Coresearch and Counter-Research: Romano Alquati’s Itinerary Within and Beyond Italian Radical Political Thought


The per­sonal, polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tual itin­er­ary of Romano Alquati1 was inex­tri­ca­bly bound up with Ital­ian post­war his­tory, when a gen­er­a­tion of mil­i­tants rel­e­gated the impor­tance of their own pro­fes­sion to sec­ond place, seek­ing instead jobs that could sup­port their polit­i­cal com­mit­ment. In doing so, they cre­ated a new way of “being-polit­i­cal” that would prove to be a water­shed for suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions, up to the present day.2 This was the premise for a new social sci­ence in which the scholar and the polit­i­cal “van­guard” assumed the task of dis­cussing and crit­i­ciz­ing the con­sti­tu­tion of soci­ety through both the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion and empir­i­cal research. They did this together with sub­jects who were no longer seen as objects of research, but rather as sub­jec­tiv­i­ties play­ing an active part in envi­sion­ing and real­iz­ing social change.

The stages in Romano Alquati’s research can be peri­odized within the Ital­ian work­erist thought of the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties; more gen­er­ally, they are inscribed in the fur­rows of the phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal approach devel­oped by Enzo Paci and Guido Davide Neri, which ques­tioned the philo­soph­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions of the Marx­ist ortho­doxy, start­ing with its more deter­min­is­tic and philo­soph­i­cal aspects. More specif­i­cally, Alquati’s research pro­gram was directed towards the rad­i­cal renewal of the study of indus­trial soci­ol­ogy and to the devel­op­ment of social core­search in Italy. In the notes that fol­low, we will attempt to draw out the key facets of this under­tak­ing.

1. The years of political and intellectual formation

Romano Alquati was born into a mid­dle-upper bour­geois fam­ily, as he once recalled in an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal inter­view.3 His father Carlo Alquati, an army gen­eral and friend of Gabriele D’Annunzio, had been ban­ished to Croa­tia due to his left-wing stance within the fas­cist party; it was there that Romano was born and spent his ear­li­est years. In 1945, at the age of ten, he lost his father, who was exe­cuted by par­ti­sans in Ver­celli. The “social col­lapse” in his family’s for­tune led to poverty in the very dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances of Italy’s post­war period.

Alquati’s for­ma­tive years were spent in Cre­mona, a mid-sized Ital­ian city in the mid­dle of the Po val­ley, then expe­ri­enc­ing the pro­found restruc­tur­ing of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor alongside the pro­gres­sive dif­fu­sion of indus­tri­al­iza­tion in the guise of small and medium enter­prises. Cre­mona in the fifties was also a gen­uine polit­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory that offered both a breadth of hori­zons and the devel­op­ment of social and polit­i­cal rela­tion­ships in Italy and abroad, so it was for­tu­nate indeed for Alquati that he began his polit­i­cal mil­i­tancy there. In par­tic­u­lar, the deci­sive encoun­ters involved were with Danilo Mon­taldi, then with Renato Rozzi – who would become his wise and patient “big brother” – as well as with Gio­vanni Bot­taioli, an old inter­na­tion­al­ist work­ing class polit­i­cal mil­i­tant.4 On the other hand, accord­ing to Gian­franco Fia­meni5, it is pos­si­ble to find in Alquati a kind of “proto-operaismo,” “close to real processes, to the pres­ences that we encoun­tered in the Cre­mona ‘fac­tory’ period and in many read­ings and meet­ings.”

Romano’s polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence stemmed from that minori­tar­ian but impor­tant com­po­nent of “bare­foot researchers” of the fifties. While con­tin­u­ing to oper­ate in a crit­i­cal way within the labour move­ment (the unions in par­tic­u­lar), they broke pro­foundly with the insti­tu­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tives of that move­ment, along with all national roads to social­ism. At the same time they remained dis­tinct, for gen­er­a­tional rea­sons as much as any­thing else, from the “his­toric” anti-Stal­in­ist oppo­si­tion, antic­i­pat­ing the extra­or­di­nary rup­ture that would mature fully only with 1968. Romano Alquati was nur­tured within a cul­tural set­ting that sought a Marx­ism freed of encrus­ta­tions, able to inves­ti­gate and engage with the work­ing class for what it was, rather than what it was meant to be accord­ing to the canon­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Com­mu­nist party. As Ser­gio Bologna has empha­sised, the work­erists were obliged to come to terms with two cul­tures within the Ital­ian “Left”: on the one hand, the ten­dency of the Com­mu­nist Party to con­cen­trate upon mat­ters of the country’s gov­er­nance; on the other, the pri­or­ity assigned within anti-cap­i­tal­ist cir­cles to sup­port­ing national lib­er­a­tion strug­gles in Third World coun­tries.6 Like other work­erists, Alquati main­tained his dis­tance from such per­spec­tives, pre­fer­ring to fol­low Danilo Mon­taldi in inquir­ing into the work­ing class, start­ing from the latter’s sub­jec­tiv­ity.7 If such research in part entailed the refine­ment of old the­o­ret­i­cal tools, it was also capa­ble of pro­duc­ing gen­uine method­olog­i­cal inno­va­tions. Pos­i­tivist inquiry, under­stood as the mere repro­duc­tion of ide­o­log­i­cal rhetorics, was rejected, in favor of research that aimed to con­struct a new knowl­edge together with the sub­jects under inves­ti­ga­tion. This was a com­pre­hen­sive approach, able to learn from inten­tions, desires, and val­ues – both spo­ken and unspo­ken – as they expressed them­selves within the class. As Bologna later put it,

In the Six­ties – core­search, to my mind, is func­tional to what I’m about to say – we were con­vinced that within the body of the work­ing class there was already, whole, the knowl­edge of lib­er­a­tion, the aware­ness of sol­i­dar­ity, of cohe­sion, of rebel­lion. We were con­vinced that con­flict as a form of social iden­tity lay within the genetic inher­i­tance of the work­ing class, but that there was also a mem­ory of hard defeats and there­fore, you could say, a “pru­dence” that had to be respected.8

Strongly social­ized by the sur­round­ing polit­i­cal and artis­tic envi­ron­ment from his twen­ties, Alquati’s early polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences in the care of Danilo Mon­taldi led him first to Milan and then to Turin. There he par­tic­i­pated actively with Raniero Panzieri in the edi­to­rial board of the jour­nal Quaderni Rossi, a cru­cial moment for the for­ma­tion of the New Left. Fol­low­ing the split in Quaderni Rossi, in 1963 he founded Classe Operaia together with Mario Tronti and Toni Negri, in what would be the true birth­place of what later came to be known as operaismo.

The pre­vi­ously elit­ist Ital­ian uni­ver­sity sys­tem was greatly dis­rupted dur­ing the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties, allow­ing many polit­i­cal mil­i­tants forged in the cycle of strug­gles rag­ing in the fac­to­ries and beyond to insert them­selves in ter­tiary edu­ca­tion either as stu­dents or researchers. It was in these cir­cum­stances that the mil­i­tant researcher Romano Alquati found employ­ment: first as a casual, untenured staff mem­ber, then as an assoc­iate pro­fes­sor. Like many other com­rades of the time, he avoided the pur­suit of an aca­d­e­mic career like the plague: “I never wanted to apply for a pro­fes­so­rial chair, above all because I wanted to avoid the pres­sures and expec­ta­tions [certi con­dizion­a­menti] imposed by the insti­tu­tional left.” As Guido Borio has empha­sized, “for years he sur­vived as a uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor, his work draw­ing much atten­tion from stu­dents and almost none from his col­leagues – indeed, he was fre­quently iso­lated within an acad­emy that never rec­og­nized nor accepted his intel­lec­tual dis­tinc­tive­ness”.

2. Alquati’s innovations

Romano Alquati suc­ceeded in impress­ing a num­ber of con­cep­tual instru­ments and cat­e­gories upon a wider audi­ence. Here we will con­cen­trate on some of these, in par­tic­u­lar those relat­ing to sub­jec­tiv­ity, core­search, ambiva­lence, and processes of hyper-indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion.

2.1 Subjectivity

A first theme, clearly con­nected with Alquati’s whole itin­er­ary, is the “dis­cov­ery” of processes of sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and the “erup­tion of sub­jec­tiv­ity” within polit­i­cal cat­e­gories. From the end of the fifties, Alquati fre­quented fac­tory gates like other promi­nent left intel­lec­tu­als, com­mut­ing between Milan and Cre­mona before finally trans­fer­ring to Turin in 1960. Turin was Italy’s lead­ing indus­trial city in those years, and the home of the country’s largest pri­vate firm, FIAT. In that city’s fac­to­ries dur­ing the six­ties and sev­en­ties, new gen­er­a­tions emerged with a range of work and life expe­ri­ences behind them. Many work­ers were inter­nal migrants who had come either directly from the country’s South or North­east, or after spend­ing time in in other Euro­pean coun­tries.

Within this cru­cible of col­lec­tive expe­ri­ences, Alquati lived in close con­tact with a new work­ing class fig­ure, those “new forces” of the “mass worker,” poten­tially antag­o­nis­tic to neo-cap­i­tal­ism while also dis­tant in both behav­iours and men­tal­ity from the old labour move­ment. It was within this col­lec­tiv­ity that fun­da­men­tal cat­e­gories of analy­sis such as class com­po­si­tion were elab­o­rated, and an approach of study/intervention was pro­posed by means of the “method” of core­search.9 The social con­struc­tion of per­sonal rela­tions within the soil of a gen­er­a­tion of strug­gle – the gen­er­a­tion of the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties – would be cen­tral for grasp­ing the expres­sions and forms of these sub­jec­tiv­i­ties, which can­not be reduced to sin­gle indi­vid­u­als, but rather had trans­formed into often-con­tex­tu­al­ized col­lec­tive sub­jec­tiv­i­ties.

This can be seen clearly in Alquati’s impor­tant essays on FIAT work­ers, pub­lished orig­i­nally in the pages of Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia and later col­lected in the anthol­ogy On FIAT (1975). Long a bas­tion of seem­ing indus­trial peace, FIAT had been notable for its con­tin­ued qui­es­cence dur­ing the ini­tial stages in the revival of strike activ­ity that marked the open­ing years of the six­ties. Through the tools of inquiry and core­search, how­ever, Alquati and his clos­est com­rades were able to offer a dif­fer­ent read­ing, one that high­lighted the latent pos­si­bil­i­ties within the auto giant. One of Alquati’s most impor­tant achieve­ments, there­fore, was to be amongst the first to dis­cern a turn­ing of the tide, embod­ied in the up-and-com­ing “new forces.” While the basis for the latter’s grow­ing antag­o­nism towards the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion was shown to be a direct con­se­quence of their expe­ri­ence of mod­ern fac­tory work, Alquati also began to draw out the dis­tinc­tive ele­ments that marked these “new forces” as cen­tral to an emerg­ing class com­po­si­tion pos­sess­ing its own cul­tures and sen­si­bil­i­ties. Thus, if the “new forces” were typ­i­cally wary of a labor move­ment obliv­i­ous to their con­cerns, this did not mean that the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of work­ers should sim­ply be dis­missed as slaves to con­sumerism who meekly accepted their lot on the assem­bly line:

The new work­ers do not talk abstractly of social rev­o­lu­tion, but nei­ther are they dis­posed towards neo-reformist adven­tures that leave untouched the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of class exploita­tion as they ver­ify them in the work­place.10

Romano Alquati’s tra­jec­tory needs to be read within the trans­for­ma­tion of class com­po­si­tion and its expres­sion in polit­i­cal com­po­si­tion: this process is what operaismo rep­re­sented. As Ser­gio Bologna has noted, the “work­erists” sought to fuse a het­ero­dox inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx with the real­ity of the fac­tory. In this man­ner, the­ory assumed an instru­men­tal value, given that it could exist only by start­ing from this con­stant encoun­ter with the dynam­ics of pro­duc­tion, con­scious of the com­plex­ity and pain [durezza] of fac­tory work.

Alquati’s other influ­en­tial study of the early Six­ties cen­tred upon Olivetti, then Italy’s lead­ing pro­ducer of cal­cu­la­tors and other busi­ness machi­nes. This too was con­ducted as an exer­cise in core­search, car­ried out with a team of local Social­ist party mil­i­tants dis­tin­guished by their sin­gle-minded ded­i­ca­tion to work­ers’ self-orga­ni­za­tion. Although the Olivetti text is more com­monly remem­bered as the first text within which the work­erist dis­course on class com­po­si­tion became explicit, it is also mem­o­rable for other rea­sons. As Mat­teo Pasquinelli has recently argued, “Organic com­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal and labor-power at Olivetti” con­tains an intrigu­ing dis­cus­sion of the place of infor­ma­tion within the cap­i­tal-labour rela­tion. In this rela­tion­ship, infor­ma­tion is pre­sented as intrin­sic to capital’s val­oriza­tion process. Indeed,

Infor­ma­tion is the most impor­tant thing [l’essenziale] about labor-power: it is what the worker, by means of con­stant cap­i­tal, trans­mits to the means of pro­duc­tion upon the basis of eval­u­a­tions, mea­sures, elab­o­ra­tions, in order to work [oper­are] upon the object of labor all those changes in form that give it the use-value required. The “dis­pos­abil­ity” of the worker leads them to be a qual­i­ta­tive index of socially nec­es­sary labour time, by which the “pro­duct” is val­ued as the “recip­i­ent” of a cer­tain quan­tity of “infor­ma­tion”… “Pro­duc­tive labor” is defined in the qual­ity of the “infor­ma­tion” elab­o­rated and trans­mit­ted by the worker to the “means of pro­duc­tion”, with the medi­a­tion of “con­stant cap­i­tal,” in a man­ner that is ever increas­ingly [ten­den­zial­mente] “indi­rect,” yet com­pletely “social­ized.”11

Like much of Alquati’s work, there is a cer­tain ambi­gu­ity in this pas­sage, yet also much that demands fur­ther reflec­tion. Are value and infor­ma­tion the same thing? The text does not elab­o­rate fur­ther. Instead it goes on to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between two modes of infor­ma­tion. First, as Pasquinelli also high­lights, there is the “con­trol infor­ma­tion” that seeks to mon­i­tor and reg­u­late pro­duc­tion in pur­suit of fur­ther accu­mu­la­tion.12 Sec­ond, there is that infor­ma­tion “that con­sti­tutes the col­lec­tive legacy of the work­ing class… pro­duc­tive infor­ma­tion tout court,” which cap­i­tal, through the sub­sump­tion of labor, attempts to trans­mo­grify into the “con­trol infor­ma­tion” needed for the plan­ning of pro­duc­tion.13 Through all this, Alquati sought to draw out the poten­tial for class antag­o­nism lying nascent and latent in even the most seem­ingly atom­ized and inte­grated work­force, always aim­ing

to sur­pass the imme­di­ate, the empir­i­cal, to sur­pass his­tor­i­cally the grave polit­i­cal limit of the par­tial­ity of a dis­course that remains inter­de­pen­dent with the par­tial and atom­ized nature of strug­gles, in order to attain that gen­er­al­ity of dis­course that ren­ders strug­gle global.14

If in the vision of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist party, work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­ity remained within the con­fines of party direc­tives, Alquati fol­lowed E. P. Thomp­son in empha­sis­ing how the work­ing class must “be under­stood as a con­tin­u­ous devel­op­ment: [it] is seen not as that which must con­quer power, but as a great pop­u­la­tion that must be stud­ied at a level that typ­i­fies anthro­pol­ogy, in the con­tin­u­ous devel­op­ment of world cul­tures.”15 This dis­course on sub­jec­tiv­ity is the premise and foun­da­tion of core­search.

2.2 Coresearch and class composition

The prac­tice of core­search is the authen­tic node around which revolved not only Alquati’s intel­lec­tual work, but also the polit­i­cal rela­tion­ships that he con­structed. Core­search, which emerged in the early Six­ties as mil­i­tant field­work with work­ers at FIAT Mirafiori and other fac­to­ries in Pied­mont (Olivetti, Lan­cia), is both an activ­ity of inquiry and a knowl­edge process, entail­ing a rec­i­p­ro­cal trans­for­ma­tion in the iden­tity of the researcher and what began to be called work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­ity. As a prac­tice of inter­ven­tion it placed the mil­i­tant researcher on the same level as the sub­ject of the inquiry, annulling the sep­a­rate fig­ure of the “van­guard” so dear to the logic of the Left. In doing so, it hor­i­zon­tally refor­mu­lated the rela­tion­ship between the­ory, praxis and orga­ni­za­tion. It was a prac­tice that could not be for­mal­ized in a method, one that made it pos­si­ble to read, even in peri­ods of pas­siv­ity, signs of impend­ing con­flict, the infor­mal orga­ni­za­tion and con­stituent ambiva­lences that lay in the gap between the class’s tech­ni­cal com­po­si­tion (the objec­tive artic­u­la­tion of labor-power) and its polit­i­cal com­po­si­tion.

Core­search rep­re­sents an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal “break,” in that it seeks to over­come the divide between objec­tiv­ity and sub­jec­tiv­ity. Alquati was fiercely crit­i­cal of a social sci­ence that sought refuge behind method­olog­i­cal bulk­heads as a means of secur­ing respectabil­ity: against this, he devel­oped a quite pre­cise rela­tion­ship between the deter­mi­na­tion of a sci­en­tific object, the line of inquiry, ways of reflect­ing upon the gath­ered data, and the pre­sen­ta­tion of research find­ings. Still, as Alquati him­self admit­ted, “thanks to the sim­ple fact that I made use of qual­i­ta­tive meth­ods, I was never con­sid­ered to be a real sci­en­tist” – a cir­cum­stance all the more far­ci­cal given that he had writ­ten his the­sis on quan­ti­ta­tive meth­ods at a time when almost no one in Italy made use of them.16

(Co-)research becomes effec­tive through its col­lec­tive con­struc­tion, given that it is a space in which the sub­jec­tiv­ity of the core­searchers and the researched can express them­selves. Research car­ried out together with sub­jects is there­fore an open and prac­ti­cal process that facil­i­tates the acqui­si­tion of knowl­edge able to develop a com­mon activ­ity, set­ting in motion the sub­jec­tiv­ity of par­tic­i­pants. Core­search pro­vokes a change in one’s own social prac­tices, since it implies an active know­ing that trans­forms, in their var­i­ous social roles, all the mem­bers of the col­lec­tive that take part. Core­search is a form of rec­i­p­ro­cal con­t­a­m­i­na­tion and con­ta­gion, even if it is dif­fi­cult to extend it spon­ta­neously. The coop­er­a­tion that devel­ops con­tains lev­els of rec­i­p­ro­cal orches­tra­tion between par­tic­i­pants who, accord­ing to Alquati, need to explic­itly over­come the dichotomy between tech­ni­cal orga­ni­za­tion – com­pe­ten­cies – and polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, where deci­sions can be made.

Core­search can be thought of as a polit­i­cal method of knowl­edge and inter­ven­tion, the enlarge­ment and enrich­ment of forms of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion. It is clear there­fore that it implies the involve­ment and the valu­ing of the com­pe­ten­cies of every­one in the col­lec­tive, through the endow­ment of a com­mon lan­guage of link­age. In this sense it can­not be resolved in a sin­gle fixed, given moment, but instead is a con­tin­ual prac­tice that involves and trans­forms the mem­bers of a col­lec­tive within forms of coop­er­a­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, rather than a cadre orga­ni­za­tion. As Danilo Mon­taldi had already made clear in his book Mil­i­tanti politici di base, the edu­ca­tor must be edu­cated not by a party school, but by daily expe­ri­ence within the class itself.17

Core­search is there­fore a method of act­ing accord­ing to an open and prac­ti­cal process, in which lis­ten­ing and dia­logue are indis­pens­able com­po­nents able to refine the­o­ret­i­cal appa­ra­tuses in a con­tin­ual man­ner, on the basis of what emerges from the field.18 In short, core­search is the con­quest of knowl­edge from a speci­fic point of view, a direct class per­spec­tive. It involves there­fore an activ­ity that enables the con­struc­tion of new pos­si­bil­i­ties: “Core­search for its part is noth­ing other than the col­lec­tive, com­mon, sys­tem­atic, rich and potent research into [a subject’s] con­di­tions and modal­i­ties of its own actu­al­iza­tion [attuazione di cio’]: it is coun­ter-research.”19

The method pur­sued by Alquati, there­fore, entailed ren­der­ing mat­ters rec­i­p­ro­cally com­pre­hen­si­ble, through an open process able to develop the col­lec­tive capac­i­ties of an “act­ing-together” that val­ues the com­pe­ten­cies of all mem­bers in a col­lec­tive. This long-term prac­tice made pos­si­ble the trans­for­ma­tion of the exist­ing – in par­tic­u­lar, of social rela­tions tied to polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion – alongside a place of coun­ter-coop­er­a­tion by researchers pos­sessed of dif­fer­ent capac­i­ties for research. Against the knowl­edge that cap­i­tal uses to gov­ern, core­search devel­ops a coun­ter-knowl­edge.

Core­search is one stage in an exper­i­men­tal path that, accord­ing to Alquati – pro­vok­ing those youths who con­ceived of changes within the very short term – must be devel­oped within a long-term process. Core­search must sur­vive indi­vid­ual dif­fi­cul­ties, enlarge itself, sus­tain itself as a prac­tice able to involve and open itself up to mul­ti­ple, het­ero­ge­neous hyper-pro­le­tar­ian sub­jects, root­ing itself in the ter­ri­tory pre­cisely in the moment when the lat­ter is infused by waves of glob­al­iza­tion.20

2.3 The processes of the industrialization of human activity and the hyper-proletariat: Alquati’s efforts to construct a new social science

Romano Alquati pos­sessed an extreme capac­ity to grasp moments of rup­ture, to the point of over­rid­ing all polit­i­cal or orga­ni­za­tional sen­si­bil­i­ties. This meant that, already by the early Sev­en­ties, he was look­ing beyond that period, marked as it was by the high tide of the mass worker’s strug­gles. Instead, he sought to iden­tify, in the processes of the indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of human activ­ity as such (evi­dent in incip­i­ent ter­tiariza­tion), the re-dis­lo­ca­tion of cap­i­tal­ist sub­sump­tion from the fac­tory towards “the social sphere.” His stud­ies of The Mid­dle-Class Uni­ver­sity and Intel­lec­tual Pro­le­tariat date from this time, lay­ing the basis for sub­se­quent research con­cern­ing edu­ca­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mass intel­lec­tu­al­ity, of ser­vices as a pro­duct of cap­i­tal, and the gen­eral ques­tion of the com­mod­i­fied repro­duc­tion of liv­ing-human-capac­ity.21

This work addressed the end of one cycle of class com­po­si­tion, and the rise of a phase of cap­i­tal­ism that required a move beyond work­erist read­ings. Alquati’s thought con­fronted the need to elab­o­rate new instru­ments – in part through a con­stant if iso­lated dia­logue with great soci­ol­o­gists such as Alain Touraine and Zyg­munt Bau­man (in par­tic­u­lar, in the latter’s writ­ings on liq­uid moder­nity) – at the height of what he would term hyper-indus­tri­al­isz­tion: in other words, the unfold­ing effec­tive sub­sump­tion of the whole of human expe­ri­ence to social repro­duc­tion.

The key node was that of ambiva­lence: knowl­edges and activ­i­ties can be bent to the auton­omy of sub­jects, or else they may be expro­pri­ated within the cod­i­fi­ca­tion of capital’s for­mal­ized tech­ni­cal-sci­en­tific lan­guage. The ques­tion then becomes that of iden­ti­fy­ing the con­di­tions under which hyper-pro­le­tar­i­ans, social­ized by the flex­i­ble techno-machi­nes of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion, can open them­selves to an eman­ci­pa­tory praxis. The study of human sub­jec­tiv­ity, detectable even within what seemed to be an “iron cage”, allowed Alquati to grasp the con­tin­ual ambiva­lence of “inven­tion-power,” long able to remain latent, only to emerge and burst out of the con­fines of soci­ety and labor in moments of cri­sis, ulti­mately con­sti­tut­ing a fun­da­men­tal means of nour­ish­ing change.22 In the Eight­ies the themes of (hyper-)industrialization and ambiva­lence were addressed within mil­i­tant sem­i­nars that used the mass uni­ver­sity as a pos­si­ble place for the col­lec­tive pro­duc­tion of crit­i­cal knowl­edge – for­ma­tive years for those who would become his pupils.

The ques­tion of learn­ing and edu­ca­tion [for­mazione] remained cru­cial for Alquati, who devoted con­sid­er­able energy to the topic within the Indus­trial Soci­ol­ogy course that he taught until 2003 at the Uni­ver­sity of Turin. Accord­ing to Alquati, for­mazione by its vio­lence shapes, pro­duces, and trans­forms sub­jec­tiv­ity. In the face of Pow­er­point-size bites of infor­ma­tion, Alquati’s lessons were charged with a con­tin­ual ten­sion that fol­lowed a con­cep­tual design that was both pre­cise yet never com­pletely defined: “a kind of machine for think­ing the present, in order to give form to the ‘not yet’ and in order to attempt to imag­ine the ‘new.’”23 This entailed con­sciously acti­vat­ing processes of inter­ac­tion and the col­lec­tive con­struc­tion of knowl­edge. Rather than remain­ing con­fined within the nar­row para­me­ters of indus­trial soci­ol­ogy, this was some­thing he pro­jected “into the heart of the mod­ern fac­tory, grad­u­ally touch­ing upon ques­tions of repro­duc­tion, con­sump­tion, for­ma­tion, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”24 His knowl­edge, span­ning as it did a range of fields, was con­stantly stim­u­lat­ing. At the same time he fre­quently treated stu­dents as nascent researchers in their own right, capa­ble of demon­strat­ing com­mand over their capac­i­ties and “inven­tion-power.” As Alquati him­self once asserted in an inter­view crit­i­cal of the university’s con­ven­tions regard­ing for­mazione, “Edu­ca­tion [didat­tica] is a place where knowl­edge pro­duced else­where is dis­trib­uted. It’s like com­merce, it dis­trib­utes pre-made pro­ce­du­ral knowl­edges. And stu­dents like this! They don’t under­stand how impov­er­ished it is.”25

Romano Alquati’s final, unpub­lished writ­ings con­cern the processes of the indus­tri­al­iza­tion of human activ­ity.26 These com­prise his rich­est, most dense and com­plex legacy, in which one can note how Alquati seeks “to relaunch the study of indus­trial soci­ety against a gen­eral soci­ol­ogy that today ‘removes the indus­tri­al­ity of activ­ity,’ pre­cisely [when] almost a fifth of human­ity finds itself immersed in indus­trial pro­duc­tion.”27 One char­ac­ter­is­tic of the present is the per­va­sive­ness of indus­trial pro­duc­tion, which imposes itself thanks to extended dis­ci­pli­nary processes through which it is able to shape human capac­i­ties them­selves. This hyper-indus­tri­al­ity has not even spared knowl­edges and edu­ca­tional processes within uni­ver­si­ties over the past thirty years.

In his text address­ing Today’s Indus­trial Soci­ety, Alquati also sub­jects Marx’s con­cept of soci­ety to cri­tique, pre­sent­ing his own def­i­n­i­tion of the cur­rent phase of hyper-indus­tri­al­iza­tion: “‘a weft of activity/labors in which (many) actors/workers are employed.’ Reg­u­lated by a mix of mar­ket and hier­ar­chy (there­fore this is – amongst other things – not a weft of rela­tions between per­sons).” The char­ac­ter­is­tic fea­ture of con­tem­po­rary soci­ety is the wage con­di­tion of inter­change­able indi­vid­u­als that mask them­selves “as indi­vid­u­als and as per­sons, to the point even of stim­u­lat­ing lit­tle false autonomies and exter­nal orig­i­nal­i­ties (at the sur­face level).” In effect, Alquati stresses how the trans­for­ma­tion of an indi­vid­ual into a “pre­sumed indi­vid­ual” is a char­ac­ter­is­tic typ­i­cal of an age that expels con­flict and the col­lec­tive from its daily activ­ity: “indi­vid­u­a­tion is stronger (and freer) the more it finds a place within a strong and free col­lec­tive, at least one with truly autonomous moments… The weaker and emp­tier and more equal so-called indi­vid­u­als find them­selves, the more indi­vid­u­al­is­tic ide­ol­ogy grows… There are more indi­vid­u­als when pro­le­tar­ian strug­gles smash the con­strict­ing roles through which the sys­tem func­tions in an imme­di­ate sense [la chiusura bassa nei ruoli e gusci bassi di fun­zion­al­ità sis­tem­ica imme­di­ate], than in today’s obses­sively ‘indi­vid­u­al­is­tic’ times.”28

Romano Alquati’s insis­tence on the analy­sis of forms of val­oriza­tion, and his atten­tion to what he defined as “cap­i­tal-means” – namely, the processes of incor­po­ra­tion and sub­sump­tion – offer impor­tant inter­pre­ta­tive keys through which to read the recent devel­op­ments of cap­i­tal and the net­work econ­omy as a meta-machine.29 As Alquati argued in his extended trea­tise upon con­tem­po­rary indus­trial soci­ety, the “heart” of ambiva­lence lies in the very source of capital’s val­oriza­tion, within the dual char­ac­ter not only of labour, but of the laborer her­self. Marx had believed that the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the dual nature of labor under capital’s reign was one of his most sig­nif­i­cant insights; later, at the begin­ning of the work­erist adven­ture, Mario Tronti had seized upon this point to develop his hereti­cal asser­tion that “Labor must see labor-power, as com­mod­ity, as its own enemy… [so as] to decom­pose capital’s inti­mate nature into the poten­tially antag­o­nis­tic parts which organ­i­cally com­pose it.”30 It is fit­ting that in his final writ­ten reflec­tions upon cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, Alquati should return directly to these argu­ments of Marx and Tronti; not to remain beholden to them, but instead to review, to revise, and to build upon them:

Work­ers on the one hand are the work­ing actors who acti­vate their roles by mak­ing large pieces – and there­fore more or less all – of the system’s inter­con­nec­tions func­tion. In doing so, they become aware [ril­eva] of the ques­tion of the fetishism of cap­i­tal, its intan­gi­ble thing-ness etc. … But on the other hand, I hypoth­e­sise that they can also refuse to do so and negate them­selves in this, mov­ing against them­selves – and doing all this with a cer­tain auton­omy.31


Romano Alquati iden­ti­fied some of the fun­da­men­tal and coun­ter­in­tu­itive aspects of cur­rent forms of cap­i­tal­ist val­oriza­tion. Above all, his method of core­search con­tin­ues to be indis­pens­able. The exam­ple he has bequeathed is of a per­son who cer­tainly did not suc­cumb to the attrac­tions of their pro­fes­sional role, but rather con­tin­ued to under­take ways of research­ing “with-oth­ers.” His refusal to be part of, or to help form, “lead­ers” for the work­ing class allowed him to main­tain a proper dis­tance from offi­cial com­mu­nist cul­ture and tra­di­tion. As Ser­gio Bologna has empha­sized, he “was well aware that there are those able to express them­selves, those who have clearer ideas than oth­ers, those who see fur­ther and those who do not.”32


Writings of Romano Alquati

  • ‘La festa con­tad­ina. Pescarolo: tran­sizione di una situ­azione agraria’, Pre­senza Octo­ber-Novem­ber 1958.
  • ‘Recen­sione di Comu­nismo e Cat­to­lices­imo in una par­roc­chia di Cam­pagna’ (di Lil­iano Faenza), Milano, Fel­trinelli’, Pre­senza 4/3, Jan­u­ary-March 1960.
  • ‘Relazione sulle “forze nuove”. Con­vegno del Psi sulla Fiat (gen­naio 1961)’, Quaderni Rossi 1, Sep­tem­ber 1961.
  • ‘Doc­u­menti sulla lotta di classe alla Fiat’, Quaderni Rossi 1, Sep­tem­ber 1961.
  • ‘Tradizione e rin­no­va­mento alla Fiat­Fer­ri­ere’, Democrazia Diretta, Sep­tem­ber-Octo­ber 1961.
  • ‘Com­po­sizione organ­ica del cap­i­tale e forza lavoro alla Olivetti’, Quaderni Rossi 2, June 1962 and Quaderni Rossi 3, June 1963.
  • ‘Note sulle con­dizioni e lo svol­gi­mento dello sciopero alla Fiat’, Cronache dei Quaderni Rossi 1, Sep­tem­ber 1962.
  • ‘Lotta alla Fiat’, Classe Operaia 1, Jan­u­ary 1964.
  • ‘Lotte operaie in Italia negli ultimi 20 anni’, Classe Operaia 4-5, May 1964.
  • ‘Ricerca sulla strut­tura interna della classe operaia’, Classe Operaia 2/1, Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 1965.
  • ‘Torino il par­tito nella città fab­brica’, Classe Operaia 2/3, May 1965.
  • ‘II par­tito nella “fab­brica verde”: note sulle lotte operaie nella Padana Irrigua’, Classe Operaia 2/4-5 Octo­ber 1965.
  • ‘I mil­i­tanti comu­nisti tra fab­brica e il par­tito’, Classe Operaia 3/1, May 1966.
  • ‘Schema di opus­colo sulla Fiat’, Classe Operaia 3/3, March 1967.
  • ‘Cap­i­tale e classe operaia alla Fiat. Un punto medio nel ciclo inter­nazionale, Relazione al sem­i­nario sulla com­po­sizione di classe presso il cen­tro Gio­vanni Fran­covich a Firenze, 30 aprile 1 mag­gio 1967’.
  • Sin­da­cato e potere. Sem­i­nario di studi sul movi­mento sin­da­cale. Aca­d­e­mic year 1971/72, Uni­ver­sità degli studi di Torino, Facoltà di Scienze politiche, Ind­i­rizzo Soci­o­logico Gruppo di ricerca com­posed of R. Alquati, F. Bar­bano, S. Chi­ampar­ino, M. Fer­rerò, M. Gugli­etti, N. Negri, M. Ossola.
  • Sem­i­nario di studi sul movi­mento sin­da­cale. Copis­te­ria Tar­ri­cone, Torino 1972.
  • Un processo di trasfor­mazione sociale, con par­ti­co­lare rifer­i­mento al terziario in rap­porto con il sin­da­cato, Tesi di Lau­rea. Super­vi­sor Fil­ippo Bar­bano, Torino Facoltà di Scienze politiche, 1973, unpub­lished.
  • Sin­da­cato e Par­tito Antolo­gia di inter­venti di sin­da­cal­isti sul rap­porto fra sin­da­cato e sis­tema politico in Italia. Edi­zioni Stam­pa­tori, Torino 1974.
  • Sulla FIAT e altri scritti. Fel­trinelli, Milano 1975.
  • ‘Terziario terziariz­zazione sin­da­cato’, Fogli di zona 1-2, May-June 1975.
  • ‘Note su ricom­po­sizione di classe e crisi del mer­cato del lavoro’, Quaderni del ter­ri­to­rio. La fab­brica nella soci­età, 3 Celuc Libri, Milano 1976.
  • ‘L’università e la for­mazione L’incorporamento del sapere sociale nel lavoro vivo mate­ri­ali e anal­isi del gruppo di ricerca oper­ante presso la facoltà di Scienze politiche di Torino’, Aut Aut 154, July-August 1976.
  • Uni­ver­sità di ceto medio e pro­le­tari­ato intel­let­tuale (with N. Negri, A. Sor­mano), Stam­pa­tori Torino, 1978.
  • In for­mazione. Sem­i­nario sul tema For­mazione e qual­i­fi­cazione nell’Università di massa, parte­ci­panti: R. Alquati, L. Balbo, A. Cav­alli, G. Chiaretti, A. Mar­tinelli, G.Martinetti, F. Momigliano, G. Mas­sironi, I. Sipos, A. Sor­mano. Stam­pa­tori Torino 1978.
  • Il sin­da­cato nella dimen­sione regionale. (edited  by P. Buran), Stam­pa­tori, Torino 1977.
  • ‘Osser­vazione su cul­tura memo­ria e sto­ria’, Ombre rosse 27/28, 1979.
  • ‘Cani e morti, cani morti, cani sci­olti; intel­let­tuali e ter­ror­ismo rossi nel Bel Paese’, in R. Alquati, M. Boato, M, Cac­ciari, S, Rodotà, L. Violante, Ter­ror­ismo verso la sec­onda Repub­blica? Stam­pa­tori, Torino, 1980.
  • Donna, famiglia, servizi nel ter­ri­to­rio della Provin­cia di Cre­mona. V. I Dis­egno della ricerca; V. II Spazio popo­lazione lavoro; V. III II mutare della ripro­duzione, (with G. Lodi), Ammin­is­trazione Provin­ciale di Cre­mona, 1981.
  • ‘Lavoro vivo e lavoro morto oggi’, Polit­ica ed econo­mia 7-8, 1983.
  • Dis­pense di Soci­olo­gia Indus­tri­ale. Vol­ume 1 Pre­messe gen­er­ali Vol­ume 2 Civiltà con­tad­ina e fase clas­sica della Civiltà cap­i­tal­is­tica, Pho­to­copied, 1985-1988.
  • Dis­pense di Soci­olo­gia indus­tri­ale. Vol­ume 3, Tomo 1 e 2. Il Seg­nal­i­bro, Torino, 1989
  • ‘Riforma dell’Università e indus­tri­al­iz­zazione dei saperi. Inter­vista del 28 dicem­bre 1989’, edited by E. Armano in La Lente riv­ista stu­den­tesca 1 Torino 1990.
  • For­mazione ed impresa, Tran­script of an inter­ven­tion dur­ing the occu­pa­tion of the Uni­ver­sità di Torino, 1990’
  • ‘Sto­ri­ografia e movi­mento del 77’. Inter­view by L. Per­rone, Torino, 1991.
  • Intro­duzione a un mod­ello sulla for­mazione. Vol­ume IV. Tomo 1. Dis­pense di Soci­olo­gia indus­tri­ale. Il Seg­nal­i­bro, Torino, 1992.
  • Sul comu­ni­care. Il Seg­nal­i­bro, Torino, 1993.
  • Sacre icone. Le classi esistono ancora? Calusca Edi­zioni, Padova, 1993.
  • Per fare con­ricerca. Calusca Edi­zioni, Padova, 1993.
  • ‘For­mazione, comu­ni­cazione e certe icone sulle classi: tre libri’, Bol­let­tino del nodo ECN di Torino, May 1993.
  • Sul Vir­tuale (with M. Pen­ten­ero, J. Wess­berg), Velleità Alter­na­tive, Torino, 1994.
  • Cul­tura for­mazione e ricerca. Velleità Alter­na­tive, Torino, 1994.
  • Cam­mi­nando per real­iz­zare un sogno comune. Velleità Alter­na­tive, Torino, 1994.
  • Lavoro e attiv­ità. Per un anal­isi della schi­av­itù neo­mod­erna. Man­i­festo libri, Roma, 1994.
  • ‘Sin­tesi sul lavoro’, Derive e approdi IV/12-13 1996.
  • ‘Inter­vista, aprile 1998’ (edited by P. Ribella e G. Trotta), Bail­amme June 1999.
  • ‘Inter­vista, dicem­bre 2000’ (edited by G. Borio, F. Pozzi, G. Rog­gero), in Futuro ante­ri­ore. Dai ‘Quaderni Rossi’ ai movi­menti glob­ali. Ric­chezza e lim­iti dell’operaismo ital­iano. Derive & Approdi, Roma, 2002.
  • Nella soci­età indus­tri­ale d’oggi, Work­ing Paper, unpub­lished, Torino, 2000/2003.
  • ‘Ricordi del “sec­ondo operaismo politico”, Con­ver­sazioni con Gigi Rog­gero’, unpub­lished, Torino, 2000.
  • Sulla ripro­duzione della capac­ità umana vivente oggi. Work­ing Paper, unpub­lished, Torino, 2001/2003.


  1. We would like to thank Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino for his help­ful com­ments. A day­long con­fer­ence was held on the fif­teenth of June 2011, organ­ised by com­rades, friends and col­leagues, together with the “Cantiere per l’autoformazione,” a body com­posed of under­grad­u­ate and doc­toral stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Turin. 

  2. Inter­view with Romano Alquati in G. Borio, F. Pozzi, G. Rog­gero, Futuro Ante­ri­ore (Roma: Derive & Approdi, 2002). 

  3. Ibid. 

  4. Ibid. Gio­vanni Bot­taioli (1900-1959) was a left com­mu­nist work­ing class mil­i­tant, exiled in France dur­ing the fas­cist period. After a long sojourn in Paris, he returned to Italy after the war and was a cen­tral fig­ure for many younger peo­ple who grew up in the Cre­mona area. 

  5. Inter­ven­tion at the Romano Alquati con­fer­ence, 2011. 

  6. Ser­gio, Bologna, “L’operaismo ital­iano” in Pier Paolo Pog­gio, ed., L’altronovecento. Comu­nismo eretico e pen­siero critico vol. 2, Il sis­tema e i movi­menti. Europa 1945-1989 (Milano: Jaca Book, 2011), 211. 

  7. As Renato Rozzi has recalled, despite an ini­ti­a­tion into Lenin­ism thanks to his expe­ri­ence with Mon­taldi, Alquati never joined a party. Rather, as he affirmed in an inter­view: “It’s worth know­ing also that like many oth­ers of us, I never suf­fered a major cri­sis at the begin­ning of the eight­ies, much less with the fall of the wall. But I expe­ri­enced a more pro­found cri­sis towards the mid­dle of the fifties, at the time of my first encoun­ter with the Marx­ist and Social-Com­mu­nist reli­gion, which hap­pened while seek­ing a way out of cer­tain traps and labyrinth. The ques­tion of fetishism seemed to me as more neo-Com­mu­nist (for exam­ple in 1960) than as work­erist: there­fore, a crit­i­cal and exper­i­men­tal work­erism,” in Borio, Pozzi and Rog­gero, Futuro Ante­ri­ore.  

  8. Inter­view with Ser­gio Bologna in G. Borio, F. Pozzi, G. Rog­gero, Futuro Ante­ri­ore (Roma: Derive & Approdi, 2002). 

  9. This and other work­erist con­cep­tual tools are dis­cussed in Steve Wright, Storm­ing Heaven: Class Com­po­si­tion and Strug­gle in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism (Lon­don: Pluto Press, 2002). 

  10. Romano Alquati, Sulla FIAT e altri scritti (Fel­trinelli, Milano 1975), 51. 

  11. Ibid., 113. 

  12. Mat­teo Pasquinelli, “Cap­i­tal­ismo mac­chinico e plus­val­ore di rete: note sull’economia polit­ica della macchina di Tur­ing,” Novem­ber 17, 2011, 5. 

  13. Romano Alquati, Sulla FIAT e altri scritti, 114. 

  14. Ibid. 114, 83. 

  15. A lit­tle-known and hard-to-find text that demon­strates this deci­sive trait of Alquati’s for­ma­tion in an extra­or­di­nar­ily effi­ca­cious way is “La Festa Con­tad­ina. Pescarolo: tran­sizione di una situ­azione agraria,” Pre­senza Octo­ber-Novem­ber, 1958. 

  16. Inter­view with Romano Alquati in Borio, Pozzi and Rog­gero, Futuro Ante­ri­ore

  17. R. Alquati Cam­mi­nando per real­iz­zare un sogno comune (Torino: Velleità Alter­na­tive, 1994), 127. 

  18. R. Alquati, Per fare con­ricerca (Padova: Calusca Edi­zioni, 1993). 

  19. R. Alquati, Cul­tura for­mazione e ricerca (Torino: Velleità Alter­na­tive, 1994), 37. 

  20. A new and inter­est­ing, if still lit­tle-known exam­ple, is the work of the Fox­conn Research Group, Jenny Chan and Ngai Pun, “Global Cap­i­tal, the State, and Chi­nese Work­ers: The Fox­conn Expe­ri­ence,” Mod­ern China 38, 4 (2012): 383-410. See also G. Rog­gero and A. Zanini, eds., Genealo­gie del futuro. Sette Lezioni per sovver­tire il pre­sente (Bologna: Ombre Corte, 2012). 

  21. Alquati, Cul­tura for­mazione e ricerca. 

  22. Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino, “Forza-inven­zione e forza-lavoro. Ipotesi,” altr­era­gioni 8, 1999, 147-151. 

  23. Inter­ven­tion of Mau­r­izio Pen­ten­ero at the Romano Alquati Con­fer­ence, 2011. 

  24. Ibid. 

  25. Inter­view with Romano Alquati in the stu­dent jour­nal La Lente, Turin, Jan­u­ary 1990. 

  26. In par­tic­u­lar, see Romano Alquati, “Nella soci­età indus­tri­ale d’oggi,” unpub­lished Work­ing Paper, 2000/2003. 

  27. Inter­ven­tion of Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino at the Romano Alquati Con­fer­ence, 2011. 

  28. Romano Alquati, “Nella soci­età indus­tri­ale d’oggi,” unpub­lished Work­ing Paper, 2000/2003. 

  29. Mat­teo Pasquinelli, “Cap­i­tal­ismo mac­chinico e plus­val­ore di rete,” 5. 

  30. Mario Tronti, Operai e cap­i­tale, (Turin: Ein­audi, 1971), 56, 55. 

  31. Romano Alquati, Nella soci­età indus­tri­ale d’oggi, unpub­lished Work­ing Paper, 2000/2003. 

  32. Ser­gio Bologna, “Hom­mage a Romano Alquati,” 2010. 

Authors of the article

has a PhD in Labour Studies from the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the State University of Milan. She collaborates in research into informational capitalism, knowledge work, flexibility and precariousness, with a social inquiry and coresearch methodological approach.

teaches Sociology of Labor at Padua University. His current research concerns a comparative study of Foxconn ICT factories in Europe and China.

teaches information management at Monash University. His current research concerns the creation and use of the printed word by Italian workerists during the sixties and seventies.