Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Benito Mussolini and the Corporate State, some insights beyond the throw away phrase

The usual insights consist of Fascism defined as the intersection of state and corporate power, with not  lot  else being added. What the constant repetition of the slogan misses are the ideological justifications that Mussolini gave for selling out the working class. The justifications Mussolini used can tell us a lot about what's going on today.

I spent some hours today reading a book called "The Corporate State", consisting of speeches by Mussolini  as well as excerpts from the Fascist legal code dealing with the Corporate State. The book was issued during Mussolini's reign by an Italian publishing house as an official publication. I found it while sitting in a local University Library. I mean, I've spent days reading large sections of Joseph Stalin's collected works in order to get a better perspective on  what was going on during his rise to power, so why not go to the primary sources on Mussolini?

What comes through his speeches, propaganda, and codes is the idea that business people constitute  a national, vital, productive bourgeois force whose energy is capable of leading Italy to a more industrially advanced future full of national glory. The business people are looked at as being Nietzschean Overmen as well as true patriots in sympathy with basic Italian values and the Italian national interest. When they're directly talked about, they're framed as people who have endured a kill or be killed world, albeit in the realm of business, and have proven their strength through rising to the top. The struggle of the fittest theme is linked to a kind of inverse syndicalism. Mussolini seems to think that a nationwide alliance of business-labor partnerships that are organized from the top down can lead to a brighter world, where productive businessmen and workers will work hand in hand in the spirit of the artisan and merchant guilds. The productive businessmen lead, the workers they employ will work hard, and everyone will sing the praises of national virtues and prosper. Everyone would be united by a desire to do good for their profession, business, and country, with the understanding that their business is helping to improve the productive forces of the Nation. No doubt, there are quite a lot of Tea Party folks who would agree with this.

I mean, isn't the entrepreneurial spirit what Mussolini is talking about? There have been have lots and lots of books that promote the idea of business being like war, about how business people need to study military theory in order to become better executives. Entrepreneurial spirit and survival of the fittest coexist within that particular ideology. Isn't the ideal of management-labor cooperation always on the table as well? Then there's the type of 'party spirit' that goes on in corporations, especially in the white collar sections, where people are arranged in a hierarchical fashion under a Leader and are inspired to work as a harmonious whole for a common purpose,  a common vision, and a common goal. The idea of a leader who struggles to the top, who then commands the obedience of the masses of men towards a common goal advancing  the best interests of the country is a theme that could be taken both from many books on business, from business biographies, and from mainstream Republican ideology.

On top of that there are also assurances throughout Mussolini's speeches, over and over, that he does not want the State to take over business, because that would interfere with the free vital force generated by its leaders. Instead,  the role of the State was to function as a subsidiary force directing the institutionalized business-labor partnerships when necessary and making sure that the whole economy was oriented towards the National interest. Contracts and other labor issues would be handled internally, and the State would only step in when the internal negotiations broke down. In fact, not only is there support for a hands off attitude on the part of the State in Mussolini's speeches, but one part of the Fascist code of Corporations explicitly states that "Property is the completion of the human personality". Surely, the Tea Party would agree with that sentiment.

This hand's off attitude is emphasized even while the State is declared to be totalitarian. It's not that the State couldn't do anything about the power of business—of course they could—but that they choose not to because they feel that society would be better with the State not as involved in the control of economic activity as it was in the Soviet Union and other countries. Roosevelt's New Deal is cited as being too bureaucratic and implementing too much State control.

And so the businessmen in Mussolini's scheme replace the proletariat as the economic motor of history.
Enthusiastic workers, of course can jump ship to the other side, and rise to the top, proving themselves in the struggle for survival, thereby getting permission to become motors of history themselves, while the toasting with champagne goes on.

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