The Corporative Idea
By Mario Palmeri
Pp. 143-159 Palmeri, Mario. The Philosophy of Fascism. Chicago: The Dante Alighieri Society, 1936.
To understand the reasons for the debacle of the economic life of modern capitalistic states, it will be sufficient to review the fundamental conceptions underlying their economic practice. Only by getting at the roots of the tree shall we ever be able to find out the cause of the decay of its branches.
Those conceptions can be briefly summarized thus:
1) The economic life of man is a field of action which can be abstracted and separated from all other fields of action of his spiritual activity.
2) The economic life of man is determined only by materialistic factors.
3) Economic progress can derive only from the free play of human egoisms and human ambitions.
4) Private, individual interests, are the only moving forces of all economic initiatives.
5) Increase of wealth can derive only from open competition.
6) The wealth of a community can be measured in terms of the riches of single individuals.
7) The only proper function of the State in the economic life of a nation can be summed up by the formula: Laissez-Faire, a formula devised by the liberal school but fostering only the interests of a reactionary class.
8) The war of classes is a natural phenomenon and is unavoidable. The important thing in this war, as in all wars, is for those in power to retain, and if possible, to assert this power even more forcefully.
9) Production of goods is the main function in the economic life of a nation, and increase of production the only desirable aim. It is assumed that distribution of these goods will take care of itself somehow in a mysterious but infallible way and will adjust itself invariably to conditions, according to the working of such empiric laws as for instance, the law of supply and demand.
10) Private wealth, obtained by the individual in any amount and through any device he has seen fit to use, is sacred and inviolable.
Belief in this Decalogue and practice of its commandments have brought modern capitalist states to the present condition of chaos and despair, when they must acknowledge that the communist propaganda has become for the first time a real menace to their structure.
What does communism do in effect?
Accepting the tenet that class struggle is unavoidable, communism takes up the challenge of capitalism and brings this struggle to its final issue: the triumph of one class: the proletarian class, at the expense of all other classes.
Accepting the tenet that the State is an organ devoid of transcendent significance, communism makes of the State simply a tool for furthering the private interests of the individual.
Finally, accepting the tenet that materialist interests are the only motive forces of the life of man, communism enthrones them as new gods to serve and worship and if necessary, to die for.
Communism, in other words, born out of capitalism, can succeed only, and is actually succeeding, by emphasizing those diseases which gnaw at the very heart of the capitalistic system.
Communism, strange as it may seem, is thus nothing more than economic individualism carried to its logical and fatal conclusion.
Fascism, which is the very antithesis of Individualism, stands as the nemesis of all economic doctrines and all economic practice of both the capitalistic and the communistic systems. Fascism holds that:
1)The economic life of man cannot be abstracted and separated from the whole of his spiritual life. In the words of Mussolini: “The economic man does not exist. Man is integral; he is political, economic, religious, saint and warrior at the same time.”
2) The economic life of man is influenced, if not actually determined, by idealistic factors.
3) True economic progress can derive only from the concerted effort of individuals who know how to sacrifice their personal egoism and ambitions for the good of the whole.
4) Economic initiatives cannot be left to the arbitrary decisions of private, individual interests.
5) Open competition, if not wisely directed and restricted, actually destroys wealth instead of creating it.
6) The wealth of a community is something intangible which cannot be identified with the sum of riches of single individuals.
7) The proper function of the State in the Fascist system is that of supervising, regulating and arbitrating the relationships of capital and labor, employers and employees, individuals and associations, private interests and national interests.
8) Class war is avoidable and must be avoided. Class war is deleterious to the orderly and fruitful life of the nation, therefore it has no place in the Fascist State.
9) More important than the production of wealth is its right distribution, distribution which must benefit in the best possible way all the classes of the nation, hence, the nation itself.
10) Private wealth belongs not only to the individual, but in a symbolic sense, to the State as well.
These fundamental tenets of Fascist economy derive in turn from those basic conceptions of the Fascist doctrine of the State which we have expounded in the chapter of the “Fascist State.” We have said there, in fact, that the Fascist State is a Sovereign State. This means that there cannot be any single economic interests which are above the general economic interests of the State, no individual, economic initiatives which do not fall under the supervision and regulation of the State, no relationships of the various classes of the nations which are not the concern of the State.
Furthermore, the Fascist State is an Ethical State. This means that all the factors influencing the life of a nation: the economic, the social, the political, etc., are brought into the Fascist State under the dominion of the moral law, which becomes not only the supreme law of the individual, but the supreme law of the State as well.
“One invisible tie binds together all the people of a nation. There cannot be any joy or any pain experienced by one single individual which shall not ultimately affect the welfare of the whole nation.”
This is the principle of Fascist Ethics which, translated and applied to the realm of Economics, has transformed the economic organization of the State.
If it is true that one invisible tie binds together the destinies of all the people of one nation, then it is also true that the terms wealthy and pauper, capitalist and worker, landowner and farmer, employer and employee, lose their antagonistic meaning altogether and remain to signify brethren in spirit if not in flesh, engaged from different angles, on different planes, in the arduous task of building up a nation’s life.
We see thus the Fascist State resolutely enter the economic field to dictate what shall be from now on the relationship between the capital and labor, employer and employees, landowner and farmhand, industrialist and worker.
This relationship meant, up to the rise of Fascism, only and simply class war. But-
“. . . Class war,” Mussolini said Jan. 2, 1923, “cannot be more than a transitory episode of the life of a people. It cannot be a daily phenomenon, because it would mean in the end the destruction of all wealth.”
And speaking on the 20th of December, 1923, Mussolini said:
". . . The mistake of Marxism is that of believing that a nation is made of two classes only. A mistake even greater is that of believing that these two classes are in a perpetual state of war. There may be, it is true, contrast of interests, but it cannot be more than transitory; it can never be systematic. This systematic antithesis, which has furnished the basis for all socialistic theories is not a fact but an assumption. Its place has to be taken by collaboration."
Finally, in his definition of the doctrine of Fascism, Mussolini has stated once and for all the terms of the Fascist reaction to the war of classes within the State:
"Having denied historic materialism, which sees in man mere puppets on the surface of history, appearing and disappearing on the crest of the waves, while the real, directing forces move and work in the depths, Fascism also denies the immutable and irreparable character of the class struggle which is the natural outcome of this economic conception of history."
But the war of classes is not the only problem left unsolved by the liberal or the democratic State. There is another equally important problem left without solution: the problem of adequate production and efficient distribution. Of the aspect of this problem, Mussolini said on June 2, 1923:
"The collaboration between the one who furnishes the brow and the one who supplies the brains; the organization of all the elements of production in hierarchies unavoidable and necessary; this is the program through the realization of which it is possible for the people to attain material welfare and for the nation to attain prosperity and power."
These last words are the key to the attitude of Fascism toward the facts of production and distribution.
Knowing that the social problems cannot be entirely solved by regulation of the rapports between capital and labor, but must be solved also with regard to the general facts of production and distribution, Fascism decrees that the productive forces of the nation cannot be any longer at the mercy of the individual’s selfishness and greed, but must be brought, instead, under the supreme discipline of the State.
By delimiting thus the field of action of capital and labor, by harmonizing production and distribution to the actual needs of the nation, the legislation of Fascism has accomplished in the realm of Economics what no legislation of any other political system has ever been able to accomplish; namely, a coordination of all the economic forces of the nation so that the material life of the people may be free of struggles, strikes, unemployment, class war, concentrated wealth and widespread misery.
To bring about such a magic transformation of the economic life of the nation, Fascism has made use of the most characteristic phenomenon of the modern era: the syndicalist phenomenon. Originated as an instrument of the war of classes, syndicalism attempted to organize the various categories of workers in syndical organizations having no other goal than the protection of the material welfare of their own members. These organizations were devoted thus to the furthering of supremely particularized interests, ready to set themselves against each other and against the State itself, whenever those interests were menaced or conflicted with others.
The problem which presented itself as an ominous menace upon the horizon of Fascism at the outset of its very life in Italy was, therefore, to bring at once the phenomenon of syndicalism under the authority of the State, and, successively, to transform its original aim of protecting the interests of the proletariat into protecting the interests of the whole nation.
This could be accomplished only by enlarging the narrow form of the original syndicalist organizations into larger forms which would include all the citizens of the nation into an all-comprehensive national manifestation. This manifestation of the Italians of all classes, all professions, all trades and all creeds into the framework of one enormous and far-reaching organization, which has for its end the material welfare of the whole, is called National Syndicalism.
This National Syndicalism represents the first attempt made to bring the egotistic claims of the individual under the discipline of the Sovereign State; for the realization of an aim which transcends the welfare of the individual and identifies itself with the prosperity of the whole nation.
To make this discipline possible, and the sovereignty effective in practice as well as in theory, Fascism has devised the “Corporazione,” an instrument of social life destined to exercise the most far-reaching influence upon the economic development of Fascist States. (The Italian word “Corporazione” which is currently translated into English by the apparently analogous word “Corporation,” means, more exactly in the Italian language, what the word “Guild” means in English; that is: associations of persons engaged in kindred pursuits. We shall nevertheless follow the general usage to obviate the danger of misunderstandings.)
Within the Corporations the interests of producers and consumers, employers and employees, individuals and associations are interlocked and integrated in a unique and univocal way, while all types of interests are brought under the aegis of the State.
Finally, through these corporations the State may at any time that it deems fit, or that the need requires, intervene within the economic life of the individual to let the supreme interests of the nation have precedence over his private, particular interests, even to the point where his work, his savings, his whole fortune may be pledged, and if absolutely necessary, sacrificed.
The essential difference existing between syndical organizations and corporations can best be illustrated by the comparison of the function they fulfill.
“While the recognized syndical organization,” says G. Bottai, “are juridical personalities of public character, the corporations, instead, are organs of administration of the State. It happens thus that while the syndical function is strictly a prerogative of the Syndicates; the corporative function is uniquely of the domain of the State. . . .”
The Fascist State can be defined then as a “State of Syndical composition and corporative function.”
Through these corporations the Fascist State not only recognizes the specific interests of individuals, of classes and categories – also recognized by the liberal and the democratic State – but, in addition, organizes them, submits them to the authority and the discipline of the State and makes of them the most appropriate instruments for the development of the economic life of the nation.
This social reform, which was implicit in the first recognition of syndicalist associations in France with the law of March 21, 1884, ends forever the neutral position of the Liberal and the Democratic State in the conflicts arising from clashes of opposing interests of the different classes.
“All modern history,” says G. Bottai, “that is all contemporaneous life, leads to the corporative conception of the State, with the inclusion of Economics within the State or the identification of Economics with Politics.”
“Fascism answers today the requirements of universal character. It resolves in effect the threefold problem of the relationships between the State and the individual, between the State and the various groups and between the groups which are organized and those which are not.”
Fifty long, dreary years of struggles, strikes, civil wars, anarchy and depressions, were necessary to bring about the Fascist reform, but, finally, a new day has dawned for mankind: a day in which the haphazard development of the syndicalist phenomenon, which is the necessary and inevitable result of our industrial development, is at last directed toward a well defined goal and constrained within the boundaries set by the discipline and the authority of the State.
To have brought about such magnificent progress in the economic organization of a nation is undoubtedly an achievement of supreme worth, but the originality of the Fascist conception of the corporative state is not exhausted by such an achievement. We must never lose sight of the fact that, as Fascism is more than a corporative system, so corporative principle is something more than a mere principle of economics. And, properly, in the words of another Fascist thinker, B. Donati:
“The corporative principle is a principle vivifying the individual and the collective conduct of life; is an issue at the same time Ethical and Social; is, finally, a need of life itself evolving and transforming in the process of time.”
“In the Corporative State,” Mussolini said, “the workers are placed on the same level of their employers, with the same rights and the same duties. But all the categories of life, not only workers and employers, have their assigned place in the Corporative State. It happens thus that the elements of production: capital and technique of work – which were once outside the sphere of influence or interest of the political state, find in it the best defense of their supreme interest.”
And again, defining still more explicitly, still more forcefully, the Fascist Corporative State, he said:
“A whole people, a whole nation, is constituted through the corporative principle in a compact bloc of political, economical and moral energies and rises, the Fascist State, to the dignity of an operant subject, having a will and conscious of its own destiny.”
The corporative principle which is essentially an anti-individualistic principle, becomes thus the true foundation of the anti-individualistic Fascist State.
That organization to which it gives origin in the field of economics, finds its counterpart in the political field where it gives birth to a new and entirely original social formation.
This is possible because the corporative principle is, in the words of Bottai:
. . . a principle of political-juridical organization, and at the same time, a principle of social life. To give value and to organize the economic categories, to set them in a certain form of hierarchy at whose vertex is the national interest, means at the same time, to devise not only the special organs which must realize them, but to devise a whole series of principles of subordination of two kinds: political, that is of interests and facts; juridical, that is of rights and laws. And, inasmuch as the parties of the social relationship are always two: the individual and the commonwealth; and, inasmuch as every political or juridical organization at bottom only a system of relationships among the various individuals and between the single individual and society, it follows that the corporative principle is a principle of complex and progressive subordination of the Individual’s economic interests to the greater interests of the various economic categories and the general all – comprehensive national economy.
Whoever thinks of Fascist Economy must think of it, therefore, as of something more than a new form of Economics, because it is first of all, and above all, a translation of Ethics into Economics, an application of Ethical principles to economic facts.
Whenever an ethical issue arises in the Fascist State, like the right to strike, for instance, all considerations of material interests must have, and will have, no influence on the right solution of that issue.
The ideal of economic justice is interpreted and applied in the light shed by the Moral ideal, which, as Fascism maintains, must remain paramount in the world of man.
If Corporativism has been adopted thus for the solution of the age-old conflict between the workers and those who provide them with work, it is not entirely because of the material benefits to be expected from it, but also because of the infinite good that this principle has done in bringing about the disappearance of fratricidal struggle within the nation and in contributing toward the formation of the unitary, totalitary, integral State.
If today the corporative principle seems to answer exactly to the need of the hour, it may also happen that tomorrow another principle, another system, may better answer the same purpose.
As Balbino Giuliano says:
Fascism holds that the Corporative system is a useful instrument which the Fascist State has devised to bring about the harmonious development of energies within the economic life of the nation and to facilitate the progress of individual activities and the increase of production. But if the function of the corporative organs may at any time become cause for regress of such activities and decrease of production, then the Fascist State will let the individual energies find for themselves, through new trials and new struggles, a new order and a new system.
In that case Corporativism will have run its course and will become a thing of the past, because if Fascism means Corporativism at present, the reverse is not true: Fascism being more than an economic system, it is also more than a political dictatorship, or more than a social revolt brought about by the affirmation of the middle class.
Each of these characteristics of the various aspects of Fascism, which various writers have erroneously believed to be its determining factor, and have been accepted from time to time as the single keynote of studies of Fascism, must be instead, brought back to their position relative importance and integrated into the comprehensive view of Fascism as a whole philosophy of life, whose significance transcends all superficial and partial explanation.
It happens thus that economic values like industry, agriculture, commerce, etc., which are the paramount values of modern liberal and democratic form of States, are shifted, in the Fascist form of State, to subordinate positions; and properly, subordinate to those spiritual values as Religion or Fatherland, intellectual values, as Science, Education or Culture, social values, the Family, the Race, etc.
In this way, that fictitious abstraction which was the “Homo aeconomicus” has received by the Fascist theory of the state a final, deadly blow. In its place the Ideal Man as a full human being with his aspirations and his dreams, his hopes and his fears, his possibilities and his limitations, has found anew in Fascism his voice and his expression.
Throughout all the utterances of Mussolini it is possible to perceive the paramount preoccupation of giving sensible form to the central aspiration of Fascism, the aspiration of re-establishing the furtherance of the full life of the spirit in the world of man.
Once the economic problem has been disposed of, there still remains to be solved the problem of a satisfactory human life. Economic security cannot be more than the gateway to the life of the spirit; material welfare can never be exchanged or bartered for the welfare of the soul. The Fascist Doctrine avails itself of the economic principles of syndicalism and corporation, but considers them only as a tool; its aim is not to establish the paradise of communism in which each man shall have equal share of all the good things of life, or the paradise of individualism in which each man shall have all he can get of the good things of life and remain satisfied with them, but to establish a state of society where man, free of the struggle for existence, may devote his energies to the greater aim of concerning himself with those things which . . . “outlast the centuries and partake of the truth.”
“There is no other movement, be it spiritual or political, which has a more stable and determined doctrine than the doctrine of Fascism,” Mussolini said on March 24, 1924, “We have some truths and some well-defined realities before us and they are: the State, which must be above everything and everybody; the Government, which must know how to defend itself and how to defend the nation from all the attacks tending to disrupt the nation's life; the collaboration of various classes, the respect of religion, the exaltation of all the national energies. The doctrine of Fascism is a doctrine of Life and not a doctrine of death.
“Fascism rejects the economic interpretation of felicity as something to be secured socialistically, almost automatically, at a given stage of economic evolution when all will be assured of the maximum degree of comfort.
Fascism denies the equation: Well-being equals happiness, which would make of men mere animals, thinking only how they can satiate and fatten themselves, reducing them, therefore, to a vegetative existence pure and simple. . . . And if it is true that matter has been worshipped throughout a whole century, it is also true that it is the spirit which today has taken its place.
Utterances of this type prove definitely that one of the noblest kinds of Idealism has made its appearance in our midst, and, although still greatly misunderstood and vilipended today, will not fail to bring tomorrow a renewal of our inner and outer forms of life.
The whole constitution of Fascism is permeated by the spirit of its idealistic doctrine: the repartition of powers, the role of the hierarchy, the basis of law, the relationship with the Church, the organization of the family; all the elements of the Fascist State reflect the light of this new Idealism taking the place of Positivism, Materialism, Pragmatism and all other doctrines which are the negation of the eternal urge of Man toward the good life.
The Fascist Regime must always avoid the corruption of the spirit by the letter; avoid also materialistic aims which may overshadow the idealistic ones; avoid, finally, the possibility of interests or ambitions of a few individuals prevailing over the general interests of the people.