The Metaxian model of State corporativism and social stratification
Metaxas and his political associates drew up their socioeconomic and political philosophy by borrowing elements from various fascist corporatist theories which centered around the idea of the construction of the “New State”. Metaxas is said to have studied the German, Italian and Portuguese cases when considering matters such as the corporate economy.
In fact, in semi-peripheral countries such as Greece where the role of the state was all-embracing, and the public sector controlled a large proportion of the national resources, a turn towards an authoritarian centralised state by a dictator was not such a radical move.
Metaxas’ application of theories of the corporatist state to Greece was rather static and unimaginative, and for the most part was imported from foreign models. While fascist corporatism was anti-capitalistic in that it aimed at freezing society at a particular stage in its development, i.e., the level of social development brought about by the market forces and its replacement by new forms of economic organisation, the Metaxist interpretation of such development lacked the complications of the corporatist varieties and was based on a rather simplistic conception of Greek society.
Greek society, according to Metaxas was divided into three categories as a result of the previous policies of democratic governments: First, the individualists who did not care about anything happening to the other members of society and only sought their personal gain; second, those who suffered financially and wanted to damage society at large in return for their suffering; third those who really cared about Greek society, the “true nationally-minded Greeks”.
The ambition of the regime was to strengthen the third category in order to include the whole of the Greek people, and to eliminate the first two categories. This would only be achieved through the suppression of individualism and the super-imposition of a strong State which would regulate all aspects of economic, political and cultural life. Most pronounced was the rhetoric on the promotion of the economic interests of disadvantaged sectors and the economically underprivileged.
The goal of the regime was the transformation of the State into an efficient and compact corporate State which would control the behavior of the various classes within the framework of self-sufficiency. The State would be in direct contact with the representatives of the various classes and would intervene in the labour-capital and the peasant-landowner conflicts to bring about the harmonisation of their relations.
The policies to be pursued by the Greek corporate State included control and appeasement of the labour movement through the manipulation of the leaders of the Labour Unions, giving a minimum wage and social insurance to the workers and imposing collective bargaining and compulsory arbitration. The State would also forbid the right to strike and suppress the freedom of the Trade Unions. The intention was that all workers should join official unions controlled from above. On the other hand, the capitalists were asked to make as many concessions as they could to the workers. Metaxas aimed at the reorganisation of the Labour Unions and the replacement of their leaders by his own agents.
Metaxas devised the hierarchical division of society in the form of a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid were the peasants. They had to be “pure” and healthy. They were the first and direct creators of economic goods. They should stay in the countryside in order to remain happy and not become “slaves in the cities”. The corporate state policy towards the peasants was to create Peasants’ Houses composed of agricultural cooperatives, which were created by a 1939 law. The regime also sought to increase production and the variety of crops in order to achieve self-sufficiency, to improve irrigation, to reduce and alleviate peasant indebtedness, to distribute wasteland and to improve railway and road communications.
Although Metaxas had, in 1935, condemned the high degree of state intervention in the Greek economy and in society and had demanded a more liberal and market-oriented approach in the government’s economic policy, as a dictator he strengthened authoritarianism and intervention by the State.
The State, according to the regime, should not be confined only to the regulation of relations between employers and workers or landowners and peasants, but it should extend its effort to the regulation of the whole national economy, intervening in the distribution of wealth and creating a welfare system.
Greek society, according to Metaxas, should not be divided into classes with conflicting interests but into complementary professions with complementary interests. But ultimately Metaxas saw the real division in Greek society in the existence of nationally-minded Greeks and non-nationally minded Greeks and as the true cause of social conflicts. In this sense, Metaxas had a conception of society which was highly homogeneous, static and tidy, with the utopia of national harmony as its end-goal.
The State was, according to the regime’s principles, an omnipresent organism with the right to intervene in all aspects of the economy and polity, transcending social classes, political parties and interest groups. It was considered a living organism, the expression of the organised society which existed over and above the individual, and not a rational mechanical construction as in the liberal conception.
The New State was to be composed of a united people, nationally-minded, guided by the King, the highest archon and a non-party leader of the government. Man as an individual had no rights separate from the “totality” which was embodied in the State.
Totalitarianism was seen by Metaxas as the best form of government to serve the “national realities”. Greece, according to the regime’ ideology, lacked the ruling class which it needed, one which would be national and highly educated; “the state class with national ideals”. The aim was the creation of a “totalitarian state class” above classes and parties which would secure the interventionist character of the state and would correspond better to the needs of 20th century capitalism.
The corporatist philosophy of the 4th of August regime ended up as a mere populist rhetoric aimed at the peasants’ and workers’ support and as the cause of disagreements within the government between pro-German and pro-British ministers.
The corporatist orientation of the Greek regime, similar to the Portuguese regime, used corporatism in order to control social demands, to reinforce the already existing social order and not to change it radically, as the National Socialists and National Syndicalists did.
Instead of an elaborated corporatist theory, the ideas of the regime produced a populist rhetoric focusing predominantly on ideological themes such as the antagonism between the “people” and the “establishment”, the “poor” versus the “rich”, the “nationally minded” versus the “not-nationally minded”, the “hard-working” versus the “idle” – manichaistic conceptions of society which in practice reinforce divisions rather than alleviate them.
Moreover, populist leaders are hostile towards any intermediary institutions and place their emphasis on the direct relationship between the leader and the people, tending to stress the leader’s charisma. In that sense Metaxas pursued a type of direct communication between himself and the people, by-passing any other institutional mechanisms and even refusing to create a state mass party. His constant concern for his popularity forced him to impose another feature of international fascism, the “Führerprinzip”.
– Source: “Authoritarianism in 20th century Greece”, by Othon Evangelos Anastasakis