Margins of Democracy - Coordinated Capitalism in Western and Southern Europe

Research groups - Democracy and statehood
Start of project: September 2016

When the French National Assembly in Vichy agreed to the program of "national revolution" after France capitulated in July 1940, a new economic order was a central element of this reform plan. In ideological terms, neither Italian fascism nor the Nazi regime in Germany was the blueprint for the plan, but rather the Portuguese dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar. In particular, it was Portuguese corporatism, which since the adoption of the constitution of the Estado Novo in 1933 was expected to tie economy and state more closely together, that supporters of the Vichy regime saw as a model for their own efforts to establish a new economic order. Maréchal Pétain was an admirer of Salazar and owned a copy of the French translation of his work, Como se levanta um Estado [How to Raise a State] (1937), in which Salazar described his government measures as "erecting a state". Starting in the mid-1930s, companies in Portugal were obliged to become members of state grêmios, in which they were to assume functions in the realm of economic policy. A similar measure was introduced in France in the summer of 1940, with all French businesses in any particular sector obliged to join together in comités d’organisation.

France’s orientation toward Portugal in the late 1930s and early 1940s appears surprising against the backdrop of the widespread interpretation of relationships between the center of Europe and its periphery. In this view, the term Southern Europe points out the fact that countries like Portugal, Spain, and Greece have lagged behind modern Western Europe due to a preponderance of authoritarian political traditions and an incomplete transition into the capitalist market economy. In line with the work of political scientist Philippe Schmitter, state-prescribed corporatist structures in particular have been understood as tools of authoritarian rule. In this reading, the Portuguese state, for example, created corporatist monopolies of economic interest groups through which the relationship of social classes to each other could be regulated from above and their political and economic aspirations diverted to the sphere of defending rights given to them by the state. In this way it was possible, according to Schmitter, to ensure compatibility between dictatorship and a capitalist economy.

This research project will reexamine this assessment and reevaluate the historical development of the relationship between dictatorship, capitalism, and democracy in Southern and Western Europe. State sponsorship of corporatist organizations in Portugal and France is not assumed to be a means of limiting and channeling employers’ and workers’ interests; rather, it is interpreted to be a failed attempt to reshape socioeconomic groups according to the needs of an authoritarian regime.

This research will be proceed from the hypothesis that the grêmios und comités d’organisation served those involved in them as an instrument in creating a form of economic self-management that—rather than securing the influence of state authorities on social actors’ economic and political action—functioned, at least in part, independently of the regime’s demands. This gave rise to forms of coordinated capitalism that can be considered a central pillar of democracies in Western Europe after World War II.