Michael A. Rizzotti
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.
Many articles have been written about the growing similarities between the rise of Italian fascism ─corporatismo─ and the current US ideological swing to the right. We propose some additional observations about the prevailing corporatist ideology and its hold on Washington DC. Noting some continental differences between the political exaltation of Italian politics and a corporatist claim to a global Imperium.
The word fascism comes from the Italian fascio meaning bundle. Mussolini was attracted to this ancient Roman symbol of the fasces representing strength and authority. It was meant to symbolize the different regions of Italy and guilds bound together to create a stronger country. The slogan “united we stand” fills similar political aspirations.
In order to understand fascism one has to keep in mind that Italy has been a country only since 1861, following what is known as il Risorgimento. Prior to the unification, Italy had been ruled by a dominant Church in Rome, by kingdoms and powerful city states and finally by foreign powers. Today Italy is made up of 20 regions, some of which are divided into two or more provinces. Each of these regions have their own dialect and distinct foods. They have little in common except Italian as an official language. Which was imposed to the whole country by banning the teaching of dialects in schools which were under Church control. These dialects could very well be considered languages as they are incomprehensible to the inhabitants of other regions. Friuly, where I come from, is proud of its language and is part of a region with strong separatist inclinations. Friulani for instance, don’t understand a word of Sicilian and vise versa. You could say that Italy was, and still is, a cauldron of multiculturalism. This agglomeration of regional rivalries prompted Mussolini to remark: “It is not difficult to rule Italy, it is useless.”
Mussolini was born in 1883 in Dovia di Predappio in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, famous for its Ferraris, Maseratis, parmegiano and prosciutto. He was a turbulent student but got good grades. His father was a socialist and his son was too. In 1902 Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland in order to escape his military service. Not an uncommon trait among our more bellicose leaders. During is stay in Switzerland he became an active member of the socialist movement of the country. Benito later came back to Italy and dabbled in journalism and eventually founded a newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia ─The Italian People. In 1917 he was called up for military service and was wounded in a grenade accident during a training exercise. The incident allowed him return to editing his newspaper and avoid the service.
Mussolini made his early mark in the world of politics mostly by fighting anarchists and communists. He eventually became prime minister with the help of King Victor Emmanuel III. The King was fearful that if he did not choose the fascist leader, Italy which was prone to regional discord, would end up in a civil war. Mussolini was quickly able to consolidate his power by exploiting fears of division in an environment of postwar depression and a general feeling of anxiety among the middle-class.
Mussolini had been an active socialist member until he abandoned the idea of class struggle in favor of stati corporativi. A similar concept was promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in1891. It was issued to counter the growing influence of socialism and class struggle. Instead the Church promoted its own Catholic trade unions managed by “corporate bodies” as an alternative to class conflict. Mussolini’s change of heart made him appealing to a greater number of voters and powerful institutions. Under his leadership business owners, workers, trade unions, professionals, and other economic groups were organized into 22 associations—or guilds. They were given representation in a legislative body known as Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni.
The symbol of the fascio was meant to indicate the unifying strength of all the guilds and corporations. The unifying body also integrated a geographically fragmented and diverse Italy into a greater market area. This idealistic union led to a totalitarian political system that became known as fascism.
Prior to Italy’s move to fascism, the country had been a liberal democracy. Mussolini’s claim to be a compassionate leader helped him get the backing of the Liberals in parliament. With their support Mussolini introduced strict censorship laws and changed the rules of elections in 1925 and 1926. His victory helped him assume dictatorial powers and proceeded to discredit all his political adversaries. With the support of his corporatist allies he skillfully used his control over the press to create the myth of Il Duce ─ The Leader. A godlike image of a man who didn’t need any sleep and who was always right. A hero who never made or admitted to a mistake and could solve any problems for his country. Il Duce demanded total loyalty from his subjects and any resistance was dealt with his fascist militia called the Brownshirts. He eventually succeeded in securing complete power. However, under his regime his government became too centralized, incompetent and corrupt.
In 1929 Mussolini signed a concordat with the Vatican that recognized the sovereignty of Vatican City. In return the Church also recognized Italy as a State. The name Benito, meaning “blessed”, is an appropriate depiction of a mutual anointment by the Church and State. Il Duce then promoted the idea of a New Roman Empire that made him increasingly popular. However, dreams of a grand empire did not extend farther than the bombing of Corfu, the invasion of Albania and later Ethiopia.
In June 1940 Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. He attacked Greece in October and as a result lost a great portion of Albania. Undeterred, he declared war on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Shortly after in December, he declared war on the United States. An act that would eventually seal his downfall. Meanwhile, the US was fostering a deal with the mafia allowing the 1943 invasion of Sicily by an Anglo-American coalition to be met without resistance. Il Duce might have forgotten that in 1866 Palermo revolted against Italy. And to this day they do not consider themselves Italian but Sicilian.
Among the noteworthy similarity between pre-war Italy and the US today is the subsidizing of big business by the government. Most of it at the expense of small business and the poor. As a point of reference, Mussolini consistently demanded wage reductions from labor. The one-time socialist leader also abolished the inheritance tax, a measure that resulted in further subsidizing of the wealthy by the poor. Eventually wages and living standards for the average Italian dropped sharply.
Mussolini allowed huge amount of money to be spent on public works and toward the heavy industry and a growing “military industrial complex”. However, Mussolini who at the onset privatized a great number of state owned assets, later began reverting these policies and demanded strict centralized control over the country’s industries.
Likewise, laws enacted by Congress in the past two decades have been substantially more valuable to big business. The gradual erosion of antitrust legislation resulted in corporate mergers and consolidation. Ironically it took a Democratic President ─Bill Clinton─ to repeal federal antitrust laws that had been in place since the Great Depression.
A similar cartelization process that made fascism possible in Italy was sealed in the US in 1988. Executive Order 12631–Working Group on Financial Markets (WGFM) ─also known as the Plunge Protection Team (PPT)─ decreed by President Reagan set a blueprint for the merger between the Security and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission ─or their “designees”─ with the FED and the Secretary of the Treasury ─or their “designees”. The decree allied corporate and political elites into a single controlling body with covert powers over key financial and futures markets. Irrevocably altering the healthy separation between Wall Street and Washington and making the coronation of US corporate kingdoms inevitable.
Since the Executive Order, the US has seen a transfer of savings from the majority of the population into the stock market, to excessive consumption and an unhealthy accumulation of debt. Leaving people chasing bubble after bubble in an illusive quest of wealth. This erosion of savings was compounded by relentless tax cuts in favor of the rich. With the nefarious effect that the bulk of the country’s economy was diverted in the hands of a small group of majority shareholders, fund managers and CEO’s.
John Perkins, the author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, reveals some startling statistics:
Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations; of those, 47 are U.S.-based
The overall share of federal taxes paid by U.S. corporations is now less than 10 percent, down from 21 percent in 2001 and over 50 percent during World War II; one-third of America’s largest and most profitable corporations paid zero taxes ─ or actually received credits ─ in at least one of the last three years (according to Forbes magazine).
Back in 1980 the average American chief executive earned 40 times as much as the average manufacturing employee. For the top tier of American CEOs, the ratio is now 475:1 and would be vastly greater if assets, in addition to income, were taken into account. By way of comparison, the ratio in Britain is 24:1, in France 15:1, in Sweden 13:1.
Pre-Civil War slaves received room and board; wages paid by the sweatshops that today serve many U.S. industries will not cover the most basic needs.
In the beginning of the US Republic, only men who owned property could vote. Today the rulers of the “ownership society” determine the outcome of an election. The process of cartelization and concentration of power is such that both parties are subservient to a corporatist agenda. And even if the majority of Congressmen and women are honest people, and we believe they are, only a minority of controlled swing votes can determine the outcome of important legislation favorable to special interests or big business.
In the US, the corporation is considered a legal person. And all corporations have a similar legal structure and abide by the same accounting rules and practices. Corporations may sell or produce different things but in respect to their legal structure, they are one similar legal entity ─person. The agglomeration of different mega-corporations is depicted here as a bundle and represents one incorporated body, subverting and denigrating by its unabated growth the essence of the human being.
As noted, this legal person is not a human being. Although they have the same rights as a regular citizens their responsibilities toward society or nature can be bypassed through lobbying. Civil duties could be deferred indefinitely by putting their enormous financial resources into endless litigation or by declaring bankruptcy and morphing into another corporate entity.
It should be stressed that the corporation plays an essential part in our economic development and is beneficial to society as a whole. However, we make a distinction here between the good corporation and a malignant corporatism. When the corporation becomes bloated through mergers and acquisitions and eliminates competition and diversity with the help of derivatives, then it becomes counter evolutionary. When these bundle-corporations align themselves together with the government and the war industry, they can become a malignant threat to civilization.
Since the Reagan years the process of cartelization of big business has been steady and relentless. The US citizen is loosing more and more of his rights and is now relegated to a gentile consumer. The President has become but a disposable mask of the incorporated body. His role relegated to the perception management of desinformocracy and the false advertising of democracy.
One must remember that US corporatism is also subsidized by a powerful US arms industry used to expand its corporatist agenda. Yet the bulk of the military expenditure are paid for by taxes levied on the ordinary citizen. And so are the casualties of war. History reveals that the economic survival of an empire rests on the ability to tax other nations not its own people.
Furthermore, the great leaps of technology made over the centuries are now being used to enforce a regressive corporate tribalism. One of the most overlooked consequences of the process of cartelization is the induction of a corporate feudalism. These new corporate kingdoms represent a devolution of human governance. They reinstate tribalism at the expense of universal principles of human rights developed during a long and arduous road to implement democracy.
Consequently, corporatism is defined as a political agenda to organize society in the image of the “corporation” or an artificial person, in order to override the sovereignty of the citizen: all for the benefit of the majority shareholder. Minimizing the autonomy of nations and creating in the process the Investor State.
We owe the term corporatism to an Italian philosopher named Giovanni Gentile who defined it as the “the merger of state and corporate power”. In retrospect the fascist era can be summarized as an alliance of corporate interests represented by the Church in Rome, the aristocracy who had shifted its wealth from feudal to corporate share holding, a rising and powerful group of industrial entrepreneurs (heavy machinery and armaments) and the anointing of a charismatic leader, in this case a former journalist and socialist, chosen to unify and consolidate the geographical boundaries of the state in order to control and delineate an economic market for the benefit of the corporatist body. Once in power Mussolini rebelled against the ruling powers that anointed him. This led to the unraveling of the fascist power scheme and the liberation, or the invasion depending on who you ask, by the US.
My father who was briefly in the Italian forces during the war still has fond memories of Il Duce, because he explains: “He instilled discipline in Italians”. He omits to add that he also instigated Italy’s collapse. Mussolini however, did leave one lasting legacy: Italian trains to this day run on time.
An Italian proverb was created after Mussolini’s death and it goes like this: “Those who are always right and never admit to being wrong will end up hanging upside down in piazza Loreto”