Italy: economic and social transformation

The Southern Italians sometimes complain of the egoism of the industrial North. They ought, above all, to complain of the poets, both their own and others. Seven centuries before Christ, a Greek lyrical poet sang of Calabria as "the happiest and fairest country in the world", poor and tragic Calabria which will always be one of the most sterile countries of Europe. And it was thus for a thousand years from Virgil to Goethe. Literature was the involuntary instrument of the legend of the happy and fortunate South, which hardly troubled to move to gather the fruits of its fertile soil.

What is even more strange is that up to three generations ago the South itself believed this. It would be comic if it were not depressing to re-read today in the addresses that Naples sent to Victor Emanuel II in 1860, the description of the treasures that the ancient Kingdom of the Two Sicilies would, they said, put at the disposition of an Italy free and united. It was the result of the economic segregation in which the South had lived under the Bourbons, the result also of the extreme moderation of taxation, but above all, of the secular literary legend that had glorified various beautiful spots from Sorrento to the Conca d'Oro, but had ignored the fact that behind the orange groves and olive woods, hunger reigned; because the sun is only a deception for husbandmen without water, and in the South, in contrast with the rest of Italy, rain only falls in winter, and there is no river like the Po or even the meagre Arno, but only beds of torrents dried up in summer and deluging the plain in winter with disastrous floods. When one speaks of our South, one must never forget that the drought destroys three crops out of ten, with astronomical precision.

An historical fatality must be added to these natural conditions. The history of the North and of Central Italy is based essentially on the autonomous life of the Commune. The South, on the other hand, from the Abruzzi to Calabria, always accepted a single royal centre, first Benevento, then Naples. And this centre only managed to provide an organization that was feudal, the atmosphere of which remained, even when the system began to disappear, first politically and then legally.

It was the same in Sicily, in Sardinia, in Corsica; and the reason was always the same too : lack of industries and commerce, the only creators of that "popolo minuto" or "grasso", that from Florence to the cities of the Lombard League knew how to organize themselves against the "grandi" and against the feudatories of the castles and strongholds, obliging them to live in the cities where they were quickly tamed.

The resurrection of the South is a problem of public works, of creating artificial lakes, of reafforestation and of roads. These are essential before any agricultural reform can be undertaken with success. The misery is due to the drought. It is necessary to place at the disposal of the landless, land on which life can be supported, even though, for the first ten years, with hardship.

The problem is a difficult one, but it is the only one that really matters in Italy. An Italy, peaceful and serene, depends on a South that is happy and content. If I did not fear to seem paradoxical, I would add that one of my most profound reasons for optimism about the future of Italy is that all the great countries of Europe are full -- but not Italy; we have within our own confines an Empire, in a certain sense colonial, but whose development and security do not depend on intimidating the natives, but rather on its own natives, our co-nationals who are among the most intelligent and wide-awake of the peoples of Europe.

But the transformation cannot be limited to something merely economic or social, it must be psychological. The stupid Mussolini and his nationalists thought the only rich countries were those with coal and mines. If this were true, how is it that sandy Denmark and mountainous Switzerland have become rich? If the Italians of the North and of the South so will it, our South can multiply by a hundredfold the export of our fruits, and our wines such as vermouth and marsala, of our tunny; it can in fact become one of the richest countries of Europe. It will perhaps surprise some in the North to know that even the metallurgical Corporations of Naples and Castellamare di Stabia are in the first class for technical ability and hard work; in the last months of the German occupation it was they who hid the most precious parts of their machinery for love and loyalty to their factories. The present writer was witness of their sorrow and their disillusion when the Allies -- often because they were unable -- did not give new life to industrial Naples. Thanks to the three years I passed in America, I saw at Chicago, at Cleveland, at New Haven and at San Francisco that some of our Southerners who had arrived there without a penny had succeeded in creating serious and solid industries.

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