Working class autonomy and the crisis - Red Notes

These are some excerpts from the Red Notes book, Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis

Submitted by Nate on June 10, 2010

1. Red Notes' preface and chronology

2. Potere Operaio, Italy 1973

3. Negri, One Step Forward Two Steps Back

4. Negri, The Workers Party of Mirafiori

1. Red Notes: Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis

Prefaces and Chronology

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3) It is a historical document, an important one, insofar as it describes and periodises the resurgence of the working class struggle in Italy, over a 20-year period.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.


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


This sketch political chronology was prepared for us by a member of the Italy '79 Defence Committee.

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.

2. ITALY 1973 - Potere Operaio

ITALY 1973
This article is taken from the newspaper Potere Operaio, in 1973 (before that organisation's self-dissolution). It looks at some of the facts and figures of the crisis of Italian capitalism in the wake of the workers' struggles of 1969-70. The broad lines of the employers' strategy are dealt with, together with the changing form of the State: ("It was the role of the State as a general economic planner that had to come to an end with the crisis").
The article ends with an assessment of the spaces for working class autonomy in the post-1969 period, with particular reference to the mass blockade of the FIAT-Mirafiori plant in the wave of struggles of March 1st30th 1973 (taken up in Toni Negri's article "The Workers' Party of Mirafiori", see p.61). This section should be read together with the other materials on the history of the FIAT struggle, at the end of this book.

ITALY 1973
The spiralling working class struggle which has characterised Italian society over the last 6 years has produced a crisis of major proportions for Italian capitalism - the most severe recession since the War. The crisis has not only affected the method of capitalist reproduction, but has also shaken capital's political control over the working class and has weakened the power of the institutions that mediate the class struggle - the trade unions.

Furthermore, it is a crisis that may be very hard to resolve, since at its root lies the main political outcome of a decade of struggles: the workers' generalised refusal of the capitalist organisation of work. "Chaos", as the bourgeois press puts it, "has become an endemic feature of Italian society. The traditional tools of capitalist power are no longer capable of maintaining social peace". It is during the crisis, says Marx, that the relation between classes becomes clarified. It is by the "universality of its theatre and the intensity of its actions" that the crisis reveals the unresolvable antagonistic relationship between capital and the working class.

The Italian crisis is first of all a crisis of the progressive reformist policies which capital, together with the official working class movement, had started to apply, starting with the first Centre-Left coalition government of 1964. By 1970, following the struggles of 1968-69 it had become apparent that the advanced Keynesian policies promoted by the CentreLeft coalition (economic planning, incomes policy, collaboration with the trade unions could not contain the impact of a united and politically homogeneous working class struggle. Once again, the autonomous working class demand for more money and less work, for a wage disengaged from the labour expended, hit the capitalist system's capacity to respond positively and to continue to deliver the goods.

As the wage boosts won by workers in 1968 and 1969 easily exceeded the productivity ceiling, the working class struggle for more wages ceased to function as an incentive to capitalist development, and became a threat to capitalist production. Wages could no longer be made to work as "internal demand", purchasing power, Keynesian push for development, but, on the contrary, represented a renewed attack on the stability of the capitalist system. The basic Keynesian presupposition that class conflict can be integrated into a strategy of capitalist development revealed once again its political weakness. Capitalism proved to be incapable of satisfying the autonomous and collective needs of the politically re-unified working class.

Economic development is second to capital's need to politically control workers - that is, to maintain a dominant power relation. Where such control over workers has loosened, it must be restored at once. Capitalists, politicians and union executives remind us daily that there will be no economic development until the "political premises" are there. In other words, there will be no economic development short of a workers' defeat.

The Fascist bombings of December 1969 were the first major signal of the repression to come. It was in 1970, however, that capital's antiworking class offensive took definite shape along the following lines:

(1) Economic crisis; (2) Institutional transformation; and (3) Technological change and reconversion of the economy. The sections that follow deal with these three levels in that order. The role that the official working class movement has played throughout the crisis is also examined.

1) The Economic Crisis

Capitalists do not like crises. During crises, capital's accumulation slows down and stops. The premise and justification of capitalist civilisation - economic development - must give way to the destruction of capital and of real. wealth. Left to themselves, the capitalists would not choose a crisis. The days of crises as a product of intracapitalist competition in a vacuum of workers' activity are over - if they ever in fact existed.

The economic crisis was imposed on the capitalists by the working class struggle. Throughout the 1968-70 cycle of struggles, workers had not only stepped up their mass struggle against work at the point of production through increased strikes, go-slows, absenteeism and sabotage (all activities that do not reproduce capital), but had also expressed their determination to struggle against the capitalist State. Capital was left with a single choice: to accept the crisis as the new battlefield, to try to take it under control, and to make it backfire on the workers.

There is one thing we have learned. Crisis is no longer the catastrophic development of capital's "social anarchy", as in the collapse theory of the Second International. Rather, the crisis represents a capitalist attempt to regain control over the workers' command of the business cycle.

In the first months of 1971, industrial production receded an average of 3.5%, with a flat minus-5.1% in the "leading sectors" - steel, machine tools and construction. Once again, the traditional antagonism between levels of wages and levels of unemployment was exploited. Massive layoffs, expulsion from the labour force of marginal sectors (women, old people, and youth), underemployment, decreased labour mobility - all such means have been used to destroy the unity of the working class, to play off the employed and the unemployed against each other, to separate the community struggle from the struggle at the point of production, to de-compose, and to dis-organise the mass worker.

Despite these efforts, the wage pressure was sustained throughout 1971. With productivity virtually stagnant, wage boosts averaged a fat 16.6%, and cut deeply into profit margins. By the end of the year, the Bank of Italy revealed that a 670 billion lira increase in the monetary value of production was swallowed by a 1500 billion lira increase in the total wage bill. Capital's income fell by 830 billion lire. There was no capitalist accumulation in Italy in 1971.

Capitalist development depends on current profits as well as estimates of future profits. When the capitalists' see no future, they do not invest, no matter how "easy" money may be. Beyond a certain point of deterioration easy money as such does not get investment moving again. In spite of the "expansive" fiscal policy pursued by the Bank of Italy, net investments fell by 17% in 1971. It was and is a political strike on investments. If capitalist development represents the basis for a working class offensive, then as far as the capitalists are concerned, the only hope of a workers' defeat lies in the economic crisis.

2) Technological Change and Reconversion of the Economy

Marx saw through technological change very clearly:

"It would be possible to write quite a history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working class".

Since Marx, and particularly since the development of mass production and the scientific organisation of labour, technological change (called "progress") has become a major weapon in the hands of the capitalist class. By actually manipulating class composition technologically, capital has learned how to deal directly with the material existence of the working class as labour power, as mere commodity.

In the context of the Italian crisis, the capitalist strategy to base the overall political attack on a "technological repression" of the working class had to satisfy two fundamental political needs. First, it had to strengthen the attack on jobs, for the purpose of enforcing work on the unemployed. Second, it had to produce major gaps in the homogeneous texture of a working class politically dominated by the collective behaviour of the mass, worker; that is, it had to alter the class composition which had served as the basis for the political re-unification of the working class in 1968-70.

The following measures were attempted: technological innovations that reduce the number of employed workers (technological unemployment); demobilisation of entire productive sectors (such as textiles) and of geographical areas (such as La Spezia); decentralisation of productive structures, so as to eliminate large working class concentrations; restructuring of the labour process in view of two major requirements: (1) a wider range of skillgradings (an attempt at creating a pro-work professional ideology in a portion of the labour force.,, and (2) widened pay differentials. Once again, the workers' struggle had forced capital to attempt a technological leap.

Such technological repression, however, was carried out differently in different sectors of production. In fact, industrial sectors were to be analysed in terms of the instruments they provide for regaining control over the working class. From this point of view, each "sector plan" represents a particular strategy, a particular model of capital's command over production.

In this respect, the leading sector today is the chemical industry, which, because of its high vertical and horizontal concentration and its integration at the international level, has wide margins of control over the entire cycle of production. Not so for the auto industry. The replacement of the assembly line in the car factories has been on the capitalists' agenda for quite some time, internationally - since the struggles of 1933-37 in the USA unequivocally demonstrated the collective power of the assembly workers, the mass workers.

But the "new way of producing the motor car" is not just around the corner. FIAT's Agnelli has explicitly ruled out the possibility of any major innovations on, or substitutes for, the assembly line, since this would involve at once huge capital outlays, coupled with a 25% cost increase. Plainly, the big multinational FIAT has become incapable of formulating a workable strategy of containment. At least 360,000 cars have been "lost" since 1969.

The ultimate solution in both the auto and chemical sectors lies in the search for safer areas of investment. Thus, Italy's South has come to occupy a favoured position in capital's plan. The new Southern "poles of development" at Porto Torres and Gela, veritable cathedrals in a desert, testify to a renewed attempt to divide the working class along geographic lines.

3) Institutional Transformations: The New Role of the State

The political institutions required by a Government which must impose mass repression on the working class cannot be the same as the ones of a reformist government, which would be based on attempted collaboration with the working class. The 1948 Constitution, with its focus on the parliamentary life of mediating political parties and its emphasis on decentralised administrative structures, could not function as the institutional framework for a capitalist use of the crisis. The Italian Republic had been founded on the principle of class collaboration in the name of economic development. Such collaboration remained a dream. Economic development has ceased. Each new Government since the fall of Rumor's Government (Summer 1970) was under pressure to carry out a gradual "emancipation" of the Cabinet from parliamentary parties and procedure, at the same time that it implemented a general strategy for the repression of the working class.

The first few months of the Colombo Government (from Summer 1970 to January 1972) witnessed some uncertainty as to which strategy to employ. Initially Colombo preferred to attack the workers indirectly. A higher sales tax on mass consumer items like petrol, introduced in the Summer of 1970, was the first move of the capitalist offensive. Although a strong measure, it still revealed. a major weakness in the capitalist initiative: a certain fear of attacking the workers directly at the point of production, and some hesitation about waging an explicitly political battle. But the continuous industrial struggles of 1971, and the dramatic decline in production that followed, demonstrated that fiscal policy alone would not be enough, that the only way to win in the crisis was direct, open repression.

Andreotti's Centre-Right Government of January to May 1972 was the first Government to openly do away with constitutional bindings, and practice large-scale systematic repression. A modernisation, rationalisation and numerical increase of the police force; a strengthening of executive power, tested through mass anti-crime campaigns (against both "political" and "common" criminals); early elections in May (with the Christian Democrats promising stability to the capitalists, law and order to the middle classes, and repression for the proletariat); the assassination of the revolutionary publisher Feltrinelli and the subsequent increase in State terrorism against the mass vanguards and the revolutionary Left; the hundreds of comrades in jail - all of these measures expressed the same political programme: subordinating the needs to resume production and economic development to a process of completely restructuring capitalist command.

The May 1972 Elections reflected the radicalisation of the conflict in the only way the elections could offer: a parliamentary polarisation and a growth of votes for the three major opposing parties - the Christian Democrats (DC), the Fascist Party (MSI) and the Communist Party (PCI) at the expense of all other minor parties. The tactical reasons for the working class votes going to the Communist Party should be clear to everyone: the electoral show of strength of the working class as a compact political body should not be mistaken for a show of support for the Party's political programme. In fact, the Government understood the electoral results for what they were - a show of strength, a threat, and an anticipation - and it quickly stepped up repression after. the elections with an eye to the next round of wagebargaining (Autumn 1972). The winning Christian Democrats' political platform did not provide a strategy for economic development - it provided a model for controlling the class. And this was implemented by changing the relationship between trade unions, political parties, and the State.

The unions were now told explicitly that their institutional function was to convince the workers to stop fighting - or else bear the burden of continued recession. A wage ceiling was set as a precondition to economic recovery, and strike regulation, though not formally ratified, was accepted in practice by the trade unions, in the form of both "self discipline" and the search for new mediations to prevent strikes. As for Parliament, political parties became organs of the State, and achieving law and order became a political priority for all. But the major transformation occurred in the role of the State itself.

It was the role of the State as a general economic planner that had to come to an end with the crisis. Beginning with the first Centre Left coalition of 1964, capital had come to accept the historic trend towards the re-unification of the working class, and tried to make use of this working class unity in order to re-launch economic development. Through State planning, capital attempted to achieve a general control over the working class as a whole, through the institutions of the democratic State, political parties, and trade unions. But when the mass consensus of the working class could not be secured, working class unity became fully subversive in its impact. Consequently, general planning became impossible, and had to be replaced by different sectoral plans, particular plans for the different sectors of industry, in an attempt to tear major holes in the homogeneous texture of the working class.

The impossibility of a general plan and the consequent crisis of the State's role as general planner meant that business reclaimed the economic initiative and set itself up to manage the crisis directly and to respond to each class situation in a specific manner. The State was left simply with its commitment to the stability of capitalist power. This meant an obvious emphasis on the State's repressive functions - on institutional violence, the police, the courts, the secret services, and the democratic State's use of Fascism.

Yet it would be a mistake to interpret such institutional changes as simply a revival of State non-interference, laissez-faire, 19th Century non-intervention. In fact the State's emphasis on mass repression and institutional violence was a means to a very precise and advanced form of "State intervention": the political determination of all market values (prices, wages, "incomes" in general), in order to have economic values meet political priorities. As "economic laws" ceased to function in the process of formation and distribution of income, they simply had to give way to open and direct relations of power. When the laws regulating the price of labour on the market no longer functioned, and wages outgrew productivity (that is, the price of labour became detached from the labour expended), the traditional socialist ideology of a "value of labour" collapsed. The price of labour could be determined only by relations of power, open struggle, and by strength of organisation.

4) The Communist Party and the Question of Fascism

Throughout the capitalist crisis, the PCI intensified its campaign to join the Government in a coalition cabinet (the well-publicised "Italian road to Socialism"). Yet, to the extent that reformism has been defeated, there has been little that capital and the Communist Party could offer each other. Capitalism has no margins for reforms and economic development, and the Communist Party has been in no position to guarantee control over workers' behaviour.

But then what has the Party had to offer to the working class? Only an anachronistic, ideological re-posing of "reforms" (such as public expenditure, and rationalisation of the "social services") and a campaign for a democratic struggle against Fascism which would include all the parties that accept Parliamentary fair play (with the single exception of the Fascists themselves). In the CP analysis, the threat of a Fascist take-over would be dispelled by a popular-front coalition.

A few words of explanation: the CP's alarmism notwithstanding, Italy is not presently on the verge of a Fascist take-over. True, after the failure of reformism, capitalist strategy has come to a political crisis, for it has not indicated a way to utilise productive forces in a way which is adequate to match the growth and autonomy of the working class. The Fascist solution, however, when applied to the problem that capitalist strategy must tackle today - containment and utilisation of workers' struggles at the highest level of socialisation - is but a museum piece. A popular front in defence of bourgeois civil liberties is not a rearguard solution: it is simply a solution for a problem that does not exist.

The problem today is not that there is a possibility of a Fascist takeover; it is collective capital's support of, and the democratic State's use of, Fascism. For capital Fascist thugs are instruments of direct, physical repression in the unions, on the picket lines, in the streets. Their existence in the political arena, moreover, allows the State to play the role of mediator between "opposing extremisms" - revolution and reaction.

But who are the Fascists? That is, whose interests do Fascist interests represent today? They express the interests of the most backward fringes of capital: small business - a social stratum that is doomed to collapse, haunted by the rising cost of labour, and that is progressively squeezed out of existence by the sharpening class struggle. The political strength of the Fascists, therefore, derives not from the stratum they represent (a fragile stratum indeed), but from the function they are called on to fulfil as a weapon of the democratic State in the anti-working class offensive.

Under these conditions, to "denounce Fascism" and at the same time to "defend the democratic institutions", as the CP anti-Fascist campaign would, is not simply political blindness; it is open collusion with capital in the attempt to disarm the working class.

5) The Trade Unions Versus the Working Class Struggle

The crisis of reformism has deeply affected the role played by the unions in the capitalist plan. Years of open, autonomous struggle have made it clear that the unions cannot guarantee the collaboration of the working class. In fact, the formal signing of labour contracts has seldom put an end to industrial struggles. Capital has come to realise that collaboration with the trade unions makes little sense when it does not ensure the collaboration of the working class. Furthermore, on certain occasions during the early years of the cycle, the trade unions, far from exercising control, have been used by the workers as one. means of coordinating their struggle. Clearly the unions in the "Keynesian" State of the 1960s could fulfil their political function of mediation and containment only on the condition that they effectively "represented" the working class - that is, on the condition that they accepted (and mediated) its spontaneous struggles. Hence, we witnessed a "radicalisation" of the unions' official platform of demands in 1968-69, as well as the emergence of a Left wing within the trade union movement.

Things were very different by 1972. In the 1972-73 round of bargaining there was no room for concessions. Reformism had failed, and economic development had come to a standstill. There was only one function left for the unions to fulfil: open collaboration with capital in repressing the working class - that is, the "responsibility" that trade union leaders demonstrated throughout the negotiations. In the words of one union boss: "The Hot Autumn must not be repeated. The 1972 contracts must be bargained and negotiated at a very mild temperature."

The unions' strategy focussed on one major objective: to contain the workers' struggles through the paradoxical argument that one must stop striking in order to prevent anti-strike legislation. But the history of the last several months has dispelled any illusions concerning the possibility of trade union control over the working class.

Once again it has been the struggle of the auto and metal workers which has functioned as the occasion for the new major working class offensive of Spring 1973. Once again, the situation at FIAT epitomises the political features of a whole wave of struggle.

Since the Turin general strike of September 1972, the struggle has grown out of control in terms of both violence and generalisation. Throughout the Autumn, the FIAT workers stepped up their cortei intern, (insidethe-factory militant marches that proceed from shop to shop, busting doors and gates and sweeping away foremen, strike breakers and guards). On January 22nd, the Lancia car workers launched a sit-down, and battled with the police when the latter tried to enter the factory. (One worker was killed by the police). On January 26th, striking students joined picket lines and workers' marches in Milan. (One student was severely injured by the police). On February 2nd, some 20,000 FIAT workers staged a one-day occupation of the FIAT-Mirafiori plant, which triggered a wave of factory occupations in the following months. By February 9th, nearly half a million workers had congregated in Rome for the largest working class demonstration to take place since World War II. Their slogans were "Power to the Workers" and "Factory, School, Community - Our Struggle is for Power".

Together with the cortei intern, mass absenteeism has become a major new form of struggle. Once again, FIAT workers have led the way with an absenteeism rate of 26w. This means that each day 30,000 FIAT workers do not go to be exploited by the capitalist factory; that the average real work-week at FIAT has been self-reduced by workers to a little over 30 hours. Through their absenteeism and sick leaves, the 100,000 FIAT workers of Turin have re-appropriated 45 billion lira (over £3,000,000) - nine times the net profit that FIAT posted for 1972 - without work. And absenteeism, far from being a substitute for other forms of struggle, has been growing together with other forms of workers' revolt - strikes, picket lines, factory occupations and mass demonstrations.

6) The Blockade of FIAT-Mirafiori

On Thursday March 29th, FIAT-Mirafiori was occupied again. Early in the morning, a crowd of 10,000 picketers blocked all the entrances. To the workers' slogan "Occupy FIAT - No Truce", the unions responded with their own "Strike for Two Hours". Inside the occupied factory workers set up permanent political assemblies. FIAT's first move was to threaten not to distribute the weekly wage packets, and to call the police. Friday morning, however, wage packets were ready as usual - but for strikers only. "Workers' Courts" ruled that strike breakers would not be allowed to pick up their wages. In the Body Plant, the workers held a mass trial of foremen and scabs. By Friday evening, most of Turin's factories were in the hands of workers: cortei, assemblies and occupations started at Lingotto, Bertone, Pininfarina, Spa Stura, Ricambi, Lancia, Carello, Spa Centro, Ferriere, Grandi Motori and others.

On Monday April 2nd the blockade at Mirafiori continued. This was not a factory occupation in the traditional sense. The workers took over the factory, not to defend it, nor to run it, but to use it as an enormous resource of political strength. In the words of a striker:

"If the police had come to the gates, we wouldn't have attacked them there. We would have drawn them inside the factory, onto our own ground, where there's no especial organisation, but where we're always ready to answer violence in the terms we understand .... If the police had come into Mirafiori, the place would have been out of action for three years!"

Picket lines at hundreds of factories throughout the Turin area guaranteed that if the clash exploded, it would not blow up only Corso Traiano, as in 1969, but would blow up the entire city. Avoiding a battle was a major necessity for capitalists, unions and government alike. On Monday afternoon it became known that the bosses and the unions had signed the new engineering workers' contract.

The new national contract was no workers' victory, for two reasons: First, it incorporated very little of the workers' own material demands. Second, and more important, as a result of bargaining between capitalists and unions, the contract did not and could not reflect the political strength and militancy that the working class expressed throughout the crisis. The disparity between the political strength of the workers and the results that their strength can command at the level of bargaining is obvious.

On Tuesday morning the unions pushed for an end to the blockade. Union officials and foremen together urged the workers to go back to work, and managed to get a few shops working. But on the whole, production did not resume. The first back-to-work day was again a day of no production. At Mirafiori, 60% of the workforce was "absent". Thousands of workers resumed picketing and blocking production. At Rivalta, the workers' assembly expressed the will to continue their struggle until all the people who had been fired during the strike were re-hired.

This demand for re-hiring those fired may trigger a new post-contract workers' offensive in the months ahead. As we are writing, the situation remains unstable and open.

What, then, is the main political characteristic of this wave of struggles? It is the way that workers have used the struggle over the contract as simply a moment in the general confrontation between capital and the working class. Here we must learn a lesson of working class strategy: throughout the struggle the workers have left all bargaining in the hands of the unions, and have shown little interest in the official platform, realising that no union platform can defend the workers from the capitalist attack. They have concentrated on fighting the capitalists on a more advanced level - that is, fighting them over the capitalists' own demands.

In fact, the motor-industry and metal-industry capitalists, with Agnelli leading the way, came to the bargaining table with their own explicit demands: and end to "permanent conflict"; regulation of absenteeism; no reduction in the working week; full utilisation of productive capacity. Precisely these demands were rejected by the struggle at FIAT. After the contracts were signed, the "permanent conflict" did not subside, absenteeism was not reduced, discipline was hardly restored, and production was only resumed with great difficulty. Signing the' contract did not put an end to the struggles, for the workers' struggle has been beyond contracts, all along.

Hundreds of mass pickets, red flags and workers' courts at all gates, blockades of finished products, "imprisonment" of managers, well-organised settlements of accounts with foremen and guards - all point to a new leap in the working class struggle: "Taking power" at FIAT, and in all of Turin, contains an explicit allusion to the seizure of political power and to the revolutionary programme of the abolition of wage labour. Says a worker from FIAT-Mirafiori:

"This occupation is different from the one the workers did in 1920. In 1920 they said let's occupy, but let's work. Let's show everybody that we can run production ourselves. Things are different today. In our occupation, the factory is a starting point for the revolutionary organisation of workers - not a place to work!"

Note: In 1973 the organisation Potere Operaio, held a weeklong meeting in Padova (July 28th - August 4th), following an inconclusive national Conference in May. The outcome of the meeting was that a number of the working class bases of Potere Operaio decided to leave the organisation (Porto Marghera, FATME, Pordenone), and the group dissolved into the organised area of Autonomy - a nationally-coordinated area of independent assemblies and committees based in local struggles. A final edition.,-of the newspaper "Potere Operaio" was published (Year 5, No. 50), containing a large number of the discussion documents (including part of the Toni Negri piece "The Workers' Party of Mirafiori" - see p.61). Its theme was "Starting Again from the Beginning Does Not Mean Going Backwards", and it concluded with the slogan above: "We have rejected the logic of the political group in order to be within the real movement, in order to be within organised class autonomy".

To the best of our knowledge, the history of this fundamental political choice has not been documented in the English language - and certainly its crucial implications for the subsequent development of European politics has not been studied with the seriousness it warrants. (Unless you count - which Red Notes does not - the publications issuing from the PCI's international translations factory, and the writings of the Socialist Workers' Party (UK), whose publicly stated position (May 1979) is "We have nothing to learn from Italy".) We have a long way to go in deepening the study of autonomy as an organisational concept of the working class struggle.

Toni Negri


This article is Negri's account of the broad development of the organisation of the revolutionary Left in Italy, from 1968 to 1973, and their crisis in the latter period. The article carries Negri's rejection of the line of terrorism and the line of institutional (e.g. electoral) politics. It also touches on one of the themes of the Autonomy area in 1973 - the organisation of insurrection. He also explores the proposition that the political initiative of the mass worker - who had carried forward the preceding 5-year cycle of struggles - was about to be blocked by the operation of the crisis.

This article was printed as Appendix 3 to the article "The Working Class Party Against Work" in Crisi e Organizzazione Operaia ("The Crisis and Working Class Organisation"), Feltrinelli, Milan, September 1974, pp.183188. Its original title was: "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: the End of the Political Groups".


We should periodise the phase of history that lies behind these Theses. Not in general terms, but in immediate terms as it deals with our lived experience of the past few years. We have already described the twin face of the crisis of theory within the revolutionary movement that was born in 1968 - i.e. terrorism, and the (implicitly reformist) "long. march through the institutions". But this is a crisis not simply of theory, but also of practice. The political groups are experiencing a phase of heavy dissolution, and their only way out seems to consist in re-establishing links with the institutions, or, conversely, in carrying out individual terrorism. Micro-parties spring up, together with the formation of a political undergrowth which is mobile, unstable and dangerous. The watchword of the construction of the party and. the organisation of the insurrection is frittered away in minoritarian choices that are incapable of massified political reproduction. The problem is not confined to the Italian movement - it also involves those movements, in both Europe and America, which lived the explosion of 1968.

And yet all these comrades, this political cadre, have lived through a real phase of revolutionary political activity. Only the sectarian prejudices of the bureaucrats of the labour movement could deny that. The reality is that thousands of comrades know what it means to produce revolutionary propaganda and activity, and to develop spaces of working class power. That was the experience of 1968-69. But while the working class and some sectors of the proletariat have continued to move along this terrain, the political cadre ,of the political groups has split and fragmented. The crisis of practice has meshed with the crisis of theory: confusion$ have appeared, as to the way forward; the hitherto powerful reflection of working class unity within the political solidarity of the groups has weakened; opposite temptations have begun to develop.

It is too easy to explain this by the fact that the reformists' counterattack and the undoubted capacity and vitality of the trade unions have restricted and blocked the political groups' margins of struggle and expression, and have mystified the relationship between vanguards and masses. It is also too easy simply to say that repression has struck a particularly hard blow at a wide layer of militants in those areas where there has been resistance and progress in the political movement. Neither capital's use of the crisis, nor the organisational shortcomings of means in relation to ends, can adequately explain the groups' present phase of dissolution. We must go further, and identify the lack of a driving theory, the lack of a revolutionary analysis that could enable the vanguards to move forward together with the mass movement.

It seems to us that the mass movement was moving forward and that it had potentially resolved for itself-- in struggle - the problems around which - both inside and outside the factory - the political movement of 1968 was breaking up. Today, therefore, a unified and attacking political revival requires us to understand, how-far forward the real movement has moved; it requires re-opening' a mass inquiry in the factories and among the proletariat, as a whole; it must restructure itself according to the rhythm of the relationship that the class movement has defined, between vanguard and masses. But more of this anon.

First we must identify a number of critical historical stages in the recession of the movement, and above all in the breakdown of the mass/vanguard relation that had been established in that movement. We can identify three phases: the first phase runs from the early upheavals of Valdagno, Valle Giulia, Porto Marghera and Pirelli, up till the FIAT events of Spring 1969. The second phase runs from Agnelli's counterattack of 3rd September 1969, and from July August 1970 (insurrection at Porto Marghera), to March 1972. The third phase is the one that opened at Mirafiori in the struggles of March 197 In this third phase (see my article The Workers' Party of Mirafiori), I think we can see a further advance developing, a new perspective for organisation.

The First Phase

The first phase brings to maturity a long process of working class insubordination against capital's plan, against capital's socialism, and against capital's command over development. The relationship between class movements and the position of the vanguards is total and spontaneous. The driving force of the movement is wholly founded in the autonomy of working class behaviour.

As regards the objectives, the breaking down of the relation between wage rises and productivity (both at the company level - the egalitarianism of the struggle against incentives etc. - and at the general level - the struggle for the social wage etc.) soon transforms itself into a struggle against work.

As regards the form of the struggle, the objectives were matched by the form, in such a way as to massively unify the project; the egalitarianism of the objectives was matched by the egalitarian rank and file nature of the organisation of the struggle; the refusal of bargaining and the refusal of work become synonymous; the refusal of work is, in short, a style of political work; hatred for the organisation of work is a supporting and driving force for the project.

As regards the articulation of an overall strategy for this project, however, this is the point where the spontaneity of the movement reaches its limitation Even the most far-reaching strategic anticipations last no more than a few weeks; the mass levels of struggle have such a power of invention as to immediately pull everything into line behind them. In this situation the problem of organisation (and insurrection) cannot be dealt with separately, from the mass level. The vanguard is completely interchangeable with the overall movement; the timing and the forms of circulation of the struggles become at one and the same time the articulation of the insurrectional goal; objectives, timings and forms of the struggle are no longer separable elements, During this first phase of struggles there was an enormous advance in revolutionary consciousness.

The Second Phase

A new process - which is contradictory and substantially negative - opens with Agnelli's counterattack (the layoffs of September 1969), and the opening of the struggles for the national engineering contract. The priority in this phase was the necessity of integrating within the spontaneous movement an awareness of the tactical and strategic articulations of the insurrectionary process. Only such an integration would enable the movement to break out of the grip in which it was held - on the one hand by the first blows of Agnelli's counterattack, and on the other by the encircling manoeuvres of the trade unions. These problems were put on the agenda by the movement, and it became clear that it would only be possible to hold and enlarge the spaces of power that had been conquered if there could be an organisational re-articulation of the political content that the mass movement, profiting from the scale and the surprise element of its offensive, had enthusiastically absorbed and made its own. But putting the problem on the agenda is not the same as solving it! In fact it was at this point that a deep and painful crisis began to develop.

The first experiences, it must be said, were not negative. From Turin and Porto Marghera, the scene shifted to Milan - i.e. to a metropolis where, rather than the direct connection to the factory, we see a prime example of an extremely articulated and complex command by capital. It was at this level of complexity that the problem was to be dealt with. The Milan housing struggles, represented, perhaps, the highest point of understanding of this problem. At the military level too, the articulation of the relation between vanguard and mass was being developed: the insurrection of Porto Marghera and other towns in the Veneto region on August 1st 1970 revealed an articulation between attacking groups and mass movements, at an offensive level, over a wide territorial area: these offered possible models of urban guerrilla, and also went further than the (nonetheless formidable) example of the mass revolt in Turin on July 3rd 1969.

The same is true for the generalisation of the Milan housing struggles. But the failure came in the attempt subsequently, to match organisational forms to the urgency of these new tasks. The whole of 1971 saw the sectarian setting-up of groups, and the bureaucratic usurpation of leadership, against the organised instances of working class autonomy. The real task - of rearticulating from within itself the compactness of the newly unified strength of the working class - was transformed into an external undertaking of guidance and abstract leadership. A triumph for Third Internationalism of the most vulgar kind. Meanwhile, in the same span of time that the working class struggle was advancing, extending and consolidating its destruction of the factory hierarchy, launching the slogan of the guaranteed wage, and beginning the first struggles on that front, the groups were mustering their attacking capacity (which was now becoming impotent and abstract because it had no bite at the mass level) into what was claimed to be an attack "directed against the State". The "journey to the South" that the groups undertook in this phase was far from being a new articulation of the organisational debate between the working class struggles in the metropolis and the working class struggles in underdeveloped areas (i.e. a project for a movement balanced between vanguard action and mass behaviours). Rather, on the one hand it rehashed the spontaneist ideology of 1968, and on the other - even more mistakenly - loaded it with a misleading stress on sub-proletarian violence against the State (in reality this was a simple projection of the subjectivism and centralisation of the groups). The organisational process that sought a a continuity of organisational stages articulated within the discontinuity of the mass movement, was brutally shattered. The groups, in the period from the end of 1971 up till March 1972, went onto the attack - alone! When, on March 11th 1972, the groups had the momentary impression of a military victory, at both national and metropolitan level, they had in fact suffered a bitter blow and had to pay the price of their separate existence. They were to be heavily defeated; the repression would find them isolated, and was able to savage them. In addition, their detachment from the class was now total: the groups were completely absent from the contract negotiations at the end of 1972.

It was at this point that the crisis of organisation found its counterpart in the crisis of theory. The widening separation from the mass level - which had already taken place - was theorised and mystified within an ideology of "self-criticism", of "new organisation", of the "continuity of a generation of political cadres" etc. etc.. It was here that ideology took two separate pat the path of neo-reformism, which said it was necessary to re-open a relationship with the masses, but could only conceive it, in terms of a renewed collaboration with the trade unions; and the path of terrorism, which carried out exemplary actions of attack, intending them as moments for bringing together the mass movement. It was here that the two steps backwards were taken. The capitalist use of the crisis - which had become more intense in the meantime - was not analysed. The crisis was seen in "catastrophist" terms both by the reformists (who, on this basis, built their hopes of institutional unity and a frontist coordination with the mass movement), and, obviously, by the terrorists. As for the problem of organisation, they felt compelled to replace the continuity of the working class project with the coherence of a top-down political line and a more or less bureaucratic initiative. All this led to an overemphasis of the functions of the political group, of the ideological cohesion and homogeneity of the leadership within a vertical hierarchy. And the insurrection, inasmuch as it was still talked about at all, returned to being an "art", a sudden moment that "someone" decides on! These "steps backwards" are an incredibly heavy burden!

But the working class and the proletariat were moving forward. Not only in the consolidation of objectives, in the holding of spaces of power, and in the determination of the definitive irreversibility of working class and proletarian power, but also at the level of organisation. The awareness that insurrection is not an "art." but a "science", the capacity to articulate minutely the entire progress of subversion into mass movements and vanguard moments - this understanding is wholly within the working class. It is an understanding that capital, at this level of development, does not leave "soft underbellies" to strike at, or weak links to shatter, or detonators with which to set off explosions, but that only a continuous and organised, conscious, political relationship can today identify what needs to be overthrown by the massed forces of the class.

The Third Phase

The third phase of the working class organisational process starts at FIAT Mirafiori, in March 1973. The leadership lies wholly within class autonomy; the articulation of the attack is also its unifying factor; the outlines of a new, adequate model of organisation begin to be seen. At that given level of class struggle, working class autonomy begins to write its "What Is To Be Done". Its subtitle is Insurrection as a Science. If we
try to move on this terrain, remaking the link of theory to the mass movement, perhaps this time we will not have to wait such a long period, as happened (Note 2) in the 1960s, between the dress rehearsal of Piazza Statuto and the insurrection of July 3rd 1969.

However, none of this is enough if the transition to the struggle against the State is not mediated by a theory (critical understanding, from the working, class viewpoint) of crisis., The capitalist attempt to open up points of fracture within the given composition of the class - this is the aim of crisisstrategy, from the capitalist viewpoint - and the articulation of the means of mass repression and at the same time of precise timed attacks (pre-emptive provocation etc.) used to this end, should be taken up by the working class conception of organisation, and turned into varied and articulated functions of the revolutionary project. Here it should be understood that we are not preaching some "recherche du temps perdu": the class levels that we take as our reference point today are those defined by the powerful emergence of the mass worker, of the massified levelling and broadening of the figure of the mass worker, but all the time with an awareness that they have been, and will be, ploughed under by the crisis. That which capital is re-articulating with the crisis, it rearticulates objectively: today's task is to transform into a subjective function that materiality of working class articulation which capital wants to realise through the crisis. The overall awareness that the wage is power, passes through the organisational articulation of the instances of attack against capital's ability to block the workers' wage demands - and their demands for power.

Let's take an example: Let us suppose that in some big factories, the workers' demand for the guaranteed wage were to pass. The apparatus of capitalist power will use this working class victory in order to separate and distinguish working class strata one from the other; separate the factory from the community, to guarantee truces on various fronts etc.. The immediate task of the mass vanguards, on the other hand, will be to make this victory immediately generalisable. But is this mass pressure sufficient? No, it is not sufficient. The revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist project of containment of the struggles over the guaranteed wage will be possible only if, at the same time, the struggle over appropriation is developed - in other words, the struggle to guarantee and maintain living standards at the level of what has been won, and this applies not only for the vanguards, but in an exemplary and driving form on every terrain of the proletarian struggle. The only way to maintain, enlarge and consolidate spaces of power is to take the most advanced levels as our reference point, talking increasingly in terms of power. This is the only gradualism that we accept.

And it is once again a function which is rooted immediately within the composition of the class. Between 1968 and today, the vanguards have modified themselves, and have deepened the intensity of their offensive intentions in relation to the crisis and the capitalists' response. It is only the groups who have ideologised 1968 and the political cadres that emerged from '68, and have ",congealed" that so-called "continuity of a generation". Not so the class! Here, in the struggle, autonomy has represented a terrain of constant innovation of political initiative, and above all it has opened up the horizon of armed struggle. The young worker - who entered the factory after 1968 - has brought to organisation a new awareness of the relationship between the wage struggle and the struggle for power, between factory struggle and community struggle, between articulated struggle and overall struggle. This new young worker - a truly multinational worker - drags no polemical fetish behind him. He did not need to aspire to a victory - his victory had been before he arrived in the factory, where he then, presented himself as a socialised product of the struggle. In his structure as a proletarian there was, materially, neither resignation nor complex calculations of bureaucratic possibilities - but the freshness of a series of needs that had been satisfied, and a new hatred for exploitation. Today the class struggle and the new organisation are to be measured against this formidable new reality. Here the groups have nothing to add.

May 1st 1973,

Toni Negri


This article takes as its starting point the heady days of March 1973, when the FIAT workers of Mirafiori, Turin, once again played out their vanguard role in an uncompromising mass occupation of the factory, which was then taken up as a .tactic by dozens of other engineering firms in the city and suburbs of Turin.

Once again, FIAT workers in action provided the movement with further material for reflection on the nature of communist working class organisation of the struggle. Toni Negri here weighs this experience against the concepts of power, working class organisation and the political party.

The detailed history of that struggle was published in a Diary of the Struggle, in Controinformazione No. 0 (Red Notes has a draft translation of this). In addition, Lotta Continua published a book called I Giorni della FIAT ("The Days of FIAT"), with photos, interviews with workers; and an account of the struggles.

This article was published as Appendix 4 to the article "The Working Class Party Against Work", in Crisi e Organizzazione Operaia ("The Crisis and Working Class Organisation"), Feltrinelli, Milan, September 1974.


One problem which has not been clarified, and whose formulation has nevertheless been an object of criticism, is the problem which, in the course of this essay, I have defined as the problem of the necessary disarticulation of the instances of attack and the levels of working class power, from overall organisation. Is it legitimate to "theorise" this split? And if this split is "given" in the present organisational process, rather than accept it as given, would it not be more important to work towards the construction of a party perspective that could take upon itself the subjective commitment, the task of prefiguring a unificatory course of action, which would enable that given split to be transcended?

It is clear that posing the problem in these terms opens the way for consideration of an alternative, one of great importance. It is not simply an alternative method that we risk posing (from this point of view, we could take the matter as resolved: the present real situation is one of a split; any attempts to achieve a prefiguration of a unitary solution have never got beyond the level of fragile, wretched efforts; therefore there are no alternatives at the level of method or tactics - at least, no concrete alternatives to starting from rock bottom, and taking the risk upon ourselves in the reconstruction of a working class political perspective. In reality, the problem that is posed involves a far more fundamental alternative - namely the very model of the party (and the proletariat=s hopes and efforts for the insurrection). But it is a terrain of alternatives that we reject. In fact, as we have often said, our point of view is that there can be no working class conception of the party unless it is a working class desire for reappropriation of organisation. In the second place, at the level of the present political composition of the working class, there can be no working class conception of the party unless it is immediately the practice and exercise of power. It is within this horizon, of the workers' desire for organisation, that all neo-Leninist mythologising, all Third Internationalist fetishism must be demystified. From our point of view, and speaking in Marxist terms, the party can be, at certain historical moments, at given levels of class composition, the "forme retrouvee" (the "refound form", in the sense in which Marx uses this expression to describe the Paris Commune) of the class struggle; all artisanal and doctrinal experiments that would seek to substitute themselves for the great collective means of the working class must be swept away. And this is as true for terrorists as it is for reformists.

So, let us now deal with the problem in concrete terms. On March 29-30th 1973, in all the FIAT plants in Turin, including Mirafiori and Rivalta, the all-out strike transformed itself into an armed occupation. (The complete documentation of the struggles at FIAT-Turin in the period of Autumn 1972 3) to March 1973 is now published, as a 'Diary of Struggle', in Controinformazione No. 0, Milan, October 1973). It is in this form that the workers have been able to see the reality of a direct exercise of pacer against the totality of. the repressive conditions set in motion by the employers and the Trade Unions from 1969 to the present day. The "Workers' Party of Mirafiori" is forming itself as an ability to show the capitalist the impossibility of using instruments of repression and restructuration (from mass layoffs to sackings; from fascist provocations to all the articulations of command over production in the factory). The "Mirafiori Party" is thus an actuality of working class power - consequently an armed actuality, a reply matched to the level of the power balance between the two classes in struggle. All the contradictions, all the difficulties and defeats (starting from 3rd September, 1969, when Agnelli for the first time used the weapon of mass layoffs) are here overcome and resolved: trusting in their own mass power, reappropriating all their individual and group initiatives, the working class reveals itself as, and acts. as, the party of Mirafiori.

It is only at this point that we can return to the problem that we posed; at the outset, because now, having taken the discussion along these tracks, we can see that a bureaucratic solution that tries to prefigure the relationship between organisational articulations and overall organisation is excluded in principle. The question then becomes: how does the transition to the overall form of organisation come about? - bearing in mind that we are only at the beginning of a process of struggles and revolutionary experiences that will be able to give us, both an understanding of the laws of development of working class power, and the collective ability to put them into effect. Thus it is only a beginning; but it is also the only way. The "Party of Mirafiori" demands it.

If we follow the FIAT experience of March 1973, we can point to some elements that are fundamental for a solution of’ the problem. Here the central point has been the extension and the spreading of the attacking struggle in the period from September to March. In a continuous crescendo, which has been amazing in this latest phase, all forms of struggle have been set in motion: from absenteeism to sabotage, from the punishment of foremen to the persecution of Fascists, from stoppages on the line to violent march inside the factory, from blacking finished products to all-out strikes, to the military occupation of the factory. Seen from the start, and from wit,' the final explosion was a sign of a leap from quantity to quality - thus, the;, mass innovation that this leap revealed and which the dialectic teaches us to appreciate; but also the continuity that we saw in the minute, continuous unfolding of infinite numbers of acts of insubordination, of countless acts of attack, of the complex action of many political party groups. When the (Note 4 ) Cen-po-ta nucleus attacks, destroys, punishes, expropriates, it is only the symbol of a mass activity that is continuous and growing. So, the final explosion is the coming-to-a-head of a molecularly diffuse attacking struggle expressing itself in a definitive leap in quality: this is the first fundamental element that must be stressed. Starting from that moment, it is the mass that moves, as such;, it is the fullness of power that is expressing itself; it is the abundance of working class inventiveness that is carrying out its work of destruction and dictatorship.

The second fundamental element of the FIAT experience is that the final: explosion, the leap in quality, has taken place, as I said, based on a continuity of working class initiative. In fact we must say that this advance has, been a spontaneous leap. The superiority of the struggle of FIAT workers in' 1973, compared with Piazza Statuto in 1962 or the episode of Corso Traiano in 1969, consists essentially in this: that the continuity of the struggle not been spontaneous, but has seen within it the continuous driving force of, the revolutionary line. The spontaneity has this time been interpreted and informed by the conscious initiative of the vanguards in the factories: that generality which exploded in the final phase of the struggle was foreseen and worked for by the factory vanguards. It would be ridiculous to turn this fact into the complete explanation for the final explosion of the struggle: ,the final leap was wholly the fruit of the mass action, acting as a mass. But it is nevertheless true that the dialectic that opened between the function of attack and the general movement in the factory, has constituted an essential red thread of workers' rationality within the struggle. The underground organisation has been the basis of the mass organisation; exemplary action has been a clarification of the mass movement, and a fostering of mass initiative; the growing military organisation of the vanguards has been the model for the general arming of the factory.

This should be stressed also for another aspect - a third fundamental lesson of the struggle. Namely that the attacking vanguards, while they cannot actually carry out the final formidable leap forward (only the masses can do this), at least they have defined the terrain, the frame of reference of this leap. In fact it is not only in its conclusion and in its mass triumph that the struggle has showed the elements that are characteristic of today's composition of the working class - i.e. the exercise of power: on the contrary, the whole course of the struggle has had an extraordinary coherence in this sense. In other words, every act of attack has been a search for a form of struggle that would pay immediately; the entire sequence of forms of struggle has developed as a process of perfecting a practice of power. The masses exercised this power, while the vanguards indicated the terrain on which to move. From this point of view, the liquidation of the Union, of the delegates (shop stewards), of the very idea of representation and bargaining, could hardly have been more profound. The vanguards did not present themselves as a substitution for the archaic trade union functions: on the contrary, ‘,.they presented the immediate terrain of a struggle for power. The synthesis of political action and economic action which is always a characteristic of the revolutionary struggle of the working class, happened immediately, at the level of the exercise of power. And here, on this level, what was excluded and rejected has been as significant as the positive, conscious mass choices: i.e. the refusal to seek political mediations which would repeat traditional models by referring to the institutional levels of bourgeois power (after so much talk, there was not a sign of the campaign against Andreotti's governmen-t!); the refusal to consider the signing of the contract as a politically significant moment (shown by absenteeism and the lack of interest in the trade union mass meetings!). In reality, the "refound form" of working class organisation, at this level of political composition of the class, is wholly anchored to the immediacy of the exercise of working class power: thus (we have seen how, and how positively!) the separate functions of the project of organisation are dialectically recomposed.

Of course, as- we have already said, this is only a beginning. The elements I have described and given as examples are not enough to give us a theory of organisation: they are, however, sufficient to indicate a path to follow, in order to overcome the difficulties that are undoubtedly presented by the split between organisational articulations and overall organisation. It is on the particular nature of the relationship between moments of attack and mass movements that analysis must now concentrate: it is on this continuous discontinuity that research must be focussed.

This is particularly true when the discussion shifts from the factory dimension, from the big factory in struggle, to the territorial dimension, to the social sphere. Why, did the FIAT workers not move outside the occupied factories? Why did the dialectic of attack and massification not take place at the level of the social sphere (il sociale)? It is inconceivable that a struggle of these dimensions did not in fact communicate itself to the cityfactory of Turin. In fact, its penetration was very deep indeed - through the new structures of the labour market; through the strata of people involved in double-working (two jobs which allowed the workers to be able to withstand 300 hours of strike action; through the new strata of women and young people, finding themselves in exploitation, and who, by contributing to the family budget, directly supported the struggle; and, obviously, through the structures of the tertiary and education sectors. So, the problem has to be posed in general terms: it becomes the problem of the working class articulation unifying the vanguard moments and the mass moments which destroy the social compartmentalisation sought by big capital. It's as well to state it plainly: the FIAT workers did not have the strength to move out onto this terrain - nor had the vanguards gone out previously in order to do effective groundwork on this terrain.

Now, the simple fact of material communication - through a unified social fabric - is not sufficient to bring about a development of an attacking struggle, since the spontaneity of a possible new mass struggle at the social level is now blocked by the capitalist restructuring that is in progress. Faced with this restructuring, working class initiative has to come to the fore articulating in terms of struggle that which has been disarticulated and dismembered in terms of capitalist restructuring of the social sphere.

So, at the social level too, the mass reunification of the working class struggle takes place by accepting the timings and the forms that are necessary; for the articulation - or rather, for the initial disarticulation - of the totalising project of working class organisation: no longer (this is also the case in the factory a simple joining-together of different sectors, of different departments of the social factory, no longer the articulation of the "specific" problems of the various sectors of the social sphere (young people, women, marginalised elements etc.), but a joining-together of functions of attack and mass levels, against capital's division and compartmentalisation of the unity of abstract social labour. And at the social level too, the organisational synthesis of the struggle, in moments of high concentration, must necessarily be the result of the overall movement as a whole - any presumption, any aspirations towards intermediate forms, not only do not pay, but are also mystifying, are dangerously open to betrayal, and. are open to reformists to capture the struggle and the organisation. Only at this point, within the perspective outlined above, can the form of struggle at the social level reach the fulness of its contents, with form and content coming to pose themselves as a unitary project. Certainly, struggles of reappropriation, seizing of power, exercise of power - but only as a road that combines functions of attack with mass campaigns and vice versa.

Of course, this is only a beginning. The FIAT experience of March 1973 also puts before us a project of struggle and organisation which, precisely to the. extent that it reveals its internal completeness and exemplarity, shows also the conditions for the the limits to its present capacity for expansion. But, taking account of the laws of working class power, as they have begun to be expressed by the struggle at FIAT, it is now perhaps possible to open up a mass workers' inquiry (which is also a means of organising the material process of constituting organisation), which would trace the diffusion and the implantation of the FIAT tendency within the whole body of the working class. The leap of quality that we have seen at FIAT must now take place at the general level; it must constitute the mass base for the reopening of anew cycle of struggles within which the new composition of the working class will be able to express its adequate organisational form. And we already have a number of defining points, drawn from experience, that can provide a basis for the enquiry: namely, the mass character of organisation and the fact of its immediate definition as working class organisation; vertical articulation of the organisational process, between moments of attack and the consolidation of mass levels (in short, the death of and the transcendence of spontaneism); the directly political quality of the movement, in terms of the exercise of power. Hic Rhodus, hic salta! It is hard, we know. And yet nothing of that which is won by the tendency will be lost to the movement.

May 1st 1973