The Dustbin of History

Some folks are commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx,  the man who wrote The Communist Manifesto calling for class warfare.

From any perspective, Marx and all his theoretical mumbo-jumbo missed one important element – human nature. Marx believed in spreading wealth: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need,”  and eliminating religion “the opium of the people.” That these commandments were contrary to man’s makeup meant little to Marx.

Marx knew that such clap-trap would have to be forced on people, violently if necessary. Why this man is still hailed as an intellect by some, despite the proven absurdity of his theories, is astounding.  Even in the remaining Communist nations today, economic and social survival depend on unleashing entrepreneurs and the consumer market – China is the poster boy of a capitalist awakening behind the façade of Marxism.

I truly believe that if communism were a viable way to earthly paradise it would have been invented in Italy.  Rather, it was capitalism that was honed during the Roman Empire and codified by Italians into the Middle Ages.

Class conflict was a perennial feature of ancient Rome – patricians vs. plebians. It was often the cause of bloodshed, but it never reached the point of destroying the basic fabric of society.  Over the centuries, the plebs achieved some representation and power.  But their basic needs were met with clean water, public baths, and “bread & circuses.” Much of the infrastructure and operations of Roman cities were funded by the wealthy – giving back to enhance their own fame and to keep the peace.

Double-entry bookkeeping was invented in Italy.  Marine insurance to protect cargoes and letters of credit to facilitate payments were standard economic tools. Roman collegia (associations of craftsmen) evolved into guilds and unions after the fall. The word company comes from com-panis, “bread-sharer,” in Latin.  Italian contributed the words: cash, credit, debit, discount, net, balance, bank, and bankruptcy (banca rotta = broken bank).    And, of course, the discovery of America was partly an Italian enterprise with Italian banks footing half of Columbus’s expenses.

If there is one theory that belongs in the dustbin of history it is Marxism.  I would even venture to say Italian fascism had more salvageable components than communism. It was not, as many suppose, merely synonymous with dictatorship and Blackshirts.  It was actually an evolving political/economic theory.  Unlike modern democracy which went through a bloody birth and imperialist adolescence in England, America, and France to become more humane and open, Italian fascism died in childhood.  But it was a “third way” between democracy and communism.  In fact, many believe that the economic hegemony of China stems from switching from Marxism to fascism.

Both Marxism and Fascism subordinated the individual to the state but they parted ways at that point. The Italian model accepted private property, labor unions (with mandatory arbitration), and religion.  It accepted private enterprise, but state participation (51%) became common in vital industries to protect the nation from foreign ownership and to better allocate resources.  Much of Italy’s post-World War II recovery can be laid to the solid industrial organization Mussolini had put in place and to a public school system developed by Fascist intellectual Giovanni Gentile, still used today.

But there was one Fascist concept that never went the distance. Specifically, the lower house of the Italian Parliament was renamed the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations in 1939.  The representatives were appointed according to industry rather than geography.  There were 25 industries –agriculture, marine, manufacturing, etc. – represented.  The goal was to divide the entire population into corporate sectors – an alternate way of creating a national consensus.  Is our gerrymandered House of Representatives any better?

Scholar A. James Gregor (born Anthony Gimigliano) Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, believes it will take a couple of lifetimes until Fascism is taken seriously as a political theory.  Meanwhile, it will remain in the dustbin. -JLM

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