2. Quaderni Rossi and the Workers' Enquiry

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 8, 2011

The first issue of Panzieri’s journal appeared in the second half of 1961, making a big splash within the Italian labour movement. Exhausting its initial print run within a matter of weeks, Quademi Rossi excited interest amongst politicians of the left, union officials, workplace activists and rank-and-file party members – even, if Alquati (1975: 26) is to be believed, amongst younger members of the nation’s managerial elite. From the beginning, however, it was to be plagued by a series of crises. First to defect were the group’s most prominent union”associates. A year or so later, they would be followed by the circle around Tronti. Then, in October 1964, just when some internal order seemed finally to have been restored, the journal suffered the unexpected blow of Panzieri’s death, from which it never fully recovered. While the editorial board of Quademi Rossi continued to exert an influence upon the fringes of the labour movement until its dissolution four years later, no one could claim any longer that it bore much resemblance to the journal founded at the beginning of the decade.

For some critics, it is enough to label all collaborators of the original journal as ‘workerists’ - after all, most were guilty, in the words of Lelio Basso, of ‘positing the centre of gravity of struggle within the factory’ (quoted in Magni 1970: 36). As the growing polarisation within the group soon made clear, however, the common commitment to a new political practice was much weaker than the very different interpretations of class behaviour that divided the journal’s editors. In reality, however, the workerist stream of Italian Marxism was to emerge fully blown only with Classe Operaia (Cacciari 1978: 45-7). Instead, it would be more apt to liken the first three issues of Quademi Rossi to incubators, within which many of the themes central to classical operaismo were to receive their initial nourishment.

While Panzieri’s new journal represented a novel experiment within the Italian left, its name evoked an earlier experience in the annals of left socialism, that of the French Cahiers Rouges associated in the late 1930s with Maurice Pivert. It was an apt reference: like Pivert before him, Panzieri had first hoped to win his country’s Socialist Party to what he saw as a proletarian, revolutionary perspective, only to encounter an immovable hierarchy mesmerised by the lure of parliamentary office Goubert 1977). It was also an ominous one, and the prospect that he might replicate Pivert’s fate – banishment into the political wilderness at the head of a splinter group – filled Panzieri with dread. In March 1960, even as he made his first plans for the new publication, Panzieri would confess in a private letter that ‘I see all paths blocked, the “return to the private” leaves me cold, the possible fate of the small sect terrifies me’ (Panzieri 1973: 271).

Isolated in Turin from the factional intrigue of the capital, Panzieri located his path back from despair in the local CGIL’s willingness to experiment with new approaches to political work. Following the shock of the 1955 defeat at FIAT, the national leadership of the union had been forced to admit that it was out of step with much of the workforce. ‘The reality’, confessed its secretary,

is that we have not adequately examined the changes to the various aspects of productive life and the technical organisation of the wages structure which have occurred in enterprises.(quoted in Mangano 1979: 13)

Union work, he concluded, had been too schematic, promoting political campaigns ‘with a capital P’ whilst ignoring the reality of changing work conditions. As a remedy, a number of practical changes were adopted, the most important of which was the acceptance of limited forms of collective bargaining so as to reflect differences in conditions from firm to firm. That was as far as the change went in much of the country. In the Turin CGIL, however, a war came to be waged against what the Socialist Vittorio Foa (quoted in ibid.: 16) termed the ‘fossils’. These were functionaries who failed to see that the declining weight within production of that ‘old type of worker upon which party and union had generally rested in the factory’ (Pugno, quoted in Magna 1978: 309) demanded a new approach to the fight against employers. Foa, Panzieri wrote to Tronti in December of 1960, was ‘very committed’ to the production of a new review that addressed the real problems facing the working class. This, he felt, was a sign that ‘at least here in Turin’, it was necessary to distinguish between party and union in their relations with the class: ‘Here the union – perhaps because of the terrible defeats suffered in past years – is relatively open to new themes ... ‘ (Panzieri 1973: 283). As the organisation most in contact with the daily experience of workers, the CGIL – and in particular its metal industry union, the FlOM (Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici • the Metalworkers’ Federation) – soon assumed in Panzieri’s mind a privileged role as the vehicle best suited to lead the renovation of the Italian labour movement.

A further antidote to despair came from the wave of industrial and political struggles which, having stopped for breath at the end of 1959, resumed the following year with greater intensity. With their national contract up for renewal, workers in the metal-mechanical sector had struck throughout the North in 1959, for the first time making widespread use of overtime bans. In some of the bigger firms a push from below for greater unity amongst workers, whatever their union affiliation, could also be discerned; at one plant in Turin for example, workplace delegates from all three major unions jointly organised the picketing (Bolzani 1978: 55). Far from quenching their combativity, the desultory results of the contractual struggle seemed only to fuel the anger of many workers, who chose to reopen the conflict in 1960 at the plant level. Starting in September, metalworkers held a series of national one-day stoppages – again augmented by overtime bans – which by December succeeded in opening a major split in capital’s ranks, in the form of a separate agreement with the state employers’ association. Common to this, in Turin and elsewhere, was a questioning of the struggle’s management: more and more workers believed that this responsibility lay directly with their own assemblies, rather than with union officials (Panzieri 1973: 245-7). The struggles of (predominantly female) workers in the textile industry, freshly emerged from a process of restructuring and ‘modernisation’ even more frantic than that of other sectors, were more aggressive still, disrupting the flow of production through lightning stoppages which alternated by hour or shift (’checkerboard strikes’). While neither textile nor metalworkers were to achieve satisfactory results from such exertions, their new-found resolution was unmistakable, and pointed to a fundamental change in the tone of Italy’s industrial relations (Bolzani 1978: 60-70).

The most overtly ‘political’ moment of this cycle came with the wave of demonstrations and street-fighting which gripped Italy in the summer of 1960, sparked by a government decision to allow the neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano to hold its congress in the traditional working-class citadel of Genoa. The immediate effect of these protests, which saw more than a dozen workers killed by police before Prime Minister Tambroni was eventually forced to reSign, was to open the door finally to a new centre-left coalition. Fought under the cross-class banner of anti-fascism, the July days have been dismissed by some as merely a ‘defence and affirmation’ of the values of that capitalist state erected after the Second World War (Del Carria 1979: 13). What is particularly interesting about the clashes, however, is the determinate role within them of the most recent generation of workers (Lerner 1980: 38). Almost none of these were old enough to recall the Resistance, let alone fascist rule – why then did they take to the streets with such ferocity? A Rinascita survey conducted amongst young Roman participants in the street-fighting provided an elementary clue: for many such young people, it discovered, fascism evoked the spectre of class domination in its purest form. ‘I have never known fascism,’ admitted one, ‘although my father speaks badly of it. We are like slaves, work is a burden and I don’t even make enough to live on. That is fascism to me – the boss’ (quoted in Garzia 1985: 14). Hailing the role of young workers in the clashes, Panzieri (1975: 122-3) was to make a similar connection: the roots of fascism, he argued in the paper of the Turin PSI, lay in the factory, the source of the padronato’s power over society, and there it must be defeated.

In this way, a nominally ‘anti-fascist’ discourse led back to the most important question thrown up by the current industrial disputes, that of the relation between class behaviour and the organisation of labour in modern production. New labour processes and new workers foreign to the traditions of the labour movement did not spell the end of working-class struggle. Rather, it was within the most technologically advanced firms that – with the glaring exception of FIAT – the industrial conflicts of 1959-60 had been at their most fierce. To make sense of these problems, and to develop a coherent political strategy adequate to the changing face of Italian capitalism: this was the unifying thread binding the disparate forces which Panzieri brought together in the first issue of Quademi Rossi. The cooperation of the local CGIL offered a door into the factory for the young intellectuals of the group to study working-class behaviour first-hand. Together, in what one wit was to dub ‘anarcho-sociologism’ (Alquati 1975: 72), they might yet develop ‘a class political line’ (Lolli 1962: 35) to defeat capital.


The Meaning of Capitalist Development

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 8, 2011

Despite the postwar cycle of accumulation, many within the Italian left continued to see the words ‘capitalism’ and ‘development’ as polar opposites. Their view, expressed in the impeccably orthodox terms of the contradiction between relations and forces of production, was of an Italy held back by the stagnant forces of local capital, yet vulnerable to the proclivities of a crisis-ridden international economy. If others in the PCI and PSI rejected such an interpretation, and conceded the reality of Italy’s ‘miracle’, they did so from a starting point which denied the inextricable connections between economic growth and the logic of capital, embracing technological development instead as an autonomous and innately progressive force. One of the most important marks of Quademi Rossi’s political realism, by contrast, was to be its rejection of this false dichotomy. ‘One could say’, Panzieri (1975: 170-1) told a meeting of editors in August 1961, ‘that the two terms capitalism and development are the same thing.’ Now, however, development meant neither a generic ‘progress’ nor ‘modernisation’, but merely the extended reproduction of both the capital relation and the class contradictions which followed in its train.

Only a year before, in the same article which had acclaimed the role of young workers in bringing down the Tambroni government, Panzieri had depicted the ‘clerical-fascism’ of that regime as symptomatic of ‘the capitalist refusal of any perspective of development, as oppression, blackmail, imbalances, unemployment, poverty’. The most important element behind this dramatic about-face was Panzieri’s encounter with the essay ‘La fabbrica e la societa’, Tronti’s first sustained contribution to Quademi Rossi’s attempted ‘Marxian purification of Marxism’ (Tronti 1971: 36). The central purpose of his piece was to delineate the enormous changes that the generalisation of relative surplus value in the form of social capital had wrought within capitalist society. The emblematic case was that of mid-nineteenth-century Britain, where individual capitals had found themselves forced, both by ‘the collective capitalist, with the violent intervention of the state’, and the struggle of the working class, to shorten the length of the working day. As Marx (1976: 340-416) had demonstrated in the first volume of Capital, the response of British industrial capital had been to intensify the extraction of surplus value through ‘decomposing and recomposing’ the ratio between living and dead labour. This revolution in production techniques had greatly encouraged the development and eventual predominance of large-scale machine-based industry (Tronti 1971: 48, 53). Apart from prompting parallels with Italy’s own postwar burst of industrial expansion, Marx’s account of the arrival of the ‘specifically’ capitalist mode of production raised important questions as to the relationship between class struggle, development and forms of exploitation. The lesson to be drawn from the British example, Tronti argued, was that

the pressure of labour-power is capable of forcing capital to modify its own internal composition, intervening within capital as essential component of capitalist development. (ibid.: 47)

Such a dialectic had continued after the introduction of a ‘normal’ working day. If working-class pressure forced ‘the incessant development of the productive forces’ upon capital, this process simultaneously entailed ‘the incessant development of the greatest productive force, the working class as revolutionary class’ (ibid.: 57). Here, too, capital faced the necessity of reorganising production, since ‘it is only within labour that [capital] can disintegrate the collective worker in order to then integrate the individual worker’. Even if successful, however, each attack upon labour ultimately displaced the class antagonism to a higher, more socialised level, so that ‘production relations become increasingly identified with the social relation of the factory, and the latter acquires an increasingly direct political content’ (ibid.: 54).

Tracing the dimensions of this process of capitalist socializsation was Tronti’s second aim in ‘La fabbrica e la societa’. Already in History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs (1971: 91, 90) had argued that ‘the fate of the worker becomes the fate of Society as a whole’, since the factory contains ‘in concentrated form the whole structure of capitalist society’. According to Tronti, however, the advent of large-scale industry had seen the factory not only stand over society, but absorb it completely:

When capital has conquered all the territories external to capitalist production proper, it begins its process of internal colonisation indeed, only when the circle of bourgeois society – production, distribution, exchange, consumption – finally closes can one begin to talk of capitalist development proper ... At the highest level of capitalist development, the social relation becomes a moment of the Relation of production, the whole of society becomes an articulation of production; in other words, the whole of society exists as a function of the factory and the factory extends its exclusive domination over the whole of society. It is on this basis that the machine of the political state tends ever-increasingly to become one with the figure of the collective capitalist, becoming increasingly the property of the capitalist mode of production and thus a function of the capitalist. The process of capitalist society’s unitary recomposition, a process imposed by the specific developments of its production, can no longer tolerate a political terrain that is even formally independent of the network of social relations. (Tronti 1971: 51-2, 56)

While the subsumption of all social relations to capital brought with it the generalisation of the wage relation, the advancing proletarianisation of new social layers assumed a mystified form. ‘When all of society is reduced to a factory, the factory – as such – seems to disappear’, and with it ‘labour-power itself as commodity’. This was only one of the topsy-turvy effects bound up with what Tronti called the social factory. No less important was the manner in which the state’s assumption of the role of collective capitalist took the semblance of ‘the possible autonomy of the political terrain from economic relations’ (ibid.: 52, 53). In Volume III of Capital, Marx (1981: 428) had explained such obfuscations as inherent to the capital relation, and indicated as one of the functions of science the reduction of ‘the visible, and merely apparent movement to the actual inner movement’. For Tronti (1971: 55), this stripping away of phenomenal forms could only be achieved by examining ‘the state from the point of view of society, society from the point of view of the factory, the factory from the point of view of the workers’. Here, as before, can be found an echo of that Lukacs (1971: 21) who in 1919 had written that ‘the Marxist method, the dialectical materialist knowledge of reality, can arise only from the point of view of a class, from the point of view of the struggle of the proletariat’. On the other hand, there was no celebration in ‘La fabbrica e la societa’ of the arrival of social reality’s ‘full consciousness’ along with proletarian self-awareness. In its ‘ferocious unilaterality’ Tronti’s class science was to be no less partial than that of capital; what it alone could offer, however, was the possibility of destroying the thraldom of labour once and for all (Tronti 1971: 53).

The path to capital’s demise was the final element developed in Tronti’s essay. ‘The machinery of the bourgeois state’, he stated in conclusion, ‘must today be smashed within the capitalist factory’ (Tronti 1971: 59). It was a pronouncement that rested firmly upon the line of argument built up by Panzieri after 1956, but the manner in which Tronti proposed its realisation was characteristically novel. In the essay’s most difficult passage, Tronti dwelt at length upon the political implications which arose from the twofold nature of labour under capitalism, which Marx himself had considered to be ‘the whole secret of the critical conception’ (Marx and Engels 1965: 199). It was mistaken, Tronti held, to picture the working class as a force which defeated capital from the outside, when in fact the commodity labour-power constituted ‘the truly active side of capital, the natural site of every capitalist dynamic’ (Tronti 1971: 56). To bring class rule to an end,

the working class must discover itself materially as part of capital, if it wants to counterpose all of capital to itself; it must recognise itself as a particular aspect of capital, if it wants to be the latter’s general antagonist. The collective worker counterposes itself not only to the machine as constant capital, but to labour-power itself, as variable capital. It must reach the point of having total capital - and thus also itself as part of capital - as its enemy. Labour must see labour-power, as commodity, as its own enemy ... [so as] ... to decompose capital’s intimate nature into the potentially antagonistic parts which organically compose it. (ibid.)

The most interesting aspect of this argument was that, without ever saying so explicitly, its solution for surpassing capitalist social relations pointed in a completely different direction to that traditional quest for workers’ self-management of production which then informed the politics of the other editors of Quademi Rossi. If, like all of Tronti’s discoveries, that of the struggle against labour was derived through a process of logical deduction, it none the less brought back into the open an alternative Marxist approach to the problems which the parcellised labour of large-scale industry posed for those forced to endure it. And whilst it never became an explicit pOint of contention with Panzieri, Tronti’s advocacy of antagonism between labour and labour-power was an early warning sign of the vast cultural chasm which would soon divide Quademi Rossi in two.

With the appearance of ‘La fabbrica e la societa’ in the second issue of Quaderni Rossi, Tronti rightly established himself as one of the most penetrating minds of Italy’s heterodox left. In emphasising that relations of production were first and foremost relations of power, he was able to recover the political spirit of Marx’s critique of political economy, while his identification of the political contradiction within the commodity form gestured towards a genuinely new anti-capitalist strategy. At the same time, ‘La fabbrica e la societa’ bore within it a number of ambiguities and misconceptions soon to be transmitted to workerism itself. The most striking of these concerned the essay’s central theme of the socialisation of labour under ‘specifically’ capitalist production, and the implications of this for the delineation of the modern working class. In unravelling this process, Tronti (1971: SO) had placed great store upon that ‘scientific conception of the factory’ presented in Lenin’s youthful study of The Development of Capitalism in Russia. There the factory had been understood not in an empirical sense as any establishment employing a large number of workers, but rather as one based specifically upon ‘the employment of a system of machines for production’ (Lenin 1977: 458-60). That Tronti would himself assign a strategic weight within the social factory to both large-scale industry and the workforce engaged within it was far from surprising; like the rest of Quaderni Rossi, he then agreed with Panzieri’s assessment that

the subversive strength of the working class, its revolutionary capacity, appears (potentially) strongest precisely at capitalism’s ‘development points’, where the crushing preponderance of constant capital over living labour, together with the rationality embodied in the former, immediately faces the working class with the question of its political enslavement. (Panzieri 1980: 61)

All the same, Tronti seemed unable to reconcile this unambiguous championing of the workers in large factories with the notion of the social factory. In his next essay, he described the former as ‘a social class of producers and not a group of miserable oppressed’ prone to the ‘unforeseen acts of disorderly protest’ typical of a proletariat (Tronti 1973: 120). How did this sit with his earlier argument that now ‘the entire social production becomes industrial production’ (Tronti 1971: 52)? While it seems reasonable to assume that such talk implies the broadening of the category productive labour beyond the direct labour process, nothing of the sort was to be forthcoming in Tronti’s work of the 1960s. With Panzieri, the ‘scientific conception of the factory’ was stretched to encompass ‘the development of industry at a determinate stage of the development of capitalism’ (Panzieri 1975: 256, my emphasis; Mancini 1977: 81-2). In Tronti’s hands, by contrast, the notion of working class continued to refer exclusively to the employees – and only those engaged in manual labour at that – of Italy’s largest firms. Thus if in one sense such reductionism served to focus attention upon the factory in a manner rarely seen within the Italian left since Gramsci’s notes on ‘Americanism and Fordism’ (Sechi 1974: 14, 37), it also drained of meaning the workerist image of an ever-broadening proletariat within the ‘social factory’. Having argued that the factory, rather than simply ‘a construction that houses men [sic] and machines’, was ‘precisely the highest degree of capitalist production’ (Potere Operaio 1973b: 5), the majority of workerists would, for the rest of the decade, catch little more than a glimpse of the world outside the immediate process of production.


Capitalist Technology and Capitalist Planning

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 10, 2011

According to Negri, whose Veneto-based circle of young PSI dissidents entered Panzieri’s network in time for Quaderni Rossi’s second issue, the project of reading Marx’s Capital within the group ‘was essentially, at the beginning, reading Volume I, and above all the chapters on machinery and large-scale industry’ (Negri 1979a: SO). Panzieri’s most important contribution to the early numbers of the journal would be devoted to the first of these questions. Succinctly reconstructing Marx’s view of capitalist production as a system whose most adequate expression was found in machine-based industry, he challenged the view – then dominant amongst Italian Marxists – that technological progress somehow stood apart from class relations. ‘The capitalist use of machinery is not’, he argued, ‘a mere distortion of, or deviation from, some “objective” development that is in itself rational.’ On the contrary, machinery was determined by capital, which utilised it to further the subordination of living labour; indeed, in the mind of the capitalists, their command and the domination of dead labour in the form of machinery and science were one and the same (Panzieri 1980: 47, 48). It was this failure to recognise the intertwining of technology and class domination, he believed, which had undermined the CGIL’s self-critique of the mid-1950s. ‘The attention that has been correctly paid to the modifications accompanying the present technological and economic phases’, Panzieri noted, was

distorted into a representation of those modifications in a ‘pure’, idealised form, stripped of all concrete connections with the general and determining (power) elements of capitalist organisation ... New characteristic features assumed by capitalist organisation are thus mistaken for stages of development of an ‘objective’ rationality. (Panzieri 1980: 49-50, 51)

It was for Silvio Leonardi, who had played a central role in the CGIL’s rethinking, that Panzieri reserved his sharpest barbs. Time and motion studies, ‘human relations’, even the restructuring and parcellisation of the labour process: all possessed for Leonardi an intrinsic rationality and necessity which their current use by capital could never obliterate. From this viewpoint, Panzieri observed,

It is not even suspected that capitalism might use the new ‘technical bases’ offered by the passage from the preceding stages to that of high mechanisation (and to automation) in order to perpetuate and consolidate the authoritarian structure of factory organisation ... the entire process of industrialisation is represented as being dominated by the ‘technological’ which leads to the liberation of man [sic] from the ‘limitations imposed on him by the environment and by his physical capabilities’. (Panzieri 1980: 52)

Leonardi was unable, in sum, to see that an undifferentiated and ‘objective’ notion of rationality could never be used to judge capitalist production, because ‘it is precisely capitalist “despotism” which takes the form of technological rationality’ (ibid.: 54). Ricardo had accepted the reigning production relations as eternal, and declared that the ‘proper’ study of political economy should be restricted to the sphere of distribution. Like him, Leonardi and other latter-day ‘objectivists’ granted capital a free hand in organising the workplace, focusing their attention instead upon ‘the external sphere of wages and consumption’ (ibid.: 61). Yet without ‘the achievement of a dominance of social forces over the sphere of production’, Panzieri argued, demands for improved working-class consumption and greater free time were meaningless, for it was above all as producers that humans suffered alienation at the hands of capitalism (ibid.: 64). Nor, he added, was the simple monetary growth of wages a useful measure of working-class emancipation and power, since so long as productivity proceeded to grow alongside them, the workers’ expanding wage packets would represent no more than ‘golden’ chains (ibid.: 60).

Leonardi, Panzieri continued, had overlooked one of the most important political aspects of modern, continuous flow production. This was that while in one sense it offered capital ‘new possibilities for the consolidation of its power’, it also strengthened the hand of the ‘collective worker’ (that is, ‘the various “levels” of workers created by the present organisation of the large factory’). In particular, the greater rigidity which modern production methods entailed gave the threat of working-class uncooperativeness ‘enormous disruptive potential’ (Panzieri 1980: 49, 51, 53). In fact, he went on,

the specific element of the process of ‘unitary recomposition’ cannot be grasped if the connection between the ‘technological’ and politico-organisational (power) elements in the capitalist productive process is either missed or else denied. The class level expresses itself not as progress, but as rupture; not as ‘revelation’ of the occult rationality inherent in the modern productive process, but as the construction of a radically new rationality counterposed to the rationality practised by capitalism. (ibid.: 54)

Writing much later, the former workerist Massimo Cacciari (1975: 190-1) would fault Panzieri’s essay on a number of counts. One of the most damning, in his opinion, was its ‘ingenuous’ vision of machinery’s perfect functionality to the organisation of labour, a notion which had led its author to confuse the ‘pure Taylorist’ ideal of domination with the much more difficult task of realising it. Another weakness of Panzieri’s analysis lay in its talk of the capitalist ‘use’ of machinery – a thoroughly inadequate way of denoting the material indivisibility of labour process and valorisation process. Similarly, the essay’s argument that ‘[t]he relationship of revolutionary action to technological”rationality” is to “comprehend” it, but not in order to acknowledge and exalt it, rather in order to subject it to a new use: the socialist use of machines’ (Panzieri 1980: 57) was markedly tamer than its call elsewhere for a ‘radically new rationality’ to supplant that of capital. Nor, finally, did Panzieri spell out how the tendency towards the rupture of the capital relation could be squared with his endorsement of socialism as workers’ self-management of production, a notion which has too often been oblivious to the class nature of technological rationality. But to dwell upon these weaknesses can run the risk of forgetting the truly pioneering nature of Panzieri’s essay. As Sandro Mancini (1977: 77) has emphasised, the piece ‘undoubtedly represents the first demystifying analysis of technological rationality’ produced by an Italian Marxist; with it, an understanding of the class relations immanent to existing forms of large-scale industry had taken an important step forward.

Following Capital, Panzieri had argued that with the growth of a capital’s organic composition, the detailed regulation of production became evermore a necessity. ‘Hence’, he had concluded,

the development of capitalist planning is something closely related to that of the capitalist use of machines. To the development of cooperation, of the social labour process, there corresponds – under capitalist management – the development of the plan as despotism. (Panzieri 1980: 48)

In Panzieri’s last major essay, entitled ‘Surplus value and planning’, the social implications of this line of argument were to be spelt out fully. Panzieri’s starting point was a critical discussion of Lenin’s views on the matter. Like the majority of socialists formed in the Second International, the Bolshevik leader had been of the opinion that economic planning in a capitalist society would violate the most fundamental laws of the latter, beginning with that private appropriation of wealth which constituted its very reason for existence. Limited state planning of a sort could exist – Germany during the First World War was a case in point – as could the ‘planning’ implied by oligopolistic practices, but with both of these activities came elements of instability which signalled the decadence of the monopoly form of capitalism (Lenin 1978a). In rejecting the idea that planning was inimical to the laws of capital, Panzieri was well aware that its proponents could turn for support to no less an authority than the first volume of Capital itself (Marx 1976: 470-80). All this proved, argued Panzieri (1976: 18-21,22), was that Marx had not always been able to separate features peculiar to the phase of capitalism prevalent in his own lifetime from the general tendency of capital’s development. In the modern world of the social factory, such a relationship no longer existed: there, on the contrary, planning had become ‘the fundamental expression of the law of surplus value’, stretching out from the workplace to assert its command over society as a whole.

With Marx (1976: 450), at least, the recognition of planning within the labour process as a necessary form of capital’s ‘despotism’ could still serve as the basis upon which to construct an appreciation of contemporary planned capitalism. But this perception had been lost on Lenin, who,

[s]ince he [did] not see that capitalist planning with its concomitant socialization of labour is a fundamental form of direct production, [could] only understand capitalist technology and capitalist planning as totally external to the social relationship that dominates and moulds them. (Panzieri 1976: 6)

Believing planning to be intrinsically anti-capitalist, and forced moreover to act in a Russia isolated by the failed revolutions of Central Europe, Lenin had been unable to entertain ‘the possibility that capitalist social relations may be present in socialist planning’ which treated science and technique as socially neutral forces (ibid.: 21). As a consequence, ‘the repetition of capitalist forms in the relations of production both at the factory level and at the level of overall social production’ had proceeded apace in the USSR, with the doctrine of socialism in one country as an ‘ideological screen’. Stripped, in this manner, of its critical faculties, Marxism in the Soviet Union had ultimately been reduced to a mere ‘apologetic form of thought’ (ibid.: 22).\

As a critique of state economic planning, ‘Surplus value and planning’ held immediate relevance for the Italian historic left’s political aspirations. The call for planning had been central to left ideology following the Resistance, being particularly dear to Morandi’s heart. Panzieri’s exploration of the power relationships immanent to the capitalist labour process had permitted him to shake off his earlier glib equation between socialist politics and planning. None the less, a commitment to some form of state direction of economic development continued to inform the outlook of the various factions of the PSI leadership after the turn of 1956, and now promised to be their specific contribution to any centre-left government (Spini 1982). Yet, in predicting the functionality of such a policy for the state’s new role as representative of social capital, Panzieri (1976: 11-12) came to see its implementation as almost a naturalistic process stemming from the logic of capital itself. In his view, the class enemy was quite capable of solving all its internal contradictions, as ‘the sole limit to the development of capital is not capital itself, but the resistance of the working class’.

Having correctly chided those who saw capitalist development in Italy as doomed to stagnation, Panzieri thus mistook a tendency within capital for its concrete manifestation, falling into the opposite error of overvaluing the prospects for smooth growth under a planned capitalism (Mancini 1977: 95). Further, by posing the only threat to capital as something allegedly external to it, Panzieri let fall the insights offered by Tronti’s reading of capital as a class relation based on the forced unity of non-identical, and potentially antagonistic, elements. ‘Surplus value and planning’ was to display other weaknesses as well. These ranged from its confusion of the logical development of Capital with the actual historical course taken by the social relation, to its failure to elaborate upon the bonds linking the various forms assumed by capital’s instrumental rationality in factory, society and state (Cacciari 1975: 194; Marramao 1975). None the less, like his essay on machinery, Panzieri’s work on planning clarified Quademi Rossi’s conviction as to the profoundly political nature of apparently neutral, thing-like processes, even as it laid bare the pretences of his former comrades in the PSI (Meriggi 1978a: 115).


A New Working Class

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 10, 2011

The existence of a new working class with needs and behaviours no longer commensurate with either those of the labour movement or capital was a theme that ran through nearly all of the major essays published in Quademi Rossi. The most sustained discussion of the problem, however, was that carried out by Romano Alquati and his associates in their studies of two of Italy’s major firms, FIAT and Olivetti. The ‘Report on the New Forces’, which Alquati was to present to a conference of the PSI’s Turin federation in early 1961, drew primarily upon interviews with FIAT workers hired since the late 1950s, along with some of the firm’s longtime CGIL activists. As an example of a ‘workers’ enquiry’, the report was somewhat impressionistic and rudimentary. Even so, it registered problems undetected by the leadership of the traditional left. The latter, as Alquati had already noted in 1959, was now so often out of touch with working-class reality that ‘sometimes it is enough to describe it ... at the level of common sense and in everyday language to produce a work of political and cultural interest’ (quoted in Merli 1977: 48).

Like Olivetti, the FIAT of the early 1960s could hardly be considered a typical Italian company. On the other hand, the modern nature of its production process and value system, along with its size, marked it out both as a major pole of capitalist power and an industrial pace setter for the future. Additionally, as a former stronghold of class militancy now seemingly impervious to leftist influence, it stood as a symbol of the labour movement’s current disarray. In fact, Alquati argued, the ground had begun to be dug up from beneath the CGIL’s feet from as early as 1949. In that year the exploitation of the workforce had been intensified with the parcellisation of labour, followed after 1953 by the introduction of radically new forms of machinery which required little or no training to operate. By these means, management had been able to change the composition of its employees radically, first des killing or marginalising its old core of professional workers, then introducing a mass of inexperienced youths to staff the expanded production lines (Lichtner 1975: 194-212). Indeed, such were the firm’s new margins of manoeuvrability that, for a time at least, it was able to offer wage rates and social services for ‘semi-skilled’ labour which were amongst the best in the North. In these years, FIAT met with a certain success in projecting a new identity of high wages, valuable skills and dynamic career structures to overshadow its traditional reputation as a ruthless employer. If for some it embodied all that was benign about the Italian ‘miracle’, for many on the left, by contrast, FIAT evoked images of poor working conditions, company unionism, and a docile workforce besotted with consumerism. Both, however, could agree upon one thing, namely the success of FIAT management in constructing a cordon sanitaire around the firm, sealing it off from disturbances in the rest of the manufacturing sector (Partridge 1980: 429-30).

By contrast, the central thesis of the circle with whom Alquati worked was simple, if daring: in their opinion a whole series of objective and subjective processes were unfolding at FIAT such as to lay the basis for a resurgence of class struggle within the firm. The first task of ‘co-research’ was to strip bare the public myths attached to FIAT, and this the group accomplished with consummate skill. The much-vaunted ‘FIAT wage’ was shown to now lag behind that of many other Italian firms. It was also revealed that, far from acquiring new skills, most of the workers taken on since 1958 had remained in the bottom category of the gradings ladder, many of them working as ‘common’ labour on the assembly line. Finally, it was established that the prospects of a ‘career’ promised to a new generation of firm-trained technical workers simply did not exist (Alquati 1975: 31, 35-8). This, Alquati argued, was proof that the system of gradings which separated the great unwashed of the common labourers from the skilled workers and technicians did not have any basis at all in the ‘objective’ technical division of labour; instead, its function was fundamentally political, operating to make employees

accept the existence of hierarchies within and without the factory as a natural fact, in order to combat the ever-clearer need of self-management which technological progress itself engenders in the executants. (ibid.: 42)

Unfortunately for FIAT management, the effectiveness of this attempt at mystification was increasingly desultory, inspiring a disappointment with conditions that frequently bred only cynicism as to the firm’s structure and mode of operation. ‘Absurd’ is the adjective which most frequently recurred, Alquati (1975: 33, 36) noted, when newer workers described the nature of work at FIAT, and while such disillusionment might take three or four years to set in, once attained it was irrevocable. Many technicians sought to make up for their frustration at work through the purchase of such consumer goods as their higher wages permitted, but even this did little to appease them; its most common result, he argued, was only to add to the sense of ridiculousness surrounding their lives. Nor did such alienation automatically degenerate into nihilistic behaviour, as more orthodox Marxists might suppose. Indeed, the discovery of a political link between exploitation in the factory and the determination of social life beyond its walls by mass production - emblematic in a factory-City like Turin -led many of the ‘new forces’ most fixated with the acquisition of consumer goods to participate in nascent forms of collective resistance to management (ibid.: 39-40).

The roots of the workforce’s potential antagonism lay, therefore, in ‘that very production which is the keystone of the system’. Particularly decisive had been the part played by the massive socialisation and deskilling of labour, which had served to empty work of its intrinsic content as concrete labour, rendering things ‘the same for all’. But the progression from here to a political class consciousness was not for Alquati automatic. While most workers eventually dismissed the organisation of labour at FIAT as a ‘bluff’, only a minority had taken the further step of seeing collective organisation against capital as the logical answer (Alquati 1975: 40, 41-2). Nor did the latter perspective usually translate itself into sympathy for the CGIL or left parties, considered to be tired and ineffectual in their factory activity. Instead, for the most militant of the ‘new forces’,

the traditional organisational form of the union flows necessarily into the attitude and mentality of the old workers of the factory; between this process and integration they feel a reciprocal correspondence (ibid.: 43-4).

Such attitudes led in turn to an ‘inevitable vicious circle’, with many young workers rejecting the union’s demands as abstract, formulated by bureaucrats ‘in Rome’ themselves subservient to politicians. Meanwhile, those unionists who were genuinely interested in communicating with the new levy of employees felt increasingly daunted by the enormous gulf in age and values that separated them (ibid.: 44-7).

In this manner, and despite the absence of the term itself, Alquati’s Report began that discourse on class composition - understood as the various forms of behaviour which arise when particular forms of labour-power are inserted in specific processes of production – which would soon come to be synonymous with workerism itself. While such a stress upon the relationship between material conditions and subjectivity, being and consciousness, had been a commonplace with Marx, too often his followers had approached the reality of working-class existence with rigid preconceptions deemed immutable through time and space. What was important about the Report, by contrast, was its refusal of that measuring stick of a ‘completely mythologised class’ which had inevitably led many left intellectuals to berate the real thing for its spontaneism and lack of socialist ideology (Alquati 1975: 64-5). This was not to say that Alquati rejected outright Lenin’s discourse on organisation, simply that his was a peculiarly ‘libertarian’ brand of leninism derived from Montaldi and some of the latter’s international contacts. In particular, the argument in What Is To Be Done? That spontaneity is only consciousness ‘in an embryonic form’ (Lenin 1978b: 31) was read not as a dismissal of spontaneous actions, but as the recognition that the latter already possessed an innate political significance. Used in this manner, the term spontaneity drew attention to the already existing forms of ‘invisible’ organisation produced by workers iiI the absence of a formal class organisation under their control. Similarly, Alquati reasoned, if Lenin was right to insist that class consciousness be brought to workers from the outside, it was wrong to think that this could occur beyond the sphere of production itself. Finally, unlike the Bolshevik leader, who had been quite content to see the factory provide the necessary discipline for working-class struggle against capital, Alquati did not conceive of proletarian organisation as the mere reflection of the capitalist division of labour. Rather, it was a response to the latter’s very irrationalism, one that prevented capital from moulding workers completely to its liking:

[T]he fundamental contradictions seem to me to be precisely those internal to technical-productive ‘rationalisation’, which creates mere executants and then in order to proceed must give them responsibility, which systematically separates and counterposes levels and then has to join them all together in a rigid system that annuls individuals and groups, posing shops etc. as minimum technological units ... which promotes a professional career and annuls professions .... (Alquati 1975: 68-9)

What this demanded, according to Alquati, was the exploration of the political nature of workers’ daily problems on the shopfloor. In conversation, FIAT workers tended to move from criticising their individual job role to questioning the rationality of the firm’s division of labour as a whole. Their critique – despite its often confused and naïve form – revealed a preoccupation with ‘the problem of workers’ management, even if these young workers have never heard the expression’:

The new workers do not talk abstractly of social revolution, but neither are they disposed towards neo-reformist adventures which leave untouched the fundamental questions of class exploitation as they verify them in the workplace.(Alquati 1975: 51)

If the collective possibilities which their individual belligerence to modern capitalist production offered could be conveyed to the ‘new forces’, then some hope for a consciously socialist development of that ‘alternative line’ already implicit in their actions was not misplaced (ibid.: 33, 48).

In this manner Alquati began to touch upon what, towards the end of the piece which served to introduce the Report to Quaderni Rossi’s readers, he would call ‘the fundamental theme of MarxismLeninism, of the transformation of objective forces into subjective forces’: in other words, that of political organisation. He did not question the need for a separate party-institution; rather, the existing parties were condemned for failing to remain ‘organic’ to the class and the world of the factory that underpinned all social power. ‘An organisation that responds to the actual reality of class exploitation’: this was the goal to which Alquati aspired (1975: 71, 74, 72). It would also remain the least developed theme in his early work. Indeed, whilst always implicit, the notion of organisation as a function of class composition would lead a difficult existence within workerism so long as Lenin remained the principal reference point of its political discourse.

At the same time, Alquati’s early work on FIAT was strongly imbued with that self-management ideology held in common by both Panzieri and the ultra-left which had so influenced Montaldi. In the Report, for example, Alquati counterposed a ‘parasitic’ management to workers ‘united as producers’. Here his reading of class struggle followed Socialisme ou Barbarie in seeing the fundamental social division of labour as that between ‘a stratum directing both work and social life, and a majority who merely execute’ (Cardan 1969: Wi Alquati 1975: 71, 64). And if Alquati lacked Lenin’s own heavy-handed determinism, he still at times presented the workers’ thirst for self-management in plainly objectivist terms, speaking in his introduction to the Report of ‘a structurally motivated demand to wield political and economic power in the firm and throughout society’ (Alquati 1975: 69). In addition, this stress upon self-management and the polarity between ‘order-givers’ and ‘order-takers’ as the essential divide between the contending classes was to lead Alquati to some strange distortions when examining the relation between workers and technology. Like other Quaderni Rossi editors, he refused to accept that the process of rationalisation possessed any objective, class-neutral basis, seeing its ‘classical’ aim instead as being

the increase of capital’s domination over labour through the increasingly forced technical decomposition of tasks in order to crush politically workers’ class consciousness and so exclude them from the firm’s policy decisions. (ibid.: 74)

Yet, in discussing this process, Alquati had nothing to say about the role played within it by machinery. Indeed, despite his use of Tronti’s notion of ‘the complex dialectic of “decomposition” and “recomposition’” in the later introduction, the Report itself assigned no great importance to the explanatory value which Marx’s category of the organic composition of capital might possess for an assessment of class behaviour (ibid.: 68). As a consequence, his understanding of the deskilling engendered by mass production was at best equivocal. After having insisted on the political nature of the division of tasks and pay scales, he was led to consider deskilling to be ‘as forced as it is false’. Even as old forms of professionality were destroyed, the incompetence of FIAT’s managers, along with the ‘increasingly parasitic’ nature of its technical staff, returned more and more ‘executive and technical’ responsibility to the workers themselves. Later, in recalling the circumstances under which the piece had been written, Alquati would speak disparagingly of those who dwelt upon ‘the presumed objective contradictions in the relation between man [sic] and machine’, stressing instead the social aspect of the class antagonism within capitalist production (ibid.: 29, 74). Yet, while such an objection is an appropriate response to those who see technology as the fundamental problem of modern production, it also completely misses one of the major themes in Panzieri’s reflections: namely that in determinate circumstances, class relations can themselves take the form of machinery. Without this element, Alquati’s discussion in the Report of the ‘collective worker’ would still lack an understanding of the peculiarities of that operaio massa soon to be dear to workerism’s heart.

In fairness, it must be pointed out that although both essays appeared in the first issue of Quademi Rossi, ‘The Capitalist Use of Machinery’ had been written some time after the piece on FIAT. Moreover, in its wake Alquati’s reflections upon Olivetti would advance quite a different position on the question. But there is another important point shrouded in ambiguity in the Report – its handling of the union question. On the one hand, Alquati was emphatic that the ‘new forces’ would have nothing to do with a body considered a spent force. Indeed, at times his own analysis hinted at a similar dismissiveness which drew unflattering comparisons between the top-down nature of the labour movement and that of the modern labour process. In the end, however, he was to shy back from such extremist conclusions, locating the main problem not in the union’s function or organisational structure as such, but in the distortions introduced into these by the interests of the PCI and PSI leadership (Alquati 1975: 57-8). Unlike that regarding machinery, therefore, this ambiguity seems a fully conscious one, reflecting acutely the precariousness of Quademi Rossi’s relations with the CGIL. According to Negri (1979a: 50), many in the group had already come to accept the characterisation of unions – advanced by Socialisme ou Barbarie, Correspondence and much of the traditional ultra-left – as ‘completely bureaucratised’ institutions functional only to capital. That the advocates of such a view had been swiftly dealt with in the past was a fact of which Alquati and others like him were only too aware. To avoid a similar fate, therefore, they found themselves forced to be, in the words of a Fortini essay, ‘As Cunning as Doves’ (Negri 1983: 101; Fortini 1965). Given this, perhaps one can see, along with an air of duplicity, even an element of momentary self-delusion in some of Alquati’s more extravagant claims for the local FlOM. Amongst these was his question as to whether, given its new sensibilities towards young workers, it could still be considered a union at all. In any case, the Report was to achieve its aim, helping for a brief time to cement a close collaboration between leading Turin FlOM cadres and local Quademi Rossi editors. For Alquati, in fact, this experience would be remembered as ‘perhaps the only’ example of the sort of practice Panzieri had originally envisaged with the journal’s foundation (Alquati 1975: 46, 54).

Thus, while they served to deepen the group’s understanding of recent changes within the Italian working class, Alquati’s pieces on FIAT in the first issue of Quademi Rossi were in many ways the product of a quite traditional, if dissident, political outlook. By contrast, his work dealing with Olivetti workers – the most complex and sustained of the journal’s analyses of class composition – was to be enriched by Panzieri and Tronti’s reflections upon the labour process. Written before the metalworkers’ struggles of 1962 made plain the deep divisions amongst the journal’s editors, it is important as a major transitional piece. Within it, a number of themes central to operaismo can be seen to emerge alongside, and in certain instances against, those conceptions which had informed Alquati’s earlier work.

Olivetti, whose headquarters were situated some forty miles northeast from Turin in the town of Ivrea, was a company which at that time most fully embodied all the myths as to the coincidence between the interests of labour and capital. Owned by a family connected with liberal-socialist circles during the fascist period, the firm was noted for the presence both of its company union within the workplace, and of its owner Adriano Olivetti in the parliamentary arena (Negarville 1959). A maverick in a country where employers were traditionally happy to delegate such responsibilities to professional politicians, Olivetti was also one of the first of Italy’s industrialists to sense the possibilities which industrial sociology could offer in securing domination over the labour process. He was also shrewd enough to recruit within progressive circles for the intellectuals ready ‘to study’ the Ivrea plant and its environs. Perhaps the best known of these would be the sociologist Franco Ferrarotti, whose effusive public enthusiasms for his employer’s ideas prompted one Communist intellectual to declare that ‘Olivetti is Allah and Ferrarotti his prophet’ (Onofri, quoted in Ajello 1979: 325).

Alquati was fortunate in his work at Olivetti to receive the aid of ten or so workplace militants active in the local branch of the PSI. The initial response within the broader workforce, however, was more cautious: after the contributions made by previous left sociologists to the intensification of labour, few were prepared ‘to lift a finger’ to help research work which did nothing to benefit them. Alquati (1975: 83, 91) too was cautious: despite the industrial unrest of 1960-61, he was of the opinion that ‘the reality of the proletariat today is one of political atomisation’. This fragmentation most commonly led to passivity; where resistance did occur, its isolation was such as to render it ‘functional to the system’. Modern capitalism had shown itself to be a social formation which ‘rationalises all aspects of social life, which plans exploitation on a world scale’. To defeat it, revolutionaries would have to break the ‘blind empiricism’ of localised conflicts, and discover a more global point of view from which to launch their attack.

In the past, Alquati argued, the relative quiescence of Olivetti had owed as much to Ivrea’s isolation from Turin and its traditions of industrial militancy as to the paternalism of its owner. By 1961, however Adriano Olivetti was dead and his philosophy of class collaboration all but discredited; in its place, the firm’s new management intended to utilise the command of fixed capital itself to guarantee its dominance over living labour. It was the struggle against this new organisation of labour – mass production regulated by the assembly line – which could, in Alquati’s opinion, provide just the foil needed to overcome the present fragmentation of class organisation within the firm (Alquati 1975: 95,117,135,141).

The most distinctive element of Alquati’s Olivetti essay when compared with the earlier FIAT pieces, therefore, was the new emphasis that it placed upon the relation between workers and machines. Prompted in equal measure by Panzieri’s reading of Capital and the more advanced form which mass production assumed at Olivetti, Alquati now judged the introduction of new machinery as a gauge of ‘the general level and the quality of the relations of force between the classes in that moment’. With the growing application of Henry Ford’s productive innovations to Northern industry during the 1950s, he noted, Frederick Winslow Taylor’s goal of ‘scientifically’ disintegrating the proletariat as a political force had won an inportant victory: ‘henceforth capital’s command could develop through machines themselves’ (Alquati 1975: 94-6, lOS, 119). In this manner machinery became an integral part of socialised capital’s edifice of domination, realised

above all through its technology, its ‘science’, the diffusion of its structures of exploitation in social life, through constant capital which embraces all, from priests and police (both inside and outside the factory) to the Stalinists. (ibid.: 103)

This process, Alquati observed, had wrought fundamental modifications upon the traditional structure of command within the workplace. Although foremen at Olivetti remained responsible for the fundamental decisions affecting an individual worker’s ‘career’ within the firm, their role – unlike that of their counterparts at FIAT – had become the supplementary one of minimising both the irrationalities of the line and the’ anomie’ of their workers. In addition, the growing socialisation and concentration of capital had destroyed the autonomy once possessed by the smaller firms of the sector. Along with their independence there died a whole tradition of Communist politics. Reduced to managing moments within Olivetti’s overall cycle, the owners of the boite committed to providing components, maintenance or a retail outlet could no longer be seen as potential allies of the proletariat, but simply functionaries of capital (ibid.: 99-103, 156-7).

The possibility that management itself might forestall the full development of the fragmentation which came with assembly line production was also contemplated by Alquati. After Adriano Olivetti’s experiments of the 1950s, his successors had shown themselves reticent to reduce workers immediately to simple appendages of constant capital, preferring to grant space for a token involvement in decision-making from the shopfloor. Such limited participation provided yet another buffer for the firm, one which reconstructed the atomised workforce in capital’s image in a manner more advanced than one based upon naked despotism. In their own small way, these schemes provided the cornerstone for the insertion of the labour movement as a whole – or at least of the unions and PSI – into capital at the national level, a development for which the more farsighted entrepreneurs now clamoured (Alquati 1975: 139).

The key to the successful integration of labour-power into the web of participation, Alquati argued, lay in management’s ability to restore to work that meaning which the new organisation of labour had itself destroyed. Such an observation made clear the decisive shift that had taken place in Alquati’s conception of the bonds linking workers to production. The message woven into the first writings on FIAT – that the proletariat was a class whose rightful place in command of the labour process had been usurped by a parasitic bourgeoisie – was now abandoned. Alquati still advocated the ‘social regulation of the relations of production by the collective worker’ as a ‘necessary condition of socialism’. Now, however, his workers were producers only of surplus value for capital, and the self-management to which the most advanced of them aspired was that of the struggle against its domination (Alquati 1975: 140, 141). Since the simple dichotomy between order-givers and order-takers was no longer adequate to express the contradictions of the capital relation, the earlier discourse on workers as ‘executors’ also came to an end:

Today the worker appears as executor only in the role of ‘fulfilling’ the plan, a role delineated in an abstract, global, generic, but political way. Therefore if workers today are ‘executors’, the sense of this word refers only to their political reification.(ibid.: 143)

Finally, while he continued to dwell at length upon the obstacles which the capitalist organisation of labour posed before the realisation of its own goals, Alquati no longer saw workers’ opposition to such peccadilloes as the expression of a deeper process of rationality.

To talk of capitalist development in terms of socially neutral productive forces which decadent relations of production had come to restrain was no longer adequate, and was replaced by an image of the open-ended opposition of class against class (ibid.: 142-3).

None the less, Alquati’s emphasis upon the assembly line did not lead to any privileging of unskilled workers within the ‘collective worker’ such as could be found in some other contributions to Quademi Rossi (Paci 1962: 165-6). As in his, FIAT study, that of Olivetti assigned a key role to young technicians in the struggle to organise factory workers as a force against management. In Ivrea, he argued, the technicians’ greater mobility within the firm granted them a global vision of sorts, making them the first to attain a class consciousness ‘in new terms’. By dint of this mobility, they were also able to assume a vanguard role, communicating forms of organisation and struggle throughout the workplace (Alquati 1975: 142).

Beyond the specific situation of technicians, Alquati was also to uncover the exploitation by employees of the organisation’s global structure as a means to pass on experiences of resistance and struggle (Alquati 1975: 143). Here was spontaneity in the true meaning of the term: workers’ informal and often non-verbalised transmission of behaviours antagonistic to the logic of valorisation by means of the ‘cooperative’ structure they were forced to endure. It was, Negri explained years later, a discourse cloaked by Alquati in ‘very abstract’ terms, but one which his own group in the Veneto immediately recognised in the behaviour of workers at the petrochemical works of Porto Marghera:

We began to follow a whole series of dynamics of sabotage: in fact no one had set out to commit sabotage, yet there existed a continuity of imperfect operations such that by the end the product was completely useless ... What is spontaneity? In reality it is my inability to establish an organisational, Le. Voluntary, precise, determinate relationship with another worker. In these conditions spontaneity acts through the very communication which the labour process as such, as a machine foreign to me, determines. (Negri 1979a: 64-5)

Alquati did not, however, believe that such behaviour would in itself lead to the recomposition of employees as a force against capital. Left to their own devices, individual forms of disruption were no match for management’s own attempts at informal organisation, the most interesting at Olivetti being what workers there had come to call ‘ruffianism’. This, Alquati (1975: 135-6, 153-4, 163) discovered, denoted the practice of those employees whose high output set the piecework norms for others. Ruffianism entailed contempt ‘towards oneself, towards workmates [compagni], towards foremen, towards bureaucrats, towards the unions, towards the Commissione Interna, towards the parties’. It was the dialectical unification of ‘the historical opposition of political atomisation and the socialisation of labour’, and as such constituted ‘the current guise of the "disposability” of the working class to the role of variable capital’. The existence of this behaviour demanded, not moral condemnation, but that the existing forms of refusal take a conscious and organised form. Now openly sceptical that the unions could contribute in any positive way to this process, Alquati portrayed the most important function of their continual divisiveness as the unwitting promotion amongst workers of ‘the necessity of surpassing them with a political organisation’. . .

Alquati’s investigation of Olivetti also underscored the identical form of the class relations in which the labour-power of both East and West had come to be ensnared. It was the modern USSR, he argued, which inspired private capitalism at all but the macroeconomic level, as it was young technicians in Poland and Hungary - ‘authentic wage labourers’ - who had shown that the’ spectre of proletarian revolution’ was universal (Alquati 1975: 87, 104). From such sensibilities, common within the American and French ultra-left analyses that had touched Quademi Rossi, Alquati would now draw out a sense of internationalism new to the Italian left (ibid.: 331). This was one based, in Bologna’s words (1981: 11), not upon ‘organisational vectors and ideological affinities’, but rather upon the ‘international homogeneity of the behaviours in struggle of productive workers’.


The Birth of Workerism

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 10, 2011

Piazza Statuto was our founding congress ... (Potere Operaio 1973c: 208)

If the wage bargaining round of 1962 would at last see the FIAT workforce rouse itself to open strike action, their after-effects threw the various factions within Quademi Rossi into violent collision. The immediate catalyst was provided by the Piazza Statuto riot of July, during which hundreds besieged the Turin offices of the smallest and most conservative of the three major union confederations, the UIL (Unione Italiana del Lavoro – the Italian Union of Labour), in what the broad consensus of the labour movement denounced as an assault by provocateurs and lumpenproletarians. Many of the demonstrators were themselves UIL members from FIAT, furious that their union had sabotaged their first big strike by signing a separate agreement with management. But this was lost at the time upon even the most militant union and party leaders, who preferred with Vittorio Foa to dismiss the whole affair as a ‘manifestation of extremist pathology’ and a ‘diversion from mass action through the strike’ (quoted in Lanzardo 1979: 58). A decade later, the event would be recognised by many union officials, including the new secretary of the UIL, as a positive turning point in the development of inter-union cooperation. In 1962, however, more simple answers were demanded: extremists, it was claimed, both of the right and left, were behind the troubles. While the likes of Paolo Spriano sought to play down the influence of a small group - ‘students essentially - whose outlook was ‘tenaciously resistant to reality’, others found in Quaderni Rossi a perfect scapegoat for their own inadequacies. Despite Panzieri’s desperate efforts to disassociate his group from the riot, Quaderni Rossi’s already tenuous links with the CGIL and historic left now collapsed completely, and with them the very meaning of the journal’s project as its founder had originally conceived it (ibid.: 54-5, 69-70, 207).

Even before Piazza Statuto, the Socialist Franco Momigliano had cast doubt upon the coherence of Quaderni Rossi’s approach to unions. Writing in the journal’s second issue, Momigliano (1962: 108, 109) had centred his criticisms upon the group’s denial that the unions’ role was ‘for the working class not only institutionally, but also objectively, of necessity, a contractual function’. For him, on the contrary, such a role was the whole basis of the unions’ strength in society. It was naive, he believed, to project revolutionary connotations onto the most radical of the unions’ measures to defend labour-power within capitalism. A more sensible course, he argued, was to work to broaden the scope of their power, so that conquests already won could form a springboard for further social reform. To abandon its project and return to the fold, or to press on into the wilderness: this was the stark choice which seemed to face Quaderni Rossi after Piazza Statuto. While for Panzieri the subsequent break with the official labour movement proved traumatic, those closest to Alquati experienced it as the release from an increasingly impossible collaboration. Having correctly identified the estrangement between workers and unions, many of the Northerners now considered as completely mistaken the group’s original premise that their reconciliation could be achieved in a form antagonistic to capital. For these Zengakuren, as they were then dubbed (Alquati 1975: 27), a new tack was required, one which drew sustenance directly from working-class struggle itself. The first effort along these lines was attempted by the Venetian circle, in the form of workplace rank-and-file committees organised in Porto Marghera (Negri 1964a; Isnenghi 1980). With the revival of industrial activity amongst metalworkers in 1963, both the Zengakuren and the Roman members of Quaderni Rossi pushed for a concerted, autonomous intervention at the national level, starting with a more agitational form of publication than the existing theoretical review.

Starting directly from working-class behaviour also meant clarifying further the significance of those moments when its antagonism to capital refused to manifest itself openly. Already touched upon briefly and discretely by Alquati, the question of sabotage as a form of resistance would be explored at great length by Romolo Gobbi in a publication distributed at flAT. During the previous July, argued Gatto Selvaggio, when

open struggle was blocked by the unions, the workers, consciously and collectively coordinated by the worker-technicians, immediately intensified sabotage within decisive areas identified through collective discussion. After the separate agreement they CONTINUED THIS STRUGGLE IN MORE HIDDEN BUT POLITICALLY RELEVANT FORMS. (Gatto Selvaggio 1963: 1)

Brought to trial in late 1963 for producing an unauthorised publication that preached subversion, Gobbi could justly complain that the prosecution had completely ignored Gatto Selvaggio’s central argument, which was to indicate sabotage’s limited contribution, outside of a revolutionary phase, to the development of class autonomy. ‘More advanced forms of organisation’ were needed, ones which could break the confines of the individual workplace; in this regard, Gobbi believed, Italian workers could learn much from the unofficial mass actions or ‘wildcat strikes’ which had proved so popular in France and Britain (quoted in Quaderni Piacentini 1963: 81-2).

Such a perspective, however, evoked little sympathy from Panzieri. Angered by what he saw as the ‘biological hatred’ of some in the Turin group for the left parties and unions (Panzieri 1987: 359), he had none the less reconciled himself to the view that the existing unions and parties were no longer ‘a valid instrument for the generalisation of struggle’. Still, he remained dubious that any mass alternative could be constructed in the short term. In his contribution to the first issue of the new interventionist paper Cronache Operaie, Panzieri did not deny the ‘concrete possibility’ of uniting the disputes then in progress. He did criticise, however, those who extolled isolated disruptions of production for believing that such actions possessed a strategic moment capable of anticipating capital’s development. As the strike wave faded away inconclusively, Panzieri’s pessimism deepened. While he agreed that a more accessible format than Quaderni Rossi was required, Panzieri saw its main purpose to be ‘the formation of a cadre linked to workers struggles without the pretence of representing or leading them’. Given this, the mass agitation advocated by some was currently out of the question (Panzieri 1973: 297-8, 299). Beneath such tactical differences, he insisted at an August editorial meeting, lay fundamental theoretical ones. These were evident in a recent essay by Tronti, which he considered

a fascinating resume of a whole series of errors which the workers’ left can commit in this moment. It is fascinating because it is very hegelian, in the original sense, as a new way of reliving a philosophy of history ... a philosophy of history of the working class. (quoted in Lumley 1980: 129)

‘There is probably’, he continued, ‘not one point on which we agree’ (Panzieri 1973: 303). Raising the question of sabotage as an example, Panzieri characterised it as nothing more than the ‘permanent expression of [workers’] political defeat’. The existence within one journal of two such divergent approaches was no longer tenable, he concluded: only a parting of the ways could offer a workable solution to the problem (ibid.: 303, 304).

The key issue for Panzieri, then, was the different connotations that he and the advocates of immediate action placed upon class behaviour. Perhaps Tronti and his associates were correct in saying that one could not ‘trace the analysis of the level of the working class from the analysis of the level of capital’. All the same, ‘a series of Fragmentary refusals’ like those evidenced in the recent struggles were no substitute for a coherent strategy based upon the material circumstances of the working class (Panzieri 1973: 291, 321). The path to the unification of workers against capital was still a very hard and weary one’, and could find its ‘permanent political reference’ only in continued enquiries into the proletarian condition (ibid.: 254, 321).

Looking back, the points of confluence between Panzieri and the nascent workerists have become as clear as the depth of their disagreement. Like the later split between Potere Operaio and Lotta Continua (’Continuous Struggle’), that of 1963 flowed from personal as well as political differences, with neither side able to claim to have only benefited from the separation. After Panzieri’s death, the uncritical use of sociology by some members of Quaderni Rossi seemed to confirm the workerists’ worst suspicions. Yet the latter could hardly afford to feel smug, as their ‘political experiment of a new type’ soon brought submersion within Tronti’s theoretic~l framework and that ‘enchantment of method’ which burdened It (Panzieri and Tronti 1975: 6). Finally, the discovery that a revolutionary mass movement was not yet on the cards would reopen the whole debate concerning the possible renovation of the labour movement which Piazza Statuto had seemed to close, leading to a further division in every way as painful as that from Quaderni Rossi.