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How the Democrats fell for Mussolini America's elite has adopted the fascist dream of a corporate oligarchy

The biggest losers will inevitably be the poor. Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

The biggest losers will inevitably be the poor. Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)


July 5, 2021   5 mins

There’s a tendency today to see Benito Mussolini as a pathetic sideshow, an incompetent blusterer who went from Adolf Hitler’s idol to his lapdog. Yet in many ways, Mussolini’s notion of fascism has become increasingly dominant in much of the world, albeit in an unexpected form: in the worldview of those progressives who typically see “proto-fascism” lurking on the Right.

Mussolini, a one-time radical socialist, viewed himself as a “revolutionary” transforming society by turning the state into “the moving centre of economic life”. In Italy and, to a greater extent, Germany, fascism also brought with it, at least initially, an expanded highly populist welfare state much as we see today.

Indeed, Mussolini’s idea of an economy controlled from above, with generous benefits but dominated by large business interests, is gradually supplanting the old liberal capitalist model. In the West, for example, the “Great Reset,” introduced by the World Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab, proposes an expanded welfare state and an economy that transcends the market for the greater goal of serving racial and gender “equity”, as well as saving the planet.

Wherever it appears, whether in the early 20th century or today, fascism — in its corporate sense — relies on concentrated economic power to achieve its essential and ideological goals. In 1922, for instance, large corporations and landowners helped finance Mussolini’s Black Shirts for their March on Rome. Confindustria, the leading organisation of Italian industrialists, was glad to see the end of class-based chaos and welcomed the state’s infrastructure surge.

Elsewhere, the German cartels and Japanese zaibatsu both kowtowed to and benefited from fascist state support and contracts. Even today, China, in many aspects the model fascist state of our times, follows Il Duce’s model of cementing the corporate elite into the power structure. Since 2000, a hundred billionaires sit in the country’s Communist legislation, a development that Mao would never have countenanced. 1

Capitalist countries have historically resisted such concentrations of power, but this process seems inexorable after a pandemic which devastated small businesses yet saw the ultra-rich grow richer and the largest firms record eye-watering profits. A handful of giant tech corporations now account for nearly 40% of the value of the Standard and Poor Index, a level of concentration unprecedented in modern history.

Companies like Amazon are our zaibatsu, with influence over a vast array of industries, from online retail to cloud computing, the health food business, media and even space travel. Once such firms may have adhered to free market capitalism, but they have increasingly grown to see the value of a larger, more centralised and pervasive state.

This parallels with the alarming transformation of the US Democratic Party, the putative “party of the people” , now increasingly a subsidiary of the corporate elite. Among financial firms, communications companies and lawyers, Biden outraised Trump by five-to-one or more. Today’s oligarchs are particularly keen on the progressive non-profit sector, which provides important support for their political and social advocacy — a means for them to make politically correct statements about climate change, gender and race, while still obtaining enormous profit margins and unprecedented wealth.

But whereas the old fascism sought greater prosperity, its new form, at least in the West, supports only an expanded welfare state that keeps the beleaguered middle and working classes both quiescent and stripped of aspiration. Worthies such as former Bank of Canada and Bank of England chief Mark Carney even embrace “de-growth,” a conscious slowing of the economy and embrace of declining living standards.

Indeed, the widely hailed Club of Rome report in 1972 — “The Limits to Growth” — was financed not by green activists but by the Agnelli family from Fiat, once a linchpin of Mussolini’s original corporate state.2 The Report predicted massive shortages of natural resources, slower economic growth, less material consumption and ultimately less social mobility.3

Fast forward to today’s new economic order, and it’s clear that not all economic animals are equal. There are opportunities galore for Wall Street investors, Silicon Valley tech oligarchs, cobalt miners, electric car manufacturers and renewable energy producers through the massive subsidies for producing green.

And these woke oligarchs, like their fascist counterparts before them, see little use for democracy. Eric Heymann, a senior executive at Deutsche Bank, suggests that to reach the climate goals of Davos, corporations will have to embrace “a certain degree of eco-dictatorship”.4 After all, it would be difficult to get elected officials to approve limits on such mundane popular pleasures as affordable air travel, cars, freeways and suburbs with single-family houses, unless they were imposed by judicial or executive fiat.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest losers will inevitably be the poor. Wherever the conventional green policies central to the “Great Reset” have been imposed — California, Britain, Canada, Australia, Greece, Germany, France — the result has been to create high levels of “energy poverty”; the Jacques Delors Institute estimated that some thirty million Europeans were not able to adequately heat their homes during the most recent winter.

But then there are many hypocrisies at the heart of today’s incarnation of Mussolini-style fascism. Our new elites, for example, see no contradiction in supporting claims of “systemic racism” and “social justice” at home, while cooperating with Chinese authorities who abuse basic human rights in Hong Kong or to impose forced labour in Xinjiang. Boldly progressive firms like Airbnb have no problems sharing customer data with China’s security state; nor does Apple show compunction in relying on Uighur labour to build their products.

But in the battle between the two emergent fascist systems, China possesses powerful advantages. Communist Party cadres at least offer more than a moralising agenda; they can point to the country’s massive reduction of extreme poverty and a huge growth in monthly wages, up almost five-fold since 2006. At a time when the middle class is shrinking in the West, China’s middle class increased enormously from 1980 to 2000, although its growth appears to have slowed in recent years.

Like Mussolini, who linked his regime to that of Ancient Rome, China’s rulers look to Han supremacy and the glories of China’s Imperial past. “The very purpose of the [Chinese Communist] Party in leading the people in revolution and development,” Xi Jinping told party cadres a decade ago, “is to make the people prosperous, the country strong, and [to] rejuvenate the Chinese nation.”

In contrast, the tired capitalism of our corporate elite — who seem to have given up on broad-based economic growth — seems increasingly detached from the interests and aspirations of their own citizens’ needs.

Apple’s Tim Cook, for example, waxes enthusiastically about a “common future in cyberspace” with autocratic China. Wall Street also actively lobbies on behalf of Beijing, hoping to cash in on investments that strip America’s productive capacity but enrich them. Oligarchs like Michael Bloomberg describe China, a country of business opportunity for his firm, as “ecologically friendly, democratically accountable, and invulnerable to the threat of revolution”.

How do we combat this trend towards fascist structures? The answer is straightforward, if unprescriptive: to resist them with liberal ideals and a renewed commitment to upward mobility. That won’t be easy. As of today, the consolidation of oligarchic power is supported by massive lobbying operations and dispersals of cash, including to some Right-wing libertarians, who doggedly justify censorship and oligopoly on private property grounds.

Yet despite their riches and technical know-how, the oligarchic elites face widespread and growing scepticism towards both the traditional and social media outlets under their control. Similarly, it’s also unlikely many in the middle class will embrace their programme of race indoctrination, or accept a marked decline in living standards.

But building a coalition against the new fascism requires avoiding destructive nativism and instead focusing on how to restore competition and protect consumers from the overweening power, and vast wealth of the corporate elites.

Will a citizenry, dependent on transfer payments and increasingly voiceless, still put up a fight? To slow fascism’s spread, either from China or from within, requires a re-awakening of the spirit of resistance to authority that has long marked human progress and now seems far too rare.

FOOTNOTES
  1. See Richard McGregor, The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers (New York: Harper, 2010), 206–8; David S. G. Goodman, Class in Contemporary China (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014), 26, 86.
  2. See “Club of Rome a Worldwide Organization,” New York Times Archives, February 27, 1972; Enclycopedia Britannica Online, s.v., “Agnelli, Giovanni,” accessed May 11, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Giovanni-Agnelli-Italian-industrialist-1921-2003.
  3. Norman Yoffee, “Orienting Collapse,” in The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations, ed. Norman Yoffee and George L. Cowgill (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991), 4–5.
  4. Eric Heyman, “What We Must Do To Rebuild,” Deutsche Bank Research, November 2020.

Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

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J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

A very interesting article about the role of big corporations in promoting pseudo-progressive ideologies. It helps me understand what the likes of Google and Apple gain by backing current progressive politics.
The citizens of western countries will have to get off their collective rear end and actively resist the modern fascism posing as democracy. Unfortunately, the willingness of so many to meekly accept extended pandemic lockdowns without so much as a whimper suggests there might not be enough fight left in us.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Covid has been an opportunity too good to miss for this “oligarchy”, which is why it has been hyped up to be the new Black Death, with measures promoted by a campaign of fear.

Julian Rigg
Julian Rigg
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Unfortunately you assume that most people are “free thinkers” and understand what is going on around them. Most people are too addicted to their “smart” phones to look up, literally. Free thinkers or people who question the “norm” are the minority.   
Sad to say but the “happy slaves” are now the majority.  Give them their social media, junk food, alcohol, statins, reality TV etc and they keep quiet and conform.
There are now drugs that will cure the effects of clinical obesity. Job done!

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Rigg

I think it is acceptance of loss of freedoms in return for welfare. Most people see it as a net benefit, and why not why they effectively have their hands on easy money from other people’s efforts. They don’t notice how freedoms are disappearing slowly and this is why we have seen more freedoms so easily taken away with the fake pandemic.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex having too much influence on government policy. This has developed into global corporations having too much influence through government bureaucrats and arranging regulations to their benefit. Nothing shows this more than the way the pharmaceutical companies have been able to gain emergency use of their covid vaccines without complying with the accepted testing to prove effectiveness and long-term safety.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

Where the philosophical foundations of a society has been allowed to rot — or, indeed, been actively degraded — that society will fall. “It’s all good” is not a philosophy, but that’s what’s been the underpinnings of western society for decades. GK Chesterton, in his epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse, used the metaphor of the Uffington chalk horse. Every year, people have to go out and re-cut the figure into the hillside, otherwise it will simply disappear back into the grass. In the same way, every generation has to make some contribution to its civilization that it may prosper and continue. People from my generation (born 1960s) onward have simply stopped making any contributions.

Last edited 2 years ago by Francis MacGabhann
Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago

A better analogy would be if that civilisation stopped recutting the horse but also defiled it and welcomed back the grass to atone for their environmental sins.

Last edited 2 years ago by Franz Von Peppercorn
Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago

Or the White Horse is obliterated from the hillside as an unendurable symbol of white supremacy, grievously offensive to BiPoc.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

The philosophica foundations are similar between these two – POSTMODERNISM where no ultimate exists, all is subjective, existentialism and atheism coupled with Marx are the beliefs these soulless men have, that all is subjective, all is situational ethics and relative morality. What a load of twaddle the article is. YES there is the similarity of giving the Corporate elite the actual governmental powers openly, Biden will sell America to the Wealthy in a second, But..

Mussolini was a Patriot first, his drive for ‘Risorgimento’
(Uniting all the peoples of Italy) and returning back into the Glories of Italian history – the return of the Greatness of the Roman peoples and history – these are the ANTITHESIS of Biden, who hates USA with both a burning loathing and a wish to divide it into broken sub groups who hate each-other so their wealth and power can be broken. His feel that America has, and had, no greatness, but merely shame and racist abuse, built on wickedness, or so he presents these views of his cronies and squad.

Mussolini was an organizational genius, he brought Italy out of depression, got the factories working like clocks, the trains running on time and capacity, and on and on. Biden messes up everything he touches, although he WILL get his 10%. He is the sock puppet of the anti-American hate industry, and the sellout to industry and social media billionaires. Mussolini brought the Industrialists under his umbrella, Biden is brought under the industrialists umbrella as he sells the nation to them.
Both evil men, but opposites except where they would hand government to the wealthy elites.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

PS try doing a search on ‘BLACK BLOCK’ and see how Biden has those foot soliders on the streets every protest, frightining. Watch them go at the Ca. Spa where the man who identifies as a woman and gets naked in pools with young girls is being defended by these insane, and government tolerated, terrifying THUGS,

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Regarding the Black Block, it’s always been difficult to tell – either from their clothing or their behaviour – whether they are Anarchists or Fascists.

Something of both, probably.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago

All sadly true. In the UK, the “conservative” government has just ruled that the leaders of large companies may travel without quarantine, while the leaders of competing SMEs visiting the same clients abroad must quarantine. One law for the largest firms, another for the little guys…

Last edited 2 years ago by William MacDougall
Dan Croitoru
Dan Croitoru
2 years ago

There is a fundamental misconception about the success of China. All CCP has allowed for is a thin layer of 5% real middle class that serves as a buffer between the 6% CCP party members and the 90% of the population who lives in poverty acc to western standards. Visit China and see that the overwhelming majority is poor urban proletariat with no hope for improvement.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

This is head in sand stuff. Not that China is a threat to the west, it’s a threat to the oligarchies in IT and the military industrial complex. But the population is improving living standards as a whole.

Dan Croitoru
Dan Croitoru
2 years ago

But the population is improving living standards as a whole.” – it was true as a whole till 2018. The improvement was due to faster money circulation within their real estate bubble. Now there is no improvement and the bubble is about to burst. By the way, all socialist countries including N Korea tried the strategy of allowing a thin middle class to live in relative prosperity to promote the image of the country and isolate their communist party (who lives outside and above the law similar to a mafia family) from the masses. The masses are shown the 6% middle class as an example that socialism with a market works but actually the selection of those 6% is a combination of connections, good ancestry and good looks.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

“The improvement was due to faster money circulation within their real estate bubble.”

My understanding is the Chinese just will not consume instead of save or invest, so money has no ‘Velocity’ They park their income into bubble real estate where it sits pointlessly.
“The velocity of money is a measure of the number of times that the average unit of currency is used to purchase goods and services within a given time period. The concept relates the size of economic activity to a given money supply and the speed of money exchange is one of the variables that determine inflation.”

Velocity determines growth and all things economic, and if everyone just latches onto money instead of spending it you have a very bad economy – which is why China has to export no matter how much deficit the West spending is, or mow much MMT $ they print….

And thus China ‘Stimulates’ its economy by crazy, excessive, infrastructure building, cities never to be occupied, airports with no planes coming… and The Silk Road. They have to spend nationally as the people will not be ‘consumers’ Their fundamentals are all F**ked up too – but being an absolute Power, Surveillance State makes that viable where it will crash us (and take them too, likely).

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

Oh, and concrete for all this crazy ‘Infrastructure’

“China is the world’s king of concrete. One particularly outrageous statistic from Bill Gates’ blog shows that China consumed more concrete between 2011 and 2013 than the United States did in the entire 20th century. The Chinese economy’s relentless thirst for cement certainly hasn’t slackened. It shows that in 2017, China produced more cement than the rest of the world combined.
Last year, China produced a grand total of 2.4 billion metric tons of cement while the rest of the world combined churned out 1.7 billion metric tons. India was “the best of the rest” with 270 million metric tons while the United States produced 86.3 million, an amount China blitzes every single month.”

This concrete in China is 5% of global CO2 output. (Concrete is very CO2 producing) Just concrete CO2 in china is 5 X the ENTIRE UK CO2 OUTPUT from all sources!

This is what Chinese infrastructure bubble is doing! China exports about 16% of the things it used CO2 to make, it used 84% of its CO2 for its own growth.

The Greens banning disposable straws in Europe are sheer idiots.

Where are Extinction rebellion in their very creepy costumes?

Last edited 2 years ago by Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“Not that China is a threat to the west”

What Charles Lindbergh, and the other isolationists (and even sympathisers) said about Hi* ler in 1930s.

Irene Ve
Irene Ve
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

Make a Google search “Countries by IQ”. It might come as a surprise that the average IQ in China today is 105, comparing to UK with 100, US – 98, India – 82 etc., have a look, it is actually quite enlightening. Average IQ is a good measurement of the value of country’s human capital, its potential for future development.
China’s GDP per capita in dollars has grown 6.3 times in the last 25 years, compare to the US with GDP per capita growth 1.4 times in the same period, same as UK (I ignored the dive in the data due to Covid here to compensate for changes due to pandemic.)
Now, think about these trends – economic growth and better educated and, on average, more intelligent population – add into equation that proportion of graduates who study STEM is way higher then that in humanities, meaning more productive people for the economy – with higher work ethics and prevailing culture of excellence, the same culture that drives all the Asian immigrants to outperform their hosts here in the West. Well, I know where my bets are.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
2 years ago

We need another Teddy Roosevelt to break up the big corporations.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

…no! He was a Progressive, and the breakup was illusionary. Informational dominance can’t be addressed by the existing antitrust concepts.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

We need a
“Carrie Nation
Caroline Amelia Nation, often referred to by Carrie or Carry Nation, was a radical member of the temperance movement, which opposed alcohol before the advent of Prohibition. Nation is noted for attacking alcohol-serving establishments with a hatchet.”

To burst into Google, Facebook, Twitter, with her hatchet and get whacking away at their huge computer banks….Real Courage; bring Morality to the degenerate industries destroying our nation and decency and people….

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I’d prefer the Carrie Nations, the girl band from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago

Mussolini, maybe…I had assumed the model was Juan PerĂłn but both will produce similarly disastrous results. Our supposed elites are hellbent on destruction. Tragic.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

Chavez

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

Doctor Jill Biden, the Multiplier of Joy White House Athena, may wish to emulate Eva Peron.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

Interesting perspective but the banker’s bail out and the responses to covid have effectively euthanased free market capitalism, so what is there to resist with? What is the real alternative?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  David McDowell

Stupid perspective. Better compare Biden to Ceaușescu if you want a commie who gets in with ‘methods’ and then declare himself a virtual King (Biden issued more ‘Edicts’ than all the Pres in history, from his first day….He is similar making things worse rather than fixing.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

Here is the problem. This is a good but very negative essay about things which don’t seem right in the world. The Internet is full of such discussion and there are millions of opinions. Can that ever lead to a positive political movement which changes things?

Probably not. An imposed military solution is more likely but then the victors become the next oppressors. Be careful what you wish for.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Military solution more likely ?

Civilization-collapse much likelier than either.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago

Welcome to the club, Joel. Thanks for putting aside the gratuitous anti-Trump, anti-deplorables nonsense and taking notice of the obvious.
I myself am editing a volume about the implementation of competition policy (antitrust policy) in this new age of “stakeholder capitalism”. The issues are not new, and they weren’t even new in the 1930’s.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

You have to love that crazy Italian journalist and troublemaker. Bennie touched every point on the political compass within a few short years. Sometimes he switched positions in months. He was not the most consistent or coherent political thinker, but he sure liked to puff his chest out at speeches. His New Roman Empire schtick was comedy gold. Someone probably should have reminded him of Italy’s track record in warfare. I wonder if Mussolini was still pissed at Hitler for the assassination of Engelbert Dollfuss at the start of the Second World War? He threatened war with Germany over it in 1934.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

According to Wikipedia poor little Dolfuss was only 5′ tall and nicknamed Milli-Metternich by his contemporaries. A veritable Napoleon.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

As a student of Italian history, I have always been fascinated by ll Duce. He was an effective peacetime leader (dare I say it?) but hopeless in wartime.

Dmitry Nikolaev
Dmitry Nikolaev
2 years ago

Footnotes should have links that allow the reader to jump back to the relevant place in the text.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago

A very interesting article. But is it really Mussolini that is inspiring the oligarchs so much as America’s Gilded Age, at least in the US? We saw very similar reasoning – decrying competition and praising co-operation – in that era as we see now. The Italian dictator may have learned from that period, just as Hitler seems to have discovered American laws that served as his model for eugenics by force of the state.

Robert Pruger
Robert Pruger
2 years ago

This may be the second coming for the Democrat party’s affinity for Mussolini. Franklin Roosevelt was a big fan of Mussolini and stated so numerous times during his presidency. He sent part of his “kitchen cabinet” to study what made Il Duce successful. Early in FDR’s first term Italo Balbo (Italy’s aviation minister) visited the U.S. and met with FDR at a White House luncheon. FDR encouraged Balbo to stay awhile longer in America and had arranged a NYC ticker-tape parade followed by Balbo speaking to 65,000 Democrats in Madison Square Garden. The love affair has been rekindled. A sad state of affairs for the U.S.

h w
h w
2 years ago

This fascism aka neo-lib/-conism which is neither liberal nor conservative and certianly not new. Basically good ol’ greed on steroids. Follow the money. Corporate globalists and their political ‘allies’ have redefined justice in order distract us with rainbow flags (cheap) and knee-taking (free). But they avoid treating most non-government workers of any type here or far away in a manner fat cats would accept for themselves. A Canadian Starbucks dared to UNIONIZE recently and staff now have slightly better pay and working conditions. Guess what? The corporation was NOT supportive, despite the Starbucks Black Partner Network and rainbow-coloured cups.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

Exactly what do you mean by “putting up a fight?”
Are you advocating for those groups–and their bully-Duce–who assaulted our Capitol on Jan6, insisting on a mob-enforced continuance of the former administration?
Those insurrectionists–don’t they more closely resemble Moseley’s black shirts? Or Lenin’s Bolsheviks or Mao’s Long March?
I don’t think Paul Revere would agree with you.
If, Joel, what you describe above is “fascism”, what is your descriptive term for those camo-shirted violaters who assaulted the very heart and soul of our American democratic republic?
Instead of Moseley’s black shirts, we now have Trump’s camo-shirts. If that is not “fascism”, then what do you call it?
And these ruffians are the same people who support politicians striving to limit the access of poor and minority Americans to the voting box. What do you call their voter-suppression? A fresh wave of democracy?
The Capitol mob . . . Jacobins? I don’t think Paul Revere would agree with you. Face it: they are in the same league with Mussolini’s black shirts and Hitler’s brownshirts.
If you want to see what fascism, pounding down the door of democracy, looks like, watch the 40-minute video of the Jan6 assault that was recently released by the NYT.
What you will see there is the face of fascism, screaming at all decent Americans, “We are coming for you and your civilized leaders!.”