Struggle Against Labor

One of the existing English language excerpts from Tronti’s book Operai e Capitale. It should be noted that this translation is incomplete. It starts about a page and a half or so into the section “The Struggle Against Labour”.

Submitted by Nate on June 10, 2010

The contemporary forms of workers' struggles in the heartlands of advanced capitalism unmistakably reveal, in the rich content of their own spontaneity, the slogan of the struggle against wage labor as the only possible means of striking real blows against capital. The party must be the organization of what already exists within the class, but which the class alone cannot succeed in organizing. No worker today is disposed to recognize the existence of labor outside capital. Labor equals exploitation: This is the logical prerequisite and historical result of capitalist civilization. From here there is no point of return. Workers have no time for the dignity of labor. The "pride of the producer" they leave entirely to the boss. Indeed, only the boss now remains to declaim eulogies in praise of labor. True, in the organized working-class movement this traditional chord is, unfortunately, still to be heard - but not in the working class itself; here there is no longer any room for ideology. Today, the working class need only look at itself to understand capital. It need only combat itself in order to destroy capital. It has to recognize itself as political power, deny itself as a productive force. For proof, we need only look at the moment of struggle itself: During the strike, the "producer" is immediately identified with the class enemy. The working class confronts its own labor as capital, as a hostile force, as an enemy - this is the point of departure not only for the antagonism, but for the organization of the antagonism.

If the alienation of the worker has any meaning, it is a highly revolutionary one. The organization of alienation: This is the only possible direction in which the party can lead the spontaneity of the class. The goal remains that of refusal, at a higher level: It becomes active and collective, a political refusal on a mass scale, organized and planned. Hence, the immediate task of working-class organization is to overcome passivity.

This can be achieved on one sole condition: that this passivity is recognized as an elementary, spontaneous form of refusal by the working class. For mass passivity always follows after the political defeat of the class, caused by its official organizations; alternatively, it follows a leap forward in capitalist development, in the appropriation by capital of socially productive forces. We all know that these two objective preconditions of working-class passivity have been combined in the past few decades. Indeed, they have together constituted the absolute despotic power of capital. At the international level, capital was conquering the whole of society and was itself becoming socialized, while the idea of giving the working-class movement the political role of management of the national social interest threatened it with historical suicide. The result was an interruption of the revolutionary process that, in its successive stages, dates from 1848, 1871, to 1917. From 1917 onward, the annals of the revolution carried the mark of defeat.

What intervened at this point to block the further progress of the revolution ? What prevented the process from reaching its goal ? The closer we look, the more passivity emerges as the most potent barrier-the controlling factor governing any future revolutionary possibilities. The truth is that the massive withdrawal by the working class, its refusal to consider itself an active participant in capitalist society, is already an opting out of the game, a flouting of the social interest. Hence, what appears as integration of the working class in the system, by no means represents a renunciation of the struggle against capital: It Indicates a refusal to develop and stabilize capital beyond certain given political limits, beyond a fixed defensive cordon, from which aggressive sallies can then be launched.

Given that the working class had to find a single adequate response at both levels, vis a vis both capitalist production and the official working-class movement, the solution which was adopted could scarcely have been otherwise. The situation demanded a specific form of self-organization, entirely within the class, based on a spontaneous passivity: an organization, in other words, without organization- which meant not subject to bourgeois institutionalization. The result was one of those organizational miracles that are possible only from the workers' viewpoint-like Lenin's "bourgeois state without a bourgeoisie" - an organization no longer seen as an intermediary form leading to the workers' state, but now seen as a preliminary form of the workers' party.

It is true that today we are faced with the awesome task of building the party on the basis of a political void in terms of practical experience and theoretical research. But this does not alter the fact that at the decisive level of direct class struggle the foundations have already been laid, marking out the terrain and the targets of struggle. Passive non-collaboration in the development of capitalism and active political opposition to the power of capital are precisely the starting point and direction of this organizational leap. The opening of the revolutionary process lies entirely beyond this point: On this side lie all the present problems of building up the organization for the revolution. We need the tactics of organization to actualize the strategy of refusal.

Throughout this process, from now on, the enemy must constantly be attacked with the only subversive weapon capable of reducing him to a strategically subordinate position : the threat of denying him the mediation of the working class in the capitalist relations of production. The working class must cease to express the requirements of capital, even in the form of its own demands: It must force the bosses to put forward demands, so that the workers can actively, that is on an organized basis, reply "No!" This today is the only possible means of overcoming working-class passivity-overcoming the spontaneous form which this passivity presently takes - while furthering its political content of negation and revolt. The first organized "No!" of the workers to the first "demands" of the capitalist class will reverberate as a declaration of total class war, a historic call to the decisive phase of the struggle, the modern version of the classic revolutionary slogan; Proletarians of All Lands, Unite !

None of this will be possible without the highest degree of violence - this we know from experience. All the social upheavals of the past left intact the form of productive activity. It has always, exclusively, been a question of the distribution of productive activity, redistributing it to new groups of people. Only the communist revolution, as Marx said (or, as we can today begin to say, the revolution, the only present-day minimum program of the working class), challenges for the first time the whole of productive activity that has hitherto existed. This challenge will suppress labor. And in so doing it will abolish class domination. Suppression of labor by the working class and the violent destruction of capital are one and the same.

What then of labor as "the prime necessity of human existence" (Marx) ? Perhaps it would be better to transfer it from the future prospect of communism to the present history of capitalism - to let the workers drop it and consign it to the bosses. Does this mean that confronted with Marx, the working-class viewpoint would arrive at the point of parricide ? This is a question which we cannot yet answer. The continuation of the research presented here will be decisive for the solution of this and all the other problems it raises. There are no solutions already given. Once again, everything remains to be done. To do it, we have to keep our eye on the most obscure aspect of the whole process: until, that is, we have reached the point at which we can distinguish what has happened within the working class since Marx.