The NEP of Classe Operaia

Franco Angeli, senza titolo, 1963
Franco Angeli, Unti­tled, 1963


Translator’s Introduction: The Victory of Defeat

Raf­faele Sbardella is unknown to the Eng­lish-speak­ing world, and even among Ital­ian rad­i­cals he is an obscure fig­ure.1 If it nonethe­less seems worth intro­duc­ing him to the read­ers of View­point, it is on the strength of the essay that we are pre­sent­ing in trans­la­tion below. “The NEP of Classe Operaia” is a rare bird: it is a cri­tique of Ital­ian work­erism (or operaismo) from the left. We do not lack for crit­i­cal per­spec­tives on the later auton­o­mist and post-auton­o­mist the­o­ries of Toni Negri, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Paolo Virno, Mau­r­izio Laz­zarato, and oth­ers, whose work became more widely known due to the suc­cess of Negri and Michael Hardt’s Empire tril­ogy in the 2000s. The well­spring from which this entire tra­di­tion draws, how­ever, is the unortho­dox con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of class strug­gle, work­ers’ auton­omy, and cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment that took shape in the pages of the jour­nals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia in the early and mid-1960s. This ear­lier stage remains murky to all but a few spe­cial­ists in the mat­ter.2 The work­erist legacy is buried in the rub­ble of a cat­a­clysmic defeat; there is much work still to be done sim­ply to unearth its ruins. It may seem per­verse to offer an attack on the main­stream of work­erism – and espe­cially one as with­er­ing and par­ti­san as Sbardella’s – when many of the foun­da­tional texts to which the essay makes ref­er­ence are still unavail­able in Eng­lish. I have cho­sen to trans­late and pub­lish the piece nonethe­less because I am con­vinced that its inter­est exceeds the merely anti­quar­ian.

Sbardella’s inter­ven­tion is his­to­ri­o­graphic: he aims to show that the later errors of the auton­o­mist move­ment can be traced back to an ide­ol­ogy that took hold in the Classe Operaia group, and in par­tic­u­lar in the work of its lead­ing light, Mario Tronti. The essay itself is a doc­u­ment of defeat. Orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1980, it was writ­ten in the wake of the Move­ment of ’77 – the last great out­pour­ing of Italy’s decade-long “Creep­ing May” – and more specif­i­cally in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Ital­ian state’s repres­sion of Autono­mia in 1979. By the time Sbardella was pre­sum­ably writ­ing, many of the movement’s lead­ers were in prison (includ­ing, most famously, Negri), or had fled the coun­try. But there was another and less painful exit avail­able to erst­while cham­pi­ons of work­ers’ auton­omy. It was a choice, more­over, that some had made as early as the mid-1960s. This was the deci­sion to rejoin one or another of the exist­ing par­ties of the work­ing class and thus to aban­don the extra­parlia­men­tary strug­gle to its fate. Such was the tra­jec­tory of Tronti – the pri­mary tar­get of Sbardella’s arti­cle.

If “The NEP of Classe Operaia” were con­cerned only to chas­tise an apos­tate it would be of lit­tle inter­est, of course. For­tu­nately, it has a broader agenda. Tronti had been a mem­ber of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party (PCI) in the 1950s; although he never tech­ni­cally left, he effec­tively dis­tanced him­self from it at the begin­ning of the fol­low­ing decade. At this time, he started work­ing with Raniero Panzieri – who was affil­i­ated with the Ital­ian Social­ist Party, or PSI, the Com­mu­nist Party’s major com­peti­tor on the left – at the influ­en­tial jour­nal Quaderni Rossi (Red Notes). In 1964, Tronti left Quaderni Rossi to co-found Classe Operaia (Work­ing Class), whose con­trib­u­tors would include Negri, Alberto Asor Rosa, Mas­simo Cac­ciari, and Romano Alquati, among oth­ers. In 1967 Tronti was rec­on­ciled to the PCI. Between the prodigal’s depar­ture and return, how­ever, he pub­lished Operai e Cap­i­tale (Work­ers and Cap­i­tal), the first edi­tion of which appeared in 1966.3 This book effec­tively cod­i­fied the major propo­si­tions of work­erism: for instance, that the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal is largely a response to the self-activ­ity of the work­ing class, and that rev­o­lu­tion is to be accom­plished through the “strat­egy of refusal,” in other words, by work­ers’ with­drawal from cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. Sbardella chal­lenges some of these propo­si­tions. But he does so not in the abstract, refut­ing one after the other as if they were float­ing in the ahis­tor­i­cal ether. Rather, he aims to show his read­ers where these ideas came from – and, more impor­tantly, where they led. For this rea­son, “The NEP of Classe Operaia” takes the form of a chron­i­cle.4 Or, one could say, a geneal­ogy. Tronti’s embrace of the PCI appeared to many work­erists and auton­o­mists as a bla­tant con­tra­dic­tion of his own argu­ments in Operai e Cap­i­tale. Sbardella’s aim is to show that it was any­thing but. At stake are the philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­nings of work­erism itself.

Sbardella’s nar­ra­tive begins in media res. The year is 1964: Tronti has already bro­ken with Panzieri and other com­rades from Quaderni Rossi; the rest of the action traces the rise and fall of Classe Operaia. Yet the basic shape of Tronti’s pol­i­tics has already con­gealed. It is founded on what Sbardella describes as an ide­al­iza­tion of the con­cept of pro­le­tar­ian sub­jec­tiv­ity. He aligns Tronti, unex­pect­edly, with the reac­tionary neo-Hegelian­ism of Gio­vanni Gen­tile, Mussolini’s court philoso­pher. Gentile’s impos­ing body even­tu­ally turned up rid­dled with par­ti­san bul­lets on the streets of Flo­rence in 1944 – an appro­pri­ate end to the thinker who cham­pi­oned the phi­los­o­phy of the “act,” in other words, brute power as the truth of dialec­tics. The point of Sbardella’s scan­dalous maneu­ver is to argue for a link between Gentile’s “actual ide­al­ism” and Tronti’s own work­erist ide­ol­ogy. In his telling, Tronti’s the­ory of the invari­able pos­i­tiv­ity of the pro­le­tar­ian sub­ject meant that this subject’s actions could only be, ipso facto, cor­rect. This was, there­fore, an “ide­al­ism of the Sub­ject” that amounted to an affir­ma­tion of what already exists: and thus effec­tively an affir­ma­tion – in a for­mu­la­tion that echoes Gen­tile – of the bal­ance of class power at any given moment.

When the work­ing class was, indeed, on the offen­sive, the effects of this ide­al­ism were, at least, innocu­ous. Borne along by the ris­ing tide of strug­gle, work­erism gave a new impe­tus to the project of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing the auton­omy of the work­ing class from its own reformist insti­tu­tions. There was, at first, much talk of an entirely new and gen­uinely rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party to come – out­side of, and against, the PCI. But Tronti’s phi­los­o­phy refused to give the neg­a­tive its due. Sbardella’s story picks up in the years of the “retreat,” or riflusso, of work­ing-class strug­gles that occurred after the decline of an impor­tant strike wave in 1962. Sud­denly, Tronti and his com­rades faced the conun­drum of explain­ing these set­backs with­out at the same time aban­don­ing their the­sis of the inex­orable advance of pro­le­tar­ian power. Instead of build­ing their own autonomous orga­ni­za­tions, Tronti and oth­ers cor­rectly observed that work­ers in this period were increas­ingly reen­ter­ing their old and by this time rather tooth­less left-wing par­ties, above all the PCI. It was this phe­nom­e­non that demanded urgent expla­na­tion, since the very legit­i­macy of work­erist analy­sis was at stake. Thus began a period of tor­tur­ous realign­ment on the part of the Classe Operaia the­o­rists: their posi­tions shifted rapidly from the imper­a­tive to con­struct a new rev­o­lu­tion­ary party, to the call to pre­vent the social-democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the PCI (and thus to con­duct the class strug­gle within rather than out­side the Com­mu­nist Party), to sug­ges­tions for var­i­ous alliances with other forces of the left. This led, even­tu­ally, to abject sub­mis­sion to the PCI exactly as it was. After all, if the migra­tion back to the PCI was a gen­uine mass move­ment on the part of the work­ers, it could hardly be sim­ply wrong. Tronti’s later alle­giance to the Com­mu­nist Party was no anom­aly, but was rather the log­i­cal con­se­quence of his own work­erist assump­tions.

This is the core of the argu­ment. Sbardella’s cri­tique of Tronti is sub­tler than might first appear, how­ever. Fol­low­ing an insight not only of work­erism itself, but also of a much older left com­mu­nist tra­di­tion, he rec­og­nizes the his­tor­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment as founded on expro­pri­a­tion. Clas­si­cal par­ties such as the PCI indeed rep­re­sent the will of the class, but only as sep­a­rate and alien­ated from the class. Par­ties monop­o­lize polit­i­cal sub­jec­tiv­ity. Yet this does not mean that the pure unmedi­ated activ­ity of the class is there­fore inher­ently rev­o­lu­tion­ary, as a cer­tain naively left com­mu­nist posi­tion would imply. On the con­trary: when the class suf­fers mate­rial defeat, its strat­egy, too, is thrown into dis­ar­ray. Work­ers then find them­selves hud­dling around what­ever con­cen­tra­tions of power still sur­vive. In these cir­cum­stances, spon­tane­ity leads to bad pol­i­tics, not because work­ers lack direc­tion from a proper rev­o­lu­tion­ary van­guard, but rather because the objec­tive sit­u­a­tion leaves them few other options. In such a period even the most impec­ca­bly com­mit­ted cadres are only capa­ble of orga­niz­ing defeat. It is not the case, accord­ing to Sbardella, that an oppo­si­tional sub­jec­tiv­ity always exists. It is rather con­sti­tuted and decon­sti­tuted in the flux of the class strug­gle. For all their empha­sis on class com­po­si­tion, the work­erists around Tronti failed to rec­og­nize this fact.

Sbardella argues that Tronti and his com­rades were hoisted on their own petard. Because they had ide­al­ized pro­le­tar­ian sub­jec­tiv­ity as invari­ably rev­o­lu­tion­ary, they were unpre­pared to prop­erly ana­lyze the Ital­ian proletariat’s retreat into its own stul­ti­fy­ing insti­tu­tions. They were then left with no choice but to rat­ify this retreat as one more mas­ter­stroke of the proletariat’s undoubt­edly cor­rect, if inscrutable, strat­egy. When the strug­gle in the fac­to­ries began to heat up again at the end of the ‘60s, how­ever, Tronti and his fol­low­ers were blind­sided once again. Hav­ing already declared the PCI to be the authen­tic expres­sion of the work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­ity, they were left with no way to respond to the new avalanche of defec­tions. This accounts, Sbardella argues, for the emer­gence of Tronti’s utterly mys­ti­fied doc­trine of the “auton­omy of the polit­i­cal.” If it was true that the work­ers had del­e­gated their polit­i­cal will to the Party, then that Party implic­itly would retain its legit­i­macy as the polit­i­cal expres­sion of the class, even if – as indeed actu­ally hap­pened – that author­ity were to be turned against the class itself. What becomes autonomous here is not the class but rather its polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. And this auton­o­miza­tion then has no effect other than to con­ceal, and to oppose, the real move­ment of the class.

Can one rightly say, then, that Sbardella’s analy­sis is marked by an implaca­ble oppo­si­tion to the form of the party, which after all makes an appear­ance here only to alien­ate work­ers of their sub­jec­tiv­ity? Not quite. The essay is pep­pered with ref­er­ences to a prop­erly rev­o­lu­tion­ary party-form, though this remains hypo­thet­i­cal. It would be an “instru­men­tal party” sub­or­di­nated to the work­ing class rather than stand­ing above it. Sbardella’s own polit­i­cal engage­ments do not sug­gest that he belonged to the left­most mar­gin of Ital­ian pol­i­tics. He had, in fact, started out in the PCI in 1950s, before join­ing the Quaderni Rossi col­lec­tive and, sub­se­quently, the group that pub­lished Classe Operaia itself. His path was there­fore extremely close to Tronti’s own, at least until the mid­dle of the ‘60s. Sbardella at some point stud­ied with the Marx­ist philoso­pher Lucio Col­letti, dur­ing which time he began devel­op­ing his own analy­sis of alien­ation and abstrac­tion (the fruits of which are clearly to be read in “The NEP of Classe Operaia”). He then passed through the orbit of at least two small par­ties to the left of the PCI: suc­ces­sively, the PDUP (Party of Pro­le­tar­ian Unity) and Democrazia Pro­le­taria (Pro­le­tar­ian Democ­racy). In the 1970s and early ‘80s he was also involved in the pub­li­ca­tion of the jour­nals Metrop­o­lis, I Quaderni del No, I Quaderni del CRIC (the jour­nal of the Cen­tro di Ricerche e Inizia­tiva Comu­nista, or Cen­ter for Com­mu­nist Research and Ini­tia­tive), and finally Unità Pro­le­taria. He also wrote books on the “cri­tique of pol­i­tics” and the eigh­teenth-cen­tury penal reformer Cesare Bec­ca­ria. At the turn of the twenty-first cen­tury Sbardella reemerged in the pages of the Ital­ian Marx­ist jour­nal Vis-à-vis, where “The NEP of Classe Operaia” was in fact repub­lished.5 He is still alive today, though evi­dently rather elu­sive.6

Though it would be irre­spon­si­ble to spec­u­late fur­ther, what this record at least sug­gests is an atti­tude of pro­found sus­pi­cion towards polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion that all the same does not reject the party-form per se. The errors to which Sbardella sees Tronti falling prey are, on the one side, an uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of imme­di­acy and spon­ta­neous action, and on the other side, an equally uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of polit­i­cal medi­a­tion as the direct expres­sion of pro­le­tar­ian sub­jec­tiv­ity. In fact the two errors are sym­met­ri­cal – two sides of the same coin. This is an insight of rel­e­vance to sit­u­a­tions some­what removed from its point of origin. One of the more remark­able sec­tions of the essay, for exam­ple, is a long foot­note on Toni Negri. Sbardella acknowl­edges that Negri rejected Tronti’s increas­ing recourse to polit­i­cal medi­a­tion. Yet he did not thereby “suc­ceed in over­com­ing and crit­i­cally liq­ui­dat­ing the ide­al­ism of the Sub­ject.” Instead, Negri’s theod­icy of revolt merely played a game of musi­cal chairs, aban­don­ing the clas­si­cal pro­le­tariat (and its his­tor­i­cal insti­tu­tions) in favor of “what­ever is still oppo­si­tional” – mar­ginal groups or social fig­ures that sup­pos­edly escape the grid of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Sbardella argues that Negri in fact rat­i­fies the effects of capital’s assault on work­ers, and thus mis­rec­og­nizes the decom­po­si­tion of the class as a defin­i­tive break with the cen­tral­ity of the pro­duc­tive sphere in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment. This is an inci­sive com­ment that has clear impli­ca­tions for Negri’s later pro­mo­tion of the “mul­ti­tude” as a replace­ment for the indus­trial pro­le­tariat – as well as for any other pre­ma­ture iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of puta­tively new rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­jects.

“The NEP of Classe Operaia” is of course embed­ded in the pol­i­tics of its moment. Sbardella surely had in mind the “His­toric Com­pro­mise” that had recently brought the PCI into an ulti­mately dis­as­trous rap­proche­ment with the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tian Democ­rats. Indeed, the PCI was to dis­solve com­pletely lit­tle over a decade later. Par­ties in this mold are as good as extinct today, so it may be that Sbardella’s ani­mus will strike con­tem­po­rary read­ers as passé. Yet the prob­lems at stake are not endemic to the Ital­ian expe­ri­ence of some thirty or forty years past. Sbardella ulti­mately pro­poses an alter­na­tive to the phan­tas­mal oppo­si­tion between “spon­tane­ity” and “orga­ni­za­tion” that remains a promi­nent fea­ture of debates on the left to this day. Nei­ther pole has any rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­tent in and of itself. As fetishes, both are capa­ble of lead­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, lem­ming-like, over the cliff. The virtue of Sbardella’s essay is to show how an incur­able opti­mism with respect to the proletariat’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary capac­i­ties (incur­able pes­simism might well have the same effect) can blind even the best and bright­est to the real state of the world. And that state, need­less to say, is bad these days.

I there­fore offer this trans­la­tion as a mod­est con­tri­bu­tion to a future the­ory of the strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance of dis­as­ter.

– Daniel Spauld­ing




The left has never seri­ously taken into con­sid­er­a­tion the philo­soph­i­cal matri­ces of Tron­tism and of the ide­ol­ogy of those com­rades who, after the break with Quaderni Rossi, gath­ered around the review Classe Operaia: this is a fact. And also, of course, an error, because the work­erist ide­ol­ogy of these com­rades has spread through the move­ment mys­ti­fy­ing read­ings of real­ity and polit­i­cal behav­iors that are any­thing but ade­quate to the real lev­els of strug­gle. We have never seri­ously and crit­i­cally taken into con­sid­er­a­tion the ide­al­is­tic, or rather Gen­til­ian7, nature of Tronti’s thought; we have not empha­sized with suf­fi­cient clar­ity the neg­a­tiv­ity of the abso­l­u­ti­za­tion of the idea of Sub­jec­tiv­ity that he intro­duced and which con­tin­ues to be the cause of con­sid­er­able real fail­ures in the move­ment.8 The break with Panzieri may be fully explained only if we remem­ber the ide­al­is­tic and actu­al­is­tic nature of Tronti’s think­ing.9 On the other hand, the coher­ence and con­ti­nu­ity of this author’s thought, the non-con­tra­dic­tion between the the­ory of the “rough pagan race”10 and that of the “auton­omy of the Polit­i­cal,” can emerge in all their dimen­sions only if the analy­sis suc­ceeds in crit­i­cally trac­ing this the­o­ret­i­cal path. It is a con­ti­nu­ity and coher­ence that in turn make the story of Classe operaia itself com­pre­hen­si­ble: the exit, first, of the Genoese group, then the split and, later, the dis­so­lu­tion of the group of those com­rades clos­est to the posi­tions of Toni Negri. In this way it is pos­si­ble to explain, with suf­fi­cient clar­ity, the refusal of medi­a­tions – within the same ide­al­is­tic con­cep­tion of the work­ing class – that Tronti was grad­u­ally intro­duc­ing into his polit­i­cal dis­course in order to mas­ter the new real­ity of the “retreat” and to grant a sub­jec­tive valence to that which was not sub­jec­tive.

Many com­rades are still con­vinced that the the­ses con­tained in Operai e Cap­i­tale remain sci­en­tif­i­cally valid and authen­ti­cally rev­o­lu­tion­ary, and are to be opposed, not with­out embar­rass­ment, to Tronti’s cur­rent posi­tions.11 We, on the con­trary, believe that, if we truly wish to con­struct a party com­pletely immersed in the present com­po­si­tion of the class – a “party-instru­ment” which will have made its own both the cri­tique of pol­i­tics and the new behav­iors and needs of col­lec­tive sub­jects – it is nec­es­sary to seri­ously and the­o­ret­i­cally reckon with the work­erist ide­ol­ogy of Classe Operaia.12

After the break with Panzieri, and after the pub­li­ca­tion of the sole issue of Cronache Operaie, the com­rades who had left Quaderni Rossi found the review Classe Operaia, gath­er­ing and uni­fy­ing around them­selves var­i­ous groups of polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion and a num­ber of regional news­pa­pers. The last issue of Classe Operaia is pub­lished in March of 1967: the expe­ri­ence of this group will there­fore take place dur­ing the years of the work­ing class “retreat,” the “cold” years of the “con­junc­tural cri­sis.” The hypoth­e­sis accord­ing to which the work­ing class’ attack on cap­i­tal was per­ma­nent and grow­ing in a lin­ear fash­ion, and hence that the mate­rial con­di­tions for the con­struc­tion of a “new rev­o­lu­tion­ary party” were present – a hypoth­e­sis which was also for­mu­lated on the basis of a totally mys­ti­cal con­cep­tion of work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­ity – very soon reveals itself as unfounded and not in cor­re­spon­dence with the neg­a­tive real­ity of the “retreat.”13 The ground­less­ness of this hypoth­e­sis causes seri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties for the group and, from the out­set, neg­a­tively affects the reg­u­lar­ity of the journal’s pub­li­ca­tion: the group does not grow, the orga­ni­za­tion does not mature and the work­ing class does not reach the hypoth­e­sized lev­els of strug­gle.

The “polit­i­cal intel­li­gence” of the jour­nal is thus forced to pro­gres­sively redis­cover the “impor­tance” and the “strength” of the his­tor­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the work­ing class, to give new value to the deter­mi­nant weight of the Polit­i­cal. With one clar­i­fi­ca­tion, how­ever: that the polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the class, due pre­cisely to the a pri­ori ideal rep­re­sented by this myth­i­cal work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­ity, are redis­cov­ered not as what they are, namely as per­ma­nent sources of alien­ation for the class – as Panzieri rightly said – but rather as instru­ments which the class itself will suc­ceed in con­quer­ing, con­trol­ling, and using pos­i­tively in cer­tain par­tic­u­lar moments of its his­tory.14 Indica­tive of this fail­ure is – as we have said – the pro­gres­sive decline in Classe Operaia’s fre­quency of pub­li­ca­tion: there were, in fact, eight issues, as well as a sup­ple­ment to no. 6, pub­lished in 1964; four issues and a flyer in 1965; two (one of which was a work­ing report) in 1966; and only a sin­gle issue in 1967, after the defin­i­tive dis­so­lu­tion of the group had been decided at the end of 1966 dur­ing a national meet­ing in Flo­rence held at the head­quar­ters of the Gio­vanni Fran­covich Cen­ter.15

The first issue of the jour­nal per­haps does not yet faith­fully reflect the pro­gram that the group had given itself: as a mat­ter of fact this first issue does not at all respect the imme­di­acy of the ideal Sub­ject that is at the foun­da­tion of the com­mon polit­i­cal posi­tion of the var­i­ous groups that con­verge in Classe Operaia.16 Already in the first issue, the Lenin­ist exi­gency of the “party” emerges as a pri­or­ity: nat­u­rally, given these the­o­ret­i­cal premises, what really emerges is an “organi­cist” and exclu­sively polit­i­cal con­cep­tion of the “party,” there­fore a con­cep­tion that, in the com­pletely ahis­tor­i­cal and uncrit­i­cal redis­cov­ery of Lenin’s thought, con­sid­ers the “party” to be the place where the Sub­jec­tiv­ity of the class is incar­nated. The Party, in short, is not pre­sented as that which it is, with its his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of sep­a­ra­tion and alter­ity with respect to the class, but is rather iden­ti­fied with the class and totally con­fused with the work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­ity – some­thing that is of course absent from the thought of Lenin, who, on the con­trary, knew very well that the “party” is “nec­es­sar­ily” exter­nal to the class.17 With respect to the rad­i­cal imme­di­acy and the per­ma­nent activ­ity of ide­al­ized Sub­jec­tiv­ity, this most par­tic­u­lar use of Lenin rep­re­sents, even if covertly, a first logico-polit­i­cal medi­a­tion, or rather the first timid step towards the cur­rent Tron­tian dis­course – the result, obvi­ously, not of an objec­tivist con­cep­tion of the class – as in Lenin – but of the ideal path of the same Sub­jec­tiv­ity: the par­tic­u­lar, con­crete acts of the class, all of its man­i­fes­ta­tions (whether these are expres­sions of a real col­lec­tive sub­jec­tiv­ity, or the pas­sive result of atom­ized objec­tiv­ity, is of lit­tle impor­tance), all of these, to repeat, are con­sid­ered as real actions, strate­gic moments, of the per­ma­nent Sub­ject which is the work­ing class, or, more cor­rectly, as moments of the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Idea of sub­jec­tiv­ity, or rather of the Spirit. More­over, that the redis­cov­ery of Lenin occurs within a sub­jec­tivist under­stand­ing of the class is well demon­strated by the fact that the “neces­sity of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion” (which is for Tronti “defin­i­tively linked to the name of Lenin”) has as its gen­eral frame of ref­er­ence a dis­course which in fact reverses the method­olog­i­cal view­point of the Third Inter­na­tion­al­ist tra­di­tion: “it is nec­es­sary” – Tronti writes – “to reverse the prob­lem, to change the sign, to start again from the begin­ning: and the begin­ning is the strug­gle of the work­ing class.”18) It could not have been oth­er­wise. The dis­course of the “auton­omy of the polit­i­cal” was nec­es­sar­ily born with “Lenin in Eng­land,” an arti­cle that if on one hand offered a first polit­i­cal medi­a­tion to the group, on the other laid the the­o­retico-polit­i­cal foun­da­tions of Ital­ian work­erism in the 1960s and ‘70s.

The eco­nomic-polit­i­cal sys­tem reacts to the work­ers’ gains in the first years of the 1960s with an “invest­ment strike” and a “vio­lent credit crunch,” but also with a polit­i­cal cri­sis and an inten­si­fi­ca­tion of repres­sion so as to pro­voke a par­tial retreat and back­track­ing on the part of the move­ment. Let us not for­get that the first inter­views in which Agnelli announces and threat­ens mass lay­offs date pre­cisely from 1963.19 1964 was, there­fore, a year in which the move­ment and the strug­gles of the work­ers come to a par­tial stop and, con­fronted with the mas­sive con­junc­tural attack, inevitably flow back into a space of wait­ing and resis­tance: “a retreat that in cer­tain aspects recalls the dark days of the ‘50s.”20 Panzieri, fore­see­ing all of this, coher­ently crit­i­cizes those who, on the con­trary, were hypoth­e­siz­ing an unin­ter­rupted con­ti­nu­ity in the strug­gles. Not coin­ci­den­tally, it would be pre­cisely over the judg­ment of this phase that the Tron­tian group would break with Quaderni Rossi: this same idea of Sub­jec­tiv­ity – sub­jec­tiv­ity as con­tin­uum – does not per­mit the group to under­stand Panzieri’s analy­ses and to cor­rectly reg­is­ter the real­ity in the fac­to­ries and the tem­po­rary absence of the col­lec­tive sub­ject.21

Thus, a con­tra­dic­tion is already present in the first issue: if one the one hand this mythic belief in a per­ma­nent class Sub­ject rep­re­sents the warp of its dis­course, on the other hand, it is forced to reg­is­ter, but at the same time to present as an expres­sion of this mythic sub­ject, the real work­ing class’ moments of “retreat.”22) The auton­omy of the strug­gles and the anti-con­sti­tu­tional char­ac­ter­is­tics of the new col­lec­tive sub­ject are exalted, but the real­ity of the rel­a­tive “retreat” of the strug­gles becomes the object of a ver­i­ta­ble ide­o­log­i­cal manip­u­la­tion and mys­ti­fi­ca­tion, a rever­sal of sig­nif­i­cance.23) The strate­gic point of view is reversed but at the same time taken for granted; it is pre­sumed, in oppo­si­tion to the Union and the Party, that the work­ers can “do it them­selves,” but at the same time the nec­es­sary medi­a­tion of the “party” reap­pears – or rather, one uncrit­i­cally places “Lenin in Eng­land.”

Nat­u­rally, in this first phase the pro­posed “rev­o­lu­tion­ary party” is sup­posed to be born ex novo from within the class itself, autonomously and “against” the exist­ing party.24 Nonethe­less the dif­fi­cul­ties are not under­es­ti­mated: “Orga­ni­za­tion” – Tronti writes – “is the most dif­fi­cult point […] as soon as you become insti­tu­tion­al­ized in a form you are used by cap­i­tal.”25 A prob­lem, evi­dently, that Tronti him­self was to under­es­ti­mate, since it is pre­cisely with this first issue of Classe Operaia (namely in the moment of what seems to be the high­est con­scious­ness of the neg­a­tiv­ity of polit­i­cal forms) that he ini­ti­ates – as we have empha­sized – the true path of the “auton­omy of the polit­i­cal”: “This prac­ti­cal work, artic­u­lated on the basis of the fac­tory, must, in order to func­tion on the ter­rain of the social rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, be con­tin­u­ally judged and medi­ated [empha­sis added] by a polit­i­cal level that gen­er­al­izes it.”26

It is pre­cisely the two fun­da­men­tal the­o­ret­i­cal ele­ments of this journal’s dis­course – hypo­sta­tized Sub­jec­tiv­ity and the con­se­quent con­ceal­ment of the moments of the class’ real objec­tiv­ity – that do not per­mit them to grasp the his­tor­i­cal-neg­a­tive sig­nif­i­cance of the sep­a­ra­tion of polit­i­cal forms, the fact that they are, in any case, a source of alien­ation for the class: in fact, in order to exist, this Sub­jec­tiv­ity has need at every moment – in real­ity, in the moments of the class’ objec­tiv­ity and pas­siv­ity – of cer­tain the­o­ret­i­cal-prac­ti­cal medi­a­tions. The entirely polit­i­cal redis­cov­ery of Lenin (the tac­ti­cal Party) is there­fore, within this dis­course, a first medi­a­tion: in this case as well – as we have said – the sep­a­rate­ness of the party one wishes to build is con­cealed in order to dis­play it, in a way that mys­ti­fies real­ity, as a pos­si­ble instru­ment in the hands of the work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­ity.


But the birth of the hypoth­e­sized “party” is over­due; the fac­tory orga­ni­za­tion does not gen­er­al­ize and does not offer the “party” the mass van­guards that it needs. And in this way there emerges in the sec­ond issue – ded­i­cated entirely to Europe – a sec­ond medi­a­tion that is cer­tainly more advanced and sig­nif­i­cant. This time the medi­a­tion is rep­re­sented by the iron­i­cally crit­i­cal inter­est that the jour­nal addresses to the Com­mu­nist Party of Italy (PCI), or more exactly to nos. 5-6 of Crit­ica Marx­ista, which are ded­i­cated to the ques­tion of orga­ni­za­tion and the Party.27 The polemic is harsh, its ver­bal expres­sion vio­lent, but it nonethe­less opens a new chap­ter in the brief his­tory of Classe operaia. Let us pay atten­tion to the fol­low­ing: “And at this point we stop […]. We leave gos­sipy cries of joy to the bour­geois news­pa­pers. All of this is right for them, and for their bosses. It is never right for the work­ers to be polit­i­cally dis­or­ga­nized on prin­ci­ple”; from this one rec­og­nizes that the class with­out the PCI is “polit­i­cally dis­or­ga­nized.”28 Com­pared to the hypoth­e­sis of the con­struc­tion of a “new rev­o­lu­tion­ary party,” this crit­i­cal inter­est, but also this evi­dent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the sep­a­ra­tion of the Party from the class, rep­re­sent a real – and sud­den, one could say – rever­sal of the polit­i­cal line that had emerged in the first num­ber of the jour­nal. This turn, obvi­ously, is not itself causal: it is in fact the his­tor­i­cal result of the meet­ing of Tron­tian ide­ol­ogy – ideal Sub­jec­tiv­ity – with a real phe­nom­e­non, namely that of the ten­den­tial and pro­gres­sive “reen­try” of the van­guards of the strug­gle into the his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment.

It is in fact pre­cisely in this period of “retreat” in the strug­gles and of the atom­iza­tion of the col­lec­tive body of the class that the work­ers them­selves, forced to del­e­gate their uni­tary will to the exist­ing party, jump­start the expro­pria­tive mech­a­nism that trans­mits their capac­ity-to-will: a mech­a­nism that only appar­ently seems to recon­sti­tute a pos­i­tive link between the work­ing class and its insti­tu­tions – given that con­sent always pre­sup­poses the divi­sion and pas­siv­ity of the masses, and hides their polit­i­cal alien­ation behind a pre­cisely rep­re­sented, abstract, and sep­a­rated Unity.

The group notes the reestab­lish­ment of the rep­re­sen­ta­tive rela­tion­ship and the “reen­try” of the work­ers into the PCI with extreme prompt­ness, but the abso­l­u­ti­za­tion of work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­ity, which does not per­mit them to grasp these same phe­nom­ena at a level beyond sim­ple empir­i­cal appear­ance, para­dox­i­cally forces the group mem­bers to see in the mechan­i­cal and pas­sive pro­duct of the class’ objec­tiv­ity and atom­iza­tion an organic, col­lec­tive, and rig­or­ously con­scious “choice” on the part of the work­ers in strug­gle.

In the March issue, Toni Negri, with a brief, syn­the­siz­ing edi­to­rial, attempts to shore up the dis­course of Classe Operaia on the irre­ducible oppo­si­tion between work­ers and cap­i­tal, con­ceiv­ing the prob­lem of alliances as the “bloc of the work­ing class with itself, the block of the work­ing class against the class adver­sary.”29 He aims to rad­i­cal­ize Tronti’s hypo­sta­tized dis­course from the left. There is no doubt that this edi­to­rial rep­re­sents a first clear resis­tance to the new dis­course on the insti­tu­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment that is begin­ning to pen­e­trate and cir­cu­late with ever greater insis­tence within the group. This ini­tial resis­tance is nev­er­the­less defeated with rel­a­tive ease: issues 4-5, 8-9, and 10-12 of the review will be ded­i­cated to deep and expanded analy­ses related to the ques­tion, ever more cru­cial, of the Party and the Union. Tronti writes:

The imbal­ance between wages and pro­duc­tiv­ity is a polit­i­cal fact, and should be under­stand as a polit­i­cal fact and be used polit­i­cally […]. In these years the work­ers’ use of the labor union strug­gle has in fact sur­passed and defeated the cap­i­tal­ist use of the union, today it is there­fore nec­es­sary to drag along the old orga­ni­za­tions.30

Imme­di­ate, too, is the reac­tion of the Turin group and of all those com­rades who par­tic­i­pated more closely and atten­tively in the strug­gles of 1962. The sup­ple­ment to issue no. 6, “ded­i­cated to the work­ers’ strug­gle at Fiat,” which cir­cu­lated essen­tially at Turin but was also present as an insert in the national edi­tion, responds with extreme sever­ity:

Today our first prob­lem is this: we must make a clean break with the period in which we let the union do as it would, and we must build our orga­ni­za­tion to carry for­ward our class strug­gle against cap­i­tal […]. The new party of the work­ing class will not be born out of any of the cur­rently exist­ing par­ties, nor will it be the result of one of their uni­fi­ca­tions or dis­in­te­gra­tion, but will be the fruit of a long expe­ri­ence of han­dling strug­gles: all the orga­ni­za­tional forms devel­oped in the strug­gle will flow into it.31

In the edi­to­rial of no. 8-9 – part of which is devoted to the prob­lem of the “party” and the PCI – Tronti responds polem­i­cally, defin­i­tively clar­i­fy­ing his posi­tion:

The time is ripe, at the level of the class, for a direct dis­course on the con­di­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment [read: PCI] in Italy: now is the moment to open a debate, to con­duct an analy­sis, to com­mence a pre­cise polit­i­cal action on this ter­rain. Do not for­get [Tronti observes] that the PCI still main­tains a real rela­tion to the work­ing class. [… There­fore] let us say that today it is pos­si­ble to choose the way that passes through a pos­i­tive cri­sis of at least a part of the old orga­ni­za­tions. This imme­di­ately clears the ground of the dan­ger of start­ing over with the build­ing of a new bureau­cratic struc­ture.32

The crit­i­cal tone present in this issue is, nonethe­less, still quite harsh: the jour­nal force­fully denounces the pro­gres­sive diminu­tion, between 1950 and 1962, of the num­ber of work­ers enrolled in the Party, and the par­a­lyz­ing “gap” between mem­bers and vot­ers.

It is – as we have empha­sized – pre­cisely in this period that the the­sis accord­ing to which the work­ing class would not know what to do with yet another failed minori­tar­ian expe­ri­ence begins to cir­cu­late and spread through the mem­bers of the group: now, it is said, the class prefers to trans­form the exist­ing Party, “in a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sense”; it has cho­sen to “bring the PCI back into the fac­tory” and there to use it for its own rev­o­lu­tion­ary ends. That the strug­gles suf­fer a rel­a­tive set­back, that the organic char­ac­ter of the real col­lec­tive sub­ject shows signs of atom­iza­tion, that the work­ers are divided and opposed to each other, medi­ated by the abstract­ing pres­ence of com­modi­ties and thus forced to alien­ate their own polit­i­cal will in rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tions: all of this is evi­dently of lit­tle inter­est, or rather is set aside or pre­sented as its exact oppo­site. In short, the not-imme­di­ately evi­dent fact that the work­ers, due to a tem­po­rary defeat, are forced to alien­ate them­selves in the PCI, in order in some way to recover their lost unity, is passed off as the coher­ent result of the col­lec­tive subject’s free choice.

In this way the promise to ded­i­cate more space and atten­tion to the prob­lem of the “party” was duly kept. The Decem­ber issue will in fact be entirely ded­i­cated to the PCI. It is only with this final issue of 1964 that the polit­i­cal shift clearly emerges with all its prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions: thus we too have arrived at the prob­lem of the party, or really, of the PCI.33 Tronti crit­i­cizes him­self: “This immense work will be col­lec­tive, or will not be; it will suc­ceed in imme­di­ately meet­ing the daily move­ments of the social mass of work­ers, or will remain blocked in itself, will stag­nate, and will turn back­wards.”34 This may even seem to be a just demand, but, as we know, the other face of ide­al­ism is the uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of vul­gar empiri­cism, or rather of the real data assumed acrit­i­cally: indeed, if the “daily move­ments” of the work­ers are in real­ity equiv­a­lent to their atom­istic and alien­ated move­ment in the direc­tion of the PCI, then it is inevitable that the his­tor­i­cal encoun­ter with this “social mass of work­ers,” once the neg­a­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of this trend are con­cealed, can only hap­pen within the PCI itself. Lenin is aban­doned in Eng­land, with few regrets, while the PCI is redis­cov­ered in Italy. For now, the work­ers’ redis­cov­ery of the PCI is crit­i­cal, and the work­ers’ deci­sion to “enter” it pre­sup­poses – so it is believed – a clear rev­o­lu­tion­ary will: the “party” must be trans­formed and bent to the “sub­ver­sive” needs of the work­ers. “The work­ers’ use of the com­mu­nist party” is not peace­ful; it is a use that pro­foundly trans­forms that which is used. This the­sis – which pre­sup­poses, as one can eas­ily see, a Sub­ject that is always pro­vided with con­scious­ness and its own strat­egy (a the­sis that the facts will also very soon bla­tantly con­tra­dict) – there­fore places on the agenda the “imme­di­ate block­ing” of the process of social-democ­ra­ti­za­tion that has affected even the PCI. “The tac­tic of the party [Tronti writes on this point] today rests on the illu­sion that it suf­fices to know cap­i­tal in order to under­stand the work­ing class”; with this approach one inevitably falls into the error of hav­ing to “adapt the orga­ni­za­tional instru­ment of the party to the neces­si­ties of the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.”35

The great medi­a­tion rep­re­sented by the auton­omy of the Polit­i­cal is still far off; the view­point still remains directly tied to work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­ity; the method­olog­i­cal rever­sal remains that of the first issue; the claim that it is the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal that can be explained by the devel­op­ment and growth of work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­ity and their strug­gles do not not undergo sig­nif­i­cant trans­for­ma­tions. The the­sis now main­tained is that, if on the one hand the work­ing class wants the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal, on the other hand it does not want to adapt itself to its polit­i­cal expres­sions; it wants to pre­serve its auton­omy with respect to polit­i­cal processes that occur within the sphere of the state and are under the sign of cap­i­tal­ist power. The “polit­i­cal” sub­or­di­na­tion to cap­i­tal is the true limit, the clas­sic error of reformism, and there­fore must be defeated within the PCI with­out delay. The devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal must be pushed for­ward, just as the work­ers want, but the Party, even if it is a “work­ers’ party,” must not adapt or sub­mit itself to this same devel­op­ment, must not become a polit­i­cal func­tion: the Party, while cap­i­tal forces it into devel­op­ment, must make sure to remove power from the hands of the cap­i­tal­ist class; it must, in short, destroy cap­i­tal­ist com­mand over the whole of soci­ety. To suc­ceed in doing so it is suf­fi­cient – again accord­ing to Tronti – to pos­ses the “view­point of the work­ing class”: cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment plus “work­ers’ power,” this is the Ital­ian NEP of the ‘60s that the Tron­tians hypoth­e­sized and pro­posed in this period; this is the only pos­si­ble path for the rev­o­lu­tion in Italy. What is miss­ing, how­ever, is a “party” that firmly pos­sesses the work­ers’ view­point. The work­ers them­selves will come to real­ize that the ambi­gu­i­ties of the PCI are to be exploded by the work­ers them­selves, who, for this very rea­son, will reen­ter the party en masse.

Con­se­quently, in the arti­cle “Classe e Par­tito,” which is signed by Tronti, there exists a con­cep­tion of the party that is rev­o­lu­tion­ary only in terms of con­tent, or bet­ter, only imag­i­nar­ily rev­o­lu­tion­ary: for this author, in fact, it is suf­fi­cient that the PCI should change its polit­i­cal line, acquire a work­ers’ nature and cul­ture, that it liq­ui­date its “pop­ulism” and become active in the fac­tory, because it is indeed ulti­mately capa­ble of trans­form­ing itself into a truly rev­o­lu­tion­ary “party.” Totally absent from this dis­course is a cri­tique of the struc­tural sep­a­ra­tion of the exist­ing Party, of its rep­re­sen­ta­tive nature, of the alien­at­ing nature of polit­i­cal medi­a­tions; totally absent is a crit­i­cal con­nec­tion between the sep­a­rate form of the PCI and the reformist con­tent of its polit­i­cal line. This entire crit­i­cal dis­course rotates around the sim­ple obser­va­tion that the PCI lacks a “coher­ent” class cul­ture. Not, there­fore, work­ers’ strug­gles and self-orga­ni­za­tion plus a party that knows to remain strictly their instru­ment or appendage, that knows how to defeat every ten­dency towards sta­t­i­fi­ca­tion within itself; but rather strug­gles “within” cap­i­tal and as a func­tion of its devel­op­ment plus more power firmly in the hands of the work­ers’ “party.” Thus the work­ers sup­pos­edly enter the PCI not to destroy the sep­a­ra­tion, or indeed the source of their own alien­ation, but instead only to over­throw the ide­o­log­i­cal view and to impose their own class view­point. It is hence not a mat­ter of putting back on its feet an alien­at­ing and paci­fy­ing orga­ni­za­tional struc­ture, it is a mat­ter only of intro­duc­ing into it, as it is, the proper class cul­ture and view­point. The prin­ci­ple error of Togliatti’s Party was not that of hav­ing con­structed a mech­a­nism sim­i­lar to the state in order to expro­pri­ate the polit­i­cal will of the masses, but instead only that of hav­ing iden­ti­fied polit­i­cally and cul­tur­ally with a his­tor­i­cal bloc “until it dis­ap­peared into it, until it became the party of all the peo­ple.”36 There­fore: to the class, “strat­egy”; to the party, “tac­tics.”

In the first issue of 1965, the choice of the field is fur­ther explained and devel­oped: “For the entire year this sec­tion of the jour­nal will remain open to dis­cus­sion about the party.” This time it is Alberto Asor Rosa who clar­i­fies which party is at stake: “Beyond the sin­gle party, but also beyond the new party, the bonds that hold the work­ing class to its party are slowly, labo­ri­ously, and tire­lessly being dis­cov­ered.”37 The review’s dis­course now turns to the “com­mu­nist cadres in the fac­tory,” who are assigned the task of explod­ing the “clique” of reformist bureau­crats and of tak­ing the reins of the “party” in order to deci­sively bring it back into the fac­tory, and there to con­nect it with the “work­ers’ capac­ity to strug­gle”: “these work­ers’ polit­i­cal cadres poten­tially exist both inside and out­side the PCI. In this sense the polit­i­cal work must nec­es­sar­ily extend to the level of the work­ers’ offi­cial insti­tu­tions.”38 In the same num­ber of the jour­nal, Romano Alquati, in an arti­cle on the inter­nal struc­ture of the class that is rich in stim­u­lat­ing intu­itions, adheres to the group’s new polit­i­cal course; he writes:

Today it is any­thing but neg­a­tive to val­orize the poten­tial tac­ti­cal capac­ity of the mil­i­tant, in rela­tion to the class and the com­mu­nist party – its sub­jec­tive capac­ity linked to a real pres­ence. It is a polit­i­cal force that is now very impor­tant, that has already borne fruit by rais­ing the prob­lem of the mil­i­tants, throw­ing it in the face of the party’s reformist direc­tion.39

Toni Negri, on the con­trary, prefers not to enter directly into the mer­its of the polemic and, bypass­ing the obsta­cle of the PCI, pub­lishes in this first issue of 1965 a long and inter­est­ing essay on Lenin and the Sovi­ets. The pur­pose of this dis­course is clear enough, even if it is pre­sented indi­rectly: the Lenin of the Sovi­ets is opposed to the Lenin of the NEP; rup­ture is opposed to con­ti­nu­ity.40

The “party in the fac­tory” will be the cen­tral theme of the third issue in 1965: “The Call to the Third Con­fer­ence of Com­mu­nists in the Fac­to­ries” pro­poses to use this polit­i­cal occa­sion to “impose the fol­low­ing choice. The choice is: either the work­ers’ party in the fac­tory, or a uni­fied social­ist party. To say no to the sin­gle party is easy. We must say yes to the class party.”41

“This time the work­ers’ cadres will both pro­voke and pre­vail in the clash between the PCI’s reformist strat­egy and its rev­o­lu­tion­ary tac­tics.”42 [?!]


In the final issue of 1965, after the “work­ers’ con­fer­ence” and with the 11th Con­gress43 around the cor­ner, Tronti fur­ther devel­ops his reflec­tions and begins to wor­riedly spec­u­late whether the slo­gan “Block the process of social-democ­ra­ti­za­tion; the PCI in the fac­tory in the work­ers’ hands” might still have a cer­tain valid­ity and prac­ti­cal func­tion: “What is dif­fi­cult here is not the words. What is dif­fi­cult is the work.”44 The dis­course of the “party in the fac­tory” and “work­ers’ con­trol of the party” takes a back­seat and fades con­sid­er­ably: “We have said: either the sin­gle party or the party in the fac­tory. Let us take a step for­ward and say: party-class unity against social demo­c­ra­tic uni­fi­ca­tion.”45 This is undoubt­edly a step for­ward with respect to the con­tents expressed in the Octo­ber issue, where indeed every­thing had fal­len into the prob­lem­atic of the “party in the fac­tory.”

Tronti, evi­dently, begins to per­ceive the qual­ity of the work­ers’ “com­mand” or “use” of the PCI; he begins to per­ceive the work­ers’ pas­sive atti­tude within the party, their lack of impact on its polit­i­cal line. All of this, nat­u­rally, with­out how­ever suc­ceed­ing in pass­ing beyond the thresh­old of appear­ances, and thus with­out real­iz­ing that this pas­sive atti­tude and this lack of impact are the speci­fic pro­duct – at least within the Party – of the rep­re­sen­ta­tive mech­a­nism that also rules the inter­nal life of the orga­ni­za­tion and the for­ma­tion of polit­i­cal will. What Tronti is unable to rec­og­nize and to under­stand is the fact that the non-trans­for­ma­tive pres­ence of the work­ers within the Party depends essen­tially on their exter­nal atom­iza­tion, and thus on their indi­vid­ual iso­la­tion and on the pas­sive pres­ence within its inte­rior to which the party con­signs them. And it could not have been oth­er­wise, given that the Party, as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tion, has as its basis of exis­tence this same atom­iza­tion of the class, and is there­fore one of the causes of this atom­iza­tion: within itself, the party can­not abide any­thing other than indi­vid­ual work­ers whose own polit­i­cal will has been expro­pri­ated and thus made pas­sive, or rather made into a sim­ple trans­mis­sion belt for bring­ing the polit­i­cal line decided at the top to the gen­er­al­ity of the class. The Party’s inte­rior spaces are the king­dom of pas­siv­ity, the speci­fic loca­tion where the Polit­i­cal becomes Sub­ject and the real sub­ject becomes the pred­i­cate of its pred­i­cate. But this pas­sive pres­ence of the work­ers, into which the lead­ers effort­lessly pour their generic polit­i­cal con­tents, must be absolutely exor­cized: as we know, the Idea of sub­jec­tiv­ity – the ide­al­ism of the col­lec­tive sub­ject – is not able to tol­er­ate this in any way.

For now, how­ever, these per­plex­i­ties remain cir­cum­scribed and indeed pass unno­ticed. As a mat­ter of fact, on the occa­sion on the 11th Con­fer­ence – the first after Togliatti’s death – the Classe Operaia group will pub­lish and dis­trib­ute among the work­ers a pam­phlet whose basic lines still ges­ture towards the strug­gle around social-demo­c­ra­tic uni­fi­ca­tion and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary “use” of the PCI, or really of the “party in the fac­tory”: it invites the work­ers’ del­e­gates to con­duct a polit­i­cally clear and open bat­tle at the con­gress with the aim of break­ing up the reformist lead­er­ship. At the end of May 1966, prac­ti­cally all of the local groups of Classe Operaia con­tinue to oper­ate with this polit­i­cal hypoth­e­sis and to use these slo­gans for their polit­i­cal inter­ven­tions in front of the fac­to­ries – when con­fronted with real­ity, how­ever, those slo­gans, being dic­tated as we have seen by purely ide­o­log­i­cal motives, begin to reveal their inter­nal weak­ness and polit­i­cal incon­sis­tency.

The first issue of 1966, which does not arrive until May, reg­is­ters the fail­ure of these slo­gans defin­i­tively and with­out entrench­ment. Asor Rosa takes stock of the sit­u­a­tion with extreme lucid­ity. He writes:

The first obser­va­tion is that the debate before and dur­ing the Con­gress did not suc­ceed in cre­at­ing a true left […]. The episodes of “resis­tance” are infinite. None of these have exceeded the level of the sec­tion. […]. There is no doubt that the birth of a true left within the PCI has failed.46

So goes the line of Tronti, who, in the edi­to­rial of the very same issue, con­denses and syn­the­sizes it in the slo­gan: “united front against social democ­racy.”47 What now counts most is polit­i­cal unity to the left: no longer the “party” in the hands of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary work­ers nor “party-class” unity – which had nonethe­less rep­re­sented an over­com­ing of the slo­gan of the “party in the fac­tory”; now what counts is unity on the left of insti­tu­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment against the uni­fi­ca­tion of the PSI and PSDI [Ital­ian Social­ist Party and Ital­ian Demo­c­ra­tic Social­ist Party].48 All efforts must aim at the uni­fi­ca­tion between the PCI and PSIUP [Ital­ian Social­ist Party of Pro­le­tar­ian Unity]:49

This logic imposes an ever-more vast and organic acqui­si­tion by all of the prin­ci­ple that the “social­ist trans­for­ma­tion” of the coun­try will not hap­pen with­out open dialog with the other demo­c­ra­tic forces of the left. PSIUP can­not, as such, reject this per­spec­tive.50



In Octo­ber the last issue of 1966 comes out (the flyer): it con­tains a long analy­sis of this phase; the polemic is directed not only against PSIUP, which rightly opposes, with strong resis­tance, the the­sis of a merger with the PCI, but also within the group, and specif­i­cally against those “who already see as equals the PCI, as it is, and the social demo­c­ra­tic forces that have only just become uni­fied.”51 In the first half of Octo­ber a flyer is dis­trib­uted in var­i­ous places in the North (par­tic­u­larly in the Veneto and Emilia) which exalts the strug­gles and the high level of con­flict that the work­ers have expressed, and in which the defin­i­tive social-democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the PCI is already taken for granted. Today the posi­tion of these com­rades seems more cor­rect than ever. Intran­si­gent strug­gle against the liq­uida­tors; the “party” in the fac­tory func­tion­ing to unify the work­ers’ strug­gles; no hint of the purely polit­i­cal uni­fi­ca­tion of the PCI and PSIUP pro­posed by the Roman group:

By now the PCI has lost sight of the sub­stance of the cap­i­tal­ist rela­tion of pro­duc­tion, which is exploita­tion […]; Iso­late and strike social democ­racy wherever it appears: in the unions, in the social­ist par­ties, and also and above all in the Com­mu­nist Party.52

The last issue of Classe Operaia appears in March 1967, after the deci­sion to dis­solve as an orga­nized group had been made at a national meet­ing held in Flo­rence at the Gio­vanni Fran­covich Cen­ter: the deci­sion to dis­solve as an orga­nized group – and in this way to avoid falling into the old errors of the his­tor­i­cal minori­tar­i­an­ism of the groups to the left of the PCI – is the clear­est evi­dence of just how bank­rupt the hypoth­e­sis of the “party in the hands of the work­ers” had shown itself, and con­versely of how unchange­able the PCI had proven to be. The the­sis of “uni­fi­ca­tion to the left,” once it had been detached from real strug­gles, is forced to live on and artic­u­late itself exclu­sively within the polit­i­cal sphere: in this way, every crit­i­cal judg­ment on the PCI col­lapses and the ultra-minori­tar­ian prac­tice of entry­ism is redis­cov­ered. Tronti’s farewell, in the edi­to­rial of the last issue, verges on the ridicu­lous:

Now we are leav­ing. We do not lack things to do. A mon­u­men­tal task of research and study courses through our head. And polit­i­cally, with our feet again on the recov­ered ground, it is a mat­ter of gain­ing a new level of action. It will not be easy.53

From within Con­tropi­ano, after Toni Negri’s defin­i­tive break, the “recov­ered ground” – the “con­ti­nent” of the PCI (now taken as it is) – would be observed with increas­ing atten­tion, admi­ra­tion, and respect.54 In this way the “new level of action” would be quite eas­ily achieved with the offi­cial reen­try of the group into the PCI (Mario Tronti and Aris Accornero had never left it). After offi­cially join­ing PSIUP, Alberto Asor Rosa and a few oth­ers would go on to pro­mote a merger. A party game? The fact remains that in the early months of 1967 the first issue of Classe e par­tito is dis­trib­uted at the Uni­ver­sity of Rome, a jour­nal – we read – “elab­o­rated and com­posed almost entirely by com­rades in the PCI and FGCI [Com­mu­nist Ital­ian Youth Fed­er­a­tion],” under the direc­tion of Clau­dio Cola­ia­cono – an iron­clad Asor-Rosian – and aimed pri­mar­ily at the Roman base of the PSIUP youth fed­er­a­tion:55 “Our dis­course is there­fore born from a direct expe­ri­ence of the PCI and FGCI […], it is the dis­course – we believe – that may inter­est those sec­tors of PSIUP who are also search­ing for real unity at the base.”56 In this period Asor Rosa is there­fore search­ing for proper bar­gain­ing power, an area to hege­mo­nize. It is not by chance that, one year later (the first issue of Con­tropi­ano appears in this same period), a notice informs the read­ers of Mondo Nuovo that Asor Rosa, “who has recently joined PSIUP […], resumes his col­lab­o­ra­tion with our weekly in the arti­cle that we are pleased to host in this issue.”57

This dis­en­chanted trans­mi­gra­tion of Classe Operaia into the his­tor­i­cal par­ties of the work­ers’ move­ment was itself easy to pre­dict. In fact the work­ers’ strug­gle against the reformist bureau­crats does not suc­ceed, as had been sug­gested, in bring­ing the “party” back into the fac­tory; dur­ing the “work­ers’ con­fer­ence” the com­mu­nist lead­ers hint at self-crit­i­cism and partly suc­ceed in defus­ing dis­sent. Aris Accornero attempts to limit the effects of the polemic that the Party, in view of the con­gress, had decided to launch against the group (or is this rather a wrong move on the part of the group itself?); Emanuele Macaluso instead harshly attacks the Classe Operaia group, denounc­ing from his own work­ing class basis the adven­tur­ism of its “falsely work­erist” dis­course.58 At the con­gress, then, the polit­i­cal line of the Party suc­cumbs to yet another twist to the right and passes, after the defeat of the “left,” to the the­sis of the “fail­ure of the cen­ter-left.” Thus, after the 11th Con­gress, the slo­gan of mass work­ers’ entry­ism into the PCI, or rather into the “party in the fac­tory,” will fully dis­play its ide­al­is­tic and fan­ci­ful nature. But even in this case a mys­ti­fi­ca­tion is still oper­a­tive – as we have already empha­sized: this action on the part of the work­ers is not taken as evi­dence of fail­ure, as the occa­sion for a self-crit­i­cism capa­ble of uncov­er­ing the defi­ciency and ide­o­log­i­cal abstrac­tion of one’s own analy­ses; the work­ers’ pas­siv­ity in the PCI is not taken for what it is, but is rather as always trans­formed, from the heights of the work­ers’ ideal Sub­jec­tiv­ity, into a bril­liant new move on the part of the work­ing class. Now – it is said – the work­ers do not want to enter the PCI in order to rev­o­lu­tion­ize it, that is, to change its cul­ture and inter­nal nature; now they enter the Party with the speci­fic aim of uti­liz­ing it as it is. In this way, the work­ers’ defeat – their defeat within the Party – is read, para­dox­i­cally, as the umpteenth tri­umphant move of a work­ing class that is believed to be per­ma­nently active and on the attack. With this new stunt, the pres­ence of Medi­a­tion emerges defin­i­tively and in all of its dimen­sions. From this moment the bal­let of sur­rep­ti­tious medi­a­tions and inter­po­la­tions emerges into the light of day: now it is com­pletely vis­i­ble. It is not by chance that, again in Flo­rence, Mario Tronti will affirm that the group’s polit­i­cal limit man­i­fests “in the imme­di­ate appli­ca­tion” of the the­sis of a strate­gic rever­sal between class and cap­i­tal: “today we instead find our­selves faced with the need to find cer­tain con­crete medi­a­tions in the appli­ca­tion of this guid­ing prin­ci­ple to the his­tory of the work­ers’ strug­gles.”59 The becom­ing-vis­i­ble of Medi­a­tion coin­cides as well with Tronti’s “pas­sage” to a more openly Hegelian prob­lem­atic, to an appar­ently more con­sis­tent “object and objec­tiv­ity.” In this man­ner the final issue of Classe Operaia, which had appeared a few months before, sud­denly becomes obso­lete: the slo­gan “No to social-demo­c­ra­tic uni­fi­ca­tion – unity of the left to leave open the pos­si­bil­ity of a clash between work­ers and cap­i­tal” is totally aban­doned. Now, it is pos­si­ble for Tronti to hypoth­e­size that “a stretch of road (may) be laid jointly by the work­ing class and cap­i­tal,” and thus that it is pos­si­ble to hypoth­e­size a long period of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment in the pres­ence of a polit­i­cal power in the hands of the work­ers’ party, but – this is the nov­elty! – as it is or even as it may become:

When I speak of the party […] I clearly do not refer to the PCI such as it is, but also to a pos­si­ble gen­eral social demo­c­ra­tic solu­tion to the orga­ni­za­tion of the work­ers’ move­ment […]. Tac­tics does not exclude any solu­tion.60

In short, there is noth­ing left of the strug­gle against social democ­racy: now the work­ers appear to have acquired the capac­ity to uti­lize every­thing, even social democ­racy itself.

Rita Di Leo – Tronti’s most faith­ful fol­lower – in this period often likes to repeat (tak­ing Tronti’s dis­course to the extreme, per­haps out of a love for para­dox) that even within the PRI [Ital­ian Repub­li­can Party] it might be pos­si­ble to do fruit­ful work for the work­ing class: as we know, the Spirit incar­nates itself every­where, in all things, with­out any restraint.61


In his 1971 post­script to the sec­ond edi­tion of Operai e cap­i­tale, Tronti, fol­low­ing the con­sis­tent logic of his dis­course, makes the sen­sa­tional dis­cov­ery that “Amer­i­can pol­i­tics of yes­ter­day (could) be our his­tor­i­cal present of today.”62 The New Deal, there­fore – again accord­ing to Tronti – may have been a polit­i­cal state of affairs that the work­ers imposed on the bosses: “the great cap­i­tal­ist ini­tia­tive was a vic­tory for the work­ers.”63 Roosevelt’s entirely polit­i­cal action – the pro­found trans­for­ma­tion of the sep­a­rate sphere of the Polit­i­cal – is there­fore the pos­i­tive result of the work­ing class strug­gle, a result that the work­ing class had con­sciously pur­sued: “the truth is that the Webe­rian con­cep­tion of totally and exclu­sively polit­i­cal action could per­haps only have been fully applied from the work­ers’ point of view.”64

Thus does the form of pure pol­i­tics finally come to light – the pos­i­tiv­ity of exclu­sively polit­i­cal action, in short the pri­macy of the polit­i­cal strug­gle: only that in each of these fig­ures, within, namely, the var­i­ous artic­u­la­tions of mod­ern polit­i­cal alien­ation, Tronti dis­cov­ers every time, by div­ina­tory means, the pres­ence of the work­ing class (or rather, of the work­ers’ Spirit), in short the work­ers’ Will, which, accord­ing to Tronti, is able to func­tion­al­ize for its own ends all of the exist­ing polit­i­cal artic­u­la­tions of Power with­out wor­ry­ing in the slight­est about their class char­ac­ter or alien­at­ing nature. But this direct rela­tion between the work­ing class and the polit­i­cal sphere, or rather this imme­di­ate use of Medi­a­tion, is above all imag­i­nary and thus doomed to van­ish when faced with real­ity.

In 1968-69, new strug­gles explode that show no sign of flow­ing back; instead they extend and gen­er­al­ize them­selves ever more, attack­ing, with their destruc­tive charge, not only Cap­i­tal and its State but also – and this is the point – the rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment. At this point Tronti finds him­self in a truly embar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion: com­pelled by the pre­ced­ing low ebb in the strug­gles and work­ing-class pas­siv­ity dur­ing the years 1964-66, he was forced to par­tially cor­rect the logic of his dis­course in order to pre­serve intact his ideal Sub­ject; he was forced to redis­cover Hegel in order to bring into the open the effec­tive pres­ence of Medi­a­tion. Now, how­ever, that the owl of Min­erva has taken flight, it is sud­denly day, and the night reveals itself to have been the effect of a sim­ple eclipse. But the owl can­not stop or turn back, it can only close its eyes and con­tinue its flight into the imag­i­nary dark­ness of its own night. In short, this rela­tion of iden­tity between class and Party, and (medi­ated by the party) between class and State, is thus con­demned, by the inten­sity and by the new qual­ity of the social strug­gles – and in the first place by the prac­ti­cal crit­i­cism of the Polit­i­cal – to break off and wrap itself in ever-more para­dox­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions. But we ought not to be sur­prised: para­dox­i­cal­ity rep­re­sents the most nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for an ide­al­ist mode of thought – such as, pre­cisely, Tronti’s.

The years 1968-72 – those five long years of excep­tional work­ers’ and social strug­gles – will defin­i­tively break that link of iden­tity, or rather the imme­di­ate instru­men­tal rela­tion of “Pol­i­tics,” and will finally pro­duce in Tronti’s mind the rather orig­i­nal the­sis accord­ing to which “Pol­i­tics” (and in par­tic­u­lar the Party) are entirely “autonomous”: autonomous even from the work­ing class itself, from its strug­gles, from its sub­jec­tiv­ity, from its inter­ests and needs.65 Now the “class” – it is pre­sumed – con­cedes full auton­omy to its “party,” lib­er­at­ing it even from the too-tight bonds rep­re­sented by its own strug­gles and its own real move­ment: the “class” treats its own sub­jec­tiv­ity and its own strug­gles with con­tempt, as par­tic­u­lar moments deprived of real impor­tance. The real move­ment is now pure appear­ance, and the “party,” on the con­trary, is the real sub­stance of the “class.” Now the Party can also dis­pense with the appar­ent real­ity of strug­gles. Now the “class” only indi­rectly “pulls all the strings.” The “party,” now that the “class” has granted it full auton­omy, may calmly oppose itself to the work­ers’ strug­gles, may calmly sup­press them, inas­much as it knows itself to be, in any case, the most authen­tic expres­sion of the “class”; it is the expres­sion, all the same, of its most inti­mate Truth.


Now, how­ever, spurred by recent events and by the wide­spread reemer­gence of the real move­ment, and under attack from the mas­sive crit­i­cism of the Polit­i­cal mounted by new col­lec­tive sub­jects, under attack from the cri­sis of cred­i­bil­ity that is rack­ing the PCI, Tronti gives the the the­sis of the “auton­omy of the Polit­i­cal” a twist, appar­ently to the left. In real­ity it is a mat­ter (as always) of a con­sis­tent devel­op­ment of his thought, of a fur­ther con­cep­tual artic­u­la­tion of the the­sis of the “auton­omy of the Polit­i­cal”: when the Spirit is rig­or­ously imma­nent, it pos­sesses the capac­ity to tra­verse every real­ity while con­serv­ing in the new that which it has moved beyond, thus firmly pre­serv­ing, with every new step, its own iden­tity. What is impor­tant is the mobil­ity, the rest­less­ness of this Spirit that at all times must prove itself capa­ble of pos­sess­ing and dom­i­nat­ing every­thing new that emerges from the real: every “new” real­ity that emerges – Tronti writes, sig­nif­i­cantly – “must not dis­place, must not fore­close, namely, the defense of the already done, the already said.”66 It must not fore­close, for exam­ple, the defense of the “auton­omy of the Polit­i­cal” – the “already said”; if any­thing, it should rather com­pel us to search for richer artic­u­la­tions and fur­ther devel­op­ments of this the­sis: in short, it should com­pel us to find a way to pre­serve the past through change. The empha­sis seems to be newly placed on the imme­di­ate iden­tity of class and Party: in real­ity this new step in Tron­tian dis­course rep­re­sents – as we will soon see – an even more refined way to pre­serve the auton­omy of the Party from the class; to pre­serve, exactly, that medi­a­tion, rep­re­sented by the con­cept of “auton­omy,” that allows the (work­ers’) Spirit, even in the pres­ence of a real move­ment, to yet again incar­nate itself in the Party, or rather to ide­ally iden­tify itself with it.

“The prac­tice of mass pol­i­tics, its recov­ery by the class, the direct appro­pri­a­tion of its polit­i­cal func­tions by the work­ers, is” – Tronti writes – “an achieve­ment that must be wrested from this soci­ety:” although this step is rather generic, it appears, in some respects, to be a cor­rect descrip­tion of what is stir­ring in the move­ment.67 In real­ity, on closer inspec­tion the con­cept of the “polit­i­cal” uti­lized here is extremely ambigu­ous and already con­tains in itself all of the sep­a­rate­ness that char­ac­ter­izes the polit­i­cal Sphere of Rep­re­sen­ta­tion. There is a rad­i­cal dif­fer­ence between the polit­i­cal will of the masses and social sub­jects and the polit­i­cal Will of the Party and the State: the lat­ter is in fact equiv­a­lent to the alien­ation of the first. The first will is con­crete because it is lived, in a non-alien­ated way, by the col­lec­tive sub­ject, the sec­ond is abstract because this sub­ject is sep­a­rate and is itself a source of atom­iza­tion and pas­siv­ity. Thus, to affirm, as Tronti does in repeat­ing Schmitt’s lessons ver­ba­tim, that the “Polit­i­cal” is not exhausted in the State, but is rather present out­side of it among the mass move­ments as well, with­out clearly dis­tin­guish­ing between these var­i­ous moments of the “polit­i­cal,” and, to the con­trary – given that the con­cept of “auton­omy” must cer­tainly per­sist – con­tin­u­ously con­fus­ing non-rep­re­sen­ta­tional pol­i­tics with rep­re­sen­ta­tional Pol­i­tics: this is pure nom­i­nal­ism, a real ide­o­log­i­cal swindle that is equiv­a­lent, in effect, to an apolo­gia for the world of fetishes and the con­ceal­ment of real social sub­jects. In Tronti’s dis­course, in fact, the “process of the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the polit­i­cal, the entry of new social forces into the polit­i­cal, the birth of new polit­i­cal sub­jects,” are for­mu­la­tions that con­cep­tu­ally con­tain in them­selves the ambi­gu­ity of refer­ring at once to the real move­ment and to the rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tions, such as, for exam­ple, the par­ties of the work­ers’ move­ment.68 In other words the ambi­gu­ity lies in the fact that for Tronti the “entry into the Polit­i­cal” of “new social forces” resolves, for the lat­ter, as a real mor­tal leap into Rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Indeed, if there is a “need to make strat­egy, a will to look into the dis­tance, a revolt against the day-to-day rou­tine that rises from below,” is this not per­haps the same as say­ing that the need to alien­ate one­self in the sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tion of the Party rises from below?69 On the other hand, for Tronti the “new polit­i­cal sub­jects” do not indeed rep­re­sent the new move­ments born from within the social, but rather those polit­i­cal par­ties which are, or will be, those move­ments’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion. And Tronti him­self con­firms that this is so when he writes that “alongside the State there have appeared other stake­hold­ers, other sub­jects [empha­sis added] of polit­i­cal real­ity, in the form of the par­ties.”70 It is thus clear that “this achieve­ment,” which for Tronti must be “wrested from this soci­ety,” is unthink­able with this sub­ject that is the Party; or rather it seems to be pre­cisely this Sub­ject that, in the name of the masses, directly prac­tices the reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the “func­tions of the polit­i­cal.”

These are the steps, then, in brief: in a first moment, the Spirit, by objec­ti­fy­ing itself in the Party, makes the Party iden­ti­cal to itself. After this, hav­ing reg­is­tered the class’ oppo­si­tion to the Party, it ren­ders the Party autonomous from the class of which it is, exactly, the Spirit. Thus auton­o­mized, the Party now makes the “needs” of the real move­ment mys­ti­cally emerge anew. In other words, in Tronti’s later writ­ings, the return of the Iden­ti­cal is not indeed equiv­a­lent to the over­com­ing of the Party’s auton­omy, but is rather its con­sis­tent devel­op­ment: that is, its devel­op­ment towards being the Spirit that is iden­ti­cal to the Party, but which is also medi­ated, in its iden­tity, by the same Party’s auton­omy. This auton­omy, in its own turn, no longer appears to oppose the real move­ment of the class, but rather now appears to rec­on­cile and to reunite the move­ment to itself, thus recov­er­ing its proper legit­i­macy.

Thus, with this mag­is­te­rial tourni­quet, the PCI is once again saved, and the real move­ment once again con­cealed.71

This essay was orig­i­nally pub­lished in the review Classe, no. 17, June 1980. The trans­la­tion is based on a reprint in Vis-à-vis, no. 8 (2000): 172-88.

  1. Both the present intro­duc­tory essay and the trans­la­tion that fol­lows have ben­e­fited from exchanges with Marco Schulz (who first alerted me to Sbardella’s text), Har­rison Fluss, and Jason E. Smith. 

  2. Steve Wright’s book, Storm­ing Heaven: Class Com­po­si­tion and Strug­gle in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism (Lon­don and Ster­ling, VA: Pluto Press, 2002) is the most com­plete account of the devel­op­ment of work­erism that has been pub­lished to date. It is worth men­tion­ing that Ric­cardo Bellofiore and Mas­si­m­il­iano Tomba’s after­word to the Ital­ian edi­tion of this book agrees in some respects with the analy­sis found in Sbardella’s much ear­lier essay (avail­able as “On Ital­ian Work­erism,” on 

  3. No full Eng­lish trans­la­tion of this book yet exists, although French and Ger­man ver­sions were pub­lished in the 1970s. 

  4. The title refers to the Soviet New Eco­nomic Pol­icy that was inau­gu­rated in 1921. The NEP marked a tran­si­tion from the period of War Com­mu­nism to a par­tial rein­tro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions in the USSR; it there­fore stands here, fig­u­ra­tively, for Classe Operaia’s com­pro­mise with the enemy. 

  5. The entire run of Vis-à-vis is avail­able at

  6. I am grate­ful to Ric­cardo Bellofiore for con­firm­ing the bio­graph­i­cal details in this para­graph. 

  7. On this point, see our “Gen­til­ismo e tradizione ide­al­is­tica nell’esperienza polit­ica di ‘Classe Operaia,’” in AA.VV., Le maschere delle polit­ica la riv­o­luzione pos­si­bile, ed. Otta­viano (Milan, 1979). 

  8. One thing must how­ever be said clearly: that in the face of the pas­sive objec­tivism of the Third Inter­na­tion­al­ist and Togli­at­tian ide­o­log­i­cal tra­di­tion, these com­rades force­fully posed the prob­lem, even if in an ide­al­ized form, of the pri­macy of col­lec­tive sub­jec­tiv­ity and of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, demon­strat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of another read­ing of social real­ity. (the new class com­po­si­tion, the mass worker, the fac­tory-soci­ety rela­tion, the new char­ac­ter­is­tics of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, the polit­i­cal char­ac­ter of wage strug­gles, the strug­gle against “work,” the need for com­mu­nism, etc). Translator’s note: Palmiro Togli­atti was the leader of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party from 1927 until his death in 1964. 

  9. Expla­na­tions that do not take account of the fun­da­men­tal dimen­sions of this the­ory are inevitably con­demned to par­tial­ity and nec­es­sar­ily lose their polit­i­cal effi­ca­cious­ness. See on this point: Viot­to­rio Riese, “Quaderni rossi,” “Ren­di­conti, no. 10, 1965; also, Mario Valente, Ide­olo­gia e potere (Turin, 1978). 

  10. Translator’s note: Tronti used the phrase “rude pagan race” to describe the pro­le­tariat in his arti­cle “Estrem­ismo e riformismo,” Con­tropi­ano no. 1, 1968, 51-58. 

  11. Mario Tronti, Operai e cap­i­tale (Turin: Ein­audi, 1966). Sig­nif­i­cant, here, is the posi­tion of those who, while hav­ing autonomously elab­o­rated the most impor­tant themes of work­erism, today choose the easy path of exclu­sively his­tor­i­cal-chrono­log­i­cal recon­struc­tion, avoid­ing in this way the dif­fi­cult task of crit­i­cally rethink­ing their own the­o­ret­i­cal-polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence. See on this point: Ser­gio Bologna, “Così visse e morì Potere Operaio,” il man­i­festo, March, 25, 1979. Do not over­look, how­ever, the sub­se­quent clar­i­fi­ca­tions con­tained in “Con­tro la strate­gia della con­fu­sione,” il man­i­festo, April 11, 1979. 

  12. Translator’s note: The term “par­tito-stru­mento,” which I’ve trans­lated as “party instru­ment,” defines the party not as instru­men­tal in end but as an instru­ment itself, thereby fur­ther dis­avow­ing any ten­dency toward the auton­omy of the polit­i­cal appa­ra­tus from the strug­gle that artic­u­lates it. 

  13. “The his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tic of the class sit­u­a­tion in Italy is shown in the open form that the strug­gle assumes in all sit­u­a­tions and on every occa­sion […]. The anti-cap­i­tal­ist polit­i­cal capa­bil­ity that is present in the work­ing class every­where where cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion exists is here expressed in the con­tin­u­ously [empha­sis added] aggres­sive form of direct con­fronta­tion. This char­ac­ter­is­tic is not dimin­ish­ing, but has rather grown and become more rad­i­cal.” [Empha­sis added.] (“Inter­vento politico nelle lotte,” Classe Operaia, no. 6, June 1964. 

  14. See on this ques­tion: Raniero Panzieri, “Let­tera a Mario Tronti” (Decem­ber 12, 1960), in Scritti, inter­venti, let­tere (Milan, 1973), 283. 

  15. In effect the March issue (no. 2) may be con­sid­ered a work­ing report, being an issue of only four pages. It is largely ded­i­cated to the work­ers’ strug­gles in Milan and Turin that had exploded in the month of Decem­ber. “Against the artic­u­lated strug­gle, the gen­eral strike”: this was the key slo­gan con­tained in this report. The flyer ded­i­cated to the 3rd Con­fer­ence of Com­mu­nists in the fac­to­ries was pub­lished in May as a sup­ple­ment to issue no. 2. The Octo­ber issue was pub­lished as a dou­ble issue, although it had fewer pages com­pared to the num­bers of the pre­vi­ous year. 

  16. This is a con­tra­dic­tion that is also expressed in the ever-more oli­garchic and sep­a­rated con­duct of the jour­nal. Given that the source of every deci­sion was made to coin­cide with the work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­ity, which is thought to auto­mat­i­cally express its own strat­egy, the ini­tial project pre­sup­posed decen­tered moments of elab­o­ra­tion that would be autonomous and directly man­aged by the work­ers. The sole issue of Cronache Operaie par­tially reflects this pro­gram. At the turn of the ‘70s, Cahiers de Mai would real­ize this pro­gram with greater suc­cess. Translator’s note: Les Cahiers de Mai was a French jour­nal that began pub­li­ca­tion imme­di­ately after the events of May 1968 and ran until 1974. It was char­ac­ter­ized espe­cially by the prac­tice of work­ers’ inquiry. 

  17. Lenin, in fact, by virtue of his objec­tivist under­stand­ing of the class, is able to keep hold of the qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ences that exist between class and Party. Or rather: in Lenin, the class is abso­l­u­tized as a pas­sive object, and the Party is con­sid­ered the only true Sub­ject. There­fore: what a strange “Lenin­ism” is Tronti’s! Not under­stand­ing the par­tic­u­lar­ity of this Tron­tian read­ing of Lenin’s works, Lapo Berti, for exam­ple, let it slip into a (log­i­cal) trap of per­spec­tive; he sees, in Tronti’s first edi­to­rial, the birth of the “auton­omy of the Polit­i­cal,” but not as a logico-polit­i­cal artic­u­la­tion within a sub­jec­tivist con­cept of the class, but rather – this is the point! – as the coher­ent result of an exclu­sively objec­tivist con­cep­tion. This is a para­dox­i­cal result, and we think that it serves to safe­guard the old work­erist con­cep­tion of the class as a con­tin­uum, which is exactly that of Tronti and which he never really aban­doned. See, Lapo Berti, “L’idea del potere,” Aut Aut, no. 169, 1979. 

  18. M. Tronti, op. cit. A hypo­sta­tized method­olog­i­cal rever­sal which pro­vokes a rad­i­cal refoun­da­tion, but with the same his­tor­i­cal-soci­o­log­i­cal ideal: “The dis­course of Classe operaia in ’63 opened on a strate­gic per­spec­tive; in it the ‘global uni­fi­ca­tion of mar­kets’ and the ‘plan of cap­i­tal’ were seen as his­tor­i­cal expres­sions of com­plex social cap­i­tal and were dis­cov­ered to be the pro­duct of a con­tin­u­ous [empha­sis added] devel­op­ment of the work­ing class.” (M. Tronti, “Si piani­fica solo la con­trat­tazione,” Classe operaia, no. 4-5, 1965.) This is an ide­al­ism that abso­l­u­tizes the real fact of devel­op­ment as the cap­i­tal­ist response to the work­ers’ strug­gles, while remain­ing entirely in the dark about the other fact, just as real, of the class as a his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion deter­mined and made pas­sive by cap­i­tal. “What one gath­ers [as Panzieri rightly said, recall­ing the words of a Span­ish anar­chosyn­di­cal­ist] is that cap­i­tal­ism lives by auto­sug­ges­tion.” (R. Panzieri, “Inediti,” Quaderni Pia­cen­tini, no. 28, 1967. 

  19. See: AA.VV., “Cap­i­tale e classe operaia alla Fiat, Sem­i­nario sulla com­po­sizione di classe,” held at the Gio­vanni Fran­covich Cen­ter, Flo­rence, 1978. Translator’s note: the ref­er­ence is to Gianni Agnelli, a Fiat exec­u­tive and head of the com­pany from 1966 onward. He was per­haps Italy’s most promi­nent indus­tri­al­ist dur­ing the tur­bu­lent years of the 1960s and ‘70s. 

  20. Emilio Reynieri, “Com­por­ta­mento di classe e nuovo ciclo di lotte,” in Prob­lemi del movi­mento sindi­cale in Italia 1943-73, “Annali” della Fon­dazione Gian­gia­como Fel­trinelli, 1974-75. 

  21. Let us remem­ber here that Tronti, pre­cisely in the edi­to­rial of the first issue of Classe operaia, writes: “Today it is urgently nec­es­sary to shake off this air of work­ers’ defeat […] Today the work­ers’ totally clear strate­gic vision makes one sus­pect that only now are we begin­ning to expe­ri­ence the hour of their splen­did matu­rity.” M. Tronti, op. cit. 

  22. Hypo­sta­tized sub­jec­tiv­ity – this per­ma­nent sub­jec­tiv­ity – is very clearly expressed in the fol­low­ing pas­sage: “Now, every­one must know that from at least June 1848, though cursed a thou­sand times by the bour­geoisie, the work­ers have climbed onto the scene and have never since aban­doned it [empha­sis added]: they have vol­un­tar­ily cho­sen, from time to time, to present them­selves in dif­fer­ent roles, as actors, as prompters, as tech­ni­cians, as work­ers, wait­ing to descend into the audi­ence to attack the spec­ta­tors.” (Ibid. 

  23. The work­ing class “has dis­cov­ered or redis­cov­ered the true secret which will con­demn its class enemy to vio­lent death: the polit­i­cal capac­ity to skill­fully impose reformism on cap­i­tal and to crudely uti­lize it for the work­ers’ rev­o­lu­tion.” (Ibid. 

  24. Tronti in fact writes: “Lenin in Eng­land is the search for a new Marx­ist prac­tice of the work­ers’ party.” 

  25. Ibid. 

  26. Ibid. Thus, as early as this first edi­to­rial, the work­ers’ Spirit – this ideal sub­jec­tiv­ity – incar­nates itself in the fig­ure of the Polit­i­cal, and, through it, shows one of its infinite faces: “It is polit­i­cal dis­course” – Tronti writes, sig­nif­i­cantly – “that must ver­ify the cor­rect­ness of par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ences: and vice versa. Because polit­i­cal dis­course is, on this basis, the total view­point of the class [empha­sis added] and there­fore the real mate­rial datum of this same real process” (ibid.); here this con­fu­sion between class (mate­ri­al­ity) and Party (Pol­i­tics) is newly pre­sented. 

  27. At issue is an unsigned arti­cle enti­tled “Crit­ica marx­ista del Par­tito?” in Classe operaia, no. 2, Feb­ru­ary 1964. Translator’s note: Crit­ica Marx­ista was founded in 1963 as the the­o­ret­i­cal jour­nal of the PCI. It still exists, hav­ing suf­fered only a short break in pub­li­ca­tion fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the PCI in 1991. 

  28. Ibid. 

  29. T. Negri, “Operai senza alleati,” Classe operaia, no. 3, March 1964. 

  30. M. Tronti, “Vec­chia tat­tica per una nuova strate­gia,” Classe operaia, no. 4-5, May 1964. 

  31. “Lot­ti­amo per la nos­tra orga­niz­zazione,” Classe operaia, sup­ple­ment to no. 6, June 1964. 

  32. M. Tronti, “1905 in Italia,” Classe operaia, no. 8-9, Sep­tem­ber 1964. 

  33. With this issue the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Genoese group also comes to an end. 

  34. M. Tronti, “Classe e par­tito,” Classe operaia, no. 10-12, Decem­ber 1964. 

  35. Ibid. 

  36. Ibid. As regards the cri­tique of the pop­ulism of the com­mu­nist matrix, see also: Alberto Asor Rosa, Scirt­tori e popolo, Edi­tori Riu­niti, Rome, 1964. Translator’s note: the term “his­toric bloc” derives from Anto­nio Gram­sci, whose works were regarded as canon­i­cal within the post­war PCI. The con­cept refers to an alliance of social forces that suc­cess­fully exerts hege­mony. 

  37. A. Asor Rosa, “Par­tito nuovo, par­tito unico, par­tito di classe,” in Classe Operaia, no. 1, Feb­ru­ary 1965. Translator’s note: in this con­text, the phrase par­tito unico refers to the pro­posal to unite the Ital­ian par­ties of left into a sin­gle, broadly social demo­c­ra­tic rather than rev­o­lu­tion­ary party. 

  38. A. Norfi, “Manca l’organizzazione di classe,” Classe Operaia, op. cit. 

  39. Romano Alquati, “Una ricerca sulla strut­tura interna della classe operaia in Italia,” Classe Operaia, op. cit. 

  40. On this point see: T. Negri, “Lenin e i Soviet nella rev­oluzione,” Classe operaia, op. cit. 

  41. “Sì al par­tito di classe,” Classe Operaia, no. 3, May 1965. In early July of 1965, on the occa­sion of a national met­al­lur­gists’ strike to be held on the 13th of that month, the Tori­nese group dis­trib­utes a flyer under the head­line “Il Movi­mento di Classe Operaia.” Here one reads that: “The Com­mu­nist Party is not com­posed only of man­agers (even if up to the present they have always made all the deci­sions); there are also worker mil­i­tants. And it is these that we address our­selves.” “As of now, the party in the fac­tory may func­tion if the work­ing class leads it to these per­spec­tives” – this is writ­ten in another flyer that the Tus­can group dis­trib­uted in Novem­ber with a view to the dead­line for the met­al­lur­gists’ con­tract, under the head­ing “Classe operaia,” Flo­rence-Pisa-Livorno, and dated Novem­ber 1965. The “Cir­colo operaio” is a direct ema­na­tion of the Roman group (Tronti, Asor Rosa, Di Leo, Coldag­elli, De Caro, etc.): “On the ini­tia­tive of a group of mil­i­tant com­rades in the polit­i­cal and trade union orga­ni­za­tions of the work­ing class, the “Cir­colo operaio romano” [Roman Work­ers’ Cir­cle] was con­sti­tuted,” reads a mimeo­graph from March. In June the first work­ing report is pub­lished and cir­cu­lated, under the title “Lotte operaie e pro­gramma cap­i­tal­is­tico” [Work­ing Class Strug­gles and the Cap­i­tal­ist Pro­gram]. Also in June they orga­nize a debate held at the Teatro dei Satiri on the theme “Par­tito unico e par­tito di classe” [Sin­gle party and class party], with inter­ven­tions by Gior­gio Migliardi (FGS [Fed­er­a­tion of Young Social­ists] of PSIUP [Ital­ian Social­ist Party of Pro­le­tar­ian Unity]), Clau­dio Petruc­ci­oli (FGCI [Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Youth Fed­er­a­tion]), Lucio Col­letti and, as always, Mario Tronti. Translator’s note: The FGS was the youth orga­ni­za­tion of the Ital­ian Social­ist Party (POS). PSIUP was a left­ist split from the PSI that existed from 1964 to 1972. The FGCI was the youth orga­ni­za­tion of the PCI. 

  42. Rita Di Leo, “Operai e PCI, Sto­ria di un rap­porto dif­fi­cile,” Classe Operaia, op. cit. 

  43. Translator’s note: The 11th Con­gress of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party took place in Jan­u­ary, 1966. 

  44. M. Tronti, “Una sola unifi­cazione tra classe e par­tito,” Classe Operaia, op. cit. 

  45. Ibid. 

  46. A. Asor Rosa, “Le amb­guità si chiariscono,” in Classe Operaia, no. 1, May 1966. 

  47. M. Tronti, “Fronte unico con­tro la socialdemocrazia,” Classe operaia, op. cit. 

  48. On this point, see also: M. Tronti, “Non è l’ora della socialdemocrazia, è l’ora di bat­terla per la prima volta da sin­is­tra” (tran­script of the Con­fer­ence held in Flo­rence, April 2, at the Gio­vanni Fran­covich Cen­ter), Classe operaia, op. cit. 

  49. Translator’s note: the PSDI, or Par­tito Social­ista Demo­c­ra­tico Ital­iano, split from the PSI in 1947. The PSDI did in fact merge with the PSI in 1966, but the union would last only two years. PSIUP was founded as a split from the PSI in 1964. For the most part they favored coop­er­a­tion, but not merger, with the PCI. Fol­low­ing a poor show­ing in the 1972 elec­tions, a major­ity of PSIUP mem­bers left to join the PCI, while a minor­ity would go on to found the Par­tito di Unità Pro­le­taria (Party of Pro­le­tar­ian Unity, or PdUP). 

  50. A. Asor Rosa, Classe Operaia, op. cit. 

  51. “L’alternativa alla socialdemocrazia: unifi­cazione a sin­is­tra,” in Classe Operaia, no. 2, Octo­ber 1966. 

  52. The flyer is dated “Porto Marghera-Bologna, Octo­ber 15, 1966,” and signed “Potere operaio and the Vene­tian-Emil­ian edi­to­rial board of Classe Operaia.” Translator’s note: a num­ber of groups call­ing them­selves Potere Operaio, or Work­ers’ Power, formed in var­i­ous parts of North­ern Italy in the mid- to late-‘60s, although the uni­fied group of this name was not offi­cially founded until 1969. Potere Operaio lead­ers in the Veneto included Toni Negri and oth­ers involved with Classe Operaia. The group dis­banded in 1973.] To reread it today is to be sur­prised by its lucid­ity and capac­ity to fore­see, even then, the ten­dency that now pre­vails within the offi­cial work­ers’ move­ment. See also the flyer enti­tled “La tregua è una trap­pola” [“The truce is a trap”] (the requested truce between Inter­sind [Translator’s note: an orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing Ital­ian pub­lic sec­tor enter­prises] and Con­find­us­tria [Translator’s note: Ital­ian employ­ers’ fed­er­a­tion]; the flyer signed “gruppi di azione pro­le­taria,” [Group of Pro­le­tar­ian Action] “Potere operaio,” Padua-Porto Marghera-Vicenza-Por­de­none, is dated May 20, 1966; and the flyer “Com­pagni” (a response to a PCI flyer which severely attacks the group Potere operaio), enti­tled “Potere operaio,” Vene­tian edi­to­rial staff of Classe operaia, dated Porto Marghera, May 30, 1966, in which one reads the fol­low­ing: “If this orga­ni­za­tion of the class van­guard is miss­ing, the entire work­ing class will nec­es­sar­ily find itself – when the push to strug­gle for con­tracts, with­out polit­i­cal guid­ance, is exhausted – with­out a polit­i­cal guide, with­out its own polit­i­cal force.” After the chemists enter the field, another mimeo­graph is cir­cu­lated (a doc­u­ment of four pages), also enti­tled “Potere operaio,” signed by the Vene­tian edi­to­rial col­lec­tive of Classe operaia and dated Octo­ber 7, 1966. Among other things, we here read that: “The exis­tence of a mass social demo­c­ra­tic party guar­an­tees at least this fact: the iso­la­tion of strug­gles at sec­toral lev­els, in revin­dica­tive, union­ist terms. Euro­pean expe­ri­ence clearly teaches us that. At this time the work­ing class has no weapons other than the polit­i­cal growth and effec­tive gen­er­al­iza­tion of the strug­gle.” 

  53. M. Tronti, “Classe, par­tito, classe,” Classe operaia, no. 3 (in real­ity, no. 1), March 1967. 

  54. In the same issue of Classe operaia in which Tronti attempts to focus on the bound­aries of the “new con­ti­nent,” Negri con­cludes his arti­cle thusly: “What are the forms through which the inter­na­tional work­ing class threat­ens cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment? This is the new sci­en­tific ques­tion, the new hori­zon of both knowl­edge and orga­ni­za­tion.” In Toni Negri, “Cronache del ceto politico,” Classe operaia, op. cit. Translator’s note: Con­tropi­ano was pub­lished from 1968 to 1971. Numer­ous mem­bers of Classe operaia con­tin­ued to work together at Con­tropi­ano, among them Tronti, Negri, and Asor Rosa, although Negri would break from the group after the first issue as a result of dis­agree­ments with Tronti.

    A major polit­i­cal insight? It would in fact seem so. In fact, while Tronti com­pletely aban­dons the speci­fic level of strug­gles and of the social, as well as the analy­sis of the ten­den­cies at work within the given com­po­si­tion of the work­ing class, in order to make an entirely politi­cist choice and a totally acrit­i­cal dis­cov­ery of the his­tor­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the class, Negri intu­its the mean­ing of that social magma that was expressed at the turn of 1967; he intu­its that the strug­gles are about to start again and that the col­lec­tive sub­ject is about to reemerge. The defin­i­tive rup­ture would nev­er­the­less come in 1968, when, rid­ing the wave of the May strug­gles, Negri once again poses, against the Lenin of the NEP, the Lenin of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary “rup­ture,” the Lenin, that is, who sit­u­ates the rup­ture “in that par­tic­u­lar but nec­es­sary moment of devel­op­ment which is the cri­sis […]: here [writes Negri] the break is nec­es­sary and pos­si­ble […]. And it is this Lenin­ist expe­ri­ence of the break that is retrieved in the the­o­ret­i­cal expe­ri­ence of the work­ing class.” (T. Negri, “Marx sul ciclo e la crisi,” Con­tropi­ano, no. 2, 1968.)

    Unfor­tu­nately, Negri’s polemic, due to the philo­soph­i­cal matrix of his think­ing, does not suc­ceed in over­com­ing and crit­i­cally liq­ui­dat­ing the ide­al­ism of the Sub­ject. What Negri really crit­i­cizes and rejects is the pas­sage, oper­a­tive in Tronti, to a “dialec­ti­cal” logic closer to that of Hegel and more avail­able to polit­i­cal medi­a­tions and com­pro­mises with real­ity as it is; what he rejects, in sum, is the tauto-het­ero­log­i­cal moment of the inter­pen­e­tra­tion of oppo­sites (which effec­tively, if not crit­i­cally con­trolled, per­mits and jus­ti­fies all sorts of prac­tico-polit­i­cal oper­a­tions). What results from this is a sort of (Kan­tian?) logic of sep­a­ra­tion and of real oppo­si­tion ide­ally applied to his­tory and to the strug­gles of the work­ing class. A logic that itself has need, nonethe­less, of a polit­i­cal medi­a­tion. And thus, in the case of Toni Negri, the medi­a­tion is still quite obscured behind the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Party with class: “Lenin,” as in early Tronti, is com­pletely con­fused with the will-to-rup­ture (the hard strug­gle “against work”) on the part of the class, the “party” that, while main­tain­ing its char­ac­ter­is­tics of tac­ti­cal direc­tion, and as the “nec­es­sary” sub­ject, is ide­ally made iden­ti­cal with the gen­eral mass of work­ers. In Tronti’s case, on the con­trary, the medi­a­tion is, now, entirely vis­i­ble and the iden­tity between the class and the Party is real­ized through its con­trary, and thus by means of an ideal and there­fore arbi­trary dialec­ti­cal leap. What must now be iden­ti­fied are two real­i­ties – the work­ers and the PCI – which, when they are not actu­ally opposed to each other and openly in con­flict, are nonethe­less linked by a rela­tion­ship of sep­a­ra­tion and alien­ation: in this case one would appar­ently sur­mise that the work­ing class, in order to recover its “tac­ti­cal artic­u­la­tions,” would be dis­posed to “uti­lize” the PCI through a series of self-nega­tions and medi­a­tions. The diver­gences can no longer be silenced and recom­posed. Con­tropi­ano pub­lishes, at the end of Negri’s arti­cle, a brief state­ment with this noti­fi­ca­tion to read­ers of the break that had occurred: “Due to sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ences related to the polit­i­cal posi­tion­ing of the jour­nal, Toni Negri is leav­ing edi­to­rial staff with this issue.” The devel­op­ment of Negri’s think­ing after the hot years of the strug­gle and within the real cri­sis of work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­ity will lead this author more and more to priv­i­lege (in a Fou­caultian man­ner) all of those social real­i­ties exter­nal to the work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­ity which express them­selves in the mode of irre­ducible oppo­si­tion. We think that this logic has been one of the sources of all those polit­i­cal errors into which vast sec­tors of Autono­mia Operaia have fal­len in the last few years.

    In fact, when the class is atom­ized and forced into the con­di­tion of pas­siv­ity, the ide­al­ism of the Sub­ject, once the logico-polit­i­cal medi­a­tions of the Tron­tian type have been rejected, is com­pelled to trans­fer its own attrib­utes some­where else, namely into those places where it can still incar­nate itself in what­ever is still oppo­si­tional. And it is thus that these char­ac­ter­is­tics, at first attrib­uted to the united and active mass of the work­ers in strug­gle, become pred­i­cates either of the small frac­tions of the class that are still active but sep­a­rate from one another, or of other “sub­jects” or social fig­ures active solely in the sphere of the Abstract, or rather com­pletely dis­con­nected from the sig­ni­fy­ing struc­ture of the Sys­tem; or, even, of those van­guards con­sti­tuted in “par­ties” which are com­pletely dis­con­nected from the con­crete con­di­tion of the masses. Inevitably, this trans­mi­gra­tion of the Spirit con­ceals the work­ing class as a point of ref­er­ence that is still cen­tral, just as it con­ceals the pro­duc­tion process as the site for the for­ma­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­jec­tiv­ity. What counts now is only the rela­tion of “dom­i­nance”; and this rela­tion empha­sizes by con­trast the “new rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­jects.” To the effects of the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the pro­duc­tive fab­ric, decen­tral­iza­tion, unem­ploy­ment, and the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of vast social sec­tors, one acrit­i­cally affixes a pos­i­tive sign, thus plac­ing one­self in the posi­tion of not being able to iden­tify the real pos­i­tive ten­den­cies of recom­po­si­tion and the new uni­tary behav­iors that, beneath the sur­face, are pass­ing through the neg­a­tive. When the neg­a­tive is pre­sented as pos­i­tive, we are in the pres­ence of a pas­sive reflec­tion of the cri­sis of the cen­tral rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject; we are in the pres­ence, there­fore, of a the­ory that, hav­ing been acrit­i­cally con­structed on the basis of the real dis­in­te­gra­tion induced by the class enemy, can do noth­ing other than present all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of sub­or­di­na­tion: in cer­tain respects it also rep­re­sents an apolo­gia for the (eco­nomic and polit­i­cal) power of cap­i­tal­ism. Even if these the­o­ries indi­cate and inter­pret (though still dis­tort­ing the mean­ing of) cur­rent ten­den­cies or behav­iors that are des­tined to con­tribute to the new com­po­si­tion of the class, they are nonethe­less ide­olo­gies doomed to be swept away by the class itself when, recom­pos­ing itself as a uni­tary sub­ject, it restarts a new cycle of strug­gles. On this point, see: T. Negri, Pro­le­tario e Stato, Fel­trinelli, Milan, 1976; and also, Dominio e sab­o­tag­gio, Fel­trinelli, Milan, 1978. Do not for­get, how­ever, Franco Piperno, “Sul lavoro non operaio,” Preprint, sup­ple­ment to no. 0 of Metropoli; and also Oreste Scal­zone, “Rap­porto sullo Stato del movi­mento e i suoi nodi da sciogliere,” Preprint, op. cit. This last arti­cle in par­tic­u­lar, although it still remains within the usual hypo­sta­tized logic of ideal sub­jec­tivism, nonethe­less has the merit of lim­it­ing its ref­er­ences to “non-work­ing class labor” and of par­tially bring­ing back the “work­ing class refusal of work” to the move­ments of the class proper, or to that which is defined as “com­mu­nism in pro­gress”; it has the merit (even if the results are some­what con­fused and at times even para­dox­i­cal) of not refus­ing an open and shut con­fronta­tion with the cri­tique of the Polit­i­cal and with all those prac­ti­cal behav­iors which have been expressed most recently as the col­lec­tive reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the class’ own polit­i­cal will. 

  55. Translator’s note: the Fed­er­azione Gio­vanile Comu­nisti Ital­iani was the PCI’s youth orga­ni­za­tion. 

  56. Classe e par­tito, no. 1, Novem­ber 1966. The sec­ond issue, in real­ity a work­ing report, comes out in March of 1967. 

  57. A. Asor Rosa, “Da qui agli anni ’70,” Mondo Nuovo, no. 17, April 1968. Translator’s note: Mondo Nuovo was a PSIUP pub­li­ca­tion. 

  58. Emanuele Macaluso, “Par­tito e classe operaia,” Rinasc­ita, no. 45, Novem­ber 1965. The arti­cle in ques­tion con­tains a scathing response to two let­ters, sent to Gian­carlo Pajetta, the direc­tor of the com­mu­nist weekly, in defense of the posi­tions of Classe operaia that are crit­i­cized in Accornero’s arti­cle. Aris Accornero, “‘Operaismo’ ster­ile,” Rinasc­ita, no. 42, Octo­ber 1965. In this arti­cle cer­tain of Classe operaia’s posi­tions are cor­rectly repro­duced and exten­sively quoted, while oth­ers are harshly crit­i­cized. The polemic con­tained in this arti­cle thus appears to be directed not so much to the posi­tions of Classe operaia as to those of Mario Tronti, and to the polit­i­cal posi­tions that Toni Negri had expressed in the arti­cle of issue no. 3, 1964, enti­tled “Operai senza alleati.” 

  59. M. Tronti, “La nuova sin­tesi: den­tro e con­tro,” con­tri­bu­tion at the Sem­i­nar on class com­po­si­tion, orga­nized by the “Gio­vanni Fran­covich” Cen­ter, mimeo­graph, later pub­lished in Gio­vane crit­ica, no. 17, Autumn 1967. 

  60. Ibid. 

  61. Translator’s note: the PRI is a cen­trist lib­eral party. In these years it was gen­er­ally in alliance with the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tian Democ­rats. 

  62. M. Tronti, Operai e cap­i­tal, 2nd edi­tion, Ein­audi, Turin, 1971, 311. 

  63. Ibid., 292. 

  64. Ibid., 281. 

  65. The theme of the “Auton­omy of the polit­i­cal” appears for the first time as a cen­tral theme in the report Tronti held on the occa­sion of a meet­ing held at the Uni­ver­sity of Turin, Decem­ber 5, 1972. The mimeo­graph doc­u­ment that appeared sev­eral months later con­tains, among other reports, Tronti’s dis­cus­sion and con­clu­sions. Edi­zione Fel­trinelli would later pub­lish the whole of it in 1975, with the addi­tion of a sec­ond report and a brief intro­duc­tion. On this point, see, by the same author, Hegel politico, Isti­tuto della Enci­clo­pe­dia Ital­iana, Rome, 1975; “La tran­sizione,” in AA.VV., Stato e riv­o­luzione in Inghilterra, Il Sag­gia­tore, Milan, 1977. 

  66. M. Tronti, “Polit­ica e potere,” Crit­ica marx­ista, no. 3, 1977. 

  67. Ibid. 

  68. Ibid. 

  69. Ibid. 

  70. Ibid. 

  71. In ref­er­ence to this last rethink­ing, see also: M. Tronti, “La sin­is­tra e la via di una ricerca comune,” l’Unità, Sep­tem­ber 26, 1978. 

Author of the article

is an Italian Marxist theorist once involved with the workerist journals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia.