Krahl, Panzieri, and Technological Capitalism

SDS members confront the police in Berlin (AP)

Humans’ capacity to abstract from nature, which they belong to as corporeal individuals, is their capacity for emancipation. 

—Hans-Jürgen Krahl



My hypothesis in this essay is that a line of continuity runs between the thought of Raniero Panzieri and Hans-Jürgen Krahl. Both share implicit and explicit concerns and insights with the  Frankfurt School. It is well-known that Krahl was a student of Adorno, but Panzieri also knew the Frankfurt School well. Some of his readers even consider him one of the main “Italian ambassadors of the Frankfurt School.” 1 More specifically, Panzieri combined the original reflections of Italian workerism with theories from the Frankfurt School. Moreover, he  frequently referred to economist Friedrich Pollock. Together, Panzieri and Krahl can help make clear the impact of technology on the factory as well as society in both the second half of the twentieth century and the present moment. 

Krahl and Panzieri’s most important theoretical and political work concerns the problems raised by the technological capitalism that came into existence during the 1960s. As Giacomo Marramao has noted, both share three main features with Pollock and the Frankfurt School orientation more broadly: 1) an understanding of capitalism as a dynamic object, capable of overcoming its crises through a reorganization of the overall economy; 2) the model of a planned economy as a static object; and 3) an analysis of state capitalism as an abstract form or ideal type. At the root of these three insights, Marramao argues, lies the presupposition that “capitalism is capable of definitively escaping its competitive phase, developing itself in the direction of a planned economy.” 2

From Panzieri to Krahl

In order to understand these new features in capitalist society, in his work, Panzieri focused on the dynamic element. He sought to grasp it through sociological analyses of the transformations occurring in large Italian factories, with particular attention to the industrial city of Turin. Panzieri’s highly original approach is based on the combination of two elements: direct contact and dialogue with workers themselves as part of what he called “co-research” [conricerca], and a “return” to Marx’s work, particularly with regard to the analysis of the role of machines. Panzieri’s methodological approach to Marx is strongly influenced by the Italian philosopher Galvano Della Volpe. Della Volpe argued that Marx’s method is outlined in the famous “1857 Introduction” to the Grundrisse. Here lies the main point of intersection between Panzieri’s workerism and the Frankfurt school: Krahl held the same view of the “1857 Introduction” as the genuine place where Marx’s method can be grasped. 3

Starting from this context, Krahl introduces a particular mode thinking that he names a “critical disposition,” 4 with the aim of articulating the historical impossibility for simply modifying contemporary conditions, as the old reformist illusion would maintain are necessary to address social alienation and exploitation. The hyper-technological society of the late twentieth century requires more than political reformism—it requires assuming responsibility for a revolutionary break. 5

Panzieri: Neocapitalism and the Factory System

Krahl shares this radical perspective with Panzieri. For both thinkers, technological capitalism is capable of producing dangerous effects in social relations. Krahl’s claim that ideology does not veil contradictions, but rather reproduces them within an existing social system that no one doubts, is a point that gathers on a theoretical level several significant questions which Panzierian workerism had already begun posing at the advent of technological capitalism. In the analysis of the earlier thinkers of workerism, guided by Panzieri, what can be observed, through the method of co-research, is the violent transformations of the organic composition of capital. These transformations are the fruit of the ever-increasing position of the technological sphere, which becomes a center of gravity for the entire factory system, and thus a political matter in the struggle between labor and capital. 

However, the point runs deeper than this: it is possible to identify another element of these transformations in the organic composition of capital if we turn our attention to the second issue of Quaderni Rossi, published in 1962. In particular, Mario Tronti’s essay “The Factory and Society” is central in this regard, and Tronti’s analyses are thoroughly shared by Panzieri. Tronti points out that the factory, through the changes that we have described so far, was breaking into society. “Capital manages to seize, in its own way, the unity of the labor process and the process of valorization. The more it seizes, the more capitalist production develops, and the more the capitalist form of production takes over the entire mesh of social relations.” 6  New capitalist social conditions will further accelerate the process of domination over workers by capital. 

Krahl’s work emerges in a somewhat different historical context, but rather than simply being at odds with Panzieri’s insights, it enables us the possibility of deepening and enriching them. Concerning the process of capitalist domination, we can identify an important difference between Panzieri and Krahl, which is largely due to when each is writing. For the former, looking at the struggles of Italian industrial workers in the early 1960s, worker mobilizations could still indicate a positive result and lead to favorable conditions, meaning that the social situation is increasingly exciting for the working class. 7 For the latter, writing at the end of the same decade, the social-political framework of the struggles gives way to the fact that the criteria of proletarian socialization “have been obliterated.” 8 For Krahl, long-term hopes, desires, and fears have been replaced by fleeting reactions and immediate expectations of approval and gratification. He characterizes the situation as follows: 

The child of the worker who learns a craft no longer has any idea of his or her biographical destiny of labor. I believe that this was initially present in the movement, even in determinate actions that had to pertain to the sphere of consumption and which were not accomplished. But such an awareness has been lost. 9

Despite this key historical difference in perspective, Panzieri and Krahl are nevertheless in harmony on a theoretical level. What they share is a program for understanding the meaning of the capitalist mode of production in the late twentieth century. In his 1962 essay “Workers’ Struggles in Capitalist Development,” Panzieri insists on analyzing the logic of transformation in the organic composition of capital due to the acceleration of machines in those years from the point of view of factory production. 10 Using the method of co-research, Panzieri concludes that workers’ demands tend to show the relation between the working class and capital in a determinate situation. The relation between demands and capital gives us a clear idea about the existing balance between the conditions of workers and the strength of capital which is dominating them. We can synthesize the determinate elements to which Panzieri refers as the effects of important neocapitalist transformations on the conditions of existence for salaried workers. These consist in “the increasing development of constant capital, the increasing development and modification of the organic composition of capital, the recourse to techniques of integration for the worker into the increasingly refined factory, the recourse to techniques of scheduling, capitalist planning, etc.” 11

Viewed from this angle, Krahl’s overall reasoning and object of analysis become even more interesting. First, here we have the possibility of taking up and continuing Panzieri’s project, which was interrupted by his death in 1964. Second, turning to Krahl allows us the opportunity to re-think the theoretical limits of political positions in the 1960s. Krahl’s arguments, made five or six years after Panzieri’s, point to lacunae which workerist analysis had only partially revealed. Indeed, for Krahl, in “criticizing the antidemocratic structures of domination that exist in the factory,” what has been relegated as secondary is what “interests the masses.” 12 Despite the difficulties inherent in interpreting Krahl as a systematic thinker, he highlights the fact that technological capitalism requires a reference to the essential dimension of material needs, or, to use Krahl’s vocabulary, the “reality of living needs.” 13 At least on this point, turning to Krahl opens up the possibility of better understanding one of the most important theoretical, as well as political, issues in Panzieri’s thought.

The Factory and Society: Krahl with Panzieri

One way of turning to Krahl in light of Panzieri is by continuing to insist on the necessity of paying attention to transformations which are occurring in the organic composition of capital. 14 From this viewpoint, Tronti’s analysis in “The Factory and Society” must be developed in new political and theoretical contexts today. Panzieri, certainly, was unable to carry out such a project for reasons of historical contingency. Attempting it today requires that it be built on an broadened understanding of neocapitalism beyond the confines of production, which still begins from what is happening inside the factory.

It is not possible to analyze a factory without taking into consideration the society that surrounds it, and simultaneously, a society cannot be understood without its economic engine, the place from which surplus value is extracted, as Marx argued. Due to his early death, Panzieri was unable to complete a theory that combined and ordered these dimensions (factory, society, and technology). He nevertheless was able to use Capital Volume 1 in order to grasp several elements of the impact of technological capital on social conditions, in a manner which will be echoed in Krahl’s attention to technological rationality.

The effect of the new stage of capitalism is the rise of the machine and an automated capitalism, or in other words, a form of capitalism which has modified the organic composition of capital by using its new technologies against workers. Krahl synthesizes this new stage in the following passage: “In other words, if productive labor increasingly incorporates intellectual labor, then the industrial proletariat, the army of mechanical workers performing physical labor, can no longer develop from themselves the totality of proletarian class consciousness.” 15 This is exactly what Panzieri had himself already defined by referring to “the capitalist use of the machine”: the domination which results from this use compresses the fullness of social life under the weight of what can be quantified and calculated. Machinic-technological rationality is aimed against the worker for the indispensable pursuit of surplus value.

Despite what might be inferred, we are not facing here a distorted use of the concept of progress which is generated by a false use of technology. Instead, we are examining a specific form of capitalist power which Marx had described precisely in chapter 15 of Capital, “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry.” In trying to relate this analysis to Italian factories, Panzieri argues that the new technical basis gradually reached by the production system generates even more possibilities for the capitalist mode of production to strengthen itself. 16

Krahl is close to these positions from a theoretical and political point of view. He maintains that the aim of this process is represented by the “scientific industry,” which possesses quantifiable knowledge, ignoring qualitative needs and discrediting them with the stigma of being non-scientific elements. 17 This is indeed the most coherent result of the advent of technology, as Friedrich Pollock had already anticipated in the late 1950s. 18 At a socio-political level, Krahl concludes, “the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation” leads to “an industrial fascism.” 19

The path that led from the advent of the machines to the present is based on this structure that Krahl and Panzieri, among others, helped to define. For this reason, according to Roberto Finelli, the withdrawal of contemporary society into the scope of capitalist enterprise, now indisputably perceived as the only possible model for socio-economic relations, “already profoundly limits possible ways of experiencing the world,” because of the specific logic of the specific object under consideration, namely the digital-informatic world. In this domain, the worker must become “an essentially calculating subject that perceives and elaborates the world according to the quantitative weave and connections of meaning, which are already stocked with an extremely high degree of standardization and qualitative reduction.” 20

We thus face an extensive supremacy of the quantitative, which Krahl referred to when he spoke of the possibility that the social relations of capitalist society are “perfectly adequate to the technological rationality of instrumental reason produced by automation.” 21 If we think of the “bit,” the basic unit of digital information, we can see that today it represents one of the fundamental sources machinic-technological reason uses against workers in a seemingly uncoercive way.

Therefore, if for Krahl, “science and technology are a universal productive force in the social and economic context […] what is required is a widening of what is meant by productive labor,” in order to assert the possibility of overthrowing the current state of things. It is not possible to reach a compromise regarding the capitalist use of machinery in the factory and society. In this attempt to understand, theoretically and politically, the entire decade of the 60s, there emerges as a constant the centrality of the technological dynamics of the transformation of capital. For both Krahl and Panzieri, machinic capitalism, to use a synthetic formula, subsumes labor time and living time. 22

Starting from this condition, a transformation of the Marxian category of class takes place. The question of the productive worker is integrated into a larger concept of the “total worker,” 23 a theme that Krahl posed which was thought within the Quaderni Rossi in a Panzierian direction, particularly in Tronti’s essay we examined above. 

In order to synthesize, we can state that the full acknowledgement of the specific role of the power that science and technology have on society, where the capitalist mode of production prevails, also reveals the real role of knowledge in the latter half of the twentieth century. As Krahl writes, “all of the spontaneous strikes that broke out at RFT or FIAT in Turin never achieved the aims of changing the fact that the industrial proletariat in itself is only just a moment, a part of the entire class, and therefore does not represent its totality.” 24

We can thus outline two points from these conclusions.

1) It is almost impossible to underestimate the strength capital has reached thanks to technology. As such, theoretical and political tools of analysis need to be positioned at the same level as capital. If all of society risks subsumption, according to Krahl, then the social perspective must be rethought in strategic ways. 25 On this point, Krahl’s thought, also for reasons linked to the different historical situation of Germany at the end of the 60s, significantly re-thinks the risk of isolating only one dimension of the working class thought as a totality. Confronting Marcuse, Krahl reaches the following conclusions: 

History is posed on the agenda, as Marcuse expresses in a philosophical and naive way: the reduction of the revolutionary process of liberation to industrial revolution that continues to drag around the misery of reification and enslaves individuals to the impersonal material tools of production. Emancipation, on the contrary, wants individuals to organize industrial production in such a way that it can establish happy relations. Otherwise, the reduced concept of emancipation aims only to transform property relations and material tools of production, but not the relation connecting historical individuals. Emancipation, above all, is not a different organization of industrial property, but a different organization of social relations. 26

2) A first essential step therefore consists in carrying out an anti-ideological enlightenment, and specifically an anti-positivistic enlightenment, based on an immanent critique of positivism. The latter must be recognized as the main philosophical target in order to begin reconstructing an alternative social project. According to Krahl, we must move through an immanent knowledge of modern positivism, and this means also a critique of modern institutions and methodologies based on math, natural science, and analytic procedures. 27 On a social level, it is necessary to give prominence to this particular determination of capitalism in order to declare that intellectual work, and therefore scientific and technological work, has adapted itself “to the capitalistic norms of labor time.” 28 Once again, we see the evidence of the hegemony of the quantitative. Looking directly at the dynamics of technology within society allows us “to begin, through a work of enlightenment, processes of proletarian reflection.” 29

Krahl’s theoretical conclusions are very close to Panzieri’s perspective. Panzieri states, with Marx, that machines, technology, and the entire technological rationality that drives capitalism are never neutral, and always express a specific power relation. For Krahl, our theoretical work consists in recognizing that modern positivism, institutions, mathematics, and natural science must be conceived as places where the critique of this neutrality should be developed. 30 Thus, Krahl identifies the philosophical targets that must be uncovered beneath the neutrality of the concept of progress. It is against this model of thought, which has privileged a certain philosophy of history, that the weapons of criticism should be aimed. 

Krahl believes that “the critique of positivism will provide the framework within which we can articulate the categories of a revolutionary theory.” 31 More precisely, Krahl aims to recompose the political dimension, and for him, the corresponding figure of the revolutionary party. Otherwise, the risk is repeating the error of “all of western Marxism” (from Lenin to Merleau-Ponty) which consists in “dogmatically presupposing the existence of a revolutionary party that is not there.” 32 Krahl’s position here is interesting because it can be applied to those optimistic points of view (including workerism) in which a revolutionary subject is thought independently from self-consciousness and a theory of reference. The history of class decomposition running from the final decades of the twentieth century to the early ones of the twenty-first seem to confirm Krahl’s theoretical priorities. 33

As Detlev Claussen writes in the preface to the Italian translation of Krahl’s writings, the German student struggles demonstrate all kinds of difficulties. Only three years after 1968, these difficulties will lead to “the self-destruction of the student movement” 34 in western Germany. The most relevant question, however, which is also that of the Turin strikes to which Panzieri refers, is the fact that the social perimeter of the latter twentieth century, invaded by the capitalist mode of production, “increasingly becomes technological.” 35 It is at this point that Krahl attempts to give an answer to the capitalist use of machinery invoked by Panzieri. According to Krahl, what is to be done is “restore the interest in the emancipative dimension of reason to science, in order to translate onto a materialist level the question of the philosophy of history, mediated by theory and practice, as it was evoked by the bourgeois Enlightenment.” 36

In showing this possibility, Krahl opens up a non-capitalist space which we can also find in Panzieri. In order to pursue this goal, it is necessary to interrogate the meaning of the capitalist mode of production and the representation of its laws. On the mode of production, Krahl raises the level of analysis and does not take shortcuts. “For this reason, the ‘natural’ logic of capitalist development, according to which ‘capitalist production itself generates, with the ineluctability of a natural process, its own negation’, contains no fatal or optimistic elements of progress.” 37

This is the first attempt at a way out from capitalist rule: we must become free from the idea that there are natural, unchangeable laws that contain the telos of human progress. Contrary to the laws of first nature, laws concerning human beings have a historical foundation. Particularly polemicizing with some of the conclusions of the Second International, Krahl writes: “their abstract existence is based on the false knowledge that producers have of their production. In its objective validity, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is not an immutable thing like the physical law of gravity.” 38 There is thus no “natural and continual progress of humankind” that is capable of abandoning the idea that the end of exploitation can happen teleologically, perhaps with some correctives due to a knowing reformism applied to the system.

The Capitalist Use of Technology and Workers’ Emancipation

With these conclusions about the social conditions in late capitalism in place, it is possible to identify the strong affinity between Krahl and Panzieri’s mature thought. On the one hand, we see that machines are not neutral within the capitalist mode of production, but rather always a mode of domination. On the other, there is a deeper dimension: the nature of technological capitalism reveals itself as the place where capital can reconfigure and redefine itself in order to overcome its contradictions, i.e., its periodical risk of crisis. In the process of this analysis, for both thinkers, a central and active role is played by the proletariat (or in any case the social group which opposes machinic-technological reason) against the expansion of the capitalist mode of production. 

Krahl, explicitly referencing Henryk Grossman’s articulate conception of crisis, claims that “liberation either occurs with the consciousness and will of the exploited or it does not happen at all.” 39 Panzieri makes a similar argument, on the one hand through a reference to Pollock’s discussion of the relation between crisis and planning, and on the other by privileging a dialogue with Marx’s mature thought. For Panzieri, the continual growth of the organic composition of capital cannot be fatally accepted as a promising signal of the imminent crisis of the capitalist mode of production. Rather, this condition necessarily requires the constitution of an antagonistic or contrasting force. For Panzieri and the workerists, this force is the working class.

It is crucial to integrate Krahl’s political theory with this viewpoint of the first generation of workerism. Krahl broadens the subjectivity at stake here to all of the “exploited.” Capital, as Panzieri also claims, always shows itself in all of its dynamism. “Capitalism has as one of its fundamental characteristics that of being a historical-social formation, a highly dynamic historical-social system. One could say that the two terms, capitalism and development, are the same thing.” 40 We find a similar argument in Krahl when he writes, “As Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Luxemburg have pointed out in different historical situations, the dictatorship of capital always manages to find a way out of its most recent crisis.” 41 For this reason, due to the dynamic nature that characterizes capital, it is necessary, at the cost of seeming romantic, to re-appropriate the dimension of needs.

“If we renounce formulating these emancipatory needs, perhaps with scientifically insufficient categories, we will also end up in the gears of the process that turns science into technology.” As such, Krahl concludes: 

we have reached a fatal situation: we must organize a movement of the scientific intellectuals who abstractly know, indeed, the course of capitalist history, but are no longer able to mediate this knowledge with the concrete needs of the masses. The cause lies with us: after the failure of the anti-authoritarian revolts of emancipation, which, idealistically, did not understand their nature, we got rid of the debate on emancipation within the movement. 42

The question has arisen again with great force in the second half of the twentieth century.

For both Krahl and Panzieri, the massive introduction of technology into the capitalist mode of production must not be seen as a sign of the advent of the final phase of capitalism, but, on the contrary, as the expression of this mode of production’s capability for greater exploitation, an increase in real subsumption. The movement of the decomposition of antagonistic subjectivity corresponds, with disturbing symmetry, to the increase in the organic composition of capital. The idea of a final stage of capitalism should be considered a “mythology.” 43

We cannot fully analyze the connection between these points and the issue of capitalist planning or the role of the state here. Nevertheless, it is important to note that this was the main theme in Pollock’s work, and it is present in both Krahl and Panzieri. In both cases, there is an awareness of a relation between rationality and the power of planning as a refined technique for realizing the domination of capital over labor. Indeed, “for waged workers the connection between their work is opposed, ideally as a plan, practically as the capitalist’s authority, as the power of an alien will that subjects their actions to its own end.” 44

With reference to Marcuse’s “Aggressiveness in Advanced Industrial Societies,” 45 Krahl develops more fully some ideas in Panzieri concerning the application of capitalist planning to all of society. He identifies a “rationally planned manipulative process” capable of acting “blindly as a moment of constitution in the process of awareness of the entire society. Its rationalization is altogether unconscious, rational in detail, but overall blind.” 46 This means that what Marx said about the process of the production of history also holds for the planned production of false consciousness and social unconsciousness. 

This brings into focus the colonization of consciousness produced by the technological rationality of late capitalism. Referring once more to Marcuse, Krahl identifies that the authentic meaning of planning, beyond its productive claims, is as an ideological process. The plan holds the ambitious goal of converting social needs into individual needs. In fact, in advanced industrial societies, the blind dimension of desire is at work in the “libidinous mediation of goods in the individual.” 47

Consequently, the factory is the first place where science and technology are put in the service of real subsumption, that is, of the increasingly exasperating extraction of surplus value. In addition to this, society, in a general sense, becomes the space where the same rationality materializes places for goods produced in the factory with an increasingly intense rhythm. To do this, and this is the element of acceleration, the capitalist mode of production must produce and use planning information, desire, and needs. From the point of view of capitalist production in the twenty-first century, this kind of automatic process appears as a machine that operates almost perfectly, capable of absorbing more and more parts of the planet. 

The extreme vitality demonstrated by the technological capitalist mode of production not only highlights the non-neutral role of technology, but also the ability of technology to colonize, with a qualitative leap, large layers of the reproductive sphere of the working class. In this sense, acceleration is central. Krahl’s thought helps to understand the socio-political events after 1989 more than Panzieri’s brief suggestions. As we have noted, for Krahl, “a revolutionary theory for the final phase of capitalism is still lacking.” 48 In order to construct it, we must focus on the intersection between the two dimensions we have just described: the productive (assisted by Panzieri) and the social (assisted by Krahl). In both, the plan of technological rationality seems to dominate.

The omnipresence of technology thus poses a theoretical and practical problem at the same time. The doubtful question remains “whether a revolutionary theory is still possible as a critique of political economy or if instead, as Marcuse implicitly assumes, it must be written as a critique of political technology. It is true that dogmatists continue to treat revolutionary theory as if it were not susceptible to historical prosecution. But criticism is the theoretical life of the revolution.” 49 Already in 1956, Panzieri had expressed himself in a similar way: “Marxism as ‘critique of ideology’, as a demystification from all ideological, political, sociological absolutism, etc., as free research and free scientific development, must today find its force of emancipation or liberation.” 50 It is therefore necessary to adapt research to this context, following the Marxian method. As Krahl writes, “it would be a logical absurdity to suppose that a doctrine such as historical materialism, a true theory of history and conscious transformation, is at a remove from history and change.” 51

We can add here an additional element of analysis. In “The Philosophy of the Authoritarian State,” Krahl, compares Horkheimer on the state apparatus with Marcuse on late capitalism in One Dimensional Man. It is here that Krahl cites Marx’s “Fragment on Machines.” In my view, this is an exceptionally fruitful place to compare Krahl with Panzieri. I will first summarize Krahl’s argument and then turn to Panzieri on the same subject.

For Krahl, what emerges in Horkheimer’s text is the tension that the search for surplus-value produces as an effect throughout all of society: factory, market, and state are the main axes of this incessant social reorganization.  Therefore, “the dynamics of accumulation, which involves the whole system, tends towards state authoritarian capitalism and rests on the new monopolistic character of the productive forces that socialize on a terrain with capital, and thus on a changed constellation of production and circulation.” 52 To this overall image, Krahl adds what he takes from Marcuse, who he thinks captures the profound and internal effects of the man-machine relation that, as already pointed out, is also decisive in this passage of the capitalist mode of production.

The protagonist in this dynamic, regardless of human presence or its radical reduction, is the system of production. Here we find in Krahl a critique of the capitalist use of theoretical and practical instruments. On the one hand, these brought automation into the factories, and on the other, they have forged instruments of ideological colonization of consciousness. Thus a “technical and scientific progress” has been constituted which “implements a ‘totalitarian [transformation] of the system of bourgeois society’ and renders possible ‘the historical transcendence towards a new civilization,’” Krahl claims, quoting Marcuse. 53 It is exactly here that Krahl refers to the “Fragment on Machines”:

According to Marx, automation, or the absorption of science in industrial machinery, carries out a totalitarian technologization of political economy. And in this way, Marcuse adds, we come to the full effectuality of the principle of ‘technological rationality’ which has always been genetically and logically inherent in industrial technology and modern science, and seems to link the domination the natural and human domains. In his critique of Weberian rationality, Marcuse points out that ‘when technology becomes the universal form of material production, it delimits an entire culture, and configures a historical totality, a ‘world’. 54

Here the close affinity with Panzieri’s argument is most apparent. Panzieri, citing Marx, on the one hand identifies the same passage as “a theory of the unsustainability of capitalism at its highest point of development.” 55 On the other hand, again in continuity with his overall perspective, the “Fragment on Machines” is not to be used as a confirmation which, thanks to the preponderance of fixed capital, now presents us with the automatic collapse of capitalism. The primary objective, for Panzieri and Krahl, seems rather to be observing the system independently from its unsustainability. Both consider that for which the system, while moving towards its unsustainability, is still working and producing effects of general exploitation within society. 

By combining Horkheimer and Marcuse, Krahl notes how the strong presence of an authoritarian state and the “substitution of living labor with science and technology” are two essential components which allow capital to “delay its own end.” 56 These two pillars provide support for capitalism to find a new, stabilized form at a time when its difficulties have intensified. In this way, Krahl reads the decisive role of the state, which expresses itself authoritatively through the role of machines, as a reactive tool of capital in the face of its contradictions. 

Machines are thus a formidable instrument of capital; within the horizon of the capitalist mode of production, machines can only be conceived as a mode of capital’s existence. Capital thus finds success in technical and scientific progress by inverting the potentiality contained in it in order to transform it into elements of self-valorization. Labor has not been made redundant, but rather workers. Here Krahl presents a “fatal dialectic” that has produced a fundamental transformation of revolutionary subjectivity. Krahl refers to a period of time which is a negation of the enthusiastic situation Panzieri saw in the early 1960s. The capitalist use of machines has carried out its most violent effects, defeating and then integrating the working class. 

As such, at least until then, capitalism has shown that it knows how to live even within its own contradiction. The urgency of this situation poses for Krahl the problem of the relation between technological capitalism and the strong organic composition and reorganization of those subjected to this arrangement, including those who belong to the general intellect. For Krahl there is no time to wait for education of what Marx called the long political organization of the workers. “For the revolutionary, the world has always been mature. […] He stands with the desperate, not those who have time.” 57 Krahl thus invites acting according to the urgency of the moment, and following Horkheimer, the centrality of the will. “The overthrow that puts an end to domination extends just as much the will of the liberation. Every resignation is already a relapse into prehistory.” 58

Seeking Social Needs and Rebuilding the Working Class: Some Conclusions

We can now reflect on these questions from the perspective of the twenty-first century. The will of the liberated that Krahl speaks of is first and foremost a consciousness of one’s own state. In “Dialectic of Anti-authoritarian Consciousness,” Krahl confronts some additional issues which we might also understand as a contribution to the completion of Panzieri’s project. It is indeed class consciousness, as it is historically given, which must take responsibility for confronting the experience of its own crisis. “In the struggle against the unraveling of the world of everyday experience, reduced to a multiplicity of manipulated information, which is blind in the face of domination, the movement has reconstituted the germ of an abstractly correct concept of the false social whole.” 59 However, Krahl does not hide that these timid signs of decoding the present must confront the ideological convictions that have produced a “petty-bourgeois stagnation.” 60 Indeed, for the student movement in 1968, Krahl sees two limits: on the one hand, emancipation from the liberal perspective which has exhausted its thrust; on the other, a confirmation that “proletarian organization” is still lacking. The effect of the student protest in the “repressive conditions of the socialization of technology” clearly poses the problem of “the objective impossibility of the protest movement to complete class self-determination.” 61

We are faced with the disappearance of class as a totality because of the fact that the petty-bourgeois subject, and therefore also part of the student movement, Krahl argues, is incapable of perceiving itself outside of personal and immediate interests. In short, the petty-bourgeois attitude, the absolutization of egoism and the desire to satisfy only one’s own limited needs have, for Krahl, “destroyed […] the possibility of political communication modeled on the socialist needs of solidarity.” 62 A selfish defense of small privileges has also hit the factories through the internal division among workers. 

Returning to the relationship between the student movement and the world of the factory, we can see the strategic error of the failure to search for class as a totality. In other words, starting from the ideological constitution we have just described, contact with the world of the industrial proletariat becomes impossible: 

This means, fundamentally, that we carry out our agitation according to a corporate-like technique, but are no longer able to connect the agitation with the concrete existential destiny of the masses, which means that in our agitation, we reproduce the division between labor and free time, between the status of producers and the status of consumers. 63

As we have mentioned, the strategic problem of every action for liberation consists in this inability to formulate a common vision of the protests. The same reason, which prevented the start of a genuine dialogue between students and workers, already was at work in the factories. Worker experience during the early 1960s came to register how, with the advent of neocapitalism, a division in factory subjectivity emerged. On the one hand, skilled workers; on the other, the mass worker. In the specific case of the factory, it was a break between workers that was generated largely because of the advent of machines. In the case of the students, the failure of the movement was clear to Krahl: the constitutive impossibility of thinking, through the category of class as a totality, has led to the impossibility of dialogue between students and workers. It is therefore at the double movement, which generates effects in capital and society, that we must look. On the one hand, capital, thanks to its technological bent, increasingly speaks the same language of rationalization. On the other, the effect of this powerful unification reverberates among humans, producing social atomization and the impossibility of grasping the deep and established bond within which human needs are given voice to. It is the meaning of this defeat which must be taken up.

Examining the arguments of Krahl and Panzieri today allows us to grasp the exasperation brought by the social effects of technological capitalism. The meaning of the defeat suffered by workers and students in the 60s, the lack of a synthesis in their demands, and therefore the prevalence of social division today shows an additional and not extraneous element. The marginalization of the demands for liberation did not pass through the lives and hopes of so many men and women without producing effects. Politically, the price to pay for the difficulty of being at the level, individually, of technological capitalism, has been very high. The strength of technological capitalism and the incapacity of acting on its level have determined a political and theoretical rift from which it is necessary to start again. 

Panzieri continued to insist on the necessity of acting on the same level as capital. Not doing so today, as it did then, means that, to borrow language close to Krahl, others will intercept the needs of the less well-off, and these needs will perhaps take a reactionary form based on fears. Methodologically, Panzieri had already indicated a path to follow—it consists in “overcoming this piecemeal, badly empirical vision of reality and reclaiming a Marxist vision of reality in which the ‘real’ is not an empirical given, this or that corporation as an atom, but capital as it is manifested in this or that situation.” 64

Grasping the meaning of class as a totality can therefore mean to start again from defeat, learning to read the single questions within the class and those who are inside the class. In this case, along with Krahl, the question of needs will not assume the form of a contest between the exploited. This social program will probably correspond to the formulation of a “concrete utopia,” 65 capable of starting from the ineluctable consideration that “the disintegration of political practice” cannot be reduced to the “new historical quality of science as productive force.” 66


1 Francesco Apergi, “Sulle origine di una sociologia marxista in Italia: il caso dei ‘Quaderni rossi’, Critica marxista vol. 1, 1978: 114.
2 Giacomo Marramao, “Introduzione: Note sul rapporto di economia politica e teoria critica,” in Teoria e prassi dell’economia di piano (Bari: De Donato, 1973), 12-13. This presupposition marks a significant difference between Pollock and the other major economist of the Institute for Social Research, Henryk Grossman.
3 Hans-Jürgen Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe (Milano: Jaca Book, 1973), 40.
4 Ibid., 344.
5 In addition to political reformism, Krahl sketches a critique of Habermas and the utopia of communicative action. For Krahl, Habermasian theory lacks the ability to think the social relations of late capitalist production at the level of the relations of power expressed within them. Despite the rise of communication technologies and the advent of the society of the spectacle, it is not possible to conceive social relations as linguistic actions free from power, because this renders the linguistic sphere a pure and indeterminate abstraction. For Krahl, instead, what reveals the dangerous state of things is the linguistic colonization by scientific terminology. Through the predominance of technological jargon in communication, an ideological result, characterized by increased alienation and the concealment of concrete human needs, is achieved (Ibid., 343). Following Marcuse, Krahl claims that “ideology does not veil the contradictions, but reproduces them within the existing social system that in its entirety, no one doubts.” Ibid., 151.
6 Mario Tronti, “La fabbrica e la societa,” Quaderni Rossi 2 (1978), 2. As Marx writes, “Value constantly passes from one form to the other, without becoming lost in this movement, and in thus transforms itself into an automatic subject.” Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1 (London: Penguin Books, 1976), 255.
7 Raniero Panzieri, “Lotte operaie nello sviluppo capitalistico,” in Spontaneita e organizzazione: gli anni del Quaderni rossi, 1959-1964 (Pisa: Biblioteca Franco Serantini, 1994), 89.
8 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 346.
9 Ibid., 346.
10 Panzieri, “Lotte operaie nello sviluppo capitalistico,”, 73-92.
11 Ibid., 74.
12 Ibid., 347.
13 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 347.
14 Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labor in the Digital Vortex (London: Pluto Press, 2015), 29.
15 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 348.
16 Raniero Panzieri, “Sull-uso capitalistico delle macchine nel neocapitalismo,” Quaderni Rossi 1 (1978): 56.
17 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 347.
18 Friedrich Pollock, Automation: A Study of its Economic and Social Consequences, trans. W. O. Henderson and W. H. Chaloner (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1956).
19 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 101.
20 Roberto Finelli, “Corpo e mente nel postfordismo: La trappola del ‘general intellect,’” Quaderni materialisti 10 (2012), 111.
21 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 101.
22 “The value of labour-power was determined, not only by the labour-time necessary to maintain the individual adult worker, but also by that necessary to maintain his family. Machinery, by throwing every member of that family onto the labour-market, spreads the value of the man’s labour-power over his whole family. It thus depreciates it. To purchase the labour-power of a family of four workers may perhaps cost more than it did formerly to purchase the labour-power of the head of the family, but, in return, four days’ labour takes the place of one day’s, and the price falls in proportion to the excess of the surplus labour of four over the surplus labour of one. In order than the family may lie, four people must not provide not only labour for the capitalist, but also surplus labour. Thus we see that machinery, while augmenting the human material that forms capital’s most characteristic field of exploitation, at the same time raises the degree of that exploitation.” Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Volume 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990), 518.
23 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 348.
24 Ibid.
25 Here Krahl quotes Lukàcs’ idea of society as a concrete totality (367). Referring to bourgeois science, Lukàcs writes: “Where they go wrong is in their believe that the concrete can be located in the empirical individual of history (‘individual’ here can refer to an individual man, class, or people) and in his empirically given (and hence psychological or mass-psychological) consciousness. And just when they imagine that they have discovered the most concrete thing of all: society as a concrete totality, the system of production at a given point in history and the resulting division of society into classes--they are in fact at the furthest remove from it. In missing the mark they mistake something wholly abstract for the concrete.” Gyorgy Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968), 50.
26 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 328.
27 Ibid., 349.
28 Ibid.
29 Ibid.
30 Ibid., 350.
31 Ibid.
32 Ibid.
33 Considering the present as the time in which the conditions for the refusal of capitalist exploitation have automatically ripened runs the risk of rendering new forms of struggle impossible, given the current transformations in the productive conditions of capitalism. As Endnotes has argued, “under these conditions, the unification of the proletariat is no longer possible.” Endnotes, “LA Theses.”
34 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 350.
35 Ibid., 238
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid., 250.
38 Ibid.
39 Ibid., 242.
40 Raniero Panzieri, La ripresa del marxismo-leninismo in Italia (Milano/Roma: Sapere, 1975), 170-171.
41 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 242.
42 Ibid., 347.
43 Raniero Panzieri, “Plusvalore e pianifazione,” Quaderni Rossi 4 (1976): 287.
44 Ibid., 264.
45 Herbert Marcuse, “Aggressiveness in Advanced Industrial Societies,” in Negations: Essays in Critical Theory (London: Mayfly Books, 2009).
46 Ibid., 153.
47 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 154.
48 Ibid., 245.
49 Ibid.
50 Raniero Panzieri, Scritti 1956-1960 (Milano: Lampugnani Nigri, 1973), 38.
51 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 245.
52 Ibid., 249.
53 Ibid.
54 Ibid., 250
55 Panzieri, “Plusvalore e pianificazione,” 285.
56 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 250.
57 Ibid., 252.
58 Ibid., 253.
59 Ibid., 331.
60 Ibid., 332.
61 Ibid., 333.
62 Ibid., 334.
63 Ibid., 346.
64 Panzieri, “Lotte operaie nello sviluppo capitalistico,” 76.
65 Krahl, Costituzione e lotta di classe, 338.
66 Ibid., 361-362.

Author of the article

is a PhD student in political philosophy at the University of Padua (Italy). His research focuses on the first generation of Italian workerism, Marx, and a critical understanding of technology in capitalist society.