When people hear the word “fascism” they naturally think of its ugly racism and anti-Semitism as practiced by the totalitarian regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. But there was also an economic policy component of fascism, known in Europe during the 1920s and ‘30s as “corporatism,” that was an essential ingredient of economic totalitarianism as practiced by Mussolini and Hitler. So-called corporatism was adopted in Italy and Germany during the 1930s and was held up as a “model” by quite a few intellectuals and policy makers in the United States and Europe. A version of economic fascism was in fact adopted in the United States in the 1930s and survives to this day. In the United States these policies were not called “fascism” but “planned capitalism.” The word fascism may no longer be politically acceptable, but its synonym “industrial policy” is as popular as ever.
The Free World Flirts With Fascism
Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans and Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future during the 1930s. The American Ambassador to Italy, Richard Washburn Child, was so impressed with “corporatism” that he wrote in the preface to Mussolini’s 1928 autobiography that “it may be shrewdly forecast that no man will exhibit dimensions of permanent greatness equal to Mussolini. . . . The Duce is now the greatest figure of this sphere and time.” Winston Churchill wrote in 1927 that “If I had been an Italian I am sure I would have been entirely with you” and “don the Fascist black shirt.” As late as 1940, Churchill was still describing Mussolini as “a great man.”
U.S. Congressman Sol Bloom, Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said in 1926 that Mussolini “will be a great thing not only for Italy but for all of us if he succeeds. It is his inspiration, his determination, his constant toil that has literally rejuvenated Italy . .”
One of the most outspoken American fascists was economist Lawrence Dennis. In his 1936 book, The Coming American Fascism, Dennis declared that defenders of “18th-century Americanism” were sure to become “the laughing stock of their own countrymen” and that the adoption of economic fascism would intensify “national spirit” and put it behind “the enterprises of public welfare and social control.” The big stumbling block to the development of economic fascism, Dennis bemoaned, was “liberal norms of law or constitutional guarantees of private rights.”
Certain British intellectuals were perhaps the most smitten of anyone by fascism. George Bernard Shaw announced in 1927 that his fellow “socialists should be delighted to find at last a socialist [Mussolini] who speaks and thinks as responsible rulers do.” He helped form the British Union of Fascists whose “Outline of the Corporate State,” according to the organization’s founder, Sir Oswald Mosley, was “on the Italian Model.” While visiting England, the American author Ezra Pound declared that Mussolini was “continuing the task of Thomas Jefferson.”
Thus, it is important to recognize that, as an economic system, fascism was widely accepted in the 1920s and ‘30s. The evil deeds of individual fascists were later condemned, but the practice of economic fascism never was. To this day, the historically uninformed continue to repeat the hoary slogan that, despite all his faults, Mussolini at least “made the trains run on time,” insinuating that his interventionist industrial policies were a success.