Mapping the Terrain of Struggle: Autonomous Movements in 1970s Italy


The most recent cap­i­tal­ist offen­sive has sparked a vibrant new wave of strug­gles over the ques­tion of social repro­duc­tion. Water, hous­ing, edu­ca­tion, to name only a few, are now deci­sive sites of con­fronta­tion, and activists across the globe exper­i­ment with new tac­tics, forms of strug­gle, and mod­els of orga­ni­za­tion.

In some ways, our renewed focus on social repro­duc­tion shares inter­est­ing par­al­lels with the “Ital­ian Rev­o­lu­tion” of 1968-1980, the most rad­i­cal upheaval in post­war West­ern Europe. For while orig­i­nally firmly anchored to the strug­gles of the fac­tory pro­le­tariat, many move­ments began to wage a mul­ti­tude of strug­gles beyond the point of pro­duc­tion, devel­op­ing class power on what was called the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion.

In fact, each phase of the polit­i­cal evo­lu­tion of the autonomous social move­ments was char­ac­ter­ized by its focus on social repro­duc­tion issues, such as self-reduc­tion cam­paigns on shop­ping, energy bills, and pub­lic trans­port, often in con­junc­tion with the more rad­i­cal sec­tions of the unions in the early to mid-Sev­en­ties. Hous­ing occu­pa­tions and rent strikes became impor­tant in the mid-1970s as the cri­sis of Fordism-Key­ne­sian­ism deep­ened, par­tic­u­larly in Rome where Work­ers Auton­omy was strong in the urban periph­ery. Repro­duc­tive strug­gles were also car­ried out by stu­dents on school, uni­ver­sity, and edu­ca­tion issues. As the decade wore on, youth in the new, smaller, and more repres­sive post-Fordist fac­to­ries of the Milanese hin­ter­land began to orga­nize them­selves more out­side of work and in the social ter­ri­tory as the “Pro­le­tar­ian Youth Cir­cles,” defy­ing the national-pop­u­lar logic of PCI-cham­pi­oned aus­ter­ity pol­i­tics by demand­ing access to lux­ury goods, ser­vices, and cul­tural prod­ucts, not just the basic means of sur­vival, as their par­ents had. And as fac­to­ries were restruc­tured and decen­tral­ized, involv­ing the lay­ing off of tens of thou­sands of indus­trial work­ers and the automa­tion, robo­t­i­za­tion, and elim­i­na­tion of their posts, social move­ments of the unem­ployed, par­tic­u­larly in the less devel­oped South, or Mez­zo­giorno, began to make a guar­an­teed social wage (salario sociale garan­tito) for all, both work­ing and unem­ployed, their cen­tral demand. But the most impor­tant repro­duc­tive labor strug­gles were those of Wages for House­work and other fem­i­nist and women’s move­ment cam­paigns for the self-val­oriza­tion of the social repro­duc­tion of the work­force by women, par­tic­u­larly house­wives, sex work­ers, and nurses.

While we must cer­tainly forge our own polit­i­cal forms today, there’s no need to rein­vent the wheel. Much has changed, but many of these issues remain as cru­cial as ever. In this con­text, crit­i­cally revis­it­ing the robust arse­nal of polit­i­cal strug­gle bequeathed by the Ital­ian move­ments of that era can provide us not only with inspi­ra­tion, but also mod­els to help guide us as we find our own way.

Theorizing Social Reproduction

The aim of this brief sum­mary of the the­o­ret­i­cal debates on social repro­duc­tion within Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism and the part of the fem­i­nist move­ment clos­est to it in polit­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal terms, above all the group of fem­i­nist intel­lec­tu­als and activists around the Wages for House­work cam­paign in Italy and inter­na­tion­ally, is to out­line a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work within which to ana­lyze the autonomous strug­gles on social repro­duc­tion in 1970s Italy. The main nodes of these debates are seen as Ital­ian work­erism, post-work­erism, post-autonomism and, for want of bet­ter terms, work­erist-influ­enced and post-work­erist fem­i­nism.

Karl Marx’s rather lim­ited dis­cus­sion of repro­duc­tion and cir­cu­la­tion in Cap­i­tal Vol­ume II was taken as the start­ing point by Anto­nio Negri and oth­ers in Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia, the main work­erist pub­li­ca­tions of the 1960s, to develop their analy­sis on the rela­tion­ship of repro­duc­tion with class antag­o­nism. Negri was one of the first work­erists to iden­tify the antag­o­nis­tic nature of repro­duc­tion as part of social pro­duc­tion, rather than just cir­cu­la­tion within cap­i­tal, while crit­i­ciz­ing his more ortho­dox com­rades, such as the PCI-based Mario Tronti who con­tin­ued to reduce the prob­lem of repro­duc­tion to cir­cu­la­tion, as indeed had Marx:

we would be forced to reduce the Marx­ian approach to the issue of repro­duc­tion to a ques­tion of cir­cu­la­tion: this would be absolutely ille­git­i­mate – even though it is com­mon, espe­cially within Ital­ian work­erism … In fact, the con­stant upheaval of the terms of class strug­gle from within the work­ers’ strug­gle and cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing demon­strates exactly the oppo­site: the ter­rain of repro­duc­tion is dom­i­nated by the antag­o­nis­tic cat­e­gories of pro­duc­tion and the process of pro­duc­tion does not dis­ap­pear in the com­mod­ity but re-emerges in all of its ele­ments (as iden­ti­fied by Marx rather than Smith) in the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal and work­ers’ strug­gles.… The work­ing class, through its strug­gles, moti­vates cap­i­tal to restruc­ture pro­duc­tion as well as repro­duc­tion (which is increas­ingly equiv­a­lent to social pro­duc­tion).… At the cur­rent level of class strug­gle, worker orga­ni­za­tion only emerges when the strug­gle can have an impact on fac­tory pro­duc­tion and from there be trans­ferred onto the whole mech­a­nism of repro­duc­tion of social cap­i­tal.1

This crit­i­cism of Marx, ortho­dox Marx­ism and even of some sec­tions of Ital­ian work­erism over the ques­tion of repro­duc­tion in fact owed much (although not appar­ently acknowl­edged by Negri) to pre­vi­ous debates within Ital­ian and later U.S.-based work­erist-influ­enced fem­i­nism. Sil­via Fed­erici took Marx and all forms of Marx­ism, includ­ing operaismo to task for ignor­ing or under­es­ti­mat­ing the cen­tral role of social repro­duc­tion as both sex­ual repro­duc­tion and unpaid domes­tic labor in cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion and from there in class antag­o­nism. Refer­ring also to a broader fem­i­nist cri­tique of Marx, based on the work of the activists of the Wages for House­work cam­paign in the 1970s, such as Mari­arosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, and more recently of the Aus­tralian eco-fem­i­nist Ariel Salleh, and the Biele­feld fem­i­nist school of Maria Mies, Clau­dia Von Werl­hof, and Veron­ica Bennholdt-Thom­sen, Fed­erici states that

this cri­tique argues that the analy­sis of Marx on cap­i­tal­ism was hin­dered by his inca­pac­ity to con­ceive of an activ­ity as being pro­duc­tive of value unless it was for the pro­duc­tion of goods, and his con­se­quent blind­ness before the mean­ing of the unpaid repro­duc­tive activ­ity of women in the process of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion. To ignore this activ­ity lim­ited his com­pre­hen­sion of the true exten­sion of the cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion of work and the func­tion of the salary in the cre­ation of divi­sions within the work­ing class, begin­ning with the rela­tion between women and men. If Marx has rec­og­nized that cap­i­tal­ism needed to sup­port itself, not only in an immense quan­tity of unpaid domes­tic activ­ity for the repro­duc­tion of the work force, but also in the deval­u­a­tion of these repro­duc­tive activ­i­ties with the aim of reduc­ing the cost of the labor force, pos­si­bly he would have been less inclined to con­sider cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment as inevitable and pro­gres­sive.2

As an at least par­tial riposte to such a cri­tique, the Ital­ian work­erist the­ory of the “social fac­tory” can be seen as an attempt to go beyond its orig­i­nally exclu­sive focus on fac­tory-based autonomous strug­gles to include the related move­ments of 1968-69, par­tic­u­larly of stu­dents, and of work­ing-class com­mu­nity strug­gles over repro­duc­tive issues such as hous­ing, bills, and trans­port, although the cen­tral role of women in the social fac­tory is again brushed over. In Italy in the early 1970s the extra­or­di­nary wave of autonomous work­ers’ strug­gles launched dur­ing the 1969 “Hot Autumn” within the cen­tral­ized Fordist fac­tory were grad­u­ally being rolled back by tac­ti­cal cap­i­tal­ist retreats and strate­gic reforms, such as the Fac­tory Coun­cils and the 1970 Work­ers Char­ter, and the ful­crum of social con­flict began to shift towards the “social fac­tory,” lead­ing Tronti to extend his fac­tory-cen­tered approach over the rest of soci­ety, so defin­ing the social fac­tory as:

At the high­est level of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, the social rela­tion becomes a moment of the rela­tion of pro­duc­tion, the whole soci­ety becomes an artic­u­la­tion of pro­duc­tion; in other words, the whole of  soci­ety exists as a func­tion of the fac­tory and the fac­tory extends its exclu­sive dom­i­na­tion over the whole of soci­ety.3

Thus, the “social fac­tory” the­ory did not deal suf­fi­ciently with the fem­i­nist cri­tique of Marx­ism in gen­eral and operaismo in par­tic­u­lar, as nei­ther did Negri’s the­ory of the “social­ized worker” (operaio sociale), sup­pos­edly the new antag­o­nist sub­ject of the post-Fordist social fac­tory of decen­tral­ized pro­duc­tion, given the neu­tral­iza­tion of the strug­gles of the “mass worker” in the Fordist fac­tory of cen­tral­ized pro­duc­tion in the early 1970s as alluded to by Tronti in the pre­vi­ous para­graph. Although Negri devel­oped his the­ory of the social­ized worker in the early to mid-1970s, the period of the rise of both rad­i­cal fem­i­nism and Work­ers Auton­omy as social move­ments based, in quite dif­fer­ent ways, on issues of social needs and repro­duc­tion, his attempt to lump together women and other emer­gent social antag­o­nists of the period within a “gen­eral the­ory” was received with skep­ti­cism and accu­sa­tions of lack of ana­lyt­i­cal rigor within Autono­mia itself, never mind the fem­i­nist move­ment, although his crit­ics, in this case at least, can in turn be accused of empir­i­cal fetishism:

(y)our inter­est for the “emer­gent strata” (pro­le­tar­ian youth, fem­i­nists, homo­sex­u­als) and for new, and recon­cep­tu­al­ized polit­i­cal sub­jects (the “operaio sociale”) has always been and is still shared by us. But pre­cisely the unde­ni­able polit­i­cal impor­tance of these phe­nom­ena demands extreme ana­lyt­i­cal rigour, great inves­tiga­tive cau­tion, a strongly empir­i­cal approach (facts, data, obser­va­tions and still more obser­va­tions, data, facts).4

Self-Reduction and Social Reproduction Struggles in 1970s Italy

The huge wave of work­ing class unrest begun in the “Hot Autumn” of 1969 con­tin­ued unabated, reach­ing its peak with the armed occu­pa­tion of the gigan­tic FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin in March 1973 by a new gen­er­a­tion of even more mil­i­tant work­ers, the Faz­zo­letti Rossi (Red Ban­danas), who orga­nized autonomously even from the van­guardist groups of the New Left. How­ever, from then on the effects of tech­no­log­i­cal restruc­tur­ing, redun­dan­cies, and the unions’ recu­per­a­tion of con­sen­sus and con­trol through the Fac­tory Coun­cils began to dampen down the autonomous work­ers’ revolt, which nev­er­the­less con­tin­ued at an excep­tion­ally high level, com­pared to the rest of West­ern Europe, until the end of the decade.5 The largest out­break of indus­trial unrest in Italy since the “Red Bien­nial” of 1920-21 soon spread to work­ing class dis­tricts, where the emerg­ing women’s move­ment, along with stu­dents (an increas­ing num­ber of whom came from the work­ing class since the advent of mass schol­ar­iza­tion in the early 1960s) and the New Left groups became active in the self-orga­nized neigh­bor­hood com­mit­tees (comi­tati di quartiere) which orga­nized rent and bill strikes, the self-reduc­tion (autoriduzione) of pub­lic trans­port tick­ets and hous­ing occu­pa­tions to demand an over­all improve­ment in work­ing class liv­ing stan­dards, as the grow­ing eco­nomic, oil, and stagfla­tion crises of the mid-1970s began to be felt.

Iron­i­cally, while the broader move­ment of Autono­mia was gain­ing strength dur­ing the decade, its his­tor­i­cal antecedent since the early 1960s, the autonomous work­ers’ move­ment, went into decline. This devel­op­ment was the­o­rized by Negri, as the result of the “decom­po­si­tion of the mass worker,” induced by indus­trial restruc­tura­tion, and the “recom­po­si­tion” of the new cen­tral actor in the class strug­gle, the “social­ized worker,” sit­u­ated more in the social ter­ri­tory out­side and around the Fordist fac­tory.6 This post-work­erist the­ory was to prove highly con­tro­ver­sial within Autono­mia and its still work­erist intel­lec­tual milieu, accen­tu­at­ing the divi­sions between Negri’s cir­cle around the jour­nal Rosso and Ser­gio Bologna’s around Primo Mag­gio, whose analy­sis con­tin­ued to priv­i­lege the strug­gles of the indus­trial “mass worker.”7

One of the most impor­tant exam­ples of social repro­duc­tion strug­gles in the “social fac­tory” was the autoriduzione (self-reduc­tion) cam­paign in Turin in 1974 where work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties orga­nized to pay self-reduced fares on pub­lic trans­port, involv­ing the print­ing and issu­ing of their own tick­ets; a strug­gle in which rad­i­cal sec­tions of the trade unions, espe­cially the PCI and PSI-based CGIL, were also engaged.8 Sim­i­lar strug­gles took place over com­mu­nity con­trol of repro­duc­tive needs: low-cost social hous­ing, reg­u­lated low rents, and secure ten­an­cies in the pri­vate sec­tor, domes­tic energy con­sump­tion bills charged at the same low rate as indus­try, and “free” or “pro­le­tar­ian” shop­ping in super­mar­kets as depicted in Dario Fo’s 1974 play “Can’t pay! Won’t pay!.”9 Later on in the decade leisure and lux­ury needs became para­mount for young urban pro­le­tar­i­ans, espe­cially in Milan, as part of their cri­tique of and oppo­si­tion to the divi­sion of labor between the “right” to basic needs for the work­ing class and the “right” to lux­ury and priv­i­lege for the bour­geoisie: self-reduced or expro­pri­ated eat­ing out in expen­sive restau­rants in the city cen­ter, the demand for and some­times direct prac­tice of free access to any kind of cul­ture, whether it be a Lou Reed rock con­cert or an art house movie.10

These broader social repro­duc­tion con­flicts were allied to the strug­gle of the women’s move­ment against the nuclear fam­ily as the site of the divi­sion of repro­duc­tive labor and domes­tic work, and for con­trol of their own bod­ies and lives through more lib­eral and prop­erly enforced divorce and abor­tion laws (many con­ser­v­a­tive doc­tors in the pub­lic health ser­vice refused to carry out abor­tions under a clause per­mit­ting “con­sci­en­tious objec­tion,” some while con­tin­u­ing to do them clan­des­tinely in their own “back street abor­tion” clin­ics) and the democ­ra­ti­za­tion and fem­i­niza­tion of med­ical and social ser­vices. Other forms of self-reduc­tive and social repro­duc­tion strug­gles took place in the early and mid 1970s through hous­ing occu­pa­tions and rent strikes, par­tic­u­larly in the out­skirts of Rome, a par­tic­u­larly hard-fought con­flict by the home­less, mar­gin­al­ized youth and unem­ployed pro­le­tariat, which became one of the early focus­ing points of Rome Autono­mia.

Reproductive Labor Struggles and Wages for Housework

Some ex-Potere Operaio the­o­rists, active in the fem­i­nist move­ment, con­cen­trated on the cat­e­gory of unpaid repro­duc­tive labor, which was seen as vital for the repro­duc­tion of liv­ing labor and there­fore cap­i­tal, par­tic­u­larly Dalla Costa and James on women’s unpaid house­work,11 and For­tu­nati on repro­duc­tive labor as both house­work and sex work.12 On the basis of this research, a sec­tion of the women’s move­ment close to Potere Operaio and Lotta Con­tinua, Lotta Fem­i­nista,13 began a cam­paign known inter­na­tion­ally as “Wages for House­work,” link­ing up with Selma James’ cam­paign in the USA and later Britain.14  In June 1974 Rosso (the weekly news­pa­per of Milanese “Orga­nized Work­ers’ Auton­omy”), as part of a debate between those demand­ing wages for house­work and those who saw this as a “rat­i­fi­ca­tion” of house­work, pub­lished a report by the Padua Com­mit­tee for Wages for House­work on three days of dis­cus­sion with the fem­i­nist move­ment in Mestre, near Venice.15

A large num­ber of house­wives, teach­ers, shop assis­tants and sec­re­taries had gath­ered to denounce their triple exploita­tion by their employ­ers, their hus­bands and the State, reject­ing the mis­ery and appalling con­di­tions of work that all imposed: “Our strug­gle is against fac­to­ries, … offices, against hav­ing to sit at a check-out coun­ter all day … We are not fight­ing for such an orga­ni­za­tion of work, but against it.”16 They rejected the view of the polit­i­cal par­ties and extra-par­lia­men­tary groups that women’s eman­ci­pa­tion lay in exter­nal paid employ­ment, instead demand­ing that the State, whose most basic cel­lu­lar struc­ture was the nuclear fam­ily, pay them wages for their unpaid house­work since they were repro­duc­ing and car­ing for the next gen­er­a­tion of its cit­i­zens and work­ers, as well as for the old and infirm. They also denounced the inad­e­quacy of the few “social ser­vices” pro­vided, the lack of crèches and nurs­eries for house­wives as well as for employed women, and the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion and abuse of women’s bod­ies by the “mas­culin­ist” pub­lic health sys­tem. They called on women to reclaim their bod­ies and take con­trol of their lives:

We women must reject the con­di­tions of pure sur­vival that the State wants to give us, we must always demand more and more, reap­pro­pri­ate the wealth removed from our hands every day to have more money, more power, more free time to be with oth­ers, women, old peo­ple, chil­dren, not as appendages but as social indi­vid­u­als.17

Milan was the main cen­ter of the women’s move­ment and women in Rosso and Autono­mia often found them­selves torn in two direc­tions by their “dou­ble mil­i­tancy.” They con­tributed to the debates on vio­lence and sub­jec­tiv­ity both within fem­i­nism and Autono­mia, from the posi­tion that “vio­lence, [under­stood as aggres­sive self-asser­tion as an anti­dote to patri­ar­chal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of female pas­siv­ity and sub­or­di­na­tion], is a basis for sub­jec­tiv­ity.”18 Oth­er­wise, the prin­ci­pal areas of inter­ven­tion were the fac­tory and the refusal of work (together with Lotta Con­tinua’s Women’s Col­lec­tive), dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place, dereg­u­lated infor­mal work (lavoro nero), pris­ons, sex­ual vio­lence and machismo within Autono­mia and the over­all “Move­ment,” as well as the body and health. Action was taken in hos­pi­tals, over the unequal doc­tor-patient rela­tion­ship and the denun­ci­a­tion of those doc­tors and med­ical cen­ters that refused to carry out abor­tions, and of the ser­vice in gen­eral which vic­tim­ized women and did not meet their actual health needs. Another area of inter­ven­tion was inter­na­tional “sol­i­darism rather than sol­i­dar­ity,” based on the fem­i­nist prac­tice of “start­ing from your­self” (par­tire da se). They were also in touch with rad­i­cal sep­a­ratist fem­i­nists, who used psy­cho­analy­sis for “con­scious­ness rais­ing” and were close to the Rad­i­cal Party, although rela­tions with the broader fem­i­nist move­ment with its empha­sis on the pri­vate sphere, con­scious­ness rais­ing, and non-vio­lence, were con­flict­ual. A joint action of denun­ci­a­tion of the Catholic Church’s neg­a­tive impact on women’s con­trol over their own bod­ies and lives was the occu­pa­tion of the Duomo, Milan’s main cathe­dral and the reli­gious sym­bol of its offi­cial iden­tity. Other actions were taken to con­test the stereo­typ­ing of women in patri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety as pas­sive con­sumerist sex objects, includ­ing against wed­ding dress shops and dat­ing agen­cies. They also par­tic­i­pated in Lea Melandri’s “Free Uni­ver­sity of Women,” where house­wives and intel­lec­tu­als car­ried out an inter­clas­sist work on the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. The crossover between Rosso and rad­i­cal fem­i­nism pro­duced two mag­a­zi­nes itself, Malafem­ina and Noi tes­tarde,19 mak­ing the “pol­i­tics of the per­sonal” and the ques­tion­ing of gen­der roles part of Autono­mia’s col­lec­tive iden­tity, although dis­agree­ment with Orga­nized Work­ers’ Autonomy’s “work­ers’ cen­tral­ity” posi­tion was per­ma­nent.20

School and University Struggles

The post-work­erists of Autono­mia also saw the cog­ni­tive labor of stu­dents as essen­tial to the repro­duc­tion of the highly skilled sec­tor of the work force ( the “gen­eral intel­lect” of Marx’s Grun­drisse)  and of cog­ni­tive cap­i­tal as intel­li­gence and knowl­edge, their stud­ies for a higher entry into the labor mar­ket being con­sid­ered as unpaid repro­duc­tive labor. This was one of the the­o­ret­i­cal inno­va­tions that helped operaismo in 1968-69 to break down the his­tor­i­cal divide between two of mature cap­i­tal­ist society’s main antag­o­nist group­ings – the indus­trial work­ing class and the hith­erto mainly mid­dle-class uni­ver­sity stu­dent – and build the alliance which was to form the basis of the Hot Autumn and the “Long Ital­ian ‘68.” Here again the ques­tion of class com­po­si­tion would be cru­cial in explain­ing the arrival of the stu­dents as a mass move­ment, not sim­ply for the much-needed reform of the uni­ver­sity sys­tem but for the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of soci­ety. As the Ital­ian econ­omy expanded and soci­ety urban­ized dur­ing the 1960s there was a grow­ing need for qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als, tech­nocrats, and bureau­crats in both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors. Thus, the social basis of uni­ver­sity recruit­ment was widened to include large num­bers of work­ing class stu­dents. Simul­ta­ne­ously, the “Mir­a­cle” of unprece­dented eco­nomic growth and rel­a­tive pros­per­ity since the 1950s meant that many work­ing class fam­i­lies could afford for the first time to put at least one child into higher edu­ca­tion who could then aspire to socially upward mobil­ity.

How­ever, despite the cen­ter-left reforms of the 1960s, the edu­ca­tion sys­tem was com­pletely unable to meet such aspi­ra­tions, becom­ing one of the main causes of the 1968-69 Ital­ian stu­dents and work­ers upris­ing, accord­ing to Robert Lum­ley.21 By 1974, there were mass mobi­liza­tions of school stu­dents and their par­ents, par­tic­u­larly women, through­out Italy against the dilap­i­dated and under-funded edu­ca­tion sys­tem, one of the first areas of pub­lic spend­ing to be affected by post-Oil Cri­sis aus­ter­ity mea­sures.22 Both par­ents and chil­dren demon­strated and occu­pied schools left empty in protest against an acute short­age of class­room space, equip­ment, mate­ri­als, and teach­ers which left large areas, par­tic­u­larly in the poorer South, oper­at­ing part-time edu­ca­tion with a shift sys­tem. Worse, infla­tion and aus­ter­ity mea­sures forced the price of school­books beyond the reach of many work­ing-class fam­i­lies. While Mal­fatti, the Chris­tian Democ­rat Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter, ordered the sack­ing of mil­i­tant Left teach­ers, the over­all num­ber of teach­ers was reduced as 600,000 prospec­tive teach­ers applied for 23,000 posi­tions.23 The government’s run­ning down of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem in work­ing-class areas was bal­anced by its intro­duc­tion of the “Schools Coun­cils,” made up of del­e­gated par­ents, teach­ers and stu­dents, with the aim, sim­i­lar to the Fac­tory Com­mit­tees with regard to indus­trial action, that “they would insti­tu­tion­al­ize the strug­gle in the schools and re-estab­lish polit­i­cal con­trol by the right-wing.”24

The edu­ca­tion cut­backs were also seen as a polit­i­cal attack on a key social antag­o­nist, which had allied itself closely to the over­all autonomous work­ers’ move­ment since 1968. In Octo­ber 1974, 45 sec­ondary schools and adult edu­ca­tion col­leges in Turin went on strike in sol­i­dar­ity with the FIAT national strike of Octo­ber 17 and 4,000 stu­dents and teach­ers marched through the city cen­ter to picket the main gates of the Mirafiori plant. An anal­ogy was drawn between the num­ber of peo­ple los­ing their jobs and the ris­ing num­ber of work­ing class chil­dren being failed in exams and expelled from the edu­ca­tion sys­tem. The same month there were school strikes and demon­stra­tions all over Italy mak­ing the com­mon demand for an end to part-time school­ing, smaller classes, imme­di­ate build­ing pro­grams for new schools and class­rooms, no reduc­tion in the num­ber of teach­ers, improved hygiene, and facil­i­ties, local coun­cils to make avail­able funds they were hold­ing back, free trans­port, books, and equip­ment for stu­dents, and free day cen­ters for preschool chil­dren. Links were made between the com­mit­tees cam­paign­ing against the edu­ca­tion cuts and the autonomous work­ers’ move­ment.

In Rome, 3,000 con­struc­tion and engi­neer­ing work­ers joined a demon­stra­tion against edu­ca­tion cuts. Stu­dents and work­ers set up joint com­muter com­mit­tees to oppose the increase in pub­lic trans­port fares. Women were espe­cially active on this issue, as they were on vir­tu­ally all social issues in the mid-1970s, the peak of the mass mobi­liza­tion phase of the women’s move­ment, march­ing on schools, orga­niz­ing pick­ets, occu­py­ing class­rooms, set­ting up road blocks, all with the demand for bet­ter schools and day-care facil­i­ties.25 These mobi­liza­tions were self-orga­nized with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Autono­mia, the New Left groups, par­tic­u­larly Lotta Con­tinua in the South, as well as some of the unions, but were oth­er­wise char­ac­ter­ized by their auton­omy from and hos­til­ity towards the polit­i­cal par­ties.

Another impor­tant ele­ment in the youth move­ment of the mid-sev­en­ties were the “autonomous stu­dent col­lec­tives” (ASC). In the sec­ondary schools stu­dents and par­ents demanded and prac­ticed direct par­tic­i­pa­tion in deci­sion-mak­ing, which had pre­vi­ously been reg­u­lated by insti­tu­tion­al­ized elec­toral rules and rep­re­sen­ta­tive bod­ies. So were born in the early 1970s the ASC, one of the social bases of Autonomía and the ’77 Move­ment. They orga­nized strikes, occu­pa­tions, the “trial” and expul­sion of fas­cists, and auto­didác­tica (self-teach­ing) where stu­dents in dis­pute excluded their con­ser­v­a­tive teach­ers and taught them­selves, some­times for months. Increas­ingly, con­flict in and out­side high schools took place not only against the FUAN and other neo-fas­cist youth groups but also with the FGCI, the PCI’s youth wing, and with Comu­nione e Lib­er­azione, a fun­da­men­tal­ist Catholic youth move­ment. In the most rad­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, autonomous stu­dents effec­tively “lib­er­ated” schools from their func­tion as total insti­tu­tions for the incul­ca­tion of cap­i­tal­ist inte­gra­tive val­ues based on work and the fam­ily, con­vert­ing them into pro­to­type “social cen­ters.”26

Social Autonomia: The Socialized Worker in the Social Factory

One of the key aspects of Autono­mia that sep­a­rated it from the “bureau­cratic legal­ism” of much of the New Left groups was its prac­tice of “mass ille­gal­ity” through hous­ing squats, occu­pa­tions of pub­lic spaces, the self-reduc­tion of cul­tural as well as social costs, and forms of social expro­pri­a­tion such as “pro­le­tar­ian shop­ping.” The New Left, which con­tin­ued to priv­i­lege strug­gles at the point of pro­duc­tion, attacked this as “sub­pro­le­tar­ian” adven­tur­ism. Autono­mia’s laud­ing of “pro­le­tar­ian ille­gal­ity against bour­geois legal­ity” as an aspect of the “refusal of work” extended to micro-crim­i­nal behav­iors; the indi­vid­ual cir­cum­vent­ing of the law in every­day life, typ­i­cal of the Ital­ian pro­le­tar­ian arte di arran­gia­rsi (art of get­ting by), par­tic­u­larly in the South where poverty and mass unem­ploy­ment were rife. Here, Autono­mia merid­ionale (south­ern auton­omy) became a dif­fused social force among work­ers, the unem­ployed, and their com­mu­ni­ties, although rel­a­tively ignored by the late-1970s’ press cam­paign against Orga­nized Work­ers Auton­omy, based more in north­ern and cen­tral Italy.

The “area of dif­fused Autono­mia” (or social auton­omy) was the broader move­ment of work­ers, stu­dents, women, and youth, who pre­ferred to develop their antag­o­nism to cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety through a hor­i­zon­tal net­work struc­ture, guar­an­tee­ing the auton­omy of each sec­tor and local real­ity from any attempt at uni­fi­ca­tion and homog­e­niza­tion within a national party struc­ture, and there­fore in oppo­si­tion to the stated aim of the Orga­nized Work­ers’ Auton­omy ten­dency of the need to cre­ate a “Party of Auton­omy”27 This “auton­omy of the periph­ery from the cen­ter” was closely linked to Autonomia’s dif­fer­ent social com­po­si­tion (a mix­ture of “sub­pro­le­tariat and the intel­lec­tu­al­ized pro­le­tar­ian labour force. (…) The inva­sion of the uni­ver­sity stu­dents with­out a future.”28 ), com­pared to that of Potere Operaio and the broader autonomous work­ers’ move­ment, which were based on the mass worker:

One can talk about the auton­omy of work­ers who tend to deny their sur­vival as such and to assert their life as com­mu­nists, of the auton­omy of the pro­le­tar­i­an­ized who reject the mer­can­tile-spec­tac­u­lar soci­ety, plac­ing them­selves against it (nobody believes out­side it).29

Orga­nized Work­ers’ Auton­omy, con­trasted with the “area of social auton­omy” and other new social move­ments. How­ever, the dis­parate and local­ized basis of even this more for­mally orga­nized sec­tor of Autono­mia, which attempted unsuc­cess­fully to priv­i­lege the party form, if under a dif­fer­ent guise, had con­trast­ing local char­ac­ter­is­tics and social com­po­si­tions in its prin­ci­pal loca­tions: in Milan, more linked to indus­trial fac­tory strug­gles and the newer post-Fordist pro­duc­tive cir­cuits, but also to strug­gles around repro­duc­tion and the self-reduc­tion of social costs; in Padua, around the stu­dents’ move­ment, pub­lic trans­port and youth issues, but also involved with strug­gles in the Autonomous Work­ers Assem­blies, post-Fordist fac­to­ries and sweat­shops; in Rome, where a more “pop­ulist” and coun­cil com­mu­nist-influ­enced ver­sion mil­i­tated among the unem­ployed and mar­gin­al­ized youth of the urban periph­ery, but also among the grow­ing num­ber of ser­vice sec­tor work­ers, with a strong empha­sis on inter­na­tion­al­ism.

Its Milan-based national news­pa­per Rosso took an increas­ing inter­est in social repro­duc­tion strug­gles:

[Rosso’s] great­est nov­elty con­sists in the aware­ness that the fac­tory (…) is not the only ter­rain where the ini­tia­tive of strug­gle has to develop. Other pre­vi­ously neglected social con­di­tions assume an increas­ingly impor­tant role: those of women, youth, and the mar­gin­al­ized, never con­sid­ered before as polit­i­cal sub­jects. Not imme­di­ately polit­i­cal but fun­da­men­tal themes and prob­lems are faced, such as per­sonal rela­tion­ships and the “gen­eral con­di­tions of life.” Sub­se­quently, the news­pa­per indi­vid­u­al­ized three dif­fer­ent sec­tors of the pub­lic to address: the fac­to­ries, which the sec­tion Rosso fab­brica was devoted to, con­sist­ing mainly of inter­ven­tions by the autonomous com­mit­tees of var­i­ous fac­to­ries (Porto Marghera, Alfa Romeo, Zanussi etc.) (…); Rosso scuola, that included both the broad debates and news of the var­i­ous high school com­mit­tees; “Rosso tutto il resto,” where space was given to sec­tors of the youth move­ment orga­nized out­side the groups and of the fem­i­nist move­ment, that were fight­ing against mar­gin­al­iza­tion. (…) [It] was one of the first mag­a­zi­nes to deal with the trans­for­ma­tion (…) from the mass worker of the big indus­trial con­cen­tra­tions to the social­ized worker of the dif­fused fac­tory in the ter­ri­tory. (…) This new polit­i­cal sub­ject was to have its moment of max­i­mum expres­sion in the ‘77 move­ment. At the begin­nings of 1978 the mag­a­zine iden­ti­fied four sec­tors of inter­ven­tion and debate: 1) directly pro­duc­tive work, “for the reduc­tion of the work­ing day and for the con­quest of time freed from work”; 2) pub­lic spend­ing, “as the cen­tral moment of cap­i­tal­ist con­trol and the reduc­tion of the costs of social repro­duc­tion”; 3) the nuclear state and the pro­duc­tion of death; 4) the legit­imiza­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary action, against the repres­sive appa­ra­tus that the state­mo­bi­lizes for the per­pet­u­a­tion of its domin­ion.30

“Dif­fused” and “cre­ative” Autono­mia, parts of the “auton­omy of the social,” were com­posed of coun­ter-cul­tural, unem­ployed, and semi-employed urban youth, stu­dents, rad­i­cal fem­i­nists, homo­sex­u­als, and the cani sci­olti (“stray dogs,” unaf­fil­i­ated mil­i­tants and activists). Youth and grad­u­ate unem­ploy­ment reached cri­sis lev­els in the mid-1970s. Many young peo­ple con­sciously chose to avoid even look­ing for work (let alone the “refusal” of the late 1960s). Increas­ingly, they fled from the suf­fo­cat­ing patri­ar­chal author­i­tar­i­an­ism of the tra­di­tional Ital­ian nuclear fam­ily to live col­lec­tively, often in squat­ted flats and occa­sion­ally in com­munes.31 They sur­vived par­tially through “black mar­ket jobs”32 and par­tially through mass expro­pri­a­tions of food from super­mar­kets and restau­rants, but also through the “self-reduc­tion” of bus fares, rock con­certs, and cin­ema tick­ets:

[It was] a swarm­ing process of dif­fused orga­ni­za­tion whose real pro­tag­o­nists were young pro­le­tar­i­ans, mar­ginal to the orga­nized autonomous groups, but inserted into dynam­ics of spon­ta­neous, mag­matic, uncon­trol­lable aggre­ga­tion.33

The expe­ri­ence of the “Pro­le­tar­ian Youth Clubs” (PYC/ cir­coli pro­le­tari gio­vanili) was cen­tered in the met­ro­pol­i­tan periph­ery, such as the Quarto Oggiaro and Sesto San Gio­vani dis­tricts in Milan where the effects of the mid-1970s eco­nomic cri­sis were worst felt. The sat­is­fac­tion of the more com­plex aspi­ra­tions of the indi­vid­ual had to be achieved “here and now” and not post­poned to the future elec­tion of a left­ist gov­ern­ment or the after­math of a social­ist rev­o­lu­tion. Like­wise, there was no demand for “the right to work,” but instead one for a “guar­an­teed social income.” The ethics of self-sac­ri­fice, aus­ter­ity, and the “dig­nity of labor,” cen­tral to the PCI’s pro­jected “moral cul­ture” and eco­nomic strat­egy, were rejected in favor of the “right to lux­ury” in the depths of Italy’s worst post­war eco­nomic cri­sis, which the PCI sought to force the Ital­ian work­ing class to accept as “theirs” and not just of cap­i­tal. Rather than demands, there were dif­fused behav­iors and prac­tices, such as espro­pri pro­le­tari (pro­le­tar­ian shop­ping) and self-reduc­tion, but now of restau­rant bills and cin­ema and rock con­cert tick­ets, as well as of trans­port costs and house­hold bills: “The super­flu­ous [was] at the cen­ter of [their] demands to the indig­nant con­ster­na­tion of politi­cians and jour­nal­ists, intel­lec­tu­als, and indus­tri­al­ists.”34

An extreme ver­sion of the ide­ol­ogy of con­sumerism was pro­posed, includ­ing the need and the right to con­sume all kinds of prod­ucts what­ever the extant eco­nomic cir­cum­stances. Indeed, even among the more lib­er­tar­ian sec­tions of the social move­ments like the coun­ter-cul­tural mag­a­zine Re Nudo (Naked King) there was pre­oc­cu­pa­tion over the “death of [the col­lec­tive ide­als of] pro­le­tar­ian youth,”35 as this new, more indi­vid­u­al­ist youth cul­ture, based more on “sub­jec­tiv­ity” than “sol­i­dar­ity,” over­whelmed the bound­aries of the post-1968 coun­ter-cul­ture at the Parco Lam­bro Free Fes­ti­val in Milan in June 1976. The expro­pri­a­tion of alter­na­tive prod­ucts, the pro­tag­o­nism of the spec­ta­tors rather than the per­form­ers, fem­i­nist sep­a­ratism and the grow­ing vis­i­bil­ity of the heroin prob­lem led to the Festival’s implo­sion and seemed to sig­nify the end of the ideal of the col­lec­tive trans­for­ma­tion of the sta­tus quo.36

The event that pre­saged the ’77 Move­ment was the riot by the PYC and oth­ers from the “area of Autonomía” out­side the La Scala opera house in Milan against the first night of the opera sea­son in Decem­ber 1976, the first dis­play of a new kind of vio­lence, more of urban youth gangs than of clas­si­cal extreme Left­ism, express­ing the “pre­po­lit­i­cal” anger of the unem­ployed, mar­gin­al­ized youth of the “dor­mi­tory sub­urbs,” rid­dled with despair and a heroin epi­demic, against the pol­i­tics of aus­ter­ity and sac­ri­fice:37

[This] year the first night at La Scala is – for the Milanese mid­dle class – an occa­sion of polit­i­cal affir­ma­tion over the pro­le­tariat and a dis­play of  force (…) it is an insult against the pro­le­tariat, forced to make sac­ri­fices so that the bour­geoisie can go to its first night. The first night at La Scala is a polit­i­cal date today. The pro­le­tar­ian youth present them­selves, together with the women [’s move­ment], as the det­o­na­tor and cul­tural van­guard of the det­o­na­tion of the present equi­lib­ri­ums of power between the classes, but there is some­thing more than 1968. The logic of sac­ri­fices is the bour­geois logic that says: for the pro­le­tar­i­ans pasta, for the mid­dle classes caviar. We claim our right to caviar: … because nobody can ever con­vince us that in times of sac­ri­fices the bour­geoisie can go to the first night but we can’t, that they can eat parme­san but we can’t, or they can even force us to starve. The  priv­i­leges that the mid­dle class reserves for itself are ours, we pay for them. This is why we want to defeat them and we do so as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple … The right to take pos­ses­sion of some priv­i­leges of the  mid­dle class has been a new ele­ment since 1968, yes­ter­day rot­ten eggs today self-reduc­tion … Grassi, “social­ist” and direc­tor of La Scala has told us that it’s all right to make the mid­dle classes who want to go the first night pay 100,000 lira a head, so that cul­tural pro­duc­tion can be financed; we reply that the first nights’ tak­ings must go to the cen­ters of strug­gle against heroin, that cul­ture must be for pro­le­tar­i­ans.38

Movements of the Unemployed for a Guaranteed Social Wage

A major sec­tion of the move­ment of the orga­nized unem­ployed in Naples also became part of “Autono­mia merid­ionale,” the rel­a­tively for­got­ten part of the move­ment in the less devel­oped South. It was among the self-orga­nized unem­ployed move­ments in Naples and Catan­zaro that “Autono­mia merid­ionale” made its great­est impact, through the demand for an ade­quate “guar­an­teed social wage” from the State to coun­ter­act the social dev­as­ta­tion caused by endemic unem­ploy­ment and eco­nomic under­de­vel­op­ment. The his­tor­i­cal strug­gles of the unem­ployed for work in Naples, Italy’s poorest major conur­ba­tion, and through­out the Mez­zo­giorno, appeared to be in con­tra­dic­tion with the movement’s refusal of work.  In fact the unem­ployed were seen as per­form­ing “unpaid labor”: through their nec­es­sary “job search” for a source of income they unin­ten­tion­ally depressed wages in the South and ulti­mately through­out the national econ­omy as a reserve army of indus­trial labor, so per­form­ing a vital func­tion for cap­i­tal. The Naples unem­ployed were well aware of their objec­tive cap­i­tal­ist func­tion, lead­ing them to cam­paign through some­times vio­lent mass marches and pick­ets of the city council’s offices for a “guar­an­teed social wage” and increased wel­fare, so that they would not be forced to accept depressed wages and could delay their entry into the labor mar­ket if nec­es­sary.

Mass unem­ploy­ment also wreaked havoc with work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties in the indus­trial North that were used to secure, ris­ing incomes dur­ing the pre­vi­ous 20 years, and there was a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the num­ber of sui­cides among redun­dant fac­tory work­ers in cities like Turin in the early 1980s. How­ever, for the “No Future” gen­er­a­tion of the “social­ized worker” and in par­tic­u­lar for the ‘77 Move­ment, unem­ploy­ment was seen as an inevitable fate which could be turned into a pos­i­tive per­sonal and col­lec­tive oppor­tu­nity given the right con­di­tions: not only to “refuse work,” but also to found what Virno has called the “soci­ety of non-work,” based more on “exo­dus” from work as the defin­ing iden­tity-for­ma­tion expe­ri­ence than resis­tance to work in the work­place.39

How suc­cess­ful this cam­paign of refusal to be black­mailed by unem­ploy­ment was remains unclear. The implo­sion of Autono­mia and most of the new social move­ments in the early 1980s, the sharp rise in heroin addic­tion and the sui­cide rate among under-30s, and the search for indi­vid­ual neo-mys­ti­cal solu­tions through mem­ber­ship of reli­gious cults seems to indi­cate an exten­sive col­lec­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal cri­sis due to the loss of the sol­i­dar­ity and bonds of com­mu­ni­ties of strug­gle (includ­ing those based in the work­place), result­ing in much higher lev­els of indi­vid­ual atom­iza­tion, alien­ation, and despair.40 An infor­mant describes the “implo­sion of sub­jec­tiv­ity” he wit­nessed on return­ing to Padua from abroad in 1979 to find the piaz­zas deserted, where pre­vi­ously young peo­ple had social­ized almost per­ma­nently dur­ing the ‘77 Move­ment, now replaced by a with­drawal into pri­vate life, heroin addic­tion, and com­pul­sive tele­vi­sion view­ing.41

Occupied and Self-Managed Social Centers

The occu­pied and/or self-man­aged social cen­ters (cen­tri sociali ocupati/ auto­gestiti /CSO/A) which started to appear in Milan and Rome in the mid 1970s were the main response by the auton­o­mist move­ments to the cri­sis of social repro­duc­tion of those years, as they sought to provide social spaces for work­ing class youth and their com­mu­ni­ties to start pro­vid­ing for their own repro­duc­tive and cul­tural needs, with the with­er­ing of the wel­fare state as indus­trial restruc­tur­ing and aus­ter­ity poli­cies began to bite. Since the late 1980s, as post-Fordist glob­al­iza­tion deep­ened and the neolib­eral poli­cies of pub­lic spend­ing cuts, pri­va­ti­za­tion of pub­lic ser­vices and the dereg­u­la­tion of the econ­omy became the norm, they have become the “red bases” of the sec­ond-wave auton­o­mist move­ments in Italy, Europe and else­where, as autonomism glob­al­ized as one of the major com­po­nents of the “alter­global” anti-cap­i­tal­ist move­ment.42

Often squat­ted and some­times con­ceded pub­lic build­ings, such as dis­used schools or fac­to­ries, were taken over by groups of youth, usu­ally from the area antag­o­nista (the post-1983 suc­ces­sors of Autono­mia) or anar­chists, but also by extra-comu­ni­tari immi­grants from Africa and Asia, as well as by anti-fas­cist foot­ball fans, to use as meet­ing places and cen­ters for the pro­vi­sion of alter­na­tive social and edu­ca­tional ser­vices, as well as cul­tural and polit­i­cal activ­i­ties, given offi­cial neg­li­gence in pro­vid­ing such facil­i­ties. Orig­i­nally, a social phe­nom­e­non almost unique to Italy, where squat­ted hous­ing was much rarer than in other Euro­pean coun­tries, it mush­roomed in the 1990s, result­ing in over 100 CSO/A in all the major cities, although many have since been evicted and shut down, par­tic­u­larly by the highly repres­sive hard right Berlus­coni gov­ern­ments after 2001.

The Pro­le­tar­ian Youth Clubs were instru­men­tal in estab­lish­ing the first squat­ted and self-man­aged social cen­ters in the periph­eral Milanese work­ing class dis­tricts, orig­i­nally as meet­ing places for youth deprived of any ser­vices or spaces by the city coun­cil. Most were either closed down by the police or fell into dis­use once heroin addic­tion reached epi­demic pro­por­tions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the first to be founded in 1975 (by New Left and Autonomía activists, rather than the PYC with which it had poor rela­tions) was the Leon­cav­allo occu­pied social cen­ter, which based itself on the imme­di­ate social and edu­ca­tional needs of its local neigh­bor­hood and in oppo­si­tion to the prop­erty spec­u­la­tors who were already “gen­tri­fy­ing” the cen­ter of Milan, invit­ing local peo­ple to dis­cuss how to use the space:

The last city admin­is­tra­tion never wor­ried about meet­ing our demands and on the other hand they have never even used the funds paid by indus­tries for social use (1% of local rates). The expe­ri­ences of the work­ers’ move­ment and of those in recent years in the neigh­bor­hoods have taught that only mobi­liza­tion and strug­gle pro­duce con­crete results: as in the fac­tory or in the [self-reduc­tion] of rents and elec­tric­ity and tele­phone bills. [T]hinking that only strug­gle is able to resolve the prob­lems of our neigh­bor­hood, the base organ­isms of the neigh­bor­hood have occu­pied and reac­ti­vated the [unoc­cu­pied] fac­tory in Via Mancinelli and have also invited the new demo­c­ra­tic [red] ‘”junta” of Milan to show in prac­tice its wish to meet the social demands of a pop­u­lar dis­trict such as ours by allow­ing the social use of the occu­pied build­ing. (…) Here is a pre­lim­i­nary list of the social struc­tures which are insuf­fi­cient in our dis­trict or even com­pletely miss­ing:











With the build­ing occu­pied, if we are sup­ported by a mobi­liza­tion of the whole dis­trict we can cover some of these require­ments.43


The sig­nif­i­cance of the 1970s Ital­ian strug­gles for today’s social repro­duc­tion strug­gles is unde­ni­able, both in the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal terms, par­tic­u­larly at such a “dark moment” in recent human his­tory when ques­tions of social repro­duc­tion, self-reduc­tion and expro­pri­a­tion are once more to the fore. They not only offer an exam­ple how social repro­duc­tion can become a focal point of move­ment activ­ity and mobi­liza­tion in the face of the face of ris­ing poli­cies of aus­ter­ity and cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing, but also provide con­crete strate­gies for con­nect­ing this ter­rain with other spheres which could appear sep­a­rate: strug­gles of the unem­ployed, fac­tory occu­pa­tions, and indus­trial labor mil­i­tancy. In this sense, social repro­duc­tion was a nexus, a cru­cial link, in the chain of build­ing a renewed class power – one that extended from the work­place to the school, from the home to the occu­pied social cen­ter. More­over, the orga­ni­za­tional forms that devel­oped – a dense net­work (“swarm”) of com­mu­nity coun­cils, clubs, com­mit­tees, and assem­blies – were suf­fi­ciently flex­i­ble so as to be eas­ily adapted to the diver­gent urban con­texts of Rome, Milan, and Turin. Again, this should not be taken to mean that we can trans­port these polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences directly to our present prob­lems; it means, rather, that the autonomous social move­ments of 1970s Italy are a liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory open to inves­ti­ga­tion, and involved a series of accu­mu­lat­ing cycles of strug­gles that demand care­ful his­tor­i­cal analy­sis. In other words, trac­ing the inter­nal tra­jec­tory, shifts, and ten­den­cies of these col­lec­tive exper­i­men­ta­tions could give us a solid basis for approach­ing how to polit­i­cally orga­nize on the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion today.

  1. Anto­nio Negri, Books for Burn­ing: Between Civil War and Democ­racy in 1970s Italy, trans­lated by Tim­o­thy S. Mur­phy, Ari­anna Bove, Ed Emery, and F. Nov­ello (Lon­don & New York: Verso, 2005 [1977]), 190-191. Empha­sis pro­vided in the orig­i­nal text. 

  2. Sil­via Fed­erici, La rev­olu­ción fem­i­nist inacabada: Mujeres, repro­duc­ción social y lucha por lo común, trans­lated by R. Rodríguez Durán, P. Alvarado Pizaña, L. Lin­salata, C. Fer­nán­dez Guervós, and P. Martín Ponz (Mex­ico City: Escuela Calpulli, 2013), 38. 

  3. Mario Tronti, Operai e cap­i­tale (Turin: Ein­audi, 1971 [1965]), 51-52, 56. Cited in Steve Wright, Storm­ing Heaven: Class Com­po­si­tion and Strug­gle in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism (Lon­don: Pluto Press, 2002), 37-38. 

  4. Riv­olta di classe, “Let­ter aperta alla redazione milanese di ‘Rosso,” now in L. Castel­lano (ed.) Aut.Op. La sto­ria e i doc­u­menti: da Potere Operaio all’Autonomia orga­niz­zata (Rome: Savelli, 1980, [1976]), 136. Cited in Wright, op. cit. (2002), 171. 

  5. Con­sigli di fab­brica (fac­tory coun­cils), intro­duced by the 1970 reform on work­ers rights, designed to coun­ter­act, demo­bi­lize and recu­per­ate the Autonomous Work­ers Assem­blies of the 1969 “Hot Autumn.” 

  6. Anto­nio Negri, Rev­o­lu­tion Retrieved: Selected Writ­ings 1967-83.  (Lon­don: Red Notes, 1988). 

  7. An operaist his­tor­i­cal jour­nal that took a more inde­pen­dent line on devel­op­ments within the social move­ments and the class strug­gle of the 1970s than the peri­od­i­cals linked with “Orga­nized Work­ers Auton­omy.” 

  8. Eddy Cherki and Michel Wiev­iorka, “Autore­duc­tion move­ments in Turin,” Italy: Autono­mia - Post-Polit­i­cal Pol­i­tics, Semiotext(e), 3, no. 3, (1980), 72-77. 

  9. Tony Mitchell, Dario Fo: People’s Court Jester (Updated and Expanded) (Lon­don: Methuen, 1999). 

  10. Cir­coli pro­le­tari gio­vanili di Milano, Sará un risotto che vi sep­pel­lirá (Milan: Squi/libri, 1977). 

  11. Mari­arosa Dalla Costa, The Power of Women and the Sub­ver­sion of the Com­mu­nity (with A Woman’s Place by S. James). (Lon­don: Falling Wall Press, 1974 [1972]). 

  12. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion: House­work, Pros­ti­tu­tion, Labor, and Cap­i­tal (New York: Autono­me­dia, 1995 [1978]). 

  13. Fem­i­nist Strug­gle: see Lum­ley (1990) and Balestrini and Moroni (1997, [1988]) for analy­ses of the dif­fer­ences and debates within the Ital­ian fem­i­nist move­ment. 

  14. This is an exam­ple of the con­tin­u­ing close links between the US Marx­ist-Human­ists of the John­son-Forest Ten­dency (pseu­do­nyms for CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya, Trotsky’s for­mer per­sonal sec­re­tary who had by then bro­ken with Trot­sky­ism) and the operaists of PO. See Harry Cleaver, Read­ing Cap­i­tal Polit­i­cally (San Fran­cisco: AK Press, 2000, [1979]) for the influ­ence of the John­son-Forest group and Cas­to­ri­adis’ Social­isme ou Bar­barie group on the Ital­ian work­erists. 

  15. Comi­tato per il salario al lavoro domes­tico (Padua). 

  16. Rosso, “Lavoro domes­tico e salario,” no. 11, (1st ed.), June, (1974), 34. 

  17. Ibid. 

  18. Inter­view in Ital­ian with three women infor­mants, Milan, August 1998, and Rosso (Feb­ru­ary 14 1976),  9. 

  19. Bad female and We stub­born women, respec­tively. 

  20. This para­graph is based on the pre­vi­ously men­tioned inter­view. 

  21. Robert Lum­ley, States of Emer­gency: Cul­tures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978  (Lon­don: Verso, 1990). 

  22. Red Notes (eds.), “Class Strug­gle in Italy: Octo­ber ‘74,” A Dossier of Class Strug­gle in Britain and Abroad – 1974  (Lon­don: Red Notes, 1975). 

  23. Red Notes, ibid. 

  24. Ibid., 14-15. 

  25. Ibid. 

  26. Nanni Balestrini, The Unseen (Lon­don: Verso, 1989). 

  27. Steve Wright,  “A Party of Auton­omy?,” in The Phi­los­o­phy of Anto­nio Negri: Resis­tance in Prac­tice, A. Mustapha and  T. Mur­phy (eds) (Lon­don: Pluto Press, 2004),  73-106. 

  28. Inter­view with Guido Borio, Turin, April 1992. 

  29. Neg/azione, Autono­mia operaia e autono­mia dei pro­le­tari,” 68 - 77 gruppi e movi­menti si rac­con­tano, 1976. 

  30. Scordino and DeriveAp­prodi, ’77: L’anno della grande riv­olta (Rome: DeriveApprodi/CSOA La Strada, ver­sion 1, [CD], 1997). 

  31. The issue of “prac­tic­ing com­mu­nism in every­day life” is one of the main dif­fer­ences between the Ital­ian Autono­mia of the 1970s and the Ger­man Autonomen of the 1980s and 1990s, since most autonomi prob­a­bly remained liv­ing at home given the dif­fi­cul­ties of squat­ting flats and eco­nomic sur­vival out­side the fam­ily, while most autonomen prob­a­bly lived out­side the fam­ily and in squat­ted com­munes and houses, given a more exten­sive wel­fare state and a greater pos­si­bil­ity of col­lec­tive squat­ting. As a result, the pol­i­tics of the per­sonal and the need to com­bat sex­ism, homo­pho­bia and racism in every­day life as well as at the polit­i­cal level was more present in the Autonomen than it was in Autono­mia (George Kat­si­afi­cas, The Sub­ver­sion of Pol­i­tics: Euro­pean Autonomous Social Move­ments and the Decol­o­niza­tion of Every­day Life (New Jer­sey: Human­i­ties Press, 1997). 

  32. Lavoro nero: the post-Fordist sec­tor of infor­mal, pre­car­i­ous, short-term, low paid, dereg­u­lated and ille­gal sweat­shop labor, done more by “extra-Euro­pean” migrants since the 1980s. 

  33. Nanni Balestrini and Primo Moroni, L’orda d’oro: 1968-1977. La grande ondata riv­o­luzionaria e cre­ativa, polit­ica ed esisten­ziale (Milan: Sugar Co, Feltrinelli.1st & 2nd eds.,1997, [1988]), 445. 

  34. Marco Grispigni,  Il Set­tan­ta­sette: un man­uale per capire, un sag­gio per riflet­tere (Milan: il Sag­gia­tore, 1997) 14. 

  35. Ibid., 16 

  36. Idem. 

  37. Idem. 

  38. Viola, 1976. Cited in Cir­coli pro­le­tari gio­vanili di Milano (op.cit., 1977), 107-109. 

  39. Paolo Virno, “Do You Remem­ber Coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion?,” in Rad­i­cal Thought in Italy: a Poten­tial Pol­i­tics, Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (eds.) (Min­neapolis: Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota Press, 1996), 241-259. 

  40. Alberto Melucci,  Chal­leng­ing Codes: Col­lec­tive Action in the Infor­ma­tion Age (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 1996). 

  41. Inter­view in Eng­lish with an infor­mant from Venice, Lon­don, June 1999. 

  42. Patrick Cun­ing­hame, “Autonomism as a Global Social Move­ment,” Work­ing USA: The Jour­nal of Labor and Soci­ety, no. 13, Decem­ber (2010), 451–464. 

  43. First leaflet of CSO Leon­cav­allo, Octo­ber 15 (Cen­tro Sociale Leon­cav­allo, 1975. 

Author of the article

is a lecturer in Sociology at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM) in Mexico City.