I’ve been reviewing the history of fascism recently, because the Republic of Iran has many structural features in common with fascism and I think the history of fascism in Europe holds lessons about its future. And recently I ran across a quote beloved of American leftists in an email signature:
From Benito Mussolini: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
This quote is often misconstrued nowadays by leftists who view profit-making corporations under capitalism (especially multinational corporations) as instruments of the devil. They love the implied image of capitalist fat-cats and fascist dictators conspiring in gilded opulence. Alas for them that this quote actually doesn’t imply anything like that; the terminological ground under it has shifted.
The “corporatism” Mussolini to which was referring had, actually, nothing to do with corporations, joint-stock or otherwise (in the 1920s the word “corporation” did not yet have its modern sense, either in English or Italian). His use of the word had to do with a feature of fascist theory forgotten by almost everybody but specialist historians.
In fascist theory, “corporations” were bodies like unions, craft guilds, professional societies, and grange associations. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism for discussion; see especially the section “Italian fascist corporativism”.
What Mussolini was actually enunciating was a sort of organic statism in which the state would bless or admit representatives of various “corporations” into its governing councils — and no, that didn’t mean Fiat or Beretta but (say) the Abruzzo Building Trades Association, or the Society of University Professors.
While corporations-in-the-modern sense were not outright excluded from being legitimized “corporations” in the fascist sense, neither did they have any special status or power in the system. Actually, it was rather the reverse…
It’s worth remembering that the founders of fascism were mainly Leninists like Mussolini with a sprinkling of anarcho-syndicalists (George Sorel being the best known of those). Actual fascism retained the founders’ doctrinal hostility to what modern leftists would call “corporate power”, never renouncing its state-socialist roots and being (in fact) hostile to all centers of power other than the state itself.
The modern idea that German and Italian fascism were conservative or pro-business ideologies is essentially a fantasy constructed by pro-Soviet propagandists during and after World War II. In fact, classical fascism never wandered very far from its left-wing origins; corporatism can be seen as an elaboration of the theoretical role of worker’s soviets in Leninist theory.