Classe Operaia, vol. 3 no. 3, March 1967.
We succinctly present here the outline1 of one of the publications with which, in the near future, we’ll translate directly into theoretical-strategic work some of the findings that have been surfacing for years with a continual practical-political presence, years of tactical surveys of the terrain of class war. We’re choosing again a nodal point: once again, FIAT, “class composition at FIAT.” Yet while the level will be predominantly theoretical-strategic, the bent and dimensions of this next publication will be that of a pamphlet.
This pamphlet, which we’re presenting here as an outline, is in turn just one moment of the rise of theoretical research and practical political work, because it reserves some aspects for a future, much more complicated and vast publication on FIAT in the struggle of the working class; here those aspects are anticipated and narrowed to the theme of “class composition.”
Cooperation at FIAT
“The form of labor of many persons who work next to one another according to a plan, in one and the same process of production or in different but connected processes of production: we call that cooperation.”
This definition from Marx is one of the most noted and refers to one of the aspects that we too have considered most frequently since the start of the ‘60s. It’s found at the start of the 4th section of the first Book of Capital: it’s from cooperation in manufacture that “relative surplus value” develops, and cooperation is “the point of departure for capitalist production.” “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” which then finds expression in the leap to the working class’s “force of attack.” This expresses itself at such a level in the struggle over the working day in the last years of the 19th century and especially in the first of the 20th that it newly constrains Italian capitalists to overturn2 the technical and social conditions of the labor process, above all in order to increase first here their “force of resistance” through the massive introduction of machinery. On this basis, big industry is born: it’s the “industrial counterrevolution.” With machinery, the structure of cooperation is “revolutionized” in the way that objectified labor actively poses itself against living labor, against the working class that puts it in movement, and subordinates the working class by absorbing social dynamism into capitalist accumulation. Marx speaks of “the cooperation of machines,” of their integration in a continual system that organizes, programs, and controls “worker cooperation” for the boss’s benefit. At FIAT, all this is just the initial process that breathed life into this big industry in the years preceding the First World War: but from then to now, the process continued and accelerated through a good 60 years of class war, through a series of cycles of worker struggle and capitalist accumulation, during the course of which the “force of attack” was always reproduced to the point of finding – in different forms depending of the level of capital: factory councils in the first postwar period; the party in the factory in the second – the terrain of its practical rupture.
“Cooperation” and the entire laboring process had already been revolutionized, many times; and on new bases of capitalist accumulation, more qualitative than quantitative, and the objectification and socialization of work, the class was “recomposed” on the ground of new internal articulations of its own movements. So at what point does “cooperation” at FIAT stand today? Searching for a response to this question in an initial approximation, we will consider several aspects of the “labor process” at FIAT today, of the “concrete labor” of the working class at FIAT, in the sphere of production of the “use values” of FIAT commodities.
We will consider the entire interweaving of these cycles, also including aspects of “circulation,” in the wider sense: the relation between “technological” and “market” characteristics; the technical concentration and decentering of functions, processing, operations; vertical and horizontal integrations; territorial distribution (in relation to the sectoral specialization relative to districts and areas) from the level of the city-region to the national and international one; from extractive industry and the first processing of raw materials to the cycles of auxiliary and tertiary production (amongst which, for example, we see the reintroduction of so-called “scientific research”). We establish an initial relation between this multi-sectoral structure, one that’s internationally integrated, and “class composition.”
We aren’t doing a job analysis and even less a census of the many tens of thousands of units that make up the machinery of FIAT. The man-machine relation is the destiny of every anarcho-syndicalist tactic. And the classification by the left of places and tasks is best left to the “modern union.” Their issue is the contractual articulation of the “union in the factory.” For us, in order to construct the party in the factory, our interest, as a transition, is the consideration of several aspects of the actual relation between living and objectified labor. Of notable importance in the relation of the division and socialization of labor, between the “combination” of the collective worker (socially combined in cooperation), the “machinery,” and the complex of “objective conditions that pose themselves against the worker as the power that dominates him,” is the study of the following three aspects in their reciprocal interdependence: a) the scales of production, and in particular the proportional relations that balance the scales of various cycles or moments of the cycle, on which Proudhon had already written, and that establish at a basic level what Marx ironically called “the iron law of relative number” in the fourth section3; b) the differences – sometimes profound – between the particular internal technological levels of various cycles or moments of cycles, that might be seen in relation both to objectified labor in factory machinery, implements, etc., and to primary and auxiliary materials, as in that objectified labor crystallized in projects, methods, procedures, etc.; c) that which capitalist science calls the “functional division” of work, i.e. the classification of operations, processing, cycles and sections according to the “functions.”
Class composition and the valorization of capital at FIAT
This is the part of the pamphlet that presents the biggest difficulty in realization, for reasons more practical than theoretical. The theory of labor-value goes beyond “commanded labor” and becomes the theory of “labor-content in goods” with Adam Smith. The rare “Marxist” theorists who take it up again in more recent times generally don’t go beyond a reformist updating of the “labor-content” theory, correct only on the basis of the most recent turns in political economy and the most recent experiments in economic politics.
Now, the more properly practical aspect of this difficult is really the banal one of retrieving and gathering the boss’s economic data to be turned on its head, aggregated, and disaggregated, selecting “productive labor” as the strategic variable. This data is indispensable because valorization is not reconstructible “from below.”
In a second approximation, we’ve tried to overcome and outflank several of these obstacles. And returning to “class composition,” we were forced to reestablish (especially in several particular moments) within the valorization process the reciprocal links with the labor process, leading us to search again, for example, for the relation between “abstract labor” and “concrete labor” in order to better individuate the moments in which the working class at FIAT is composed.
It’s well known that Marx made the second of Smith’s definitions (labor that exchanges as capital) his own: less noted are the successive changes introduced by Marx into the Smithian definition.
The definition of a new concept of “productive labor” is fundamentally a political problem and is fundamental for any political choice. Therefore, as the reasons for the capitalist elimination of the Smithian definition of economic-political theory are clearly and openly political, and the proposals to modify and eliminate it coming from the reformist left are even more openly so. Corrections and negations from the capitalist side and from the reformist side tend to converge. In general, misunderstanding the Marxian discourse on the tendential fall of the rate of profit and on the increase of the mass of profit, that analysis detects the growing increase in constant capital, marginalizes that variable [i.e. increased constant capital], and strains for the secular myth of the capitalist elimination of the working class. It identifies variable capital with total wages;4; and it values in an inverted way the capitalist accounting practices of annual balance, which count “auxiliary” and “tertiary” labor in fixed capital as part of “objectified labor.”
In fact, it’s almost entirely absorbed in the production, maintenance, and reproduction of “constant capital,” and this – as Marx says – means it conserves and reintegrates only its own use value and does not yield or produce surplus value, while the production of means of production has already extracted surplus value from “auxiliary” and “tertiary” workers in preceding cycles that belong to other account balances, to other periods. Or they [capitalists and unionists alike] rebuke Marx for not having considered the existence of other productive forces; in particular, they discover that “machinery” on one side and “science” on the other (developing in close interdependence) are today two “productive forces” far more relevant for profit (and they don’t distinguish between mass and rate, profit and surplus value) than the “surplus labor” of that minority of workers on the path to obsolescence, the machine workers on the primary fabrication line of a given factory producing consumer goods.
Today, objectified labor acquires enormous importance: but while leaving behind the “accelerated depreciations,”… we’re dealing with, at least in the time of an economic cycle, trying to see its exchange with living, collective, and social labor, and, at the least, to see it in its whole period of rotation, although it will be difficult for continuous production. In his corner, Marx had not only taken account of those two “productive forces” along with more noted others (natural forces and the sociality of work), but he added, as a new active determination to the activity of productive labor, also “labor as the vital ferment of capital” and, consequently, the very political “antagonism” of the working class. On the other side, Marx extended this line of thought to the point of thinking that same capital as “productive force” in its function as “development of the productive force of labor-power… a new function of capital that it’ll dish out to the worker.”
The enormous development of these “productive forces” on the real plane of valorization matters because it’s an expansion of the productivity of the “working class” itself. And the working class in reality grows properly through these fundamental processes, that develop on a collective and social scale (one that today is international and puts into question the global division of labor), that remains and grows in its function as the sole source of surplus value, of profit, beyond its primary function as the condition of capital, the “giver of capital.”5 These productive forces, in particular sociality, science, and machinery (not to be confused with machines) are properly tackled for the sake of overthrowing reformist conclusions in the part of the pamphlet dedicated to “productive labor.” And from this overthrow one must depart. Though not just to discern first and foremost the working class as producers of capital from unproductive workers, within FIAT’s productive process and accumulation. Rather, in order to pass to further distinctions within each of the two fields (discriminating, for example, within unproductive workers certain massified categories of “services,” taking account of the convergence of their movements of struggle against social capital with the movements of struggle of the working class [as a whole]).
In terms of the class of the producers of capital [i.e. working class], by recovering Marxian analyses of how the production of relative surplus value emerges on a social scale, two large categories can be initially established. They are the two poles of a continuum, and they bracket situations and intermediate moments that we respectively call “direct and indirect” productive labor. Even here the terms are taken up again by a Smithian distinction (which has nothing to do with this) that Marx raised in Book IV of Capital, but never used. Marx has political aims complete opposite from those of Smith: and while Capital is limited to the analysis of productive as opposed to unproductive labor, it almost always resorts to the terms “immediate” and “immediately” apparently opposed to that of “mediated productive labor.” In the Grundrisse, this counterposition was more explicit, and while “immediate labor,” appearing in several passages where the analysis moves primarily from inside the labor process (see the famous “Fragment on Machines”), ambiguously seems to make immediate reference to workers who function directly as machine operators, mediated “productive” labor comes precisely out of the discourse on the sociality of cooperation, on machinery, and on science. In this part of the pamphlet that takes up and relaunches in a fresh way these distinctions within the production of capital suggested and merely mentioned by Marx, we bring back to the level of valorization the analysis of “cooperation at FIAT” sketched in the preceding chapter: and, as always, angling toward “productive labor” as the working class in struggle against capital from the inside of its production. So we will overleap the reformist bad joke as well, the one that’s been old for century, which claims that seeing as the majority of work today is only “indirectly productive,” it makes little sense to insist on entrenching ourselves in the assumption of “productive labor” because – remember – in the capitalist system, everything concurs with the development of the system…, or is absorbed in the accumulation of capital. Against this, this part of the pamphlet ends by really reconfirming the barricade that actually separates and counterposes “indirectly productive” labor (that exists from the time of manufacture!) to the major part of “unproductive laborers” even on the political level.
Internal passages in the production of relative surplus value at FIAT
To insert at this point a sort of chronology of class relation, or of struggle, at FIAT is sure to be incorrect. But we do it all the same because it serves as the third approximation.
From the theoretical-strategic point of view, several nodes have already showed themselves in other partial chronologies. For example: cycle of struggles, forms and types of struggle, movements of class and economic cycle, from the very short period (portion of cycle) to the short and long period; aggressive waves of worker struggle, capitalist response, “abrupt” leaps of socialization, mechanization, planning, and productivity; concentration and decentering, centralizations and shattering, with sectoral and territorial redistribution of the working class, and processes of proletarianization, or tertiarization, qualification and dequalification, simplification, abstraction of labor and – always – the rise of productive forces mediating the diminution of the “value” of labor-power; attack on the levels of political organization through restructurings and subjective recomposition of class movements, and the reproposal of new terrain and a new level of capital production for new, aggressive, and potentially revolutionary battles. To arrive with this “pamphlet” (that itself prepares a following one) at further hypotheses was relatively easy only in terms of the “point of departure,” for the origins of the class relation at FIAT, but very difficult for the following history of FIAT as “big industry.” The reasons are all interlinked. For those who have read only the major works of Marx and Lenin (who made a formidable contribution to the study of the passage of proletariat to working class and not only in Russia), to impose a real Marxist research on the origins of the class relation is to “bust the door down,” or pretty close. But despite the major advances that Marx made in the individuation of large tendential lines of capitalist development, the same work of Marx offers increasingly less “baby food”6 as one approaches the present day or has to predict the immediate future. This is the principal reason (the second is opportunism, which advises against confronting the closest questions in which the responsibility will fall increasingly on those directors in charge), this is the principal reason why the majority of histories of the Italian workers’ movement usually stop right when the working “class” and the class relation in Italy has just started: from here came also the flowering of those studies of countries that found themselves actually at the start of industrialization, studies on the part of Italian and western scholars alike. Just as pronounced is the tendency of [even] those who go beyond this to limit themselves to the history of institutions. Much more useful are without doubt the few “economic histories,” written by scholars on the capitalist side.
It makes one notice today the drive of the new intellectuals, of the “technocratic” variety, who gather in the new research institutions linked to planning, from the citizen and municipal level to the regional, national, and international.
These technocrats would seem to be eager to bring to light the history of Italian capital’s political conquests (and, therefore, of “Italian labor”) from – obviously – a technological standpoint. Their research goes well, even if it’ll take years and even if we know that not all of it will be “public” domain.
While the Turinese workers’ movement is one of the best known, and while the class situation at FIAT imposed itself nationally over decades, meaning that writings on FIAT not just of the celebratory-propagandistic or moralistic-denunciation type were available, the major difficulty – for a chronology of the internal transitions to “production of relative surplus value” in “big industry” during the 50 years that followed the “industrial revolution” of the Italian North – lies in the lack of references to the “technological level,” the decisive spiral for individuating what gradually on different dates and in different struggles took shape as, for all intents and purposes, the “class relation.” That history knows much, for example, of the polemic on worker control from ’19-’20 and even something of the Councils Movement. But reading and rereading all these books doesn’t result in knowing anything fundamental: what these workers were in reality, what the factory was that employed them and the production that they controlled and managed. And evidently these questions won’t be understood in immediate terms. You’re asking after different qualities when you consider the working class that struggled in ’19, or that of the strike in 1904, or that of the strikes of ’27-’28, of ’38-’39, of ’42-’43, of ’46-’47, of ’48-’54, of ’61-’63, or of ’66. Save for some references to the history of the institutions of the workers’ movement, you’ll get nothing.
In the pamphlet, the early movements are seen almost exclusively in the limited ambit of the district of Turin and the surrounding ones; with the first world war, we move to considering the national and then even the international. But it’s good to remember that just for the capitalist side as for that of the working class, the movement from the very start has been toward the “international” dimension. At this point, all that’s left is to schematically anticipate the following periodization and establish it for the chronology.
a) The period that precedes the birth of FIAT as “Large Industry.”
The foundation of FIAT SpA7 by a handful of capitalists linked to foreign capital, important for this reason, appears subordinate with respect to the process of composition (in the sense of constitutive, originary) in the class of workers.8 This process precedes by a couple of decades the founding of FIAT, as a limited company, and its production of automobiles. The chronology of production of relative surplus value therefore sinks its roots in the originary expropriation9 and accumulation of “absolute surplus value”; first in the Piedmontese districts, prior to national unification, and then on the national scale, and therefore in the struggles that followed it with the relative appearance of the class relation carried by the proletariat, as economically and politically understood. We all know of the typically Italian delay of forces typically that maintained domestic labor until the end of the 1800s and beyond; however, it’s in the last decades of the 19th century that manufacture began the “transition to the working class,.” We are not especially interested in catching that transition in the machine workshops – where it would come later – and in the manufacture that produced coaches and carriages (that is, the market sectors that would develop with FIAT after their motorization). What interests us is to capture that transition on a social scale, independent of market distinctions, because in following the revolution that would respond to the movements at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, FIAT would make its leap to “big industry,” absorbing and recomposing under its direct management a working class already socially combined in their own movements, in large part coming from other sectors, where they were already producing “relative surplus value” and where there even existed in embryonic form the “factory,” in the scientific sense, in addition to a proletariat that transitions in production only with “FIAT” [as opposed to FIAT SpA]: and this mechanism still endures today, thanks to national and international “disequilibrium.”
b) The birth of FIAT as large industry
This is placeable in the period that follows the crisis of 1907 and coincides with that Italian “industrial revolution” in which FIAT decisively posed itself as a propulsive moment on the social scale with Giovanni Agnelli who presented himself from the start in the garb of a collective capitalist. FIAT (if one excepts the first years of preparation and its start) was born already as “large industry.” Its birth is connected to the explosion also in Turin of spontaneous and autonomous movements, of struggles over the working day. And the massive introduction of machinery increases with the contribution of FIAT; the constitution of capitalists as a class and its own political organization develops in response to, and taking as a guide, those struggles and that organized unification that gathers together the working class . Many of the organized forms that were to institutionalize themselves in the postwar period were already created spontaneously by workers in this period. Preparations for war would see a further revolution in “class composition.”
c) The last fifty years – For the 57-58 years we were constrained to give a straight retelling of “facts”: an artisanal work within a short space of time: the results are insufficient. As we gradually approach the situation of the ‘70s, for each of the successive cycles in which capital now truly accumulates and which reproduce in an expanded mode a working class in the properly “Marxist” sense, what counts more is the small step forward that, in light of the materials examined,succeeds in the preparation of indispensable theoretical instruments. The history of this long period can only be written if, having traversed from top to bottom, if it succeeds in moving decisively beyond Marx with new theoretical arms.
Our reticence towards anticipating this initial elaboration in this “schema” is therefore understandable. The periodization remains, however. The dates change depending on if you place the point of observation more in the moment when the workers’ “force of attack” reaches its culmination in a given cycle of struggle, instead of placing it at the point of the maximum “capacity of resistance” of the collective and social capitalist of FIAT: that is to say, at the point where the boss responds with an “abrupt leap,” with a further subversion that drives the system to higher levels of socialization: but these moments are not always cleanly separated in time, nor do they present themselves with the same temporal intervals.
Composition of class as “non-capital” at FIAT
In the first two parts, the pamphlet sought to capture within FIAT several traits of the modern figure of the collective worker that has today reached the point of producing capital properly insofar as it is an antagonistic class. In the third part, for the periods that precede the ‘60s, we tried to overturn the struggle as the major moment of productivity, in order grasp the struggle against capital in the productive moment.
In this fourth part, we’re forced to see how, at FIAT, the subjective labor of struggle moves by posing itself as class “… even in its confrontations with capital.” No longer “… the class as capital” but “… the class as non-capital”: no longer, therefore, its movements as articulation, struggle as the articulation of capital, but its movements as the “destruction of capital.” The objective is this: to contribute to better defining in political work “the political laws of the movement of the working class.”
The discourse of the pamphlet is not “tactical.” But on the theoretical-stategical level it poses, as its object, the problem of the conquest of tactics in a point that’s nodal, concrete and determined, determining and irreducible, like FIAT. It’s not a contradiction. Our difficulty today is the same that the class confronts daily for this conquest. This part of the research and line of thought gathers and advances only by organizing it subjectively in practice: the major difficulty for this is the absence of subjective forces from the decisive terrain, absenteeism, and the absence itself of political organization, of the party, from the struggle at FIAT.
In practice, the pamphlet takes up more organically a series of processes already confronted by us in a series of articles in Classe Operaia, in particular in ’65 (number 4-5) and /66 (# 1, “Struggle at Turin” and “The cadres between class and party”).
The working class against labor, at FIAT –
This is the argument most debated – by us – since the start of the ‘60s, and in which the individuation of fundamental nexuses and transitions is still the most unsatisfactory: be it for making sense of the worker’s use of the struggle (those that in the ‘60s we called the “residually political”), the worker’s use of capitalist development, the political level of the factory, the composition of movements at the social level, the spontaneity and “permanent organization” of the “no” of the worker, the scope of the “passive struggle,” the transition to the mass strike, the piazza battles, and the explosions of an insurrectionary nature, etc, etc; but above all, what’s unsatisfactory is the consciousness of a double relation, reciprocal and ambivalent, between the class as the social mass of workers and the “historical” parties. There’s also a worker’s use of reformism, as a moment of the worker use of capitalist development. But the worker use of the historical parties, i.e. the worker use of the PCI (and of PSIUP) at FIAT, is a moment of extreme complexity. We’ve seen that the absence of the party in struggles, its weak presence in the factory, qualifies this use as “indirect,” but one still needs to dig much further into the history of the class relation to understand in depth how this happens. What is evident is that the function and functions of the cadres in the factory is to be a moment of mediation of this complex relation.
The workers’ cadres between class and party
This is a particular aspect of the subjective organization of workers as “non-capital,” against “labor as capital,” of the subjective organization of “political force against economic category…” But here the deficiencies of research are without doubt minor. The failings lie almost entirely in the practical political work, in the confrontations with the forces [the unions and the CI] that mediate the class-party relation.
So the fourth part is also an approximation of the same type as the others: we say that from here the next research must begin, not because we consider the fourth part [i.e. workers’ cadres between class and party] as a model but because one has to succeed also in historical analyses of determinate situations in order to move from the class as non-capital to take up again from here all the other components, including those we have excluded in limiting this first approach to “class composition.”
—Translated by Evan Calder Williams
The term Alquati uses is schema, which also has the sense of schematic and sketch. ↩
Literally, to put upside down. ↩
Book 1, Chapter 14: “While within the workshop, the iron law of proportionality subjects definite numbers of workmen to definite functions, in the society outside the workshop, the play of chance and caprice results in a motley pattern of distribution of the producers and their means of production among the various branches of social labour” (Karl Marx, Capital vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin, 1990), 476). ↩
The term Alquati uses is monte salari, which is commonly used in Italian national labor contracts. It is there defined as “the bulk sum of the gross remuneration collected by dependent workers in the entire economic system.” ↩
Alquati’s word is datrice, which carries the meaning of “donor” as well. ↩
One of Alquati’s odder turns of phrase: la pappa fatta means a “pre-chewed” mush. In other words, an easy-to-swallow porridge for fledgling Marxist-Leninists. ↩
FIAT SpA [Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino Socieà per Azioni] was founded in 1899 by Giovanni Agnelli and other investors. Agnelli stayed in control until 1921, when the occupation of FIAT’s factory by communists led him to quit. FIAT’s first car debuted in 1903, although only 24 were produced. By 1910, however, it was the largest automobile company in Italy. It remains so today. ↩
He specifically writes composition in the class of workers, not of, a key distinction for his process-centered grasp of composition. ↩
Not “domestic labor” in the sense of unwaged reproductive work/the labor of the “housewife.” As with nearly all of the “classical” workerists, any consideration of that sphere is entirely missing, and their work suffers accordingly. ↩