Fascism: Capitalism’s last resort 

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Fascism is one of the most notorious forms of government, famous for being the government of choice for history’s worse dictatorships. A lesser known fact is that many of these countries had capitalist economies, and that fascism was used as a tool to keep socioeconomic barriers in place. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

What is fascism? It is a word thrown around constantly and used to describe figures from past and present. Yet, gaps are present in the mainstream depiction of fascism. Often it is sold simply as an anti-liberal, xenophobic, right-wing government that embraces conservative values, hyper nationalism, militarism and repression of citizens. While these are truisms, it fails to point to the essence of fascism and the circumstances that produced it. I want to uncover the aspects of fascism that are rarely discussed using the two most famous examples: Mussolini’s fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. I will make reference to other fascist regimes where relevant.  

What were the environments like that produced fascist states? Well, in all cases, they were environments on the edge of transformation of society. In Italy and Germany after the First World War, the left was extremely powerful. In Germany, the communists launched a failed revolution known as the Spartacist Uprising which lasted from Jan. 5 to 12 in 1919. The landlords, industrialists and conservative politicians were growing increasingly aware of the calls for labor reform. This included syndicates running factories and forming governing bodies led by workers and even farm tenant unions. It was in this atmosphere that the fascists burst onto the scene. From the very beginning it was these democratic and working class institutions that were attacked by fascism. This including beatings, targeted harassment and even murders of political and labor activists. Sometimes these groups could be the government itself, as was the case during the Spanish Republic period and Salvador Allende’s government in Chile. In all cases, the threat to the capitalist system was paramount and the capitalists wanted to protect their own interest, even at the cost of any semblance of freedom to the citizens. It is no accident then that these rightists and forces of the status quo were some of the first to back fascism. In fact, in late 1932 the Nazi Party was nearly bankrupt but were bailed out by German corporations including IG Farben and Krupp. IG Farben was the company responsible for manufacturing Zyklon B, the pesticide used to murder hundreds of thousands of people in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Krupp, meanwhile, was the leading German weapons manufacturer and the company was found guilty at Nuremberg for using slave labor in its production.  

Historically speaking, liberal and conservative groups alike are more likely to support fascists who agree with them than other politicians who disagree with them. This obsession with power has appeared all across the world, and shows a general trend towards fascism as a means of control. Photo by Saw Wunna on Unsplash.

In the economic sphere, despite libertarian and capitalism proponents’ fierce resistance, fascist states practiced capitalism. Logically, why would these industrialists have backed anti-capitalist movements? It would have meant the end of them. Once fascists attained power, they all practiced pro-capitalist policies. This included destroying independent labor unions, privatization of formerly state industries, reduced labor laws, raising of lower and middle class taxes while simultaneously slashing upper income taxes. There was even a group in Nazi Germany called the Circle of Friends of the Economy which included numerous wealthy bankers and industrialists that had bankrolled Nazi campaigns in the 1930s. It was no accident that these groups that so despised the left and other democratic forces would unite in this way and that fascist governments would support them. Many object to this, saying that private industry was hemmed in by fascism and that the state held wide sway over the distribution of goods. To all of that, I call bull. Government regulation does not make an economy not capitalist. Considering that these states were preparing for or fighting total wars, it makes sense that the state would take immense control. The U.K. and U.S. governments also did similar things during the war too, including telling manufacturers what to produce. But they still remained capitalist economies. I think what is more telling is that in Augusto Pinochet’s fascist dictatorship in Chile, libertarian economic policies supported by the so-called “Chicago Boys” were implemented. Considering Chile was not at war like Germany and Italy were, I think it is safe to say fascism is not averse to libertarian economics in all cases. 

Lastly, there was the political support fascists received from left and right-wing liberals. Let us not forget that the fascists were granted power by those inside the government. Mussolini was appointed prime minister by King Victor Emmanuel III and Hitler was named chancellor by conservative President Paul Von Hindenburg. In all cases, fascists were backed by people within the state system in order to crush the left and democratic forces. Be it Franz Von Papen in Germany to Eduardo Frei in Chile, elected liberal politicians have historically supported fascism over socialism. That is a fact. It makes liberals’ virtue signaling of democracy ring that much more hollow when it reverberates with the cries of the millions of victims of fascism. Especially now, what is primary to liberals of all stripes is the preservation of capitalism. Nancy Pelosi said it best: “We’re a capitalist party.” Despite protestations to Trump’s “authoritarianism,” Democrats have been equally as condemning towards groups like Antifa. We cannot count on our elected officials to protect us from a genuine fascist threat. History has shown that espousers of capitalism bond far more than those who value democracy. If we are to understand what to do when confronted by fascism again, we cannot trust our institutions to save us. Fascism does not work by breaking the door down. It creeps in through an open window. 

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