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New Left Review I/76, November-December 1972

Michele Salvati

The Impasse of Italian Capitalism

In the years immediately following the Italian surrender, from 1943 to 1948, us and British imperialism exerted their greatest efforts to restabilize bourgeois society in Italy and to crush the revolutionary movement that had arisen in the anti-fascist struggle. The Italian ruling class emerged intact if battered from the Allied victory and faced few of the serious problems encountered by their fellow bourgeoisies in Germany and Japan, who underwent a bloodier subjection. The Italian capitalists were given every support in the military, economic and political fields to enable them to reinforce their hegemony, and the post-fascist Italian regime was quickly integrated into the imperialist system as a vital if junior component. Once restabilized, Italy underwent an economic boom that took both left and right by surprise and which gave it one of the highest growth rates in Europe. But from 1963 onwards this rate of development slowed down and Italy entered a period of greater difficulty, marked by the weakness of the ‘Centre Left’ political coalition and by recurring economic contradictions. A vital factor in Italy’s post-war boom was certainly the international capitalist expansion led by the United States; and the present contradictions, marked by a fall in profits and monetary crises, will certainly affect Italy by weakening stimuli and sharpening international competition. But the 1963 downturn in Italy preceded the international downturn. The key to the present crisis must be found in the internal character of Italy’s development since the war. Some other North Atlantic countries, with a different historical experience and a greater ability to overcome their internal contradictions, have been better able than Italy to benefit from the ‘opportunities’ of capitalist development offered by the past decade. [1] No originality is claimed for the economic analysis underlying this article. In its main lines, the view put forward here stems from the work of well-known economists, most of them connected with the National Planning Commission of the Centre Left Governments (P. Sylos Labini, G. Fua, S. Lombardini, L. Spaventa, A. Graziani). Nor is the socio-political analysis new, being shared by professional political sociologists (A. Pizzorno and G. Galli) and by political figures on the Left (V. Foa, P. Ferraris, A. Collida). What I have tried to do here is to give a synthesis of well-known material and partial interpretations; it is my opinion that only an overall view—a ‘political economy’ approach—can provide an understanding of the origins and nature of the present crisis.The reader may be struck by the absence of any discussion and judgement of the political choices facing the left. The real subject of this short reconstruction is the Italian bourgeoisie: to understand its contradictions is a necessary condition for a meaningful discussion of the alternatives of the left. This cannot however be discussed casually, and a much longer article would have been necessary to tackle it properly.

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