Note for Readers of the First English Edition, 2023
The text we are presenting here in the English language appears to be quite irregular in the extension of the various chapters. It was actually published in our theoretical journal of the time, “Prometeo”, over a long period, from issue 10, series 1 (June‑July 1948), to issue 3, series 2 (July 1952). Thus, only the chapters from 1 to 6, and chapter 17, can be considered fully developed; the others are more or less large summaries.
The intention was eventually to develop the summarized chapters. However, this could not be done immediately, but the subjects were to be addressed in other general, organic party works, especially those in the 1950s that would deal with Soviet Russia, which the Party is translating and publishing.
“Property and Capital”, nonetheless, does not lose in any way its importance and central position among fundamental party texts.
The question of property, which is always at the heart of party propaganda, is a subject easily understood by proletarians approaching the party, and whose abolition will be a central objective of the dictatorship of the proletariat following the seizure of power. Nevertheless resents itself in less simple forms than one might commonly imagine; forms that are some‑times compound, which will have multiple consequences both in the course of the struggle for the conquest of power, and in the path that will follow to realize the communist society.
The text we present here, published over a period immediately after the end of the Second World Massacre, is an initial contribution to the re‑establishment of the correct cornerstones of Marxism, at a time when the major Stalinist parties were bending the true revolutionary doctrine to the demands of reconstruction, of the subjugation of the class to the interests of the bourgeoisie, of the directing of the generous energies of the proletariat towards the acceptance of the democratic/republican society, presented as a historic achievement of resistantial anti‑fascism.
This deliberate theoretical illumination, fortified by the bedrock of Marxist science, has not only equipped us to delve profoundly into the intricate property question, dissecting it comprehensively in all its multifaceted forms and definitions, but has also empowered us to ruthlessly dismantle the bourgeois and reformist misconceptions surrounding property that have long obstructed the revolutionary path.
Within the pages of this text, we grapple with pivotal matters, most notably debunking the fallacious labeling of State capitalism as Communism and delving into the true nature of nationalization. Yet, our exploration extends beyond the confines of present‑day concerns: it ventures into the realm of to‑morrow’s challenges, concretely outlining the contours of a future society, the formation of a communist order.
In the context of State capitalism and nationalization, we confront head‑on the claim that adopting nationalization serves as a path to addressing societal needs and represents a transition toward a socialist society. This thesis, widely championed by the contemporary left, remains largely unaltered, asserting that the final political revolution is yet to come.
Furthermore, it is incorrect to assert that Marxists have avoided providing concrete details about the characteristics of future societal organization following their critique of Utopian systems. Revolutionary movements traditionally identify and aim to eliminate traditional forms hindering progress, much like the abolition of slavery or feudal serfdom in the past. In our case, we advocate for the abolition of wage labor, equating it to ending private ownership of the means of production, extending to the abolition of ownership of products, the commodity nature of goods, money, the market, and the separation between companies, as well as the dissolution of class divisions and the State.
Through examination, it becomes evident that contemporary human activity underscores the feasibility and necessity of communism, poised to become a historical reality. This realization does not hinge on State control over production, industry, or land assets but emerges when we break free from the traditional “mercantile equation” that calculates labor expended against value produced.
This departure from traditional economic norms extends to the very core of the communist party. The communist party, as an organic fighting body, mirrors the structure of the future communist society.
Capitalist society already contains the new communist social order within it. Under favorable conditions, created by the ongoing crisis of capitalism, this material potential will allow the proletariat to attain its inevitable goal of statehood and the ultimate dissolution of the class itself.
At the time of the penning of this introduction, a century has passed since the anti‑revolutionary turn of the Russian government in 1926, when the proletariat was robbed of its rightful revolutionary party and its class organs smashed to pieces.
As the class now begins to dust itself off, after a century of immobilization, defeat, darkness, and massacre it is now more important than ever that we address the issue of property. This question, brought now and scrutinized with ruthless examination, will be addressed in full materiality when the workers movement reaches full maturity, that is, after the proletariat organizes in its class unions and when the best working class elements join the ranks of the revolutionary party.
Socialism has always been defined, with a simple formula justified by the needs of propaganda, as the abolition of private property, adding to this the specification: of the means of production, and then another: of the means of exchange.
Although this formula is incomplete and not entirely adequate, it should not be rejected. But the old and recent fundamental questions about personal, collective, national and social property make it necessary to clarify the issue of property in respect of the historical theoretical antithesis and struggle between capitalism and socialism.
Every economic and social relationship is projected into legal formulations, and starting from this position the Manifesto says that communists bring the “property question” to the fore at every stage of the movement, because they bring the production question to the fore, and more generally that of production, distribution and consumption, i.e. that of the economy.
In an era when the great historical antithesis between the feudal and bourgeois regimes first appeared as a conflict based on ideology and legal rights, rather than as an economic relationship and a change in the forms of production, it was impossible not to put the legal form of proletarian economic and social claims in the sharpest relief, even in the most elementary utterances. In the fundamental passage of the preface to the Critique of Political Economy Marx sets out the doctrine of the contrast between the forces of production and the forms of production and immediately adds: «or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto».
The correct meaning of the legal formulation can therefore only be based on the correct presentation of the productive and economic relations that socialism seeks to break.
Therefore, insofar as it is useful to adopt the language of the current science of law, it is a question of recalling the discriminating characteristics of the capitalist type of production – which must be defined in relation to the types of production that preceded it – and further distinguishing within these characteristics between those which socialism will preserve, and those which it will have to overcome and suppress in the revolutionary process. This distinction must obviously be established in the field of economic analysis.
Capitalism does not coincide with property. Various socio-economic forms that preceded capitalism had their own specific institutions of ownership. We will see at once that it was convenient for the new system of production to base its legal framework on formulas and canons derived directly from previous regimes, despite the fact that in those regimes the relations of appropriation were very different. And no less elementary is the thesis that in the socialist vision capitalism appears as the last of the economies founded on the legal form of property, so that socialism in abolishing capitalism will also abolish property. But that first abolition, and, to put it better, violent and revolutionary suppression, is a clearly dialectical relationship, as stated with greater fidelity to our own Marxist language, than the abolition of property of a somewhat metaphysical and apocalyptic flavor.
Let us, however, refer back to the start of our well‑known concepts. Property is a relationship between man, the human person, and things. Jurists call it the faculty to dispose of the thing in the most extensive and absolute way, and classically to use and abuse it. It is known that we Marxists do not like these eternal definitions, and we could better give a dialectical and scientific definition of the right of property by saying that it is the power of another person or group to “prevent” a human person from using a thing.
The historical variability of the relationship can be seen, for example, in the fact that for centuries and millennia the same human person was susceptible to being himself the object of property (slavery). On the other hand, we have proved a thousand times, by referring to the primitive communist society in which property did not exist, since everything was acquired and used in common by the first human groupings, that the institution of property cannot claim the apologetic prerogative of being natural and eternal.
In the relative primordial economy, or you could say, pre‑economy, the relationship between man and thing was as simple as possible. Because of the limited number of human beings and the limited range of needs, which are barely greater than the animal need for food, the things that satisfy these needs, which the law later called goods, are made available by nature without limit and the only productive act is to take them when they are needed. They are limited to the fruits of wild vegetation and later to hunting and fishing and so on. There were useful objects in abundance, there were not yet “products” that came out of an embryonic physical, technical, manufacturing intervention of man on the material offered by the natural environment.
With work, the technology of production, the increase in population, and the shortage of free virgin land on which to expand, distribution problems arise, and it becomes difficult to cope with all the demands for the use and consumption of products. Conflict arises between individual and individual, tribe and tribe, people and people. There is no need to recall these stages of the origin of property, that is, the appropriation of what has been produced through the work of humans and communities for consumption, for building up reserves, for the initial exchange to satisfy other, ever‑expanding needs.
Commerce appears in various processes, things that were formerly only objects of use become merchandise, currency appears, and exchange value is superimposed on use value.
We have to understand, in the various peoples and in the various periods of history, how productive technology evolved with regard to the capacity of human work to be applied to objects or raw materials, what was the mechanism of production and distribution of productive acts and efforts among the various members of society, how did the circulation of products play out from hand to hand, from house to house, from country to country with respect to consumption. We can move on from these facts to understand the corresponding legal forms, which tended to coordinate the rules of these processes, assigning their regulation to given organizations, together with the possibility of imposing constraints and sanctions against transgressors.
Just as the ownership of things or commodities for consumption and the ownership of slaves does not go back to primitive humanity, the same applies to the ownership of the soil, that is to say, the land and all that man adds to it and builds upon it, immovable property, as it is referred to in law. Such property, in its privately owned form, comes later than movable property and slaves, because at the beginning everything that is not commonly owned is at least attributed to the head of the familial grouping or tribe or city and region.
But even if we want to dispute that all peoples started from this first communistic form and even if we want to talk ironically about such a “golden age”, the analysis that interests us about the derivation of the legal institution from the stages of technology is not affected by it, and it is enough to refer to the great importance that Engels and Marx placed on these studies on prehistory from the very start, pushing us to go much further.
If we limit ourselves to the skeletal outlines and the things known to all, the relations as to the ownership of the consumable and otherwise usable movable object, of the slave or serf, and of the land, this will suffice to define the fundamental outlines of successive historical types of class society.
Property, says the jurist, arises from ownership. He says this with immovable property (real estate) in mind, but the formula also applies to ownership of the slave and the commodity object. In fact, “movable things belong to the possessor”. No less obvious is the transition from possession to ownership. If I have anything in my hands, in general even another man or a piece of land (in which case I do not literally hold it with my hands – nor do I constantly hold the man and the commodity in my hands) without another being able to replace me, I am the possessor. Material possession, still. But possession becomes legitimate and lawful, and is elevated to the right of ownership, when I have the possibility, against a potential claimant or troublemaker, of obtaining the support of the law and authority, that is, the material force organized through the State, which will come to protect me. For movable property or goods, mere possession proves legal ownership until someone proves that I have taken the thing from him by force or fraud. For the slave in the well‑ordered states there was a family registry that registered him or her with the master. For real estate, even in modern times, the legal machinery is much more complex, depending on titles in given forms and public records, and so the legal control of transfers of ownership is more complex. However, material possession is always a great resource for its expeditious effect, and the law defends it in the first instance, unless in the second there comes the difficult full investigation of the property right. It is said as a legal paradox that even the thief can ask the law for possessory protection, if thrown out (perhaps by the actual owner, for theoretical absurdity), and the shrewdest legal advocates say that all codes can be reduced to just “article five, he who holds has won” (“articolo quinto, chi tiene in mano ha vinto”).
Thus, at the basis of any property regime there is a material reality about the appropriation of property in general. The slave’s children remained with the master, and if they escaped, he could have the law chase them back to him.
Under the medieval feudal regime, the method of production using slave labor and the related legal framework governing the ownership of human beings generally appears to be abolished. The disposition of agrarian land takes on a more complex form than that of classical Roman law, in that a hierarchy of lords is laid upon it, culminating in the political sovereign, who distributes land to dependent vassals within a highly complex legal regime. The economic basis is agricultural work by means not of slaves, but of serfs, who are no longer the object of true ownership and alienation from master to master, but who cannot in general leave the fief on which they work with their families. Who appropriates the products of labor? The serf appropriates a certain part, generally being granted a small plot of land, the fruits of which must suffice to feed himself and his own, while he is required to work alone or with others on the much larger lands of the lord, the more abundant produce of which is delivered to the latter. Such work was bonded labor. In more recent forms the serf is more like a homesteader in that all the land of the feudal lord is divided into small family farms, but a large share of the product of each is rendered to the master.
In this regime the worker has a partial right to use the products of his labor to consume as he pleases. Partial insofar as it is impacted by the payment of tributes, whether in labor time or in foodstuffs, to the feudal master, the clergy and so on.
Non‑agricultural production has little development, due to the still underdeveloped technology, poor urbanization and the general primitiveness of people’s lives and needs. But the workers producing manufactured objects are free men, that is, not bound to the place of birth and work. They are the artisans, shackled by organizational fetters and guild rules, but nevertheless economically completely autonomous. In artisan production, of the small and minimal enterprise and workshop, we have the worker’s ownership of several kinds of goods: the uncomplicated tools of his labor, the raw materials he buys to process them, and the manufactured products he sells. Apart from the burdens of guilds and communes and given feudal rights over villages, the artisan works only for himself and enjoys the fruit of all the time and all the result of his labor.
The circulation network of this social system is scarcely intricate. The great mass of farm workers consume what they produce in the place where they work and sell only a small amount to buy the limited items of clothing or other things they use. Artisans and merchants trade with peasants and with each other mostly within narrow circles of towns, villages and countryside; a small minority of privileged lords draw the objects of their enjoyment from greater distances, and until a few centuries ago were themselves virtually ignorant of forks and soap etc., to say nothing of a hundred other things used by everyone today.
Gradually, however, the foundations of the new capitalist era were being laid, with technical and scientific discoveries enriching the processes of product handling in a thousand ways, with geographical discoveries and the inventions of new means of transportation of people and goods continually widening the reach of circulation and the distances between the places where products are manufactured and those where they are used.
The progress of these transformations is extremely varied and can entail both inexplicable sluggishness and overwhelming growth. While from the beginning of the modern epoch already millions of consumers were learning about and using previously unknown and exotic spices and commodities, causing new needs to emerge (coffee, tobacco, etc., etc.) it was still possible at the time of World War I to hear that a lady from Calabria, a large landowner, had in one year spent a total of “one penny” for needles, everything else being provided by her estate.
Having arrived at this solid position based on the recollection of these few signs, deliberately simplified but attempting to put the right words in their proper place, let us ask what are the real characteristics that differentiate the new capitalist production and economy and the bourgeois regime for which it provides the basis. And we see at once, in what really constitutes the transformation that the new technological systems, the new forces of production placed at man’s disposal, induce after a long and hard struggle in the relations of production, that is, in the possibilities and faculties of appropriation of the various goods, as opposed to what took place in the previous, feudal and artisan society.
We will thus begin to clearly establish the basis of our further inquiry into the actual relations between the capitalist system and the form of the appropriation of various goods: ready-to-consume commodities, tools of labor, land, houses and various fixed installations, and extend it to the process of the development of the capitalist era and that of its end.
The rise of the capitalist economy in its effects on property relations appears not as an establishment of private property rights, but as their widespread abolition. The thesis formulated in this way should appear neither strange nor new, as it is entirely in accordance, in substance and in form, with Marx’s exposition.
With regard to the feudal landlords, the bourgeois revolution consisted in a radical abolition of privileges, but not in a suppression of the right of ownership over land. We should not think here of the revolution in the sense of a brief period of struggle, the measures against rebels and émigrés, or even the subsequent measures to suppress the privileges on the land of religious bodies but refer to the social economic content of the great transformation, which in its unfolding begins long before and ends long after the classic dates of insurrections, proclamations and promulgations of new statutes.
The advent of capitalism has the character of a wide‑ranging destruction of property rights with regard to the substantial class of small‑scale artisanal producers and to a large degree and especially in given nations, also at the expense of the working peasant owners.
The story of the birth of capitalism and primitive accumulation coincides with the story of the fierce, inhuman expropriation of producers and is delivered in the most finely sculpted pages of Capital.
The concluding chapter of the first volume, like other fundamental writings of Marxism, presents the future overthrow of capitalism as the expropriation of the erstwhile expropriators and even – but we shall deal with this in the latter part of this text – as a vindication of the erstwhile “property” destroyed and trampled underfoot.
For all this to be clearly understood it is precisely necessary to follow the investigation into the correct application of our method, and never to lose sight of the relations that run between the formulations of current language or law, and those specific to us Marxist socialists.
The explanation of the establishment of capitalism in the field of productive technology is related to the manifold refinements of the application of human labor to processed materials; it begins with the first technological innovations born on the workbench of the patient and skillful individual craftsman, runs through a formidable cycle with the rise of the first factories, working at first by hand, then based on the machines that are controlled by an operator but replace the hand of the worker, and later on with the use of powerful mechanical driving forces.
In modern times capitalism appears to us as the formidable complex of plants, constructions, works and machinery with which technology has covered the ground of the most advanced countries, and therefore it seems obvious to define the capitalist system as that of ownership and monopoly of these colossal modern means of production, a definition which is only partially accurate.
The technical conditions of the new economy consist of new methods based on the differentiation of tasks and the division of labor, but historically even before this phenomenon we have the simpler one of the coming together of many workers in a common place of work; they continue to work with the same technology and using the same simple tools they used when they were isolated and autonomous.
Thus, the truly distinctive character of innovation does not lie in the appearance of a possessor or conqueror of new equipment or great machinery, which, by producing the manufactured goods more easily, supplant traditional craft production. These large plants come later, since as Marx says, for simple cooperation, i.e., the grouping together of many workers, all that is needed is primitive premises that can be easily hired by the “master”, and indeed, in the “sweating system” workers can remain in their homes (domestic labor). The distinctive characteristic is therefore elsewhere; it is a negative characteristic, and therefore destructive and revolutionary. Workers have been deprived of the possibility of owning the raw materials and the tools of labor on their own behalf and are thus no longer the owners of what they produce by their labor and are no longer free to consume or sell it as they please. Therefore, to recognize an early capitalist economy in operation, it is sufficient for us to note that there are masses of artisan producers who have lost the ability to procure materials and tools – and, as a further condition, buying power has been concentrated in considerable volumes in the hands of new economic actors, the capitalists, enabling them on the one hand to hoard the materials and tools of labor, and on the other hand to purchase the labor power of artisans who have become wage earners, leaving the capitalists as the absolute possessors and owners of the product of labor in its entirety.
Corresponding to this second condition is the primitive accumulation of capital, whose origin is studied in other contributions to the knowledge of Marxism, and which arises from multiple historical and economic factors.
That the mere act of bringing workers closer together is enough to make the new system superior and enables it to supplant the old system is explained by the reduced effort involved in transportation and procurement, as well as the better utilization of the time that producers devote to the (still technologically very simple) stages of production. We have an initial breakthrough in performance compared with artisan labor in isolated workshops. But this is conclusively overtaken by further developments resulting from the division of labor. It is no longer the single craftsman, assisted by one or two apprentices, who assembles the manufactured product; rather, this arises from the successive contributions of different tradesmen, none of whom would know how to do it, nor be able to do it, alone. Further still, many of the most difficult operations previously done by hand after a long apprenticeship are carried out using a machine, and the same outcome in production is achieved with much less effort, in the physical and mental sense, expended by the operator.
Following this process we see the rapid expansion of the factory’s mass of equipment, which of course does not legally belong to the worker, just as when simple hand tools already did not belong to him (in general) in the initial stage either. But the legal ownership of these large facilities by the capitalist and employer is not a necessary condition; we have proved this by recalling that even before such facilities appeared, we had true social and economic capitalism with early manufacturing; we can observe many cases where, in the modern economy, the production plants are not the legal property of the business owner. For now, let it suffice to mention rents, concessions, contracts and so on in industry, and in agriculture the great capitalist tenancies.
The real circumstance that allows us to confirm the advent of capitalism thus lies, in addition to primitive accumulation, in the “violent separation of the producer from the tools and products of his labor”.
Capitalism, economically and socially, appears as a destruction of the workers’ ability to appropriate products, and their appropriation by capitalists.
With the loss of all rights over the goods produced, obviously the worker lost all rights over tools, raw materials and the workplace. These rights were an individual property relationship that capitalism destroyed, to replace them with a new right of appropriation, of ownership, which is necessarily a right over the products of labor, but not necessarily a similar right over the means of production. The legal ownership of the latter can also change without the company ceasing to be capitalist in character. What is more, the new kind of appropriation is not necessarily (since we are talking about capitalism in Marxist terms) a right of an individual and personal kind, as it was in the artisanal economy, which seldom extended beyond the confines of the family.
Capitalism, according to Marx – since we are merely expounding the doctrine as it has always been professed – is not only established by expropriation, but also establishes an economy and thus a type of social property. We could classically speak of personal property when it means the ownership of productive and economic activities by a single person, but when labor becomes the collective and associated function of many producers – which is a fundamental and indispensable feature of capitalism – ownership over the whole of the new enterprise is a fact of social scope and order, even if the legal title mentions only one person.
This concept, essential in Marxism, unfolds directly into that of the class struggle and the class antagonism inherent in the capitalist system. The appropriation of products by the employer, who no longer has slaves and serfs but “free” wage laborers, is a relationship that has shifted to the social level, and which no longer affects only the one master and one hundred workers, but the whole working class pitted against the new system of rulers, and the political force it founded with the new type of State. This social function is made clear in the Marxist law of accumulation and progressive reproduction of capital. The slave master and the feudal landowner derived their personal income from the surplus labor provided by their employees, but they could very easily consume it all without the economic system ceasing to function at the social level. The portion of the products of their labor left to the slaves and serfs was enough for them to survive and perpetuate the system. Therefore, the property right of the master of slaves and serfs is a true individual right. No less individual is the right of the free peasant and the artisan, who do not render surplus labor to anyone (there was not yet any taxation – in those regimes the State came “cheap”) and can consume all the fruits of their labor, which coincides with that of their meager possession of a little land or small workshop (in the sense of a business as opposed to the actual premises). The capitalist does indeed derive a profit from the unpaid surplus labor of his workers, whom he only pays enough to live on, but the fundamental feature of the new economy is not that he, in theory and according to the written law, can consume all the profit personally; instead, it is the general and social fact that capitalists must reserve an increasingly large part of the profit for new investments, for the reproduction of capital. This new and fundamental fact has more importance than that of profit consumed by those who do not work. While this relationship is more suggestive and has always lent itself more to counterpropaganda on legal or moral grounds against apologists for the bourgeois regime, the fundamental law of capitalism is for us the other, namely, the allocation of a large part of profit to the accumulation of capital.
Distinguishing features of the emergence of the capitalist economy are thus the accumulation, in the hands of a few individuals, of masses of means of acquisition, which can be used to purchase work materials and tools on the market, and the suppression of the very possibility of owning materials, tools and products of labor for the broad strata of autonomous producers.
In our Marxist language, this is valid to explain the genesis of the industrial capitalist on the one hand, and the masses of wage‑laborers with no income on the other. And this, we are wont to say, was the result of a social and political economic revolution.
However, we do not pretend that the bourgeoisie and neo‑capitalists accomplished the process by winning power in the civil war, and then enacting a law that said: it is forbidden for those who do not belong to the victorious capitalist class to buy raw materials, implements and machines and to sell manufactured products. Things happened quite differently. Today it is still not forbidden by law to be an artisan; not only that, but today, as capitalist accumulation accelerates its truly hellish pace before our very eyes, we see the fascists, national socialists and Christian socialists competing in their apologia for the artisan, in chorus with an old infatuation (béguin) of the Mazzinians. And the same must be said for the autonomous agricultural producer who owns his own plot of land.
The actual process of primitive accumulation was different, and it can be presented using the language of current philosophy and ethics, along with that of positive law, which is not a good fit with the language of Marxism.
Property as the right to dispose of the product of one’s own labor, in the early dawn of capitalism, was still defended by conservative ideologues and theologians, satirized by Marx for their embarrassment at the passage of property into the hands of those who do nothing. However, all their theories on the justification of capitalist profit from savings, abstinence and previous personal labor, failed to moralize the fact that the pin maker cannot pocket one when leaving the workshop without making himself guilty of grand larceny.
In the prevailing legal system, the ownership by a single person of a store, a factory, a stock of materials to be processed, as well as the finished products, was a property relationship excluded neither by the old codes of the feudal regime nor by those elaborated by the bourgeois revolution.
However, the socio-economic relationship is made clear in the light of Marxism by the consideration of the value of the product relative to the amount of labor-power required to make it. If that product can be produced in four hours when manufactured, whereas the artisan produces it in eight, the artisan, endowed with his full right of ownership, will be able to take it to the market, but he will collect a price reduced by half, with which he will not be able purchase enough to cover his daily subsistence. Since he cannot physically work sixteen hours a day, in order to balance his budget he will be forced to accept the capitalist’s conditions, that is, to work, say, twelve hours for the capitalist and hand over the products of his labor, receiving in wages the equivalent of six hours of work, with which he can live, albeit more miserably.
This brutal and fierce transition contains within itself the necessary condition for the progress of productive technology: only by subtracting from the artisan enslaved to capital that margin of value of his labor power can the social basis of capital accumulation be created, an economic fact that accompanies the technical one of the spread of manufacturing facilities and the means of production characteristic of the new scientific and mechanical age.
Why, then, did the establishment of the new system of production and appropriation of the fruits of labor have to, in order to triumph, break certain obstacles in the forms of production, i.e., in the property relations of the old regime? Because there existed a series of sanctions and limiting norms that were contradictory to the new requirements, i.e., the freedom of movement of capitalists, and the availability of a mass of competing suppliers of wage labor. On the one hand, the monopoly of State power by the nobility and the church exposed the first accumulators of capital, merchants, moneylenders or bankers, to the risk of continual harassment and sometimes spoliation; on the other hand, corporative laws and regulations left the bodies of master craftsmen in the cities with monopoly privileges over the production of certain manufactured articles and thus over their sale in given territories. And the masses of workers in industry could not have been formed except by freeing the serfs from serfdom and the apprentices and ruined artisan masters from the workshops.
Thus, the revolution did not lead to a new positive property code, but it was essential to abolish the old feudal laws that framed the relations of production and trade in the countryside and cities.
Considering the capitalist system as opposed to the feudal regime on whose ruins it arose, we must not see the foundation of a new property right, whether attributed to natural or legal persons, over the machine, the factory, the railroad, the system of canals or whatever, as its distinguishing feature.
Instead, we must see clearly what the discriminating features are, the true attributes of the capitalist economy, for otherwise we will not be able to follow with certainty the process of its evolution and judge the features of its overcoming.
With respect to the evolution of property relations, and remaining for now in the field of the right of ownership over movable things, as we shall say immediately afterwards about the ownership of land and fixed assets, the essential and necessary features of capitalism are as follows:
First. The existence of a market economy, in which workers must purchase all the basic necessities of life, in general terms.
Second. The impossibility for workers to appropriate and bring directly to market the movable things created as the products of their labor, that is, the prohibition of the worker’s personal ownership of the product.
Third. The payment to workers of the means to acquire the goods and services, generally in amounts less than the value added by them to the products, and the investment of a large part of that surplus in new facilities (accumulation).
Based on these basic criteria, it is necessary to look into whether personal title to ownership over the factory and production facilities is indispensable for the existence of capitalism, and whether there can be not only a purely capitalist economy without such ownership, but even whether at given stages it is convenient for capitalism to disguise it under other forms.
Such an investigation will have to be premised by some notable considerations regarding the economic importance and legal evolution of property rights over land, subsoil and topsoil by private individuals and firms in contemporary times.
Before delving into the topic of this research, which concerns the legal institutions of property accompanying the capitalist economy in its historical course, it is however necessary to recall again what have always been the true terms of the great socialist demand.
This consists historically, leaving aside the literary and philosophical hints of communism regarding goods that existed in pre‑bourgeois regimes ever since antiquity, and also related to special reflections on class upheavals, in the movement that has invested from its inception the social underpinnings of the capitalist regime and system. A movement of critique and combat, whose complete form is inseparable from the actual intervention in the social struggles of the wage‑earning working class and from its organization into an international class party adhering to the doctrine of the Communist Manifesto and Marx.
The socialist demand, enunciated millions of times in the pages of volumes of theory or in the modest words of speeches and agitational leaflets, cannot be alive and real unless the dialectical method of Marxism is applied, both in its simple immediacy and in its mighty depth.
The cry of protest against the absurdities, injustices, inequalities, and infamies with which the bourgeois capitalist regime is materially endowed is not enough to build the proletarian socialist demand. And in this sense the innumerable pseudo socialist or semisocialist postures of humanitarian philanthropists, utopians, libertarians, apostles, all of them more or less excited by new ethics and social mysticisms, were insufficient.
The cry of the proletariat and Marxism to the bourgeois regime is not a vade retro Satana! It is simultaneously a welcome, and in a given historical epoch an offer of alliance, as well as a declaration of war and a proclamation of destruction. An incomprehensible position to all those who base the explanation of history and its struggles on religious beliefs and moral systems, or more generally on non‑scientific and even unconsciously metaphysical methods, seeking in every event and at every stage of the history of human society the play of fixed criteria duly capitalized as Good, Evil, Justice, Violence, Freedom, Authority...
Of all the features of social organization that capitalism has brought into being with its advent, some are acquisitions that proletarian socialism not only accepts but without which it could not exist; others are forms and structures that it sets out to annihilate after their spread.
Its demands must therefore be defined in relation to the various points in which we have rearranged the typical elements, the distinctive features of capitalism at the time of its victory. This is a revolution, and it is a first general historical prerequisite for the advent of the regime for which socialists will fight. The almost immediate taking of an anti‑capitalist stance, no matter how radical and crude, does not have the character of a restoration, an apologia for pre‑capitalist conditions and forms in general. It is necessary today to reassert all this clearly, even though it is more than a century since the repeated efforts of our school have driven to the same end, for at every step in the history of the class struggle dangerous deviations have given rise to movements and doctrines that falsify very important positions of revolutionary socialism.
In the previous chapter we first recalled the well‑known technical-organizational characteristics of capitalist production as opposed to artisan and feudal production. As a whole, these characteristics are preserved and integrally claimed by the socialist movement. The cooperation of numerous workers in the production of the same type of object, the successive division of labor, that is, the allocation of workers among the various and successive stages of the production process, culminating in the same finished product, and the introduction into productive technology of all the resources of applied science with engines and operational machinery, are contributions from the capitalist epoch that we certainly do not propose to renounce and which will indeed be the basis of the new socialist organization. A no less important and irrevocable gain is the release of technological processes from mystery, secrecy and corporative exclusivity, a certain starting point, in the determinist view, of the difficult development of science from the ancient fetters of witchcraft, religions and philosophies. The demonstration that the bourgeoisie has implemented these advances by overpowering and barbaric methods and by plunging the productive masses into misery and wage‑slavery remains always essential. But this is certainly not to propose a return to the free production of the self‑employed artisan.
The moment he, together with the small peasant, was stripped of all possessions and reduced to a wage laborer, his immiseration came about and his resistance was overcome by violence. But the new criteria for organizing the productive effort made it possible to enhance its outcome and performance in the social sense. In spite of the industrial master’s levies, on the general scale the masses were enabled to satisfy new and more varied needs with the same labor time. Even before we consider the enormous advantages in productive output to which the division of labor and mechanization led, we consider a definite advantage and one from which we do not presume to exclude the simple economy of transportation, business operations and management which manufacturing leads to as compared with mere workshops. Every craftsman was the bookkeeper, cashier, salesman, and clerk for himself with enormous waste of labor time, while in the large factory one employee does this same service for every hundred workers. Any proposal for a new fragmentation of the productive forces concentrated by capital is reactionary for socialists. And we speak of productive forces not only in regard to the men engaged in the work we are now discussing, but also of course the masses of materials to be worked and processed, the tools of labor, and all the complex modern facilities useful for mass and serial production.
It should not be seen as a digression to note that the acceptance in the socialist demand of the progressive concentration of plants and workplaces as opposed to the small business economy, does not at all mean acceptance of that consequence of the capitalist system which consists in the accelerated technical industrialization of given areas while leaving others in retrograde conditions, and this as much country to country as city to country. This relationship historically subsists until the bourgeois regime has exhausted its phase of despoliation and reduction of the old productive classes to propertyless wage earners. Dialectically, the socialist position cannot fail to leverage the revolutionary leadership function of the workers whom capitalism has urbanized into huge masses, but tends to spread modern technical resources into all territories together with a modern way of life richer in expression, as we have enunciated since point 9 of the immediate program in the Manifesto: “gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country” without contrast, with all the other measures of a clearly centralizing nature in the organizational sense. The same criterion guides the socialist position on the relations between metropolises and colonies, which latter are to be relieved of their exploitation by the former, without forgetting that only capitalism and its developments could accelerate this result by centuries and centuries, although in this field it has exceeded all limits in the use of ruthless methods of conquest.
Having thus inherited the enormous development of the forces of production from the capitalist revolution, socialists set out to upset the corresponding apparatus of forms, relations of production, which is reflected in juridical institutions, and this after having accepted that proletarians, the fourth estate, fought in alliance with the bourgeoisie when it broke the forms and institutions of the previous regime, to found and consolidate its own, and to extend them into the advanced and backward world. But in what precise sense does our historical demand involve breaking down and overcoming those forms?
The capitalist productive revolution has violently separated workers from their product, from their instruments of labor, from all the means of production, in the sense that it has suppressed their right to dispose of them directly, individually. Socialism condemns this despoliation, but it certainly does not postulate giving back to every artificer his paraphernalia and the consumable object he fashioned with it, for him to go to the market and exchange it for his subsistence. In a sense, the separation brutally enacted by capitalism is historically final. But in our dialectical perspective this separation will be superseded on a more distant and broader plane. The paraphernalia and end product used to be at the individual disposal of the free and autonomous artificer; they have now passed to the disposal of the capitalist master. They will have to return to the producer class. It will be a social arrangement, not an individual or even a corporative one. It will no longer be a form of property, but of general technical organization, and if we wanted as of now to refine the formula by anticipating the process, we should speak of being at the disposal of society and not of a class, since such organization tends toward a form of society that is classless.
However, without for now talking about disposition and “ownership” by the individual over the object he is about to consume, we cannot include in the socialist demand the worker’s personal discretion over the object he has manipulated.
If the worker in a shoe factory under bourgeois rule takes away a shoe, he will not avoid jail time by proving that it matched his foot size well, and all the worse if he intended instead to sell it for say, bread. Socialism will not consist in allowing the worker to leave with a pair of shoes on his shoulder, but this is not because they were stolen from the master, but because it would constitute a ridiculously slow and cumbersome system of distributing shoes to everyone. And before we see in this a problem of law or morality, we see in it a materially technical problem, for which we need only think of the workers in a railroad wheel factory, or, to provide even more obvious examples that illustrate the revolutions to which the innovations of technology and life are leading, we need only think of people who work in power plants or a radio transmitter stations, and have no reason, as in a hundred other cases, to be searched on the way out...
Now the question of ownership over the complete or even semi‑finished product is actually the crucial one, and it is much more important than ownership over the production tool, factory, workshop or plant.
The real characteristic of capitalism is the allocation of products and the consequent power to sell them on the market to a private master. In general at the beginning of the bourgeois era this attribution derives from that of the mill, factory or plant to a private owner, the industrial capitalist, in a form treated legally like that which attributes ownership of agrarian land or of houses.
But such individual private property is a static, formal fact; it is the mask of the real relationship that interests us, which is dynamic and dialectical, and consists in the characters of the productive movement, in the grafting of the incessant economic cycles.
Thus the socialist demand, while it had to accept the substitution of associated labor for individual labor, proposed to suppress the attribution in private ownership of the products of collective labor to a single owner, head of the company, free to dispose of them at his pleasure. It logically expressed this postulate, relative to the whole economic dynamic, as abolition of the industrialist’s free private right over the productive plant.
However, this formulation is incomplete, even on the level to which we adhere in this paragraph, i.e., of the negative and destructive content of the socialist economic position, since it does not yet deal with the type of productive and distributive organization of the socialist regime, and the way to get there, in the field of economic measures and political struggle.
The formulation is incomplete in that it does not say what is required to happen to the other forms peculiar to the capitalist economy, having made it clear that the intention is to suppress the attribution of all final products in a complex organization to a single master of both the former and the latter.
In fact, the capitalist economy became possible because the separation of workers from means and products found a mercantile distributive mechanism already in place, so that the capitalist could take the products to the market and create the wage system, giving the workers a share of the proceeds so that they could obtain subsistence on that same market. The artisan approaches the market as both buyer and seller, whereas the wage‑laborer can approach the market only as a buyer, and with limited means, owing to the law of capital gain.
The socialist demand classically consists in abolishing the wage‑laborer. Only the abolition of the wage‑laborer leads to the abolition of capitalism. But being unable to abolish the wage laborer in the sense of restoring the absurdly backward figure of the worker as a seller of his product to the market, socialism, from its origins, calls for the abolition of the market economy.
As we have already mentioned, the mercantile framework for the distribution of goods preceded capitalism and encompassed earlier economies of all sorts, going all the way back to the one in which there was market for human persons (slavery).
Modern mercantile economy means monetary economy. Thus the anti‑mercantile demand of socialism equally entails the abolition of money as a medium of exchange as well as a means for the practical formation of capital.
Capitalism inevitably tends to resurrect in the economic environment of mercantile and monetary distribution. If this were not true, we could agree to tear up all the pages of Marx’s Capital.
The anti‑mercantilist assertion lies in all the texts of Marxism and especially in Marx’s polemics against Proudhon and all forms of petty-bourgeois socialism. It is to the credit of the communist program, drafted, albeit in a very verbose text, by Bukharin to have put this most vital point back into full relief.
But at the end of the previous section we set out a third distinctive point of capitalism compared with the regimes it vanquished: the deduction from the product of workers’ labor effort of a large share that is destined for the bosses’ profits, and above all the allocation of a major part of this share to the accumulation of new capital.
It is obvious that the socialist demand, if it wanted to take away from the bourgeois master the right to dispose of the product and take it to market, would take away his right over the ownership of the factory, and at the same time also the availability of capital gain and profit. More than a century ago it proclaimed that the wage laborer could be abolished, and this meant overcoming the kind of market economy that existed hitherto. By destroying the market for goods where the small medieval craftsman timidly arrived with a few manufactured articles, and where the products of modern collaborative labor arrive with the capitalist character of commodities, it is no less clear that the market for capital goods and the capital market itself, and therefore the accumulation of capital, are also destroyed.
But even all this does not suffice.
We have already said that in the process of accumulation there is a social side. We have recalled that in sentimental propaganda – and which of us socialists did not abuse it?... – we used to put forward the inequity, in the face of an abstract distributive justice, of the levy of capital gain going to the consumption of the capitalist or his family, to live on a far different standard of living than that of the workers. Abolition of profit, we cried out then, and it was most right. As right as it was little. For a hundred years bourgeois economists have been presenting us with the account showing that all the national income of a country divided by the number of its citizens gives one a living barely higher than the humble laborer. The account is accurate, but the refutation is as old as the socialist system, although one will never find a Pareto or Einaudi capable of understanding it.
The various provisions that the capitalist makes before drawing his last profit, with which he amuses himself, are partly for rational and for social purposes. In a collective economy, too, one will have to set aside products and tools in such portions as will preserve and advance general organization. In a sense there will be social accumulation.
Would we socialists then say that we want to substitute social accumulation for private personal accumulation? We still would not. If the capitalist’s consumption of a share of capital gain is a private matter, which we call for to be abolished, but is nevertheless of little quantitative weight, even capitalist accumulation is already a social matter, and a factor that tends to be useful to all on the social level.
Old economies that only hoarded have stood still for whole millennia, whereas the capitalist economy that accumulates has, in a few decades, increased the productive forces a hundredfold, working towards our revolution.
But the anarchy that Marx imputes to the capitalist regime lies in the fact that the capitalist accumulates by companies, by enterprises, which operate and live in a market environment.
This system, and we shall see more of this challenging but central techno-economic thesis in a few examples that follow, this system only strives to organize itself in pursuit of the maximum profit of the firm, which is frequently achieved by subtracting profits from other firms. At the outset, and here the classical economists of the bourgeois school were right, the superiority of the large, organized firm over the super-anarchy of small production led to so much greater profitability that, in addition to the profit of the individual capitalist and an excellent provision for new plants and new progress, the worker in advanced industry placed dishes unknown to the small artisan on his table.
But by running each company as an entity closed in on itself with its own accounting of payments and receipts on the market with the aim of generating maximum profit, in the course of development the problems relating to the general performance of human labor are addressed badly, and things can even go backwards.
The capitalist system avoids posing the question of maximizing not profit but output for the same amount of effort and labor time, so that, having taken the shares of social accumulation, consumption can be enhanced, and labor, labor effort, and labor obligation reduced. Concerned only with realizing the marketability of the company’s product at a high price and paying as little as possible for the products of other companies, the capitalist system cannot come toward the general alignment of production to consumption and plunges into successive crises.
Thus the socialist demand aims to tear down not only the legal right and economy of private property but at the same time the market economy and the enterprise economy.
Only when we go in the direction that leads to overcoming all three of these forms of the present economy: private ownership of products, the money-based market and the organization of production by firms, can we be said to be moving toward socialist organization.
In what follows we will see how by suppressing any one of these the socialist objective is lost. The criterion of individual and personal private economy can be largely overcome even in the midst of capitalism. We fight capitalism as a class and not just capitalists as individuals. There is capitalism whenever products are taken to market or otherwise “accounted for” on the assets side of the business, understood as a distinct economic island, albeit a very large one, whereas wages are on the liabilities side of the balance sheet.
Bourgeois economics is double-entry economics. The bourgeois individual is not a man, he is a firm. We want to destroy every firm. We want to suppress the double-entry economy and to establish the simple-entry economy, which history already knows from the time when the troglodyte went out to pick as many coconuts as he had companions in the cave and went out bearing only his hands.
We already knew all this in 1848, which does not prevent us from continuing to say it with youthful ardor.
We shall see that many things have happened for a hundred years in the interplay of the relations under consideration, all of which have made us even tougher in upholding the same theses.
After warning the reader that even the general pronoun becomes, in the socialist system, a social pronoun.
Immovable property, in the current meaning, is land and the man‑made buildings and installations on it that are not transportable from place to place. At the start of the capitalist regime, fixed assets could only consist of mainly agrarian land, residential buildings and factory buildings; only later, with the spread of fixed or transportable machinery, and then transport communication networks and the transmission and distribution of different types of energy, did increasingly complex cases arise in which the technical, social and legal distinction between fixed and movable assets gave rise to greater subtleties.
For clarity, we will focus at first on land ownership. The distribution of this in the last days of the feudal regime was rather complex, with the existence of areas of collective public property belonging to the commons or the State, large fiefdoms assigned by central political powers to families of the nobility, and also small independent properties of peasant farmers. The first form was a derivation of the very ancient communist management of land, subject to constant attack by the lords and the peasants, and the nascent bourgeoisie; it drew its origins primarily from the Germanic peoples and systems of law, among whom it developed through military and dynastic feudalism at the time of the migrations and invasions in the south.
The third form of the small autonomous property derived from the Roman empire and its law, in that Rome’s order in the mother country and in the conquered countries was based on the distribution of agrarian land to free citizens, soldiers in time of war, while there then subsisted other much larger parcels of land in the possession of the patrician class, who exploited them using the labor of masses of slaves, who were deprived of political rights but also exempt from the obligation of military service. In the Roman system, lacking both the communal management of land and the institution of a sovereign right that could move it at will from one lord to another, apart from State control in the subdivision of newly occupied territories, a precise delimitation and parcellation of land plots had been arrived at, classically governed by the civil law in force throughout the empire and historically regulated in the Eastern Empire as well. Having thus referred to the two collateral forms of feudal property, let us now observe what the characteristics of feudal property are. It is the victorious leader, the chosen one of a group of allied chiefs and princes, then the absolute monarch and also the ecclesiastical hierarchy who allocate and partition authority among the various lords and vassals, distributed in successive orders of hierarchy, arbitrarily and frequently fixing and changing the limits of each jurisdiction. Within these more or less intricate forms the whole assemblage of warriors, lords and priests lives off the labor of the peasant masses, who are bound not to abandon the fiefdom to which they belong.
As Marx repeatedly observes, the legal relationship between the holder of the fief, and the accompanying noble title, and the mass of the families of his serfs, prevails in this social system more than that between the landowner and the land. It matters less to the lord to have a lot of land than it does to have many serfs, as a certain part of the product of the labor of all of them is at his disposal. Another cornerstone of the feudal system is that however bad his economic management, the lord cannot lose his fief; it cannot be alienated, it cannot be expropriated, and the system giving ownership to the eldest son also avoids its hereditary subdivision, an important institution, by contrast, in the Roman system. As a result, and at least as far as the huge expanses of land subject to feudal investiture are concerned, there is no market for land; land cannot be exchanged for money.
This assessment of the pre‑bourgeois regime, which is our starting point for evaluating the position of triumphant capital with respect to land ownership, is fundamental to Marxist analysis. Chapter XXIV of Capital states, with reference to the era of serfdom:
«In all the countries of Europe feudal production is characterized by the distribution of land among as many vassals as possible. The power of the feudal lord, like that of any ruler, rested not on the length of his rent register, but on the number of his subjects, and this depended on the number of small independent farmers».
Since we would not want it to seem as though we are drawing new or original insights from these premises, we also recall, regarding the relationship between soil and money, a fundamental passage from Chapter II of Capital:
«Men have often made man himself into the primitive material of money, in the shape of the slave, but they have never done this with the land and the soil. Such an idea could only arise in a bourgeois society, and one which was already well developed. It dates from the last third of the seventeenth century, and the first attempt to implement the idea on a national scale was made a century later, during the French bourgeois revolution».
Modern capital is thus not the same thing as property in general, and it is not enough to abolish this, in theory and in law, to have eradicated it. Capital is a social force whose dynamics have far more complex aspects than a Platonic property right. It shows up as opposed to traditional land ownership, and one of the main elements of the antithesis is that while the latter is truly personal, the former goes outside the limits of the private individual’s faculty:
«Historically speaking, capital invariably first confronts landed property in the form of money; in the form of monetary wealth, merchants’ capital and usurers’ capital»,
says Marx in Chapter IV, to establish that mercantile circulation has money as its final product and that this is the first form under which capital appears (which we will later encounter as a factory, as machinery, as a supply of raw materials, as a mass of wages). In one of the evocative notes to the text it is then said:
«The antagonism between the power of [feudal] landed property, based on personal relations of domination and servitude, and the power of money, which is impersonal, is clearly expressed in the two French proverbs: “Nulle terre sans seigneur” and “L’argent n’a pas de maître”».
The sense then of the modern economy succeeding the destruction of feudal relations is encapsulated in another quote we will draw from Chapter XXII:
«We arrive, therefore, at this general result: by incorporating with itself the two primary creators of wealth, labor-power and land, capital acquires a power of expansion that permits it to augment the elements of its accumulation beyond the limits apparently fixed by its own magnitude. or by the value and the mass of the means of production which have already been produced, and in which it has its being».
When Marx then deals extensively with the interregnum of prosperity that lies in English history between the abolition of medieval serfdom and the brutal onset of large scale capitalist accumulation, which founded bourgeois wealth on the rampant ruthless misery of the masses, another note reminds us that the Japanese society of the time, with a feudal organization of land ownership flanked by widespread small rural property, offered a more faithful picture of the European Middle Ages than history books imbued with bourgeois prejudices.
Let the punchline in this note by Marx give a slap to the thick-skinned faces of opportunist contemporaries, who are horror-stricken whenever they claim (in their immeasurable asininity) that the medieval order is about to return, endangering the civilized achievements of the capitalist era and who have forgotten how else to knead together their bastardized combinations of bourgeois ideals and socialist positions. «It is far too easy to be “liberal” at the expense of the Middle Ages».
In the last years of the ancien régime, when the power of the bourgeoisie in the economic field was already significant, the liquid capital gathered in the hands of merchants and bankers exerted violent pressure to suppress the obstacles that prevented them from taking possession of real estate. Undoubtedly, the central fact of capitalist accumulation consists in using the money that has been piled up to supply the raw materials and pay the subsistence wages of the laborers who work on them. But it is also necessary for the formation of the first factories to have workplaces and acquire buildings to be converted into manufacturing plants and land to be able to build on them. Moreover, the new wealth-owning class is driven to compete with the old feudal lords whom it aspires to surpass and dispossess even in having houses, palaces and agrarian land at its disposal, while the enriched tenant farmers tend to remove themselves from a position of dependence by acquiring the landlord’s property and exercising as absolute masters the agricultural enterprise which, as Marx repeatedly notes, is a veritable industry.
All of the history and literature of the last periods before the bourgeois revolution are full of the manifestations of this struggle that the bourgeois, the enriched, the parvenus, conducted to compete even in prestige with the nobles. The latter, even when they are short of money and have to resort to wheeler-dealers and moneylenders to maintain their luxurious life, not only despise and humiliate those who live by trade and commerce, but the very law in force helps them in defending themselves against them, in denying the repayment of loans; a traditional scene is the vexatious creditor’s back being thrashed by the noble’s servants.
The third estate will not be able to free itself completely from this state of subjugation and inferiority except through the revolutionary conquest of political power, and until then it will in vain compete foolishly with the luxury of its class rivals, squandering the fruits of its speculations.
In Molière’s comedy The Bourgeois Gentleman we see the merchant who wants to pose as a nobleman being fiercely satirized. The playwright shows him mocked in a fake knightly investiture by a troupe of comedians, who sing to him in the kind of Italian particular to the commedia dell’arte: “Ti star nobile, non star fabbola, pigghiar schiabbola” [Be brave, don’t be a scoundrel, take the sword]. The bourgeois, as if to demonstrate well in advance the Marxist thesis that it is not work that allows one to accumulate capital, would like to gird the knight’s sword, and make us forget that he has handled the blacksmith’s hammer.
But soon the capitalist class made up for the humiliations of all the beatings and mockery by defeating the classes of nobles and priests in the social revolution, establishing its dominance and finding no further restraints to the expansion of its economic forces. The feudal property system then collapsed and the purchase of real estate by holders of monetary capital, who until then had been very unlikely to fulfill this particular need, became rampant. This is one of the most important features of the capitalist revolution, which, in the terse sentences of Karl Marx, came to «transform the ground into a pure commercial article”; just as it could boast of having freed the peasants from serfdom and the workers in the cities from the shackles of guilds in order to bring them into its own dependence and exploit them, it could also boast of having “incorporated the soil into capital”».
We could refer to this first consolidation period of victorious capitalism as the period of immobilization of movable capital, meaning immobilization as large-scale investment in the acquisition of property in arable land and urban buildings, an essential economic complement to the possession of large industrial means of production. This economic necessity became at the same time a political necessity, because in order to defeat the feudal lords and the demand for feudal restoration definitively, they had to be humiliated, even in the positions of prestige that they had acquired in the great metropolises, which had developed as a result of the emergence of capitalist forms, and in which the monarch and the courtiers, the military leaders and the churchmen occupied the stateliest homes. Another symbol of rule and prestige of those classes was to reserve large stretches of arable land in the counties for their various luxurious needs, their pleasures, hunting, summer recreation, religious life, etc., while for the bourgeois economy capital investment was a priority, both for further business investments as well as for the intensified production that provided the industrial workers’ army with the means of subsistence.
We wanted to recall this first period of acquisition of immovable property by capital, because, as we continue to work ahead, we will see that it is opposed to an ultra-modern period in which enterprise capital will become more and more detached from the ownership of immovable property (real estate, etc.) because it can exercise its functions in the best possible way and realize the formation of dizzying profits without needing to possess immovable goods locally and without, on the other hand, having to worry about them falling back into the hands of a now vanished lordship.
In the intermediate period of stable capitalism, which it is worthwhile examining briefly before coming to the analysis of this third, modern period to which we have alluded for the sake of clarity, the relations between property and the enterprise arise in a variety of ways. However, when the various economic forms and the corresponding social forces are carefully examined, it is always clear that the distinctive character of the capitalist era must be found in the enterprise and not in ownership.
We can only imagine the bourgeois of this first romantic period as a kind of sole patron in whose hands all the components and factors of production are concentrated. He owns the land on which the factory stands, as well as the mine that supplies him with iron ore, the factory where work is carried out, the machinery and the tools. He buys all the raw materials and all the accessories that go into the labor process, and by hiring the workers he buys labor power. He is therefore the exclusive owner of the entire product, which he sells where he believes it will bring him the most profit. He is a specialist in the manufacturing sector in which he also works himself, but nevertheless hires as his employees technicians and accountants. In this early period the so‑called overheads are rather low, since the workshop has to produce everything itself: light, heating and energy, and even the taxes to be paid to the State are hardly significant, because in the liberal regimes of that time the bourgeoisie applies the economic policy of the laissez faire, laissez passer and sweeps away all the barriers and taxes that may hinder its production and trading activities. The bookkeeping is therefore simple and unitary, and all the profit resulting from the surplus of revenues over expenses ends up in the pockets of the capitalist, who does not have to deduct any rents and leases from it for the rooms, facilities and buildings he uses. In this first classic case, the capitalist also has plenty of cash to be his own banker and therefore does not pay interest on the cash capital he needs for his purchases of goods and advances on wages.
If we wanted to look at the parallel of this business model in agriculture, we would find it when the farm manager is at the same time the proprietor of the land and of the dead stock and livestock, i.e. the machines, tools, seed and fertilizer supplies, livestock herds, etc., and he also has enough cash to advance the wages of the day laborers, or the workers employed yearly. In all these cases, the only active difference, which the proprietor realizes as an excess of the proceeds from the sale of the products over the sum of all the payments on account, includes the land rent, the interest on financial capital, and the profits of the enterprise; economic elements that can be considered distinct from each other.
The bourgeois economist sees them as separate because he says they come from sources, each of which is sufficient to generate wealth: the land as the producer of land rent, money as the producer of interest income and the enterprise as the producer of profit, which is the reward for the activity, skill and shrewdness of the person who has been able to bring together rationally the various components of production.
For the Marxist economist, all these surpluses are the result of human labor; they represent the difference between the value produced by labor and the lesser sum paid to wage‑laborers for their expended labor power.
However, the distinction between the various components of entrepreneurial profit is a historical distinction, according to the division of capital gain squeezed from the working class between the landowner, the finance capitalist and the entrepreneur.
The distinction is historical in nature because even before the rise of fully fledged capitalist industry employing wage earners, land was likely to yield a useful return to the landowner, just as mere money could bear fruit for those who had access to it, whether banker or loan shark.
It is now a question of seeing the real nature of capitalist production in relation to these different components when they are separated, instead of being united in the hands of a single owner, that is to say, from the time when the legal owner of the land or factory, the banker advancing the cash and the entrepreneur are different persons; the entrepreneur, who, after satisfying the first two and all the other various public and semi‑public entities that are overlapping in the modern economy, remains the sole arbiter for collecting his own earnings and benefits from the commercial price of the products thrown onto the market.
In all these cases, the proprietor of the land, the physical workplace, the building and sometimes also the machinery are compensated with the corresponding lease money, the banker receives an interest on the borrowed money; the State or possibly other concessionary bodies are paid various taxes and fees, and all that remains constitutes a profit of the pure enterprise, which capitalist accounting tends falsely to highlight as something that only emerges after the various moving and immovable assets have already been “remunerated”.
Marxism now asserts that this third form, corporate profit, which is disguised in class apologia as a vehicle of progress, science, civilization, is more vicious and meaner than the two other forms, glorifying as it does exploitation, oppression and misery. Socialism does not consist in taking possession of the capitalist enterprise by factory workers, but its essence is rather in the revolutionary and total negation of the capitalist enterprise.
The various components and their relationships to each other are divided into modern capitalist forms in different ways; and it is anything but a new relationship when we come across capitalist enterprises that have no immovable property of any kind, and in some cases no company headquarters and no noteworthy machinery or equipment – the dynamics of the capitalist process here, however, exists completely and in the purest form. Thus a kind of divorce is emerging between property and capital, as a result of which the latter is increasingly turning into money, while property is blurred, withdrawn from view, or represented as the property of social institutions – as a result of nationalizations, socializations that are intended to pass as no longer capitalist forms of governance.
A formidably repugnant “idée fixe” of the worst opportunism that reigns in the Italian socialist and communist movement is that of the deprecated existence and survival of feudalism in southern Italy and the islands, especially with regard to the abused issue of the southern agrarian latifundium, the real warhorse of rhetorical histrionics and sycophantic Italian political posturing. The inference from this imaginary and invented affirmation, that a tactic of political blocs and collaboration with the radical bourgeois parties is needed, even in northern Italy (which these gentlemen hesitantly grant the status of capitalist) on the level and within the framework of the shady unitary Roman State, was and is enough to qualify them as renegades of revolutionary doctrine and action. But these people, our social-communists, the champions of democratic bourgeois collaboration, are simply showing their contempt for our principles; for them, everything comes from an assessment of the immediate situation, and they demand that the weapon of compromise be used. We must therefore make it clear that their assessment of semi‑feudal conditions in southern Italy tramples underfoot any serious knowledge of the real economic and agricultural situation in the south, as well as knowledge of the different characteristics of feudal land management and, finally, of the fundamentals of the historical vicissitudes of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
What is considered, in this banal fashion, to be a backwardness of the social development of the Mezzogiorno, analogous to the supposedly weak and poor development in Italy in general, has nothing to do with a late removal of feudal institutions, and even where it presents the famous underdeveloped areas it’s the direct product of the worst aspects and consequences of the development of capitalism in the Mediterranean Europe of the post‑feudal era. If we look at the history of political struggles, we find that feudalism, understood as the authority of the landowners’ aristocracy, was fought against, defeated and eradicated in a few countries, as it was in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, by the authority of the central State administration, both under the reign of the Bourbons and Spanish domination, and under previous monarchies, going all the way back to Emperor Frederick II of Swabia. The repeated struggle was often supported by uprisings of peasant and urban masses, and soon the administrators and governors of the united kingdoms of Palermo and Naples became the arbiters of the situation. The results of the struggle resulted in legislation far in advance of that in other Italian statelets, including the very backward Piedmont, and the same can be said in regard to the control to which religious communities and the secular church were subjected by political authority; nor need we color this obvious reenactment with the struggles in Naples of the people’s elected officials and the impossibility of establishing the court of inquisition in that city. After the republican revolution of 1789, led by a bold and keen bourgeoisie, the historical and legal process was perfected under Murat’s robust exercise of power, and the restored Bourbon dynasty refrained from modifying the compact and prudent legislation left by this regime in public and private law. It is therefore a trivial mistake to confuse the social history of the Mezzogiorno with that of the Bojars and Junkers in northeastern Europe, who continued to dominate the serfs within independent feudal estates in order to plunder and judge them at will, while the inhabitants of southern Italy have for centuries been citizens of a modern, albeit absolutist State legal system.
As far as the structure of agriculture is concerned, the image of a feudal country is the inverse of what constitutes the shortcomings of the southern Italian latifundia region. This picture in fact presents an agriculture which, although not intensive, is nevertheless homogeneously and broadly organized with small farms; the working population is evenly distributed on the arable land, in scattered dwellings and small farmhouses. The village, which is unfortunately unknown to our Mezzogiorno, is the basic cell of agrarian wealth of many European countries; the feudal lords exploited it to increase their grandeur and the rapacious bourgeoisie rushed in, at times leaving behind only desolate land and peat bogs, as Marx explains in reference to England, and at other times allowing this rich source of income to endure, content to milk it dry, as in the flat countryside of France.
The latifundia of the south and the islands are large semi‑cultivated areas where people are unable to settle, and no farmhouses or villages are to be found there, as the population has been herded by a pre‑industrial and yet distinctly anti‑feudal urbanism into large centers of tens and tens of thousands of inhabitants, as is the case in Apulia and Sicily. There is an overabundance of population, but the land cannot be inhabited due to the meager organization and investment in labor and technology, a situation which for centuries no regime, whether at the national level or lower, has been able to remedy or found appropriate to the needs of the ruling class. There are no houses, there is no water, there are no roads, the mountains have been deforested, there are natural and unregulated waters in the plains, and malaria is rife everywhere. The origin of this decay in agricultural techniques goes back a long way, farther than feudalism, which, had it been strong, would have counteracted it (as technical and economic reclaiming of the land would have better enabled a true regime of decentralized and autonomous feudal lordship in the Middle Ages). In view of the fact that these regions were the most prosperous and civilized of the known world at the time of Magna Grecia, and that they remained the most fertile under Roman rule, one must see the reasons for their decline, which have to do both with their peripheral position when Germanic feudalism spread with the fall of the Roman Empire (which exposed them to invasion and destruction by the peoples of both the north and of the south), as well as the economic decline of the Mediterranean economy resulting from geographic discoveries overseas, and precisely the bursting forth of the modern industrial and colonial capitalist regime, which shifted its production centers and important transport routes elsewhere in line with the location of raw materials, basis of imperialism, and finally to the establishment of the unified Italian State whose analysis would take us very far and which established a typically modern, capitalistic and imperialistic relationship, which is also the precursor of more recent times.
In any case, before and after this unification, the mechanism of economic forces and relations was more than consistent with the characteristics of the bourgeois era, for it constituted an essential area of capitalist accumulation in Italy, the limitations of which are to be found in quantity, not quality.
Indeed, the economic climate, before and after 1860, is completely bourgeois, despite the weak industrial development (although it must not be overlooked that the effect of national unification was noticeably negative, inasmuch as important workshops decayed and had to close down). We can say about the Italian south and its alleged feudalism what Marx said about the Germany of 1849, when he spoke at the trial in Cologne, precisely, we note, to make it clear that the political bourgeois and liberal revolution would still have to triumph:
«Big landed property was indeed the foundation of medieval, feudal society. Modern bourgeois society, our own society, is however based on industry and commerce. Landed property itself has lost all its former conditions of existence, it has become dependent on commerce and industry. Agriculture, therefore, is carried on nowadays on industrial lines, and the old feudal lords have now become producers of cattle, wool, corn, beetroot, spirits, etc., i.e., people who trade in industrial products just as any other merchant. However much they may cling to their old prejudices, they are in fact being turned into bourgeois, who manufacture as much as possible and as cheaply as possible, who buy where they can get goods at the lowest price and sell where they can obtain the highest price. The mode of living, production and income of these gentlemen therefore gives the lie to their traditional pompous notions. Landed property, as the predominant social factor, presupposes a medieval mode of production and commerce».
However, if the availability of coal and iron ore in particular turned Germany into a large mining and mechanical engineering country after this period of time (and also after drafting Capital, which had to take England as a model of a fully capitalist society), as well as a country operating agriculture in an economic and modern way, it is clear that the assessment of the environment and the social situation after 100 years applies even more radically to southern Italy, which has had a completely bourgeois liberal-democratic regime for more than 90 years, a regime for which, after the defeats of 1848, Germany had to wait until 1871 and, according to the usual deflated chatterers about Teutonic feudalism, until much later.
In southern Italy there is a very active land market, with certainly much higher frequency of land transfers than in provinces of high industrialism; and this is the crucial criterion discriminating feudal from modern economies. This is accompanied by a no less brisk trade in large and small leases and, of course, in products of the soil. Precisely where cultivation is managed on latifundia, i.e. extensive landed estates, it is done by large economic units employing exclusively day wage laborers and hired hands, and for many decades the figure of the large capitalist tenant farmer, a large holder of cash and stock, has excelled economically over that of the landowner, often in severe cash flow difficulties and burdened with mortgages. Whether only cereals are grown or backward and even primitive livestock breeding prevails, not only is movable capital in the hands of large tenant farmers rather than landowners, but many of the former are also cashing in and acquiring land belonging to different owners, whereby the land is not necessarily improved, but may even decrease in value.
The examination of urban property management leads to similar considerations. Apart from the industrial activity in the developed zones around the principal cities and ports, all this movement of markets, today according to a modern turn and cycle, has for decades and decades resulted in an accumulation of capital that has largely served as a base for the free, semi‑protected and protected industries in the north (long before Mussolini, Italy was one of the foremost protectionist countries). Not only have the bank deposits of southern bourgeois, landlords, entrepreneurs and speculators always fed national private finance with their strong capital flows, but the resources of the south have been largely tapped by the tax authorities, which far more readily reach for real estate wealth and every land‑related economic movement than for industrial, commercial and business profits and surplus profits. The Italian capitalist economy thus straddles these relations of an entirely modern character, which makes it simply laughable to want to compare it to a feudal situation, and to present it under the guise of a nonexistent conflict between an evolved and conscious bourgeoisie, still eager for perfected and renewed liberal or southern revolutions, and the legendary “backward classes” and “reactionary strata” of fashionable dirty demagoguery, instead of depicting a solid alliance between the two.
The despicable role of the ruling class in the south is grounded in this clear framing of economic relationships. The remnants of the impoverished historic aristocracy live on in some semi‑derelict palace in the major cities; throughout the region, it is not feudal lords but enriched bourgeois, landlords, merchants, bankers, businessmen, of a more boorish than genteel slant, who rule. On the fringes of their wealth, the so‑called “intelligentsia” has descended to the rank of intermediary and middleman of the central power of the bourgeois State of Rome, to which it offers the best of its bloated personnel, leeches on the productive forces of all the provinces, from the commissioner of public security to the toga‑clad judge, from the member of parliament supported by all the prefects and voting for all governments, to the statesman ready to serve both capitalist monarchies and republics.
Before, during and after the much‑abused ventennio [the twenty years of fascist rule] the social struggle in the Mezzogiorno, no less than that against the Italian State in general, has put the overcoming of the last and most recent historical forms of capitalist order on the agenda for real Marxists, and never again the modernization of relations and institutions that have been “left behind”.
This thesis of southern feudalist survival deserves to be paired with the one that interpreted the fascist movement as a counterattack of the agrarian classes against the industrial bourgeoisie. The direction of the group that took control of the Communist Party of Italy away from the revolutionary Marxists (the so‑called Ordine Nuovo group) rests from the earliest years on these two blunders, on these two basic mistakes. They were enough in the beginning to build a whole practice and policy of alliance between industrial capitalists and traitorous representatives of the proletariat, such as was later seen in action in Italy. The degenerating injection of the defeatist virus by the Stalinist headquarters of the International, with its global policy of collaboration and accommodation between the powers of capitalism and that of the State, falsely called socialist and proletarian, was not unavoidable.
The bourgeois revolution settled land tenure by restoring the legal concept of freedom of the land that was the basis of Rome’s civil law.
«In the late Middle Ages almost all of Europe, occupied by the Germanic conquerors, had seen the concept of freedom of land, which had made the economic prosperity of the Roman Empire, reduced to minimal proportions. Feudalism had then been superimposed on it, dictated by the necessity of defending the weak from the invasions of Normans, Hungarians and Saracens so that the Germans would accommodate themselves to a powerful person, receiving from him recognition of their own tenure with the obligation of a leaseholder and even to render personal services, provided he would defend them from greater troubles; whence the maxim had come in good time: Nulle terre sans Seigneur. By contrast, Roman law recognized legal title as the sole basis for ownership, that is, the contract freely entered into between those entitled to it».
The French motto, which we have already found quoted by Marx as the opposite to that of the economy in movable goods, “money has no master”, finds its opposite in countries where feudalism does not dominate in the Roman motto: “No property without title”. It will not hurt to note that the country where the centuries old period of the personal rights of feudalism has been least profound is precisely Italy.
«In fact, our language [i.e., Italian] has never had a word corresponding to the French word Suzeraineté, meaning the feudal lord’s dominion over the land. In Italy”not all forms of Roman law perished, indeed, in some parts of the Mezzogiorno forms of Roman law had to remain without interruption, because they were not occupied by the barbarians and remained within the Byzantine empire, guardian of the Roman tradition, or returned to it after the break‑up of the Duchy of Benevento [the vassal State of the Kingdom of Lombardy, founded in 571 AD]».
«The enjoyment of land in absolute freedom by its possessors does not date elsewhere from as long ago as it does with us. In France, for example, it had complete application only since the abolition of feudal serfs on the famous night of August 4, 1789. Then and by subsequent laws, the National Assembly simply abolished personal servitudes (corvées) but made real rights (cens, champarts, lods, ventes, rentes foncières, etc.) redeemable by right. However, peasant uprisings and the burning down of several lordly castles forced their abolition without compensation, although many were not feudal in origin. The small and medium-sized estates that already existed were thus freed from an infinity of encumbrances and entanglements”.
Leaving now the author mentioned so far, an agrarian economist of non‑socialist orientation, we will now quote the words with which Marx refers to this French agrarian revolution in Class Struggles in France.
«The country folk – over two‑thirds of the total French population – consist for the most part of so‑called free landowners. The first generation, gratuitously freed by the Revolution of 1789 from its feudal burdens, had paid no price for the soil. But the following generations paid, under the form of the price of land, what their semi‑serf forefathers had paid in the form of rent, tithes, corvée, etc. The more, on the one hand, the population grew and the more, on the other hand, the partition of the soil increased, the higher became the price of the parcels, for the demand for them increased with their smallness».
This passage by Marx continues with a close examination of the impoverishment of the peasant in the parcel system, which reduces agrarian technology and drives down the gross product, raises the cost of land and all liabilities for mortgages, bank and usurious interest, taxes, etc., and reduces the ostensible owner to lose to the capitalists even a portion of the wages that would accrue to his labor if he were a legal nobody, and concludes:
«Only the fall of capital can raise the peasant; only an anti‑capitalist, proletarian government can break his economic misery, his social degradation. The constitutional republic is the dictatorship of his united exploiters; the social-democratic, the red republic, is the dictatorship of his allies».
This political position is what Marx, writing in 1850, attributes to the French Socialist Revolutionaries of 1848. And here is the classic phrase: revolutions are the locomotive of history.
As proof of the fact that the correct Marxist evaluation considers the extreme parceling of peasant property as one of the many vehicles capital accumulation uses to expropriate the peasant and not as a jump‑start to the postulates of an alleged social justice, there is also this passage, relative to England, taken from a text by Engels of 1850:
«The tendency of every bourgeois revolution to destroy large-scale landed property might make this division into smallholdings appear to the English workers for a while as something very revolutionary, although it is regularly accompanied by the unfailing tendency of small property to become concentrated and to meet with economic ruin in the face of large-scale agriculture. The revolutionary Chartist tendency opposes this demand for division of the land with a demand for the confiscation of all landed property. The land is not to be distributed but to remain national property».
In contrast, the bourgeois revolution in France had poured immense national assets from confiscations and forfeitures of church property onto the market.
This followed a different process to England which, after the defeat of feudalism and the abolition of serfdom, decisively led to the formation of the great bourgeois agrarian property of today’s landlords, see Marx in Capital Ch. XXIV, and in the exposition, which this journal is publishing, on the elements of Marxist economics.
In place of the democratic apologia of the Great Revolutions, Marxist language, on the basis of dialectical acceptance of the new conditions they produced, denounces the infamies of the rise of the capitalist regime, both where it relied on the parcelization of land and where it founded instead the great bourgeois properties, “freeing” the one and the other.
«The spoliation of the church’s property, the fraudulent alienation of the State domains, the theft of the common lands, the usurpation of feudal and clan property, and its transformation into modern private property under circumstances of ruthless terrorism, all these things were just so many idyllic methods of primitive accumulation».
The quotation is fundamental and many times repeated, but today’s alleged socialists, be it said à la Scelba, sees reaction, usurpation and terror, and rings the bells for the salvation of capitalist freedom, only when under the action of the narcotic drugs of electoral demagoguery it dreams of a Freudian return of feudalism from an intrauterine history of our modern society, far more obscene than the former.
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The vaunted bourgeois conquest of the freedom of the land and the liberation of serfs, equivalent in concrete terms to the conquest by pecuniary capital of the unlimited possibility of acquiring real estate assets, found its systemization in civil law with the return to the classical Roman mechanism, in that Napoleonic code which, extolled as a monument of wisdom, served as a model for the legislation of all modern States. The whole system revolves around the principle of property derived from title and accessible to every citizen, the famous “whoever” with which the articles of bourgeois codes begin. It is no longer necessary for the lord of the land to belong to a privileged and oligarchic caste or order. It is sufficient for “whoever” to bring an adequate amount of cash to acquire the title.
When the locomotive of the bourgeois revolution roared into motion, however, the material occupation of the strip of land by those who had worked hard on it for years and generations sufficed as a starting title. But as soon as the revolution consolidated its victory in a new system with stable rules, either hereditary derivation or payment of a market price was necessary for the purchase of the property and its title. Land was thus free since whoever could buy it, by which is meant whoever possessed sufficient money.
This return to the legal framework proper to Roman law, which followed the abolition of the feudal and Germanic systems of law, by no means meant, as is obvious, a return to the relations of production and social economy of the ancient epoch. Suffice it to recall that in Greece, Rome, and the countries dominated by them, alongside the democracy that made free citizens equal before the law, slavery was in force, which therefore meant there was an entire class obliged to work the land, whose members not only could not aspire to own any of it, but were themselves considered someone else’s property, exchangeable against money and passed on through the family inheritance of the masters. While there existed, among the free citizens before the law, the different classes of large patrician landlords, peasants owning small lots, mostly without slaves and therefore direct laborers, artisans and even merchants and early capitalists who were masters of cash, it is clear that the presence of an exploited class at the bottom of the social ladder created quite different relationships, leading all the way to the great revolutionary attempts of the slaves.
Consequently, the classic written law governing titular ownership of land and in general of real estate, and transmission by inheritance, by purchase and sale, etc., with all other complex predial relations, must be read with the proviso that the subject referred to by the usual pronoun whoever is not, even virtually, any member of the social complex, but must belong to the limited and privileged upper class of free citizens, the non‑slaves.
This means that common law, the theoretical expression of a physical relationship between man and things, and in our case between man and the soil, only in the abstract it appears to have given way to a preeminent system of personal rights peculiar to the feudal Middle Ages, rights that are the expression of a relationship of force between man and man (such as forbidding the abandonment of the worked land or the change of trade). In the Roman world, personal law dominated the broad social field constituted by production through slave labor, extending the relationship between master and slave to the power of deprivation of life. However, the master has a direct interest in the life, strength, and health of the slave, and it is suggestive of Marx’s remark that in ancient Rome the villicus, as the estate manager in charge of the agricultural slaves, received a smaller ration than the latter did, because his work was less burdensome (quoting from Theodore Mommsen).
The revolution that stood between the two social eras, in the economic aspect of the ceased productivity of slave labor in relation to its cost, in the political aspect of the great uprisings, including classically that of Spartacus, who fell after two years of civil war in the battle near Vesuvius, when six thousand of his followers were slaughtered, and in the ideological aspect of the moral equality of men preached by Christians, eliminated in large measure the rules of personal rights, forbidding that the human person could be treated as a commodity.
The revival therefore of theoretical Roman law, made by the bourgeois revolution for the regulation of relations between man and property, presented this substantial innovation, that the new common law concerns all component citizens of society and not just a privileged part as in antiquity. This modern law prides itself on having integrated the achievement of freedom from slavery with that of freedom from serfdom and corporate shackles; it prides itself on having made all members of society equal and free from personal constraints before the law.
But in reality, the legal forms guaranteed by State power and its material forces always sanction and protect relations of force and dependence between man and man, and man’s actual right over things remains an abstract form. Citizen Titius was able to become the owner of the Tullian estate because he disposed of the sum of money sufficient to obtain title by paying it to citizen Sempronio, since, the freedom of land being in force, the Tullian estate could be alienated at the will of the previous owner. What is the meaning of the legal title of Titius, a free citizen in a free bourgeois republic, to the freehold he bought? It means that he can enclose it and, even without incurring the expense of a material fence, he can keep all free citizens, including Sempronio, outside the boundary, and if they transgress, the title allows him to call in the State forces and, under certain conditions, even kill them. The freedom of Titius and his free right to property, taken out of philosophy or theoretical law, are expressed in the personal relationship of restricting, even by violent means, the undertakings of others.
The new regime of bourgeois freedom is one of property reconsecrated in the tables of law, albeit property no longer precluded to castes of slaves, serfs or the bourgeoisie. It is therefore always a regime of power relations between man and man, and socially speaking, all the “whosoever” of the code are divided into two classes, that of the possessors of land and that of the non‑possessors of land, deprived of legal title and deprived of the economic means necessary to obtain it.
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Christianity abolished castes, the liberal revolution abolished orders, but classes remained, not in written law but in economic reality. Marx did not discover their existence and their struggle, which were noted and observed before him, but the fact that there exists between them an economic gap, antagonism, and social war that is worse than existed between the ancient castes and the medieval orders.
In Chapter II, Section 3, of State and Revolution, Lenin fundamentally pointed out that Marx, in a letter dated 5 March 1852, himself specifies the original content of his theory in these precise words:
«What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Production), (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitute the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society».
Lenin establishes at this point, as the basis of his historic crushing of the opportunists, that the essential in Marx’s doctrine is not the class struggle, but the dictatorship of the proletariat.
«This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism must be tested».
No less essential is the third point in its relation to the first, in that Marx’s dialectic comes to establish that the great historical facts of the class struggle, of class dictatorship, are not immanent to every society and every historical period, having not been deduced from empty speculations on the “nature of man” or the “nature of society”. Man is by nature neither good nor bad, neither owner nor slave, neither authoritarian nor libertarian; the human species is not insuperably predestined to be classist or egalitarian, State‑run or anarchist! Far beyond all these philosophical niceties, the Marxist school, by investigating the successive developments of production phases, establishes that the modern proletarian class, given the social relations in which it moves, is led to make use of class struggle, revolutionary violence, and the dictatorial State, to make possible the development towards a system of production and collective life increasingly free of servitude, violence and the authoritarian State framework.
Returning to the initial constitution of capitalist society, what we have said about the revolutionary change in the relationship between money capital and land ownership establishes that there would be a one‑sided vision of the historical process where, neglecting this fundamental field, one referred only to the victorious spread of manufacturing and capitalist industry and the establishment of the entrepreneurial class as a ruling class in society and in the State.
The old socialists, and we will recall among them the good Costantino Lazzari, even though he was not a theorist, just as they avoided speaking generically about the abolition of property, so they did not limit themselves to the conflict between the wage‑workers in the workshops and their bosses, and used the formula (formulas have their great importance, and Lenin’s clarification mentioned above is sufficient to prove it) of: struggle against the established order of property and capital.
Writing to Bracke about his outspoken critique of the Gotha Program of German social democracy, Marx condemned the expression: «In present‑day society, the instruments of labor are the monopoly of the capitalist class» Marx resolutely objects:
«In present‑day society the instruments of labor are the monopoly of the landowners (the monopoly of property in land is even the basis of the monopoly of capital) and of the capitalists. In the passage in question, the Rules of the International do not mention either the one or the other class of monopolists. They speak of the “monopolizer of the means of labor, that is, the sources of life”. The addition, “sources of life” makes it sufficiently clear that land is included in the instruments of labor».
In this passage there is a sentence by Marx of extraordinary importance for the analysis we have conducted to establish: «In England, the capitalist class is usually not even the owner of the land on which his factory stands». The reminder is directed against Lassalle, who disregarded the struggle against landowners in Germany, and even thought that Bismarck’s State might not oppose the workers’ struggle against factory industrialists. The whole letter is dictated by concern about the theoretical confusion arising from the party’s unification with the Lassalleans: «One knows that the mere fact of unification is satisfying to the workers, but it is a mistake to believe that this momentary success is not bought too dearly». The outcome of the prediction made by Marx on May 5, 1875, can be drawn from the condemnation of the opportunism of the Social Democrats signed by Lenin on November 30, 1917, in interrupting his writing on The State and Revolution due to the hindrance of the Russian Revolution.
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The bourgeois regime is thus constituted by the domination of the class of factory entrepreneurs, the capitalists of commerce and banking, and the owners of real estate. The latter are as bourgeois as the rest, having nothing to do with feudal aristocracy, already socially and politically dispersed; they de‑ rive from ancient money-holders, merchants, financiers, loan sharks, who have finally been able to buy land that has become legally accessible to capital, and centralize successive purchases of lots of varying size.
As the Manifesto says, the proletariat cannot rise up without breaking up the whole mass of the upper strata that constitute official society.
We have already mentioned that bourgeois economics itself distinguishes qualitatively between the three proceeds: land rent, interest of money capital, and business profit. Together they constitute for us Marxists the product of the exploitation of proletarian labor. At the end of this chapter on the bourgeois legal regulation of land privilege we shall pose an essential qualitative distinction on the extent of the three elements of capitalist gain, which stands to show how the third form, that is, business profit, besides being the most modern, is the most efficient and virulent and is increasingly quantitatively coming to co‑constitute the central mass of capitalist oppression.
The income from land rent has a very low limit in relation to the amount of assets (amount of money converted into purchase, market value in free trade), and this limit is set by the seasonal nature of agricultural production. The gross product over time can only be increased up to a limit, which is reduced even for the few very fertile lands and the most intensive crops. Economics must therefore always speak of gross and net annual income, and the latter, in general, does not exceed 5‑6% of the capital, asset value of the estate.
As a reflection of the enacted convertibility between land holdings and money, even the interest earned by the owner of liquid capital when he merely lends it to speculators, to landlords, to the State itself, cannot exceed that time limit, and those annual rates of 5‑6%, except in cases of exception and special risks of loss of wealth.
The two traditional forms that characterize the bourgeois landlord or rentier thus have limited power to exploit and extort surplus value and are bound by the insuperable obstacle of the annual cycle.
Quite different, on the other hand, is the power of capital reproduction and the size of profit in the modern enterprise, which we must understand as having even greater magnitude than simple productive organization in large factories and firms. No seasonal or temporal limits are imposed in this case on the cycle of gross product and hence net profit. The relationship between this and the capital value of the enterprise can exceed any limit, and the regeneration of all the factors of the reproductive cycle can take place multiple times within the classic annual term.
Marx thus radically upset the algebra of bourgeois economics when in his mighty investigation he related profit not to the convenient bourgeois fiction of the factory asset value, but to the value of the gross product itself, and subsequently to the only part of this value which constitutes payments for wages to workers.
A given quantity of products (we have already dwelt on the criterion that the real characteristic of capitalist privilege, rather than ownership of the land of the building and the machine, which can be subject to huge variations, is ownership over the product), which is, for example, worth one million on the market, may include, say, nine hundred thousand liras of costs (rents, interest, wear and tear, overhead, wages and salaries) and then the enterprise profit will be one hundred thousand liras, and thus 10% of the total value of the products. The rate of surplus value according to Marx will be, if wages accounted for two hundred thousand liras, 50%.
But the cycle that led to this mass of products can repeat itself innumerable times in a business year, and the entrepreneur’s profits will soar, the annual expenditure on property rentals and bank interest remaining the same. The asset value of this business is something that is difficult to define among the innumerable accounting tricks and deceptions of modern business speculation; it even disappears, since the value of the plant and cash fund assets already appear to be balanced by the rents and interest brought in as liabilities.
The bourgeois entrepreneur-speculator can thus make a million using nothing (using his skill!), whereas the bourgeois landowner or holder of cash must, in order to attain equal benefit, have about twenty million in his name, and what is more he must wait a year, while the other can sometimes close his cycle over a very short period of time, and can sometimes even get a return in advance during production.
With these criteria for distinguishing between asset balance sheets and operational balance sheets it is necessary to decipher, which is not easy, the historical tendency of the capitalist securities-based enterprise in the shocking complexity of its modern forms, and its relations to the forms of landed proprietary ownership and sources of finance – forms already known to economies that are on the one hand older, and on the other hand less fiercely exploitative of the poor classes and less the bringer of disorder, of conflict, of incessant destruction of socially useful assets in the machinery of production, such as were the foundations of types of society that were not so brigandish, bloodthirsty and vicious as that of modern‑day capitalism.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding in all that is written and said for political purposes about agrarian transformation, both when it is presented as a revolution parallel to the bourgeois or workers’ revolution and when it is advanced as a reform within the framework of existing order.
Revolutions break up the ancient property and legal relations that prevent productive forces, which already exist and have developed the necessary technological prerequisites, from moving forward in their organization. In a great historical sense, we can call the radical successive measures that a recent revolutionary power implements to make this technical transition possible in practice reforms, but in the common and current sense they are the patches promised again and again to smooth out and conceal contradictions, conflicts and glitches in a system that has lived for some time within its own conformist framework.
In agriculture as in any other economic sector a distinction must be made between the property and the firm, however and from whatever point of view an innovative program wants to depict itself. Property is a fact of law, protected by the State, a system of obligations superimposed on social things. The firm and its operation is a fact of productive organization, determined at its basis by technical conditions and possibilities.
The feudalism swept away by the great agrarian revolutions was not a network of corporate organization, it did not operate and manage rural production from a technical perspective; it only exploited it by taking kickbacks due from the peasants who provided all the elements of production, labor, tools, raw materials and so on. The fiefdoms were large and even immense, the farms very small in that they were held by rural families, or medium in that they were set up by the first landed peasants, the first landed bourgeoisie, also then an oppressed class.
The revolution, which was in some countries only a major reform, addressed the legal problem at its base by sweeping away the lord’s right to levy those kickbacks. Nothing changed in the technical organization of the holding since there was no organizational input to it from the lord, who knew and practiced nothing of agronomy or commerce, and if he had personal duties, they were military, at court or in the judiciary.
There began an evolution and in given countries a series of reforms in agrarian management, not insofar as the smallholding moved much from centuries‑old methods of cultivation, but insofar as the capital brought in on the land enabled the formation of the new bourgeois property and medium and large holdings came into being over large areas, led by capitalist tenant farmers possessing stock and machinery, and in some cases by the landowners themselves who managed both the land and movable capital assets at the same time.
As a great revolutionary deed, the shaking off of the feudal burden from the shoulders of the peasants occurred with a single blow in the France of 1789 and in the Russia of 1917, accompanying in the former case the revolution of the capitalists, in the latter that of the workers. From that starting point, the unraveling of the agrarian order took place differently and under the influence of different forces, and it is particularly interesting to investigate the Russian one, its advances and retreats. Here we need only recall that the revolutionary legal formula was, in France, freedom of commerce in land, and in Russia, national ownership of land and the concession of management to the peasants. But even in the second case, the rise of a class of wealthy and middle agrarian bourgeois was not prevented, and the struggle with them had its ups and downs, which started from the fact that free trade in commodities had to be tolerated to a large extent.
Another fact distinguishes the two major historical acts: for France intensive production and high population density; for Russia extensive production and low density. There is one fact they perhaps have in common: harmonious spread of the rural population over the cultivated area.
In Italy, as we have already said, there was no great and simultaneous liberation from feudal serfdom, which was never socially dominant. Depending on the technical features of the various areas, all types of rural holdings lived in relative freedom, from small to medium and large, from those based on intensive to those based on extensive cultivation, and one came across all forms of private property: minimal, medium and large, collective, in communal demesnes and rural communities. A great battle to relieve farms and rural classes of the burden of systems of seigneurial law was not necessary and did not take place; where such forms did appear, they were from time to time confronted by communes, by lordships, by monarchies and by foreign administrations.
The affair was very complex, and we shall limit ourselves to quoting once again the author, who is certainly not a Marxist and whose name does not matter, not having worked his whole life on the problems of Italian agriculture – showing that that these were problems for the farmers – in pursuit of political posts for himself or his fellows:
«There is ample historical evidence of the continuation of the land regime in Italy with the application of Roman law... It is undoubted that in connection with estates governed by Roman law there must have been a vast extension subject to feudal duties, the possessors of which were restrained from making improvements, because they would have to share the benefits with third parties who made no contribution to it, and indeed residues of these obligations were liquidated, even by means of legislation, in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the greatest part of the land was freed from the aforementioned constraints, as were the serfs, in the communal period, making possible the great agrarian transformations of reclamation and irrigation in the Po Valley and the plantations in Tuscany, which assumed such wide‑scale development precisely from the 12th to the 15th century. In that period the institution of land consortia, inapplicable without the absolute freedom of the land, which now, with few exceptions, can be said to be complete in almost all civilized countries, took place and was fortified, thus eliminating the obstacle of the co‑interest of a third party in the sole benefits of land improvement and cultivation [the writer, an open advocate of personal ownership of land, insists on the fact that the feudal form of privilege had to be overthrown because it prevented the development of agrarian productive forces, that is, of the investment of capital and labor in land improvements, ripe for the time, and thus gives us a good argument for the validity of the Marxist method].
«The application of the Napoleonic code consolidated this regime throughout our country, and the abolition of the feudal regime in the Mezzogiorno in 1806, in Sicily in 1812, and in Sardinia from 1806 to 1838 likewise contributed to this. The civil legislation of the new Italy affirmed this direction to a greater extent by suppressing fideicommissum and primogeniture inheritances and then attempting to liquidate all forms of co‑participation in a single property. Extensive leftovers of collective property remained, however, although the tendency to proscribe all sorts of promiscuity in the ownership of land prevailed; and the collection of land rent was made particularly privileged by law. [All measures characteristic of the bourgeois and liberal revolution, which the super-asses still demand, and for which they await the effects!] Thus the liberation of land ownership in particular supported the improvement in cultivation, which began in our country as far back as the 12th century [without waiting for Minister Segni and opposition expert Grieco Ruggero, wow!] making possible the formation of a capitalist agriculture [ca-pi-ta-li-sti-ca, copied only and not made into an adjective by those who have, like us, a phobia of capitalism to the point of winking at seigneurial feudalism in the brief parentheses of contingentism] with very high incomes, which another regime would certainly not have allowed».
Let’s hope we have not annoyed with the historical method, but it’s what’s needed, when the gazette of every hue writes, every ten lines, about nobility, feudalism and the bourgeoisie, the poor dears, and capitalism, unhappy, not having come to develop freely in this medieval country (if only!); the point must be hammered home time and again... and let’s see where we are today in the fundamentals.
«Agrarian wealth comes from the land that produces throughout its expansion a certain quantity of produce with values fixed by the respective market. The prevailing phenomenon of its limits imposes itself on this, and in fact, for example, before the last annexations [in 1918], out of the total surface area of 287,000 square kilometers, of which 22,600 were totally unproductive or subtracted from cultivation for various reasons, leaving for production about 264,000, i.e., 92%. The population within those borders, with the data of 1921, was more than 37 million inhabitants, that is, of 130 per square kilometer of land and 141 per sq. km. of agricultural and forestry surfaces. We have in fact a strong proportion of mountainous areas (over 800 to 1,000 meters above sea level) of which the Alps has vast expanses occupied by perpetual snow, and there as well as in the Apennines and other ranges from 1,500 to 2,000 and more, there exist only meager pastures and woods. The hilly areas likewise include extensive tracts susceptible to landslides, the lowlands include many coastal tracts consisting of sands and dunes, marshy areas, etc. So that the most fruitful part, on which most of our population is concentrated, is greatly reduced, with territories feeding 3‑4‑500 inhabitants on a square kilometer, and some as many as 700 and 800.
«Therefore, the not uncommon assertion of dilettantes, according to whom there are still extensive uncultivated lands in Italy that are susceptible to profitable colonization, should be taken with a rather large grain of salt. Certainly, there is no shortage of poorly cultivated lands and Italian agricultural production could be increased. However, the above figures show that the question of the so‑called “uncultivated lands” has a very relative importance, otherwise such a dense population would not be able to live here».
Even the dilettantes know that from 1921 to 1949 the figures changed. In fact, out of 301,000 square kilometers, 278,000 are productive, that is in the same ratio of about 92%, while the population is now 45 million, and the density figures have risen to 150 and 162, that’s by 15%!
Between the food sacrifices of the war years and the artful donations of agricultural commodities in UNRRA and ERP times it seems clear that the agricultural productivity of the meager flesh and ample bone constituting the Italian boot achieved some additional increases in yield of which it was capable, given the state of its equipment. As for the population, its increase was unstoppable, passing the half‑million mark in 1948, reaching the relative increase of 10‑11‑12 per thousand. The annual excess of the born over the dead exceeded just over eight per thousand at the time of Mussolini’s demographic exhortations, to whom are attributed by today’s gossip good or bad faculties and powers, of which he was entirely blameless. It was he who moved to ban emigration, a measure that was but a weak tactical retaliation in the face of the great capitalist powers that were slamming the doors in the face of Italian workers. However, even this safety valve did not work as in the past: between 1908 and 1912 emigration reached highs of 600,000 workers in one year (20 per thousand), after the war in the years 1920‑1924 it resumed at 300,000 and above, and then declined sharply; it seems that in the last year, 1948, it returned to 137,000, but consisting to a large extent in temporary workers (3 per thousand).
As for the part of the population devoted to agriculture, this was about 25% according to early pre‑war statistics (1911) and would be at least ten million today, but it should be noted that this is ten million productive units, excluding boys under ten years of age, elderly incapacitated people, and some of the women, so it is clear that the great majority of the Italian population was still living off the agrarian economy. More important is to see the breakdown of the working agricultural population, which was believed to be roughly as follows after the First World War: 19% owners - 8% tenant farmers - 17% sharecroppers - 56% day laborers and field hands. The latter thus constituted the majority, and it must be kept in mind that the largest proportion of owners, tenant farmers and sharecroppers are in economic conditions bordering on pennilessness. It is important to note that the proportion of pure proletarian agricultural workers was stronger in the Mezzogiorno than in the north and center: in Apulia about 79%, in Sicily 70%, in Calabria 69%.
This almost unique situation of Italian agriculture compared to other countries in Europe, besides showing the serious social and political error of treating it as pre‑bourgeois, is enough to make it clear that the problem of changes (minimal or maximal) in the dynamism of productive enterprises is rendered absurd when it is artfully reduced to that of a general or exceptional redistribution of legal and personal land ownership.
It is not easy to walk through the little garden of statistics... In recent discussions of the Segni reform and on agrarian contracts, the adversaries exchanged accusations that they were not able to read through them. One would need to know how figures are manipulated. At the time of the Battle for Wheat, the Ministry of Agriculture asked the provincial inspectorates for figures of the area cultivated with wheat and the relative production, while the party gave the federal officials the production figures to be achieved. Party federal and inspector had no desire either to break each other’s heads or to lose their positions. In this all the world’s a village and all the “planning offices” feast on lies. What the statistics put together in Italy today by the disjointed multi-party and rolling public administration may therefore be worth, is easy to see. Suffice it to say that we are in a multi-party regime, and the degree of falsehood in public affairs grows as the square of the number of parties in the field.
More recent figures from Serpieri, undoubtedly an authoritative source if one consulted before and after the risorgimento, greatly increase the number of landlords to whom they add a strong share of emphyteusis leaseholders and the like, and after more or less confirming the proportion of tenant farmers and sharecroppers they counter that day laborers and farm hands amount to only 30% of the those working on the land.
If we start from population censuses, we have to go back to the fascist censuses that attempted a corporative-social survey of professions and economic positions. But it is not easy to read in the declarations the number of owners; it is not easy to sort out the urban and rural owners; it is not easy to calculate whether all members of the owner’s family, including women and minors, are declared to be farmers-owners of the same property.
If one then goes back to the land registry, established undoubtedly with precise elements, one has in hand a statistic relating not to individuals but to firms. These include a variety of legal entities, municipalities, cooperatives, corporations, and so on. That leaves private firms, but while on the one hand in many cases a property which is still undivided or whose division is not transcribed corresponds to complicated collective titles to family heirs, it is by no means possible to know whether a single owner has several properties in various municipalities in the State, since the lists of owners exist municipality by municipality. There are 7,800 communes and each of them registers thousands of firms. If one wished to create the national register of landholders, the work would be such that it would be possible to establish with some agreeable degree of combinatorial calculation that the employees of the supreme office assigned to it would consume an appreciable percentage of the country’s agricultural product. As in the witty remark made about the Fanfani-houses and Tupini-houses: you will build only the office buildings for those housing schemes.
Hence the best writers of treatises to explain the meaning of statistics about the surface of possessions in relation to the number of possessors, with the corresponding ratios of heads, area, or land value (which lend themselves to the usual propagandistic game: the 1% owns 50% of the land and 80% must share just 20% of the surface area), or similar tables of imaginary countries. Posit the system of titular ownership of land, free trade in land, and hereditary transmission, and you cannot have a distribution other than that, or tending irresistibly to revert to that form if it is removed from it by foreign intervention, so that the alarming progression of the very many to the few and the very few to the many, on the one hand is an arithmetical effect of perspective, and on the other is the characteristic of the civilized regime of free land in a free country.
The very variable distribution of agrarian tenure in Italy in relation to the various types of organized holdings presents the well‑known regional picture, which sometimes brings the large extensive tenure to within a few kilometers of the very small family property, the large and medium-sized modern and well‑equipped farm close to the small hill farm. The variety from region to region is unsurprising, if one wants to infer the need to treat the technical problem regionally, but even without wishing to take today’s contingent agricultural policy seriously, it could be noted that precisely the regional variety and its strange alternations are a reason for combating the drawbacks of extreme cases with a national unified program...
It appearing to be self‑evident that the medium-sized and high‑value homesteads of the Po Valley, with their flourishing animal husbandry and irrigated cultivation, like the somewhat less extensive homesteads of middle Italy with a prevalence of high‑income arboreal crops, and not a few similar holdings in the south and Sicily, approach the optimum of productive yield, there remains to be addressed not only the problem of the infamous “latifundium” but rather two problems remain, that of the latifundium, which today’s loudmouths will not eradicate, and that of extreme pulverization, of the tiny property inseparable from the minimal farm, the true disease of our agriculture, the greatest cause of depression, misery, social and political conformity, as well as of immeasurable wastage of labor.
Before looking at the two evils with their real data for a moment, let us immediately point out how absurd it is that in the direction of the dominant Christian Democratic party for the division of possessions, for that stupid utopia of “everyone a property owner”, with the empty prospect of apportioning among the poor peasants the uncultivated lands – which are those that cannot be cultivated, and which every farmer who may be illiterate but equipped with the rudiments of the trade will refuse even if given away − the opposition is unable to oppose, not even for the purpose of maneuvering and polemical sabotage, the otherwise well‑founded criticism of the dispersion of the land in farms that are too small and stuck in centuries‑old methods of primitive management.
Everyone a property owner: let’s take the 270,000 square kilometers and share them among the 45 million Italians. Each will have three-fifths of a hectare, a space that if it were square would be just under eighty-by-eighty meters. The imbecile grid that the regime of free ownership and the geometric land registry survey mark on the surface of the earth, will measure 300 meters for each possession, and if even simple enclosures were to be placed, their economic cost would approach the actual value of the patch of land... And this is but one of the reasons for the destruction of productivity due to the scarcity of the land to be worked, which bends man to the sweaty servitude of the hoe.
The reasoning does not seem absurd since actual statistics give even more extreme rates of fragmentation.
The statistics of the average extension of the parcel in the land registry, i.e., of the area of land that not only belongs to the same firm but has the same cultivation and the same class of merit, naturally gives a surface area lower than the average of the lot, set of parcels from the same firm, but gives a better idea of pulverization in the sense of technical management. While we assumed that every Italian has 0.60 hectares, i.e., 60 ares, there are provinces where the average parcel is even smaller: Aquila and Turin 35 ares, Naples 25, Imperia 22.
This is what the author, who defends the regime of free purchase of land and family ownership because it «represents a most effective stimulus to the improvement of the land and its cultivation with the maximum utilization of the labor of the owner and his family members” and because “it determines a better division of wealth and a lower proportion of propertyless and (...) what comes from the small landowning farmer, unlike the annuity and sometimes even the profit of the agrarian capitalist in the large estate, remains entirely in the country and contributes to the improvement of the land and its cultivators” − and thus without any suspicion of socialist tendency – says of fragmentation of the land:
«The fragmenting of possession corresponds to the analogous fragmenting of cultivations, as a rule by the labor of the owner himself and his family, which thus compensates the insufficiency of annuity and profit to constitute the minimum necessary for existence (...) The class of minimal possessors, as in general all the laboring classes, has a very high birth rate, so that there is on average a greater number of sharers in inheritances than in the large estates, and then the average life of these farmers, assiduous workers who do not spare themselves at all, is by necessity less than in the wealthy classes. Transfers by inheritances are therefore more frequent, which are then divided so that each heir has his share of the land, lacking on the other hand as a rule the movable wealth with which in the wealthy classes the shares of certain coheirs are liquidated (...) For these reasons the small possession tends to divide much more quickly than the large, with the serious drawback then that each coheir claims his share of arable land, vineyard, olive grove etc., so that little by little plots of a few acres and even square meters are formed, as well as possessions that include several of these located at very distant points from each other in the communal territory. One can immediately understand what an enormous waste of time, energy, and labor such pulverization determines».
«There is also in this way a real loss of productive land along the development of the boundary lines, which, to calculate it at only 0.30 m. in width caused by the trampling of people, some enclosure, or other means, represents 12% in the square plot of one are, whereas it is only 1.20% for that of one hectare. This multiplication of boundary lines then increases in equal proportion the causes of litigation for usurpations, boundary violations, removal of terms, unauthorized plantations etc., in which much of the scarce income of small holders is unproductively dispersed. It is perhaps not for nothing that Sardinia, which, alongside its vast expanses of pastures, forests, communal property etc., also has truly pulverized property, is the most litigious region in our country. There are such small land parcels in Sardinia that in pre‑war times there was a case of tax expropriation for debts of 5 liras of taxes!».
Will the State expropriate the nabobs today?!
«The inevitable pulverization of property, a consequence of the facts now examined, may be unfavorable to the increase of agricultural production, especially because the small holder cannot form a congruous working capital due to the meagerness of his income. Therefore, he usually lacks livestock for work and produce, is bound to the spade and hoe, even where he could employ the plow, is reluctant to introduce better tools, artificial fertilizers or other new means of agricultural production, first because he does not have the wherewithal to procure them, and then he is as a rule misoneistic and conservative due to lack of culture. If he comes to create savings he prefers to buy, at who knows what price, a few crumbs of land, rather than convert it into working capital».
Let us interrupt for brevity the rest of the picture, with the inevitable usurious indebtedness, misery, and homelessness, and the description of the very poor regions, which we have not only in areas of Campania, Abruzzo and Calabria but also Emilia and Veneto in uplands «which by their division of tenure could be said to be countries of true rural democracy». Democracy in fact very suitable to be of the Christian variety, fertile ground for today’s government to sow political seeds.
The other culprit, the latifundium, should now stand in the dock. First of all, it should be noted that the large estate has the large titular property but four times at least out of five no business or cultivation units, being sorted into small leases or small sharecroppers. It can equally be charged with all the same, or nearly all the same, offenses related to pulverization.
What is not understood is that, by possibly abolishing legal title to possession, one does not arrive at creating a minor and organized cultivation unit in productive smallholdings, since all the causes that gave rise to the latifundium phenomenon persist. One can only fall back into a pulverization that, already harmful on good land, is brutal on barren land and would lead back to a worse condition, and mostly, if the freedom to buy and sell is not suppressed, to the restoration of the latifundium.
The conditions that generated the latifundia are complex and here is not the place to go into them in detail. They start with the natural ones that are insuperable because they are due to the geological nature of the soils (for example, the vast formations of Eocene clays in Sicily are unsuitable for woody crops and allow only extensive cultivation of grain; a short distance from these plains, intensive and subdivided crops prevail in the province of Messina, lying on granite formations, and in the volcanic province of Catania). Influences include the predominance of malaria due to the disordered waterways of mountain slopes and lowland rivers, sparse population, and the oft‑referenced historical reasons for invasions from the coasts and little security until not remote times. So not remote that the American liberators and benefactors themselves, as soon as they arrived in Calabria, having liquidated the Fascist forest militia for obvious reasons of democratic morality, ruthlessly eviscerated the centuries‑old forests of the Calabrian Apennines as spoils of war; and thus irreparably aggravated the malady of the ruin of unregulated waters towards the unfortunate and infected coastal lowlands. They then ran with DDT...
From an economic point of view, the economic relationship is defined by the fact that the landowner mostly entrusts the management to a speculative capitalist tenant, who needs only a small amount of working capital and who exploits the land through a series of subleases of pastures to shepherds and of arable land to small farmers, who, because of competition, «give up almost all of the business profit to the large tenant... they never dwell on the cultivated land, but go there even from far away when the needs of the crop and harvests require it, taking refuge in haystacks, caves, grottos, or in large rooms or under shelters with the consequences we have already illustrated...» These cultivators are in worse conditions than the day laborers, while on the other hand they will never be able to organize, for lack of working capital, less extensive agriculture.
The proposal to solve the problem of the latifundium with forced parceling is very old, and has a number of precedents, which came down from the earliest times to some cases of expropriation due to failure to improve uncultivated lands. But there were almost always failures, and this was especially the case in economically unfavorable times. Indeed, it is not enough to expel the negligent landowner, to whom, however, under the present regime a heavy indemnity is always paid by the public, but the assignee should be provided not only with working capital but with capital for equipment, for structures that are lacking and that would far exceed the cost already paid for expropriation for each plot. Indeed, it is necessary to provide for and finance houses, roads, drainage, aqueducts and so on, to make it possible for the farmer to stay on the land, and to anticipate the expected values of the transformation that is very long term. A Crispi project was launched in 1894 after the Sicilian “fasci” uprisings; as early as 1883 a law for the Agro Romano had sanctioned today’s “revolutionary” principle of expropriation of large uncultivated lands which then passed from the Serpieri laws of 1924 to today’s Segni law. Liberals, Fascists, and Christian Democrats have dared so much, but cases of application over so many years can be counted on one’s fingertips.
We omit a review of the Italian and foreign legislative proposals tending instead to mitigate the pulverization of agrarian tenure, for it is certainly not our aim to propose a reform in the opposite direction to the government’s, but only to note that the very concrete and contingentist technicians of the oppositions have not thought of this. Convinced that the Russian agrarian revolution was a parceling into shares of titular property, they do not go any further than their own noses and know no better than to ask for land to be partitioned to the peasants, even to the laborers, of course, and without equivocation, not in collective management, but in personal ownership, yes, in absolute ownership, this is the latest Cominform instruction, as taken from the many articles in Unità on the agrarian question and southern problems. That in Russia the feudal privileges of the nobility and the clergy were not divided and expropriated at all but only abolished, lifting them like a suffocating cloak from the existing small rural holdings, which at first did not change demarcation, and then with doubtful successes attempted grouping into larger, State or cooperative holdings; that the historical problem is therefore a different matter altogether, is of no concern for those writers, as nothing for them matters about the proportion of uplands and plains in Russia; the population density, which is 9 inhabitants per sq. km. and in European Russia 30, instead of our 150; the ratio of cultivated land to the total, which in place of our 92% is 25%, in spite of the immense plains and apart from Asiatic Russia, and only in the Ukrainian black soil lands rises to 60%; the practical non‑existence of the class of stable agrarian wage earners etc. etc. etc., and this because these gentlemen no longer follow maximal and principled objectives, but have given themselves over to the study of the immediate concrete living conditions of the people”..!!
Pausing for a moment on the Christian Democrat proposal − it was easy to prophesy that no headache would be given to frightened large landowners by the Social-Communists, even when they were in the ministry, but a certain blow would have to be expected from the Christian Democrats − its empty demagoguery is quite evident. We will touch, they say, about eighty large estates, across the whole of Italy, owned by multi-billionaires. We are going to remove them in part. It was a matter of setting maximums... It was necessary to consider not only the size of the property but also the wealth it represents, and to do this they seem to set a maximum not of area but of taxable income according to the land registry, which is supposed to indicate the value of the land. But for the same area, a large farmstead managed in modern fashion may be worth as much as 15 times more than a mountainous or grazing tenement, especially by virtue of the installation of fixed facilities. It would not be fair to expropriate 100 hectares where nothing is to be improved in place of 1,500 barren or almost barren hectares. And then there were two criteria on the legal ground, to hit the properties of higher value and those of lower average revenue, indicative of neglected cultivation. So the super-technicians were to suggest to Segni a ranking of the eighty Croesuses to be slaughtered, formed from a score obtained by multiplying the total taxable income of the large possession by its size in hectares or, which is the same, by dividing the square of the total taxable income by the average taxable income. Algebra? Reformist and concretist algebra.
But the criteria for choosing the few rich people to cheat matters little. The question is what to do with the land taken from them, albeit in part − in which case it is easy to predict that they will take good compensation and get the waste that plagues every large estate off their chests − and how to equip it to make it possible for the “free” peasant to manage it, in the new rural Christian Democracy. Someone will have to contribute the working capital and even stronger capital for improvement. This is the point. The individual or collective allotted peasant will certainly not be able to do so. The State will defer to the usual special laws, such as those on land improvement, of scarce appropriations, available to the usual sly old foxes, and on the other hand the State is not in a position to subsidize, let alone new plant investments in the land, not even the repair of those damaged in the war. International capital and the famous U.S. funds and plans all the less since the basic criterion is to follow short and totally profitable cycles − the Marshall Plan officially ends in 1952.
The problem goes back to issues of general economics and world politics. Reshaping titular property (though we shall see this) solves nothing. Agrarian reforms arise as feasible in times of prosperity and supply of capital at favorable rates and long credit. For a country like Italy there are only these solutions. First. Economic autarky, attempted by our bourgeoisie after the favorable war, binding national capital and partially obliging it to agricultural improvement. This eventuality, conditioned by political autonomy, military strength and solid internal power, is historically dismissed; fascism drew from it certain results among which the Pontine reclamation was decisive, attempted many other times in the history of the Caesars and popes. Second. Dependence on a world power that has an interest in strong production of foodstuffs for the Italian people in the domestic market, for commercial or military purposes. This is not the case for America, which especially in view of production crises relies heavily on planning food production, which has now shifted from local cycles of direct consumption to a vast worldwide movement as fruitful in speculative profits as that of industrial products, and which in the event of war will drop atomic bombs spreading tin cans to its mercenaries. It is not even the case for Russia, which will not have Italy in its sphere and has no economic interest in having countries with a high density of mouths to feed, and in any case does not export capital but must import it and plays militarily and politically to exploit the capital investments of the West on the fringes of the Cold War. Nor is it then even the case if Italy will be subjugated to a world constellation derived from the arrangement of the big two or three, which will go on to colonize across all continents and oceans rather than on the bony ribs of Ausonia.
Agrarian reform in Italy today is thus based on the propagation of demagogic nonsense; it is not lifted from the base game of political skirmishing between groups and interests which, by securing influence over internal popular currents, hope to sell their services advantageously to foreign principals.
Minister Segni boasts that he will fabricate with his famous “hiving off” − a worthy term of low thaumaturgy − of the large estates another couple of hundred thousand smallholders, that is, Italian ragamuffins good for the parish and the barracks and the mockery of all civilized capitalist countries on both sides of the Ocean. He produces thousands of candles and bayonets in the nights of the Italian countryside, just as Napoleon in those of Paris and Mussolini in those of our poorly populated industrial cities, claimed to do. But assuming he really succeeds in hiving off to pulverize and populate his allotments, how does he count on regulating the process of property transfer and regrouping? What will it do with the sacred modern civil canon of free trade in land? Will it control the concentration, the “reincorporation” of it with arithmetic limits to be verified every time a notary notarizes a land sale or inheritance? The mere thought of such a harness should be enough to make the hair on the head of the most ardent proponent of economic dirigisme stand on end.
Do you think the Social-Communists, even though they are today, for quite other reasons, proud enemies of the Christian Democrat reformers after yesterday’s tryst, throw in Segni’s face the argument that every reformist guile confirms that the capitalist regime must not be amended but annihilated? Oh huzzah! They shout at them that we must reform more, unbundle more, pulverize more, fertilize more the generation of demo‑rurals which, by taking away personnel from the red forces of the class struggle in the countryside, the glory of Italian proletarian history, will create phalanxes of voters for government lists, armies of conscripts for America’s general staff in the Russian Enterprise. History teaches that with masterpieces of this kind they have always, the renegades, served the new master.
No less edifying than the subject of land reform is that of agrarian contracts. Antifascists of all hues presented themselves with tremendous promises of reformism at the taking of crippled Italy from the hands of fascism, not understanding that the only possible attempts at reformism in today’s world are politically totalitarian. Neither Nazi‑fascism nor Stalinism are revolutions; they are, however, serious reformisms and have given convincing examples. The reformism of the new Italy only makes rhinos sweat. They promised the study of three major areas: State reform, industrial reform, agrarian reform. Majority and opposition, into which the liberationist bloc of the time split, with contradictory and intersecting approaches in every sense, and with the nullity of implementation, prove their emptiness every day and do not even manage to squabble to follow the compass of social and political positions in the field of speech.
The agrarian lease, for which the demagogic thesis beats on the simple-mindedness of the bloc, that is, the prohibition of the landlord from expelling the tenant, hides very different economic and social relations under the same legal scheme. Plagiarizing the position of the housing rent freeze thesis – which, as will be shown in its place, is more nonsense – does not mean having taken a serious direction on the matter. With regard to small rent, the landowner, who for his part can be a large, medium or small owner is faced by the tenant farmer who employs his material labor in addition to a minimal and inappreciable working capital, and is therefore a lender of work, despite the fact that he pays out money instead of receiving it: with regard to large rent the landowner is faced instead by an entrepreneurial capitalist, who employs wage laborers in developed holdings, or sublets to small settlers in backward-agricultural estates. Positioning gun batteries in defense of him instead of against him is an appalling mistake, a suicidal act of the workers’ parties even if they are moderate, a repudiation of the historic class struggles of Italian agricultural workers who in the Fasci Siciliani threw themselves against the tax collectors, the swindlers, the country merchants, authentic and dirty bourgeois, and before that, in Polesine, in 1884, rose up against the entrepreneurs behind the famous battle cry: la boje! E de boto la va de fora [It boils and it comes out (of the top)], and always, as indeed even today despite the baseness of the leaders, against the muskets of the national democratic Italian State.
Italian agrarian capitalism has much speculated, albeit to the detriment of the landowner, as bourgeois as he is himself, though with less clawed nails, on the protectionism given to agrarian rents through legislation, without understanding a damn thing. An example is the famous Gullo decrees that halved the rent of so‑called grain leases. What is this contract? The rent to the owner normally is paid in money. It can, however, be agreed in foodstuffs in the sense that the tenant delivers each year a given – whatever the gross product, and we are therefore always dealing with rent and not partial colonies – a quantity of one or more foodstuffs. By this means the landlord makes himself safe from the fluctuations in the value of the currency and the real debasement of his income that follows the general rise in prices, as occurs after wars. But many landlords are not comfortable with receiving foodstuffs since, being a large rent, it would be a large mass of merchandise that is not easy to transport, store etc. Also wanting to place themselves safe from changes in the value of the currency, it is established that the rent will be paid in money, but in a sum that is not fixed, but rather corresponding to the annual rate of a conventional product – wheat, paddy rice, hemp – mostly one of those officially quoted with State prices, in a given quantity based on the extent of the property. One hears that one has rented at four quintals of wheat per hectare, but not only does the tenant not deliver wheat, as much as he may not even have cultivated and harvested a single grain of wheat, practicing animal husbandry or sowing other crops. One could, to the same end, bargain the rent in dollars or pounds of gold, even in the certainty that the tree that yields these fruits is yet to be found. Well, by halving this rent no working peasant gained anything, because, by its very nature, the system hardly ever applies to the small rent, and agricultural entrepreneurs far richer than their landlords, and sometimes themselves owners of immense urban and agrarian real estate, cashed in millions. It is to be believed that today’s Solons have not yet understood this simple relationship.
In the case of sharecropping, on the one hand, all the populist arguments were spent in favor of sharecroppers, without taking into account that even among them there are those who, as employers, keep salaried employees. To defend them, the sharecropper’s share of the product was increased. But in Italy the sharecropping contracts are of very different types according to the crops, with various quotas and different charges for advance payments, expenses and taxes for the contracting parties, so that a worse mess has been created. At one point the left thundered that this form of contract must disappear because it was feudal in nature. We are still there, with the notion that the proletarian and socialist party is not created to turn – whether by means of caresses or beatings is another matter – capitalism into socialism, but to ensure that capitalism does not revert to feudalism. Thus not to shame but to praise the purified capitalist idol... However, the argument, false in principle, is also false in fact.
«The sharecropping contract is of very ancient origin and peculiar to all the countries in which Roman law reigned, so that it is particularly extensive here and likewise in France and the Iberian countries...»
It developed long after the liberation of serfs and in Italy from the 13th century... Whether or not sharecropping contributes to the technical development of agriculture and how it influences the various types of cultivation is a very complicated problem; socially the point that even the sharecropper must be seen not only as opposed to the landowner, but also in contrast to the proletarian worker is important; then he is an employer, a bourgeois, an enemy; and you find someone else to get laws made in his favor, who then believes he is making them in his favor and unwillingly cheats him... after stupidly taking him for a serf or a fellow proletarian.
Another shriek at feudal leftovers, another case of searching for the scapegoat, came when the Christian Democrats proposed the adjusting of emphyteusis rents. The relationship of emphyteusis is when the owner receives a fixed perpetual rent from the land user, and he cannot send him away or ask for increases, rather it is the emphyteutist who can redeem it by paying in coin twenty times the rent when he thinks fit. The right is transmitted and sold like that of ownership. What on earth has this strictly mercantile relationship to do with feudalism? It is true that some nascent bourgeois legislation wanted to suppress this form along with many other feudal ones, but:
«... emphyteusis arose in the times of the later Roman Empire from the gradual transformation of public land grants in the form of vectigal, that is, in perpetuity to the settler with the obligation to cultivate it and pay a fee, etc., etc., etc.»
However, this feudal obsession may be a historical foible, but the bigger foible is that of the reformer who does not see that the benefits are going into the pocket opposite to the one he is concerned about. The social-communist leftists, by voting against the rent increase in the ratio of one to ten were convinced that they were doing action in favor of a mass of working peasants who owe the rent or fee to large landlords. There are such cases, but the emphyteusis are but a few thousand, and indeed the rents are so low that in the way of economic relativism they were in effect privileged in comparison with every other kind of agrarian administration, so that the new burden is certainly not prohibitive. But in most cases, they are landowners who own other land under emphyteusis and manage it in tenancy or colonies as the remainder. The low emphyteutic rent goes to municipalities, welfare agencies, or religious communities, which have in many cases seen their income wiped out by inflation. If it had been possible to block the government’s logical decree, the great bulk of the rents that will be paid extra from this year would have gone instead into the pockets of the very class of landowners whom you want to spite, whom you want to mortify and strike down as a retrogressive and parasitic class...
These technocrats, reformists, legislativists, who have so prided themselves on their shrewd foresight in the face of our blind fidelity to maximalist principles, forget just one detail, that they have their ocular globes in the backs of their heads, if not ruder locations.
They have been scrutinizing concrete problems for the past thirty years, but in every case, they show themselves up; they do not know, for example, how many large estates in the South arose by accumulating emphyteutic shares bought cheaply from poor peasants, and how convenient it was for the owners that the rent was still paid in early pre‑war lira – sometimes still recorded in fractions of a lira. Every modest practitioner of land surveying carried this predictable adjustment of rents into account from the earliest days. All products of the civilized regime of the freedom of the land, all effects that will go like this until the unfettered circus of bourgeois capitalism blows up.
The great charlatan of this circus, from the waters of the Potomac [a reference to Harry S. Truman] consecrated all freedoms. One he forgot to enunciate, but his worthy followers, pupils and allies practice it extensively, enthusiastically and, what is worse, not a few times in delightfully good faith: the freedom of humbug.
The organization of the economic and legal relationships that refer to urban buildings and land in the era of modern capitalism may seem to have a general weight lower than that represented by the agricultural sector on the one hand, and by industrial production on the other.
Apart from the consideration that the volume of the economic movement represented by the management of the house is not negligible, since it represents a fairly high fraction of the budget of each family in the average population (in Italy in normal times and for certain social strata even more than a quarter), the question turns out to be very interesting, since its examination allows us to elucidate in a very expressive way the interplay of fundamental economic elements and relations for understanding the current development of capitalism, especially for the distinction between the relations of titular and patrimonial property, which in a certain sense represent the statics of the private economy, and the continuous management and operating relationships, of income and expenditure, which constitute its dynamics.
For the sake of the order of the exposition, let us mention the historical origin of private urban tenure, a topic worthy of lengthy study and exposition.
The process is quite different from that which led to the definition and limitation of agricultural possessions. When the nomadic tribes settled on fertile lands there was a shift in various ways from communal enjoyment and cultivation to the identification of individual and family camps. Through innumerable upheavals and turmoil it came to the classical and well‑codified Roman system, then to the feudal system, until, as we have covered in the fourth and fifth chapters, with the victory of the bourgeoisie the agrarian land became marketable, and the legal discipline was again copied from the Roman one.
The vicissitudes of habitation cannot be identified with those of the agrarian field. The ancient nomad or semi‑nomad, hunter, fisherman, gatherer of wild fruit, then primordial cultivator, carries with him his dwelling, wagon, leather tent, or easily improvises it in the rudimentary hut or natural caves.
With the formation of stable private agrarian estates, the population devoted to cultivation built the primitive fixed rural dwellings for the most part by themselves; up to the present day these are to be treated, from the point of view of land as well as from that of productive management, in the same way as agricultural facilities with which human work has furnished the bare vegetable land over the centuries. Instead, we want here to follow the rise of urban habitation.
It is evident that the first agglomerations of stable buildings did not arise out of the direct needs of non‑farm production technology, the initial manufacture being in less developed eras well compatible with the scattering of the population and the utilization of the daily and seasonal margins of the farmer’s time. More, therefore, than the early forms of handicrafts and the manufacture of non‑natural products, it was the needs of political and military social organization that determined the first rise of cities. It may therefore be held that the urban area was born in a collective regime, and only later broke up into individual domains, corresponding to the needs of administration, defense, and domination, in relation to scattered masses or foreign invaders, and thus the whole urban belt belonging to the king, the tyrant, the military captain, the first forms of State, sometimes to priestly associations. This is what tradition means by speaking of Romulus and Remus drawing the city walls of Rome by transforming the first rural tool, the plow, into a building machine. Then the needs were felt for fortified defense; the Greek polis had at its heart the acropolis or citadel; one of the Latin terms for city is oppidum, meaning fortified place, while civitas rather than a topographical indication, is a legal term for statehood.
In the same Roman period, with the enlargement of the city in ever‑widening city walls, with the rise of a ruling class of patricians owning vast agricultural estates and numerous slaves, there were the private aedes and insulae and also a fractioning of urban property among lower class dwellings. The State, nevertheless, whether republican or imperial, retained tight control over the whole urban complex, demonstrated by the great importance of the magistracy of the aediles; down to the other traditional reflection that tells us of Nero, a fanatic for grandiose projects of urban renewal, who apparently would not hesitate before the radical means of setting fire to the quarters of the urbs.
In the Middle Ages the development of large centers was a retreat from the splendor of the Asian and classical capitals. Feudal manors sprang up, around them or at their foot clustered villages, lodging first servants and serfs, then gradually master craftsmen and independent merchants.
It was with the modern bourgeoisie that towns were born and enlarged. They, surpassing all considerations of military defense of seigneurial or dynastic powers, break down and overrun the narrow walls and ramparts, and expand to form the huge contemporary agglomerations, within whose circle are amassed in gigantic factories and establishments the millions of workers that modern productive technology has concentrated.
A fundamental Marxist thesis is the close relationship between the spread of industrial production and bourgeois economy and the massive social phenomenon of urbanism. «The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life» (Manifesto).
Perhaps it was Italy, followed by the Netherlands, that provided the first examples, in the late Middle Ages, of large cities of the modern type. The great palaces, and the imposing complexes of civic houses, not only bear the names and coats of arms of the great noble families, they belong to firms formed by plebeian people who had accumulated the first great capitals in banking, commerce, and navigation, and already invested a considerable part of them in urban construction, while the most important master craftsmen made themselves masters of the building that housed their workshop, as the shopkeeper of Rome was of his taberna.
As modern capitalism spread to other States, there sprang up young and newborn bourgeois industrial cities like Manchester or Essen, or large suburbs of the historic capitals that after the fall of the old regimes increased their population numbers disproportionately, becoming the great Paris, great London, great Berlin of today; while overseas other bourgeois cities were founded, bare of historic districts, recognizable in their layout by the monotonous orthogonal grid, marked by the standard of this mercantile time and the inhuman laws of the race for profit.
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As for the legal mechanism, that of the Roman and Justinian codes, as it lent itself very well to capital’s conquest of agrarian land, it served in the codes of the new bourgeois powers to regulate excellently the possession, acquisition, and transfer of urban property, both with regard to existing buildings and to land available for building. A special legal discipline served the sorting of the rights of individual private individuals over separate buildings, split into individual floor or apartment properties, with the institution of condominium for divided parts. If the capitalist speculation of the new masters of society had wide‑ranging developments in the investment in agricultural estates and their transformation according to the new demands of consumption and utilizing the new means and productive forces, it was able to accomplish even more resounding exercises everywhere with the “free” trade in building sites and the continuous escalation of their value, which in the old and new worlds reached hyperbolic heights.
Although the same rules of law dictate how the market for agricultural land and urban land is to be conducted, establishing the equivalence between the real estate land value and the sum of numeraire into which it is converted, in economic reality the two things are very different.
Agrarian land is attributed a value due to the legal owner, to whom, remaining unchanged, flows the continuous annual revenue of a land annuity. Starting from the physiocrats who wanted, in defense of the feudal regime, to make an apologia for the productive force of the land as opposed to that of manufacturing and industry, conservative economic schools maintained the concept of a basic productivity of the land, even the least endowed, which without and before the effort of labor bestows a product. The improved crops, made possible by the contribution of further investment of labor in the form of various facilities and constructions and also periodic interventions with tillage, fertilization and so on, add, for the official economy, to that basic yield, a new revenue that constitutes the profit of the agrarian enterprise.
Apart from the different Marxist position on the question – for which, as we have seen, land has no productive force in itself and is an instrument of labor – the land rent cannot rise beyond certain limits with respect to the given extent of land and the time of its proceeds. If the same great land improvements make it possible, in the present economic system, to greatly increase the production of commodities, they nevertheless require the investment of capital still higher than the basic land value and impose very long waits and even annuity suspensions that brings a liability together with the interest on the invested capital. Thus under the capitalist regime agricultural land can increase in value but within fairly narrow limits. Agrarian transformation, which would be of great interest for the common welfare, is seldom convenient for the bourgeois ruling class, and will not reach great development until after the end of capitalism.
Quite other phenomena determine the market for urban soils and all that is built on them. In agrarian production we have a certain balance between its importance as the patrimony of the one who claims title over it, and as a contribution to production: land regimes were not the most predatory. In the industrial economy, while the titular patrimonial values remain limited, the value of products and the mass of profit are enormously exalted.
This survey will be carried out to bring to light the very modern trend toward capitalism without assets but with very high profits. But let us return to our building land and find an example of a maximum of assets concentrated on a small, completely inert extension, where not a lettuce plant grows and not an hour of human labor is invested. As long as the land is not sold for construction, there is no operating or management budget, no movable capital is needed. No taxes are even paid, until precisely the “property” tax was established. This was intended to constitute a modern partial confiscation of private wealth, but in reality, it too is paid for through the various incomes of the wealthy classes, and in the case of our construction lot it is only a minimal subtraction from the incessant increase in asset and market value, as a rule much stronger than that of monetary assets to which interest is allowed to be added.
Now this special form of enrichment of the bourgeois classes is but one aspect of the primitive accumulation of capital, which starts from the impoverishment and capture in the grip of industrial urbanism, imposed on small producers, free peasants or artisans reduced to propertyless proletarians. It is a social fact; through the concentration in limited urban spaces of masses of productive forces, ranging from man to machines and complex modern equipment; the basic condition of the enormous profit that industry offers to the bosses is the provision of areas in those privileged zones to house factories, offices, housing for the masses of wage earners. It is therefore possible that in the market for these areas higher and higher sums correspond to the same expanses of land, and the marketable unit is no longer the hectare or acre but the square meter or foot.
The evolution of the complex urban organism takes place in directions that all lead to an increase in the cost of building land. As the intensity of traffic in the streets increases, although the increased speed of mechanical means facilitates the passage of a greater number of people and volume of goods at the same time, the widening of streets becomes necessary, and with each transformation the blocks become smaller. At the same time, the advancement of technology makes it possible to increase their height, and thus on the same area there is a greater number of levels, rooms and inhabitants. Having thus increased the exploitation and utility of the land, the price the owner demands when he alienates it likewise increases. Using the criteria of current economics, the value of a plot of land for construction is estimated by calculating what the yield of the maximum building will be, and the expense of carrying out the construction is deducted, which is generally less than the value, previously mentioned, of the building. The difference is a premium that is due to the landowner; it is a land value, different in nature from that of rural real estate, which nevertheless generates an annuity as well when the landowner remains master of the edifice.
For the sake of clarity, we note that in the lease of homes for living, no enterprise profit appears or results comparable to that of the agricultural tenant who passes on a fee to the landowner and then provides for the operation and cultivation of the land, remaining master of the product.
The enterprise that built the building is not economically comparable to the tenant farmer-entrepreneur; the former is satisfied with what it earns and disappears from the relationship: when we spoke of calculating the construction costs, we considered the profit of the building contractor to be included in it, as well as the commercial interest due to the liquid capital that remained frozen for the time of construction. In all these economic processes the various figures may coincide in the same person, but it is necessary to distinguish them well in order to decipher the processes that economic determinism studies. Thus in agriculture one does not always distinguish between the landowner, the enterprising tenant farmer, and the salaried manual laborer. The large direct-farming agrarian brings together the first two figures in himself; the small settler the last two; the small peasant landowner all three. Similarly in building property, the owner of land can build there the little house he will inhabit, if not with his own hands, at least on a time and materials basis, and by spending his own money on it: he will not only be an owner, but at the same time a banker, a building contractor, and his own tenant.
We already saw that one Marxist text recalls how in England the industrialist often does not own the factory. In another text, which we will deal with very extensively in a moment, it is even noted that the owner of the house may not own the land on which it is built. Certain legal systems in fact make it possible to grant permission to build on the land, the owner of which receives a fee from the builder and owner of the house. Similar very interesting forms, let us say in passing, are spreading for constructions and installations made at their own expense by private speculators on land that is not theirs, but State-owned, that is, owned by public entities (municipalities, provinces, States), thus we have the concession, an institution that is spreading considerably, a type of capitalism without property.
The sense of the economic movement of modern capitalist times is in the distinction, separation, severing between the economic figures of a production-consumption cycle, and not in their overlapping and confusion. Not only is this a fundamental objective thesis, but it must be accompanied by the other whereby this sense of development of the capitalist world is what we Marxists, its implacable revolutionary opponents, accept and develop as the basis of the transition to the collective economy.
Getting back, then, to the edifice just built and belonging to a private owner, and having seen how its patrimonial title arises and is transmitted in the present order, let us examine its operation and management. Let us preface this, however, with an important concept of urban economics. Rural landed property is in a sense perpetual since in the cycle of operation the land physically reproduces its basic productivity, unlike, for example, a mineral deposit whose depletion can be calculated. The urban building, on the other hand, is not eternal. It is only literature that sings of exegi monumentum aere perennius, [I elevated a monument more eternal than bronze]; and even the architectural colossi of times past have a life, albeit a long one; they decay and die. The normal residential building has for diverse reasons a limited life cycle. On the one hand, time wears out its structures, bringing them closer to collapse and ruin; on the other hand, the type of dwelling transforms with the progress of technology, it has to meet new needs, and it does so sometimes with devices that are less expensive than the old ones. As the text to which we refer also recalls, it happens at a certain point that the building is worth less economically than the land it occupies, its dwellings being worthy only of low rents, and its operating expenses having grown. The life cycle of an urban residential building can be quite variable, to give an example that contrasts poor with nabobs, losers with winners, Naples will be 300 years; New York 30.
The landlord of the building derives his revenue from the rents paid periodically by the tenants. This revenue is by no means eternal and constant and is not entirely available to the landlord. Opposed to it, which is usually called gross income, are a series of expenditures: expenses for the custody of the building (doorman); for the lighting and cleaning of the passages common to the tenants (hallways, staircase, etc.); expenses for the maintenance of the parts that wear out; general expenses for administration, and miscellaneous. In normal cases, an average share of vacancy or uncollected rent should be added. And finally, in order to provide for the deterioration of the building, it is necessary to set aside the so‑called amortization quota, that is, a periodic amount that, put to savings, can accumulate at the end of the building the sum required to be spent on rebuilding it anew. Adding up all these expenses and deducting their amount from the gross income, also deducting the taxes that are paid to public bodies, there remains the actual net income that the owner is free to enjoy. Current assessors derive the figure for the property value of the building from that of the capital value, which at current interest rates would reproduce the net income. A closer analysis shows that this procedure runs into many inaccuracies because it implicitly admits the constancy in the future of many conditions that are in fact changeable.
We have recalled all this to show by easy comparison the economic and social differences between the residential property business, and the general productive businesses of agriculture and industry. These base their operating income on the realization of products, which they continuously generate and bring to sell in the market. With this gross income they meet the various expenses among which there are two very important categories, which for the residential property owner are practically absent: the purchase of raw materials to be processed; and the remuneration of wage labor. Thus the relationship of letting homes lacks these three elements: production of goods, wages, and purchase of raw materials. There is indeed wear and tear and consumption of the house, but it is a small fraction of the annual budget, a minimal part of the capital stock, and the indicated economic provisions cover it. In contrast, in industry those three items (products, wages, raw materials) not only represent the preponderant part of the annual budget, but can reach higher figures, in some cases, than the same asset value of the plant, even having provided in the cycle to keep it intact. In common law and economics, however, a regular and contractual exchange of benefits and values takes place for the rental of houses, as happens when coins are given against a piece of bread. What does the tenant get in return for his money? Certainly not something he can take away or consume by destroying it. In the language of the bourgeois code he gets the use of his dwelling, and he pays for it at current prices per unit of time. So the landlord simply sells the tenant the use, the possession of the house, the right to enter and remain in it. We see immediately how this exchange in Marxist economics is considered a commercial exchange, between equivalents, in which it may well be that one party harms the other because all bourgeois trade is a web of cheating, in which it is always likely to be the better‑off who cheats the poorer. But there is no application of labor-power to the transformation of materials, and so this is not an area of the field in which, by purchasing the particular commodity that is human labor-power, the formation of surplus value and capitalist profit is generated.
In the present mechanics of relations between contractors, these peculiarities of the lease relationship produce appreciable practical and legal disparities. They boil down to the material fact that the agricultural or industrial producer holds his commodity well in his hands, and to make him loosen his fingers it is usually necessary to produce some money. That particular commodity, which is the possession of the house, even if we want to call it a product, is in the hands not of the master but of the tenant: if the latter does not pay, it takes a complicated judicial-police mechanism evict him. This is what the drivel and demagogy of bourgeois housing legislation in times of emergency, and its exploitation by popularist and pseudo-socialist parties, is based on. Before elucidating this point, however, we are obliged, in order to illustrate our thesis that the tenancy relationship is not a capitalist relationship, to prove firstly that we have not uttered a heresy or a humbug, and secondly that we have not discovered anything new at all.
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Lenin, in his cardinal paper State and Revolution quotes extensively from the best‑known works of Frederick Engels, such as Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State and Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science, but in Chapter IV he refers to a work by the same writer, much wrongly less known and less used in socialist propaganda. The title of the work is The Housing Question. Lenin makes use of what Engels says about the Communists’ program on housing to lay out with his usual perspicuity the task of the State in the hands of the proletariat, the similarities and differences that run between this State of tomorrow and the present State of the bourgeoisie as to their form and as to the content of their activity. Lenin’s concern is to arrive at two solid cornerstones. First: the State that will emerge from the revolution is a new and different machine that will be formed after having demolished and broken down that of the present State; second: the functions of this new machine of power and its class intervention in the body of the old economy will be carried out in such a way as not to give rise to fear (as liberals and libertarians insinuate) that a new form of overpowering, of exploitation of the masses by a circle of the privileged few will be built on the new power. The question of whether so far history has confirmed the Marxist and Leninist doctrinal construction on this point as well, surely cannot be approached without complete clarity in the positive investigation of today’s economic and social relations. The field of the housing sector serves admirably for Engels and Lenin to measure the gulf that runs between the solutions proper to Marxist revolutionary critique and those peddled either by puerile utopianisms or by legalitarian and anti‑classist reformisms.
Engels’ study bears the date 1872 and collects three articles published in the Leipzig Volksstaat, which the author brought together with a preface in 1887. Engels wrote them in rebuttal to writings by a certain Mülberger, hosted in the same journal and completely deviating from the Marxist line in the Proudhonian sense. Engels takes from this the opportunity for a critique of Proudhon’s petty-bourgeois position, a position that under various names, before and since, incessantly resurfaces and undermines the Marxist directive. This is an exposition conducted with a master’s hand in which, as always in Engels, the theoretical certainty accompanied by crystalline clarity of development and form is astonishing. Perhaps Marxist literature does not possess, in the field of agrarian production, a text as complete and systematic as this one, which defines and exhausts the subject of urban property. And even the incomparable man who was Engels cares to make it clear, almost apologetically, that in the division of labor between Marx and himself, it was up to him, Engels, to support their address in the periodical press so that the former could devote himself entirely to his masterpiece; and he adds that he wished, taking the opportunity presented by the housing question, to update the critique of Proudhon made in 1847 with The Poverty of Philosophy, concluding verbatim: «Marx would have accomplished all this much better and more convincingly».
The position against which from the outset Engels pins his critique is the one that wants to solve the “housing crisis”, a modern phenomenon that has affected and affects in repeated periods the most varied countries, by a reform through which each tenant becomes the owner of the dwelling in which he lives through a redemption that pays its price to the landlord in installments. To this gross programmatic error the refuted journalist arrives, of course, through blunders in economics, which Engels eliminates by brilliantly taking the opportunity to highlight the Marxist economic interpretation. One of the debunked theses is this: «What the wage laborer is before the capitalist, so is the tenant before the landlord».
Marx would perhaps have spewed flames and hurled thunderbolts at hearing these drumbeats; Engels calmly says: this is completely false. And he patiently and limpidly explains how it is, recalling the simple descriptive criteria we have set out above. He draws from this the refutation of the baleful calculation whereby the tenant, as a result of paying by the month, would pay two, three, five times the value of the house. He also draws from this the opportunity to eviscerate not only the economic critique of so‑called petty-bourgeois socialism, but also its ethical-legal obsessions. The columnist, who like thousands of his comrades in sin believed himself to be a Marxist, had let slip this other nonsense: «The house, once it has been built, serves as a perpetual legal title”. For according to Proudhon everything consists in successfully introducing into the economy “the eternal ideal of justice». Engels shows the hollowness of such language that would like to stigmatize the landlord’s exaggerated profiteering as one once excommunicated that of the loan shark; and he quotes Marx:
«Do we really know any more about “usury”, when we say it contradicts “justice éternelle”, “équité éternelle”, “mutualité éternelle”, and other “vérités éternelles” than the fathers of the church did when they said it was incompatible with “grâce éternelle”, “foi éternelle”, and “la volonté éternelle de Dieu”?»
Between 1847 and 1887 an opponent was put down when convinced of theism. Marx and Engels, athletes of the polemic, would have a tougher task today, because Marxist scribes have slipped not only as far as Proudhon, but as far as the Church Fathers themselves. They now practice “catch as catch can!”
Since the incautious journalist is not content to design his miraculous “structural reform” for inhabited houses but boasts of possessing a similar recipe for all other sectors, Engels extends the field of his fine‑tuning on the Marxist description of the production process, even to the question of the interest rate of capital, mocking the claim of «finally taking the productivity of capital by the horns» with a transitional law to fix the interest of all capital at one percent! And likewise still today how many present the socialist struggle as a campaign to abolish house rent, land rent and the yield of money, thinking that they have thus transported to earth the reign of morality, by preventing those who do not work from earning; when instead it is a question of eradicating a whole entanglement of social forms protected and defended by the monstrous scaffolding of armed power concentrated in the political State!
Engels’ response establishes that «the “productivity of capital” is an absurdity that Proudhonism uncritically borrows from bourgeois economists». In truth, the classical bourgeois economist is more serious than the petty-bourgeois and reformist economist, for (after disputing with the physiocrats that wealth arose from the productivity of land, and with the mercantilists that it arose from the productivity of exchange) he asserted precisely that it is labor that is the source of all wealth and the measure of the value of all commodities. To explain, however, how the capitalist, who commits his capital to industry, not only recovers it at the end of the bargain, but in addition makes a profit from it, he enunciated, wrapping himself in a thousand contradictions, a certain “productivity of capital”. For Marxists, on the other hand, only labor is productive, not the property owner’s fund or the house, or the banker’s money. The fund, the house, the factory, the machine, are productive forces because they are instruments and means of production, that is, they are used by man to work. In the present arrangement, and until it is overthrown, the faculty of money and capital is not a productive faculty but is the social faculty «pertaining to it to appropriate the unpaid labor of wage laborers».
Though being in possession of only a poor translation, let us cease paraphrasing and allow Engels to speak:
«The interest on loaned money capital is only a part of profit; profit, whether on industrial or commercial capital, is only a part of the surplus value taken by the capitalist class from the working class in the form of unpaid labor (...) But as far as the distribution of this surplus value among the individual capitalists is concerned, it is clear that for industrialists and merchants who have in their businesses large amounts of capital advanced by other capitalists, the rate of profit must rise (...) to the same extent as the rate of interest falls. The reduction and final abolition of interest would therefore by no means really take the so‑called “productivity of capital” “by the horns”. It would do no more than re‑arrange the distribution among the individual capitalists of the unpaid surplus value taken from the working class. It would not give an advantage to the worker as against the industrial capitalist, but to the industrial capitalist as against the rentier».
To return to the thesis we are arguing in these pages: it is not the rentier, the lord of lands and palaces who is ripping us off, these poor leftovers of a bygone era, but the captain of industry, the entrepreneur, very modern and progressive, and before the latter we proclaim: here is the enemy!
The Proudhonist imagines that this compression and final suppression of the interest of capital entails, in addition to a general wonderful panacea for all other economic and social issues: credit, State debts, private debts, taxes, precisely the abolition of the house rent for ever. Engels shows him that even if this simplistic plan were possible, it would not displace the fundamental capitalist economic relationship between wage‑earners and owners of production enterprises; he refers him over and over again to the foundations of Marxist economics and Marx’s Capital: «The cornerstone of the capitalist mode of production is, however, the fact that our present social order enables the capitalists to buy the labor power of the worker at its value, but to extract from it much more than its value by making the worker work longer than is necessary in order to reproduce the price paid for the labor power. The surplus value produced in this fashion is divided among the whole class of capitalists and landowners together with their paid servants, from the Pope and the Kaiser, down to the night watchman and below». Now the commercial cost of the house like that of bread, clothing, etc., enters into the expenses of reproducing labor power, into the part of this force that wages remunerate, and constitutes the necessary labor, and it is beyond this that we come into the realm of surplus value or unpaid labor that appears in the price of the product along with that which is paid. As in all exchanges with money, the worker and every other buyer can be cheated; in the exchange of his labor for wages he must be cheated. The relationship in which the capitalist character of the economy is caught is the one in which the worker collects his wages, not the one in which he spends them between baker, tailor, landlord and so on.
Having clarified the question of economic analysis Engels’ study rebuts with no less energy the error of a social nature by accusing Proudhonists of always emphasizing, in every way, those claims that are common to wage‑laborers and the petty and middle bourgeois, but which, as a class, only the latter have an interest in defending, and shows how reactionary such a position is. He plucks the following nonsense from the opportunist rants: «In this respect we are far below the savages. The troglodyte has his cave, the Australian aborigine has his clay hut, the Indian has his own hearth – the modern proletarian is practically suspended in midair», etc.
Still to be quoted in his text is Engels’ magnificent refutation of the no less pestilential demand for rural parceling: «In this jeremiad we have Proudhonism in its whole reactionary form. In order to create the modern revolutionary class of the proletariat it was absolutely necessary to cut the umbilical cord which still bound the worker of the past to the land. The hand weaver who had his little house, garden and field along with his loom, was a quiet, contented man ‘godly and honorable’ despite all misery and despite all political pressure; he doffed his cap to the rich, to the priests and to the officials of the State; and inwardly was altogether a slave. It is precisely modern large-scale industry, which has turned the worker, formerly chained to the land, into a completely propertyless proletarian, liberated from all traditional fetters and free as a bird; it is precisely this economic revolution which has created the sole conditions under which the exploitation of the working class in its final form, in capitalist production, can be overthrown. And now comes this tearful Proudhonist and bewails the driving of the workers from hearth and home as though it were a great retrogression instead of being the very first condition of their intellectual emancipation».
Engels recalls that he first described in his work The Condition of the Working Classes in England how fierce this expulsion of workers from home and hearth was, and continues: «But could it enter my head to regard this, which was in the circumstances an absolutely necessary historical process of development, as a retrogression ‘below the savages’? Impossible! The English proletarian of 1872 is on an infinitely higher level than the rural weaver of 1772 with his ‘hearth and home’. Will the troglodyte with his cave, the Australian aborigine with his clay hut, the Indian with his own hearth have ever produced a June insurrection and a Paris commune?».
Then Engels satirizes with a delightful illustration – which one could imagine was formed after reading today’s Fanfani plan – the consequences of the imbecilic scheme (which was already being aired even in America at that time, as per a letter from Marx’s daughter Eleanor about the exorbitant sale of little houses in the suburbs to workers) to make every industrial worker buy his own little house in installments, and imagines a worker who, after working in various cities, owns a fiftieth of a house in Berlin, a thirty-sixth in Hanover, and even more complicated fractions in Switzerland and England, all so that “eternal justice” may have no regrets.
In conclusion, «All these things which are held up to us here as highly important questions for the working class are in reality of essential interest only to the bourgeoisie, and in particular to the petty bourgeoisie, and, despite Proudhon, we assert that the working class is not called upon to look after the interests of these classes».
Of course, at this point Engels, Lenin and those of us who are so conservative that we have found nothing to overcome seventy-seven-year-old positions are asked what is to be done about housing. This is precisely the passage Lenin wanted to quote to show how little there is in common between a utopian extremism and the coherent positions of radical Marxism, as he says vividly about the outlook on the future economy, «there is not even a grain of utopia in Marx».
Engels’ conclusion is this, «How is the housing question to be solved then? In present‑day society just as any other social question is solved: by the gradual economic adjustment of supply and demand, a solution which ever reproduces the question itself anew and therefore is no solution. How a social revolution would solve this question depends not only on the circumstances which would exist in each case, but is also connected with still more far‑reaching questions, among which one of the most fundamental is the abolition of the antithesis between town and country. As it is not our task to create utopian systems for the arrangement of the future society, it would be more than idle to go into the question here. But one thing is certain: there are already in existence sufficient buildings for dwellings in the big towns to remedy immediately any real ‘housing shortage’, given rational utilization of them. This can naturally only take place by the expropriation of the present owners and by quartering in their houses the homeless or those workers excessively overcrowded in their former houses. Immediately the proletariat has conquered political power such a measure dictated in the public interests will be just as easy to carry out as other expropriations and billetings are by the existing State».
Lenin illustrates that this example shows a formal analogy between certain functions of the current bourgeois State and those that the dictatorship of the proletariat will exercise.
But one thing is very remarkable. The war legislation of the bourgeois States went as far as the limitation and freezing of rents, the prohibition of the expulsion of tenants, just as in given cases the present legal mechanism provides for the expropriation against compensation of private buildings, for purposes of public utility. Marx at another point notes that the law of expropriation provides for compensation of the market value to the owner, but the tenant who has been driven to the street by the great modern urban renovations is not compensated for anything and is also subjected to transportation expenses, to the payment of higher rents, in addition to the very modern extortion of the so‑called down payment for the new house, if he is so lucky as to find it. Moreover, during military operations the occupation of apartments for war‑related uses or related services is now permitted.
The measure envisaged by Engels to compensate for the social disease of overcrowding, however, is radical and utterly original in comparison with all reformist plans seen so far of changes in legal ownership and the creation of new minuscule owners. It is a revision of housing use. The dreaded post‑war housing commissioners could put whoever they liked into available houses, but they had no power to enforce cohabitation in apartments that were too large, and to criticize the fact that a wealthy family had − by way of ownership or lease it matters little − five rooms per individual in cities where the poor occupy five to one room. Here is what will truly be a despotic intervention, which will deal a terrible blow to the private guarantee and security that has hitherto existed (words of the Manifesto) and which will make the revolutionary violation of the sanctity of the hearth and home scream bloody murder!
The redistribution of the use of houses among the inhabitants of the city is therefore envisaged as an immediate revolutionary measure, while the de‑crowding of congested cities remains a further prospect.
What will not fail to astonish many who believe themselves to be Marxists, however, is Engels’ economic concept that the use of the house will not be immediately free, throughout that stage which Marx calls the first stage of economic communism and on which Lenin in turn lingers with reference to the famous letter to Bracke on the Gotha program. Here is the other passage from Engels: «For the rest, it must be pointed out that the “actual seizure” of all the instruments of labor, the seizure of industry as a whole by the working people, is the exact contrary of the Proudhonist theory of ‘gradual redemption’. Under the latter the individual worker becomes the owner of the dwelling, the peasant farm, the instruments of labor; under the former the “working people” remain the collective owners of the houses, factories and instruments of labor and would hardly permit their use, at least in a transitional period, by individuals or associations without compensation for the cost. Just as the abolition of property in land is not the abolition of ground rent, but its transfer, although in a modified form, to society. The actual seizure of all the instruments of labor by the working people therefore does not at all exclude the retention of the rent relations».
Only in the higher stage of communism, in which consumer goods and various services will not be remunerated with money, will rent also disappear, with a general organization also providing for the maintenance and renovation of housing for all.
One can well see the profound contrast between such a clear delineation and the progressive programs of the people’s democracies, all of which consist of promising fragmentation of land rents. Where, at the end of the day, there’s not to be shared the hundredth part of what the enterprises make off with, and not the thousandth part of what the mad disorder of production annihilates.
* * *
The part of the gross income of the house that does not correspond to inevitable expenses, without which one would be deprived within a certain period of time of habitable dwellings, and which can be considered land annuity of the soil, a function of privilege over the soil, even if this is, as we said, physically unproductive of fruits, belongs, says Proudhon himself, to society, and that’s fine. This, Engels replies, means the abolition of private ownership over land, an argument that “would take us very far”.
Engels evidently meant that undoubtedly with the proletarian revolution and the subsequent nationalization of the land rent all private ownership of land is abolished, yet for urban land it is not to be ruled out that such a “reform” could be done first by the bourgeois State itself. This would be a more serious matter than “redemption” by the individual tenant.
Indeed, we see that today not a few urban planners, certainly not of the Marxist school, are proposing the “State ownership of urban areas”. This would be by the State or municipal authority in large cities, after full compensation to current owners, of course. These urban planners in fact start from the phenomenon of the very rapid increase in the value of land for building, in ever‑widening rings encircling large cities, hence the apparent absurdity noted by Engels that it may be convenient to tear down a good building in order to speculate on the land. This makes urban reclamation and redevelopment very expensive and causes capital to shy away from it. Now even a good bourgeois advocate of the hereditary principle can say that this enormous reward, sometimes realized in much less time than a generation, is not the accumulation of wealth from father to son but is manifestly the passive result of a series of social facts. All the land in the city would thus be off the market; the municipality would sort it into the appropriate stages among streets, squares, public buildings and dwelling houses; the construction of these may be given in “concession” for a term of several years, after which they revert to the municipal body.
It is clear that such a plan, while by no means precluding the payment of rents by citizens, would not be revolutionary at all and would not undermine capitalist social principles.
But can bourgeois society overcome the problems of urbanism with these and other plans? Current urban science feeds on technical-architectural exercises and forgets that the foundation of this discipline is historical and social in nature.
Powerless to react to the fact of the concentration of an increasing number of inhabitants on a minimal space, the urbanism of Le Corbusier and others who pass for highly advanced pushes buildings to dizzying heights and an absurd number of floors, fantastic vertical cities rising to unnatural atmospheres, deploying metal structures that have transformed the technology and consequently the aesthetics of buildings. But this trend appears “futuristic” only insofar as it does not know how to question whether the best direction of collective life and the forms it will take in the future correspond to this ghastly crowding of people thrust into an increasingly frenzied, sick and absurd life.
In the second of his articles Engels poses the theme precisely: how the bourgeoisie solves the housing question; and he refutes the hypocritically philanthropic bourgeois literature about unhealthy and overcrowded neighborhoods in modern metropolitan areas. The petty bourgeoisie is directly interested in the issue, and that point has been elucidated enough. But it is also affected, Engels says, by the big bourgeoisie. First, the dangers of infectious epidemics tend to spread from the slums to these genteel folk. The bourgeois ideal, which in town planning they call zoning, consists in a good discrimination between working-class and rich houses; but in the old cities there are still traces of the feudal organization that intermingled palaces and cottages, nobles, commoners and serfs. «Capitalist rule cannot allow itself the pleasure of creating epidemic diseases among the working class with impunity». Let those who have depicted an old Engels as inclined to soften class enmities take note of this lively quip.
A second point concerns the political policing of cities and the suppression of armed insurrections, which until the second half of the nineteenth century had their day in the narrow, winding streets of capital cities. Engels sees a class motive in the realization of large, wide, straight streets along which machine gun and artillery could wipe out insurgents. The later experience, if it confirms that the center of any insurrectionary effort is the conquest of large capitals and industrial cities, also shows that illegal armed guerrilla formations fare better and longer in the rugged countryside. A good technical example is given by Giuliano’s forces [a famous Sicilian bandit of the time], in that they must be held not to be an advance outpost of distant staffs of regular forces.
Thirdly, Engels illustrates the great capitalist speculative ventures supported by governments under the double aspect of building beehives to house workers near colossal factories, which tends to turn the free wage earner into a kind of “feudal slave of capital”; and of the reconstruction and transformation of the streets in central districts in large cities, citing several times the classic example of the Haussmann method with the great curée of the Second Empire, which created the Parisian boulevards in a speculative orgy. All other nations have offered striking examples of this.
The economic basis of these urban upheavals, examined in State financing, in the supposed self‑help of workers, attacking their wages in private enterprise, leads the author to conclude that the driving force and outcome of it all is the social and political consolidation of capitalism.
The fundamental Marxist theses on the urban real estate question are
thus summarized by Engels himself in five points of his rebuttal to the
Firstly: that the transfer of ground rent to the State is identical with the abolition of individual property in land.
Secondly: that the gradual redemption of the rented dwelling and the transfer of property in the dwelling to the tenants does not at all affect the capitalist mode of production.
Thirdly: that with the present development of large-scale industry and towns, this proposal is as absurd as it is reactionary, and that the reintroduction of ownership of his dwelling by each individual would be a step backward.
Fourthly: that the compulsory reduction of the rate of interest on capital would by no means attack the capitalist Mode of production, and that, on the contrary, as the usury laws prove, the idea is as old as it is impossible.
Fifthly: that the abolition of interest on capital by no means abolishes the payment of rent for houses.
With respect then to the direction of big capitalism and the urban
planners in its service with regard to the unfolding of the life of
urban organisms and with regard to the scarcity of housing, here are in
two other points, taken from the text, which are Marxist theses:
Sixthly: A society in which the great working mass is obliged to turn exclusively to wage labor in order to procure the means of living – in which the house owner, in his capacity as capitalist has not only the right, but, in view of the competition, to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much out of his property in house rent as he possibly can – cannot exist without a shortage of housing. In such a society the housing shortage is no accident, it is a necessary institution and can only be removed when the whole social order that gives rise to it is undermined from the foundations.
Seventhly: Every bourgeois solution of the housing question comes to grief because of the antithesis between town and country. Capitalist society far from being able to remove this antithesis can only exacerbate it more and more. Wanting to solve the housing question while wanting to maintain modern cities is nonsense. But these will only be removed by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, by the appropriation for the working class of all the means of life and labor.
* * *
Deserving of a separate note are the masterpieces of Italy’s fascist and fascistoid public administration on the subject of rent freezes and housing reconstruction, and the corresponding attitudes of dirty demagoguery on the part of the movements that, under the pretense of representing it, shame the working class and its great traditions.
Every day we have seen electoral speculations and charlatanry grafted onto the frequently tragic business of factory and land occupation.
We have not yet seen experimentation with the invasion and occupation of homes. The reason is, among other things, that not only the businesspeople of the super-bourgeoisie, and no more the ghosts of barons, but also too many fresh demagogues and members of the elite, on either side of the Iron Curtain, would be disturbed in their standard of living as parasites.
1. CLASS REVOLUTIONS
In social revolutions a class takes away the power from the one which already held it whenever the collision between the old property relations and the new forces of production leads to the shattering of the former.
2. THE BOURGEOIS REVOLUTION
The bourgeois revolution, when technical discoveries had imposed large-scale production and mechanized industry, abolished the privileges of the feudal proprietors over the personal work of serfs as well as the corporate constraints on manual labor, expropriated in large measure artisans and small peasants, stripping them of their land, of their instruments of labor and of the products of their labor, in order to transform them, like the serfs, into waged proletarians.
3. THE PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION
The class of wage laborers struggles against the bourgeoisie to abolish, along with the private ownership of land and production facilities, the private ownership of the products of agriculture and industry, suppressing the forms of production by companies and commercial and monetary distribution.
4. THE OWNERSHIP OF AGRARIAN SOIL
In place of the communal management of agricultural land and of its distribution in feudal constituencies, the bourgeois revolution established the free trade in land, making it, like that of the industrial and commercial companies, a bourgeois possession acquired not by birth but with money.
Note. The alleged feudalism of the Mezzogiorno
The bourgeois order in the agriculture, like everywhere else in Italy, is fully accomplished in the South. The alleged need for a struggle against the baronial and feudal privileges constitutes a total deviation from the struggle of the proletarian class against the regime and bourgeois State of Rome.
5. BOURGEOIS PROPERTY LAW
The legal discipline applied by the bourgeoisie to the purchase and possession of land, with feudal bonds abolished, was taken from Roman law, governing small peasant property and large bourgeois landed property with the same formal rules.
Note. Agrarian reform in Italy
The problems of Italian agriculture are not soluble by legal reforms of the titular distribution of possessions, but only by the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the national power of the bourgeoisie, to eliminate the domination of capital over agriculture and the pulverization of the land, a miserable form of exploitation of those who work on it.
6. URBAN PROPERTY
The property of the soil and of urban buildings has been subjected to market discipline and private ownership in the capitalist period.
The concentration of the poor into cramped spaces is a condition of capitalist accumulation; the expensiveness and lack of housing and the excessive crowding therein are a characteristic of the bourgeois epoch.
The attribution of housing as property to the single tenant, the suppression or reduction of rent, or even the nationalization of the land and buildings, does not constitute a program corresponding to the interests of the working class.
The proletarian revolution will immediately begin a new redistribution of housing for use, with the subsequent aim of decongesting the large urban centers via a fundamental overturn of relationship between city and country.
Note. The housing question in Italy
The policy of freezing rents and plans to remedy unemployment by building housing are reformist abortions and demagogic resources of a beaten and vassal bourgeoisie such as the Italian bourgeoisie. They confirm the subjection of the public administration to capitalism and to its speculative requirements, and the absurdity of the implementation of rational planning within mercantile economies, based on the profit of enterprise.
Like any regime at the approach and outbreak of war, Italy’s all‑powerful, super-State fascism took to wielding all the levers of its power to arrest the general rise in prices and the corresponding depreciation of money. We are not concerned here with the issue that the general rise in prices and monetary inflation are aligned with the interests of the business class, its State and its government, and that only reasons of conservative social policy and demagoguery inspire the legislative arsenal of imperium to curb the rise.
The price freeze laws launched in 1940 covered everything: products of land and industry, wages, salaries and remunerations, and ongoing contracts the State had for works and supplies with the most diverse enterprises.
Among the most interesting were the measures directed at freezing the rents of both rural and urban real estate. The first relationship is less simple: the tenant of arable land does not merely rent a site on which he acquires the right to sojourn and reside, as would be the case if it were a jardin de délices, but a real instrument of production to which he applies his own labor or that of his salaried employees, in order to draw from it fruits and products realizable in money on the market. Elsewhere we have alluded to the foolish confusion between the social and political scope of the struggle to compress the agrarian tenancy, and the at first sight merciless “landowner income”, depending on whether the beneficiary of the lesser paid rent is a parcel laborer, a dirty fat bourgeois settler, or even a capitalist entrepreneur in agricultural industry, who flays laborers and sometimes subtenant laborers.
The case of urban real estate, and to be more exact the urban home, because of its simplicity, lends itself in a crystalline way to the proof of fundamental theses of Marxist economics.
It constitutes the only case in which the freeze was effective and successful. Before we wonder whether this success corresponded to the interests of the working class, as it appears at first glance and as it is convenient to say when churning out agitprops by the dozen, we shall note how it demonstrates, because of the relative narrowness of the sector, along with the rightness of Marxist concepts, the inconsistency and paucity of the controlling and planning capacities of the modern State in the economic field, even where it shows itself to be solid as concerns its political and police control.
While in all fields of agrarian and industrial labor what matters is less, as we are going to show in these notes, the pompous proprietary title to places and facilities than the mastery and possession of products, the leased house produces nothing movable that can be carried or sold, but only offers the convenience, the servitude, the use of it as a shelter and living room.
The State can dictate, and already in this it has taken a step that is a “theoretical” defeat of capitalist economics, that a product, such as a hat, not be sold for more than a hundred liras. But by its very historical and social nature, the present State cannot force one, two, a thousand hats to be sold at a hundred liras if the producer and owner does not bring them to the market of his own free will. The State, it is said, can register and requisition all hats wherever they are found. In practice there arises the difficulty of unearthing the hats and if they are to be taken away, by paying for them all, albeit at a hundred liras. That is why the economic fact known by all is that as soon as the price of hats is frozen, capped and fixed by imperium, they disappear from circulation and are hoarded not to be sold except secretly, at a price increased still further by a fee to cover, for the seller, the risk of fines and prison.
The buyer, therefore, is subjected to the black or illegal market unless he wants to go without a hat. Many heads today go without a hat, and many wander empty, especially those of the experts in political economy; but it’s the stomachs that cannot go empty, as the legs would fail: that’s why nothing could prevent the rise in prices, not only for hats but also for foodstuffs and necessities.
Now, the house comes to the tenant from the landlord not brick by brick, but all together as soon as the contract has run its course: the same landlord cannot set foot in it without the tenant’s permission. While in every other market sector, the seller is the price’s arbitrator, as they can always say impassively: “Well, if you don’t like the price, leave me the merchandise”, for houses, the arbitrator, once inside, is the buyer who pays. Normally, if they don’t pay the subsequent rents after the first one or the ones paid at the time of the contract, or if they pay less, the landlord must resort to a long and expensive legal eviction procedure, and rarely to the recovery of unpaid rents.
In the general case, it is the buyer who has to give in or run to whine to the State to force a sale; in the case of housing, it is the seller of the house service who has no other alternative than to call the State when they are not paid.
The State thus pulled a fine stunt: tenants, oppose any demand for a rent increase: pay the old rent and not a penny more until the war is over, and I will take care not to let the cops to drive you out. While industrial, commercial and financial capitalism unleashed all the claws of the wolf and the tiger, the terrible State, whether democratic, popular or national, boasted on the cheap about its social and moral credit for clipping the nails of the timid kitten of urban property. It did not go so far as to control or discriminate one jot, freezing the rent that a poor unemployed family paid to a billionaire housing landlord just as much as that which, by chance, a large industrial establishment paid to occupy the only small cottage in the possession of family of starving petty bourgeois.
As we have mentioned, it was not the modern dirigiste and planning approach of public powers for the general interest that triumphed, but the traditional article that summarizes all the wisdom of bourgeois law: articolo quinto, chi tiene in mano ha vinto (“article five states that whoever is in possession of something wins” – the Italian equivalent of “possession is nine‑tenths of the law”).
This measure, which came effortlessly out of Benito’s cranium, has been inherited, defended and paraded as an easy element of success, especially electoral, by today’s socialists and communists, while the capitalist State on the one hand and proletarian leaders on the other, from then to now, with an equally common indifference and impotence, have had to witness the dizzying rise of all costs and the progressive depression of working people’s livings standards, both during the war and after the war: an imbalance for which the one‑off of economized housing falls far short of plugging the painful gaps.
This policy of rent compression, or its abolition by transforming the tenant into a small property owner, is fundamentally non‑socialist, as we thoroughly demonstrated with reference to Engels’ classic writings. Engels ridiculed the analogy between the relationship of a tenant to a landlord and the relationship of a worker to an employer, drawing magnificent lessons on Marxist economics from it. The worker exchanges his labor power for money, while the tenant exchanges his money, in instalments, for the use of the house. Therefore, the tenant is not an exploited producer but a consumer, even a privileged consumer, as he holds the object of consumption in his grasp, whereas it is typically the seller who holds it in his grasp.
However, the threepenny agitator says: on behalf of the worker, we (Benito and I) have prevented expensive housing from being added to the expensive bread, expensive hats and expensive shoes, so he is less exploited.
But a brief analysis shows that the social burden on the working class, on whom everything weighs and cannot help but weigh, has not diminished because of the effects of the foolish, lopsided and trap‑like Italian legislation on rents, signed by the justice ministers Grandi, Togliatti or Grassi.
Having cut the landowner’s annuity, it has cut in vivo into the contribution for social purposes that provides for the maintenance of the housing endowment, the result of the work of generations. This damage is of greater volume in Italy than that of wartime bombings. In Italy the real estate stock, especially with regard to housing, is of very high average age and very high is the cost of maintenance: omitting it accelerates deterioration. This should be balanced by intensified new construction, which in a capitalist environment comes to a complete halt because the low rent prevents a return on investment, and before that through the general effect of the wartime economic crisis.
Thus, the housing supply available to the Italian population has not only decreased in absolute numbers, when it should be increasing for demographic reasons and for reasons of de‑crowding and land reclamation, but the pace of the decrease has been exacerbated by the rent‑freeze policy.
This means that as the number of houses has decreased and the number of inhabitants has grown, crowding, which was already one of the worst in Europe, has grown frighteningly, and it has especially grown to the detriment of the poor classes, squeezed into old and unhealthy houses, who pay less for housing, but also consume less, and often lack it altogether.
A strange inequality having thus been created between the rent‑frozen houses and houses free of rent, it comes about that the few new‑build constructions can be rented at any price: with today’s cost data, capital abstains from all those new‑builds that cannot render more than a 2,000 lire per room per month, to put it mildly; a net income of 20,000 lire per year only remunerates a capital of 400,000 lire at 5%, which is not enough to build the room. The end result is that all the subsidies of the special laws go to houses for the wealthy classes, and none go to the poor: the appearance that the proletariat pays a lower portion of its income for the mass of houses it once occupied gives way to the reality that, between high prices and taxes and, by living in ratholes, workers pay in a thousand ways for the houses built for the gentry.
In France, they noted that while between 1914 and 1948 all economic indices grew two hundred times, that of rents grew seven times! The working class now pays 4 percent of the wage for housing, and they propose to bring it back to 12 percent, which does not detract from the fact that in construction, capital delivers only one‑fifth of the normal yield, and therefore the State has to pay four‑fifths of it for new working-class houses. Now it is more convenient for the worker to pay for someone else’s house at a high price than to pay at an average price for the house built “at his own expense”! That absurd diversity in the adjustment of economic indices carried over to the currency is balderdash, one of the many of the capitalist regime, one more element for the burden that economic anarchy places on the shoulders of the workers, never proof that even in the narrowest field the modern State wants, can or knows how to deliver “justice” or even the mitigation of the social divides.
Today’s Italian legislation offers another masterpiece. Couldn’t they have in some city an annual festival of the laws of States around the world, as in Venice for movies? We allude to the Fanfani laws, which perhaps even beat the material offered by the Gullo-Segni decrees and laws on land reform.
The Fanfani laws declare that they are not aimed at real estate reconstruction or the general solution of the housing problem in Italy, but at obviating the problem of unemployment.
The gimmick is not despicable, since the magnitude of the housing problem in Italy ridicules the allocation figures of the various Tupini, Aldisio laws and so on, while certainly every extra building project puts someone to work. But, by the same logic, even the liberators, by dropping bombs from flying fortresses, could say according to the same logic say: let’s contribute to working‑class employment.
However, let us see the new arsenal in relation to building necessities. Even before the wartime damage in Italy, without renovating houses that were too old and unhealthy, without uncrowding from the index of 1.4 persons for each inhabited room, it was estimated that, because of the increase in population and the natural decay of houses, 400,000 new rooms would have to be built each year. Today, with a minimum contribution to make up for the war damage and the backlog of construction, and again without any pretense of de‑population and improvement, thus scarcely benefiting the poorly housed classes, at least 600 thousand rooms per year of housing should be achieved. Cost: at least 250 billion annually.
There is one big problem that has not yet entered the heads of central planners, of their observers and laboratories of economic and statistical wisdom. Not only housing is needed, but buildings of all kinds, because aging, war damage, and the renovation backlog also impact upon these. Each dwelling space entails two others on average for working in, supporting various activities, trading, and entertainment: this despite the houses of ill repute being open.
The pre‑war public economist had already concluded that the State should step in with 20 percent non‑repayable for housing; today he can conclude that it must step in with at least 60 percent. But for the other rooms, which would thus be 1,200,000 annually, it was previously assumed that they would come into being by means of private investment, outside of public aid: today this is not the case, except in a minority of cases, and therefore other powerful amounts of money would go into public budgets.
Let’s stay with the houses. Against the 250 billion needed to avoid regressing, what do all the special laws give? Maybe the tenth part, on paper.
The Fanfani law mobilizes 15 billion annually from the State, in addition to contributions based on the volume of wages, two‑thirds of which are paid by the bosses, one‑third by the workers. Without getting bogged down in calculations, these would perhaps be as much at maximum capacity of the plan, and thus 30 billion. This is not enough for one hundred thousand housing units annually, one‑sixth of the minimum needed. The problem goes beyond the possibilities of the current regime. In practice, it remains to be seen how much of the 30 billion lire, which is essentially paid by the working class in a broad sense, will end up not in houses but in abundant profits for entrepreneurs, all kinds of mediators, and members of financial and construction cliques.
And so let’s look at the figures from the perspective of the unemployment problem as well. Capitalism and its union organizing agents have already told the destitute unemployed: Are you hungry? Do you want to eat? Well, invest.
Invest, shout the ECA and Cominform in chorus to the Italian State and the Italian working class. When the poor invest, the rich pocket.
Fanfani, a man of genius, has another formula: are you hungry? Build your own house. The formula is so clever that it leads to a further economy: we’ll build the house without a kitchen.
Let’s describe the Fanfani society, the City of Shadows, where everyone is a mason. One million inhabitants of Fanfània, following the pre‑war Italian index, need 650,000 rooms. Let’s assume a house lasts 50 years, which is already a modern rate, surpassed only in America and aspired to in France. However, in reality, we live in houses that are centuries old. With the rate of one house built for every 50 per year, the Italian program of 600,000 rooms a year should be sufficient if compared with the approximately 29 million rooms that house 45 million Italians.
The million fanfànians therefore build 13,000 rooms each year. How many workers are needed for this task? Assuming a room costs 340 thousand lire, and half of that amount (170 thousand lire) is for labor, we can calculate an average of 200 working days. This means the employment of at most one worker annually is required for each room. Consequently, out of the million inhabitants, only 13 thousand people are actively working, while the other 987 thousand do not work and stay at home. They don’t eat, but after all, nobody eats in Fanfània.
We reach the conclusion that the Fanfània construction yards, operating at full capacity, i.e., after the first seven‑year cycle, will employ 100 thousand workers annually to build 100 thousand rooms. Pella defended the plan against American criticisms, stating that the population increase alone adds 200 thousand new workers to the market each year. The Fanfani plan, therefore, dispels neither the housing nor the social scourge.
The best part is that while it boasts that we will finally have houses that will in fact be occupied by workers, the calculation leads to rent so high that a worker with current wages cannot pay it.
When you then turn to the pinnacle of worker-owned housing, apart from the labyrinth of arrangements for reserving, assigning, sorting, inheriting, moving house if you change jobs and residence, etc. etc., you see that the assignee will, for 25 years, have to pay a huge installment. It corresponds to the cost of construction, plus the general expenses of the Fanfani-housing management, decreased by the value of the State contribution of 1% per year, which will be distributed in constant installments, plus taxes, contributions and condominium expenses. An installment of 1100 lire per month was provisionally announced, but a computation which we omit for brevity leads to the sure prediction of at least 1500 lire per month per room, and thus for a very modest worker’s house 5 or 6 thousand. In our calculations on net wages of less than a thousand liras, not all working days, even with the French 12%, the worker should not and could not spend more than three thousand liras on housing, apart from the privileged and specialized categories.
It follows that since there will always be few ready houses, and many contributing workers, the Italian worker will pray in the morning: God of De Gasperi, let me win at bingo, but not at the Fanfani house lottery.
If, as with the freeze, we consider that the burden of the State is the burden of the working class and not of the rich, well it will be seen how the worker, if the plan takes effect, will perhaps have a house of his own, but will have paid a good double of its market value, in waivers, sacrifices and cuts on his real wages.
These are the miracles of State intervention in the economy, which are all the same with the Mussolinian, Hitlerian, Rooseveltian formulas, and with the Labour Party and “Sovietist” ones of today.
Not only so long as the State is in the hands of the capitalist class, but so long as there are powerful capitalist States in the world, economic planning is a chimera, a universal fanfanity. Wherever and by whomever it is attempted, it will fail to regulate the facts of human satisfaction and well‑being, but will instead build pedestals to privilege, exploitation and plunder, to the “torment of labor” to which it subjects populations.
Movable goods, which are provided through production, are not the object of titular ownership and are usable or exchangeable at the will of the possessor; such is the legal formulation in bourgeois society.
In essence, with mass production, the capitalist-entrepreneur has possession and disposition of all movable things, products, and commodities resulting from the work in his enterprise.
The socialist demand to abolish the class monopoly of entrepreneurial capitalists over the means of production − presented as the abolition of titular private ownership over business premises and facilities − has the real scope of abolishing the monopoly of individual entrepreneurs and the capitalist class over the masses of products.
Any measure which, by limiting the rights of the owner of the workplace, plant, or machinery, preserves the direct or indirect monopoly of persons or firms or the class of capitalists over products and their destination and distribution, is not socialism.
The capitalist production company has as its owner an entrepreneur who may be an individual or a legal person (firm, company, corporation, joint stock company, cooperative, etc.) Even in cases where the firm has fixed premises and facilities, the real estate, or even the machinery and equipment, may belong to an owner other than the entrepreneur.
In classical bourgeois economics, the exchange value of each commodity is measured in human labor time, but it is argued that there is the same market and legal equilibrium in the buying and selling of goods and in the remuneration of labor performed by the firm’s employees. Profit would reward the superior technical organization of the various factors.
Marx showed, with the doctrine of surplus value, that the wage, or price paid for labor power, is less than the value it adds to the commodity, when all value is expressed by labor time. The profit on capital represents the unpaid labor of workers.
Modern production technology, which requires the substitution of social for individual activity, is imprisoned in the forms of private enterprise in order to guarantee the extortion of surplus value. The industrial class that takes advantage of it preserves and defends, thanks to the political power it holds, the system of production that ensures maximum profit and accumulation, while the socially useful and beneficial products (both available to the working class and to all classes) are compressed to a minimum in relation to the enormous mass of labor efforts.
The excess and wastage of the social labor of the proletarian class, relative to the mass of useful consumer products, gives a passive ratio tens of times worse than the ratio of unpaid work to paid work, or the surplus-value ratio for the individual wage‑earner.
The following theses are therefore inadequate: socialism consists in the payment of the full fruit of their industry − with the abolition of surplus labor and surplus value, the exploitation of wage earners would be abolished − any economy without surplus value is a socialist economy − a socialist economy can be accounted for in figures of money – a socialist economy consists in the accounting of labor time.
Socialism is the social and historical elimination of capitalism, the system of production driven by the initiative of enterprises or the federation of enterprises, constituted by the bourgeois class and State.
Even before the “higher” stage, in which each will levy according to its need, a socialist economy and accounting can be said to have been achieved only in those sectors in which double-entry accountancy and corporate balance sheets will not appear, and only physical units of measurement such as units of weight, capacity, force, and mechanical energy will be used in organizational forecasting calculations.
The fundamental position of bourgeois economics is that the selection of the most socially useful enterprises is ensured by free market phenomena and the equilibrium of prices according to the supply of, and demand for, products.
Marxism showed that, even if we accept this bourgeois fiction and petty-bourgeois illusion of the economics of free competition, production and exchange for a moment, the laws of accumulation and concentration operating within it lead it to frightening crises of overproduction, destruction of products and labor forces, abandonment of productive plants, unemployment and widespread misery. It is through the waves of such crises that the antagonism between the rich and powerful capitalist class and the misery of the employed and unemployed masses is sharpened, driven to organize as a class and rise in revolt against the system that oppresses them.
The bourgeoisie, the ruling class, first found sufficient basis for its unity in the political and administrative State, its “committee of interests”, despite the pretense of elective institutions, in which it ruled through those parties which as revolutionary oppositions had led the anti‑feudal revolution. The force of this power was immediately directed against the first manifestations of workers’ class pressure.
The organization of the workers into economic trade unions moves within the limits of the struggle to reduce the rate of surplus value; the further organization into political parties expresses their ability to set themselves, as a class, the goal of overthrowing the power of the bourgeoisie, of suppressing capitalism, with the radical reduction of the quantity of labor, the increase of consumption and general welfare.
For its part, the antagonistic bourgeois class, unable to stop the acceleration of capital accumulation, managed to cope with the enormous dispersion of productive forces, the consequences of periodic crises, the effects of workers’ organization, by adopting at a certain point of development the forms (known from the very history of primitive accumulation) of understandings, agreements, associations and alliances between entrepreneurs. These at first were limited to market relations, both in the placement of products and in the purchase of labor, with commitments to comply with given indices by avoiding competition; then they extended to the whole productive machinery monopolies, trusts, cartels, syndicates of enterprises making similar products (horizontal) or providing for successive transformations leading to given products (vertical).
The description of such a phase of capitalism, as a confirmation of the rightness of Marxism, which proved that «free competition gives rise to the concentration of production, which, in turn, at a certain stage of development, leads to monopoly», is classic in Lenin: Imperialism.
The entrepreneur needs, in addition to the factory and machines, liquid monetary capital, which he advances to buy raw materials and pay wages, and eventually gets back by selling products. As with the factory and plants, he may not own this capital as well. Unless the entrepreneur or the enterprise loses ownership of the business, protected by law, he has such capital provided by banks, against an annual rate of interest.
The bourgeois, having reached his ideal form, now reveals himself to be naked and without real estate or movable property, without money, and above all without scruples. He no longer invests and risks anything of his own, but the mass of products legally remains in his hands, and hence the profit. He has rid himself of property, gaining many other advantages; it is his strategic position that needs to be wrested from him. It is a social, historical and legal position, which only falls with the political revolution, the premise for the economic revolution.
The bourgeois class, through the apparent separation of industrial and financial capital, actually tightens its bonds. The dominance of financial operations causes the big corporations to control the small ones, and minor companies, eventually to swallow them up, in the national and international arena.
The financial oligarchy, which concentrates immense capital in a few hands and exports and invests it from one country to another, is an integral part of the entrepreneurial class itself, the center of whose activity increasingly shifts from productive technique to business maneuvering.
On the other hand, under the joint-stock company system, the capital of the industrial enterprise consisting of real estate, tools and cash is titularly owned by the stockholders who take the place of any real estate owner, machine lessor, or anticipatory bank. Lease and rental fees and interest from advances take the form of an always modest profit or “dividend” distributed to shareholders by the “management” i.e., the enterprise. This is an entity in its own right, which brings share capital to its balance sheet liabilities, and plunders its creditors by various maneuvers; the true central form of accumulation. The banking maneuver, in turn with share capital, performs this service of plundering the small holders of money on behalf of industrial and business groups.
The production of ultra-profits magnifies as we move away from the figure of the industrial boss, whose technical expertise brought socially useful innovations. Capitalism becomes more and more parasitic, that is, instead of earning and accumulating little by producing a lot and enabling a lot of people to consume, it earns and accumulates enormously by producing little and satisfying social consumption poorly.
In the more industrially advanced countries, the entrepreneur class finds limits to the investment of accumulated capital set either by the shortage of local raw materials, or by that of metropolitan labor, or by that of consumer markets.
The conquest of foreign markets, the hiring of foreign workers, the import of raw materials, or finally the operation of the whole capitalist enterprise in a foreign country with local elements and factors, are processes that cannot in the capitalist world be carried out by pure economic means, such as the game of competition; they imply the attempt to regulate and control selling and buying prices, and hand over privileges and protections with State measures or interstate conventions. Thus economic expansionism becomes open or disguised colonialism, backed by mighty military means. It is force that decides rivalries for the grabbing of colonies and domination over small and weak States, whether to control the great mineral deposits, the masses to be proletarianized, or the strata of consumers capable of absorbing the products of capitalist industrialism. The latter are in the modern world, however, largely made up not only of the proletarian and capitalist consumers of the advanced countries, but also of the middle classes such as the agrarian and artisan classes, and of the populations of countries with economies that are not yet capitalist, forming today like so many islands that successively emerge from a local and autarkic economic cycle, and are as if immersed in and surrounded by the general fabric of the international capitalist economy. In this is the difficult general framework of the reproduction and accumulation of capital, crises of overproduction, and saturation of the possibilities of placing products throughout the world on the basis of mercantile and monetary distribution. It is evident to any Marxist that the complication of such a historical relationship between super-industrial metropoles and backward countries, of white race and of other races, can only generate incessant conflicts, not only between colonizers and colonized, but especially between groups of conquering States.
Proletarian theory rejects the following theses as counterrevolutionary: a) that we can and must curb the diffusion of industrial technology and large organized networks of communication and transportation in the world (residual liberalism and petty-bourgeois liberalism); b) that it is necessary to support the colonial and imperial enterprises of the bourgeoisie socially and politically (social-democratic opportunism, the corruption of labor leaders and a “proletarian aristocracy”); c) that the colonial system based on capitalism can lead to an economic and political balance among the imperialist powers, or to a stable single imperial center, and avoid the progressive arms race and militarism, and the strengthening of oppressive and repressive systems of class policing (false internationalism and federalism among bourgeois States, based on the simulated autonomy and self‑determination of peoples and systems of security and prevention of “aggression”).
«Imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and of monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom».
«Therefore, in the realities of the capitalist system (...) ‘inter-imperialist’ (...) whether of one imperialist coalition against another, or of a general alliance embracing all the imperialist powers, are inevitably nothing more than a ‘truce’ in periods between wars». (Lenin)
The only way out of world imperialism is a world revolution.
Every new social form, which because of the development of productive forces tends to become generalized, first appears among the traditional forms with “examples” and “models” of the new approach. Today we can study the form of the propertyless enterprise by analyzing the construction industry, and more generally public works, whose relative weight in the economy tends to increase more and more.
It is convenient to eliminate the figure of the “client”, the owner of the land or buildings on which work is being done, and who will become the owner of the completed project, regardless of whether it is a private individual, an entity, or the State, for the purposes of the economic dynamics of the “general contractor”.
The enterprise, or “contractor” of the works, has these characteristics:
It does not have its own workshop, factory, or establishment, but on each occasion sets up the “construction site” and offices on premises made available by the client, which even charges itself an amount for such plant, construction sites and temporary constructions in accounting terms.
It may have tools or even its own machines, but more often, moving to disparate and distant locations, it either rents them or buys and resells them on the spot, or manages to charge for their full depreciation.
It must in theory have liquid capital to advance for raw materials and wages, but it should be noted: a) that it obtains this easily from the banks when it proves that it has been awarded good work by pledging warrants; b) that in modern forms the State often finances, advances, or obliges credit institutions to do so by means of “special laws”; c) that the “unit prices” on the basis of which the enterprise is paid for units of work (i.e., the real products of the industry in question, placed and priced at the outset and without any commercial risk, while it is eventually very easy to achieve increases in accounts), are formed by also adding to all expenses an amount for “interest” on the capital advanced, and only after all this the profit of the contractor.
In this typical form there subsists enterprise, surplus value, and profit, which is generally very high, while all ownership of real estate, moveable tools, and even cash disappears.
When all these relationships are handled by public bodies and the State, capitalism breathes the best oxygen, the rates of remuneration reach the maximum; and the overspending falls indirectly on other classes; to a small extent on the property owners and smallholders, to a large extent on the poor and proletarian classes.
In fact, the company does not pay land tax because it has no real estate, and taxes on the movable assets are also reimbursed to it in the “unit price analysis” by including them in the “overhead” item.
In these ways, the entrepreneurial class pays nothing to maintain the State.
Similar to the contract is the concession. The concessionaire receives an area, a building, sometimes a complete facility, from the public body: he operates it, and makes his own products and earnings. He is obliged to carry out further works, installations, or improvements, and pays a certain fee in money, either at once or in periodic installments. After a certain number of years, which is always considerable, all the property, including the new works and transformations, will revert to the granting estate or public body, in whose name it has always remained.
The economic calculation regarding such a relationship demonstrates its enormous benefit to the manager, where one well considers: the real estate taxes he does not pay – the substantial interest or annuity that accrues to the value of the original land and installations, which he did not have to purchase – the “depreciation” payments to compensate for wear and tear and aging, which he does not have to set aside, because he will hand back installations that are not new but used and exploited for a long time.
The concession implies an almost total absence of risk on the concessionaire’s own investment, the same high profit as contracting, and the important feature of being able to extend to all types of production and supply of industries even with a fixed location; the tendency, in this form, can thus cover all economic sectors while retaining the principle of enterprise and profit.
The modern State never actually engages in direct economic activity, but rather, activity that is always delegated, by contracts and concessions to capitalist groups. This is not a process by which capitalism and the bourgeois class are pushed back from positions of privilege; the apparent abandonment of such positions is matched by an increase in the mass of surplus value, profit and accumulation, and in the excess power of capital; and, for all that, social antagonisms.
The mass of accumulated industrial and financial capital at the disposal of the entrepreneurial maneuvering of the bourgeois class is thus much greater than it appears by adding up the individual holdings, both of movable and immovable values, titled to the individual capitalists and owners, and this is expressed by Marx’s fundamental theorem, which describes the capitalist system as a fact and as social production, ever since it asserted itself under the armor of personal law.
Capitalism is a class monopoly, and all capital accumulates more and more as the endowment of a ruling class, and not as that of many individuals and firms. Having introduced this principle, Marx’s schemes and equations on the reproduction, accumulation and circulation of capital cease to be mysterious and incomprehensible.
The ensemble of countless modern actions by which the State apparently disciplines events and activities of economic nature in production, exchange and consumption is wrongly considered as a reduction and a control of the capitalist characters of present society.
The doctrine of the abstention of the State from assuming economic functions and implementing interventions in the production and circulation of goods is but an ideological mask suited to the period when capitalism had to make its way as a revolutionary force, breaking through the circle of all social and legal obstacles that prevented it from unfolding its productive potential.
For Marxism, the bourgeois State, even as soon as it is formed, by guaranteeing the appropriation of goods and products by those disposing of accumulated money, by codifying the right of individual property and its protection, exercises an openly economic function, and does not merely witness from the outside a supposed “natural” spontaneity of the phenomena of the private economy. In this is the whole history of primitive accumulation, the cradle of modern capitalism.
As the capitalist type of organization invades the social fabric and world territories and arouses, with the concentration of wealth and the despoliation of the middle classes, the modern class contradictions and contrasts, raising against itself the proletarian class, formerly its ally in the anti‑feudal struggle, the bourgeoisie increasingly transforms the class bond between its elements from a vaunted pure ideological, philosophical, and legal solidarity into a unity of organization for the control of the course of social relations, and does not hesitate openly to admit that these arise not from opinions but from material interests.
The State then takes to the productive field, and the economic field in general, always by the class thrust and aims of the capitalists, undertakers of economic activities and initiators of increasingly broad-based business.
Every socio-economic measure of the State, even when it goes so far as to effectively impose prices of foodstuffs or commodities, wage levels, charges to the employer for “social security” etc., etc., responds to a mechanism in which capital acts as the engine and the State as the “operating” machine.
For example, the contractor of a public work or the concessionaire, say of a railroad or electric network, is ready to pay higher wages and social security contributions, since the same are automatically factored into the calculation of “unit prices” or “public tariffs”. Profit, being valued as a percentage of the total, grows, surplus value grows as mass and grows as rate, since wage earners also pay State taxes and use railways and electricity, and the wage index always lags behind others.
The system also increasingly encourages companies whose products and services serve little or no purpose or foster more or less anti‑social and malign consumption, fomenting the irrationality and anarchy of production, as opposed to the vulgar notion that sees in the system a principle of scientific ordering and a victory for the famous “general interest”.
It is not a question of partial subordination of capital to the State, but further subordination of the State to capital. And, as greater subordination of the individual capitalist to the capitalists as a whole takes place, there follows greater strength and power of the ruling class, and greater subjection of the small capitalist to the greatly privileged.
Economic direction by the State responds, more or less effectively in various times and places, with waves of advances and returns, to the multiple class needs of the bourgeoisie: averting or overcoming crises of under- and over‑production, preventing and suppressing the rebellions of the exploited class, coping with the frightening socio-economic effects of wars of expansion, conquest, the struggle for world dominance, and the profound upheaval of the periods that follow them.
Proletarian theory does not see State interventionism as an anticipation of socialism, justifying political support for bourgeois reformers, and slowing down the class struggle; it considers the political-economic bourgeois State as a more developed, aggressive and ferocious enemy than the abstract purely legal State, and pursues its destruction, but it does not oppose this expected modern development of capitalism with liberal or free‑trade demands, or hybrid theories based on the virtue of production units, autonomous from central systematic connections, and linked in exchange by free contractual agreements (syndicalism, the economics of factory committees).
A fundamental distinction in describing the modern capitalist economy is that between property, finance, and enterprise. These three factors, which are encountered in any productive enterprise, can have different or unique pertinence and ownership.
Property concerns the real estate in which the establishment is located: the land, constructions, and buildings with a real estate character. It produces a rent which, after deducting the landowner’s (“dominical”) expenses, gives the annuity. We can also extend this factor to fixed machines, plants or other stable works without altering the economic distinction, and also to mobile machines, or various tools, with the only consideration being that the latter are subject to rapid wear and tear and require more frequent renewal with a significant periodic expense (amortization) as well as costly maintenance. But qualitatively it is the same for houses and buildings and also for agricultural land, since the thesis that there is a basic rent proper to the land, which provides it outside of human work, is rejected by Marxists. So first element: property that produces net income.
The second element is liquid working capital: with it must be purchased, for each cycle, raw materials, and workers’ wages, as well as salaries, overheads of all kinds and taxes. This money may be put out by a special lender, a private individual or bank in the general case, which is concerned with nothing more than collecting an annual interest at a given rate. We call that element for brevity finance and its remuneration interest.
The third characteristic element is the enterprise. The entrepreneur is the real organizing factor in production, who makes the plans, chooses the purchases and remains the arbiter of the products by trying to place them on the market at the best terms and collects all the proceeds from sales. The product belongs to the entrepreneur. With its proceeds all the various advances of the previous elements are paid: rental fees, capital interest, costs of raw materials, labor, etc. However, there remains in general a margin, which is called business profit. So third element: enterprise, which produces profit.
Property has its own value, which is called assets, finance its own value, which is called (financial) capital, and finally the enterprise also has a distinct and alienable value deriving, as they say, if not from secrets and patents of technical workmanship, from “accoutrement”, “goodwill”, “customer base”, and which is considered to be related to the “firm” or “business name”.
Let us also recall that for Marx, real estate corresponds to the class of landowners, working and business capital to the class of entrepreneurial capitalists. These are then subdivided into bankers or financiers and actual entrepreneurs: Marx and Lenin fully highlight the importance of the former on the concentration of capital and enterprises, and the possibility of clashes of interests between the two groups.
In order to properly understand what is meant by the expression capitalist State and State capitalism, and by the concepts of State ownership, nationalization and socialization, reference must be made to the assumption by organs of the State of each of the three essential functions previously distinguished.
It does not give rise to serious contrast, even with traditional economists, that all land ownership could become State-owned without thereby departing from the limits of capitalism and without the relations between bourgeois and proletarians having to change. The property-owning class would disappear, and these, having been compensated in cash by the expropriating State, would invest the money by becoming bankers or entrepreneurs.
Nationalization of land or urban areas are therefore not anti‑capitalist reforms: for example State ownership of the subsoil has already been implemented in Italy. The operation of companies would be done by lease or concession, as is the case with State-owned properties, mines, etc. (ports and docks for example).
But the State can take over not only the ownership of plant and various items of equipment, but also that of financial capital by organizing and absorbing private banks. This process is fully developed in capitalist times first by reserving the printing of paper money that is guaranteed by the State to a single bank, then by compulsory cartels of banks and their central regulation. The State can then more or less directly represent not only ownership but also liquid capital in a business.
Thus we have incrementally: private ownership, private finance, private enterprise; State ownership, private finance and enterprise; State ownership and finance, private enterprise.
In the next and complete form, the State also owns the enterprise: it either expropriates and compensates the private owner, or, in the case of joint-stock companies, it buys all the shares. We then have the State-owned company in which all the transactions involved in purchasing materials and payment for work are made with State money and all the proceeds from the sale of products go to the State itself. Examples in Italy are the tobacco monopoly or the State Railways.
Such forms have been known from ancient times, and Marxism has repeatedly warned that there is no socialist character in them. It is no less clear that the hypothetical integral nationalization of all sectors of the productive economy does not constitute the implementation of the socialist demand, as vulgar opinion so often repeats.
A system in which all collective labor enterprises were nationalized and managed by the State is called State capitalism, and it is quite different from socialism, being one of the historical forms of capitalism past, present and future. Does it differ from so‑called “State socialism”? The term “State capitalism” is meant to allude to the economic aspect of the process and the assumption that rents, profits and earnings all pass through the State’s coffers. With the term State socialism (always fought by Marxists and considered in many cases as reactionary even with respect to bourgeois liberal claims against feudalism) we are brought back to the historical aspect: the replacement of private property by collective property would take place without the need for class struggle or the revolutionary transfer of power, but by legislative measures enacted by the government, in which we find the theoretical and political negation of Marxism. There can be no State socialism, both because the State today does not represent the social generality but the dominant class i.e. the capitalist, and because the State of tomorrow will, yes, represent the proletariat, but as soon as the productive organization is socialist there will no longer be either proletariat or State, but rather a classless and stateless society.
From the economic side, the capitalist State is perhaps the first form from which modern industrialism emerged. The first concentration of workers, subsistence, raw materials, and tools was not possible to any private individual, but was only within the reach of public power: Commune, Seigniory, Republic, Monarchy. An obvious example is the armament of merchant ships and fleets, the basis of the formation of the universal market, which for the Mediterranean starts from the Crusades, for the oceans from the great geographical discoveries of the late 15th century. This initial form can reappear as the final form of capitalism, and this is traced in the Marxist laws of accumulation and concentration. Gathered into powerful masses by the State center, property, finance and the domination of the market are energies kept at the disposal of corporate initiative and dominant capitalist profiteering, especially with the clear purposes of its struggle against the onslaught of the proletariat.
Thus, to establish the unbridgeable distance between State capitalism and socialism, these two current distinctions are not enough:
(a) that the State ownership of enterprises is not total but limited to some of them, sometimes for the purpose of enhancing the market price for the benefit of the State body, some other times for the purpose of avoiding excessive price increases and political-social crises;
(b) that the State managing the few or many nationalized enterprises is nevertheless the historic State of the capitalist class, not yet overthrown by the proletariat, and their every policy follows the counter-revolutionary interests of the ruling class.
To these two important criteria one must add the following, which are no less important for concluding that we are in the midst of bourgeois capitalism:
(a) the products of the State enterprises nevertheless have the character of commodities, that is, they are placed on the market and available for purchase with money by the consumer;
(b) workers are nevertheless remunerated with money; therefore they remain wage laborers;
(c) the State treats the various enterprises it manages as separate companies and businesses, each with its own revenue and expenditure budgets computed in currency in its relations with other State-owned enterprises and in any other relation and requires that these budgets lead to a surplus profit.
It is preferable to use the term communist production and even better organization, and not communist economy, in order not to fall into the misunderstanding of bourgeois science, which defines as an economic fact every process that does not simply pertain to production with human labor and consumption for human needs, but which contains a direction and a “drive” toward the attainment of an advantage in an exchange transaction, thus excluding what is done either by coercion or by spontaneous sociality.
It is inaccurate to say that Marxists, after their superseding critique of utopian systems (not because these are too fantastic but because they are always bad copies of the capitalist order) have shied away from concrete explanation of the characteristics of future organization.
It is very clear that every revolutionary movement first of all specifies to the masses the traditional forms it wants to destroy, it now having become clear that these are pure obstacles to an improvement, already possible with the attained resources of the technology of labor. So, for example: abolition of slavery, of feudal serfdom. Our formula is: abolition of wage‑labor, and we have demonstrated how it is only a paraphrase of the abolition of private ownership of the means of production; and also how the negatively expressed claim (Ch. III) is more complete and includes: abolition of ownership over products, of the commodity character of products, of money, of the market, of the separation between companies and (it must be added) of the division of society into classes and the State.
The abolition of the separation between companies serves as a good reminder of how different the Marxist view of a single productive association is from that of a complex of autonomous associations of groups of producers, exchanging and bargaining with each other, and whereby groups or councils of producers serve as arbiters. This is a producer-owner ideology and is common to the most diverse schools we criticize (Proudhon, Bakunin, Sorel, and also: Mazzinians, Social Christians, “Ordinovists”). Such a formula was already in the Rule of St. Benedict, and at the time, a truly grandiose one.
Thus the “single central plan”, which tends to be worldwide, is a characteristic element of the communist organization of work and consumption.
Having established that a single plan of today’s State, however centralized and extended to interstate federations and unions with unitary discipline of production and distribution, remains entirely capitalist, it is necessary to re‑establish the set of features that define a social organization that is no longer capitalist.
Having disputed that the presence of State-owned enterprises authorizes one to say that society has become socialist, or that “it is part socialist, part capitalist”; and contrasting this evaluation of recent economic phenomena, entirely expected, with that of the concentration of property, finance, capital, market, parallel to the concentration of political, military, police force of capitalism, an expression of revolutionary antagonism, it is necessary to clearly establish what is the path of the developmental process that allows one to find communist organization, at a given stage.
This is not the correct thesis: everything is more or less concentrated or fragmented capitalism, liberal or dictatorial, liberalist or planned, until the violent revolution that breaks the bourgeois political State and raises that of proletarian dictatorship. Only from that moment, sector by sector, will we begin to see communist organizational forms take the place of capitalist ones, and we will then have an economy, partly capitalist partly communist, in rapid transformation. In reality, the urgency to overcome old forms of production does not present itself in our understanding only as an ideal claim, but as concrete evidence that condemns the old forms and shows the infinitely superior performance of the new ones, even before the political revolution.
For example, slavery falls due to slave revolts, but before that, and before the State repudiates it, it becomes apparent that businesses based on slave labor go into crisis, and both small and medium-sized businesses of free producers or those who hire wage earners thrive. Feudalism falters because, in its own time, technical and mechanical discoveries show how products were produced with less effort by early manufactures and agrarian farms with free workers than in the artisan trades and feudal countryside. So in the midst of feudal rule there is already an increasing part of production that is capitalistically established.
It must therefore be possible to find in advanced capitalism the traces of future communistic organization, which are not in State enterprises as such, but in specific sectors.
One can take the example of the post office, which became a State‑run service well before the bourgeois revolution. Only the highly powerful private lord could have a special courier on foot or horseback for each message. The postal service on the highways arose as an industry for transporting people and things, and only later for correspondence. But only at first was such a service free of charge; soon it was made payable by the addressee, who could nevertheless refuse both the parcel and the tax. It was clear that such a service was definitely not profitable. The invention of the postage stamp remedied everything: the service was everywhere and always State‑run, but mercantile.
Other more complex needs and discoveries lead further. The telegraph may likewise be charged, but not radio: it has been held that the radio subscribers’ license fee is a tax, not a price. Listening to non‑national radio stations is free. Radio reporting by amateurs in cases of danger or shipwreck has become free and voluntary.
From his earliest writings in 1844 Engels, in pointing out that the basis of competitive mercantilism is monopoly, points out the correct theory of the classical economists: anything susceptible to monopolization has value. Thus atmospheric air is more vital than bread, but since it cannot be monopolized it has no value, and you do not pay for it. It will then be said that nature provides it in unlimited quantity.
However, there are examples where limits cannot even be set on man‑made services. Trauma hospitals take in those who break their legs. But they do not reject those who as they get out, break the other leg. Not only is the firefighting service free of charge, but it does not make its intervention conditional on any previous rescues in the same place or for the same person. So there are non‑mercantile and unlimited services. For that matter, passing through public streets and drinking at the street fountain, etc. are such, without touching here on the issue of taxes.
It may be noted that the fireman and the nurse are paid in wages and currency, and thus their sector is not an example of a communist relationship.
Resorting then to the example of the army, we see a community whose members are held to provide a certain activity, not always destructive, and not remunerated with money but with in‑kind and to a certain degree unlimited provisions.
There is no relationship between the commitment to activities, be they military or civilian, of a certain unit compared to another, and the amount of munitions in the general sense, including those supplied through the mouth, uniforms, means of transportation and so on, that they consume at the expense of the central “superintendency”.
Thus human activities organized in given cases without monetary compensation are evident and possible; in others without any proportion between subsistence consumption, and work given or produced; in others without the requirement that, company by company, more money must come in than goes out. On the contrary, the broader and more modern needs of collective life can only be met by moving out of the mercantile and profit criteria that could be called “budgetary criteria”. In the struggle, for example, against natural calamities, such as epidemics, floods, earthquakes, eruptions, not only is remuneration not demanded from those who are saved, but the work of all valid inhabitants in the area is sought to be mobilized by central ordnances without remuneration, and subsistence and other provisions are distributed to anyone and without price.
There should be no doubt that capitalist “civilization”, which after its phase of gigantic enhancement of the productivity of human labor, begins to function as a producer of a series of destructions, conflicts and wars of extermination even of noncombatants, must be treated today as an accident that has run over the entire earth’s surface, a permanent disaster.
In conclusion, in the organized human activity of the present day there are activities and “services” whose structure makes it clear that communism is not only feasible, but necessary and historically imminent; however, these cases are not to be sought in the bringing of productive, industrial, or land holdings under State control, but rather in those cases where the “mercantile equation” between labor expended and value produced has been overcome in order to implement the superior form of management and “physical” discipline of human and social operations, which cannot be represented in double-entry accounting and balance sheet profits, but are instead rationally directed according to the best general utility through projects and calculations in which the monetary equivalent is no longer involved.
Such an economic history has not been written, and there is no data available to create it, not even by an author or a designated independent research organization (a term that has lost all concrete meaning in the present phase). There is a lack of a comprehensive outline comparable to Marx’s depiction of the birth and life of English and European capitalism in general. To begin with, the powers of the victorious capitalist class did not emerge in a hermetic or esoteric manner during the early period. They had no interest in concealing the facts of their economy, which they naively believed to be “natural” and eternal. In England, Marxism found not only economic theories that had reached a remarkable level, only to subsequently decline, but also an abundance of authentic and vast materials, which is not presently feasible for Russia to replicate.
It is imperative to address and dispel the fundamental misunderstanding of modelism. The correct doctrine advocates that the political revolution, being the first proletarian battlefield, can and must be waged at the point of least historical resistance. It is of little significance that Petrograd in 1917 was the capital of a less developed country compared to France during the time of the Paris Commune. There is absolutely no reason to abandon this solid ground for revolutionary communists to mock the position of those who might ask: “Have you been to Russia? Then you propagandize the test of the experiment that communism, as a productive organization, can function exceptionally well”.
Lenin said and wrote a hundred times that first of all, an isolated model is not a serious Marxist affair, but then he emphasized that in order to move forward with overwhelming pace in implementing socialism, it was necessary to take Berlin, Paris, and London – which did not happen. Therefore, it is essential to understand clearly the economic facts and social programmatic positions during different periods, vindicating the Bolsheviks’ positions from 1903 to 1917 and from 1917 to about 1923, thus demonstrating the counterrevolutionary nature of the Russian government’s positions from that point onward, which became increasingly severe in subsequent phases: the destruction of the Bolshevik revolutionary group – alliance with Western capitalist powers, starting with Germany and later including the Anglo-Americans – and the current phase of class collaborationist propaganda on a global scale across all countries.
1. The rise of Russian capitalism in limited areas is due to the initiative of the feudal State and not to the powerful formation of an indigenous bourgeoisie (1700‑1900).
2. At the stage when Russia was the only European nation not ruled by the bourgeoisie, which prevented a spread of capitalist production over the immense territory, it was right for the proletariat and its revolutionary party to take on the problems of two revolutions that were immediately welded together. Politically, it turned out Russia was the most favorable country for the tactic of revolutionary defeatism in the war (1900‑1917).
3. The social measures in the period immediately following the proletarian party’s seizure of power could only be empirical and transitory, instead of being “propaganda models”, given that the primary tasks were to defeat the counterrevolutionary forces: a) feudal; b) bourgeois, democratic, and those of the internal opportunists; c) external, not by indefinitely postponing armed interventions, which would be an illusory historical perspective, but by attacking the bourgeois metropolises with an internal class revolution.
As Lenin described, the Russian economic landscape encompassed a blend of various economic forms: pre‑mercantile (primitive communism, Asiatic lordship and theocracy, land baronetcy); mercantile (industrial, commercial, and banking capitalism, free private land ownership); and post‑mercantile (early implementations of “war” communism, i.e., “social warfare”, such as free bread, housing, transportation in large cities, and similar provisions). Even within this transitional framework, the nationalization of factories, companies, banks, and agrarian estates constituted revolutionary measures, albeit belonging to the realm of capitalist revolution. Similarly, the requisitions of grain without compensation, enforced upon peasants who had rapidly evolved from serfs to autonomous producers. History shows that the bourgeois revolutions did similar things (1917‑1921).
4. Lenin strongly asserted all of this during the N.E.P. period. Trotsky, who shared his directives, explained that it was socialism with capitalist accounting; indeed, it is precisely the type of accounting that defines the economic structure. The accurate Marxist expression was capitalism with capitalist accounting, but with records maintained by the proletarian State. The N.E.P. allowed for a free market and trade, free artisan and petty-bourgeois production, and free small and medium-scale land cultivation – all mature forms ready to break through, yet until then suppressed by the feudal-Tsarist governmental framework. A revolutionary social valve was opened.
In Lenin’s perspective, the danger of this shift was explicitly clarified: the formation of a capitalist class and accumulation, inevitable within the framework of market freedom. Lenin believed that the proletarian revolution in the West would take place sooner. Only then could further despotic measures of intervention in the Russian economy take a socialist direction (1921‑1926).
5. Once abandoned, the perspective of a political revolution in capitalist countries, the purported theory of socialism confined to a single country, and the central interventions of State power aimed at suppressing the forces of small and medium-sized agrarian cultivation, trade, and industry to prevent them from becoming political forces, are examples of State capitalism, devoid of the slightest proletarian and socialist character. The overall maturity of technology, which is, in a sense, an international heritage, and thus the starting up of capitalism and industrialism at a level of technical productivity enormously higher than that with which it started in England, France, Germany, and America, abbreviated the stages of concentration and accumulation.
The State that had emerged as the State of the victorious proletariat regressed into a capitalist State and established itself – the sole path to achieving production for large enterprises – as an employer of the Russian industrial proletariat and a significant portion of the agricultural proletariat. From that moment onward, its policy no longer followed the dynamics of relations with the proletarian class in capitalist countries, but rather focused on relations with bourgeois States, whether in terms of alliance, war, or negotiation
6. In the situation thus originally determined the capitalist market and corporate economy persist in full force. The challenge of finding the physical group of individuals to replace the bourgeoisie, which did not form spontaneously, or since it had formed during the Czarist era was eradicated after October 1917, poses a significant difficulty only in relation to the effects of democratic and petty bourgeois thinking – ideologies that have poisoned the working class for decades by its purported masters. As bourgeois firms and enterprises evolve from personal entities to collective, anonymous, and ultimately “public” entities, the bourgeoisie, which was never a caste but arose by advocating the concept of total “virtual” equality, transforms into “a network of spheres of interests that emerge within the scope of each enterprise”. The individuals within this network vary greatly – they are no longer solely owners, bankers, or shareholders, but increasingly encompass profiteers, economic consultants, businessmen. One of the notable features of economic development is that the privileged class experiences an ever‑changing and fluctuating pool of human resources (such as the oil king who was once an usher, and so on).
As in all historical periods, this network of interests, and of individuals who are more or less visible, has connections with the State bureaucracy, but it is not the bureaucracy itself; it has ties with “circles of politicians”, but it does not belong to the political category.
Above all, in the era of capitalism, this network is “international”, and today there are no longer national bourgeois classes, but rather a global bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, there still exist national States of the world capitalist class.
The Russian State today is one of them, but with its own distinctive historical origin. It is, in fact, the only one that emerged from two revolutions combined in political and insurrectional triumph. It is also the only one that has deviated from the second revolutionary task but has not yet completed the first: to transform all of Russia into a region of mercantile economy. As a result, this has had profound implications for Asia.
The fastest route to achieve this, without which one cannot successfully fight – nor fornicate – with other national States, is that of a State that owns land and capital, serving as the most fertile and vibrant breeding ground for a robust, youthful mercantilism and “enterprisism”.
Key to the Marxist critique is that capitalism does not destroy the productive forces by means of a very limited consumption of surplus value, as corporate masters do, but with the destructive and bestial competition between companies and the groups of parasites (or even popinjays) they nourish: in the anatomy of Russian society, where it is not very convenient to go and insert the scalpel, such a parasitic phenomenon is not only alive and kicking, but at its most virulent.
The expressions of socialism (scientific) and communism (critical) are understood by all to encompass the entirety of an interpretation of the process of human social events, the anticipation and demand that the future process will exhibit specific characteristics, the struggle of the working class to attain this, and the methods employed in this struggle.
Implicit in this is the assertion that the broad outlines of future development can be established, while simultaneously recognizing the need for a mobilization of forces to promote and accelerate this development.
Although all of these aspects are distinctly present in Marxism, to the extent that since its formulation even those who have not embraced it must grapple with it constantly, they also occur in an albeit non‑organic form in all previous “systems”.
Leaving aside abstruse questions, such as whether it is a common illusion among theorists, authors, propagandists, and party militants of all persuasions that it is worthwhile to influence social events, study their development, and fight for them, we will note that every manifestation of anticipation for the future, every struggle to “change things”, presupposes a certain experience and understanding of the past and present situations. On the other hand, every study and description of the past and the facts around us has never been undertaken solely for its own sake but rather to arrive, in some way, at plausible predictions and practical innovations. It is necessary to simply note that this has been the case for all real movements, without boarding at the outset (i.e., metaphysically and vainly) the usual puzzles of finality or mechanics.
Beings, men, and groups indifferent to knowing “where one was going” or to attempting to alter the direction of motion, have always been equally inept when it comes to the allure of coldly cognitive and descriptive research, which merely records the results without caring for anything else and without any utility for the archive. If it were only possible to capture a photograph of reality and the world, there would be no need to go beyond the first photograph. However, when one gathers a series of photographs, it indicates a search for rules of uniformity and disuniformity among the various imprinted clichés. And if one engages in this process, it is to somehow anticipate what a later photograph would reveal, before even taking it.
Human groups have indeed embarked on attempts to know the future before constructing even rudimentary systems of understanding the nature and historical events of the past. The first system is the hereditary transmission of notions on how to safeguard against mishaps, dangers, and cataclysms; the embryonic recording of contemporary and past facts and data comes later. The chronicle emerged after the pragmatics. Similarly, animal instinct, which manifests as an early and quantitatively limited form of knowledge, regulates behavior concerning future events to be avoided or facilitated. A scholar of the subject beautifully defines instinct as “hereditary knowledge of a specific plan of life”. Every individual who formulates and possesses plans is working with data from the future. All the better if we understand the adjective specific as connected to “species”, implying not a determined plan but rather a “plan for the species”.
Flying through the entire cycle, communism is the “knowledge of a life plan for the species”. That is, for the human species.
In the utopian sense, communism sought to elaborate the future while forgetting or neglecting the past and the present. Marxism gave the most complete and definitive critique of utopia as a plan or dream of an enlightened author or sect, which seemed to say: “Now that we have arrived, the problem is solved”, as it would have been had we arrived, with the same plan, a thousand years earlier.
According to Marxism, all systems of thought and ideas, whether religious or philosophical, are not products of individual brains, rather expressions, albeit formless, of the data of knowledge of a certain social epoch ordered for the purpose of its rules of behavior. They are not causes but products of the general historical movement. In their succession they are found to be aged, that is, to reflect in their formulations the ancient conditions, and in other cases they are found to be anticipatory, that is, to be the result of the decomposition of those old forms and their contrasts, so that they express the future. Thus in the time of slavery the claim before law and custom that one man was not to be the property of another took the mysterious form of the equality of souls before the one god. But this does not happen because the god has decided to reveal himself, but because of the decomposition and non‑convenience of slave production: Christians will apply it against blacks when suitable conditions reappear, such as abundant free land to a few occupiers, as a result of geographical discoveries.
Nevertheless, the theses concerning the unity of God and the immortality of the soul are not randomly formulated; rather, they express, in different words, the imminent era when every worker will be personally free. For believers, ideologists, and jurists, this represents a triumph for the human person. For us, it is a triumph that has come at the right moment, signifying the emergence of a new and more efficient “life plan for the species”.
Consequently, Marxism, while paying homage to the utopianism of the 18th century, which in turn approximately expressed a mature condition, demonstrates its weakness in its failure to link the end of the economy of private ownership, not only of man upon man, but also of man upon man’s labor, to the accomplished evolution of a given social form, capitalism.
Utopianism is an anticipation of the future; scientific communism calls it to consider the knowledge of the past and the present because an arbitrary and romantic anticipation of the future is insufficient. Instead, a scientific forecast is needed – a specific forecast made possible by the full maturation of the capitalist form of production. This forecast is closely connected to the characteristics of this form, its development, and the peculiar antagonisms that arise within it.
While in old doctrines, myth and mystery were expressions of the description of past and current events, and while the modern philosophy of the capitalist class boasts (with ever decreasing confidence) that it has eliminated such fantastic elements from the science of the facts recorded so far, the new proletarian doctrine constructs the lines of the science of the future, entirely free from arbitrary and passionate elements.
If a general knowledge of nature and history, part of it, is possible, it includes, inseparable from itself, the search for the future: any well‑founded polemic against Marxism can only stand on the ground of the negation of human knowledge and science.
Here, it is not a matter of providing a complete picture of such a problem, but of eliminating the distortions that claim to admit of Marxism the incomparable original analysis of human history and the present capitalist social structure, and then, through the extinguishment of fervor, arrive at skeptical, agnostic, and flexible positions regarding the precise itinerary of the revolutionary future, and the possibility of having essentially known and outlined it ever since the proletarian class has been effectively present in society in efficient masses.
Having settled accounts with the prophets, the same was done with the Heroes, whom the old conceptions of history placed at the summit, both in the form of captains of arms and as legislators and organizers of peoples and States. Also here, it is needless to say that, like every prophetic system, every feat of conquerors or political innovators is thoroughly examined by Marxist criticism as an expression or result that translates profound effects of the “life plans” that come into existence, develop over time, and assert their influence.
Therefore, the new doctrine cannot be tied to a system of tables or texts, assumed to be definitive in the whole battle, nor can it rely on the success of a leader or a vanguard of fighters, rich in will and strength. Prophesying a future or wanting to realize a future are inadequate positions for communists. All this is replaced by the history of a class struggle considered as a unitary course, where only a segment has been completed at any given moment, and the rest still awaits. The data of the future course are equally fundamental and indispensable as those of the past course. For that matter, errors and diversions are equally possible in the evaluation of the previous movement, and in that of the successive movement: and all polemics of parties and party stand to prove it.
Consequently, the problem of party practice is not to know the future, which would be little, nor to want the future, which would be too much, but to “preserve the line of the future of one’s class”.
It is evident that if the movement does not possess the ability to study, investigate, and comprehend this line, it will be incapable of preserving it. Equally obvious is that if the movement is unable to distinguish between the will of constituted and enemy classes and its own, the game is lost, the line is misplaced. The communist movement is not a matter of pure doctrine; it is not a matter of pure will: yet the lack of doctrine paralyzes it, and the lack of will paralyzes it. And lack implies absorption of others’ doctrines, of others’ wills.
Those who scoff at the possibility of tracing a great historical itinerary by the midpoint of the course (as would be the case for those who, having descended the river from the source to the middle, would take to drawing the map of it to the ocean; an induction not inaccessible to physical geographic science), are inclined either to exclude all possibility of the influence of individuals and groups on history, or to exaggerate it, so far as, however, it concerns an immediate succession.
Voluntarist errors were in the two great revisionist deviations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reformism, claiming to preserve classical doctrine as the study of history and economics, rejected as illusory the outline of the future course and was reduced to working on detailed and short-lived purposes, to be renewed from time to time. Its motto was, “The movement is everything, the final goal is nothing”; and it is equivalent to saying, “principles are nothing, movement is everything”. In such an address, doubt arises between the end of a close working-class interest and that of its chiefs and leaders: both can be found opposed to the distant and general class end. This here is opportunism. The other school, syndicalism, rejected determinism, assuming to accept the doctrine of economic class struggle and the violent, but non‑political, method, which closed it out of the struggle for the overarching class purpose. Reformism and syndicalism converged in social-patriotic degeneration.
An entirely parallel degeneration is that of the Third International and the Russian party in the second quarter of the present century: abandonment of the line of the overall class objective in order to follow proximate, local results, changing from phase to phase.
The question of communist action, strategy, tactics or praxis is the same question, namely that of preserving the line for the future of the class, and this question is posed from the moment the proletarian class socially appears. Whether there are different solutions from time to time and from country to country is not disputed, but in this same succession of solutions there must be continuity and a rule, the abandonment of which makes the movement wander. In this light, questions of organization, of discipline, come out of the constitutionalism of legal formulas, which connect base, cadres, and center, to commit the leading center not to abandon the “rule” of action, without which there is no party and much less a revolutionary party.
Thus, while no one disputes that in nations where the bourgeoisie had yet to overthrow feudal power the proletariat could not fail to join that struggle, the Marxist left wanted it to be made the rule that in countries with capitalist power no alliances could be made with factions of the bourgeoisie. In Lenin’s time, proletarian critique and politics assimilated to these factions the parties that, while saying they were workers’ parties, rejected the postulate of violent action and proletarian dictatorship.
The left in the Third International had to fight, remaining beaten organizationally, as a new gradualist and possibilist form, that of the united front with the social democratic parties: theoretically it had a winning game in the prediction that this method would lead to collaboration with capitalist and imperialist parties, classes and States, and to the destruction of the revolutionary movement.
This is enough to show that the revolutionary party and the International can only have a rigid system of rules of practice, which the centers (and so‑called leaders) must not be allowed to transgress under the pretext of new and unforeseen situations. Either this construction of rules from a group of well‑founded predictions about the development of facts is possible, and then the left was right; or it is not, but then not only would the Marxist left be wrong, but it would be the Marxist method that would have fallen, since it would be reduced to a record of social meteorology and a place-by-place and day-by-day defense of contingent interests of the working classes, a claim insufficient to distinguish itself from any other political party in action today in any country.
The guarantee against the repeated, ruinous landslides of the movement never lies in anything other than the historic demonstration that the movement will rise again, not only with established Marxist and determinist theory, but with a body of norms of action drawn from centuries of accumulated experience and above all from the most useful apprenticeship of failures and defeats, managing to keep itself out of the drawbacks due to the sudden maneuvers, skills, and political stratagems of the leaders, which if need be must be relentlessly renewed, and put away as individuals, as soon as they falter and fall into such degenerate praxis.
In other texts it was shown how every statutory or regulatory resource for determining who stands on the great historical line is illusory: until it is argued possible to summon to the supreme hypocrisy of consultations, an exquisitely bourgeois form, the successive historical generations of the class: the dead, the living and the unborn!
As theory of the past, present and future we lay as our basis the 1848 Manifesto, Capital, the critical works of Marx and Engels especially on the value of struggles for power and the Paris Commune, and the anti‑revisionist restoration of Lenin and the Bolsheviks at the time of World War I.
As a tactical practice one can solidly start from the Manifesto, noting the point that many capitalist revolutions were yet to be accomplished, and that at that time no party called itself a workers’ party unless it was on the ground of armed anti‑bourgeois struggle. That later, in the course of a century, workers’ parties arose with not only constitutional but anti‑revolutionary programs, is not a new fact of history, but a confirmation of the course of predictions that were built on the Manifesto.
Two passages from the Manifesto suffice as our starting point: «The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and defend the future of that movement».
Every present movement is for determinists a fact that cannot be denied. But only communists add the datum of “defending the future of the movement”, that is, of the struggling class, struggling to suppress classes.
«Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things”. Two conditions allow us to recognize revolutionary movements: they use force, breaking with legality; and they change class power relations. Communists “bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time».
The property question means, in Marxist texts, the question of the economy, the question of class: forms of property means relations of production.
The capitalist revolution in Germany, 1848 and Russia, 1917 was of interest to communists for two reasons: first, so that it could initiate the immediate European proletarian revolution; second, so that, even in the hypothesis that the movement stalled at the bourgeois revolution, it would shake the foundations of feudal relations of production and unleash the irresistible initiation of modern capitalist and mercantile forms of production and exchange, in place of feudal slumber.
In 1848, 1917, or 1952, the existence of a party equally solid in doctrine, organization and tactics is the only guarantee that these two genuine motives, reasons, goals rooted in historical reality are not mistaken for a fictitious and ruinous third motive: that first and foremost, and before engaging in the specific class struggle against each other, both the bourgeoisie and the proletarians might have certain areas of shared theory and action based on the postulates of a claimed human civilization, encompassing various ideologies like liberalism, egalitarianism, pacifism, and patriotism.
Whenever the movement has failed to grasp the dialectic of historical positions, it has foundered in that same swamp.
We dealt with Property and Capital so that it would be well evident that in the historical epoch we live in, after the fall of feudalism not only in Germany, Russia and Japan, but also in China and India, there is only one world historical question of Property, and that is the question of Capital, of the death of Capital, of which the history needs to be written in advance.
To write this history, once again theory and action, historical and economic science and political program all proceed inseparably. And, looking at the general end point of the movement, in time and space.
Therefore it is not only the study of the economic situation beyond the curtain, and the social relations thereof, which, however obvious, judges the false communism and the Russian State, but also the study and simple observation of the active policy of such a party, of such a State.
Within given limits of space and time, the thesis of a victorious party of workers’ dictatorship, occupied in transitioning feudal forms of property into capitalist forms, is not absurd from a Marxist perspective. But such a party would NOT HIDE it, but rather proclaim its own aims, as the Manifesto dictated; to bring about revolution in the classical capitalist countries, holding power and arms in its grasp until then, and then carrying out the social transformation.
Opposition to the application of such a hypothesis to Russia today lies in the degeneration of tactics since 1923, the policy of alliance with States and parties of bourgeois forms of production on domestic and international political levels, and on the military one of the Second World War. There is no need for further evidence, and as confirmation of the diagnosis, there is the overall shameful propaganda within the ranks the working class for social and constitutional pacifism within bourgeois countries, and for pacifism and emulation internationally.
One cannot deny the importance of a situation of an imperialist war, instead of involving two groups of avowedly capitalist States in conflict, sees all of them on one side and, on the other side, only, or almost only, the “crypto-capitalist” State, the heir to a proletarian revolution; for such a situation would entail the “denunciation” of any tactics of détente and social collaboration in the domestic politics of all enemy States, and even the employment by the self‑styled communist forces of means of sabotage and civil war.
The certainty that even in this hypothesis it will be a counter-revolutionary policy, i.e. discordant with the general aim of proletarian communism, does not derive from fraudulent economic and social chemisms, but stands solidly in the established ruptures and reversals of the course of history, and in the conviction of falsehood to which are historically bound those who have presented as a revolutionary policy the one tending to the illusory restoration of democracy against world fascism, and present as a communist society a banal industrial mercantilism that nevertheless sets fire to the heart of the millenarian sleeper, Asia.
Either the phase of peace and the global market without barriers, or that of the third world war will put Marxism to the test. If it emerges out of it, this will be with the conquest that on the trajectory of the great historical course, plotted as Columbus traced it towards the East dialectically taken from the West; there are gruesome and risky slowdowns, fearful obstacles, but the route must remain that of the day in which the anchors were weighed, in a dazzling certainty shouted to a hostile world.
There is no need to point out to the reader that the “summary” of the last four chapters has been carried out in an almost total exposition of the development of this study.
We have been induced to this not only by the urgency of the conclusions with respect to the present world situation, but by the fact of the serious difficulties opposing the publication of this journal. So far it has reached readers at such intervals that we felt it necessary to give them the presentation of the complete cycle of this work up to its point of arrival.
If the effort to secure a better periodicity for Prometeo succeeds, widespread dissertations of chapters seven through seventeen will follow.