Antonio Gramsci Reader: IX Americanism and Fordism
3 Financial Autarky of Industry
SPN, 289-94 (Q22§6), 1934
A noteworthy article by Carlo Pagni, ‘A proposito di un tentativo di teoria pura del corporativismo’ (La Riforma Sociale, September/October 1929) examines Massimo Fovel’s book Economia e corporativismo (Ferrara, S.A.T.E., 1929) and refers to another work by the same author Rendita e salario nello Stato Sindacale (Rome, 1928). But he does not realize, or does not point out explicitly, that Fovel in his writings conceives of ‘corporatism’ as the premiss for the introduction into Italy of the most advanced American systems of production and labour. It would be interesting to know whether Fovel is writing ‘out of his head’ or whether he has behind him specific social forces (practically speaking and not just in general) which back him and urge him on. Fovel has never been a ‘pure scientist’, since all intellectuals, however ‘pure’, are always expressive of certain tendencies. [...]
What would appear significant in Fovel’s thesis, as summarized by Pagni, is his conception of the corporation as an autonomous industrial productive bloc destined to resolve in a modern and increasingly, capitalist direction the problem of further development of the Italian economic apparatus. This is opposed to the semi-feudal and parasitic elements of society which appropriate an excessive amount of surplus value and to the so-called ‘producers of savings’. The production of savings should become an internal (more economical) function of the productive bloc itself, with the help of a development of production at diminishing costs which would allow, in addition to an increase of surplus value, higher wages as well. The result of this would be a larger internal market, a certain level of working-class saving and higher profits. In this way one should get a more rapid rhythm of capital accumulation within the enterprise rather than through the intermediary of the ‘producers of savings’ who are really nothing other than predators of surplus value. Within the industrial-productive bloc, the technical element, management and workers, should be more important than the ‘capitalistic’ element in the petty sense of the word. The alliance of captains of industry and petty-bourgeois savers should be replaced by a bloc consisting of all the elements which are directly operative in production and which are the only ones capable of combining in a union and thus constituting the productive corporation. [...] Fovel’s greatest weaknesses consist in his having neglected the economic function which the state has always had in Italy because of the diffident attitude of small savers towards the industrialists, and in having neglected the fact that the corporative trend did not originate from the need for changes in the technical conditions of industry, or even from that of a new economic policy, but rather from the need for economic policing, a need which was aggravated by the 1929 crisis which is still going on.
In reality skilled workers in Italy have never, as individuals or through union organizations, actively or passively opposed innovations leading towards lowering of costs, rationalization of work or the introduction of more perfect forms of automation and more perfect technical organization of the complex of the enterprise. On the contrary. However, this has happened in America and has resulted in the semi-liquidation of the free trade unions and their replacement by a system of mutually isolated factory-based workers’ organizations. In Italy on the other hand even the slightest and most cautious attempt to make the factory the centre of the trade union organization (recall the question of the ‘shop stewards’) has been bitterly contested and resolutely crushed. A careful analysis of Italian history before 1922, or even up to 1926, which does not allow itself to be distracted by external trappings but manages to seize on the essential moments of the working-class struggle, must objectively come to the conclusion that it was precisely the workers who brought into being newer and more modern industrial requirements and in their own way upheld these strenuously. It could also be said that some industrialists understood this movement and tried to appropriate it to themselves. This explains Agnelli’s attempt to absorb the Ordine Nuovo and its school into the Fiat complex and thus to institute a school of workers and technicians qualified for industrial change and for work with ‘rationalized’ systems. The YMCA tried to open courses of abstract ‘Americanism’, but despite all the money spent they were not a success.
These considerations apart, a further series of questions is raised. The corporative movement exists. It is also true that in some ways the juridical changes which have already taken place have created the formal conditions within which major technical-economic change can happen on a large scale, because the workers are not in a position either to oppose it or to struggle to become themselves the standard-bearers of the movement. Corporative organization could become the form of the new change, but one asks oneself: shall we experience one of Vico’s ‘ruses of providence’ in which men, without either proposing or willing it, are forced to obey the imperatives of history? For the moment one is more inclined to be dubious. The negative element of ‘economic policing’ has so far had the upper hand over the positive element represented by the requirements of a new economic policy which can renovate, by modernizing it, the socio-economic structure of the nation while remaining within the framework of the old industrialism.
The juridical form possible is one of the conditions required, but not the only one or even the most important: it is only the most important of the immediate conditions. Americanization requires a particular environment, a particular social structure (or at least a determined intention to create it) and a certain type of state. This state is the liberal state, not in the sense of free-trade liberalism or of effective political liberty, but in the more fundamental sense of free initiative and of economic individualism which, with its own means, on the level of ‘civil society’, through historical development, itself arrives at a regime of industrial concentration and monopoly. The disappearance of the semi-feudal type of rentier is in Italy one of the major conditions of an industrial revolution (and, in part, the revolution itself) and not a consequence. The economic and financial policy of the state is the instrument of their disappearance through the amortization of the national debt, compulsory registration of shares, and by giving a greater weight to direct rather than indirect taxation in the governmental budget. But it does not seem that this has been or is going to become the trend of financial policy. Indeed, the state is creating new rentiers, that is to say it is promoting the old forms of parasitic accumulation of savings and tending to create closed social formations. In reality the corporative trend has operated to shore up crumbling positions of the middle classes and not to eliminate them, and is becoming, because of the vested interests that arise from the old foundations, more and more a machinery to preserve the existing order just as it is rather than a propulsive force. Why is this? Because the corporative trend is also dependent on unemployment. It defends for the employed a certain minimum standard which, if there were free competition, would likewise collapse and thus provoke serious social disturbances; and it creates new forms of employment, organizational and not productive, for the unemployed of the middle classes. But there still remains a way out: the corporative trend, born in strict dependence on such a delicate situation whose essential equilibrium must at all costs be maintained if monstrous catastrophe is to be averted, could yet manage to proceed by very slow and almost imperceptible stages to modify the social structure without violent shocks: even the most tightly swathed baby manages nevertheless to develop and grow. This is why it would be interesting to know whether Fovel is speaking just for himself or whether he is the representative of economic forces which are looking for a way forward at all costs. In any case, the process would be so long and encounter so many difficulties that new interests could grow up in the meanwhile and once again oppose its development so tenaciously as to crush it entirely.