Outline of a Pamphlet on FIAT (1967)

Classe Opera­ia, vol. 3 no. 3, March 1967.

romano alquati worker with boss on knee

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 sec­tion3b) 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.

But what is the dif­fi­cul­ty of the pas­sage toward an analy­sis of a deter­mi­nate process of “val­oriza­tion,” that is to say an analy­sis of the mod­ern extrac­tion of sur­plus val­ue, of the mod­ern com­pul­sion to sur­plus val­ue, of the mod­ern pro­duc­tion-repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal on the part of the work­ing class in the deter­mi­nate “his­tor­i­cal” sit­u­a­tion that is FIAT today? The major dif­fi­cul­ty for us was the direct use – “from the work­ers’ point of view” – of instru­ments, meth­ods, rev­e­la­tions, stud­ies, and cal­cu­lat­ed elab­o­ra­tions of cap­i­tal­ist eco­nom­ic analy­ses. But it’s not an insur­mount­able dif­fi­cul­ty, even for our mod­est means.  Abstract labor, labor time, the work­ing day, the pro­duc­tion of rel­a­tive sur­plus val­ue (when the “spe­cif­ic” pro­duc­tive forms of cap­i­tal gained life through the devel­op­ment of machin­ery) and all the oth­er his­tor­i­cal cat­e­gories of val­oriza­tion usu­al­ly get tak­en up only in the their social and col­lec­tive dimen­sion. In prac­tice, at min­i­mum, we need to recon­struct a com­plete cycle of val­oriza­tion and cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion. But to sep­a­rate a pro­duc­tive cycle is near­ly impos­si­ble today at FIAT, because of the inter­weav­ing  of diverse cycles of com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion that have an extreme­ly lim­it­ed indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion, ele­vat­ed com­ple­men­tar­i­ty, and fun­gi­bil­i­ty in terms of use val­ue; and the part that pro­duc­tive orga­ni­za­tion does not inte­grate in its con­ti­nu­ity with the cycles of oth­er goods is usu­al­ly lim­it­ed to a few oper­a­tions.  More­over, even leav­ing aside the com­plex inte­gra­tions of pri­ma­ry “goods” pro­duc­tion, the analy­sis of a sin­gle pri­ma­ry cycle today makes us imme­di­ate­ly face up to the social inte­gra­tion (nation­al and inter­na­tion­al) of aux­il­iary and ter­tiary func­tions, which con­tribute [to accu­mu­la­tion] in a mode of increas­ing­ly greater sig­nif­i­cance than sur­plus val­ue [direct­ly extract­ed] at FIAT. It’s there­fore nec­es­sary to square accounts not just with a social­iza­tion and divi­sion of labor that exceeds the con­fines of the firm and the nation, but also with the same glob­al inte­gra­tion of the move­ments of class strug­gle that con­tribute to the val­oriza­tion and accu­mu­la­tion of FIAT’s share of inter­na­tion­al cap­i­tal, not to men­tion the enlarged val­oriza­tion and repro­duc­tion of inter­na­tion­al labor-pow­er itself.

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,” the “tran­si­tion in pro­duc­tion.” 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.

classe operaia viva inverted

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


  1. The term Alquati uses is schema, which also has the sense of schemat­ic and sketch

  2. Lit­er­al­ly, to put upside down. 

  3. 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). 

  4. 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.” 

  5. Alquati’s word is datrice, which car­ries the mean­ing of “donor” as well. 

  6. 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. 

  7. 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. 

  8. He specif­i­cal­ly writes com­po­si­tion in the class of work­ers, not of, a key dis­tinc­tion for his process-cen­tered grasp of com­po­si­tion. 

  9. 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. 

Author of the article

was a member of Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia. His early writings are collected in Sulla FIAT e altri scritti.