A Living Unity in the Marxist: Introduction to Tronti’s Early Writings

Joseph Nicolaus Robert-Fleury, Galileo Galilei before the Holy Office in the Vatican, 1847
Joseph Nico­laus Robert-Fleury, Galileo Galilei before the Holy Office in the Vat­i­can, 1847


In 1959, a twenty-eight year old Mario Tronti lamented the fate that had befal­len the Ital­ian Marx­ist Anto­nio Labri­ola: “rarely was he read, for that which he said.”1 Tronti then quips that the same epi­taph could be given to Karl Marx him­self, whose recep­tion on the penin­sula was fueled by selec­tive inter­pre­ta­tions rather than close read­ings. Tronti could not have known that fifty years later, despite the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of operaismo and its prog­eny among inter­na­tional left­ists, his own work would suf­fer the same fate, at least among Anglo­phones. Although many of the short essays col­lected in Tronti’s Operai e cap­i­tale (1966) are avail­able to the Eng­lish reader, the cen­tral sec­tion of this “bible” of operaismo – “Marx, Labor-Power, Work­ing Class” – remains noto­ri­ously untrans­lated.2

While we con­tinue to await that text, here we present three ear­lier works by the young Tronti, writ­ten sev­eral years before the first essays of Operai e cap­i­tale, in order to give some con­text to his intel­lec­tual tra­jec­tory. If Tronti’s 1960s writ­ings have appeared in frag­ments, his prior for­ma­tion has remained almost entirely obscured, as if he burst onto the scene fully-formed in the pages of Quaderni Rossi. Two of these early works – often dense with philo­soph­i­cal lan­guage but not with­out the sharp bursts of lucid prose that char­ac­ter­ize Tronti’s later writ­ings – ana­lyze a rather unique object for an operaista: the thought of Anto­nio Gram­sci. They provide the reader, then, with not only some of the ideas per­co­lat­ing in the mind of the young Tronti, but also a win­dow into the pre­his­tory of operaismo: the tumul­tuous debates within the Ital­ian left of the 1950s over the mean­ings of Marx­ism.

The rela­tion­ship between Gram­sci and operaismo, if occa­sion­ally men­tioned, is rarely expli­cated in Eng­lish-lan­guage lit­er­a­ture.3 Yet if we are to under­stand how the work­erist fer­ment devel­oped, we must grasp how its prin­ci­pal expo­nents, Tronti among them, sought to dis­tance them­selves from the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party (PCI), not only in mat­ters of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, but on the­o­ret­i­cal grounds as well. And to make sense of Tronti’s stance in these texts, it is essen­tial to account for the influ­ence of two other dis­si­dent philoso­phers, Gal­vano Della Volpe and Lucio Col­letti, who from the begin­ning of the decade had pro­vided cogent cri­tiques of Ital­ian Hegelian­ism in the­ory and the post-war PCI’s reformist Gram­s­cian­ism in prac­tice.

In the first two of Tronti’s essays – “Some Prob­lems around Gramsci’s Marx­ism” (1958) and “Between Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and Phi­los­o­phy of Praxis: Gram­sci and Labri­ola” (1959) – one will rec­og­nize an atti­tude that car­ries over into the work­erists’ rejec­tion of the PCI’s “national-pop­u­lar” strat­egy.4 Yet the young Tronti’s cri­tique focuses pri­mar­ily on Gramsci’s debt to a line of Ital­ian philoso­phers whose read­ing of Marx was less con­cerned with his cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­omy than with his sup­posed cul­mi­na­tion of the philo­soph­i­cal project asso­ci­ated with Hegel. This thread, Tronti explains, begins with Labri­ola, who first intro­duced Marx into Italy, and con­tin­ues through Benedetto Croce, the influ­en­tial lib­eral ide­al­ist, to Gio­vanni Gen­tile, the fas­cist edu­ca­tion min­is­ter and philoso­pher. Although Gram­sci had sought to pro­duce an “Anti-Croce,” Tronti argues that Gram­sci was so steeped in this tra­di­tion that he had ignored the basic con­tri­bu­tions of Marx and fal­len back on a Hegelian phi­los­o­phy of his­tory. For these and other rea­sons which will be explored below, Tronti con­demns Gramsci’s his­tori­cism as well as his con­cep­tion of Marx­ism as phi­los­o­phy of praxis as unsci­en­tific. While he sym­pa­thizes with Gramsci’s move to reval­orize sub­jec­tiv­ity in the face of a reign­ing objec­tivist ortho­doxy, Tronti ulti­mately deems that Gram­sci over­com­pen­sated for the Sec­ond International’s short­com­ings and aban­doned Marx’s mate­ri­al­ism alto­gether, nar­row­ing the causal agent of his­tory to the sub­jec­tive will alone.

Della Volpe, Col­letti, and Tronti argue that the post-war Ital­ian left was stunted by its reliance on Gram­sci for under­stand­ing Marx. As the PCI had renounced the strat­egy of the “rev­o­lu­tion­ary leap” pio­neered by the Bol­she­viks in the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917, the devel­op­ment of Gram­s­cian­ism coin­cided with a par­tic­u­lar approach to pol­i­tics: the PCI’s leader Palmiro Togli­atti com­mit­ted the party to par­tic­i­pat­ing in the grad­ual devel­op­ment of Ital­ian cap­i­tal­ism, which he argued would pave the way for an “Ital­ian road to social­ism.”5 We must also read these philo­soph­i­cal texts, then, in light of the shift­ing power rela­tions within the Party in the mid-1950s.

In the third piece trans­lated here, “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­ogy” (1959), Tronti responds to a talk given by Col­letti at the Isti­tuto Gram­sci and out­li­nes an argu­ment for the unity of the­ory, research, and polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion in the per­son of the Marx­ist. These exhor­ta­tions rep­re­sent a pre­scient method­olog­i­cal state­ment on the nascent work­erist project, which would later be real­ized in the pages of Quaderni Rossi, founded in 1961, as well as in Classe Operaia, from 1964. Here above all Tronti illus­trates that the polit­i­cal (or prac­ti­cal) and the philo­soph­i­cal (or the­o­ret­i­cal) are dis­tinct moments in the unity posed by Marx­ism. This pre­cise reartic­u­la­tion of the­ory and prac­tice would lead Tronti and other work­erists to move beyond the Dellavol­pean frame­work; as Tronti would write in 1961, after the pub­li­ca­tion of these essays:

The sci­ence of cap­i­tal­ism, the sci­ence of Cap­i­tal, is pos­si­ble only in the per­spec­tive of the social­ist rev­o­lu­tion. Sci­ence and his­tory is a dis­course that still falls entirely within sci­ence: it is the logic of the­ory. But there is another dis­course: sci­ence and his­tory which fall entirely within his­tory, which is the logic of prac­tice. The first pre­sup­poses a mate­ri­al­ist thought, the sec­ond a sub­ver­sive praxis. Today, to say the­ory and prac­tice is too lit­tle. One must say sci­en­tific the­ory and rev­o­lu­tion­ary prac­tice.6

It would be false, then, to char­ac­ter­ize these early writ­ings, penned by Tronti in the late 1950s, as foun­da­tional texts for operaismo; “Dellavolpism” did not develop lin­early into work­erism. Nor does Tronti’s cri­tique of Gram­sci pre­clude the pos­si­bil­ity of fruit­fully read­ing Gram­sci and work­erism together.

Determinate Abstraction and the Challenge to Italian Hegelianism

In order to con­tex­tu­al­ize Tronti’s demand for a break with Gram­s­cian­ism we must first recall the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of 1956, a water­shed year in the inter­na­tional com­mu­nist move­ment. Tronti recalls it as the tran­si­tion “from a party truth to a class truth.”7 In Feb­ru­ary 1956, at the Twen­ti­eth Con­gress of the Com­mu­nist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev deliv­ered his secret speech, “On the Cult of Per­son­al­ity and Its Con­se­quences,” which indicted Stalin’s author­i­tar­i­an­ism. The fol­low­ing autumn brought the Hun­gar­ian work­ers’ upris­ing against Soviet rule and the quelling of the rev­o­lu­tion by Rus­sian tanks. In the interim there occurred, in Tronti’s rec­ol­lec­tion, “a sequence of leaps in the aware­ness of a young gen­er­a­tion of intel­lec­tu­als.”8 An open­ing thus emerged in which dis­si­dent com­mu­nist thought could cir­cu­late within national par­ties, par­tic­u­larly in Italy, where Togli­atti had already estab­lished some degree of auton­omy from the Soviet Union.

After the end of the war, Togli­atti had returned from exile in the Soviet Union to lead the refoun­da­tion of the PCI. He announced the cre­ation of “il par­tito nuovo” (the new party), which would leave behind its Lenin­ist roots and tran­si­tion to mass pol­i­tics, pur­su­ing its own “Ital­ian road.” The PCI helped to draft the new con­sti­tu­tion in 1947 and sub­se­quently par­tic­i­pated in par­lia­ment, where it coop­er­ated with the Chris­tian Democ­rats and other bour­geois par­ties seek­ing to develop Ital­ian cap­i­tal­ism in the post-war era. Dur­ing this time, Gramsci’s writ­ings on hege­mony – a term which he had used to describe the achieve­ment of polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tual lead­er­ship by a van­guard class which had united other frac­tions of the pop­u­la­tion into an his­tor­i­cal bloc – were instru­men­tal­ized by Togli­atti and other party the­o­rists to jus­tify the PCI’s pro­gram of mobi­liz­ing the masses to mod­ern­ize the nation.9

After the thaw of 1956, the party’s dom­i­nant mode of pol­i­tics and the val­oriza­tion of a par­tic­u­lar read­ing of Gram­sci were increas­ingly chal­lenged from within by its own left flank. A key fig­ure in this cri­tique was the philoso­pher Gal­vano Della Volpe, who had devel­oped an orig­i­nal inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism that opposed the his­tori­cist and ide­al­ist ver­sions preva­lent in post-war Italy.10 Although in his early years Della Volpe had stud­ied with Gen­tile and even ded­i­cated his first book to the philoso­pher of fas­cism, in the 1930s he began to develop a cri­tique of all forms of a pri­ori rea­son­ing through a close study of David Hume.11 He joined the PCI in 1944 and in 1950 he pub­lished a major work, Logic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, in which he out­lined his read­ing of what he ter­med Marx’s “moral Galileanism.”12 This book, as well as other writ­ings, rep­re­sented, in the words of Mar­tin Jay, a “fresh read­ing of Marx’s texts unen­cum­bered by the inter­ven­ing com­men­taries of his offi­cial inter­preters.”13 Della Volpe’s redi­rec­tion of Ital­ian left­ists’ atten­tion toward Marx would be a great influ­ence on the young Tronti, and so we require a detour through Della Volpe’s thought in order to clar­ify the terms of the essays trans­lated below.

Della Volpe based his cri­tique of Hegelian Marx­ism on a pro­posed sep­a­ra­tion of the spec­u­la­tive dialec­tic of Hegel from the sci­en­tific dialec­tic of Marx. The spec­u­la­tive dialec­tic, he argued, func­tions via hypo­sta­ti­za­tion. In a help­ful clar­i­fi­ca­tion for­mu­lated by Mario Mon­tano, “First, spec­u­la­tion reduces real­ity to an idea, then it takes this idea as real­ity itself and sub­stan­ti­fies it.”14 Della Volpe found that Marx him­self had iden­ti­fied this ten­dency toward hypo­sta­ti­za­tion in his Cri­tique of Hegel’s Phi­los­o­phy of Right, where Marx had writ­ten, “As the Idea is sub­jec­tivized, the actual sub­jects – civil soci­ety, fam­ily, etc. – become… objec­tive moments of the Idea.”15

Hegel had per­formed a “generic” abstrac­tion; he posited the State as the uni­ver­sal in which the con­tra­dic­tions of soci­ety were sup­pos­edly rec­on­ciled. And, accord­ing to Della Volpe, the polit­i­cal econ­o­mists sim­i­larly claimed that the com­mod­ity rep­re­sented the equal­iza­tion of the con­flict between labor and cap­i­tal. Both of these view­points, for Della Volpe, were meta­phys­i­cal; he argued that the spec­u­la­tive dialec­tic func­tions via an inde­ter­mi­nate or generic abstrac­tion, which dis­poses of all speci­ficity “in the name of the Gen­eral and the Uni­ver­sal, or in the name of the Idea.”16 Such think­ing, as Marx had long ago shown, led to the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the present form of soci­ety as ratio­nal, nat­u­ral, and eter­nal.

Della Volpe argued that in the work of Marx one can observe a dif­fer­ent sort of oper­a­tion, a method of “exper­i­men­tal­ism” which can be found in both the nat­u­ral and social sci­ences. While bour­geois soci­ety had achieved great advances in the nat­u­ral sci­ences, Della Volpe insisted that the social sci­ences until Marx had been blinded by their assump­tion that bour­geois social and prop­erty rela­tions were fixed.17

The sci­en­tific dialec­tic of Marx and Galileo func­tions via a deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion which is speci­fic and his­tor­i­cal. Cit­ing Marx’s “1857 Intro­duc­tion,”18 Della Volpe argued that Marx’s cat­e­gories of cap­i­tal, abstract labor, and com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion are all abstrac­tions that emerge from a men­tal oper­a­tion that con­forms to “the mate­ri­al­ist logic of mod­ern sci­ence.”19 Marx’s soci­ol­ogy is as sci­en­tific as Newton’s physics because both “share a com­mon exper­i­men­tal method­olog­i­cal struc­ture.”20 This method­ol­ogy oper­ates by means of a cir­cu­lar move­ment from the sim­ple con­crete toward a more com­plex con­crete deter­mi­na­tion by way of abstrac­tion. Della Volpe sum­ma­rizes the stages as fol­lows:

(a) the prob­lema­tized con­crete or datum (his­torico-mate­rial instance); (b) the hypoth­e­sis or set­ting up of nor­ma­tive, non-absolute means (tr. – in the math­e­mat­i­cal sense) of the antecedents or con­di­tions of the given con­se­quent (his­torico-ratio­nal instance); (c) the cri­te­rion of prac­tice which val­i­dates, or ver­i­fies, the hypoth­e­sis, turn­ing it into a law (last instance of the his­tor­i­cal rec­i­p­ro­cal func­tion­al­ity of given and hypoth­e­sis, mat­ter and rea­son, induc­tion and deduc­tion).21

One begins with the con­crete and posits deter­mi­nate abstrac­tions until achiev­ing a law that is true in prac­tice. Thus deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion is not merely a men­tal prac­tice but a fact: only under mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety can the con­cept as well as the actu­al­ity of abstract labor emerge. In Steve Wright’s gloss, this cir­cle is “his­tor­i­cal, and there­fore dynamic, mov­ing from the con­crete to the con­crete… there­fore afford[ing] gen­uine devel­op­ment.”22 This was Marx’s “moral Galileanism” at work, his “mate­ri­al­ist soci­o­log­i­cal eco­nom­ics,” the appli­ca­tion of sci­ence to mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. In Della Volpe’s own words:

We thus turn yet again to the same cen­tral point: the rec­i­p­ro­cal func­tion­al­ity of induc­tion and deduc­tion, of mat­ter and rea­son, of fact (or “acci­den­tal”) and hypoth­e­sis (or “nec­es­sary”). It is the twofold func­tion­al­ity, required by the sci­en­tific dialec­tic, that pro­duces deter­mi­nate or his­tor­i­cal abstrac­tion and thereby laws in the mate­ri­al­ist sense; it is sym­bol­ized by the method­olog­i­cal cir­cle of con­crete-abstract-con­crete expounded by Marx in his 1857 intro­duc­tion and applied with max­i­mum rigor and suc­cess in Cap­i­tal.23

By fus­ing induc­tion and deduc­tion, mat­ter and rea­son, Della Volpe attempts to avoid apri­or­ism as well as Gen­til­ian actu­al­ism. He dis­tin­guishes his “method­olog­i­cal cir­cle” from ide­al­ism by begin­ning with a con­crete, “his­torico-mate­rial instance,” and by employ­ing the sci­en­tific rather than the spec­u­la­tive dialec­tic. But he also dif­fer­en­ti­ates his the­ory from a vul­gar mate­ri­al­ism or an induc­tive pos­i­tivism by con­ceiv­ing of the “his­torico-ratio­nal instance” as nec­es­sary to pro­duc­ing a grasp of his­tor­i­cal causal­ity.24

Between these extremes, he argues, one finds sci­ence, which begins from the con­crete but which seeks a higher level of gen­er­al­ity. Della Volpe wielded this con­cep­tion of Marx­ism as sci­ence against tra­di­tional inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx­ism within Ital­ian thought, which tended to read him as an improve­ment upon, but nev­er­the­less beholden to, Hegel. Regard­ing Marx’s occa­sional recourse to Hegelian lan­guage, Della Volpe responded that Marx had merely “flirted” with Hegel “on the level of metaphor” in order to explain him­self in the intel­lec­tual cli­mate of his day.25 Marx’s real con­tri­bu­tion, on the con­trary, was to have applied the sci­en­tific method to soci­ety.

Tronti’s debt to Della Volpe is clear in “Some Ques­tions around Gramsci’s Marx­ism.” Here he argues that Gram­sci under­stands the des­tiny of the phi­los­o­phy of praxis – which Tronti con­sid­ers no inno­cent code­word for Marx­ism but rather a par­tic­u­lar inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism – to be the cul­mi­na­tion of the devel­op­ment of the “log­i­cal instru­ment of the Hegelian method.”26 For Gram­sci, Marx­ism will suc­ceed where Croce and Gen­tile had failed. But accord­ing to Della Volpe, Marx did not use Hegel’s method, as the Ital­ian ide­al­ists includ­ing Gram­sci had believed, because it was yoked to a sys­tem of spec­u­la­tive phi­los­o­phy. Tronti believes with Della Volpe that Marx’s work was no mere reform of phi­los­o­phy: Marx was a sci­en­tist, fol­low­ing the same method of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion as Galileo in order to deter­mine speci­fic laws that per­tain to cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.

In “Between Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and the Phi­los­o­phy of Praxis,” Tronti deter­mi­nes that “phi­los­o­phy of praxis” is not just another name for Marx­ism but rather con­sti­tutes a par­tic­u­lar inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism. While the Ital­ian ide­al­ists with whom it is asso­ci­ated tended to dis­tance them­selves from Sec­ond-Inter­na­tional reformisms and dialec­ti­cal-mate­ri­al­ist evo­lu­tion­ism, Tronti finds that these schools of thought all share an unsci­en­tific and there­fore mys­ti­fy­ing essence. In a detailed geneal­ogy, Tronti traces Gramsci’s use of the term, orig­i­nally coined by Anto­nio Labri­ola, to the social-democ­rat Rodolfo Mon­dolfo, for whom Marx­ism was a phi­los­o­phy of action, a “vol­un­taris­tic ide­al­ism” in which praxis rep­re­sents the individual’s point of view.27 The phi­los­o­phy of praxis was fur­ther devel­oped by Gio­vanni Gen­tile, who argued against any given exter­nal real­ity not pro­duced by activ­ity and knowl­edge. Gen­tile argued that the only true real­ity resides within thought itself, which grows more prac­ti­cally con­crete in the act of think­ing.

Tronti also exam­i­nes Benedetto Croce’s con­tri­bu­tion to the inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism as phi­los­o­phy of praxis, in which Croce argues that Marx­ism lacks a true phi­los­o­phy and con­sists only in his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism, which for him is merely a real­is­tic con­cep­tion of his­tory. Croce thus pio­neered the use of Marx as a means for reach­ing cer­tain ends, depend­ing on whether the researcher was an econ­o­mist, his­to­rian, or politi­cian. From this per­spec­tive, Marx offered tech­niques which could be used to rein­vig­o­rate other dis­ci­plines. Croce, for his part, claimed to under­stand Hegel and his dialec­tic more clearly after read­ing Marx, while Gen­tile believed, after Marx’s con­tri­bu­tions, that philosophy’s impor­tance was safe­guarded from the assault by pos­i­tivism, and that one could finally pro­claim that truth is gen­er­ated through expe­ri­ence and real­ity is the pro­duct of the act of know­ing.

In recount­ing this his­tory, Tronti demon­strates how Marx was used in Italy both to com­bat pos­i­tivism and as a means for achiev­ing a new syn­the­sis between spir­i­tu­al­ism and nat­u­ral­ism with the reju­ve­na­tion of Ital­ian ide­al­ism. If Marx influ­enced the devel­op­ment of mod­ern Ital­ian ide­al­ism by stand­ing at its origin, ide­al­ism more defin­i­tively delim­ited the read­ing of Marx in Italy. “We have had a ten­den­tially Marx­ian Hegel and a deci­sively Hegelian Marx,” Tronti con­cludes.28

Tronti’s major con­cern is that, if Marx­ism were to be under­stood as a par­tially suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion to Hegel, it would have out­lived its his­toric func­tion, and it would be required to cede ground to a more thor­ough the­o­ret­i­cal attempt to com­plete what Hegel started. Marx­ism would then lack any autonomous jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for its exis­tence: “first one has all of Marx revolve around Hegel, then one removes Hegel from the cen­ter and says: see, Marx fails to rotate on his own.”29 The inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx as an attempt to com­plete Hegel leads not only to a false under­stand­ing of Marx­ism but to Marxism’s very liq­ui­da­tion. This, Tronti argues, was why Marx had been mar­gin­al­ized in the Ital­ian left of the 1950s: “Marx­ism as ‘phi­los­o­phy of praxis’ is what is left of Marx­ism after it has been liq­ui­dated by the ide­al­is­tic inter­pre­ta­tion.”30 What is left is merely a the­ory of action, a phi­los­o­phy of will, a tech­nique for pol­i­tics.

In Tronti’s esti­ma­tion in “Some Ques­tions around Gramsci’s Marx­ism,” praxis, the unity between the per­son and the world, between the human will and the eco­nomic struc­ture, pre­serves human agency as the dri­ving force of his­tory. Tronti con­cedes that Gram­sci does dis­place Hegel’s spec­u­la­tive Idea to Marx’s his­tori­cized super­struc­ture, where the Idea becomes ide­ol­ogy, but Tronti main­tains that, for Gram­sci, his­tory remains a Hegelian process of becom­ing. Regard­less of its change of sub­ject from Idea to pro­le­tariat, Gram­s­cian­ism holds onto Hegelian­ism as the orig­i­nal the­sis that must be fully devel­oped. The prob­lem, accord­ing to Tronti, is that Gram­sci doesn’t rec­og­nize that his under­stand­ing of Marx­ism is so steeped in the Ital­ian ide­al­ist inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx­ism – Croce’s in par­tic­u­lar – that Gram­sci misses what is uniquely valu­able in Marx’s work. If Gramsci’s goal was to make his­tory pro­ceed cor­rectly by over­throw­ing the bad praxis of the ide­al­ists, Tronti’s is to fol­low Marx’s exam­ple and find a “deter­mi­nate impu­rity” through the work of thought, to arrive at con­crete­ness by way of the­ory.31

Della Volpe’s “deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion,” the move­ment from sim­ple con­crete to com­plex con­crete by way of abstrac­tion, is a process which he claims to be both the cor­rect method­olog­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion for the­ory to adopt as well as the real move­ment of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. Marx’s method, opposed to empiri­cism and pos­i­tivism, grasps the con­crete only through a trans­la­tion into abstract terms. A given real­ity, then, can only be under­stood through con­cep­tual medi­a­tion; but the con­cep­tual grasp of the con­crete must then be re-sub­mit­ted to con­crete real­ity for prac­ti­cal ver­i­fi­ca­tion as a law. Tronti would take from Della Volpe the con­vic­tion that this method was valid only for mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety; the cat­e­gory of labor in gen­eral, which Smith and Ricardo had under­stood to be tran­shis­tor­i­cal, was only think­able from within the mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist con­junc­ture, because it only existed in fact in the present moment.32

Della Volpe finds that Marx’s logic is the imma­nent, his­tor­i­cally deter­mi­nate logic of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism: “it was the his­toric­ity of the log­i­cal dis­course, its deter­mi­nacy, which guar­an­teed its root­ed­ness and effi­cacy in a speci­fic real­ity, in which it actively inter­vened.”33 This is what makes Marx­ism the unique sci­ence of mod­ern soci­ety: its ana­lyt­i­cal oper­a­tions fol­low the same rhythm as the mate­rial devel­op­ments of the eco­nomic-social for­ma­tion: “the sci­en­tific method [Marx] described was not wholly invented by Marx but employed and applied…”34 Della Volpe thus declared Marx’s dis­cov­ery to be that of deter­mi­nate laws derived from a crit­i­cal analy­sis of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. These were not, con­tra Friedrich Engels and Joseph Stalin, nat­u­ral laws that could be extended to every epoch of human his­tory and every realm of bio­log­i­cal exis­tence.

From Abstract Logic to Class Subjects

Despite an unswerv­ing fealty to Party lead­er­ship, Della Volpe’s thought earned him the sta­tus of heretic in the eyes of main­stream PCI intel­lec­tu­als.35 Nev­er­the­less his the­o­ries fueled pro­found polit­i­cal debates within Party cir­cles, attract­ing many young fol­low­ers and draw­ing charges of “frac­tion­al­ism.”36 His work influ­enced Tronti, as we have seen, but Lucio Col­letti was the pupil who first clar­i­fied Della Volpe’s argu­ments and employed them to develop a rad­i­cal cri­tique of the Party.

A sur­vey of their shared inter­ests in the 1950s reveals the depth of the rela­tion­ship between Della Volpe and Col­letti. Col­letti was in fact the first to trans­late that text which had been so cru­cial for Della Volpe, Marx’s “1857 Intro­duc­tion,” which he pub­lished in Ital­ian in 1954.37 And after the thaw of 1956, Della Volpe had been invited by Mario Ali­cata, the head of cul­tural affairs for the Party, to join the edi­to­rial board of the PCI jour­nal Soci­età. In the fol­low­ing year Col­letti joined him and helped to cre­ate the impres­sion of a Dellavol­pean “school” devel­op­ing in the pages of the jour­nal.

Draw­ing on Della Volpe’s efforts, Colletti’s early writ­ings con­tin­ued the attack on Hegelian Marx­ism with recourse to sci­en­tific, deter­mi­nate abstrac­tions. In 1958 Col­letti launched a pub­lic chal­lenge to Gram­s­cian his­tori­cist and human­ist ortho­doxy in the PCI. His polemic, inspired by Della Volpe’s work, was laid out in a series of pub­lic let­ters between him and Valentino Ger­ratana on the topic of Lenin’s Philo­soph­i­cal Note­books, which Col­letti him­self had recently trans­lated into Ital­ian.38 With his trans­la­tion Col­letti had pub­lished a sweep­ing, 150-page intro­duc­tion, which would later come to form the first part of his Il marx­ismo e Hegel.39

In this intro­duc­tion, Col­letti dis­missed Lenin’s rap­proche­ment with Hegel in the Bolshevik’s 1914–16 notes on the Logic. Col­letti dis­puted Lenin’s – as well as var­i­ous Hegelian Marx­ists’ – claim that there might be “a (pre­sumed) con­tra­dic­tion in the phi­los­o­phy of Hegel between the prin­ci­ples (rev­o­lu­tion­ary) and the con­clu­sions (con­ser­v­a­tive).”40 Col­letti there­fore dis­avowed Lenin’s attempt to read Hegel mate­ri­al­is­ti­cally, an error that he attrib­uted ulti­mately to Engels. Yet despite Colletti’s crit­i­cal stance regard­ing the Philo­soph­i­cal Note­books, Lenin was a key fig­ure in his polit­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal project. In the same intro­duc­tion, Col­letti argued that in Lenin’s ear­lier works, espe­cially What the Friends of the Peo­ple Are (1894) and Mate­ri­al­ism and Empirio-Crit­i­cism (1909), one finds not only a Lenin who was crit­i­cal of Hegel but also “moral Galileanism,” that “exper­i­men­tal, dialec­ti­cal method” iden­ti­fied by Della Volpe and com­pletely opposed to “ide­al­ist and the­ol­o­giz­ing his­tori­cism.”41 Col­letti fur­ther argued that Lenin’s as well as Marx’s work ought to be char­ac­ter­ized not as philo­soph­i­cal but as eco­nomic and soci­o­log­i­cal.

In this intro­duc­tory text Col­letti also blamed Gram­sci for the “decom­po­si­tion” of Marx­ism into “meta­phys­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism on the one hand, and the Hegelian dialec­tic on the other.”42 This bifur­ca­tion would remain a cen­tral con­cern for Tronti through­out the three essays trans­lated below. For Col­letti, in bring­ing the eco­nomic and soci­o­log­i­cal together, Marx­ism thus con­sti­tuted the unique sci­ence of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, opposed to Engel­sian and Soviet Dia­mat on the one hand, and the PCI’s his­tori­cism and other vari­eties of ide­al­ism on the other.43 We see here the foun­da­tions of Tronti’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the split within Ital­ian Marx­ism.

In April 1959 the Isti­tuto Gram­sci in Rome held a con­fer­ence on “Marx­ism and Soci­ol­ogy.” There Col­letti gave a lengthy pre­sen­ta­tion, and Tronti offered a con­cise rejoin­der.44 It is worth­while to recount the major points made by Col­letti in this influ­en­tial essay because they help­fully clar­ify the Dellavol­pean frame­work and provide the imme­di­ate con­text for Tronti’s inter­ven­tion. But this essay also deserves spe­cial men­tion in the her­itage of operaismo, because in it we find an early iter­a­tion of the con­cept of “class com­po­si­tion,” which would later inform so much of the work­erist project, in both its “the­o­ret­i­cal” and “soci­o­log­i­cal” branches.45

Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Della Volpe, Col­letti employs Marx’s “1857 Intro­duc­tion” to assert that Marx’s research focuses not on soci­ety in gen­eral but on mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety:

Hence the need for a new method, a new type of abstrac­tion… an approach which can encom­pass the dif­fer­ences pre­sented by one object or species with respect to all the oth­ers – for exam­ple bour­geois soci­ety as against feu­dal soci­ety – and which does not, there­fore, arrive at the generic, ide­al­ist notion of soci­ety “in gen­eral,” but rather hangs on to this deter­mi­nate soci­ety, the par­tic­u­lar object in ques­tion. (The need for a method which does not give us abstrac­tions, but facts.)46

This new method of abstrac­tion pro­duces facts within a speci­fic his­toric con­text, unlike the spec­u­la­tive abstrac­tion of philoso­phies which sought ahis­tor­i­cal truths. But, Col­letti con­tin­ues, it is equally impor­tant not to deny abstrac­tion alto­gether and fetishize the par­tic­u­lar:

On the other hand, how­ever, the indi­vid­ual fact, in its unique, absolute sin­gu­lar­ity, is as generic as the abstract genus. Hence the need for a non-empiri­cist method which is also – as well as fact – abstrac­tion, and does not pre­clude the speci­fic iden­tity, the species, and hence that typ­i­cal­ity by which each object is what it is pre­cisely because it is an expres­sion of its “class.”47

The non-empiri­cist method thus seeks to deter­mine what knits the “species” together. Col­letti reca­pit­u­lates Della Volpe’s the­sis of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion, show­ing that it relies upon two dis­tinct moments: that of “obser­va­tion-induc­tion” and that of “hypoth­e­sis-deduc­tion”:

For us, “this” deter­mi­nate nat­u­ral event is impos­si­ble unless it is not simul­ta­ne­ously a nat­u­ral law, and hence simul­ta­ne­ously indi­vid­ual and repeat­able… Nei­ther abstrac­tion from the dif­fer­ences between bour­geois soci­ety and other social regimes; nor abstrac­tion, in exam­in­ing a par­tic­u­lar case such as nine­teenth- and twen­ti­eth-cen­tury Britain, from what is the speci­fic and essen­tial aspect of this case – namely its cap­i­tal­ist orga­ni­za­tion. The need, in sum, for the method of deter­mi­nate, speci­fic or sci­en­tific abstrac­tion; i.e. the need for a method which (for­give the para­dox) is no longer nor exclu­sively a method – at least in the tra­di­tional, for­mal­ist sense in which thought and logic are assumed to be self-enclosed, autonomous spheres.48

Deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion thus also involves grasp­ing what is speci­fic and essen­tial to a given socio-eco­nomic for­ma­tion. Here we see Col­letti, fol­low­ing Della Volpe, posit the method itself as the men­tal cor­re­late of the objec­tive move­ment of the cur­rent socio-eco­nomic for­ma­tion:

Hence Marx’s method can never be divorced from the par­tic­u­lar objec­tive pat­terns which are reflected in it (still less, there­fore, from mate­ri­al­ism). Nor can any seri­ous Marx­ist sub­sti­tute or inte­grate these objec­tive mate­rial pat­terns with “objects,” as offered him by the pro­ce­dures of other method­olo­gies.49

Marx­ism, as Tronti will also argue, is not a series of tech­niques or a canon to offer the dis­ci­plines, a pure method­ol­ogy applic­a­ble to any object of study.50 As a method of analy­sis it can­not be sep­a­rated from its mate­rial sub­strate, the socio-eco­nomic for­ma­tion which pro­duced it. Col­letti empha­sizes this con­clu­sion, present in Della Volpe but sec­ondary to his project of spec­i­fy­ing a highly for­mal logic, that Marx­ism is the unique and true sci­ence of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety: “On the one side, then, Cap­i­tal is not a study of ‘soci­ety’ but of this soci­ety; not an abstrac­tion, but rather a real process…”51

In “Between Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and Phi­los­o­phy of Praxis,” Tronti iden­ti­fies an acknowl­edge­ment of the his­tor­i­cal speci­ficity of Marx­ism in the work of the 19th-cen­tury Ital­ian philoso­pher Anto­nio Labri­ola.52 Writ­ing dur­ing the era of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tional, Labri­ola advo­cated a return to Marx and, unlike the ide­al­ists he inspired, was not inter­ested in com­bin­ing Marx with other philoso­phers. Instead he sought to spec­ify what was nec­es­sary and implicit in Marx’s own work. In order to under­stand Marx, Labri­ola argued, one ought not look at Marx’s influ­ences but rather at the fac­tual and his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of mod­ern soci­ety. “The­ory,” he argued, “is a pla­gia­rism of the things which it explains,” and “sci­en­tific social­ism,” as Labri­ola dis­tin­guishes Marx­ism from utopian socialisms, is the dis­cov­ery of the self-cri­tique that is in things them­selves.53 In Labriola’s under­stand­ing there is no sub­jec­tive genius who pro­duces this cri­tique. The rhythm of thought, if cor­rect, repro­duces the rhythm of real­ity, which is dri­ven by the pro­le­tariat.

Ulti­mately Tronti finds Labriola’s work to be polit­i­cally inef­fec­tive and the­o­ret­i­cally insuf­fi­cient because it failed to ana­lyze a par­tic­u­lar moment in his­tory, “a speci­fic and deter­mi­nate type of eco­nomic-social for­ma­tion.”54 Despite rec­og­niz­ing that Marx had per­formed such an analy­sis, Labri­ola could not bring him­self to carry out a sim­i­lar oper­a­tion. His work, then, like much of Engels’, was broad and vague, attempt­ing to account for many cen­turies of great events with­out grasp­ing the his­tor­i­cal speci­ficity of any one in par­tic­u­lar. Tronti asserts that Labri­ola might have been more suc­cess­ful at resus­ci­tat­ing Marx within his con­junc­ture had he lim­ited him­self to study­ing from the point of view of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism, on the basis of which one can “inau­gu­rate a new com­par­ison of thought with things.”55

This cri­tique, artic­u­lated by Tronti in 1959, reflects the later work­erist con­dem­na­tion of Della Volpe and even of Col­letti. While Tronti, Negri, and oth­ers would con­tinue to share the premise that one must return to Marx, they would also impa­tiently insist that only Lenin after Marx had grasped the deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion and used it to inter­vene polit­i­cally in his­tory. This stance would form the basis of the work­erist project, espe­cially with the more explic­itly polit­i­cal inter­ven­tions of Classe Operaia.

For Col­letti, one can­not absolutely sep­a­rate the mate­rial and ide­o­log­i­cal lev­els of exis­tence. The con­cept “socio-eco­nomic for­ma­tion” shows that Cap­i­tal/capital is a whole and can­not be dual­is­ti­cally sep­a­rated between object and sub­ject. As Marx’s object of analy­sis, the “object of Cap­i­tal,” only becomes a deter­mi­nate object through a con­sid­er­a­tion of both social being and social con­scious­ness, the mate­rial and ide­o­log­i­cal planes must there­fore be con­sid­ered together, the super­struc­ture as an aspect of the struc­ture. Accord­ing to Col­letti, the crit­i­cism of art, phi­los­o­phy, or sci­ence as artic­u­la­tions of soci­ety is thus already crit­i­cism of soci­ety, or in other words a soci­ol­ogy. And lest the Dellavol­pean praise for sci­ence be mis­con­strued as advo­cat­ing an appro­pri­a­tion of the tech­niques of bour­geois soci­ol­ogy by Marx­ism, Col­letti asserts that Marx­ism itself is the true soci­ol­ogy. Through the super­struc­tural ide­ol­ogy or con­scious­ness, “soci­ety real­izes one of its func­tions that could not be oth­er­wise real­ized.”56 Con­scious­ness is part of being and yet reflects on it: what makes it a part of the whole is also what dis­tin­guishes it from the whole.

In “Some Ques­tions” Tronti notes that Marx finds a sin­gle log­i­cal pro­ce­dure through­out mod­ern bour­geois soci­ety. The real con­flict between civil and polit­i­cal soci­ety, as well as the log­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions within the thought of Hegel, Robe­spierre, or Ricardo, all fol­low from the con­flict between labor and cap­i­tal in the pro­duc­tion process. The rea­son for Marx’s close study of Hegel as well as his atten­tion to the­o­ries of polit­i­cal econ­omy is that, as ele­ments of the super­struc­tural jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the socio-eco­nomic for­ma­tion, they are inte­gral aspects of mod­ern bour­geois soci­ety. As Col­letti indi­cated, to study bour­geois thought is to already begin to study bour­geois soci­ety.

Yet Tronti main­tains and fur­ther empha­sizes the impor­tant dis­tinc­tion between bour­geois thought and bour­geois soci­ety within the unity of bour­geois soci­ety. While there is a unity of dis­tinct moments, one should not mis­take this for an iden­tity. Thought does not exhaust the object, Tronti asserts. If thought were the entire object, then Gentile’s absolute, ide­al­is­tic actu­al­ism would be an ade­quate the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work. Tronti finds in the phi­los­o­phy of praxis that the meld­ing of rea­son and mat­ter obstructs the recog­ni­tion of their non-iden­tity. He takes Gramsci’s insis­tence that the phi­los­o­phy of praxis is inte­gral phi­los­o­phy and “absolute his­tori­cism” to mean that Gram­sci advo­cates a col­laps­ing of thought into soci­ety, ren­der­ing them iden­ti­cal.57 Equally dan­ger­ous for Tronti, and what he admits Gram­sci had jus­ti­fi­ably rebelled against, would be to define thought as purely deriv­a­tive, as a mere reflec­tion of empir­i­cal real­ity, while the object has some pow­er­ful con­sis­tency. Nei­ther an objec­tivist nor a sub­jec­tivist under­stand­ing of Marx­ism is suf­fi­cient.

Return­ing to Colletti’s essay, we must also note that he argues that the unity of being and con­scious­ness implies the “fun­da­men­tal… pri­or­ity of being over thought, i.e. mate­ri­al­ism.58 He jus­ti­fies his asser­tion again by way of Marx’s “1857 Intro­duc­tion,” in which Marx argues that, in the unity of pro­duc­tion-cir­cu­la­tion-dis­tri­b­u­tion-con­sump­tion, pro­duc­tion remains the pre­sup­po­si­tion of the entire process. Cir­cu­la­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and con­sump­tion are moments of the pro­duc­tion process, and while they react back upon pro­duc­tion and deter­mine its char­ac­ter, pro­duc­tion is the fun­da­men­tal con­di­tion of their exis­tence. Col­letti writes: “The­ory is prac­tice inso­far as it is one aspect or moment of prac­tice: i.e. inso­far as it is rein­cor­po­rated within the lat­ter as one of its speci­fic func­tions – and hence inso­far as it does not absorb prac­tice within itself, but is instead sur­rounded by it, and has it out­side itself.”59 Because the­ory is part of soci­ety, “the con­tent of the­o­ret­i­cal gen­er­al­iza­tion can only be ver­i­fied as a deter­mi­na­tion or aspect of the object of analy­sis.”60 The cor­rect­ness of the­ory is there­fore con­tin­gent upon its applic­a­bil­ity to prac­ti­cal and there­fore polit­i­cal activ­ity.

Col­letti, and Tronti after him, insist that all of Marx’s cat­e­gories are both eco­nomic and soci­o­log­i­cal. It is here that Col­letti makes a con­tri­bu­tion which will later con­sti­tute the core of the work­erist project: M-C-M is already the rela­tion­ship between cap­i­tal and labor-power, between the two classes.61 The rela­tion­ship money-com­mod­ity is cap­i­tal-labor power, is the rela­tion between con­stant and vari­able cap­i­tal, between active objects, between socio-his­tor­i­cal agents. Marx’s refusal to slide into objec­tivism or sub­jec­tivism means that “the objec­tive fac­tors of pro­duc­tion are simul­ta­ne­ously pre­sented as sub­jec­tive agents or social classes.”62

We find here that a con­cept of class com­po­si­tion is, to a cer­tain extent, iden­ti­fied already by Col­letti in 1959. As Cristina Cor­radi writes:

Marx, accord­ing to Col­letti, thus inau­gu­rates a new the­ory of the sub­ject as his­torico-nat­u­ral being: the his­tor­i­cal sub­ject is not the Idea, the Spirit of the world, the Vichian Prov­i­dence, the tran­scen­den­tal sub­ject, Evo­lu­tion or the Strug­gle for exis­tence, but the class as “organic unity of econ­omy and soci­ol­ogy,” of objec­tive con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion and of sub­jec­tive con­di­tions of pol­i­tics.63

Colletti’s atten­tion to class marks a clear depar­ture from the Dellavol­pean schema in which sci­ence and logic are the only sub­jects. In Colletti’s words:

“Class” has a dou­ble sig­nif­i­cance: firstly as fac­tors or objec­tive con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion (as a cer­tain his­tor­i­cal phase of the divi­sion of labor, of course); and sec­ondly as the polit­i­cal agents of the whole human social process. Classes are pre­cisely sec­tions which cut ver­ti­cally and hor­i­zon­tally through the entire soci­ety, from top to bot­tom. Hence the pro­found and organic unity between Marx’s his­tor­i­cal-eco­nomic work and his his­tor­i­cal-polit­i­cal work.64

With these pas­sages Col­letti defin­i­tively goes beyond Della Volpe to artic­u­late the tech­ni­cal and polit­i­cal aspects of class com­po­si­tion, a con­cept impor­tant for Tronti and Negri as well as for Romano Alquati, Ser­gio Bologna, and so many oth­ers.65

Another aspect of Colletti’s cri­tique of ide­al­ist Marx­ism is around the ques­tion of gen­eral ver­sus his­tor­i­cally speci­fic laws. He notes that the pur­suit of gen­eral laws, valid for all of his­tory, was impor­tant to both Sec­ond Inter­na­tional reformism and Engel­sian dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism:

This dis­tor­tion of Marx’s thought by Kaut­sky and Plekhanov…was already partly pre­pared, if only in embryo, in some aspects of Engels’s work…in gen­eral the search for most gen­eral laws of devel­op­ment in nature and his­tory made these aspects a pre­con­sti­tu­tion of the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion with Hegelian­ism and Dar­win­ism…66

With Engels “one sole law” comes to gov­ern “the homoge­nous flow of the ages…in the form of the ‘nega­tion of the nega­tion,’ seen as the trans­for­ma­tion of liq­uids into solids, of tad­poles into frogs, and bour­geois soci­ety into social­ism…”67 But Col­letti finds that Engels had else­where for­mu­lated the prob­lem cor­rectly, rec­og­niz­ing that

“the reflec­tion of the his­tor­i­cal course in abstract and the­o­ret­i­cally con­sis­tent form” must be con­tin­u­ously “cor­rected” and read­justed with respect to the present, since each cat­e­gory and each moment is “to be con­sid­ered at the point of devel­op­ment of its full matu­rity, of its clas­sic form,” that is, in the light of today.68

As Marx notes through­out the Grun­drisse, the order of pre­sen­ta­tion of cat­e­gories must not match of the order of their his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment; in fact the method of under­stand­ing, the sequence or order­ing of cat­e­gories, must be the inverse of their nat­u­ral suc­ces­sion. One must start from here and now; only from the present can the sci­en­tific abstrac­tion be derived.

To aban­don sci­ence, speci­ficity, or deter­mi­nacy of abstrac­tions means to “lose all ref­er­ence to real­ity” and pro­duce only “vague laws, good for any time and any place, the only effect of which is to extrap­o­late rela­tions valid under deter­mi­nate con­di­tions to all aspects and all lev­els of real­ity.”69 As Lenin put it: “Do we learn any­thing at all about the causes of ‘want,’ about its polit­i­cal-eco­nomic con­tent and course of devel­op­ment if we are told that it is the meta­mor­pho­sis of the strug­gle for exis­tence?”70

Col­letti argues that both dialec­ti­cal and his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ists think Cap­i­tal “is only an ‘exam­ple’ or ‘par­tic­u­lar appli­ca­tion’ of a gen­eral con­cep­tion of the his­tory pre­ced­ing it.”71 They thus enact a sep­a­ra­tion between sci­ence (as vul­gar empiri­cists, they want to study only par­tic­u­lar aspects of soci­ety in iso­la­tion) and their phi­los­o­phy of his­tory (which he finds objec­tion­able in any case). Col­letti explains the con­se­quences of fail­ing to adopt a uni­tary and his­tor­i­cal under­stand­ing of Marx­ism:

To fail to see this (as even many Marx­ists still do) means in prac­tice to fail to grasp the his­torico-social preg­nancy of all the eco­nomic cat­e­gories in Cap­i­tal, includ­ing the most “abstract” ones. It means to repro­duce the bour­geois sep­a­ra­tion of eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics, of nature and his­tory.72

This split, Col­letti and Tronti both argue, gets repro­duced within Marx­ism itself. In “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­ogy,” Tronti artic­u­lates the dif­fer­ence between Dellavol­pean sci­ence and bad empiri­cism, assert­ing that the lat­ter involves imag­in­ing one­self as research­ing empir­i­cal real­ity with­out the use of the­ory, and thus mis­un­der­stand­ing real­ity as a fact apart from sen­su­ous expe­ri­ence. This error leads one to bour­geois con­clu­sions because the dom­i­nant ideas are always those of the rul­ing class.73

Col­letti goes on to argue that only if we under­stand labor-power in the con­tem­po­rary moment can we under­stand his­tory, because we under­stand how pre­vi­ous his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tions dif­fer from those which pre­vail in the cur­rent moment. As Marx writes in the “1857 Intro­duc­tion”:

Human anatomy con­tains a key to the anatomy of the ape. The inti­ma­tions of higher devel­op­ment among the sub­or­di­nate ani­mal species, how­ever, can be under­stood only after the higher devel­op­ment is already known. The bour­geois econ­omy thus sup­plies the key to the ancient, etc.74

Fol­low­ing Marx, Col­letti argues that abstract labor is the key to under­stand­ing prior forms of labor because only now, in mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism, has labor reached this gen­er­al­ity. This abstract under­stand­ing of labor illus­trates the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. Col­letti argues that abstract labor is the com­mon ele­ment in all types of con­crete labor, but it expresses the nov­elty of the “real abstraction…achieved in fact in bour­geois soci­ety.”75 The abstrac­tion of labor from con­crete labors is the only way to illus­trate the speci­fic dif­fer­ence of labor in bour­geois soci­ety from all prior forms of labor. Hence, using Marx against dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism, Col­letti argues that one should not seek gen­eral laws but ana­lyze the present socio-eco­nomic for­ma­tion.

It is on exactly this point of gen­eral laws that Tronti indicts Gram­sci in “Some Ques­tions.” Gram­sci under­stands the dis­cov­er­ies of Ricardo to inau­gu­rate a new con­cep­tion of neces­sity and free­dom, which Marx uni­ver­sal­ized and extended to all of his­tory by means of con­struct­ing his phi­los­o­phy of praxis.76 Tronti coun­ters that the oppo­site has taken place: Marx his­tori­cized the so-called nat­u­ral cat­e­gories of polit­i­cal econ­omy to under­stand the par­tic­u­lar, deter­mi­nate soci­ety which pro­duced them, and he used these cat­e­gories to estab­lish a method­olog­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion from which he ana­lyzed his­tory in a sys­tem­atic and sci­en­tific man­ner.

Finally in Col­letti we also find a strong argu­ment for the reval­oriza­tion of sub­jec­tiv­ity. He argues that the ortho­dox, Sec­ond Inter­na­tional tra­di­tion

effec­tively reduces the moment of sub­jec­tiv­ity to a mere link in an objec­tive chain of cause and effect, or, alter­na­tively, to mere acci­dent. It pre­cludes any pos­si­ble com­pre­hen­sion that human prac­tice, includ­ing the prac­tice of knowl­edge itself, is inscribed in objec­tiv­ity, but also involves a reversed causal­ity, i.e. a final­ism, a process char­ac­ter­ized (bear­ing in mind the pas­sage from Marx on human labor) by the antic­i­pa­tion or ideal pres­ence, in the mind, of the result.77

In “Some Ques­tions,” Tronti too argues for a renewed atten­tion to the sub­jec­tive ele­ment in his­tory. Here he expresses dis­may that the “prac­ti­cal influ­ence that the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion has had on the­o­ret­i­cal Marx­ism” has not yet been stud­ied well.78 He deter­mi­nes that in the Sec­ond Inter­na­tional era, reformism tended toward a pos­i­tivis­tic inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism because it wanted to deny the neces­sity of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary “leap.” Yet the fail­ure of reformism every­where and the suc­cess of rev­o­lu­tion in Rus­sia deny the valid­ity of both evo­lu­tion­ism and spon­tane­ity, and con­firm the impor­tance of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary rup­ture “in gen­eral.79 Hence Tronti believes that this calls for a reeval­u­a­tion of the sub­jec­tive, cre­ative, active ele­ment of the his­tor­i­cal-social rela­tion, against the objec­tive, inert, social con­di­tions which com­pose the other ele­ment.

Tronti argues that the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion was so pow­er­ful that it caused a rethink­ing of Marx­ism as vol­un­tarism alone, which Tronti thinks led Gram­sci to reduce Marx­ism to only this sub­jec­tive ele­ment, leav­ing aside the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­omy. Tronti under­stands that Gram­sci too was react­ing against this fatal­is­tic con­cep­tion of soci­ety, but ulti­mately Gram­sci enacts an “inte­ri­or­iza­tion” of the cause of his­tory from the exter­nal (mechan­i­cal forces) to the inter­nal (human con­scious­ness, will). In Tronti’s analy­sis, Gram­sci, by over­valu­ing the sub­jec­tive “will,” loses his grasp on the unity of sub­ject and object.

Beyond Dellavolpism, toward Militant Research

In ret­ro­spect Tronti recalls that “we out­grew this [Dellavol­pean] schema as far as con­tent was con­cerned, while retain­ing its lessons with regard to method.”80 Tronti and the work­erists would come to crit­i­cize Della Volpe and to a lesser extent Col­letti for their fail­ure to fol­low through on the rad­i­cal impli­ca­tions of the prin­ci­ple of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion. Quaderni Rossi can be seen as a prac­ti­cal cri­tique of those posi­tions; in its fusion of soci­o­log­i­cal research and the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion it sought to embody this the­sis in its prac­tice. And indeed in Classe Operaia the impor­tance of polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion would grow even stronger.81

Despite his tren­chant crit­i­cisms of Gramsci’s Hegelian­ism, there remain glar­ing omis­sions in Tronti’s argu­ment. While the com­plete crit­i­cal edi­tion of Gramsci’s Prison Note­books edited by Valentino Ger­ratana would not be pub­lished until 1975, the­matic edi­tions were avail­able to the Ital­ian reader, and yet Tronti quotes from only one, His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and the Phi­los­o­phy of Benedetto Croce.82 This nar­row focus ignores Gramsci’s polit­i­cal stud­ies, which con­cern top­ics more famil­iar in the Anglo­phone world: the rela­tion­ship between state and civil soci­ety, the Risorg­i­mento as pas­sive rev­o­lu­tion, organic and tra­di­tional intel­lec­tu­als, etc. The pre-prison essay “Some Aspects of the South­ern Ques­tion,” in which Gram­sci demon­strates his capac­ity for adroit polit­i­cal-eco­nomic analy­sis, is also com­pletely ignored by Tronti. We might crit­i­cize Tronti, then, for com­mit­ting the sin which he levies against unso­phis­ti­cated read­ers of Marx: he ana­lyzes Gramsci’s thought with­out putting it into the com­plete per­spec­tive of Gramsci’s life as a Marx­ist, neglect­ing to con­sider his polit­i­cal work as a Com­mu­nist Party leader as well as his agi­ta­tional pre-prison writ­ings, not to men­tion the var­i­ous and com­plex themes devel­oped across the com­plete Prison Note­books.

Yet we would be remiss if we did not take this oppor­tu­nity to also draw out sev­eral pro­duc­tive syn­ergies avail­able to the reader who wishes to con­sider Gram­sci and Tronti together. Tronti smiles most approv­ingly on Gram­sci with regards to his for­mu­la­tion of the “cor­rect solu­tion to the prob­lem of the rela­tion­ship between ‘the­ory and prac­tice.’”83 Gram­sci con­sid­ers Marx and Lenin to embody two phases of rev­o­lu­tion­ary, crit­i­cal, prac­ti­cal activ­ity, and he refuses to fit them into a hier­ar­chy. He employs the con­cept of “sci­ence-action” to sig­nify the simul­tane­ity of these two phases: sci­ence is already action and action is already sci­en­tific. This is not an imme­di­ate iden­tity, Tronti stresses, but two dis­tinct moments in which no pri­or­i­ti­za­tion exists. The one is prac­tice seen the­o­ret­i­cally, the other is the­ory used prac­ti­cally. Tronti argues that in moments of his­tor­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion – we might remem­ber that these essays were writ­ten imme­di­ately fol­low­ing 1956 – prac­ti­cal activ­ity requires the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion in order to con­sol­i­date itself; mean­while, in such tur­bu­lent times, the­o­ries also pro­lif­er­ate and must be jus­ti­fied in prac­tice, in their applic­a­bil­ity to move­ment activ­ity. Tronti finds such an out­look reflected in Gramsci’s for­mu­la­tion of the­ory as a means for accel­er­at­ing the his­tor­i­cal process by ren­der­ing the work­ing-class more “homo­ge­neous” and its polit­i­cal prac­tice more effec­tive. For Gram­sci, the­ory iden­ti­fies “deci­sive” ele­ments of prac­tice and devel­ops them, after which its effec­tive­ness is mea­sured by the extent to which it is “assim­i­lated into prac­ti­cal move­ments.”84

In “Marx­ism and Soci­ol­ogy” Tronti argues that the split between dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism and his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism implies that, in soci­ety, there are nat­u­ral laws sep­a­rate from con­crete inquiry. This, he argued, destroys the bril­liant unity posed by Marx­ism. Tronti rejects the split between pol­i­tics and sci­ence by, like Gram­sci, ref­er­enc­ing Marx and Lenin, who embod­ied this “unity of het­ero­ge­neous ele­ments” in their per­sons, as the­o­rists and activists at the same time. But also, and per­haps more inter­est­ingly, Tronti also rejects the divi­sion of labor between the­o­rists and researchers – Marx was able to do both, he argues, and thus the unity of these dif­fer­ent types of work must be pre­served in the fig­ure of the Marx­ist.85

Tronti empha­sizes that this equi­lib­rium, this unity of het­eroge­nous ele­ments in the per­son of the Marx­ist, is a daily oper­a­tion. The Prison Note­books, Tronti admits on this point, are a great school against dog­ma­tism and cat­e­chism, in that they do not seek to pose an absolute knowl­edge, con­quered once and for all. But Tronti also admon­ishes Gram­sci for imag­in­ing Marx­ism to be still in its stage of devel­op­ment and of polemic. Tronti agrees that there is no Marx­ist doc­trine; Marx­ism, he writes, was born of an “intrin­sic, imma­nent, log­i­cal neces­sity, inti­mately tied to its inter­nal nature” – a sys­tem­atic con­sid­er­a­tion of it can­not then pro­duce a doc­tri­naire sys­tem of fixed and final propo­si­tions.86 It can­not be closed off, but its logic requires no fur­ther elab­o­ra­tion. Here is the key dif­fer­ence: for Gram­sci, Marx­ism has future poten­tial­i­ties that must be real­ized. His hes­i­tance may be attrib­uted to the fact that rev­o­lu­tion had not yet occurred in Italy, in Europe, or glob­ally. But Tronti, influ­enced by Della Volpe and Col­letti, does not find this his­tor­i­cal fact to pre­vent one from declar­ing Marx­ism to be an already per­fect sci­ence. In Tronti’s mind, for Gram­sci to say that Marx­ism is not yet able to be sci­en­tif­i­cally pre­sented means that Gram­sci renounces cer­tainty and pre­ci­sion. Gramsci’s inti­ma­tion that Marx­ism is open to inter­pre­ta­tion frus­trates Tronti, inspired as he is by Della Volpe and Colletti’s faith in sci­en­tific cer­tainty.

Fol­low­ing Della Volpe and Col­letti, Tronti argues in “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­ogy” that Marx’s merit is to have found the log­i­cal process which repeats the con­crete his­tor­i­cal method of the cap­i­tal­ist eco­nomic-social for­ma­tion. Thus its sta­tus as a unique and per­fect sci­ence is already there within it, as it is the super­struc­ture that cor­re­sponds to the soci­ety it explains. Con­tra Gramsci’s analy­sis, Marx­ism is not a con­tin­u­a­tion of Hegel, and it is not await­ing a fur­ther real­iza­tion into the true and per­fect syn­the­sis of his­tory. It is rather a sci­ence of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that is pro­duced in prac­tice – and this inno­va­tion is Tronti’s – in rela­tions between researchers and soci­ety, between mil­i­tants and the work­ing class.

In his 1959 talk we find Tronti torn between the Dellavol­pean school of thought, which imag­i­nes Marx­ism as a unique and per­fect sci­ence, and his new attrac­tion to inquiry and research, the real­iza­tion of the prin­ci­ple of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion that was only the­o­rized by the Dellavol­peans but not put into prac­tice, because in prac­tice it must nec­es­sar­ily lead to amend­ments to Marx’s orig­i­nal sci­ence, as the con­crete deter­mi­nate processes of cap­i­tal­ism also change. Michele Fil­ip­pini notes this rad­i­cal promise inher­ent in the prin­ci­ple:

The inver­sion is rad­i­cal: one passes from the ide­al­is­tic assump­tion that the­ory “is put into prac­tice,” to the­ory (the abstract) as the only pos­si­ble “real” deter­mi­na­tion of the con­crete… This would already sug­gest the use of stan­dards of polit­i­cal effi­cacy as a means to mea­sure the­ory, which does not exist if it is not embod­ied in a sub­ject, if it makes no his­tory, if it does not open a space for action that can val­i­date its own prior assump­tions.87

Rad­i­cal as it may be, we can find the seeds of this Tron­tian inno­va­tion already in Gramsci’s analy­sis of the rela­tion­ship between the­ory and prac­tice, and his asser­tion that the­ory proves itself prac­ti­cal when it is taken up by move­ments and mil­i­tants – in other words, when it sticks.


The prin­ci­ple of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion allows for the unity of the abstract and the con­crete in the prac­tice of the mil­i­tant researcher-the­o­rist. And the speci­fic knowl­edge pro­duced through par­tic­u­lar research projects is pre­served because the gen­eral con­cept is under­stood in advance, based upon an analy­sis of cap­i­tal­ism as a sys­tem. The reader might note that, in an exten­sion of the prin­ci­ple of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion to Tronti’s polit­i­cal work­erism, the point at which research acts back upon the gen­eral con­cept to trans­form it, and how one might main­tain that any such amend­ment to the orig­i­nal hypoth­e­sis is a truly sci­en­tific advance and not some ele­ment imported into Marx­ism by the dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy of the bour­geoisie, proves dif­fi­cult to deter­mine in a pre­cise man­ner. But this very thorny issue defines the work­erist project: to return to Marx while delv­ing into the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tury fac­to­ries in order to grasp the ten­den­cies of the present and has­ten them toward the full expres­sion of their antag­o­nism, revi­tal­iz­ing Marx­ism in the process.

Ulti­mately the young Tronti deter­mi­nes that what is needed now is a Marx­ism as far from phi­los­o­phy of praxis as from dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism, nei­ther a sub­jec­tivist vol­un­tarism nor an objec­tivist fatal­ism, nei­ther a purely tech­ni­cal method­ol­ogy of knowl­edge and human action nor a total­iz­ing meta­physic, but a Marx­ism that is rig­or­ous but not dog­matic, his­tor­i­cal yet not his­tori­cist, polit­i­cal as well as the­o­ret­i­cal. We hope that the trans­la­tion of these essays will help to ori­ent a new read­er­ship to the philo­soph­i­cal points of depar­ture for such a project.

Thanks to Asad Haider and Salar Mohan­desi for their per­cep­tive com­ments and help­ful sug­ges­tions regard­ing ear­lier drafts of this intro­duc­tion.

This arti­cle is part of a dossier enti­tled The Young Mario Tronti.

  1. Mario Tronti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and Phi­los­o­phy of Praxis: Gram­sci and Labri­ola.” 

  2. Mario Tronti, Operai e cap­i­tale (Roma: DeriveAp­prodi, 2013). On the need for a close recon­sid­er­a­tion of this cru­cial, untrans­lated sec­tion, see Asad Haider and Salar Mohan­desi, “Work­ers’ Inquiry: A Geneal­ogy,” View­point 3 (Sep­tem­ber 2013). 

  3. For a notable excep­tion, see Paolo Capuzzo and San­dro Mez­zadra, “Provin­cial­iz­ing the Ital­ian read­ing of Gram­sci,” in The Post­colo­nial Gram­sci, eds. Nee­lam Sri­vas­tava and Baidik Bhattar­charya (New York and Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2012), 34–54. Andrea Righi has also done impor­tant work to sit­u­ate Gramsci’s work in rela­tion to later post-work­erist and fem­i­nist thought; see Biopol­i­tics and Social Change in Italy: From Gram­sci to Pasolini to Negri (New York: Pal­grave Macmil­lian, 2011). 

  4. For the work­erist cri­tique of Gram­sci, one is usu­ally referred to Alberto Asor Rosa, Scrit­tori e popolo (Roma: Samonà e Savelli, 1966), forth­com­ing in Eng­lish as The Writer and the Peo­ple, trans. Mat­teo Man­darini (Lon­don: Seag­ull Books, 2016). 

  5. For an analy­sis of the impor­tance of the “leap” in Tronti’s thought more gen­er­ally, see Michele Fil­ip­pini, Leap­ing For­ward: Mario Tronti and the his­tory of polit­i­cal work­erism (Maas­tricht: Jan van Eyck Acad­e­mie, 2012). 

  6. Mario Tronti, “Studi recenti sulla log­ica del Cap­i­tale,” Soci­età 17, no. 6 (Decem­ber 6, 1961): 903. 

  7. Mario Tronti, “Our Operaismo,” trans. Eleanor Chiari, New Left Review 73 (January–February 2012): 119–139. 

  8. Ibid. 

  9. Capuzzo and Mez­zadra, “Provin­cial­iz­ing the Ital­ian read­ing of Gram­sci,” 35. 

  10. Della Volpe would also write impor­tant works on polit­i­cal thought, espe­cially con­cern­ing Rousseau, as well as aes­thet­ics. For an exam­ple of the for­mer, see Rousseau and Marx: and other writ­ings, trans. John Fraser (Atlantic High­lands, N.J: Human­i­ties Press, 1979), and for the lat­ter, see Cri­tique of Taste, trans. Michael Cae­sar (Lon­don: NLB, 1978). 

  11. John Fraser, An Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Della Volpe (Lon­don: Lawrence and Wishart, 1977), 9. 

  12. Gal­vano Della Volpe, Logic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, trans. Jon Roth­schild (Lon­don: NLB, 1980). 

  13. Mar­tin Jay, Marx­ism and Total­ity (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 1984), 430. Jay also points out that Della Volpe uses “moral” in the sense of “per­tain­ing to soci­ety.” 

  14. Mario Mon­tano, “On the Method­ol­ogy of Deter­mi­nate Abstrac­tion: Essay on Gal­vano Della Volpe,” Telos 7 (Spring 1971): 33. 

  15. Karl Marx, “From the Cri­tique of Hegel’s Phi­los­o­phy of Right” in Marx: Early Polit­i­cal Writ­ings, ed. Joseph J. O’Malley (Cam­bridge and New York: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 1994), 2. 

  16. Mon­tano, “Method­ol­ogy of Deter­mi­nate Abstrac­tion,” 34. 

  17. For this and some other for­mu­la­tions in the fol­low­ing para­graphs I am indebted to Steve Wright, Storm­ing Heaven: Class com­po­si­tion and strug­gle in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism (Lon­don: Pluto Press, 2002), espe­cially the sec­tion, “The Prob­lem of a ‘Sci­en­tif­i­cally Cor­rect’ Method,” 25–31. 

  18. At the time the “1857 Intro­duc­tion” was asso­ci­ated with the Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­omy. Today it is more com­monly found with (and referred to as) the “Intro­duc­tion” to the Grun­drisse. See Karl Marx, Grun­drisse: Foun­da­tions of the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­omy, trans. Mar­tin Nico­laus (New York: Pen­guin, 1993), 81–111. 

  19. Della Volpe, Logic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, 198. 

  20. Mon­tano, “Method­ol­ogy of Deter­mi­nate Abstrac­tion,” 34. 

  21. Della Volpe, Logic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, qtd. in Fraser, Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Della Volpe, 84. This exact for­mu­la­tion can­not be found in the Eng­lish trans­la­tion, but as Fraser notes, Della Volpe revised and re-pub­lished his Logic a num­ber of times. 

  22. Wright, Storm­ing Heaven, 26. 

  23. Della Volpe, Logic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, 200. 

  24. Fraser, Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Della Volpe, 57. 

  25. Ibid., 202. 

  26. Mario Tronti, “Some Ques­tions around Gramsci’s Marx­ism.” 

  27. Mario Tronti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal.” 

  28. Ibid. 

  29. Ibid. 

  30. Ibid. 

  31. Ibid. 

  32. On this and the fol­low­ing epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ques­tions a sus­tained analy­sis of Tronti’s early writ­ings in light of Louis Althusser’s work, par­tic­u­larly “The Object of Cap­i­tal,” could prove extremely fruit­ful. At this time we must limit our­selves to acknowl­edg­ing that first foot­note of the sec­tion “Marx­ism Is Not a His­tori­cism” cites Tronti, but only in order to quote from Gramsci’s “The Rev­o­lu­tion against Cap­i­tal.” See Louis Althusser et al., Read­ing Cap­i­tal: The Com­plete Edi­tion, trans. Ben Brew­ster and David Fern­bach (Lon­don: Verso, 2015), 269n1. 

  33. Fraser, Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Della Volpe, 24. 

  34. Ibid., 46. 

  35. Mario Alcaro, Dellavolpismo e nuova sin­is­tra (Bari: Dedalo, 1977), 47–48. 

  36. Fraser, Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Della Volpe, 15. 

  37. Mario Tronti, “Italy,” trans. Ari­anna Bove, in Karl Marx’s Grun­drisse: Foun­da­tions of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­omy 150 years later, ed. Mar­cello Musto (Lon­don and New York: Rout­ledge, 2008), 230. 

  38. Jay, Marx­ism and Total­ity, 429. 

  39. The Eng­lish ver­sion of Marx­ism and Hegel, trans. Lawrence Gar­ner (Lon­don: NLB, 1973), only repro­duces part two of Il marx­ismo e Hegel (Bari: Lat­erza, 1969), omit­ting Colletti’s intro­duc­tion to Lenin’s Philo­soph­i­cal Note­books. This essay remains untrans­lated into Eng­lish. 

  40. Col­letti, qtd. in Kevin Ander­son, Lenin, Hegel, and West­ern Marx­ism: A Crit­i­cal Study (Urbana: Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois Press, 1995), 222. 

  41. Ibid., 223. 

  42. Ander­son, Lenin, Hegel, and West­ern Marx­ism, 223. 

  43. Wright, Storm­ing Heaven, 27. 

  44. Colletti’s talk was pub­lished later that year in Soci­etá 15, no. 4, under the title “Il marx­ismo come soci­olo­gia” (“Marx­ism as Soci­ol­ogy”). It would later be included as the first essay in Colletti’s book, Ide­olo­gia e Soci­età (Bari: Lat­erza, 1969). Eng­lish trans­la­tion is avail­able as “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy” in From Rousseau to Lenin: Stud­ies in Ide­ol­ogy and Soci­ety, trans. John Mer­ring­ton and Judith White (New York: Monthly Review, 1972), 3–44. 

  45. For a geneal­ogy of this concept’s use in operaismo see Salar Mohan­desi, “Class Con­scious­ness or Class Com­po­si­tion?” Sci­ence and Soci­ety 77, no. 1 (Jan­u­ary 2013): 72–97, as well as Steve Wright, Storm­ing Heaven. 

  46. Col­letti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy,” 8. 

  47. Ibid. 

  48. Ibid. 

  49. Ibid., 9. 

  50. Tronti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal.” 

  51. Col­letti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy,” 10. 

  52. Tronti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal.” 

  53. Anto­nio Labri­ola, “His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism,” in Essays on the Mate­ri­al­ist Con­cep­tion of His­tory, trans. Charles H. Kerr (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Com­pany, 1908), 157. Trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. 

  54. Tronti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal.” 

  55. Ibid. 

  56. Col­letti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy,” 11. 

  57. Anto­nio Gram­sci, Selec­tions from the Prison Note­books, trans. Quintin Hoare and Geof­frey Now­ell Smith (New York: Inter­na­tional Pub­lish­ers, 1972), 465. For an alter­na­tive read­ing of Gramsci’s state­ment here, see Peter D. Thomas, The Gram­s­cian Moment: Phi­los­o­phy, Hege­mony, Marx­ism (Chicago: Hay­mar­ket, 2010), chap­ter 7. 

  58. Col­letti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy,” 11. 

  59. Ibid. 

  60. Ibid., 12. 

  61. Ibid., 13. 

  62. Ibid., 16. 

  63. Cristina Cor­radi, Sto­ria dei marx­ismi in Italia (Roma: Man­i­festo libri, 2005), 128. 

  64. Col­letti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy,” 14. 

  65. Mohan­desi, “Class Con­scious­ness or Class Com­po­si­tion?” 

  66. Col­letti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy,” 26. 

  67. Ibid., 27. 

  68. Ibid., 28. Col­letti is quot­ing from Friedrich Engels, “Review of Karl Marx’s Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­omy,” 1859. 

  69. Ibid., 29. 

  70. Ibid. Col­letti is quot­ing from V.I. Lenin, The Eco­nomic Con­tent of Pop­ulism, 1894. 

  71. Ibid., 21. 

  72. Ibid., 15. 

  73. Tronti, “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­ogy.” 

  74. Marx, Grun­drisse, 105. 

  75. Col­letti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy,” 22. 

  76. Gram­sci, Selec­tions from the Prison Note­books, 401. 

  77. Col­letti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­ogy,” 32. 

  78. Tronti, “Some Ques­tions.” 

  79. Ibid. 

  80. Tronti, “Our Operaismo.” 

  81. Fol­low­ing Tronti’s appre­ci­a­tion for Lenin’s study of the socio-eco­nomic for­ma­tion in Rus­sia, Anto­nio Negri employs the deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion approach in Fac­tory of Strat­egy: Thirty-Three Lessons on Lenin, trans. Ari­anna Bove (New York: Columbia Uni­ver­sity Press, 2014), as well as in his Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grun­drisse, trans. Harry Cleaver, Michael Ryan, and Mau­r­izio Viano (South Hadley, M.A.: Bergin & Gar­vey, 1984). 

  82. The Eng­lish Selec­tions from the Prison Note­books, trans­lated and edited by Hoare and Smith, fol­lows the thema­ti­za­tion of these early Ital­ian edi­tions. A com­pre­hen­sive Eng­lish crit­i­cal edi­tion, trans­lated and edited by Joseph Buttigieg (New York: Columbia Uni­ver­sity Press, 1992–2007), includes three of eight total vol­umes as of this writ­ing. See Peter D. Thomas’ The Gram­s­cian Moment for a thor­ough explo­ration of the his­tory of pub­li­ca­tions of the Prison Note­books. 

  83. Tronti, “Some Ques­tions.” 

  84. Gram­sci, Selec­tions from the Prison Note­books, 365. 

  85. Tronti, “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­ogy.” 

  86. Tronti, “Some Ques­tions.” 

  87. Fil­ip­pini, Leap­ing For­ward, 13. 

Author of the article

is a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint and a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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