Posts Tagged ‘Sheldon Wolin’

Spamfish on Modern American ‘Inverted Totalitarianism’

August 3, 2013

There’s a very interesting piece of political philosophy over at Spamfish’s site, Oprichnik Rising. Entitled ‘Inverted Totalitarianism’, it discusses the political philosopher, Sheldon Wolin’s, characterisation of modern American as an ‘illiberal democracy’, managed through policies and special lobbying groups, with the relationship between the government and corporations forming an inverted, mirror image to those of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. It begins

Inverted totalitarianism is a term coined by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin to describe the emerging form of government of the United States. Wolin believes that the United States is increasingly turning into an illiberal democracy, and he uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” to illustrate the similarities and differences between the United States governmental system and totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.[

Inverted totalitarianism and managed democracy

Wolin believes that the United States (which he refers to using the proper noun “Superpower”, to emphasize the current position of the United States as the only superpower) has been increasingly taking on totalitarian tendencies as a result of the transformations that it underwent during the military mobilization required to fight the Axis powers, and during the subsequent campaign to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War

Spamfish’s article is at http://spamfish23.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/inverted-totalitarianism/.

It’s well worth reading and I think Wolin’s central idea is largely correct. My only criticism is that in many ways the parallels between the Nazi ‘co-ordination’ of industry and the contemporary influence of private industry on government policy and organisation is actually much closer. Others on the Left have described the modern, Conservative co-option of industrialist and big corporations as ‘Corporativism without the working class’. In Fascist Italy, a corporation was a giant industrial organisation formed to represent the interest of that industry in the Fascist state. There were 12 of these corporations, whose representatives sat in an Industrial Chamber as part of new, Fascist Italian parliament. Each Corporation contained a representative from the unions and the employers’ organisation for that industry, as well as a member of the Fascist party, to represent ‘the people’. In Nazi Germany the middle class organisations, such as the guild and handicraft organisation, which had been campaigning for the greater representation of their interests in the Nazi state, were forcibly incorporated into the Reich Corporation of German Handicraft and the Reich Corporation of German Trade. These formed a kind of compulsory cartel under the leadership of the Nazi party.

There were also short-lived attempts to establish the same kind of corporativist structurre in Nazi German. Attempts to reorganise and align German big business in line with Nazi ideology and policy was countered by the leaders of those industries through their close relationship with Hitler himself, and the support other leading Nazis such as Schacht, Hugenberg, Schmitt and Goring. Following a meeting with fifty leading industrials and bank directors, including Krupp, Thyssen, von Siemens, Stinnes, springorum, Bosch, Vogler and von Stauss, and the heads of the state departments for economic policy and Nazi’s own economic policy advisors, an agreement was made to establish a permanent General Council of the Economy. Heavy industry had a very strong presence in this. Some German industrial leaders were already strongly sympathetic to the Nazis and a corporatist reorganisation of the industrial and social structure. Fritz Thyssen had had contact with Hitler since 1923 and supplied financial support to the Nazis. In collaboration with the advocates of the corporatist state in the NSDAP regional staff, he had set up Institute for Corporatist Organisation in Dusseldorf. Despite this, the party soon rejected such corporativist organisations, and Thyssen’s Institute was forcibly dissolved in 1935. In 1934 the Reich Association of Industry was replaced with the Reich Group Industry. Its leaders and those of the other business associations and chambers were appointed by the state.

The Influence of Private Industry on the Nazi Industrial Organisations

Other Nazi economic organisations were founded as private industries. The Economic Research Association, which was branch of the Reich ministry of Economics, was established in 1934 as private limited company. This was particularly concerned with the construction of fuel depots in strategically important areas. This, and similar departments, were largely untouched by the demands of the state bureaucracy The Nazi state did not attack the principle of private capitalist industry. The state economic planning apparatus curtailed company director’s freedom to manage their own firms, nevertheless the Nazi state tried to operate with the minimum of bureaucracy. In so doing, it allowed the state’s organs of administration and control to be strongly influenced by experts and representatives of private industry. The result of this was, according to historian Martin Broszat, a type of economic leader, who was half state official, and half private businessman.

Nazi Economic Organisation Close to Thatcherite and Reaganite ‘Public-Private Partnerships and PFI

This seems to challenge Wolin’s theory somewhat. Both the Fascist and Nazi states certainly attempted to use the state’s corporativist institutions to control private industry. The above examples from the Nazi regime also shows how private industry attempted to influence Nazi policy, which was frequently carried out through state organisations founded as private companies. The parallels between the Nazis’ policies in this area, and those of Mrs. Thatcher’s and subsequent administrations are particularly striking. Under these administrations, representatives of industry have entered government, and they and their thinktanks and special advisors have formulated government policy. They have also set up private corporations to carry out public policy. An example of this is the Urban Development Corporations Mrs Thatcher set up to circumvent local authorities’ influence and control over the process of urban regeneration. The core of these policies were ‘Public-Private Partnership’ between private industry and the state, and the use of the Private Finance Initiative and government subsidies to support private industry. The Tories’ proposed privatisation of the courts, and the outsourcing of welfare administration to private companies, can also be seen as another example of private industry acting as a government bureaucracy or department similar to Nazi policies in this area.