9. The Collapse of Workerism

Ninth chapter of "Storming Heaven" by Steve Wright.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 24, 2023

1977 was a decisive year for the Italian far left. Coming in the wake of its disappointing showing in the previous year's general elections, the tumult of a new wave of struggles by students scornful of the 'cadavers' of 1968 was a stark indication of the mounting discontent of politically minded youth with the triplice and its style of politics. Having long posed as the privileged interpreters of Italy's oppositional forces, the three major organisations to the left of the PCI now found themselves contaminated or even overtaken by a new politics which emphasised needs over duty, difference over homogeneity, the localised and personal over a class-wide struggle. Always the most sensitive to the moods of the broader movement, Lotta Continua was the first to enter into crisis, dissolving as a formal organisation in late 1976 under the hammer blows of its disgruntled and divided membership (Red Notes 1978). The PDUP fared little better: torn between its established role as the critical conscience of the Communist Party, and the possibilities for broader influence outside the sphere of the PCI, it painfully split in two (Garzia 1985). Even Avanguardia Operaia, traditionally the most staid member of the triplice, found its congress besieged by 'Metropolitan Indians' dressed in feather bonnets and war paint, and demanding a new approach to political activity (Libera 1977: 738).

1977 was also a decisive year for operaismo. The various organisations of Autonomia were able - for a brief time - to fill the vacuum created by the triplice’s crisis. None the less, the multitude of problems which the new political mood exemplified would push workerism's conceptual apparatus, in Negri's words (1979a: 147, 148), to its 'extreme limits': 'To speak still in the old terms, after the experience of 1977, is to be dead.' As has been seen, Negri's own efforts to delineate a new approach simply repeated the tendency's old errors in a different guise; within two years, his political project would lie shattered. For the editors of Primo Maggio, by contrast, the so-called 'Movement of '77' would inspire their most important internal debate, throwing into question once again the significance of the categories bound up with the thematic of class composition. Together, the incursion of new elements into the FIAT workforce, and the intensification of industrial conflict within Italy's service and transport sectors, served to revitalise aspects of the journal's reflections. In the end, however, neither of these processes could ultimately prevent the collapse of those grand themes that the rational wing of workerism had long sought to preserve and enrich.

The cycle of struggles that opened in 1977 would end badly: retrenchment, addiction, imprisonment, even suicide were not uncommon. In the aftermath of its defeat came the 1980s, 'the years of cynicism, opportunism, and fear' (Balestrini and Moroni 1988: 387). Yet as Bologna would come to argue, whatever the havoc it unleashed, 1977 had posed fundamental questions about political recomposition. And while no section of the Italian far left had been able to find practical answers to them at the time, none the less these were questions that all future revolutionaries would be obliged to address:

[T]he movement of 1977 was not only a totally different way of conceiving of the relation between life and politics, but a series of contents and values that had never been placed on the agenda of the political project. Despite having apparently left a void in its wake, despite having apparently only laid bare the crisis of political forms, including the crisis of the party-form, 1977 has to be considered one of the greatest anticipations of the forms and contents of political and social life seen in recent years. After 1977 there is no turning back, despite all the errors committed, and for which many are still paying in an atrocious manner. 1977 was a year in which the wealth and complexity of problems was such that the political form able to contain and organise them all adequately could not be found. (Bologna 1980c: 28-9)


The Piazza Statuto of the Operaio Sociale?

The first section of chapter 9 of "Storming Heaven".

Submitted by Fozzie on August 24, 2023

On 3 February, the University of Rome was occupied by thousands of students protesting against both government proposals to restrict access to tertiary education, and the wounding of two students on campus by fascists the previous day. For a fortnight the university became a 'no-go area', within which flourished a lively political culture which rejected traditional leftist sensibilities in favour of themes championed by the likes of Milan's proletarian youth circles (Lumley 1990: 295-3 12). Yet if most preferred risate rosse ('red laughter') to the Brigate Rosse, the use of force was not alien to consistent sectors of the new movement. At times this took the form of mass looting as acts of illegality assumed epidemic proportions after 1976; at others it was a preparedness - hardly new in the Italian far left - to settle political differences by physical means. When the CGIL's leader Luciano Lama came to the university, determined to chide those within, he was to inspire the derision of Metropolitan Indians chanting that 'Nessuno L'ama' ('No one loves him'). More than this, Lama's expedition also provoked a physical confrontation which saw members of the Comitati Autonomi Operai and others remove both him and his bodyguard of union functionaries from the campus. Later that afternoon, as riot police cleared the occupiers from the university in turn, 1000 PCI members, in the words of one account, 'stood outside and clapped and cheered' (Anonymous 1980: 101).

In early March the unrest resurfaced at the University of Bologna - in the heartland of Communist-dominated Emilia-Romagna - after a militant of Lotta Continua was killed there by police. Two days of rioting followed, spreading to the national level with a massive demonstration in the centre of Rome on 12 March. In the latter's aftermath, which had seen no less than ten police and two demonstrators wounded by gunfire, tension continued to run high. A policeman was shot dead at a Roman demonstration in late April, then in mid-May a young woman was killed by police during a rally held in the capital. Two days later another policeman was gunned down at a Milan demonstration, in what many saw as a revenge killing carried out by a fringe of the autonomist movement (Del Bello 1997: 3 16, 326-7). These events were sufficiently disturbing for the major components of Autonomia in Milan to issue a statement suggesting that the shift from what Marx once termed 'the weapons of critique' to 'the critique of weapons' must be predicated upon an intelligent appraisal of the relations of forces rather than 'desperation'. That said, rather more of the leaflet was devoted to a condemnation of those mainstream Leninist groups accused of choosing social democracy and the state over genuine revolutionaries; such 'adventurists' were reminded

of what was written at the Putilov works during the Bolshevik revolution: 'There is only one place for traitors, and it is a few metres long!' (Castellano 1980: 161)

According to some members of the PCI, the unrest in Rome and the North could be attributed to sinister foreign forces determined to upset the implementation of the Historic Compromise (Cowan 1978). Less prone to paranoia, other Communists sought to locate their explanation of the new movement's emergence within the logic of Italy's social relations. Writing in the pages of L'Unita immediately after Lama's expulsion from the University of Rome, Asor Rosa (1977: 63) depicted Italy as a country of 'two societies'. One of these was based upon the organised working class, committed to the transformation of existing institutions, the other upon the nation's marginalised and unemployed, whose behaviour was symptomatic of the disintegration of the old order. From this perspective, the restlessness of Italy's most recent generation of students revealed them as practitioners of a new form of anti-Communism. Unlike the new left of 1968, he claimed, the rebels of 1977 dismissed as revisionist and counter-revolutionary not only the leadership of the historic left, but also their followers. Those who abolished the centrality of the (factory) working class, Asor Rosa would add in September,

and conceive of capitalist society as a disintegrated and incoherent 'structure' of equally significant social forces, fail to understand that the working class and capital (conceived here not only in their pure state, as bookish abstractions) can still find a long phase of common interest in development, and that in this they are opposed by both privileged and non-privileged parasitic strata, the latter not seeing beyond the hard and desperate perception of their own needs. (Asor Rosa 1977: 63)

Talk of a new class composition with its point of gravity in the university inevitably raised the problem - abandoned by most workerists after the Hot Autumn - of the nature and function of intellectual labour-power. Here, as in a number of important discussions during the 1970s, the terms of debate had already been partly set by a former collaborator of Classe Operaia. Writing at the beginning of the decade, Massimo Paci (1973) had sought to explain the increasing rigidity of the industrial working class by postulating the development within Italy of three labour markets, based upon mutually exclusive groups. The first involved lavoro operaio within the larger, unionised firms; the second those employed within the smaller-scale, marginal economy; and finally, those who, as a result of the expanding urbanisation and mass education induced by Italy's 'miracle', were engaged in intellectual labour within both private and public employ. While Paci had refused to establish a political hierarchy within his model, others would be less cautious. Inverting the significance of Asor Rosa's dichotomy, one contributor to the Bologna journal A/traverso held that the often state-subsidised world of large-scale industry had become the dispenser of 'a sort of social welfare for unproductive workers'. This was in marked contrast to the workers employed in Italy's burgeoning non-guaranteed, underground economy, who were characterised as 'carriers of technical-scientific knowhow' (Alliez 1980: 119).

A similar emphasis upon the peculiar productive force of the subjects organised within the new movement, if not the parasitic nature of the mass worker, can be found in the work of Franco Piperno. Recently converted, like his friend Scalzone, to the operaio sociale thesis, Piperno depicted this class figure as the emanation of lavoro non operaio. By this he understood that indirectly productive labour which, while extraneous to the physical production of commodities, embodied the 'general intellect' of the workforce. Such a stratum, he believed, was the product both of capital's growing incorporation of science, and the refusal of thousands of young people to follow their parents into the world of the assembly line. In a softer version of Negri's hypothesis, Piperno presented the new subject as one that rejected the law of value as an adequate mediation of its needs and reproduction. In this sense, at least, Asor Rosa had been right: a fundamental divide in culture and politics did indeed exist in Italy, separating that part of the working class which still accepted the logic of commodity production from a 'movement of use-value' which challenged the social legitimacy of the money-form:

[T]he counterposition between different segments of living labour is destined, at least in Italy, to accentuate itself, fuelling a clash which, to the extent that it involves millions of men [sic], can be regarded as a form, albeit subterranean, of civil war. (Piperno 1978a: 12)

More considered and sophisticated were the reflections of Alquati (n.d.: 13, 16) upon the formation of intellectual labour-power. 1977, as a 'second rebellion of working students', had been a 'brutal surprise' for the labour movement in Turin. Then again, despite the volumes written on the problems of university and schooling since the 1960s, almost no one in the Italian left had been disposed to examine the condition of students themselves. The starting point of his analysis, which was consistent with the whole trajectory of operaismo, emphasised the tendential process of proletarianisation unfolding within modern capitalist society. In Italy, however, such a course was a relatively recent development, lending confusion to many appraisals of class location: 'only now do we have many proletarians who are children of proletarians; few, however, have proletarian grandparents' (ibid.: 23).

If intellectual labour was concentrated in sectors quite distinct to those inhabited by the mass worker, Alquati insisted that the gradual 'factoryisation' of the labour process to which it was subsumed pointed to a convergence with the behaviours of more traditional sectors of the working population. Thus it was important that the specific attributes of intellectual labour not be mystified; after all, this was a form of labour which in a certain sense was 'like all others' (Alquati n.d.: 32). At the same time, it was simplistic to conflate the category of intellectual labour with office workers. When the fragmentation of labour endured by most white- and blue-collar workers was examined carefully, Alquati argued, it was obvious that the distinction between the two was more ideological than material. For example, there was at least some element of manual labour in most forms of office work, while many jobs on the factory floor demanded some decision-making on the part of employees (ibid.: 89). Separate as a category from white-collar workers, then, was what Alquati called the 'intellectual proletariat': 'proletarians who study (a very large number of whom are white-collar workers)' (ibid.: 1 1 7). While white-collar workers as such were beginning to lose the features which distinguished them from the rest of the class, the intellectual proletariat engaged in the consumption of tertiary education was capable of becoming the vanguard within an emerging operaio sociale (ibid.: 118). This role, he emphasised, existed only as a possibility: at present, each of the various layers of labour-power to be found in Italy remained sharply divided from the others, enclosed within its particular corporative interests. Given this, he believed, it was misleading to explain the recent behaviour of the PCI with terms such as 'social-democratisation'. Such a notion could not be removed from its original historical context; what the current direction of the party pointed to, on the contrary, was the constitution of

[quote]a new working-class right which seems disposable only to forms and objectives within the system. Often this has a determinate 'professional' base; sometimes instead it has a determinate political formation within the union, and recently in encounter with the party, where the ideology and ethic of labour, particularly productive labour, has left its mark. (ibid.: 128)

Perhaps the most novel aspect of Alquati's discourse, at least in terms of workerism's traditional conceptual apparatus, lay in its attempt to account for the 'middle strata' of modern Italian society. In his opinion, a complex system of social stratification, far from discrediting the centrality which Marx's Capital had assigned to the relation between capital and labour, had been encouraged by Italian capital 'precisely because of the exceptional acuteness of the struggle between the two strategic classes' (Alquati n.d. : 75). Thus it was quite proper for Marxists to talk of ceti medi, since 'the word "middle" is associated with the verb "to mediate" which, as everybody knows, is the fundamental verb of "political parlance'" (ibid.: 76). In the Italy of the late 1970s, the stabilising function of such strata had been called into question, forcing them to polarise towards either capital or labour. Here, Alquati believed, the university could be seen as a privileged site of this crisis where, as greater sections of the middle strata were driven towards the 'working-class political bloc', they would become not only the latter's allies, but even 'integrating and "propulsive forces" of its recomposition' (ibid.: 77).


A Strange Movement of Strange Students

The second section of chapter 9 of "Storming Heaven".

Submitted by Fozzie on August 24, 2023

Primo Maggio's efforts to grasp the significance of the new movement opened with Bologna's essay on 'The Tribe of Moles'1 , the basic premises of which had been set out in a letter penned to the Lotta Continua daily in early March. Unlike Asor Rosa, Bologna insisted that the behaviour exhibited by the new social protagonists did not stem from a material location extraneous to the world of production. Indeed, it was a mistake to conclude that, since the universities served as their common meeting point, those in struggle could best be understood as students comparable to those of 1968:

[T]he best way to distort these University struggles is to pretend that they are only about the University reforms, and therefore only of interest to University workers and students. This is false - because we have seen an entire class composition coming together around the Universities ... (Bologna 1977c: 98-9)

Furthermore, if the participants in the new movement were marginalised, this was first and foremost a form of political marginalisation by a party system which deemed their needs and forms of struggle 'pathological aspects of late capitalism' to be cured or else expunged.

For Bologna, as he went on to explain in 'The Tribe of Moles', the roots of the 'Movement of '77' were firmly set in the world of labour, albeit it one radically different to that found in Mirafiori. Unlike the social protagonist of a decade before, this new class composition was not prepared to see either its collective or individual needs subordinated to the organisational structures championed by Marxism-Leninism. Whereas the average militant of 1970 had tended to view politics as the clash of contesting apparatuses, that of 1977 was conscious that the personal sphere was also political, preferring work in affinity groups based on friendship to the party branches of the triplice (Lerner et al. 1978). Beyond the intrusion of feminist and libertarian norms into the culture of the mainstream far left, this shift was a consequence of a profound alteration in the reproduction of classes, which had now become

a problem of political legitimation rather than material intervention: a question of social and cultural identity, of acceptance or refusal to accept the norms of social behaviour required and laid down by the form of the state. Classes have tended to lose their 'objective' characteristics and become defined in terms of political subjectivity. But in this process the major force of redefinition has come from below: in the continuous reproduction and invention of systems of counter-culture and struggle in the sphere of everyday living, which has become ever more 'illegal'. (Bologna 1977b: 44)

This new subjectivity was not, however, without certain material determinants: above all, the dense undergrowth of small factories which had flourished since the early 1970s, along with the service sector, which had also seen the number of its employees rise significantly over the same period.

Interest in the workers of small firms was still something of a novelty for operaismo in the 1970s. While Guido Bianchini (1990) had attempted to direct Potere Operaio's attention to the peculiarities of small-scale production in Emilia-Romagna, it was only from the middle of the decade that others in the tendency began to take a sustained interest in the significance of Italy's 'marginal' economy. For Massimo Paci (1973), such curiosity was prompted by the growing cycle of accumulation - and industrial disputation - outside traditional epicentres like FIAT. If the thrust of Paci's pioneering research lay in demonstrating the historical importance of marginally located small firms for Italy's economic development, the apparent halt of the mass workers' forward march lent a sense of political immediacy to the question. In what was to be an engaging debate between Italian Marxists of varied formation, a composite picture began to emerge of the intricate structure and robust vitality of the country's 'submerged' economy. In certain cases, the spread of smaller units of production could be seen as a strategy pursued by those large industrial capitals. These hoped, either by means of 'in-house decentralisation (splitting up) or inter-firm decentralisation (putting out) within the domestic economy ... [and] in conjunction with automation, to begin to dismember the large factory proletariat' (Murray 1983: 76, 93). Yet this strategy did not exhaust the phenomenon: other cases, indeed, indicated that the small firm, far from being an anomaly indicative of Italy's backwardness, stood at the centre of the nation's most dynamic accumulation process. Located in the North-East and Centre of the country, this cycle represented nothing less than a new, third pole of development comparable in importance only to the industrial triangle of the North-West and the continuing stagnation of the South (Bagnasco 1977).

Back in 1973, when the debate upon restructuring was just beginning, Bologna (1973b) had been inclined to focus his attention upon the industrial bloc associated with the production of petrochemicals. This, he had argued, was rapidly becoming the driving force of a new cycle of capital accumulation that refused the traditional Keynesian model with its goal of balanced development throughout the economy. Subsuming their employees in an almost militaristic fashion to fixed capital, the state-backed chemical conglomerates appeared to Bologna as the cutting edge of an attempt to supplant the productive centrality of those industries (and working-class vanguards) engaged in the manufacture of consumer durables. In such circumstances, he believed, the proliferation of small-scale industry, through either independent initiative or the productive decentralisation of larger firms, could only be understood as an interregnum presaging the ascent of petrochemical capital.

Criticised by some members of Lotta Continua for imposing the logic of classical workerism upon a reality more complex than that of the 1960s, Bologna's argument was to shift significantly thereafter (1973b), privileging instead the part played within restructuring by credit and the state management of the money-form. This account of 'money as capital' served to draw Primo Maggio's attention to those proletarians consuming revenue outside the terrain of immediate production as an important complement to the mass worker. At the same time, the intensity of industrial conflict within many of Italy's 'marginal' firms - a sharp contrast with the stalemated war of position found in so many of the larger workplaces - had led Bologna to re-examine the problem of small factories in some detail by early 1977.

As commentators such as Paci, Brusco, Bagnasco and Messori had made plain (Graziani 1979: 235-62), the type of firms involved in Italy's 'marginal' economy were extremely diverse. These ranged from cooperatives to the satellites of large companies, from labour-intensive production for the domestic market to capital-intensive production geared towards export (Bologna 1977b: 50-1). Given the lack of a common thread derived from the nature of the labour process itself, the process of class unification within the sector stemmed from other determinants, above all age and gender. The presence of women and younger men, excluded from many of the larger enterprises by the rigidity of the mass worker, coupled with working conditions frequently exempt from regulation by the Statuto dei Lavoratori, were perhaps the most important points of commonality within this operaio disseminato. As a consequence, its most militant components, while taking up the torch of rebellion let fall by the mass worker, had been forced to invent new forms of organisation quite different to those of the Hot Autumn (ibid.: 47, 48). Of these, the most spectacular were the ronde operaie ('workers' patrols') found in Milan and Turin, which ranged from mobile pickets to genuine forms of 'diffuse' terrorism evocative of Spanish anarchism's 'pistoleros' 50 years before (ibid.: 52; La Fabbrica Diffusa 1977; Balestrini 1989).

Besides the small manufacturing concerns, the new movement also drew its membership from Italy's service sector (Bologna 1977b: 52). Here again, the structure and behaviour of labour-power was far from homogeneous. Instead, it stretched from the increasingly militant hospital employees subjected to quite primitive working conditions, to the relatively privileged bank employees and clerks in state employ; from jobs guaranteed through relations of patronage to those precarious, casual positions offered by subcontractors. If any 'element of homogeneity' existed within this fraction, it was the 'increasing political pressure' to which the various components of the service sector were subjected by Italy's spreading fiscal crisis. Of particular interest for Bologna within this mosaic of class fragments were the growing numbers of casual workers employed at one remove through contractors. Their status, he believed, pointed to a process in which the very structure of the firm began to dissolve 'as a means of producing commodities':

[T]he firm remains merely as chief clerk, as mere administration of decentralised labour; in fact, the firm dissolves itself as a subject or protagonist of conflict, as an institution of the class struggle ... The chain of infinite decentralisation of production breaks the rigidity of age and sex, of geographical location, of social background, etc., all this is a weighty factor in fusing the new composition of the class.
This chain of infinite decentralisation is one of the more 'progressive' elements of capitalism today; it is a far more powerful weapon of massification than the assembly line. (ibid.: 54)

Within this class composition, he continued, the autonomist groups had early won a hegemonic role because of their ability to anticipate political themes profoundly different to those of the late 1960s. Yet hardly had 'the echoes of the clashes in Bologna' died down 'when everyone whipped out their Lenin masks from behind their backs - in particular the Workers' Autonomy (Autonomia Operaia) tendency in the North' (Bologna 1977b: 56). The very failure of Autonomia to force the pace of struggle, however, made it clear that now, against previous vanguardist notions of class politics,

organisation is obliged to measure itself day by day against the new composition of the class; and must find its political programme only in the behaviour of the class and not in some set of statutes. (ibid.: 58)

To map a path back from the inertia which the very complexity of the movement's structure threatened to impose, Bologna sought to locate some 'new Mirafioris' around which a political programme could be constituted (ibid.: 60). In time-honoured workerist fashion, this meant looking for a segment of the class which was both dynamic in its behaviour, and employed in a sector of strategic importance. Such a stratum, Bologna believed, could be found in the world of transport, and in particular amongst truck drivers whose militancy was becoming increasingly evident:

Less well-known [than the rail sector], but infinitely more explosive, is the situation in road transport. Here we are faced with a mass of waged workers and independent operators equal to 20 Mirafioris rolled into one. The 'objective' weight of this workforce is frightening, and it is perhaps the only section of the class today whose movement could paralyse the whole capitalist cycle. (ibid.: 53-4)

The arguments of 'The Tribe of Moles' would provoke controversy amongst many members of Italy's historic left. The Communist historian Gian Mario Bravo (1978: 128), for instance, was particularly scandalised by Bologna's emphasis upon the subjective determinations of class identity. According to this critic, the essay elevated individual desires into political principles: "'Revolutionary impatience", already extolled by the classical extremists, becomes a moment in the development of the personality'. No less harsh was the judgement of some within Primo Maggio. Writing from Bologna, where the influence of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari was strong within the local movement, Franco Gori (1978: l lS, l l7, 122) criticised 'The Tribe of Moles' for attempting to impose 'an abstract factory relation' upon the new social subjects. Taking the 'metaeconomic' categories of Marxism beyond their realm of 'coherent applicability', he insisted, could only lead to an 'abstract formalism' which painted the mass worker as the harbinger of the new movement. Neither the richness of personal politics, nor the intricacies of gender and sexuality, could be grasped within the interpretative schema of workerism, 'this mystical way of conceiving the dynamic of social processes'; rather, a whole new frame of reference was needed.

Less hostile in tone was Lapo Berti (1978: 128, 139), who accepted the basic validity of Bologna's dissection of the new movement. In his opinion, however, the crisis of the large factory as a touchstone of class politics threw into question the continuing relevance of that nexus between technical and political composition traditionally established by operaismo. With the state playing an increasing role in social life, class identity was less and less a simple product of the sphere of production; more and more, the starting point of proletarian politicisation lay outside the workplace, in arenas such as the education system. Within this new articulation of the relation between factory and society, the emerging 'molecular' movement constituted itself above all by challenging the legitimation of class society.

A similar approach, if more critical of Bologna, was taken by Christian Marazzi (1978: 85, 86). In looking to small factories and the service sector as the new movement's sites of formation, he argued, 'The Tribe of Moles' continued to situate the class struggle 'within the capital-labour nexus'. In doing so, Bologna failed to realise that the state, through its strategy of bypassing the factory as privileged instrument of command in favour of the regulation of revenue, had begun to induce the formation of a new subject outside the relations of production:

If today it is no longer fixed capital, but the territory as social place of the reproduction of antagonism, which determines class behaviours, then this means that capitalist organisation passes within the functionalisation of the political system. The system of political relations between classes must become productive, politics must act like fixed capital in its relation with living labour. The fetishisation of machinery is no longer enough; politics must also be fetishised, must appear to be 'relatively autonomous'. (ibid.: 89)

In these circumstances, a new definition of productive labour was needed, one which recognised the central part played in the reproduction of capital by that labour-power exchanged with, and under the direct command of, the political system.

Starting from a different point of view again, Giulano Buselli and Mario Zanzani (1978) would also emphasise the collapse both of the factory as an interpretative category, and of any specific productive figure as the embodiment of the overall working-class political project. Like other critics of Bologna within Primo Maggio, they were to criticise 'The Tribe of Moles' for not dissolving the specificity of the large factory into the tendency's longstanding, but little-developed, thematic of modern capitalism as a social factory. For two of the journal's Turin editors, by contrast, Bologna's chief failing lay in his too-ready dismissal of the potential for social antagonism still extant in the traditional strongholds of the industrial working class. By overemphasising 'subjectivity' at the expense of a materialist analysis of the relations of production, the perspective laid out in 'The Tribe of Moles' risked burying the mass worker prematurely, at a point in time when closer bonds between the old and new class compositions still remained possible. Messori and Revelli (1978: 44, 46) did not deny that a profound disjuncture presently existed between the two; rather, their chief concern was to assess the problem from the point of view of workers in the large factories. Examined in this way, the relation between technical and political composition as a determination of class behaviour remained as crucial as ever, as capital's attempts to alter it through restructuring testified.

Above all, Messori and Revelli believed, the mass worker's situation was far from stable. To begin with, the use of productive decentralisation and inflation to sidestep the mass worker's power could only be effective as short-term solutions. And if the PCI had so far stood by the core of this 'central' working class in exchange for support in the electoral sphere, such a project could not long sustain itself when capital eventually summoned the courage to dismantle the technical composition which underpinned the mass worker's power (Messori and Revelli 1978: 56-7). In this context, they insisted, the rigidity of the mass worker within the 'productive truce' of the large factories needed to be seen not merely as an indication of its subordination and passivity, but also as a measure of its strength (ibid.: 62-3).

For its part, Italian capital continued to face a dilemma. On the one hand, the reorganisation of the international division of labour following the recent energy crisis required the introduction of new technology to keep local industry competitive. On the other hand, the necessary restructuring that such a project demanded - a massive reorganisation of the productive structure - was denied it so long as major pockets of working-class rigidity stood in its path. When capital finally embarked upon the path of confrontation, and the welfare system was called upon more and more to regulate the expulsion of labour-power from the large factories, new stresses would be placed upon the already precarious bond between the state's functions of legitimation and domination. In such circumstances, the meaning of the Communist Party's reformism would be stretched to the limit, opening up possibilities for a meeting point between the proletarian generations formed before the mid-1970s and the more recent protagonists of the Movement of '77 (Messori and Revelli 1978: 69-73, 80).

It was wrong, therefore, for Bologna to downplay the strategic centrality of those workers engaged in the immediate process of production. If a crisis existed within the factory, it pertained to its traditional role of defining the universe of working-class values, when recent struggles pointed instead to 'the pre-eminence of the social terrain as the site of the individual management of "livingtime" reappropriated as "use-value'" (Messori and Revelli 1978: 76). Whatever the path followed, Messori and Revelli concluded, the quest to join struggles in the workplace with those in the social sphere must start from 'a more attentive analysis of the concrete manifestations of working-class initiative' (ibid.: 81).


The Movement Loses Direction

The third section of chapter 9 of "Storming Heaven".

Submitted by Fozzie on August 25, 2023

Summing up the debate in early 1978, Bologna (1978b: 149) would dub the arguments advanced by most of his critics within Primo Maggio as unreasonably optimistic. Based upon assumptions that portrayed the development of the new revolutionary movement as a univocal process, they forgot that 'The autonomy of the subject cannot elide power, its reality.' Qualifying the elastic reading of subjectivity in 'The Tribe of Moles', Bologna reiterated his belief that any effort to understand contemporary proletarian behaviour required 'a sector of concrete labour-power' as its focus (ibid. : 156). Preferring the perspectives advanced by Messori and Revelli, he recognised that these were, in their own way, no less partial than the views of Marazzi or Berti. On the other hand, he believed, the interpretative framework held out by the Turin editors possessed a materiality absent from explanations advancing undifferentiated notions of social control. Even more importantly, Messori and Revelli had directed attention back to workerism's original enquiry into the composition of the working class. This was all the more important given that the latter, faced with the competing models of 'radical bourgeois operaismo' offered by the Communist Party and Autonomia, was as much 'without allies' as it had been in the 1960s (ibid.: 157).

The terms of Primo Maggio's debate over the efficacy of workerist theory would remain unresolved. In the meantime, the new movement had entered deeper and deeper into crisis as 1977 unfolded. Despite their dramatic scale, the almost weekly encounters with police and carabinieri soon proved to offer no programme for the movement's consolidation and extension. Matters were not helped, according to the Volsci, by those within it who chose to play up the movement's attributes as primarily a 'youth' phenomenon, and so turned their backs upon older generations within the emergent class composition (Pifano 1997: 366). Hemmed in on by extensive state repression, and by a Communist Party increasingly determined to legitimate itself as a 'party of government' at the expense of 'deviant' social forces, the movement began to falter. Above all, it proved incapable of finding a productive way of harnessing its own internal tensions, and on that basis of reaching out to broader working-class circles. Instead, as Marco Melotti would later argue,

[t]he perverse spiral of raising the stakes in the direct clash with the repressive apparatuses of the state IN PRACTICE conceded hegemony to the deliriums of the armed struggle ideology [combattentismo]. (Melotti 1984: 64)

In this context, the refusal of politics became 'the exclusive privileging of the "military'" dimension, while '"revolutionary radicalism" became measurable only in terms of the hardness of the clash with the adversary, whether this be the state or the "deviationist comrade'". At the same time, in many parts of the movement,

the unconscious/thoughtless [incosapevole] introjection of the thematic of 'two societies' turned snobbish, the total exclusion of any relation with the city's working-class and proletarian fabric. (ibid.)

Little by little, these behaviours began to generate two distinct camps within the movement. At one pole stood those who emphasised the libertarian themes of autonomy and personal development only to turn inwards, refusing to confront the obstacles which limited the movement's extension. At the other stood those who glossed over both the political implications of the libertarian stream's critique of traditional Italian 'anti-revisionism' and any serious discussion of class composition in favour of debates concerning the feasibility of civil war. During the movement's Bologna conference of September 1977, the gulf between these two approaches to politics assumed a tangible form, with most components of Autonomia and a number of the more conventional political groups choosing to turn their back on other participants, instead sealing themselves off within the city's Palasporto stadium, there to battle for 'hegemony' (Balestrini and Moroni 1988: 334).

Despite Negri's (1977c: 29) optimistic appraisal of the times - 'Political conditions favour us ... Italy is not Germany' - Autonomia would emerge from the conference more isolated than before. Its predicament would be made plain three months later when, snubbed by the organisers of a national metalworkers' march in Rome, its contingent of demonstrators remained trapped by police within the university campus. Having lost their reference point in the broader class composition, sections of the autonomist movement increasingly vented their frustration through the physical intimidation of those they identified as enemies (Petter 1993). In the face of such behaviours, only a few revolutionaries would argue that the role of the movement's 'political class' lay not in building 'the party', but rather in identifying and promoting an anti-capitalist programme generated from within the new class composition itself (Collettivo Politico Alitalia e Aeroporti Romani et al. 1978; Collegamenti 1979).

The Moro kidnapping of 1978 would throw the implications of the Brigate Rosse strategy of carrying the struggle 'to the heart of the state' into bold relief. While all the major currents within the autonomist movement would condemn the killing of the Christian Democrat leader (Castellano 1980: 1 79-97), their growing disorientation was plain to see. Meanwhile, the Area continued to lose activists to the armed formations, a process accelerated by the increased preparedness of fascist groups - above all in Rome - to use deadly force against members of the movement (Lombardo-Radice and Sinibaldi 1979). Their sway now declining within their own organisations, many of Autonomia's most prominent thinkers finally began to suspect that the continued influence of the trip/ice might not be the greatest threat to the movement's development. Negri (1979a: 24-5, 28), for example, remained scathing of those he called the 'party of the ghetto', who washed their hands of all questions of 'power' and 'violence' only to unwittingly glorify the omnipotence of the state, before which they stood paralysed. At the same time, he also began to distance himself from those circles within the Area that either stretched out a hand towards the Brigate Rosse, or else aspired to compete with them on the military front. The terrorists and their sympathisers, Negri argued, were so obsessed with destabilisation that they had become oblivious to the significance of the new mass subjectivity. His own response, however - an insistence upon the privileged function of the party-form within the process of recomposition - was itself anything but new. More a shield and sword than the movement's command centre, the construction of a 'party of autonomy' (Rosso 1978: 193-4) as the watcher on the wall of proletarian freedom remained essential, he argued, if the growing bifurcation between 'the ghetto' and 'the insurrectionalists' was to be overcome:

The party, if I may make a jest, is a combatant religious order, not the ecclesiastical totality of the process ... [it is] the army which defends the frontiers of proletarian independence. (Negri 1977a: 62)

That the majority of autonomist groupings, by their arrogance, had recently squandered enormous opportunities was now also apparent to Scalzone. The 'micro-factions' of the Area, he noted in December 1978, had begun to reveal their fundamentally conservative nature earlier that month, when they had chosen to isolate themselves from the demonstrating metalworkers, 'not all of whom, certainly, were union functionaries'. Amongst other things, this demonstrated that the attempt to apply 'the classic model of democratic centralism' within the various segments of the 'organised' Area had only generated 'monsters'. How then could the process of political recomposition be relaunched? Scalzone was not so sure, beyond a return to the exploration of class composition; what was certain, he held, was that Negri's project for a 'party of autonomy' could only be stillborn, since it did nothing to rethink the experience of the micro-factions (Scalzone 1978: 34, 60, 62, 63). For Piperno, a starting point for resuming the class struggle's forward advance lay in trying to understand the origins of the armed groups within the revolutionary movement and the class composition that had generated it. According to him, the deciding vote lay with the terrorist groups themselves: would they choose to place themselves at the disposal of the movement as a whole, or would they instead continue to wage their almost private feud with the state? In other words, were the armed groups capable of joining 'the frightening beauty' of the movement's 12 March 1977 rampage in Rome with 'the geometric power displayed in Moro's kidnapping'? (Piperno 1978b: 226).

Isolated from the rest of the Area, yet with much stronger roots in their local proletariat, the Comitati Autonomi Operai (1978b: 15) in Rome were by contrast harsh in their criticism of the Brigate Rosse. The Volsci had no doubt that the Moro affair represented an The Collapse of Workerism 215 attempt by the armed group to force 'the vanguards and advanced sectors of the class' into the political underground, all the better to exercise its sway over them. Not that the Roman autonomists had not made their own mistakes in the face of a class composition as complex as that which emerged in 1977. With hindsight, Daniele Pifano would look with regret upon his organisation's 'often instrumental' approach to direct democracy, along with its inability to work with those currents it deemed to be on the moderate wing of the movement (Pifano 1995: 287). Above all, he later argued, Autonomia's failure 'to represent a general political force' had opened a programmatic void that the armed groups on its fringes and beyond were more than willing to exploit (Pifano 1997: 366). Even in 1978, however, the Roman group proved to be more prepared than most of its Northern counterparts to face up to some of the autonomist groups' failings. In particular, the response of the Volsci to Autonomia's crisis of late 1977 and early 1978 was to propose a 'slow, patient, intelligent entrance into the large factory' in conjunction with the hundreds of 'autonomous' workplace committees that had maintained their distance from the organised Area (Comitati Autonomi Operai 1978a: 19).

Such views would resonate with a number of Primo Maggio's editors; Bologna (1978b: 1 53) above all. During 1979, the journal worked hard and long to bring together some of the workplace activists who refused both the policy of sacrifice and austerity promoted by the Communist union leadership (Vannicelli 1983: 508-45) and the born-again Leninism of much of Autonomia (Crespi 1984). In the process it became clear that if the industrial front was still quiet at FIAT, elsewhere things were hotting up. As the hospitals saw a groundswell of strikes outside the direction of the confederations (Arrighetti 1978), the port of Genoa offered the unique example of a delegates' council dominated by 'autonomous' militants elected ahead of the CGIL's chosen candidates (Collettivo operaio portuale 1978). Finally, within the complex network of manufacturing firms surrounding Milan, the union austerity policy inspired open opposition from growing numbers of factory delegate councils.

None of this, however, led the editors of Primo Maggio to assume that a class-wide wave of struggle lay just around the corner. In Bologna's opinion, the PCI had for the most part remained successful in maintaining its hegemony amongst industrial workers, despite the disappointments and confusions that its behaviour since June 19 7 6 had evoked. In those regions where it held sway, the party was already engaged in a sophisticated experiment to establish a new state-form. Here it was 'the masses themselves who act as judge and jury', a process Bologna (1977b: 58) held 'would be innovative were it not happening within a framework of a freezing of the class power balance, with a restoration of capitalist control at all levels' . More generally, the PCI's support found its material basis in the mass worker's desire 'to continue to function as labour-power'. For such a demand, Communist reformism represented 'the most concrete mediation of the interests of the working class'. While the extent to which such a programme was workable largely depended upon the resolution of Italy's difficulties within the international division of labour, Bologna firmly rejected any interpretation of the PCl's role that rested upon its function of repression alone. On the contrary, he maintained, the party and the CGIL could be expected soon to reaffirm their mediating role, 'not through paralysis of the struggle but through the promotion of struggle' (Bologna 1977c: 1 19, 120).

Considered absurd by many, it was a prophecy that would reveal its full meaning only three years later, in October of 1980. In the meantime, one of the most novel features of Italian working-class politics during the late 1970s began to unfold at FIAT. Having frozen its staff intake for four years, the auto giant's management once again opened its gates to new employees in 1978. Because of recent legislation favouring the hiring of women and young people seeking their first job, FIAT was to draw a disproportionate number of its 12,000 new staff from these categories (Revelli 1989: 73-4). Overnight, the terms of the earlier debate on the 'two societies' would take on new meaning, as large numbers of the protagonists of 1977 - 'the children and wives of Gasparazzo' (Deaglio and Manenti 1979: 6) - entered the terrain of the mass worker for the first time.


The Family Gasparazzo goes to FIAT

The final section of chapter 9 of "Storming Heaven".

Submitted by Fozzie on August 25, 2023

Upon their arrival, the latest levy of FIAT workers discovered that the firm had changed quite markedly since the Hot Autumn. Reorganised into eleven operating sectors, the Agnelli family's holdings had become diversified, adding interests in telecommunications and energy production to the traditional preoccupation with vehicle construction (Cipriani 1981). Within the latter field, FIAT had built or acquired automobile plants elsewhere in Italy and overseas. In its Turin plants of Mirafiori and Rivalta, the creeping restructuring which characterised the 'productive truce' of the mid-1970s continued to remove labour-power from those moments of the cycle most directly involved in the production of vehicles (Mantelli and Scianna 1978: 38). As automated systems insinuated themselves into the traditional domain of the mass worker, the ability of employees to utilise the old production norms for their own ends began to melt away:

The 1950s and 1960s were the Tayloristic phase [at FIAT]. Workers knew how much they produced. Controlling this by slowing down or stopping was their power. Now with centralized computer systems and robots, the Tayloristic phase is over. The worker produces so much more that all perspective on work is lost. Between 1973 and 1979, the work time required to produce a car was cut by 50 percent (Marco Revelli, quoted in Barkan 1984: 240)

According to the Turin editors of Primo Maggio, the process by which the factory 'again becomes a universe unknown to the worker' was playing an important part in fragmenting the mass worker. Now its previous collective identity had become a myriad of 'partial and contradictory' points of view (Redazione torinese di Primo Maggio 1977: 25). Faced with such confusion, many of workerism's longheld typologies of class behaviour, if not its basic assumption of 'the hard materiality of production and the workers' relation with labour as the driving axis of the definition and structuring of social antagonism', were less than useless (ibid. : 21). In proposing a return to the tendency's old project of a workers' enquiry, Revelli and his associates were conscious that the experience of Quademi Rossi could not be replicated after a space of 15 years. Once, it seemed, 'The factory produced politics. And the enquiry was struggle.' In reality, however, and despite the commitment of Panzieri's group to 'coresearch', the traditional dichotomies between workers and intellectuals, and between the political project's 'theoretical elaboration and practical realisation', had often reproduced themselves in Quademi Rossi's work (ibid.: 21, 22). Now, by contrast, not only was the enquiry obliged to follow workers outside the factory; many of the workplace militants formed in recent years possessed both the confidence and ability needed to undertake the task of research themselves (ibid.: 23).

During the Moro affair of 1978, while others speculated upon the true identity of the kidnappers, Bruno Mantelli and Marco Revelli sought to gauge the reaction of FIAT workers. Presenting some of their findings to the readers of Lotta Continua that July, they reflected:

When we returned to the gates of Mirafiori - not to 'speak', this time, but to listen and to try and understand - we had in mind two things. The first was the feeling that today the 'enquiry' was an obligatory point of passage, a specific form of political practice without which every other series of considerations remained fatally arid and blocked. The second was the impression that the way of living politics is today the most obscure, yet central, node within the ambit of the enquiry. (Mantelli and Revelli 1978a: 5)

Casting off the misconception 'that working-class opinion could be prefabricated in the laboratories of ideology', and seeking out the views of those 'others' who had never been in the forefront of struggle, Mantelli and Revelli discovered - beneath the initial impression of silence - a Tower of Babel. The opinions expressed as to Moro's fate had varied in the extreme. There were those who enthusiastically supported the unions' calls for protest stoppages. There was also the comrade who argued that 'Look, this is terrorism, the fact that I'm about to enter [the factory] and be held against my will for eight hours, this is a kidnapping' (Mantelli and Revelli 1978b: 12). At the same time, nearly all portrayed political experience, in the formal sense of that term, as an alien, hostile craft monopolised by the parties and unions. Unlike in the past, the mass worker's ability to translate its technical composition into a form of power no longer functioned, with external, socially defined considerations increasingly impinging upon the labour-power employed at FIAT. On the contrary, they argued, a void of working-class initiative had opened up. This was bounded on one side by 'a terrorism that wants to find its own legitimation in the political paralysis of that working class', on the other by a Communist Party that sought 'to establish its own autonomy as a political class on the "centrality" of a silent working class' (Mantelli and Revelli 1979: 197). Given this, Mantelli and Revelli (1978a: 12) could only conclude their survey with a series of questions, the most anguished being: 'What are the steps through which the class can once more render its own material composition politically subversive?'

Fifteen months later, the editors of Primo Maggio were again to ponder such problems at a conference, 'Old and New Workers at FIAT'. It was a seemingly disparate gathering which came together in October 1979, its almost two dozen speakers covering an arc which stretched from the Communist Party to Autonomia, from the local union left to the many non-aligned positions to be found in the Italian new left. Running through almost all of their contributions, however, could be found a number of shared themes. These included the arrival at FIAT of new workers with their own distinctive view of factory life, the crisis of the older generation of employees' political identity, the collapse of any glibly homogeneous notion of 'working class', and the inability of the union apparatus to address the concerns of the new arrivals. Dismissed contemptuously as 'the bottom of the barrel' by the local PCI leader Alberto Minucci (Revelli 1981b: 99-101), many of the latest recruits to FIAT had played a leading role in the contract struggles of that summer. Against this optimistic note, the wave of arrests that had struck Autonomia six months before lent a certain poignant backdrop to the conference's proceedings. To this had been added on 9 October the dismissal for 'non-consonant behaviours' of 61 FIAT employees, amongst them many prominent workplace activists of the far left (Scarponi 1979).

Examining the make-up of the FIAT workers taken on since 1978, Silvia Belforte (1980: 12) of the workerist-influenced journal Quademi del territorio found 65 per cent of them to be women, usually in their mid-thirties, and married with children. As for the other new starters, many had just left school, or were still studying; most had been born in Turin itself, often of Southern parents (Barkan 1984: 188-9). Some sense of the difference in age between these new arrivals and the older hands can be gleaned from a mass survey conducted by Rinascita in 1979: even counting the younger workers, the average age of male respondents stood at 3 7-38 years (Accornero 1980: 146). Perhaps the most striking difference between the new starters and the generation formed within FIAT since the time of the Hot Autumn concerned their respective attitudes to work and the factory. According to Pietro Marcenaro, the reasons for this lay in the very different processes of socialisation experienced by the two:

Unlike the Southern migrant who came, in the 1960s, to a hostile and foreign city which held no prospect of friendship, and for whom the factory represented practically the exclusive terrain of socialisation, the young new starters enter the factory with a life already rich in relationships. It is not the factory which shapes them according to its needs: unlike the preceding generation, which started work at 13 or 14 years of age, a significant section of young workers enter the factory at 18 or 19, their personality formed in the city and school. If in recent years things have already changed for the mass worker, with the factory no longer determining exclusively the forms of aggregation, now the process accelerates. 'The things which unite workers are not constituted by labour per se.' (Marcenaro 1980: 6)

When asked their opinion, many of the new hands were to define their time at work only in negative terms. In an anecdote of which he never tired relating, Revelli recounted the view of one of his worker-students, who had proclaimed that 'Every day when I leave, I say to myself, I've lost eight hours of my life' (quoted in Barkan 1984: 239). Such views would appear incomprehensible or even hurtful to many of FIAT's longer-serving employees, prompting comments to the effect that 'Before Fiat made us work too much, but with these kids, it's too far in the other direction' (ibid. : 219). Then again, the encounter with the 'older' workers could induce a similar disenchantment amongst the new hands - such as the discovery that, no less than outside, there were 'pigs' and sexual harassers aplenty to be found amongst the legendary workers of FlAT Turin (Deaglio and Manenti 1979: 7). And there were many apparent contradictions in behaviour, too: for example, the young, with their supposed contempt for work, seemed less prone to absenteeism and more committed to union organisation. By contrast, the same 49- year-old who complained that the new starters were workshy could also boast to an American writer in 1979:

I do my seven hours' work in three and a half or four hours. I'm responsible for 78 pieces every day. I work the way I want and decide how to do it. When I finish, I talk or do crossword puzzles, even though we're not supposed to. I walk around. There's also a room for relaxing where we play cards ... Management doesn't react to what we do because of the union. The work times are agreed upon and that's it. (quoted in Barkan: 219)

Nino Scianna (1980: 41) of Primo Maggio - himself a FIAT worker - attempted to make sense of this apparent jumble for the October conference. He concluded that the divisions traditionally established by workerism upon the basis of labour-power's technical composition 'appear secondary' in a factory 'divided into a plurality of subjects, the identities of which are not defined on the terrain of production'. Contemplating a passage 'Beyond the Culture of the Mass Worker ... ', Revelli (1980b: 64) now believed that nothing short of a factory-wide 'cultural revolution' was required if the rich diversity of the new class composition at FIAT was to ward off management's designs. A member of the Genoa dockworkers' collective reminded those present that 'none of us can imagine that they possess an overall strategy' . Instead, he pointed to the risks that faced the most militant sectors of the class if they turned their backs upon the 'old majority' within the proletariat (Amancio 1980: 57, 59). Meanwhile, the major sour note of the gathering was to come from one of the Volsci. Agreeing with the dockworker's warnings, Riccardo Taviani (1980: 64) accused the workerists present of engaging in trasformismo: 'It strikes me as an old way of doing politics, reinterpreting everything from scratch in order to survive as a political class [ceto].'

A year later, not only had the workerist component of the Italian far left been destroyed as a political force, but a generation of FIAT workplace activists with it (Guarcello et al. 1990). As Hilary Partridge (1996: 98) would later put it, 'Shop-floor radicalism at Fiat was not so much absorbed or defeated as torn out by the roots.' With hindsight, the path of management's strategy can be mapped clearly: the criminalisation of the 61, around which both the unions and PCI were forced to polarise; the shutting of new recruitment; the creeping retrenchments which removed 20 workers a day for absenteeism; finally, the big push for the 'temporary' layoff of 25,000 staff (Revelli 1989: 84-103). In a dramatic settling of accounts, 10,000-15,000 FIAT workers, with the local PCI apparatus in tow, were to defend the gates of Mirafiori for 35 days. In the end, they would be undermined by the defeatism of a national union apparatus shocked by FIAT's 'counter-mobilisation' of thousands of foremen and white-collar staff (and more than a sprinkling of line workers). Reading over Revelli's almost tender depiction of the 'gate people' defending the pickets, each layer carefully peeled back for examination, one is struck by the enormous distances which Primo Maggio had travelled since the heyday of classical workerism:

Faced with this heterogenous yet compact human totality, we have been forced to admit the schematic nature of our analyses, which sliced up the various strata of the workforce into 'skilled workers', 'mass workers', 'social workers', 'diffuse workers' etc., without grasping the thousand subtle threads that interweave the fabric of the working class, which communicate the experience and language of the old, skilled sections, to the raw young immigrant (transmitting a heritage of experiences that has never been entirely subdued), or which permit the young metropolitan proletariat to go 'beyond' work precisely because, in fact, the area behind the front line is well-defended by a working class strength that has been moulded and formed in work. (Revelli 1982: 102)

In such circumstances, however, the collapse of a theoretical framework, and its principal point of political reference, seemed rather too high a price to pay for such heightened sensitivity. Not surprisingly, the events of 1979-80 were to have a profoundly disorientating effect upon those workerists not directly implicated in the '7 April' case. To Revelli's mind (1980a: 13, 14), the 'traditional terms of the primacy of the factory and of labour' were no longer sufficient to define the behaviour of the waged. Faced with efforts 'to lobotimise' workers' memory of struggles, along with the new relation now demanded between subject and researcher, the role of the latter was increasingly akin to that of the psychoanalyst. Bologna's (1980a: 28, 29) assessment was bleaker still: even as the prosecution of the 7 April case sought to blot out all record of the past 20 years of social conflict, workerism's time-honoured indicators had gone haywire. On the one hand, 'the bosses and machines no longer unite'; on the other, it was increasingly apparent that 'mechanisms internal to the class function in opposite ways: in Turin as dynamism, in Milan as paralysis'. Trapped between the 'silence' of most workers and the 'enormous fragmentation' of the militants, he concluded, 'we have almost theorised disintegration'.

Looking back a decade later, Bruno Cartosio (1987: 13) would consider Primo Maggio's reaffirmation of 'working-class centrality' in the wake of the Movement of '77 as somewhat forced. The journal would have done better, he believed, if it had given the notion of centralita operaia a thorough examination from top to bottom. As Asor Rosa (1987: 100) came to concede, however, Bologna had been right after all in insisting upon the political rather than social basis of the split between the Communist writer had called 'the two societies'. The events of 1977, Rossana Rossanda added, had opened for Italy 'an irreversible crisis for the union, an irreversible rupture between political society and civil society, a very grave crisis of representation' (Adornato and Lerner 1987: 92). For the rational workerists of Primo Maggio, the most enduring legacy of that year would remain the fragmentation of their theoretical apparatus. While conceding that a historiography 'which digs within individual and local things is important', Bologna would confess at the beginning of the 1980s to

a very great need to reacquire a broad dimension, a respite of 'grande storia', a great need to reacquire ... I won't say a theory, but something that doesn't force me into a relationship of abjuration and schizophrenia towards an intellectual course within which general and historical categories were not only well-defined, but functioned perfectly in helping us to understand reality and to participate within it in a militant manner. (Bologna 1981: 17)