Theses on the Situation in Italy
1. The gradual deepening of the crisis of capitalism expresses itself more and more in chaotic oscillations between chronic inflation and brutal recession. Although each of these shifts allow the most powerful countries to win for themselves a short respite - pompously referred to as a ‘recovery' - such respites occur only to the detriment of the weakest economies. One after another, in a movement from the periphery of capitalism towards its centre, from the Third World towards the industrial metropoles, such countries are being plunged into a hopeless state of chaos. In Europe, the weak Portuguese national capital was the first to be hit in this manner. Today, while capitalism is allowing itself to be lulled by soothing talk of a ‘recovery', it is Italy's turn to play the role of ‘sick man'. Tens of billions of dollars in debt, with inflation on a ‘South American' scale, with its currency continuing to plummet in value, with a fall in productivity which defies all measures taken to counter it - Italy and the ‘Italian miracle' has become a nightmare for the bourgeoisie.
2. Today not only has the basis for this much-vaunted ‘miracle' been completely used up, it has to some extent been transformed into an additional handicap for Italian capital. The relative success of Italian capital in the period following World War II obscured the fact that Italian capitalism remained structurally weak and extremely dependent on foreign capital. Its post-war boom was based to a large extent on the existence within the country of a large backward agricultural sector which constituted a massive reserve of cheap labour power. Through the exploitation of this labour force Italian capital was able to take advantage of the period of reconstruction to grab hold of important markets in Europe, particularly in the sphere of consumer goods (automobiles, clothing, electrical appliances, etc). This favourable situation was supplemented by the fact that Italy had none of the colonial problems which served to hold back the development and competitiveness of rival European countries (France, Portugal, Spain and Belgium).
This conjunction of favourable conditions was disrupted for Italy at the end of the reconstruction period. The solution of their colonial problems found by other European countries meant that Italy no longer had any advantage over them in this area. At the same time a growing number of problems began to plague the Italian economy. In particular, at a time when a more and more restricted world market could no longer absorb Italy's products, the backward agricultural sector of the economy became a reservoir of unemployed workers who had to be supported by the state and so became a heavy weight upon the shoulders of Italian capital. Italian agriculture remained unable to supply the population with food. Moreover the rapid post-war development of industrial production in a country still deeply marked with underdevelopment created internal imbalances and destabilization on the economic, social, and political levels.
3. Such weaknesses of Italian capital have expressed themselves on the social level in the development of a movement of class struggle which ever since the ‘rampant May' of 1969 has placed the proletariat of Italy owing to the depth and extension of its struggles in the front ranks of the world proletariat. These struggles have also constituted an additional handicap for Italian capital. On the political level, the weaknesses of Italian capital have manifested themselves in a series of governmental crises which, although they did not seriously disturb the ‘boom' during the reconstruction period, have with the arrival of the economic crisis become an additional barrier against any attempt to re-establish economic order. The basis of this vulnerability within the political apparatus of Italian capital has been the growing corruption, exhaustion, and senility of the ruling party - the Christian Democracy. Basing itself on the most anachronistic sectors of Italian society and having been saddled with an almost solitary exercise of power for thirty years, the Christian Democratic Party is becoming less and less capable of managing the national capital. This deficiency within the political apparatus of the bourgeoisie is at the root of the general ‘anything goes' attitude permeating the state apparatus. At a time when the situation demands a resolute intervention on the part of the state in the affairs of the national economy, the state thus finds itself more and more impotent.
4. In spite of this accumulation of weaknesses, Italian capital does have a particularly important trump card yet to play. Although it cannot accomplish a new ‘miracle' the ‘Communist Party' (PCI) is one of the last resorts of Italian capital.
With a membership of over a million, an electorate of twelve million, and a highly structured mode of organization, the PCI is the greatest political force in Italy, the most powerful Stalinist party in the Western world, and one of the leading political parties in the whole of Europe. While exerting an extremely effective control over the workers, particularly through the main trade union body - the CGIL - the PCI has also acquired a great deal of experience in the direction of ‘public affairs'. It not only controls some of the most important towns in Italy it also exercises political control over an appreciable number of regions.
Carrying on the work it began by mobilizing the Italian proletariat for World War II (via the ‘resistance'), and by containing and repressing the class in the interests of ‘national reconstruction' after the war (the comrade minister Togliatti did not hesitate to shoot workers when he was in the government then), the PCI has distinguished itself (especially since 1969) in the loyal service it has rendered to its national capital. Whether through its ‘clean' management of the municipalities and regions under its control, through the discreet support it has given to government policies (for several years the majority of laws, including some of the most repressive legislation Parliament has adopted, have been voted for by the PCI), or through activities aimed at keeping order in the factories, this ‘party of the working class' has given proof of its "elevated sense of responsibility"... to capitalism. In the latter sphere it has shown since 1969 its great ability to recuperate the extra-and even anti-trade union organs of class struggle which emerged from the ‘rampant May' of 1969 by integrating them back into official trade union channels. By organizing ‘days of action' to demobilize the class, by taking charge via its union conveyor belt of the various movements for the ‘self-reduction' of rents and fares, by its agitation about the ‘fascist menace', and by presenting its own participation in government as the perspective for getting the country back on to its feet, the PCI has up until now succeeded in diverting the increasing discontent of the workers and thereby channeling it into a dead-end.
5. Although the PCI's policy of ‘constructive opposition' has for several years allowed Italian capital to avoid an even bigger catastrophe than that which it currently faces, the present situation has made a much more direct participation of the PCI in the management of the national capital an urgent necessity. The perspective of the PCI entering the government cannot indefinitely steep the class struggle in check if such an event is continually being postponed. The draconian austerity measures which are needed if the Italian economy is going to slow down its progress towards bankruptcy can only have a chance of being accepted by the working class if they are put into effect by a government which the workers feel to be representative of their interests. And only the PCI, by being given an effective presence in the government, can provide it with such a ‘proletarian' colouring. If the PCI spends too much time supporting austerity measures from outside the government, it runs the risk of suffering from the unpopularity such measures will give rise to while being unable to counteract this with the myth of a ‘working class victory' that the presence of ‘comrades' at the head of the state is supposed to represent.
In a more general sense the accession of the PCI to governmental office would considerably strengthen the Italian state, not only in its capacity to mystify the workers, but also in its ability to undertake all its other tasks. Presenting itself as the party of ‘order', ‘morality' and ‘social justice' the PCI is that party in the political spectrum least tied to the defence of particular petty interests or to a more or less parasitic ‘clientele'. It is therefore the best equipped to stand for the general interests of the national capital against any particular interests or privileges of groups within it. In particular it is the only party which can effectively contribute to the operation of state capitalist measures imposed by the deepening crisis on the Italian economy. In a country where the state sector already dominates the economy, the restoration of the authority of the state itself is a first and foremost requirement. It is the only party which can present measures necessary for the defence of capital as ‘great victories' for the working class and thus be in a position to use such measures as effective instruments of mystification. Moreover the strong state which the PCI calls for and explicitly proposes to help set up is the precondition for the re-establishment of order in the street and in the factories and hence for an increased rate of exploitation of the working class.
6. While the extreme vulnerability of Italian capital makes it necessary for it to adopt emergency measures internally, it also makes Italy extremely dependent on the other countries of Europe and the imperialist bloc to which it belongs - the US. This explains why the PCI has for a number of years, and more and more today, loosened its ties with Russia and made itself a partisan of the EEC and keeping Italy in NATO. Furthermore, because it is perfectly aware of the fact that the Western bloc absolutely refuses to accept a government dominated by the PCI - even if it does ardently defend the EEC and NATO - the PCI has built its whole perspective around the ‘historic compromise' (an alliance between the PCI, Christian Democracy and the Socialists) in which it would be a minority, rather than an alliance of the left alone which the PCI would overwhelmingly dominate.
In this the PCI differs from the French and Portuguese CPs who can count on an alliance with the Socialist Parties alone. In these countries the CPs are less strong than the SPs and would therefore only play a secondary role in any ‘Union of the Left'. Even if the CPs' participation in government becomes absolutely indispensable in certain western European countries, the American bloc would only allow a minority participation by the CPs in government. The eviction of the Portuguese CP from a government it had to all intent and purposes been running on its own following massive pressure being exerted by the western countries is a striking illustration of this.
The ‘Communist' Parties are above all parties of national capital. In a world divided into imperialist blocs and where each national capital has to decide its policies in relation to those blocs, they represent the faction of national capital most favourably predisposed towards an alliance with the USSR and a greater independence with respect to the US. Because they are parties of national capital, if this original orientation of the CPs enters into conflict with a coherent and effective defence of the national capital, then the CPs will jettison their previous international options. This is especially true when the country is weak and thus more dependent on its imperialist bloc. This situation is particularly applicable to the PCI which, because of the extreme dependence of Italian capital on the US since the end of World War II, has always been in the vanguard of ‘polycentrism', independence from the USSR, and ‘Eurocommunism'. However, such an orientation by the Stalinist parties should not be considered as fixed. In a different balance of forces between the imperialist blocs these parties would be the most susceptible in the national political arena to ‘revising' their position in order to tip their country toward the Russian bloc. It is for this reason that the western bloc cannot tolerate the establishment of governments dominated by the CP. Even though such governments might be loyal in the short term, in different circumstances they could swing their national capital into the other bloc.
7. Despite the urgent need for the PCI to participate in government, despite the PCI's realism and flexibility both in terms of its foreign and internal policies, Italian capital is exhibiting the greatest hesitation and encountering great difficulties in playing this vital card. The reason for this is the enormous pressure being exerted by the American government and the governments of the major western European countries against Italian capital resorting to this solution. (The French government included - it has more and more abandoned the ‘independent' line of Gaullism). Important sectors of the American bourgeoisie - the so-called liberals - have understood that the accession of the PCI to governmental responsibility is inevitable. In particular they have understood that an ally sunk into a state of chaos is in no position to carry out its functions within the bloc, both from an economic and military point of view. The present ruling team in America showed its own understanding when it put pressure on the Spanish bourgeoisie to abandon the political structures inherited from the Franco era since such a political apparatus is less and less capable of dealing with Spain's social and economic problems. But the ‘democratization' programme prescribed for Spain does not necessarily imply the entry of the PCE into government. In the case of Italy, the American government is still holding to a policy of resolute resistance to any governmental formula that includes the PCI. Whether in the name of ‘defending democracy' or defending the Atlantic Alliance, it is making a great deal of noise, even to the extent of threatening economic sanctions, in order to dissuade the Italian bourgeoisie from resorting to such a solution. This is a striking example of one of the aspects of the political crisis facing the bourgeoisie as a result of the economic crisis: the contradiction between the essentially national interests of capital and the necessity to strengthen the blocs in response to growing inter-imperialist tensions. For the moment, as long as the survival of capitalism itself is not at stake, the blocs tend to give priority to their immediate general interests, (ie the interests of the dominant power) over and above the particular difficulties of the national capitals which make up the blocs - sometimes to the detriment of their future interests.
8. In Italy itself, this resolute opposition orchestrated by the US to any governmental role for the PCI, has determined allies in the most anachronistic strata of Italian capital. This strata includes those most threatened by the political and economic house-cleaning advocated by the PCI and who, apart from those who are behind the MSI, are grouped around the right of the Christian Democracy under the leadership of Fanfani. However, this opposition up until now has only been decisive because extremely important strata of the Italian bourgeoisie remain very distrustful of the PCI. Its democratic and pro-Atlantic turns have not obscured the fact that the PCI belongs to a particular category of capitalist parties. It is one of those parties which is most resolute in defending the general tendency towards state capitalism and which is always liable, if the situation demands it to eliminate all the factions of the bourgeoisie who are tied to individual property, both on the economic level (statification of capital) and on the political level (the one party state). Even if decisive sectors of Italian capital, of which the former ‘boss of bosses' Giovanni Agneli is a significant representative, have become convinced of the necessity for the PCI to enter the government, they will try to obtain the maximum guarantees that the PCI will not embark upon any ‘totalitarian' course at their expense.
9. The recent Italian elections have not fundamentally modified this situation. By maintaining the position of the Christian Democracy electorally - a party which is so used up and discredited - the elections served to highlight the importance of the opposition to the PCI coming into the government. The Christian Democrats under Fanfani's leadership based its whole election campaign on this issue. However, while spreading alarm among the most backward sectors of the bourgeoisie, the powerful advance of the PCI has also strikingly demonstrated to the ruling class the inevitability of the ‘historic compromise' - the PCI's participation in government. The polarization engendered by the electoral confrontation has not, despite the hopes of the right-wing of the Christian Democracy, led to an irremediable break between the two main parties of the political apparatus of Italian capital. By eliminating any possibility of going back to the ‘centre-left' formula which has been used until recently, the result of the elections has pointed out for the whole Italian bourgeoisie the path that it must follow: an alliance between the two main parties. This is the meaning of the agreements between the parties of the ‘constitutional arc' concerning the allocation of a certain number of parliamentary appointments which, in the context of Italian politics, are actually posts in the executive.
These agreements, a new step towards the ‘historic compromise', are the practical expression of the fact that the objective needs of the whole national capital must in the end take precedence over the resistance put up by this or that faction of the bourgeoisie. However, the delay in this solution being achieved is an expression of the continuing importance of the resistance to it, which the recent elections have not been able to overcome. In fact, although the recent elections have clarified what is at stake in the Italian political game and clearly shown to the ruling class the path that it must follow, they have also partly tied its hands. Since it has been so obviously restored to power on the basis of its refusal to conclude the ‘compromise' with the PCI, the Christian Democracy cannot for the moment throw away all its electoral promises and involve itself fully in such a compromise.
The situation created by the Italian elections highlights the fact that, while electoral and parliamentary mechanisms still constitute an effective instrument for the mystification of the working class in the most developed countries, they can equally serve as an obstacle to the national capital's adoption of measures most appropriate for the defence of its interests. As an expression of the decadence of the capitalist mode of production inaugurated by World War I, the general tendency towards state capitalism which has already emptied Parliament of any real power to the benefit of the executive wing of the state, tends more and more to enter into conflict with the vestiges of parliamentary bourgeois democracy which has been inherited from the system's ascendant phase. This is particularly the case in the weakest countries where the general tendency towards state capitalism is at its strongest.
10. The coming to power of the PCI is inevitable, but the delay in this happening is another manifestation of the insoluble contradictions which capitalism faces. A coherent defence of capital can only take place at a national level, but each nation, especially in the Western bloc, is divided internally into a host of contradictory interests. Because the Italian bourgeoisie has not yet called upon the PCI to assume governmental office, this shouldn't be interpreted as the result of a machiavellian plan to play the card of the PCI as late as possible, when the economic and social situation is even worse. Apart from the fact that the bourgeoisie -- imprisoned as it is by its own prejudices - is generally incapable of achieving a long term vision of how to defend its interests, today in Italy it would have nothing to gain from putting off still further the economic and political measures of ‘national salvation' that the situation demands. And these measures require the institution of the ‘historic compromise'. The more these economic measures are put off the harder it will be for Italian capital to get back on its feet even with the PCI in power. Similarly, the bourgeoisie has no interest in waiting for the class struggle to really get going before applying more effective methods of containment and mystification. Measures imposed in the heat of struggle are always less effective than preventative measures, since they are less sophisticated than the latter and the instability which gives rise to them can never be totally re-absorbed. Since it would be presented in any circumstances as a ‘victory for the working class', the coming to power of the left in response to a massive class mobilization would tend to instill in the workers the idea that ‘it pays to struggle', whereas all the efforts of the bourgeoisie are aimed at demonstrating the contrary.
These structural contradictions of capital, which oblige it to carry out a pragmatic short term policy in the face of the threat posed by the working class, constitute a highly favourable factor for the proletariat in its ultimate confrontation with the existing social order. However, all these antagonisms within the ruling class itself, both on the national and international level, must not lead the revolutionary class to forget that, in the face of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie maintains a fundamental unity which it can reinforce at the most crucial moments - even if this means sacrificing important factions of its own class - in order to safeguard what is essential: the maintenance of capitalist relations of production. In particular the workers today must reject any idea of trying to make use of conflicts within the ruling class by supporting one faction against another: democracy against fascism, state capital against private capital, this nation against that nation, etc. For over half a century, such ‘tactics' have never led to the weakening of capitalism, but they have always led to the negation of the autonomy and unity of the working class, and in the end, to its defeat.
11. Owing to its geographic location, the weight of its economy, and the combativity of its working class, Italy occupies an extremely important position in Europe against which the bourgeoisie can counter-pose a highly sophisticated arsenal. Moreover the proletariat of Italy has since the First World War benefited from one of the richest veins of experience, both from the practical and the political-theoretical point of view (Labriola, Bordiga, the Italian Left).
For some time Portugal operated as an important laboratory for all the various ‘solutions' the bourgeoisie has put forward to ward off the crisis. But with the further deterioration of the economic, political, and social situation, Spain appeared as one of the weak links of capitalism. This was evidenced in the intensity of social conflicts taking place there and the pronounced delay of the bourgeoisie in setting up the appropriate structures to limit and direct these conflicts. With the brutal unfolding of the crisis in Italy, the axis of the social-political situation in Europe is today passing through this country.
For a whole period this axis will continue to be centred both in Spain and Italy. Events in Spain, which the European bourgeoisie will exploit to the utmost in order to set its anti-fascist mystifications into operation, will allow revolutionaries and the class as whole to draw a whole number of lessons. However, as the crisis and the class struggle develop, the situation in Italy will tend to come to the forefront to the extent that Italy is a country where since 1969 the class struggle has attained one of its highest levels, while at the same time Italy's general characteristics closely resemble those of the main capitalist metropoles of Europe. In this sense the experience that comes out of the future social conflicts in Italy will be extremely important both to the bourgeoisies of these metropoles and to the proletariat and its vanguard.
12. Up until now one of the general characteristics of the present situation, exemplified significantly in Italy where the class struggle has achieved such high levels of expression, is the existence of an enormous gap between the depth of the political crisis of the bourgeoisie reflecting the depth of the economic crisis, and the still-limited degree of mobilization and consciousness within the working class. This contrast is notable in Italy where the first manifestations of the crisis provoked a generalized proletarian response in 1969 that managed to a great extent to break free of the trade union straight jacket. Today however the crisis has produced a much more limited proletarian response entirely kept under control by the unions, despite its increased gravity.
The cause of this gap resides in the weight of mystification which the left and the leftists have systematically developed within the working class by presenting the coming to power of the left as a solution to the crisis, and the way of obtaining a ‘victory' that the workers have not been able to obtain through economic struggle. This mystification is made possible by the difficulty the class has in disentangling itself from the deepest counter-revolution it has ever known. The role of the leftists in Italy, particularly those regrouped in the ‘Proletarian Democracy' electoral cartel, has been overwhelmingly important. Through their left-wing anti-fascism (more ‘radical' than that of the PCI) and their ability to take charge of sectors of the class like the unemployed who tend to escape the control of the PCI and the unions, coupled with their advocacy of a ‘working class alternative' in the form of a Socialist Party/Communist Party leftist government, they have undertaken with a gusto their task as touts of the capitalist left. Far from being an expression of the development of consciousness in the class, the development of these leftist currents as the evolution of the situation in Italy over the last seven years has shown, represents a secretion by the capitalist organism of anti-bodies against the virus of class struggle. We will see these antibodies coming into existence alongside the development of the class struggle in all countries in the future. Such anti-bodies serve the purpose of guiding back into the official left with its policies of ‘critical' support, all those elements of the class who begin to move away from it.
The gap existing between the level of the crisis and the level of class struggle will not be prolonged indefinitely. Today when the left can no longer be content with carrying out its capitalist functions in opposition but is more and more constrained to take up its governmental responsibilities, the conditions are ripening for the disappearance of this gap. If at the beginning the governments of the left will allow a more effective containment of the class in the interests of capital to take place, their inevitable economic bankruptcy and the increasingly violent anti-working class measures the irresolvable crisis will force them to impose, will eventually undermine the mystifications which today obscure the consciousness of the proletariat.
The International Communist Current