Playing with the Fire of History

D.Khaznadji

Falsifications and contradictions are often involved when it comes to far-right ideologies. Last week we saw how history can be altered by populist regimes in order to serve a particular agenda: how some perpetrators are not only rehabilitated but glorified; and how the horrors of the past become normalized, something people should “move on” from. 

This week, the readings presented once again this aspect of the far-right machinery. In mind I have the example of Corneliu Codreanu, the Romanian fascist, who painted bolshevism and liberalism as Jewish plots. The glorification of his memory by Polish far-right groups, though Polish and Romanian right-wing radicals did not have much of relationship in the 1930s, show how people can appropriate a history, mix it with their own experiences and make it their own. This, in a nutshell, explain what Hanebrick meant by “Communism is gone, but the idea of Judeo-Bolshevism refuses to go away”. The capacity for an ideology to transcend time through constant adaptations is partly what makes it so persistent, despite being no longer officially relevant. 

Another interesting example in Hanebrick’s introduction was the idea of modern antisemitism being rooted in medieval prejudice. This immediately got me to think about the blood libel accusations, and how those evolved over time. From trying to find a scapegoat for the humiliations of the crusades to justify the murder of Stalin, one can see here the capacity of antisemitic sentiments to re-invent themselves. 

This brings me to Sholamit Volkov, whose argument about antisemitism being a cultural code really spoke to me. The notion that the complex social, economic and technological changes in late 19th century Europe were simplified to the idea of a “Jewish question” seems so simple, but nevertheless crucial to develop. The answer to that “Jewish Question” — that is, getting rid of Jewish populations, whatever the means —, is an easy way to make sense of the complex changes in society, which makes it attractive to potential followers. Antisemitism is thus a tool for cultural identity, a way to obscure certain issues amplify others. Its significance in relation to its particular historical context helps us understand the persistence of such an ideology. 

Perhaps this new perception can also explain the internationalist dimension to right-wing radicalism. After all, despite several points of friction, they share more or less some basic core values: white-Christian purity and intolerance towards minorities to name only these. Considering what has been said already in this post, the embrace of internationalism by far-right political parties despite their supposed hatred of it, makes a little more sense. It is through such processes that we can better understand those reactionary movements. After all, to quote Motadel: “We dismiss the internationalization of right-wing politics at our own peril”. 

How Fascism Links Local Anxieties to International Narratives and Archetypes

By Ali Yasin

As an ideology, Fascism is rooted in the unprecedented material and social change characteristic of modernity. Traditional boundaries and hierarchies across Europe had been greatly undermined by the spread of enlightenment philosophy, the cascade of revolutions it inspired, and the concurrent economic transition from locally based feudalism to an increasingly globalized capitalism. Fascism represents one of several reactions to this disorientating tendency of modernity, which attempts to secure an ostensibly necessary hierarchical order by reimagining the nation as a homogeneous ethnically bounded collective, with the totalitarian state as its guarantor.  While this clearly explains Fascism’s protectionist tendencies both economic and otherwise, is fails to account for its perplexing and somewhat paradoxical relationship with internationalism.

Unlike the reactionary archconservatives of the 18th and 19th centuries whose political aims were largely confined within a national perspective, the fascists of the early 20th century understood the objectives and aspirations of their political agenda as being intrinsically international in scope. A common feature of the rhetoric and propaganda produced by the fascist regimes which came to power during interwar period, was the association of local anxieties to an international and transhistorical polemic narrative. Both Italy and Germany were dominated by atmospheres of pessimism and unrest during this period. The loss of national prestige that accompanied their disappointing fortunes during the First World War, was quickly followed by the rise of the radical labour movement in the aftermath of the Russian revolution and civil war. Rather than simply attributing these developments to “subversive” domestic elements as its predecessors had done for centuries, fascism extends this persecution narrative and its associated paranoia to the international arena.  

As described by Ruth Ben-Ghiat in Fascist Modernities: Italy, the Italian public was gripped by fears that Italy risked being relegated to a subaltern position as it continued to face internal political and economic turmoil. In addition to ruthlessly suppressing the budding Italian socialist and labour movements as many of his conservative counterparts were also doing across Europe, Mussolini and his fascist cohort further argued that the national revival of Italy required the “Italian race” to reassert and redefine itself on the international stage. According to the regime’s propaganda, Italy found itself in a disadvantage position within the European community not because of its delayed industrialization or political unification, but rather because the Italian people had abandoned their status as the archetypal “race of hard edged conquerors” who commanded respect and authority. It was the desire to revive this international reputation more so than any concrete strategic or economic objectives that motivated the brutal Italian invasion and colonization of Ethiopia. Portraying the invasion as a crusade of modernization, the regimes propaganda described the Italian colonial project as a synthesis of natural ethnic hierarchy and the modern progression of technology. Through Italy’s colonial domination of Ethiopia and its native population, the fascist regime claimed that the Italians would not only bring out the regions full productive potential by integrating modern infrastructure and bureaucracy, but also simultaneously reinsert themselves within the transhistorical archetype of the civilizing conqueror that originated with the Roman empire.

Works Cited:

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

Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (Harvard University Press, 2018), pp. 1-10, 11-45.

Pragmatic Alliances – The Far-Right Working Together


Wesley M.

How does one explain the dangerous relationship between the far-right radicals in our current era and the movement of internationalism that are present nowadays? Well on the surface that question might seem like a contradiction in terms given that far-right radicals typically espouse their own country first policies and seem unlikely to be willing to support other countries over their own.

The answer obviously lies within the fact that many of the far-right movements in France, Spain, Germany) are all seeking the same thing: political power and legitimacy within their own countries because in order for each group to accomplish their own individual goals all must be in power first. Therefore, to succeed, they will need to pragmatically work together, seeking cooperation with each other, and that cooperation is the true danger.

Pragmatic alliances between their various extremist groups despite differing levels of power or differing views on certain issues is not historically unprecedented. For example, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were allied during the 1936 Spanish Civil War with Franco’s fascist army.[1] During World War II the Axis alliance between Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany was an alliance of fascist and authoritarian powers each with their own interests. Indeed, one of the most historically interesting alliances that the Nazis made is seldom talked about but perfectly reinforces the point of far-right pragmatism, is the alliance between Nazi Germany and the various anticolonial powers that worked with the Nazis. These anti-colonialists were united by either resentment towards their colonizers or because they preferred the totalitarian style of government they witnessed in Nazi Germany to the liberal democracies that they been dealing with under their colonizers, while the Nazis assisted them in order to strengthen their own war effort (post-Stalingrad) and seeking to thereby weaken their European enemies, while in fact being divided internally over actually assisting the anti-colonialists.[2]Despite this ‘alliance’ being made against the Allies, ultimately the anti-colonialists weren’t viewed as having an equal relationship with Nazi Germany because they were “dependent on the regime and its resources.”[3] thus reiterating the fact that just like now far-right groups can work together because they will have better luck at success despite not fully agreeing with each other.

Motadel’s argument about the danger of contemporary far-right groups is that even if they don’t get along or aren’t fully allied they are still dangerous if they can agree on certain issues such as “which enemies to confront, which institutions to weaken, which values to assault.”[4] Therefore the far-right still has the potential to undermine the various legitimate democratic voices that are currently blocking their path to power.


[1] David Motadel, “Opinion | The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism — But They Depend on It,” The New York Times, July 3, 2019, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html.

[2] David Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” American Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877, 869-870.

[3] Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment”: 873.

[4] Motadel, “Opinion”.

Bibliography:

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

Motadel, David. “The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire”, The American Historical Review, Volume 124, Issue 3, June 2019, Pages 843–877, https://doi-org.proxy.library.carleton.ca/10.1093/ahr/rhy571.

Fascism and Nationalism

Emma C

After the readings this week, I got to see the terms we discussed last week, in particular fascism in a different way. We are used to hearing fascism discussed by people who were observing the regime, but this week we got to see an insider’s perspective as to why they were drawn to this idea. The prompt given prior to the readings was fascism: for the nation, against empire and it helped to direct my thoughts through the readings.

A theme I came across this week was nationalism and national identity and how these ideas played a role in the support for fascism. As Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s piece suggests a fascist regime was part of a cultural reclamation, where Italy felt that it had lost its national identity and were being populated with too many non-Italians which led to the need to reclaim their culture, which they felt was being lost. This loss of national identity also spurred the demographic colonization in Africa to help build the population back up in order to bring civility and discipline to the people of Africa. Fascism fueled the idea that countries belonged to the colonizers and it was their duty to civilize all they could.

As Paul Hanebrink mentions, Judeo-Bolshevism was a response to wanting to purify their country from immigrants. Rather than take responsibility, blame about communism was put on the Jews as an excuse to purify the country. The idea is that in order to have a true national identity, there must be a pure race, something that connects the entire country, diversity would harm this. It is interesting to see how fascist regimes did what they did as they thought it was helping their country, with little thought for the harm it would cause others.

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

Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (Harvard University Press, 2018), pp. 1-10, 11-45.

International Anti-Semitism

Declan Da Barp

The recreation of a nation around a particular ethnic group is central to the fascist ideology. Central to the ideology is that the racial purity of the “people” in question though is under threat and must be “cleaned.” The readings this week show clearly that perceived threats and ways of social engineering were largely shared across international borders throughout global authoritarian networks. The works by Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Paul Hanebrink clearly illustrate how these global networks underpinned large portions of Fascist ideology.

            Anti-Semitism is seen as a central tenant of fascism, throughout popular understanding. In Ben-Ghiat’s work, she outlines how it was a late adaption within Mussolini’s movement. Prior to 1938, there was little mention of it in Italian fascist doctrine with it being almost a point of independence and pride for Il Duce (Ben-Ghiat, 148). With the formation of the Berlin-Rome Axis, anti-Jewish laws, modelled on the Nuremberg Laws, were enacted descending the country into anti-Semitism (148-149). As described in both Ben-Ghiat and Hanebrink’s Jews were characterized as subversive and alien (Ben-Ghait, 155, Hanebrink, 19). In creating the idea of the people in Italy, and in Nazi Germany, the otherness of Jews was seen as a plight on society – one that needed to be persecuted and excluded from society.

I found Hanebrink’s exploration of the international fear of Judeo-Bolshevism fit nicely within the much more localized discussions of Italian fascism’s anti-Semitism. As he states the “Jewish Question” became a sign of cultural identity but also one to rest a nation’s insecurities upon (7-9). In Italy this related to the anxieties of “backwardness” and the subordination of the Italian state – with a lot of these fears previously articulated about Southern Italy (Ben-Ghiat, 155). This allowed for a national discussion around who was and who was not Italian to focus not on the rural, poorer Southerners but rather on Jews who were an easy scapegoat for Italy’s problems.

Works Cited

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

Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (Harvard University Press, 2018), pp. 1-10, 11-45.

Propaganda as both for and against Colonialism

Alison Miller

While propaganda has come up in many contexts with regards to conflict, David Motadel’s writing and Ben-Ghiat’s commentary on the use of propaganda within the structure of colonisation brings a new dimension to propaganda as nation-maker.

To put a point on it, on sees propaganda used most frequently like how Hanebrink outlines it in his article about Judeo-Bolshevism, that it is a direct tool of nation-building from within the nation, usually by outlining an enemy and then using either pictures or sound to reiterate negative elements of that enemy, or the strength of the nation against it. This propaganda relies on consistent use of tropes that are understood by everyone within the nation that the propaganda is released in – it creates a unifying narrative for everyone occupying the territory. In Hanebrink’s article, this is best seen in the anti-Semitic propaganda published by Poland as part of the effort to stand against the encroaching Boleshevik army.

In both Ben-Ghiat’s talk and Motadel’s writing, however, we see propaganda being used indirectly by a nation, i.e. within a proxy country, in order to achieve the nation building goals. With Ben-Ghiat’s talk, the use of Italian cinema to outline positive Fascist characteristics, but having these characteristics put forward in a proxy country rather than within Italy itself. It ends up serving a double-use, one side to show the important characteristic of masculinity within Fascist Italy, but also showing Italy as colonizer in a time when that would have been of importance.

In a similar strain in Motadel’s writing, Nazi Germany was looking to undermine enemy nations by using propaganda to spark anti-colonial uprisings in select proxy countries as a way to preserve their own nationalistic agenda. They also hosted anti-colonial leaders as part of this effort, who looked at Germany as an ally for their cause and as an alternative to the liberal, imperialist structure that dominated the bulk of the world.

Interesting in the case of Italian cinema is the proxy countries desire to create and promote their own national identity, where Somalis would come to film and then leave when they found out that they would have to be the losers in a film working to create the ideal male national identity in fascist Italy. There is also a kind of dialogue between national and proxy in Germany, where heads of anti-colonial movements were restricted in what they could do by the German state. The anti-colonial movements to a certain degree were driven by German investment and the belief that it would be of benefit to Germany. Radio propaganda was driven by the Germany state, leaders were invested in by the state to travel to communicate their anti-colonial ideals (in the case of Bose), and the publications by anti-colonial leaders could be censored at the behest of the Nazi government.

This is not to say that these leaders were impotent in the drive for anti-colonial efforts, the entire reason they went to Germany was because they had started the efforts and saw in Germany another tool against the states that had colonised them in the first place. Rather what I am looking to say is that promotion of nationalism in proxy areas was a tool that Germany was using to preserve its own nationalistic agenda – they fed off each other. Italy also used proxy countries, in a different way than that of Germany, but for the same reasons – creation and preservation of national identity.

Understanding the Role of Mass Culture and Media in Far-Right Ideologies

M. Guthrie

Throughout this week’s readings, I was particularly struck by the recurring theme of mass culture being used as a means of reflecting and/or reinforcing authoritarian and fascist ideologies. Throughout contemporary European history, novels, newspapers, films and the like became crucial cultural resources, dispersing information and allowing for reflection on the shared experiences of a group.

While it was commonly understood that these sources worked in strengthening ideas of national identity or character, this media likewise acted as a divisive tool which could be specifically moulded to demonize social and cultural outliers – most notably protecting Europe from the “foreign contamination” of Judaism (Ben-Ghiat, 138). A prime example being the idea of the lasting conception of the Jewish Bolshevik, painting those of Jewish background as a malignant presence in Eastern European society, threatening the stability of authoritarian and nationalist ideologies (Hanebrink, 11-45).

I began to wonder how these tendencies have evolved in recent years to come to reflect the broader trends of globalization and internationalism. Especially considering the ease and accessibility provided by the internet, it is no surprise that individuals across the world can find a resource to support their beliefs, no matter how far-fetched or controversial they may be. In the context of the present-day, what comes to mind are sources like Breitbart News, or Alex Jones’s InfoWars gaining popularity worldwide, not just in the United States.

What I found extremely interesting is that this connection between nationalists in differing nations is not necessarily a new concept and is aided by the very presence of mass culture and popular media. Motadel notes that as early as 1937, figures such as George Orwell described fascism as a rather international movement – citing the Spanish Civil War as a prime example. It originally seemed to be a bit of an oxymoron in my mind, for those valuing a specific national identity to accept and support the help of others. However, if I understand correctly, it becomes more about supporting those who similarly want the preservation of what they feel is the original composition of the nation.

Works Cited

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

Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (Harvard University Press, 2018), pp. 1-10, 11-45.

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

Internationalism is Unavoidable

Kathleen McKinnon

My thoughts before reading into nationalism and international would have been that nationalism must deal very closely with internationalism because the “other” must be defined for the nationalist ie. what is the nation that nationalists are trying to preserve and against who or as opposed to which groups. Not that these things are exactly wrong but I would have also there to be a general interest in internationalism besides that one point, in that to make a country great and strong as the nationalist would want for the country their nation lives in, to have strong ties to other countries to create a sense of security.

Instead what seems the be the case is that nationalism often has too much factionalism and which likely hinders the ability of these groups to have really meaningful engagement with other countries and participate in internationalism as in “Parochial Nationalism.” (Motadel, 2020) However, that does not mean they do not engage in internationalism, it is just different than expected. There is often support from similar nationalist groups, parties, or regimes for each other and they can meet or even form alliances. So this newer concept is interesting to consider in how internationalism may also seem like a liberal idea in terms of global movements/globalization but it does have illiberal usages as well in a more “Cosmopolitan Nationalism.” (Motadel, 2019. 848) These interesting developments show how globalization as an advantage is even recognized by the nationalist, and not just in an imperialist way by controlling another country and using it for some type of power or resource but to actually ally with other nationalists to build strength and meaning.

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. 2019.