Editor’s Note: This is PART I of a TWO-PART series that looks at fascist economics in the age of Donald Trump. To read PART II, please click here.
The American Declaration of Independence begins famously:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” [My bold]
The rights to life, liberty, and happiness are the bedrock of the American national consciousness and its political institutions. They are fundamental, a priori, and therefore restrain governments that wish to become “more perfect” from abrogating them. The promise of the Constitution is to:
“…form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” [My bold]
Regardless of the relative success of the American people and their government to realize this vision, these first principles continue to offer a myth of American exceptionalism that claims that, “It can’t happen here.” One “it” is a fascism that now arrives with the shocking advent of the presidency of Donald Trump. Trump’s cadre of Christian Fundamentalist, White Supremacist, and gun toting “law and order” jingoists now frighten the bejeebers out of folks who anticipate a potentially irreversible erosion of cherished fundamental rights, and the chaos, acrimony, injustice, social deterioration that is feared to follow.
As Sinclair Lewis notably predicted, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” Lewis’s penchant for prophecy is routine among the left media and intelligentsia, like Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, and Slavoj Zizek; along with a fondness for historical and ideological comparison. This forms part of a critique wishing to understand intersections between fascism and American Neo-conservatism, Christian Fundamentalist racism, xenophobia, militarism, and Neo-liberal capitalism. Some commentators employ Lawrence Britt’s famous “Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism” as a blueprint for speculation. We will grant that Britt’s model includes all of the necessary ideological and operational components of a fascist state. We do this to focus upon a new symbiotic relationship between capitalism and the impending American “Neo-fascist” state. It wishes to elaborate specifically Britt’s reference to fascist governance that protects business interests while suppressing labor. It does so by explaining how operational adaptations of capital and the state can benefit Trump’s newly minted Neo-fascism, thereby offering comparisons to historical fascism that can inform socialist resistance. We shall use the term “historical fascism” to refer to its two notorious representatives, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, and their structural bases explained in Mussolini’s 1932 Doctrine of Fascism.
The Practice of Historical Fascism
Mussolini offered Italians a “Third Way,” and alternative to the twin evils of communism and capitalist. Italian fascism decried Marx’s theory of class warfare as a restorative economic and historical process: “… above all Fascism denies that class war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society.” [My Italics] Hence, the rejuvenating ideology of historical fascism, fully developed in response to Great Depression, placed all national production under the authoritarian control of the state. Economic sectors, business enterprises, and workers were organized under the controlling state superstructure into “corporations” intended to rationally muster and coordinate a collective force that would satisfy the needs of the state. Thus, unwelcome class warfare would be contained within corporations that would “harmonize” the combatants, and thereby ultimately satisfy the needs of the authoritarian state.
Mussolini and Italian Fascism obtained part of their ideological roots in Italian Futurism. Futurism was an anti-establishment revolutionary worldview that glorified nationalism, violence, and chaos. Fascism distained international economic agreements that would constrain state control of the economy. War, praised as “the world’s only hygiene,” facilitated the industrialist’s need for new capital and natural resources. Futurism’s Social Darwinism was manifest in fascism’s heedless and dynamic “War of the Jungle” attitude toward the civil rights of life, liberty and happiness. The state, aka Mussolini, controlled those civil legal. The nation’s economy became the state’s enablement of an unfettered capitalism that profits from the privately owned means of production, while it harmonizes that economy by marginalizing labor activism within corporations.
One form of that harmonizing involved financial incentives for the wealthy and an increasing tax burden on the middle class and poor. In 1936, Historian Gaetano Salvemini argued taxpayers should be responsible to private enterprise, because “the State pays for the blunders of private enterprise…. Profit is private and individual. Loss is public and social.” If an American company needs to move its workforce to India to improve its rate of profit, then business finance experts might view that situation as a business risk. Middle class and poor taxpayers will pay the ultimate cost, either by actual job loss or by a government bailout (as is the case with Trump’s “deal” with Carrier). Time will reveal if Trump continues to strike deals with business that working-class taxpayers will eventually fund.
In Germany, fascism followed Mussolini’s model. Hitler accommodated industrialists by allowing them to reap profit from the continuing functioning of capital while removing the disturbing threat of worker agitation. However, Hitler’s deal with industrialists placed enterprises and workers under the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF) within organizations (read “corporations”) that managed workers’ issues with capital. Organizations like the civil and military engineering “Organisation Todt” served the state, and the DAF controlled workers. The state also controlled, through Organization Todt, the millions of slave laborers provided a virtually unlimited source of labor capital to Germany during the War.
Mussolini’s fascism instituted an operational structure that isolated a superfluous class struggle within corporations, and within a larger program that ultimately benefitted the dictatorial state and its narcissistic Duce. Nazism similarly placed the “Fuhrer” in direct control of all sectors of the economy and purged organizations of socialists and communists; thus removing any possibility for an organized and continuing class struggle.
In Part II, we turn to America’s Neo-fascism.