Proletariat and Agrarian Reform (XXXIII)
Structural reforms: it is difficult to condense better in two words the denial of socialist theory. This mania for mottos and synthetic and effective phrases is undoubtedly ancient; Mussolini used and abused them, and he clung to this fashion among us, but the imitators are far from possessing the undeniable genius and the instinctive eloquence of this man, and wanting to mimic his roars, which were at least amusing to hear, they fart them out instead.
The rules, laws and legal norms that frame social life are referred to in critical communism and socialism as "forms" of production. The property relations on immovable and movable property protected by the laws of the state are but forms of production, limits in which economic activity is carried out and regulated. The written and codified law of an era, no less than the tacit acceptance of certain common norms as an effect of tradition, of custom, of "moral sense", are part of these forms, and are investigated and studied not as projections of the divine or human spirit, but as structures above economic relations. The modern socialist method arose when it was found in all those scaffoldings the changing, historically, superstructure of the real productive-economic fabric of society.
In the subordinate structure of production, with the appearance of new technical resources, productive forces are awakened - at times the muscular strength of the tamed animal, of the enslaved enemy, the means of transport and of approaching distant products, the commercial industrial monetary capital, the machine, the mechanical engine, the artisan and peasant work, the waged mass work and so on - which in the end come into conflict with the forms and their traditional structure. It is then that their supposedly eternal justifications, be they religious, philosophical or pseudo-scientific, fall away, that the revolutionary era appears, that the contradiction between the new forces and the old forms explodes and that the false and self-interested superstructure jumps.
Socialist doctrinette, albeit old and well-established.
Adopting the old legal "superstructure" to change the economic structure and the relation of ownership that has become intolerable, means demanding that the productive forces be released within the framework of the old forms without breaking them, without exceeding their limits, therefore, the diametric negation of socialism.
Either one wants to descend to the structure, and one is revolutionary, one poses the problem of breaking with force the superstructures that chain it - or one is reformist and operates within the framework of the traditional superstructures (morality, law, legality, action of the constituted administrative and state order and of the parties in power) and then the underlying and real structure is not reached and the terms imposed on the forces of production remain unchanged.
Either one acts "in the system" (the duce rightly said in the face of the problems of the modern capitalist world: crisis "in the regime" or "of the regime"?) and then one preserves the structure, and makes reforms that prolong its life with adaptations, or one acts "against the system" and with the forces that want to break the ancient structure by striking against the brakes and the strains that tighten and choke them; and then one makes revolutionary struggle, first of all against the present political state and its order.
A phrase therefore more beastly than that of the "structural reform", which unites Christian-socialists and national-communists, cannot be coined.
Don Luigi Sturzo is that strange character from Ninfo Egerio who places himself outside the machine of power and administration held by his own people (and certainly in the circles of the party and the church they ask themselves why one is, with his past and with his virginity from worldly contacts in every field, guaranteed a carriage bed for paradise, in all respects, with a passport full of visas of all the material and spiritual hierarchies, do not give more care to go and occupy it among the incense of clerics and angels) in exposing some truths about the demagogic (he says) agrarian reform, whose slogan of land to the peasants was launched in 1916 by Salandra "to the troops at war".
The recall is more decisive than ever, as are the old priest's remarks on the inconsistency and certainly unattainable promise renewed today, based on the real technical and economic premises of the programme and the data of the Italian agricultural situation.
Naturally, his deductions are very different from ours. A firm believer in small property and small private agricultural business, the cornerstone of the movement for the People's Party and Christian democracy for 45 years, he accuses Salandra of dangerous demagogy because it would have provoked the land occupations of 1919 and 1920 and the alliance of the agrarianists with the fascists. But Salandra had not promised factories, yet even those were occupied and the industrialists also allied themselves with the fascists. These too used anti-latifundist demagogy, and with the direct aim of inciting a new slaughterhouse of war.
It is therefore only in the honest exposition of economic reality that the solitary man of Caltagirone can be followed. As in the case of the parasitism of capitalists and industrial complexes at the expense of the state, he denounces the falsity of the legislation for land reclamation and the disproportion between the panacea promise of a redistribution of legal possessions and the premises of the technical and economic means mobilised to divide large possessions into feasible lots. He says that for years he has been asking for 700 billion lire per hectare for the Italian agricultural reclamation, or 700 thousand lire per hectare for one million hectares. This is perhaps too much of the 2 million eight hundred thousand of agricultural land, however it is fair to say that the unit figure is low, that the problem, within the limits of the current private economy, is not a problem of legal reform, but of capital investment.
Useless, says in essence Don Sturzo, telling lies for political and electoral purposes, until you find the 700 billion and as long as you do not invest in hydraulic and mountain drainage, roads, houses, irrigation etc.. Now the truth is that the state budget can give nothing but crumbs and ERP promises are also reduced to ineffective turns.
It is only fair that the figure is low. A glance at the economic data, which has been rushed in here, of Italian agriculture, proves it. In agriculture, the following forces of production are at work: virgin land, on which there has been no investment of labour (for the bourgeois capital) that gives the minimum "Ricardian" income; capital invested in rural buildings and various installations; the active rural population. In order of importance we then observe the three types: pastoral farming; so-called self-sufficient cultivation, in which man works part of the land, and part in rotation leaves to rest; continuous cultivation, in which with the aid of more efficient means the land is cultivated permanently, which in the best cases becomes irrigated and high income.
Let's throw in some wholesale figures in today's lire.
Natural type: total land value, 100,000 per hectare; investment in buildings, nothing or less than one tenth; working population on 100 hectares, 15 and with families 45.
Set-aside or extensive type: value, 250,000 per hectare; fixed investments, 70,000; workers of all sexes and ages on 100 hectares, 35.
Modest intensive type: value per hectare, 600,000; fixed investments: buildings 45,000,000, and with other miscellaneous facilities, around 650,000; one worker per hectare, i.e. 100 per cent of the hectares.
Don Sturzo's ideal of a small farm absolutely owned by a family at the rate of one hectare per person, therefore requires an expense of 400,000 lire per hectare of the current latifundium or pastures not cleared or infested with malaria. And since, in any case, for a first installation, great improvements have to be made in the mountains and on the plains, initial clearing by mechanical means, waiting for years for an income, and so on, it must today demand no less than a million for each hectare and therefore a thousand billion. He can stop bothering himself.
Where we do not follow him is in considering the small family business to be the economic optimum, especially in the Mezzogiorno. Here, too, he follows a political optimum, albeit not of a low standard and for the elections of tomorrow, but dictated by aims of social preservation, of continuity of legal superstructures.
The large pastures of the Mezzogiorno and the so-called uncultivated lands, before moving on to the third type of detailed agriculture, must by necessity move on to the second type, which is by nature extensive, and which does not allow the small farm to rotate with land rest: it rests the land for a year or two, but cannot rest the stomach of those who work it. All the more so because, for insuperable geophysical reasons, it is impossible to speak of irrigation everywhere; one must think of the type of extensive arid farm, the only one possible. Let us be happy with half a million hectares and a 150 thousand lire investment. Barely 75 billion: if someone gives them away or "invests" in the derelict South, we get down to business. We will at least double the number of farmers who work and eat.
But if there is not this 75 billion in capital, then the right technical and economic conclusion is that it is better to do nothing. Since, in the general case, the exercise of pastoralism or very large estate with alternating some low-yield arable land, is the only active and possible. This remains with the technical data.
To move on to the third type of small ownership, you need the utopian Sturzo investment. It does not exist, but even if it did exist, we would always prefer a type of large industrial agriculture company with associated and specialised work, and not a parallel one, for all agricultural families.
The small possession unfortunately exists and tears up the Mezzogiorno, in direct symbiosis with the latifundium. Its economic balance sheet never checks out, hunger, misery and poverty are its insignia.
There was certainly no lack of episodes of pagliaccism in Italian political history for De Gasperi to stage his recent trip to Sila. Zanardelli was seen discovering Lucania by travelling on a cart pulled by oxen, but then he had to admit that in the men of state there was a certain degree of acumen, balance and preparation, which gave way, in the current phase of the bourgeois regime, to the most sloppy amateurism, to the most daring tricks of the trade.
The Supreme Head of the government visits the Silan plateau and in one night he sees and evaluates a series of technical plans, for which those who know how to read and know something about the methods adopted lately and even more so after the fascist period in our technical bureaucracy, need a long study to discover the magic of the commercial caravans, through which the capitalist enterprise handles the levers of public services. All right! he said, grandiose and daring plans ready! And in a fortnight the urgent reform for Calabria is being carried out. Ministers, deputy journalists and readers pass over the fact that only one soup of two very different ingredients is cooked. The Sila is a mountain plateau of healthy air and magnificent forests that have resisted the looting of the liberators. On 27 thousand hectares of forests 7 thousand are not baronial but state property. There is a consortium dedicated to the problems of the advanced forest economy and that deals with accommodation and mountain basins as it is always possible to sell construction timber and electricity to foreigners, increasing them and rationing them to indigenous consumers. The business capital flows there and there are even luxurious hotels to stay in. But between the plateau, which on the Tyrrhenian coast side falls abruptly, and the Ionian coast (two thousand years ago the most advanced inhabited country in the world) there is the other side of the coin and the problem that has nothing to do with the silane one: trash, malaria, flooding and alternating droughts, hunger, misery and firing on the peasants in revolt.
De Gasperi arrives and realises that the valleys look different from those of his Trentino! The first citizen of Italy really knows a lot about the physical geography and economic history of the country to make such discoveries! Trentino, to keep silent about the geographical position illustrated by second-class schoolchildren, has an agrarian economy on the margins of the Germanic and Latin systems, the fragmentation of possession is beneficially overcome in the north by the regime of recomposition, in the south by the existence of many collective and consortium management bodies. In the unfortunate Calabria, in a few words, which cost little to have one of the million state employees search the library for "the latifundism and fragmentation of possessions are so intertwined that it is impossible to discern them, not even perhaps with district statistics, and there is also a large proportion of pasture and woodland. Better still, many territories are so fragmented in terms of property and culture that they transform those who share them into little more than mere people who own nothing, which, combined with the frequent poverty of the land, determined, as in Abruzzi, the conspicuous emigration of the past decades…".
According to the bullshit of today's law, a further five thousand small possessions will be built on 45,000 hectares, allocating twenty thousand workers and then 60,000 with families. Even if the promises were kept, they wouldn't add up. It takes a million to set a farm on one hectare, then 45 billion and 60 thousand workers. This does not include compensation for expropriation in capital to the former owners.
The examination of how the "opposition" of His Majesty the Republic sees the problem would take us a long way in the balance sheet of the deal between worker, state, and owner. The substance is that the misery of the Calabrian and southern farmer is not based on the excessive extension of land in the name of a single company, but on the results of the historical and social collaboration of the two sides of the bourgeois homeland. Landowners and businessmen go to make billions of other big deals on these Pantalone. The law passes, and probably with the votes of the "extremes", and gangs of bloodsuckers run to the South, they become "silanes". One more scheme will flourish under the beautiful skies of our country. The peasants fall into line under the muzzle of the machine guns, with the visa of the parliamentary vote. They go down to found organisations, societies and companies for the redemption of Calabria. Down to secure the more the most rounded emoluments of liquidator of indemnities! The wheat may be harvested within ten years, but the mandates of the public treasuries will be forwarded before six months. And the salaries of the heads of cooperatives and section chiefs of the National Combatant's Offices will be paid immediately.
All together shout loudly, to cover this filthy "substructure", the noble consignment to break up the latifundium. All promise land.
Don Sturzo has touched a tremendous button. He who promises "land" promises "war".
The Italian agricultural labourer, if he were led by a class party, would reject the fictitious little squares "staked" on the pestiferous and cursed plain, he would reject the trap of allotment, and the infantry uniform. The lands staked out at the invitation of the Salandra, the Mussolini, or the De Gasperi, are being ploughed with a rifle.
Battaglia Comunista, No. 47, 1949
Translation by Libri Incogniti