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).