Organic Composition of Capital and Labor-Power at Olivetti (1961)

Print Friendly


Alquati’s 1975 introduction1

The absurd title of this piece is not mine. It was written in Winter 1961, before the metalworkers’ contract strike of 1962. Given the inefficiency of the [Quaderni Rossi] editorial board and, above all, the delays on the editing and typographical front, this article only came out and entered into circulation after the denouement of that strike had marked the opening of a new phase in the cycle of struggles in the Sixties. The text suffered greatly with this delay, so that its meaning and significance became distorted. But even more, it suffered from the form in which it was published. This article was prepared in five parts and it was decided to publish them piecemeal. However the first two parts published were not separated as they were written: one and a half parts appeared in one issue, followed by the next half in the following issue. At that rate, the remaining three parts would have been made public so late as to destroy their political effectiveness; in any case, after the split in the journal, they were not published at all.

The five sections were as follows: a) a descriptive [informativa] introduction on the type of experience and the composition of the political subject that carried it out; b) aspects of the organization of work at Olivetti; c) the workers’ struggle; d) the subjectivity of the workers; e) union and political organization in the factory, the contradictions of the institutional labor movement, and the potentialities of an alternative organization. It’s clear to me that the most important and significant [qualificanti] parts were the last three, but these remained in my drawer together with my research on FIAT and many other works. The structure of exposition was the same as what could be found in almost all of my other publications concerning experiences of militant research — but from the point of view of the political goals of militant research and its socialization, it’s clear that the basis, the real point of departure, lay precisely in the themes of the last sections.

The fact that only the first two segments were published favored the most gratuitous criticisms. On the one hand, they seemed to provide ammunition for those who spoke of workerism and spontaneism; on the other, they made possible the most unjust and distorted accusation that could be leveled against me, namely that someone who was almost alone in predicting, valorizing and organizing — in political terms as well — the return of the working class to offensive struggle within the workplace, was accused of theorizing the omnipotence of the capitalist plan! Moreover, the second part appeared with many cuts, without the two most important sections: one on incentives, company pay rates, and wage differentials, and one on piecework and the return to the individual negotiation of many aspects of working conditions. These were arguments in which the responsibilities of a mistaken union practice were laid bare. And the saddest aspect of all this lay precisely in the apolitical nature of the editorial cuts and dismemberments inflicted upon the text. Within the editorial group, the total distortion of a political experience such as that carried out by the interventionist group at Lancia was already evident. Then came Panzieri’s refusal to publish my article concerning FIAT parallel to the Olivetti one: the definitive break with Panzieri and the definitive split of the group from Quaderni Rossi in 1963 also stemmed from editorial practices such as these.

In this case too, the experience of which I had written for Quaderni Rossi has little to do with the editorial group of the journal. Once again, it followed on from a conference of the Turin federation of the PSI (on the eve of the split [that led to the formation of the PSIUP]). The federation leadership suggested that I carry out (funded by a modest payment) some preparatory work for a PSI conference on Olivetti, placing at my disposal the collaboration of a nucleus of Socialist factory cadre. What I have called in these notes the interventionist sub-group [of QR] was not involved in this experience of “militant co-research,” given that its members were committed in the strike at Lancia and FIAT. I was almost contracted [committenza] as a sort of specialist in co-research to these factory cadre. And in fact the work was realized through the massive and lavish commitment of the active factory cadre not only of the PSI, but also from the PCI. As the Communist comrades had understood, analysis, stimulus and mobilization were not the exclusive attribute of a particular party, but concerned the struggle of the whole Olivetti working class and its union and political ramifications. I said these things in the introduction to the first segment of the article, but I want to restate it here now because (for example) Carrara made it appear, in an issue of QR that came out after the split, as if all this had been some sociological research carried out by the sociologists of Quaderni Rossi!

Organic Composition of Capital and Labor-Power at Olivetti

One of the many absurdities that a summary and limited work such as ours might have to deal with would be that of prefacing a “story”: separating it, as if it were some world apart that was evoked only so as to understand the “genesis” of problems. The story, as a real dimension, is a decisive moment in our elaboration. Since our work unfolds as a renewal of a direct contact with class situations in order to find a way to organize the embryos of antagonistic class consciousness that reproduce themselves amongst workers, it is worthwhile precisely to the degree that it becomes a revolutionary consciousness of this unfolding story. The starting hypotheses of this first hasty attempt at an “external” elaboration are part of the problems that face the upsurges [spinte] of workers in the Turin province – but only because our direct experience is circumscribed here, since they also seem to recur within all the situations of workers’ struggles in developed countries. Capitalism homogenizes and integrates itself on a global scale: neo-colonialism is only an aspect of planning that extends on a global scale with the global constitution of the capitalist class.

Here “generalization” becomes a moment of revolutionary organization, fully interdependent with it. It is bound up with linkage and communication between revolutionary militants struggling with the global nature of capitalism, and the political atomization of the proletariat. Today generalization is precisely the system’s decisive characteristic, due to the mystified totalization in which capital is global and as such everywhere. From this follows the necessity to understand the part within the whole that we “are keeping an eye on” [“sta dietro”]: the necessity to surpass the immediate, the empirical, to surpass historically the grave political limit of the partiality of a discourse that remains caught up with the partial and atomized nature of struggles, in order to attain that generality of discourse that renders struggle global. But if the reality of the proletariat today is one of political atomization, it is clear that saying we are dealing with some of the problems that workers in Turin are up against does not mean either that all the workers who have struggled collectively – from the delegations of Mirafiori to so-called sectoral struggles – are aware of this, much less that they feel this in the terms raised here. If that were so, the discourse would be different, and we would certainly not be the only ones making it, it would not be closed within these limits. The level of our discourse depends upon the level of these struggles, and they have been so absorbed by the system that, paradoxically, they have been functional to the latter, despite the extreme upsurges and local tension of the various islands and atoms that have carried them out. The working class returns with greater force to struggle, but its struggles are still functional to the system. They are still the struggles of atoms, they are still blind struggles. Surpassing blind empiricism is the great collective task of revolutionary militants within a capitalism that rationalizes all aspects of social life, that plans exploitation on a global scale.

The political residues of struggles within the realities of the large firms

The hypotheses from which we start are the same as those adopted at the beginning of a rank and file project, carried out with some comrades at Olivetti. It would be indispensable to analyze this activity, the forces in play, of the workers’ parties in Ivrea and Turin in the face of this: not to write the history of the nucleus at work [che si e’ mosso], but because this work, with its history, is a fundamental aspect of the same factory that we are describing, as workers’ movement. The workers’ parties, even when they are “external” to the factory or even the working class, in reality have a directly important place in the factory – not so much as a technical contribution to central planning, as in relation to the atomization of the proletariat (and in the duplicity of the management that tolerates this with the function of absorbing the possibility of a socialist discourse). They also have an indirect presence, in the conditioning of the union, distorting its very negotiating role, subordinating it to the “democratic” aims of the parties, to the point of opening an opposing dialectic, with the demand of autonomy that is too closed by objective limits to act as an alternative organization to the system. We will address some of these aspects in our analysis of the factory: not to exhaust the discourse, but rather to denounce its partial nature, and instead to solicit and begin in its place the indispensable dynamic construction of a global approach.

One aspect of the class struggle within systems of advanced capitalism, which we will analyze briefly right here, concerns the method of working. It is one of the problems linked to others, saturating the abyss between analysis and intervention. Our hypotheses are proposed to vanguards who know how to insert themselves in orientation towards struggles. Not to new “groups” closed and isolated in ideological purity, but to those who, with or without initials or membership cards, within or without the factory (this is a false problem: today the factory does not exist as a moment that can be separated, etc.), are nonetheless in the midst [nel vivo] of the class struggle – where political recomposition, the circulation of experiences, critique and discussion, the elaboration of new forms and contents, have reached the highest moment, where problems attain an increasingly deeper and more generalized significance alongside the unfolding of the struggle itself.

One of the most evident characteristics of the struggles of 1960-61 as spontaneous rank and file upsurges was precisely their capacity to explode the structural contradictions of advanced capitalism in a new phase of adjustment [assestamento]. This still developing process has often confronted workers with the inescapably global reality of the system. Consider from this perspective the struggles at Farmitalia or Pirelli (where a strike had posed the whole complex of political relations, up to and including the State and Constitution, etc., in the clearest and fullest way, only to fail due to its local character): the workers had understood the subordination of juridical-parliamentary superstructures to the market and production needs of Montecatini, etc., and had understood everything all together, in the course of a hard struggle. The initial thrust was largely spontaneous, with a whole series of demands that were partial but new in terms of content. At times these involved new and unbiased techniques, led by internal organized unitary nuclei, that demanded only specific kinds of assistance from the unions, evaluating each according to their respective possibilities, and thus (some of the CISL activists included) turning often to the CGIL to lead the negotiations, while discussing with them the global strategy. For this reason, and this reason only, the struggles reached those qualitative levels of participation that have characterized them as class movements.

Started and led by active young workers who were diffident towards the traditional organizations and their old, sterile polemics that still hung-over from the late Forties, they were carried forward by people who sought to make themselves clear [che vuole vederci chiaro]. Everywhere you could hear union officials being told: “OK, but don’t pull a stunt like the one in ’52 or ’54,” indicating that such diffidence had not gone away.

The qualitative progress of the struggle and its politicization were typical in this respect. The acquisition and extension of a class consciousness is the greatest and most endurable conquest of these youths who, surpassing the passivity of the generations who had been active in the postwar working-class parties, had sought to struggle starting from economic demands, only to hold firm and pose the fundamental political objective of “keeping your head held high in the face of the boss.” What was also typical was the refusal of the new generations, from the moment that the unions inserted themselves within the workers’ struggles in an attempt to resolve their own crisis, to join the unions and so accept a kind of organization that they considered bureaucratic.

In the factory, the strike started from its spawning ground in a department and then extended itself, intensifying discussion and creating encounters, convergence, organization, while simultaneously extending the unitary nature of the struggle and transforming it into a political fact. In this way the boss discovered the strike not only as an adversary of an increasingly global, class, and systemic nature, but also as the center of the problem, increasingly higher and closer to the global center of real political and economic power (against efforts to lend a parliamentary outcome to the struggle, as part of the mystifying role that the bureaucratic leaders had once again played). In fact it was very important that, parallel to this progressively political framing of the clash, the workers themselves (sooner or later, whatever their point of departure, that was – at Farmitalia or elsewhere – a strike patiently prepared with commitment by CGIL activists and sometimes by the local union officials) ever more clearly discovered the emergence of different objectives that openly contrasted with the objectives of the men who led the union organizations. The refusal of the union functionaries to take on, in their alternative significance (always nullified by the Stalinist structure) the fundamental political aspects of factory problems, revealed more and more their structure as optimal to the logic of the system of “monopolies,” as the organizations’ mythology portrayed it.

Typical too was the fact that at the same time there could be seen the transformation of demands, and the struggle itself, onto a more narrowly-conceived union level, namely of mere improvements in terms of remuneration, even if with some tinkering with the wage structure, which for the most part sanctioned a modification in work relations of labor that were already in crisis, such as certain forms of piecework. In other words, the struggle ended in an agreement that in reality acted as a necessary global mechanism that in an oligopolistic system acquired a function of speeding up the readjustments of capitalist planning already under way. This increasingly “union” conclusion to the struggles of 1961 did not diminish, but rather increased where the parties themselves were able to mobilize what little organization they had available to support the strike (and on this level, the parties, like the union, were not much more than little groups compared to the factory). Now, faced with this sparse outcome from the struggles of 1960-61, it is far too simplistic and misleading to blather about betrayals or a bureaucracy that “sells out” workers, almost as a congenital defect. The discourse on bureaucracy is not about the impotence, incapacity or personal bad faith of certain functionaries from the traditional organizations of the labor movement: it must be seen as a macroscopic fact of the global organization of contemporary capitalism, one whose propulsive force and center lies within the relations of production and is generalized as a totalizing dimension by the real centers of political power: the big firms. So for us here in Turin, where the big firm is more massively present than elsewhere, the most important and most typical aspect of the whole wave of struggles in 1960-61 and their depressing fadeout was that they did not involve the biggest complexes. FIAT was able to reorganize the whole bosses’ front around itself, and already in the summer of 1961, Pirelli workers had to return to work with their heads bowed. Immediately afterwards, Montecatini saw the defeat of what was, according to us, and together with the CVS strike, the most important episode in the class struggle in Piedmont in 1960-61. From that point, little by little, the small and medium-sized companies also began to stand firm, and even some of the smaller workshops were able to heed the CGIL’s call for strike action.

FIAT saw some very interesting spontaneous strikes, but these were limited, blind. Even at Mirafiori there were delegations, but the CGIL was unable to do anything about them. In the big firms, the movement did not “pass,” and therefore it did not “pass” anywhere, so that on the parliamentary level, the only thing that came to pass was the Centre-Left government.

On the “other side of things,” developments – contradictory and ambiguous by definition – occurred within the socio-economic situation in 1960-61. For example, there was the still-ignored, very rapid structural politicization of workers’ normative demands that extended themselves spatially and physically. This was a sign of a productive structure in which the objective margins of paternalism, of company-based reformism, had been reduced, so that as a general rule, “concessions” were no longer possible. There was also the dynamic fact that the system has failed if the generalization of demands produces political recomposition, the circulation of experiences, collective reorganization: that class consciousness which in the smaller firms, or those at a technologically or organizationally lower level, or else economically subordinate and so objectively unable to become a central political fact at the system-wide level, constitutes the major, if still insufficient, political conquest of those young producers only recently immersed in the production process. Just how perishable this might be, just what new and different possibilities can be integrated, remains to be seen. But there is a new, important fact, one that condemns all those ambiguous discourses that proliferate within the system alongside the demagogic use of the term “alternative” – such as in the PSI’s economic program, given that the only alternative that they postulate is Togliatti’s “democratic” one …

These struggles have already taught the comrades at Ivrea that the process of development, the increase in consumption, and the rise in living standards have not resolved the workers’ problems. This is so not only because the bogus nature of status symbols etc. is revealed daily through the contradictions of the company system, or because the increase in consumption on a merely quantitative level has fallen apart, and the qualitative improvement that the system offers is not “human” but rather reified, alienating. More than this, it is so precisely because it is “realized” by a system of exploitation based upon the objectivism of calculation and upon techniques of rationalization. These fetishize themselves continuously in new value, because development leads the system to fuse [fondersi] with a rationalization that intervenes and dominates and characterizes every aspect of social life, where all relationships are shaped on company templates [moduli], so that rationalization itself participates in the same charismatic power of the symbol of domination that remains its very soul: profit.

Real problems become aggravated, labor is increasingly alienated, the working class increasingly exploited: the Ivrea comrades did not discover this situation only yesterday. Nor is there any novelty in the fact that the contradictory nature of the system has not yet translated into dysfunctionality, precisely because at the immediate level, given atomization, no contradiction has become a political fact that can be generalized outside the firm, and therefore one that cannot be absorbed. And yet it is equally true that in the end there remains, through the global perception of this contradictory nature, an important political residue that today designates a conflictual area able to attain profound dimensions, and transform itself into conscious alternative struggle. This political residue within the reality of the large firm vomits [ributta] more strongly than ever on the feet of those ideological conformists who have eliminated classes from their social theory, both in the sense of factory exploitation, not to mention their capitalist masters, and of the specter of proletarian revolution. This is all the more significant in so far as it has been young “technicians” (authentic wage laborers) who everywhere, as in Poland and Hungary, have spoken of those irritating “old men” Marx and Lenin, who had accomplished rather more than simply creating the premises of the workers’ political bureaucracy …

The political character of work and a power alternative

We have provided some idea of the problems that existed when the PSI experience at Olivetti began: it is the contemporary situation of the labor movement and class struggle within the wider Turin province. Clearly this generalization is too generic, given that a generalization needs to proceed under its own steam [cammina poi con le proprie gambe] within a movement, carrying it towards its fundamental objectives. We need to delve further into the key points of development, to grasp the specific conceptualization of a movement behind its immediate determinations, so as to verify them within the wider situation that the large firm determines. This was the fixation of the comrades’ activity as aspiration, as the long term objective (long term given the struggles’ “subjective” characteristics in terms of consciousness and organization).

The commitment, in the theoretical moment of that political work at a rank and file level, can be expressed as follows: elaboration of a type of relation, of a method of work of discussion and co-research with the workers themselves, the protagonists of the decisive events in the context of a situation that allows that politicization and generalization that constitutes the most valid objective characteristic of the workers’ upsurges in this period.

The group did not choose Olivetti, Olivetti chose it. In the current system, anyone who wants to influence the overall play of relations of power must collide with the large firms that coordinate the orientation of social development together with the entrepreneur State, as the objectively alternative workers’ upsurges of 1960-61 did against the labor movement, and so the PSI. In Turin the PSI had developed a particular line thanks to some of its leaders, who wanted to reinsert it in the real show and not in that mystified game of “democratic” power relations. They wanted it to resume a role as political guide that oriented upsurges, seeking to exploit what little remained of that external and general network made up of profoundly socialist comrades, those who remain and sometimes even join the party. (It would be interesting, although there is no space to do so here, to provide an analysis of how and why the Socialist party in Turin has made this choice – which it also imposed upon the union – because it reveals the limits and myths that block even the best comrades, the most “open” leaders, within the labor movement).

One of the many experiences consummated in these struggles – at the structural level, and therefore significant for the political problems it has raised – is precisely that concerning the reciprocal interdependence of the forces in play, each of which creates its own adversary. Less than ever does this seem a metaphysical fact, but only a consequence – once again – of the capitalist system that carries its specificity to an ever greater level, multiplying and modifying its decisive and indispensable part: labor, the working class. On the objective level, this dialectic remains one of capital with itself, namely the indefinite prosecution of its own contradictoriness. Within this dialectic, the workers’ parties represent the maximum moment of the system’s ambiguity, in a function that is objectively mystifying because it represents the most delicate mechanism, by which the system seeks to overcome its ambiguity. Given this, and also because it chooses to be within the system as its particular function, the workers’ party (and here there is no difference between the PSI and the PCI) is shaped and determined by the large firm. Because of this in Turin we find not a “left” federation, but two currents that play the same mediating function within the system, but on divergent and different levels. Both, to the degree that they are conditioned by the interactions of the more “advanced” structural dynamic of the national currents, are carried forward by the type of objective problems within which they operate: the expression of a particularism that is unable to generalize itself in so far as it accepts the imbalances [sperequazione] through which the system realizes its global nature.

In Turin the analysis of the PSI’s real mode of movement in these things is important (as is that of the PCI, which lags by comparison), because it demonstrates up to what point the system determines it, and the fundamental structural contradictions that explode and deny it any role but that which the system has chosen for it, from the moment that the party, with its current structure, fails to mobilize both itself and an alternative movement. The only generalization allowed is the discourse amongst comrades: the instruments of communication are reduced to the middle cadre, who are then the only network of concrete generalization that the organizations can still offer to the labor movement.

This is even more so for the CGIL, and in fact we have seen how the particularist, fragmentary, localist attitude of the union – that generalizes from the average level, according to the characteristics of a bourgeois objectivism that capitalism itself has abandoned, and that confounds generalization with the “leap” in the problematic of the national leadership, which is the “democratic” and government problematic – has led the FIOM of Turin (which has accepted remaining entrenched in Turin, rather than taking up a political battle for renewal) to be defeated in Turin as well, losing the possibility of realizing its own plan to condition the large firm.

The discourse on the Party is generalized in the significance of the large firms, precisely as a moment of generalizing itself from the “factory” to society as rationalization, and in carrying itself to a totalizing level.

In fact, in the concrete situation, a “party” approach to political initiative concerning the factory at Ivrea has eliminated some of the more trivial recurrent equivocations (not amongst the workers, who are oblivious to them, but among the activists, the rank and file cadre, the factory cadre), even if in the worst manner, that is within the fundamental misunderstanding: the misunderstanding that Stalinism has inculcated, for the glory of capital, according to which something is “political” only insofar as it occurs under the rubric of the “party.” So it was much easier in Ivrea to overcome the dogma by which the approach to the factory (which for the party men is the neutral and objective kingdom of the technical, that produces goods, that creates progress, etc.) can only be a union matter. Since the technical equals development, the men of the techno-bureaucracy have no desire apart from its acceleration and organic flowing. In this manner the very function of the union is seen in the most banal terms: composed of internal conflicts on the level of negotiation, so as not to compromise the firm’s development, and on the macroeconomic level in the function of increasing living standards, consumption, balanced development, and so to planning etc. This time around they didn’t come out with discourses on anarcho-syndicalism, economism, immediatism. But that was neither surprising nor reassuring. Idiocies such as “you have to start from the union” are no longer heard, but the fundamental, most Stalinist (but no less obtuse) ones still remain: those on workerism, spontaneism, on the “ideologization” of production, and even on the “mystical” conception of the proletarian revolution.

A limited but very important experience took place in Ivrea, because in Ivrea there were profoundly socialist comrades. The political character of the work was not a consequence of this or that party (which are identical in terms of the factory), nor by the Party as such, but because it was carried forward by socialist comrades who considered politics to be an activity that addresses the real terms of power in society.

(Here we are forced for reasons of space to provide a “snapshot” [notiziole], in the style of bourgeois sociologists.) One of the important aspects here is that, despite the equivocations mentioned above, some cadre have understood and carried out the work needed in this perspective. As is usually the case, these are the few open, dynamic cadre who have not dismissed young workers as having been integrated, who have carried out a dialogue with the non-organized, and have overcome all forms of sectarianism. In Ivrea, these “few but better” are particularly strong. So not only was this value of political experience understood, but the task was addressed in an authentically unitary manner. Communist cadre became involved in this PSI initiative much more than did some Socialist comrades (including Socialist workers), demonstrating once again that membership cards or branch activity are sometimes the opposite of political commitment for workers, a form of evasion or an individual solution to a problem, with the goal of entering the local council or becoming part of the political class, etc. – not a way of advancing consciousness, but of escaping the pressures of comrades, who demand “commitment” in a strike, by saying “but I’ve always done more for the labor movement than you have, I’m a party member and I attend branch meetings.”

For example, there was no closure even towards the Bordigists, so long as they were committed concretely in developing an activity that aimed at providing a socialist, global political orientation, in terms of direct democracy and workers’ self-management, to the small and numerous struggles that – above all on the part of young workers – had sprung up in the factory.

Ivrea has always been, in its history, physically isolated within the Canavese district, and so cut off from a series of general facts. This has allowed Olivetti to realize a “particular” polity: but that “particularity” is of such little importance that it reveals just how determinant objective technological elements, labor relations, and the universal logic of profit can be. In fact, we find in Ivrea the general characteristics of the new forces, with that particular relationship between older and younger workers that we have seen in Turin’s factories, formed in the climate of the tradition of the Italian labor movement (something always worth remembering). So two of the Ivrea socialist comrades began, referring to a previous experience of the FIOM at FIAT (more so than the PSI FIAT conference, of which we wrote in the first issue of Quaderni Rossi, that had only developed but not then realized a specific work of soliciting and organizing workers’ upsurges), proposing to act as cadre only to kick things off, but with the objective of connecting with some young non-members, and carry forward the discourse together with them.

What did these comrades do?

In Ivrea there is, amongst both comrades but also workers, a profound diffidence towards sociology. Many activists know what it is, they have seen it in action. Many of the most prominent Italian sociologists cut their teeth at Olivetti, particularly those “on the Left.”. Our comrades know them, they have seen them in action, in the face of Capital, on a number of occasions: they did not much care for them. The sociology that has blossomed at Olivetti, today and in the past, did so “by experimenting on us,” in the new work rhythms. Besides (as was already the case for the Mirafiori cadres, for example), people were not prepared to lift a finger for something that, like all the others before it, would end up in a book or an article.

Everyone raised this problem, at the end of the preliminary meetings: if something was really done to organize workers politically and concretely in the factory, members or not, so as to carry struggles out of a vicious circle, there would be full support: but if the outcome was just more talk, things were likely to end badly.

We have already said that the orientation was to build the work progressively, to deepen it more and more so as to provide the particular experience with greater significance in terms of generalization.

Given this objective, as we have repeated earlier, one strong limit was the situation of stagnation, of the low level of upsurge and struggle that characterized precisely the situation of the large firm, and that still constitutes the key problem more generally. This stagnation meant (as we shall soon see) a maximum atomization, it meant the worker’s maximum passivity and distrust, it meant self-limitation, closure within the job, acceptance of the official version of things. It meant compliance with those company myths through which the firm sought to mystify relations. It meant individual isolation, immediatism, privatization etc. This reduced to a minimum the possibility of developing rank and file work. But it also meant extreme difficulties in terms of insertion. This aggravated and maximized the difficulty of addressing the other side of the problem, reducing relations with the worker either to venting, or else to a mechanical interview where workers provide facts while remaining just as they were before.

The starting point therefore was an initial moment of research, a survey of problems, necessarily from the outside and via interviews, so as to accumulate a certain minimum of points with which to discuss with others. This gestured towards a deeper understanding of problems through direct encounter and the critical circulation of experiences, etc. The first objective was to peel away the official myths and commonplaces, through which the worker – isolated and powerless in the face of a highly organized boss – rationalized their own desperate situation, so as to make bearable. A whole series of real elements were required in order to place the worker in a rational attitude: that is, one critical towards their own situation. Only from this point could they be helped in a self-critical analysis in search of some way out: the analysis of the system, of its contradictions and of the way in which the general situation might be organized in order to attain a definitive solution to the real relations of exploitation, etc. In further talks, the situations and solutions formulated by others were discussed. The discussions became deeper and deeper, unravelling a whole series of things, so that the problematic approach was soon abandoned, and matters centered instead upon the problems addressed in this article. Since the problems discussed were open ones, such as union struggle itself, or the negotiations in the factory of the union committee, sometimes the discussion already displayed a direct orientation, a common elaboration on the part of the worker.

There were initially two comrades committed to this work, with ten or so cadre also involved in the activity, and discussions with one hundred workers over the course of the summer of 1961. This meant that the first objective was completed: namely, research amongst other young non-members, and the engagement of some very young workers new to politics who themselves directly carried out the type of activity that was being developed. Some also carried out small research projects of their own on themes that had emerged in the discussions, and then intervened to support us through their outcomes. Alongside the extensive labors – the rapid quantitative development of contacts in which the young workers were directly engaged, etc., seeking to extend the discussion to the greatest number of people, etc. – could be seen an intensive development. As ferment increased amongst young workers in the factory, and local struggles multiplied, the discussion began to address problems of ever greater depth: something that was possible only by returning back to the workers themselves to carry forward the discussion, the objective thread of the thematic’s politicization – not in order “to complete an interview for an inquiry,” but in order to establish an ongoing relationship, in order to create stable ties around emerging problems, in order to create precisely that political organization of workers in the factory that the very type of problems, at the level of the relations of production, solicited on an alternative, intrinsically revolutionary level.

How things unfolded in the Olivetti sections of Ivrea, S. Bernardo and Aglie

The order that we are following in this exposition therefore is the same order in which individual problems were “necessarily” articulated in discussions with Olivetti workers, as we find in the summarized notes made by the comrades. We will begin our dis-organic discourse therefore from the job, from the problems that emerge from describing the job.

The experience we are examining concerns all the Olivetti sections where production takes place: Ivrea, S. Bernardo and Aglie. In particular, discussions were held with workers involved in the following cycles: initial manufacture (machine shops, presses, foundry); with assembly line workers; with workers in so-called “auxiliary” positions (we use these divisions in an objectively capitalist sense), maintenance of equipment, etc.; with workers engaged in “technical” planning jobs, etc., designers; as well as workers in administrative and accounting positions; with storemen and fork-lift drivers [addetti ai trasporti interni]; with controllers and operators wherever.

Here we will limit ourselves to a discussion that focuses on the assembly lines, which above all bring to light some of the basic characteristics of “work organization” under advanced capitalism.

Our focus is upon the assembly line departments of ICO and NUOVA ICO. The basic products here are the Lexicon 82 typewriter and the MC 22 and MC 24 calculators. These are the firm’s basic products, those that (with the designation 22) have been successful on the global market. It’s pointless to say that this is very much a case of mass production, whereas what is important to remember are the particular characteristics of this production. Still considered by many as capital goods, the firm seeks to affirm (through attempting to modify product demand, which needs to be better analyzed in its ever closer specific relations with changes underway within production considered in the strict sense) these as consumer durables. (We will not dwell upon the notable differences between departments since these do not impact greatly upon the type of questions we are raising: if generalization is precarious i.e. generic, it is certainly not for this reason. It goes without saying that we are not seeking any glimmer of statistical representativeness in the data.)

Even if the key sector of development in capitalist systems remains the automotive sector, a study of assembly line production at Olivetti from a few years ago would have allowed one to generalize about the production characteristics that distinguish manufacturing (the typical home of the assembly line), the basic industry of a whole phase of economic development, the pilot industry of capitalist company organization – the pilot industry, therefore, also in terms of its qualitative and quantitative impact upon the labor movement. Today we see that a certain reduction in assembly operations have been absorbed by traditional machine production and foundry activities, sometimes leading to a genuine replanning of particulars within the final assembly. Above all we see the development of the presses, within which many assembly operations are absorbed, as part of a process of rendering the integrated mechanical cycle more fluid.

It’s worth emphasizing here how in a typical assembly industry such as for typewriters and calculators, the model in terms of the decisive problem of the organic composition of capital tends to be (in a qualitative sense too) elsewhere, and increasingly in the petrochemical industry. The assembly process at Olivetti immediately raises the matter of automation, understood as a general method of organizing relations of production, as a new global economic dimension of the social system found in the area of influence of large firms. This is closely tied up with the development and integration of a whole series of new management techniques, with the formalization of decision-related tasks such as long term planning, etc. etc. It is also closely tied up with the development of autonomization proper, and we will see that on the assembly line there are robots and automatic conveyors, etc. But real technological innovation (i.e. beyond a mere substitution or any generic “change”) demands a total transformation in the organization of the whole cycle of production, which tends to become continuous in nature. It’s important to grasp the generalizing element here, which lends a specific value to the various parts of the totality of the process.

But in our work, which oscillates midway between the immediate and the concrete in Marx’s sense, the references to constant capital waver between its physical manifestations – which in an assembly department imposes a discourse that comes about only at a phase in the ideal periodization of the abstract history of production processes – and the concrete global dimension of contemporary oligopolistic capitalism, fully arrived at the phase of automation and planning at the level of the firm. So, for example, the phenomenon that is very important to us, that of so-called bureaucracy, presents itself as a physical inflation [gonfiamento] of the apparatus of social control, or as its progressive mechanization, depending upon how one looks at it. And so it is for everything.

We consider this discourse on pilot sectors and automation to be non-academic because on the general level, namely that of the generalization and politicization of workers’ struggles, these evaluations carry a certain weight. Nevertheless, almost paradoxically (if one makes an exception for the efforts of the FIOM in Turin), the problem of assembly line workers has always been treated by the union as an abnormal and pathological transitional phase, precisely in a period when they undergird a good part of the weight of accumulation necessary to introduce the new systems of automatic production: hence the explanation for the technicist approach of labor movement organizations to the problems of the factory. If instead the approach is understood as a political one, it can centre upon the fundamental tendencies of the system’s qualitative dynamic.

The first general aspect that the theme of “constant capital” raises, in all its enormous economic, political and social significance, is obviously that of so-called objective “imbalances” [sperequazioni]. This entails an immense range of problems: but what is immediately surprising here is the analogy of their function. When discussed in terms of the difference between firms and artisanal undertakings, or that between two successive phases of an assembly line, imbalances become the immediate and indirect occasion for a whole series of uses on the level of functional relations – that is, of social relations in general which, beyond their intrinsic objective value as the direct conditioning of the behavior of labor, become on the level of the production of surplus value a mainstay of the employer’s policy of the organization of work.

This is particularly evident and interesting at Olivetti, since this firm, amongst the various complementary aspects that it has contributed to the myth of the excellent company, has effectively realized an organizational policy, above all in terms of its particularly able functional relations. Rational techniques are not some screen for a reality of fascism in the factory, but are utilized precisely for all that they can provide to the full intensification of labor exploitation, at all levels. This is realized in the particular situation of the firm’s isolation within what had been a depressed area, one that remained separate from the Turin proletariat’s notable history of conscious and revolutionary class struggle, which had experienced and conserved beyond the war the experience of the factory councils, etc. This isolation is even more important than the peasant origins of the great majority of employees, because in reality in general one encounters a greater level of politicization and class consciousness precisely in peasant families, whose young sons and daughters are currently in the factory. This does not contradict what we have been saying, because this isolation, which constitutes a distinctive feature of the large Ivrea firm, has conceded only a greater enlargement of the objective margins that the development through technological leaps of innovation has opened in the introductory phase of rationalization; and it has permitted the thorough use of internal and external imbalances, revealing here more than ever a close relation of continuity, functional to the firm’s accumulation and growth, with the rational mystification of the extremely intense exploitation of capital that has been realized. Today this game is coming to an end. The goal of profit emerges more clearly everywhere. The internal and external margins decline, there are no workers (apart from the newly hired) who haven’t told us that now “it’s all just like at FIAT”; and in fact we have continually been aware of the identity between the two firms (beyond the myth that the exponents of Olivetti obviously hold concerning FIAT). As the internal margins decline, precisely due to the technological development that came in the wake of rationalization, so links with FIAT and other Turin firms, and between Ivrea and Turin, are on the rise in the Canavese region and elsewhere. There is a whole convergence of internal and external factors, so that Olivetti today is of interest precisely because it is revealed as a “big firm like all the others,” the typical Italian firm in a phase of industrial development that is now in search of manpower that is either cheap, or only available in the South. It is an “intermediary” case compared to FIAT or Edison in Syracuse, Montecatini in Brindisi, or Finsider in Taranto, etc. The truly “limiting” fact of Olivetti seems therefore to us to be above all the persistence of well-constructed mystification, so that whereas in its internal and external policy it is the epitome of despotism, outside Ivrea and Turin it is famous as a model firm. It goes without saying that this fame persists within the leadership of the workers’ parties.

Sinking our teeth into this problem concretely raises an evident issue that is perhaps an extreme, even banal case. There are still many people who, having perhaps received a notion of the “sociology of labor” at some university, speak of the “manufacturing character of assembly line labor.” Here many workers say: “on the assembly line, the worker is closed within his job, and has only his hands’ – but compared to manufacturing, there is an enormous leap involved, in terms of the job as well. This would be like talking about “peasant civilization” through reference to a direct cultivator in Emilia. The assembly line workers only have their hands as instruments of labor, and are still their own motive forces – and certainly, if you isolate them from their work context, from a distance they might seem reminiscent of the work of prehistoric man… But it is enough to observe the absurdity of this series of motions to recognize the importance of the distinctions provided by Marx in his historical analysis of these concepts.

For their part, the other workers consider those on the assembly line as somewhat outside the industry, referring to them in terms of their social extraction: for them they are ex-bakers, ex-barbers, ex-shopkeepers or pedlars, school teachers etc. Still, the other workers also all say that after a certain time in the factory, “they have got the hang of things,” and feel in general that they have passed the test and no longer pester them. In this way they are considered to have finally made it out of their pre-industrial state, even if they still have a second job or some land: that is a secondary matter. This holds, for example, for the old workers who continue to work the land, who are considered “Olivetti types” as much as the others: they are in the factory eight hours a day, and their problems are above all the problems of the labor relation in the factory. So too for the youths from peasant families: from the moment that they enter the factory, the land becomes an element of conflict with their fathers, etc., and there is a sort of “shame” associated with those who of necessity remain peasants. The discourse is different for certain ex-artisans or ex-workers from some of the “workshops” [boite] or garages, etc. – many of them can go back to their earlier work, but they are no less “Olivetti types” for all that.

We are raising here these themes from the second part of the exposition in order to trace out some general hypotheses. Since the zone of South Africa where Olivetti has implanted its factories is no longer a peasant zone, it now contains individuals who face the problem of “doing as they please” [fare il tempo] in the face of a whole developed capitalist system, with its market, consumption, its classes and its profit, etc. As these individuals are within all this and not something else, this introduces a whole series of conflicts, tensions and compromises, their world of origin, the traditional sphere of socio-economic relations of which they are part (even if in a dialectical sense, even as negation). So, if Olivetti has to be placed in relation to the countryside, it is absolutely not the problem of peasant-workers that matters, much less that of the relationship with the Canavese region, where agriculture is an activity in transition to industry. Rather, what matters is the problem of relations between the large firm and the new power centers of neo-capitalist agriculture, of the economic and political coordination that capitalism now realizes between these sectors on an international scale.

We see a system that is neo-capitalist precisely thanks to its internal imbalances, that reproduce relative “depressions” internally, and deepens them in order to advance as a system of profit. As for the anachronism of sharecropping, or the complete socio-economic mystification of the small peasant enterprise: these problems are not “something else entirely” from those of the worker at a large firm who at a certain point begins a second job off the books, doing the same kind of work for the old boss, or for a new similar boss (even FIAT).

But even returning to the immediacy of the job, the workers who speak of “only their hands” and of a series of motions (that with hindsight have a certain whiff of Methods-Time Measurement about them) immediately shift the discourse to what with propriety they call “the equipment” – demonstrating that they have a clear concept that these are machines. On the assembly line the equipment more or less exhausts the discourse on what could be called “fixed capital.” In fact, in this manual kind of labor [lavoro di carattere manuense], there are no machine operators. The equipment therefore always entails conveyor belts. Fixed capital is constituted therefore by things that move, just as the workers who work on the line are always moving back and forth within a determinate part of the production cycle, formed by a small closed circuit. The equipment, systems that automatically transport components [particolari] of mechanically transported “pieces” from one work station to another: this is the so-called “assembly line.”

The equipment is a fact of even greater importance than it materially appears to those who view it. It is this that links the workstations, connecting them also as phases on the assembly process, and linking them in a global cycle within which each job is inserted. They integrate operations in a mechanical way, and coordinate them spatially and temporally with the totality of the other moments of production (for example, the conveyor brings the components from the various workshops where they have been manufactured) and has a constant rhythm that needs to express, with its regularity, a whole series of predetermined steps [scadenze], etc., etc., various quantities, various types, in various pre-established moments. The equipment expresses all this already. It already encapsulates the global logic of neo-capitalism connected to the phase of automation, of decentralization, of delegated planning, of enterprise-wide integrated planning, etc., and of the system with its market and its “qualitative” consumer goods. The equipment of the assembly line, rather than the supervisor, has the function of organizing labor according to this logic. The supervisor’s function instead involves integrating or compensating for the secondary dysfunctions that the system in its imperfection produces.

The “peasant” who is inserted in all this becomes a moment of that cycle, the meaning of which lies only in its totality. Not only does it not make sense to talk of manufacturing types of jobs, but the job itself demands a completely reified and atomized man [sic] in order to be able to fulfill itself as a real process.

In the same way, the various so-called “auxiliary” jobs, such as maintenance, whether part of the firm or carried out in an ‘artisanal’ workshop, in reality refer immediately to the specific object of that “artisanal” labor, and then, even if this is done just with a file, it is still something that functions as integrated within that production cycle, located within the “shop” that carries out maintenance, even if its workers have never seen Olivetti. The same holds for the FIAT workers (ex-students) who run the presses for the foundry and have never set foot in the departments where the smelting occurs – in each case, the same logic of the neo-capitalist division of labor is at play.

Staying with the theme of internal and external imbalances (that is, the arbitrary nature of any rigid distinction between internal and external in the operation of the large firm within an oligopolistic market), there are various factors of lesser importance. In each part of the production cycle, organized internally in a linear fashion, generally the station found at a higher technological level – meaning, where man-hours are still a notable part of the operation, that it has a potentially greater velocity than others – above all for the tempos or whatever most conditions the other phases [che piu’ condiziona le altre fasi], is always found at the final stage. The more the cycle is integrated, the greater the interdependence: generally, the potentially highest tempo tends progressively to carry the other stages up to its level. This can be achieved through the judicial distribution of a certain number of “toadies” [ruffiani], or even just individuals who, as we shall see elsewhere, for a whole series of reasons (that the supervisor controls) tend to “quicken” the tempo, etc. This internal situation can be a kind of “template” that regulates vaster systems outside, or also across the whole of a department, where at the start of the assembly process there might be groups organized with old hand-based conveyance systems, then in the middle those with conveyor belts, and finally the recently installed carousels [giostre].  But despite all these notable differences, the transporter is the same for each section, and the conveyor is the same for each department: they are automatic, they are controlled centrally, that is elsewhere. The conveyor is the element in which the principal organizational functions of labor in time and space are incorporated, and here, where the work of valorization in the strict sense is carried out by the assemblers, the conveyor (and above all the new assembly line) reveals itself as the organizing and coordinating element in its pure state, revealing precisely a specific, fundamental tendency in the development of mechanization. Within the strict ambit in which it operates, the pre-eminent organizational function of the conveyor is to level the various tempos and operations (which in the organization of the line are necessarily “diverse”) on the basis of the briefest possible tempo, by which its regular rhythm, repeatedly accelerated on a monthly basis, expresses a progressive and collective reduction in time. What interests us here at this point is the fact that even this ulterior situation can be taken as an explicative template of a whole series of vaster (internal and external) phenomena.

The functions of the “boite” within the oligopoly

It emerges from the inquiry that any one of these sections, departments, lines and individual complexes could, in certain conditions of production prices, provide the large firm with an opportunity to outsource [darla fuori] to another factory, to small scale industry, to a “boita” (workshop), or to an “artisan.” And we have seen that at times the large firms even go so far as to “lend” machinery, a technician, or capital to a small entrepreneur for investment. As a consequence, “boite” with very modern conveyors [trasfert] are rather common in the Turin province, where a very small number of very young workers produce components for assembly at FIAT, Olivetti etc. And this (which many would see as small-scale industry to be defended “within the context of a politics of alliances”) with its rigid schedules, qualities and quantities, etc., is simply a department of the so-called “monopoly,” integrated not only in the cycle of valorization, but also economically and financially. It’s a similar situation in the commercial sector, with sales: Olivetti has its shops and agencies. The assembly line is the end point of the production cycle (let’s overlook here the fundamental distinction between valorization and realization), from here the product passes to the subsidiaries, to the point of sale; the relationship is one of horizontal continuity, within the overall cycle of reproduction. However, even if on an immediate level, the connections are continually seized upon, every worker notices how each acceleration of rhythms on the assembly line is unloaded on the subsidiaries and therefore on the sellers and therefore – so long as these have already minimized the tempos – upon the consumers. Vice versa, in order to pay for an adjustment in the organization of sales, Olivetti can cut its workers’ tempos, etc. etc.: and if the shop is “private,” things are little different. But it is the conveyor that levels everything. Things don’t change even if the “boita” really is just a small workshop [boita], if it is some hole where an ex-worker (maybe even the Communist mayor of the village) substitutes for the supervisor, employing 60 young girls who (without the famous conveyors of Olivetti, but thanks to their manual dexterity) quickly assemble components which then go on the firm’s assembly line. This is an “ally,” and a “comrade” – that is, an important element amongst the electoral clientele, and it is no coincidence that this entrepreneur has a party card, is a loyal member, and protests to the union if the 60 young girls go on strike, as has happened more than once. The only difference is that the “component” produced outside will have to pass a test [collaudo], which the large firms generally call Collaudo Accettazioni Arrivi. And the boita can also be in the countryside: there are many cottages scattered around outside Turin, where amidst the bucolic peace, under a small pergola that evokes “nature” and therefore “humanization” and “socialism,” the patriarchal family works together doing panel beating. So-called satellite industry has never developed around Ivrea, but it does exist elsewhere: distances have shrunk, today automation and communications make decentralization possible, etc.

Olivetti’s production continues across a vast area, in all kinds of firms: those that remain rigidly circumscribed at Ivrea, in individual sections, detached from the great general events of the workers’ struggle: only the producers regularly remain closed within the factory, in their respective section as part of the wider firm, even if the firm fails to become their whole world. Even here the discourse starts from a problem that is the same for all, the same mechanism that operates within the internal imbalances: the new carousels of the assembly line tend to align all the tempos, types, tolerances and quantities of the phases of the cycle, which are linked to it (inside and outside the firm) in a more or less rigid way, to its new rhythm, to its depreciation, to the rigidity of its investment, etc. The interdependence tightens, but the propulsive moment belongs to the large firm, of the most advanced technological level, as power, as the concentration here of the profit motive.

And this is a discourse that goes far, because there are “trucks” that shuttle back and forth with large chests [cassoni], there are ships, there is the transfer of capital, etc. It is not difficult to follow on to the discourse of the establishment in Africa, for example, of the relationship between colonialism in development and the development of factory despotism in the Olivetti factory; all this throws light upon these matters as well. One can speak, for example, of how not necessarily the colonial exploitation of Africans translates into scraps for the Olivetti worker: except that the welfare of the latter, and the satisfaction of the primary needs of the former, are aspects of a single mechanism of alienation and reification; except that the colonial profits make possible at Ivrea the introduction of plant that carries the intensification in the exploitation of the workers of the “pole of development” to an even more advanced level, and vice versa. Even if none of the numerous young people who have told us that they follow with interest the problem of Algeria end up concluding that it is only there at Ivrea that the cause is laid bare, i.e. that the solution of the African problem objectively lies in their hands, with the young “supporters” who work in the pole of development, in the location of those levers of political and economic power that tend to decide in Africa – beyond the national independence of individual countries – which of these are subordinated to this or that market, to this or that bloc of the big production companies. The Olivetti worker has no political consciousness on this front: but at the same time, the political consciousness of the peasant or of the African neo-worker has no revolutionary outlet if it does not become consciousness of this reality, and if it does not pose, together with the workers movement of advanced capitalism, the objective of the historical overcoming of capitalism. The indifference or “opportunism” of the Olivetti workers towards the proletariat of the underdeveloped countries is an arbitrary projection onto the former of a problem that it is not in their conditions to pose, because their subjective situation, i.e. the political organization of the class, is the most disastrous possible, and reduces them to a situation of individual opportunism and indifference in the face of the same problem of the continual intensification of their exploitation, of their reality of isolation, of atomization: in order to create this, the capitalist of the large firm then uses these very colonial profits, etc. etc.

Let’s consider once more the problem posed by determinate moments in the capitalist production cycle as a whole. For example, let’s take the trucks that carry stuff around: whether owned by the firm, or by their drivers, the problems are the same: the function of this transport is increasingly integrated with the forklifts in the departments, and finally with the conveyor system. Why should that transport be considered as a service? What fundamental difference is there within the production process between these two partial tasks in the firm’s cycle compared to those we have already seen, such as the artisan using a lathe in their cellar. All these partial tasks are part of a single unity, which is counterposed to them: the unity that the bosses always realize in the generalization and intensification of capitalist exploitation. Against this front, the politics of alliances practiced by the historic organizations of the labor movement appears as an ideological void: capitalism generalizes the condition of proletarianization to new layers [ceti], strata and sectors, so that today the conditions of the presumed “peasant” or “artisan” are already in fact part of the relationship of Olivetti workers with the power group, etc. etc. This isn’t a matter of alliances, but of the unity of a struggle and of demands. That is, a unity that is a political struggle to the extent that it modifies the power relations that the more or less planned development concentrates in the hands of the group of exploiters.

The pivotal point of development that generalizes proletarianization lies in the firm (this requires, naturally, abandoning a nineteenth-century idea of the objective condition of proletarianization). All this is closely tied to the role of constant capital’s imbalances. In general, one hypothesis arising from the discussion of these problems might be put as follows: precisely because of the increasingly greater connection and integration between zones, sectors, socio-economic functions and layers in the latent sense, determined by productive development and the very rapid technological growth its propulsion entails (i.e. the rise in the monopoly’s organic composition of capital), the development of objective imbalances is immediately observable on the abstractly technological, task-related level, within the large firm’s global cycle of accumulation, that is in the neo-capitalist social system (whose national boundaries emphasize the structural presence of the State as its subordinate and necessary moment). They lie in various moments of the horizontal cycle of the accumulation process, more or less planned, in the socio-political system more or less encapsulated [inglobato] in the large firm, in the horizontal levels of the mechanization of labor, bandaged due [fasce dovuto] to the retarded mechanization of labor in points that slowly, even outside the boundaries of the firm and of production in the strict sense, come to invest all aspects of social life. These “retardations” in mechanization have “causes” that can be located hypothetically between two reciprocally interacting historical poles: general political and economic factors that condition encapsulation [l’inglobamento] within the firm’s closed and planned system. Otherwise, in an interdependent manner, the relative contingent impossibility, given the general level of technical progress, of extending the higher, potentially generalizable level of the mechanization of labor to the folds [pieghe] and sectors of the social system (raising the organic composition of capital to the point where the favorable political and economic conditions to accomplish it are already realized). This, in the increasingly close interdependence between horizontal moments of the cycle (production, sale, consumption etc.) continually leads us to the “discovery” in every aspect of social life of analogous situations within a certain margin: that is, of facets of tasks and of immediate problems of the relationship between man and the instrument of labor or, … for amusement (thanks to an ingenuous objectivism) and moreover to the discovery that these ideal bandages have a certain correspondence with the phases of that ideal periodization that can establish itself in capitalist development, as can be grasped in the historical development of the productive organization of the pilot firm and propulsive sector. So, for example, there is always and everywhere a sector, a zone, or a “profession” that corresponds to a certain phase of productive organization in the automobile sector, etc. We assume the schematic hypothesis and simplification according to which, more than ever, the universal generalization and diffusion of the capitalist division of labor is revealed here as an aspect of the universal diffusion of capitalist despotism that realizes itself above all through its technology, its “science,” the diffusion of its structures of class exploitation in social life, through constant capital which embraces all, from priests and police (both inside and outside the factory) to the Stalinists.

This hypothesis concerning such general aspects of capitalism comes from the analysis of connections that the workers themselves grasp in isolation as “facts,” in a process that starts from the factory. Precisely as a hypothesis concerning the general aspects of capitalism, this allows us to provide an interpretation as one step towards a class alternative, that which can pay off as a political perspective in more general terms.

—Translated by Steve Wright

Image thanks to Matteo Balocco.

  1. Translator’s Note: I would like to thank Evan Calder Williams, Ferruccio Gambino, Sergio Bologna, Emiliana Armano and especially Marco Sassano for their helpful comments concerning the translation of some of Alquati’s terminology. This is a partial translation of a longer text, drawn from Sulla Fiat e altri scritti (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1975), 81-103. 

Author of the article

was a member of Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia. His early writings are collected in Sulla FIAT e altri scritti.