Common Dreams - May 8, 2021

There’s been a lot of talk lately about fascism, generally in the context of Republicans denying people their right to vote or Donald Trump sending an armed mob to murder five people at the U.S. Capitol to try to install him as America’s first strongman dictator.

Indeed, authoritarian governance is a major aspect of fascism. But there’s another piece to the puzzle, and it is playing out right now across America, and getting almost no coverage whatsoever.

It’s when giant corporations are able to control government and thus stop things like a national healthcare system, rational gun control laws, free college, or even the tiniest tax on carbon. When they’re able to push through “criminal justice reform” that makes it nearly impossible to prosecute corporate CEOs when their companies kill workers, consumers, or even poison entire communities.

It’s when they don’t do it through presenting strong and defendable ideas in the public realm and before Congress, but by pouring cash into the pockets of individual politicians and their parties.

It’s when corporations and the very rich have seized control of the political process through the use of their considerable economic power, after having used that power to change laws so they can legally buy politicians.

When government gives corporations this core power to write laws, and, in exchange, corporations facilitate government power to suppress dissent and marginalize non-fascist political parties, a country finds itself on the edge of classical fascism.

The word fascism comes from the Roman fasces, a bundle of sticks with a rope around it, typically adorned with a hatchet on the top. There’s one carved into the podium in the United States Senate, an homage to the ancient Roman Republic which originated it and partly inspired our Constitution.

The idea is that a single stick can easily be broken, but a bundle of sticks is almost impossible to break. Similarly, a single state may be vulnerable, but a collection of states, united together, is unbreakable.

But the Roman fasces, although that symbol was used throughout history as a symbol of the ancient Roman Republic, took on a completely different meaning in the late 1920s when Italian dictator Benito Mussolini derived from it the word fascism.

To him, fascism met something quite different than just the strength of a united country. It meant the literal merger of corporate and state interests, ultimately facilitating a strongman authoritarian government. Corporations and the government becoming interpenetrated and intertwined, ruling the country together, with a “tough guy” in charge.

The “tough guy” or authoritarian leader would then shower his own beneficence on the corporations that funded his political power.

Mussolini was so enthusiastic about this that he declared the essential merger of state and corporate power. As he said in The Labour Charter (Promulgated by the Grand Council of Fascism on April 21, 1927, published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, April 3, 1927, p. 133):

The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporate, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organized in their respective associations, circulate within the State.

Giant corporations across Italy competed for Mussolini’s favor, and for the government contracts that could doubly flow from it. Not to mention the political power that could grant profits, tax cuts, and immunity from being held responsible for everything from industrial accidents causing the death of workers to deadly pollution killing entire communities.

Today, as a substantial number of Republican politicians are actively working to subvert democracy and establish a merger of corporate and strongman rule, what Mussolini called fascism, those politicians are also being supported and encouraged by large numbers of major American corporations.

In exchange for that support, particularly during the Trump administration but also on a state-by-state basis where Republicans control state governments, those corporations get everything from tax cuts to assistance in avoiding unions to a pass on pollution or even corporate malfeasance that kills people, like we just saw with the for-profit corporate power grid in Texas.

We are moving from the early technical dimensions of fascism to the true realization of Mussolini’s vision. ...
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