The Language of Authoritarian Internationalism

by David Brydan

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed a rapid increase in international cooperation between scientists, experts, intellectuals, activists and other groups. These developments were prompted both by improvements to travel and communication technologies, and by the belief that international cooperation was required to deal with the political and technical challenges posed by an increasingly interconnected world.

The language of ‘internationalism’ quickly became associated with liberal idealists, or with the emerging socialist and communist movements, envisaging either a world united by free trade and political liberty, or by working class solidarity. International cooperation, however, was not confined to liberals and socialists.

Many experts involved in international technical cooperation belonged to the authoritarian right. Radical nationalists and fascist movements aped their political opponents by promoting international cooperation between authoritarian movements and states. Mussolini’s Italy aimed to forge an international fascist movement under the umbrella of the CAUR (Comitati d’Azione per l’Universalita di Roma). Nazi Germany later took up a similar initiative, attempting to unite Axis and Axis-aligned states during the Second World War within the Anti-Comintern Pact and the ‘New Europe’.[1]

These efforts, however, faced a common problem: how to talk about international cooperation without adopting the language of liberal or socialist internationalism, particularly without recourse to the familiar internationalist language of peace, freedom, tolerance and equality?

During my own research into the international activities of doctors and medical scientists in Franco’s Spain, I found almost no cases of Francoist experts using the terms ‘internationalism’ or ‘internationalist’. This was due to the unacceptable political connotations of such terms, despite the fact that many of those experts worked with organisations such as the League of Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the WHO.

How, then, did Francoists talk about international cooperation? For Spain, during the early years of the Second World War, the ‘international’ primarily meant Nazi Germany and its allies within the ‘New Europe’.

Francoist scientists, intellectuals and politicians were involved in a wide range of events, networks and organisations convened by Nazi Germany, in fields ranging from health and youth politics, to literature and folk dancing. Many of these initiatives were labelled as ‘international’, such as the International Women’s Meeting held in 1942.[2] Other initiatives, perhaps more accurately, were described as ‘European’, as with the European Writers’ Union formed in the same year.[3] This reflected Nazi efforts to promote the war as a defence of a shared ‘European civilization’ against the threat of Bolshevism.

picture1
Leaders of the Wartime International Association Against Tuberculosis

Like their liberal counterparts, fascist internationalists justified the need for international cooperation on practical grounds. Speaking at the first meeting of the International Association Against Tuberculosis in 1941, Reich Health Minister Leonardo Conti argued that, because the increasing levels of cross-border movement caused by the war were helping to spread the disease, it ‘also has to be countered with international measures.’[4]

Though he admitted that ‘international cooperation is not easy’, he argued that the countries in attendance formed a ‘bloc with a unified destiny’ forged by their experience of the war.[5] His arguments were reflected in many of the other international events held under the auspices of the ‘New Europe’, whose participants were keen to distinguish themselves from pre-war ‘Anglo-American’ forms of internationalism.

Instead of the ineffective pre-war international cooperation which had undermined national sovereignty and national identity, they saw themselves as the founders of a new, more dynamic and modern form of cooperation between nationally-conscious individuals and groups, more aligned to the political realities of the ‘totalitarian’ era.[6]

picture2
El Instituto de Cultura Hispánica

This vision had lost much of its credibility long before the final Nazi defeat in 1945. After the war, Franco’s Spain was excluded from the newly-constructed UN system, and Francoists therefore had to search for new international networks and patterns of international cooperation. Many turned their attention towards Latin America, hoping to position Spain at the head of an informal community of nations bound by ties of Hispanidad, or what was often referred to as ‘Hispano-American brotherhood’. As with the ‘New Europe’, this vision rejected the theoretical universalism of liberal and socialist internationalism.

The outlook, ideology and discourse of the Franco regime rested heavily on its claim to represent Spain’s imperial past and lost ‘Golden Age’. The idea of Hispanidad thus represented an attempt to build modern structures of international cooperation rooted in a hierarchical imperial mythology. This model of neo-imperial internationalism, however, depended on vastly overoptimistic assumptions about the willingness of Latin American states to align themselves with Franco’s Spain.

It was Spain’s Catholic intellectuals and politicians who were most willing to engage with the post-war international system emerging around the UN. Some went so far as to participate in debates about post-war internationalism and human rights with their counterparts abroad, although they did not do so uncritically. The majority, however, saw liberal internationalism as both a pale imitation and a corruption of Catholic ‘universalism’.

As the Basque intellectual Carlos Santamaría argued, it was the world’s Catholics who were

picture3
Carlos Santamaría

‘best prepared for international collaboration’, and it was their duty not just to participate in the work of secular international organisations, but to unite within Catholic international bodies to provide a counterpoint to the materialism which dominated the modern world.[7]

Spanish Catholics thus built strong ties with international Catholic organisations and networks during Spain’s period of post-war diplomatic isolation, but struggled to reconcile the authoritarian clericalism of the Franco regime with the post-war Christian Democracy which came to dominate western Europe.

Yet even among Catholics there remained a sense that international cooperation was not a desirable goal in itself, but a necessary response to scientific developments and international ideological threats. The Chilean nurse, Veronica de la Fuente, told a gathering of Spanish Catholic nurses in 1950:

‘Evil is uniting to build its forces and to triumph. We live in the century of ‘Popular Fronts’, of Syndicates, Cooperativism, Leagues, Federations, etc. … In the face of this global spectacle, what do Christians do?… Beneath the standard of the faith and the flag of the ecclesiastical hierarchy we must unite in societies, groups, brotherhoods or whatever we wish to call them; but to band together, never alone nor dispersed, because that way we lose both time and strength.’[8]

It was this sense of global threat which underpinned the internationalism of mid-twentieth century nationalists, both in Spain and abroad. Cooperation between fascists and the authoritarian right was necessary precisely to counter the threat posed by the internationalism of their ideological enemies. Theirs was thus an ‘anti-’ internationalism: anti-communist, anti-liberal, and anti-cosmopolitan. The contradictions, tensions and linguistic contortions which surrounded such efforts reflected a fundamental ambivalence about the idea of international cooperation in and of itself.

David Brydan is a researcher at Birkbeck and a member of the Reluctant Internationalists project. He recently completed a PhD on the history of international health in Franco’s Spain. Find him on twitter at @davidbrydan.

References

[1] Arnd Bauerkämper, ‘Interwar Fascism in Europe and Beyond: Toward a Transnational Radical Right’, in Martin Durham and Margaret Power (eds.), New Perspectives on the Transnational Right (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 39-66.

[2] Elizabeth Harvey, ‘International Networks and Cross-Border Cooperation: National Socialist Women and the Vision of a ‘New Order’in Europe’, Politics, Religion & Ideology, 13 (2012), 141-58.

[3] Benjamin George Martin, ‘”European Literature” in the Nazi New Order: The Cultural Politics of the European Writer’s Union, 1942-3’, Journal of Contemporary History, 48 (2013), 486-508.

[4] ‘La fondazione dell’Associazione Internazionale contro la Tubercolosi’, Lotta Contro La Tubercuolosi , anno XIII, 3 (1942), 240-241.

[5] Ibid.

[6] David Brydan, ‘Axis Internationalism: Spanish Health Experts and the Nazi ‘New Europe’, 1939-1945′, Contemporary European History, 25 (2016), 291-311.

[7] Carlos Santamaría, ‘Notas para un dialogo’, Documentos: Conversaciones Católicas Internacionales, vol. 3 (1949), 90.

[8] Cuarta Asamblea de la Hermandad de Enfermeras y Asistencia Medico-Social “Salus Infirmorum” (Madrid: Publicaciones “Al Servicio de España y del Niño Español”, 1950), 29-30.

Full Image Attributions

Image 1: ‘La fondazione dell’Associazione Internazionale contro la Tubercolosi’, Lotta Contro La Tubercuolosi , anno XIII, 3 (1942), 238.

Image 2: El Instituto de Cultura Hispánica: Al Servicio de Iberoamerica (Madrid: Instituto de Cultura Hispanica, 1953)

Image 3: Archives of the Asociación Católica de Propagandistas

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