Steve Wright's critical analysis of Negri's ideas.
From Reconstruction 8 (Winter/Spring 1996)
Over the past decade, Toni Negri's association with Deleuze and Guattari has made his name well known to English-language readers of radical thought. But as STEVE WRIGHT shows, Negri's most distinctive ideas would first be debated within the Italian revolutionary movement of the seventies.
I don't believe that anything I am saying is less than orthodox Marxism. It is, anyway, the truth, even were it not orthodox; orthodoxy is of very little importance to me...(1)
In the latter part of the seventies, the current which would generate both the greatest political influence and theoretical controversy within Italy's ultra-left was that associated with the class and State analysis developed by Antonio Negri. The hypothesis of a new proletariat disseminated throughout society, congregating in the spheres of both production and reproduction, a 'socialised worker' of which the mass worker of the fordist assembly line was at best a poor prototype, would be Negri's most controversial contribution to the exploration of class composition undertaken by the Italian brand of marxism known as 'workerism' [operaismo].(2)
Since those days, Negri's understanding of social conflict has taken a series of twists and turns. Of late, his work has placed enormous emphasis upon the emergence of 'immaterial labour' within the ongoing crisis of that keynesian social compact which characterised so many Western societies after the Second World War. What has remained constant in his thought, however, is the notion that the 'socialised worker' lies at the heart of today's class composition:
A multinational and finance-based bourgeoisie (which sees no reason why it should bear the burden of a national welfare system) is matched by a socialised, intellectual proletariat -- which, on the one hand, has a wealth of new needs, and on the other is incapable of maintaining a continuity with the articulation of the Fordist compromise.(3)
The pros and cons of such a description of contemporary social dynamics continue to be argued within Italy's radical left.(4) In what follows, I want to attempt something rather different: namely, to explore the origins of Negri's 'socialised worker' argument within the specific circumstances which first inspired it, so as to assess the extent to which it could ever be said to have been a useful tool in understanding the cut and thrust of class conflict.
Last Tango at Mirafiori
From the beginning, the development of Negri's arguments about the 'socialised worker' was to be inseparable from that of a new political tendency: Autonomia Operaia. Making sense of Autonomia as a whole is no simple matter. Ideologically heterogenous, territorally dispersed, organisationally fluid, politically marginalised: Giorgio Bocca's analogy of an archipelago is an apt one. Never a single national organisation, much less the mass wing of the armed groups, the 'Area' of autonomist organisations and collectives would begin to disintegrate almost as soon as it had attained hegemony within the Italian far left.(5)
Autonomia had first crystallised as a distinctive political entity in March 1973, when a few hundred militants from around the country gathered in Bologna to take some provisional steps towards a new national organisation of the revolutionary left.(6) A number of those gathered in Bologna were, like Negri himself, members of the Venetian wing of Potere Operaio (Potop); the majority, however had already abandoned the far left groups, angered by their growing involvement in the unions and institutional politics. The words of the conference's introductory report neatlysummed up the strategic orientation which united those present. In today's situation of crisis, it argued, 'The only path possible is that of attack'. Furthermore, such an offensive could only base itself upon those class needs which the artificial ideological divisions introduced by both the traditional and new left tended to obscure. To articulate such needs, organisation was to be rooted directly in factories and neighbourhoods, in bodies capable both of promoting struggles managed directly by the class itself, and of restoring to the latter that 'awareness of proletarian power which the traditional organisations have destroyed'.(7)
During the following eighteen months Autonomia's program was to strike a responsive chord amongst a small but growing number of Italian leftists. In late 1973, the majority of Potere Operaio's members chose to 'dissolve' into the Area, an example which was soon followed by some smaller groups. The most important of these would be the Gruppo Gramsci, itself a minor organisation with a certain presence in the left of Milan's union movement. Reconstituted as the Collettivi Politici Operai, the group was to produce the most profound self-critique of any of the leninist currents which entered Autonomia. In the words of the December 1973 issue of its paper Rosso, what was now needed was nothing short of a new form of political practice, one which broke with the 'logic' of far left groups and
the parochial language of political 'experts', who know the ABC -- and even the L and the M -- of marxism-leninism, without being able to speak concretely about ourselves and our experiences.
Rather than a politics which dealt with an abstract worker,
male, adult, normal, unburdened by feelings and emotions; rational, a democrat or revolutionary, always ready to attend meetings on the history and tendencies of capitalism,
Rosso sought a new perspective which examined questions of sexual and emotional domination, of the nature of the family and the marginalisation of those deemed 'abnormal', through which 'the slavery of the factory and life imposed by capital manifest themselves'. It was to be this, the most libertarian of the major tendencies within the Area, that Negri and his closest associates would join the following year, and help to build into the strongest autonomist formation in the North.(8)
Unlike Rosso, however, the majority of the autonomist collectives were to keep their eyes firmly upon the vicissitudes of the industrial workforce during 1973 and 1974. So too with Negri himself, whose major essay of the period centred upon the factory as 'the privileged site of both the refusal of labour and the attack upon the rate of profit'.(9) In this respect, the most interesting aspect of the essay was to be its effort to clarify workerism's often-posited relation between working class struggle and the accumulation process. While Potop had conceived the relationship between class composition and economic crisis in the blunt, mechanical terms of a zero-sum game between wages and profits, in 'Partito operaio contro il lavoro' Negri set out to detail that 'long' but 'qualitatively homogenous' path linking disputes within the terrain of production to the problems faced by the reproduction of capital.(10)
The possibility of capitalist collapse, and the place within it of working class struggle, had first been raised in a systematic manner amongst workerists with Negri's exploration of 'Marx on Cycle and Crisis'. Although written before 1969's 'Hot Autumn' of industrial unrest, this essay presaged a number of the central themes later addressed by the tendency. In doing so, it represented operaismo's first attempt to offer a political reading of that part of Marx's critique of political economy traditionally most susceptible to the charge of objectivism. The piece's most interesting aspect, however, was its discussion of the efforts by John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter to offer a solution to the difficulties faced by capital in guaranteeing its own reproduction as a social relation. Following Mario Tronti against Lukacs, Negri did not believe that such an undertaking was impossible for capital's 'critical awareness'; indeed, both Schumpeter and Keynes were able to perceive that capitalist development was an essentially open-ended process wracked with internal contradictions.(11) Negri showed particular admiration for Schumpeter, who did not shy away from the fact that the capitalist economy lacked any internal tendency towards equilibrium. Further, by grasping the moment of crisis as not only unavoidable, but 'a fundamental stimulus within the system' that was 'productive of profit', Schumpeter had glimpsed the relations of force between classes which underlay the apparently autonomous movement of economic categories.(12)
Negri's approach to the problem of crisis was expanded in 'Partito operaio contro il lavoro', a work which emphasised the profound changes to accumulation and class struggle which stemmed from the arrival of the real subsumption of labour to capital. Drawing upon both the Grundrisse and Marx's 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production', Negri grappled with the central tendency in capitalist development, namely 'the abbreviation of that part of the working day necessary to the reproduction of the value of labour-power'.(13) The division of the working day between necessary and surplus labour, he insisted, had become a struggle between two independent variables: not only did the traditional disciplining mechanism of the industrial reserve army no longer function, with growing numbers of young people refusing factory work, but the wage increasingly assumed a rigidity indifferent to the needs of accumulation.(14)
Such an argument, like so many others advanced by workerism, had little in common with conventional marxist precepts. On the other hand, while Negri's notion of labour as an independent variable within the class relation clearly contradicted the letter of Capital Volume I, it could yet claim support from Volume III of Marx's magnum opus.(15) More important than the verification offered by sacred texts, however, was the eloquent testimony of the Italian economy's growing problems with productivity and profitability. Later, in Marx Beyond Marx, Negri would clarify the nexus in the class struggle between necessary and surplus labour, arguing that through its rigidity in the labour process the working class could cut into capital's potential profit.(16) In 'Partito operaio contro il lavoro', this tendency remained implicit to the depiction of the working day as a field of permanent civil war between the two major classes.(17) Instead of elaborating this point, the essay chose to build upon the analysis of Negri's 1971 work Crisi dello Stato-piano, arguing that even as capital held to the firm as the heart of its valorisation process, it continually pressed towards a greater socialisation of labour, stretching beyond the simple extension of the immediate process of production towards a complete redefinition of the category productive labour. The dimensions of this category, it concluded, could only be grasped in a historically specific sense, being
relative to the level of the advancement of the process of subsumption of labour to capital... we can now say that the concept of wage labourer and the concept of productive labourer tend towards homogeneity,
resulting in the constitution of 'the new social figure of a unified proletariat'.(18)
'Partito operaio contro il lavoro' was thus clearly a transitional piece in Negri's understanding of capital and class which, by locating traditional workerist formulations within a discourse based upon the tendency outlined in the Grundrisse, already stretcheda hand out towards the hypothesis of the 'socialised worker' [operaio sociale]. As with most transitional works, however, its author seemed not at all aware of the contradictions contained within the text itself. Negri did little, for example, to substantiate his historically dynamic definition of productive labour; what concerned him, rather, was the argument that, in the present conjuncture, the mass worker's attacks upon the rate of profit remained the rallying point of the proletariat as a whole. As a consequence, Negri was satisfied to conclude that since factory and society, production and reproduction, were not yet identical, but continued to exist in a 'dialectical' relationship -- a relationship which capital itself sought to maintain by attempting 'to isolate the fall of the rate of profit in the factory (and its agents) from the process of the socialisation of productive labour unfolding throughout society' -- the workers of the large factories, as the 'privileged subject of exploitation', remained 'absolutely hegemonic' politically and theoretically with respect to the rest of the class.(19)
To Negri, encouragement for such a view was to come from the mass picket and occupation of FIAT's Mirafiori plant in March 1973. At the same time, his discussion of the 'Party of Mirafiori' did offer some insight into that notion of a socially homogenous proletariat which, discarded in the latter days of Potere Operaio, would again soon become pre-eminent within his thought. If any limit existed, he argued, for the mass vanguard formed in the years since the Hot Autumn, it lay in the reluctance to venture beyond the factory gate and join with the struggle of appropriation in the social sphere. Seeking to surpass this weakness, Negri was to posit instead a drastic form of value-reductionism which obliterated all the distinctive features of those with nothing to sell but their labour-power. Taking up Potop' s theme of the crisis of the law of value as a crisis of command over labour, Negri argued that the common basis for the recomposition of the class lay in a 'unity of abstract social labour' which overrode 'the "specific" problems of the various sectors of the social sphere (young people, women, marginalised elements etc)' and the factory.(20) Since the terrain of value, as Crisi dello Stato-piano had already argued, no longer assigned meaning in any terms other than those of power, the peculiarities of the sites in which such organisation sprang up, and the content of the needs whose non-fulfillment prompted their formation, could only be subsumed to a project of 'counter-power' against the State. In this manner the Gordian knot obstructing class unity, which could only be unravelled by slowly and carefully identifying the elements common to the often divergent sectors in struggle, was to be hacked away instead with the weapon of mass armed struggle. Writing in a 1974 essay dedicated to class strategy in a global context, Negri assured the reader that armed struggle
represents the only fundamental strategic moment -- ie the only possibility of achieving a recomposition of the proletariat and a consolidation of the struggles, and destroying, along the way, capital's weapons of provocation, of repression and containment that are designed to isolate and newly compartmentalise the various class sectors.(21)
And yet, when Negri was not collapsing the intricacies of social conflict into a one-dimensional thematic of power, he did sometimes pursue lines of enquiry which placed emphasis upon the material contents of struggle. In 'Partito operaio contro il lavoro', for example, he would argue that the liberation of individual needs must now be considered an integral part of the class struggle:
Perhaps for the first time, outside of utopia or those formidable moments of enthusiasm which are insurrections, the objective that the class proposes in its intensity, in its totality -- includes the needs of individuals. Liberation cannot be left until communism... The new needs introduced by the most recent generations of the working class are needs of liberation. Nothing is richer or finer than to be able to connect the immediate needs of individuals to the political needs of the class.(22)
Negri's position here is far removed from his views of 1971, when he had intoned that 'Today, the class's only real enjoyment lies in its relationship with class organisation and in the confrontation with the hateful apparatus of capitalist power'.(23) On the other hand, Negri's new insight remained bundled in old theoretical baggage, as he continued to try and squeeze the whole thematic of needs into the paradigm of the wage, positing 'the historic structure of the wage' as the privileged expression of 'the objective level of needs' through which the struggle both within and without the factory must be filtered.(24)
'We'll pay what Agnelli pays'
During 1974, as the West's energy crisis exacerbated domestic inflation, Italian society exploded with new struggles which pushed those 'socialised' tendencies already nascent in Negri's thought into the centre of his consciousness. The common theme of the new turmoil was the practice of 'self-reduction', through which working people organised to protect themselves against the increased service charges unleashed by the Rumour government. Beginning in Turin, where workers from FIAT's Rivalta plant refused to pay an increase in bus fares, the self-reduction of prices soon spread throughout the Northern cities and Rome, where it became particularly popular as a means to fight rises in electricity and phone charges.
As such activities quickly assumed the dimensions of a mass movement able to mobilise 180,000 families in Piedmont alone, the labour movement found itself divided over the question. Whilst many Communist (PCI) union functionaries questioned the efficacy and value of this new form of struggle, others saw its advocacy as crucial to their continued legitimacy. 'In these last months, the credibility of the unions has hit a low ebb', argued the secretary of Turin's Labour Council. 'What is at stake here is our relationship with the people; what is being questioned is our ability to build an alternative'. The practice of self-reduction also proved fertile ground for the autonomous collectives. With sufficient members at the State-controlled electricity commission ENEL to restore power to those disconnected for defying the new rates, it was not difficult for the Romans of the Comitati Operai Autonomi -- known commonly as the 'Volsci' -- to convince many of the local populace to pay the tariffs at the industrial rate (about one quarter of the domestic price) rather than at the 50% reduction most commonly proposed by the unions. Without such a draw card, autonomist groups in the Veneto and elsewhere were nonetheless still prominent in the struggle, if necessarily more cautious than their Roman counterparts.(25)
Nor were these the only struggles occuring outside the factory. To the threat of cuts to education spending and Staff, a new movement amongst high school students responded with demonstrations and occupations. In Turin, students organised a march to Mirafiori to attend the plant's first open assembly. A new wave of housing occupations also began early in the year, starting in Rome and spreading to Turin by October. The Rome squats were dominated by members of the group Lotta Continua, but there was also room for the involvement of the Roman autonomists, one of whom became in September the first from the Area to be killed in clashes with the police. In Turin, on the other hand, the occupations became notable for the numerically large presence of factory workers involved in an activity which in the past had chiefly engaged the productively marginalised and 'poor'.(26) Finally, October 12th saw one of the first organised instances of 'political shopping', when demonstrators entered a supermarket in Milan and forced the manager to sell merchandise at reduced prices.(27)
Changes were also then occuring within Autonomia itself. In the middle of 1974, a debate concerning the guaranteed wage revealed major differences of outlook. The central rift ran between those who privileged the refusal of labour as the basis of revolutionary strategy, and the Assemblea Autonoma dell'Alfa Romeo, for whom the development of class consciousness -- and human potentiality -- was inseparable from the experience of labour:
By guaranteed wage we understand the right to life conquered with the guarantee of a job. Because in a communist society, each must contribute according to their abilities and receive from society according to their needs... The comrades of Marghera say: when men (sic) are freed from the necessity of labour, because they no longer need to work in order to eat or clothe themselves or satisfy their desires, then we will have true freedom! To this we reply that we are not against labour, but against the capitalist organisation of labour whose end is not social progress but profit... [in the South] the proletarian masses seek to resolve their problems with jobs.(28)
Finding themselves alone on the matter, the Alfa militants were to quit Autonomia a few months later. Differences within the Area did not, however, dissipate with their departure. Whilst sympathetic to the notion of communism as the liberation from labour, other participants in the debate were becoming increasingly concerned with the political weight within the Area of the workerists and their allies. For the Romans especially, neither the ex-members of Potere Operaio nor those of the Gruppo Gramsci had shown any signs of establishing 'a new relationship with the movement'. Instead, the Volsci claimed, these militants remained particularly vulnerable to the 'temptation' of reconstructing Autonomia along the outmoded and bureaucratic lines of the groups formed out of the student movement of the late sixties.(29)
Such fears would soon prove prophetic. By 1975 the 'organised' components of Autonomia, stretching from the group around Negri and the remnants of Oreste Scalzone's minority wing of Potop to a number of marxist-leninist organisations and the Romans themselves, had already begun their transformation into an ensemble of political 'micro-fractions'.(30) While their contempt for institutional politics led them to work on a different terrain to that chosen by the major groups outside the PCI (Lotta Continua, Avanguardia Operaia and PDUP), the autonomists' style of politics increasingly acquired a similiar heavyhandedness, and would help to alienate many a potential sympathiser already disenchanted with the 'big 3' (triplice) of Italy's far left.(31)
Looking back, it would be easy to sense an inevitability in this process, given the flaws inherent in that 'anti-revisionist' culture which the autonomists shared with the majority of marxists to the left of the PCI: in particular, the regularity with which new insights were to be grafted onto the existing marxist-leninist corpus, rather than utilised to question the latter's continuing claim to revolutionary veracity. Yet it would be wrong to obscure what were, particularly in its early period, the quite distinctive elements which Autonomia contributed to the culture of the Italian far left. In refusing to separate political and economic spheres of struggle, and choosing instead to overturn the traditional dichotomy of party and union which had been the left's organisational norm since the days of the Second International, the Area was to go much further than any other of its major Italian rivals in challenging the practical sensibilities of traditional Communist politics. In its initial manifestation as a predominatly factory-based network, Autonomia had represented a small but significant experiment in revolutionary politics based upon the self-organisation of that generation of workplace militants thrown up by the struggles of the sixties. That the pursuit of such a project was quickly frustrated within the Area itself attests both to the dead weight of past ideologies and the growing shift of social forces attracted to Autonomia's banner. Thus, despite the criticisms of conventional leninist precepts voiced by quite diverse autonomist formations in their early years, none would attempt a critique as fundamental as that then emerging from within certain feminist circles.(32) Rather, in opposition to the increasingly tame politics of the triplice, most tendencies within Autonomia were to formulate a brand of leninism which, if often harshly critical of the armed groups' understanding of tactics, nonetheless sanctified armed struggle as the pinnacle of class struggle. Faced with the Italian State's apparent determination to criminalise social protest, which in mid 1975 saw fascists and police kill six leftist demonstrators in as many weeks, such a 'leninism under arms' came to assume a certain practical relevance for many of the young high school activists formed in the new season of self-reduction and clashes in the streets. As Autonomia began, through political disaffection or layoffs, to lose much of its base in Italy's large factories, it was to be amongst this new generation, impressed by the autonomists' preparedness to meet the attacks of the carabinieri and fascists with physical force, that the Area would now recruit most strongly.(33)
Writing in early 1976, Negri had identified one of the fundamental contradictions facing the Area and the social forces which it sought to organise as that between those who privileged 'the movement', and the champions of 'a "leninist" conception of organisation'.(34) Unfortunately, his optimism that Autonomia was capable of overcoming this problem would soon prove misplaced. Choosing instead to 'act as a party' in the tradition of Potere Operaio and Lotta Continua, the dominant forces within Autonomia would unknowingly doom themselves to repeat the trajectory of those groups whose failures they had once so vehemently criticised.(35)
Farewell to the Mass Worker
'Gasparazzo is not eternal . . . '(36)
It was against this background that Negri's Proletari e Stato appeared in the middle of 1975. A short work, the pamphlet brimmed over with hypotheses on the changing nature of class struggle. Finally casting all hesitation concerning talk of a new class composition aside, the dominant theme was one of renewal in crisis, of a continuity in rupture for both the critique of political economy and the process of social antagonism. For Negri, capital's attempts in the wake of the Hot Autumn to divide the class through an alteration of its technical composition and the further socialisation of the wage relation had backfired badly. Like a modern sorcerer's apprentice, capital's efforts to regain control had only multiplied its difficulties, for whilst the offensive of the mass worker had been halted, new proletarian layers -- indeed a new class figure -- had entered the fray in its stead. If this new class figure was the child of the preceding round of struggles, its midwife was the crisis of capitalist development. Like 'Partito operaio contro il lavoro', Proletari e Stato sought to locate its analysis of class composition within a discussion of the tendential fall of the rate of profit. In following the arguments developed by the workerist journal Primo Maggio, however, Negri now called for a substantial modification of crisis theory. Certainly, he agreed, the 'marxian tendency' had become actual, and the problems associated with the rate of profit exacerbated by working class struggle. Precisely because of this, however, capital's traditional counter-tendencies had so far failed to take effect:
despite the greater flexibility imposed on labour-power, despite attempts at the territorial disarticulation of production (at all levels: local, regional, national, multinational), despite capital's new mobility in the world market, despite the disconcerting effects of the inflationary process: despite all this and many other attempts, therefore, the aggregate rigidity of the proportion between surplus value and total capital -- namely the rate of profit -- has not been dissolved... Profit 'stagnates'... even in the presence of inflation and all the other antagonistic operations.(37)
In their stead, capital was forced increasingly to rely upon the peculiar properties which the money-form offered to the task of re-establishing a correct proportion between the mass and rate of profit. As a consequence, the critique of political economy had now to be extended so as to grasp money's new function as command. At the same time, capital's difficulties had not prevented it from reorganising its organic composition and with it the technical composition of the working class. Yet, even as restructuring had 'devastated' the mass worker, it had also entailed a greater socialisation of capital with an attendant 'further massification of abstract labour, and therefore of socially diffused labour predisposed to struggle'. While 'the category "working class" has gone into crisis', Negri concluded, 'it continues to produce all its own effects on the entire social terrain, as a proletariat'.(38)
It had been the maverick workerist Roman Alquati who had first coined the phrase 'socialised worker' the year before, understanding by this a new political subject which was overtaking the mass worker, and as such bound up with the proletarianisation and massification of intellectual labour.(39) Negri's definition, by contrast, both encompassed this stratum and stretched far beyond it. To his mind, as he was to put it in 1978, 'the fundamental thesis underlying the theory of workerism is precisely that of a successive abstraction of labour parallel to its socialisation'.(40) If the mass worker was the 'first massified concretisation' of this,(41) its figure was yet tied to determinate sectors of the class, in particular to those producing consumer durables. It was not the working class, but its vanguard: 'the mass worker, and even before it the skilled worker in relation to peasants', Alquati would later say, 'have taught us that hegemony resides not in numbers, but in the quality of the relation within accumulation'.(42) As the logical conclusion of the line of thinking which Negri had first postulated with Crisi dello Stato-piano, his understanding of the socialised worker represented therefore a radical break in the genealogy of class figures classified by Italian workerism, this being the first which had not been forged within a qualitative remoulding of the immediate process of production. Even less was the operaio sociale tied to a particular industrial sector: rather, it was the whole proletariat, subject qua abstract labour, constituted throughout the arc of the valorisation process. For the first time, Negri insisted, it had been the continuity and generalisation of struggle developing hand in hand with the socialisation of the capital relation, rather than a technological defeat, which had produced a new class composition.(43)
Proletari e Stato discussed its subject in a very general, indeed generic manner; after proclaiming its profoundly social nature, the text was to say very little about the changes to the physiognomy of the mass worker which have led to the new class figure's formation. For Negri, rather, the most important questions revolved around what he saw as the socialised worker's 'massive revolutionary potential', and an unfolding process of recomposition 'extraordinary in breadth and intensity'. Capital's project of restructuring had not destroyed, but rather invigorated the political composition of the proletarist, uniting the various strata which it had sought to divide. There was now, Proletari e Stato told its readers, 'a single law of exploitation present over the entire process of planning of capitalist society', making it obligatory 'to read in restructuring the formation of an increasingly vast unitary potential of struggles'.(44)
The pages of Rosso help to flesh out the constituent elements of the new class figure somewhat better than Proletari e Stato itself. In 1975 a new cycle of disputes had opened in industry for the renewal of contracts; as in 1972-73, the autonomists' emphasis was placed upon the need for workers to take the offensive over the price of labour-power. In this way, they hoped, the class struggle would aggravate what many business and political leaders continued to see as the Italian economy's chief problem: its blown-out wage bill. On the fundamental terrain of the division between necessary and surplus labour, the paper argued, the only working class response possible was a campaign for a further reduction of the working day with no loss of pay, a demand Negri's organisation proceeded to propagate amongst Milanese carworkers.(45)
Whilst large factories had remained the pinnacle of Italy's industrial pyramid, widespread territorial dispersion of many labour processes, along with the traditional importance of minor firms producing components, lent more and more weight to workers in smaller workplaces. In line with this shift, Rosso began to document the early efforts at self-organisation amongst young workers in the small shops of Milan and Turin. Known as 'proletarian youth circles', these local groupings attempted to coordinate disputes in different firms, whilst also engaging in new forms of self-reduction such as the occupation of cinemas for concerts and other cultural activities.(46)
Moving beyond the workplace, the paper kept a watchful eye upon the 'organised unemployed' movement of Naples. Combining direct action and lobbying in a city synonymous with both squalid living and government by patronage, the Neapolitan movement quickly mobilised thousands of unemployed workers, becoming the region's central reference point for militant activity.(47) Elsewhere, the burgeoning women's movement began to move from the problem of divorce, over which it brought down the government in 1974, to challenge all aspects of social domination. Like the unemployed, the feminists were also seen by Rosso as an integral component of the new social subject, and the journal now began to speak of the emergence of 'a new female proletariat'.(48) Finally, the continuing practice of self-reduction, and in particular the increasing instances of organised looting, was seen by Negri's organisation as one of the red threads which tied these layers into a unifying process of recomposition.(49)
All these struggles, Negri argued, sought to fulfill the needs of their protagonists outside the logic of capitalist social relations. Since needs are by nature historically determinate, he reasoned, those of the operaio sociale could only be constituted within the universe of capital. Not surprisingly, his reading again bore the mark of the Grundrisse. Only one use-value could possibly break the vicious circle of capital's reproduction: living labour. This, the former's very life-blood, could subvert the class relation when it became refusal of labour, creativity directed towards the reproduction of the proletariat as antagonistic subject. What was urgently required, therefore, was the substitution of the existing system of needs with a 'system of struggles', the promotion of which remained the chief justification for a revolutionary party.(50) Again, like the Grundrisse, Negri insisted on couching this discussion in terms of the dialectic between productive forces and relations of production. At the very moment when 'the old contradiction' seemed to have subsided, and living labour subsumed to capital,
the entire force of insubordination coagulates in that final front which is the antagonistic and general permanence of social labour. From here the productive force -- the only productive force that is social living labour -- opposes itself as struggle to the 'relations of production' and to the 'productive forces' incorporated in the latter.
In this manner, Marx's traditional formula came to be recast as the direct antagonism between proletarians and State.(51)
If here Proletari e Stato simply gave a characteristically 'negrian' twist to Marx's schema, elsewhere the essay subverted one of the central workerist categories of old -- the wage. Long the privileged moment of class recomposition, now Negri criticised the official labour movement for understanding class relations only within such terms. For a whole period, he argued, the wage in the immediate process of production and appropriation in the social sphere had marched separately but struck together; today, however, the former tended to become the latter, as the working class sought the 'direct reappropriation of the productive forces of social wealth'. Indeed, for Negri, direct reappropriation was no longer 'a vague appendix to the communist program but its essence'. Once the wage struggle had subordinated all others to its logic; now it retained meaning only as part of a society-wide attack on the State. To the struggle over division between necessary and surplus labour had been added the struggle to reduce necessary labour itself, as the proletariat strove to accelerate capital's tendency and so hasten the fall of the economy's tyrannical reign.(52)
According to Proletari e Stato, the hypothesis of the operaio sociale stood or fell with its practical veracity. To what extent, then, did its account of a massive process of recomposition -- a qualitative leap in class unity -- actually tally with the Italian experience of the time? In the pamphlet itself, Negri would offer only the briefest of discussions of the problem of 'marginal disarticulation', by which he meant the idiosyncracies associated with new socially 'marginalised' layers. Even here, the needs of subjects such as women and the unemployed appeared to possess a political significance only to the extent that they could not be reduced to 'the demand for wage labour'.(53) Yet, while it is not at all difficult to point to the temporal continuity of struggle linking the mass worker of the Hot Autumn to the new social subjects of the mid seventies, it is much harder to uncover traces of that concrete unification between sectors upon which Negri's whole argument rested. For the most part, instead, such potentiality was to remain sadly unfulfilled, with the front of fiercest industrial struggle -- that of the small factories of the North -- finding itself almost hermetically sealed from other sectors of the class. If later, in 1977, a case could be made for the role of the university as one such moment of aggregation, in 1975-76 only the practice of self-reduction -- especially that advanced by the 'proletarian youth circles' -- was able to provide some linkage between the increasingly variegated layers of the Italian working class.(54)
The most dramatic and significant divides of the period served both to mark off the workers of the large Northern factories from the rest of the subjects grouped within Negri's class figure, and to force a widening fissure within the mass worker itself. After half a decade of struggle, the chief protagonists of the Hot Autumn found themselves in the best of cases in the limbo world of a 'productive truce' within the factory, in the worst engaged in industrial disputes both defensive in tone and subordinate to the institutional ambitions of the official labour movement. Due chiefly to their ability to guarantee the rigidity of labour-power in an increasingly centralised contractual arena, the union confederations had succeeded after 1973 in winning the support of the great majority of factory councils, bureaucratising them in the process. In practice this had meant two things: firstly the resumption, in a new guise, of the traditional union discourse of a qualification-based pay hierarchy amongst workers which pushed hard against the egalitarian spirit of recent years; secondly, an explicit union committment to tailor labour's demands to the requirements of accumulation.(55) With the Centre-Left of the sixties supplanted by increasingly authoritarian governments, and conscious the Chilean experience, the PCI leadership now committed itself to the path of a 'historic compromise' with the ruling Christian Democrats, a goal which the party's successes in the 1975 regional elections seemed to bring one step closer to fruition. Even as it utilised the left union confederation (CGIL) to rebuild a workplace presence lost in preceding years, such political ambitions only strengthened the Communist party's traditional hostility to what it deemed 'corporatist' struggles against the necessary restructuring of the economy.(56)
On the industrial front itself, there were signs that many employers, far from being cowered by the struggles of the mass worker, had only intensified their quest to subdue the 'labour factor'. At FIAT, for example, management had begun an elaborate war of maneouvre aimed at undermining the power over production which workers had acquired in the struggles of the Hot Autumn. Making use of the national lay-off fund of the Cassa Integrazione to reorganise the whole cycle of production, management wound down output in some shops, while pushing ahead in others through extensive use of overtime. At the same time, more and more components were assigned to smaller plants within the conglomerate, including those recently established outside Italy. Such a disarticulation of the production cycle sharply eroded that capacity for disruption and communication which in previous years the more militant shops within Mirafiori had used to their advantage, while simultaneously allowing management to experiment with new production processes based upon robotics. As natural wastage and sackings for absenteeism combined to cut the total FIAT workforce by 13% in the two years up to September 1975, more and more FIAT employees were forced by mounting inflation to turn to moonlighting, a practice which further blocked the transmission of militancy. As if all this was not enough, in July 1975 FIAT management was to win union agreement on its right to control mobility within the firm, a victory which provoked a spree of transfers between its various plants, and further reduced the rigidity of employees. As Marco Revelli would later indicate,
This was a period in which FIAT was used by the employers more as a means for the enlarged reproduction of political mediation (and social consensus) rather than as a means of production of commodities, and it was clear that the union was able to survive, as a shadow, a fetishistic form of a hypostasised 'workers' power'. But it was also clear that, as the class composition which had made the material and social base of that model of the union broke up, so the moment was approaching in which the boss aimed to settle a few accounts.(57)
Whatever other problems they faced, the core of the mass worker formed at FIAT still remained sufficiently strong in those years to retain their jobs. Manufacturing workers elsewhere, however, were not to be so secure. In Lombardy, for example, hundreds of firms now began to decentralise and rationalise their production processes. The most emblematic case -- that of the British Leyland-owned Innocenti plant -- also offers some insight into the divisions which then ran through the body of the industrial working class. The first round of troubles at Innocenti had opened in April 1975, with management introducting Cassa Integrazione for some workers, and speedups for the rest. The situation worsened at the end of August, when employees found themselves facing the prospect of redundancies for a third of their number and permanently increased worktime and production rhythms for those left behind. The most intransigent opposition to these attacks was to come from a small number of militants who, having distanced themselves from the groups of the far left, had formed a rank and file body possessed of a certain following in key shops within the plant. Faced with a hostile majority on the PCI-dominated factory council, increasingly outmanoeuvred as the struggle shifted from the shopfloor to the terrain of negotiations between union and company, the Coordinamento Operaio Innocenti soon found itself, in the words of one former member, 'in the eye of the cyclone'. Matters came to a head at the end of October, as PCI and CGIL stewards calshed with members of the group and their supporters. The following day six of its members were sacked, effectively destroying the Coordinamento as a force within the plant, and with it the possibility of a struggle unemcumbered by the historic left's commitment to the 'management' of the nation's economic difficulties.(58)
Hailed in certain circles as the new programme of Autonomia, Proletari e Stato would receive a stormy reception from others for its disinterest in such setbacks for the mass worker. If some of Negri's erstwhile opponents now embraced many of its precepts as their own,(59) the pamphlet was to bring little pleasure to those of his longstanding associates who had remained apart from the 'organised' wing of Autonomia. Particularly disappointed was Sergio Bologna, an editor of Primo Maggio who had continued to collaborate with Negri in a number of research projects. With Proletari e Stato, Bologna argued, Negri had grasped some of the 'objective mechanisms of political composition' present in Italian society, only to neglect completely the no-less substantial tendencies running counter to them:
How many workers, how many factories have found themselves in the past two years faced with the problem of closure, and how many struggles have been burnt out in the alternatives between defence of the wage independent from the exchange of labour-power, and production cooperatives? Between guaranteed wage and self-management, closure of the factory and acceptance of restructuring? In such circumstances, the revolutionary left has either not known how to offer other alternatives or, in the best cases, has limited itself to saying that the problem was wrongly posed and as such should be rejected. At its most coherent, the revolutionary left has said that the destruction of the worker as labour-power was a good thing which could only aid the recruitment and selection of the vanguard. There have been many small (or big) battles, but in their course the political composition of the class has changed substantially in the factories, and certainly not in the direction indicated by Negri. Not only that, but the opposite of that greater unity of which he talks has taken place. Rather, a deeper division has occured: not between factory and society, but within the factory itself, between the working class right and left. In sum there has been a reassertion of reformist hegemony over the factories, one that is brutal and relentless in its efforts to dismember the class left and expel it from the factory.(60)
Rather than come to grips with such disarray and confusion, Bologna complained, Negri had preferred to ply the traditional trade of the theorist in possession of some grand synthesis. Indeed, in choosing to invent 'a different social figure with which to impute the process of liberation from exploitation', Negri had simply washed his hands of the mass worker's recent difficulties, along with his own organisation's failure to make any headway within it. Far from being at the beginning ofa new era, Bologna concluded,
We are not at year one, we are not back at the reawakening of the 'new left' of the sixties: we are not even at the redefinition of a social figure different to the mass worker. Even if it were true that the relation between operaio sociale and party is different, that civil society no longer exists, that the theory of class consciousness has also changed, why continue to exercise the consumate craft of theoretician and ideologue? The form of political discourse is obsolete, the millenarian language is just a 'ballbreaker', and this form of theory deserves to be negated like every other 'general theory'... let us conclude by saying that on this ground debate is no longer possible, it's boring. Better find new ground. Certainly, 'great is the disorder under the sun, the situation is therefore excellent'.(61)
Equally scathing in its critique was the Roman wing of Autonomia. After a year of participating in the production of Rosso, the Comitati Autonomi Operai had finally had enough by late 1976. Agreeing with Bologna that Negri's abandonment of the sphere of direct production as the central terrain of class struggle could have only 'disastrous' consequences,(62) the Romans believed that such differences were underlaid by a deeper one of method. Complaining that the Milanese contribution to Autonomia's analysis of class composition was characterised increasingly by assertions 'as emphatic as they are unconvincing', they acknowledged that
Your interest for the 'emergent strata' (proletarian youth, feminists, homosexuals) and for new, and reconceptualised, political subjects (the 'operaio sociale') has always been and is still shared by us. But precisely the undeniable political importance of these phenomena demands extreme analytical rigour, great investigative caution, a strongly empirical approach (facts, data, observations and still more observations, data, facts)...(63)
Turning his back upon such counsel, Negri would henceforth devote the greater part of his energies to the development of a new 'mode of enquiry' adequate to the socialised worker.
Negri Beyond Marx
If in the late sixties Negri, like other workerists of the time, had run the risk of subsuming the specificity of different working class strata to those of the mass worker, his work in the second half of the seventies threatened to dissolve even this partially concrete understanding of class into a generic proletariat. As debate around the operaio sociale unfolded, the indeterminate nature of Negri's abstraction would become increasingly clear. Perhaps the gentlest critic would be Alquati, for whom the operaio sociale remained a 'suggestive' category; even he, however, warned against the danger of constructing an ideology around a class figure which had yet to appear as a mature political subject.(64) For Roberto Battagia, writing in the pages of Primo Maggio, Negri's new subject was a category derived only by analogy from the mass worker, lacking as it did the latter's 'most characteristic' aspect: namely, a close bond between 'material conditions of exploitation' and 'political behaviours'. In reality, therefore, as a potpourri of different subjects 'with completely autonomous motivations', the notion of a socialised worker was of limited heuristic value.(65) Such a line of reasoning would be pressed home by Vittorio Dini, who considered the manner in which Negri had drained his conceptual apparatus of its content to be particularly damning. Earlier, Negri had written suggestively of the historically determinate nature of this category; now, by deeming all moments of the circulation process as productive of value, he was to resolve workerism's longstanding tension around the factory-society relationship by theoretical sleight of hand. Similarly, the delineation of a new class figure, a project which required considerable care and time, had been accomplished simply by collapsing tendency into actuality.(66)
Another disappointing aspect of Negri's new analysis of class composition was that part of it dealing with the PCI. While correctly emphasising the frequently punitive nature of the Communist party's efforts to win the battle for hearts and minds within the workplace, Negri chose not to explore what Lapo Berti was to call the growing disjuncture between the 'behaviours of struggle and political "attitudes"' of many workers formed in the Hot Autumn: between the continued practical critique of the organisation of labour evident in many factories, and working class support for a party leadership which saw the existing relations of production as in the natural order of things.(67) Insistent, instead, that the reformist project lacked any material basis in a time of capitalist crisis, Negri was satisfied to paint the relationship between workers and PCI as one of pure repression, or else hint darkly at the parasitic nature of the workforce in the large factories.(68) Closer to the truth stood one of the contributions to the June 1976 special edition of Rosso devoted to the PCI, which elaborated upon the Communist intellectual Badaloni's portrayal of his party as the representation of one facet of working class existence: that of the 'organised commodity' labour-power prepared to accept its subordinate place in society. Even in this instance, however, as the Romans of the Comitati Autonomi Operai were to point out, only their contributions to the same issue had advanced any practical discussion of Communist policy and its implementation, particularly in that sector where the PCI already operated as a governing party -- the municipal administration of some of Italy's major cities.(69)
Thus, despite the growing intricacy of Italian class politics in the late seventies, the simplification of Negri's schema was to proceed apace. While he continued to reject traditional marxist conceptions of crisis, Negri's own framework became no less catastrophic. 'The balance of power has been reversed', he wrote in a 1977 pamphlet which went on to sell 20,000 copies:
the working class, its sabotage, are the stronger power -- above all, the only source of rationality and value. From now on it becomes impossible, even in theory, to forget this paradox produced by the struggles: the more the form of domination perfects itself, the more empty it becomes; the more the working class refusal grows, the more it is full of rationality and value... We are here; we are uncrushable; and we are in the majority.(70)
As a consequence of such millennarianrism, the most creative features of Negri's subjectivist reading of Marx would be crippled. Devoid of the contradictory determinations of Italian reality, the promising notion -- again borrowed from Alquati -- of a working class 'self-valorising' its own needs within and against the capital relation lost all substance. In a similar fashion, Negri's denunciation of the State capitalism found in the Eastern bloc, his search for a new measure of production beyond that of value, and his clear depiction of the revolutionary process as one based upon the pluralism of mass organs of proletarian self-rule, were again and again overridden by a framework which depicted class struggle as the mortal combat of two Titans.(71) Despite, too, Negri's acceptance of the notion of difference as a positive attribute within movements of social change, Negri's own conception of the operaio sociale continued to filter out all the specific and contradictory discriminants within it, leaving only their common attribute as embodiments of abstract labour. Since the latter in turn held meaning only as a form of pure command, Negri's understanding of the problem of political recomposition came to be overdetermined by a stress upon violence which, as the practice of much of Autonomia now showed, was no less impoverished -- if profoundly different in culture and form -- than that of the Brigate Rosse.(72)
One might reasonably suppose that to an outlook so infused with triumphalism, the relative ease with which Autonomia was to be crushed by the mass arrests of 1979-80 could only come as an immense shock. Rather than restoring a note of caution to Negri's thought, however, the Area's political defeat would serve simply to exacerbate the flattening out of his conceptual framework. Breaking in 1981 with the dominant group within the Autonomia of north-eastern Italy, Negri would accuse its exponents of holding fast both to 'a Bolshevik model of organisation outside time and space' and a subject -- the mass worker -- which was, 'if not anachronistic, at the very least partial and corporative'. In doing so, he argued, they had chosen to ignore
a new political generation (not only children) which situates itself in the great struggles for community, for peace, for a new way of being happy. A generation without memory and therefore more revolutionary.(73)
Developing this line of argument more fully that year in the pages of the journal Metropoli, Negri went on to insist that memory could only be understood as an integral moment in the logic of capitalist domination:
the class composition of the contemporary metropolitan subject has no memory because only labour can construct for the proletariat a relation with past history... proletarian memory is only the memory of past estrangement... The existing memory of 1968 and of the decade which followed it is now only that of the gravedigger... the youths of Zurich, the Neapolitan proletarians and the workers of Gdansk have no need of memory... Communist transition is absence of memory.(74)
'Your memory', Negri had accused his former comrades, 'has become your prison'.(75) In his own case, however, this embrace of an eternal present simply meant the abnegation of past responsibilities. Surveying the defeat of the workerist tendency that same year -- a defeat that had left Negri and thousands of other activists imprisoned as 'terrorists' -- Sergio Bologna would recognise the nature of this problem clearly:
I have a sense of both fear and repugnance when I see comrades who hate their past or, worse still, who mystify it. I'm not denying my past, for example my workerist past; on the contrary, I claim it. If we toss everything away, we live in a condition of permanent schizophrenia.(76)
Tracing Negri's passage to this dismal point beyond both operaismo and marxism is a depressing task. Behind the evident haste which has characterised much of his work, there lies what he would himself later concede as
this damning pretence, that runs through all our writings; it is the language of the Marxist tradition, but it carries a residue of simulation that creates a distorted redundancy.(77)
Such an aberration stemmed from that peculiar mode of thinking which Negri had inherited from the father of Italian workerism, Mario Tronti, and honed to perfection, a mode of thinking which took its starting point from real social processes only to rapidly turn in upon itself. Seeking for his part to avoid such a fate, Marx had abandoned the dazzling heights of conceptual flight displayed in the Grundrisse for the somber, but historically specific, passages of Das Kapital. Unconvinced by such a choice, Negri might have done worse than to heed the advice of Tronti himself, whose work on class composition, no less than his own, has come to stand as vibrant proof of Operai e capitale's warning that 'A discourse which grows upon itself carries the mortal danger of verifying itself always and only through the successive passages of its own formal logic'.(78)
(6) The attendance figures for the Bologna conference are given by the Roman organization as 'more than 400' [Comitati Autonomi Operai (eds), Autonomia Operaia, Savelli, Rome, 1976, p.33] and by Negri as 'three hundred people at the maximum' (in G. Soulier, 'AUTONOMIE-AUTONOMIES', Recherches 30, November 1977, p.88).
(7) 'Dalla relazione introduttiva', Autonomia Operaia, pp.40, 43. An insight into both the first autonomist factory collectives and the early Italian women's movement can be found in E. Cantarow, 'Women's Liberation and Workers' Autonomy in Turin and Milan', Liberation, October 1972 and June 1973.
(20 )A. Negri, 'The Party of Mirafiori', now in Red Notes (eds), Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis: Italian Marxist Texts of the Theory and Practice of a Class Movement. 1964-1979, CSE Books, London 1979, p.64.
(26) The occupations centred on private housing in San Basilio, one of the worst slum districts of Rome. Divisions in the far left were such that separate squats were organised by the various groups. Accounts can be found in Autonomia Operaia, pp.205-11, 214-9, and throughout the September issues of the newspaper Lotta Continua.
(29) Comitato Politico ENEL & Collettivo Policlinico, 'Centralizzazione e responsabilita ' delle avanguardie', Rosso 11, p. ll , and 'Autonomia operaia organizzata: rapporto da Milano', Autonomia Operaia, pp.71-4.
(31) An early instance of Autonomia's difficult relations with other activists alienated by the triplice was the participation by some of its Roman exponents in the efforts of male Lotta Continua militants to force their way into a national women-only demonstration of December 1975. Franco Berardi's account of the incident, which prompted his Bolognese group to severe formal ties with the 'organised' wing of Autonomia, can be found in 'AUTONOMIE-AUTONOMIES', p.93.
(34) Documento Politico della Segretaria dei Collettivi politici di Milano', Rosso 7 (13.3.76), now in G. Martignoni and S. Morandilli (eds), Il diritto all'odio: dentro/fuori/ai bordi dell'area dell'autonomia, Bertani, Verona, 1977, p.229.
(36) B. Longo, 'Meno salario, piu' reddito: la Cassa integrazione', Primo Maggio 5, Spring 1975, p.30. Gasparazzo was a comic strip character in the newspaper Lotta Continua who epitomised the male 'mass workers' formed during the Hot Autumn.
(38) A. Negri, Proletari e Stato, pp.14, 15. Beyond his own works such as Crisi dello Stato-piano, an anticipation of Negri' s thesis can be found in the reflections of another former member of Potop, Franco 'Bifo' Berardi. For this Bolognese militant, writing in April 1973, the FIAT occupation of that year signalled the crisis both of leninism and the mass worker, now being overtaken by a new class composition within which 'intellectual and technical labour, productive intelligence (wissenschaft-tecknische-intelligenz) tends to become determinate - Mirafiori e' rossa', now in F. Berardi, Scrittura e Movimento, Marsilio, Venice 1974, p.8.
(39) Alquati's version of the operaio sociale hypothesis and its relationship to the other class figures of operaismo is presented in R. Alquati, N. Negri and A. Sormano, Universita' di ceto medio e proletariato intellettuale, Stampatori, Turin n.d ., pp.90-3 .
(54) The struggles in small factories during 1975 are well documented in the pages of Lotta Continua. According to one report at that organisation's July 1975 Workers' Conference, in Milan alone 116 factories had been hit by layoffs, with 3-5000 workers on Cassa Integrazione, and another 7,000 (including 1,500 at Innocenti) due to join them in September. Between fifty and sixty of these workplaces had been occupied by their employees - 'La lotta politica delle piccole fabbriche', Lotta Continua, 24 July 1975, p.3.
(55) See P. Lange, G. Ross and M. Vannicelli, Unions, Change and Crisis: French and Italian Union Strategy and the Political Economy, 1945-1980, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1982, p.155; A. Graziosi, La ristrutturazione nelle grande fabbriche 1973-1976, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1979, Chapter 1; M. Regini, 'Labour Unions, Industrial Action and Politics', in P. Lange and S . Tarrow (eds), Italy in Transition: Conflict and Consensus, Frank Cass, London, 1980; G. De Masi et. al., Consigli operai e consigli di fabbrica: L'esperienza consiliare dalle origini a oggi, Savelli, Rome, Second Edition ,1978.
(60) S. Bologna, '"Proletari e Stato" di Antonio Negri: una recesione', Primo Maggio 7, p.27. A translation of parts of this and the following quotation can be found in B. Lumley, 'Review Article: Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis: Italian Texts of the Theory and Practice of a Class Movement. 1964-79', Capital & Class 12, Winter 1980/81, pp.132, 133.
(61) S. Bologna, '"Proletari e Stato"...', p.28. Negri's rather vicious response to Bologna's skepticism is contained in the editorial 'Dopo il 20 giugno autonomia per il partito. Spariamo sui corvi', Rosso III/10-11, p.2.
(62) As two Roman autonomists then put it in a letter to the editors of Primo Maggio, 'Each time in the history of the workers' movement that the factory has been abandoned, the most disastrous defeats have followed...' - quoted in Bermani and Cartosio, , p.11.
(71) A. Negri, 'Working Class Sabotage...'. The depiction of Negri's understanding of class struggle as a battle between 'two Titans' is that of A. Lipietz, 'Crise et inflation: Pourquoi?', Communisme 2 (n.d.), quoted in G. Boismenu's review of A. Negri, La classe ouvriere contre l'Etat, Galilee Paris 1978), in Canadian Journal of Political Science 13/1, March 1980, p.192.