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Paolo Volponi: Le mosche del capitale [The Flies of Capital]

Volponi worked for both Olivetti and Fiat during his career and this book clearly reflects that experience. Though Bruto Saraccini is the nominal hero of the book, Volponi has made it clear who the real hero is – L’unico personaggio è il potere. [The only character is power.] Saraccini, (presumably like Volponi himself) thought that he could make a difference in these big companies, humanising them. But the motive of any capitalist corporation is very simple – to make money, to make profits. The corporation has no incentive to treat its workers humanely and even less incentive to put jobs before profits.

Saraccini works for MFM, clearly based on Olivetti, and gains the trust of the Chairman of the Board, Nasàperti (based on Bruno Visentini, Chairman of Olivetti). He is offered the post of Managing Director by Nasàperti, though it is to be a joint position with the hard-nosed engineer Sommersi Cocchi. Saraccini is an idealist and a poet. When talking about capitalism the analogy he uses is with Mozart and his father. He feels that a modern corporation can be humanistic and can function organically but he comes up against both the profit motive and human nature, which includes turf wars and power struggles. He makes proposals to Nasàperti along these lines but, after consideration, Nasàperti favours Cocchi (probably based on Carlo de Benedetti). Saraccini then moves to a larger corporation, called Megagruppo, obviously based on Fiat, and headed by a woman, Donna Fulgenzia, where he is offered the post of Head of Personnel. At Megagruppo, he is involved in a strike and the move to fire fifty-seven workers whose behaviour is considered intolerable. In particular we follow the story of one of them, Tecraso, who is eventually charged with terrorism. Again he realises that his ideas are not going to be accepted and eventually moves back to MFM but in a lesser capacity.

Volponi makes no secret of his support for a more humane workplace and the fact that this cannot work with the current industrial and financial set-up. Saraccini’s ideas are bold but unrealistic in the modern workplace and despite the best will of forward-thinking men like Olivetti, poetry, humanitarianism and capitalism, as the title makes clear, just do not go together. But it is a superb attempt by Volponi to show Saraccini’s ideas and yet another sad case of a book that has not been translated into English but should be.

Publishing history

First published 1989 by Einaudi
No English translation
Published in French as Les mouches du capital, by Flammarion, 2008