"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."
-- Benito Mussolini.
The early twentieth century Italians, who invented the word fascism, also had a more descriptive term for the concept -- estato corporativo: the corporatist state. Unfortunately for Americans, we have come to equate fascism with its symptoms, not with its structure. The structure of fascism is corporatism, or the corporate state. The structure of fascism is the union, marriage, merger or fusion of corporate economic power with governmental power. Failing to understand fascism, as the consolidation of corporate economic and governmental power in the hands of a few, is to completely misunderstand what fascism is. It is the consolidation of this power that produces the demagogues and regimes we understand as fascist ones.
While we Americans have been trained to keenly identify the opposite of fascism, i.e., government intrusion into and usurpation of private enterprise, we have not been trained to identify the usurpation of government by private enterprise. Our European cousins, on the other hand, having lived with Fascism in several European countries during the last century, know it when they see it, and looking over here, they are ringing the alarm bells. We need to learn how to recognize Fascism now.
Dr. Lawrence Britt has written an excellent article entitled “The 14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism.” An Internet search of the number 14 coupled with the word fascism will produce the original article as well as many annotations on each of the 14 characteristics of fascism that he describes. His article is a must read to help get a handle on the symptoms that corporatism produces.
But even Britt’s excellent article misses the importance of Mussolini’s point. The concept of corporatism is number nine on Britt’s list and unfortunately titled: “Corporate Power is Protected.” In the view of Mussolini, the concept of corporatism should have been number one on the list and should have been more aptly titled the “Merger of Corporate Power and State Power.” Even Britt failed to see the merger of corporate and state power as the primary cause of most of these other characteristics. It is only when one begins to view fascism as the merger of corporate power and state power that it is easy to see how most of the other thirteen characteristics Britt describes are produced. Seen this way, these other characteristics no longer become disjointed abstractions. Cause and effect is evident.
For example, number two on Britt’s list is titled: “Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights.” Individual rights and corporate rights, at the very least conflict, and often are in downright opposition to one another. In the court system, often individuals must sue corporations. In America, in order to protect corporations, we have seen a steady stream of rules, decisions and laws to protect corporations and to limit the rights of the individual by lawsuit and other redress. These rules, decisions, and laws have always been justified on the basis of the need for corporations to have profit in order to exist.
Number three on Britt’s list is the identification of scapegoats or enemies as a unifying cause. Often the government itself becomes the scapegoat when the government is the regulator of the corporations. Often it is lawyers or administrators who take on the corporations. Often it is liberals who champion the rights of individuals, or terrorists who might threaten state stability or corporate profit. Any or all may become scapegoats for the state’s problems because they pose problems for corporations.
Other notable characteristics of fascism described by Britt which are directly produced by corporatism are:
* The suppression of organized labor (organized labor is the bane of corporations and the only real check on corporate power other than government or the legal system);
* Supremacy of the military (it is necessary to produce and protect corporate profits abroad and threats from abroad);
* Cronyism and governmental corruption (it is very beneficial to have ex-corporate employees run the agencies or make the laws that are supposed to regulate or check corporations);
* Fraudulent elections (especially those where corporations run the machinery of elections and count the votes or where judges decide their outcomes);
* Nationalism (disdain for other countries that might promote individual rights);
* Obsession with national security (anti-corporatists are a security risk to the corporate status quo);
* Control of the media (propaganda works);
* Obsession with crime and punishment (anti-corporatists belong in jail); and
* Disdain for intellectuals and the arts (these people see corporatism for what it is and are highly individualistic).
All of these characteristics have a fairly obvious corporate component to them or produce a fairly obvious corporate benefit. Even Britt’s last two characteristics, the merger of state with the dominant religion and rampant suppression of divorce, abortion and homosexuality produce at least some indirect corporate benefit.
In sum, it’s the corporate state, stupid.
As I have pondered what could be done about America’s steady march toward the fascist state, I also have pondered what can be done internally to stop it. The Germans couldn’t seem to do it. The Italians couldn’t seem to do it. The only lesson from recent history where an indigenous people seemed to have uncoupled the merger of economic power with governmental power is the French Revolution. The soft underbelly of consolidated economic power is that the power resides in the hands of a few. Cut off the money supply of the few and the merger between economic power and government becomes unglued. The French systematically took out their aristocracy one by one. It was ugly; the French couldn’t seem to figure out when there had been enough bloodletting to solve the problem.
The thought of an American twenty-first century French Revolution is ugly. But the thought of an American twenty-first century fascist state is far uglier. It would be a supreme irony that the state most responsible for stopping worldwide fascism would become fascist 60 years later. But far worse than this irony is the reality that an American fascist state with America’s power could make Nazi Germany look like a tiny blip on the radar screen of history.
For some years now we have lived with the Faustian bargain of the corporation. Large corporations are necessary to achieve those governmental and social necessities that small enterprises are incapable of providing. The checks on corporate power have always been fragile. Left unchecked, the huge economic power of corporations corrupts absolutely. Most of the checks are badly eroded. Is there still time to get the checks back in balance? Or will we be left with two unthinkable options?
David G. Mills is an attorney who lives in Memphis, TN.
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