Observing political and economic discourse in North America since the 1970s leads to an inescapable conclusion: The vast bulk of legislative activity favours 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."
... 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. ... This was an era eerily like our own, insofar as economists and businessmen constantly clamoured 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 labour by making strikes illegal. Notwithstanding the socialist terms in which he appealed to the masses, Hitler's labour 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.
The same economic reality existed in Italy between the two world wars. In that country, nearly all industrial activity was owned or controlled by a few corporate giants, Fiat and the Ansaldo shipping concern being the chief examples ... As a young man, Mussolini had been a strident socialist, and he, like Hitler, used socialist language to lure the people to fascism. Mussolini spoke of a "corporate" society wherein the energy of the people would not be wasted on class struggle. The entire economy was to be divided into industry specific corporazioni, bodies composed of both labour and management representatives. The corporazioni would resolve all labour/management disputes; if they failed to do so, the fascist state would intervene.
Unfortunately, as in Germany, there laid at the heart of this plan a swindle. The corporazioni, to the extent that they were actually put in place, were controlled by the employers. Together with Mussolini's ban on strikes, these measures reduced the Italian labourer to the status of peasant.
Mussolini, the one-time socialist, went on to abolish the inheritance tax, a measure that favoured the wealthy. He decreed a series of massive subsidies to Italy's largest industrial businesses and repeatedly ordered wage reductions. Italy's poor were forced to subsidize the wealthy. In real terms, wages and living standards for the average Italian dropped precipitously under fascism.
Even this brief historical sketch shows how fascism did the bidding of big business. The fact that Hitler called his party the "National Socialist Party" did not change the reactionary nature of his policies. The connection between the fascist dictatorships and monopoly capital was obvious to the U.S. Department of Justice in 1939. As of 2005, however, it is all but forgotten.
It might be argued that North America's democratic political systems are so entrenched that we needn't fear fascism's return. The democracies of Italy and Germany in the 1920s were in many respects fledgling and weak. Our systems will surely react at the first whiff of dictatorship.
Or will they? This argument denies the reality that the fascist dictatorships were preceded by years of reactionary politics, the kind of politics that are playing out today. Further, it is based on the conceit that whatever our own governments do is democracy. ... In the U.S., millions still question the legality of the sitting president's first election victory, and the power to declare war has effectively become his personal prerogative. Assuming that we have enough democracy to protect us is exactly the kind of complacency that allows our systems to be quietly and slowly perverted. On paper, Italy and Germany had constitutional, democratic systems. What they lacked was the eternal vigilance necessary to sustain them. That vigilance is also lacking today.
And from Bill Wheeler, in an e-mail to me:
The first of the Dixiecrats to leave the Democratic Party in 1948 took place when the Democrats would not remove a plank in the platform calling for an integrated military. Jesse Helms formed the Dixiecrat Party and ran for President that year. He later moved on to the Republican Party who accepted him and all others of his ilk with open arms.
In the South they were called the ‘yellow dog’ Democrats because it was said that if they ran an old yellow dog against any Republican, they would still vote for the dog. Now they’re Republicans. Mostly made up of neo-Nazi, KKK, white supremacists, paramilitary and conservative religious fanatics, they joined the far right conservative, John Birch Sociey wing of the Republican Party. Their movement grew slowly in the fifties, gained speed in the 60’s and 70’s. At best, they could be described as social conservatives or, in my view, social misfits.
They became the ‘swing vote’ that started changing the face of Congress and the national political scene. This is when the likes of Trent Lott and Phil Gramm went ‘over’. The old conservative social Democrats would accept the traditional Republican adherence to Big Business; in return, the Republicans would accept them as the petty bourgeoisie with their social hatreds.
I explain this political movement not as a long journey from the politically extreme left to the extreme right; but as one short step. How? The political dichotomies, in my view, form a continuum not along a straight line left and right but rather as a clock face, where moderates or centrists are located at 6:00 and the extreme right and left wings converge at 12:00. With this in mind, it is easy to see that it is but a small step from totalitarian left to totalitarian right. There is not much difference in these extremes except their social standings.
Leon Trotsky called both of these enigmas of mankind ‘fascist’. The right wing corporate conservative unites with the petty bourgeoisie left wing social (usually religious) conservatives. He called left wingers “social democrats” and “social fascists”.
Once the petty bourgeoisie were compelled to change course, they were employed to fight the street battles, to get bloody, and take the risks. This is just what the Republican Party needed, an Army – not in this case to fight a war but to win the battle at the polls.
“the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role -- but it means first of all for the most part that the workers' organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism....”
Trotsky further wrote:
“After fascism is victorious, finance capital directly and immediately gathers into its hands, as in a vise of steel, all the organs and institutions of sovereignty, the executive administrative, and educational powers of the state: the entire state apparatus together with the army, the municipalities, the universities, the schools, the press, the trade unions, and the co-operatives.”
“And the fascist agency, by utilizing the petty bourgeoisie as a battering ram, by overwhelming all obstacles in its path, does a thorough job. After fascism is victorious, finance capital directly and immediately gathers into its hands, as in a vise of steel, all the organs and institutions of sovereignty, the executive, administrative, and educational powers of the state: the entire state apparatus together with the army, the municipalities, the universities, the schools, the press, the trade unions, and the co-operatives. When a state turns fascist, it does not mean only that the forms and methods of government are changed."