Class composition as Leninist?

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Ogion
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Jul 16 2012 05:30
Class composition as Leninist?

These are just some thoughts I have been having recently, but could class composition be seen as Leninist? Basically, the argument behind the operaist notion of class composition boils down to (if I understand correctly): Highly skilled professional workers were represented the most in workers’ councils, as well as in much of the reformist social democratic parties and trade unions, of the early 20th century, and since they identified to a large degree with their work, they were for worker’s self-management rather than for the abolition of the capitalist organization of labor. Therefore, it would take the period of Fordism and the rise of the semi-skilled or un-skilled “mass” worker who, with no identification with production, would completely oppose capitalism.

In the first place, wasn’t “worker’s self-management,” at least for the council communists, to take an anti-capitalist character, and not become a capitalist organization of labor? And aside from the question of whether skilled workers were even represented the most in this period, aren’t these differences in reality too minimal to think that the skilled workers couldn’t develop class consciousness? I think it’s true the conditions for skilled workers were different from semi-skilled or un-skilled workers, but to me this kind of argument just seems like a variation of Lenin’s idea of “trade union consciousness” or the idea in his “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” of a “labor aristocracy,” a privileged layer of the workers, who is at home in the existing conditions in the developed world because of profits generated by monopolies through imperialism and therefore a revolution would have to begin among workers in the developing countries such as Russia. I would argue that it’s precisely the opposite: because the differences between skilled workers and un-skilled workers, and between the working class in different countries, are so minimal, there is a strong potential for class consciousness to develop among them as they work together. Of course, there are hierarchies within the working class, but I don’t think these sort of distinctions between skilled or un-skilled allows us to understand reformism with the worker’s movement. Lenin tries to understand changes in the movement through a kind of economistic determinism, while the operaists do so through technological determinism, by looking at the technology in production.

The objectivism is combined with a contradictory subjectivism (found also in capitalist ideology): just as vanguard party for Lenin is automatically anti-capitalist, the “mass worker”’s struggles for the operaists represent an automatic resistance to capitalism. (I think many operaists also held the vanguard party was, too, didn’t they?) Such subjectivism is also evident in their theory of crisis, which is related I think: they answer crisis is caused by capitalists answering to worker’s struggles, just as in Lenin’s monopoly theory it is the will of “lords of monopoly” which leads to crisis.

Anyway, I am interested in whether my thoughts on this may have any validity – I’ve only read some operaist writings, so I could definitely be wrong about this, and it would be nice to hear from anyone who knows more about the notion of class composition than I do. And I would be interested to see if there any critiques of class composition or operaismo in general if anyone knows?

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Jul 16 2012 09:06

I'm pretty sure Negri referred to himself as a Leninist throughout the 70s. Check out Steve Wright's stuff here on libcom, in particular "A Party of Autonomy?" I'd also recommend Monty Neill's stuff on class composition and the zapatistas (it should come up in a google search) that gets into these issues.

RedHughs
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Jul 16 2012 21:53

Ogion, it seem like you should say "anti-Imperialism" or "privileged stratum analysis". Leninism seems too vague for what you're trying to say.

Ogion
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Jul 16 2012 23:11

Thanks, Nate. Haven't heard of Monty Neill before, so will check that out, and I've been meaning to read Steve Wright's Storming Heaven. I was actually reading recently Sergio Bologna’s "Class Composition and the Theory of the Party at the Origins of the Workers-Councils Movement” on libcom, and I thought its radical re-interpretation of the workers’ councils and workers’ self-management in Germany was thought-provoking, especially how he situates it historically alongside the struggles of the IWW and the Russian Revolutions. And Bologna doesn’t seem to take a Leninist line politically -- I haven’t really read many other operaist thinkers, but from what I understand many of them (like Negri) were Leninists, and it’s nice to see that this didn’t apply to Bologna. But the notion of class composition through which he interprets the worker’s council movement still seems to me problematic and, as I was reading it, it struck me that it was indebted to Leninism.

RedHughs, you are probably right. "Privileged stratum analysis" would seem more apt, though it seems like the basis of it at least is in Lenin's imperialist theory.

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Jul 17 2012 01:36

It sounds like the old Marxist line that self-management is a petty bourgeois notion, which fits with Leninism. A problem i have with a lot of the stuff about class composition is that it strikes me as crudely deterministic. I think the spontaneism falls out of this.

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Jul 17 2012 02:21

I've read the Bologna's "Class Composition and the Theory of the Party at the Origins of the Workers' Council Movement" and by the end, it is clearly Leninist. Which was a great disappointment because the piece begins so well.

And it begs the question that I discussed with Red and some Endnotes comrades recently, which is: did the operaists follow the Althusserian stream, reject the Marxist critique of alienation and commodity fetishism (the Althusserians say to skip over chapter 1 of Capital because of its metaphysics), and throw the Hegelian baby out with the bathwater? Because class composition theory does have the determinism, that syndicalistcat mentions, in rejecting class consciousness and the self-activity of the class. Thoughts?

RedHughs
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Jul 17 2012 04:23

Is this text online?

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Jul 17 2012 04:42
RedHughs wrote:
Is this text online?

Yeah, it's available here on libcom.

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Jul 17 2012 05:59

If the operaistas were influenced by Althusser, that could explain their determinism. Althusser is an example of a kind of Marxism that sees the structure as determining. This was characteristic of Third International Marxism. This was what led EP Thompson to his critique of Althusser. I think it's also probably an inaccurate interpretation of Marx's theory. For Marx I think in any social explanation you have the structural features, which provide the context, and then you have the stream of events. So Marx did not suppose that events that enter into explaining what happens, a course of struggle or whatever, are always economic or about the material conditions. On the contrary, in principle they could be anything...cultural or religious movements or particular political events or whatever. But the economic structure is always the context, that explains why a series of events lead to a particular outcome. So structures by themselves don't really explain. you also need to look at the concrete events.

Ogion
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Jul 17 2012 07:22

syndicalistcat, I think personally the term self-management can be a rather vague one, but my problem with the historical argument behind the notion of class composition from operaists is that I think it assumes their conception of self-management -- immediate self-management of capitalist production which becomes a goal in itself, with isolated occupations/workplaces, productivism, etc -- was all that worker’s councils were about. Do they therefore think the working class practice and action undertaken through the councils could not be the means out which communism is born? Were the councils in the early 20th century to be rejected outright as inherently reformist? This is what class composition perhaps is driving at, and why I would agree with you that it could be seen as deterministic.

Hmm, Hieronymous, I was kind of confused about this actually:

Sergio Bologna wrote:
Leninism is perhaps the extreme limit reached by the insurrectional level and by the class autonomy where the party is still an acting minority.

Maoist thought has gone further, by conceiving of the class as the party, the party as the majority of the people, the party as social majority, and by moving the ground of insurrection from the brief coup d'etat to long-range war. With Maoism, insurrection has become a spontaneist term.

I’m going to have to re-read the passages again where he refers to Lenin, but I think you're right. I read somewhere Bologna took a different, anti-Leninist stance among the original operaists, but maybe he only developed this stance later? I’m not sure. As for operaists following the Althusserian stream, I don’t really think those who emphasized class consciousness and self-organization necessarily thought much of Hegel either -- Luxemburg went so far as to say that the Hegelian language in volume 1 of Capital was an “abomination,” and council communists like Pannekoek and Mattick seemed to have disdain or at best indifference to Hegel, much preferring Dietzgen in the case of Pannekoek. So I think more likely they just followed both the Leninist and anti-Hegelian streams prevalent in Italy of the period with a subjectivist twist.

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Jul 17 2012 06:59

Good question, I've only scanned the responses so apologies if this is repeating anything that's already been said.

- the Operaisists i've read definitely styled themselves as Leninists, only they argued that as historical materialists, theory must change with history. So Lenin was right in 1917 Russia but wrong in 1968 Italy. How much this was sincere, and how much it was an attempt to deflect accusations of heresy from the PCI I don't know (this is a pretty common manoeuvre for dissident Marxists; Rosa Luxemburg pulled something similar in 'the mass strike', citing Engles' smears of anarchism in order to avoid accusations of anarchism for advocating a shift from parliamentary to direct action).

- I don't see it as particularly determinist. If anything Operaist practice had something of a Leninist voluntarism to it (as you say, 'contradictory subjectivism'). As someone said on another thread - seeing the class struggle like a game of Risk - mapping the class then going to the factory gates and shop floors to agitate. So I'm not sure how much they saw the refusal of work as arising automatically from the conditions of the mass worker, rather they saw elements of this refusal and agitated to try and generalise it imho (it's a while since I've read any of this stuff though, so may be misremembering).

- However, I don't know how much these Leninist aspects are inherent to the concept of class composition itself. It seems perfectly possible to analyse the contemporary organisation of the labour process, family life, the striation of the labour market etc without then playing the armchair general. Really, any class analysis should be 'compositionist' in terms of analysing the make up of the working class, the (formal/informal) organisational forms predominating etc. But that doesn't need to lead to a load of student intellectuals salting themselves into production lines or whatever, it could just as easily be used to understand the relation of struggles in your workplace/locale to ones elsewhere, and to think about ways these different struggles can link up into a collective force ('political recomposition').

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Jul 17 2012 09:40

I don't think operaismo was influenced by Althusser. Many of the important operaist texts were written at a time when althusserianism was only coming into fashion in France. There is, however, a decisively anti-Hegelian twist to operiasmo, which has to do with their opposition to the Gramscian ideology of the PCI. I think philosophically one of the sources of operaismo was Galvano della Volpe's interpretation of Marx's method (which is critical of Hegel).

I agree with Joseph K above about determinism (or, more precisely, the lack of it) in operaismo.

Ogion
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Jul 17 2012 12:40

Thanks for your post, Joseph, and those are interesting points.

To respond to one of your points: If the operaists saw elements of the refusal of work during the post-war period of Fordism, and tried to escalate the refusal of work, then, if I understand their notion of class composition correctly, this was due to the fact that the mass worker predominated through the rapid growth of automaton in the production process. For the operaists, it seems the privileged strata of skilled workers explains the failure of the older labor movement: skilled workers dominated the labor movement, identified with production and had a professional sort of pride in it, and were therefore the basis for organizational forms which would be unable to provide a means of abolishing capitalist conditions, but only self-managing them or reforming them. Unlike the skilled worker, the “mass worker” feels completely alienated from production, so, with the new development in technology, the “mass worker” would be motivated to develop new forms of struggle appropriate to their own situation: like the refusal of work. Maybe the operaists did not see this refusal of work arising automatically, but couldn’t this still be seen as technologically determinist in that changing technology of the production process is seen as the basis for it? (As I think about it, it seems more likely that the refusal of work may have had more to do with the fact that Keynesian welfare and social democratic measures allowed for the conditions to opt out of wage labor.) And also this determinism as paradoxically blended with a subjectivism which sees the activity of skilled workers as the explanation for reformism in the older labor movement?

Or perhaps determinist is too strong since it implies reducible? Even seeing the changing technology and distinction between "skilled" and "unskilled" as fundamental though still seems problematic.

I definitely think looking at the labor, gender, racial, cultural, etc, composition of the class is immensely useful, whether as a contemporary or historical analysis, and there are lots of interesting writers on labor and labor historians who have done this sort of work for a while. (Syndicalistcat mentioned E.P. Thompson, who would certainly be one of them.) But my understanding is that operaist notion of class composition has a specific analysis which relies on a “privileged strata” distinction between the skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled, and what strikes me about it is its similarity to the distinction Lenin makes in his theory of imperialism between workers in developed countries and workers in developing ones. I see it as thus having a theoretical basis in Lenin, but not as having politically Leninist aspects inherent to it – one could adopt this analysis and have completely anti-Leninist politics (as I thought was true of Bologna but I’m not entirely sure now). I know I mentioned Lenin’s voluntarism with regard to the party in my original post, but on reflection I don’t think the operaists’ theory, like Lenin’s, can really be reduced to a specific politics.

Ogion
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Jul 17 2012 12:25
jura wrote:
There is, however, a decisively anti-Hegelian twist to operiasmo, which has to do with their opposition to the Gramscian ideology of the PCI.

Did their opposition to Gramscian ideology have to do with them opposing worker's self-management (that is, without a political content) as well? Then again, I think Gramsci held that position before the PCI, so maybe it didn't have anything to do with it...

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Jul 17 2012 13:26

All good points. It's a while since I read the Wright book, but iirc there isn't a singular concept of class composition, rather it's developed and contested by different theorists. I remember thinking the specific diagnoses of 'mass worker', then 'social worker' (and subsequently 'multitude') were pretty funny: the Operaists declared production line workers the leading antagonistic subject, just as things began kicking off with the students, squatting movements, feminism etc. Then hastily reformulated it as 'the social factory' to say once again, 'we were right then, but conditions have changed, so we're right now too'. However, that might just apply to Negri (who I'm most familiar with) and not people like Tronti, Bologna et al.

So I'm not sure how much the compositionist approach requires a privileged subject. Maybe it does, if you look how latter day post-Operaists scrabble around to laud the 'cognitariat', 'immaterial labourers' etc (and ironically, having come full circle, the supposed revolutionary agency of these subjects arises from their supposed skills and identification with the - ontological/biopolitical - labour process, not their refusal of it! And indeed communism is conceived as throwing off the neo-feudal shackles of capital and self-managing the immaterial commons!).

I didn't take away the 'privileged subject' thing when I first read this stuff, but maybe it is there. And perhaps when you take that away, and strip out the stricter 'cycle of struggle' stuff linked to technology and management techniques you're not doing class composition analysis, but just decent class analysis a la E.P. Thomspon. I'd have to re-read stuff to see what I make of it now, so I dunno really.

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Jul 17 2012 13:35
Joseph Kay wrote:
So I'm not sure how much the compositionist approach requires a privileged subject. Maybe it does, if you look how latter day post-Operaists scrabble around to laud the 'cognitariat', 'immaterial labourers' etc (and ironically, having come full circle, the supposed revolutionary agency of these subjects arises from their supposed skills and identification with the - ontological/biopolitical - labour process, not their refusal of it! And indeed communism is conceived as throwing off the neo-feudal shackles of capital and self-managing the immaterial commons!).

Late Negri has this weird similarity to Orthodox Trotskyism. For Negri, capital has already reached the point foretold in "The Fragment on Machines" where everything can be done by machines, work is only imposed on proletarians as a means of social control not for surplus value extraction. Thus communism already "exists" and we only need to overthrow the state to realise full communism. Which is similar to the ortho-Trots who said the USSR was a deformed workers state and that socialism there only required the overthrow of the Stalinist regime.

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Jul 17 2012 14:34
Ogion wrote:
These are just some thoughts I have been having recently, but could class composition be seen as Leninist? Basically, the argument behind the operaist notion of class composition boils down to (if I understand correctly): Highly skilled professional workers were represented the most in workers’ councils, as well as in much of the reformist social democratic parties and trade unions, of the early 20th century, and since they identified to a large degree with their work, they were for worker’s self-management rather than for the abolition of the capitalist organization of labor. Therefore, it would take the period of Fordism and the rise of the semi-skilled or un-skilled “mass” worker who, with no identification with production, would completely oppose capitalism.

I think the objection you raise to the Trontian theory of history is valid, but like Joseph, I don't think you necessarily can reduce the notion of class composition to the Trontian operaismo of Classe Operaia. Remember that the notion of class composition dates back to Quaderni Rossi and the work of Raniero Panzieri and radical sociologists like Romano Alquati. I'm not suggesting that the split of Classe Operaia away from Quaderni Rossi was in any way related to differences of opinion over Leninism per se (see the Panzieri-Tronti Theses, which display strong signs of a leninist conception of the party - also Alquati accompanied Tronti into CO), but operaismo should not been seen as a unitarian or monolithic development where all the diverse conceptions can be seen as synonymous labels for a single theory.

Of course Panzieri's untimely death in 1964, just after the split, does mean that operaismo is retrospectively identified most strongly with Tronti's conceptions. Nonetheless there is a contradiction between the search for the new "central historical figure" (and the organisational forms to which they best correspond - the question that was to lead to the later split between Tronti and Negri, followed by the re-integration of the former into the PCI and the creation of Potere Operaia by the latter) and the original twinned notions of class composition and conricerca, which it substitutes and subsumes.

The notion of class composition, as I understand it, comes out of Panzieri's work in translating Marx (particularly volume 2) and reflecting on the role of machinery and technology in the immediate process of production, as a moment in the class struggle. Together with Alquati's investigations into the FIAT wildcats of '63. The distinction between the technical composition of the class, and the political composition, is drawn by inspiration from Marx's technical and organic composition of capital, and his discussion of how the latter is a strategy of capital (relative accumulation) in response to the working class's resistance to the extension of absolute surplus value. It remakes the relation between class, capital and consciousness into an ongoing dynamic process, rather than the static conception of the orthodox Marxists of a class, essentially unchanged since its formation by primitive accumulation, to which there corresponds basically a single 'correct' consciousness in the era of capitalist social relations. In that sense it is a break from both economic determinism and the static objectivism of orthodox Marxism, and is a tool - in conjunction with the practice of conricerca or worker's inquiry (understood as genuine knowledge discovery, rather than simple proselytisation or 'transmission belt' style recruitment, as practiced by Negri) - that could potentially be used by any project for class war and revolution.

I know from talking with Steve W that one of the reasons he did the research that became Storming Heaven, was his frustration with how the promising embryonic idea of class composition was in practice foreclosed and substituted by Tronti and Negri before it had chance to achieve its possible potential.

As for the project of looking for the new "central historical figure", it does indeed follow in the substitionist line of leninist thought. In this vein, I reminded of this passage from the FARJ:

Quote:
Authoritarians, including some who call themselves anarchists, think of the centre as a means, and orientate their politics towards it. For them, the centre – considering this to be the state, the party, the army, the position of control – is an instrument for the emancipation of society, and “the revolution means in first place the capturing of the centre and its power structure, or the creation of a new centre” [9]. The authoritarians’ very conception of class is based on the centre, when defining the industrial proletariat as a historical subject – which is described in the letter “d” in the definition cited above – and excludes and marginalises other categories of the exploited classes that are in the periphery like, for example, the peasantry.

So we have the Tronti-Negri theory of history as the succession of "central figures" of the proletariat, from skilled worker to mass worker, from mass worker to social worker, from social worker to the immaterial worker/cognitariat/proletariat, and finally, and from all the latter to the "multitude"(TM). That the concept of the multitude is supposed to be the negation of the process of substituting a central figure for the proletariat (in Virno's Grammar... for e.g.), just makes Negri's appropriation of it for precisely that very purpose just a further example of the shameless opportunistic genius of the cattivo maestro.

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Jul 17 2012 14:38

I stand corrected on the determinism and connection to Althusser. But operaists do overtly reject class consciousness by replacing it with class composition. It seems like this anti-Hegelianism runs through the whole milieu. Which always struck me as mechanistic and clunky since it emphasizes new modes of production, e.g. "social factory," over agency and new methods of struggle. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think many of them looking at North America mistakenly looked to the wildcats at places like Lordstown as "zero work" rather than as strikes against the speedup and the increasing alienation of production work. Because at core, aren't all militant strikes a rejection of work?

Peter wrote:
Late Negri has this weird similarity to Orthodox Trotskyism. For Negri, capital has already reached the point foretold in "The Fragment on Machines" where everything can be done by machines, work is only imposed on proletarians as a means of social control not for surplus value extraction. Thus communism already "exists" and we only need to overthrow the state to realise full communism. Which is similar to the ortho-Trots who said the USSR was a deformed workers state and that socialism there only required the overthrow of the Stalinist regime.

This seems to be a thread that runs all through Midnight Oil, where class struggle is reduced to being merely resistance to the imposition of work discipline. I read it long ago, but like Negri they seemed to have rejected the labor theory of value too.

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Jul 17 2012 14:39
Ogion wrote:
If the operaists saw elements of the refusal of work during the post-war period of Fordism, and tried to escalate the refusal of work, then, if I understand their notion of class composition correctly, this was due to the fact that the mass worker predominated through the rapid growth of automaton in the production process. For the operaists, it seems the privileged strata of skilled workers explains the failure of the older labor movement: skilled workers dominated the labor movement, identified with production and had a professional sort of pride in it, and were therefore the basis for organizational forms which would be unable to provide a means of abolishing capitalist conditions, but only self-managing them or reforming them. Unlike the skilled worker, the “mass worker” feels completely alienated from production, so, with the new development in technology, the “mass worker” would be motivated to develop new forms of struggle appropriate to their own situation: like the refusal of work. Maybe the operaists did not see this refusal of work arising automatically, but couldn’t this still be seen as technologically determinist in that changing technology of the production process is seen as the basis for it? (As I think about it, it seems more likely that the refusal of work may have had more to do with the fact that Keynesian welfare and social democratic measures allowed for the conditions to opt out of wage labor.) And also this determinism as paradoxically blended with a subjectivism which sees the activity of skilled workers as the explanation for reformism in the older labor movement?

Or perhaps determinist is too strong since it implies reducible? Even seeing the changing technology and distinction between "skilled" and "unskilled" as fundamental though still seems problematic.

I thought that the operaists argued that technological development was a response to class struggles? As in the shift from the 'skilled' to the 'mass' worker thru the development in technology was a direct attack on the 'older labour movement'. Well, that's what i remember from reading Tronti and Panzieri anywayz.

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Jul 17 2012 23:02

I agree with Joseph. And I believe Tronti's actually a Hegelian marxist when he did his operaist writing and early Negri was a hegelian as well. That's in some book by Franco Berardi (which is an otherwise really disappointing book), about the importance of the concept of alienation to those writers. I also think that people do a lot of different things with concepts and vocabularies. There's deterministic Hegelian marxism, and nondeterministic Althusserian marxism, there's deterministic and nondeterministic versions of the class composition stuff. But anyway, no, the operaists weren't anti-hegelian as such. Negri later took a strongly anti-hegelian turn but I don't think his politics really change with that. I think Negri's politics and theory were problematic across most of his writing and the changes in theoretical vocabulary are more a matter of a new vocabulary in which to state stuff he previously said in another vocabulary. And it's not the case that the operaists reject an idea of class consciousness even if the term isn't used. Negri is often weirdly technologically determinist and inattentive to working class culture and so on - treating technical conditions as determining working class forms of organization etc - but that's not a problem of class composition analysis per se, that's a problem of Negri. Some others, particuarly Panzieri, got it the right way round. Steve Wright's got some articles on some of the better figures from the operaist milieu, who are largely untranslated unfortunately. Negri's academic success has really done what I think is surprisingly little to encourage translation of material from the political and intellectual and social movement milieu that Negri participated in. Loads more of that stuff has been translated by volunteers (movement people) and I think that translation has mostly stopped. (I think in a way Negri's academic fame may actually discourage attention to the older stuff, in part because Negri talks a bit about himself and is treated as summing up that tradition, as if any one person could sum up a whole political and intellectual and social movement milieu).

I do think that a lot of the writing from those cats is shaped by their leninism, particularly in looking for a single fraction of the working class that will become hegemonic and unite the class behind/around it. The Monty Neill piece is quite good on that.

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Jul 17 2012 21:17
Nate wrote:
I agree with Joseph. And I believe Tronti's actually a Hegelian marxist when he did his operaist writing and early Negri was a hegelian as well.

Indeed. As SW says:

Quote:
The ‘very hegelian’ essay by Tronti [Lenin in England], which Panzieri had criticised in mid-1963, appeared in January of the following year as the editorial of Classe Operaia’s first issue. In it the most scandalous novelty of the new workerist ideology – the reversal of primacy between capital and labour – was clearly set out for the first time.
Ogion
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Jul 17 2012 23:01

Excellent and informative posts, guys, thank you – it’s helpful to hear from those who know more about class composition than I do! I think this shows why I ought to be more familiar with other operaists and the secondary literature, since I assumed from what I read that class composition was more of a homogenous notion that all of the operaists from Negri to Bologna and so forth pretty much shared. That operaismo lacked determinism (and even was theorized in opposition to determinism) makes more sense than my previous thoughts, though I’m glad to see at least some of my thoughts were valid.

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Jul 17 2012 23:24

Yeah, good thread, I have enjoyed the discussion thus far. My knowledge of all this is fairly limited to a few basic texts.

I have two questions:

1. hegelianism / anti-hegelianism - although I have read some material on hegelian thought in general and what gets called hegelian marxism I am not sure what hegelian marxism is meant to mean in this context. In other threads discussing value theory, it seemed that a lot of posters and the writers that they are influenced by tend to relate favourably to hegelian-influenced marxism (the only user I can think of who has made a point of being anti-hegelian has been ocelot).

2. contemporary class composition analysis - I intend to read more into some of this stuff on back of some the recent threads. I was wondering is their any examples of contemporary class composition analysis or writers in particular that people would recommend. I have seen Hiero. recommend the late Will Barnes writings on class relations in the US, altho not sure if he was influenced by operaismo.

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Jul 18 2012 04:41
Android wrote:
2. contemporary class composition analysis - I intend to read more into some of this stuff on back of some the recent threads. I was wondering is their any examples of contemporary class composition analysis or writers in particular that people would recommend. I have seen Hiero. recommend the late Will Barnes writings on class relations in the US, altho not sure if he was influenced by operaismo.

The most coherent text by Will Barnes on class composition is here on libcom.

He was aware of operaismo but followed in the tradition of the descendents of the German/Dutch council communists, like the Situationists and other contemporary anti-Bolshevik communists. His critique of political economy was thoroughly within the Hegelian Marxist tradition; his class analysis was informed by Lukács, E.P. Thompson and Debord.

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Jul 18 2012 05:24
Android wrote:
2. contemporary class composition analysis - I intend to read more into some of this stuff on back of some the recent threads. I was wondering is their any examples of contemporary class composition analysis or writers in particular that people would recommend. I have seen Hiero. recommend the late Will Barnes writings on class relations in the US, altho not sure if he was influenced by operaismo.

I've kind of stopped following the operaist (and definitely the post-operaist/immaterial labor) stuff so I don't know about anything in the past 5-7 years. I remember liking stuff by Kolinko and Wildcat (the German one), they both draw from that material. My sense is that a lot of the operaismo and even more so post-operaismo stuff will more talk about the importance of class composition analysis than they'd actually do much class composition analysis. I've not been in touch with Steve Wright for a long time unfortunately so I'm not sure I remember this right but I think Steve told me that there's some better class composition analysis stuff in the operaist tradition that's not translated. I dunno for sure, looking at Steve's stuff and especially his articles would be a good place to go if you want stuff tied specifically to the Italians. Beyond that, and I think more interestingly, anyone who is doing serious attempts to analyze capitalism and the working class is in a sense doing something you could call class composition analysis. As in, someone doesn't have to use the phrase "class composition" to be analyzing the composition of the working class (just like people using the phrase and invoking it doesn't necessarily mean they're actually doing class composition analysis - I think some of Negri's recent work uses the term but he seems to mostly be making stuff up or greatly magnifying location or strata specific information into huge global claims, which isn't much real analysis of contemporary class composition).

One other thought: I think if mean 'class composition' to mean the entire working class then we're actually talking about a very diverse thing, and most analyses that aren't that huge and macroeconomic are more like analyses of strata or specific struggles more than the entire class as such. I think that that kind of smaller scale analysis is probably more useful because none of us are macroeconomic actors, we all live lives at much smaller scales, and extrapolating from massively huge facts about the entire class to smaller locations is kind of clumsy. Which sometimes happened among the Italians. There's some video documentary about people in Potere Operaio who were organizing in factories, metalworkers I think, and in the material that accompanies it there's a PO militant being like "we were left with questions like 'why did the day shift fight more than the night shift, if they shared the same class composition?'" which seems to like it speaks to the limits of the analysis their group practiced.

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Jul 18 2012 06:45
Nate wrote:
... stuff by Kolinko and Wildcat (the German one), they both draw from that material. My sense is that a lot of the operaismo and even more so post-operaismo stuff will more talk about the importance of class composition analysis than they'd actually do much class composition analysis.

Both Kolinko and Wildcat once put a lot of energy into doing their own versions of Marx's Workers' Inquiry, using this tool they learned from operaismo to engage their coworkers. I was passing through the Ruhr Valley in 1999 and helped one of the Kolinko founders edit the English version of the inquiry, which eventially ended up being used to interview their fellow call center workers. I was impressed at how their class composition analysis was based on face-to-face interviews. I even remember Wildcat comrades who learned Turkish to be able to do an inquiry with immigrant coworkers in an appliance factory near Berlin.

I've always thought this approach is one of the best gauges of class awareness since it's based on first-hand discussions with those directly affected by changes in class composition.

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Jul 18 2012 08:41

In answer to Hieronymous' question on fetishism the short answer is yes. There is no real engagement with either fetishism or the commodity in their work - and thus they can make a series of weird comments about value. I have written a bit about this in academic contexts, if comrades want me to send them the papers or chapters just PM me.
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Dave

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Jul 18 2012 10:49

On fetishism and Hegelianism, I don't think you can really come down hard on it as a movement. It's a bit like asking "does the north American anarchist movement accept the dialectics as the correct method of revolutionary social enquiry?"

Its very clear that Negri is an anti-Hegelian, but even there that became much, much more prominent after he moved to France and started hanging out with Deleuze and Guattari. If you read his Marx Beyond Marx, despite its problems, I don't think you could say that it is an anti-Hegelian work or even a clearly non-dialectical work. And there as well there is a lot of attention paid to value and fetish, which. although problematic, are very interesting and move in a similar direction to where the Neue Marx Lecture was going at the same time. Now this direction of research was abandoned after Negri moved to France, so it never really gets that far, but this brings me to the second point.

It is EXTREMELY important when looking at operaismo/autonomia to distinguish it from post-autonomia (the recent work of Negri, Bifo, Virno, Lazzarato etc.) What ever the merits or otherwise of the latter work, it is very dramatically different to the movement that preceded it by 20-30 years.

Looking at operaismo/autonomia through postautonomia is a bit like looking at the German New Left (SDS, APO, RAF, RZ, K-groups, RK etc) through what Joschka Fischer did as Foreign Minister.

Also, it important to divide up this movement.

You have operaismo proper which starts of based around journals (Quaderni Rosi and the Classe Operaia) and then out of the struggles of the late 60s two major operaista groups are set up Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio. Potere Operaio being the more ortho-marxist. And then in Potere Operaio the group around Negri is one wing. (Broadly there are two wings, those based more around academia and favoured moving towards armed struggle and those based more around the student-worker assemblies and the factory committees who favoured concentrating on building those, Negri et al being the the former wing). And at the same time also emerging from the were a variety of other extreme left groups, some of which were also inspired by the earlier operaismo others were not. And at the same time there was the growth of a movement not organised through party-like groups, and of course it was into that milieu that PO ultimately dissolved themselves.

The point of that history lesson is to really try to ram home that Negri and milieu around him (those who today are postautonomia) were not the majority of the movement and saying things like "operaismo/autonomia believed x about hegel/dialectics/value/whatever" on the basis of what negri and Virno have written in the last 30 years is completely wrong, but even making that claim on the basis of what Negri et al wrote in the 60s and 70s is also wrong.

If you want to see the closest modern groups politically to operaismo today then look at wildcat in Germany and its off shoots (kolinko, prol-position, gurgaon workers news, gongchao) and mouvement communist.

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Jul 18 2012 16:26

I agree w/ George.

Hieronymous wrote:
I've always thought this approach [emphasizing face-to-face interviews] is one of the best gauges of class awareness since it's based on first-hand discussions with those directly affected by changes in class composition.

I agree, H. I think that's probably the best that can come of the operaismo stuff as a direct political practice, their workers inquiry stuff. Also... I was trying to say that if we think class composition is a social thing that really exists, then it's possible to analyze class composition without saying class composition. Likewise I think that it's possible to do the kind of face to face activity that's been done, in part inspired by operaismo and the class composition analysis/workers inquiry stuff, without using that vocabulary or even knowing about those traditions. I was initially really interested in the workers inquiry stuff and some of its offshoots ("co-research", "militant research", etc) but I think that basically any serious activity that engages with working class people, and any social movement, already has components quite a bit like this. And so it's harder to see what the 'workers inquiry' kind of thing actually amounts to. I think it was important for me as a sort of bridge for me as an individual, as someone largely politicized early on by my individual experiences of life under capitalism and by reading, more than by collective experiences of struggle. And I think a lot of the earlier formulations of inquiry and so on were about people who saw themselves (and maybe actually were) outside the working class and who wanted to figure out how to relate to working class people. I wonder if this stuff would have the same kind of importance for working class people politicized more by collective experiences of struggle and discussion/reflection. I doubt it, but I could be wrong.

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Jul 18 2012 19:03
Hieronomys wrote:
This seems to be a thread that runs all through Midnight Oil, where class struggle is reduced to being merely resistance to the imposition of work discipline. I read it long ago, but like Negri they seemed to have rejected the labor theory of value too.

As far as I remember Midnight Oil is perhaps the only autonomist group that takes value theory seriously. Or at least George Caffentzis takes value theory seriously, especially his work on machinery. Indeed, I think his "On Africa and Automata" is a decent value theoretic version of dependency/world systems' theory (although it is not the goal of the article to write that).

Negri rejected the LTV/value as bourgeois metaphysics already in Marx Beyond Marx.

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Jul 18 2012 19:21
Khawaga wrote:
Hieronomys wrote:
This seems to be a thread that runs all through Midnight Oil, where class struggle is reduced to being merely resistance to the imposition of work discipline. I read it long ago, but like Negri they seemed to have rejected the labor theory of value too.

As far as I remember Midnight Oil is perhaps the only autonomist group that takes value theory seriously. Or at least George Caffentzis takes value theory seriously, especially his work on machinery. Indeed, I think his "On Africa and Automata" is a decent value theoretic version of dependency/world systems' theory (although it is not the goal of the article to write that).

Negri rejected the LTV/value as bourgeois metaphysics already in Marx Beyond Marx.

I meant the book Midnight Oil, where I found the analysis of the oil industry to be based on the idea that such a high level of organic composition of capital makes labor superfluous and work is only imposed as a system of discipline. Which I don't agree with.

But I've had conversations with George Caffenzis and I agree that among the Midnight Notes group, he takes value theory most seriously. I first talked with him about the critique of political economy in the late 1990s and hearing him present on the Grundrisse a couple years ago, I think he's strengthened his use of value theory.