Rethinking Practices and Notions of Fascist Internationalism 1919–1945

Rethinking Practices and Notions of Fascist Internationalism 1919–1945

Sabrina Proschmann, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf; Frederik Forrai Ørskov, University of Helsinki; Martin Kristoffer Hamre, Graduate School Global Intellectual History, Freie Universität Berlin
Berlin und digital
Vom - Bis
22.10.2021 - 23.10.2021
Url der Konferenzwebsite
Sabrina Proschmann, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf; Frederik Forrai Ørskov, University of Helsinki; Martin Kristoffer Hamre, Graduate School Global Intellectual History, Freie Universität Berlin

Despite the extreme nationalist character of fascism, research in fascism studies in the last decade has foregrounded the transnational and international dimensions of fascist regimes, movements and individuals in the interwar period and the Second World War. In this workshop, early career researchers came together to discuss the different layers of practices and notions of this phenomenon summarized as fascist internationalism. Concrete case studies of fascist international cooperation were discussed in fields such as philology, racial science, colonialism, international relations, social policy, parties and women’s organizations. The workshop aimed to shed light on the omnipresent tension between fascist nationalist outlook and international endeavours, to foreground the role of individual agents, to ask how fascist internationalism was organized and which notions were essential.

In his opening keynote lecture, ROGER GRIFFIN (Oxford) outlined two paradoxical ideological aspects of the overall workshop topic. First, the integration of internationalism into the fascist ultranationalist vision through its unique capacity to resolve paradoxes through dynamic syntheses. Second, its drive to proliferate itself internationally to create an ultranationalist revolution as a vehicle of an international civilizational rebirth. Hence, for Griffin, fascism was simultaneously intensely nationalist in the sense of “integral nationalism” and, at the same time, it was utopianly internationalist in its drive to impose a new global civilization, far transcending the constraints of national “state” borders. Thereafter, Griffin stressed three different expressions or processes of fascism’s drive for international proliferation: osmosis, alliance and imperialism/occupation, which were partly also blended into historical reality. First, mimetic duplications of “original” fascist movements were created world-wide (such as the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists or the Lebanese Falange Party) as acts of osmosis; second, international alliances were created (such as in the case of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis), and third, fascism imposed itself through imperial conquest and occupation as a new international/civilizational type of racist and eliminatory politics, culture and ethical system.

The first panel reflected the interplay between sciences, academia and international cooperation, which legitimized fascism internationally in different fields. ARNAB DUTTA (Groningen) presented transnational entanglements in the discipline of philology, illustrated through encounters between Indian scholars and their fascist German and Italian counterparts. Dutta emphasized how linguistic research constructed a common genealogy of languages such as German, Sanskrit and Hindi, resulting in the legitimation of Germany as inheritor of the Aryan root. At the same time, philologists acted internationally as translators, creating a political language and a discursive realm conducive to fascism and racial supremacy.

KĀRLIS SILS (Florence) presented the history of the Latvian-Italian Friendship Society, which initially aimed at fostering academic knowledge and cultural relations between Latvia and Italy. However, in the course of the 1930s, the society was politicized and instrumentalized by both Italian fascists and the Latvian Ulmanis regime, thus ultimately functioning as a key promoter of fascist ideology. The case study reflected thus the propagandistic use of formerly “academic” societies in the forging of fascist alliances.

MAJA HAGERMAN (Helsinki/Uppsala) focused on the international development of racial studies in the early 20th century. Not only Germans but also Scandinavian researchers such as Herman Lundborg from Sweden and Halfdan Bryn from Norway created a “scientific language” that characterized ethnic minorities as physically and mentally distinct from national ethnic majorities. While Lundborg and Bryn competed with each other about the role as the foremost interpreter of the “Nordic type”, they both served internationally as promoters of racism and legitimized fascism “scientifically”.

Individual agents, beneficiaries and intermediaries played a crucial role for fascist internationalism, connecting through their cross-border activities and notions different regimes, movements and organizations. In the second keynote lecture, ERIC ROUBINEK (Nashville, TN) analyzed the growing Italo-German collaboration and knowledge transfer in the field of colonialism through the biographies of two rather unknown agents, the journalist Luise Diel who reported from the Italo-Ethiopian war and Major Fritz Kummer, a mid-level Nazi functionary.

Not all agents of fascist internationalism were successful, as SIMONE R. MURACA (Padua) highlighted in his paper on the writer Ernesto Gimenez Caballero. This fascist intellectual functioned as an early intermediary between the Spanish Falange and Italian Fascism and developed a specific concept of fascist universalism. However, his theory was too Mussolini-dependent for Spanish nationalists and led to his increasing political insignificance in Franco’s Spain. In this case, fascist transnational activities constituted an obstacle for a domestic career.

KYE ALLEN (Oxford) presented another individual who propagated Italian Fascism: Muriel Currey, a British journalist connected to the Chatham House. The case study illustrated not only that there were pro-fascist women in England who attempted to reconcile advocacy for the League of Nations with Italophilic, imperial and fascist predilections, but also that the supposedly anti-fascist discipline of international relations (IR) was at its beginnings a far more complex and highly porous enterprise then suggested by traditional research.

STEFAN LAFFIN (Bielefeld) revisited the activities of Giuseppe Renzetti, an archetype of a fascist broker between Italian Fascism and German Nazism in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Thereby, Laffin stressed the interplay between the local setting, in which an agent could even make a living of brokering fascism, and the larger political context of fascist internationalism, here defined as the Italian intention to advertise fascism overseas and to strengthen its binding forces with Italians living abroad.

NATHANIËL KUNKELER (Oslo) opened the third panel of the workshop on global, internationalist and imperialist imaginaries with a presentation on the Greater Netherlands, and the realities and limits of Dutch fascist internationalism. While he underlined the ideological impact of imperialist visions of Dutch fascists and Conservatives and their repercussions in the Dutch colonies, Kunkeler also pointed to the practical constraints these visions had due to their lack of clearness.

SOBSEH EMMANUEL (Bamenda) analyzed the entanglements between internationalist fascism and imperialism in Africa. He underlined that sympathizers of fascism in different African nations such as South Africa, Italian Libya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Egypt saw above all the chance to gain independence for their own nations from the European occupiers. The Axis powers’ internal reorganization towards fascist regimes was linked to a vision of reorganizing the world order which represented both dangers but also a window of opportunity to resist European imperialism.

MICHELE MIONI (Bremen) concluded the panel with a paper on the discourse on social policy promoted globally by Italian Fascists in 1922–1943. The propaganda fulfilled a double legitimization of corporatism on the domestic and international stage. The discourse changed with the start of military aggressions, which also provided for a closer linkage between Italian Fascism and German National-Socialism in the realm of social policy.

From international conceptualizations of fascism, the focus of the workshop turned to concrete organizational structures enhancing international cooperation between fascists. FLAVIA CITRIGNO (Potsdam) started the fourth panel by examining the exchanges between fascist girls organizations, mainly the German and the Italian ones. She elaborated that the female leaders of the organizations were not in charge of coordinating their international exchanges. Rather, their exchanges were used by male leaders within the regimes for representative purposes. Citrigno concluded that real cultural exchange between the girls was not fostered while their leaders were instead incentivized to become rivals.

LEO PAVESI (Naples) revisited the Comitati d’Azione per l’Universalità di Roma (CAUR) and its attempts to create an international fascist discourse that was at first anti-German and focused on the promotion of Italian propaganda but changed through the German-Italian rapprochement in 1936. Additionally, the contents of that discourse had to be adapted in order to include the specifics of other European fascisms – a process that also lead to the incorporation of antisemitism into CAUR’s version of international fascism.

The last panel focused on international networks and communities benefitting explicitly or implicitly from the construction of international fascist structures. JONAS BRESSLER (Mainz) analyzed the role of French, Belgian and British Conservatives in the Spanish Civil War and their efforts to support Franco – either through active participation in the war or politically, intellectually, and materially from their respective home country. They were activated by the common fight against Communism, not necessarily by an ideological overlap with Franco. These activities as well as the common communist foe integrated the Conservatives partially into fascist networks.

ARON BROUWER (Philadelphia, PA) focused on the discourse of French Fascists in the journal “Je Suis Partout” on the colonies and their notion of originality that they used to criticize the Third Republic in the 1930s. Within this discourse, the French colonies were described as untouched by everything that made the Third Republic so bad from their point of view: neither democracy, capitalism, liberalism, Marxism nor Jews had any influence there. Brouwer argued that the “anti-imperialism” displayed in these writings was entangled with the idea that true Frenchness was to be found in the colonies and that Metropolitan France had been taken over by non-French Jews and Bolshevists.

DANIELE TORO (Bielefeld) ended the workshop with a conceptualization of transnational fascism based on German-Austrian-Italian Entanglements between 1918 and 1933/34. He contextualized transnational fascism as a phenomenon of the long 1920s to be distinguished from the international fascism of the 1930s and 1940s. Toro thus described fascist transnationalism as a highly dynamic and unstable social network in which hierarchies and interests were continuously renegotiated. As such, the networks served as both product and producer of fascist structures.

A summary of and a discussion on the different presentations and perspectives provided concluded the workshop. It was suggested that Roger Griffin’s framework for understanding the messy nature of fascist internationalism in both the ideology and interwar practices of fascism as being ideologically centered around autonomous ultra-nationalisms and practically around processes of osmosis, alliance and conquest had been explored throughout the workshop in multiple settings. In concert, the papers had also reflected on the interactions between practice and ideology, and between various practices as well as between fascism and other ideological complexes, fields, and networks. Some of the aspects of fascist internationalism that had been rethought in the papers and keynotes were discussed as well: among other things, geographies, mobilities, ideological distinctions and boundaries, levels of agency, internationalist practices, languages and concepts were all rethought, recentred, or reimagined throughout. Having touched upon diverse issues from the value of biographical approaches and centering on the agency of individual actors and “brokers” over transnational networking to international organizations, having pondered the importance of formal and informal diplomatic and organizational relationships alike, as well as the interplay between them, and the centrality of tensions, conflicts and incompatibilities, there was a sense that the workshop had explored a range of diverse and intriguing approaches to fascist internationalism currently applied by young scholars.

Conference overview:

Keynote lecture I

Roger Griffin (Oxford): Cubist Fascism, Fascism Cubed: The Many Facets and Planes of Fascist Internationalism

Panel I: “Scientific Languages” of Fascist Internationalism

Chair: Frederik Forrai Ørskov (Helsinki)

Arnab Dutta (Groningen): Philology and Fascism: The Languages of Nazi-Fascist Internationalism in British India, 1919–1945

Kārlis Sils (Florence): Philologists and Fascists: Latvian-Italian Friendship Society as a Case Study of Transnational Fascism

Maja Hagerman (Helsinki/Uppsala): Who’s the Foremost Interpreter of “the Nordic Type”? Herman Lundborg and Halfdan Bryn competing for International Acclaim in Racial Studies

Keynote lecture II

Eric Roubinek (Ashville): Nazi-Fascist Colonial Collaboration through Biography

Panel II: Agents, Beneficiaries and Intermediaries of Fascist Internationalism

Chair: Martin Kristoffer Hamre (Berlin)

Simone R. Muraca (Padua): Ernesto Gimenez Caballero and Fascist “Romanity”: The (Un)success of a Transnational Fascist Concept in Spain

Kye Allen (Oxford): Currying Favour with Fascists: Muriel Currey and the Propagation of Fascism

Stefan Laffin (Bielefeld): Fascist Internationalism in Everyday Life: Making a Living of Fascism or Establishing the Base for a Fascist International?

Panel III: Global, Internationalist and Imperialist Imaginaries

Chair: Daniel Hedinger (Munich)

Nathaniël Kunkeler (Oslo): The Greater Netherlands, and the Realities and Limits of Dutch Fascist Internationalism, 1928–1940

Sobseh Emmanuel (Bamenda): International Fascism and Imperialism in Africa during the Interwar and War Periods: Actors, Motivations and Goals

Michele Mioni (Bremen): From “Internationalism” to Imperialism: Italian Fascism and the Discourse on Social Policy on the World Stage, 1922–1943

Panel IV: Institutionalizing International Fascist Cooperation

Chair: Sabrina Proschmann (Düsseldorf)

Flavia Citrigno (Potsdam): The Duce´s Cheerleaders and the Führer´s Spies. Reconstructing and Comparing the Dynamics of a Developing Fascist Network of Girls Organizations

Leo Pavesi (Naples): A Quest for a Fascist Internationalist Discourse: Revisiting the CAUR in the 1930s

Panel V: Conceptualizing the Networks and Communities of Fascist Transnationalism

Chair: Sabrina Proschmann (Düsseldorf)

Jonas Breßler (Mainz): Defending Europe from “Asian Communism”? – The Western European Right and the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)

Aron Brouwer (Philadelphia): A Purer Mirror of an Impure France: How French Fascists Anti-Imperialists Regarded Indigenous Peoples from France’s Empire as Allies against the Third Republic, 1930–1945

Daniele Toro (Bielefeld): Fascist Transnationalism as a Networking Process: The Case of the German-Austrian-Italian Entanglements 1918–1933/34

Concluding discussion