International Communist Party Back to C.L. index - No. 15-16 - No. 18


17 - Special Edition
Six Articles on Disasters and the Nature of Capitalism
Map of places mentioned in the Po Valley
Filling and bursting of bourgeois civilization (from Battaglia Comunista, no.23, 1951)
Murder of the dead (from Battaglia Comunista, no.24, 1951)
The legend of the Piave (from Il Programma Comunista, no.20, 1963)
Weird and wonderful tales of modern social decadence (from Il Programma Comunista, no.17, 1956)
The doctrine of the body possessed by the devil (from Battaglia Comunista, no.21, 1951)
The spirit of horse-power (from Il Programma Comunista, no.5, 1953)



This edition contains the translations of a series of six articles that were written over the period 1951 to 1963 and concerning the question of disasters and the role the State and economy played in their resolution. This was the period leading from the post-war reconstruction in Italy to the years of the boom, a period of massive capitalist expansion. The disasters mentioned seem to be modest in relation to the ones of the present period – air crashes with hundreds of deaths, smaller, but more frequent losses on the roads, the new illnesses resulting from the proliferation of (leaky) nuclear power plants and chemical works, even when these do not actually blow up and pour their deadly contents into the atmosphere, as at Chernobyl (and we are regularly told by the newspapers, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Savannah River, etc), Seveso, Bhopal and Flixborough.

Then there has been the doubling or more of the world’s population over the 40 years since the last article was written, meaning that people are forced to move into those areas their ancestors considered too dangerous because of the natural risk from volcanic eruption (Columbia), floods (Bangla Desh) or tidal floods (the North Sea basin).

Excuses in the 1950s ran along the lines that capitalism was in a phase of rebuilding and that all the damage of the war still had to be made good. But capitalism has never been anything other than a system which builds and rebuilds. If 40% of the bridges that the Romans built in Italy are still in use, we know that little of the present motorway system will last out this century and will have to be replaced. The Romans could limit their turn over to the dinner table with the vomunt et edent, edunt et voment and every self-respecting villa had its vomitorium. Now the excess agricultural product does not even have to pass through the human body, but is immediately transformed or even thrown away. Thus too with the construction industry: we can recall many cases of the demolition of works carried out less than 30 years ago, undamaged by any war. Here too capitalism can call on disasters and their prevention to aid it in removing unwanted excess populations from town centres to the outskirts to allow for rebuilding. Whereas in the 18th century or even in the first part of the last one, such a removal was often linked to the building of works of public utility: the Paris boulevards, railways and roads in London and so forth, now the only pressure is to provide quick access to land that can be relet at a much higher rent.

A classic case of this transformation can be found in the city of Pozzuoli, near Naples, built on the site of previous cities dating back to 529-8 BC. This site, unlike the neighbouring cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii survived the eruptions of Vesuvius, but was equally subject to another volcanic form, apart from a sulphur spout that last erupted in 1198, called bradisism, the slow rising and falling of the surface as magma flows underground from one caldera to another. This cycle lasts about 25 years and has never led to the complete abandonment of the area.

The arrival of the modern period changed this. In 1970 a plan was prepared to evacuate the population in case of undersea eruptions and tidal waves. The world renowned volcanologist, Haroun Tazieff, doubted the seriousness of the plan when he discovered that «with the prediction of a submarine eruption in the Gulf of Pozzuoli, the area of Rione Terra was to be evacuated, that is the higher part of the city. How come that it was this zone and not the port, which was far more vulnerable to the threat of tidal waves, was evacuated?» and answers his own question: «The occasion was seized on to get hold of the old part of the city at a very low price in order to begin speculation».

Nature was not so obliging, however, but the earthquake in Irpinia in November 1981, followed by the start of a fresh cycle of bradisism in 1983, gave the local capitalist class (local mafia - Camorra, businessmen, elements from the local judiciary) a second chance. The old city was evacuated in October 1983 and the inhabitants outhoused in various areas up to 50 km from Pozzuoli. The City Council immediately voted for the construction of a new city, Monteruscello, which, with progressive numerical inflation, rose to a planned 44,000. Here again the volcanologist discovered the tricks used. His registration devices did not detect the movements that were registered daily by the State. In the end he found that the latter had been placed alongside the local railway and picked up the slight movements produced by passing trains. Then the new city was to be sited in the ex-caldera of one of the volcanoes of the Campi Flegrei, where a possible eruption would cause «total loss and zero survival».

Even the new town soon began to fall to bits, not because of a natural disaster, but because the job had been rushed with poor quality materials – after all it was an emergency! Not so the work along the coast. All and sundry were asked to intervene: FIAT, the State holdings ENI and Italstat, even the communist party League of Co-operatives, the party being worried about the loss of the area’s “political, democratic and civil traditions”, i.e. its vote share (1).

It would be tedious to consider many more cases of this refinement of disaster management. Let us look at the articles translated here instead.

The first two deal with the death and destruction caused by floods in the Po valley in late 1951. Here we need an overview of the long period of capitalist expansion in this zone, the criticisms of those who foresaw disaster and an updating of the question from 1951 to the present day.

The Po valley

[Map of places mentioned in the Po Valley

The Po valley as late as the eleventh century still consisted largely of woods and marsh. «Moving towards the Po from the urban centres (of Bologna, Modena, etc), the landscape became steadily more and more wild in aspect... Adventuring into the marshy areas of the lower Po valley meant exposing oneself to every possible kind of danger» (2). Even in the upper valley the Lomellina was infested by “woods and wolves” despite long-term settlement.

However, this period of abundant land and forest soon began to draw to a close. By the twelfth century the landowners were already limiting or preventing the cutting of wood in the Mantovano and the Polesine, even to the extent of removing the inhabitants from the formerly wooded areas (3). These measures were vital to protect a still semi-natural economy based on hunting, hog herding and small scale arable farming. With the rise of commerce, particularly of the Venetian Republic, wood became an important commodity in boat construction. As early as 1470 the Venetians enacted the Provisio quercurum in consilio Rogatorum creating a reserve of all oak trees on both private and common land for later boat building. «The result was, however, that land owners did not plant oak trees, but tore them up as soon as they sprouted from acorns so as to avoid their registration and thus the requirement to maintain them until maturity, without any return» (4).

Thus from the beginning the State could not enforce or maintain a type of production. If the return on oak trees was so little or too slow in forthcoming then oak trees would not be planted. The State itself could of course fill the gap. The ministry of Colbert in France planted huge oak forests to provide timber for the French fleet two hundred years later, by when the iron-clad steam ship had been invented and oak had lost its value (5).

Girolamo Silvestri writing during the enlightenment spoke of the diminution of wood planting in the Polesine for «natural reasons», that is «river flooding, stagnant waters and too much heat and aridity, excessive cold» but also «moral reasons» due to men who damage the woods or who avoid planting them because «the fruit has to be awaited too long» (6). The reasons for the “immorality” of man is of course another matter. The enlightenment authors could of course point to the political division of Italy, the Po basin alone being divided among no less than six States, and thus a lack of coherence in hydraulic and reforestation works.

«From the time of the Renaissance to that of the Counter-Reformation, research by great Italians that from Leonardo to Galileo to Torricelli established modern hydraulic science, enlightened and perfected the initiative of great river reorganization and general improvement works which not even war, economic and political decadence and foreign domination totally managed to impair (...) Already around the 1550’s these initiatives were insufficient to deal with the agencies of degradation of the mountain country and the consequent hydraulic disorganization: increasingly chronicles and archive records speak of the improved land reverting to marsh and of rivers overflowing banks and embankments, flooding over the surrounding fields and devastating them» (7). Thus the mind was willing (to improve the hydraulic system) but the flesh was weak (and politically divided)?

The enlightenment thus saw «the various eighteenth century authors mainly call for the energetic and better co-ordinated State intervention. Even if few of them went as far as advising the State management of wooded areas or mountains requiring reforestation, (e.g. the Venetian Griselini in 1768, the Casentine Tramontani in 1801, the Trentino Serafino in 1807 and finally the Napoleonic general superintendent of woods Gautieri in 1814) however the State, especially in countries where the enlightenment experience was more advanced, was always seen as the body best suited to handle environmental problems of the mountain areas» (8). And in 1866 there was the unitary State (at least for the Po basin), a unitary capitalist State at the service of an increasingly powerful capitalist class based on industry and modernized agriculture, the two of course requiring public works (railways, ports and hydraulic works).

Laws on hydraulic works were passed in 1877, 1888, 1893, 1911 and 1923 (to cite only the first few). «With the 1877 law (only slightly improved by another in 1888) and in an increasingly marked way in 1893, 1911, 1923, etc the State slackened, deteriorated and depreciated – to the benefit of pre-existing private interests (...) – the functions that rational enlightenment had indicated as its own». Because «the legislation, which in the first twenty years after unity aimed mainly at hydrographic defence became, at the turn of the century and especially with the enactments of 1919 increasingly interested (leaving defence in second place)... concerns close to the needs of industry» (9). This despite the disastrous floods of 1879, 1882, and 1896. Even in Jacini’s Results of the Agrarian Inquiry we find such suggestions: «Regarding drainage works (bonifiche), perhaps it would be the case to introduce private interest (speculazione privata) with the State expropriating marshy areas and granting full concessions to these interests... The restoration of the mature forests however can only be assumed directly by the State» (10). To drain an area (not previously covered by the sea) requires little time in comparison to that for letting a forest grow: the rate of profit is higher in the first case and thus attracts investment of capital. The latter, however is essential too, but must be performed by the “public” body. If, however, the second is not performed, disasters continue and the capitalist investment has to be repaired. «Newly planted forests destined to become mature woodland would provide nothing for the present generation, nor even for the succeeding one» (11).

Thus the poverty stricken peasants of the Po valley found no outlet in the reorganization of the hydraulic pattern of the Po valley, afflicted as it was by floods (of water and capitalist development), but merely in migration and “public works”. The revolts of these years and the formation of the early socialist parties were diverted into hymns as to reform and the needs of the nation. Andrea Costa, an early socialist and anti-colonialist could, however, still say «Instead of wasting public money on colonial adventures, let’s [who?] use it to relieve the great misery we have at home». Later «Why not drain the marshes which cause malaria, why not cultivate our lands, why not turn all our forces to the culture and the agricultural and industrial development of our country? (...) When I think of the Agro Romano, Sardinia and the Marca, I don’t know how to believe the waste of men and money we are making in Africa!» (12). Of course fascism could both waste men and money in Africa (Ethiopia) and drain the Pontine marshes at the same time, forty years later. Few socialists spoke like Francesco Ciccotti who «maintained that opposition to the Libyan war should be based not on contingent motives such as the funds diverted from reform works to the war, but on internationalist principles» (13). National unity would not solve the problem of the rational organization of human life in the Po valley, only the international unity of the proletariat could ensure that.

This ideology of public works which poisoned the socialist movement also invaded the local agricultural proletariat. The organization of vast armies of carriolanti (navvies) employed to repair the breaches after every flood disrupted the normal capitalist exploitation of labour, and left the workers unemployed after the close of the breaches or the season suitable for repair work. Thus continued public works were also “in the interest of the workers“, so much so that it was suggested that many floods were not due to the hand of God but that of man, of navvies who sabotaged works so as to be able to redo them, of a lumpen Keynesianism (14).

With the “rinascita nazionale” of 1945 we enter the latest period of capitalist development. The war (1941-45) ended, economic and political decadence over (the crash, crisis, fascism), foreign domination finished (the Salo Republic, the German invasion), public works could be initiated on an ever greater scale. Even the major disaster in point, the Polesine in 1951, was a prompt to State action. However it was merely business as usual.

The direct official response to the floods was the Operative Plan for the Systematic Regulation of Natural Water Courses, with a thirty year budget of 1,500 billion lire. However in 1966 there were fresh floods (the Arno) so a new committee was established. “The Interministerial Committee”, which stated that the funding was «so limited that they could not undertake even routine maintenance». Thus more money, 3,000 to 3,500 billion lire and other works for another 1,800 billion, a budget tripled in twenty years, without the aid of inflation. But «even this plan did not go ahead. There had to be added to the by now accepted evanescence of a responsible political will an unforeseen event: the establishment of the regions and the consequent splitting up of the State’s technical body» (15).

Thus the Po basin was split into five regions as compared with the six pre-unification States. The river in fact forms a boundary between regions, so what if the Red Emilians raise their embankments: do the white Venetians cop the lot at flood time? So while these funds are left unspent, an estimated 50,000 billion lire have been spent on damage repair works, ten times the figure for the necessary programme of maintenance.

Funds for research and defence do not exist. Studies of the Po tributaries Adda, Ticino and Oglio were suspended in 1972. «The State hydrographical service in Milan consists of an engineer who passes by the office between 10 and 11 am once a week». The Piedmont region has one employee to control 350 measuring apparatuses for the Po. The research laboratory for the Hydrological Protection of the Po basin has 20 researchers and a budget of 148,000 million lire in 1977 (16). Thus the Po continues to be used for other private purposes (extraction of building materials, transport, cooling for power stations) without any plan.

What, however, is happening in the Po valley now? Why have there been serious floods since 1957, in 1994 and 2000 and does this mean that the few measures taken were enough to deal with the problem once and for all?

Not at all. The post-war building boom, that started grosso modo shortly after the Polesine disaster, used millions of tonnes of sand and gravel from the rivers’ beds, lowering some of them substantially – the Po by six meters in Piedmont between 1971 and 1987 alone. Further, many sections were straightened and the meanders cut off. This new canalized river therefore occupied less space than its forerunner. Then millions of gallons of water are removed from the river, particularly in its upper reaches, to form the water supplies for industrial and civilian use and for the generation of hydroelectric supply. Though this water obviously re-enters the river at some lower point, the upper reaches, the ones that most actively erode the valley sides and produce the load that the river carries, have in many cases been cut – the upper Po in fact disappears for several kilometres except at flood time when water supply is greater than demand. The load therefore no longer reaches the lower valley, but is dumped against dams or simply lies in the half abandoned river bed (until it is extracted). The lower stretches at flood time therefore have an excess of energy both because there is a more rapid flow, due to canalization and the increase in gradient, and because less energy is required to carry and form forces of attrition in the diminished load. Add the man-made effort to extract the river’s bed and we have the following result: the river is eroding its own bed and the water level is sinking. Thus too there is a falling tendency for the river to flood low lying areas.

Thus man, nolens volens, has solved the problem and to talk of planning is a waste of time! Not quite. If the threat from the river has fallen, that from the sea has risen.

All estuaries and deltas tend to sink under the weight of the load deposited by the rivers as they slow, lose energy and then enter the sea. For the Quaternary period, the Po delta sank at 1.5 mm per century, something that could easily be covered by the sediments deposited at flood time.

When the dynamics of a river are messed about with, when the load is insufficient because it is blocked by dams (Po, Rhone, Nile, Rhine) or is funnelled out to sea by a tidal scour produced by over-dredging of the bed (Thames, Maas), the delta starts to sink and, if not protected by the hugely costly defence schemes like the Thames barrier or the Dutch Delta scheme – which lasted 30 years and cost 2.3 billion US Dollars – and the Po has no such scheme, the delta recedes.

The delta area at Ravenna is now (1972-77) sinking at 5-6 cm a year compared with only 1-3 cm over the previous 24 years. Adria, in the very centre of the delta, fell 110 cm in the decade 1958-67 and the delta itself has receded by 3 km since 1944.

At this point the capitalist class has thrown up its hands. No enterprise economy is going to make good this loss, just as no one is going to do anything about the soil loss in the equivalent Fenland areas of Britain. There is just one last trick left. The delta can be made into a State Park with the taxpayer footing the usual bill – after all the term “sinking fund” is a State invention.

The legend of the Piave deals with another flood, this time more directly the result of human intervention. Here the meddling in the delicate equilibrium of an avalanche zone caused the disaster. Nature knows many different types of avalanches, from slips to slides, from many periods, some being extinct, dormant or active. In a few cases human settlement has been poorly selected and avalanches cause disasters, but in most there is the help of human agencies. We can recall the case of Aberfan in Wales where mine spoil was dumped for decades over a natural spring, until one day in 1966 heavy rain-fall caused this spring to explode, pouring millions of tonnes of black slurry into the village school, killing hundreds of children. At Stava in 1986 a mud dam holding back the products of mineral washing collapsed and the dredgings covered the entire valley floor, killing further hundreds of people. In both cases the usual who is to blame was used to hide the real culprit: the desire to produce at the lowest cost.

The sinking of the Andrea Doria in 1956, commented on in Weird and wonderful tales of modern social decadence was neither the first nor the last loss of a ship at sea, even if this was particularly worrying. Here a navigational error and collision showed how the structure of the ship itself was inadequate. The lesson was learnt? Ship design, at least for passenger transport, has continued to reduce the dimensions of the hull and to increase that of the superstructure, so as to increase accommodation and to cut costs. The veering of the Herald of Free Enterprise still inside Zeebrugge harbour in 1987 was put down to a technical error – the failure to close the car entrance doors before departure, a measure designed to save time. But one well constructed craft this would have at most have caused a sinking as water entered the hold via the doors. Instead there was a tendency to capsize, evidently the hull being unable when the ship was full of passengers, cars and the usual stocks of duty free to re-establish a correct balance. The ship settled on its side on a sand bank and hundreds died within sight of land. Never mind, the ship can be recovered intact, repainted and renamed, and the captain told to shut the doors properly. A similar disaster took place on the languid Nile: the small cruise ship Luxor was literally bowled over by a gust of wind and a bit of current from the Aswan High Dam. Again the hull was small, the draught had to be reduced to allow the vessel to pass over sand banks, but there would be no cuts in the cabin decks. The survivors were dragged out of the river by fishermen using the boats originally “designed” millennia ago and which the explorer Thor Heyerdal showed could make it all the way across the Atlantic if required.

Poor design is only the tip of the iceberg. The very earliest capitalist enterprises knew that to make a profit they had to run a risk: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Thus the Hanseatic League had their motto of navigare necesse est, non necesse vivere (we have to trade, we don’t have to survive), while the Italian counterparts invented marine insurance, for ships and cargoes, but not for men. Who cares that crews can also go down with their ships. In 1982 alone 402 ships disappeared, in many cases as a nice mise en scene to get the insurance money.

If there is a real risk, the insurance companies soon have the support of the State. It is the State, or its delegates, that provide lifeboats and lighthouses as a rule, while in the exceptional cases of war, like in the case of the Iran-Iraq war, all the States that have ships to send (USA, USSR, UK, France, Italy, Belgium, etc) rush to be the first to guarantee “free navigation”, that of the various Free Enterprises.

In the last two sections, a close examination of Capital is used to demonstrate that all the current developments of the capitalist economy could be foreseen and that there is no need for establishing a new theory of State capitalism to explain the nationalization of economic enterprises. The basis of the society: the exploitation of labour power to set in motion past accumulated labour has remained unchanged and from this one could develop all the interpretations necessary to understand modern trends.

(Piena e rotta della civiltà borghese, in Battaglia Comunista, n.23/1951)

The floods in the Po valley and the confused debate over their causes and over the responsibility of organizations and public bodies that did not know how to carry out protection work, with all the disgusting mutual accusation of “speculating” on misfortune, puts in question one of the most widespread false opinions shared by all the contenders: that contemporary capitalist society, with the correlating development of science, technology and production, places the human species in the best possible position to struggle against the difficulties of the natural environment. Hence the contingent fault of the government or of Party A and B, which lies in not knowing how to exploit this magnificent potential at hand, and in the erroneous and culpable administrative and political measures. Hence the no less classic: “Move over, I want to take over now!”

If it is true that the industrial and economic potential of the capitalist world is increasing and not diminishing, it is equally true that the more virulent it is, the worse the living conditions of the human mass are regarding natural and historical cataclysms. Unlike the periodic spates of rivers, the spate of frenetic capitalist accumulation knows no perspective of a “decrease”, of a falling curve from the hydrometer readings, but only the catastrophe of the river banks bursting.


The relationship between the thousands of years long development of man’s production technique and the relations with the natural environment is very close. Primitive man, like an animal, gathered and ate wild fruit using a simple grasping action and, like an animal, fled headlong from the disruption of natural phenomena that threatened his life. As the artificial production of products for consumption and the accumulation of reserves of these products and of tools forced him to settle, so too they forced him to defend himself from such menaces as meteorites and natural dangers. Such a defence, not unlike that against other groups competing for the best site, or predators on the accumulated reserve, could only be collective. From these collective needs arose, as we have seen many times, class division and exploitation by rulers.

In Marx «the capitalist mode of production... presupposes the domination of man over nature» (17). It also presupposes the war of nature on man. A too generous and lavish nature would not be the favourable environment from which capitalism could spring up.

«It is not the absolute fertility of the soil, but its degree of differentiation, the variety of its natural products, which form the natural basis for the social basis for the division of labour (...) It is the necessity of bringing a natural force under control of society, of economizing on its energy, of appropriating or subduing It on a large scale by the work of the human hand, that plays the most decisive role In the history of industry. Thus, for example, the regulation of the flow of water in Egypt, Lombardy and Holland. Or irrigation in India, Persia and so on, where artificial canals do not only supply the soil with the water indispensable to it, but also carry down mineral fertilizers from the hills, in the shape of sediment. The secret of the flourishing state of industry in Spain and Sicily under the rule of the Arabs lay in their irrigation works».
(Footnote) «One of the material foundations of the power of the State over the small and unconnected producing organisms of India was the regulation of the water supply. Its Mohammedan rulers understood this better than their English successors. It is sufficient to recall the famine of 1866, which cost the lives of more than a million Hindus In the district of Orissa, in the Bengal Presidency».

It is well known that similar famines have raged recently, despite the tremendous potential of world capitalism... The struggle against nature generates industry; man lives on two sacred Dantesque elements, nature and art (the third is God). Capitalism generates the exploitation of man from industry. The bourgeoisie will not be revolted by violence against God, nature and art.

Very modern high capitalism shows serious cases of retreat in the struggle to defend against attacks by the forces of nature on the human species, and the reasons are strictly social and class ones, so much so as to invert the advantage derived from the progress of theoretical and applied science. Let us wait then to blame it for having increased the rainfall intensity with atomic explosions or, tomorrow, with having “messed about” with nature so much as to risk making the earth and its atmosphere uninhabitable and even to make the skeleton explode by priming “chain reactions” of all the elements in nuclear complexes. For now let us establish a social and economic law for the parallel between its greater efficiency in exploiting labour and the life of men and the ever decreasing efficiency in the rational defence against the natural environment, in the widest sense.

The earth’s crust is modified by geological processes which man increasingly learns to distinguish and decreasingly attributes to mysterious wishes of angry forces and which, within certain limits, he learns to correct and control. When, in prehistory, the Po valley was a huge lagoon through which the Adriatic Sea lapped the foothills of the Alps, the first inhabitants, who evidently were not lucky enough to beg “amphibious craft” from self-interested American charity, occupied pile-dwellings rising above the water. It was a “terramara” civilization of which Venice is a distant development: it was too simple for a “reconstruction business” to be based on it with contracts to supply timber! The pile-dwellings did not collapse during floods: modern brick houses do; however, what means exist today to build raised houses, roads and railways! They would suffice to protect the population. Utopia! The sums do not tally, while the account of 200 billion lire for repair works and reconstruction is quite in order.

In the past, the building of the first embankments dates back to the Etruscans. The natural process of mountainside degradation and the transport of material suspended in river waters from the mountains at flood time has formed a huge, fertile lowland region over the centuries, this convenience then assuring the settlement of agricultural peoples. The subsequent populations and regimes continued to raise high embankments along the banks of the large rivers, which were insufficient to stop huge cataclysms when the river shifted its course. The shift of the Po near Guastalla onto a new course, which was until then the lowest reach of the Oglio, dates from the fifth century.

In the thirteenth century, the great river abandoned the southern distributor of the huge delta, the present-day secondary “Po di Volano”, in the reach near its mouth and adopted the present course from Pontelagoscuro to the sea. The frightening “shifts” have always been from south to north. A general law assumes a tendency for all the world’s rivers to migrate northwards for geophysical reasons. However, in the case of the Po, this law is evident due to the great difference between its north and south bank tributaries. The former rise in the Alps and have clear water either because they pass through large lakes, or because they do ’not have a maximum regime during periods of heavy rainfall, but instead during the springtime melting of glaciers. Therefore these rivers do not carry mud and sand deposits into the course of the main river when in flood. However, from the south, from the Appennines, the short and torrential right bank tributaries with their huge variations between maximum and minimum flow pour down the debris of mountain erosion, filling in the right bank section of the Po’s channel, which every so often escapes this damming by turning north.

Chauvinism is not required to know that the science of river hydraulics arose from this problem: for centuries the problem has been posed of the utility and functioning of embankments, or the connection with the problem of the distribution of irrigation water via canals, and finally of fluvial navigation. After the Roman works, there is information about the first canals in the Po valley in 1037. After the victory of Legnano (18), the Milanese built the Naviglio Grande to Abbiategrasso, which was made navigable in 1271. With this arose capitalist agriculture, the first in Europe, and the great hydraulic works were undertaken by the State bodies: from the canals and basins of Leonardo, who also provided norms for the river regimes, to the Cavour Canal, begun in 1860.

The construction of embankments to contain rivers raised a major problem: that of raised rivers. While the Alpine rivers, such as the Ticino and Adda, run largely between natural banks, the right bank tributaries and the Po below Cremona are raised: this means that not only the water level, but also the bed of the water course is higher than the surrounding countryside. The embankments save it from being flooded and a collector canal runs parallel to the river to collect local water which it carries to the river downstream: these are the great reclamation works, and as they approach the sea, the transfer of water to the river is performed mechanically so as to keep dry the districts which are below not only the river, but also the sea. The entire Polesine is a huge low-lying area: Adria is 4 meters above sea level, Rovigo 5: there the Po’s bed is higher and the Adige’s even more so. Clearly a breach in the embankments would turn the whole of Rovigo province into a huge lake.

There is a major debate among’ hydrologists as to whether the rise in the beds of such rivers is progressive. French hydrologists said yes a century ago white the leaders of Italian hydrology opposed them, and the matter is still discussed in congresses today. Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the river load and its deposition extends the mouth out to sea, even if this does not collect in the final reaches of the river’s bed. Because of this incessant process, the gradient of the bed and the water surface can only decrease and, according to hydrological law, the speed of the current equally falls: hence the need to raise embankments seemed historically endless and unavoidable. The disastrous nature of the breaches occurring is also progressive.

The availability of modern mechanical means has contributed in this field to spreading the method of exploiting great extents of the most fertile land, keeping them dry by continuous pumping. The risk to the tenants and workers worries a profit economy, but the damage caused when the works fail can be balanced against the fertilization by the invading mud on the one hand and the economic factor on the other: carrying out works is always good capitalist business.

The classic reclamations by alluviation were widespread in the modern period along the entire Italian lowland coast: river water was alternately allowed to flood into and deposit in the great basins, the level of which rose slowly with the double advantage of not letting useful and fertile soil wash out to sea and of providing ever greater security from flooding and future danger. This rational system was found to be too slow for the requirements of capital investment. Another tendentious argument was and is drawn from the continuously rising population density which cannot permit a loss of fertile land. So almost all the old polders, carefully surveyed with precision by the hydrologists of the Austrian, Tuscan and Bourbon regimes, have been destroyed.

Clearly, if today one had to choose from the various radical solutions to these problems, not only would one clash with the incapacity of capitalism to look to the distant future as regards the handing down of installations from generation to generation, but one would also clash with the strong local interests of farmers and industrialists who have an interest in not having various zones eroded and who play on the attachment of poor people to their inhospitable homes. Since a while back, new solutions have been proposed to create “lateral channels” for the Po.

This type of study is always unpopular because the results forecast are uncertain, something which creates great annoyance in business circles. One solution, on the right, consists in a cut from Pontelagoscuro to the valleys or lagoons of Comacchio: the artificial canal would cut about one third off the length of the present river course to the sea. Such a solution clashes with the big investments in Ferrarese reclamation works and with fish farming, so it would be resisted. But the solutions with more foresight and which perhaps are more in conformity with the natural processes call for the reuniting of the Po and Adige courses between which lies the lower Polesana, creating in its Thalweg (19), presently criss-crossed by small water courses, a huge collector and, perhaps, in the final count, a side canal for one if not both rivers would encounter no less resistance.

In the bourgeois period, such a study does not lead to positive research, but to two “policies”, right and left, as regards the Po, with the related conflict between speculating groups.


There is discussion as to if the present catastrophe, in which some have already seen the natural formation of a large stable swamp and a shifting of the Po’s course with the total destruction of the north bank, is due to exceptional rainfall and the complicity of natural causes, or to the inexperience and the error of men and directors. Indisputably the succession of wars and crises have caused decades of neglect in the difficult service of technical inspection and embankment maintenance, dredging of river beds where necessary and the systemization of high mountain basins, the deforestation of which caused greater and more rapid rain water run-off during high water and greater flows of suspended material to the river-courses on the plain.

With the bad trend that now prevails in science and official technical organization, it is even difficult to collect and to compare udometric data (amount of rainfall on various dates in the basin which feeds the river) and hydrometric data (water levels at the hydrometers, maximum flow) with those of the past. Offices and scientists with self-respect now offer replies in line with political requirements and reasons of State, that is, according to the effect that they will have, the figures having been massaged in every possible way. One can also well believe what is stated by the current of criticism that not even the observation stations destroyed during the war have been replaced, and it is also credible that our present technical bureaucracy works with old maps, passed along copy by copy, dragging along slowly over the drawing tables of the lazy technical personnel, and it does not update the surveys with new altitude surveys, which are difficult, and with operations of geodetic precision, which allow one to collate the various data of the phenomenon: it lives in masses of maps which are in line with approvals given in circulars in terms of format and colour, but do not give a tinker’s cuss for physical reality. The figures handed out here and there for the popular press cannot tally: but it is easy to blame the journalists who know all about nothing.

It therefore remains to be seen – and those movements with wide support and plentiful means could well try to do this – if the intensity of rainfall really was the highest in a century of observation: it is correct to doubt it. The same goes for the hydrometer readings for the maximum levels and flows: it is easy to say that the historical maximum was recorded at Pontelagoscuro at 11,000 cubic meters per second but now has presently risen to 13,000. In 1917 and 1926 there were very large maxima of much lesser consequence, always in spring, up to 13,800 cubic meters per second passing through Piacenza.

Let us say without dwelling further on the matter that the rainfall was certainly not of unheard of proportions and the chief responsibility for the disaster lies in the long lack of necessary services and in the omission of maintenance and improvement works, which is related to the smaller public budget for such works and the way money was spent in respect to the past.

It is a matter of providing a cause for these facts, which must be a social and historical cause, and it puerile to bring up again the “bad management” of those who were or are at the helm of the Italian ship of State. Besides, this is not a uniquely Italian phenomenon, but occurs in all countries: administrative chaos, thieving, the penetration of speculation into public decision making are now denounced by the conservatives themselves, and in America they have been related to public disasters: even there ultra-modern cities in Kansas and Missouri have fallen victim to badly regulated rivers (20).

Two mistaken ideas underlie a critique like the one we have just mentioned: one is that the struggle to return from the fascist dictatorship within the bourgeoisie (the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie has existed since it won freedom) to the external multiparty democracy had as its aim a better administration, whereas it is clear that it had to lead, and has led, to a worse administration. This is the fault common to ALL shades in the great block of the CLN (21).

The other incorrect idea is the belief that the totalitarian form of the capitalist regime (of which Italian fascism was the first great example) gave overwhelming power to the State bureaucracy against the autonomous initiatives of enterprises and private speculation. On the contrary, this form is vital for capitalism’s survival and that of the bourgeois class at a certain stage, as it concentrates counter-revolutionary powers in the State machine, but renders the administrative machine weaker and more open to manipulation by speculative interests.

Here we need a historical sketch of the Italian administrative machine from the epoch of the achievement of national unity. Initially it worked well and had strong powers. All the favourable conditions contributed to this. The young bourgeoisie had to pass through the heroic phase and to make sacrifices in order to seize power and to affirm its interests. Therefore the individual elements were still prepared to offer their all and were less attracted by immediate hidden gain. Further resolute enthusiasm was needed to liquidate the resistance of the old powers and of the rusted State machines of the various parts into which the country was originally divided politically.

There was no notable division into parties as the sole party of the liberal revolution governed (virgin in 1860, old slag in 1943) with the clear acquiescence of the few republicans and with the workers’ movement yet to appear. The swindles began with the bi-party trasformismo of 1876 (22). The skeleton of the bureaucracy coming from Piedmont following close on the heels of the military forces of occupation enjoyed a real dictatorship over the local elements and the aristocratic, and clerical, opponents. were repressed by emergency powers... as they were guilty of anti-liberalism. Under such conditions, a young, conscientious and honest administrative machine was constructed.

The bureaucracy suffered a twin attack on its uncorrupted dominance with the capitalist system’s development in depth and extension. The great entrepreneurs of public works and of productive sectors aided by the State emerged in the economic field, while in the political field, the spread of corruption to parliamentary business became such that every day “the people’s representatives” intervened to impinge on the decisions of the executive system and general administration, which previously had functioned with scrupulous impersonality and impartiality.

Public works, which previously had been projected by the most competent, who were naively pleased to have a regular salary as government functionaries, and who were wholly independent in their judgements and advice, began to be imposed by the executioners: we mean the classical Carrozzoni (23) began to do the rounds. The machine of State expenditure became decreasingly useful for the community, but all the more financially burdensome.

This process accelerated during the Giolittian period (24), but nevertheless increasing economic prosperity made the damage less obvious. This system, as its political masterpiece, slowly entangled the emerging workers’ party. Precisely because Italy has an abundance of labour power and a lack of capital, all sides call on the State to provide work, and the MP who seeks votes in an industrial or agricultural constituency does the rounds of the ministries hunting for the panacea: public works.

After the First World War, the Italian bourgeoisie, even though they came out “winners”, saw the favourable wind of the heroic period change too drastically and there was fascism. The concentration of the policing strength of the State along with the concentration of the control of almost all the economic sectors simultaneously allowed it to avoid the explosion of radical revolts among the masses and to assure free speculative manoeuvring for the well-off class, on condition that the latter formed itself into a single class centre framed by government policy. Every medium or small employer was compelled to make reformist concessions, called for during the long struggle of the workers’ organizations which (as usual) they destroyed, stealing their programme: so that while a high degree of capitalist concentration was favoured, the internal situation was pacified. The totalitarian form allows capital to set in motion the reformist trick of the previous decades, latching onto the class collaboration proposed by the traitors of the revolutionary party.

The steering of the State machine and abounding special laws were clearly placed in the service of business initiatives. From technical legislation to return to our starting point, dealing with rivers – which around 1865 had produced several masterpieces, one arrived at a total hotchpotch open to all possible manoeuvres, the functionary being reduced to a puppet of the large firms. The hydrological services are just those clashing with the famous idea of private initiative. They require a single establishment and full powers: they had a very long tradition. Jacini wrote in 1854: the civil problem of the waters found in Giandomenico Romagnosi an immortal writer-of treatises (25). All in all, bourgeois administration and technology had event then class goals, but they were serious, while today they are mere bagatelle.

This lead to the bad trend which has caused the degradation and not the improvement of the hydraulic defences in the Paduan plain, starting from a process not concerning just one party or nation, but the centuries long ups and downs of a class regime.

In short, if once the bureaucracy, independent but not omnipotent, laid out its project on the drawing board and then called in bids from public works it enterprises, compelling them, refusing even the offer of a cup of coffee, to complete them rigorously, thus at most the selection of the funded works was made according to general principles, today the relationship is inverted. The weak and servile technical bureaucracy, lets the enterprises themselves draw up the plans and approves them almost unseen, and the enterprises obviously select the profitable works and drop the delicate operations which require more diligence and offer less chance of repetition in the future.

The basis of this is not the moral fact, nor even that in general the functionary gives way before competition and large bribes. It is that if a functionary resists, not only his workload increases ten-fold, but also the interests against whom he clashes mobilize against him with the decisive party influence in the higher echelons of the ministry that employs him. Once the most capable technician gained promotion, now the one most able to move in such a system.

When single party fascism gave way to the multi-party system unknown even in Giolittian Italy, even in the constitutional model of perfect England, and so on (where we have never had ten parties declaredly ready to govern according to the constitution, but at most two or three), we went from bad to worse. They were supposed to restore the experts and the honest men with the Allied armies. What a silly hope so many had: the new changing of the guard has produced the worst of all guards, as on the Po embankments.

It is symptomatic enough in diagnosing the present phase of the capitalist regime that a senior official in the Ministry of Works let slip that the flood surveillance services worked well right up to the fatal moment: the only moment for which they are paid a regular salary – this is the style of modern bureaucracy (for some the new ruling classy Ruling classes arrive mouths agape, but not with a failing heart.)

No less interesting is what Alberto de Stefani wrote, entitled The Management of the Po (26). After outlining the history of measures, he cited the judgement of authors in technical journals: «One can never insist too much on the need to react to the system of concentrating the activity of the offices exclusively, or nearly so, on the projection and execution of major works».

De Stefani did not see the radical implication of such a critique. He deplored the neglect of conservation and maintenance of existing works, while new works were being planned. He cited other passages: «One spends tens of billions (and tomorrow hundreds) for extensions after systematically grudging and withholding those small amounts required for the maintenance and even to close breaches».

That seems to have happened on the Reno. An economist of De Stefani’s calibre scrapes by with saying: «We have too little conservative spirit due to too much uncontrolled fantasy».

Is it thus perhaps a factor of national psychology? Never: of capitalist production. Capital has become incapable of the social function of transmitting the labour of the present generation to the future ones, utilizing the labour of past generations in this. It does not want maintenance contracts, but huge building deals: to enable this, huge natural cataclysms are insufficient capital creates human ones with ineluctable necessity, and makes post-war reconstruction “the business deal of the century”.

These concepts have to be applied to the critique of the base, demagogic position of the Italian so-called workers’ parties. When speculation and capitalist enterprise are given the capital to invest in hydraulic works which is now committed to armaments, capitalist enterprise (except to cause a crisis among the pseudo-reds of the metallurgical centres, if the business were really to be under-taken) will use that capital in the same way: cheating and speculating at one thousand percent, raising their glasses high to the coming if not of the next war, then of the next flood.

The huge river of human history also has its irresistible and threatening swellings. When the wave rises, it washes against the two retaining embankments: on the right the conformist one, of conservation of existing and traditional forces; along it priests chant in procession, policemen and gendarmes patrol, the teachers and cantors of official lies and State-schooling prate.

The left bank is that of the reformists, hedged with “people’s” representatives, the dealers in opportunism, the parliamentarians and progressive organizers. Exchanging insults across the stream, both processions claim to have the recipe to maintain the fast-flowing river in its restrained and enforced channel.

But at great turning points, the current breaks free and leaves its course, “shifting” like the Po at Guastalla and Volano onto an unexpected course, sweeping the two sordid bands into the irresistible flood of the revolution which subverts all old forms of restraint, moulding a new face on society like on the land.

(Omicidio dei morti, in Battaglia Comunista, n.24/1951)


In Italy, we have long experience of “catastrophes that strike the country” and we also have a certain specialization in “staging” them. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, rainstorms, epidemics... The effects are indisputably felt especially by poorer people and those living at high densities, and if cataclysms that are frequently much more terrifying strike all corners of the world, not always do such unfavourable social conditions coincide with geographical and geological ones. But every people and every country holds its own delights: typhoons, drought, tidal waves, famine, heatwaves and frosts, all unknown to us in the “garden of Europe”: and when one opens the newspaper, one inevitably finds more than one item, from the Philippines to the Andes, from the Polar Ice Cap to the African Desert.

Our capitalism, as has been said a hundred times over, is quantitatively small fry, but it is in the vanguard today in a “qualitative” sense of bourgeois civilization, of which it offers the greatest precursors from amidst the Renaissance splendour (27), in masterfully developing the economy based on disasters.

We wouldn’t dream of shedding a single tear if the monsoon washed away entire cities on the coast of the Indian Ocean, or if they were submerged by the tidal waves caused by submarine earthquakes, but we have found out how to collect alms from the world over for the Polesine.

Our monarchy was great in knowing to rush not to where one danced (Pordenone), but to where one died of cholera (Naples), or to the ruins of Reggio and Messina, raised to the ground by the earthquakes of 1908. Now our puffed up President (28) has been taken off to Sardinia and, if the stalinists haven’t been fibbing, they have shown him teams of “Potemkin workers” in action that then run to the other side of the stage, like the warriors in Aida (29). It was too late to pull the homeless out of the flooding Po, but good play was made of MPs (male and female) and ministers paddling about in their wellies after setting up cameras and microphones for a world-wide broadcast of their lamentations.

Here we have the bright idea: the State should intervene! And we have been applying it for a good ninety years. The professional Italian homeless has set State aid in the place of the mercy of God and the hand of Providence. He is convinced that the national budget has much wider bounds than the compassion of our Lord. A good Italian happily forks out ten thousand lire squeezed out of him so that months and months later he can “squander one thousand lire of the government’s money”. And as soon as on one of these periodic contingencies, now fashionably called emergencies, but which fall in all seasons, are applied the unfailing central government provisions and fundings, a band of no less specialized “homeless” rolls up its sleeves and plunges into the business of procuring concessions, and into the orgy of contracts.

The Minister of Finance of the day, today Vanoni, suspends by authority all other State functions and declares that he will not provide a brass farthing from the exchequer for all the other “special Acts” so that all means can be addressed to dealing with the current disaster.

There could be no better proof than this that the State serves for nothing and that if the hand of God really did exist, he would make a splendid present to the homeless of all kinds causing earthquakes and bankrupting this charlatan and dilettante State.

But if the foolishness of the small and middle bourgeoisie shines forth at its brightest when it seeks a remedy for the terror that freezes it in the warm hope of a subsidy and an indemnity liberally bestowed upon by the government, the reaction of the overseers of the working masses who, they scream, lost everything in the disaster, but unfortunately not their chains, appears no less senseless.

These leaders, who pretend to be “marxists”, have for these supreme situations, which interrupt the well-being of the proletariat deriving from normal capitalist exploitation, an economic formula even more foolish than that of State intervention. The formula is well-known: “make the rich pay”.

Vanoni is thus reviled because he was unable to identify and tax high incomes (30).

But a mere crumb of marxism suffices to establish that high incomes thrive where high levels of destruction occur, big business deals being based on them. The bourgeoisie must pay for the war! stated those false shepherds in 1919 instead of inviting the proletariat to overthrow it. The Italian bourgeoisie is still here, and enthusiastically invests its income in paying for wars and other disasters for which it is then repaid four fold.


When the catastrophe destroys houses, fields and factories, throwing the active population out of work, it doubtlessly destroys wealth. But this cannot be remedied by a transfusion of wealth from elsewhere, as with the miserable operation of rummaging around for old jumble when the advertising, collection and transport cost far more than the value of the worn out clothes.

The wealth that disappeared was that of past, ages-old labour. To eliminate the effect of the catastrophe, a huge mass of present-day, living labour is required. So, if we use the concrete social, not abstract definition of wealth, we can see it as the right of certain individuals, who form the ruling class, to draw on living contemporary labour. New incomes and new privileged wealth are formed in the mobilization of new labour, and the capitalist economy offers no means of “shifting” wealth accumulated elsewhere to plug the gap in Sardinian or Venetian wealth, just as one could not take from the banks of the Tiber to rebuild the ones swallowed up by the Po.

This is why it is a stupid idea to tax the ownership of the fields, houses and factories left intact to rebuild those affected.

The centre of capitalism is not the ownership of such investments, but a type of economy which allows the drawing from and profiting on what man’s labour creates in endless cycles, subordinating the employment of this labour to that withdrawal.

Thus the idea of resolving the war-time housing crisis with an income freeze on landlords of undamaged houses led to the provision of homes in a worse condition than that caused by the bombing. But the demagogues shout easy arguments, saying things “accessible for the working masses”, so as not to touch the freeze.

The basis of marxist economic analysis is the distinction between dead and living labour. We do not define capitalism as the ownership of heaps of past, crystallized labour, but as the right to extract from living and active labour. That is why the present economy cannot lead to a good solution realizing with the minimum expenditure of present labour the rational conservation of what past labour has transmitted to us, and to better bases for the performance of future labour. What is of interest to the bourgeois economy is the frenzy of the contemporary work rhythm, and it favours the destruction of still useful masses of past labour, not giving a giving a damn for the prosperity.

Marx explains that the ancient economies, which were based more on use than exchange value, did not need as much as the present to extort surplus labour, recalling the only exception of the extraction of gold and silver (it is not without reason that capitalism arose from money) where the worker was forced to work himself to death, as in Diodorus Siculus.

The appetite for surplus labour (Capital Vol. I, Ch. 10, Section 2: “The voracious appetite for surplus labour”) not only leads to extortion from the living of so much labour power as to shorten their lives, but does good business in the destruction of dead labour so as to replace still useful products with other living labour. Like Maramaldo (31), capitalism, oppressor of the living, is the murderer also of the dead: «But as soon as peoples whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave labour, the corvée etc. are drawn into the world market dominated by the capitalist mode of production, whereby the sale of their products for export develops into their principal interest, the civilized horrors of over-work are grafted onto the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom etc.» (32)

The original title of the paragraph quoted is “Der Heisshunger nach Mehrarbeit”, literally; “The voracious appetite for surplus labour”.

Young capitalism’s hunger for surplus labour, defined by our powerful doctrine, already contains the entire analysis of the modern phase of the enormously grown capitalism: the ravenous hunger for catastrophe and ruin.

Far from being our discovery (to hell with the trouveurs especially when they sing even the scale out of tune, then believe themselves to be creators), the distinction between dead and living labour lies in the fundamental distinction between constant and variable capital. All objects produced by labour which are not for immediate consumption, but are employed in a further work process (now one calls them producer goods), form constant capital. «Therefore, whenever products enter as means of production into new labour processes, they lose their character of being products and function only as objective factors contributing to living labour» (33).

This is true for main and subsidiary raw materials, machines and all other types of plant which progressively wear out: the loss due to wear which has to be compensated requires the capitalist to invest another quota, always of constant capital, which current economics calls amortization. Depreciate rapidly, that is the supreme ideal of this grave digging economy.

We recalled a propos the “possession by the devil” (34) how, in Marx, capital has the demoniac function of incorporating living labour into dead labour which has become a thing. What joy that the Po’s embankments are not immortal, and today one can happily “incorporate living labour into them”.’ Projects and specifications are ready in a few days! Good boys, you are possessed by the devil!

«Sir, the drawing office of our firm has done its duty in predisposing technical and economic studies: here they are all nice and ready». And price analysis values the stones of Monselice higher than Carrara marble (35).

«Preserving value by adding value is a dowry of nature of the labour force in action, of living labour; a dowry of nature which costs the worker nothing, but yields much to the capitalist: it yields to him the preservation of the existing capital value».

This simply “preserved” capital, thanks always to the action of living labour, is called by Marx the constant part of capital, or constant capital. But: «the part of capital converted [i.e, invested] into labour power [wages] changes [instead] its value in the process of production (...) And it produces a surplus, surplus value».

We therefore call it variable part, and simply variable capital. The key is all here. Bourgeois economics puts profit in relation to constant capital, which is there and does not move: indeed, it would go to hell if the work of the worker did not “preserve” it. Marxist economics, on the other hand, places profit in relation to variable capital alone and shows how active proletarian labour: a) preserves constant capital (dead labour); b) exalts variable capital (living labour). This exaltation, surplus value, is the entrepreneur who gets it. This, Marx explains, of establishing the rate without taking account of constant capital, is equivalent to setting it equal to zero: a common operation in the mathematical analysis of all questions involving variable quantities.

If constant capital is set at zero, the gigantic capitalist profit stands up. To say this is the same as saying that the profit of enterprise remains, if the trouble of guarding constant capital is taken away from the capitalist. This hypothesis is merely the current reality of State capitalism.

Passing capital to the State means placing constant capital at zero. Nothing changes in the relation between entrepreneur and worker because this depends only on the quantities of variable capital and surplus value.

Analysis of State capitalism a new thing? Without prosopopoeia, we are able to serve it as we have known it since 1867 and before. It is very short: C=0.

We will not leave Marx without giving, after the cold formula, a fiery passage: «Capital is dead labour, which revives itself, like a vampire, only by sucking living labour, and the more it sucks the more it lives».

Modern capital, in need of consumers because it needs to produce more and more, has every interest in using up the products of dead labour as soon as possible in order to impose its renewal with living labour, the only labour from which it “sucks” profits. That’s why it is so happy when war comes, and that’s why it is so well trained in the practice of catastrophe. In America the production of automobiles is formidable, but all or almost all families have cars. And so it makes sense for cars to be short-lived. In order to get that much, first of all they are built badly and with sloppy sets of parts. If users break their necks more often it matters little: you lose a customer, but there is one more car to replace. Then they turn to fashion, with the cretinous aid of advertising propaganda, so that everyone wants to have the latest model, like women who are ashamed to wear a dress, perhaps intact, ’from last year’. The fools take the bait, and it doesn’t matter if a Ford built in 1920 has more life than a brand new car from 1951. And finally, disused cars are not even used as scrap metal and are thrown into the car cemeteries. Anyone who dares to take one and say: you threw it away as something worthless, what’s wrong with me fixing it up and driving around? will receive a slap on the wrist and a criminal conviction.

Capital, in order to exploit living labour, must destroy still useful dead labour. Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses.

So while the maintenance of the Po embankments for ten kilometres requires human labour costing, let us say, one million a year, it suits capitalism better to rebuild them all spending one billion. Otherwise it would have to wait one thousand years. This perhaps means that the nasty fascist government sabotaged the Po embankments? Certainly not. It means that no one has pressed for an annual budget of a miserable million and this is not spent as it is swallowed up in the financing of other “large scale works” of “new construction” which have budget estimates of billions. Now, since the devil has swept away the embankments, one finds someone with the best motives of sacrosanct national interest who activates the project office and has them rebuilt.

Who is to blame for preferring the large scale projects? The fascists and the official communists. Both of them prattle that they want a productivist, full employment policy. Productivism, Mussolini’s favourite creature, consists in establishing “present day” cycles of living labour out of which big business and big speculation make billions. Let us then modernize the aged machines of the great industrialists and also let us modernize the river banks after letting them collapse, all at the people’s expense. The history of the recent years of administrative management of State works and of the protection of industry is full of these masterpieces, ranging from the provision of raw materials sold below cost to works “undertaken by a State monopoly” in the “struggle against unemployment” on the basis of “constant capital equals zero”. In other words, let us spend it all in wages, and since the enterprise has only shovels for equipment, the State official is convinced that it is useful to shift earth first from here to there then immediately back to here again.

If the senior official hesitates, the enterprise has the trade union organizer to hand: a demonstration of labourers shouldering shovels under the ministry’s windows and all’s well. The trouveur arrives arid supersedes Marx: shovels, the only constant capital, have given birth to surplus value.


Undoubtedly, the size of the disaster along the Po has been massive, and the estimated cost of the damage is still rising. Let us admit that the cultivated area of Italy lost one hundred thousand hectares or one thousand square kilometres, about one threehundredth or three per mille of the total. One hundred thousand inhabitants have had to leave the area, which is not the most densely settled in Italy, or, in round figures, one fivehundredth or two per mille of total population.

If the bourgeois economy were not mad, one could do a simple little sum. The national assets have suffered a serious blow, however the zone was only partially destroyed. When the floodwaters recede, the agricultural soil will largely be left behind and the decomposition of vegetation along with the deposition of alluvium will partially compensate for the lost fertility. If the damage is one third of total capital, it costs one per mille of the national capital. But this has an average income of five per cent or fifty per mille. If for a year every Italian saved scarcely one fiftieth of his consumption, the damage would be made good.

But bourgeois society is anything but a co-operative, even if the great freebooters of native capital escape Vanoni by demonstrating that “par-ownership” of their enterprises has been distributed among all employees.

All the productivistic operations of Italian and international economy are more or less as destructive as the Padan disaster: the water entered from one side and left by another.

Such a problem is insuperable on capitalist grounds. If it were a question of making the arms to provide Eisenhower with his hundred divisions within a year, the solution would be found (36). These are all short-cycle operations and capitalism is as pleased as Punch if the order for the 10,000 guns is with a delivery date in 100 and not 1,000 days. The steel pool does not exist without reason!

But a pool of hydrological and seismological organizations cannot be formed, at least not until the great science of the bourgeois period is really able to provoke series of floods and earthquakes, like aerial bombardments.

Here it is a matter of a slow, non accelerable centuries long transmission from generation to generation of the results of “dead” labour, but under the guardianship of the living, of their lives and of their lesser sacrifice.

Let us admit, for example, that the water in the Polesine will recede in a few months and that the breach at Occhiobello is closed before the spring, only one annual harvest cycle would now be lost: no productive “investment” can replace them, but the loss is reduced.

If, instead, one believes that all the Po embankments and those of the other rivers could frequently come apart, due as much to the consequences of overlooked maintenance during thirty years of crisis as to the disastrous deforestation of the mountains, then the remedy will be even slower in coming. No capital will be invested for the good of our great-grandchildren.

Our fathers wrote in vain: only a few examples of virgin forest remain, growing without the intervention of human labour. The forestry system thus becomes almost man’s work despite the minimum of capital in the operation. Nevertheless, high growing trees, the most important in the public economy, always require a very long period before yielding a useful product. However, although forestry science has shown that the best year to fell timber is not that at the end of the maximum life span, but that in which current growth equals average growth, one must always calculate 80, 100 and even 150 years for an oak wood. Minimal capital; minimum wait for a profit 150 years! Di Vittorio and Pastore (37) would fling the book, if they had ever opened it, out of the window.

As in the operetta: steal, steal capital (love) cannot wait...

There is still worse to it. Relatively little is said of the disaster in Sardinia, Calabria and Sicily. Here the geographical facts differ drastically.

The very slack gradient of the Po valley caused a build-up of water which then swamped over the clayey and impermeable soils below. The same reasons of high rainfall and deforestation of the mountains in the South and the Islands, along with the steep fall down to the sea caused the destruction. The mountain streams washed sand and gravel from the bedrock and destroyed fields and houses, all in a few hours, without, however, causing many victims.

Not only is the sacking of the magnificent forests of Aspromonte and the Sila by the allied liberators irreparable, but here also the renewal of the land swamped by the flood waters is practically impossible, not merely uneconomic for the “investors” and for the “helpers” (more self interested than the former, if that is possible).

Not only the narrow horizons of cultivable soil, but also the thin non-rocky strata that gave it weak support have been washed away, soil which was carried up many times over decades by the grindingly poor farmers. Every plantation, every tree, the basis of a rather profitable agriculture, and industry in some villages, came down with the soil and the orange and lemon trees floated out to sea.

Replanting a destroyed vineyard takes about two years, but citrus plantations only provide a full harvest after seven to ten years and a great amount of capital is needed to establish and run them. Naturally, the good treaties do not give the cost of the unthinkable operation of carrying up again, for hundreds of meters, the soil brought down and, in any case, the water would carry it away again before the plant roots could fix it to the soil.

Not even the houses can be rebuilt where they were before for technical, not economic reasons. Five or six unfortunate villages on the Ionian coast in the Province of Reggio Calabria will not be rebuilt on their own hill sites, but down by the sea.

In the Middle Ages, after devastation had caused the disappearance of every last trace of the magnificent coastal cities of Magna Graecia, at the apex of agriculture and art in the ancient world, the poor agricultural population saved itself from Saracen pirate raids by living in villages built on the mountain tops, which were less accessible and thus more defensible.

Roads and railways were built along the coast with the arrival of the “Piedmontese” government and, where malaria did not prohibit it, where the mountains ran down close to the sea, every village had its “on-the-sea” near the railway station. It became thus so convenient to carry timber away.

Tomorrow only the “on-the-seas” will remain and there they are laboriously rebuilding some villages. So why then should the peasant reclimbs the slope where nothing can ever take root and the very bare and friable rock strata itself does not permit the rebuilding of houses? And the workers by the sea, what will they do? Today they can no longer emigrate like the Calabrians of the unhealthy lowlands and the Lucanians of the “damned claylands” made sterile by the greedy felling of the woodlands which once covered the mountains and the trees that spread over the upland pastures.

Certainly, in such conditions, no capital and no government will intervene, a total disgrace of the obscene hypocrisy with which national and international solidarity was praised.

It is not a moral or sentimental fact that underlies all this, but the contradiction between the convulsive dynamic of contemporary super-capitalism and all the sound requirements for the organization of the life of human groups on the Earth, allowing them to transmit good life conditions through time.

Bertrand Russell, the Nobel Prize laureate, who quietly pontificates in the world press, accuses man of overly sacking natural resources, so much so that their exhaustion can already be calculated. Recognizing the fact that the great powers conduct absurd and mad policies, he denounces the aberrations of the individualist economy and tells the Irish joke: why should I care about my descendants, what have they ever done for me?

Russell counts among the aberrations, along with that of mystical fatalism, that of communism which states: if we have done with capitalism, the problem is solved. After such a display of physical, biological and social science, he is unable to see as an equally physical fact the huge level of loss of both natural and social resources, essentially linked to a given type of production, and thinks that all would be resolved by a moral sermon, or a Fabian appeal to the human wisdom of all classes.

The corollary is pitiful: science becomes impotent when it has to solve problems of the spirit!

Those who really stand in the way of human progress, of decisive steps forward in the organization of human life, are not really the conquerors and dominators who still dare to ostentate greed for power, but the swarms of insipid benefactors and proponents of the ERP (38) and brotherhood among peoples, like so many pacifist dove-cots.

Passing from cosmology to economics, Russell criticizes the liberal illusions in the panacea of free competition and has to admit: «Marx predicted that free competition among capitalists would lead to monopoly, and was proved correct when Rockefeller established a virtually monopolistic system for oil».

Starting from the solar explosion, which one day will instantaneously transform us into gas (which could prove the Irishman right), Russell finishes with maudlin sentiments: «Nations desiring prosperity must seek collaboration more than competition».

Is it by chance, Mr. Nobel Prize laureate, who has written treatises on logic and scientific method, that Marx calculated advent of the monopoly fifty good years in advance? If that were good dialectics, the opposite of competition is monopoly, not collaboration.

Take good note that Marx also predicted the destruction of the capitalist economy, class monopoly, not with collaboration, which with which all the Trumans and Stalins of goodwill you are devoted to incensing, but with class warfare.

Just as Rockefeller came, “big moustache must come! (39) But not from the Kremlin. That one, despite Marx, is about to shave like an American.

(La leggenda del Piave, in il Programma Comunista n.20/1963)

The patriotic saga of Italy raised the Piave to the position and designation of the national river in 1917. In the war which was to have been the Fourth War of Independence, leading the country in a leap beyond the already gained Venetian frontiers (won by no means by armed might) from the Third, after two years of an immobile front on the Isonzo, streaming blood from a dozen battles, the direction then changed with the famous defeat at and flight from Caporetto, the Austrains flooding onto the plain through this breach. After a few days of fearing for the worst when it was believed that they would have been stopped only on the Adige or Mincio, on the 1859-66 frontiers, the tide was stemmed on the Piave, something that was foreseen by the not altogether stupid titch of a King who organized the defence (40). We all then learnt that the Piave was to be declined as masculine, not as a feminine substantive, laying to rest our schoolboy doubts (41).

The river’s name entered popular poetry and legend. The old Neapolitan versifier E.A. Mario, recently passed on, wrote verses and music which lost only by a short head to Mameli’s hymn in the competition for the national anthem. Can you recall the ingenuous phraseology? «Together with the infantry, battled the waves». Once again a river was personified in literature, like in classical literature, as defending the motherland, carrying to the sea piles of enemy corpses. «The Piave whispered: the foreigner shall not pass».

But now the Piave has carried out to sea thousands of Italian corpses struck down by the apocalyptic flood from the Vajont during the dark night of October 9-10th., and has lost its title to nobility. Its legend was and is one of death, and there is no more glory in carrying away the bodies of soldiers than of pacific citizens caught in their sleep. Then they were immolated to the never satiated with blood numina of war, now to those of modern bourgeois and patriotic capitalist civilization and above all to the adorers of its science and technology.

We did not suddenly desire just today to dishonour along with the killer deities of wars between peoples those no less infamous of a civilization which rusts and rots year by year.

In Prometeo 2nd. series No.4, July-September 1952 we dedicated the article Politics and Construction to this theme which, among the various examples of deadly disasters which constitute real bankruptcies of scientific technique, recalled several cases of floods and cited historical cases of mountain reservoir dams, recalling the history of this skill from the Moors in Spain and Leonardo to the organizational inadequacies of the modern hydraulic services in the period of great capital and monstruous construction enterprises.

In France in 1959 there was the terrible Frejus catastrophe which, nevertheless, despite the collapse of the dam, which did not happen in the case of the Vajont basin, caused less victims than the recent Italian catastrophe.

Then we found the person responsible, the accused to be stood in the dock, but not in the manner of the reckless pettifogging political prick, of demagogic opportunism: it was Progress, the lying myth which makes the poor in spirit and the starved wretches bend their backs to it, ready to swear fealty to this Moloch which every so often and a little bit each day crushes them under the wheels of its obscene carriage.

In the inhuman system of capital, every technical problem boils down to an economic one, one of the prize won by cutting costs and boosting returns. The old prebourgeois societies had some residual time to think about safety and general interests. As we recalled in the case of the Frejus dam, that too was a masterpiece of brand new technology, it was light, slim and agile and so with a very modest concrete and steel tonnage held back an enormous volume of water. But already past builders had realized that dams work by gravity, that is, they resist the incredible thrust of the liquid in that they were extremely heavy and did not collapse. We recalled that after several disasters in Spain and at Gleno in Italy (1923) the theory was modified to take account of the hydraulic thrust below, at the base of the dam and these were broadened and made more stable. But the recent dams have obeyed (a mercenary science has obeyed) the sacrosanct need for low costs, so they are built, as with the Frejus and Vajont, in an arch, that is, with a curve that points out into the water pressure and spreads the load onto the shoulders wedged into the valley sides. The dam thus becomes less voluminous, less heavy and less costly and is made of highly resistant materials. But then the pressure of the thrust on the two shoulders of the construction grows massively because this depends on the water pressure borne on its back, which is all the more massive the higher the dam is. Allowing for superlative materials permitting the slimming of the dam and therefore of its shoulders, the pressure on the natural rock is immense and the problem ceases to be the, controllable, one of adjusting the arch of reinforced concrete to take the thrust (this cannot be reduced), but of seeing if the rocky sides will crumble, ruining the arch shaped dam. This was the error made at Frejus, then too it was not the mechanical and hydraulic engineers who were wrong, but – it is said – the geologists called on to evaluate the strength of the rock.

The first problem can best be tackled by mathematical calculations, performed either by a good theoretician or by a computer, while the great theoretician sitting at it goes through a few packets of cigarettes. It can be tested on a suitable scale model in the laboratory.

The geological problem is not one for the smoking saloon or the test tank. It is one of lengthy human experience based on the proofs of historical building. Human and social experience. For all modern engineering, in so far as it makes things which are not pocket sized or cars, constructing things fixed to the Earth’s crust, the key problem is the land/building relationship (for a simple house, the foundations) and there are no perennially valid formulae but instead many skilful applications to choose from after gaining hard-learnt experience, but taking a big salary and smoking in front of the computer is insufficient.

This experience ripens over the centuries: whoever believes in progress and in the jest that last season’s latest discovery contains the wisdom of all time, may get a big salary, but causes disasters, statistics for which, and they alone, show progress.

The very folk traditions among the uneducated masses, the place names themselves can help the geological expert (if it really was his fault) or, rather, the good engineer. Why ever was the Frejus narrows called Mal Passet: mal pass indeed (42). The mountain overlooking the reservoir and which slid into it causing the terrible overflowing, why was it called Monte Toc? Toc in Venetian, means piece: it was a rock that split off in pieces and all the inhabitants of the valley expected the landslide. Vajont, the name of the reservoir, but previously of the pass, the gorge in which the dam was wedged, all 263 meters (world-beating historical record!) in Ladino Friulian dialect equals the Venetian va zo, goes down, which collapses into the valley. In fact past landslides have been mentioned, the poor inhabitants living on them.

Gortani, the geologist, in denying indignantly that he would ever have consented to the selection made for the dam site, stated that the choice fell to the engineers. Quite so. The philosophy of the two tragedies of Malpasset and Vajont (among the many others) is identical. At the bottom of these reckless projects, dictated and imposed by the hunger for profit, by an economic law to which all the navvies, the surveyor and chief engineer must all bow, for which reason it is a foolish remedy to uncover the guilty party at an inquest, lies in the most idiotic of modern cults, the cult of specialization. Not only is it inhuman to hunt down the scape goat, but also vain, since one has allowed this stupid productive society to arise, made of separate sections. No one is guilty because, if someone takes off the blindfold for a moment, he can say that he gave advice requested by the next section, that he was the expert, the specialist, the competent person.

The science and skill of producing and especially of building will, in the future society which will kill the monster of economic return, of surplus-value production, be unitary and indivisible. Not a man’s head, but a social brain above ridiculous separated sections will see without those useful blindfolds the immensity of each problem.

We read the report of the engineer who for thirty years had dreamt of building the Vajont dam. The good man is dead and does not need our defence. He was interested by the purely morphological fact that with a little dam one could hold back a lot of water and no where else would the return be so great at so little cost. A victim of inexorable determinism.

Engineer Semenza, in his comment, is surprised by the fact that one could have foreseen taking thirty years to develop his basic idea now that the dam is complete. He did not think that the long time required could be due to doubts over The correctness of the choice made. He thought that the work had been well divided into sections protected by the right of not knowing nor wanting to check one another’s conclusions. In this illusion, which is not blameworthy nor even a crime of “commission” or of “omission”, lies the omnipotence, stronger than all and even the best engineer, of the modern capitalist superstition of the division of labour, which Marx first condemned and only the revolution will kill. The innocence of the designer is found in these words: «Hundreds, thousands of people, scientists, engineers, workers of all trades, worked to complete this dam which should have closed the deep and narrow ravine of the Vajont stream. Vajont gorge (43) as some guides call it, since by nature it is so inaccessible and inhospitable». No one today would think that the tour guide was right because he made money taking people up to see the narrow gorge, not by working on the dam. «Among the first the hydrologists» who take rainfall and stream regime measurements, allowing one «to find the volume of water that would be held in the dam’s reservoir». «Higher up the geologist examines the rock characteristics in detail, helped by the most modern (oh come on now!) geophysical research». «Meanwhile, the topographer measures with microscopic precision (fashionable jargon!) the valley’s configuration so as perfectly to draw in the contour lines».

Let us leave out the details of the design work or works, the ninety hours of computer time that saved years of work by a team of mathematicians, the tales of the experiments on wood then concrete models... Only one passage interests us, the reference to the ineluctable economic determinism. «The design selected from among many others, dating from 1956, fully exploits the valley’s characterics which seems to have been made for this purpose of building an exceptionally large dam».

The valley was made to be exploited, and if that had not been the case... one would have had to have invented it.

With science, technology and labour, does man exploit nature? No, not at all, and the intelligent relationship between man and nature will arise when one stops making cost and design calculations in money, but in physical and human quantities.

Exploiting one can say when a human group exploits the other. The exploited collaborated with the exploiting enterprise in the grandiose constructions of the mercantile period. Many people were employed at Longarone and money was thrown around. The engineer has to answer: did it rain gold? It is true that a skilled worker struck over the evident danger of landslides, but it is also a bitter lesson that of the worker who, kicked out by the surveyor cursed to death because he was lame and would not have been been able to escape in case of danger, reacted in a violent manner. When the pay is good, risks to human life are normal fare for the society of money and wages.

The whole valley ran the risk, and now it is dead. The solution to this problem will never be found by the “democratic” method used by the currently available communists.

They are silly solutions to these tragedies – which only show that bourgeois, money, private initiative, market society has lived out its historical span and has by now become an even more putrescent corpse than the ones it flung into the Piave – the ones banded about by newspapers fed on a gutless petty-bourgeois ideology, which perhaps a hundred years ago could get by, and which claims justice, honesty and sentences for those who get it wrong or cheat.

Socially and politically we stand apart from those who ask for, in the name of the dead who risked their lives so that the iniquitous society gives them the only civilization it could, three laughable enquiries:
The Ministerial Enquiry, called for by the ministers who have their fingers in the pie and delegated to university professors loyal to the system of sectorial responsibility with which one has the right not to know “others’ subjects” in this bureaucratic, scholastic and career-ridden system which is drowning us.
The Parliamentary Enquiry in which a group of people with no knowledge and of contrasting ideologies (save that of the greed for political success and ambition, which is the same from the extreme right to the extreme left) study what they do not understand and then have a vote on it in the assembly of “politicians”, that is, those who should be the first to be tipped into the dustbin so as to liberate human society.
The judiciary, which knows that its job is to apply a code rooted in tradition and the latest constitution, useful for the petty thief and for the civil servant who in this case was the only one to be slammed up for making public a “stolen” document which showed that the technical doubt over the dam was founded and long standing.

Three degrees of tricking, not the dead, but the living that look to the horrible parties and newspapers of all persuasions and drown in the unconscious of their destinies.

What is to be done with the dam? Another problem that the bureaucratic, democratic administrative mechanism will be unable to solve.

The dam was not flattened so Engineer Semenza, if he were still alive, should be innocent, looking at it from his sector’s point of view.

But the problem was the stability of the valley sides after they suddenly received a hydraulic pressure of 26 atmospheres.

There was no alluvium at the bottom? What kind of excuse is that? The liquid flowed fast through the gap and thus did not deposit but eroded, creating over the centuries the conditions the topographers described to poor Semenza. Thus the side was friable, certainly permeable, and underneath the massive pressure on the strata that could yield caused Toc to slide.

The following reservoirs, which could have provided an empirical test result, took place without being tested and without the order of the omnipotent State.

The dam was too high. The law on this matter must be amended to state a legal maximum, let us say under 100 meters. But then the return on the operation would fall below the costs. Horror! The monopoly would not lose out, but only the consumption pattern of those who depend on it, the same being the case if the State were to act directly.

Reformism, not only in Italy, flies this flag: the law passed, find, the loophole.

An old engineer who could understand geology, topography and building mechanics since he had an old fashioned degree said that the dam could collapse now. Behind it there is no longer water, but a mixed deposit of water and earth (mud and slime) which, with its higher specific weight, could exercise a greater thrust. Here there are no models that hold good! The case is too indeterminate and even the computers come up with nothing.

The Vajont basin was cut in two by the huge landslide with a volume higher than that of the water that it contained, a hill standing 100 meters above the water level.

But the smaller lake remaining next to the dam can generate the pressure indicated by the aforementioned engineer. It all depends on the height, that is the total, and the density of the mud which will be decanted.

The basin must be emptied, but not by blasting the dam with cannonfire, but instead by installing syphons over it to replace the devices destroyed by the disaster and abandoning the potential energy which the turbine, if working, could have exploited.

We cannot believe that the Ministry of Public Works could have thought that the wall would stay to support (?) an Alpine lake.

That sewer of death is no Alpine lake. The lakes formed during the glaciation between very deep indestructible rock walls and with a modest dam of natural morainic hills. They have been tested by Mother Nature over millions of years, not by a Technical Commission!

Man certainly will win against nature. And will do so thanks to a science, a technology, an administration that will not be rented out to anyone.

Before bending nature to our ends, we will have had to have bent the sinister social forces which enslave us more than millions of cubic meters of grave stones and which condemn the replies of today’s experts to great rewards and grasping profits. We must dam the floods not of water and earth, but of filthy lucre.

Lax and uncaring technology - Parasitic and pillaging management

(Drammi gialli e sinistri della moderna decadenza sociale,in ilProgramma Comunista n.17/1956)


The safety of sea travellers seemed with reason to have been assured both historically and scientifically for the future by the first application of mechanical motors to ships, and all the more so with the construction of metal hulls. After a century and a half of technical “improvement”, the safety of the passenger is now relatively greater than compared with the old wooden sailing boats which were prey to both wind and sea. Naturally the “conquest”, the most idiotic one, is speed, even if special clippers in around 1850 won the “blue ribands” from steam ships, while there was – then too – not insignificant playing the cotton exchange between Boston and London. Faster the thief, more a thief; but a quicker fool is no less a fool.

Nevertheless the period of the greyhounds of the sea lies behind us: it corresponded to the period after the First World War. Even before this war huge tonnages had been reached: the Titanic, which went down by the bows in 1912 (44), was over 50,000 tons. It is true that the speed during its maiden voyage, during which it struck an iceberg, did not exceed 18 knots. After a half-century there have been only two cases of liners on the North Atlantic (be they French, English, German or Italian) much over 50,000 tons: since the last war the largest launched was the United States (53,000 tons). The two exceptions are the English Queen Mary (81,000 tons) and Queen Elizabeth (84,000 tons), keels laid before the war and still in use (45). The brand new American ship took the blue riband from the English one which in turn had won it from the French Normandie in 1938, the latter being destroyed in the war. Sailing speeds in the last period have risen above 30 knots: the Andrea Doria the largest post-war Italian ship along with its sister ship Colombo (the pre-war Rex was 51,000 tons) was 29,000 tons but with a good top speed.

Thus the race to have the biggest ship, which was the prelude to the great disaster, has ceased, but so too that for the fastest speed, which so enthralled Italy during the fascist period. The reason is that the person in a hurry can take the plane which, with its small crew, does not kill off more than fifty a go: the sea crossing (with sun and fine weather on the southern route preferred after the Titanic disaster) is more a pleasure trip or cruise – the hugely powerful engines required to thrust at enormous cost (one knot is gained and a few hours are knocked off the crossing, wasting thousands of extra horse-power and increasing fuel consumption in proportion) these massive giants at a rate of knots, are no longer requested by passengers and do not suit the company. Thus the logic of the situation now shows that it is best to build middle size middling speed ships for the passengers who are not at the summit of (economic and political) business dealings who are not forced to fly. The newspapers told us that the unfortunate passengers saved from the Andrea Doria did not want to return by air: once bitten, twice shy, by the great civilization of technology...

Besides, if visibility is bad, it is still a good idea to go slowly, even if there is radar aboard, as always.

This is not the central question, that instead is the extreme fragility of the Doria’s hull as shown by the collision with the not so heavy or fast Stockholm, whatever one may say about the ice breaking prow which could mechanically make a deep hole, but less lacerating and much shorter.

Evidently the Doria broke, probably because it was too weak throughout its structure, its ribs and backbone. Only by supposing that a long longitudinal section of the hull came away can we explain why so many air-tight floatation compartments (closed for the fog) collapsed and so many vital parts too – machines, oil tanks and so forth.

It is not only with ships that the mania of modern technology is orientated towards economizing on the structure, using light metal sections, with the pretext of ever more modern materials with miraculous strength, guaranteed more by insolent advertising and lungae manus than the checks run by the bureaucratized laboratories and standards institutions. Just as with the construction of land vehicles, the ship produced by modern technology which has developed is not as solid as that of 50 years ago. The wonderful ship thus broke up and sank in record time, contrary to the experts’ predictions. With a rough sea and less passing ships, it could have become a massacre.

There is another reason apart from the builders’ false economies. It is known that for nationalistic and demagogic reasons the Italian State (who does not know that after Holy Russia, the largest dose of “socialist” industry is to be found in Vatican Italy, even though Palmiro (46) is not altogether happy?) was both the buyer and the producer of the ship (both the Compagnia Navigazione Italia and the Ansaldo shipbuilders belong to the State). It is well known that steel costs more in Italy and labour too (the worker eats less here, but national assistance grabs the lot). Ordering the ship from a Dutch or German yard would have cost a quarter less, but PaImiro would have had fewer votes. The Italian engineers had an interest in and orders to be stingy with the steel.

They were not stingy enough though with the decorative and luxurious architecture. One of the symptoms of the worldwide decline of technology is that architecture kills engineering. All civilizations go through this stage, from Nineveh to Versailles.

Old sea dogs moaning on the Genova quayside told reporters this. Too many saloons, swimming pools, playing areas, too many decks above the waterline – ah, the inimitable line, the slender outline of Italian ships – too much weight and space put into the superstructure, that is that half skyscraper which stands above the waves, full of windows flooding out light where the luxury class has a good time. This all at the expense of the quickwork, the part in contact with the water, whose size and strength provide stability, flotation, course correction after wandering, resistance to attacks by the sea, collisions with mountains of ice, and those with ships from countries where steel costs less and, perhaps, technology has sold out less to wheelerdealing politics... as yet.

All this, grumble the old sailors, is at the expense of safety. More or less vulgar luxury, or the safety of the human lives on board, this is the antithesis. But could such an antithesis hold back Civilization and Progress!?

However, when steerage class is unsafe and the crew too, not even first class, with the most expensive tickets, is either. The rhetoric goes on about modern discoveries, high technology, the extolled unsinkability, the resistance to collision with ice, rocks, Stockholms!

It was the same story with the rehabilitation of the great cities, from which, as Marx and Engels stated from the time of the gutter of Paris, Haussmann, the poor had and will have everything to lose and nothing to gain. The upper bourgeoisie was told by clever technicians and speculators that epidemics do not know class divisions, even in a rich man’s house one can die of cholera. So get on with it, Demolition Joe! So now when the ship goes down, so too do the first class passengers, half clad like the poor devils, hardly togged up in their dinner jackets. Safety is therefore vital to all: one cannot simply say stuff it like in a mine where only the scape-goats of labour and a handful of engineers go, but without the precursors of decorations: after all its dark down there.

The ruling class, in its turn incapable of struggling against the devil of business activity, superproduction and superconstruction for its own skin, thus demonstrates the end of its control over society, and it is foolish to expect that it, in the name of progress, with its trail indicated by bloodstains, can produce safer ships than those of the past.

And in fact the eddies around the sad hull of the Andrea Doria had scarcely stilled when the nationalized economy, the perfect hothouse of modern private business dealing and parasitism, announced that it would be ready to produce another one, changing only, for reasons of superstition, the name! They boast that since the cost will rise to about one third more than that of the old ship, they will economize on design, calculations and trials! The decorators will, most certainly, do as good business as before, and the machine to thieve money from the man in the street has already been set in motion. Just as after the Second World War, during the reconstruction, strengthened by all the resources of modern advanced technology, “the business deal of the century” came about, thus too the shipbuilding and shipping “crisis” is resolved (for which a new law was being prepared) with the order for a new ship. After the ramming by the Stockholm, and perhaps a few more liters of alcohol consumed by its officers, the wise and well meaning vote of our Democratic Parliament was vanified.

No one will think, no one will legislate, no one will vote for tearing up the old calculations and for redesigning the hull and its structure, the only part of the ship that is quickwork, forking out five million more for steel and five million less for pandering artifices. This will not be the case until “socialist” and enterprise production, even if by the State, is the slave of mercantile and competitive considerations, between the “flags”, that is, between the bands of business criminals, which is the same thing.

And whoever were to do so would be “depreciating” the unsunk Colombo.

While the series on the agrarian question and the theory of ground rent according to Marx was being published in these columns (47), there was the disaster at Ribolla which caused 42 victims against the now certain 250 at Charleroi. Exactly the same economic theory of absolute and differential rent can be applied to the extraction of minerals from the subsoil and to the development of hydroelectric power as to agricultural land. One “works” a mine just as one works a farm. We called the paragraph of the exposition Ribolla, or differential death.

In the capitalist world’s economy, all consumers of the produce of nature pay a higher price for it than for the product of labour. For the latter, they pay for the labour and for a margin of surplus-labour that competition, as long as it lasts, tends to reduce. And bourgeois society offers this product to its members at a lower price than that obtaining in previous societies which were little involved in manufacturing.

The produce of land, in the same way, are paid for by the consumer according to the labour and the surplus-labour, established on the basis of the “worst land”. But, in this case, one also pays a third part: rent, that is the award for the monopoly over land, to the landowner, the third force in the
“model” bourgeois society. The least fertile land dictates the market price to all consumers of foodstuffs. It thus follows that the monopoly landowner of richer land adds on to the absolute rent (the minimum) the differential rent due to lower labour costs, so that the market pays the same price.

As population and consumption grow, society has to put new land under the plough and to use all available areas, be they fertile or sterile. The limits of physical extent determine the monopoly and the two forms of ground rent.

Hard as this theory may seem to some, it is the crux of marxism, and only those who have not digested it believe that the theory of imperialism was simply tacked on to marxism, a study made solely of competitive capitalism. The theory of ground rent contains all that is in the one of modern imperialism, monopoly capitalism, the creator of “rents”, even in largely manufacturing fields, one can thus call capitalism of profit plus rents, like Lenin, parasitic.

Clearly the theory shows that nothing changes if this rent, based on traditional or very new sources, is handed over to the State, that is, the capitalist society organized as a power machine: this occurs so as maintain its commodity, monetary and business basis. Before Marx, Ricardo proposed this, then Marx criticized it from the very beginning in a thorough and overall manner.

The lignite seams of Ribolla are among the least productive, while those of anthracite in Belgium are the most productive, and capitalism can never invest where there is no differential rent, as in the best mines in France, the Netherlands, England, Germany and America, in more expensive installations to increase production and safeguard miners’ lives.

With today’s economy it’s not permitted either to close those mines, which remain in the condition Zola described in Germinal of the white horse that never sees the light of day and which communicates with a strange language of darkness with the two miners condemned with him by “bourgeois society”. Can Progress be held back by a lack of coal!

Now there is a super-national Coal Community (48), like the iron and steel one, among the States which have nationalized the underground wealth in parallel with Italy, so according to the fascist school, we have reached the outer bounds of ultramonopoly to fix on a scale of differential rent, low at Ribolla and Marcinelle, an absolute rent base. But this will certainly remain insufficient to buy new plant.

When the burnt out electrical wiring in the pits caused fire to break out, not only did the machinery and the bodies of the men burn, but also the coal of the precious, albeit poor geological deposit. It burnt because the tunnels the men dug bring in oxygen from the air, that is why old tunnels are sealed off with concrete walls. Thus there was the technical alternative: send down oxygen for those who were dying and their foolhardy rescuers, or close it because every ton of oxygen consumes about half a ton of coal. The miners shouted at the specialized technicians brought from Germany: you have come not to save our workmates, but the mine! The solution, if the maddened shouts of the survivors had not been raised too high would have been simple: close all the entrances.

Without oxygen everything falls silent: the oxidization of coal and the analogous process in man, which we call life.

Besides, and its not the revolutionary press which says so!, according to a very old tradition, which is certainly even older that the capitalist social system, until the miner emerges, living or dead, from the terrible mouth of the mine, the system continues to pay his full wages, even triple time. The miner has to stay down only eight hours, so if he does not come up then, it is supposed that he is working another shift. When the corpse is pulled out and identified, the shift ends and the family will only receive a pension, below the sum for single shifts. It is therefore important that the company, private, State or community, brings out the bodies all the same: it seems that this is the reason why the women shouted that the closed coffins on which were placed a few recognizable objects for identification did not allow them to see if they contained the remains of men or of the deposits.

Get all the survivors out, then close the entrance for ever! Commodity society will never be able to say this, so it fogs the issue with enquiries, funeral masses, the bonds of fraternity in which one can discern only the fraternity of the chain gang, crocodile tears and promises of legislation and administration to attract others “without reserves” to ask to take their places in the funereal lift cages: hats off to technology! It is difficult to change the type of cultivation after a long period, and the theory of rent prohibits leaving the last, the most dangerous, mine closed: it is this theory which dictates to a slave and usurer society the maximum rhythm in the mad worldwide dance of the coal business, it being precisely the geological limits to its future horizon which, as they narrow, thrust it into the monopoly economy, into the massacre of the producer, into thieving from the consumer.

The detective story of Marcinelle touched the world’s soul. For how many more eight hour shifts would the “missing” in the heart of the earth, like those yesterday at the bottom of the Atlantic, consume wealth from the civil bourgeois economy, which from every pulpit shouts its glorious thrust towards a greater well-being? When will one at last be able to take them off the wage ledger and, having prayed to God one last time, forget them?

Blood did not flow, and it was clear from the very first that it would not flow for the third act of the bourgeois trilogy of the August Bank Holiday, which shaded with yellow the rosiest of bourgeois manifestations, the holiday, the vacation, the emptiness in the emptiness of this world of builders from operettas, of those who sweat over stealing from their neighbour.

We could never credit it that there is a single marxist who for one second saw in Nasser a new historical protagonist, and the world in consternation and turned upside down by a simple gesture, by a bold discovery of the latest little caesar, or pharaoh, as the case may be? What a man! He cracked the whip over France, England and America with the skill of a genius: the nationalization of the canal! All this done by changing the guard from King Farouk, who could only whip million dollar odalisques, to a simple colonel who could get into the knickers of Marianne and Albion.

The problem of Suez too can be understood if we take the colonel as, leaving off now with pseudo-sexual remarks, the arsehole he is, by applying the theory of rent.

Suez was a still honourable operation, even glorious, of the young bourgeoisie, alongside those considered as epos by the Communist Manifesto. Perhaps it was one of the last: when the encore was attempted at Panama, it swiftly collapsed into the filth of hyperscandal, and Old Europe laid down Lesseps’s arms and those of his technicians after the first attempt.

Lesseps could have been a follower of Saint Simon and the idea of the Suez canal was accepted a century ago as a socialist one. He cheered the utopianists, but doubtlessly, as in the marxist conception, the enterprise of capitalism aimed at linking the world’s far flung corners are to be considered as premises for its socialist transformation. The idea goes back to Napoleon I who had technical studies made, backed, according to some, by the philosopher and great mathematician Liebnitz. It is no chance event that Napoleon attempted his destruction of English maritime and imperial domination right in Egypt. But even older civilizations had thought of the work: Senwosret, pharaoh of Egypt, even got round to performing it, and if Herodotus is correct, 120,000 workers died in the attempt made by another pharaoh. The Caliphs abandoned the idea out of the fear that they would open the way to the Byzantian fleet. After the discovery of the sea route to India in the fifteenth century, it was the Venetians’ turn, those precursors of modern capitalism, but the Turks were opposed.

The work lasted from 1859 to 1868, employing mainly French and Ottoman capital, facing English hostility. The graveyards of the white and Arab workers were notorious: the English denounced the enlisting of thousands of impoverlshed fellahs as slavery and the case was decided by Napoleon III. The French engineers of the time, who were fighters and not just businessmen, freed of the army of navvies, then employed huge machines and undertook the task. The concession offered by the Egyptian government should have been for 99 years from the day the canal was opened. During this period, it should have received fifteen percent of the company’s profits. It is not the case to repeat here the story of the business manoeuvres and international stock-jobbing by which the Viceroys of Egypt, subjects of the Sultan in Constantinople, were defrauded of their rights to a portion of the shares which passed by various means to British capital and government and, in fact, to the Royal Family.

It remains that it was a concession and the property of the whole works, several times enlarged and improved, should be passed to the Cairo government in 1968, without any payment.

One should be extremely wary of dealing with “right” in this struggle between buccaneers and sharks of the largest tonnage.

What is important are the economic concepts. The initial capital was 200 million French Gold Francs. This now would be worth 60 billion French Francs, or 100 billion lire.

The present value of shares, leaving aside their thirty per cent fall after Nasser’s decree, which nevertheless assured their prominence on the stock market, (one should then say on the day of the decree) the capital of the Compangnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez is quoted at £70 million, or 9O billion French Francs. The valuations are not at the exchange rate: in U.S. Dollars they are 200 million, for the former, and 250 million for the latter, and in Italian Lire 120 billion and 150 billion respectively, all in round figures.

Last year’s company takings were 35 billion French Francs with a profit of a good 16 billion: 45 per cent! In Lire about 55 and 25. But Nasser valued them at 100 million Dollars! 60 billion Lire net.

Such great fruitfulness cannot all be profit of industrial capital, apart from its already declared amortization, which seems to be covered by huge reserves formed by the company heads. It is not a productive concern: the ships of passage pay a toll of 300 to 600 Lire per ton deadweight, but they do not take away anything saleable on the open market: payment for a service, not for goods. Obviously the maintenance, caretaking, management and administrative costs of the canal represent a very small part of the takings. The rest is rent. It is absolute in that it is derived from a monopoly which could close Suez or Port Said. It is, moreover, differential in that it represents the navigation costs via the worse route, the endless rounding of the Cape of Good Hope.

Who collects this rent? The “landlord” of the land through which the canal was cut, without the permission of whom one would not have been able to open the first excavations in 1859. This question of property becomes a question of sovereignty for Nasser. For us, this terminology is without meaning. For us marxists, rent goes to who makes a monopoly work. This is not even antijuridical: in classical Roman law theory “the basis of ownership is occupation”. The same that, since the world began, is the source of political sovereignty.

By this standard, the English are silly and equally foolish as is Nasser. The former kept until a few years back garrison troops in the canal zone to defend it. In fact, during the two world wars, German ships and those of her allies were not allowed to pass. London was about to close the door during the Italian-Ethiopian War and Mussolini had his fine moment – he blackmailed the English by demonstrating his willingness to attack the Mediterranean fleet. But one cannot be lead to believe that those who play the fool can also make history: the candidate for the lunatic asylum, Nasser, stands many cubits shorter.

Could the English dream of withdrawing the garrison and keeping the rent? Could the French dream of as much?

Greater silliness lies on the Egyptian side who thought that sovereignty was their ace of spades, taking this in its metaphysical sense in which the sovereignty of a tiny country weighs the same as that of a giant.

Nasser had wagered on Russia, one of the giants. It is for this that we consider him a fool. The newspapers published on the eve of the London Conference, before Shepilov, marvellous to behold, turned up in coat and tails, that the Russians at their Twentieth Congress had abandoned another of Stalin’s mistaken theories, that of the international political predominance of large States over smaller ones (49), and the liberation of the latter from the function of subject, satellite or vassal States. 0 poor little States! This is not a theory created by Stalin, which Stalin can have the passing whim of abandoning, or that his will readers can put out of the way! And it is not the little Cairo Colonel who can put a new theory in its place: the holy sovereignty of the Statelets, even the pocket handkerchief ones. Or (this is the biggest laugh) that America is bound to accept a similar theory, that it even propagates it, or Russia, champion of the opposing principal: that of the big fish which eats the little one.

The fact and the historical law is that the big States carve up the world at their pleasure, with general war or with (God forbid it!) peaceful coexistence between them (the big fish) and that the small States are like soft plasticine for world relief maps in their hands, they have dominated history for millennia, for two centuries of European history above all, and in a striking manner in the last two great wars, only the seating of some of the big fish changes: Japan and Germany, and new ones are put there, like China.

Nasser did not go to the conference. So be it. But London must have frightened him just because Russia sat there. Russia defends the same principal as the others: who gives a damn about sovereignty over the two banks of these world routes which are nodes in the international trade network? Since when there ceased to be a single imperial dominator, as when Albion made its way (for us it is life as well as a way, the undeformed Mussolini replied) along the Mediterranean and all the Mediterraneans, the dominators have been the three or four bigs in turn, for whom Nasser counts less than a corporal. They will give Suez to him. Or whoever wins the next (twenty years off) third world war without counting a red cent if little Egypt had fought with the winners or the losers.

Hitler, an expression of rather more serious forces, was urged by them to make a huge thrust as far as Crete. The aim and place were Suez; he came to understand (or someone did for him) that the goal was more Suez than Dunkirk, from which they held back. Big does not eat big. Happy little Nasser. Do not leave the rank of foodstuffs.

These twenty years will pass and we little animal-men, we tricked and intoxicated consumers, we makers of increasingly unpleasant and useless efforts, will let them pass seated in front of the radio or the screen to hear humbug and tittle-tattle from technicians, experts, specialists, managers, diplomats, politicians, scoundrels and adventurers, without having learnt anything, or forgetting more and more what the working class already well knew at the time the century of Suez began?

Good, very good, then that the isthmuses have been crossed with huge cuts (Suez remains the longest, if not the most complex, at 160 kilometers – twice Panama) and that the network of international links circles and circles again the mercantile world of convenient capitalism, like that of the retarius which immobilized the barbarian gladiator for the coup de grace. A missing proletariat now tears up the Internationals, but capital is damned to rebuild them across oceans and continents. Well, very well, then that the great powers are very few and leave in blind Impotence the small and numerous, wrapping them in the other inextricable, unslackening net of falsity, lies, fraud and philistine and bigoted oscurantism, under the false glitter which has become unsupportable for its stench, of technology, science, philanthropy and the drive towards well-being. Good, then that the centres of this school of superstition and corruption are ever decreasing in number and more easily seen from every corner of the world.

While they propagate their false beliefs of all their countries and religions, rereading us with false puritanism and obscene blasphemy their bibles of Christ, Mamon and Demos, we too can repeat our classical verses and demonstrate that we have known since before the canal was cut that the result would have been dizzying concentration of wealth and power, imperial totalitarianism, monopolistic oppression, the Party State, the holy alliance of the capitalist monsters, all the more reinforced by the world wars. Good, the dictatorship of Capital, of Militarism, of Business, of Fascism, blessed endlessly by priests of every denomination. Let us open our bible: «But the revolution is thorough. It is still journeying through purgatory. It does its work methodically (...) it had completed one half of its preparatory work; it is now completing the other half. First it perfected the parliamentary power, in order to be able to overthrow it. Now it has attained this, it perfects the executive power, reduces it to its purest expression, isolates it, sets it up against itself as the sole target, in order to concentrate all its forces of destruction against it. And when it has done this second half of its preliminary work, Europe will leap from its seat and exultantly exclaim: Well burrowed, old mole» (50).

With the historical radar of Marx’s theories, on whose screen one cannot read lies, by the observers who have not swallowed the alcohol of the intoxicating bourgeois ideology, in the fog of the depths off Nantacket, in the dark of the walled tomb of the living in Marcinelle, in the bitter of the slime of the stagnant ponds of the Arabian Desert, while the forces of the Revolution seem to be hiding and Great Capital carouses in the bright sunlight, we have again found, at his inexhaustible work, the Old Mole who undermines the curse of the infamous social forms, who prepares for the not near, but most certain, destructive explosion.

(Dottrina del diavolo in corpo, in Battaglia Comunista n.21/1951)

It is vital to be quite clear over the question of State capitalism in order to reset the compasses that have lost their bearings (51).

We have managed to gather many contributions to this from the range of traditional concepts of the marxist school that show that State capitalism is not only the latest aspect of the bourgeois world, but that its forms, even complete, are very old and correspond with the very emergence of the capitalist type of production; they served as the main factors in primitive accumulation and long preceded the fictitious and conventional-environment, which is met far more in the field of apologia than in the real world, of the private enterprise of free initiative and other fine things.

As we have already said, there are many groups in the camp of the left communist antistalinists who do not see things in this way. We say to them, on the basis of earlier texts, for example: «Wherever it may be, wherever there is the economic form of the market, capitalism is a social force. It is a class force. And it has the political State at its disposal» (52).

And let us add the formula which, for us, well expresses the most recent aspects of the world economy: «State capitalism is not a subjection of capitalism to the State, but a firmer subjection of the State to capital».

These groups, however, find the terms of the first thesis were: «correct until 1900, the epoch of the opening of imperialist expansion and, as such, remain up to date, but are incomplete when the evolution of capitalism attributed to the State the function of taking over the final moments of such an evolution from private initiative».

And they continue by saying that we will be latecomers in the world of economic “culture” if we fail to understand that where this thesis fails to fit in with history, it ceases to be marxist, and if we do not request the addition of the study of the State economy to Marx’s analysis, taking this addition from texts written by the powerful personality of the economist Kaiser (53). Bad old habit! A text which seeks to establish given relations between things and facts is checked against things and facts and not against the signature to the book, so basing oneself on the powerful or powerless personality of the authors.

Personalities? stick them up your Kaiser as far as we are concerned, and if in 1950 they corrode the idol of private enterprise, we well know that Sir Karl reduced this to minute fragments a good century ago: you see we know this because we are stubborn latecomers, lazy in reading the latest books...

In Marxism, the concept of private initiative does not exist: look down at the compass dial, not up to heaven like the person who hears paradoxes (paradox – something which common sense says is incorrect when it very much correct).

We have said in thousands of speeches of propaganda that the socialist programme is for the abolition of private property of the means of production, which is borne out by Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme and Lenin on Marx. We said property and not private economy. The precapitalist economy was private, or individual. Property is a term which does not indicate a purely economic relationship, but also a legal one and brings into discussion not just the productive forces, but also the relations of production. Private property means private right sanctified by bourgeois legal codes: it brings us to the State and to power, facts of force and of violence in the hands of a class. Our old and valid formula means nothing if it does not already contain the concept that in order to overcome the capitalist economy, the juridical and State structure corresponding to it must also be overcome.

These basic concepts should suffice to reject the insidious content of the thesis: the social programme is enacted when individual property becomes State property, when the factory is nationalized.

Let us be quite clear, the groups with which we are in dispute do not state that State capitalism is already socialism, but fall into saying that it is a third and new form between private capitalism and socialism. They say in fact that there are two distinct periods in which «the State has more the older policing function than that of involvement in the economy» and that in which «it gives the maximum power to the exercise of force particularly to protect the economy centralized in it». We say that in those two formulae, which are more or less faithfully reproduced, and even more so in the two historical periods, that capitalism is the same, the ruling class is the same, and the historical State is the same. The economy is the entire social field in which production and distribution occur and includes the men participating in this: the State is a precise organization acting in the social field, and the State in the capitalist period has always had the function of policeman and protector of the interests of a class and a type of production corresponding historically with this class. The State concentrating the economy within itself is an incongruous formula. For marxism, the State is always present in the economy; its power and legal violence are economic factors from first to last. One can at best explain it this way: in certain cases, the State, with its administration, assumes the management of industrial concerns; and if it assumes the management of all of them, then it will have centralized the management of the concerns, but not of the economy. Especially so long as distribution takes place with money prices (that these are fixed officially does not matter) and so the State is a firm among firms, a contractor among contractors; all the worse in that it considers as firms each of its national enterprises, as with the labourites, Churchillians and Stalinists. Getting out of this is not a question of administrative measures, but a problem of revolutionary force, of class war (54).

The problem is posed better in an interesting bulletin published by the comrades of the “Groupe français de la gauche communiste internationale (55) of which – with great pleasure – we do not know the names and personalities. Sensible questions are asked on the problem which deserve further development, and the problem is posed in contrast to the vision of the noted Chaulieu group, which is influenced by the theory of “decadence” and of the transition from capitalism to barbarity which inspires in them, however, the same horror as that of the “bureaucratic” regimes. A theory in which one does not know what on earth the compasses are indicating until they prattle about marxism. There are elements in the internal bulletin of our movement (56) on the decadence of capitalism where we deal with the false theory of the descending curve. Without any haughtiness scientifically speaking, it is only foolishness to tell a story which reads: oh capitalism grab us, swindle us, reduce us to a worn out old dog not worth a kick in the ribs, we will quickly recover – all this means is that you are decaying. Just imagine that it is decaying...

As to barbarity: it is the opposite of civilization and so of bureaucracy. Our barbarian ancestors, lucky them, did not have organization apparatuses based (old Engels) on two elements – a defined ruling class and a defined territory. There was the clan, the tribe, but still not the civitas. Civitas means city and also State. Civilization is the opposite of barbarity and means State organization, therefore necessarily bureaucracy. More State means more civilization means more bureaucracy, while class civilizations follow one upon the other. This is what marxism says. It is not the return to barbarity, but the start of supercivilization which is duping us everywhere that the monsters of contemporary State super-organizations dominate. But let us leave the members of Socialisme ou barbarie to their existential crisis, whom the bulletin we quoted refutes in an article with the correct title: Deux ans de bavardage: Two years of chattering – No chattering here please note!

Let us come to the balanced formula with which the French comrades formulated the question: definition of the ruling class of the State capitalist countries, exactitude or insufficiency of the definition: capitalism heir to the liberal revolutions.

The conclusion presented by this group is correct: stop presenting the bureaucracy as an autonomous class, perfidiously warmed-up within the proletariat, and instead consider it as a huge apparatus linked to a given historical situation in the worldwide evolution of capitalism. We are on the right track: the bureaucracy, which all class societies have known, is not a class, it is not a productive force, it is one of the “forms” of production appropriate to a given cycle of class rule. In certain historical phases it appears to be the protagonist on the stage – we too were about to say in the phase of decadence – they are in fact pre-revolutionary phases and those of maximum expansion. Why call the society ready for the midwife of the revolution, the obstetrician who will give birth to the new society, decadent? The pregnant woman is not decadent, but the sterile one is. Chaulieu sees the inflated belly of capitalist society and mistakes the inadequate skill of the obstetrician confronted with the swollen uterus with the imaginary infertility of the pregnant woman. They accuse the Kremlin bureaucracy of giving us a still-born socialism due to their abuse of power while the fault lies in not having taken up the forceps of the revolution to open up the belly of Europe-America, driven by flourishing capital accumulation; and having made a useless effort on an infertile womb. And perhaps only on an infertile womb, inverting the battle for grain with the battle for seed (57).

Let us go on to the purely marxist-economic point after this brief clarification. The statement “capitalism heir to the liberal revolutions”, which correctly made the central point, contains the precise historical thesis: capitalism has a cycle, a single class course, from the bourgeois to the proletarian revolution, and it cannot be split into several cycles without renouncing revolutionary marxism. But, it must be said, as it is a little further on, capitalism appearing from the bourgeois (not liberal) revolutions or, better still, “antifeudal” revolutions. In fact liberalism became the goal and motive of these revolutions, their general idea, only through bourgeois apologetics. Marx rejected this and for him the historical goal of these revolutions is the destruction of the obstacles to the domination of the capitalist class.

Only in that sense is the abbreviated formulation correct. It is quite clear: capital can easily get rid of liberalism without changing its nature. And it is also clear: the direction of the degeneration, the degeneration of the revolution in Russia does not pass from the revolution for communism to the revolution for a developed kind of capitalism, but to a pure capitalist revolution: it runs in parallel with worldwide capitalist domination which, by successive steps, eliminates old feudal and Asiatic forms in various zones. While the historical situation in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries caused the capitalist revolution to take liberal forms, in the twentieth century it must have totalitarian and bureaucratic ones.

The difference is not due to basic qualitative variations of capitalism, but to the huge diversity in quantitative development, as with the intensity in each metropole, and the diffusion over the planet’s surface.

And that capitalism decreasingly adopts for its conservation, just as for its development and enlargement, the liberal chit-chat and ever increasingly police methods and bureaucratic suffocation, when the historical line is clearly seen, this does not cause the slightest hesitation over the certainty that the same means must serve in the proletarian revolution. It will handle this violence, power, State and bureaucracy, despotism as the Manifesto called it with a yet more dreadful term 103 years ago. Then it will know how to get rid of all of them.

The surgeon does not put down the blood stained lancet before the new life has emerged and has drawn its first breath, the hymn to life.


Does not the basic form of capitalism disappear with the disappearance of the private persons who, as owners of factories, organize production? This is the objection in the economic field which attracts many people’s attention.

“The capitalist” is named a hundred times by Marx. Besides, the word “capital” comes from the word caput, meaning head, and so traditionally capital is any wealth linked, intestate, to any singular titular person. However, the thesis to which we have long dedicated expositions doesn’t contain anything new, but only explains, remaining true, that the marxist analysis of capitalism does not consider to be vital the element of the person of the factory owner.

Quotations from Marx would be innumerable: let us then conclude with just one.

Let us take the so-called “classic” capitalism of the “free” factory. Marx always put these in quotation marks, they in fact characterize the bourgeois school he fought and destroyed with his economic concepts – this is the point that is always forgotten.

One naturally supposes that Mr. X, the first capitalist to appear, had a sum of money to hand. Good. Entire sections of Marx’s work reply with the question how come? The replies vary: theft, robbery, usury, black marketeering or, as we have seen more than a few times, royal charter or law of the land.

So X, instead of stashing his gold coins in a sack, so as to run his fingers through them every night, acts as a citizen imbued with liberal and humanitarian social ideals. He nobily faces the risks and circulates his capital.

So, first element accumulated money.

Second element, acquisition of raw materials, the classic raw cotton bales, of so many little chapters and paragraphs.

Third element, acquisition of the works where he sets up plant and looms to spin and weave.

Fourth element, technical organization and management. The classic capitalist looks after this himself; he has studied, gone on trips and journeys and has thought out new systems to work the bales and, by producing thread in quantity, cuts costs; he will dress cheaply yesterday’s urchins and even the blacks of Central Africa who were used to going about naked.

Fifth element, the workers at the looms. They do not have to bring an ounce of raw cotton or a single spare spool; that happened in the semi-barbaric times of individual production. But at the same time there will be trouble If they remove a single thread of cotton to patch their trousers. They are rewarded with a just equivalent for their labour time.

Through the combination of these elements one achieves the one that is the motive and the reason for the whole process: the mass of yarn or textiles. The essential fact is that only the capitalist can take this to market and the financial return is his and his alone.

Always the same old story. Yes, you know the little sum; the cost of the raw cotton, something for the wear and tear on plant and machinery, the workers’ wages. Receipts: the price of the product sold. This is greater than the sum of the costs and the difference constitutes the profit margin of the factory.

It matters little that the capitalist does what he likes with the money he gets back – he could do that with his original cash already without manufacturing anything. The important fact is that after restocking in everything to the level of his original investment, he still has a mass of money on hand. He could consume it himself, certainly. But socially he cannot and something forces him to invest it in large part, to translate it into capital again.

Marx says that the life cycle of capital consists only in its movement as value perpetually set in motion so as to multiply itself. The desire of the person of the capitalist is not required in this, nor would he be able to impede it. Economic determinism not only obliges the worker to sell his labour time, but similarly the capital to invest and accumulate. Our criticism of liberalism does not consist in saying there is a free class and a slave class: there is an exploited one and a profiteering one, but that they are both tied to the laws of the historical capitalist mode of production.

The process is therefore not within the factory, but is social and can only be understood as such. Already in Marx there is the hypothesis of the separation of the various elements from the person of the capitalist entrepreneur which is substituted with a share participation in the profit margin of the productive enterprise. Firstly, the money can be got from a lender, a bank, who receives periodic interest. Secondly, in such a case the materials acquired with that money are not really the property of the entrepreneur, but of the financier. Thirdly, in England the owner of a building, house or factory may not be the owner of the land on which it stands: thus houses and factories can be rented. Nothing prohibits the same for looms and other machinery and tools. Fourth element, the entrepreneur may lack technical and administrative managerial capabilities, he hires engineers and accountants. Fifth element, workers’ wages – evidently their payment too is made from loans from the financier.

The strict function of the entrepreneur is reduced to that of having seen that there is a market demand for a certain mass of products which have a sale price above the total cost of the preceding elements. Here the capitalist class is restricted to the entrepreneurial class, which is a social and political force, and the principal basis of the bourgeois State. But the strata of entrepreneurs does not coincide with that of money, land, housing and factory owners and commodity suppliers.

There are two basic forms and points required to recognize capitalism. One is that the right of the productive enterprise to dispose of the products and the sales proceeds (controlled prices or requisitions of commodities do not impair the right to such proceeds) is unimpaired and unimpairable. What guards this central right in contemporary society is from the outset a class monopoly, it is a structure of power, and the State, the judiciary and police punish whoever breaks this norm. Such is the condition for enterprise production. The other point is that the social classes are not isolated one from another. There are no longer, historically speaking, castes or orders. Belonging to the landed aristocracy was something that lasted more than one lifespan, as the title was handed down through the generations. Ownership of buildings or large finances lasts on average at least a lifespan. The «average period of personal membership of a given individual to the ruling class» tends to become even shorter. For this reason we are concerned about the extremely developed form of capital, not the capitalist. This director does not need fixed people. It finds and recruits them wherever it wants and changes them in ever more mind bending shifts.


Here we cannot demonstrate that Lenin’s “parasitic capitalism” does not mean that power lies more in the hands of the financial capitalists than in those of the industrial capitalists. Capitalism could not spread and expand without growing more complicated and progressively separating into the various elements which enter into the competition for speculative gain: finance, technology, equipment, administration. The tendency is for the largest margin and social control to slip from the grasp of positive and active elements to become concentrated in the hands of speculators and business banditry.

We shall therefore fly from marx to... Don Sturzo.

This latter, with his habitual prudence, took in hand the INA scandal (58). What he said is interesting: I cannot say what happened during fascism because I was in America, but there these things are the order of the day, many others may come to light! We were sure of it. The capitalist parasitism of contemporary Italy beats that of Mussolini, and both remain child’s play in comparison with the wheeler-dealer US business.

INA had huge finances because it collected all the workers’ social security contributions, like other similar quangos with their well known initials. It pays slowly so its safes are stuffed with ready cash. It therefore has the right (since it has no head no body and no soul – it is for good reason that we are in the civilization of habeus corpus) not to let such wealth lie idle, so it employs and invests it. What good luck for the modern entrepreneur! He is the capitalist without capital, just as dialectically modern capital is capital without the boss, acephalous.

The bad business, the clever Sicilian priest says (those in the gallery yearn soon to make an exaggerated oration at his funeral) was the formation of too many front companies under the INA.

What the hell are front companies? Some types versed in business who have luxurious offices and have crept into the economic and political outer offices, do not have a penny or registered stock or buildings to their names (they do not even rent houses, but live in big hotels, they know Vanoni backwards, but Vanoni does not know them) (59) “plan” a given deal and register a company with the plan as its sole asset, and INA, or some similar body, will give it the money and if some “special law” is required, let us say for raising cocks in old army bases, a problem hastily brought to the attention of national leaders, especially by a forceful speech on government ineptitude by one, of the opposition M.P.s, which solves all.

In fact, once the common impresario went to the bank to borrow money to use in the business planned. The bank replied: good, here it is, where are your securities? Out with your property and other titles... But a quango does not have these trifling needs: the national good is enough for it to pull out the cash. The rest of the tale tells itself. If the old impresario with his plan and production project created not cocks but cock ups, he was finished: he did not get his money back and he left the boss class humiliated.

Our front company with it brilliant general staff does not live in this fear: if it produces cocks, they are sold to poultry farmers for a good price, money is earned. If supposing it does not produce cocks or no one wants cocks, no matter: hand-outs, indemnities and profit shares have all been cashed in and INA pays for the mistaken cock farm plan.

We have explained what State capitalism (or the economy centralized in the State) means by this small and banal example. It should be said that INA’s loss is shared by all the poor unfortunates who pay into its coffers another cut of their daily wages.

State capitalism is finance concentrated in the State at the disposal of passing wheeler-dealers of enterprise initiative. Never has free enterprise been so free as since when the profit remained but the loss risk has been removed and transferred to the community.

The State alone can print as much money as it wants and can deal with the forger. The progressive expropriation of small owners and capitalist concentration in successive historical forms is based on this initial principal of force. We have with reason repeatedly stated that no economy in which firms present accounts and exchange is carried out in money can avoid such laws.

The power of the State is therefore based on the convergent interests of these benefiting profiteers of speculative plans of firms and of their web of deep-seated international relations.

How can these States not lend capital to those gangs which never settle their debts with the State except by forcing the exploited classes to pay up? There is proof that these “capitalizing” States are in chronic debt to the bourgeois class, or if you want fresh proof, lies in the fact that they are obliged to borrow, taking back their money and paying interest on it.

The socialist administration of a “centralized economy” would not provide outside takings to any “plan” just as it would not pay interest. Besides, it would not deal in money.

Capital is only concentrated in the State for the convenience of surplus-value and profit manoeuvring. It remains “available to all” or available to the components of the entrepreneurial class: no longer simply production entrepreneurs, but openly business entrepreneurs: they no longer produce commodities, but, Marx has already said, they produce surplus value.

The capitalist as person no longer serves in this: capital lives without him but with its same function multiplied 100 fold. The human subject has become useless. A class without members to compose it? The State not at the service of a social group, but an impalpable force, the work of the Holy Ghost or of the Devil? Here is Sir Charles’s irony. We offer the promised quotation: «By turning his money into commodities which serve as the building materials for a new product, and as factors in the labour process, by incorporating living labour into their lifeless objectivity, the capitalist simultaneously transforms value, i.e. past labour in its objectified and lifeless form, into capital, value which can perform its own valorization process, an animated monster which begins to “work”, “as if possessed by the devil”» (60).

Capital must be seized by these horns.

(Anima del cavallo vapore, in il Programma Comunista, n.5/1953)

The main aim of our considerations of certain subjects – in which it is indispensable continually to repeat the facts remembered from basic “theorems”, all the better if with the same words and phrases – is the criticism, of the frenzy over the “unforeseen” and deformed forms of very modern capitalism which should compel a reconsideration of the bases of the ’perspective’ and thus of the marxist method itself.

This false position can easily be related to the refusal to recognize, or better, with the total lack of knowledge of the essential outlines of our doctrine and its basic points.

The whole discussion now underway on the revolutionary forms in Russia and in China boils down to the judgement made of the historical phenomenon of the “appearance” of industrialism and mechanization in huge areas of the world previously dominated by landed and precapitalist forms of production.

Constructing industrialism and mechanizing is the same as building socialism every time central and “national” plans are made. This is the mistaken thesis.

Classically marxism identifies mechanization historically with capitalism. The difference between the employment of mechanical forces in a capitalist society and in a socialist one is not quantitative, it does not lie in the fact that technical and economic management passes from restricted circles to a complete circle. It is qualitative and consists in the total overthrow of the capitalist characteristics of the use of machines by human society, something much more thoroughgoing and which consists in a “relationship between men” in opposition to the cursed “factory system” and the social division of labour.

Three historical forms: industrialism in autonomous firms, industrialism in increasingly concentrated and then commonly managed firms, socialism; all three foreseen and described by Marx “from the very start”. Nothing has occurred which was unforeseen and which lies beyond the bounds of the analysis which outlined this for once and for all. Damn those who talk about dogmas. There has yet to be a renegade who did not use this word. Mao Tse Tung compared it with “cow shit”. Well, good appetite!


Man and the machine

John Stuart Mill, one of the prophets of capital, stated in his classic Principles of Political Economy (London, 1821) that it remained to be seen if mechanical inventions had lightened the labour of any human being. Marx sets out from this quotation in his study of mechanization. For the first time in the field of the social sciences the discussion began with a radical shifting of the mode of formulating the arguments. The question as to if the machine was a blessing or a curse would at best remain a nice theme for literature. Marx concentrates on and immediately orientates the question to the capitalist use of machines. Such a use is in no way aimed at the reduction of the labour of the human species. «Like every other instrument for increasing the productivity of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities and, by shortening the part of the working day in which the worker works for himself, to lengthen the other part, the part he gives to the capitalist for nothing». This rigorous definition (at the beginning of Volume I, Chapter 15) as ever contains within it, and one can easily see this, the communist programme. Will we do without machines and so punish them for performing such swindles? The opposite is the case: in the first period we will use them as and when we can so as to raise production costs and to reduce the amount of time in which the worker works for the capitalist, and then later «to increase the productive capacity of labour», but not in order to have lunatic quantities of products, but so as to employ less labour.

Always testing the antimetaphysical method, the footnote on this page is delightful on the lightening of the labour of whatever human being.

«Mill should have said, “of any human being not fed by other people’s labour”, for there is no doubt that machinery has greatly increased the number of distinguished idlers» (61).

So if the thesis that «machines were indispensable for arriving at the communist revolution» is marxist, the commonplace on the marxist apology for modern mechanization is the effect of a banal and impotent reading.

Marx stated that the starting points of “the industrial revolution” in the mode of production are labour power in manufacturing and instruments of labour in large factories. Labour power is the workers which even in manufacturing take up tools and thus have instruments of labour. Let us patiently follow the text in the “analysis” of the characteristics of the new instrument of labour which we can call the machine. We come to understand that the capitalist social and political revolutions occurring before the eighteenth century, that is, when the instrument of labour was prevalently a hand tool and not a machine, determined social relations of labour power (of workers) and political relations which were necessarily and predictably different to those of the capitalist industrial revolutions (Russia, China) of the twentieth century in which the instrument of labour is mechanical on a huge scale. They nevertheless remain historical capitalist and bourgeois revolutions. An orgy of mechanization is one thing, “the building of socialism” another. Even in these cases – let us jump ahead a little – the arrival of the machine-god inevitably brought the bourgeois system of “factory autocracy” and the worship of commodity production. This is historically going in the opposite direction to that to be taken by the socialist revolution which we await, as did Marx, with the same forms which we find described in our Bible-Capital. Blind rage of every bourgeois “free spirit”!

That progress made in instruments of labour is available to all above and beyond frontiers and a series of generations is not our precious discovery. Science belongs to all, but today only to all the capitalist powers. Only tomorrow it will belong to all the human species, of the anti-Mill kind.

A footnote: «Science, generally speaking, costs the capitalist ’nothing’, a fact that by no means prevents him from exploiting it. ’Alien’ science is incorporated by capital just as ’alien’ labour is. But ’capitalist’ (in quotation marks in the original) appropriation and ’personal’ appropriation, whether of science or of material wealth, are totally different things» (62).

Little men, think it over for forty minutes. Marx proved the thesis with the fact that the individual capitalist, the expropriator and exploiter, is, in many cases, a complete and utter idiot when it comes down to technical questions. We would like to invite you to be no longer surprised by the fact that even if in Russia there is no longer any (?) personal appropriation of others’ labour (wealth), that does not mean that there is not the full capitalist appropriation of it, the Russian capitalist State having obviously been able to appropriation for nothing western science. It therefore had at its disposal all the mechanical and technical inventions and thus could leap over the long development leading from the artisan’s workshop through independent small-scale industry; but it did not simultaneously make the fanciful leap over the ’capitalist historical and social form of production. But had Marx imagined this to have been possible? Yes, given the condition that the united “national” revolutionary forces have available comparable territories, one of fully developed industrialism (e.g. Germany), the other of as yet undeveloped Industrialism (e.g. Russia). Lacking this particular relation, there must intervene a period of capitalism’s growth, presenting itself more as an advance in geographical space than in the succession of time, as a conquest more in quantity than in quality or in the chain of evolutive stages.

Work and Energy

Let us return to the little doctrine. In an organism that has reached two thousand years (by now we do not think we will get rid of it earlier) like the Roman church, the infallible pope teaches nothing, the parish priest teaches everything. Laugh if you like, there is nothing to laugh about idiot.

Marx started to define the machine with concepts from physics and went on to historical ones, which are useful in unravelling the huge enigma of the man-machine relationship.

The mechanical theory of the simple machine deals with those instruments or devices that modify into a more convenient form the energy applied to them by an agent, which may also be the hand of man: they do not produce new energy but merely return what is put into them. They are the lever, wedge, pulley etc. A man cannot shift a rock weighing a ton with his own strength, but he can if he takes a long lever to it. He cannot split it into smaller parts that can be lifted, but if he can use a wedge driven in with hammer blows he can.

Socially one can say that a simple machine is one on which one cannot base business. Classical political economy knows that labour is value. Labor (the quantity of labor) is the same thing as mechanical energy. The physicist says: force times distance (movement of the rock) gives us energy. The economist says: the number of workers multiplied by their labor time gives us value. So as long as we use only muscle power of workers in production, the simple machines, to which can correctly be added both socially and mechanically the tools, which the independent artisan handles, nothing would be changed. With the lever, that man moves the rock ten meters in eight hours: eight workers without a lever would have rolled it the same distance in an hour.

Mechanically one could say that the compound machine, meaning a greater or lesser complex of simple machines (wheels, levers, cogs etc.), does not provide new energy, while motor machines, which transform the heat of fuel and other forms of energy into mechanical energy do so. Now it would be to make a present of value to permit the elimination of so much labor that has to be performed physically by men. But it would be so only with communist mechanization: in capitalist mechanization, the energy relation, which is physically true, is socially incorrect.

As long as mechanical energy is introduced so as to produce more commodities and not to employ less human time in labor, we have to say that the transition, whatever the ideological and juridical presentation, is a capitalist process.

So Marx defined the difference between the tool of the craftsman social period and the machine of the capitalist period not on the basis of the use of muscle power substituted by other energy, but by naming as machines in a social sense not only the motor machines of the various contemporary industries and factories, but also the transmissions of energy (a series of simple machines that add no energy) and the working machines applied to the raw material to be transformed acid which vulgar technology calls machine tools (lathe, press, puncher etc.). Moreover, we have already reached the phase of mechanization even when the new working machines are not yet set in motion by mechanical energy, but by human muscle power: crank and pedal driven machines.

If it were not so, Marx said, we should have to say that the machine driven by nonhuman energy existed long before the capitalist factory.

Man, in fact learnt very soon how to adopt other natural energy. A simple two-ox plough is no longer a tool, but a proper machine which allows a man to plough a greater area than that he can dig over with a spade.

But then, Marx said, Claussen’s circular loom, with which a single worker weaves ninety-six picks a minute, though used by a modern, not a primitive, man, would be a tool as it is set in motion by hand, just as is Wyatt’s spinning machine. They became machines only from the moment that the former was set in motion by a motor and the latter, as from 1735, by... a donkey.

The animal was one of the first natural energy sources used by man to help in production, and from earliest times. But there were others too: the wind and running water.

One cannot therefore call these sporadic and scattered cases of the use of mechanical energy, instead of human muscle power, capitalist mechanization, but instead the introduction of the machine tool which long preceded that of the mechanical motor (the steam engine).

«It is this last part of the machinery, the tool or working machine, with which the Industrial revolution of the eighteenth century began. And to this day it constantly serves as the starting-point whenever a handicraft or a manufacture is turned into an industry carried on by machinery» (63).

Let us take a step back: with the trade, that is, with the independent, isolated artisan worker, we are in precapitalism, in the guild-feudal regime. With manufacture, we have already arrived at full capitalism. The conditions noted have in fact been realized: concentration of a mass of workers, capital in the hands of a master who can rent buildings, acquire materials and pay wages. Even before mechanization, simple manufacture has changed to organized manufacture with the technical division of labour among various operations which, even with simple hand tools, are carried out by different craftsmen on the uncontestable order of the “master”. This name from the time of slavery is reborn, ignobly substituting the less hateful “sir”. The sir was a living and fighting knight, a human being, the master in the end becomes a monstrous automaton.

The factory autocrat

We read in Marx not an apologia, but an implacable indictment of the capitalist factory system. The instruments of labour, as long as they could be handled by a single craftsman’s hand, were also, o modern idealist sins, of his mind and a bit of his heart.

Today the craftsman tool has been substituted by the machine tool. Marx said: «As we have seen, the machine does not drive out the tool. Rather does the tool expand and multiply, changing from a dwarf implement of the human organism to the implement of a mechanism created by man. Capital now sets the worker to work, not with a manual tool, but with a machine which itself handles the tools» (64).

The huge growth in the power of human labour is accompanied by the degradation, not the uplifting, of the working man. The Jenny Mule was the name given to a spinning machine with innumerable spindles. With technological progress in 1863, thanks to a motor of barely one horse-power, two and a half workers were enough for 450 rotating spindles and produced 3666 pounds of spun cotton a week. With a hand spinning-wheel, the same amount of cotton would have required 27,000 hours instead of 150: productivity rose 180 fold! We cannot follow and develop these comparisons Marx made here, applying them, for example, to calculating how many navvies are replaced by digging and rolling machines imported here by the Americans after the war to construct roads.

Dr. Ure gives us two definitions of the factory. On the one hand he describes it as: «combined co-operation of many orders of work people, adult and young, in tending with assiduous skill a system of productive machines continuously impelled by a central power (prime mover)» and on the other hand as: «a vast automaton composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs, acting in uninterrupted concert for the production of a common object, all of them being subordinate to a self-regulated moving force» (65).

Marx shows that: «the second is characteristic of its use by capital and therefore of the modern factory system» (66).

The first could, however, correspond to our programme: «the combined collective worker, or the social labour body, appears as the dominant subject, and the mechanical automaton as the object».

But today instead «the automaton itself is the subject, and the workers are merely conscious organs, co-ordinated with the unconscious organs of the automaton»

Have you heard, you liberal liberators of bodies, spirits and consciences, who accuse us of automatizing life!?

«Ure therefore prefers to present the central machine from which the motion comes as not only an automaton but an autocrat. “In these spacious halls the benignant power of steam summons around him his myriads of willing menials”».

The centrality of the concept shows for the hundredth time that it is not a question of describing capitalism, as even Stalin pretends, but of discovering the social characteristics that the revolution will have to do away with! Here are other passages.

«In handicrafts and manufacture, the worker makes use of a tool; in the factory the machine makes use of him... In manufacture the workers are parts of a living mechanism. In the factory we have a lifeless mechanism which is independent of the workers, who are incorporated into it as its living appendages» (67).

A further comparison of Fourier’s of the factory with a mitigated gaol with which the chapter closes recalls that in the galley (68), the rowers were incorporated in the ship chained for life to their benches: they had to row or sink with it.

«Every kind of capitalist production (or even manufacture), in so far as it is not only a labour process but also capital’s process of valorization, has this in common, but it is not the worker who employs the conditions of his work, but rather the reverse, the conditions of work employ the worker (programme: the collective socialist worker will himself dominate the conditions of his work!). However, it is only with the coming of machinery that this inversion first acquires a technical and palpable reality. Owing to its conversion into an automaton, the instrument of labour confronts the worker during the labour process in the shape of capital, dead labour which dominates and soaks up living labour power» (69).

A cold description, is it not, you band of vulgar falsifiers?

The physical person of the individual master is thus not required, and bit by bit he disappears into the pores of share capital, of management boards, of quango bodies, of the political State, which has become (an old case) entrepreneur and manufacturer, and to the very latest vile form of the State which pretends to be “the workers themselves” and thus is able to tie them to the feet of the sinister steel automatons.

The factory despotism; only the communist revolution will tear it up by the roots when there is no longer intoxicating interference in the “struggles for political freedom” and similar popular mirages, denounced in bourgeois industrialism from its very beginning, accompanied by real class revolutions, but made up with stinking democratic rouge. Not a syllable is to be touched of the sentence that we have had ready formulated for ninety years, and which unfortunately one is still not ready to execute.

«...unaccompanied by either that division of responsibility otherwise so much approved of by the bourgeoisie, or the still more approved representative system. This code is merely the capitalist caricature of the social regulation of the labour process which becomes necessary in co-operation on a large scale and in the employment in common of instruments of labour, and especially of machinery. The overseer’s book of penalties replaces the slave-driver’s lash» (70).

The latest liberal phantasms; autocracy and dictatorship “in life” and not in the pallid legal lie did not begin again with Mussolini, Hitler, Franco... not even with Stalin and his proconsols, not even with Truman, Eisenhower and the stupid slaves of United Europe: they are a technical fact linked to the beat of huge central generators turning on the banks of the Hudson, Thames, Moscow and the Pearl River.

Machine and revolution

But «the machine is innocent of the misery it brings with it». Here a marvellous page shows the stupidity of the official economists who, being unable to explain the huge antagonisms springing from the use of machines, pretend to ignore them and close their eyes to the fact that:

«...machinery in itself shortens the hours of labour, but when employed by capital it lengthens them... in itself it lightens labour, but when employed by capital it heightens its intensity... in itself it is a victory of man over the forces of nature, but in the hands of capital it makes man a slave of those forces... in itself it increases the wealth of the producers, but in the hands of capital it makes them into paupers... Therefore whoever reveals the real situation with the capitalist employment of machinery does not want machinery to be employed at all, and is an enemy of social progress!» (71)

The machine, which in the hands of the working collectivity will be a source of well-being and rest, becomes a killer in the hands of capital. We do not condemn the machine for this.

Here Marx quotes a character from Charles Dickens’s famous novel Oliver Twist. It is the self-defence’ of the great rogue Bill Sykes: «Gentlemen of the jury, no doubt the throat of this commercial traveller has been cut. But that is not my fault, it is the fault of the knife. Must we, for such a temporary inconvenience, abolish the use of the knife? Only consider! Where would agriculture and trade be without the knife? Is it not as salutary in surgery, as it is skilled in anatomy? And a willing assistant at the festive table? If you abolish the knife – you hurl us back into the depths of barbarism» (72).

No. We will not fall back into total barbarism and such a risk does not worry us. We will merely take from your hands the handle of the knife-machine.

The machine will be precious tomorrow in a non-mercantile mode of production and its appearance has been equally precious in fact for the revolutionary antagonisms which it created between capital and the proletariat.

«There is also no doubt that those revolutionary ferments whose goal (the programme: you deaf ones) is the abolition of the old division of labour stand in diametrical contradiction with the capitalist form of production, and the economic situation of the workers which corresponds to that form. However, the development of the contradictions of a given historical form of production is the only historical way in which it can be dissolved and then reconstructed on a new basis» (73).

Still another invective against “the division of labour” which communism will bury. Dialectically it was wise at the time of the guilds: nec sutor ultra crepidam, cobbler stick to your last! But: «“Nec sutor ultra crepidam”, a phrase which was the absolute summit of handicraft wisdom, became sheer nonsense from the moment when the watchmaker Watt invented the steam-engine, the barber Arkwright the throstle...» (74)

And it is also with a battle-cry that we close this part of Marx’s work after the detailed examination of the social legislation on work and the shortening of the working day: « to increase the anarchy and the proneness to catastrophe of capitalist production as a whole, the intensity of labour (Stakhanov! Stakhanov!), and the competition of machinery with the worker. By the destruction of small-scale and domestic industries it destroys the last resorts of the ’redundant population’, thereby removing what was previously a safety-valve for the whole social mechanism. By maturing the material conditions and the social combination of the process of production, it matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of that process, and thereby ripens both the elements for forming a new society and the forces tending towards the overthrow of the old one» (75).


From horse-power to the kilowatt

Marx fully established on the basis of the technological elements of his time that the introduction of mechanical motive power (better, energy) accelerates the concentration of productive activities in huge factories and the factory labour legislation itself acted in this way: «...thus artificially ripen the material elements necessary for the conversion of the manufacturing system into the factory system, yet at the same time, because they make it necessary to lay out a greater amount of capital, they hasten the decline of the small masters, and the concentration of capital» (76).

We have cited many times the famous passage from the chapters on accumulation, which is illustrated by the technical modifications occurring in steel making for example: «In any given branch of industry centralization would reach its extreme limit if all the individual capitals invested there were fused into a single capital. In a given society this limit would be reached only when the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company» (77).

Engels transposed this perspective to the trusts, the monopolies and the State managers in a no less notorious manner.

If the commodity laws themselves, confluent in the production of surplus value, provided Marx with the basis of the demonstration, fully confirmed by history, of the gigantic capitalist accumulation in colossal masses, the new technical forms of producing motor power influence this no less.

As long as we are referring to the steam engine, the first case of large-scale employment of mechanical power in production, we see that the best solution is autonomy for each factory to produce the amount of energy required. The power station resolved everything, especially after the massive extraction of fossil fuel, made in turn imposing both by machines and by the capitalist form of mine management (once it was largely State owned). Since then clearly the cost per horse power became decreasingly small as the boiler became increasingly large, and thus there is another reason for the small factory to be subjected to the large one: nevertheless no organizational link was imposed between factories as all could get coal on the “open market”.

All this changed enormously with the progress of electromechanization. The advantage of making energy into a commodity became decisive with the creation of a transmitted electrical supply. Every factory now tends not to produce, but to buy its energy.

Ure’s central motor could control the working machines along with the men made slaves to them, but within a small radius: that allowed by the transmission by means of “simple mechanisms” – pulleys, belts, conical gears... No one had even thought it useful to distribute steam under pressure to other machines through long ducts, the huge heat loss making such a system uneconomical.

Let us offer an example: if natural methane gas had been found before the discovery of dynamic electricity and electrical current. This too is a fossil fuel of organic origin, like the solid and liquid ones. But, unlike them (the liquid one can be piped as a commodity, but not as a fuel, for technical and economic reasons), it can be distributed through a mains system. From this fact would have emerged the need for a close organizational link between all the factories fed by a single distribution system.

In facts, the energy consumed by each individual factory can no longer be varied at the will of the local management as it could cause the single power station to run out of energy or to have to “throw it away”. Instead, the capitalist with the factory based on autonomous motive power could cut out burners and boilers at his pleasure, or install others to increase production.

As the whole plan of employing workers, the slaves of the machine tools, depends on that of the energy provided, the entire social industrial mechanism falls into line with these new norms, it links up, centralizes and subordinates itself to an infinity of rules.

Planning is not socialism

Such an adaptation to and discipline of general networks is not a change in the historical type of production: the factory is still the factory, the worker is still the wage-labourer, the compulsion of the factory automatons increases rather than diminishes. The general norms from which thousands and thousands of special laws emerged is not a social revolution: it is useless for the reader immersed in modern life to extend the comparison of motive power for factories and plants that produce manufactured goods to the thousand other communication, transport, and all types of service networks.

Even antiquity administered motors that were not autonomous. The domesticated animal was undoubtedly autonomous and the farm or small-holding was all the stronger for the number of horses or oxen it possessed. The windmill was autonomous, but, however, depended on nature’s whim.

Not autonomous, at least not over a long tract of the same water course – river or “industrial canal” – was the water mill. And here laws of very old States provided a clear discipline so that no one could modify the lay out of weirs to consume more hydraulic energy than the grindstone, for example, up or down stream. A sentence of a commission abolishing privileges in Calabria in 1810 stated inter alia: «All can install hydraulic machinery as long as they do not cause any damage and loss to previously existing hydraulic machines».

Giacchino Murat’s (78) regime was extremely liberal. Imagine a modern regime as liberal as this that says: anyone is free to install electrical machinery and to plug it into the first electrical cable that comes to hands.

In all periods, then, public authority has had to regulate and co-ordinate productive activities and energy sources, all the more so when their dependence on a single network, on the same material flow of energy provision, became technically inevitable: and there is a full parallel between the flow from a certain head of water and that of electrons from a conductor at a given voltage.

And now then, forgetting for a moment the unfolding of particular historical episodes and the names of the mercenaries, let us ask ourselves what a social organization in power which had to industrialize a still backward country would do. Naturally it would not await the repetition of a slow development from guilds lacking work co-operation to manufacture without machine tools to the factory with machine tools but without steam engines to the large scale industry with its own boiler, but would pass directly to the building of electrical power stations, and, as far as possible, hydroelectric ones, using the modern methods of applied science to control water, creating heads of water later to be distributed in given amounts, clearly fixed in a plan of the project, to individual factories that were to produce manufactured goods for consumption.

The same mercantile motive as that of competition on the world market in the acquisition of what is indispensable for such plant thus operates for the supposed authority because subsequently every other way would be more costly and would imply greater funding and savings “on imports”.

The pretended differences between Russian capitalism and the one which developed, let us say, in England, France, Germany and America, thus do not consist in and do not mean a step towards a different social form which escapes from the despotic factory system and the social division of labour and the frantic work intensity, but instead consist in the most rapid and direct way of arriving at this very system.

History is there to tell us that on December 22-29th. 1921 at the Eighth Congress of the Soviets, the foundations were laid for planned industrialization, adopting the electrification programme of which, it is noted, Lenin was a chief proponent.

Thought and history

Despite the availability to man of new powerful means provided by the domination of electrical energy, the social law of transition from one type of production to another has not been broken. Autonomous or centrally planned, steam or electrified, the productive mechanism under construction in the USSR is capitalist.

Can the discoveries of pure and applied science emerging from the human brain change and form the course of history? We can ask ourselves if the form of atomic power, given that in a handful of material which is now inert there lie millions more horse power and kilowatts than in the entire course of a huge river, permits the return to local autonomous factories and to the “liberal” economy, with an analogous human ideology. That cannot happen and, besides, the means to unleash such an eruption of energy, breaking open the first nuclei, consists in energy from an electro-mechanical source at such a voltage, a thousand times higher than those of the industrial motor which enslaves human arms and brains, that no group of capitalists, but only the political State is placed at its control.

The immense path leads from the modest horse, first a beast of burden, then horse power, which turned the spinning machine, to the millions of volts in the huge “cyclotron”. But Marx had already recalled in the section we have studied that Descartes and Bacon, for whom work animals were “machines” and who were ideological precursors of capitalism, sustained that «altered methods of thought would result in an alteration in the shape of production, and practical subjugation of nature by man». Descartes in his Discourse sur la methode makes the prophecy that: «in place of the speculative philosophy taught in the schools, one can find a practical philosophy by which, given that we know the powers and the effectiveness of fire, water, air, the stars... as well and as accurately as we know the various trades of our craftsmen, we shall be able to employ them in the same manner as the latter to all those uses to which they are adapted...» thereby contributing «to the perfection of human life» (79).

From Marx onwards, we have placed such a realization at the end of the difficult historical course, but we do not sustain that the creative forces of thought generate new productive forces, rather that the development and conflict of social processes are reflected in the conquests of thought.

It is therefore useless to use the will, dream or illusion or the hundred ways of deforming thought and opinion to change the name of the fact and of the inexorable process, and to pretend that merely by exporting the “mechanical intelligence” of modern capitalism, an obedient Cartesian pupil who goes further than his master, one can succeed in identifying a system of capitalist compression of man and labour with the perfection of life; for which – at the present moment in history – the work of the mind in inadequate, and instead one needs another social war, conducted by men against men, classes against classes.

(1) Cf Panorama Mensile No.3, March 1985 and La Repubblica 17.10.85 and 22.1.87
(2) Vito Fumigali Terra e società nell’Italia padana: I secoli IX e X (Torino 1976) pp 8-9
(3) ibid p 10 and p 21 fn. 29
(4) Bruno Vecchio Il bosco negli scrittori italiani del settecento e dell’età napoleonica (Torino, 1974) p 55
(5) Ferdinand Braudel The Wheels of Commerce (London 1983) p 240
(6) Giornale d’ItaliaVII Dicembre 1770, pp 194-9 and Gennaio 1771 pp 234 et seg. quoted in Vecchio cit. pp 79-80
(7) Emiliano Sereni Storia del Paesaggio agrario italiano (Roma-Bari, 1982) p 237
(8) Lucio Gambi, introduzione to Vecchio cit. pp xi-xii
(9) ibid p xii
(10) Stefano Jacini I Risultati della Inchiesta Agraria (1884) (Torino, 1976) p 162
(11) ibid
(12) quoted in La Boje: moti contadini e società rurale padana nel secondo ottocento (Mantova, 1984) and in Renato Zangheri Agricoltura e contadini nell storia d’Italia (Torino, 1977) p 268
(13) Storia della sinistra comunista I (Milano, 1972) p 52
(14) The specific assertion is in La Boje cit. p 66
(15) Note by Mario Fabbri to Le catastrofi naturali sono prevedibili by Marcel Roubault (Torino, 1973) p 38
(16) Article in La Stampa (Torino) 29.8.84: article in La Repubblica (Roma) 28.2.84; CNR publications.
(17) Capital Vol. I (Harmondsworth, 1976) p. 649. The following quotation is on pages 649-50.
(18) In 1176 the Lombard Communes defeated the Emperor Barbarossa at Legnano.
(19) Line where opposite slopes meet at the bottom of a valley.
(20) Floods in June and July in Kansas and Missouri caused dozens of deaths and left many homeless.
(21) Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale: the antifascist front towards the end of the second world war, going from the Communist Party to the monarchists.
(22) On March 18th 1876, the last “destra” government fell and the “sinistra”, based on regional interests, took over. There was, however, little political difference as the two parties transformed into two almost identical schools of thought.
(23) Platonic and wasteful body or enterprise, especially public.
(24) Roughly 1901 to 1914.
(25) La proprieta fondaria e la populazione agricola in Lombardia (Milan, 1854 - not 1857 as in the original). Stefano Jacini (1826-91) agronomist, head of the Inchiesta Agraria e sulle condizioni delta classe agricola (1884). Minister of public works under Cavour (1860) and again in 1864-and 1867. Gian Domenico Romagnosi (1761-1835) jurist and philosopher. Considered to be the main inspiration behind the juridical and administrative system adopted by the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946).
(26) Alberto De Stefani was the Minister of Finance and the Treasury from 1922 to 1925 when he was removed after pressure from financial and industrial groups. He remained a fascist and was tried after the war for this, being acquitted. The article quoted was published in Il Tempo (Rome) on 21.11.51. It reiterates what he had previously written when still a minister: «As one reads on, one will see the path taken since the Kingdom’s foundation to the present of the various legislative attempts, of citizens’ sacrifices and their real value, of the excellence of provision and execution, of the defectiveness and deviations which the interest of the State and nation sometimes had to suffer because of the upper hand gained by political or particular or special interests». (L’azione dello Stato per le Opere Pubbliche 1862-1924, Rome 1925 p. vii)
(27) «The first capitalist nation was Italy» (Engels, Preface to the Italian Edition of The Communist Manifesto)
(28) Luigi Einaudi, President of Italy 1948-55.
(29) Potemkin had constructed prefabricated villages to show Catherine II on her tour of the Russian countryside. They gave the impression of rural prosperity, but after each visit they were hastily dismantled then reassembled elsewhere on the tour.
(30) In early 1951 Vanoni introduced personal income tax to Italy. This tax entered the Guinness Book of Records as the ’least paid tax in the world’. Still today tax evasion is widespread. (cf. llth. ed., 1963, p 107)
(31) Maramaldo killed the dying General Ferrucci in 1530, the last act of Florentine independence. The British equivalent is Ivo of Ponthieu who hacked at the dying King Harold at Hastings. But he was «branded with ignominy by William and expelled from the army» (Cesta Regum Anglorum). The chivalry of nascent feudalism contrasts favourably with the squalid unscrupulousness of early capitalism.
(32) Capital Vol. I P. 345
(33) ibid. p. 289
(34) See below pp. 30-36.
(35) Monselice: the nearest stone quarries to the Po. Carrara: the main centre of marble production in Italy.
(36) The article refers to the start of the Korean War.
(37) The “communist” and “catholic” union leaders of the period respectively.
(38) The European Recovery Programme, the “Marshall Plan”.
(39) i.e. Stalin
(40) In 1917, the Italian army was forced back to the Piave river after the front broke at Caporetto (now Kobarid) on the Isonzo (now Soca). In the Third War of Independence, the Italians having previously made an alliance with Prussia against Austria (8.4.1866), lost both on land (Custoza) and by sea (Lissa). Prussia, however, prevailed, and the good offices of Napoleon III assured Italy of Venetia all the same. The Adige and Mincio are two rivers on the Po plain.
(41) In fact «The names of rivers, lakes and mountains are generally masculine. (...) Exceptions are, however, frequent due to old reasons, thus la (fem.) Piave (and in modern and local use) il (masc.) Piave». Alfredo Panzini Grammatica italiana (Palermo, 1982 (1933)) PP. 34-5.
(42) Literally “bad step”.
(43) In Italian orrido, which means both gorge and horrible, fearful etc..
(44) Erroneously given as 1906 in the text.
(45) Both have since been retired. The former is now a University, the latter was destroyed by fire.
(46) i.e. Togliatti
(47) Cf. il programmea comunista nos. 21-3, 1953 and 1-12, 1954. The series is republished as Mai la merce sfamerà l’uomo (Milan, 1979). In this volume see pp. 259-61 as regards Ribolla.
(48) i.e. The European Coal and Steel Community.
(49) Reference to the Russian Foreign Minister at the conference to settle the Suez affair. The Twentieth Party Congress was in February 1956. The Suez affair was finally settled in Rome in 1958 with payment of compensation.
(50) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon in Marx Engels Collected Works Vol. XI (Moscow, 1979) p. 185.
(51) Cf. Bussole impazzite (compasses struck with madness).
(52) Proprietà e capitale (Iskra, Milan, 1980) p. 130
(53) Henry Kaiser proposed “social capitalism” with workers sharing the profits
(54) Reference to the Stalin-Kruschev attempt to increase corn yields.
(55) A bulletin issued in September 1951 by the group that later became the French section of the International Communist Party. Chaulieu = Castoriadis, a founder of the group Socialisme ou barbarie.
(56) “Il rovesciamento della prassi” now in Partito e classe (Milan, 1972) pp. 120-1, 130. «This theory (of the descending curve) comes from gradualist reformism: there are no drops, shaking or leaps» (Point 4).
(57) Reference to the Stalin-Khruschev attempt to increase corn yields.
(58) Don Sturzo: former priest, leader of the catholic right in the Christian Democrats, opposed to the corruption in the party and the State. INA (Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni) launched in 1912 to become the State monopoly, liberal opposition led to it being made into a quango but maintaining «greater autonomy and more strikingly a private type of internal structure than State bodies» (Candeloro Storia dell’Italia moderna, Milan, 1974, Vol. VII, p. 307). It could therefore operate in the way described in the text below.
(59) Cf. fn. 30 above.
(60) Capital Vol. I, p. 302. The final quotation from Goethe’s Faust, is more correctly translated as «as if its body were by love possessed».
(61) Capital Vol. I p. 492
(62) ibid. p. 508
(63) ibid. p. 494
(64) ibid. p. 509
(65) ibid. p. 544
(66) ibid. p. 545
(67) ibid. p. 548
(68) Galera means both galley and prison.
(69) ibid. p. 548
(70) ibid. p. 550
(71) ibid. p. 569
(72) ibid. p. 569 (quoting Dickens)
(73) ibid. p. 619
(74) ibid. p. 619
(75) ibid. p. 635
(76) ibid. p. 607
(77) ibid. p. 779
(78) Murat introduced Napoleonic legislation to Southern Italy.
(79) ibid. p. 513