Fascism Corporatism – Daniel Guérin

Source: http://aaap.be/Pdf/International-Council-Correspondence/International-Council-Correspondence-3-02a.pdf

International Council Correspondence, Vol. III (1937), No 2 (February)

Before the Seizure of Power

Fascism has put – or put back again – into the order of the day, the words: corporation, corporatism, the corporate State. Never have these words been used so much as in the last few years. But at the same time, there exists the greatest confusion as to their true significance. It is this confusion which we will try to dispel.

Corporatism is one of the baits which fascism holds out to the petty-bourgeois and to workers with the mentality of small bourgeois. First, in order to conquer them; then, once it is installed in power, to conceal from them its true face.

If one studies this a little more closely, one finds three things in the “corporative” demagogy of the fascists:

1. – The promise made to workers with petty-bourgeois mentality to “deproletarianize” them, certainly not by effacing the great difference of opinion between capital and labor, between employer and employee, but in bringing together, in reconciling those two factors of production. The promise is made to there workers that among these mixed “corporations” they will be able to live as small bourgeois; that the right to work will be guaranteed to them; that they will receive a “fair” salary; that they will be insured against their old age; and specially that their employers will treat them on and equal footing as real “collaborators” in production.

2. – The promise made to independent petty-bourgeois (artisans, small business men, etc.) who are victims of the competition between the great capitalist monopolies and on the way to becoming proletarians, is that fascism will revive for them a regime which is inspired by that of the middle ages, by the pre-capitalism era. This regime will no longer be that of competition and the most rigid laws, but a regime in which the little producers will be protected, organized, and will re-discover security and stability under the care of the autonomous “corporation”.

3. – Finally, the promise is made that the political parliamentary State, parasitic and incompetent, will be replaced by a corporate State in the midst of which all producers grouped according to their trades will be entitled to vote, under whose care all interests will be conciliated and harmonized under the sign of the general interest.

This triple utopia of the small bourgeois does not properly belong to fascism. It is found thruout the entire 19th century. Nevertheless, it assumes quite different forms in the thoughts of the reactionary petty-bourgeois and in the thoughts of the reformist petty-bourgeois.

Reactionary Corporatism

At the beginning of the 19th century, there were many small bourgeois who regretted the recent abolition of corporations. Economic liberalism had thrown them defenseless into the capitalist jungle. Pitiless competition ruined them and made proletarians of them. And so they stood solidly across the path of progress and tried to stop it in its march. They wished to return to a period which ante-dated capitalism.

The reactionary parties (in France, the monarchist party) and the Church exploited these retrograde aspirations for their own ends and inscribed upon their programs the reestablishment of corporations. For the needs of the cause, the myth of medieval corporations was created, which was nothing but and enormous falsification of history. The “corporations” of the middle ages, as a matter of fact, resembled in no respects this myth which it is now maintained that they were. They existed only for a moment in the Middle Ages, and capitalism very speedily eliminated them, or entirely altered their character. They only appeared late and were only developed within a limited sphere, that of the artisan and the small business man. And even within this domain, there were free metiers. As against this, big business which was already flourishing in the middle ages, escaped the corporative regime. The bourgeois who created it were grouped in real employers’ syndicates, quite different from “corporations”[1].

In proportion to the rate with which the mode of capitalist production expanded, the corporations masked a decreasing part of the economic domain. Thus it was that in France, the royal factories, forerunners of modern industry, were created outside of the old servitude of the corporative regime. When Turgot (1776) and then the Revolution (1791) abolished corporations in France, they were already dead of themselves. Capitalism had “broken the chains”[2] which shackled its development. 

Moreover, even within the “corporation”, the division of opinion between Capital and Labor, the class struggle, appeared at a very early date. The aristocracy of masters rapidly took all power unto itself and it became more and more difficult for a worker to come into possession of the rights and privileges of a free man. After the 17th century, the worker became a proletarian. The corporation was nothing more than a monopoly of caste, a “Bastille where a jealous and avaricious oligarchy was intrenched[3].”

However, in the middle of the 19th century, the reactionary parties and the Church pretended to resuscitate these medieval corporations long since surpassed in the evolution of economics. They saw a triple advantage in propagating this utopia:

1. – To draw into their ranks the retrograde small bourgeois.

2. – To turn workers away from socialism and syndicalism by offering them these “corporative” organizations as a substitute.

3. – To make a breach in universal democratic suffrage by opposing to it professional suffrage.

Thus it was that in France, since the first half of the century, a Pleiad of catholic writers (Sismondi, Buchez, Villeneuve-Bargemont, Buret, etc.) denounced the misdeeds of competition and demanded the reestablishment of organized trades. The Count de Chambord, in his Letter on Workers (1865), recalled that “royalt has always been the patron of the working class”, and called for the “constitution of free corporations”. From 1870 on, the Church officially incorporated “corporatism” in its doctrine. “The only means”, declared the Catholic congress of Lille (1871) “to return to that peaceable state which society enjoyed before the Revolution is to reestablish, by catholic association, the reign of solidarity in the world of work.” In 1894 Pope Leon XIII sent forth his encyclic Rerum Novarum in which, after having stated that “capitalism has divided the social body into two classes and has excavated between them and immense abyss” the pretends to repair the ill by a return to the past: “For a long time our ancestors experienced the benevolent influence of corporations. And so, it is with pleasure that we see societies of this kind being formed everywhere.” In his turn, La Tour du Pin, who was at one and the same time a Catholic and a monarchist, hoped that the corporation would bring together the worker and the employer, and “would replace, by a natural soldering, the artificial chains of its first hours[4].”

To these corporations, the reactionaries accorded but a consultative role. They did not inted to substitute them for the political State, but on the contrary they wanted to subordinate them closely to the State. Politics first! For the Count de Chambord corporations were to become the “bases of the electorate and of suffrage.” For La Tour du Pin, they were to be the “natural and historic electoral colleges of the body politic.” But aside from them, there would be either the “patron” monarchy, or the authoritative State, of which the corporations would be but the “simple collaborators in their economic functions.[5]

Reformism Corporatism

While the reactionaries wished to return to the past, other ideologists, without demanding the reestablishment of the abolished medieval corporations, dreamed of transplanting their principles into modern society; dreamed of “organizing” work. But their aspiration was still confused. Saint-Simon wanted to divide the producers into industrial corporations[6]. His disciples maintained that the “regenerator principle” of the future society was not “different from the principles which resigned during the organization of the middle ages.”

“Some legislative resolutions had as their aim the establishment of order within industrial acts. There was also an institution which made a particular impression on souls in its last days, and which responded to the need for union, for association as much as the state of society then permitted it; we mean to say, corporations. Without doubt, these organizations were defective in many ways. However, a bad organization was abolished, but nothing was built in its place. Although there have been institutions called corporations whose forms have been repugnant to us, it is not necessary to conclude that industrials ought not to combine into corporations, to produce from themselves these instinctive efforts whose manifest tendency is to bring order by leading towards a new organization of work[7].”

Proudhon, in his turn, wished to “construct upon new relations those natural groups of work, working-men’s corporations[8].” He affirmed that “the 20th century will open and era of federations. The industries are sisters; they are the dismembered parts, the one of the other. They should therefore become federated[9].”

But the social reformers of the first half of the 19th century had not yet a clear ideia of the great difference created by capitalism between Capital and Labor, between employer and employee. Or, if they were conscious of them, they dreamed of putting and end to these differences, of keeping alive or causing to be artifically reborn, the small independent producer. For the saint-simonions, the term “industrial” indistinctly signified all producers without clearly stating whether they were concerned with the producer-employer, or the producer-worker. When Proudhon speaks of corporations of working men, he means corporations not of employers and workers, or of workers alone against their employers; but of small independent producers saved by ‘mutuality’, ‘free credit’ or some such medication. In the place of having understood or wished to admit the difference existing between Capital and Labor, the social reformers of the first half of the 19th century remained within the domain of utopia.

But they marked out a line along which some of their heirs are hardily engaged: the revolutionary syndicalists. These revolutionary syndicalists take up again the ideias of Saint-Simon and Proudhon, “the organization of work”, and “federalism”, and they extricate them from all ideia of utopia. They reject at the same time the ideia of the corporations or small independent producers, the ideia of mixed corporations (employers and workers united); the first, because it would be vain to oppose capitalist evolution, to try to keep alive or to resuscitate the small independent producer; and the second, because in the capitalist regime the interest of the employers and the workers are antagonistic, and to attempt to conciliate them, to practice the “collaboration of classes” would be trickery. The corporation of the syndicalists is a corporation of class. They struggle for the installation of a corporative proletarian society, after the abolition of the wage system.

But Saint-Simon and Proudhon have two very different posterities, the one of a revolutionary spirit and the other of a small bourgeois spirit. The reformists still keep one foot in utopia. Without doubt they have renounced the ideia of corporations of independent producers. They are resigned to the gulf between Capital and Labor. But they hope to narrow this gulf by corporations marked by the “collaboration of classes”. They would like, by the parallel development of patronal syndicalism and workingmen’s syndicalism, by the obligatory competition of professional organizations and the practice of collective bargaining, to reconcile these two “indispensible” factors of production. They flatter themselves with the ideia that they could share equally with the employer the economic administration at first within each trade and then within the framework of the entire nation, by the institution of an “economic parliament”.

Only lately, in his Economic Federalism (1901), Paul Boncour made of himself the brilliant interpreter of this utopia. Immediately after the war, this utopia was turning the heads of the reformists of a great number of countries, in Germany especially, but also in Italy, France, etc. Nearly everywhere the reformists believed that the hour had come for “democratic economics”, for the corporatism of the “collaboration of classes”. And in spite of all the deceptions experienced, it is still upon this utopia that the international reformists are building. Thus it is that in Switzerland, the trade unions decided to accept the principle of “professional communities”, uniting employer and worker. In Austria, a little before the debacle, the Wiener Arbeiter Zeitung wrote that the social-democracy “could well admit the ideia of corporations”. In Belgium, De Man Calls for “a mixed organization of production placed under the sign of corporatism”, and in the plan of the P.O.B. that mixed organization “is going from syndical recognition and the generalization of collective bargaining to the establishment of an Economic Council in place of the Senate[10]“. In France, the most important part of the plan of the C.G.T. (Federation of Labor) is the national Economic Council “composed of qualified representatives designated by the most representative organizations of patrons and workers[11]“. And the International Syndical Federation itself dreams of “a true corporate State which should be effectively interpreted by the collaboration of employers and employees in the same organization of a common institution[12]“.

But should this “Corporate State”, in the spirit of the reformists, absorb the Political State? No. They do not see as far ahead as did Saint-Simon and Proudhon. Saint-Simon hoped that the industrial corporations would be substituted for the political power, that the council of industrials would replace the government. Proudhon wrote: “That which we would put in the place of the government is industrial organization. More laws voted for by the majority. Each citizen, each community or corporation to make its own[13].”

And so Saint-Simon and Proudhon marked out a way which, transposed from an utopian plan into the realm of class, leads to syndicalism and revolutionary socialism. In the proletarian society, “the worshop will replace the government”, the parasitic State will be replaced by the free association of producers. But the reformists, who want to install their corporatism within the framework of the capitalist regime cannot substitute the “economic” for the “politic”. Syndical liberty, the condition sine qua non of the “collaboration of classes”, such as they dream of, demans in itself democratic politics, and democratic politics implies universal suffrage and parliamentarianism. Also, they demand only the creation of a consultative role for the corporate organizations. For the authors of the Federation of Labor Plan (C.G.T.), for example, the economic parliament “inspirer the political power in its decisions.”

Fascist Corporatism

We shall see how Fascism borrowed its corporative demagogy from the reactionaries and reformists at one and the same time. From the reactionaries it took the ideia of the resurrection of medieval corporations of artisans and small business men; and it is especially to the reformists that it owes the ideia of the “colaboration of classes”, the ideia of a consultative economic parliament. But upon two essential points it separates from the reformists and attaches itself to the reactionaries.

1. The reformists wish to institute their corporatism within the frame of a democratic political State; the fascists within and authoritative political State.

2. The reformists want their “collaboration of classes” within each corporation under a regime of syndical liberty. The fascists, on the contrary, do not hide their intention of taking as a basis of their corporate State, not the free syndicates of workingmen, but syndicates put under guardianship.

In Italy, Mussolini had a model before this eyes: the “corporate” constitution promulgated by D’Annunzio at Fiume (September 8, 1920), which, however, was never put into application. This constitution was, from certain angles, sharply reactionary in inspiration. It created in the small town of Fiume, which was very little industrialized, ten obligatory corporations in full possession of autonomy, “such as were established and carried on in the course of four glorious centuries of our communal period.” But its author, the former militant syndicalist of Ambris introduced equally the reformist ideia of an economic parliament composed of sixty members and elected by the corporations[14].

In another way, Mussolini borrowed directly from the ideology of Italian reformatism. During the occupation of the factories in 1920, a delegation of militant syndicalists close to the Ministry of Labor offered the cooperation of the workers to the administration of enterprises “as being more likely to assure Italian industries a better yield.” And in its motion of September 11, the Federation of Labor invoked the “superior interest of national production”. From this language to that of the fascists of the following years, the connection is direct. On October 31, 1921, the central committee of the Fasci “affirmed that in the superior interests of the nation, the industralists and the workers must serch for all possibilities of accord.” And it proposed the principle that “the two factors should condition each other and become integrated within the realm of production.” On March 15, 1923, the fascist Grand Council demanded that all the syndical organizations (employers’ and workers’) assure “the effective collaboration of all the elements of production, in the supreme interest of the country.” The fascist historian, Volpe, maintained that “the germ of the corporate regime is founded upon that resolution[15].”

At the same time, Mussolini borrowed from the reformists the ideia of a consultative economic parliament. About the time when the Italian Federation of Labor proposed that the laws be elaborated by a “consultative body of syndicates”, the wrote to a friend: “In the future, we shall see multiple parliaments of competents substituted for an unique parliament of incompetents[16].”

At the constitutive assembly of the Fasci on March 23, 1919, the declared: “Actual political representation cannot suffice us; we want direct representation of all interests. One could offer as an objection to this program that we are returning to corporations. What does that matter?”

And, in fact, the fascist program of 1919 demanded the “creation of national technical councils of labor, industry, transportation, etc., elected by the collectivity of professions or trades, with legislative powers, and the right to elect a general commissioner with power of minister.”

But here the reactionary inspiration re-appears; the fascists understood “politics first” in an entirely different way from the reformists. The political State to which they would subordinate the corporate organizations was already, in Mussolini’s mind, the authoritative State, and the “parliament of competents” was in reality a war machine directed against the “parliament of incompetents”, against democratic parliaments.

Moreover, the fascists counted upon building the future “corporate State” not upon the basis of free workingmen’s syndicates, but upon the basis of “fascist syndycates”, created beginning with 1921 which constituted above all a war machine directed against free syndicalism.

In Germany

In “National Socialism” the reactionary inspiration is equally visible. It must not be forgotten that in Germany, the medieval corporate regime survived up to the middle of the 19th century for independent trades, and that in the years that followed there was an attempt to revive them. Thus a law of 1897 accords to artisans and small business men the right to group themselves into corporations and this right could even be transformed into an obligation if the majority of the members of the trade demanded it.

From Ficthe[17] until our days, numerous reactionary writers have extolled the reestablishment of medieval corporations, notably after the war. “It was logical”, wrote Mueller van den Bruck, “that the attack against the parliamentary system which, among the revolutionaries was carried on under the slogan of ‘councils’, should be led among the conservatives under the banner of corporations. They are concerned with giving the corporations their due by understanding them, not historically and romantically, but by inspiring them with modern ideias, by mixing corporative and syndicalist ideas[18].”

Gregor Strasser declared that “German socialism takes its point of departure from the spirit and continuation of the professional system of the guilds and the corporations of the middle ages[19].”

But at the same time, the Nazis borrowed the corporatism of “collaboration of the classes” from the German reformists. The laws called those of “socialization” of 1919, in the elaboration of which the reformists took part, admitted, for certain industries, a mixed administration by patron representatives and worker representatives. The Constitution of Weimar speaks of “assuring the collaboration of all the elements of production, of interesting employers and employees in the administration.” (article 156).

And, on the same point, Feder extolled the “incorporation of employers and workers of the different economic branches into professional corporations whose aim would be to lead them, one and the other, from an atmosphere poisoned by the class struggle and to orient them towards the common aim, which is national production, with a sentiment of confidence and of reciprocal responsibilities[20].” Within these corporations, “employers and employees should sit in the court together with the same rights[21].”

The Nazis also borrowed the ideia of a consultative economic parliament from the reformists. In the image of the Economic Council of the Reich, created in 1919, they proclaimed, in 1920, the creation of elected regional economic councils with a Supreme Economic Chamber at the head which would be charged with concialiting the diverse interests[22].

But the Nazis understood “politics first” in an entirely different way from the reformists. The “Political State” to which they would subordinate corporate organizations figured in their minds as the authoritative State, and their economic parliament was in reality a war machine directed against democratic parliaments. “The elections”, wrote Goebbels, “will no longer be made upon the basis of political parties, but on the basis of organized professions in the midst of the State[23].”

Moreover, the Nazis do not hide the fact that the “cornerstone” of their future “corporate State” will not be constituted of free workers’ syndicates under their actual form, but of “disenfranchized” syndicates deprived of their representatives and placed under the strict guardianship of the national-socialist State.

Capitalist Magnates Against Corporatism

There remains for us to examine a very important point. What do the capitalist magnates, the money-lenders of fascism, think of its “corporate” demagogy? As long as the fascists had not yet seized power, the magnates saw more advantages than inconveniences in this demagogy. Would it not attract numerous petty-bourgeois to the fascist ranks? Would it not turn aside from the class struggle and free trades-unionism a certain number of workers? Would it not make a breach in democratic parliamentarianism?

But, if they were permitted to say so, the moneylenders of fascism are at heart themselves irreductibly hostile to all corporations, to all “collaboration of classes”, to all relations “upon an equal footing of equality” with their exploited workers. In their enterprises as in the industry, they wish to dictate their orders, and not meet their personnel as equals. They fear, above all, that the exploited will demand a right to control their own affairs, and will claim a certain part of the economic administration. They do not forget their great terror after the war when the workers in Italy occupied the factories, claiming the right to run their production themselves; when in Germany, for several days, the councils of workers and soldiers were the only legal power. Therefore, they have systemmatically sabotaged all the plans for corporatism and workers’ control whose principles they momentarily acccepted. In Italy, the “workers’ control” promised to the metal workers after the occupation of the factories (1920) was never applied. In Germany, the patrons systematically opposed the application of the laws called “socialization” of 1919, and refused to take part in organizations like the Councils of Coal and Potassium, refused every effective collaboration with the representatives of the workers. In Italy, in Germany, in no country do capitalist magnates want “corporatism”, or, if they accept the principle, it is only after it has been rendered unrecognizable, emptied of all content. Thus it is, for example, that the French industrialist, Mathon, deplored the fact that “there ware those who have dreamed of restoring corporations”, seeing in that “a collaboration often pushed to the point of the workers’ participating in the management and enjoying the benefits of enterprise.” On the contrary, this realm should remain the hunting preserve of the boss. He says that “in principle, only the employers ought to direct and economic corporation. To them belong the enterprises which it constitutes; they should have, from this fact, the supreme direction of it, and the responsibility. They are more qualified for this direction. They alone can judge with clarity and a sufficiently large viewpoint, with necessary competence and experience. The necessity of a single leader is formal[24].” In consequence the economic corporation ought to be composed exclusively of employers. But, this domain being reserved, Mathon does not see the inconveniences of this when employers and workers find themselves in the “social” corporation and there debate together the questions relative to salaries and to conditions of work.

All French Employers who have written on the “corporation”, whether it be Maurice Olivier[25] or Lucien Laine[26] have given the same opinion: no participation of workers in the economic direction. “That would be to fall into disorder.” Hitler himself, in a moment of sincerity, expressed and analogous opinion. Otto Strasser asked him in 1930: “Then will ‘the collier be master in this own home’?” Hitler replied angrily: “The present system is basically just; there can be no other. Co-ownership and co-decisions of workers is Marxism[27].”

The national German party, which calls itself national socialism when it speaks to the masses, expressed the intimate thought of a big capitalist when it inscribed in large characters upon its program of 1932, “we drive back the corporate state[28]“.

And, in fact, we shall see that the next step in Fascism, once it is master of power, will be to drive back the corporate State which it promised in order to institute finally a ridiculous caricature.

[1] Tardy & Bonnfours: Le Corporatisme, 1935.

[2] Marx: Communist Manifesto, 1848.

[3] Martin Saint-Leon: History of the Corporations of Trades, 3rd edition, 1922.

[4] Saint-Simon: Du Systeme Industrial, 1821.

[5] Doctrine de Saint-Simon, Expose Premiere Annee, 1829.

[6] De la Capacite Politique des Classes Ouvrieres, 1864.

[7] Du Principe Federatif, 1863.

[8] Vers un Ordre Social Coretien, 1907.

[9] Rocco: “Criso Dello Stato e Sindacati” “Politico”, December, 1920.

[10] Corporatisme et Socialisme, Bruxelles, 1935..

[11] Official Text of the plan of the Federation of Labor.

[12] “Le Mensonge de l’etat Corporatif”. Le Movement Syndical International, Jan. – Apr. 1934.

[13] The general ideia of the Revolution in the 19th Century.

[14] Ambrosini: D’Annunzio et la constitution syndicale de Fiume, “Revue de Droit public”, 1926, p. 741.

[15] Histoire du mouvement fasciste, Rome (in French).

[16] Letter of April 23, 1918, quoted in “Temps“, Dec. 19, 1934.

[17] L’Etat commercial ferme, 1800.

[18] The Third Reich, 1923.

[19] Discourse of July 20, 1925 in Kamp und Deutschland.

[20]Fondements de l’economie nationale-socialiste“.

[21] Daundered: “Les Buts du N.S.D.A.P.“.

[22] Program of the National Socialist Party, Feb. 1920.

[23] Goebbels: “Der Nazi-Sozi“.

[24] La Corporation, base de l’organization economique, 2nd ed. 1934.

[25] Pourquoi, comment sauver l’economie nationale, 1935.

[26] CF. Information Sociale, June 20, 1935.

[27] CF. Conrad Heiden: History of National Socialism (German edition).

[28] The framework of this study being limited, we must imagine corporatism, especially here, under the interesting light of the working class; that is to say, mixed corporatism, or “the collaboration of classes”. But all the capitalist magnates are also hostile to autonomous “corporations” for the independent petty bourgeois (artisans, small business men). They feel no need that small producers should be protected by such “corporations” against their competition. They are even opposed to a “corporate State” in the midst of which all interests would really have a voice in the court. They do not wish to harmonize their interests with other interests, but they want to make their interests prevail in wiping out or ransoming all others.

All transcriptions were done by Felipe Andrade. Did you find any mistakes? Suggestions? Send e-mail to:
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