Class Autonomy: A Chronology - Red Notes

A brief chronology and glossary of the Italian autonomous left movement. This sketch political chronology was prepared for us by a member of the Italy '79 Defence Committee.

Submitted by Fozzie on May 28, 2024

In order to understand the political selection underlying the wave of arrests since April 7th 1979, we have to define the "Autonomous" movement. As a broad label it dates back to the early 1960s, and throughout the past 20 years it has provided the distinctive "common ideas" and the struggle vocabulary of the Italian far Left. Negri and the others imprisoned in the "April 7th" case have been active in the theoretical and political development of this movement since the 1960s. "Autonomy" itself is not just a descriptive term for "independent movement politics" - it is a key slogan of the movement. It implies a counter-language of independent and class-politics., outside and against official politics and the established Marxist tradition of the Communist Party and the official labour movement.

We have translated this "counter-vocabulary" literally, while acknowledging that a more colloquial choice of words might have been easier. The problem, in fact, is far greater than simply finding a correct choice of English words, because the use of these counter-terms is political; their re-invention and transformation according to the needs of the developing struggle are what distinguishes the autonomous Left as a general political tendency. This revolutionising of political language against established "politics", and the revolutionary new readings of Marx which has been its constant well-spring, make it necessary to use the original Italian terms. Only in this way can we convey to the reader that struggle against "received" language and its eventual overthrow. Otherwise we risk banalising, at an internationalist level, what is novel in the autonomist movement.

1958-62: After the long freeze at FIAT, the new workers? offensive emerges, outside official Union mediation, based on the new structure of the labour force (migrant Southerners). From 1960 this growing gap between the new composition of the class and its organisations is analysed in the review QUADERNI ROSSI ("Red Notebooks"), founded by Panzieri, Tronti, Alquati, and Negri, coming from Communist Party, Socialist Party and Left trade union backgrounds. This research into the new working class required a "rediscovery" of Marx (see Panzieri and Tronti in CSE Pamphlet 1: Labour Process & Class Strategy). This work on Marx was in fact a re-reading. (and re-translation) of Capital and particularly the Grundrisse,, which led to the uncovering of the "other" Marx - not the Marx of "scientific socialism", but Marx as one who understood the longer-term antagonistic tendency of capital and the immanent possibility of communism that this brings about. Note: for a work on the Grundrisse which makes this explicit see Negri's published lectures in Marx Oltre Marx ("Marx beyond Marx"), Feltrinelli, 1979).

Against-the "value of labour" of the socialist tradition, for Marx labour has no• value "outside" capital. For QUADERNI ROSSI this at once separated the new class from its-"socialist" parties, unions etc., based on socialist productivism. These were seen as fully within the Keynesian strategy of planned development. It also indicated the point of departure for the anti-capitalist struggle of the working class, based on the independence ("autonomy") of its material self-interest, against the "general social interest" (subordinating workers to work) preached by parties, Unions etc..

The autonomy slogan is thus coterminous throughout with the refusal, of work slogan, providing the overall orientation towards a strategy for communism.

The "specific material interests" of the working class as the basis for strategic analysis was defined as "workerism" (operaismo), stressing all the time "the working class point of view" (punto di vista operaio). This was (and is) deliberately and diametrically opposed (from QUADERNI ROSSI onwards) to the basic Communist Party framework of class alliances at a separate, external level of "politics", of which the term "hegemony" was, and remains, the reference point.

Against the term "hegemony", QUADERNI ROSSI developed the term "class composition" to attack the prevailing idea of a static "working class" which is passive in its material relation to capital: the dynamic of the changing composition of the class both by and against capital determines the changing adequacy of, or relation to, the organisations historically "representing" the class. Class recomposition (and its further stage, political recomposition) refers - as against frontist "alliances" determined from above - to the process of socialisation of the working class, and the extension, unification and generalisation of its antagonistic tendency against capital, in struggle, from below, to new sectors and around new "leading sectors" within the class.

A historical cycle of struggles - e.g. the 1960s cycle of the "mass worker" - refers to the successive periods of the class antagonism to capital, in progressively higher, more socialised terrains of struggle. Successive cycles are defined by differing compositions of the class, and a differing relation to organisational forms, as well as new strategic contents or goals of the "revolution", implicit in the struggle itself (e.g. "socialism as the realisation of productive labour" in the Soviet phase, or "refusal of work - realisation of needs" in this latest cycle).

QUADERNI ROSSI fully developed a critique of the neutrality of science, technology and planning - i.e. the "technical" rationale of production. Capitalist and socialist Utopias of "planned development of productive forces", according to QUADERNI ROSSI, correspond to capitalist socialism, i.e. to the full socialisation of capitalist relations beyond the factory. (Social Factory, Social Capital in Tronti refer to this new relation between the factory, society and the State).

1962:, Following the mass confrontation between FIAT workers and their Union bosses at Piazza Statuto (see p.167), "Autonomy" is a term generally taken up by the working class, to refer to independent "direct action" forms of struggle outside the mediations of parties and Unions.

1963-64: A split in QUADERNI ROSSI between those dedicated to "research" and those proposing greater "activism". In the latter camp, Tronti, Negri, Alquati and others saw in the new composition of the "mass worker" and the new content spontaneously expressed in their struggle, the possibility of a separate, active intervention along the lines indicated by the "refusal of work - struggle for communism". This led to the founding of GATTO SELVAGGIO ("Wildcat"") and CLASSE OPERAIA ("Working Class""), 1964-67, which carried Marx's indication on advanced capitalism into a historical critique of preceding, outmoded forms of organisation; attacked all "Third Worldist" currents; saw the "mass worker composition" centred on assembly line production as the central driving force against capital, starting from the USA; was involved in the establishment of the first "Base Committees" in plants (e.g. POTERE OPERAIO in Venice-Emilia) around the anti-Union slogans of separation of the wage from productivity, and from capitalist, gradings and work hierarchies. The wage was identified as the specific terrain of recomposition of the class on an autonomous basis, not simply as a quantitative question, but related to the needs of workers as a class, divorced from "professional" remuneration for work.

The widespread interventions of CLASSE OPERAIA spread its influence throughout the growing extra-parliamentary Left, laying the groundwork of ideas and cadres for the worker-student movement in Italy from 1968.

1967-68: Split of CLASSE OPERAIA between those "workerists" who favoured "tactical entrism" vis-a-vis the Communist Party (Tronti, Cacciari) and "autonomists" like Negri who moved towards the creation of new independent organisations. The student offensive and the workers' Hot Autumn of 1969 (with events like the street-fighting of Corso Traiano - see p. 183 seq. -and the slogans of "Equal Wage Rises for All" and "Grade 2 for Everybody") opened the way to a mass-based political movement of Autonomy. We saw the creation of Workers' Autonomous Committees, Students' Autonomous Assemblies etc., all under the slogan "No Delegation of Demands". Several organisations came out of the Autonomous Assemblies of 1969. One of these was LOTTA CONTINUA. Another, starting from the worker-student journal of mobilisation LA CLASSE, became (1969) the group POTERE OPERAIO - an attempt to bring together the mass vanguards of the struggle around the "mass worker" as a class reference point. POTERE OPERAIO had a clear, overt platform of struggle for communist objectives ("refusal of work" against the "social factory" - i.e. the planning and technical rationale of socialism; for the political wage separated from qualifications/professional remuneration, i.e. from capitalist organisation of the division of labour and the Unions' work hierarchies). This perspectiveopened up demands for a wage for students, unemployed and women, a radical confrontation with the politics of scarcity and cuts in the context of the crisis.

In 1967 Negri's study Keynes, the Working Class and the New Capitalist State from 1929 (shortly to be published in Money & Proletarians, Alison & Busby, London) identified the Keynesian State as based on open-ended "planned mediations" to make the workers' struggles act as the motor of development. This is referred to by the term "State-as-Planner" StatoPiano). In 1971, following extensive work on the Grundrisse, Negri's Crisi dello Stato Piano ("Crisis of the State-as-Planner") (his submission to the 3rd Conference of POTERE OPERAIO) identified the crisis of the Keynesian State as a crisis of the value-form and State-form (i.e. of capitalist command) as such. The ways in which capital "manages" the crisis as a means to forcibly re-impose the wage-work relation is referred to as the "Crisis-State" (State-Crisi). The monetary weapon as a separation of "money as command" -from money as a means of exchange, was analysed as part of the crisis of the value form (Grundrisse section 1 : PRIMO MAGGIO, published from 1973 onwards, has analysed this new form of command at the world-wide level).

1972-73: POTERE OPERAIO's move in the direction of a centralised vanguard-party organisation led to its dissolution in 1973 and fragmentation into the localized organisations of the movement (see p.32). The crisis of the other main far Left groups vis-a-vis the "movement" followed, precipitated by the Communist Party's Historic Compromise strategy of alliance with the Christian Democrats for the imposition of crisis-policies; and on the movement side, by the emergence of the autonomous women's movement, the new emphasis on "personal politics", and the link between qualitative needs and the self-organisation of struggle.

1974-75: The emergence of the free radio stations, associated with the movement, and a number of the journals which are now facing criminal charges. CONTROINFORMAZIONE and ROSSO, linked to workers' political committees from the earlier period. From 1975/6, Negri, Alquati and others began to theorise the struggle in the sphere of the re -production of capital (the mass worker transferred to the social terrain, beyond the factory) as the new class composition and reference point in the confrontation against cuts, wage freeze and inflation. This pointed towards the struggle for re-appropriation - class self-valorisation.

The "social worker" is that working class subject who is defined by Negri (see Proletari e Stato - "Proletarians and the State"- Feltrinelli, 1976) as the extension of the "mass worker" to the sphere of the social reproduction of capital in the period when capital, through the crisis, attempts to revalorise work through social command,- i.e. to enforce the wage work nexus and unpaid surplus work over society by means of the State. The "Social Factory" (Tronti 1962) thus becomes the "State-as-FactoryCommand" - Stato-Impresa (Negri 1973-74).

The "Spring Rebellion" of the so-called "marginal strata" (students, women, unemployed had its focal point in the University occupations, culminating in the virtual- state of insurrection in Bologna, the showpiece of PCI-run local administrations. In March, Negri and the others of the Padova Institute of Political Sciences were arrested as "organisers of the insurrection" in Bologna. Increasing opposition of growing emarginated strata of part-time workers, unemployed, domestic workers, women, students and rank and file workers against the government of austerity and against the cuts backed by the major parties. This is documented in Red Notes Italy 1977-78. Communist Party Asor Rosa theorised the "Two Societies":

"The working-class and capital .... can find a long phase in which they have a common interest in (economic)-development, and in this they can see as-standing against them both privileged parasitic strata and non-privileged parasitic strata, the latter never getting beyond the, arid and desperate perception of their own needs".

At the same time, the law and order issue leads to heightened repression (the new coercive Reale law), and arrests multiply.

1978: The "Moro affair" underlines the gap between the "movement" and the "armed commando" groups. Their elite-style tactics and separation of military goals as ends in themselves, as well as political perspectives against State personnel and PCI leaders as "traitors" to their Resistance past, are openly condemned by the autonomous Left - increasingly so after 1976. The "chain-reaction", however, of terrorism/countermeasures, leads to repression increasingly directed against the movement itself, as such. It becomes clear that all space for independent movement politics between the establishment parties and the terrorists is being closed off.

This process is drastically advanced by the arrests of April 7th 1979.