Global Fascisms in the 1930s and 1940s

by Davit Gasparyan and Alison Spencer

On April 2, IES, GHI-West, and the Department of History welcomed Professor Sven Reichardt (University of Konstanz, Germany) for a lecture entitled “Fascism’s Global Moments: New Perspectives on Entanglements and Tensions between Fascist Regimes in the 1930s and 1940s.” Drawing on historical works, Reichardt’s talk examined the global character of fascism through three different lenses, focusing on global moments of fascism, brokerage between major and minor fascisms, and collaboration between fascist empires.

Currently at work on a book on the global history of fascism, Reichardt began by noting that recent research on fascism has focused on its imperial shape. Germany, Italy, and Japan challenged the international world order with their radicalized logic of imperial warfare. He highlighted Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, the Abyssinian War from 1935-1937, the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939, the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, and Germany’s attempts to conquer the hinterland in the same period. As these powers fought similar wars in the late 1930s, they learned from each other, exchanging military and academic expertise through an informal network of study trips and working groups that existed alongside formal contracts and alliances. Their transfers of ideas and entangled political practices altered the world order of the 1930s and 40s.

Focusing on brokerage, Reichardt then discussed the brutal power politics of Hitler’s treatment of smaller fascisms in Eastern Europe, and his preferential treatment of right-wing authoritarians such as Romania’s Antonescu. Lastly, Reichardt discussed the entanglement of fascist powers. Throughout the period, Nazi Germany was seeking to conquer surrounding areas and annihilate their populations in a quest for living space. Germany’s motives became more concrete following a study of Italian and Japanese colonial cities, particularly after Mussolini announced the Italian settlement program in 1938. In addition, the speed of the Japanese settlement in Manchukuo impressed the Nazis. Reichardt noted that these mediation processes are hard to reconstruct, as they involved fragile and fluid intermediary bodies outside of traditional diplomatic channels. Reichardt concluded with the idea that many of these similarities between regimes are only seen in retrospect, and called for greater exploration of reciprocal relations, as they have been insufficiently explored compared to classical comparative fascist studies.

The lively Q&A with the audience of 35 started off with the interesting question of how to reconcile the Nazi ideology of stratification and the act of learning from the “non-Aryan,” Japanese regime. Reichardt answered by separating ideology from pragmatic solutions to policies, noting however that a quantitative assessment to the entanglement of fascist regimes is difficult since the phenomenon was multifaceted and complex. To the question of using the term “global” instead of “international” when referring to fascist regimes, Reichardt noted that “global” implied the empire-aspect of such regimes and it was not simply about nation-states.