The most interesting aspects of the story lie between the two extremes of coercion and popularity. It might be instructive to consider fascist regimes’ management of workers, who were surely the most recalcitrant part of the population. It is clear that both Fascism and Nazism enjoyed some success in this domain. According to Tim Mason, the ultimate authority on German workers under Nazism, the Third Reich “contained” German workers by four means: terror, division, some concessions, and integration devices such as the famous Strength Through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) leisure-time organization.
Let there be no doubt that terror awaited workers who resisted directly. It was the cadres of the German Socialist and Communist parties who filled the first concentration camps in 1933, before the Jews. Since socialists and communists were already divided, it was not hard for the Nazis to create another division between those workers who continued to resist and those who decided to try to live normal lives. The suppression of autonomous worker organizations allowed fascist regimes to address workers individually rather than collectively. Soon, demoralized by the defeat of their unions and parties, workers were atomized, deprived of their usual places of sociability, and afraid to confide in anyone.
Both regimes made some concessions to workers—Mason’s third device for worker “containment.” They did not simply silence them, as in traditional dictatorships. After power, official unions enjoyed a monopoly of labor representation. The Nazi Labor Front had to preserve its credibility by actually paying some attention to working conditions. Mindful of the 1918 revolution, the Third Reich was willing to do absolutely anything to avoid unemployment or food shortages. As the German economy heated up in rearmament, there was even some wage creep. Later in the war, the arrival of slave labor, which promoted many German workers to the status of masters, provided additional satisfactions.
Mussolini was particularly proud of how workers would fare under his corporatist constitution. The Labor Charter (1927) promised that workers and employers would sit down together in a “corporation” for each branch of the economy, and submerge class struggle in the discovery of their common interests. It looked very imposing by 1939 when a Chamber of Corporations replaced parliament. In practice, however, the corporative bodies were run by businessmen, while the workers’ sections were set apart and excluded from the factory floor.
Mason’s fourth form of “containment”—integrative devices—was a specialty of fascist regimes. Fascists were past masters at manipulating group dynamics: the youth group, the leisure-time association, party rallies. Peer pressure was particularly powerful in small groups. There the patriotic majority shamed or intimidated nonconformists into at least keeping their mouths shut. Sebastian Haffner recalled how his group of apprentice magistrates was sent in summer 1933 on a retreat, where these highly educated young men, mostly non-Nazis, were bonded into a group by marching, singing, uniforms, and drill. To resist seemed pointless, certain to lead nowhere but to prison and an end to the dreamed-of career. Finally, with astonishment, he observed himself raising his arm, fitted with a swastika armband, in the Nazi salute.
These various techniques of social control were successful.
Robert O. Paxton (The Anatomy of Fascism)