19 February 2013

Fascism is not corporatism

One sees this supposed quote from Benito Mussolini around the internet:

Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.

When it crops up it is frustratingly misleading about the nature of fascism. The term “fascism” is notoriously difficult to define and commonly abused as a mere synonym for totalitarianism when it is better understood as a more specific phenomenon with its own distinctive qualities. (Indeed, in their early stages even the unmistakably fascist movements of the Nazis and Mussolini's Italian Fascists did not admit to a totalitarian agenda.)

I was recently inspired to do a little digging and discovered that the Skeptical Libertarian discovered that Mussolini didn't even say it, and that the faux quote is misleading about the relationship between the state and the economy under Mussolini's fascism.

Il Duce himself makes clear they are quite separate concepts, with corporatism being a necessary feature of a fascist state. But more seriously, Ruppert thinks “corporations” mean modern limited liability companies (what we today mean by corporations), and that these business entities “merge” with or take over the state and use it for their own benefit.

This is just plain wrong, and it demonstrates why this quote is not just false but misleading. “Corporations” were not individual businesses. Under fascist corporatism, sectors of the economy were divided into corporate groups, whose activities and interactions were managed and coordinated by the government. The idea was to split the difference between socialism and laissez faire capitalism, letting the state control and direct the economy from the top-down without itself owning the means of production.


Economic fascism was direct state control and planning of the economy, not subsidies or special favors dished out by politicians in a democracy to businesses in an otherwise free market, which is what people in the United States mean by corporatism today. Fascism was not a business takeover of government but rather the opposite ....

Update: Corey Robin looks at this in his post Three Theses (not really: more like two graphs and a link) on Nazism and Capitalism which features this striking quote from Germà Bell in The Economic History Review:

In the mid-1930s, the Nazi regime transferred public ownership to the private sector. In doing so, they went against the mainstream trends in western capitalistic countries, none of which systematically reprivatized firms during the 1930s.

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