Abstract: Capitalism and the Fascist Challenge: British and American Multinational Enterprise in the 1930s

Neil Forbes

Abstract

Those who study the democracies in the interwar years continue to question why, among business elites, issues related to ethical standards in carrying out corporate strategy seemed to have been poorly defined, left undetermined, or even ignored completely. In part, an answer would seem to lie in moral confusion caused by the profound shock of the Depression and the fear that capitalism was in danger of collapsing. In these circumstances, it is not surprising if corporate culture reflected the values of contemporary society: the business of international politics was left to politicians to deal with, while businessmen concentrated on trying to ensure the survival of enterprise. But, in so doing, there was a tendency for enterprise to neglect the very values that defined democracy. Herein, perhaps, lay a moral hazard of the age. This is not to say, however, that all individuals involved suffered from an outlook that was purely self-interested and politically naïve. The evidence that emerges from the contacts between leading executives of British and American multinational enterprises suggests that they were deeply worried over the threat war posed to Western civilization. But they regarded themselves, first and foremost, as passive bystanders at political events taking place on the international stage over which they had little or no control.