Chapter 7: Exhortation to rescue capitalism from its irrationalities and to save it

[1]
They find me difficult?
I know it well:
I obligate them to think

Alfieri, Epigrams

He who considers the world in accordance with reason is himself considered in accordance with it. We must act in accordance with the times, and they have changed. To want to go against them is an undertaking whose success is as impossible as its failure is quite assured. The proximity of the fateful moment, if it is eventually perceived as such by us all, can paradoxically be our last chance for salvation and perhaps one day we can say, in our turn, what the Prince de Condé said during the religious wars:[2] “We would perish if we were not so close to perishing” [French in original]. On the condition that we know how to exploit for our exclusive advantages all the occasions that are presented to us, none of the evil will harm us, despite the undeniable precariousness of our current situation. In the words of the “Exhortation to Retake Italy”[3]: “At present, to know the virtue of an Italian spirit, it has been necessary that Italy reduce herself to the conditions in which she is at present (…) without chief, without order, beaten, despoiled, torn, overrun, and having borne every sort of ruin.”

We will say to those who would accuse us of speaking too much or too quickly of our ruin and its non-hypothetical proximity that such is the primary task of those who truly want to avoid it, because one does not always find oneself in the position to avoid such disasters. And, moreover, what else is there to speak about today?

The intelligent conservative can express the principle of his actions in a single phrase: everything that does not merit being destroyed merits being saved – and this immediately and everywhere in the world. But that which does not merit beings saved, that is to say, that which is in contradiction with our own salvation or, more simply, anything that is an inconvenience or an embarrassment, must be abandoned and destroyed without beating around the bush or superfluous scruples. Unburdening oneself of the dead weight of the past is necessary to make the task of cleaning up the present less difficult.

Today, the principal irrationality of capitalism is that, although it is under dangerous attack, it does not do everything necessary to defend itself. But we will admit that there are others. We must correct them as well, if we can. In those areas in which our management has been unreasonable, it must be changed, because, ever since the origin of the bourgeoisie, all of our power has been intimately linked to rational management, and it cannot last without it. There is nothing new about the appropriateness of making profound reforms. We have given birth to them in every epoch. That is our strength: we are the first society in history that has known how to correct itself continuously. We call “unreasonable” everything that is not a real necessity for our possession of society and that produces results that are objectively in contradiction with those necessities, that is to say, results that we ourselves can measure and are felt by everyone. We will mention the necessary reforms below.

For the moment, we must repeat that, in the midst of the current dangers, we must (as the French say) make every piece of wood into an arrow [French in original], starting with the most accessible and malleable pieces. Thus, we must employ our own Communists – rather than sell the entire country to the Arabs, as some of our insane politicians have seriously proposed – with the sole goal of making the most of this experiment with a government in which the Communists participate. But this experiment will cost us nothing, while the logic of the other proposal would inevitably lead to our complete dispossession. How is it possible to compare, even for a moment, two obviously unequal solutions? What is inconceivable on the plane of logic properly speaking obeys a particular logic that is hidden but easily discernible. Should we be able to save ourselves, three-quarters of our political personnel must be discharged. Should we fail to save ourselves, these same people will remain in place and, in a few years, they will squander or embezzle a large part of our capital, which they will eventually expropriate from us and without even assuring the power of the new property owners. In the aftermath of this grotesque prospect – which in fact supposes that the productive forces and the properties of Europe would in large part belong to a few Arab potentates, who would control the defective international monetary system because they would provisionally control the principal source of energy upon which the industrialized countries are dependent – would not the workers, from whom we already have so much trouble, expropriate these new foreign, archaic and perfectly incompetent masters with an even greater facility than they would have with us? Transporting the property-owning class of our country to exotic and backwards locations means selling our birthright for a plate of lentils. But could such upstarts [French in original] hope to control our country? With their own troops or with the help of ours? With our political skill or theirs? Our troops are no longer reliable, and theirs are worth nothing. Our skill is worn out. As for theirs: simply posing the question is to answer it [in the negative].

Thus, we will not be surprised if those responsible for such a strategy, especially in Italy, have no other policy than the complete liquidation of our national patrimony and its clandestine export to their Swiss bank accounts. While the high functionaries of our government ministries and economic organizations will charge very dearly – in bad money, alas! – to depart from careers that have already departed from them, the hospital in Padua has announced that it will sell to the highest bidder a Mantegna[4] that belongs to it. All of those who are responsible for the management of Italian society, seeing that society march so quickly to its forfeiture, dream of selling what he or she holds. And, in the final analysis, what they hold is Italy itself, its monuments and its soil. And they want to sell it all because soon our productive forces, with such bad workers and such bad managers, will not be worth much on the market. We must counter those who plan to offer Italian society up to a “Public Takeover Bid.”

We would like to return for a moment to one of our preceding statements, according to which we must (without scruples) remove all the impediments to the surmounting of the crisis in which our State is in. For example, a year ago, President Leone,[5] who is not completely unappreciative of our arguments, made an allusion (with perhaps too much circumspection and, thus, without any success) to the necessity of a constitutional reform that certain Communists now believe to be urgent. Today, we must propose a reform that is both radical and favorable to the restructuring of the Republic in conformity with the highest-priority necessities for the survival of our world and that, of course, would not be prejudicial to the continuation of democracy, as we said was important to us in the first chapter of this Report.

With the commitment of the Communist Party, as much in the elaboration as in the application of the new constitution, we are persuaded that there is a real possibility of surmounting this great crisis. The new Magna Carta must maintain democracy, yes, but in a disabused way, thus contrary to what has happened in the first 30 years of our Republic. Maintaining democracy means maintaining the rule of the vote, which is the basis of all the free, modern republics. We know that this rule is the inverse of the one that presided over primitive democracy. Among the ancient Greeks, the rule was to count the votes of those who were ready to fight openly for one camp or the other, and Plato (and subsequent history) showed how this primitive democracy led to disorder and despotism. In its modern meaning, “democracy” must, on the contrary, be understood to be the manner of making the people vote on all the questions for which they are not disposed to fight. This aspect must be accentuated, and we must summon the citizens to vote, as in the past, but on a much greater variety of subjects that are not detrimental to the smooth functioning of society, and the citizens must continue to choose between diverse candidates. But these candidates, no matter what side they come from, must have already been selected in their turn, and with a qualitative rigor unknown in our times, by a veritable elite [French in original] in the spheres of political power, the economy and culture.

And this economy itself – this modern technology that we make use of, and whose power is virtually unlimited – requires that we make a better and more intelligent use of it. That is to say, we must no longer allow ourselves to dominate through this power, which incessantly tends to become autonomous by escaping from our hands, which in the recent past have manipulated it, above all, according to democratic and demagogical fictions upon which (during the epoch of “the abundance of well-being” and market abundance) we built a giant with clay feet. But since that epoch is over, we must now cease to make the people consume images that are too beautiful and too wild, and must instead give ourselves the means to make them consume images of a reality that is less harsh than the current one: less pollution; fewer automobiles; better bread, meat and houses; and so forth. In sum, the reform of our economy from the ground up and its reconstruction on more solid bases must establish a new economy, one that is capable of being both authentically liberal and severely controlled by the State – certainly not this particular State, because it must be rigorously lead by an elite [French in original] that is really worthy of the name. We will return to this subject below.

Today, it is important for us to consider that we must not only maintain a dominant class, but the best possible dominant class. Our government ministers must strive to rule through merit and talent, because we know that those who start out aiming to be satisfied with a secondary position will never attain it: they will never attain anything at all. If today this minimum requirement seems too utopian or too ambitious, it is so with respect to the pitiful panorama of our current crop of politicians. But such a requirement, which the current situation makes obligatory, is not in fact disproportionate to the reality that we must eventually confront and to the long-term tasks that the good administration of our society requires.

What is convenient to a prince that he might be esteemed?[6] Which men are able to save our society? This is what we must ask when we are choosing our governmental ministers; this is what is especially neglected when we privilege a hundred laughable “titles of merit,” such as the fact that the Honorable [Aldo] Moro is more or less the enemy of Cefis,[7] or that someone else’s wife is the intimate friend of General Miceli’s wife. “Stranger,” Plato says, “the moment has come to be serious,”[8] and we know the interest that this philosopher had in the political problems of our peninsula.

Well! We will say, and we will try to prove, that today in Italy the men we need exist, and we must make use of them as soon as possible, by bringing them out of the limbo to which a herd of Christian Democratic notables, disguised as wolves, flatter themselves with having condemned these men forever, so that these same Christian Democrats can have the pleasure of satisfying their own raging hunger for ministerial posts and clients in complete freedom. Moreover, a few traits would suffice to define these men, because merit accounts for so little in our Republic, and a few well-chosen ministers would suffice to make any State function as it should. It is true that in France under Louis XIII, a single one sufficed. But it is also quite obvious that if we want to continue to coat the various pâtés of our governments in Italian-style sauce – by assigning a ministerial post to a man of Bruno Visenti’s talents,[9] and another one to someone like Gioia, of whom it is well to say nothing,[10] – we will compromise to the very roots any possibility of action by men of value, and we will once again prove right Mussolini’s justifying formula, according to which “governing Italy is not a difficult business; it is a useless one.”[11] Fortunately, the future of capitalism is not tied to the future of Christian Democracy, no more than it was to the future of fascism, but let us recall that a half-century of stupidity in power is a hardly enviable world record, and especially if no one tries to contest it. Because today few and far between are the men of talent who will take the risk of compromising themselves in the midst of the administrative corruption of a State that appears to be, in the words of Dante, “the sad sack that covers with shit everything that it swallows.”[12]

To save ourselves from the threat of subversion, which will probably persist in the years to come, even if the Communists in government are able to master it better than we are at the moment, our first operation must not be an obstinate and obtuse defense of current Italy and its incapable leaders. On the contrary, our first operation should resemble a scorched-earth policy, which will permit us to unburden ourselves of these men and the frilly trimmings with which we cover our poor Republic. And, simultaneous with this radical housecleaning, we must reconstruct around ourselves a society provided with all the qualities that would render it worthy of being defended in the eyes of many people. And who knows if, at that moment, the workers themselves will not cease to attack us so violently, even if they must always remain irreducibly hostile to private property at the bottom of their hearts? But without venturing into utopian philosophical theories about the future of the world in a time when, personally, we will no longer be around, it is fitting to consider, while we are still here, all that would be necessary to have our world die out. In the final analysis, who are our real enemies?

We will say that, today, we must confront several hostile realities, only one of which is historically immanent to our mode of domination and production: the proletariat, which has a natural and perpetual tendency to revolt. The ancient Romans summarized this fact in the adage we have as many enemies as there are slaves [Latin in original]. Once we have taken action upon this incontestable and constant fact, it will be important to see if the other realities that are hostile to us have the same immutability and constancy. Even more precisely, we would like to say that it will be fitting to see if these other realities are as necessary and useful as the proletariat. Because we should not forget for an instant that the workers, at least when they work and do not revolt, are the most useful reality in the world and merit our respect, for in a certain way they (under our well-informed direction) produce our wealth, i.e., our power. Well! We would contest the idea that the other realities that currently contest our power are in fact necessary and unavoidable. And we propose to examine at least two of them here: the bad morals and incompetence of which our political class have given ample proof, on the one hand, and economic anarchy, on the other. These two phenomena are deleterious, but both can be opportunely eliminated, because they depend on our will.

For those who regard what we define as the insufficiency – that is only a euphemism – of our governing strata as a whole, and setting aside all due exceptions, we can affirm that we must no longer have scruples about letting it sink like a stone in the great sea [Latin in original] of its errors and scandals, because we already have shown it more gratitude than it deserves for the services that we admit that it has rendered us in the already-distant past, and for too long we have accorded it patience at costs that we did not believe that we were capable of sustaining. Because patience, among all the human virtues, is, according to us, the only one that ceases to be a virtue when one practices it excessively. We leave to the Pope, who is less pressed than we are by the contingent necessities of mundane life in this century, the occasion to make an act of charity by rescuing and clearing the consciences of these orphans of power. Apart from the satisfaction that we must finally provide to public opinion, which is legitimately tired of seeing incompetence in power being rewarded, we can spare ourselves the future burden of having to defend the men who, instead of conducting a policy of intelligent conservatism, as we have required of them, have instead preferred a policy of obtuse reaction that always squanders everything that passes through their hands. These are men supported by our capital, which they have declared that they want to defend so as to mock the voters, and now they support themselves upon the voters so as to mock us. Finally, these are men who (to once again express ourselves by quoting Machiavelli), “while you use them, you lose the power to do so.”[13]

Moreover, even in the Christian Democratic Party there are intelligent men, and here we do not simply allude to people like Andreotti and Donat-Cattin. But in [good] conscience, how can we say that the intelligence of these politicians can bring forth fruit when Fanfani asks them to make use of it with the sole aim of defending the indefensible and the useless, meanwhile systematically neglecting to save the essential? The survival of a political world of this type is already in itself one of the hostile realities that we must cease to keep alive. We must rid ourselves of it, “and the combat [thereafter] will be short.”[14]

As for what we have called “economic anarchy,” we will say that, from now on, we must authoritatively limit the tendency to accumulate excessive profits in certain basic sectors where the level of development reached by modern techniques – especially chemical ones – permit everything, but where the results assault the population in its everyday existence and tends to deprive it even more of the little that we must absolutely let it have. For example, we completely disapprove of the industrialists who take the risk of uninterruptedly provoking the people, who are made to consume petroleum-based products, chemically treated wines and inedible food with the sole aim of increasing their sector-based profits, insolently neglecting the more general and superior interests of our class [as a whole].

We repeat that nothing more provokes the democratic citizen than the impression that we give him when, with impunity and systematically, we take him for a ride. Even when this citizen is disinterested in politics, he is not insensible to the quality of what he eats or the air that he breathes. On the contrary, we must preoccupy ourselves with maintaining the best possible qualitative levels of life, primarily for the dominant class and secondarily for the dominated classes. Moreover, in 1969, an industrialist like Henry Ford said (and we would like to quote his own words), “the terms of the contract between industry and society have changed (…) We are called upon to contribute to the quality of life much more than the quantity of goods.”[15] Playing the hypocrite does not bring back anything [good] or, at least must no longer do so. We are hardly brought to record the assets that Cefis vaunts in the balance sheets of Montedison with the satisfaction that is reserved for the poor money-saver who is a small stockholder, especially when these assets have been more or less acquired by the means that Scalfari has recently revealed to the public in his book The Master Race[16] and while these very profits, in truth, represent a formidable incitement to social revolt.

And since we have cited Eugenio Scalfari, a man whose courage and intelligence we value, we will seize this occasion to express our opinion on what he has excellently defined as the “State bourgeoisie.”

(Precisely one of the reasons that led us to choose for this Report the old form of expression of the pamphlet, instead of a more systematic text, is that we need not reject the pleasure of talking about this and that, as one does in conversation, which allows us to touch upon everything without ever have the pretention of being exhaustive and, at the same, allows us to avoid getting bogged down in the marshes of sophisticated “demonstrations” of which our politicians are fond when they try to pass off their elastic “truths.” To say the truth, few words suffice: the truth is the indicator of both itself and the false [Latin in original]. And because this fashion of writing is rapid, it appears useful to us, at a moment when so many other commitments that cannot be put off impose on us the necessity of not wasting time.)

This “State bourgeoisie,” which combines the faults of the parasitical and decadent bourgeoisie and those of the bureaucratic class that holds power in the socialist countries, is one of the several products of the “Italian style” of management of power, and it is a highly noxious residue of the parceling out of this power. Cefis, the President of Montedison, is the model that inspired Scalfari’s description. But, in reality, this “State bourgeoisie” exceeds this model; it is nested almost everywhere in the nationalized industries and those that involve governmental participation, as well as in the forest of the 60,000 public “organizations” in existence today, and thus it possesses a proper power that is autonomous with respect to the large, traditional bourgeoisie, and it has founded on this power what Alberto Ronchey has pertinently called “Christian-Democratic State capitalism.” The members of such a “master race” are, in reality, individuals who have no original personal patrimony nor any culture – we do not even want to say deprived of a culture that is worthy of a ruling class, but deprived of one that is comparable, even from a distance, to the culture of an austere petit-bourgeois (a teacher, for example) in the past. Of course, today, only a relatively limited number of these individuals hold real power, and the largest number of them can only do harm with their limited talents. But this does not change the fact that this phenomenon is growing and thus merits our attention.

Over the course of its history, capitalism has continuously modified the composition of the social classes and has done so to such an extent that it has transformed society. It has weakened or recomposed, eliminated or even created the classes that have had subordinate but necessary functions in the production, distribution and consumption of commodities. Only the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have remained the historical classes that have – in a conflict that has essentially remained the same for the last century – continued to play out the destiny of the world. But the circumstances, scenarios, walk-on performers and even the spirits of the principal protagonists have changed with the times.

Thus, this phenomenon is not particular to Italian society. The expansion of the last 30 years, which is unprecedented in the history of the global economy, has involved the necessity of creating a class of managers [English in original], that is to say, technicians capable of directing the industrial production and circulation of commodities. The managers [English in original], as one has called them since their modern popularization, these executives[18] have necessarily been recruited from outside of our class, which can no longer assume the totality of managerial tasks on its own. Despite a gilded legend, which they are the only ones to believe, these executives are nothing other than a metamorphosis of the urban petit-bourgeoisie, previously constituted in the main by independent producers of the artisan type, who today have become salaried, no more or less so than the workers [properly speaking], and this despite the fact that sometimes these executives hope to resemble members of the liberal professions. Given this “resemblance,” which they have obtained on the cheap, these executives have in a certain way become the object of the promotional reveries of many strata of poor employees, but, in reality, they have nothing that could define them as rich. They are only paid enough to consume a little more than the others, but the commodities they consume are always the same ones consumed by everyone else.

Unlike the bourgeois, the worker, the serf and the feudal landowner, the executive never feels at home. Always uncertain and always disappointed, he continually aspires to be more than he is or will ever be. He pretends and, at the same time, he doubts. He is the man of uneasiness, so little sure of himself and his destiny – not without reason – that he must continually hide the reality of his existence. He is dependent in an absolute manner, and much more so than the worker, because he follows all the fashions, including ideological fashions. It is for him that our “avant-garde” writers and authors make the repugnant best-sellers [English in original] that turn bookstores into supermarkets. We refuse to set foot into such places. (Fortunately there are still several good stores devoted to old books, and these are our consolation.) It is for the executives that, today, one changes the physiognomy and functions of our towns, which used to be the most beautiful and oldest in the world, and it is for them that, in the once-excellent restaurants, they program the repugnant and falsified cuisine that the executives always appreciate in loud voices so that the people at the other tables can hear that they have learned their good pronunciations from the announcements on the [multi-lingual] loudspeakers at airports. “Oh, Plebe! Created worse than all the rest.”[20]

Politically, this new class perpetually oscillates, because it successively wants to attain contradictory things. Thus there is not a single political party that does not compete with the others for the executive's vote and, at different times, each one gets it from him.

Like the members of the old petit-bourgeoisie, the executives of today are very diverse, but the strata of upper-level executives, who are the model and illusory goal for all the others, is already tied in a thousand ways to the bourgeoisie [properly speaking] and it integrates new members into itself much more often than it provides them for itself. There, in a few words, is the portrait of those in whom our bourgeoisie has entrusted a growing portion of its own functions. Thus there cannot be too much reason to be surprised if these functions have been assumed in the [bad] manner in which they have.

In fact, a progressively growing part of our own class has become parasitical, either through discouragement or inaptitude, and, when this part is not ruined financially, it is at least significantly impoverished, as we might have expected. Well! We will not only say that this part of the bourgeoisie must no longer be defended; we will also say that it must be eliminated. Either it will be reintegrated, with dignity and all the intelligence that the current situation requires, into a society whose very tissue we must remake, or, in the opposite case, the Communist ministers who strike that part of the bourgeoisie with a Draconian fiscal reform (one finally worthy of the name “reform”) will have our full support. And those comfortable, inactive bourgeois should not believe for a moment that a Communist minister would be necessary to make such a reform, because this measure derives less from the “historic compromise” than their own behavior, which is lacking all combativeness. The people say that necessity sharpens intelligence, and the moment has come in which creativity and the fantastic spirit of enterprise, proof of which the bourgeoisie gave in previous times, today encounters all the conditions for being deployed anew. There are only two possibilities: either the bourgeoisie in Italy and elsewhere proves its intelligence and its will to live, or it will perish, having collaborated too much with its own enemies and thus accelerated and rendered unavoidable its end – because it had wanted to identify its survival as the hegemonic class with the survival of its failings. In that case, its condemnation has already been written:

For such shortcomings, and not for any other fault, we are lost, and are condemned to live here with desire, but no hope.[20]

At the beginning of this final chapter, we alluded to the possibility of making reforms. This is not the place to treat in a profound manner such questions, which we have already envisioned elsewhere, in an unsigned document, very confidentially distributed, entitled The Republic of the Italians in homage to a celebrated text by the pseudo-Xenophon.[21] We do not believe we lack modesty when we recall that this document encountered the heartwarming approval of the people who occupy the highest positions of power, because it honors these people that they promptly understood its necessity. Thus we will limit ourselves here to sketching out a few methodological bases for these reforms.

Obviously the difficulty here resides in the necessity of defining what in fact is vital for our economic and social order, that is to say, the necessity of making a severe distinction between those vital things and the appearances that are all too easily accepted by people affected by illusions, readiness and routines. Like everyone else, we recognize that current practices cannot continue, but we do so in a lucid and combative perspective, and not in the imbecilic despondency that currents reigns among all the authors of the errors of the past, who are not even able to discover that they are simply a question of crude errors, with the result that they have the impression that they have been refuted by a thunderbolt from out of the blue, i.e., in a totally unforeseeable manner. In fact, we must correct the irrationalities of our power and, for those who can view our history with disabused eyes, this is nothing new.

Wild capitalism is to be condemned. From the moment that one can sell anything, it is uncivil to only (and with the highest priority) produce what is immediately the most profitable when doing so is detrimental to every conceivable future. All of the excesses of competition must be eliminated by the very power of production, and without delay, because, quite literally, there is nowhere to live with this form of production, which destroys its own basis and its own conditions for the future. At a time when the productive process threatens itself because we have believed too much in the value of its automatism (which has been helped but never really corrected by political power), all of the social justifications for this form of production have universally ceased to be accepted. We no longer believe – no one any longer believes – that the progress of production is capable of reducing work. We no longer believe – few people still believe – that this form of production is capable of distributing genuine goods in increasing quantities and qualities. Thus, conclusions must be drawn. As soon as possible, the true holders of social authority – in the sectors of property, culture, the State and the unions – must secretly, and then publicly, get together to put together a long-term plan for the rationalization of society. Capitalism must proclaim and fully realize the rationality that it has carried since its origin, but has only been accomplished partially and poorly. If we can accomplish such urgent and necessary work here in Italy – precisely because our country can draw the strength of salvation from the excesses of the danger – the “Italian model” of capitalism can be adopted by all of Europe and can subsequently open up a new road to the entire world.

From the perspective of a qualitative society, we must, above all, very consciously and clearly distinguish two sectors of consumption. One sector should supply authentic quality, with all of its real consequences; the other (that of current consumption) should be cleaned up as much as possible. For a long time, we have feigned to believe that the abundance of industrial production would, little by little, elevate everyone to the conditions of life enjoyed by the elite [French in original]. This argument has so completely lost its very slight appearance of seriousness that, today, it has become degraded to the point of being nothing more than the ephemeral basis for the reasoning and incitements of advertising. Henceforth we must know that the abundance of fabricated objects demands (with ever-greater urgency) the setting up of a [true] elite, one that precisely shelters itself from such abundance and keeps for itself the little that is really precious. Without this, there will soon be nowhere on Earth where anything truly precious exists. The mechanically egalitarian tendencies of modern industry, which wants to fabricate everything for everyone, and that disfigures and breaks everything that exists so as to distribute its most recent commodities, has spoiled almost all our space and a large part of our time by crowding them both with mediocre goods. Cars and “second homes” are everywhere. If words remain rich, the things they refer to are not, and the landscape is degraded for everyone. The law that dominates here is, of course, that everything that we distribute to the poor can never be anything other than poverty: cars that cannot circulate because there are too many of them; salaries paid in inflated money; meat from livestock fattened up in several weeks by chemical feed, etc.

What would a true elite [French in original] love? Let each reader ask himself this in all sincerity. We love the company of people of good taste and culture, art, the quality of well-chosen food and wine, the calm of our parks and the beautiful architecture of our ancient residences, our rich libraries, and the handling of great human affairs or merely contemplating them from behind the scenes. Who could be convinced that he could have all that, have it be available to everyone else, or only to the [top] 10 percent of our quite excessively large population, buy it on the market and have it made by our current industries, which produce nothing but cheap junk? And would anyone even dare to suggest that such things could be appreciated and enjoyed by just anyone, even by some guy we have made a government minister but who still feels the sweat of his poor childhood and his feverish arriviste studies?

Thus we must rethink the entirety of production and consumption, and reeducate ourselves in class consciousness by reminding ourselves that our class has the historical merit of discovering the existence of socio-economic classes, and that it was the bourgeoisie – not Marxism – that announced the class struggle and founded upon that struggle its possession of society. Our social elite [French in original] is not closed, as were the “states” of the Ancien Régime. People have easily gained access to it, over the course of several generations, when our educational system has been realistic and tailor-made for the job, and when we offered to the most suitable individuals the opportunity to enjoy the real advantages that justify the greatest efforts. Likewise, we must remain in a position to offer to the subordinate classes (the craftsmen, the governmental and political/labor union functionaries, etc.) lesser but still satisfying and authentic advantages. Thus, the inclination to valorously elevate oneself on the social ladder so as to attain a qualitatively rich form of existence will be reinforced, because such a goal must appear in all of its beautiful reality and to the precise extent that we can once again begin to enjoy it peacefully. Today, such a reality is out of reach because we have spread false luxury and false comfort so excessively (and without thinking about the consequences) that the entire population is quite unsatisfied by them both.

Miserliness could make the trivial objection that the delimitation of the consumption of things of quality, which would recreate a barrier of money against polluted consumption by the lower classes, would also cause unfortunate obligations among the dominant class to spend more money on its everyday purchases. We would respond that the rich must pay for their luxury; otherwise, in a short period of time, they will not have any luxuries at all. The bourgeoisie, especially in Italy, must understand that it is no longer possible for the rich to get everything on the cheap, just as they must also pay their taxes. On the other hand, we must work to improve the consumption by the people by correcting as much as possible everything harmful to physical or mental health that is currently inflicted on them, and everyone knows that there are a lot of these harmful agents, ranging from our means of transportation to our food, not to mention our mind-numbing distractions and leisure activities. At present, the people are so worn out by the abundance of artificial and disappointing consumption that they would accept (with relief) consumption that was measured and reassuring, and that pretty much satisfied their authentic needs. It would be sufficient for us – to the extent that we make these corrections – to reveal the reality, especially from the medical point of view, of what has become of bread, wine and the air: in short, all of the people’s simple pleasures. If the people are justly frightened, we will be praised for having stopped them for sliding any further down the fatal slope of current reality. We must no longer create pollution, except when industry really cannot avoid doing so, and then we should only pollute industrial zones that have been set aside and peopled on the basis of fundamental criteria, and not all over the country, thoughtlessly and casually,[22] as is done now.

On its own, the question of education is so serious that it would almost suffice to make everyone understand that we must urgently reconstruct a qualitative society, as much in our own well-understood interests as in those of the entire population. When we see the quantity of graduates from what we ironically call our universities, who are not only bereft of real culture but usefulness as well, who cannot even find jobs as workers because employers routinely refuse to hire such people, and who thus inevitably become malcontents and perhaps even rebels, we consider that they are the products of an incompetence that feels no embarrassment in squandering the State’s resources, not without result, but, rather, with the result that we are exposed to dangers, and this clashes not only with the most elemental sense of honesty, but with basic logic, too. The Italians – who invented the university and the bank, who during the Renaissance devised the first and best scientific theory of domination – are now the first ones, and more than any other people, to suffer the crisis of everything in which they have excelled. We can still be the world’s leaders, that is, if we can show the world the road that will lead us out of and beyond this crisis.

If we offer each person a relatively satisfying place, but especially if we can assure ourselves, without shilly-shallying, the collaboration of what we might call the elites of control [les élites de l’encadrement], we will not have difficulty resisting all subversion with a minimum of intelligently selective repression. Because it is certainly not the so-called “Red Brigades” that put our power in danger, and if today the four fanatics who compose them seem to be a danger to the State, and easily escape from its prisons, this is not because the “Red Brigades” are a small but very powerful group, but quite simply because the State has faded to such an extent that anyone can make it seem laughable. When we speak of selective repression, we are talking about defending ourselves against something other than them.

Censorship – and here we confess that we must keep our Communist allies on a short lease – is not in keeping with the very spirit of capitalism. Censorship can only be envisioned in our laws and used in practice as a completely exceptional recourse, at least when it comes to books. We must neither overestimate their danger nor allow ourselves to forget about them. For example, in the last ten years, and taking into account all of the democratic countries, it seems to us that an intelligent censorship would only have had to ban three or four books in total. But it would have been necessary to make these books disappear absolutely, by every possible means. We ourselves have not neglected to read them, but we did so while keeping them away from everyone else, as the library at the Vatican does with erotic books. When books of political critique only concern topical details or local incidents, they are out of date even before there has been enough time for them to attract a large number of readers. We have only to pay attention to the very rare books that are able to attract followers over long periods of time and eventually weaken our power. We must assuredly educate ourselves about them. Nevertheless, it should not be a matter of criticizing the authors of such books, but annihilating them. Indeed, we know, but often forget, that the pens of such authors always end up making people take up arms, when the opposite does not take place or until the opposite takes place. We no longer remember who said it the first time, but there exists a significant simultaneity between the inventions of printing and gunpowder. In sum, we must treat the authors of certain books as disturbers of the public peace, as harmful to our civilization, which they do not want to reform, but to destroy. On all the crucial points, we must scrupulously guard against all sentimentality and all pretentions to excessive justifications for our censorship. Otherwise we risk corrupting our own lucidity. We do not manage Paradise, but this world.

As terrible as it is at the moment we are writing, the situation in Italy, the danger and discomfort of which no one can accuse us of exaggerating to the point that we have derived all that assaults us as the universal class from the particular misfortunes of this servile Italy, place of grief, ship without a pilot in a great tempest.[24] On the contrary, if we are worried about what has happened and what could still happen in Italy, this is precisely because we know that the crisis is global. Given that capitalist unification is so advanced on the planetary scale, it is global capitalism that we risk driving into the abyss. Italy is no longer what it was for a long time: a backwards province, separated from the modern nations. From this situation came both its misfortune and its peace and quiet. Class power is threatened in Russia as it is in America, but Europe – weak in every aspect – is at the center of the tempest. And all the historical misfortunes of Europe have in common the fact that, at the center of them all, one finds the French. Everything permits us to think that, without them, capitalism would have known a superior development from the qualitative point of view. The attack by Charles VIII broke the Italian commercial republics and, three centuries later, Bonaparte did the same thing to Venice. The [French] Revolution of 1789 gave free rein to the unlimited programs of the riff-raff, while the bourgeois revolutions in England in the 17th century appeared to found the city politics that were propitious to the harmonious development of modern capitalism. Finally, even more recently, while the ideology of commodity abundance appeared capable of calming the discontents of the working classes – although it is true that well-informed observers always doubted the stability of such an equilibrium – it was again the French who, in 1968, dealt that ideology its death blow.

What we confront today is a universal problem and, at the same time, a very old one. Last year, Giovanni Agnelli said that the workers no longer want to work because they have been demoralized by the modern living conditions that we have constructed for them. Whatever subtlety we might recognize in this [quite] original observation, we must say that Agnelli – by privileging too much the examination of circumstances that are the most characteristic of the current period – did not go to the heart of the matter this time. The workers do not want to work every time that they glimpse the slightest opportunity of doing so, and they glimpse opportunities of this type every time that economic and political domination is weakened by objective difficulties or by difficulties that follow from our blunders. If we get to the heart of the matter, to never work again was the goal of the Ciompi as well as the Communards.[24] Every past society in every era has, in its way, confronted this problem and managed to dominate it, while at present we are the ones who are in the process of being dominated by this problem.

Those of our readers who have recognized us know quite well that at no time in our life have we consented to make a pact with fascism, and that we will not make one with any form of totalitarian bureaucratic management, and for the very same reasons. The bourgeoisie must want to remain the historical class par excellence. Irrefutable on this point, Karl Marx himself demonstrated very well the error that the bourgeoisie commits when it places its political power in the hands of “Bonapartism.”[25] Thus, we are turned towards the future, but not any old future.

To speak the language of our “executants,” what will we our “model”? While the most cultivated of our adversaries find the rough outline of their model in Pericles’ Athens or pre-Medici Florence – models that they must confess are quite insufficient, but nevertheless worthy of their real project, because they display to the most caricatural degree the incessant violence and disorder that are its very essence – we, on the contrary, designate the Republic of Venice as our model of a qualitative society (a model that, in its time, was sufficient and even perfect). Venice had the best ruling class in history: no one resisted it, nor purported to demand an accounting from it. For centuries, there were no demagogic lies, no troubles (or hardly any) and very little blood was spilled. Venice was terrorism tempered with happiness, the happiness of each person in his proper place. And we do not forget that the Venetian oligarchy, which relied upon the armed workers from Arsenal during certain moments of crisis, had already discovered the truth that an elite [French in original] selected from among the workers always plays the game of society’s owners marvelously well.

To finish up, we will say that, rereading these pages, we have not discovered what pertinent objection a rigorous mind could make to them, and we are persuaded that their truth will generally impose itself.[26]


[1] Cf. Machiavelli, Chapter XXVI, The Prince.

[2] Louis de Bourdon (1530-1569). The French religious wars lasted from 1562 to 1629.

[3] Machiavelli, Chapter XXVI, The Prince. Latin in original.

[4] Italian painter (1431-1503).

[5] Giovanni Leone (1908-2001), a right-wing member of the Christian Democratic Party, was the President of Italy from December 1971 to June 1978.

[6] Machiavelli, Chapter XXI, The Prince. Latin in original. (In the translation provided by Guy Debord, this phrase is rendered as “How should the prince govern to acquire esteem?”)

[7] Eugenio Cefis, the chairman of ENI (petrochemicals) and Montedison (chemicals), both State-owned enterprises.

[8] The Republic.

[9] Bruno Visenti (1914-1995) was an industrialist who became the Minister of Finance in 1974.

[10] Dante, Inferno, IV, 104.

[11] In point of fact, Mussolini never said this.

[12] Inferno, XXVII, 26-27.

[13] Machiavelli, Chapter XVI, The Prince.

[14] Petrarch, quoted at the very end of The Prince: “Virtue against furor / will take up arms; and the fighting will be short; / for the ancient valor / in Italian hearts is not yet dead.”

[15] Henry Ford, speech to the Harvard Business School, 1969.

[16] Razza Padrona: Storia della Borghesia di Stato (1974).

[17] Spinoza, Ethics, I, proposition 36.

[18] See Thesis 36, “The Situationist International and Its Times,” The Real Split in the International (1972).

[19] Dante, Inferno, XXXII, 13. Sometimes translated as “O you who are the lowest dregs of all.”

[20] Dante, Inferno, IV, 40-43.

[21] Pseudo-Xenophon did in fact write a text called The Constitution of the Athenians, but it was hostile to its announced subject. As for Censor’s The Republic of the Italians, it appears that it never existed.

[22] a bischero sciolto, an old Florentine expression.

[23] Dante Purgatory, VI, 75-77.

[24] The Ciompi (wool carders) of Florence revolted and set up a short-lived government in 1378. The Communards were partisans of the Paris Commune (1871).

[25] Cf. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852).

[26] Cf. Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, the concluding paragraph of which includes this line: “I can think of no one Objection, that will possibly be raised against this Proposal.”