Fascism is a very definitive political creed and not without modest pre-war success. Political essayists rarely try and post-rationalise this political dogma by interpreting what it actually was. Formed and practised for twenty years in pre-war Italy by Benito Mussolini it is worth a constructive assessment.
Why did it come about?
Mussolini started his political life as a socialist, indeed the editor of a popular socialist newspaper ‘Avanti!’ It followed the usual Marxist/Socialist ideology, pacifist, internationalist, anti-bourgeoisie and anti-capitalist. It was not incidentally anti-Semitic. Mussolini came to the conclusion, probably rightly that the inherent nationalism that lurks in most breasts was a stronger emotional driving force than class hatred. Foreigners are easier to hate than the bourgeois neighbour down the road.
The Italian entry into Great War focussed on this difference and patriotic Italians flocked to the colours and died in huge numbers on the Isonso River and at the battle of Caporetto. The controlled successful retreat to the Piave with British military help led to the restoration of national pride. Mussolini himself fought and suffered wounds in these campaigns. It was these experiences which formed him as a national leader and cemented his belief in a new political system. Fascism, the name being a derivation of fasces, the ancient Roman symbol of power a bundle of sticks.
How did it take hold?
Italy then, as now, is not an easy country to govern. The industrial revolution had largely passed it by, the South is rural and the concept of a single nation was both new and weak. In short in the early 1920s ripe for strong leadership and change. Fascism, as conceived by Mussolini, rejected pacifism, internationalism and class warfare. It was also intellectually hostile to capitalism, democracy and the church. In pre-war, Italy the Catholic Church enjoyed a vicelike grip on the Italian peasantry. Fascism therefore like socialism and communism abhor a competitor in the hearts and minds of the populace. Distrust of capitalism is something else that needs pragmatism, without the support of big business a modern state cannot develop into a world power, it needs industrialism. Better harnessed than confronted.
This industrialism needs order and law, in fact, firm leadership at the cost of individual or group freedom.
The corporate state manifested itself, the unholy alliance between politicians and big business.
Paradoxically fascism was embraced by Italian trade unionists an inherently valuable force in revolutions. They were capable of focused violence and ideologically suggestible in times of recession.
Whilst the socialist or communist system demanded ownership of the method of production, fascism needed control. This generally gives an improvement in efficiency as it allows flexibility, albeit not the total flexibility of laissez-faire capitalism. Much of these Italian developments of the mid-1920s were repeated in 1930s Germany where the political system was labelled National Socialism. The great industrial names of the Thirties prosper still.
National Socialist leader Adolf Hitler had personal Great War and post-war experiences not dissimilar to Mussolini and formed similar political conclusions born of a sense of national betrayal.
How does it work?
Political systems need funding. This is very difficult when an economy is at a low ebb and money is scarce. But revolution can only thrive out of desperation. As in Germany, a resurrected style of economics came about, it is with us today. It involves printing money and issuing bonds of which there is no possibility or indeed the intention of redemption. The concept was not new, it was first used by John Law in 1720 to create the great French-sponsored Mississippi Bubble, exchanging bonds for printed money. This depends on confidence and trust it works until the scam runs out of buyers, which is inevitable.
The state central bank buys them or gullible investors who either buy in specie or with bank deposits. Other famous disasters include The Black Tulip and South Sea bubbles.
The system expands the public sector which ensures temporary high employment. But as with socialism or communism, no significant wealth is created. There can, therefore, be no permanent improvement in living standards for ordinary people.
Fascism is alive and well
It is difficult to see if this trap can ever be avoided in an industrial democracy. Hans Hoppe in his book The Death of the God Democracy believes it can’t. That in an era of corporate and social welfare dependent democracies and indiscriminate universal enfranchisement the state must spend and borrow itself into eventual oblivion.
The tipping point must be when there are just not enough people creating wealth to pay for the insatiable number of those consuming it. This is as much a problem for the United States as Europe. The corporatist state is with us now, it reflects in public and private sector borrowing in amounts that are beyond human understanding, it grows exponentially. Once the roller coaster ride has started it is almost impossible to stop. Recipients of social or corporate welfare cannot ever be expected to change the system electorally to their disadvantage. Moreover the idea of the State taking responsibility from cradle to grave is attractive to significant sections of the electorate, socialism and fascism are a form of political comfort eating on which the bureaucracy grow fat and the electorate apathetic.
Washington and Brussels are awash with lobbyists who have replaced elected representatives. Enforcement agencies abound, Enabling Acts circumvent the law, big business is controlled by government via these agencies. In exchange for heavy regulation the bar is kept high for new entrants, Big Pharma, banks and landowning are part of this Faustian pact as are establishment sponsored charities.
Only where democracy is both direct, powerful and sponsored by the individual do ordinary people prosper.