Invisible Organization: Reading Romano Alquati

“good night mister boss”
“good night mis­ter boss”

At the end of his 1975 intro­duc­tion to his sem­i­nal 1964 Classe Opera­ia arti­cle, “Strug­gle at FIAT,” Romano Alquati con­cludes his reflec­tion with a com­pressed glance back toward one of the impass­es that faced him and the oth­er “clas­si­cal” work­erists as they tried to artic­u­late the ear­ly days of what would become two decades of social war, from the 1960 magli­ette a righe (the “striped shirt”) rebel­lions of Genoa on to a Hot Autumn, a Creep­ing May, and a range of oth­er sea­sons, months, and years irrev­o­ca­bly marked by bit­ter strug­gle against cap­i­tal and its stew­ards.1

Last­ly, we should note that the bent of this arti­cle is “strate­gic”: that is, it reveals a prac­ti­cal­ly insur­mount­able lim­it faced by inter­ven­tions of this type, in that moment. It pro­posed to con­struct a new rela­tion between tac­tics and strat­e­gy, but as it doesn’t suc­ceed in gain­ing a hold on the tac­ti­cal lev­el and the instru­ments need­ed to con­quer this deci­sive dimen­sion, it was con­strained to tac­ti­cal­ly force strat­e­gy: “the coach­men flies?“2 We weren’t pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with the con­tra­dic­tion of the intel­lec­tu­al who does pol­i­tics. Rather, it con­cerns the frus­tra­tion of every effort to open chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the Ital­ian polit­i­cal sys­tem and the his­tor­i­cal­ly-press­ing needs of the work­ing class.

Today, many of the old com­rades of Classe Opera­ia main­tain, for diver­gent rea­sons that it was bet­ter like this… I don’t.3

Like many of the moments in Alquati’s writ­ing which sug­ges­tive­ly hint toward oth­er his­to­ries, that men­tion of “old com­rades” gets no clar­i­fi­ca­tion, and names aren’t named. Nev­er­the­less, it takes lit­tle guess­work to fig­ure out who he means. By 1975, both Mario Tron­ti and Mas­si­mo Cac­cia­ri had rejoined the PCI, fol­low­ing out their respec­tive takes on the “auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal” (autono­mia del­la polit­i­ca)4, a deci­sion­ist posi­tion that hinged on a grasp of capital’s incom­plete ratio­nal­iza­tion and an asser­tion of polit­i­cal pow­er as inde­pen­dent from the “rest of soci­ety” (Tron­ti). In terms of the con­di­tion Alquati is iden­ti­fy­ing (i.e. the “frus­tra­tion of every effort” to forge rela­tions and open com­mu­ni­ca­tion between his­tor­i­cal deter­mi­na­tions of the work­ing class and polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions that are counter-his­tor­i­cal, whether in the sense of “out of touch” or seek­ing to vol­un­taris­ti­cal­ly change the ter­rain), the posi­tion tak­en by Cac­cia­ri and Tron­ti in the ear­ly ‘70s val­orizes and hypo­sta­tizes that recur­rent fail­ure. It mis­takes a tac­ti­cal con­se­quence for a strate­gic one, declares the gap absolute, and sides with “pol­i­tics” as a zone in which to assem­ble the frac­tured Ratio dri­ving those deter­mi­na­tions.

The oth­er “old com­rade” from whom Alquati marked his dis­tance seems to be Anto­nio Negri. While Negri’s work on Keynes didn’t see pub­li­ca­tion until the first issues of Con­tropi­ano in 1968, it is as cru­cial for defin­ing and thick­en­ing the core of ‘60s operaisti thought as Tronti’s and Panzieri’s ear­ly work. Yet by the time Alquati is gath­er­ing his sit­u­a­tion­al writ­ings from that peri­od for the col­lec­tion Sul­la Fiat (a project that gives him no small amount of unease), Negri has also extend­ed a log­ic of sep­a­ra­tion to what is, from an Alqua­t­ian per­spec­tive, a total­iz­ing and near­ly onto­log­i­cal lev­el. Con­sid­er, for instance, Negri’s posi­tion emerg­ing in his thought through the ‘70s that ful­ly crys­tal­lizes in his ‘78 Paris lec­tures on the Grun­drisse (avail­able in Eng­lish as Marx Beyond Marx): that there are two his­tor­i­cal sub­jects of cap­i­tal­ism, cap­i­tal (in an at times slip­pery assem­blage of both cap­i­tal­ists and the social rela­tion of cap­i­tal itself) and the work­ing class. Prac­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, this meant lin­ing up on the oppo­site side of the split from Tron­ti and Cac­cia­ri, sid­ing with the work­ing class as sub­ject of his­to­ry unteth­ered from the polit­i­cal sphere as defined by bour­geois civ­il soci­ety. But from the view­point of Alquati’s the­o­ry, this not only tends toward a kairos-rid­den roman­ti­ciza­tion. Worse, it stands in dan­ger of betray­ing the very antag­o­nism on which it grounds itself, because it for­goes the very mate­ri­als, struc­tures, and cir­cuits through which work­ing class refusal – “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion,” for Alquati – becomes more than a fan­ta­sy of exo­dus: name­ly, the plan of cap­i­tal (il piano di cap­i­tale) itself, the same sites, routes, mate­ri­als, and process­es, of which labor is but one, through which cap­i­tal cir­cu­lates. And for Alquati, we must rec­og­nize past fail­ures and mis­steps where we see them, not take that spe­cif­ic block­age (the frus­tra­tion of efforts to open com­mu­ni­ca­tion) and declare it a gen­er­al con­di­tion of class strug­gle to be jus­ti­fied in the­o­ry (be it the auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal or a two subject/separation mod­el).

Look­ing back, it becomes clear that while it was Negri and Tron­ti who talked a big­ger game about sab­o­tage and pro­le­tar­i­an self-orga­ni­za­tion, doing so with a gus­to and inci­sive style that’s undoubt­ed­ly brac­ing to read, it was Alquati, more than any oth­er Ital­ian (and per­haps else­where) com­mu­nist thinker of that era, who actu­al­ly pro­vid­ed the tools and research to ground it his­tor­i­cal­ly, through three crit­i­cal moves.

First, he gen­er­ates the most lucid defense of the ratio­nal­i­ty and his­tor­i­cal pre­ci­sion of strug­gles labeled spon­ta­neous and apo­lit­i­cal – a ratio­nal­i­ty he terms the “invis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion” which under­pins the wild­cat, the mul­ti-work­shop “unof­fi­cial” strikes, and the “descent into the piaz­za” (i.e. the riot). Sec­ond, he argues that this “invis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion” inheres not out­side cap­i­tal or in flight from it but tru­ly with­in: not just with­in the con­tra­dic­tions gen­er­at­ed by cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion but inside capital’s attempts to over­come those. This enact­ed attempt takes the name of ratio­nal­iza­tion and involves the seem­ing­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry process­es of social­iza­tion (both “the objec­tive elim­i­na­tion of indi­vid­ual work” and, con­verse­ly, the use of the indi­vid­ual worker’s cre­ativ­i­ty and knowl­edge to sup­ple­ment the incon­sis­ten­cies of the plan) and mech­a­niza­tion (the polit­i­cal con­trol of labor by its rout­ing through assem­blages of fixed capital/crystallized social labor). The assur­ance that social­ized and mech­a­nized labor remains pro­duc­tive and ful­fills the plan is man­aged hor­i­zon­tal­ly by the bureau­crat­ic func­tions dis­trib­uted through­out the sys­tem (pro­gram­ming, con­trol, and the orga­ni­za­tion of labor) and mea­sured “ver­ti­cal­ly” by the non-pro­duc­tive bureau­crat­ic appa­ra­tus (“the boss,” tak­en in the wider sense, and its employ­ment of indus­tri­al soci­ol­o­gy). It is pre­cise­ly because of “pass­ing through” the his­tor­i­cal process of ratio­nal­iza­tion, and then wit­ness­ing the irra­tional­i­ty that con­tin­ues unabat­ed behind its cov­er, that work­ers both col­lapse the myths of pro­duc­tivism and have pre­cise knowl­edge of the sys­tem they will seek to ruin (a knowl­edge that is the crux of sab­o­tage, i.e. the turn­ing of means against their des­ig­nat­ed ends).

Third, he treats the­o­ry not as the rev­e­la­tion or cre­ation of this per­spec­tive but as accom­plice and aide to the extant force and knowl­edge of that “invis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion.” Because for Alquati, the labor of inquiry and writ­ing is to help artic­u­late – the word he uses to indi­cate the first step in dis­cern­ing the obscure social forces mapped by dis­crete instances of rebel­lion – what’s already at work in class insub­or­di­na­tion. As he writes in the intro­duc­tion to Sul­la Fiat, “In these arti­cles, I tried to trans­form the­o­ry into polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion capa­ble of social­iz­ing itself and of grow­ing sub­jec­tive­ly with­in the quo­tid­i­an prac­tice of the mass move­ment of the work­ing class.” (Alquati Sul­la 10) In oth­er words, his the­o­ry does not pre­scribe a plan or describe orga­ni­za­tion to come. The­o­ry is the name for a process of research and prac­tice that seeks to gen­er­al­ize the process of class com­po­si­tion, one already tak­ing con­stel­lat­ed shape not in the work­ing class itself as a sub­ject but in those moments of non-col­lab­o­ra­tion, in order to ampli­fy them into a com­mu­ni­ca­tion of class refusal across sec­tors, ter­ri­to­ries, and pop­u­la­tions. Yet those moments and com­mu­ni­ca­tions do not begin ex nihi­lo or in exile. Instead, they hijack the archi­tec­ture of cap­i­tal cir­cu­la­tion that has his­tor­i­cal­ly deter­mined them. They exploit capital’s deter­mi­na­tion of the fac­to­ries, piaz­zas, hous­es, and all the zones between as a net­work of propul­sive nodes and estab­lished paths through which to struc­ture itself as an exten­sive force of mate­r­i­al and social nega­tion. So too Alquati’s the­o­ry, which insists on set­ting itself firm­ly behind ene­my lines, read­ing the “data of the boss” against the grain and raid­ing the toolch­est of indus­tri­al soci­ol­o­gy for mil­i­tant ends.

Like most Marx­ists, Alquati insists on the mutu­al neces­si­ty of the­o­ry and prac­tice, but unlike a lot of them, his own the­o­ry pro­vides the actu­al jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for this being so, cou­pled with a nec­es­sary hon­esty about the lim­its of its scope and a will­ing­ness to acknowl­edge errors. That’s a ten­den­cy there from the start: toward the con­clu­sion of his path­break­ing “Report on the ‘New Forces’” (1961) that appeared in the first issue of Quaderni Rossi [Red Note­books], he writes that, “All these argu­ments are, in a cer­tain sense, dou­ble-edged swords, all car­ry­ing a reformist edge that will total­ly dom­i­nate if that edge remains iso­lat­ed, if polit­i­cal work isn’t car­ried for­ward at the same time, in all of the var­i­ous moments of dynam­ic inter­ac­tion it com­pos­es. All these aspects of the Ital­ian sit­u­a­tion today can be very eas­i­ly mis­un­der­stood” (52). Which is to say: the argu­ments them­selves will become wrong – i.e. reformist, and there­fore inad­e­quate to the his­tor­i­cal ver­i­fi­ca­tion of class antag­o­nism – if they remain iso­lat­ed as argu­ments with­out polit­i­cal work (i.e. the process of artic­u­lat­ing com­po­si­tion from dis­parate moments). That polit­i­cal work is not, there­fore, an appen­dix or proof. It alone is what makes the the­o­ry a weapon, rather than apolo­gia for the cur­rent order. Alquati will nev­er pre­tend oth­er­wise. His work is not to dri­ve or direct strug­gle. Rather, he wrote “for the press­ing neces­si­ty of exper­i­men­tal­ly join­ing polit­i­cal oper­a­tiv­i­ty with a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” to pro­vide a frame­work that will be dri­ven for­ward by that polit­i­cal work and which will offer in return a dis­til­la­tion of the his­to­ry that rebel­lion has already been mak­ing (23).

Giv­en all this, the fact that Alquati remains unknown to Eng­lish-read­ing Marx­ists isn’t a shame sole­ly for rea­sons of his­tor­i­cal com­plete­ness. It’s also a real loss for the present, because even more than the oth­er operaisti (and infi­nite­ly more than cer­tain “post-work­erists” busy whip­ping frothy peaks of the imma­te­r­i­al and imma­nent), Alquati’s dense research into eddy­ing flows of val­ue cre­ation and the antag­o­nis­tic force of what doesn’t appear “polit­i­cal” is of par­tic­u­lar rel­e­vance in this alleged age of riots and net­worked social­iza­tion. Yet he is even less read than the oth­ers men­tioned above, who them­selves, with the excep­tion of late Negri, remain far more ref­er­enced than actu­al­ly read. The aim of this intro­duc­tion is there­fore plain: to pro­vide mate­ri­als for an ini­tial read­ing of Alquati. It is nei­ther a guide to the spe­cif­ic trans­la­tions Steve Wright and I have done, which, like all his texts, intro­duce them­selves amply, nor it is an overview of his expan­sive his­tor­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion. Rather, draw­ing on selec­tions from a range of his oth­er essays, it offers a con­sid­er­a­tion of just what his project of writ­ing and inquiry aimed to do, a devel­op­ment of a ini­tial his­tor­i­cal frame­work to help sit­u­ate that project, and a def­i­n­i­tion of his sin­gu­lar ter­mi­nol­o­gy through which a read­ing of these essays will be more com­pre­hen­si­ble and, I hope, more gen­er­a­tive for present com­mu­nist research.

Of the rea­sons for this blindspot sur­round­ing Alquati, the pas­sage ini­tial­ly cit­ed gives one def­i­nite indi­ca­tion: his mode of writ­ing. Tron­ti wrote recent­ly of the work­erist moment that, “A sense of the grandeur of the con­flict awoke in us a pas­sion for the Niet­zschean style: to speak in a noble reg­is­ter, in the name of those beneath.” And to be sure, that dri­ve towards a “‘high style’ of writ­ing, chis­elled, lucid, con­fronta­tion­al, in which we thought we grasped the rhythm of the fac­to­ry work­ers in strug­gle against the boss­es” is amply present in the dialec­ti­cal swag­ger of Tron­ti, Negri, and Cac­cia­ri, even in the mea­sured schol­ar­ly den­si­ty of Panzieri’s ear­ly ‘60s work.5 It’s dif­fi­cult to say the same for Alquati, he who most ana­lyt­i­cal­ly grasped that actu­al rhythm in its minu­ti­ae. And it’s sim­ply impos­si­ble to imag­ine him pen­ning some­thing along the seduc­tive lines of Negri’s “fan­ta­sy wears boots”6 – let alone his infa­mous, ““I imme­di­ate­ly feel the warmth of the work­ers’ and pro­le­tar­i­an com­mu­ni­ty again every time I don the ski mask”7 – or even Tronti’s tele­graph­ic “Capire. Per meglio colpire” (“To know. So as to bet­ter hit”). No, the pas­sage with which I began, with its acer­bic and chilly prose, teetotaler’s clar­i­ty, and dri­ve toward dis­en­chant­ment, is a typ­i­cal occur­rence in his work. So too are the long and minute­ly detailed descrip­tions of fac­to­ry and union struc­tures, the cussed insis­tence on putting near­ly all tech­ni­cal terms, be they Marx­i­an or cor­po­rate, in scare quotes, the refusal to qual­i­fy his odd­ball dec­la­ra­tions (such as rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry being like a “mul­ti-col­ored seashell”), and the frankly weird fusion of for­mal Marx­ist soci­ol­o­gy with flar­ing “thrusts” – spinte, one of his most insis­tent words – of insur­rec­tion­al roman­ti­cism.8

The pecu­liar­i­ty doesn’t end there. His essays obses­sive­ly qual­i­fy and repeat them­selves, if not ad nau­se­um, then ad infini­tum, stud­ded with the same words over and over, often in a sin­gle sen­tence: polit­i­ca, operaio, proces­so, padrone, and always lot­ta, always strug­gle. Yet this, and so too those dis­tinct swerves in tone and reg­is­ter, belong to a strange­ly gen­er­ous dif­fi­cul­ty. Alquati may be, and sure­ly is, hard to read, but just as he treats each text he wrote as an instru­ment of exten­sion designed sole­ly for the spe­cif­ic inquiry it elab­o­rates, he would nev­er write, for instance, “in the Marx­i­an sense” with­out explain­ing just what would be meant by that in this exact instance. He doesn’t refer to Cap­i­tal off­hand: he pin­points chap­ters, pas­sages, and pre­cise terms. He doesn’t talk about “the FIAT work­ers,” at least until he has laid out the sec­tors at the fac­to­ry, the his­to­ry of their wild­cat strikes, and, most impor­tant­ly, what those work­ers say about them­selves and their his­to­ry.

He wasn’t unaware of his texts’ dif­fi­cul­ty, insist­ing that, “I nev­er said I would write for every­body.” Fair enough, but at times, it seems he writes for nobody. (And not in the pre­fig­u­ra­tive sense of a com­mu­nist non-sub­ject to come…) At least a por­tion of the inat­ten­tion giv­en to his work has to be laid at the feet of his prose. Sen­tences reel off for a para­graph at a time, for­feit­ing punc­tu­a­tion when it would clar­i­fy and throw­ing in semi-colons when things are mov­ing along just fine.9 Unwieldy strings of tech­ni­cal terms and well-pol­ished Marx­o­log­i­cal bun­dles – the devel­op­ment of the cycle of accu­mu­la­tion of the prod­uct of liv­ing labor… – pile up like siege engines in a traf­fic jam. And then there are the scare quotes.

That said, I’d sug­gest that the rep­e­ti­tion of those punc­tu­a­tion marks, obnox­ious as they may be, indi­cates some­thing of actu­al impor­tance. They’re the index­i­cal traces of both a pre­cise crit­i­cal prac­tice and a real his­tor­i­cal torque that any com­mu­nist the­o­ry worth the name can­not but reg­is­ter. In the case of the quo­ta­tion marks, they appeared in his first arti­cles for Quaderni Rossi for a very spe­cif­ic end: to demar­cate what were not his own words but those spo­ken by work­ers in inquiries and co-research. Per­haps the clos­est ana­logue to this method, oth­er than Dani­lo Mon­tal­di (the Ital­ian pio­neer of mil­i­tant soci­o­log­i­cal inquiry, yet anoth­er fig­ure deserv­ing of more con­sid­er­a­tion abroad), is the docu-fic­tion­al assem­blage of Nan­ni Balestri­ni – far bet­ter known than Alquati in Eng­lish – in his “nov­el” Vogliamo Tut­to (1971), where Balestri­ni mon­tages his nar­ra­tive, and its pecu­liar rhythms, from a long record of one South­ern-born worker’s spo­ken account of North­ern fac­to­ry strug­gles.

In Alquati, though, the voic­es are plur­al, not sin­gu­lar, pro­vid­ing the cooked – not raw, giv­en that he ful­ly grasps how work­ers the­o­rize their own “absurd”10 lives – mate­ri­als he then tries to assem­ble with as much clar­i­ty as pos­si­ble. Yet because the work­ers inter­viewed range from recent ex-con­ta­di­ni (South­ern Ital­ian peas­ants) to long-time North­ern mil­i­tants, those words include plen­ty of parole d’ordine (catchphrases/slogans), Marx­ist rhetoric cer­tain­ly includ­ed. So into the quotes they go: any­thing that has been heard in the air, writ­ten in a pam­phlet, held on a plac­ard, or oth­er­wise been seen or told belongs to the dif­fuse sub­ject of inquiry and is accord­ing­ly marked. His mode of writ­ing, unsexy as it may be, is there­fore a gen­uine exten­sion of the project of core­search. One may wish for an edi­tor, but the messi­ness belongs to the frac­tured fact of the mate­r­i­al and lives con­front­ed. As he writes in the “Report,”

the same dis­course ven­tured for the polit­i­cal line, for orga­ni­za­tion, is also valid for this research, for the elab­o­ra­tion of instru­ments and the for­mu­la­tion of hypothe­ses. […] There­fore, it can’t be above all a sur­vey of sit­u­a­tions from out­side but must con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly sit­u­ate itself inside polit­i­cal action, in the class strug­gle. I will say that it must be a co-research. And even this is a hypoth­e­sis, but it must base itself today on the data that the new work­forces of FIAT fur­nish it, with their spon­ta­neous response to neo­cap­i­tal­ism (51).11

While Alquati would lat­er have clear-eyed and jus­ti­fied doubts as to the degree that co-research became ful­ly “co-,” in terms of mov­ing to a sec­ond stage of inquiries direct­ed and car­ried out by work­ers them­selves (rather than their being sub­jects of inquiry by soci­ol­o­gists, Marx­ists or oth­er­wise), what remains true is this effort at a co-writ­ing that would base itself “on the data that the new work­forces of FIAT fur­nish it with.” In this prac­tice, Alquati is less a crit­ic or the­o­rist than a fil­ter­ing and aggre­gat­ing mech­a­nism, draw­ing bridges between the his­to­ry of Marx­ism and the indi­vid­ual his­to­ries of, and data fur­nished by the “exe­cu­tants” whose quo­tid­i­an nav­i­ga­tions fur­nish them­selves (and there­fore Alquati) with the cru­cial aware­ness that cap­i­tal­ist ratio­nal­iza­tion does not mean an increase in total ratio­nal­i­ty of the pro­duc­tion process. It means an increase in the degree that the nor­mal func­tion­ing of pro­duc­tion requires work­ers to “break the rules” and infold their own ratio­nal deci­sions and solu­tions.12

The search for new struc­ture of research and artic­u­la­tion is not, in Alquati’s case, an aca­d­e­m­ic one but a response to major and drawn-out shifts in the Ital­ian sit­u­a­tion. These shifts, which can be peri­odized with rel­a­tive clar­i­ty from the end of the war, the reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the nation­al econ­o­my, and the sub­se­quent “eco­nom­ic mir­a­cle,” are well-known: mas­sive indus­tri­al­iza­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly based on the explo­sion of con­sumer durables; inter­nal migra­tions of con­ta­di­ni, espe­cial­ly young men, north­wards toward the cities of the Indus­tri­al Tri­an­gle, unpar­al­leled for speed and scope in Euro­pean his­to­ry; the con­se­quent scram­bling of estab­lished labor hier­ar­chies in the large firms of those cities; the extreme exac­er­ba­tion of urban crowd­ing, sprawl, and abu­sivis­mo (land spec­u­la­tion and ille­gal hous­ing con­struc­tion prof­it­ing off the decent inten­tions toward zoned urban devel­op­ment plans), cou­pled with care­ful inte­gra­tion of those pop­u­la­tions and zones into a cir­cuit termed the city-fac­to­ry (cit­tà-fab­bri­ca) by Alquati; the simul­ta­ne­ous swelling and defang­ing of the PCI, whose com­pro­mis­es with the Chris­t­ian Democ­rats was as ill-advised as it was to be polit­i­cal­ly dis­as­trous; and the devel­op­ment of what was termed neo­cap­i­tal­ism, des­ig­nat­ing advanced lev­els of coor­di­na­tion both between cap­i­tal and unions and between sec­tors of indus­try (via Con­find­us­tria, for exam­ple).

A capitalist frolics in the economic conjuncture.
A cap­i­tal­ist frol­ics in the eco­nom­ic con­junc­ture.

As a rejoin­der to the last con­di­tion, that his­tor­i­cal per­ver­sion of alleged com­mu­nists and cap­tains of indus­try join­ing togeth­er to man­age labor under the sign of its “nobil­i­ty” and nec­es­sary con­tri­bu­tion to a project of nation­al recon­struc­tion, Alquati gave an appro­pri­ate­ly per­verse name, dub­bing this emer­gent sys­tem the “ordi­no­vis­ti­co” project of cap­i­tal.13 The term, by no means com­mon amongst the operaisti or any­one, refers to a week­ly paper start­ed in 1919, L’Ordine Nuo­vo (The New Order), by Gram­sci, Ange­lo Tas­ca, and Palmiro Togli­at­ti (lat­er PCI head). Push­ing a coun­cilist left com­mu­nism, it argued that fac­to­ry coun­cils could form the fun­da­men­tal cell through which to build toward rev­o­lu­tion. Bor­di­ga crit­i­cized the posi­tion as syn­di­cal­ism, and it was dropped by Gram­sci in com­ing years, until being adopt­ed, Alquati sug­gests sly­ly, by cap­i­tal itself sev­er­al decades lat­er.

A joke of the bleak­est order, it sug­gests that, much as Negri read in Keynes the effort to no longer deny the sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of the work­ing class – and the nec­es­sar­i­ly antag­o­nis­tic qual­i­ty of that sub­ject – but to neu­tral­ize it and use it as a spur for devel­op­ment, so the ordi­no­vis­ti­co project con­sists of the open accel­er­a­tion of the social­iza­tion of labor. It is “polit­i­cal con­trol” as “con­trol of strug­gles,” the most advanced form of which is, para­dox­i­cal­ly, work­er “self-con­trol” itself, mean­ing not just the “insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of work­ers’ self-man­age­ment” but also an ide­ol­o­gy of auton­o­my that can­not rec­og­nize how strug­gles of self-deter­mi­na­tion are strug­gles for the con­ti­nu­ity of the plan of cap­i­tal. Gramsci’s ordi­no­vis­ti­co pleas for, “the organ­ic uni­fi­ca­tion of the labour­ing class,” that “homo­ge­neous and sol­id foun­da­tion [on which] will flower and devel­op all the supe­ri­or struc­tures of the com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship and econ­o­my” requires hard­ly a half-twist for cap­i­tal­ist inte­gra­tion: just swap “cap­i­tal­ist” for “com­mu­nist,” because post-war pro­duc­tivism, from unions to boss­es to FIAT train­ing cours­es, will all speak this lan­guage of devel­op­ment and uni­fied base.14 And beyond the seri­ous­ly torn veils of “spe­cial­iza­tion,”15 that pro­duc­tivism will urge the same project of “orga­ni­za­tion by fac­to­ry” – be it through work-teams, the “myth of FIAT,” or Olivetti’s “human” face – which Gram­sci believed, for rather dif­fer­ent rea­sons, “makes up the class (the whole class) in a homo­ge­neous uni­ty.” In the ordi­no­vis­ti­co years of cap­i­tal, this uni­ty becomes abject for believ­ing its “self-con­trol” at odds with this social inte­gra­tion, a ten­sion Alquati sees also in the blurred gap between “col­lab­o­ra­tion” between work­ers, even toward ends of self-man­age­ment, and the work­er “coop­er­a­tion” that’s “com­mand­ed” in the large plants (and forms the coer­cive basis of the “social” char­ac­ter of labor). The pri­ma­ry medi­at­ing organ of this self-con­trol is, of course, the union that enno­bles it. And the name for the indi­vid­ual units of the social­ized factory’s “homo­ge­neous uni­ty” is none oth­er than the operaio mas­sa, the “mass work­er,” the ele­ment of operais­mo best known in Eng­lish.

Yet while Alquati large­ly shares the his­tor­i­cal schemas of his Quaderni rossi and Classe opera­ia com­rades, his analy­sis has its own spe­cif­ic points of focus that help make it one of the more lucid grasps of those years. In the ‘75 intro­duc­tion to “Report on the New Forces,” he writes:

1960 was an impor­tant year for the cap­i­tal rela­tion, for class strug­gle, and for the Ital­ian polit­i­cal sys­tem. The months of activ­i­ty that pre­ced­ed the report [to the Ital­ian Social­ist Par­ty (PSI) con­gress] came near the turn­ing point of the “polit­i­cal cycle”; in July of ’60, the Gen­ovese revolt – though not just Gen­ovese – of the “youths with the striped shirts” (magli­ette a righe) relaunched fac­to­ry strug­gles all across the coun­try, bring­ing down the Tam­broni gov­ern­ment, and open­ing the way for pro­gram­ming16 and ratio­nal­iz­ing illu­sions and for the Cen­ter-Left. […] The work­ers of sev­er­al fac­to­ries, espe­cial­ly those of FIAT, had not yet joined in that move­ment of open strug­gle so as to gen­er­al­ize the mass strike with­in the large firms dri­ving Ital­ian devel­op­ment in those years of the “mir­a­cle” (that con­sist­ed of mass pro­duc­tion of a mass of durable goods). For this rea­son too, it still seemed pos­si­ble to pass off the “striped shirts” as residues of a his­tor­i­cal sub­pro­le­tari­at on its way out. Yet if one was con­cerned to try and grasp the class sit­u­a­tion in the large and dynam­ic firms, one would notice that these were the first signs of the descent into the piaz­zas of a young work­ing class inside [my empha­sis] the old­er one, as a grow­ing and homoge­nous van­guard. We’re deal­ing with, in fact, those “young forces” who would be talked about at the con­fer­ence on FIAT. (27-28)

We can note here two themes cru­cial for under­stand­ing Alquati’s whole project. First, the insis­tence that those “young forces” – var­i­ous­ly labeled as “dis­or­ga­nized,” “spon­ta­neous,” “undis­ci­plined” (as with the lat­er accu­sa­tion of extra­parlia­men­tary com­mu­nists as cani sci­olti, “wild/unchained dogs), “unpo­lit­i­cal,” “indi­vid­u­al­is­tic,” and, above all, “ter­rone” (a pejo­ra­tive term for South­ern Ital­ians) and “sub­pro­le­tari­at” – were not the “residue” of an old­er order in tran­si­tion, nor the tur­bu­lent eddies of the pop­u­la­tion stream­ing north­ward. Rather, they were a new sub­ject marked, above all, by a pas­sage17 through new con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion. The “mass work­er” is not an unskilled manola­voro (a man­u­al labor­er, in the agri­cul­tur­al or arti­san sense) who hap­pens to find him­self in the fac­to­ry. It is nec­es­sar­i­ly plur­al (the “young forces”) that, tak­en in the sin­gu­lar form, is the basic unit of abstract labor need­ed for the new flows and arrange­ments of pro­duc­tion man­aged in the fac­to­ry, and, tak­en en masse as a social and his­tor­i­cal force, emerges from the emp­ty husk of the out­mod­ed skilled work­er, toss­ing off those struc­tures of insti­tu­tion­al­ized medi­a­tion to which its “host” had long been accus­tomed.

The sec­ond key ele­ment hint­ed at here, through the fig­ure of the piaz­za, is the spa­tial log­ic of Alquati’s thought. His work toward the end of the ‘60s, espe­cial­ly “Cap­i­tal and the Work­ing Class at FIAT: A Mid-Point in the Inter­na­tion­al Cycle” (a 1967 paper pre­sent­ed at a class com­po­si­tion sem­i­nar), and into the ‘70s will fore­ground one aspect of this, the net­work, a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion tak­en up fur­ther in his lat­er work on knowl­edge economies and uni­ver­si­ties. Yet in the works for Quaderni rossi and Classe opera­ia, espe­cial­ly two from 1965, “Turin: The Par­ty in the City-Fac­to­ry” (in Classe opera­ia n. 3) and “The Par­ty in the ‘Green Fac­to­ry’: Notes on Work­ers in the Padana Irrigua” (nos. 4-5), the spa­tial dimen­sion plays a dif­fer­ent role. The piaz­za, when it becomes a space of riot or demon­stra­tion, is the mate­r­i­al fig­ure that makes unmis­tak­ably vis­i­ble how the log­ic of the fac­to­ry does not stop at its gates. The piaz­za is a “propul­sive node,” as he terms them, which both demar­cates the spillage of “pure­ly” eco­nom­ic strug­gles into the pub­lic and polit­i­cal sphere and threat­ens the clar­i­ty of the very divi­sions that lie between the fac­to­ry and the city, between labor-time and the rest of the day, and between pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion. More­over, like “the fab­ric of ‘social life,”

the “piaz­za” is an occa­sion for the cir­cu­la­tion and com­par­i­son of orga­ni­za­tion­al meth­ods and forms, for the con­struc­tion of a strat­e­gy of insub­or­di­na­tion that inverts the same struc­ture that func­tion­al­ly uni­fies cap­i­tal and orches­trates it on an inter­na­tion­al lev­el. (163)

Here, though, an expect­ed impasse emerges that curs­es the think­ing not just of Alquati but the entire operais­mo sequence: the inabil­i­ty to actu­al­ly extend the log­ic of the cit­tà-fab­bri­ca to include either the home or any seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion of unwaged domes­tic labor. To seek it in Alquati is a dead end. The site of his research is waged fac­to­ry work, and no amount of wig­gling can find more than a cur­so­ry, and near­ly dis­mis­sive, ref­er­ence to the home or to house­wives, leav­ing the nec­es­sary third pole of the cit­tà-fab­bri­ca (fac­to­ry-piaz­za-home), and there­fore of the cir­cuit of cap­i­tal itself, glar­ing­ly absent.

Those young forces, whose 1962 “descent” into Piaz­za Statu­to became par­tic­u­lar­ly emblem­at­ic, would be talked about plen­ty.18 Yet, accord­ing to Alquati, all these dis­cus­sions missed the fun­da­men­tal notion of class recom­po­si­tion. How­ev­er, as com­po­si­tion itself in Alquati’s thought is not a sta­t­ic arrange­ment of a sub­stance but a process of artic­u­lat­ing moments of non-col­lab­o­ra­tion, recom­po­si­tion des­ig­nates, first, a par­tic­u­lar rela­tion to the old arrange­ment (like emerg­ing from inside the pre­vi­ous fig­ure of work­ing class, i.e. North­ern skilled labor) and, sec­ond, the sub­jec­tive char­ac­ter of that artic­u­la­tion (when it becomes a project capa­ble of being gen­er­al­ized by a net­work of strug­gles).

This per­spec­tive was, unsur­pris­ing­ly, not to be picked up by the Marx­ist estab­lish­ment:

even amongst these [Marx­ists and oth­ers on the left aligned with Isti­tu­to Gram­sci, etc], almost no one had parsed out from those trans­for­ma­tions the new ter­rain on which the recom­po­si­tion of a renewed work­ing class had been set in motion19, a class that knew not only how to exploit the objec­tive con­tra­dic­tions of the new lev­el of cap­i­tal­ism. They also knew how to deep­en those con­tra­dic­tions and open them anew with their autonomous ini­tia­tive to strug­gle, pos­ing them­selves as an already antag­o­nis­tic force, as the “motive force“20 of a pos­si­ble new rev­o­lu­tion­ary process [orga­nized] from the per­spec­tive of “work­er pow­er.” […] (51)21

What exact­ly, though, is meant by class com­po­si­tion – let alone recom­po­si­tion – in Alquati’s work? In a rare def­i­n­i­tion, he pro­pos­es that:

Class com­po­si­tion,” i.e, com­po­si­tion in the class of work­ers, begins in man­u­fac­ture, from a rev­o­lu­tion in the con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion of labor, that is, in the mode of pro­duc­tion and there­fore in the labor process itself. In the mid­dle of this process we see devel­op­ing, with a lag in Italy – specif­i­cal­ly Turin – in the sec­ond half of the 1800s, the “tran­si­tion to pro­duc­tion”: even the Ital­ian work­er “exits the pro­duc­tion process dif­fer­ent than when he entered,” and this first leap in the pro­duc­tive force of labor is imme­di­ate­ly qual­i­fied as a “polit­i­cal leap” that then finds expres­sion in the leap to the work­ing class’s “force of attack.” (305)

For Alquati, then, to speak of class com­po­si­tion explic­it­ly means work­ing class com­po­si­tion: fit­ting­ly for an operais­mo approach, it is a par­ti­san per­spec­tive con­cern­ing the devel­op­ment of a capac­i­ty to negate the sys­tem that made such devel­op­ment nec­es­sary. A process that can­not be untan­gled from the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism, it depends on indi­vid­ual lived pas­sages through pro­duc­tion that, tak­en on a class lev­el, make up the actu­al expe­ri­ence of and resis­tance to that “tran­si­tion to pro­duc­tion.” Class com­po­si­tion, then, indi­cates not the make­up of the class at a giv­en moment but the com­po­si­tion of pro­le­tar­i­ans into a class (“the process of com­po­si­tion (in the sense of con­sti­tu­tive, orig­i­nary) in the class of work­ers” [“Notes on a Pam­phlet”]). It did not hap­pen once and espe­cial­ly not at a sin­gle demar­cat­ed peri­od of “real sub­sump­tion.” It hap­pens recur­rent­ly through the slow recal­i­bra­tions and “abrupt leaps” of both social strug­gle and cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment.

Of course, there is a miss­ing step pri­or to what he sug­gests here: a pre­vi­ous class for­ma­tion must first be destroyed in order to free up the raw mate­ri­als (i.e. pro­le­tar­i­ans who can become work­ers). And on this ground, I think we can best artic­u­late class com­po­si­tion, in the Alqua­t­ian sense, as a process which tracks out the fol­low­ing steps:

  1. Decom­po­si­tion of an exist­ing class for­ma­tion. (Broad­ly speak­ing, the process of pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion and enclo­sure. In the Ital­ian 1950s: the new pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion of South­ern Ital­ian agri­cul­tur­al labor­ers and North­ern skilled fac­to­ry work­ers alike, accel­er­at­ed by “nation­al recon­struc­tion” projects.)
  2. Ratio­nal­iza­tion (social­iza­tion plus mech­a­niza­tion, joined with the dif­fu­sion of bureau­crat­ic func­tions) in accor­dance with the plan of cap­i­tal as local­ly instan­ti­at­ed (in the city-fac­to­ry). This occurs at dif­fer­ent lev­els and rates his­tor­i­cal­ly but, across those, is the req­ui­site dou­ble con­di­tion for ratio­nal­iza­tion and the increased extrac­tion of rel­a­tive sur­plus val­ue. It is expe­ri­enced by pro­les as an irre­versible pas­sage that can­not be undone: “one exits the process dif­fer­ent­ly…”
  3. Instances of work­ers’ non-col­lab­o­ra­tion with their inte­gra­tion into and ful­fill­ment of the plan, both as quo­tid­i­an prac­tice of indi­vid­ual cre­ativ­i­ty (sab­o­tage) and as strikes, wild­cats, and stop­pages that buck union and fac­to­ry medi­a­tion.
  4. Chain­ing togeth­er – “artic­u­lat­ing” – this insub­or­di­na­tion into a dense, but decen­tral­ized and “invis­i­bly orga­nized,” project of social war­fare. This is a vis­i­ble recom­po­si­tion of class into antag­o­nis­tic artic­u­la­tion and mis­use of capital’s net­work, not an antag­o­nis­tic sub­ject, as Negri would have it. For Alquati, the work­ing class is best under­stood as that col­lec­tion of moments, and it is the work of inquiry to “bet­ter indi­vid­u­ate the moments of which the work­ing class at FIAT is com­posed,” in order to grasp how they com­mu­ni­cate and are linked. It isn’t called “invis­i­ble” orga­ni­za­tion for noth­ing: the moments can be known, but their artic­u­la­tion can only be seen by first draw­ing out the spe­cif­ic his­to­ries of each and only then sketch­ing the diachron­ic map of class com­po­si­tion.
Hours of strike per waged hour.
Hours of strike per waged hour.

As men­tioned before, the par­tic­u­lar ter­rain of this in the post-war decades will be that of the plan of cap­i­tal, which, for the operaisti des­ig­nates both a way of inter­pret­ing a ten­den­cy of cap­i­tal in gen­er­al and a spe­cif­ic peri­od – after the Key­ne­sian turn, accord­ing to both Tron­ti and Negri; in Italy specif­i­cal­ly, after the war – in which both crises and strug­gles must be man­aged, rather than mere­ly sur­pressed. The plan of cap­i­tal rep­re­sents a pas­sage from the stan­dard “plan­ning of devel­op­ment, i.e. a qual­i­ti­ta­tive ori­en­ta­tion to devel­op­ment,” to a “neo­cap­i­tal­ist per­spec­tive, that goes beyond just elim­i­nat­ing the con­tra­dic­tions and uncer­tain­ties” and treats devel­op­ment as a quan­ti­ta­tive sys­tem in which all vari­ables, even pro­le­tar­i­an hatred of that sys­tem, are cal­cu­lat­ed as inputs (32).

Yet it is not rigid and does not flow from the “orders” of the boss. Rather, it directs flows to him, as the trans­mis­sion mech­a­nism that neu­tral­izes “antag­o­nis­tic” work­er surges into rein­force­ments of the decen­tral­ized man­age­ment of those same work­ers:

The “plan” isn’t giv­en objec­tive­ly, just as the struc­ture of pro­duc­tive orga­ni­za­tion or the tech­ni­cal lev­el of cap­i­tal isn’t giv­en: it struc­tures itself as a flex­i­ble and artic­u­lat­ed cage22 that, under the cov­er of an objec­tive ratio­nal­i­ty, tends to bind togeth­er the work­ing class with the anar­chy of the pro­duc­tive moment. But above the cage, the boss retains and increas­es pre­cise­ly his free­dom of action: cer­tain­ly not as “free indi­vid­ual entre­pre­neur” in the field of par­tic­u­lar inter­ests that no long exist; but as mem­ber and func­tionary of social cap­i­tal that exploits the labor of the work­er class and trans­lates even the local antag­o­nis­tic surges of work­ers in revolt into a mech­a­nism of mod­ern­iza­tion and of the actu­al­iza­tion of its own cage. (115)

The plan, then, mas­querad­ing as ratio­nal­ized pro­gram­ming, suc­ceeds in pos­ing itself as neu­tral, as indis­tinct from a nec­es­sary stream­lin­ing and max­i­miz­ing of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. It’s for this rea­son that Alquati and his com­rades speak of ful­fill­ment:

we express the func­tion of the val­oriza­tion of class, closed beneath the cov­er of inter­sec­toral ratio­nal­iza­tion, with the term (derived from Marx) of ful­fill­ment: ful­fill­ment of the plan. In the fac­to­ry that has reached automa­tion (not to be con­fused with the automated/automatic plant), the ful­fill­ment of the plan is the cre­ation of sur­plus-val­ue. The work­ing class becomes the class of those who have the func­tion of ful­fill­ing the plan. The devel­op­ment of labor-pow­er is medi­at­ed by the plan, and cap­i­tal val­orizes itself through work­er ful­fil­ll­ment [l’adempimento operaio]. (116)

How, though, does the plan medi­ate labor-pow­er? While the codes of the plan are fixed into the actu­al arrange­ment of pro­duc­tion (the machin­ery that enacts work­er ful­fill­ment as the junc­tion point of liv­ing labor and fixed cap­i­tal), it requires the sup­ple­ment of man­age­ment in order to cre­ate a stri­at­ed, but uni­fied, order of social repro­duc­tion. “Bureau­cra­cy” is noth­ing but the name for the vis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion of this repro­duc­tion under the false guise of a ver­ti­cal hier­ar­chy, pre­serv­ing the lad­der of train­ing and tech­ni­cal abil­i­ty, pit­ting work­ers against each oth­er and pre­serv­ing the image of the boss as the pater­nal­ist direc­tor. How­ev­er, Alquati rejects the bureau­crat­ic cat­e­gories posed by indus­tri­al soci­ol­o­gy (““organ­ic” func­tions of pro­duc­tion (pro­duc­tive labor as seen by the boss)”; direc­tive func­tions (“the new garb of the myth­i­cal entre­pre­neur­ship”); “juridi­cal” func­tions) (112-113) and insists instead that,

The bureau­crat­ic man­age­ment func­tions are those dis­trib­uted to all the lev­els in order to guar­an­tee the appro­pri­a­tion and per­pet­u­a­tion of sur­plus-val­ue, with­out con­tribut­ing to its cre­ation: a) pro­gram­ming, as the glob­al “plan” of the exploita­tion of the labor of oth­ers; b) con­trol as the coer­cion mech­a­nism of labor-pow­er, always mutat­ing because it imple­ments the plan (that is, it deliv­ers pow­er and prof­it to the total boss [padrone com­p­lessi­vo]); c) the orga­ni­za­tion of labor, inso­far as it cre­ates new forms of atom­iza­tion and reifi­ca­tion of the work­ing class, in order to repro­duce at a new lev­el their “avail­abil­i­ty” for exploita­tion by the class of cap­i­tal. (112)23

These are, in short, three modes of rela­tion to the plan, modes present at every lev­el of pro­duc­tion (rather than man­aged “from above”): pro­gram­ming posits the uni­ty of spe­cif­ic fac­to­ry and world, con­trol struc­tures labor-pow­er local­ly so as to guar­an­tee the plan’s ful­fill­ment, and the orga­ni­za­tion of labor con­cerns the link between city-fac­to­ry, spe­cial­iz­ing labor (includ­ing the “spe­cial­iza­tion” of being a “gener­ic man­u­al labor”) so as to repro­duce its capac­i­ty to make use of labor, by bind­ing the over­all work­er above all to its capac­i­ty to labor as defined by fac­to­ry sec­tor.

Cravings for programming.
Crav­ings for pro­gram­ming.

This rais­es, of course, the ques­tion of just how a work­ers’ move­ment can orga­nize itself around the real dis­man­tling of the plan, rather than just rein­forc­ing the notion of “self-con­trol” encour­aged by man­age­ment and unions. For Alquati, always a seri­ous thinker of rela­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, as opposed to divi­sion into a dis­cernible Two, it will involve an “alter­na­tive plan” that con­sists of “cross­ing,” and ulti­mate­ly short-cir­cuit­ing, the fraught con­nec­tion between the “demands of the trades” and the “alter­na­tive plan”:

if the force that could per­mit the work­ers’ move­ment to oppose neo­cap­i­tal­ism and impose on it an alter­na­tive plan­ning of the glob­al devel­op­ment of the sys­tem and with the pow­er of con­di­tion­ing that the exe­cu­tants could gath­er by orga­niz­ing in their same place of work their class oppo­si­tion to exploita­tion, then the prob­lem of the cross­ing between the demands of the trades made on the work place and the alter­na­tive plan, of the polit­i­cal qual­i­ty of imme­di­ate demands, would come to the fore. (32)

To be clear, Alquati’s “alter­na­tive plan” is infi­nite­ly far from the plan­ning log­ic of social-democ­ra­cy: like the invis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion that under­lies the wild­cat and walk-off, it’s a plan whose “ratio­nal­i­ty” and strate­gic per­spec­tive is veiled by the fact that it makes imme­di­ate demands with­out sub­mit­ting a cal­en­dar for union and man­age­ment approval. (Just as the wild­cat appears “unpo­lit­i­cal” and non-strate­gic because it makes no demands.) As with all of his thought, this is a seri­ous defense of the knowl­edge and fore­sight embed­ded in the dai­ly deci­sions work­ers make in try­ing to nav­i­gate an alleged ratio­nal­ized fac­to­ry. More­over, it pro­vides a bril­liant counter to con­tem­po­rary over-exten­sions of “gen­er­al intel­lect” embed­ded in machin­ery (com­plex assem­blages “not to be con­fused,” he stress­es, with machines them­selves).

Because for Alquati’s work, the vis­i­bil­i­ty of that intel­lect, and espe­cial­ly its sub­ver­sive qual­i­ty, shows itself nowhere so much as the fail­ure of machin­ery, or, more pre­cise­ly, how their func­tion involves a nec­es­sar­i­ly incom­plete ratio­nal­iza­tion of incor­po­rat­ed work­ers who find them­selves still hav­ing to con­stant­ly “cheat the sys­tem” just to keep it work­ing (there­by putting the bur­den of con­tin­ued func­tion­al­i­ty on them and fur­ther imbri­cat­ing them into pro­duc­tion). This counter-plan24 of non-col­lab­o­ra­tion “gives expres­sion to the alter­na­tive line involved in the response that the exe­cu­tants – work­ers, employ­ees, tech­ni­cians – try to give dai­ly, even in indi­vid­ual forms, to the ‘absurd’ (that’s the word that recurs amongst them) con­di­tions of work and life that the progress of neo­cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion impos­es in the fac­to­ry, a response that moves from the prob­lems rel­a­tive to their work­place” (32-33).

If the counter-plan plan is gen­er­at­ed from engage­ment and dis­rup­tion of the pro­duc­tion process itself (espe­cial­ly tak­en as one node of the cit­tà-fab­bri­ca, that wider net­work of cir­cu­la­tion), what are the his­tor­i­cal changes in that node that both height­en this absur­di­ty and cre­ate the pos­si­bil­i­ty of coun­ter­ing the plan?

This is per­haps the ele­ment of Alquati’s research for which he’s best known: dense, close analy­ses of how the fac­to­ries of the “large firms,” espe­cial­ly Olivet­ti and FIAT, func­tion. As the trans­lat­ed sec­tions of the Olivet­ti arti­cle (and the details in the “Strug­gle at FIAT” essay) give strik­ing exam­ples of this in his own words, I will not attempt to sum­ma­rize the breadth of his often minute analy­ses. Instead, in what remains of this intro­duc­tion, I’ll draw out from his ‘60s essays his mod­els of the divi­sion of labor, ratio­nal­iza­tion, and machin­ery (as a mate­r­i­al his­to­ry of failed strug­gles); fur­ther dis­cus­sion of his equal­ly dense work on man­age­ment, rel­a­tive sur­plus val­ue, and infor­ma­tion as val­ue will wait for a future com­men­tary.

While Alquati dis­cerns a lev­el of ratio­nal­iza­tion pre­vi­ous­ly unseen in Italy’s fac­to­ries, he doesn’t treat it as an event that has changed the ter­rain for all work­ers, not even all those at a sin­gle firm. For instance, at FIAT, he sees dif­fer­ent lev­els on a fac­to­ry-by-fac­to­ry basis, tak­ing Mater­fer­ro as “an exam­ple of pro­duc­tion orga­nized in a rudi­men­ta­ry way,” SPA as “an exam­ple of pro­duc­tion entered into the phase of ‘ratio­nal­iza­tion’,” and “the major­i­ty of Mirafiori pass­ing from ratio­nal mech­a­niza­tion into the automa­tion phase” (30).25 So too these fac­to­ries are inter­nal­ly divid­ed by both train­ing, a tri­par­tite divi­sion he’ll keep through most of his work (giv­en that it was an actu­al stri­a­tion at most fac­to­ries after the eco­nom­ic mir­a­cle)

  1. The “mass of machine oper­a­tors or ter­tiary assem­bly line work­ers [mon­tag­gio di terza]. This lev­el doesn’t ben­e­fit from any train­ing course, nei­ther, most of the time, from a peri­od of on the job train­ing” (35).
  2. “Qual­i­fied work­ers, which FIAT forms in accor­dance with their needs through six-month pro­fes­sion­al cours­es. These are a new type of qual­i­fied work­ers, with a min­i­mum of qual­i­fi­ca­tion that the com­pa­ny gives them, for a new type of glob­al oper­a­tions (and hence not parceled up) brought by tech­ni­cal progress. There­fore these young work­ers are not going to direct­ly sub­sti­tute the old­er ones but have new func­tions that the old ‘would not know’ how to per­form” (35).
  3. “Tech­ni­cians of the new type, the famous poly­va­lent work­ers, that FIAT forms direct­ly in the “FIAT School” for the par­tic­u­lar way in which pro­duc­tion is orga­nized and run. The school lasts three years” (35-36).

In addi­tion to form­ing the basis on which a factory’s man­age­ment will obscure the total­i­ty of its pro­duc­tion and, cru­cial­ly, hide the lags and jam-ups behind a notion of “exper­tise” that belongs in “anoth­er sec­tor” (and hence none of your busi­ness), this stri­a­tion is key because it rep­re­sents the attempt to form work­ers in accor­dance with those dif­fer­ent lev­els and there­by resist the prospect of artic­u­la­tion across an entire work­force. It also means that when the “myth of FIAT” col­laps­es, as it did across all these fac­to­ries in these years, it will occur at dif­fer­ent rates and on dif­fer­ent terms for the three sec­tors, cre­at­ing in total an antag­o­nis­tic mass with var­i­ous spe­cial­ized knowl­edges and a com­plex expe­ri­ence of strug­gles and pro­duc­tion that has to be com­mu­ni­cat­ed amongst itself, across those divi­sions. It’s for that rea­son that Alquati spends so much time detail­ing the quite lit­er­al pas­sage of infor­ma­tion or the word to stop pro­duc­tion through work­shops and across actu­al shop floors: those are mate­r­i­al instances of the con­struc­tion of col­lab­o­ra­tive non-col­lab­o­ra­tion, the actu­al link­ages from which class com­po­si­tion emerges.

For the tech­ni­cians, the most trained (and most alleged­ly invest­ed in FIAT),

The first myth that crum­bles is prop­er­ly that of Pro­duc­tion; of the orga­ni­za­tion of pro­duc­tion at FIAT; of the ratio­nal­i­ty of process­es and oper­a­tions; of the ratio­nal­i­ty of the dis­tri­b­u­tion of types of qual­i­fi­ca­tion among the var­i­ous works and oper­a­tions, etc. (37)

Accom­pa­ny­ing this is “the fall of the myth of their val­ue as tech­ni­cians. That is, they note that FIAT formed them for cer­tain of their con­tin­gent needs, that their much-vaunt­ed poly­va­lence is a bluff, that out­side of the work­ing sys­tem they aren’t worth any­thing.” Two sub­jec­tive respons­es and per­son­al choic­es fol­lowed from this dis­en­chant­ment. There were those who called bull­shit on this and stud­ied in hopes of leav­ing FIAT, mean­ing that “FIAT is no longer the final aspi­ra­tion for a mul­ti­tude of work­ers; FIAT becomes a pas­sage: the work at FIAT like a tran­si­tion” (37-8). And there were those who called bull­shit but, like the pro­tag­o­nist of Vogliamo Tut­to, decid­ed that a job is a job and the impor­tant thing to do is work as bad­ly as pos­si­ble while still get­ting paid as much as pos­si­ble:

For those who don’t study, who are resigned to it, they live both inside [the fac­to­ry] and out­side a life that’s com­plete­ly “pas­sive,” “absurd.” At work they blow off every­thing, invent­ing one “imbe­cil­i­ty” after anoth­er with the sole pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of “mak­ing the evening come”; they kill time and that’s it. (38)

How­ev­er, here Alquati diverges sharply from the PSI and PCI line. Because

rather than con­demn­ing this behav­ior as the dead-end of self-same neg­a­tiv­i­ty and indi­vid­u­al­ism, with the “famous ‘ego­ism’ of the FIAT work­er, as they them­selves [i.e. the work­ers] describe it,” his response, much like Tronti’s defense of the refusal to par­tic­i­pate in insti­tu­tion­al­ized strug­gles, is to see how this forges a link between fac­to­ry pro­duc­tion and the repro­duc­tion of social life:

The young tech­ni­cians advance their ele­ments of a glob­al cri­tique of exter­nal life as the cri­tique of that which FIAT arranges for them in in soci­ety. Through this, there devel­ops and clar­i­fies for them a cor­re­spon­dence between con­di­tions of labor and the social sys­tem […] When the demand of today – “Fun­da­men­tal­ly, what does FIAT give me?” – trans­forms for a cer­tain num­ber of tech­ni­cians into anoth­er – “What dif­fer­ent things can I hope for in a soci­ety dom­i­nat­ed by busi­ness­es like FIAT?” – the polit­i­cal per­spec­tive that opens up already plays beyond every reformist solu­tion. (38)

It is pre­cise­ly on this point that Alquati makes his pro­pos­al of core­search (“the hypoth­e­sis of a polit­i­cal activ­i­ty of core­search”), in the space of that bridge drawn between indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ence and struc­tur­al con­tra­dic­tions, not through an exter­nal analy­sis or “con­scious­ness-rais­ing” but from those ini­tial spinte of dis­sat­is­fac­tion, anomie, and refusal of the future that FIAT rep­re­sents and promis­es: it is “here the young tech­ni­cian finds the polit­i­cal bridge that con­nects his quo­tid­i­an per­son­al and social prob­lems to his indi­vid­ual oppo­si­tion to being exploit­ed at his job” (39).

As for the “skilled work­ers,” the myth to fall is “all about the pump­ing-up of FIAT Pro­duc­tion, of Orga­ni­za­tion, etc, as well as the FIAT worker’s con­di­tions of life and labor, and it crum­bles quick­ly”26; for the mass work­ers, it’s it’s the grand exag­ger­a­tion of the ‘work­ers’ par­adise,’ of forms of wel­fare, of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of career.”27 Yet even as the myths fall dif­fer­ent­ly, he insists that there’s a greater com­mon­al­i­ty that emerges from “objec­tive con­di­tions and the con­crete con­text,” because “there we see that the objec­tive con­di­tion is the same for all; whether for the mass that says: “FIAT’s pro­duc­tion sys­tem is a bluff,” or for the small minor­i­ty that says “we need to orga­nize our­selves inside [the fac­to­ry] to real­ize con­di­tions of work and a way of life com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from this, we need to dis­cuss, to search…”, the prob­lem is the same” (41-42). More pre­cise­ly, he claims that

at FIAT, the increas­ing social­iza­tion of labor (i.e. the objec­tive elim­i­na­tion of indi­vid­ual work; the team-based piece­work; the fact that the min­i­mal tech­no­log­i­cal-pro­duc­tive min­i­mum is the line, or the team, etc), along with this con­scious­ness of objec­tive ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal inter­change­abil­i­ty of the work­force (between the var­i­ous offices and lev­els) which is the prod­uct of the same evo­lu­tion of pro­duc­tive sys­tems, encour­ages in work­ers the con­scious­ness that their indi­vid­ual prob­lem is a gen­er­al prob­lem, that it must be resolved col­lec­tive­ly inso­far as it involves every­one, that it could be resolved in the fac­to­ry because here the objec­tive process uni­fies and assim­i­lates them; that the exter­nal hier­ar­chy (in social life) is redi­rect­ed to the exploita­tion of pro­duc­tions by those who stay above and decide every­thing for every­one what will hap­pen dai­ly in the fac­to­ry, and there­fore out­side it, in Ital­ian and Turi­nese life con­di­tioned by FIAT. (42)

Here, final­ly, we can grasp one of the basic inno­va­tions that Alquati’s work elab­o­rates: that it is pre­cise­ly capital’s attempt to use the dif­fu­sion of man­age­ment func­tions and inte­gra­tion into machin­ery in order to co-opt social­iza­tion (its ordinivis­ti­co project) and hence ren­der work­ers in com­mon with each oth­er, whether as work teams or as those who rec­og­nize their inter­change­abil­i­ty, that cre­ates the con­di­tions for true col­lec­tive strug­gle. And – here’s the key turn – so too in reverse. In join­ing a loos­er Tron­tian frame­work of class strug­gle as the motor of devel­op­ment with Panzieri’s per­spec­tive against tech­no­log­i­cal objec­tivism, Alquati flips toward a strin­gent pes­simism, demon­strat­ing how the built world of labor, the machines through which val­ue is trans­mit­ted, is itself a frozen his­tor­i­cal record of this bit­ter­ly fought ground between pro­duc­tion and nega­tion.

Cap­i­tal is always accu­mu­lat­ed social labor, the machine is always incor­po­rat­ed social labor. Obvi­ous enough. Each “new” machine, each inno­va­tion express­es the gen­er­al lev­el and the qual­i­ty of rela­tions of force between class­es in that moment. When we say that on the assem­bly line there’s both much more and much less than the func­tion of assem­bly, we’re refer­ring to the spe­cif­ic mode in which its func­tions are the his­tor­i­cal prod­uct of rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gles deter­mined by the intrin­sic char­ac­ter of class exploita­tion that guides the cap­i­tal­ist divi­sion of labor. And so, all the most recent mul­ti­pli­ca­tions and sub­func­tions and micro­func­tions express the suc­cess­ful [for cap­i­tal] foil­ing of pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion, like the rein­force­ment giv­en by every reformism to the [devel­op­ment] process until it became a process of the atom­iza­tion of labor on a class lev­el. This is a fun­da­men­tal hypoth­e­sis of our work. (105)

While each machine express­es the “gen­er­al lev­el and qual­i­ty of rela­tions of force” in its pre­cise his­tor­i­cal moment, both that moment itself and the machine that “reflects it” are “the his­tor­i­cal prod­uct of rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gles.” Hence, tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions in the ser­vice of cap­i­tal (the “most recent mul­ti­pli­ca­tions and sub­func­tions and micro­func­tions”) do not just pro­duce a mate­r­i­al image of a cur­rent arrange­ment of class strug­gle. They are also the expres­sion of capital’s past vic­to­ries, an obscure flow chart of cen­turies of social war writ­ten out in fly­wheels and lath­es. Because as Alquati clar­i­fies,

if we refer back to Marx in try­ing to com­pre­hend the actu­al func­tion­al divi­sions at Olivet­ti, it cer­tain­ly isn’t because we’re urg­ing the draft­ing of a new Cap­i­tal or search­ing a mere “ver­i­fi­ca­tion in actu­al real­i­ty”; rather, it’s because open work­ers’ strug­gles per­sist, as do objec­tive polit­i­cal thrusts that remain impris­oned in the sys­tem and flow back onto them­selves, para­dox­i­cal­ly con­tribut­ing to turn­ing the gears of a mech­a­nism that brings with it an increas­ing­ly intense and gen­er­al­ized con­se­cra­tion of alien­at­ed labor. (105)

The rea­son to return to Marx28 is not to revise or over­come Cap­i­tal, despite the afore­men­tioned fact that Alquati is writ­ing in, and think­ing through, a seri­ous scram­bling of the work­ing class. One must read Marx because open strug­gles per­sist, because the his­to­ry of pro­le­tar­i­an defeats writ­ten in machin­ery can­not be read, and mobi­lized for future non-col­lab­o­ra­tion, with­out an under­stand­ing of how nei­ther we nor the boss­es them­selves can think func­tion with­out insub­or­di­na­tion, the plan with­out the coun­ter­plan, ratio­nal­iza­tion with­out the mate­ri­als of thought it acci­den­tal­ly pro­vides to its hos­tile exe­cu­tants.

How­ev­er, the form in which these strug­gles appear are rarely so obvi­ous as a strike, a pick­et, or a march. Instead, they are a tremen­dous array of “objec­tive polit­i­cal thrusts” (spinte) that, unlike the machines them­selves, must be tak­en as not deci­sive­ly cod­ed: they remain “closed” (chiu­so) and, in the pas­sage above, “impris­oned” in the sys­tem of which they are both expres­sion and poten­tial nega­tion.

Much like his argu­ments as a whole, which he warns are reformist if not joined with polit­i­cal work, the entrap­ment of these thrusts by the flex­i­ble cage of the plan is not an ana­lyt­i­cal prob­lem that mere­ly needs to be bet­ter “thought through.” It’s a prac­ti­cal polit­i­cal prob­lem with a real urgency. With­out being drawn out into the open, between sec­tors and into the piaz­za, with­out being gen­er­al­ized and artic­u­lat­ed (i.e the prac­ti­cal analy­sis and exten­sion that reveals the com­po­si­tion in time both of the het­eroge­nous ele­ments and their com­mon rela­tions), these “propul­sive” thrusts and refusals “flow back onto them­selves” and, worse, espe­cial­ly into the chan­nels of pre­de­ter­mined medi­a­tion (the unions and sticky net­work of decen­tral­ized bureau­cra­cy). Now ful­ly defanged and man­aged, they become their own worst ene­my, an occa­sion of con­stant capital’s asub­jec­tive polit­i­cal con­trol of liv­ing labor, a fur­ther “con­se­cra­tion of alien­at­ed labor.”

The cow as constant capital.
The cow as con­stant cap­i­tal.

But Alquati would not be the operais­to he tru­ly is with­out insist­ing on the bi-direc­tion­al­i­ty of this process and on how the same mech­a­nism pro­vides the tools to hand the plan ele­ments it can­not swal­low. The point of that rever­sal is, para­dox­i­cal­ly enough, ratio­nal­iza­tion itself, the very his­tor­i­cal process beneath which fall all the func­tions of polit­i­cal con­trol he iden­ti­fied. Ratio­nal­iza­tion is itself the prob­lem, the con­tra­dic­tion that under­pins both the frus­trat­ed his­to­ry of revolt and the pow­derkeg of antagon­stic knowl­edge the fac­to­ry has been hap­haz­ard­ly stor­ing up in its machin­ery.29 The rea­son is, sim­ply enough, that those same aspects exac­er­bat­ed by advanced ratio­nal­iza­tion have made its “clas­si­cal” objec­tive no longer achiev­able.

Today, the “clas­si­cal” objec­tive of cap­i­tal­ist “ratio­nal­iza­tion” – that is, the rise of the dom­i­na­tion of cap­i­tal over labor through the increas­ing­ly dri­ven tech­ni­cal decom­po­si­tion of tasks in order to polit­i­cal­ly frac­ture the class con­scious­ness of the work­forces, in a way so as to defin­i­tive­ly exclude them from polit­i­cal deci­sions regard­ing the direc­tion of the firms (and so too from polit­i­cal pow­er, that is based in the fac­to­ry) – this objec­tive at Fer­riere, as in all the oth­er sec­tions, is far from being met. The increas­ing­ly major con­scious­ness that work­ers, even if qual­i­fied as machine work­ers or gener­ic man­u­al labor, come to gain of the exis­tence of an ele­vat­ed pro­fes­sion­al con­tent and of high tech­ni­cal respon­si­bil­i­ties, not to men­tion the con­di­tions of a bru­tal­ly intense exploita­tion, caus­es the rapid rise – through the resump­tion of a cir­cu­la­tion of ideas inside [the fac­to­ry], the return to dis­cus­sion, and the revival of local strug­gles – of a new class con­scious­ness, the polit­i­cal scope of which begins to be felt by those very same work­ers. (74)

And so, if the struc­ture of machin­ery is a record of fail­ure, the very attempt that defines the era of that machinery’s increas­ing dom­i­nance – the attempt to get work­ers to ful­ly inte­grate and ful­fill the plan – cuts against this in full, because it still requires the dou­ble sup­ple­ment of both the “myth” of respon­si­bil­i­ty and the brute coer­cion of exploita­tion. It’s in this way that work­ers begin to sketch out a new mode of strug­gle, through the cir­cu­la­tion of ideas passed through the same chan­nels planned for the accel­er­at­ed cir­cu­la­tion of cap­i­tal. It is the rare, if not sin­gu­lar, val­ue of Alquati to have grasped this. All the more rare to have grasped how his analy­ses would “them­selves already be a moment of this effort at polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion by the young forces of the work­ing class,” already being worked out in a rig­or­ous and messy process of com­po­si­tion by those who dai­ly use, pore over, fix, and wreck the machin­ery in which the pre-his­to­ry of their war is writ­ten.

  1. All illus­tra­tions orig­i­nal­ly appeared in Classe Opera­ia, the jour­nal – after Quaderni Rossi – where Alquati’s texts appeared. 

  2. See the con­clu­sion of this essay for an inter­pre­ta­tion of this seem­ing­ly odd fig­ure. 

  3. Romano Alquati, Sul­la FIAT e altri scrit­ti (Milano: Fel­trinel­li, 1975), 186; fur­ther ref­er­ences to this work are giv­en in the text. My trans­la­tion, as are all selec­tions from Alquati. 

  4. On “the auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal,” see Mat­teo Mandarini’s essay, “Beyond nihilism: notes towards a cri­tique of left-Hei­deg­ge­ri­an­ism in Ital­ian phi­los­o­phy of the 1970s,” in The Ital­ian Dif­fer­ence: Between Nihilism and Biopol­i­tics. Ed. Loren­zo Loren­zo, and Alber­to Toscano. Mel­bourne:, 2009, 55-79. By that des­ig­na­tion, Tron­ti and Cac­cia­ri intend nei­ther autono­mia opera­ia (worker’s auton­o­my, both a key ker­nel of clas­si­cal work­erist thought) or autono­mia, that dif­fuse term nam­ing the spa­tial and the­o­ret­i­cal dif­fu­sion of work­erist the­o­ry out of the fac­to­ry and away from a class-cen­tered per­spec­tive of refusal. 

  5. Mario Tron­ti, “Our Operais­mo,” New Left Review 73 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 2012): 119-120. 

  6. In his trans­la­tion of Negri’s “Dom­i­na­tion and Sab­o­tage” in Books for Burn­ing (New York: Ver­so, 2005), Tim­o­thy Mur­phy ren­ders this as, “Imag­i­na­tion now wears a good pair of boots” (260). While I think the trans­la­tion is strong over­all, I dif­fer on this point, at least styl­is­ti­cal­ly. A clos­er trans­la­tion of the full sen­tence is, “Fan­ta­sy wears boots, desire is vio­lent, inven­tion is orga­nized.’” 

  7. Murphy’s trans­la­tion in Books for Burn­ing, 259. 

  8. It’s some­where between a sign of impres­sive restraint and a bum­mer that he nev­er ful­ly owns those spinte. One can feel a smol­der­ing will to nega­tion just below the sur­face of his extreme­ly mea­sured evis­cer­a­tions of the unions, and I can’t be alone in cheer­ing him to posthu­mous­ly let it rip. 

  9. For the record, in my trans­la­tions, I have pre­served this as much as pos­si­ble. Where I find that it would make the texts even hard­er to grasp than they cur­rent­ly are, I’ve made nec­es­sary changes to struc­ture. 

  10. Their self-descrip­tion, as not­ed in the “Report”: “that’s the word that recurs amongst them” (33). 

  11. He con­tin­ues: “In fact, here [always the pre­cise des­ig­na­tion] core­search repro­pos­es itself not as a cul­tur­al­is­tic mat­ter, of an ‘anthro­po­log­i­cal’ con­scious­ness of zones and forms of life that uti­lizes Marx­i­an method­ol­o­gy; but as polit­i­cal fact affirmed spon­ta­neous­ly by the same exe­cu­tants in the orga­ni­za­tion­al effort of groups of young work­ers and employ­ees of FIAT with whom we have con­tact.” 

  12. This same uni­ty of style and ana­lyt­ic prac­tice lies too behind that strange mix of soci­o­log­i­cal dry­ness with the flares of rev­o­lu­tion­ary will that push his thought toward more open­ly insur­rec­tionary ter­ri­to­ry. It is an expres­sion of the ground­ing con­di­tion of his thought, which urged again and again that the gulf between analy­sis and insub­or­di­na­tion was a pure mys­ti­fi­ca­tion, even if reject­ing that gulf – as he did – nec­es­sar­i­ly meant cross­ing, and let­ting one­self be closed with­in, ene­my ter­ri­to­ry: the actu­al mech­a­nisms of cap­i­tal, the thick cir­cuits of rela­tion between con­stant and vari­able cap­i­tal. 

  13. See my trans­la­tion of “Strug­gle at FIAT” for Alquati’s dis­cus­sion of ordinivis­mo

  14. Anto­nio Gram­sci, “Unions and coun­cils,” L’Ordine Nuo­vo, 11 Octo­ber 1919. 

  15. Which Alquati notes almost no work­ers believe in as oth­er than mere intra-class dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion… 

  16. Worth not­ing: the word Alquati uses is pro­gram­ma­to­rie, which could also be trans­lat­ed as “pro­gram­ma­tist,” putting the work in poten­tial­ly inter­est­ing dia­logue with Théorie Com­mu­niste and oth­ers. 

  17. Pas­sag­gio, also mean­ing “tran­si­tion,” a key word for his writ­ing. 

  18. Even if its role was more as myth: Dario Lan­zar­do, for instance, has point­ed out that at the par­tic­u­lar FIAT plants behind the strike, there were very few South­ern-born work­ers (at this time). As for the riots, it is far from clear that it was the work­ers them­selves who made up the major­i­ty of the hell-rais­ers: it seems to have been pri­mar­i­ly youths (which can include work­ers) and pro­le­tar­i­ans from the neigh­bor­hood. See Dario Lan­zar­do, La Riv­ol­ta Di Piaz­za Statu­to: Tori­no, Luglio 1962 (Milano: Fel­trinel­li eco­nom­i­ca, 1979). 

  19. My empha­sis – ECW. 

  20. Ref­er­ence to one part of Marx’s three-part mod­el of machin­ery (motive force/transmission mechanism/tool) and echo of Tronti’s emer­gent posi­tion of work­ing class resis­tance as the motor of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment. 

  21. He con­tin­ues: “The new work­ers do not speak abstract­ly of social rev­o­lu­tion, yet they are not avail­able for oth­er neo-reformist adven­tures that would leave untouched the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of class exploita­tion ver­i­fied dai­ly in their work­place. The young are not will­ing to line up in ranks or to join up with organ­isms out­side the work­ing class, in that it’s actu­al­ly this con­di­tion of hav­ing to exe­cute the will of plans con­ceived by oth­ers that they refuse, both in the fac­to­ry and beyond. It is not only inte­gra­tion that’s put in check by the young work­ers. It’s not just neo­cap­i­tal­ist inte­gra­tion that’s put into cri­sis.”

    Not that this refusal of being exe­cu­tants or of the project of inte­gra­tion (the plan of capital’s dou­ble work of social­iza­tion and mech­a­niza­tion as man­age­ment) will cohere into a gen­er­al­ized counter-plan. As he clar­i­fies, ret­ro­spec­tive­ly, in ‘75, “The seri­ous defi­cien­cy was in the fright­en­ing­ly low lev­el of sub­jec­tive forces. It’s real­ly for this rea­son that I priv­i­lege the polit­i­cal ter­rain and not (as some mis­tak­en­ly believe) that of the pre­sumed objec­tive con­tra­dic­tions in the man-machine rela­tion.” (29)

    How­ev­er, those defi­cien­cies won’t show them­selves imme­di­ate­ly as such. Because he notes that it was the ter­rain of QR to his­tor­i­cal­ly map the new forms of strug­gle that indexed and advanced this recom­po­si­tion, in addi­tion to the par­al­lel shifts in man­age­ment and union struc­ture, it wouldn’t be until at least ‘69 that its “real qual­i­ta­tive nov­el­ties” became prop­er­ly vis­i­ble:

    “In real­i­ty, the new cycle of strug­gles in the ‘60s, mov­ing through ’62 and ’66, did not present real qual­i­ta­tive nov­el­ties until the strug­gles of ’68-’69 that con­clud­ed that cycle, yet one could already read those, in embryo, in the sum­mer of ’60, pro­vid­ed that they were already present in the “new” move­ments of the big fac­to­ries. But here’s the real point: to have already real­ized this pres­ence before required hav­ing for­mu­lat­ed in advance the hypoth­e­sis on this new cycle of strug­gle just now emerg­ing, on its sub­jec­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics, more than its objec­tive ones, and on its new rev­o­lu­tion­ary poten­tial already there from the sec­ond half of the ‘50s, from the moment of the cri­sis of the work­ers move­ment in the pre­ced­ing phase and arrange­ment of the cap­i­tal rela­tion. That required, from the work­ing class’ point of view, hav­ing known how to see and to see ahead to the poten­tial of the tran­si­tion to a new phase, hav­ing known there­fore to see already in the cri­sis of the pre­ced­ing rela­tion between class­es the emer­gence of a new rev­o­lu­tion­ary poten­tial and the polit­i­cal hege­mo­ny of the work­ing class. This would only be grasped by those who were able to arm them­selves with new the­o­ret­i­cal capac­i­ty and who would found, with this weapon, the out­line of a new strat­e­gy aris­ing from the ‘50s: to see in that cri­sis of the insti­tu­tion­al work­ers move­ment – and the extrain­sti­tu­tion­al one (even the his­tor­i­cal minori­ties were clois­tered in the same pes­simism, blath­er­ing on about the defin­i­tive inte­gra­tion of the work­ing class [into cap­i­tal] and lim­it­ing them­selves to denounc­ing the blows of the majori­tar­i­an forces) – and in the cri­sis of that move­ment of strug­gle [i.e. the one not direct­ed by orga­ni­za­tions, such as the ‘magli­ette a righe’] the growth cri­sis of what was devel­op­ing extra­or­di­nary capac­i­ties for attack­ing the sys­tem.” (28)  

  22. The word he uses is gab­bia, which also has the sense of “prison.” 

  23. He insists that there can be no squar­ing of these two mod­els: “It’s there­fore nec­es­sary to refute and destroy the busi­ness pyra­mid that indus­tri­al soci­ol­o­gy presents us and to recom­pose it with oth­er hypothe­ses. The three func­tions that we defined as bureau­crat­ic are a first approx­i­ma­tion of the actu­al form of class exploita­tion in the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion” (112). 

  24. Con­tropi­ano: a term that would be picked up again by the jour­nal Con­tropi­ano and by Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, among oth­ers. 

  25. Mirafiori, the most “advanced,” is the site he most exten­sive­ly con­sid­ers, much as the Olivet­ti fac­to­ry shows fur­ther advances of its own type (moves toward the cyber­net­ic, com­plex sec­toral “dis­pro­por­tion­al­i­ty,” a much-vaunt­ed human­ist pater­nal­ism, etc). 

  26. He con­tin­ues: “it’s the promise of pass­ing “to the first” [i.e. the more advanced lines of work”] that crum­bles in the face of the mass of work­ers who’ve already been wait­ing ten years in the fac­to­ry for this pas­sage” (40). 

  27. “They enter ‘on the third’ [the low­est clas­si­fi­ca­tion of labor], they remain for a good chunk of time under the impres­sion of the big pater­nal politi­cians of the ear­ly days, but when they come to grips with the fact that the cat­e­go­ry pas­sage [to the 2nd or 3rd line] isn’t com­ing, ‘they strike the first sparks,’ because these young hires don’t resign them­selves like the old ones “who built up the cal­lous,” many now hav­ing already worked out­side for a year or two and were declas­si­fied [i.e. bumped down the ranks] by FIAT, etc.” (41). 

  28. A return which in this case will mean the adop­tion of a cat­e­gor­i­cal lan­guage, par­tic­u­lar­ly focused on grap­pling with the junc­tion point of con­stant and vari­able cap­i­tal. 

  29. Not ratio­nal­i­ty (because, as the work­ers stress, the labor process remains end­less­ly irra­tional and in need of “unof­fi­cial” inputs) and not, Alquati stress­es, the con­tra­dic­tion between ratio­nal­iza­tion of the mar­ket and ratio­nal­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion, the claim ven­tured by apol­o­gists and reformists. Rather, he insists that it is ratio­nal­iza­tion itself that is the con­tra­dic­tion:

    “And from here the dis­course returns to the inequalities/imbalances [sperequazioni], returns to the fac­to­ry where the fun­da­men­tal con­tra­dic­tions appear to me to be those inter­nal to tech­ni­cal-pro­duc­tive ‘ratio­nal­iza­tion,’ that first cre­ates the mere exe­cu­tants [i.e. deskills labor­ers] and then, in order to keep going, makes them take respon­si­bil­i­ty, that sep­a­rates and puts into oppo­si­tion the lev­els [of pro­duc­tion] with sys­tem­at­ic imbal­anc­ing and then must link all of them to a rigid sys­tem that annuls all indi­vid­u­als and groups and pos­es the work­shops as the min­i­mal tech­no­log­i­cal uni­ty, etc etc (and these are the con­sid­er­a­tions most wide­ly gen­er­al­iz­able), that promis­es a pro­fes­sion­al career and annuls the pro­fes­sions, that sells cars like they were giv­ing away toys to peo­ple who don’t have the time to use or mon­ey to main­tain them. There­fore, I don’t think that one could base these inter­nal con­tra­dic­tions on a con­trast between a pro­fes­sion­al for­ma­tion and a tech­ni­cal-orga­ni­za­tion­al real­i­ty, in terms almost of rec­i­p­ro­cal adjust­ment. It’s not easy to say with cer­tain­ty what is the func­tion that FIAT attrib­ut­es to its schools and its cours­es nor to what end is direct­ed the orga­ni­za­tion demand­ed of its high­ly qual­i­fied work­ers, one that doesn’t have the task of mak­ing ‘men’ but exe­cu­tants, that’s to say, the oppo­site. It seems to instead that an analy­sis of the trend lines of orga­ni­za­tion­al inno­va­tions, which one could grasp by inter­ac­tive­ly con­fronting the trans­for­ma­tions of var­i­ous work­forces, demon­strates that the real ‘ratio­nal­iza­tion’ that actu­al­izes itself at FIAT does so beyond its offi­cial organs and con­tin­ues coher­ent­ly in the the actu­al ori­en­ta­tions of pro­fes­sion­al for­ma­tions. In oth­er words, it’s not a frac­ture between the two moments [i.e. mar­ket and pro­duc­tion] but ‘ratio­nal­iza­tion’ itself that runs bad­ly.” (69)  

Author of the article

is the author of Combined and Uneven Apocalypse; Roman Letters; Shard Cinema; and, forthcoming, The Grid Aflame. He is the translator, with David Fernbach, of Mario Mieli's Towards a Gay Communism. He teaches theory at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and film production at Cooper Union. He is the cofounder of Thirteen Black Cats, a research and production collective for moving images, and is a member of the Viewpoint editorial collective.