Posts Tagged ‘‘The Seizure of Power’’

The Pre-Fascist Solution to Corporate Influence in Parliament

September 3, 2016

I had the bizarre experience of finding that something I’d written about getting rid of the problem of the corporate corruption of parliament was right. I was reading through Adrian Lyttelton’s book on the rise of Fascist Italy, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy, 1919-1929. There’s a section, where he discusses the way Mussolini used partly-nationalised industries to develop those sectors of the economy, that private industry couldn’t. In this case, I think it’s probably one of the very few areas where Mussolini was doing something right. This does not make his dictatorship, with its beatings, torture and murder of dissidents, the imperialism and the organised massacres of Arabs, Ethiopians, Yugoslavs and the deportations of Jews to the death camps any less the disgusting. It just means that occasionally, even the worst regimes can do something right, on the principle that a broken watch is still correct twice a day.

But the use of partly-nationalised industries predated Fascism. It had been started by the Liberals as a response to the entry of businessmen into the Italian parliament, wanting something to be done for their companies. Now in a previous blog post, discussing how we should deal with the corporate corruption of parliamentary politics, I suggested that we should have a workers’ chamber to balance the influence of the businessmen in the House of Commons, and nationalise their companies, as well as the outsourcing firms. And now I’ve read, that part-nationalisation was same solution – more or less – that Italian liberalism adopted.

So all I can say is, it seems I was right! Or if not, at least that others tried the same solution. Viva Italia, and a basta Thatcherismo!

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Pareto, Liberismo, Free Trade and Conservative Fascism

April 11, 2014

Vilfredo-Pareto-Quotes-5

Vilfredo Pareto: Free Trade economist who believed in the importance of elites.

I’ve posted a number of piece criticising the attempts by Conservatives, such as the Dorset MEP Daniel Hannan, to smear Socialism through the argument that Fascism was simply one form of it. American Conservatives in particular seem to believe that any form of state intervention or collectivist approach automatically equals Socialism, which is in turn equated with Communism and Nazism. Mussolini started his career as a radical Socialist, and there were elements of Socialism, and specifically Syndicalism, in Fascism. Fascism was, however, an unstable and frequently incoherent mixture of different and contradictory ideologies and attitudes. Syndicalism was one element. Others were the middle class, Conservative ideologies of free trade, private enterprise and liberismo.

Liberismo was the ideology of the Italian middle classes. It was associated with the belief in a balanced budget and sound, stable currency, and reflected the interests of the middle class groups with fixed incomes, who felt themselves vulnerable to inflation. These were rentiers, pensioners, civil servants, professionals and White collar workers. These groups looked to Fascism to halt rising prices. At the same time, Mussolini presented the Fascist movement as defending private enterprise and the small businesses from Socialism and organised Labour on the one hand, and the large trusts and cartels of big business on the other. They resented the way the government, under their influence, had maintained a policy of high tariffs and high state expenditure. The Italian Nationalists, who later merged with the Fascists, had attacked international finance and the major banks. The crash of the Banca di Sconto associated with the Perrone brothers and the Ansaldo conglomerate in 1922, resulted in a number of small investors losing their savings. The Perrone brothers and Ansaldo were major figures and backers of the Nationalists, who blamed their bank’s failure on the government blindly obeying the dictates of the rival Banca Commerciale.

Fascist elitism and contempt for democracy also had part of its origins in the ideas of the economist Vilfredo Pareto. A professor of Political Economy at the University of Lausanne, Pareto was a staunch supporter of free trade. This in turn led to his contempt for parliamentary democracy and belief in the importance of elites. He also valued myth, considered as powerful irrational ideas and images, as a means through which governments and movements could inspire their supporters to action. His works also explored the use of force and consent. He argued that the ‘foxes’ of the old, patrician order, would now be overthrown by ‘plebean’ lions, and denounced the humanitarianism of contemporary liberal politics as a symptom of a political order in decline. As the above quote makes clear, Pareto believed that contemporary democracy was merely an ideological disguise for the way the elite continued to hold power while maintaining the impression that it was the masses who were in control of government. Mussolini read Pareto when he was a radical Socialist, and took over his idea elitism, and utter contempt for parliamentary democracy and humanitarianism.

Free trade, private enterprise, and a balanced budget, became elements of Fascism. This is, however, denied by Conservatives, who seem to believe that they stand apart from and opposed to it in a way which the Socialist parts of Fascism do not. Liberismo and Pareto’s elitism may also explain the strongly anti-democratic trend in Libertarianism. Both von Hayek and Mises served in Vollmar Dollfuss’ Austro-Fascist regime. Dollfuss banned the Austrian Socialist party on the grounds that it was preparing a revolution. It’s unclear whether this was true, or merely a pretext. The regime was allied to Mussolini’s Italy, and looked to the Duce for protection against annexation from Hitler’s Germany. After Hayek moved to America, he also travelled to Chile after Pinochet’s coup to examine the implementation of his economic doctrines there. Pareto’s prediction of the victory of the plebs over the patricians may well have been another piece of myth-making – a powerful image intended to inspire fear in the middle classes, and force them to act against the threat from the working class. Hayek in his absolute support for private enterprise, free trade and willingness to serve Right-wing dictatorships, seems to have shared these attitudes. This is despite Libertarianism’s claim to represent traditional Liberalism. Libertarianism and its adherents share the same attitudes as the Conservative followers of liberismo who joined the Fascists.

For further information, see ‘Pareto, Vilfredo’, in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport: Greenwood Press 1982) 392.

Adrian Lyttelton, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1987).

Blair, Mussolini, Neo-Liberalism and ‘The End of the Ideology’

March 4, 2014

Mussolini

Fascist Dictator Mussolini adopting typically grandiose posture

After the scrapping of Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution committing it to nationalisation, Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ government was hailed by many as the expression of the new pragmatism in politics. With ministers drawn from outside as well within the Labour party itself, New Labour was celebrated for its empirical approach to politics. Instead of following the dictates of ideology, the party was instead formulating policies and appointing personnel according to what worked. Just as Francis Fukuyama described the new political era ushered in by the Fall of Communism as the ‘end of history’, so there was a tendency to describe Blair’s government almost as the ‘end of ideology’. This type of rhetoric resembled some of the attitudes adopted by Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship when it seized power in the 1920s.

19th and early 20th century Reformist Social Democrat politicians had believed that society and history proceeded by fixed laws, laws that were leading to the inevitable triumph of socialism. In their defence and advancements of socialism, the British Fabians, for example, who strenuously rejected Marx’s doctrine of the Class War, argued that Socialism was merely the continuation and expansion of existing government policies interfering with and regulating the economy. Sidney Webb, who with his wife, Beatrice, was one of the founders and leading Fabian intellectuals, wrote

The practical man, oblivious or contemptuous of any theory of the social organism or general principles of social organisation, has been forced, by the necessities of the time, into an ever-deepening collectivist channel. Socialism, of course, he still rejects and despises. The individualist town councillor will walk along the municipal pavement, lit by municipal gas, and cleansed by municipal brooms with municipal water, and seeing, by the municipal clock in the municipal market, that he is too early to meet his children coming from the municipal school, hard by the county lunatic asylum and municipal hospital, will use the national telegraph system to tell them not to walk through the municipal park, but come by the municipal tramway, to meet him in the municipal reading-room, by the municipal art gallery, museum, and library, where he intends to consult some of the national publications in order to prepare his next speech in the municipal town hall, in favour of the nationalisation of canals and the increase of Government control over the railway system. ‘Socialism, Sir,’ he will say, ‘Don’t waste the time of a practical man by your fantastic absurdities. Self-help, Sir, individual self-help, that’s what’s made our city what it is’.

Sydney Webb, Socialism in England, quoted in E.C. Midwinter, Victorian Social Reform (Longman: Harlow 1968) p. 94.

This idea of slow progress leading to the gradual victory of Socialism seemed to be shattered by the reality of the First World War. This seemed to show that all such ideologies of historical laws of gradual progress were wrong. To the activists and intellectuals that formed part of Mussolini’s Fascists, the War instead showed that history was made through will. As a result, Fascism vigorously promoted itself as the first movement that was no constrained by ideology or values. Some non-Fascist Italian intellectuals were initially favourable to them because of this. It seemed to look past the political stalemates that had occurred in the Italian parliament through the conflicts between the different political groups.

Adrian Lyttleton in his book The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929(London: George Weidenfeld and Nicholson Ltd 1987, describes the situation thus

The interventionist intellectuals conceived of the war as an assertion of will and energy in defiance of the supposed ‘laws’ of historical development. ‘The world war has destroyed the ideology of progress as a slow ordered succession of events and institutions … it has destroyed the bourgeois, reformist, evolutionist conception.’ In the postwar period, activism ceased to be merely an intellectual fashion and became a widespread state of mind. The confusion and dissatisfaction with all existing ideologies had become acute. While other parties appeared to deny the existence of a crisis of values, Fascism not only recognized by glorified it. Mussolini’s attitude of tough-minded pragmatism, his claim to have seen through and ‘transcended’ the old ideologies, appeal to may intellectuals. They celebrated Fascism as the end of ideology, as the first realistic political movement free from both moral and intellectual preconceptions, one in which practice would precede and form values instead of the other way round. Fascism taught the value of Negative Thinking. There were echoes here of Nietzsche’s ‘transvaluation of values’; the Fascist felt himself to be the superman freed from conventional moral restraints, and this helped him to act with confidence and ruthlessness. (p. 367).

Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding Blair’s government as indicating the end of ideology, Blair was not, unlike the Fascists, a moral nihilist. He did not reject all systems of morality nor celebrate force and violence. Indeed, he was always keen to promote some kind of moral reason for his actions and policies, some of which, like the invasion of Iraq, were indeed highly questionable. Nor can the Blair regime be seen as inaugurating the ‘end of ideology’. Blair’s New Labour did not reject ideology – it just rejected traditional socialism in favour of Neo-Liberalism. They still retained some belief in social justice and state interference in the economy for the good of society, but this was to be kept at a minimum. Following Thatcher, who gave her official endorsement of Blair when she met him at 10 Downing Street after his election, private enterprise was regarded as the foremost solution to the problems of the economy and society. This attitude has continued to inform politics after Blair’s departure. It underlies Brown’s management of the economy, and now, in a far purer and more extreme form, that of the Coalition.

I don’t, however, believe that the Neo-Liberal consensus has meant the end of ideology. The vast majority of the population, for example, do not want the privatisation of the NHS. Nor did they wish for the privatisation of the Post Office when this was mooted by New labour. Furthermore, as Mike has pointed out, there is considerable support for the renationalization of the railways and the utilities. What has changed is not so much the opinions of the electorate, but that of the governing political elites. And this is leading to a crisis of faith in politics. Increasing numbers are not voting, because they see little difference between the parties. These particularly include the young, the poor, the unemployed and disabled, who believe that there is no point in voting, as none of the parties are interesting in doing anything for them. This has not led to a revolt, whether of the Left, like the Communists, or the Right, like the Fascists. But it is corroding democracy in this country. If we are not careful, it will lead to the emergence of a managerial, technocratic elite, who govern without a mandate and whose policies do not reflect the will of the electorate, even more so than the Coalition at present.