Holocaust – and the documented ways in which it detracted from Germany’s war effort – make it clear that fascist rhetoric on race was more than just a populist flourish.

At the same time as the systematic extermination of Jews was taking place, though, Nazi Berlin was backing ethnic separatists seeking to free their homelands in the Global South from European imperialists. As elaborated upon by Motadel, Germany offered a sort of asylum to political dissidents from British India, French Africa, and Russian Central Asia, and amplified their voices as it saw fit – not unlike the way in which the Second Reich had steered Communist dissidents to tsarist Russia to destabilize its foe during the First World War.

As Motadel continues in an unrelated New York Times column, there is room for ‘international nationalism’: “global cooperation among supposedly homogeneous, organically grown, closed national communities – call it ‘reactionary cosmopolitanism’.” The driving force behind these ‘supposedly homogeneous’ communities, and the tenet on which fascism could not compromise, was sexism.

Ben-Ghiat illustrates this most clearly by describing the punishment for miscegenation – sexual relations between races – in the Ethiopian colony of fascist Italy. From 1937 onwards, an Italian man found guilty of sexual relations with an African woman would be sentenced to five years in prison. An Italian woman in the same situation would be publicly whipped and sent to a concentration camp.

Despite this humiliation of the individual, state media endeavored to emphasize the virtue of the Italian Man and Woman as a whole, by actively painting the other partner – African men and women, whether or not they participated in miscegenation – as aggressively hypersexual creatures and thus blaming them for this ‘transgression’. Ben-Ghiat cites the case of one contemporary Italian movie, where an African warchief is shown kidnapping a European woman to force her into marriage. In the English dubbing, the accusation is mistranslated, instead making an even more blunt accusation that he is kidnapping her to rape her.  

This ‘crime’ of ‘stealing’ a woman ‘from’ ‘her race’ (with, yes, scare quotes around every word in that phrase) is a recurring theme in fascist media, presented as an aggression against the purity of the race and the chastity of the woman, and depriving a New fascist Man of the wife and virility he was promised in exchange for his allegiance to this new State.

Racism is an instrument of fascism, but it is only an instrument. It can be retooled and redefined to fit the geopolitical needs of the State at the time.

Sexism, on the other hand, is an immutable part of the social contract of fascism. The woman is a tool of the state, used to grow the population and traded to buy the allegiance of men; anything that threatens that grand bargain is an existential threat, and the fascist State must – as it did – exert considerable effort to reinstall its authority.

Motadel, D. (2019, July 3). The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism – But They Depend on It. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html

Motadel, D. (2019). The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire. American Historical Review, 124(3), 843-877.

Ben-Ghiat, R. (2015, April 9). Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema. New York University. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbFFLXVvtXc&ab_channel=CasaItalianaNYU

Ben-Ghiat, R. (2001). Conquest and Collaboration. In R. Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (pp. 123-170). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

The Relationship between Nationalism and Internationalism

By Jackie Howell

When discussing nationalist or fascists movements, historians tend to fixate on the regional or national level. Analyzing nationalism through an international lens allows one to identify the interconnectedness of nationalist movements, thus creating a nationalist international against empire. Ironically, nationalism can function simultaneously with internationalism even though internationalism connotes everything nationalists hate. David Motadel highlights the international level of nationalism and fascism, focusing on anticolonial nationalists’ relationships with Nazi Germany. Ruth Ben-Ghiat briefly illustrates how fascist regimes utilize the same tools to further their agenda, as depicted in the cultural exchange network between Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain that rivalled the League of Nations’ cultural internationalism.

Motadel then draws a parallel to the present far-right populist or nationalist movements. As anticolonial nationalists connected over a desire for independence, similar trends are present in the Americas and Western Europe. Anticolonial nationalists saw independence movements as a global act of solidarity against outdated empires. Similarly, Trump supporters, Brexit “Leave” voters, and Europe’s far-right nationalists have morally supported each other’s views. Identifying the far-right as an international far-right fraternity united by nationalism, anti-minority, and anti-multiculturalism sentiment helps explain the modern spread of far-right movements. In the digital media era, an area that Motadel failed to explore, far-right nationalists have connected on various platforms (most notably Twitter and Facebook). There is no longer a strict need for physical transport to mobilize; nationalists can share ideas, strategies, and support with a post, a Tweet, or even by joining a Facebook group. The 21st century differs from the 20th century by providing more efficient means of communication and mobilization. During World War II, Nazi Germany was a financial and political supporter for anticolonial nationalists, creating a power dynamic that favoured the Germans over the nationalists. While far-right nationalists still require some assistance from more powerful states to increase their political agency, social media platforms provide nationalists and grassroots organizations the significant space that Berlin once provided for anticolonial nationalists.

Perhaps the most intriguing international aspect of nationalism is the level of cooperation among nationalist groups. Nationalist movements utilized their connections to further their cause. These relationships illustrate the motives of regimes and the lengths they will go for personal gain. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is most applicable in international nationalism.  It seems contradictory for Nazi Germany to host and interact with anticolonial leaders given Germany’s racist and uncompromising policies. However, the level of cooperation makes sense when one analyzes their motives and objectives. Nazi Germany utilized anticolonial nationalists to undermine their adversaries’ empires while anticolonial nationalists utilized Germany to further their cause for independence. While nationalist movements portray an image of solidarity, the movement is not homogenous. Tensions, divisions, and self-interests taint the cohesive image of far-right movements. The short-term nature of cooperation further proves the instability of an international nationalist movement, which eventually leads back to the rejection of internationalism.


Ben-Ghiat, R. (2004). Conquest or collaboration. In Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (pp. 123-130). University of California Press.

Motadel, D. (2019a). The global authoritarian moment: The revolt against empire. American Historical Review, 124(3): 843-877.

Motadel, D. (2019b). The far right says there’s nothing dirtier than internationalism – but they depend on it. The New York Times, nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html

Nationalism for all? Depends who you are

This week’s readings focused mainly on the interesting (and for me fairly unknown) historical aspects of differing regions sharing and joining forces on the nationalism front. Of particular surprise to me centered mainly with David Motadel’s “ The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire” chapter which was a detailed discussion with regards to the shared interests in seeing the growth nationalism and nationalistic tendencies in differing countries and regions around the world around the time period of the second world war. This was particularly shocking to me, especially while reading passages such as “ Let us think as rulers and let us see in these peoples at best lacquered half monkeys who want to feel the knout” and  “even worse were his and the Nazi elites’ resentments against the peoples of Central Asia and the Caucasus, who were routinely dismissed as subhuman “Asiatics” from the Germany point of view (at least early on during the war). This certainly did not point towards an attitude of someone or a group looking to build massive international coalitions. Another example of this, is described by Ben-Ghiat’s “Conquest and Collaboration”, with the focus specifically on Italian involvement in Ethiopia. For me, given my African background (born to Ghanaian parents), it was intriguing to attempt to read and understand the reasoning behind what the Italians were attempting to do, especially with attitudes expressed such as “‘numeric and geographic expansion of the yellow and black races’ meant that ‘the civilization of the white man is destined to perish’”.

This attitude was apparently not shared to the same degree with the Germans, as space was provided for their disdain of the people residing in the African continent, given the quote from Motadel provided, as “during the war, the Germans showed similar pragmatism when working with Caucasian and Central Asian as well as, though to a lesser extent, sub-Saharan African nationalists.” I suppose, the final quote of the paragraph with the above quotation summarises the sheer confusion and hypocrisy surrounding this policy with the fact that “the Nazi state proved to be increasingly flexible in its racial policies, showing that racisms in practice are often situational, contingent, even arbitrary.” As a result, one of the biggest things I took away from both readings was the contrast between the attitudes seemingly of the German Foreign Ministry to pursue and support a more purely nationalistic agenda withing the numerous countries with their racist attitudes being quite “flexible”. Meanwhile with the Italian model as described by Ben-Ghait, the attitudes towards the region they were looking to exploit was less arbitrary, in addition to the fact that rather preferred to use the country “to perform as a laboratory of the fascist social engineering projects”.

The theme continues, (to a lesser extent) right in to modern day, with Motadel’s shorter NYT article “The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism – But they Depend On It”, although I found it rather ironic that the countries one would think would have more similar and shared ideologies, continued to have such deep disagreements between each other.  Perhaps as Motadel explains, this may have to do with the widening of the nationalistic ideology with “the gulf between parochial nationalism and cosmopolitan internationalism (being) too wide to bridge”.

Does Fascism Inherently Oppose Internationalism?

Fascists have historically occupied a unique place in the international community. While they are often thought of as insular and isolated from other countries, they also understand that international collaboration between ideologically similar states can act as a countering force to less desired forms of internationalism, namely imperialism and communism. As Motadel observes, the Second World War saw a peculiar collaboration between the Nazi Party and various factions which were opposed to the imperialism of the western Allies or the communism of the Soviet Union. The degree to which this was based in a genuine affinity for each others’ causes is questionable. The Nazis certainly had practical reasons for forging alliances with other nationalist or anti-colonialist groups. In strengthening these elements, the Nazi’s enemies would be forced to concentrate more energy on subduing them instead of fighting Germany. It can also be argued that Nazi Germany did not truly oppose imperialism, evidenced by their expansionist plan in executing Generalplan Ost. They simply had disdain for the multiethnic, cosmopolitan imperialism, of which the British Empire was a prime example. However, as Ruth Ben-Ghiat points out regarding Mussolini’s Italy, the fascist’s views on expansionism was not monolithic. In fascist Italy’s case, they portrayed their occupation of Ethiopia not as a war of extermination, but as a civilizing mission. Still, the similarities to Nazi expansionism are clear because both were based in a shared view of “Aryan” superiority and not the materialistic motivations of capitalism or communism. In other words, fascists are ambivalent towards internationalism because they don’t consider it to be inherently positive or negative. If it takes the form of international capitalism or communism, then it must be opposed. If, on the contrary, the international community serves to strengthen each individual nation, then it is a desirable goal.   

Nationalism does not equal Anti-internationalism

Written by Emma Bronsema

Fascist and nationalist are against certain aspects of internationalism, especially in relation to the movement of people and ideas on a global scale. However, these regimes have worked in tandem with one another to preserve their ideals and see their nationalistic beliefs spread on a global scale. This cooperation between the like-minded nations is a part of the international phenomenon. 

Commonality is often found within the far right political spectrum. For example, fundamental fascists beliefs and policies are inline with other fascists in another part of the world. What these anti-colonials, nationalists and fascists stand for, are in line with each other. In other words, they share the same basic interests of the independent, self-sufficient, homogeneous cultured nation. This includes not encouraging the movement of people and keeping the population in groups based off of nationality, race and/or ethnicity.

Even though they are not completely in line with what the term internationalism has come to be defined as, fascists are not completely against it. Alliances and cooperation on an international level between like-minded nations is considered beneficial rather than a hindrance.

Through this camaraderie, they are able to maintain their desired homogeneity, but are involved in global discourse. There is also an understanding that there is strength in numbers, and their success in running their nation is a direct result of their relationship with internationalism. Moreover, the term internationalism acknowledges the existence and role of the nation – which is one of the major concerns of nationalistic regimes.


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

David Motadel, “The Far RIght Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism — But They Depend on It” The New York Times (July 2019).

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (University of California Press, 2004), pp. 123-130.

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.


While reading the articles of this week, one common theme that I found interesting was the incoherence behind the fascist ideology of the Nazi portion that was supporting nationalist emergence in colonies of imperial regimes around the world, especially regarding racism and segregation. In this sense, the paper by David Motadel provided detailed general facts and the book chapter by Ruth Ben-Ghiat was a good completion with more specific examples. There is a sentence in Motadel’s article that I found particularly striking and that basically sums the incoherence: “in terms of ideology, colonial peoples were considered racially inferior, and thus could never be treated as equals, let alone partners”. This shows in my opinion how hypocritical the Nazi’s support was, and how the apparent ideological partnership between them and colonies such as Ethiopia for example, as presented by Ben-Ghiat, was really only just a game of alliances in the light of the war, seeking to weaken falling Empires by encouraging the emergence of national communities within them. The incoherence was not even concealed, as shown by the violence of Nazis against visiting members of these communities described by Motadel.

Upon listening to the podcast, A Specter Haunting Europe, it was surprising for me to learn that Jews had been associated with the creation and spreading of communism, because to me, by extension, it would mean that the people and groups making that association considered that Judaism, among other things, was behind, or rather rallied to, the communist ideology before it took over half of Europe. One of the main features of communism, from what I have learned, was its promotion of atheism. It seems interesting to say the least, and contradictory, to associate a religious group to this political ideology. I understand that it was a uniting matter for fascist and nationalist groups across Europe to have common enemies, and especially since Nazi Germany was a focal point that nationalist organizations in the colonial world were looking to, having the same enemies was a way of gaining recognition and legitimizing the nationalist path (by aligning oneself with the apparent leading fascist organization that is supporting nationalist movements). But I don’t think that the common enemies, Jews and communists, were linked in a dependant way. True, some Jews were communists and vice-versa, but Judaism, or being Jewish, certainly was not an inherent part of the creation and spreading of communism. I might be pushing this reflection a little far, but the way I see it, since the fascist Nazis were encouraging and supporting the emergence and claims of nationalist movements in colonies of imperial regimes, it would be by default supporting ethnic specificities, such as religion, whilst communism sought to eventually achieve atheist societies. To me, in this line of thought, it would make more sense that religious communities, if they had to be associated with a political current, would be so with fascist, considering its promotion of national identity (and what defines it, by extension), instead of communism. And the fact that fascism and Nazi fascist were against Jews is one more incoherence of this regime.

Works cited:

Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe (podcast)

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” inFascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945(University of California Press, 2004), pp. 123-130

The Third Path?

Lucas Lang

Nationalism was born out of the failures of Imperialism and liberal democracy. Imperialism involved multiple nationalities coexisting under a single banner which often involved oppression and hierarchy based on nationality and race. This was understood through the examples of France and Great Britain. The Soviet Union, and thus Communism was seen by minorities in a similar light as it also enforced its political policies upon other nationalities within its borders.  Nationalism was seen as a third way which instead advocated for the independent nation’s ability and right to self-determinism. Nationalists do tend to focus primarily on national interests rather than international issues. They tend to see internationalism as an extension of communism. Rather than spreading out resources and having all suffer (or benefit) equally, nationalists prefer to ensure that their nation benefits first before resources can be spared to assist other states. This week’s readings ultimately show the oxymoronic and inconsistent effects produced by the realities of nationalism. On the one hand, nationalism can lead to rejection and discrimination against foreigners, as can be seen in Italy’s colonial expeditions in Africa. On the other hand, it also can lead to cooperation with foreign nationalists as can be seen in the example of Nazi Germany. While to some, nationalists working with foreign nationalists might seem ironic or non-sensible, it is more practical than might first be construed. If the goal of the Nationalist is to seek the independence and prosperity of his nation, it is to the nations benefit if others are not interfering because they are seeking the same goal. The real irony is that in expanding their borders for their nation’s benefit, they oppress other nation’s nationalism.

The Stability of Right-Wing Anti-International Internationalism

Jake Rooke

When one thinks of fascism, nationalism, or nativist projects and regimes in history and contemporary politics there seems to be the creation of a binary paradigm – that nationalism and internationalism are incompatible. That these paradigms cannot co-exist and must function in parallel. Why would a nativist and regime ideologically devoted to national tribalism cooperate with other regimes that deploy similar insular narratives? Accordingly, the binary paradigm crystalizes and adheres to a false narrative that fascist obedience and anti-internationalism are ideologically pure. Instead, there is a common cause in their approach that creates an internationalism that transcends nativism. This can be better understood through two methods: first, an ideological adherence to right-wing nationalism and second, a pragmatic realization that ideological purity is inflexible in an international environment that has immeasurable socio-political differences. Motadel’s (2019a; 2019b) articles balance these and display how anti-internationalism when projecting internationally, is still a global moment. Therefore, this authoritarian international doctrine can be better understood as an anti-international internationalism. The interconnections and unity between fascist nationalists are their ideological disdain for liberal internationalism and by a pragmatic understanding that your enemy’s enemy, is also your enemy. However, larger questions arise out of the stability of this authoritarian internationalism.

It is unknown what relationship Nazi Germany would have had with Mussolini’s Fascist Italy if the Axis had won. How would these two powers, or better yet, an Asian society such as Japan have been able to constructively cooperate in the international system with tribal devotions? This question also begs how other right-wing nationalist movements, with a plethora of racial and cultural distinctions, such as those in Motadel’s (2019a) article, would have been regarded in an international system devoted to conceptions of racial superiority, nativism and hyper-militarism. As Motadel (2019a) shows, the fascist regimes found it useful to harbour and support anti-imperial right-wing members of the global south for mainly pragmatic gain. That is, these would-be fascist leaders, aligning with the Axis would have caused an intra-empire movement to topple colonial authorities in the British and French colonies. However, it is unclear what the cost of such support for independence from Empire would have been, and how the fascist regimes would have extracted these costs from their new global south collaborators. Once the Allies had fallen and the ideal of the fascist nation-state became the proto hegemony, it is logical to assume that Nazism’s intermestic war-time strategy would have become more ideologically insular, and looked for ways to exploit those they saw as racially inferior and also militarily weaker. The global moment, for authoritarians, was a means to an end, as nativism adheres to an asymmetrical and zero-sum discourse. This winner-takes-all would result in the smaller nation-states either collaborating to prevent dominance or accepting a new fascist structured hierarchical neo-imperial system. It is unclear how a smaller fascist nation-state such as Egypt or Iraq would have survived in the face of blatant survival of the fittest geopolitics.

This anti-international internationalism propagated by right-wing populists globally is again gaining adhesion through a similar pragmatic understanding. This understanding of quasi-unity derives from their ideological disdain for liberal internationalism and what they see as a growing threat against the nation-state and the pure people. This begs a similar question to before: how would these right-wing populists and soft-nationalists, such as the Brexit Party’s Farage or Le Penn’s National Rally cooperate in an international system directed by anti-internationalism? It is plausible, that once the need for anti-international international pragmatism had exhausted itself, they would turn to more ideologically driven insular visions in their nation-state. Here is where conflict would arise. For in an international global authoritarian moment, where nativism devotes itself to hierarchy and for example, ‘America First’ policies, cooperation is impossible once pragmatism is eroded and your enemy’s enemy is vanquished. By overtly stating one’s nation as ‘First’, it communicates that others will come last. This mixed with militarism and the decoupling of interdependence is how global conflicts arise.

Works Cited:

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

Motadel, D. (2019b, July 03). The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism – But They Depend on It. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html

Nationalism and Internationalism

By Sydney Linholm

David Motadel points out the irony of the conflict between nationalism and internationalism in the statement “Internationalism, a concept that, after all, implicitly presumes the existence of the nation, and extreme nationalism are not necessarily incompatible.” He says that the far right depends on internationalism for the global cooperation of their groups and to increase their operations in transnational institutions, despite the far right’s repeated denouncing of internationalism. This is an intriguing point to make, as this can be seen within the Trump administration’s attitudes towards foreign policy. In a 2020 article for the Washington Post entitled “U.S. foreign policy might be too broken for Biden to fix”, Josh Rogin details the Trump administration’s distaste for funding American foreign policy, and has completely torpedoed international relations with his “America First” policies. For example, he has openly rejected multilateralism, tried to gut funding for diplomacy, and weakened some of the U.S.’s alliances. As a result, they benefit less from international cooperation because of their refusal to participate in it and threatening of neoliberal institutions such as NATO. In my mind, this is an example of a far-right politician being against internationalism, but in such a way that it is detrimental to their agenda. Motadel points out the history of far-right and fascist leaders engaging in internationalism, with examples being Conference of Fascist Parties convened by Mussolini, and the Nuremburg rallies in which the Nazis welcomed international like-minded groups. This is interesting to think about within the modern far-right group mindset that rejecting internationalism protects their agenda, with the Trump administration being an example, and forces one to think about why these groups feel the need to protect their agendas from internationalism when it was not rejected in the past.


Rogin, J. (2020, October 08). Opinion | U.S. foreign policy might be too broken for Biden to fix. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/us-foreign-policy-might-be-too-broken-for-biden-to-fix/2020/10/08/b82cfcf0-09a0-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html

Motadel, D. (2019, July 03). The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism – But They Depend on It. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html