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.footnote1

It is clear even from a strictly technical economic analysis that the development of Italian capitalism since the war can be divided into three well-defined periods: the period of ‘reconstruction’ (1945–7); the period of ‘repressive’ development (1948–62); and the period of ‘precocious maturity’ (from 1964 to the present day). The first period coincides with the governments based on collaboration of all the political forces which came out of the Resistance, and the reconstruction not only of the economic structure destroyed by the war, but of the very social relations of capitalist production, which had been shaken by the fall of fascism and by mass participation in the Resistance. The second period coincides with the governments of the Centre, the ousting of the communists and socialists, and the repression of the political, social and trade-union strength of the workers’ movement. The third period coincides with the governments of the Centre Left, with the renewal of the trade-union strength of the workers’ movement and the emergence of social tensions which could not be entirely mediated through the political system. The term ‘precocious maturity’ refers to problems of economic policy which have arisen during these years (inflation, credit restriction, depression, economic revival, renewed inflation, etc); problems typical of industrial economies which have achieved a high level of utilization of all the nation’s productive resources, which is certainly not the case for Italy.

It is not possible in this article to consider the crucial period of the reconstruction.footnote2 This was a period of the greatest political and social change, and a broad spectrum of options seemed to be open at that time. Even at the level of generality in this article, it would deserve special treatment. I shall begin from the period when the main political, social and economic choices had already been taken.

At the beginning of the 1950s very few government economists (and still less those of the opposition) expected the exceptional economic development which in fact characterized the decade. Their expectations of the future were strongly conditioned by the problems which then confronted them. They pictured Italy as a poor country, eternally starved of raw materials, and unable to procure them by exporting manufactures. The industrial base was in fact too weak for this, in relation to that of Italy’s competitors. There was concern over the fall in exports of textiles, the typical industrial product of a poor country. It was well known that the situation could not be rectified by the export of agricultural commodities, whether processed or not. The end of Marshall Aid was viewed with apprehension.

However, the following decade witnessed a rapid economic development and the ‘precocious’ achievement of industrial maturity. First, by contrast with the ‘under-developed’ countries, Italy at the beginning of the fifties had achieved a balance of trade equilibrium and the structure of imports and exports was, in general, that of an advanced country: raw materials and manufactures were imported and manufactures exported.

Of course the imported manufactures were often of a considerably higher ‘technological content’ than the exports. But the list of exports had grown considerably: Italy had left behind the stage of textiles and agricultural products. At the international level there was now no barrier to the progress which other North Atlantic countries in fact experienced in the course of the subsequent decade.

Secondly, and again in contrast to the under-developed countries, Italy had considerably extended and diversified its industrial base. In particular large-scale heavy industry had been built or was being built: and this time, by contrast with the past, it was no mere ‘prestige’ industry arising out of state armaments expenditure, isolated from a national economic base and uncompetitive on the world market, but an efficient industry, fully utilized by demand arising from the economy for consumption, investment, and exports.