B. State of Siege: Bologna March 1977 - 01. What Is Red Emilia?

Submitted by Ex-temp on August 12, 2009

Before going into an account of what happened in Bologna in March 1977, some historical background is necessary to explain the nature of the region, and the control exerted there by the Italian Communist Party. The following article was published 8 years ago in the revolutionary left-wing news paper 'Potere Operaio' (Workers' Power).

The following quotation appeared last week in the Right wing newspaper Il Resto del Carlino (Nov. 13th 1969):

"During this Hot Autumn, it has been a comfort to be able to visit Emilia. As you travel round, thinking of the troubles in our house, and the wars and troubles in other countries, you feel almost as if you were on an island - bustling and typically chaotic as far as traffic jams are concerned, but a far cry from revolt and physical violence. Bloody events like the riots of Fisa seem improbable here. The wars and guerrillas of the Middle East, the Kafkan drama of Czechoslovakia, the collapse of the Christian Democrat majority, and even the "maoist" upheavals in Piedmont and neighbouring Tuscany don't prevent the people of Emilia from going about their business and maintaining a notable degree of self-control."

The Communist Party takes up the refrain:

"Without doubt, Emilia is the most advanced and democratic society in the whole of Italy".

It has often been hard, even for comrades, to escape from an image of an Emilia that has been pacified by socialism. But in fact this image is only a propaganda illusion - something that the two bourgeoisies (the white and the red) would like to be true. The Emilia where "nothing ever happens" does not exist. Moreover, the "social peace" that the PCI claim to will never exist either.

The only reality here is the enormous confidence that the bourgeoisie of Emilia has in the Communist Party (a faith won by the Party through years of honest, patient administration of the "general interest"). The Party , after all, discovered 20 years ago something which social capital is only discovering just now: how to compel workers' struggles to function within the further development of capitalism.

This notion of 'comforting Emilia' is not only the CP's promise to capitalism. It is also a warning to the working class, for this is the image that the Party wants to present, of a workers' struggle that is dormant, controlled.

In fact this is a sham, a pretence, so that they can hide the reality of this "socialism" - namely that Emilia today shares the struggles that are going on in Milan, Turin and Porto Marghera (the struggles of the Hot Autumn). They don't want people to see that in Bologna, too, the worker’s struggle is no longer recuperable within capitalist development. In fact the workers of Bologna have followed the same stages of struggle as the workers in Milan, Turin and Porto Marghera - spontaneous struggle, struggle for autonomy, and struggle for organisation.

The next article is also taken - slightly edited - from Potere Operaio, February
22nd 1970. It gives a more detailed analysis of the economy, and the class composition, of Emilia. It identifies trends which today are reality.

Agriculture is not something that stands by itself, as an independent sector of "consumer" production. It also provides a market, for the producers of machinery, fertilisers and so on. This is fundamental to the economy of Emilia.

According to figures, quoted by the EEC in 1960, Emilia contained about 85% of Italian tractor production (half of which derived from FIAT's cycle of production, with the rest being made up from 4 firms filling the gaps in the market left by FIAT).

FIAT's massive presence and spider-like extension in Emilia explains why the percentage of artisans and very small firms is higher than elsewhere in Italy. Emilia has a higher percentage of firms with fewer than 10 employees than any other region in the North and Centre of Italy. In fact, from 1950 to 1969 the number of these small artisan units has actually doubled in Emilia. But the most dramatic figure is that firms with fewer than 100 employees (artisan units, small firms and cooperatives together) make up more than 99% of firms in Emilia, with more than 65% of the workers.

The overwhelming majority of their production is on commission, with FIAT handing out the orders either directly or indirectly. At the same time, the profits that come from the increasing productivity of agriculture are almost all spent on mechanisation - or at least in technical capital to increase productivity. We can summarise the process of Emilia's economic development as follows: an increase in the productivity of agriculture brings about mechanisation; the industry related to this mechanisation develops only by exploiting the mobility of the labour force that has been driven off the land by the mechanisation; that industry pays low wages, which allows capital goods to be produced without having to turn (at any rate, -at the start) to the financial market. In other words, money costs nothing ...

It’s a similar situation for the MONTEDISON chemical cycle of product­ion, producing agricultural chemicals. Through this cycle the "green factory" is integrated into the overall capitalist cycle.

Just by the way, analysis of this sector turns on its head the trad­itional theory that the development of agriculture controls the development of chemicals. In fact, this was never the case anyway. It is the dev­elopment of chemicals - like the development of the railways in the United States at the end of the last century - that determines the development of agriculture.

You have only to look at a farmer's budget to see that - particularly where agriculture has reached a certain level of development - the money he spends is already predetermined. All the increases that are now taking place in agriculture are constantly absorbed into a greater consumption of means of production, which is thus translated into an increase of the FIAT and MONTEDISON cycles of production.

If "Red Emilia" is one of the strongholds of the Italian Communist Party it provides a fine example of the way in which having a "socialist" apparatus means an easy life for capital's development. The reality of “Red Emilia" is that it controls and organises the transfer of the workforce from the countryside to the town; it develops a growing productivity and a growing mechanisation of agriculture; and it develops a tightly-knit network of small and medium firms and cooperatives that are integrated into the FIAT and MONTEDISON cycles of production, not to mention the cycle of the State-run ANIC petrochemical combine.

In this way, Emilia has become a model, an essential point of reference for the development of capital. Red Emilia shows that reform and particip­ation, although basically incompatible with the growth of capital, are practicable and possible ..... It is no accident that in the late 1960s the calls to include the CP in a governing majority (on the basis of its proven ability to manage a process of capitalist transformation) should have originated and matured in Emilia.

The Communist Party's strategy in Emilia started with capital's defeat of the working class in the 1950s. The Party's political choices were gov­erned by 4 major factors:- industry was being dismantled; mass redundancies were taking place; the agricultural workforce was being driven off the land; and there was an absence of investment capital. The Party's strategy, there­fore, was to develop the activity of artisans and cooperatives, because of the low wages and fairly small capital outlay they need. The development of the cooperatives was an essential first phase, because the "workers' self-exploitation" then provides the basis for self-financing and accumulation of capital. Later on the function of the cooperatives was to provide the min­imum collective capital needed to start the transformation of agriculture. And, by a policy of "balancing the budget", cheap public and social services were provided in the CP-controlled local authorities.

The defeat of the workers during the 1950s gave the Party plenty of room for manoeuvre in this process of capitalistic "reconstruction". The Party handed out ideology, and at the same time guaranteed industrial peace in the small and medium firms that were springing up. Although the Trade Unions turned out for the demonstrations against Eisenhower when he came to Italy, this was not repaid with the Party's active participation in the workers struggles for higher wages ...
The strategy of the Party was to pick on Monopoly Capital as the sole enemy of the people. This gave it the chance to make its alliance with the middle class. This has not been, as some people claim, a mistake, or a weakness in the CP's ideological apparatus. It expresses a clear awareness of the lines of thought along which the CP has managed things in Emilia - not least the way the CP has guaranteed a fair profit for the small-time Communist bosses.

The attack on monopoly capital also relates to the attempt within the capitalist system, to break up and disperse large concentrations of the working class. This has a two-fold political advantage:

a) the decomposition of working class concentrations means that you can control their struggles, and their passivity, to the full;
b) individual firms are generally small, and together they form a capitalistic whole which is subordinate to the choices and the dec­isions made by the social capital which is overwhelmingly controlled by the CP.

This strategy of dispersal, which FIAT has also adopted in order to break the working class, was borrowed from the way the big US car manufacturers dispersed their Detroit factories. During the last 15 years this dispersal has been reflected in a vast development of transport and the technology of how to move things - from planes, super-highways and massive container ships to computer time-sharing.

Now, the process of integrating agriculture into the cycle of capital, and developing the model of "dispersed" production, raises the problem of how to harmonise the productivity of the individual firm with the average productivity of the society. This is where the idea of the plan was born. The plan of Italian capitalism aimed to use the wage as a stabiliser for investment; it integrates the Unions into the factory, so that they operate as the workers' self-management of exploitation. This plan goes under the name of "development through participation"- ie, the integration of the exploited through the idea of 'progress'.

The Communist Party becomes a partner in capital's plan, a partner which is able to manage and control the various elements of political control on which the plan is based - unions, local authorities, cooperatives, organs of mass participation etc.

The thesis of a new governing majority, containing the CP, was born from practical experience in "Red Emilia". It is now being taken up outside the region, as a model of capitalist management at a national level. But this project for a new ruling majority containing the CP has been undercut by the offensive of the working class during the last two years. The new struggles of 1968 and 1969 have launched a general process of recomposition in the working class.

The revival of working class autonomy in Emilia can be dated from 1966-69, when the old Communist cadres were replaced by young workers. The recompos­ition of the class began through the struggle for the wage, against piece-work, against the imposition of new grading systems. First inside individual firms, and then extending to the struggles over the national agreements.

This cycle of struggles has radicalised the situation. The CP has become aware of the dangers of the workers' attack, and its effects (both actual and potential) in the social stability that, until now, has permitted the CP a role in managing power.

What is capital’s strategy for a counter-attack in the medium and short-term? ..... The bosses' attack through a proliferation of FIAT's cycle of production, through the introduction of new machinery, and a general organisation of work-control methods, will take place on three levels:-

1) The whole grading system will be restructured. The struggle against gradings and against job-evaluation has created a unification among workers. The bosses now seek to break up this unity by developing a new system of job-evaluation which can knock out the types of discontent that the old systems provoked (particularly among technicians and white collar workers, who were increasingly tending to unify their struggles with those of manual workers). It will be a new system, based on "objective" criteria, with a career structure, and possibly managed by the trade unions;

2) Employment levels will come under attack. The education system, and particularly' the University, is tending increasingly to become a pocket of unemployed, a parking-orbit before entry into the factory.

3) There will be a massive use of mobility in the workforce, not only from one section of a plant to another, but also between factories, in an attempt to fight against all attempts at workers· organisation.

The situation requires that workers' struggles take a step forward, from a clash with capital, to a clash with social capital, through the objective of the political wage. Outside the factory what we mean by the political wage is the struggle against the cost of living. It involves non-payment of the social services (canteens, rent, transport etc); it involves attacking the costs of education (books, school taxes); and it involves a struggle against the political use of unemployment. The students must be guaranteed a wage in their double function as a workforce under training and a reserve army of unemployed.

All of that bring us, 7 years later, to the struggle sparked by the students in Bologna, a city of 1/2 million people, in the heart of "Red Emilia".