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Department of History

Transnational fascism

In this interview, Julià Gómez Reig, PhD researcher at the EUI History Department, discusses the concepts of internationalism and fascism, and the rise of far-right movements across Europe.

18 March 2024 | Research

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Internationalism and fascism: two political concepts that could seem almost antithetical at first glance; how does your research challenge this assumption?

My research questions this antagonism by means of rethinking both ideas of internationalism and fascism in the early 1920s. When thinking of internationalism, what usually comes to one’s mind are liberal proponents of multilateral governance in the post-war world and their ideas of international order. Alternatively, we could think of the spread of the Bolshevik revolution and the making of the Third International. Yet, those who perceived the coming out of the war as the beginning of a period of political uncertainty and as a moment of prevailing international disorder are rarely the main protagonists of our interwar histories. These are the actors that interest me. In my research, I try to understand how they saw in the emergence of fascism in Italy a concept to re-route their political agenda after a period of disorientation, characterised by a vacuum in their approach to international politics and the exercise of counter-revolutionary violence.

By the time Mussolini and the fascists marched on Rome, their takeover was not as much of a cleavage as the consecution of a broader process: an Italian “revolution from the right.” But the fascists gave name and entity to a form of political intervention that already existed in Barcelona, Madrid, or Munich. By doing so, they opened up a space of experimentation, rapidly attracting non-Italian actors from across Europe and the world.

I position my work at this juncture, at the crossroads in which European right-wing actors were searching their way through ideational speculation, ending up embracing fascism’s particularistic yet universalist rhetoric. Such a radical and nationalist political movement became an internationally mobilising idea, so different actors in a variety of contexts engaged with it. Approaching fascism through the lenses of Spanish right-wing actors, we can see how this ambiguity was not an accident: It made fascism an umbrella-like movement. It was permeable enough to be used to refashion imaginaries of nation, civilisation, and empire, often construed in opposition to what they perceived as liberal imperialism.

Do you see a comparable transnational drive in the new far-right/ultra-conservative movements across Europe?

At first glance, the rise of this new radical right appears significantly different from their 1920s ancestors. However it is easy to see how fascism occupies a crucial place in our historical consciousness and in the way we perceive it. The key question is why these far-right movements have been performing so well in the election polls. I argue that this is, to a certain extent, the result of their efficient transnational collaboration in designing a successful campaign strategy. Certainly, the advancements in communication technologies have made cross-party interactions easier, thus contributing to the acceleration of the far-right propaganda. But it is in the actors’ language, practices, and display that we can see how these echoes from the past reverberate in this new post-fascist right. For instance, when Giorgia Meloni appeared at a Vox rally in València during the campaign for the last Spanish elections in July 2023, she appealed to “the great bond uniting Fratelli d’Italia and Vox” and claimed that ‘the time of the patriots’ had come in Italy, Finland, Poland, and the Czech Republic. In my research, I see how Italian and Spanish right-wing actors have historically mimicked each other, therefore these expressions of patriotic unity against a threatening other, be it the red scare against Bolshevism in the 1920s or the LGBT+ “lobby” in 2023, are far from new. Needless to say, the current far-right use of the alleged universality of Christian values against the threat of “Islamic violence” also has deeper roots in the history of fascism and the far-right in Southern Europe, particularly in the colonial wars in Northern Africa. Their means might be new, but not their ideas and modus operandi.

Understanding how these political movements instrumentalise such anxieties to their advantage is of paramount importance, especially in locating the communicating vessels between discursive exaltation, political violence, and the institutionalisation of radical ideas and practices. In my work, I see how this process, which takes the shape of a build-up of forces by aggregating actors of various signs under a single political project, requires interaction with referential figures. What is central to answering your question is the interconnectedness between extreme right actors that eventually led to fascism in the interwar years and how similar transnational mechanisms seem to operate nowadays. The mobility of its actors was key to the fascist takeover one century ago, and it seems fundamental in today’s far-right electoral and cultural success. For our own sake, we can only hope it will not lead to the same result.

Last update: 18 March 2024

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