(Courtesy of Bill at Thoughts on the Eve of the Apocalypse)
Fascism Then. Fascism Now? When people think of fascism, they imagine Rows of goose-stepping storm troopers and puffy-chested dictators. What they don't see is the economic and political process that leads to the nightmare.
by Paul Bigioni
Toronto Star; Common Dreams
Observing political and economic discourse in North America since the 1970s leads to an inescapable conclusion: The vast bulk of legislative activity favors the interests of large commercial enterprises. Big business is very well off, and successive Canadian and U.S. governments, of whatever political stripe, have made this their primary objective for at least the past 25 years.
Digging deeper into 20th century history, one finds the exaltation of big business at the expense of the citizen was a central characteristic of government policy in Germany and Italy in the years before those countries were chewed to bits and spat out by fascism. Fascist dictatorships were borne to power in each of these countries by big business, and they served the interests of big business with remarkable ferocity.
These facts have been lost to the popular consciousness in North America. Fascism could therefore return to us, and we will not even recognize it. Indeed, Huey Long, one of America's most brilliant and most corrupt politicians, was once asked if America would ever see fascism. "Yes," he replied, "but we will call it anti-fascism."
By exploring the disturbing parallels between our own time and the era of overt fascism, we can avoid the same hideous mistakes. At present, we live in a constitutional democracy. The tools necessary to protect us from fascism remain in the hands of the citizen. All the same, North America is on a fascist trajectory. We must recognize this threat for what it is, and we must change course.
Consider the words of Thurman Arnold, head of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1939:
"Germany, of course, has developed within 15 years from an industrial autocracy into a dictatorship. Most people are under the impression that the power of Hitler was the result of his demagogic blandishments and appeals to the mob... Actually, Hitler holds his power through the final and inevitable development of the uncontrolled tendency to combine in restraint of trade."
Arnold made his point even more clearly in a 1939 address to the American Bar Association:
"Germany presents the logical end of the process of cartelization. From 1923 to 1935, cartelization grew in Germany until finally that nation was so organized that everyone had to belong either to a squad, a regiment or a brigade in order to survive. The names given to these squads, regiments or brigades were cartels, trade associations, unions and trusts. Such a distribution system could not adjust its prices. It needed a general with quasi-military authority who could order the workers to work and the mills to produce. Hitler named himself that general. Had it not been Hitler it would have been someone else."
I suspect that to most readers, Arnold's words are bewildering. People today are quite certain that they know what fascism is. When I ask people to define it, they typically tell me what it was, the assumption being that it no longer exists. Most people associate fascism with concentration camps and rows of storm troopers, yet they know nothing of the political and economic processes that led to these horrible end results.
Before the rise of fascism, Germany and Italy were, on paper, liberal democracies. Fascism did not swoop down on these nations as if from another planet. To the contrary, fascist dictatorship was the result of political and economic changes these nations underwent while they were still democratic. In both these countries, economic power became so utterly concentrated that the bulk of all economic activity fell under the control of a handful of men. Economic power, when sufficiently vast, becomes by its very nature political power. The political power of big business supported fascism in Italy and Germany.
Business tightened its grip on the state in both Italy and Germany by means of intricate webs of cartels and business associations. These associations exercised a high degree of control over the businesses of their members. They frequently controlled pricing, supply and the licensing of patented technology. These associations were private but were entirely legal. Neither Germany nor Italy had effective antitrust laws, and the proliferation of business associations was generally encouraged by government.
This was an era eerily like our own, insofar as economists and businessmen constantly clamored for self-regulation in business. By the mid 1920s, however, self-regulation had become self-imposed regimentation. By means of monopoly and cartel, the businessmen had wrought for themselves a "command and control" economy that replaced the free market. The business associations of Italy and Germany at this time are perhaps history's most perfect illustration of Adam Smith's famous dictum: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."
How could the German government not be influenced by Fritz Thyssen, the man who controlled most of Germany's coal production? How could it ignore the demands of the great I.G. Farben industrial trust, controlling as it did most of that nation's chemical production? Indeed, the German nation was bent to the will of these powerful industrial interests. Hitler attended to the reduction of taxes applicable to large businesses while simultaneously increasing the same taxes as they related to small business. Previous decrees establishing price ceilings were repealed such that the cost of living for the average family was increased. Hitler's economic policies hastened the destruction of Germany's middle class by decimating small business.
Ironically, Hitler pandered to the middle class, and they provided some of his most enthusiastically violent supporters. The fact that he did this while simultaneously destroying them was a terrible achievement of Nazi propaganda.
Hitler also destroyed organized labor by making strikes illegal. Notwithstanding the socialist terms in which he appealed to the masses, Hitler's labor policy was the dream come true of the industrial cartels that supported him. Nazi law gave total control over wages and working conditions to the employer.
Compulsory (slave) labor was the crowning achievement of Nazi labor relations. Along with millions of people, organized labor died in the concentration camps. The camps were not only the most depraved of all human achievements, they were a part and parcel of Nazi economic policy. Hitler's Untermenschen, largely Jews, Poles and Russians, supplied slave labor to German industry. Surely this was a capitalist bonanza. In another bitter irony, the gates over many of the camps bore a sign that read Arbeit Macht Frei — "Work shall set you free." I do not know if this was black humour or propaganda, but it is emblematic of the deception that lies at the heart of fascism.
The same economic reality existed
Link to Read the Rest of the Essay