Chapter 2: How capitalism was badly managed in Italy and why (1943-1967)

Submitted by Steven. on June 17, 2013

O my own Italy, though words are vain
The mortal wounds
to close,
Unnumbered, that they beauteous bosom stain (…)
your truth is understood here through my mouth – the one whom I could

Petrarch, The Songbook[1]

We have rapidly enumerated the objective successes that modern
capitalism obtained prior to the last few decades. But since we do not
intend to make an apology for this world – an apology whose utility in
the proper domain of propaganda we do not deny –, we must set out in
several summarized lines the origins of the internal crisis in our own
country, a crisis that we are called upon to understand and confront
without delay.

We know that, in the States, an illness is at first difficulty to
recognize, then easy to cure, and that, through its progress, the
disease becomes ever-more easy to recognize, but more difficult to
treat.[2] As for what concerns Italy, we are convinced that, if we have
so far been spared a pure, simple and irreversible politico-economic
disaster, this has been thanks to the relative, contingent weakness of
the adversary’s forces and less so due to the merit and prudence of our

If we want to avoid a situation in which the illness becomes too
easily recognized without relying on chance or hope, we must
immediately diagnose it and simultaneously begin shock treatment
before the workers understand its proportions and seriousness, which
would inevitably open up to them new possibilities and new pretexts for
struggle, as well as radiant perspectives of victory. The current
wait-and-see attitude of the ruling class, which always fears to act or
only acts out of fear, makes it look ridiculous in the eyes of the
uneducated, working class masses. People are tired for a while
before they perceive that they are, and nothing animates and supports a
movement more than the ridicule of those against whom it is directed.
Such situations are always very dangerous for both parties because they
cause impotent despair in one and fatal fervor in the other. To not fall
into the opposed risks of dramatizing or de-dramatizing the current
crisis, there is only one route: to understand the nature and real
depths of it exactly.

Our history from 1943 to 1967, when seen from a distance and in its
entirety, appears to us as the representation of a fierce struggle that,
in its first five years (up to the elections of 18 April 1948),[3] was
seen in the majority of the countries opposed to the Ancien
of the Kingdom of Italy, which was born old and of which
fascism was the supreme episode and the most recent archaism. It was
exactly the Kingdom’s traditional routines, its hardly glorious
memories, its always disappointed illusions of grandeur and its mediocre
representatives to which the entirety of the new Italian society was
unanimously opposed, like a single person.

From the moment that the Ancien Régime was permanently
destroyed, the elections of 1948 definitively concluded this first
period of unified collaboration between the bourgeoisie and the lower
classes of our country. By putting an end to the illusions of the
workers, who still hoped for a possible collaboration between their
parliamentary representatives and those of the wealthy classes, the
bourgeoisie showed itself to be more realistic than the workers were.
The triumph of the middle class was double: over all those who had been
above it in the defunct Kingdom, and over all those who had been
below it. This was a complete triumph, but it was only definitive
in relation to those who were above the bourgeois, that is to say, the
old decadent aristocracy of the large landowners. In this sense, the
victory was effectively complete because all the economic and
productive powers, and all the prerogatives and the government of the
young Republic in its entirety were united as a monopoly within the
boundaries that defined this bourgeoisie, which from then on became the
unique leader of the ex-Kingdom. It took positions in all the useful
posts of power by prodigiously multiplying their number, and very
quickly got accustomed to living there, as much upon the public treasury
as upon its own industry.

But this was, moreover, a provisional success because all the
classes that had also contributed to the struggle against the Kingdom –
first under fascism, then during the Resistance, and finally during the
era of the Constituent Assembly – saw that the largest part of the
fruits of victory were “expropriated” at the very moment when this
victory became definitive. In such a situation, it wasn’t a good thing
to have too many illusions about the possibility of avoiding a new
confrontation within the very interior of the heterogeneous coalition of
the forces that emerged victorious from the preceding conflict. This
conflict, which itself was part of a vaster conflict of global
hostilities, had nevertheless quite weakened the working population and
thus permitted the bourgeoisie to dedicate itself to its own interests
without fear of once again finding itself obligated to measure up to a
strong and unified adversary. On the other hand, after 1948, two
decisive events contributed to once again reinforcing the position of
the new dominant class: above all, the political strategy chosen by
Togliatti[4] for the Communists and by the Left in general was not at
all in contradiction with the new needs of the democratic and liberal
center since, under the sufficiently vague mandate of the economic
“reconstruction” of the country, renewed social tensions were
momentarily frozen and, reciprocally – to the extent that this
reconstruction was effectively undertaken – political passions calmed
down and a public and private wealth such as Italy had never before
known developed very rapidly. No one can forget how the Cold War, which
excessively augmented international tensions, opportunely served to cool
and defuse the real reasons for the internal conflict, which was
constantly projected beyond Italy’s frontiers. The insurrectional
episode of July, 1948, for which the attack against Togliatti served as
a pretext, was the only noisy consequence of the workers’ disappointment
after the elections of 18 April, and this was the occasion on which the
Italian Communists, who loyally repressed the insurrection from within,
with their own troops, proved their coherence and their responsibility
with respect to their democratic political choices.

From then on, the particular needs of the bourgeoisie became the
general needs of the republican government. They also dominated both the
foreign policy and the domestic affairs of the country. The spirit of
the times was active, industrious, poised; what one calls political
dishonesty had precise justifications; it was, by temperament, a timid
spirit, but was rash due to egotism, moderate in everything except its
mediocre taste for “well being.” This spirit would have accomplished
miracles if only it had possessed a little of the nobility of intention
that has always appeared indispensible to us, but, by itself, this
spirit could produce nothing other than a series of weak governments,
without virtue or grandeur. Master of everything as no other aristocracy
on the peninsula had ever been, the middle class or, rather, that part
of this class that we could call the class of government, had taken up
its residence in governmental power and, soon after, in its
idiosyncrasies: the government took on the appearance of a private
industry and was no longer the political expression of private industry
properly speaking. None of the members of this class appeared to think
about public affairs, not even to make them turn a profit for their own
private interests or their own political current, while the holders of
economic power and the common people – in a blithe thoughtlessness that
united them for a while – occupied themselves with their respective
individual interests, which were great in the case of the former and
small in the case of the latter, with both contributing to the deceptive
success of the ideology of well being.

Posterity, which only sees the brilliant crimes and ordinarily misses
the vices that are at the origins of all the most serious crises, will
perhaps never know how all the successive Italian governments had
gradually but increasingly taken on the appearance of a commercial firm
in which all the operations were made in view of earnings that could be
derived for its particular associates, naturally under the sign of the
public interest. When some of the most authorized representatives of
economic power began to worry about the risks and the costs of a
parallel system of government, the leaders of Christian Democracy, then
accustomed to consider any government ministry as sinecure guaranteed to
each of its notables, resorted to the saddest kind of blackmail by
threatening to render public several virtual scandals in which economic
power wasn’t any less implicated than political power, with the intent
of keeping the reins of the government locked into imbroglio and
bankruptcy. It was certainly an error to give in to this blackmail.
Almost all of the political despicable acts of which we have been the
unwilling and mostly powerless witnesses have, in our country, followed
from the fact that the men who are introduced into political life –
deprived of a personal inheritance – fear their ruin if they abandon
their places [in government] or from the fact that their ambitions,
personal passions or fears render them so obstinate in the continuation
of their careers in power that they consider the simple idea of
abandoning them with a kind of horror, which distorts their judgment and
makes them sacrifice the future to the benefit of the present and their
honor to the roles that they play.

On the other hand, no one can forget the responsibility of America,
which seems to have accorded more confidence to the forced and
artificial stability of the Italian political class – which obviously
presented as its own work the recent well-being to which the country has
acceded – than to the real craftsmen of the economic miracle, who were
the industrialists and entrepreneurs, in general.

The current politico-economic paralysis, which had to be the direct
and principal result of such irresponsible conduct, was the least
unforeseeable thing in the world and yet it was regarded as a
Cassandra-like prophecy that could have warned against such a
possibility, which was what we exhausted ourselves trying to do. If our
efforts weren’t publicly mocked, this was, in the best of cases, due to
a residue of respect and, most often, due to pure and simple fear.
Instead of praises for our alleged foresight, which at the moment come
to us from all sides, we would have more modestly preferred a more
attentive audience at the moment when there was still time to avoid this
dreadful situation.

In a political world composed and led in such a fashion, what was
most lacking was political life itself. On their side, the majority of
the industrialists and, more generally, the holders of economic power,
who were once again too devoted to their religion of laissez
[French in original], didn’t entertain with sufficient clarity
the consequences (obviously more damaging to them than to the
politicians) of such a doctrine when it was set up as the unique rule
for Italian politics and were too trusting of an inertial power that had
made the politico-economic machine, following its own internal rules,
function “automatically,” and all the more so when one kept one’s hands
off of its delicate mechanisms. What one cheerfully forgot were the very
society in which this “automatism” functioned and the profound
transformations that it had brought about over the prior 20 years. The
industrialists, who were rightly bored by the empty and verbose speeches
of the government, placed, on the other hand, an extravagant confidence
in the simplistic technical studies made by mediocre economists with
whom they surrounded themselves and from whom they asked forecasts that
reassured them concerning the expansion of and increase in their
profits. With the arrival of the critical moment in which these
forecasts were challenged point by point by the facts, the
industrialists asked for more forecasts,
as if to compensate for
real losses with illusory certitudes, to which they hastened to make
themselves slaves. A collective neurosis seemed to have seized these
men, the majority of whom lacked the mental strength of their fathers
and the character traits of their ancestors. They had inherited their
money but not their courage, their pride but not their dignified
prudence. The first failures sufficed to depress them psychologically
and to remove from them the spirit of free enterprise. Thus they
progressively lost the indispensible class solidarity that should have
been their first line of defense when they were confronted by the
excessive political power and the growing pretentions of their workers –
and all this deteriorated into a kind of law of silence; they became
accomplices in a shared impotence with the political class that, in
truth, they allowed themselves to be fleeced by.

The nation in its entirety then overtly felt a tranquil contempt, as
much for economic power as for the political administration, and those
concerned were quite wrong to consider this tranquility to be confident
and satisfied submission, the forthcoming end of which they did not
perceive. Slowly the country divided into two unequal but still not
opposed parts: on high there reigned apathy, boredom, impotence and
immobility; down below, by contrast, political life began to manifest
itself in feverish, irregular and apparently extra-political or
extra-unionist symptoms that an attentive observer could have picked out
without difficulty. We have had the misfortune of being one of those
observers, and consequently we were much more sensitive to the
inquietude that grew and rooted itself in the heart of our society to
the extent that public morals deteriorated into general indifference; we
were no doubt favored by our personal integrity, which has always been
above party interests, and by the fact that our interests have never
been dependent upon chance. In addition, we were favored by our
position, which has required a character hardly inclined to false fears
and false consolations, and so it was easy for us to enter into the game
played by these institutions, as well as the mass of small, everyday
facts, where in complete coldness we examined the evolution of the
morals and opinions of the country, among the ruling class as well as
among workers. It was thus, and not at all thanks to the chimerical
wisdom that today one wants to attribute to us, that we have been able
to clearly discern the many indicators that have ordinarily appeared in
history in advance of each of its catastrophes and that always herald

Towards the end of 1967, these symptoms became so numerous that we
believed it our duty to communicate in a private manner our
preoccupations to the man who, due to the very position that he
occupied, had to be able to understand (more than anyone else) the
seriousness of the disastrous consequences, and who had the greatest
interest in preventing them.

We then said [to him] that the Constitution of the Italian Republic
had abolished all the secular privileges and destroyed all the protected
rights, yet let a fundamental one (the right to own private property)
continue to exist amidst the utopian perspective of extending that right
to everyone. We then added that, in a period when half the States in
Europe were confronting a growing discontent among the workers and the
entirety of the young generation, the property owners shouldn’t have too
many illusions about the solidity of their situation, nor should they
imagine that the right to own private property would continue to remain
an insurmountable wall for the simple reason that in Europe, until then,
it had never been breached, because our times resemble no other.
We have shown how, at the origin, when the right to own private property
was the only foundation required for the support of many other rights,
we defended it without too many difficulties or, rather, our enemies
didn’t dare attack it directly. The right to own private property
constituted a kind of wall within the wall of society, and all the other
rights and privileges were its forward defenses. Blows could not reach
it and, on the other hand, our enemies did not seriously seek to besiege
it. But today, for many people the right to own private property seems
to be the last remains of an aristocratic world that was destroyed de
jure et de facto.
Standing alone, it appears with the greatest
obviousness to be a unique, isolated privilege in a leveled society,
while all the other protected rights (much more contestable and justly
hated) no longer serve as a screen, and so the right to own private
property itself has been challenged in the most dangerous manner and
with a contagious violence. It is no longer the attacker, but the
defender, who seems obligated to justify himself.

Confirming our preoccupations and aggravating them with the stamp of
an event, what took place in May 1968 showed the world that the time had
come when our form of society was revealed to be divided into two large
parties in the most unhealthy way. Real political struggle, which
we could neither prevent nor win with speeches and which unavoidably had
its theatre of operations in the factories and streets, henceforth broke
out between those who possessed and those who were deprived of this
right and, under a thousand diverse pretexts, our enemies did not miss
an occasion to choose private property as the battlefield, and everyday
and everywhere salaried work became a casus belli. Our political
calendar could have been illustrated by an old maxim: “the illness never
ends when those who command have lost their sense of shame, because that
is exactly the moment when those who used to obey lose their respect for
them, and it is at that very moment that they leave their lethargy
behind through convulsions” [French in original: Cardinal de Retz,

Thus in France in 1968 and Italy in 1969, we saw our class tremble,
without either courage or dignity, as if overwhelmed by the phantasm of
its imminent death. Subsequently, this very bourgeoisie, as if awoken
from a nightmare, believed itself to be definitively saved, but without
seeking any further explanations. We never allowed ourselves to share
either one of these errors, because we still heed the effects that
passing whims, determined by this or that circumstance, can have on the
human spirit, and because we are too well informed about the singular
doctrines that, from time to time, appear or are rediscovered everywhere
and that, under different names and labels, have had as their common
denominator the denial of the right to own private property and the
contestation of the duty of salaried work. The seriousness of the
situation in which these things came about could be measured by the
extreme ease with which these ideas spread in the factories,
neighborhoods, schools, and offices, and the enthusiasms that they

”Beauty,” Stendhal says, “is the promise of happiness” [French in
original], and we acknowledge that all the new theories, and the ideas
that have simply been sketched out, denounce above all the pallor,
boredom, and routine [French in original] of everyday survival in
industrial societies; the real ugliness that has overcome the appearance
of our towns that have been abandoned to the ravages of urbanists and
speculators of all kinds; the pollution of the air, food and minds that
has been democratically imposed on all the inhabitants of the urban
centers. As a result, we easily understand that this “global” critique,
even if it is generally imprecise, has easily hit the bull’s eye for
people who are bored and impatient with the so-called diversions and
leisure activities [French in original] that this society can
offer them, and we can likewise explain how at present it has become
objectively easy to make the workers believe anything that comes from
channels of information that are different from the customary ones,
which are accused – often rightfully so – of hiding the truth and being
specialized in the manipulation of lies in which the majority of the
country has believed for many years. Disappointment, the effects of
which are always dangerous, seized the petit-bourgeoisie, which in these
last few years has seen the disappearance of the social promotions that
had been promised to it by the political parties that it voted for. The
disappointment of the petit-bourgeoisie, which we should fear less than
the rage of the workers, first manifested itself through the
contestation that the children of this class engaged in at the high
schools and universities, and subsequently it spread to their families,
who were politically oriented toward the right-wing opposition parties
or, in the majority of cases, the left-wing ones. The Communist Party
was therefore able to offset the electoral losses that had cost it the
defection of a part of its base among the workers, who became
radicalized and escaped from its control. But what appears to us the
most immediately worrisome development is the vulnerability to illusions
of happiness and beauty that our political class has created in all the
classes that, due to vocation or disappointment, are now openly opposed
to the bourgeoisie, which has prepared the battlefield without preparing
itself for battle against the other class, thus forgetting the following
infernal prophecy.

For all eternity they will be against each other:
one lot will arise out of their graves
With fists clenched, the
other with their hair cut off.[5]

[1] The first three lines here are from Canto XVI, “To the Princes of
Italy, Exhorting them to Set Her Free,” but the concluding two lines are
not. Perhaps they were taken from Pierre-Louis Ginguené’s Histoire
littéraire d’Italie

[2] Niccolo Machiavelli, Chapter III, The Prince: “[B]ecause, by
providing for oneself beforehand, one can remedy them easily, but if one
waits until they draw close, the medicine is not on time, because the
illness has become incurable [...] [I]n the beginning of its malignity,
it is easy to cure and difficult to know, but in the progression of
time, not having known it at the beginning, nor medicated it, it becomes
easy to know and difficult to cure. So it happens in the things of
state; because, knowing far-off (which is not given except to the
prudent) the evils which are borne in it, one quickly cures them, but,
not having known them, one allows them to grow so that anyone knows
them, there is no longer any remedy for them.”

[3] Thanks to financial assistance and clandestine “hit squads”
provided by the CIA, the political right-wing won the Italian elections
of 18 April 1948, which were “in danger” of being won by the

[4] Palmiro Togliatti was head of the Italian Communist Party until
his death in 1964.

[5] Dante, The Inferno, Canto VII, lines 55-57.