Primary Sources on Mussolini's Crony Capitalism
It may be argued that Benito Mussolini (1883–1945, dictator of Italy 1922–1943) invented modern crony capitalism. As he saw it, the state would not own the economy. Ownership would nominally remain in private hands, although the state would exercise total control.
Government control without direct ownership had the advantage that when the economy did well, the state could take credit. When the economy did poorly, private parties could be blamed. Prior to the debacle of World War II, many of Mussolini’s policies were admired by progressives such as economist John Maynard Keynes and President Franklin Roosevelt.
Today, nobody supports what came to be called fascism, but nevertheless many of the economic policies central to it survive and even dominate in countries all over the world. This unique collection of Mussolini’s statements about economics is important, all the more so since many of them have not been previously available in English.
Professor Carlo Celli has reviewed all the available material and created a masterful compilation of the most important primary documents. He also provides an introduction to set the scene and an appendix of economic data to clarify what was happening at the time.
If you are interested in the origins of today’s crony capitalism and wish a better understanding of it, you will want this book.
Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), known as Il Duce (the leader), was the fascist dictator of Italy during World War II.
He was born on July 29, 1883, in a central Italian village. His father was a blacksmith and an ardent Socialist. His mother taught elementary school.
Mussolini worked in early life as a teacher and journalist. He became active in the Socialist movement but fell out in 1914 for opposing neutrality in World War I.
After the war, Italy was in confusion. On March 23, 1919, Mussolini and several other veterans formed the National Fascist Party. In October 1922, Mussolini was prime minister of a coalition government. In 1925, he assumed dictatorial powers. In the following years, the political, legal, and education systems were restructured based on his fascist principles.
During World War II, Italian defeats and troubles at home undermined Mussolini’s standing. In July 1943, soon after the start of the Allied invasion, he was forced to resign by his own Fascist Grand Council. The king had him arrested the next day. He was released from prison by German parachutists in September and set up a “Republican Fascist” government in northern Italy.
In April 1945, with total defeat imminent, he and his mistress, Clara Petacci, attempted to escape to the border. They were captured at Lake Como by Italian partisans and shot. Their bodies were strung up the next day for all to see.
About the Author
Carlo Celli holds degrees from the University of Virginia (BA in Economics) and UCLA (PhD), and studied at the universities of Florence and Bologna. He is a professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and the author of books on the historical, economic, and social factors influencing culture.
Lions of Liberty Podcast Ep. 17: Prof. Carlo Celli on Mussolini’s Fascism
January 13, 2013
In this episode of the Lions of Liberty Podcast, host Marc Clair is joined by Professor Carlo Celli of Bowling Green State University, for a history lesson, as they discuss his new book, Economic Fascism: Primary Sources on Mussolini’s Crony Capitalism. Professor Celli describes the economic and social conditions which led to Mussolini’s rise to power, how he used rhetoric to control political debate, and how his economic dictates influenced the Italian economy. They then probe the idea of whether or not the United States today is an example of a fascist country.
Link to Podcast:
John Senger, ForeWord Reviews (Winter 2014):
“Economic Fascism makes available to English-language readers important historical documents of great interest to students of Italian and/or economic history. . . . Celli has built a useful window into a period of history whose events and theories still move current political thought and discussion.”
[Complete review: Forewordreviews.com]
1: Birth Certificate of Fascism at Piazza San Sepolcro (1919)
2: Program of the Fasci di Combattimento (1919)
3: Program of the National Fascist Party (1921)
4: For the Battle of Grain (1925)
5: The Defense of the Lira and Problems with Exports (1926)
6: Pesaro Speech (1926)
7: The Labor Charter (1927)
8: Ascension Speech (1927)
9: Law Establishing the National Council of Corporations (1930)
10: To the National Council of Corporations (1930)
11: The World Economic Crisis (1930)
12: The Economic Policies of the Regime (1930)
13: The Doctrine of Fascism (1932)
14: On the Corporate State (1933)
15: On the Bill Establishing the Law on the Corporate State (1934)
16: The Economic Situation (1934)
17: To the Workers of Milan (1934)
18: Before the Assembly of the Council of Corporations (1934)
19: Industrial Reconstruction (1935)
20: Plan for the New Italian Economy (1936)
21: Preliminary Remarks for the Creation of the New Structure for the Italian Economy (1944)
22: Twenty-Year Logical Development of Fascist Doctrine (1944)
Appendix: Italian Economic Statistics 1922–1945
From the Introduction
Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), fascist dictator of Italy (1922–1943), did not have a formal background in economics. He attended elementary school and then a college run by strict Salesian friars from which he was expelled, an experience that seems to have influenced his early anticlerical politics. He then attended a normal school and attained a certificate as an elementary school teacher. After emigration to Switzerland in 1902, he worked as a laborer and journalist and became deeply involved in the international socialist movement. Mussolini’s potentially influential brush with formal economics came when he attended courses at the University of Lausanne taught by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian who was one of the premier economists of the period. Once Mussolini took power in 1922, an appointment as senator for life was in store for Pareto, who died shortly thereafter in 1923.
Pareto is mainly known for the theory of Pareto optimality and the 80-20% distribution—the proposition whereby 20% of a population produces 80% of results (good or bad) in economic activity. Mussolini, however, seems to have been more influenced by Pareto’s work in sociology. In particular, he focused on Pareto’s historical and sociological theory that history represents a succession of dominating elites with the bourgeoisie having substituted for the clergy/nobility and the proletariat eventually to substitute for the bourgeoisie. Paretian sociology was one of the germ cells for Mussolini’s political movement, fascism, which sought to gain a foothold in proletarian constituencies through a cocktail of nationalism and socialism.
Mussolini edited the Italian Socialist Party newspaper Avanti! (Forward!) 1912–1914 before splitting from the socialists over Italy’s entry into World War I and aligning himself with nationalists who favored intervention. After the war, political competition for proletarian voters was intense with the country in a state of near civil war. In this climate Mussolini’s black-shirted fasci di combattimento (combat groups) proved the most adept at using violence to attain political goals.
Not long after entering into Parliament as a deputy in the election of 1921 and the fascist march on Rome in 1922, Mussolini became Prime Minister. The murder by fascist abductors of socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti (1885–1924) on June 10, 1924 is widely seen as the turning point in which fascism turned into a totalitarian dictatorship. Matteotti was murdered after delivering a speech in Parliament condemning fascist violence and voter fraud in the aftermath of controversy surrounding the adoption of the Acerbo Law in 1923. This law assigned 2/3 of representatives to the largest party receiving over 25% of the vote, paving the way for a fascist supermajority to install Mussolini as dictator.
In the competition for the proletarian vote immediately after World War I, Mussolini distinguished himself from the Socialist Party by attacking its alliance with Russian Bolshevism in the “Birth Act of Fascism” (1919) speech in Milan at piazza San Sepolcro. However the first fascist party platform, the “Program of the Fasci di Combattimento” (1919) was economically progressive with demands for a minimum wage, worker participation in industrial management, an 8-hour workday, progressive taxation, confiscation of church property, an 85% tax on war profits, and lowering of the retirement age.
The fascist concept of corporativism, which initially meant a system in which party loyalist appointees representing labor categories replaced traditional trade unions, was a further attempt to lure socialist trade unionists and Marxist/Leninist worker council members into the fascist party and thereby promote fascism as an alternative both to capitalism and socialism/communism. Fascist Corporativism grew out of the thought of Alceste De Ambris (1874–1934), an early participant in the fascist movement, who had written The Carnaro Charter with Gabriele D’Annunzio during the 1919–1920 Italian Regency of Carnaro occupation of the Adriatic coastal city of Fiume. In Mussolini’s application of Pareto’s sociology, control over worker organizations would be an integral part of the creation of a post-bourgeois elite.
Under fascism unions would be state-controlled as described in the documents and speeches in the present volume: “The Labor Charter” (1927), “Law Establishing the National Council of Corporations” (1930), and “To the National Council of Corporations” (1930). Eventually fascism would attempt control of all of the economy. What principally distinguished it from socialism was that the state would control the economy indirectly rather than directly. In today’s terms it was a kind of crony capitalist, oligarchical system in which concerns would not necessarily be appropriated so long as they toed the line and showed they knew who was boss. Many elements of the same system can be seen in the early 21st century in post-Communist Russia and Communist China, or any nation where a government has taken an activist, ownership role in the economy.