10.1.6 Corporatist Economics

Gregory Millard

Marxist thinkers have interpreted fascism as an extreme stage of capitalism wherein a dictatorial state exerts absolute power to defend capital against the threat of imminent socialist revolution (Griffin, 2018, pp. 11-25). While a mutual loathing for socialism was certainly an important bridge between fascists and business, others point out that fascist regimes had a complicated relationship with the forces of capital (e.g., Eatwell, 1996, pp. 59-62; Passmore, 2002, pp. 145-147). Ideologically, fascists were committed to the idea that the economy had to serve the cause of national rebirth and national greatness. Unwilling to accept any limits on state power, they were uneasy allies for the kind of laissez-faire economics that classical liberals, and business interests, often advocate for.

A major aspect of fascism’s appeal in the 1920s and ‘30s was its claim to represent an economic Third Way between laissez-faire capitalism and socialism. The fascist approach to economics aligns with what social scientists call “corporatism.” Corporatism does not mean, as students sometimes assume, rule by private corporations; rather, the label describes a process of coordination between state, business, and labour interests to ensure optimal economic outcomes. Mussolini created a National Council of Corporations that brought together business and fascist labour organizations in 22 economic sectors and empowered this entity to issue binding settlements relating to wages and working conditions (Eatwell, 1996, p. 61). Although business interests were ambivalent about this arrangement, it should be noted that only fascist labour representatives were considered legitimate by the virulently anti-socialist Italian regime and strikes were banned.

Corporatism is not unique to fascism. The Great Depression forced a re-assessment of the relationship between state and government throughout the industrialized world, and many non-fascist states, including the United States, moved toward corporatist approaches both during the 1930s and in the postwar era.


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