Prefaces to "Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis" by Red Notes and Conference of Socialist Economists.

Preface by Red Notes

The articles contained in this book are working documents for a new definition of the relations between capital and labour in the post-War period. They share the common conceptual theme of working class autonomy as the main content of that relation. They also exemplify a continuity of political theory from the 1962 writings of Mario Tronti, through to the May 1979 interview with a FIAT worker in Turin. This matches the continuity of the political practice of the working class, judged, measured and theorised in relation to the successive concrete stages of the developing class struggle - from the FIAT workers' upheaval in Piazza Statuto, 1962, to the concrete problems of working class autonomy in the layoff struggles at Mirafiori, May 1979, and passing through many other experiences in between.

Our book functions at several levels:-

1) It extends the analysis, and theorises at a higher level the events and tendencies that we described in our earlier pamphlets about. Italy, in particular Italy 1977-78 - Living with an Earthquake. This latter pamphlet documents the emergence of the "new social subject" which forms the grounding for much of Negri's writing in Capitalist Domination &, Working Class Sabotage.

2) It provides fresh means for our own work in developing the theory and practice of working class autonomy in the struggle in Britain. This is not to say that this is in any way an easy debate. The experiences of the class organisations in Italy show all the difficulties of practice and theory, faced by this new concept of organisation in the past period. But it is a debate which must be faced. Many of the problems and perspectives are raised in this book.

3) It is a historical document, an important one, insofar as it describes and periodises the resurgence of the working class struggle in Italy, over a 20-year period. It links that resurgence closely with an analysis of its organisational forms.

4) It is an act of solidarity with those comrades of the Italian area of Autonomy who have been arrested in the wave of repression subsequent to April 7th 1979 - a repression which can have few qualitative parallels in post-War Europe, and whose repercussions are far wider than the confines of Italy. The European State, acting through the Italian police apparatus, has moved to silence and destroy the theory and practice of working class autonomy.

The translations: Most of these articles are translated and published here for the first time. The reader should bear in mind that many of these pieces were originally published in newspapers etc. of the revolutionary Left in Italy, as work-in-progress within a continuing development of theory and practice. Some of them were published specifically as provisional theses, for further discussion and elaboration. As such, we have not translated them as polished, literary pieces: the translations reflect the spirit and quality of the original texts.

Also, although the pieces selected here represent a political continuity, this does not mean that their authors share common political perspectives today. Mario Tronti, for instance, is now an active member of the Italian Communist Party in Rome, and between Sergio Bologna and Toni Negri there have been polemical disagreements over fundamental points of political theory.

This book has been published by Red Notes, jointly with the Conference of Socialist (CSE) Book Club. The views contained in the various articles are not necessarily the views of either organisation. It is published in limited edition for the 1979 CSE Conference, with a view to further republication at a later stage. Copies are available via 3 channels, as outlined on the inside front cover.

Our thanks to everyone who has helped in the exhausting job of completing this publication to meet the deadlines. And now the job is to ensure its maximum spread and circulation.

Red Notes,
BP 15,
2a St Paul's Road,
London N.l
July 11th 1979.

Preface by CSE Books

The involvement of CSE Books in the publication of this book is an act of solidarity with the Italian autonomist movement, currently being criminalised by the Italian State, with the aid of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).

The autonomist movement in Italy has built upon historical experiences of the working class especially those of the "mass worker", theorised by, among others, Mario Tronti and Sergio Bologna, whose writings we excerpted in the 1976 CSE Pamphlet No. 1: "The Labour Process & Class Strategies".

Since then the class struggle in Italy has moved on - in theory and practice - presenting continuing political crisis for capitalist rule, but with little serious attention given by revolutionaries in the UK. Although the autonomist tradition of political writing has long been widely translated into other European languages, very little has, until now been available in English (see bibliography at the back of this volume).

CSE Books has now joined with Red Notes to make available this present collection of writings by historical forerunners and current exponents of that Italian movement which has come to call itself "the area of workers' autonomy". The Italian writers here - as well as those being defended by the Italy '79 Committee represent the more internationally known "tip of the iceberg" of that wider movement which has undergone systematic repression since the PCI-initiated Historic Compromise in 1973, and especially since the upsurges of `Spring 1977.

The concepts of state and capital developed by these writers - such as the fetishised capitalist (state) form of political representation - are similar to those with which autonomist groupings have tried to reflect concretely upon their own experience of revolutionary self-organisation. A section. of the formally-organised Autonomia Operaia, for instance, has articulated its break with the "delegate democracy" schemes of the traditional Left and with the concomitant "gradualist process divided into two stages: first, the capture of power, the structural revolution, and then . in the second moment the social emancipation of relations between people." (I Volsci, Rome, October 1978). They describe their political project as the extinction of a "separate" politics, through opposition to the capitalist State as "delegate structure for the social regulation of the link between politics and economics" (ibid..).

In the various autonomist writings there are unmistakable resonances with recent theoretical developments within the CSE, especially the perspective on the restructuring of the State to contain the class struggle within separate political/economic forms. But despite the similarities, it is important to recognise that autonomist intellectuals are by no means simply Italian counterparts to British (or American) left academics. It was certainly no. aberration for the Italian State, led by PCI-affiliated State functionaries, to. have rounded up over 20 autonomist intellectuals on 7th April 1979, and to have hounded many more since then, a.,11 conveniently leading up to the June elections, which were fought on the basis of which party could best restore the bourgeois order.

While the gravest (and most ludicrous) charge is that these intellectuals somehow masterminded the Red Brigades, perhaps the most telling charge is that they engaged in "subversive association". Given their organic relation to a mass movement that poses a real threat to the Italian State's authority, and to the PCI's authority in particular, it is possible even for individually-signed theoretical documents to be the direct products of a collective process, theorising historically the new forms of class struggle and the State; that is what makes such documents prime "evidence" for the prosecution in the forthcoming political trials in Italy. Indeed, it is precisely the crisis of the State and party system which has led to its policy of criminalising all opponents who refuse to play according to the rules of the parliamentary game - "political" rules only in the narrow sense of delegating power to representatives. Even the Red Brigades - growing out of a PCI culture with traditional Left notions of "capturing State power" - have, as part of those developments, felt compelled to retheorise the State in the light of a growing State policy of criminalisation which defines enemies of the State "firstly by what you are., and only in the second instance by what you have done": in other words, it's not what specific acts you've committed, but how you go about living your opposition to capital every day.

That perspective on the State's strategy has proved prophetic not only for the April 1979 arrests in Italy, but also for British State policy: routine harassment of black youths under the 'Sus' laws; systematic Army surveillance over the entire Catholic population in Northern Ireland; legal restrictions on picketing and occupations, to delimit "legitimate" trade union activity; the bizarre "Persons Unknown" case conducted as a melodramatic media event; and the media's presentation of Astrid Proll as a "terrorist". The autonomists' writings help us to understand these developments not as some undifferentiated "repression" by a "strong State", but as a specifically capitalist State attempting to criminalise any opposition contesting the forms of representation through which capital needs to mediate the class struggle. We hope that the material in this collection will help provoke further debate and analysis around the restructuring of the British State and capital, but first and foremost so that debate over revolutionary self-organisation be firmly grounded on concrete historical analysis of class forces and their mystified forms.

While urging you to support the International Appeal of the April 7th Defence Committee, we feel that the most meaningful act of solidarity would be for us to appropriate lessons from the Italian autonomist experience for our own attempts at revolutionary practice. The political role of the comrades arrested in Italy should lead us to ask: how can the sort of intellectuals involved in the CSE likewise help to develop a real threat to capitalism in our own countries?

CSE Books,
55 Mount Pleasant,
London WC1 OAE.

June 1979