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Sent: Monday, November 28, 2005 7:05 AM
Subject: FW: [coc-chaps-l] Fascism then. Fascism now?
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From: coc-chaps-l-bounces@list.web.net
[mailto:coc-chaps-l-bounces@list.web.net]On Behalf Of david creighton
Sent: November 27, 2005 10:02 AM
To: Chapterslist; Prime Minister Paul Martin; Connie Fogal; Jack Layton;
Steven Harper
Subject: [coc-chaps-l] Fascism then. Fascism now?

An excellent description of what's happening today. How contemporary
politicians have diverged from mainstream Canadian values; and, why
issues are never debated during election campaigns.

Fascism then. Fascism now?
When people think of fascism, they imagine Rows of goose-stepping storm
troopers and puffy-chested dictators. What they don't see is the
economic and political process that leads to the nightmare. A warning,
by Paul Bigioni

27 Nov, 2005. 01:00 AM

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

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."

By exploring the disturbing parallels between our own time and the era
of overt fascism, we can avoid the same hideous mistakes. At present, we
live in a constitutional democracy. The tools necessary to protect us
from fascism remain in the hands of the citizen. All the same, North
America is on a fascist trajectory. We must recognize this threat for
what it is, and we must change course.

Consider the words of Thurman Arnold, head of the Antitrust Division of
the U.S. Department of Justice in 1939:

"Germany, of course, has developed within 15 years from an industrial
autocracy into a dictatorship. Most people are under the impression that
the power of Hitler was the result of his demagogic blandishments and
appeals to the mob... Actually, Hitler holds his power through the final
and inevitable development of the uncontrolled tendency to combine in
restraint of trade."

Arnold made his point even more clearly in a 1939 address to the
American Bar Association:

"Germany presents the logical end of the process of cartelization. From
1923 to 1935, cartelization grew in Germany until finally that nation
was so organized that everyone had to belong either to a squad, a
regiment or a brigade in order to survive. The names given to these
squads, regiments or brigades were cartels, trade associations, unions
and trusts. Such a distribution system could not adjust its prices. It
needed a general with quasi-military authority who could order the
workers to work and the mills to produce. Hitler named himself that
general. Had it not been Hitler it would have been someone else."

I suspect that to most readers, Arnold's words are bewildering. People
today are quite certain that they know what fascism is. When I ask
people to define it, they typically tell me what it was, the assumption
being that it no longer exists. Most people associate fascism with
concentration camps and rows of storm troopers, yet they know nothing of
the political and economic processes that led to these horrible end results.

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. These
associations exercised a high degree of control over the businesses of
their members. They frequently controlled pricing, supply and the
licensing of patented technology. These associations were private but
were entirely legal. Neither Germany nor Italy had effective antitrust
laws, and the proliferation of business associations was generally
encouraged by government.

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.

Compulsory (slave) labour was the crowning achievement of Nazi labour
relations. Along with millions of people, organized labour died in the
concentration camps. The camps were not only the most depraved of all
human achievements, they were a part and parcel of Nazi economic policy.
Hitler's Untermenschen, largely Jews, Poles and Russians, supplied slave
labour to German industry. Surely this was a capitalist bonanza. In
another bitter irony, the gates over many of the camps bore a sign that
read Arbeit Macht Frei - "Work shall set you free." I do not know if
this was black humour or propaganda, but it is emblematic of the
deception that lies at the heart of fascism.

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 of this.

Land ownership in Italy was also highly concentrated and jealously
guarded. Vast tracts of farmland were owned by a few latifundisti. The
actual farming was carried out by a landless peasantry who were locked
into a role essentially the same as that of the sharecropper of the U.S.
Deep South.

As in Germany, the few owners of the nation's capital assets had immense
influence over government. 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

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.

Antitrust laws

do not just protect

the marketplace,

they protect


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 is always dangerous to forget the lessons of history. It is
particularly perilous to forget about the economic origins of fascism in
our modern era of deregulation. Most Western liberal democracies are
currently in the thrall of what some call market fundamentalism. Few
nowadays question the flawed assumption that state intervention in the
marketplace is inherently bad.

As in Italy and Germany in the '20s and '30s, business associations
clamour for more deregulation and deeper tax cuts. The gradual erosion
of antitrust legislation, especially in the United States, has
encouraged consolidation in many sectors of the economy by way of
mergers and acquisitions. The North American economy has become more
monopolistic than at any time in the post-WWII period.

U.S. census data from 1997 shows that the largest four companies in the
food, motor vehicle and aerospace industries control 53.4, 87.3 and 55.6
per cent of their respective markets. Over 20 per cent of commercial
banking in the U.S. is controlled by the four largest financial
institutions, with the largest 50 controlling over 60 per cent. Even
these numbers underestimate the scope of concentration, since they do
not account for the myriad interconnections between firms by means of
debt instruments and multiple directorships, which further reduce the
extent of competition.

Actual levels of U.S. commercial concentration have been difficult to
measure since the 1970s, when strong corporate opposition put an end to
the Federal Trade Commission's efforts to collect the necessary information.

Fewer, larger competitors dominate all economic activity, and their
political will is expressed with the millions of dollars they spend
lobbying politicians and funding policy formulation in the many
right-wing institutes that now limit public discourse to the question of
how best to serve the interests of business.

The consolidation of the economy and the resulting perversion of public
policy are themselves fascistic. I am certain, however, that former
president Bill Clinton was not worried about fascism when he repealed
federal antitrust laws that had been enacted in the 1930s.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives is similarly unworried about
fascism as it lobbies the Canadian government to water down proposed
amendments to our federal Competition Act. (The Competition Act, last
amended in 1986, regulates monopolies, among other things, and itself
represents a watering down of Canada's previous antitrust laws. It was
essentially rewritten by industry and handed to the Mulroney government
to be enacted.)

At present, monopolies are regulated on purely economic grounds to
ensure the efficient allocation of goods.

If we are to protect ourselves from the growing political influence of
big business, then our antitrust laws must be reconceived in a way that
recognizes the political danger of monopolistic conditions.

Antitrust laws do not just protect the marketplace, they protect democracy.

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. Canada still
clings to a quaint, 19th-century "first past the post" electoral system
in which a minority of the popular vote can and has resulted in majority
control of Parliament.

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.

Our collective forgetfulness about the economic nature of fascism is
also dangerous at a philosophical level. As contradictory as it may
seem, fascist dictatorship was made possible because of the flawed
notion of freedom that held sway during the era of laissez-faire
capitalism in the early 20th century.

It was the liberals of that era who clamoured for unfettered personal
and economic freedom, no matter what the cost to society. Such
untrammelled freedom is not suitable to civilized humans. It is the
freedom of the jungle. In other words, the strong have more of it than
the weak. It is a notion of freedom that is inherently violent, because
it is enjoyed at the expense of others. Such a notion of freedom
legitimizes each and every increase in the wealth and power of those who
are already powerful, regardless of the misery that will be suffered by
others as a result. The use of the state to limit such "freedom" was
denounced by the laissez-faire liberals of the early 20th century. The
use of the state to protect such "freedom" was fascism. Just as monopoly
is the ruin of the free market, fascism is the ultimate degradation of
liberal capitalism.

In the post-war period, this flawed notion of freedom has been
perpetuated by the neo-liberal school of thought. The neo-liberals
denounce any regulation of the marketplace. In so doing, they mimic the
posture of big business in the pre-fascist period. Under the sway of
neo-liberalism, Thatcher, Reagan, Mulroney and George W. Bush have
decimated labour and exalted capital. (At present, only 7.8 per cent of
workers in the U.S. private sector are unionized - about the same
percentage as in the early 1900s.)

Neo-liberals call relentlessly for tax cuts, which, in a previously
progressive system, disproportionately favour the wealthy. Regarding the
distribution of wealth, the neo-liberals have nothing to say. In the
end, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As in Weimar Germany,
the function of the state is being reduced to that of a steward for the
interests of the moneyed elite. All that would be required now for a
more rapid descent into fascism are a few reasons for the average person
to forget he is being ripped off. Hatred of Arabs, fundamentalist
Christianity or an illusory sense of perpetual war may well be taking
the place of Hitler's hatred for communists and Jews.

Neo-liberal intellectuals often recognize the need for violence to
protect what they regard as freedom. Thomas Friedman of The New York
Times has written enthusiastically that "the hidden hand of the market
will never work without a hidden fist," and that "McDonald's cannot
flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force
F-15." As in pre-fascist Germany and Italy, the laissez-faire
businessmen call for the state to do their bidding even as they insist
that the state should stay out of the marketplace. Put plainly,
neo-liberals advocate the use of the state's military force for the sake
of private gain. Their view of the state's role in society is identical
to that of the businessmen and intellectuals who supported Hitler and
Mussolini. There is no fear of the big state here. There is only the
desire to wield its power. Neo-liberalism is thus fertile soil for
fascism to grow again into an outright threat to our democracy.

Having said that fascism is the result of a flawed notion of freedom, we
need to re-examine what we mean when we throw around the word. We must
conceive of freedom in a more enlightened way.

Indeed, it was the thinkers of the Enlightenment who imagined a balanced
and civilized freedom that did not impinge upon the freedom of one's
neighbour. Put in the simplest terms, my right to life means that you
must give up your freedom to kill me. This may seem terribly obvious to
decent people. Unfortunately, in our neo-liberal era, this civilized
sense of freedom has, like the dangers of fascism, been all but forgotten.

Paul Bigioni is a lawyer practising in Markham. This article is drawn
from his work on a book about the persistence of fascism.


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