4. New Subjects

By 1968, the unrest which characterised campus life in the US, West Germany and Japan had become an international phenomenon, reaching even into the Eastern bloc before exploding in France with the heady days of May and June (Ortoleva 1987,1988). More so than in any other advanced capitalist society, however, the Italian ‘Year of the Students’ heralded a broad wave of social conflict that would peak in 1969 with the ‘Hot Autumn’ of the Northern factories. Italy’s was a ‘creeping May’, and if its Movimento Studentesco (Student Movement) (MS) had then only recently emerged from beneath the shadow of the official student organisations, it lost no time in moving to overtake its foreign counterparts. In so doing, it placed on the agenda the possibility of an effective worker-student alliance the likes of which campus radicals elsewhere could only dream.

University occupations and demonstrations were not unheard of in the Italy of the mid-1960s. A number of brief but widespread mobilisations had taken place in response to the centre-left government’s moves to rationalise higher learning, while in spring 1966 the Roman campus had been in turmoil after a student was killed by fascists. The cycle of struggles which opened in early 1967, however, was much more profound in scale than anything before, involving at its peak thousands of university and high school students throughout urban Italy, and quickly paralysing much of the education system. Lively and confrontationist, the new movement was notable not only for its size, but also for its efforts to redefine the very notion of politics, constructing forms of organisation - above all, the permanent 'assembly' - which simply and brutally swept the traditional student bodies aside.

Along with the new-found industrial muscle of technical workers, the rise of the MS was the most distinctive feature of social conflict in Italy during the first half of the biennio rosso1 of 1968-69. As the product of social strata whose behaviour could not be reduced to that of simple labour, the actions of students and technicians raised important questions for operaismo’s understanding of class composition. Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Classe Operaia split, many workerists seemed incapable of grasping the significance of such forces. As Bologna would confess more than a decade later:

I remember our embarrassment in interpreting the underlying social mechanism, in understanding the relationship between the movement in the universities and the formation of the working class. In my opinion, this also determined our great political marginalisation during the ‘anti-authoritarian’ period f~om Autumn 1967 to the beginning of 1968, when we were mcapable of assessing the nature of the student movement. (Bologna 1981: 14)

Such isolation would be alleviated by the middle of 1968, as the movement itself became increasingly preoccupied with the industrial working class, and a number of prominent members of the Roman MS moved to embrace the workerist credo. But it would only really be broken with the migration of student cadres to FIAT Mirafiori in spring 1969, by which time many Northern factories were in turmoil, and the very nature of the ‘student question’ - now subsumed to that of the mass worker – had changed beyond recognition.

Potere Studentesco

The reasons for the rapid collapse of the ‘official’ Italian student bodies in 1967 are not difficult to discern. Student numbers had begun to expand with the partial liberalisation of access to tertiary education in 1961, although the structure of secondary schooling continued to handicap the chances of youth from blue-collar families. By the middle of the 1960s the Italian system of higher learning was suffering as much from overcrowding, poorly equipped facilities and antiquated courses as any other in Europe. With graduate employment becoming more and more of a problem, I~ was not surprising that the earliest of the new style of campus disturbances _ at Trento in 1966 – was highly corporatist in nature. Still, it would be Simplistic to deduce the origins of the new movement from nothing more than the disjuncture between Italian universities and the needs of capitalist development. Along with the rest of the industrialised world, the mid-1960s in Italy witnessed the fruition of a deep-rooted normative crisis amongst young people, signs of which Quaderni Rossi had already charted in Italian industry. It also registered the beginnings of a specific ‘youth’ subculture rejecting many of the dominant values of civil society (Piccone Stella 1993; Mangano 1999). Expressed through music and dress, through changing attitudes towards the family and work, such values found particularly fertile ground amongst members of the Communist and PSIUP youth federations. For many of the latter, the example – and mythology – of China and its ‘Cultural Revolution’, along with that of their nation’s own Resistance, served to condemn as failures both the meagre showings of the ‘Italian road’, and the monstrosities of the Soviet experience (Viale 1978: 19; Moroni 1983). True, other far-left currents, including workerism, made some advances within these organisations. But it was the spectacular images of anti-imperialist struggle in Asia and Latin America which first fired youthful imaginations in the mid-1960s, leading many young militants to condemn the historic left’s purely verbal solidarity with movements of national liberation (Bobbio 1978: 9-12). Nor was this break with traditional politics confined to those young people emerging from the mainstream left. A similar restlessness was also detectable within the Catholic world, with dissident Catholic students coming to play an important role in the MS, and after within left groups as diverse as Lotta Continua and PDUP (Partito di Unita Proletaria – the Party of Proletarian Unity) (Cerrato 1999). As Asor Rosa (1968: 198) would astutely note at the time, the new student movement had attained a significance unique in postwar Italian politics, because it represented nothing less than ‘the first example of a mass struggle without party control’.

The rejection of its hegemony did not mean, however, the immediate severance of all ties to the historic left. Indeed, the first phase of struggles in 1967 saw student actions whose leaders – hotly asserting the movement’s autonomy from the left parties – were often still nominal members of the latter or their youth federations. Various justifications were then offered for this peculiar relationship. For some student activists, the MS represented an important split within the ‘middle class’; whilst the movement needed to organise autonomously, it was still obliged to look to the working class – and thus its party, however revisionist – to lead the popular ‘historic bloc’. This position, common at Milan’s State University, also struck a responsive chord in many of the more conservative sections of the local PCI (Camboni and Samsa 1975). For other young militants, the renovation of the historic left as a revolutionary force was still an open question. Like the workerists, they perceived the labour movement’s major problem as one of a healthy base held back by a reformist leadership, and looked to pressure exerted both within and without the parties to rectify the situation. Others, finally, were of the opinion that for the moment, and whatever their policies, the left parties – and the PSIUP above all – afforded a useful channel of rank-and-file communication until something better came along (Hellman 1976: 250).

The very schizophrenic nature of the PSIUP, with a leader~hip dominated by older associates of Morandi quite out of touch wIth – and, more importantly, incapable of disciplining – the party’s younger militants, made such a use seem feasible to many for a time. Similar attempts to utilise the Communist youth federation would meet with varying results. While youthful dissent and sympathy for ‘extremist’ politics were tolerated in places such as Reggio Emilia, in other localities – for example Pisa – exclusion came swiftly for those who strayed beyond the bounds of the party’s dominant postwar traditions (Cazzullo 1998: 41-2). This general mood of intolerance did nothing to improve the increasingly strained relationship between the PCI and politicised youth; Amendola’s portrayal of the student movement as an enemy to be defeated only added fuel to the fire. Despite the more conciliatory position advanced by others in the party leadership during 1968, the membership of its youth federation continued to decline. By 1969, relations between the PCI and MS in all major cities except Milan had effectively collapsed, and a number of factions within the student movement began to amalgamate into new national organisations seeking to challenge the Pcl’s dominance of working-class politiCS (Luperini 1969; Hellman 1976: 272).

While struggles circulated throughout the major university ce~t~es in Italy, the MS swelled to mass proportions in only a few localItIes during 1967, and it was the experiences in these cities – above all Turin and Trento – which gave the new movement its initial orientation in pursuit of ‘Student Power’. Influenced in part by the German and American campus movements, this new ideology was turned by its young theoreticians into a peculiarly Italian concoction. To their minds the tyranny of the academic ‘barons’ and the discriminatory nature of university admission were only an expression of the more general power relations within society. ‘Authoritarianism’, wrote Carlo Donolo (1968: 78) at the time, 'is a new word for an old fact: exploitation.’ Yet if such a generic notion of domination was perhaps the major weakness of Student Power as an ideology, its very breadth left it open to a number of quite different readings. In its first emanation, in Trento, the call for Student Power stressed the sectionalist interests of students; even in its most radical form, it rarely went beyond the demand for ‘universities to the students, factories to the workers’. In Turin, by contrast, emphasis was from the beginning placed upon the social continuity of class rule. Echoing Quaderni Rossi’s thesis of the social factory, Luigi Bobbio and Guido Viale held that

[t]he social system of advanced capitalism increasingly takes the form of a network of totalitarian institutions aimed at the total control and domination of the persons subject to it ... Authoritarianism in a neo-capitalist world is not a hangover from feudalism; it is the fundamental form of class domination, to which all social institutions are subordinated. (Bobbio and Viale 1968: 222)

In their view, the role of the MS was to challenge schools’ function as ‘a direct instrument of subordination’ which, through the organisation of consensus and passivity, ‘manipulate the students, persuading them to accept the division of labor and hierarchic stratification of roles on which our society is based’ (ibid.: 223). Europe’s historic left and unions were considered little better, since they confronted social conflict only to keep it within the confines set by capital: ‘The only thing these organisations still have to offer is a career’ (ibid.: 222). If the immediate targets in Turin were again the class nature of admission and the power of professors, the continuous nature of domination throughout society ultimately raised the problem of joining with the working class to generalise the conflict gripping academe. Elsewhere however, sectionalist interests or Third Worldism reigned supreme. In Rome, talk of a worker-student alliance made little ground before 1968, with its proponents likely, in Scalzone’s words, to be ‘drowned out by whistles and cat-calls’ and dismissed as ‘one of the PCI, a "politico" (Piperno and Scalzone 1978: 75).

'Labour-power in Formation?'

Despite its relative isolation, workerism would leave its mark upon at least one of the Movimento Studentesco’s most important debates. In February 1967, during an occupation of the University of Pisa, dissidents within the ‘official’ left student organisation drew up a document that set out to delineate both the class location of students within Italian capitalism and their relationship to working class struggle. Rewritten and partially reformulated a few months later as the Tesi di Pisa, their analysis had considerable impact during the early days of th­e movement, being praised by Rossana Rossanda (1968: 65) of the PCI left as ‘the most complex and persuasive of the MS’s “theoretical” attempts’.

Gianmario Cazzaniga and the other authors of the Tesi played a central role in the local group Il Potere Operaio, which would later supply much of the leadership of Lotta Continua. They had first been formed politically within the organisations of the historic left, where they had come into contact with the networks around Panzieri and Tronti. Il Potere Operaio was a hybrid group ideologically, containing workerists as well as radicals motivated by more conventional Marxist-Leninist and Third Worldist precepts. It was also one of the few far-left formations then able to command respect within the new student movement. If elsewhere, Cazzaniga (1967) had written critically of Classe Operaia, the influence of Quademi Rossi – and, to the lesser extent, that of Tronti’s journal- was clearly discernible within the Tesi. A qualitatively new model of capitalism, the document argued, was currently emerging. Capital’s ever increasing centralisation had ‘profoundly’ altered its laws of development, and the enormous growth of its organic composition was now leading to the ‘disappearance’ not only of the tendential fall of the rate of profit, but the law of value itself. As a consequence, class composition could no longer be conceived as a simple function of the valorisation process, but must of necessity also be examined in terms of the social division of labour (Cazzaniga et al. 1968: 174).

According to the Tesi, there had always existed intermediary strata in capitalist society, ‘social figures of the waged, who as such are formally producers of surplus value, but who are not internal components of the working class’. Now, however, capital’s socialisation had reached such a magnitude that the barrier separating them from blue-collar workers had begun to fall (Cazzaniga et al. 1968: 173). This was particularly the case for those engaged in intellectual labour, whose subsumption was of growing urgency for capital. Such a process was not, however, without attendant risks for the class relation. Even as the incorporation of science and intellectual labour within constant capital strengthened the latter’s political power over the potentially insubordinate, deskilled ‘masses’, the parcellisation and generalisation of intellectual labour generated an ‘intellectual proletariat’ open to an anti-capitalist struggle in pursuit of both material and political demands (ibid.: 171, 172). For its part, the labour market was forced to undergo a 'radical evolution' so that it could be 'planned in time and space', alongside 'the 'growing average rate of qualified labour-power' demanded by capital. As a consequence, the state was increasingly compelled to intervene in order to guarantee tertiary training as a 'long term productive social cost' (ibid.: 167, 171). Since schooling was 'the place of production of qualified labour-power, counting as a social cost in the cycle of capital's enlarged reproduction', the student must be understood first and foremost as labour-power 'in its process of qualification' (ibid.: 176-7). -

Although they were to prove no less flawed than other contemporary Italian attempts to grasp the nature of intellectual labour, the Tesi are distinctive for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important of these was their location of students within capital's total circuit of reproduction, as an early attempt to make concrete operaismo's allusion to a horizon beyond the immediate process of production. Caught none the less between the implications of the social factory thesis and the political significance of productive labour, the Tesi ultimately followed earlier workerist texts in privileging the latter. The student was already a proletarian by virtue of a subordinate location within the university division of labour. To the extent that existing stipends became a fully-fledged wage, she would be transformed from an 'impure social figure on the margins of the valorisation process' into a fully-fledged 'wage worker producing surplus value' (Cazzaniga et al. 1968: 177).

While this argument was to generate the greatest controversy upon the appearance of the Tesi, little serious effort was made by its authors to sustain or develop the point before more orthodox critics. For contemporaries concerned with its practical implications, the document was also marred by a discussion of students which perceived them only from the restricted viewpoint of what they would eventually become. By contrast, one of the proponents of Student Power could boast:

If we do not offer a definition of the student, if we underrate politically both their social background and their 'probable' future class position, we do this in order to reflect something that has emerged from the struggle, which is, precisely, the specific political negation which the students have made of their 'past' and of their 'future', not evading the problems raised, but passing through and beyond them, affirming the 'present' as history to be constructed ... the definition of the student is given by the student struggle (Rostagno 1968: 203-4)

While plainly demagogic, such a position was infinitely closer than the Tesi to the spirit then prevailing within the early MS. Finally, the document's chance of having a lasting impact on the MS were severely hampered by its conception of student relations with the labour movement. On the one hand, it advocated the eventual formation of a new revolutionary party, and exalted the new movement's discourse on anti-imperialism, direct democracy and confrontation. On the other, the call for a student 'union' to defend the particular interests of nascent labour-power as one component within the labour movement as a whole, only grated with the dominant student thematic of autonomy from all existing social institutions. For this reason above all, the document was to be largely forgotten by the end of the decade: when cited, it was as an artifact left over from the old movement, not a weapon suited to the needs of the new.

Workers and Students Unite

With the dissolution of Classe Operaia, any organised presence of 'pure' workerists was confined to the North-East of Italy, where Potere Operaio veneto-emiliano (POv-e) dominated the region's far left. Although the group soon came to wield considerable influence over its own local MS, Pov-e's relations with student politics were quite different to those of its Pisan namesake, whose members were always at pains to distance themselves from the Venetians. Years later, Negri would attempt to explain the differences between the two Workers' Power groupings in terms of their respective social composition. According to him POv-e, unlike the Tuscan formation,

was overwhelmingly working-class, so that student problems, which were fundamental for the Pisans, were always mediated via a rather difficult debate within Potere Operaio veneto-emiliano. (Negri 1979a: 93)

Whatever the truth of this, throughout 1967 and 1968 the workerists closest to POv-e clung unflinchingly to the world of lavoro operaio ('blue-collar work'). In their view, the only political problem of any consequence still left unsolved from the experience of Classe Operaia was the relation between the class and the labour movement. One senses that for them, as for Piperno at that time, many of the student movement's concerns smacked of the merely '''personal'' or superstructural', and as such were simply dismissed as irrelevant (Piperno and Scalzone 1978: 74).

With such attitudes commonplace, it should come as no surprise that Pov-e's journal had paid no attention to the student movement before the middle of 1968. By that time, a fundamental shift could be discerned within the most important components of the MS, with the proponents of Student Power now finding themselves challenged by more traditional ideologies stressing the primacy of the working class in social conflict. The criticisms of Oreste Scalzone (1968: 2) - not yet a workerist, but already prominent within the faction-ridden Roman MS - were not untypical of such views. After conceding the potency of Student Power's anti-institutional critique, Scalzone argued that it had also engendered a widespread mistrust of 'the party as an institution', the 'revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat'. Without the latter, the MS would remain confined to the university, ultimately exhausting itself as nothing more than a privileged revolt by 'bourgeois children'. While lacking Scalzone's socialist moralism, many student activists were increasingly conscious of the limits of a struggle conducted wholly within the university. As the whole edifice of Italian society began to appear as an obstacle to the reform of higher learning, even the most sectionalist advocates of Student Power looked with interest to a working class that was again stirring itself into action. Thus one of the first of the movement's factory commissions was formed in Trento; by the middle of the year, the first steps towards a practical linkage with workers had been made in all the other major university cities (Boato 1978: 228-32).

It was this 'turn to the class' which led POv-e to display public interest in the development of the MS. The first discussion of students carried the significant title of 'Fiat Edison Marzotto University - one struggle against one boss', and was published in the early days of May 1968. Noting the growing preparedness of students to reply to state force in kind, as witnessed by the March clashes at Valle Giulia in Rome (Ginsborg 1990: 304), the article expressed a certain condescending pleasure that the MS had finally moved beyond 1967's generic themes of protest. In the process, it had discovered the need to join with workers in 'an open and general struggle against the entire plan of capital'. Whilst most students came from bourgeois families, the MS represented an attempt 'to negate their own class origin in order to be a revolutionary class'. To take things forward, the workerists demanded 'the generalised wage for all' (Pov-e 1968c: I, 4). Unlike the notion of a 'political wage', however, which in a few years would play a central role in Potere's Operaio's discourse on political recomposition, the aim for Pov-e of the 'generalised wage' seems not to have been that of organising students as part of the proletariat. True, the 'generalised wage' was important for allowing access to university for working-class youngsters. POv-e's primary interest, however, lay elsewhere, in seeking the means by which an effective relation between students and workers could be realised outside academe. Worker-student unity, it was argued, could only be consummated in the environs of the factory, where capital's plan 'is most organised, and from whence it draws its strength'. Thus, whatever other ways such unity might have been conceived, for POv-e it would from the beginning entail the submission of student interests to the promotion of workers' struggles, an attitude which understandably outraged wide sections of the MS (Boato 1978: 198).

As many student activists were then discovering, their efforts to support industrial struggles, and in particular to promote a rank-andfile control over them, met not only with frequent interest on the part of workers, but also hostility from union officials jealously protective of their 'turf'. Even the FlOM, the component of the CGIL most open to 'new' political discourses, agreed to discussions with students only on condition that the latter accept its 'monopoly over the class' (Viale 1978: SO). In such Circumstances, the widespread antipathy amongst student activists for POv-e could only have been deepened by the group's continued circumspect behaviour before the 'official' representatives of labour. Indeed, so cautious was POv-e at this time that it actively discouraged efforts to circumvent the CGIL:

We have said before that the Movement reaches its maximum point of growth in the awareness of the necessity of contact and organisation with the working class, which in Italy is still identifiable with the union organisation of the Labour Movement. It is clear that if the Student Movement seeks direct and organisationally effective contact with the working class, it cannot dream of doing so outside the class union: direct contacts are always precarious, and often lack possibilities of generalisation '" (POv-e 1968c: 4)

If one reason for this outburst can be traced to the tendency's fear of isolation, another lay in the fact that the split with Tronti's closest supporters still remained unclear in the Veneto for much of 1968. Pov-e thus continued to maintain relations with left currents within the PCI, even organising a joint conference with them, 'Students and Workers', in June. As the workerists argued in Potere Operaio:

[T]he organisational channels which permit contact with the working class [are not] confined to the union. Despite the reformist lines to which their leaderships are committed, the parties of the labour movement are still class parties by dint of the composition and characteristics of their base. (ibid.: 4)

Not surprisingly, many on the far left objected to such arguments. Harshest in its criticisms was the Marxist-Leninist tendency within the Pisan Potere Operaio, for whom this utterance was yet one more proof that

workerist and spontaneist praxis cannot escape its internal logic, but rather converges into the reformist, and evermore clearly counterrevolutionary strategy of the offiCial institutions of the labour movement. (quoted in Boato 1978: 231)

The struggles of workers at Montedison's Petrolchimico plant in Porto Marghera that summer, in which POv-e was to play an important role, would set the group on a final collision course with the parties and unions of the left. While the ambiguities inherited from Classe Operaia's discourse on the historic left did not long survive this conflict, the chemical workers' struggles only confirmed the group in its interpretation of worker-student relations. Worker-student unity was projected by POv-e as a 'new organisational form' consummated in the often violent mass picketing of late July (POv-e 1968a: 35-6). In practice, this 'unity' meant the 'workingclass use' of the MS as a channel of communication against the bosses and, where necessary, union leaders as well (pOv-e 1968j: 4). One workerist leaflet summed up the question thus:

Only if the union between workers and students, under the leadership of the working class, becomes an organisational and continuous fact, will the student movement conserve its political weight and significance. (POv-e 1968a: 31)

A more sophisticated workerist attempt to grapple with the political role of students emerged in Sergio Bologna and Giairo Daghini's detailed, first-hand reconstruction of the French May. Here students were presented as detonators of class struggle, the 'acting minority' of which Daniel Cohn-Bendit had spoken in his famous interview with Sartre (Bologna and Daghini 1968: 20). French students were praised for having triggered 'the most formidable and concentrated mass refusal of the job [posto di lavoro] ever seen in an advanced capitalist country' (ibid.: 35), in the form of a general strike by at least 9 million workers. At the same time, it was conceded that this had not been sufficient to overcome the gulf separating students in the streets from workers in the occupied factories (ibid.: 49-51). It was in their conclusion, however, that Bologna and Daghini introduced a new twist to their tendency's reading of worker-student relations. First, they drew a parallel with the defeat suffered in 1920 by Turin's metalworkers, who had stood firm but alone in their factory strongholds. In future, argued Bologna and Daghini, workplace occupations must act as 'trampolines' to launch 'decisions of a practical-political type, which must then translate themselves into the organisation of the social circuit of struggle'. Such a schema offered students a privileged role as intellectual labourers, for in order to be successful, 'these mechanisms of working-class struggle must be entirely reconstructed at the theoretical level' (ibid.: 52-3).

While this attempt to grasp the peculiar contributions which the intellectually trained might offer to revolutionary politics was passed over by the rest of the tendency, it is no less true that POv-e's approach to students only prefigured the general practice of the extra-parliamentary organisations formed with the Hot Autumn. Within a few years, indeed, Potere Operaio (1972d) was to ascribe greater legitimacy to students' struggles within the education sector than did a number of its rivals. In 1968, however, the resurgence of industrial strife would see the specific problems of students overshadowed by those of the mass worker; only with the crisis of the far left during the mid-1970s would some workerists begin to rethink entirely the relation between intellectual strata and the working class, between detonators of a knowledge or of particular knowledges, and productive workers. (Bologna 1981: 15-16)

Technicians - the Missing Link?

Occasionally present in the disputes of the early and mid-1960s, it was only really in the latter half of 1968 that Italian technical workers came into their own as an industrial force in Italy. The epicentre of their mobilisation over wages and the reorganisation of production lay between two poles. The first contained the highly qualified workers of Milan's electronics sector, then the most dynamic within the network of large and medium-sized manufacturing plants of that city. The second was based upon the employees of various industrial research facilities in the North and Centre (Lelli 1971; Dina 1972; Low-Beer 1978; Lumley 1990). With tertiary training increasingly common amongst them, such workers were unusually sensitive to events in the world of higher learning; many followed the vicissitudes of the MS with great interest. For those workerists such as Bologna wary of the theory and practice of 'external' vanguards, these technicians, with their strikes, demonstrations and workplace occupations, seemed momentarily to offer 'the ideal vector' - a 'bridge' between workers and students, to defeat the gulf between factory and university struggles (Bologna 1981: 15).

In Italy at that time, as in much of the West, the terms of Marxist debate on technicians had largely been set by the French sociologist Serge Mallet. The central thesis of his 1963 book The New Working Class held that capitalist development, far from deskilling all layers of the workforce, had led to a substantial rise in the level of qualifications and skills. Along the way, it had created a stratum of specialised workers who occuppied a strategic place in the planning and execution of production. According to Mallet, a deep-rooted sense of frustration with capitalist property relations was widespread amongst such technicians, many of whom yearned to exercise their own control over production (Low-Beer 1978: 14-22). In the expressive prose of Andre Gorz, whose Strategy for Labor advanced similar positions in the following year:

The impossibility of living which appeared to the proletarians of the last century as the impossibility of reproducing their labor power becomes for the workers of scientific or cultural industries the impossibility of putting their creative abilities to work. (Gorz 1967: 105)

For Mallet, the adherence of technical staff to a strategy for socialism - understood as a society whose norms found sustenance in the self-management of production - was a viable political hypothesis which he was to pursue actively as a member of the left socialist PSU (Partie Socialiste Unifie - the (French) Unified Socialist Party) (Howard 1974). While certain exponents of classical operaismo such as Tronti (1967a: 28) were dismissive of {a couple of technicians boasting they produce surplus value by pushing buttons', others, following Alquati's work in Quademi Rossi, would treat the problem more seriously. One such workerist was Bologna{ who possessed firsthand experience in organising white-collar staff from his days as an Olivetti employee. In a brief account of {The discourse on technicians', Bologna (1965: 15) set out to confute a notion popular in Italy amongst the leaders of the CGIL left. For the latter, technicians represented 'not only the expression, as labour-power, of the most advanced level of capital, but also the political expression of the most advanced movements of the class'. This interpretation, Bologna claimed, simply re-echoed all the Second International debates around the labour aristocracy, and risked using purely sociological criteria to make political distinctions within the working class. Further, the theory of the technician as a 'revolutionary' figure was, at least in the minds of its French proponents, tied to an empirically invalid assumption. This was that the deskilling and massification of modern production had reduced the majority of workers to depoliticised atoms lacking 'a general vision of the mechanism of production' (ibid.: 16). For Bologna, instead, 'no sociological distinction between the various levels of labour-power can lead us automatically to a specific discourse on technicians' because politically 'advanced' sectors could not be deduced a priori from the structure of the labour process. Only a post festum analysis 'following the path traced by workers' struggles' could determine their relationship until then, the role of technicians in the struggle against capital could only be an open question (ibid.: 17).

By early 1969, with many technicians actively engaged in industrial disputation, such tentative conclusions were no longer adequate. More concrete was the document produced by employees of the Comitato Nazionale Energia Nucleare (CNEN - the Nuclear Energy National Committee) laboratories near Rome. There the presence of former members of the local student movement amongst staff helped to ensure that many of the central industrial themes of 1969 - flat wage increases, the attack on grading scales, decision-making in the hands of assemblies rather than union officials - were prominent. Scientific research, it was argued, was not a neutral and benign force currently misused by the bourgeoisie. In the age of mass production, science had become indispensable to capital, as necessary to the task of class domination as to the process of valorisation (Piperno et a1. 1969: 173-6). Furthermore, the latter-day socialisation of labour had subordinated research and development to taylorist norms of production. Both in the parcellised and repetitive nature of its labour process, and in the structure of its rates of pay, the modern research institute was now organised according to the same criteria as industry generally. Wage differentials, for example, were 'functional to the maintenance of a quite precise hierarchical- repressive structure and, ultimately, to the political control of the mass of workers'. While a small minority of specialists wielded considerable power within this pyramid of command, the great mass of technical staff, especially those without tertiary training, were simply forced to endure the organisation of labour (ibid.: 186).

Interesting as it was, the CNEN paper's desire to emphasise the deskilled and factory-like nature of labour for the majority of workers at CNEN led it to say very little about the peculiarities of technicians as specialised workers. This question was to be taken up instead in early 1969 by Bologna in 'Technicians as producers and product', an essay he co-authored with Francesco Ciafaloni, a Marxist from outside the workerist tendency. In these authors' opinion, the label technician could be applied to all those workers, whether manual or white collar, whose role in production was based upon the performance not of simple labour, but of skills acquired through specialised training. Such a broad definition, they acknowledged, embraced 'most workers in a complex and diversified society none the less, it retained a certain heuristic value due to its ability to link together workers {in otherwise unrelated situations' (Bologna and Ciafaloni 1969: 152). In this sense, then, it applied most adequately to those employees who, even if massified, were separate from the mass worker: namely, those staff involved the conception as well as execution of production. The subsumption of such labour-power to capital, if an actuality, was only formal, since the peculiar 'tools' for which they are sought on the labour market - in particular, the social knowledge which they physically embodied - could not yet be easily separated and counterposed to them as fixed capital.

Bologna and Ciafaloni (1969: 151) began their discussion by noting the diametrically opposed connotations that the 'proletarianisation' of technicians had come to assume within the Italian left. For some, technicians constituted the central core of the modern working class in quest of self-management; for others they were personnel whose compromising location in producton made them fit only to intervene in others' struggles as external cadres. A different interpretation held that technicians were workers with no distinctive attributes at all, yet another that they were employees with their own specific struggles to fight within the general front against capital. Favouring the last of these conceptions, Bologna and Ciafaloni criticised Mallet's outlook for its potential corporatism. The very nature of many technicians' relation to their product - over whose contents they already exercised far greater control than workers on the line - offered limited but real possibilities of enjoyment, and thus. identification with the existing division of labour. Given thiS, 'a struggle of technicians for self-management could easily transform itself into a struggle to become a ruling technocracy'. In any case, the initial assumption held by Mallet - that the mass of semi-skilled workers had been co-opted by capital- was, 'at least in Italy, empirically false'. While it would be mistaken to say that the mass worker's struggles were intrinsically revolutionary, it would be just as absurd to deny their current breadth and intensity (ibid.: 160). Bologna and Ciafaloni's harshest criticisms, however, were reserved for those who saw technicians as nothing but the raw material for the revolutionary party. To begin with, the great majority of the intellectually trained, who were currently inserted in the labour market as either technicians or executants of 'cognitive roles', were quite different from the vanguard of declasse bourgeois intellectuals bearing 'socialist' consciousness to the masses of Lenin's day. Such a formulation was, in any case, politically objectionable, since it restated 'the division of roles between leaders and led, which is what we want to combat' (ibid.: 159).

According to Bologna and Ciafaloni (1969: 153), the peculiar status of technicians as workers who embodied their 'capital' revealed the limitations of conceptions which posited the basis of class domination within production 'in subservience to a machine'. While such a forced dichotomy between social relations and machines risked undermining their own depiction of technology as 'a political response' to working-class struggle (ibid.: 154), Bologna and Ciafaloni's emphasis upon the division of labour went to the core of the problem of specialised labour. If the pyramid structure of the modern firm derived its sustenance solely from the logic of class domination, it was within the layer of intellectually trained staff that the effort to establish a neat bifurcation between functions of command and functions of production collapsed (ibid.: ISS). Yet a motivation for these employees to challenge capital did exist, according to Bologna and Ciafaloni. Ironically, they offered here the same contradiction as that advanced by Mallet, counterposing the technicians' supposed autonomy in production to the reality of the 'passively repetitive' work which many of them had come to endure (ibid.: 158). If by dint of their social origin and function within the firm, neither clerical nor managerial staff were likely to engage in a collective questioning of the organisation of labour, it was 'precisely technicians who constitute a possible exception to this rule' (ibid.: 156). The essay's final note was one of caution. Given that 'the main victims of the present division of labour' remained the manual workers, it was impossible to determine in any objective manner how and why particular technicians would take their side. In part this was because 'the factory has not yet been analysed as a social reality', in part because 'the alignment of technicians is not a given, but a product of struggles'. Not just any struggles, however; technical staff also had to challenge that division of labour from which many of them benefited. Consistent with workerism's precepts, Bologna and Ciafaloni located the unifying thread of such an attack in the wage struggle: but this, they insisted, could not become a magic formula, since capital was always able to effect new divisions in pay. To be serious, the struggle by technicians against the division of labour within the firm would have to be joined to an attack upon the division between manual and intellectual labour within society as a whole, starting with 'a profound critique of the education system and its complete overthrow' (ibid.: 157).

In this manner 'Technicians as producers and product' pointed towards a strategy involving workers, both specialised and semiskilled, in alliance with students as 'pre-workers'. Recognising that the potentially positive relationship between technical workers and their work demanded that their struggles be closely entwined with those of the mass worker, the essay none the less acknowledged a specific role for the former. Unfortunately, as with Bologna and Daghini's earlier discourse upon students, such an approach was to be quickly swept away with the enthusiasms of the Hot Autumn. If echoes of their position could still be detected at Potere Operaio's 1970 conference (Berardi 1998: 115), the situation had changed fundamentally by the following year. Infatuated with the theme of insurrection, the group would finally dissolve the specific attributes of technical workers into those of industrial labour as a whole. Now all labour was simple labour, and technicians faced with the choice of either bolstering capital's command, or else acting as 'an agent in the enemy camp' (Potere Operaio 1971h: 15). Once again, the problems of complex labour would have to await the uncertainties of the mid- 1970s for a more balanced assessment by the workerist current.