The Political Economy under Fascism should scare us. It is all too familiar.
Cross-posted from Historicly
They say little if anything about the class policies of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. How did these regimes deal with social services, taxes, business, and the conditions of labor? For whose benefit and at whose expense?
-Michael Parenti, Blackshirts and Reds
It’s time to talk about the Banality of Evil. The Nazis didn’t start with genocide. Heck, they didn’t even start with the Nuremberg Laws. Our education system and popular media focus on the most horrific, the most dramatic, and the most apparent aspects of Fascism. However, Fascism begins in a much less dramatic fashion. In the beginning,Fascism is banal, and to many of us, it is oddly familiar.
Before the rise of Fascism, both Italy and Germany had a robust social safety net and public services. In Italy, the trains were nationalized, and they ran on time while serving rural villages in 1861. The telecom industry was nationalized in 1901. Phone lines and public telephone services were universally available. In 1908, the life insurance industry was nationalized. For the first time, even poor Italians could ensure that their family could be taken care of if they died a premature death.
Between 1919 and 1921, Italy went through a time of worker liberation that has been dubbed as Bienno Rosso. Italian workers had formed factory co-ops where they shared the profits. Large landlords were replaced by cooperative farming. Workers received many concessions: higher wages, fewer hours, and safer workplace conditions.
Similarly, in Germany, Otto von Bismarck nationalized healthcare, making it available to all Germans in 1871. Bismarck also provided old-age pensions as public social security. Under Otto Von Bismarck, child labor was abolished, as well as providing public schools to all children. Germany inherited a national railway system from the Prussian empire. Germany’s Social Democratic Party grew strong during 1890s. In response, the Kaiser implemented worker protection laws in 1890. After World War I, the Social Democrats’ influence was strong. Germany had an active union membership. This created a robust safety net: “Decree on Collective Agreements, Worker and Employees Committees and the Settlement of Labor disputes” allowed for collective bargaining, legal enforcement of labor contracts as well as social security for disabled veterans, widows, and dependents. In 1918, unemployment benefits were given to all workers in Germany.
Economic Policies of Fascism
Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister in October 1922. Nazis rose to power in 1933 in Germany. Mussolini convened a meeting of his cabinet and immediately decided to privatize all the public enterprises. On December 3, 1922, they passed a law where they promised to reduce the size and function of the government, reform tax laws and also reduce spending. This was followed by mass privatization. He privatized the post office, railroads, telephone companies, and even the state life insurance companies. Afterward, the two firms that had lobbied the hardest: Assicurazioni Generali (AG) and Adriatica di Sicurtà (AS), became a de-facto oligopoly. They became for-profit enterprises. The premiums increased, and poor people had their coverage removed.
In January 1923, Mussolini eliminated rent-control laws. His reasoning ought to be familiar since that is the same reasoning used in many contemporary editorials against rent control laws. He claimed rent control laws prevent landlords from building new housing. When tenants protested, he eliminated tenants’ unions. As a result, rent prices increased wildly in Rome, and many families became homeless. Some went to live in caves…