Benito Mussolini’s resolution and speech of 13-14 November, 1933, outlining the shortcomings of capitalism and presenting the corporatist alternative
Despite the Corporate State being the centerpiece of fascist economic ideology, its implementation in Italy occurred gradually, in piecemeal fashion over more than a decade. Mussolini’s primary concern upon attaining the Prime Ministership in 1922 was, much like Hitler’s over a decade later, the maintenance of economic and political stability. He had little time or inclination for radical economic or political experimentation during his early years in power, and until 1925 the government maintained a policy of minimal state intervention that some historians have classified as “laissez-faire”. The murder of Matteotti in late 1924 and the regime’s subsequent embrace of dictatorship and totalitarianism led to a change in emphasis, a shift towards making real the corporatist promises of fascist theory & propaganda in a fashion that was measured and would not alarm industry or the “productive bourgeoisie”. The Palazzo Vidoni Pact of 1925 and ‘Rocco’s Law’ of 1926 helped cement the official status of the various workers’ and employers’ syndicates, while the Legge Sindacale of the same period formally established the Corporate State in principle, if not in actual fact. Further impetus towards corporatism was provided through the promulgation of the 1927 Labour Charter (which, while not legally binding, set out the principles by which the government aimed to establish equal relations between workers, management, and state) and the creation in 1930 of the National Council of Corporations, intended as a consultative body representing the voices of both labor and producer. It wasn’t until the 1933-34 period, however, that the Corporate State became solid reality rather than a series of inspiring articles and decrees. The resolution and speech given by Mussolini to the National Council of Corporations in November 1933, transcribed in full below, finally provided Italian lawmakers with an official definition of the envisioned corporations and their actual functions (as well as an interesting critique of capitalism from the Duce). The machinery of the Corporate State was at last set in motion the following year, when the ‘Act of February 5th 1934 (N.163)’ legally established the 22 Corporations which henceforth were intended to direct every sector of Italy’s economic life.
ON THE CORPORATE STATE
Resolution and Speech by Benito Mussolini before the
National Council of Corporations,
November 13-14, 1933
Resolution on the Definition and Attribution of Corporations
November 13, 1933
This resolution drafted by the Head of the Italian Government and read by him on November 13th 1933, before the Assembly of the National Council of Corporations, on the eve of his great speech:
“The National Council of Corporations:
- define Corporations as the instrument which, under the aegis of the State, carries out the complete organic and unitarian regulation of production with a view to the expansion of the wealth, political power, and well-being of the Italian people;
- declare that the number of Corporations to be formed for the main branches of production should, on principle, be adequate to meet the real needs of national economy;
- establish that the general staff of each Corporation shall include representatives of State administration, of the Fascist Party, of capital, of labour, and of experts;
- assign to the Corporations as their specific tasks: conciliation, consultations (compulsory on problems of major importance), and the promulgation, through the National Council of Corporations, of laws regulating the economic activities of the country;
- leave to the Grand Council of Fascism the decision on the further developments, of a constitutional and political order, which should result from the effective formation and practical working of the Corporations.“
Speech on the Corporate State to the National Council of Corporations
November 14, 1933
The applause with which the reading of my resolution was received yesterday evening, made me wonder this morning whether it was worth while to make a speech in order to illustrate the document which had gone straight to your intelligence, had interpreted your own convictions, and had appealed to your revolutionary spirit.
However, it may be of interest to know through what process of meditation and thought I arrived at the formulation of the statement presented last night.
But first of all I wish to congratulate this Assembly on the debates held here.
Only the half-witted could be surprised that divergent views and shades of opinion were expressed. These are inevitable, I should even say necessary.
Harmony is harmony; cacophony is another thing.
On the other hand, in discussing a problem as delicate as the present one, it is perfectly logical and also inevitable that each should bring not only his own doctrinal preparation, not only his own state of mind, but also his personal temperament into the debate.
The most abstract of philosophers, the most transcendental of metaphysicians, could not altogether ignore or waive his own personal temperament.
You will remember that, on October 16 of the Year X,1 in the presence of thousands of Party officials who came to Rome for the decennial celebrations and were assembled in the piazza Venezia, I asked a question: is this crisis, which has held us in its grip for the past four years – we have no entered the first month of the fifth year – a crisis within the system, or of the system?
A serious question, one to which no immediate answer was possible.
An answer called for reflection, long reflection, and much data.
Today my answer is: the crisis has sunk so deep into the system that it has become a crisis of the system.
It is no longer an injury, it is a constitutional disease.
We can now assert that the capitalistic mode of production has been superseded, and with it the theory of economic liberalism to which it owes its illustration and apology.
I now wish to give you a broad outline of the history of capitalism during the past century, which one might define the century of capitalism. First of all, what is capitalism? Capitalism must not be confounded with the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is quite another thing. The bourgeoisie is a mode of being which can be either great or petty, either heroic or philistine.
Capitalism, on the other hand, is a specific mode of production, it is a system of industrial production.
When capitalism attains its highest expression it is a mode of mass production for mass consumption, financed in mass through the national and international issue of joint stock capital. Capitalism is therefore industrial, and has not manifested itself to any considerable extent in the field of agriculture.
I would mark three periods in the history of capitalism; the dynamic period, the static period, and the period of decline.
The dynamic period goes from 1830 to 1870. It coincides with the introduction of the mechanical loom and the steam-engine. The factory arises. The factory is the typical expression of industrial capitalism; it is the period of large profits, and therefore the law of free competition and the struggle of all against all can have full play. There are some fallen and some wounded which the Red Cross eventually succour.
This period also has its crises, but they are cyclical, neither long nor universal.
Capitalism still has such vitality and such power of recovery that they can be brilliantly overcome. It is the period in which Louis Phillipe exclaims: “Get rich!” Urbanism develops rapidly. Berlin, which had a hundred thousand inhabitants at the outset of the century, now reached one million; Paris, from 560,000 at the time of the French Revolution, also proceeded towards the million. The same can be said of London and of the cities across the Atlantic.
During the first period of capitalism selection really operates. There are wars as well. Those wars do not compare to the World War through which we have lived. They are short. The Italian war of 1848-49 lasts four months of the first year and four days of the second; that of 1859 lasts a few weeks. The same may be said of the war of 1866. Nor are the Prussian wars of longer duration. That of 1864 against the Duchies of Denmark lasts a few days, that of 1866 against Austria, a consequence of the former, lasts a few days and is concluded at Sadowa. Even the war of 1870, with the tragic days of Sedan, does not last over two seasons.
I would say that, in a certain sense, these wars stimulate the economic activity of nations, indeed eight years later, in 1878, France is once more on her feet, and able to organize the World Exhibition, an event which gives Bismarck food for thought.
We shall not call what happened in America heroic. This is a word to be applied exclusively to events of a military character; but undoubtedly the conquest of the Far West was hard and adventurous and had its risks and its fallen like any great conquest. This dynamic period of capitalism should be set between the appearance of the steam-engine and the opening of the Suez Canal.
It is a period of forty years. During those forty years the State is an observer and keeps aloof; the theorists of liberalism say: you, the State, have but one duty, namely to act in such wise as your existence should not even be perceived in the economic field. The less you are concerned with problems of an economic character, the better your rule.
Thus, economic activity in every form is ruled only by the Penal and Commercial Codes.
But after 1870 this period changes. We no longer have the struggle for life, free competition, the selection of the fittest. We note the first symptoms of fatigue and of deviation in the capitalistic world.
The era of cartels, syndicates, combines, and trusts now begins. I need not dwell upon the differences between these four forms of capitalistic organisation.
The differences are immaterial, or almost.
They are like those between rates and taxes. Economists have not yet defined them but the tax-payer, who has to pay them, finds it quite futile to discuss the matter, for be they rates or be they taxes, meet them he must. It is not true, as an Italian economist of the liberal school maintained, that trustified, cartellized, syndicated economy is a consequence of the war. No; the first coal cartel formed in Germany, at Dortmund, dates from 1879.
In 1905, ten years before the outbreak of the World War, there were 62 metal cartels in Germany.
There was a potash cartel in 1904, a sugar cartel in 1902, there were ten cartels in the glass industry. Altogether at that time, from 500 to 700 cartels controlled German industry and commerce.
In France, in 1877 the Industrial Office of Longwy was opened to deal with the metal industry, in 1888 another was opened to deal with petroleum, in 1881 all the insurance companies had coalesced. The iron cartel in Austria dates from 1873; international cartels grow up alongside of the national combines. The syndicate of bottle factories was formed in 1907, that of glass and mirror factories which included French, English, Austrian, and Italian manufacturers, in 1909.
In 1904 the markers of railway tracks formed an international cartel. The zinc syndicate started in 1899. I will spare you a tedious list of all the chemical textile, shipping, and other syndicates organised in that period of history.
The British-Chilean nitrate cartel was started in 1901. I have here a complete list of national and international trusts which I will spare you. It is safe to say that there is no sector of the economic life of the countries of Europe and America in which these organisations, so typical of capitalism, have not been formed.
But what is the consequence? The end of free competition.
In view of the fact that profits had been curtailed, capitalistic enterprise finds it is better to come to an agreement rather than fight, to form alliances and mergers in order to share markets and profits.
The very law of supply and demand is no longer a dogma, for cartels and trusts make it possible to influence both supply and demand; finally, this coalesced, trustified, capitalistic economy turns to the State. What does it ask for? Customs protection.
Free trade which is only a wider aspect of the doctrine of economic liberalism, receives a death blow. The first nation to raise almost impassable barriers was America. Now Great Britain herself has renounced all that appeared to be a permanent tradition of her political and economic life, and has adopted an increasingly strong policy of protection.
Then came the war. After the war and as a consequence of it, capitalistic enterprise became inflated. Its degree of magnitude rises from the million to the billion. Viewed at a distance the so-called vertical constructions give the impression of something monstrous, babelic.
The very size of the enterprises oversteps the capacity of man: formerly it was the spirit which controlled matter, now it is matter which curbs and moulds the spirit.
What was physiology becomes pathology, everything becomes abnormal. Two personalities – for in all human vicissitudes representative men rise above the horizon – may be identified as typical of this situation: Kreuger, the Swedish match-maker, and Insull, the American speculator.2
With our customary Fascist frankness, let us add that in Italy too there have been instances of this kind; but, taken as a whole, they have not soared to similar heights.
At this stage supercapitalism finds inspiration and justification in the Utopia of unlimited consumption. The ideal of super-capitalism would be the standardisation of mankind, from the cradle to the grave.
Super-capitalism would like all babies to be born the same length so that cradles could be standardized; all children to want the same toys; all men to wear the same uniform, to read the same books, to like the same films; and everyone to crave a so-called labour-saving machine.
This is not a caprice, it is in the logic of things, for only upon such lines can super-capitalism make its plans.
When does the capitalistic enterprise cease to be an economic phenomenon? When its very size turns it into a social phenomenon, and it is precisely at this moment that capitalistic enterprise, finding itself in difficulties, falls like a dead weight into the arms of the State.
It is here that State intervention begins, and becomes increasingly necessary.
It is here that those who ignore the State seek it out anxiously.
Things have now gone so far that, if in all the countries of Europe the Government were to sleep 24 hours, this hold-up would be sufficient to produce disaster.
At this stage, there is not a single field of economy in which the State is not forced to intervene.
Were we – it is a mere supposition – to give way to this latest phase of capitalism, we should slide into State capitalism which is merely State socialism reversed. By one way or another we should arrive at the bureaucratisation of national economy.
This is the crisis of the capitalistic system considered in its universal significance.
But there is also a specific crisis which concerns us particularly, as Italians and as Europeans. There is a European, a typically European crisis.
Europe is no longer the continent which leads civilization. This is the dramatic fact which those whose duty it is to think, must themselves realise and impress upon others. There was a time when Europe ruled the world, politically, spiritually, economically.
Politically, through her political institutions. Spiritually, through all that the European spirit has produced down the ages. Economically, because it was the only highly industrialised continent. Meanwhile, a great industrial and capitalistic world has grown up beyond the Atlantic, and in the Far East, Japan, after coming into touch with Europe through the war of 1905, advances rapidly towards the West.
Here the problem is a political one.
Let us indeed speak of politics, for this Assembly is an eminently political one. Europe may still endeavour to resume her place at the helm of world civilisation, if she can find a minimum of political unity.
The policy we have constantly adhered to should be followed closely. Nevertheless, there can be no political entente in Europe unless certain injustices are made good.
We have reached an extremely serious juncture in the situation; the League of Nations has lost all that could make for political significance and historical bearing.
Furthermore, those who invented it, never chose to join. Russia, the United States, Germany, and Japan are absent. The League of Nations started from one of those principles which sound beautiful when announced, but which turn out to be absurd once considered, analysed and dissected.
What other diplomatic instruments exist which could restore contact between States?
Locarno? Locarno is a different matter. Locarno has nothing to do with disarmament. The way out does not lie there.
Great silence has enveloped the Four Power Pact of late. Nobody mentions it, but everybody thinks of it.
This is precisely why we do not intend to resume initiatives or speed up the outcome of a situation which, logically and fatally, must come to a head.
Let us now ask another question: is Italy a capitalistic country?
Have you ever asked yourselves this? If by capitalism is meant that compound of usages, customs, technical progress now common to all countries, we can say that Italy too is a capitalistic country.
But if we delve deeply into the matter and examine the situation from a statistical standpoint, that is to say if we study the different economic categories which make up the population, we then have data enabling us to say that Italy is not a capitalistic nation in the current sense of the word.
On the 21st of April 1931, farmers working their own land were 2,943,000; tenant farmers 858,000.
There were 1,631,000 crop-sharing farmers and peasants; 2,475,000 other agriculturalists, farm-hands, wage-earners and seasonal workers. The total population directly connected with agriculture, was 7,900,000.
Manufacturers were 523,000; traders 841,000; dependent and independent craftsmen 724,000; industrial wage-earners 4,283,000; servants 849,000; persons enrolled in the armed forces of the State, inclusive of the police, 541,000; the liberal arts and professions accounted for 553,000; public and private services employed 905,000; this group added to the other making a total of 17 millions.
There are not very many real estate owners and rentiers in Italy. Only 201,000. There are 1,945,000 students and 11,244,000 women who stay home.
A further figure of 1,295,000 refers to people belonging to other non-professional categories, a figure which can be accounted for in various ways.
You see at once from this survey how varied and complex is the economy of the Italian nation, and why it cannot be identified with any one type; especially so as the manufacturers represented by the impressive figure of 523,000 are chiefly owners of small or medium-sized concerns. By small concerns I mean those ranging from a minimum of 50 to a maximum of 500. Medium-sized concerns employ from 500 to 5 or 6 thousand workers; above that figure comes the large-scale industry which sometimes runs into super-capitalism.
This survey also proves how mistaken Karl Marx was when, following up his apocalyptic doctrine, he claimed that society could be divided into two separate classes destined to be eternally irreconcilable.
In my opinion Italy should remain a country of mixed economy, that is, a strong agricultural organisation at the root of everything (so true is this that the slight revival in industry witnessed of late is due, in the unanimous opinion of all who are acquainted with these matters, to the fairly good crops of the last years); a sound small and medium-sized industry; banks which do not speculate; a trade system fulfilling its proper task of supplying commodities rapidly and rationally to consumers.
The resolution I submitted yesterday evening outlined the Corporation as we intend and wish to create it, and also defined its purposes and aims. The Corporation, it says, is created with a view to increasing the wealth, political power, and well-being of the Italian people. These three objectives are conditional each on the other.
Political power creates wealth, and wealth in its turn strengthens political action.
I should like to call your attention to the third objective expounded: the well-being of the Italian people. It is essential that the institutions we have set up should, at a given moment, be felt and perceived by the masses themselves as the means by which those masses may improve their standard of life.
At a given moment the worker, the tiller of the soil, must be able to say to himself and his family: “If I am actually better off today, I owe it to the institutions created by the Fascist Revolution.”
Poverty is inevitable in all national communities.
There is a percentage of people who live on the edge of society; but there are special institutions to look after them. That which ought really to distress our mind is the poverty of strong, capable men, vainly and feverishly seeking work.
It should be our wish to make the Italian workers – who interest us as Italians, as workers, and as Fascists – realise that we are setting up institutions not only to provide a form of expression for our doctrinal views, but in order that, in due course, they may yield positive, concrete, practical, and lasting results.
I shall not dwell on the conciliatory functions which the Corporations may exercise, and I see no drawback to the practice of their advisory powers. In point of fact, the various parties concerned are already being consulted whenever the Government must take measures of any importance.
If consultation were to be made compulsory for certain specified matters I should see no harm in it, for everything that brings the citizen into closer contact with the State, everything that draws the citizen within the machinery of the State, is useful to the social and national aims of Fascism.
Our State is not an absolute State, still less an absolutist State far removed from men and armed only with laws, inflexible as laws should be.
Our State is an organic, human State, desirous of adhering to the realities of life.
Even today bureaucracy is not, and will be still less in the future, a barrier between the activity of the State and the actual practical needs of the Italian people.
I feel certain that Italian bureaucracy, which is indeed admirable, will collaborate with the Corporations in future as it has done in the past, whenever this proves necessary to achieve a fruitful settlement of the problems at issue.
The interest of this Assembly has been retained by the point in our resolution which contemplates conferring legislative powers on the National Council of Corporations.
Somebody, putting the cart before the horse, has already spoken of the end of the existing Chamber of Deputies. Let us make this clear.
The legislature is now drawing to a close, and the present Chamber of Deputies will have to be dissolved.
But, as the few months still before us do not provide enough time in which to set up the new corporate organs, the next Chamber of Deputies will have to be appointed on the system adopted in 1929.
At a given moment, however, the Chamber of Deputies will have to decide of its own fate. Are there any Fascists here who want to weep at this suggestion?
If there are, let them know that we shall not dry their tears.
It is quite conceivable that a National Council of Corporations may replace in toto the present Chamber of Deputies. I have never liked the Chamber of Deputies. After all, the Chamber of Deputies is an anachronism unto its very name: it is an institution which we found in being but which is alien to our mentality and to our creed as Fascists.
The Chamber presumes the existence of a world we have overturned: it entails the plurality of parties and not infrequently the hold-up of ministerial activity. From the day upon which we annulled this plurality, the Chamber of Deputies lost the essential reason of its constitution.
Almost without exception Fascist deputies have lived up to their ideals, and we must infer that the blood running in their veins was very healthy if it was not poisoned by an atmosphere where everything breathes of the past.
But all this will take place in due course, for we have no haste. What is important is to establish the principle because from the principle the inevitable consequences will follow.
When the Grand Council was set up on January 13th 1923, superficial observers may have viewed the event as the creation of a new organ. No indeed: upon that day political liberalism was buried.
By creating the Militia, the armed defence of the party and of the Revolution, and the Grand Council, the supreme organ of the Revolution, we entered definitely upon the road of Revolution, after dealing a deathblow to all that stood for the theory and the practice of liberalism.
Today we are burying economic liberalism as well.
The Corporation operates in the economic field as the Grand Council and the Militia operate in the political field.
Corporations mean regulated economy and therefore also controlled economy, for there can be no regulation without control.
Corporations supersede socialism and supersede liberalism, they establish a new synthesis.
One fact is symptomatic, a fact which has perhaps not been adequately considered, namely that the decline of capitalism coincides with the decline of socialism.
All the socialist parties in Europe are shattered.
I am referring not only to Italy and Germany, but to other countries as well.
From a strictly logical standpoint, these two phenomena were not conditional one on the other yet, historically, they were simultaneous.
Corporate economy rises at a particular moment in history when the two concomitant phenomena of capitalism and socialism have yielded all that they could give.
We have inherited everything that was still alive in each of them.
We have inherited everything that was still alive in each liberal theory, rising indignantly every time that labour was spoken of as a commodity.
The economic man does not exist. Man is complete: he is political, he is economic, he is religious, he is saint, he is warrior.
Today we are taking another step forward on the road of the Revolution.
Comrade Tassinari rightly said that a revolution, in order to be great, in order to leave a deep and lasting mark upon the life of a people and in history, must be a social revolution.3
If you look deeply into things you will see that the French Revolution was eminently social, for it demolished all that had survived of the Middle-Ages, from tolls to corvées,4 was responsible for the upheaval of the system of landed property in France, and created the millions of small land-owners who have been, and are still, one of the strongest and soundest forces of that country.
Were this not so, anybody could think he had made a revolution. A revolution is a serious matter, not a court conspiracy, nor a change of Cabinet, nor the rise of one party replacing another.
It is laughable to read that in 1876 the advent of the Left to power was described as a revolution.
In conclusion, let us ask ourselves: can Corporatism be applied to other countries? We are bound to ask ourselves this because the same question is being asked in all countries where efforts are made to study and to understand this problem.
There is no doubt that, in view of the general crisis of capitalism, the Corporate solution will force itself to the fore everywhere, but if the system is to be carried out fully, completely, integrally, revolutionarily, three conditions are required.
A single political party, in order that political discipline may exist alongside of economic discipline and that the bond of a common fate may unite everyone above contrasting interests. Nor is this enough. Besides the single political party there must be a totalitarian State, a State which by absorbing the energy, interests, and aspirations of the people, may transform and uplift them.
But even this is not enough. The third and last and most important condition is to live in an atmosphere of strong ideal tension.
We, in Italy, are living in this atmosphere today.
That is why, step by step, we shall give force and consistency to all our achievements, why we shall translate all our doctrine into action.
Who can deny that the Fascist Era is an era of great ideal tension? No one can deny it. This is an age in which arms are crowned by victory, institutions renewed, land redeemed, and new cities founded.
1. “The Year X” – i.e. 1932. In 1926 the Italian government introduced a new calendar system which used the March on Rome and Mussolini’s subsequent appointment as Prime Minister for its reference point. October 29, 1922 thus became the first day of the first year of the new fascist era; from 1926 onwards the fascist year date (e.g. Anno II, Anno III, etc.) was typically given alongside the Gregorian in official documents and speeches.
2. Ivar Kreuger was a Swedish industrialist, the head of a massive match monopoly which controlled 65% of worldwide match production. Kreuger was heavily involved in foreign lobbying to protect his monopoly and to shut down national competitors; he was also the initiator of numerous international financial ventures which even at the time were generally regarded as supremely immoral, and have since earned him a reputation as one of history’s greatest economic swindlers. Samuel Insull was an American public utilities magnate whose power stations provided electricity to Illinois and multiple neighbouring states. Like Kreuger, Insull was involved in selling low-price bonds and stock to the public, a scheme which earned him accusations of fraud and exploitation after the 1929 economic crisis when the stock became worthless. Also like Kreuger, his corporate enterprises were a house of economic cards which collapsed with the onset of the Great Depression; whereas Kreuger chose suicide to escape the consequences, Insull chose to flee to Europe.
3. Giuseppe Tassinari was a professor of economics and agriculture, as well as a Fascist member of the Chamber of Deputies. He later held senior positions within the Italian Ministry of Agriculture – first as undersecretary between 1935 and 1939, then as Minister from 1939 to 1941. He was killed during an Allied bombing raid in Salò in 1944.
4. The feudal equivalent of what is now known as ‘statute labor’, i.e. unpaid, legally-obligated work by individuals for a higher authority. Vassals in the feudal era were required to perform free corvée labor on the estate of their lords. Usually the corvée consisted of agricultural work, but it also could involve domestic chores for the lord’s family such as cleaning, fire-lighting, food preparation, etc.