The factory-society relationship as an historical category - Sergio Bologna

Workers outside their factory on the outskirts of Milan.

Notes originally intended to preface discussion on the history of the working class in the Italian auto industry.

The editorial collective of La Classe have drawn up a "Questionnaire on Perspectives for Marxist Research in Italy". This questionnaire is addressed to various organisations and journals in Italy involved with militant research and debate. Its purpose is to seek an "overall assessment of the present situation of Marxism in Italy... an assessment of the extent to which methods and contents of research have been influenced by the mass struggles (in particular of the period 1968-70), as well as how they are likely to be affected by the recently-won '150 hours' demand".

The notes which follow were originally intended to preface a discussion of the history of the working class in the auto sector, a discussion which Primo Maggio is intending to pursue. They have been rewritten in order to provide a partial reply to the questions posed by La Classe - partial because they limit themselves to questions arising out of the history of FIAT.

Looking at our own history, we could start with the year 1960. In that year, for the first time since 1945, there was talk of bringing the working-class movement within the arena of government - bringing it into the management of society. Despite the defeats of the 1950s, the PCI had a fairly self-satisfied view of itself as the only party that had anticipated Khruschev's about-turn, and as a party that represented a broad spectrum of opinions and political alliances, and which was open - in fact very open - at the cultural level. This openness was the factor that enabled many "non-organic" intellectuals to link in with the Party's cultural policies. The Party's influence spread into the film industry, into publishing, into the art world, and into the academic establishment: this was the rich reward of its policy of openness.

Perhaps the most important results were achieved in the field of historiography. Gramsci's work provided a rich source of historiographical inspiration, as well as a perfectly-formed historical method. His ability to inspire others outstripped even the important influence of Croce in this field. Furthermore, non-Communist Party historical research was also Gramscian to the core when it came to a critique of the Party's cultural history and the history of the Party itself. We (and some of the editors of La Classe in particular) all remember the "debate on the historiography of Stalinism", which presumed to criticise the methodology of communist-oriented historians, accusing them of apologetics - whereas in fact apologetics is hardly a fair charge to level against the PCI-oriented historians, especially when you compare them with the French and East Germans. It was not so much apologetics, or the cult of the personality, which constituted the blockage (for all that they were "orthodox", the East German historians, for example, had undertaken research into the capitalist structures of post-World War I Germany which were far from unimportant), but rather the particular, intelligent, flexible and suggestive interpretation of Italian history which had been provided by Gramsci, and which was part and parcel of the political line elaborated by the PCI. For this reason any notion of a "disciplinary detachment" would have been illusory - any cultural battle which was not at the same time a battle for a new organisation woould have been seen as time wasted. The feeling was that if, perhaps, we proved capable of achieving something at the level of political organisation, then maybe afterwards we could have attempted a new interpretation of history. And that was the way it happened.

Let us take the keystone of the Gramscian method, the concept of "hegemony" - ie the relationship between the political class and the social base of which it is both the expression and at the same time the transcendence - inasmuch as the hegemonic political class never reflects merely the same surface covered by its social base, but a broader and more articulated surface. Let us examine the workings of this concept of "hegemony" on two themes that are dear to us - namely, Italian revolutionary synidcalism and Americanism.

Gramsci said of Italian revolutionary syndicalism that it is the "instinctive, elementary, primitive - but healthy - reaction of the working class against the formation of a power bloc with the bourgeoisie, and for an alliance with the peasantry, and, above all, with the peasantry of the South. In a certain sense, syndicalism is a weak attempt by the southern peasantry, represented through their most advanced intellectuals, to take on the leadership of the prolatariat." [Note 1] On Americanism, he says: "Americanism, in its most complete form, requires a necessary precondition (with which the Americans who have dealt with this problem have not concerned themselves, because in America it exists 'naturally'): this precondition might be termed 'a rational demographic composition', and consists in the following: that they do not have the problem of numbers of classes with no essential function within the productive world - ie classes that are absolutely parasitical." And he concludes: "Hegemony is born from within the factory, and for it to exercise itself it requires only a minimal number of professional political and ideological intermediaries." [Note 2]

Thus we have two separate levels - the societas rerum (trans. the society of things; of what is not subject to human will) and the societas hominum (the society of men; of what is subject to human will). Even though, for Gramsci, history is the history of the relationships between these two, for Gramscian historiography it is the societas rerum that prevails - in other words, the history of political institutions and political ideologies as a separate body. These latter-day Gramscians consider it pointless to examine, first, how the capitalist mode of production transforms relations between people into relations between things, in order then to be able to begin constructing the slow, laborious, difficult path (a path which only the working class can travel, as well as, indirectly, those intellectuals who take the working class as their reference point) that will restore a new relationship between human beings - in other words, a balance-of-power relationship between classes. Every attempt at Marxist historical research has to contain both of these two moments - how the societas hominum is transformed into the societas rerum and vice-versa. From society, to the factory, to class conflict. And in that sense, the only societas hominum is that which is constructed by the organisation of working-class violence - all else is a mere appendage of the relations of production - be it society, or parties, or institutions - subordinated to capital.

It was not easy to escape from the grip, from the methodological attraction, of Gramsci's "hegemony", but it was nonetheless necessary to make that break - to break with that band of historians who were divided between those who devoted more pages and those who devoted less pages to the "society of things" - while all the time leaving those "things" - ie "economic factors" - as separate from men, confined within "ghetto" chapters where the odd figure, index or table served to remind the distracted reader that the professor was now talking of "economics" and was arguing a position of "historical materialism".

The most radical solution was to reduce the two levels to one single level - in other words, to eliminate the very bases of the concept of hegemony. Perhaps the most radical statement in this regard was made by Tronti, writing in Quaderni Rossi: "At the highest level of capitalist development, the social relation becomes a moment of the relation of production; the whole of society becomes an articulation of production. In other words, the whole of society exists as a function of the factory, and the factory extends its exclusive domination over the whole of society. It is on this basis that the machinery of the political state tends increasingly to become one and the same with the figure of the collective capitalist, becomes increasingly the property of the capitalist mode of production and thus a function of the capitalist. The process of composition of capitalist society as a unified whole, a process imposed by the specific developmental course of capitalist production, no longer tolerates the existence of a political terrain which is even formally independent of the network of social relations." [Note 3].

Quaderni Rossi had hurled the concept of hegemony under the stamping presses of FIAT-Mirafiori. A large part of the practical and theoretical discoveries that were to be made subsequently - but also of the political and scientific limitations - can be traced back to this sentence of Tronti's. These discoveries were reached via a long march through labour-power in all its articulations, in order to achieve an unprecedented level of class recomposition - in short, the events of 1968. Students, technicians, marginalised proletarians, the unemployed and non-organic intellectuals were all brought under the command of the working class of the large factories. There were no alternatives to that class analysis. Those who rejected it - either because they were still tied to the old cliches (peasants, petty bourgeois students, lumpen-proletarians etc) or because they were too steeped in Third International sociologism - could offer no alternative perspective. But once the problem of organisation had been posed in these new terms, a formally independent terrain of politics absolutely had to be found. This was not a problem of gradualism (from the factory struggle to society; from the wage struggle to the struggle for power; from the struggle against the organisation of work to the destruction of the hierarchy). It was something radically different, precisely because at that time it was absolutely necessary to find a way of responding to the State's provocation. How was it possible to identify the "state machine" with the "collective capitalist" after the events of 12 December 1969? [Note 3a] Everybody had their own answers, drawing out of their old armouries the formulas which best seemed to fit the case: the promptest replies were provided by those who had the rustiest weapons.

1970 saw the beginning of the Golden Age of ultra-Leninism - the second childhood of the Resistance. At the level of theory and organisation it was a case of two steps forward and two steps back. But at the level of historiography - to return to our theme - there is no doubt that this was the best possible climate to allow the old guard of the PCI to clear the various lumps in their respective throats, in producing that autobiographical output which has perhaps been the most valid and genuine contribution from official quarters to the history of the working-class movement.

So, in 1962, Tronti's premises and the work of La Classe had not generated notable consequences within the historical disciplines. But something had happened which was perhaps of greater importance: any process of renewal of the working-class movement, any strategic break with the old political organisations, and any reconstruction of a working-class historiography had now been tied firmly to the workers of FIAT and to the factory-society relationship (rapporto citt*a-fabbrica) of which Turin is an expression. And thus, in a certain sense, we returned to the problem of continuity with the work of Gramsci. Turin and FIAT were the exemplification of that absorption of the political terrain within the direct relations of production. It was the place, in Gramsci's words, "where hegemony is born directly from the factory, and, for it to exercise itself, needs only a minimal number of professional political and ideological intermediaries"; it was the only "Americanised" place in Italy, the only place with a "rational demographic composition".

Is it perhaps here that we should seek the roots of that dismissive attitude towards formal levels of organisation, that belief that the party was already wholly contained within the class - so that all that was needed was a suitably worded leaflet in order to bring it into existence? Perhaps. But it was certainly this that gave rise to the necessity of postulating organisation as a "separate" sphere, external to the relation of production itself - here I have in mind those who advanced the "autonomy of the political" in order to explain the scissor-movement within which the multinationals move in relation to Christian Democracy, or who proposed an "optimism of the will" to make up for a theory of organisation based on total subjectivism, which explicitly excludes any mass terrain other than that of pure "servicing".

However, what interests us for the moment is to draw some methodological conclusions at the level of historiography. This way of seeing the whole of society as an articulation of production, this rejection of any notion of a political terrain that was autonomous from social relationships, led to the elimination of political historiography (or the history of political parties) as a discipline-unto-itself, and also meant that people began to see economic history as the basic building-block for a general history of society. It came to the point where the old "history of the labour process" approach was seen as a more valid instrument than the whole tradition of historiography which saw the working-class movement in terms of its political institutions.

The first to bear the brunt of this attitude were the history of anti-Fascism and the histories of the Resistance: these came to be seen as essentially vacuous and servile. The real problem to be examined was how and why the anti-fascist political class of the post-War period made itself available as a transitional enabling factor to guarantee social production and to ensure the continuity of the relations of exploitation. [...]

When we spoke of Quaderni Rossi, we said that its concept of the factory was so totalitarian as to absorb all other levels of politics. What we did not say was that there remained another aspect, or rather another object which came under analysis and also under working-class attack - namely the state as collective capitalist. Within this perspective a reassessment of the debate about fascism became imperative. By this point, research into the links and complicities between high finance and the ruling hierarchies - who paid whom and who was or was not compromised - in short, the identification of the members of that oligarchy - was no longer functional, in the sense that the purges had already been over for a good while (if they had ever begun). Instead what was needed was to go to the roots of fascism as a moment of the socialisation of the capitalist relations of production. Early research done in this area, both centred on quantitative assessments of development and on the critique of the ideology of corporatism, succeeded gradually in breaking down the old myth about the capitalist backwardness of fascism. They also broke down the image of fascism as both cause and perpetuator of stagnation. Italian society under fascism was seen to have had a far greater homogeneity with the overall fabric of the capitalist world market, and in particular with the more advanced industrialised countries. How was it possible to attempt a characterisation of the collective capitalist state without going right to the roots of its theories and its means of operation? This explains the interest shown in Keynes and Alfredo Rocco, Hjalmar Schacht and Roosevelt.

But there was another, perhaps more important, point, which had to do with the analysis of monopoly. 1961 had seen the publication in Italy of Hilferding's Finance Capital, which made it possible for peo-ple to examine the origins of the Comintern debate on the nature of monopoly. From Hilferding to Lenin and from Lenin to Dimitrov. Monopoly and fascism as the inseparable terms of an alliance of the most reactionary section of the bourgeoisie with the agrarian classes and the state bureaucracy. Thus the roots of stagnation were to be sought in the parasitic sector of the capitalist class - in Finanzkapital, that tight web of positions* of income, of commericla origin, of agrarian origin (nonetheless tied to the banks) which, together with the savings-inclined petty bourgeoisie, had formed a "law and order" bloc characterised by immobilism, which had blocked the process of the wider reproduction of labour-power. This provided an objective convergence of defensive interests among the "producer" sectors of society - ie "pure capital, workers amd employers, backed by groups of radicals and liberals - in other words, that section of the free-trade bourgeoisie that was being suffocated under monopoly.

While this schema might have worked when applied to Edison or SNIA (and thus seemed to correspond with the development of autarchy), it was already insufficient for those industrial sectors which had gone into crisis (naval, shipbuilding, steel) and over which the IRI had assumed control. And no more did it function for FIAT. Perhaps it is only today - now that the dollar crisis has forced us to re-examine the question of money in Marx (in our enthusiasm to examine money in Keynes we had forgotten to examine the function of money in Capital) - that we are able to return to the debate on credit and the crisis, on the necessary connection between "the availability of others' capital, and thus of other's labour" which is proper to the credit system, and the political function of the state in supporting single capitalists in crisis, restoring them to the social function which, as agents of capital, they fulfil in the extraction of overall surplus value. The role of IRI thus comes to be seen no longer as an emergency subsidy in a situation of upheaval due to international crisis; and thus the "privatisation" of IRI was no longer a betrayal of its original aims and a backward step in relation to capital's project of socialisation; rather, IRI becomes a branch of the state which re-invests the individual capitalist with the function of command that - for a multiplicity of reasons - he has lost. In exchange for nothing, when all is said and done; in exchange for a rate of interest! Within all this the aspect of concentration becomes secondary. It is no longer the most politically relevant aspect, but a secondary technical phenomenon of restructuration. Nor, by the same token, should a similar relationship between state credit and industry be considered as anomalous or deviant in relation to the normal functioning of capital: rather, it is precisely that relationship which Marx describes in the chapters on credit in Book Three of Capital.

On the one hand, our first attempts at the organisational level, from 1964 onwards, brought us up against the problems of the economic conjuncture and the recession, with monetary manoeuvres (and thus, once again, with credit); on the other, the struggles in the American ghettoes had just undermined in practical terms a large part of historical materialist sociology - in particular the notions of the poor, of the sub-proletariat, and of women, in relation to those of the worker of the large factory which someone in an off-the-cuff remark had christened the mass-worker. Here was another notion of the factory-city, of "society as a factory", another notion of "Americanism": through violence, the ghettoes were imposing their own hegemony on the factory. What's more, for all that we tried to apply the model to Italian immigrants from the South, this particular division of society, based on the colour of your skin, was a specifically American law of exploitation. In addition, 1964 was also the year of Berkely, and the start of American bombings of North Vietnam: the start of that great awakening of the white radical movement which, in 1967, was to fuse with the student movement in Europe. Where were we to put them, these students? Damn! All our shelves of historical and sociological categories were thrown into turmoil. A disaster! And then, in our own ranks, we also had people maintaining that the Vietnam War was a war of peasants and was therefore a struggle for capitalist development! Without understanding the difference between a peasant pure and simple and a peasant under arms, and without foreseeing (although we can hardly blame them for this) that those selfsame peasants were about to bring about a crisis in the world monetary system. Historiography, along with all the other academic disciplines, closed its eyes and pretended not to see or hear. And yet very quickly, particularly after the Chinese cultural revolution, there was a strong desire for a liberation, for some alternative within our "discipline". This was the period of the creation of a double cultural market - the official market and the "movement" market. This proved useful to the publishing industry, because it was in crisis at the time, and was able to diversify its production in order to cover both of them.

At the level of militant historiography, Del Carria's Proletari Senza Rivoluzione succeeded in fulfilling this task, filling this gap. But it generated no follow-on. Who knows why? Perhaps because, as we said at the start, historiography only comes "after", comes only at the conclusion of a process of organisation.

And in fact 1968-69 saw a whole new batch of political activists. Once again the centrality of FIAT was on the agenda, as was the "Americanism" of Turin, and the whole movement seemed to have been brought under the command of the workers of No. 54 Shop at FIAT-Mirafiori. In 1962 the business of writing the history of the communist movement had been taken in hand by what was very much a minority grouping; but in 1969 this minoritarian grouping was able to fuse with the mass movement, and once again the key interpretational points were class composition and the notion of the mass worker. In certain respects this corresponded to what Gramsci, in the passage cited above, called "rational demographic composition", but for us class composition meant something quite other than simply the structure of the workforce and its stratification by job definitions, skill levels or income. This wholly sociological and trade unionist interpretation was quite different to what we understood by class composition - for us class composition meant the synthesis of the struggle experiences, the subjective attitudes, the ideological sedimentations and the spontaneous behaviours of a particular class aggregate. Defining factors such as qualifications, skill-levels, age, place of origin (ie all the so-called "objective" elements) were certainly included within the notion of class composition, but did not constitute its substance. All this was to have an important influence in defining our organisational programme and style of work, but it would be wrong to say - as some people still claim - that there was therefore a determining relationship between class composition and organisation, whereby the political programme became subordinate to class composition.

Within class composition we had identified the mass-worker as the vanguard level, as the driving force. Since there were many post-communist elements in this debate, and since it was justified with rather makeshift, schematic analyses that divided the twentieth century between the phase of the skilled engineering worker (seen as ideologised and third internationalist) and the phase of the mobile mass worker (seen as pagan and consumerist), and since I myself have some responsibilities in that regard, it would perhaps be useful to return to the beginning and to follow the question down the very simple path that is provided by the history of the auto industry, and the history of FIAT in particular. Therefore the compilation that follows is very much a preliminary synopsis, to lay the groundwork. However, before going on to the chronology, there are a few points that I would like to make (and for the reasons outlined cited above it should be clear that I am not trying to "demolish" Gramsci, particularly inasmuch as, in Americanism and Fordism, he deals with political questions that are very pertinent to our times.


To begin with, a close examination of Taylorism (see the following article, "Dates from the History of FIAT") requires us to separate the development of the scientific organisation of work from the question of the massification of the large-scale factory. By the end of his life, Taylor had re-organised only medium-sized industries in the USA, but had, for example, already met Renault, who obtained from him his new systems for cutting sheet steel and the procedures for producing fast steels; Agnelli wanted to "Taylorise" his workers in 1919, was prevented by the occupation of his factories, but then went ahead as soon as the danger was past, after April 1921. Can one therefore argue that the large-scale European automobile industry accepted Taylor's systems before the large American factories, where there was a stronger resistance by "working class corporativism"? The problem for US capital was easily stated: the barrier represented by the skills of the engineering workers, the only ones who understood their tools and who by that time were better at "soldiering" than actually working, and who had strong links to their union (the more corporatist the workforce, the stronger the union connection). This barrier could only be overcome by expropriating them of their knowledge and skill, and by destroying all traces of the union. The instruction book, and hierarchical promotion, were the two main weapons used. This was a barrier placed between the capitalist and constant capital: the employer seeks to regain the secrets of the machinery in order to be able to coordinate it, make it uniform, and lead it into complex cooperation. The note of psychology that Marx introduces when talking of cooperation were taken up by Taylor when he spoke of "soldiering".

So, the breaking of this barrier is a highly significant historical fact - it is precisely the root of the Taylorist system. But the kind of workers that Taylor was seeking to select did not at all have the same characteristics as the image that we give to the mass worker. Taylor's ideal workers would be attached to the factory, but not to one single job; would work willingly ("in my system there is no place for those who are able to work, but unwilling"); would already have accepted the "mental revolution"; and would allow themselves to be increasingly exploited. Taylor's factory is not a conflictual factory - there is no place for strikes or for forms of workers' organisation. Taylor's worker enters the factory as a labourer, and twenty years later may emerge from it as a white collar worker. And in fact the mobile worker is precisely the form of worker that Taylor seeks to purge out of his system - as an inferior race of worker. Thus there is a clear elitist intention in his programme: the subsitution of one "labour aristocracy" with another. This corresponds to the phase in which machinery was set into continuous production, in a system of large-scale series production in which incentives were calculated on the basis of the average productivity of the section or department. But this stage lasted for a good twenty years - the years corresponding to the period of fascism in Europe. The aspect of biological selection of workers was understood perfectly by Gramsci; the establishment of standard bio-physical characteristics would be the first step towards systematic interventions in working-class life-styles - both as regards the control of alcoholism (prohibition) and as regards sexuality: libertine and polygamous morality was appropriate to people who had free time during the day, but not to people who worked in factories. "In America, the rationalisation of work and prohibitionism are undoubtedly linked: the inquiries by industrialists into the personal life of workers, the inspection services being created in some firms in order to control the 'morality' of workers are a necessity of the new method of work... Taylor is expressing with brutal frankness the aim of American society: develop in the worker the maximum extent of machine-like automatic behaviours; breaking the old psycho-social nexus of skilled work which demanded a certain active participation of intelligence, imagination and initiative by the worker, and reducing productive operations only to their physical and machine-like aspects." (Americanism and Fordism, page ...). In short, it was a matter of overcoming one phase of transition in order to arrive at another "via the creation of a new psycho-social nexus of a kind different to those which precede it, and undoubtedly superior. Inescapably, a process of forced selection will take place; a part of the old working class will be ruthlessly eliminated from the world of work, and perhaps from the world tout court." (ibid.)

Gramsci does not say indicate to what extent America's productive democracy might have been the forerunner of Nazism's racist project of Aryanisation - or vice-versa - because he had not been in a psotion to witness the full unfolding of Nazism. With hindsight we can say that, if one accepts this line of analysis, the process of massification of labour power in the USA took place via two processes of racial selection - the first being practised on the elite of white workers, and the other practised on the blacks. It is here that one has to deal with the question of the use of high wages as a means of persuasion, which was a possibility for as long as the US maintained its monopoly of technology. The high wages were introduced in order to tie the workforce to the factory and prevent excessive levels of turnover. But the most salient fact - as outlined by Gramsci - was that many workers rejected the high wages because they were not willing to allow themselves to be super-exploited. "Ford industry requires a discrimination, a level of qualification in its workers which other industries do not yet require, a new kind of qualification, a form of consumption of labour-power and a quantity of labour-power consumed at the same time which are exhausting and oppressive, and which the wage is not able to recompense for all people." (ibid. page ...) Now, it is not accidental that on two crucial occasions in the history of FIAT - in the years that we are covering - the management had to introduce special measures in order to stop workers leaving their jobs. Thus, both in 1916 and in 1931 (at the height of the war, and at the height of the Depression), in an "underdeveloped" country, people were rejecting "FIAT wages" because they were not prepared to kill themselves for work. Taylorism's project of racial selectivity needed time for it to be successful; but the needs of the large-scale auto factory were more specific and pressing. In their case, hwoever, the elitist formula no longer functioned. The only value-measurement for the mass worker is his resistance to overwork.* Thus the mass worker comes into existence within the large auto factory as soon as large-scale series production begins; in the beginning he exists as an auxiliary stratum within the production process, and then gradually climbs the ladder until finally he becomes the centre of the production process. Thus the history of this particular worker-race which was to have been the mass worker, is internal to the auto cycle of production, and from here extended into the other fields of production. Resistance to overwork means the overcoming* of any consensual and ideological mediation, and makes any "mental revolution" superfluous.

The problem of ideology would thus be solved, were it not for one small detail: the fact that Taylor's systems were supported by the working-class movement in Europe and in the Soviet state - ie by the various heirs of the Second International vierwpoint that had seen capitalism essentially as a waste of productive forces, and saw one of socialism's objectives as the elimination of waste. In this regard, Gramsci attributes to Trotsky the responsibility for this support - something which he saw as one of the deviations of the Soviet state. "The tendency of Leon Davidovich... consisted in the 'too' resolute (and thus not rationalised) desire to grant supremacy in national life to industry and industrial methods, to accelerate, via external coercive means, discipline and order in production; to match national habits to the necessities of work." Transferring the responsibility to Trotsky is one way of evading the question, even if it is true that, in 1926, a number of the older workers' nuclei were in agreement with Trotsky's position. The defence of the power of the old Bolshevik vanguards amounted to a desire to command socialist labour. However, industrialisation took place under a different aspect,* with the mass of youth comprising the new party membership.* and with those who had been expelled from the countryside. Trotsky's defeat (even Gramsci admits it implicitly) reveals the extent of workers' resistance to excessive demands for productivity - the refusal of the younger generations to place themselves immediately under the threefold surveillance of the army, the trade union, and the older workers. However, what Trotsky expressed better than any other is the "forced" character of industrialisation, the necessity" of socialist labour.

However, this elitist ideology had a certain hold on the stratum of workers who had made up the body of the workers' council movement. Agnelli himself, in the period of fascism, sought to coopt these councilist elements within the ranks of his "select". On occasion he even managed to play them off against the non-specialised workers, as in 1924. And in 1930, at the time of the struggle against the Bedaux system, these cadres chose passivity as the means* to distance themselves from the mass of "fascist" youth, to such an extent as to bring on themselves disciplinary measures from the Party. The leader of this struggle was an individualist ex-anarchist named Malusardi.

How else can we explain the tenacity of residual anti-egalitarian sentiment within the communist trade unions? How can we explain the continuity between Buozzi and Trentin? The question of ideology and the mass worker is not therefore a question simply resolved by saying that physical resistance replaced consent.* It is the Third Internationalist variant of the craft worker who perpetuates his behaviours even when new technology and changes in the production process have swept away this social figure. Thus an ideological pressure operates upon the mass worker, a pressure which derives not from the employers, but from within the working-class tradition itself. This might also explain the persistence of forms of payment by incentive that have been entirely superceded by the technological process: whereas at Ford piecework has never existed, in FIAT it continues right up to the present day.

But how long can this internal factory division continue? How much of it depends on the reduction of every other social condition to the relation of direct production? How on earth did we talk of the mass worker for all that period in which we faced a tendentially full-employment society, and how is it that we talk of the mass worker less and less as the crisis begins to tear apart the labour market? Here too America provides us with lessons. From the struggles in the ghettoes, to the planning of unemployment; from the struggles of women to the planning of the family - we think it is important to begin this debate with a review of the book Regulating the Poor, where we discover that it is also possible to operate a selection process among the poor (among other things, by controlling their sexual lives in the same way as Gramsci describes the controlled sexual lives of Ford workers). The temporary and changeable relationship with work experienced by the mass worker thus becomes a privileged condition in comparison with those who are destined to remain poor and only poor.

However, the relation between the city and the factory (il rapporto citt*a-fabbrica)also changes, and the management of assistance takes on a specific autonomy in relation to the management of the direct wage - an autonomy of local power in relation to the dictatorship of the "company". In fact the centre of proletarian subordination shifts from the factory to the ghetto. Juvenile work - and child labour - are replaced by the youth gang; the exploitation of the woman textile-factory worker is replaced by the isolation of the "unsupported mother". Thus we have continued to depict Turin as "American" while all the time America was turning into something else, and our "Americanism", far from being an advanced position, merely reflected a backwardness of white culture, whether bourgeois or proletarian.

However, this white culture, by virtue of the singular convergence of various contributions, has at least succeeded in tracing fairly organically the history of Turin/FIAT, a history which in a certain sense has been "pruned off" from the general history of Italy, or the history of Italian industrialisation or of the Italian working class. The fact remains that, thanks to the work of Spriano, Abrate and Castronovo, and through the systematic labours of the Rivista di Storia Contemporanea ("Review of Contemporary History) (using methods deriving from the Quaderni Rossi tradition) we now have a fairly complete picture of class relationships in the contemporary era - a picture, however, which is in danger of becoming increasingly "provincial". The fact that FIAT, as its response to the class attack of 1969-71, is fleeing from Turin and taking on a structure articulated over the whole national territory, and the (perhaps even more important) fact of the "decline of auto" as a mode of production and consumption - these facts strip a lot of the "militant" weight from historical analyses still based on the old FIAT-Turin, factory-city relationship. For this reason we would argue that the new form assumed by FIAT has led to a rapid ageing of a whole historiographic tradition. It is for this reason that we have decided to publish the article by Bronzino, Germanetto and Guidi. [Ref.]

But now let us shift locations by a few miles. Take Milan, for example. There exists not one single attempt at synthesis, no single "pilot" research project, on this very important pole of class activity, on this city's brief but crucial* history, on even one single employer. Nothing at all. And what is worse is the lack of any basic set of hypotheses from which we can work - whereas for Turin-FIAT the basic hypothesis is more or less the same for all historians of whatever school. The only things that can be said are negative things: there is no doubt that to reduce all social relations to the factory relation would lead to deformations, not so much because of the multiplicity of economic sectors functioning in Milan (including the service and tertiary sectors) but because of the nature of the overall relationship between factory and territory. In all the struggles of the Milanese working class there clearly exists a double programme - to fuse the working-class front (at the level of industrial sectors, of trades, of homogeneous factories) with the disseminated worker, with the people, with the whole territory. And the use of violence at a territorial level is all the more felt, the weaker (socially) the bloc of production in se and per se.*

One of Primo Maggio's intentions is to begin to break the conspiracy of silence surrounding the struggles of the working class in Milan. But one thing we should say straight away: we need an alternative operating notion to Gramsci's "rational demographic composition" - but we will not be going (to use the definition offered in Americanism and Fordism) to seek that alternative in Naples (ie popular Naples, as opposed to working-class Detroit). This, though, seems to have been the choice of those who want to replace the factory with "the community", making a transition from workerism to populism, confusing modern poverty with its pre-capitalist forms. Nor will we be going to seek an alternative to "factory hegemony" in offices or data processing centres (the big temptation of a white-collar history of Milan). For the moment we shall be going to look for it within the writings of Marx. Finally (a point to which we will have to return, and on which we would welcome an opinion from La Classe), we are moving within a perspective of general historiography, within a perspective of a majoritarian proposition that will be capable of winning (as has been the case in the proposition of the "factory-society"). We are not interested in a perspective of "other history" or "small history" as outlined so suggestively by Bermani in his introduction to Guerrilla Pages (the history of the Moscatelli formations). Militant historiography does not mean underground historiography, even if the alternative behaviours of white youth - of the white mass worker - may take on the role of principal subject.

22 May 1991
translated by Ed Emery

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Jun 10 2010 21:40


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