Article Image Alessandro Fusillo
IPFS

Living In the Socialist Commonwealth

Written by Subject: Philosophy: Socialism

Exactly as the majority of European countries Italy is a socialist country. As we'll see later, in fact Italy and the other western democracies are modern variants of one particular brand of socialism that harks back to fascism. 

I already hear the loud protests that come from my fellow Italian citizens and others: "come on, Italy may have a lot of defects – by the way, nothing that a proper reform can't fix – but it belongs to the western democracies, it is a free country where you can do whatever you like, where the fundamental rights are protected and upheld by a government that, in spite of its many errors, basically makes efforts in order to further the citizens' interests, and to defend their life and property."

Whereas this may be the common feeling, I'm quite sure that such interpretation is not only superficial but outright wrong. But first things first. In order to offer a rational analysis the initial step should be that of defining socialism, a political and economic doctrine that had many different and often opposing explanations ranging from Lenin to modern Sweden and Bernie Sanders.

Socialism in its more radical and ancient version, often termed also as communism, is a political and hence economical doctrine that did assert the basic tenet that mankind's salvation could be brought about only by the violent overturn of the existing liberal regimes and the abolition of private property or collectivization of the means of production[1]. Hardly anyone among modern day socialists dares to affirm such principles, especially after the spectacular failure of more or less all experiments of communist countries.

Today's socialism respects private property in theory, but practically any intervention is possible and admissible if a higher "public good" or "public interest" justifies the corrections of the alleged shortcomings that affect the market[2] and the private property. "Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz" – the common weal prevails on the private interest – famously said Hitler's National Socialists, one of the many brands of socialism.

After the tragedies of the past the modern version of socialism is, in other words, what most European leaders call reformism or progressivism[3]. According to these doctrines the democratic process has the aim to discover the needs that must be addressed by the government, which in turn has a duty to intervene piecemeal in order to fix whatever it sees fit[4]. Modern interventionist reformism or socialism is, therefore, a very fishy doctrine. It has no contents, although its ideological roots and the deep belief in the desirability of a social system based on the abolishment of capitalism, "brotherly solidarity, and the eradication of scarcity"[5] still remain strong and present. The ancient Marxist socialists were quite clear in their analysis of the society: capitalism – i.e. the exploitation of the proletarians by the owners of the means of production – was driving the world towards growing contradictions and social unrest; fewer and ever richer capitalists owned the biggest part of the wealth, whereas the proletarians, whose number grew by the day, were struggling for sheer subsistence and survival. This would end in a revolution that would establish the dictatorship of the proletarians. The means of production would be collectivized and this would lead, eventually, to the establishment of a new communist society, where everyone would receive from the society as a whole according to his needs, while everyone would contribute according to his capacities. The communist prophet Karl Marx was convinced that the future communist society would entail a withering away of the State. Unfortunately he died before he could explain exactly how he thought to bring this about. "Das Kapital", his major work, was left unfinished exactly as Marx was about to explain how the communist paradise would look like. As with many religions his sundry disciples were left to implement, interpret, and realize the dead prophet's message[6].

The communist idea is long dead and buried under the unspeakable suffering inflicted to their subjects by the various communist regimes in the world. It's well known history and it's not necessary to repeat it here[7].

Yet, the socialist ideal is far from dead. It underwent a modification that is characteristic especially of Western Europe. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the communist movements (especially in Germany and in Italy) split in two opposed factions that started fighting one another bitterly, often, as the German case in 1933 shows, favoring extreme right-wing movements and dictatorships as a result of their refusal to cooperate with social democrats and moderate leftist parties. The communists continued to remain faithful to their master's Karl Marx's doctrine and to preach the necessity to let capitalism reach its inner contradictions in order to overcome it in a Russian style revolution. The new socialists or social democrats opposed the concept of evolution to that of revolution. The contradictions and injustice of the capitalist societies could be corrected by means of piecemeal interventions. Thus, labor unionism and the doctrine of Antonio Gramsci took hold of the left wing movements. Especially the latter is the inventor of a very precise program affirming that communists and socialists, instead of pursuing a violent revolution, should start what he called a march through the institutions[8]. If, he reasoned, key posts in the public administration, universities, and among the judges were held by persons who really had the ideal to establish a just socialist commonwealth, this could be the alternative to a violent overthrow of the capitalist regimes. In a similar way Salvador Allende in Chile advocated a democratic way to socialism. Moreover, especially in Italy, the humanitarian approach of the evolutionist socialists (as opposed to that of the more violent communists) had a strong appeal on the Catholics, whose religion already contained a strong bias against wealth and commerce, at least according to some of the very different and often opposing Catholic doctrines[9].

It would be wrong to describe the various socialist factions as inspired by a recognizable common intent or by a unified doctrine, far from it. Often they were strongly opposed to one another and this is especially true for Italy. What is important to highlight, however, is that since the Italian general elections of 1913 – the first after the establishment of a general right to vote for all male citizens aged 30 or more – the liberal parties that until then had governed Italy slowly vanished from the political scene. I use "liberal" in its classical sense, still prevailing in Italy today, as pertaining to the doctrines of liberalism: in a nutshell, minimal State, defense of private property, no intervention in the economy[10].

Soon after the elections WWI broke out. War collectivism and central management of the economy by a government that resorted to heavy borrowing dominated the political scene together with a feeling of common commitment to the national cause. A few years after the end of the war the Fascists took over. Although they paid lip service to private property and economic liberty – often not even that – the Fascist regime was by any standard a strongly interventionist government. The Fascist corporatism pursued a State whose presence in the citizens' lives would extend from the cradle to the tomb[11]. After WWII and Mussolini's violent overthrow, the new democratic parties inherited the fascist State and, as no one of the parties had a liberal program and outlook, they left it in place, superimposing a democratic smattering by means of the new Constitution of 1948. Nonetheless, our fundamental law is usually described as a bulwark of freedom and democracy.

This is basically wrong and the Italian Constitution is the first and foremost place where one has to look for the clues proving that Italy was, is, and will remain a full-fledged socialist country where liberty is allowed only to the extent that is does not disturb the governments' programs and aims.

As mentioned, such statements seem strong and exaggerated to most people, but let's have a closer look to the Italian Constitution, in the public discourse a more or less sacred document that has to be revered and admired by anyone because it gave us freedom and democracy[12].

Democracy, maybe, but as far as freedom is concerned I'd rather say that it hasn't anything to do with our Constitution.

As the ancient Romans said, it's high time to get medias in res: right in the middle of the things.

According to article 1 of the Constitution "Italy is a democratic republic founded on …" Now seriously, guess what?

Remember that the Constitution was written in 1948, only three years after the end of WWII, the bloodiest war in human history, the deportations of the Jews, the horrors of Nazism, Fascism and Stalinism.

So, on what would you have founded the newborn republic?

Peace? Good choice.

Freedom, justice, equal creation of all men and women? Not bad either. Anyone in search of a catchword able to describe Italy's new course would have come up with something along these lines of thought.

Yet, our founding fathers thought very differently.

"Italy is a democratic republic founded on work."

Work?

It does sound strange in Italian exactly as it is weird in English. Work is good, no doubt about that. It is bad to be unemployed or not to have any clients if you are self-employed, but work as the first sacred principle on which democratic Italy must be founded after the end of Fascism?

Now, the usual tale that every law student learns by heart is that work ennobles man and that our Constitution witnesses the deep respect of the Republic for all workers[13]. Besides, article 1 was a compromise between the extreme left that wanted to establish the principle that Italy was a democratic republic of the workers (Soviet style) and the Christian Democrats who shunned this homage to the Russian Communists. Hence, the founding fathers agreed upon the current formulation that is vague enough not to offend anyone and to be acceptable for everyone, because each is free to put his own interpretation into the words of the Constitution[14].

The current fable never appealed to me. It is not credible that a number of very fine lawyers – our first parliament that approved the Constitution was much better manned than the current one – accepted a vague and indefinite formulation that basically doesn't mean anything just for the sake of a shaky political compromise. There has to be more and indeed there is. You just have to ask the right questions. And these are: who works and to what purpose?

With this guidance that follows the ancient adage "follow the money", you surely are on the right track.

Who works? Well, of course the productive class of the Italian citizens, to wit, those that sell their products and services on the free market. What's the purpose of their work according to the Constitution? The scope of the citizens' toil and sweat is to enable the State to appropriate part of their wealth as the following more specific articles of the Constitution make overly clear. Work is the private production of wealth and has the aim to ensure the payment of taxes. So that's the not so hidden meaning of article 1: the Italian Republic is founded on the taxes paid by the citizens who produce something that is valuable on the market and are forced to renounce a significant part of their revenues and assets in order to sustain the public clockwork of the State.

In this sense, art. 1 of the Italian Constitution is an extraordinarily clear and straightforward political text. I dare say that it's a unique political document with no equal in the whole world. The politicians make it clear since the very inception of the new State that the citizens have the duty to work in order to sustain the public sector. The ancient dichotomy between tax-payers and tax-consumers à la Calhoun[15] is embedded in the first article of the Constitution[16]. Thus, "work, pay your taxes and shut up" is the basic principle of the Italian Republic. It comes as no surprise that all political forces agreed on the principle. Indeed, the members of the political class are the most important tax-consumers. The idea that the citizens of the new Republic had to work in order to sustain the public sector united all the opposing factions of the Parliament.

Hence, the second part of article 1, where the principle is set forth that the sovereignty belongs to the people, sounds a hollow mockery. In fact, a direct confirmation hereof comes from article 75 of the Italian Constitution that prohibits referendums on laws regarding taxes. People's sovereignty stops with the sacred duty to pay taxes, the principle upon which the whole Republic, as any other State, literally rests. 

But of course this isn't sufficient to say that Italy is a socialist country. The following contains enough proves hereof.

According to article 3, "all citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and social conditions."

Very well, you'd say. This is the classical liberal principle of equality before the law, going back to an ancient and venerable tradition.

But there's a swindle waiting for the curious reader. In fact art. 3 goes on and says: "It is the duty of the Republic to remove the economic and social obstacles which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, prevent the full development of the human person, and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic, and social organization of the country."

Now, this is a completely different thing. You have to read article 3 as follows: in theory we are all equal before the law, but some citizens are more equal than others and have a right to a special treatment. Who is entitled to the special treatment and how this treatment is supposed to be, is a matter reserved to the "Republic" or, to be more precise, to the politicians who, from time to time, will run the show.

So, to wrap it up, every citizen has a duty to work and contribute to the various social needs that the politicians will establish. The people's sovereignty means that once in a while, according to the rules fixed by the government, they have the right to cast their vote at the elections. In any case the sovereign people may not touch the laws regarding taxes. Tax monies will be used as the government will see fit, in pursuit of the aim to remove the economic and social obstacles which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, without any guarantee of equal treatment. Government cronies and special interests may be protected under the generous blanket of article 3 that enables any government to do pretty much anything it likes.

The outlook already seems very bleak indeed.

But the worse is yet to come. You'd suppose that the Constitution at least pays lip service to the principle of private property. Wrong again.

Article 42 of our Constitution provides the following: "Property is public or private. Economic goods belong to the State, to entities or individuals. Private property is recognized and guaranteed by law, which prescribes the ways it is acquired, enjoyed, and its limitations so as to ensure its social function and make it accessible to all. Private property can, in such cases provided for by law and with provisions for compensation, be expropriated for reasons of general interest. The law establishes the regulations and limits of legitimate and testamentary inheritance and the rights of the State in matters of inheritance."

This amounts to say that there is no private property in Italy or, to express it more precisely, that you may retain only so much property rights as the government is willing graciously to concede to its subjects[17].

Based on these principles it doesn't come as a great surprise that Italy is and remains a fascist country. Fascism is a variant of socialism where the formal structure of private property and free entrepreneurship is upheld whereas these rights are devoid of any significance because the State has the power to deprive its subjects of any right it sees fit and to direct the economic activities along the lines decided by politics[18].

The list of areas of the citizen's rights where there is no freedom is so long that it would exceed the limits and the scope of this article even to provide the reader with the briefest summary hereof. Thus, I'll pick just some random examples.

If you want to open a shop as a hairdresser you'll have to deal with at least four laws that regulate your profession and to apply for a license that may be obtained only after a complex proceeding. Should you be discouraged by the bureaucracy to be dealt with in order to cut your fellow human beings' locks and should you retire to the same profession, but in favor of the man's best friend, the dog, it won't come as a great surprise that the requisites are only slightly easier.

All other professions are regulated in a heavier way.

Any construction on your property is a gracious concession that has to be granted by a special permit from the local authorities. The legal issues are so complex that a property owner necessarily needs professional help in order to build his home. In fact architects' firms usually divide between proper ones that draw plans and actually build and legal experts that deal with the bureaucracy. The more you move towards city centers of ancient cities the more the paperwork grows of forbidding complexity.

Same story for the tax returns. Even very simple returns cannot be managed without the professional assistance of a tax accountant. The uncertainties of the tax code are such that until the statute of limitations you cannot be sure that your tax return won't be challenged.

Not meeting a deadline for the filing of tax returns comes with a hefty fine, whatever the reason. The tax authorities have no duty to answer or acknowledge your tax return. Until the statute of limitations sets in, they may challenge your tax return and ascertain that you owe them more monies. The usual procedure is that the fiscal agency presumes that you didn't report all your revenues; you have to prove them wrong.

If, on the other side, the State owes you money, be prepared to hire a lawyer. You'll get the money after years of legal struggles by the way of judicial enforcement, if ever. On the other side, if you owe money to the State, our very efficient enforcement agency will freeze your bank account with a simple letter. If there was an error, you may try to recover the money as described above. A Value Added Tax refund may last 15 years in the worst cases.

The Value Added Tax is a category of its own anyway: on each and every sale (with minimum exceptions) the Italian Tax Agency cashes in an amount between 4% and 22%. The plan is to increase the percentages starting from 2017 in order to arrive at a top rate of 25,5%.

The top rate is the ordinary one that applies if there isn't a special regulation.

There is a tax on the driving license, the passport, the cars' license plates. The tax for the public television will now be enforced, due to high rates of delinquency, through the electricity bills.

The shop-owner who forgets to hand over to any customer a tax receipt for the sale risks a substantial fine and the forced closure of the shop. 

The cost of taxes on gasoline amounts to 90% of the price paid to the gas station. Among those taxes there are many "extraordinary" impositions, like the one instituted by Mussolini in 1935 to fund the war in Abissinia or the measures to help the victims of natural disasters like the earthquake in Belice in 1968[19]. The disasters and wars are long forgotten, the taxes remain.

Interstate highways are property of the Republic that gives them in concession to private companies. These charge a cost for the use of the highways.

When you pay your car's insurance you are paying a contribution to the public healthcare system.

Almost any written request to public authorities cannot be filed if you don't buy and attach a stamp mark.

Lotteries and games are a State monopoly.

An ordinary civil case lasts twelve to fifteen years if you don't reach a settlement.

Remand prisoners share their cells with convicted felons. There is no bail to avoid preventive imprisonment.

Smoking is forbidden in all public places.

Bearing arms is forbidden.

Recreational drugs are tolerated for personal use, but you may lose your driving license as a consequence of making use thereof.

Use of cars that don't comply with the latest environmental dispositions is restricted. For example recently in all bigger Italian cities, due to the purported increase of the fine particulate in the air, the mayors ordered either alternate turns – according to the even or odd number of the license plates – or in some cases forbade the circulation altogether.

Bringing your dog to the beach is forbidden.

Parking your car in the cities is either forbidden or comes with a very substantial cost.

Big companies with government cronies enjoy special rules, public financing, bail-outs; small companies and self-employed persons can go bankrupt and the government doesn't care.

Labor contracts are in charge of the trade unions.

The public sector (tax burden) amounts to approximately 65% of the GDP.

Not paying taxes in excess of fifty thousand euros per year is a crime.

Not paying the social security taxes for the employees is a crime, whatever the amount.

Garbage collection is a monopoly of the cities' mayors. It is compulsory to divide the garbage in different categories (glass, plastic, organic etc.); if you are caught in the act of throwing a garbage bag in the wrong container you'll be fined.

Cash payments are admitted only up to the limit of three thousand euros.

If you withdraw more than five thousand euros from your bank account without a plausible cause, the bank director has to report you to the tax authorities.

In order to collect your pension you have to file a certificate stating that you are alive, even if you show up in person.

The list could go on and on, and rest assured that we barely scratched the surface, but the essence is that Italy is not a free country.

Until recently, however, there was a great deal more of liberty due to the State's inefficiency. The huge body of laws regulating any aspect of our lives was not respected. If a new law was passed, the Italians didn't care[20]. But during the last 20 years the situation progressively deteriorated. The government became increasingly efficient at enforcing the laws. Computer technology is a great help and new generations of very committed and well-paid bureaucrats are closing all loopholes and stifling any left space of liberty. This is why this country, blessed with any imaginable beauty, is progressively turning into a bureaucratic and fiscal hell.

Once the government will have reached its maximum of efficiency there won't be anything left to govern.

Nonetheless, hope is left. Italy survived the fall of the Roman Empire and the barbaric invasions; maybe it can recover from the Italian Republic. Maybe the people will get so sick and tired of our bureaucratic dictatorship that they'll revolt against the government.

If not, woe to the Italians.

[1]  L. v. Mises, Socialism, An Economic and Sociological Analysis, 1951, free download on https://mises.org/library

[2]  Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, 1988, Chapter 4, free download on https://mises.org/library According to Hoppe socialism may be divided in the following sets of policies: a) traditional Marxist, b) social-democratic egalitarian and redistributive; c) conservative preservation of the status quo, behavioral regulations and price controls, d) piecemeal social and economic engineering. These are abstract categories and in the real world there are no precise boundaries. As a matter of fact these policies may appear in the same country combined in various degrees. 

[3]  Ostrowski, Progressivism: A Primer on the Idea of Destroying America, 2014

[4]  J.R. Rallo, Contra la renta básica, 2015, Cap. 3, La Socialdemocracia

[5]  Hoppe, Ibidem

[6]  Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942, aptly noted that Marxism is a religion.

[7]  For further reading: Various Authors, Il libro nero del comunismo, 1998

[8]  Filippini, Gramsci globale: guida pratica alle interpretazioni di Gramsci nel mondo, 2011, p. 146

[9]  These Catholics are often called "Cathocommunists" in Italy, a derisive expression invented, so it seems, by the Italian journalist Enzo Bettiza in 1979, https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattocomunismo

[10]  Raico, What Is Classical Liberalism?, 2010, https://mises.org/library/what-classical-liberalism

[11]  Gentile-Mussolini, Dottrina del Fascismo, 1932; Droppers, Journal of Political Economy, vol. 15, no. 2, Feb. 1907, 109-112, The Sense of the State, with a very interesting quote from H.G. Wells, The Future In America, New York 1906, Chapter X "State Blindness", p.152

[12]  Calamandrei, La costituzione e le leggi per attuarla, AAVV, Dieci anni dopo, Bari 1955, 215 noted that the Italian Constitution was the promise of the coming "social revolution". G. Colombo-A.Sarfatti, Sei Stato tu? La costituzione attraverso le domande dei bambini, 2009.

[13]  Mortati, Il lavoro nella costituzione, Dir. Lav. 1954

[14]  Referring to work, or labor, the founding fathers were paying homage to the traditional Marxist tenet of the "joy of labor": after the revolution and the abolition of private property of the means of production the workers wouldn't be exploited any more, hence disutility of labor wouldn't be felt anymore. The fallacy of such arguments was brilliantly exposed by L. v. Mises in Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, 1951, 170 ff.; free download on https://mises.org/library/socialism-economic-and-sociological-analysis#

[15]  John C. Calhoun, Disquisition on Government, 1850: "it must necessarily follow, that some one portion of the community must pay in taxes more than it receives back in disbursements; while another receives in disbursements mora than it pays in taxes ... The necessary result, then, of the unequal fiscal action of the government is, to divide the community into two great classes; one consisting of those who, in reality, pay the taxes, and, of course, bear exclusively the burthen of supporting the government; and the other, of those who are the recipients of their proceeds, through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in fewer words, to divide it into tax-payers and tax-consumers."

[16]  Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, 7, analyses the situation of the late Roman Empire in a way that surprisingly reminds of J.C. Calhoun: "Adeo maior esse coeperat numerus accipientium quam dantium." "And the number of those who took [from the public funds] began to be bigger than that of those who paid in."

[17]  In fact, Stefano Rodotà, one of Italy's most important law scholars, defined private property as "the terrible right": Il terribile diritto, Bologna 1981.

[18]  Sapelli, Analisi economica dei comunisti italiani durante il fascismo: antologia di scritti, 1978.

[19]  http://www.corriere.it/economia/12_maggio_30/benzina-accise-straordinarie-rimangono-sempre-terremoto-friuli-alluvione-vajont-guerra-abissinia_81bc4a26-aa5f-11e1-8196-b3ccb09a7f99.shtml?refresh_ce-cp

[20]  Milton Friedman, in a famous interview from 1994 affirmed that black markets and tax evasion rescued Italy from bigger evils: http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/1994/maggio/30/forza_Italia_dico_sveglia_Italia_co_0_94053012176.shtml?refresh_ce-cp

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Jesse Porter
Entered on:

Bravo! A remarkable portrait of The USA.


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