Organic Composition of Capital and Labor-Power at Olivetti (1961)

olivetti

Alquati’s 1975 introduction1

The absurd title of this piece is not mine. It was writ­ten in Win­ter 1961, before the met­al­work­ers’ con­tract strike of 1962. Given the inef­fi­cien­cy of the [Quaderni Rossi] edi­to­ri­al board and, above all, the delays on the edit­ing and typo­graph­i­cal front, this arti­cle only came out and entered into cir­cu­la­tion after the denoue­ment of that strike had marked the open­ing of a new phase in the cycle of strug­gles in the Six­ties. The text suf­fered great­ly with this delay, so that its mean­ing and sig­nif­i­cance became dis­tort­ed. But even more, it suf­fered from the form in which it was pub­lished. This arti­cle was pre­pared in five parts and it was decid­ed to pub­lish them piece­meal. How­ev­er the first two parts pub­lished were not sep­a­rat­ed as they were writ­ten: one and a half parts appeared in one issue, fol­lowed by the next half in the fol­low­ing issue. At that rate, the remain­ing three parts would have been made pub­lic so late as to destroy their polit­i­cal effec­tive­ness; in any case, after the split in the jour­nal, they were not pub­lished at all.

The five sec­tions were as fol­lows: a) a descrip­tive [infor­ma­ti­va] intro­duc­tion on the type of expe­ri­ence and the com­po­si­tion of the polit­i­cal sub­ject that car­ried it out; b) aspects of the orga­ni­za­tion of work at Olivet­ti; c) the work­ers’ strug­gle; d) the sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of the work­ers; e) union and polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion in the fac­to­ry, the con­tra­dic­tions of the insti­tu­tion­al labor move­ment, and the poten­tial­i­ties of an alter­na­tive orga­ni­za­tion. It’s clear to me that the most impor­tant and sig­nif­i­cant [qual­i­f­i­can­ti] parts were the last three, but the­se remained in my draw­er togeth­er with my research on FIAT and many oth­er works. The struc­ture of expo­si­tion was the same as what could be found in almost all of my oth­er pub­li­ca­tions con­cern­ing expe­ri­ences of mil­i­tant research — but from the point of view of the polit­i­cal goals of mil­i­tant research and its social­iza­tion, it’s clear that the basis, the real point of depar­ture, lay pre­cise­ly in the themes of the last sec­tions.

The fact that only the first two seg­ments were pub­lished favored the most gra­tu­itous crit­i­cisms. On the one hand, they seemed to provide ammu­ni­tion for those who spoke of work­erism and spon­taneism; on the oth­er, they made pos­si­ble the most unjust and dis­tort­ed accu­sa­tion that could be lev­eled again­st me, name­ly that some­one who was almost alone in pre­dict­ing, val­oriz­ing and orga­niz­ing — in polit­i­cal terms as well — the return of the work­ing class to offen­sive strug­gle with­in the work­place, was accused of the­o­riz­ing the omnipo­tence of the cap­i­tal­ist plan! More­over, the sec­ond part appeared with many cuts, with­out the two most impor­tant sec­tions: one on incen­tives, com­pa­ny pay rates, and wage dif­fer­en­tials, and one on piece­work and the return to the indi­vid­u­al nego­ti­a­tion of many aspects of work­ing con­di­tions. The­se were argu­ments in which the respon­si­bil­i­ties of a mis­tak­en union prac­tice were laid bare. And the sad­dest aspect of all this lay pre­cise­ly in the apo­lit­i­cal nature of the edi­to­ri­al cuts and dis­mem­ber­ments inflict­ed upon the text. With­in the edi­to­ri­al group, the total dis­tor­tion of a polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence such as that car­ried out by the inter­ven­tion­ist group at Lan­cia was already evi­dent. Then came Panzieri’s refusal to pub­lish my arti­cle con­cern­ing FIAT par­al­lel to the Olivet­ti one: the defin­i­tive break with Panzieri and the defin­i­tive split of the group from Quaderni Rossi in 1963 also stemmed from edi­to­ri­al prac­tices such as the­se.

In this case too, the expe­ri­ence of which I had writ­ten for Quaderni Rossi has lit­tle to do with the edi­to­ri­al group of the jour­nal. Once again, it fol­lowed on from a con­fer­ence of the Tur­in fed­er­a­tion of the PSI (on the eve of the split [that led to the for­ma­tion of the PSIUP]). The fed­er­a­tion lead­er­ship sug­gest­ed that I car­ry out (fund­ed by a mod­est pay­ment) some prepara­to­ry work for a PSI con­fer­ence on Olivet­ti, plac­ing at my dis­pos­al the col­lab­o­ra­tion of a nucle­us of Social­ist fac­to­ry cadre. What I have called in the­se notes the inter­ven­tion­ist sub-group [of QR] was not involved in this expe­ri­ence of “mil­i­tant co-research,” given that its mem­bers were com­mit­ted in the strike at Lan­cia and FIAT. I was almost con­tract­ed [com­mit­ten­za] as a sort of spe­cial­ist in co-research to the­se fac­to­ry cadre. And in fact the work was real­ized through the mas­sive and lav­ish com­mit­ment of the active fac­to­ry cadre not only of the PSI, but also from the PCI. As the Com­mu­nist com­rades had under­stood, analy­sis, stim­u­lus and mobi­liza­tion were not the exclu­sive attrib­ute of a par­tic­u­lar par­ty, but con­cerned the strug­gle of the whole Olivet­ti work­ing class and its union and polit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions. I said the­se things in the intro­duc­tion to the first seg­ment of the arti­cle, but I want to restate it here now because (for exam­ple) Car­rara made it appear, in an issue of QR that came out after the split, as if all this had been some soci­o­log­i­cal research car­ried out by the soci­ol­o­gists of Quaderni Rossi!


Organic Composition of Capital and Labor-Power at Olivetti

One of the many absur­di­ties that a sum­ma­ry and lim­it­ed work such as ours might have to deal with would be that of pref­ac­ing a “sto­ry”: sep­a­rat­ing it, as if it were some world apart that was evoked only so as to under­stand the “gen­e­sis” of prob­lems. The sto­ry, as a real dimen­sion, is a deci­sive moment in our elab­o­ra­tion. Since our work unfolds as a renewal of a direct con­tact with class sit­u­a­tions in order to find a way to orga­nize the embryos of antag­o­nis­tic class con­scious­ness that repro­duce them­selves amongst work­ers, it is worth­while pre­cise­ly to the degree that it becomes a rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­scious­ness of this unfold­ing sto­ry. The start­ing hypothe­ses of this first hasty attempt at an “exter­nal” elab­o­ra­tion are part of the prob­lems that face the upsurges [spin­te] of work­ers in the Tur­in province – but only because our direct expe­ri­ence is cir­cum­scribed here, since they also seem to recur with­in all the sit­u­a­tions of work­ers’ strug­gles in devel­oped coun­tries. Cap­i­tal­ism homog­e­nizes and inte­grates itself on a glob­al scale: neo-colo­nial­ism is only an aspect of plan­ning that extends on a glob­al scale with the glob­al con­sti­tu­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist class.

Here “gen­er­al­iza­tion” becomes a moment of rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion, ful­ly inter­de­pen­dent with it. It is bound up with link­age and com­mu­ni­ca­tion between rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tants strug­gling with the glob­al nature of cap­i­tal­ism, and the polit­i­cal atom­iza­tion of the pro­le­tari­at. Today gen­er­al­iza­tion is pre­cise­ly the system’s deci­sive char­ac­ter­is­tic, due to the mys­ti­fied total­iza­tion in which cap­i­tal is glob­al and as such every­where. From this fol­lows the neces­si­ty to under­stand the part with­in the whole that we “are keep­ing an eye on” [“sta dietro”]: the neces­si­ty to sur­pass the imme­di­ate, the empir­i­cal, to sur­pass his­tor­i­cal­ly the grave polit­i­cal lim­it of the par­tial­i­ty of a dis­course that remains caught up with the par­tial and atom­ized nature of strug­gles, in order to attain that gen­er­al­i­ty of dis­course that ren­ders strug­gle glob­al. But if the real­i­ty of the pro­le­tari­at today is one of polit­i­cal atom­iza­tion, it is clear that say­ing we are deal­ing with some of the prob­lems that work­ers in Tur­in are up again­st does not mean either that all the work­ers who have strug­gled col­lec­tive­ly – from the del­e­ga­tions of Mirafiori to so-called sec­toral strug­gles – are aware of this, much less that they feel this in the terms raised here. If that were so, the dis­course would be dif­fer­ent, and we would cer­tain­ly not be the only ones mak­ing it, it would not be closed with­in the­se lim­its. The lev­el of our dis­course depends upon the lev­el of the­se strug­gles, and they have been so absorbed by the sys­tem that, para­dox­i­cal­ly, they have been func­tion­al to the lat­ter, despite the extreme upsurges and local ten­sion of the var­i­ous islands and atoms that have car­ried them out. The work­ing class returns with greater force to strug­gle, but its strug­gles are still func­tion­al to the sys­tem. They are still the strug­gles of atoms, they are still blind strug­gles. Sur­pass­ing blind empiri­cism is the great col­lec­tive task of rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tants with­in a cap­i­tal­ism that ratio­nal­izes all aspects of social life, that plans exploita­tion on a glob­al scale.

The political residues of struggles within the realities of the large firms

The hypothe­ses from which we start are the same as those adopt­ed at the begin­ning of a rank and file project, car­ried out with some com­rades at Olivet­ti. It would be indis­pens­able to ana­lyze this activ­i­ty, the forces in play, of the work­ers’ par­ties in Ivrea and Tur­in in the face of this: not to write the his­to­ry of the nucle­us at work [che si e’ mosso], but because this work, with its his­to­ry, is a fun­da­men­tal aspect of the same fac­to­ry that we are describ­ing, as work­ers’ move­ment. The work­ers’ par­ties, even when they are “exter­nal” to the fac­to­ry or even the work­ing class, in real­i­ty have a direct­ly impor­tant place in the fac­to­ry – not so much as a tech­ni­cal con­tri­bu­tion to cen­tral plan­ning, as in rela­tion to the atom­iza­tion of the pro­le­tari­at (and in the duplic­i­ty of the man­age­ment that tol­er­ates this with the func­tion of absorbing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a social­ist dis­course). They also have an indi­rect pres­ence, in the con­di­tion­ing of the union, dis­tort­ing its very nego­ti­at­ing role, sub­or­di­nat­ing it to the “demo­c­ra­t­ic” aims of the par­ties, to the point of open­ing an oppos­ing dialec­tic, with the demand of auton­o­my that is too closed by objec­tive lim­its to act as an alter­na­tive orga­ni­za­tion to the sys­tem. We will address some of the­se aspects in our analy­sis of the fac­to­ry: not to exhaust the dis­course, but rather to denounce its par­tial nature, and instead to solic­it and begin in its place the indis­pens­able dynam­ic con­struc­tion of a glob­al approach.

One aspect of the class strug­gle with­in sys­tems of advanced cap­i­tal­ism, which we will ana­lyze briefly right here, con­cerns the method of work­ing. It is one of the prob­lems linked to oth­ers, sat­u­rat­ing the abyss between analy­sis and inter­ven­tion. Our hypothe­ses are pro­posed to van­guards who know how to insert them­selves in ori­en­ta­tion towards strug­gles. Not to new “groups” closed and iso­lat­ed in ide­o­log­i­cal puri­ty, but to those who, with or with­out ini­tials or mem­ber­ship cards, with­in or with­out the fac­to­ry (this is a false prob­lem: today the fac­to­ry does not exist as a moment that can be sep­a­rat­ed, etc.), are nonethe­less in the mid­st [nel vivo] of the class strug­gle – where polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion, the cir­cu­la­tion of expe­ri­ences, cri­tique and dis­cus­sion, the elab­o­ra­tion of new forms and con­tents, have reached the high­est moment, where prob­lems attain an increas­ing­ly deep­er and more gen­er­al­ized sig­nif­i­cance alongside the unfold­ing of the strug­gle itself.

One of the most evi­dent char­ac­ter­is­tics of the strug­gles of 1960-61 as spon­ta­neous rank and file upsurges was pre­cise­ly their capac­i­ty to explode the struc­tural con­tra­dic­tions of advanced cap­i­tal­ism in a new phase of adjust­ment [ass­es­ta­men­to]. This still devel­op­ing process has often con­front­ed work­ers with the inescapably glob­al real­i­ty of the sys­tem. Con­sid­er from this per­spec­tive the strug­gles at Far­mi­tal­ia or Pirelli (where a strike had posed the whole com­plex of polit­i­cal rela­tions, up to and includ­ing the State and Con­sti­tu­tion, etc., in the clear­est and fullest way, only to fail due to its local char­ac­ter): the work­ers had under­stood the sub­or­di­na­tion of juridi­cal-par­lia­men­tary super­struc­tures to the mar­ket and pro­duc­tion needs of Mon­te­ca­tini, etc., and had under­stood every­thing all togeth­er, in the course of a hard strug­gle. The ini­tial thrust was large­ly spon­ta­neous, with a whole series of demands that were par­tial but new in terms of con­tent. At times the­se involved new and unbi­ased tech­niques, led by inter­nal orga­nized uni­tary nuclei, that demand­ed only speci­fic kinds of assis­tance from the unions, eval­u­at­ing each accord­ing to their respec­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties, and thus (some of the CISL activists includ­ed) turn­ing often to the CGIL to lead the nego­ti­a­tions, while dis­cussing with them the glob­al strat­e­gy. For this rea­son, and this rea­son only, the strug­gles reached those qual­i­ta­tive lev­els of par­tic­i­pa­tion that have char­ac­ter­ized them as class move­ments.

Start­ed and led by active young work­ers who were dif­fi­dent towards the tra­di­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions and their old, ster­ile polemics that still hung-over from the late For­ties, they were car­ried for­ward by peo­ple who sought to make them­selves clear [che vuole ved­er­ci chiaro]. Every­where you could hear union offi­cials being told: “OK, but don’t pull a stunt like the one in ’52 or ’54,” indi­cat­ing that such dif­fi­dence had not gone away.

The qual­i­ta­tive pro­gress of the strug­gle and its politi­ciza­tion were typ­i­cal in this respect. The acqui­si­tion and exten­sion of a class con­scious­ness is the great­est and most endurable con­quest of the­se youths who, sur­pass­ing the pas­siv­i­ty of the gen­er­a­tions who had been active in the post­war work­ing-class par­ties, had sought to strug­gle start­ing from eco­nom­ic demands, only to hold firm and pose the fun­da­men­tal polit­i­cal objec­tive of “keep­ing your head held high in the face of the boss.” What was also typ­i­cal was the refusal of the new gen­er­a­tions, from the moment that the unions insert­ed them­selves with­in the work­ers’ strug­gles in an attempt to resolve their own cri­sis, to join the unions and so accept a kind of orga­ni­za­tion that they con­sid­ered bureau­crat­ic.

In the fac­to­ry, the strike start­ed from its spawn­ing ground in a depart­ment and then extend­ed itself, inten­si­fy­ing dis­cus­sion and cre­at­ing encoun­ters, con­ver­gence, orga­ni­za­tion, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly extend­ing the uni­tary nature of the strug­gle and trans­form­ing it into a polit­i­cal fact. In this way the boss dis­cov­ered the strike not only as an adver­sary of an increas­ing­ly glob­al, class, and sys­temic nature, but also as the cen­ter of the prob­lem, increas­ing­ly high­er and closer to the glob­al cen­ter of real polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic pow­er (again­st efforts to lend a par­lia­men­tary out­come to the strug­gle, as part of the mys­ti­fy­ing role that the bureau­crat­ic lead­ers had once again played). In fact it was very impor­tant that, par­al­lel to this pro­gres­sive­ly polit­i­cal fram­ing of the clash, the work­ers them­selves (soon­er or lat­er, what­ev­er their point of depar­ture, that was – at Far­mi­tal­ia or else­where – a strike patient­ly pre­pared with com­mit­ment by CGIL activists and some­times by the local union offi­cials) ever more clear­ly dis­cov­ered the emer­gence of dif­fer­ent objec­tives that open­ly con­trast­ed with the objec­tives of the men who led the union orga­ni­za­tions. The refusal of the union func­tionar­ies to take on, in their alter­na­tive sig­nif­i­cance (always nul­li­fied by the Stal­in­ist struc­ture) the fun­da­men­tal polit­i­cal aspects of fac­to­ry prob­lems, revealed more and more their struc­ture as opti­mal to the log­ic of the sys­tem of “monop­o­lies,” as the orga­ni­za­tions’ mythol­o­gy por­trayed it.

Typ­i­cal too was the fact that at the same time there could be seen the trans­for­ma­tion of demands, and the strug­gle itself, onto a more nar­row­ly-con­ceived union lev­el, name­ly of mere improve­ments in terms of remu­ner­a­tion, even if with some tin­ker­ing with the wage struc­ture, which for the most part sanc­tioned a mod­i­fi­ca­tion in work rela­tions of labor that were already in cri­sis, such as cer­tain forms of piece­work. In oth­er words, the strug­gle end­ed in an agree­ment that in real­i­ty act­ed as a nec­es­sary glob­al mech­a­nism that in an oli­gop­o­lis­tic sys­tem acquired a func­tion of speed­ing up the read­just­ments of cap­i­tal­ist plan­ning already under way. This increas­ing­ly “union” con­clu­sion to the strug­gles of 1961 did not dimin­ish, but rather increased where the par­ties them­selves were able to mobi­lize what lit­tle orga­ni­za­tion they had avail­able to sup­port the strike (and on this lev­el, the par­ties, like the union, were not much more than lit­tle groups com­pared to the fac­to­ry). Now, faced with this sparse out­come from the strug­gles of 1960-61, it is far too sim­plis­tic and mis­lead­ing to blath­er about betray­als or a bureau­cra­cy that “sells out” work­ers, almost as a con­gen­i­tal defect. The dis­course on bureau­cra­cy is not about the impo­tence, inca­pac­i­ty or per­son­al bad faith of cer­tain func­tionar­ies from the tra­di­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions of the labor move­ment: it must be seen as a macro­scop­ic fact of the glob­al orga­ni­za­tion of con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism, one whose propul­sive force and cen­ter lies with­in the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion and is gen­er­al­ized as a total­iz­ing dimen­sion by the real cen­ters of polit­i­cal pow­er: the big firms. So for us here in Tur­in, where the big firm is more mas­sive­ly present than else­where, the most impor­tant and most typ­i­cal aspect of the whole wave of strug­gles in 1960-61 and their depress­ing fade­out was that they did not involve the biggest com­plex­es. FIAT was able to reor­ga­nize the whole boss­es’ front around itself, and already in the sum­mer of 1961, Pirelli work­ers had to return to work with their heads bowed. Imme­di­ate­ly after­wards, Mon­te­ca­tini saw the defeat of what was, accord­ing to us, and togeth­er with the CVS strike, the most impor­tant episode in the class strug­gle in Pied­mont in 1960-61. From that point, lit­tle by lit­tle, the small and medi­um-sized com­pa­nies also began to stand firm, and even some of the small­er work­shops were able to heed the CGIL’s call for strike action.

FIAT saw some very inter­est­ing spon­ta­neous strikes, but the­se were lim­it­ed, blind. Even at Mirafiori there were del­e­ga­tions, but the CGIL was unable to do any­thing about them. In the big firms, the move­ment did not “pass,” and there­fore it did not “pass” any­where, so that on the par­lia­men­tary lev­el, the only thing that came to pass was the Cen­tre-Left gov­ern­ment.

On the “oth­er side of things,” devel­op­ments – con­tra­dic­to­ry and ambigu­ous by def­i­n­i­tion – occurred with­in the socio-eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion in 1960-61. For exam­ple, there was the still-ignored, very rapid struc­tural politi­ciza­tion of work­ers’ nor­ma­tive demands that extend­ed them­selves spa­tial­ly and phys­i­cal­ly. This was a sign of a pro­duc­tive struc­ture in which the objec­tive mar­gins of pater­nal­ism, of com­pa­ny-based reformism, had been reduced, so that as a gen­er­al rule, “con­ces­sions” were no longer pos­si­ble. There was also the dynam­ic fact that the sys­tem has failed if the gen­er­al­iza­tion of demands pro­duces polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion, the cir­cu­la­tion of expe­ri­ences, col­lec­tive reor­ga­ni­za­tion: that class con­scious­ness which in the small­er firms, or those at a tech­no­log­i­cal­ly or orga­ni­za­tion­al­ly low­er lev­el, or else eco­nom­i­cal­ly sub­or­di­nate and so objec­tive­ly unable to become a cen­tral polit­i­cal fact at the sys­tem-wide lev­el, con­sti­tutes the major, if still insuf­fi­cient, polit­i­cal con­quest of those young pro­duc­ers only recent­ly immersed in the pro­duc­tion process. Just how per­ish­able this might be, just what new and dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties can be inte­grat­ed, remains to be seen. But there is a new, impor­tant fact, one that con­demns all those ambigu­ous dis­cours­es that pro­lif­er­ate with­in the sys­tem alongside the dem­a­gog­ic use of the term “alter­na­tive” – such as in the PSI’s eco­nom­ic pro­gram, given that the only alter­na­tive that they pos­tu­late is Togliatti’s “demo­c­ra­t­ic” one …

The­se strug­gles have already taught the com­rades at Ivrea that the process of devel­op­ment, the increase in con­sump­tion, and the rise in liv­ing stan­dards have not resolved the work­ers’ prob­lems. This is so not only because the bogus nature of sta­tus sym­bols etc. is revealed dai­ly through the con­tra­dic­tions of the com­pa­ny sys­tem, or because the increase in con­sump­tion on a mere­ly quan­ti­ta­tive lev­el has fal­l­en apart, and the qual­i­ta­tive improve­ment that the sys­tem offers is not “human” but rather rei­fied, alien­at­ing. More than this, it is so pre­cise­ly because it is “real­ized” by a sys­tem of exploita­tion based upon the objec­tivism of cal­cu­la­tion and upon tech­niques of ratio­nal­iza­tion. The­se fetishize them­selves con­tin­u­ous­ly in new val­ue, because devel­op­ment leads the sys­tem to fuse [fonder­si] with a ratio­nal­iza­tion that inter­ve­nes and dom­i­nates and char­ac­ter­izes every aspect of social life, where all rela­tion­ships are shaped on com­pa­ny tem­plates [mod­uli], so that ratio­nal­iza­tion itself par­tic­i­pates in the same charis­mat­ic pow­er of the sym­bol of dom­i­na­tion that remains its very soul: prof­it.

Real prob­lems become aggra­vat­ed, labor is increas­ing­ly alien­at­ed, the work­ing class increas­ing­ly exploit­ed: the Ivrea com­rades did not dis­cov­er this sit­u­a­tion only yes­ter­day. Nor is there any nov­el­ty in the fact that the con­tra­dic­to­ry nature of the sys­tem has not yet trans­lat­ed into dys­func­tion­al­i­ty, pre­cise­ly because at the imme­di­ate lev­el, given atom­iza­tion, no con­tra­dic­tion has become a polit­i­cal fact that can be gen­er­al­ized out­side the firm, and there­fore one that can­not be absorbed. And yet it is equal­ly true that in the end there remains, through the glob­al per­cep­tion of this con­tra­dic­to­ry nature, an impor­tant polit­i­cal residue that today des­ig­nates a con­flict­ual area able to attain pro­found dimen­sions, and trans­form itself into con­scious alter­na­tive strug­gle. This polit­i­cal residue with­in the real­i­ty of the large firm vom­its [ribut­ta] more strong­ly than ever on the feet of those ide­o­log­i­cal con­formists who have elim­i­nat­ed class­es from their social the­o­ry, both in the sense of fac­to­ry exploita­tion, not to men­tion their cap­i­tal­ist mas­ters, and of the specter of pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion. This is all the more sig­nif­i­cant in so far as it has been young “tech­ni­cians” (authen­tic wage labor­ers) who every­where, as in Poland and Hun­gary, have spo­ken of those irri­tat­ing “old men” Marx and Lenin, who had accom­plished rather more than sim­ply cre­at­ing the premis­es of the work­ers’ polit­i­cal bureau­cra­cy …

The political character of work and a power alternative

We have pro­vid­ed some idea of the prob­lems that exist­ed when the PSI expe­ri­ence at Olivet­ti began: it is the con­tem­po­rary sit­u­a­tion of the labor move­ment and class strug­gle with­in the wider Tur­in province. Clear­ly this gen­er­al­iza­tion is too gener­ic, given that a gen­er­al­iza­tion needs to pro­ceed under its own steam [cam­mi­na poi con le pro­prie gam­be] with­in a move­ment, car­ry­ing it towards its fun­da­men­tal objec­tives. We need to delve fur­ther into the key points of devel­op­ment, to grasp the speci­fic con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of a move­ment behind its imme­di­ate deter­mi­na­tions, so as to ver­i­fy them with­in the wider sit­u­a­tion that the large firm deter­mi­nes. This was the fix­a­tion of the com­rades’ activ­i­ty as aspi­ra­tion, as the long term objec­tive (long term given the strug­gles’ “sub­jec­tive” char­ac­ter­is­tics in terms of con­scious­ness and orga­ni­za­tion).

The com­mit­ment, in the the­o­ret­i­cal moment of that polit­i­cal work at a rank and file lev­el, can be expressed as fol­lows: elab­o­ra­tion of a type of rela­tion, of a method of work of dis­cus­sion and co-research with the work­ers them­selves, the pro­tag­o­nists of the deci­sive events in the con­text of a sit­u­a­tion that allows that politi­ciza­tion and gen­er­al­iza­tion that con­sti­tutes the most valid objec­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic of the work­ers’ upsurges in this peri­od.

The group did not choose Olivet­ti, Olivet­ti chose it. In the cur­rent sys­tem, any­one who wants to influ­ence the over­all play of rela­tions of pow­er must col­lide with the large firms that coor­di­nate the ori­en­ta­tion of social devel­op­ment togeth­er with the entre­pre­neur State, as the objec­tive­ly alter­na­tive work­ers’ upsurges of 1960-61 did again­st the labor move­ment, and so the PSI. In Tur­in the PSI had devel­oped a par­tic­u­lar line thanks to some of its lead­ers, who want­ed to rein­sert it in the real show and not in that mys­ti­fied game of “demo­c­ra­t­ic” pow­er rela­tions. They want­ed it to resume a role as polit­i­cal guide that ori­ent­ed upsurges, seek­ing to exploit what lit­tle remained of that exter­nal and gen­er­al net­work made up of pro­found­ly social­ist com­rades, those who remain and some­times even join the par­ty. (It would be inter­est­ing, although there is no space to do so here, to provide an analy­sis of how and why the Social­ist par­ty in Tur­in has made this choice – which it also imposed upon the union – because it reveals the lim­its and myths that block even the best com­rades, the most “open” lead­ers, with­in the labor move­ment).

One of the many expe­ri­ences con­sum­mat­ed in the­se strug­gles – at the struc­tural lev­el, and there­fore sig­nif­i­cant for the polit­i­cal prob­lems it has raised – is pre­cise­ly that con­cern­ing the rec­i­p­ro­cal inter­de­pen­dence of the forces in play, each of which cre­ates its own adver­sary. Less than ever does this seem a meta­phys­i­cal fact, but only a con­se­quence – once again – of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem that car­ries its speci­fici­ty to an ever greater lev­el, mul­ti­ply­ing and mod­i­fy­ing its deci­sive and indis­pens­able part: labor, the work­ing class. On the objec­tive lev­el, this dialec­tic remains one of cap­i­tal with itself, name­ly the indef­i­nite pros­e­cu­tion of its own con­tra­dic­tori­ness. With­in this dialec­tic, the work­ers’ par­ties rep­re­sent the max­i­mum moment of the system’s ambi­gu­i­ty, in a func­tion that is objec­tive­ly mys­ti­fy­ing because it rep­re­sents the most del­i­cate mech­a­nism, by which the sys­tem seeks to over­come its ambi­gu­i­ty. Given this, and also because it choos­es to be with­in the sys­tem as its par­tic­u­lar func­tion, the work­ers’ par­ty (and here there is no dif­fer­ence between the PSI and the PCI) is shaped and deter­mined by the large firm. Because of this in Tur­in we find not a “left” fed­er­a­tion, but two cur­rents that play the same medi­at­ing func­tion with­in the sys­tem, but on diver­gent and dif­fer­ent lev­els. Both, to the degree that they are con­di­tioned by the inter­ac­tions of the more “advanced” struc­tural dynam­ic of the nation­al cur­rents, are car­ried for­ward by the type of objec­tive prob­lems with­in which they oper­ate: the expres­sion of a par­tic­u­lar­ism that is unable to gen­er­al­ize itself in so far as it accepts the imbal­ances [sperequazione] through which the sys­tem real­izes its glob­al nature.

In Tur­in the analy­sis of the PSI’s real mode of move­ment in the­se things is impor­tant (as is that of the PCI, which lags by com­par­ison), because it demon­strates up to what point the sys­tem deter­mi­nes it, and the fun­da­men­tal struc­tural con­tra­dic­tions that explode and deny it any role but that which the sys­tem has cho­sen for it, from the moment that the par­ty, with its cur­rent struc­ture, fails to mobi­lize both itself and an alter­na­tive move­ment. The only gen­er­al­iza­tion allowed is the dis­course amongst com­rades: the instru­ments of com­mu­ni­ca­tion are reduced to the mid­dle cadre, who are then the only net­work of con­crete gen­er­al­iza­tion that the orga­ni­za­tions can still offer to the labor move­ment.

This is even more so for the CGIL, and in fact we have seen how the par­tic­u­lar­ist, frag­men­tary, local­ist atti­tude of the union – that gen­er­al­izes from the aver­age lev­el, accord­ing to the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a bour­geois objec­tivism that cap­i­tal­ism itself has aban­doned, and that con­founds gen­er­al­iza­tion with the “leap” in the prob­lem­at­ic of the nation­al lead­er­ship, which is the “demo­c­ra­t­ic” and gov­ern­ment prob­lem­at­ic – has led the FIOM of Tur­in (which has accept­ed remain­ing entrenched in Tur­in, rather than tak­ing up a polit­i­cal bat­tle for renewal) to be defeat­ed in Tur­in as well, los­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of real­iz­ing its own plan to con­di­tion the large firm.

The dis­course on the Par­ty is gen­er­al­ized in the sig­nif­i­cance of the large firms, pre­cise­ly as a moment of gen­er­al­iz­ing itself from the “fac­to­ry” to soci­ety as ratio­nal­iza­tion, and in car­ry­ing itself to a total­iz­ing lev­el.

In fact, in the con­crete sit­u­a­tion, a “par­ty” approach to polit­i­cal ini­tia­tive con­cern­ing the fac­to­ry at Ivrea has elim­i­nat­ed some of the more triv­ial recur­rent equiv­o­ca­tions (not amongst the work­ers, who are obliv­i­ous to them, but among the activists, the rank and file cadre, the fac­to­ry cadre), even if in the worst man­ner, that is with­in the fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing: the mis­un­der­stand­ing that Stal­in­ism has incul­cat­ed, for the glo­ry of cap­i­tal, accord­ing to which some­thing is “polit­i­cal” only inso­far as it occurs under the rubric of the “par­ty.” So it was much eas­ier in Ivrea to over­come the dog­ma by which the approach to the fac­to­ry (which for the par­ty men is the neu­tral and objec­tive king­dom of the tech­ni­cal, that pro­duces goods, that cre­ates pro­gress, etc.) can only be a union mat­ter. Since the tech­ni­cal equals devel­op­ment, the men of the tech­no-bureau­cra­cy have no desire apart from its accel­er­a­tion and organ­ic flow­ing. In this man­ner the very func­tion of the union is seen in the most banal terms: com­posed of inter­nal con­flicts on the lev­el of nego­ti­a­tion, so as not to com­pro­mise the firm’s devel­op­ment, and on the macro­eco­nom­ic lev­el in the func­tion of increas­ing liv­ing stan­dards, con­sump­tion, bal­anced devel­op­ment, and so to plan­ning etc. This time around they didn’t come out with dis­cours­es on anar­cho-syn­di­cal­ism, economism, imme­di­atism. But that was nei­ther sur­pris­ing nor reas­sur­ing. Idio­cies such as “you have to start from the union” are no longer heard, but the fun­da­men­tal, most Stal­in­ist (but no less obtuse) ones still remain: those on work­erism, spon­taneism, on the “ide­ol­o­giza­tion” of pro­duc­tion, and even on the “mys­ti­cal” con­cep­tion of the pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion.

A lim­it­ed but very impor­tant expe­ri­ence took place in Ivrea, because in Ivrea there were pro­found­ly social­ist com­rades. The polit­i­cal char­ac­ter of the work was not a con­se­quence of this or that par­ty (which are iden­ti­cal in terms of the fac­to­ry), nor by the Par­ty as such, but because it was car­ried for­ward by social­ist com­rades who con­sid­ered pol­i­tics to be an activ­i­ty that address­es the real terms of pow­er in soci­ety.

(Here we are forced for rea­sons of space to provide a “snap­shot” [notiziole], in the style of bour­geois soci­ol­o­gists.) One of the impor­tant aspects here is that, despite the equiv­o­ca­tions men­tioned above, some cadre have under­stood and car­ried out the work need­ed in this per­spec­tive. As is usu­al­ly the case, the­se are the few open, dynam­ic cadre who have not dis­missed young work­ers as hav­ing been inte­grat­ed, who have car­ried out a dia­logue with the non-orga­nized, and have over­come all forms of sec­tar­i­an­ism. In Ivrea, the­se “few but bet­ter” are par­tic­u­lar­ly strong. So not only was this val­ue of polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence under­stood, but the task was addressed in an authen­ti­cal­ly uni­tary man­ner. Com­mu­nist cadre became involved in this PSI ini­tia­tive much more than did some Social­ist com­rades (includ­ing Social­ist work­ers), demon­strat­ing once again that mem­ber­ship cards or branch activ­i­ty are some­times the oppo­site of polit­i­cal com­mit­ment for work­ers, a form of eva­sion or an indi­vid­u­al solu­tion to a prob­lem, with the goal of enter­ing the local coun­cil or becom­ing part of the polit­i­cal class, etc. – not a way of advanc­ing con­scious­ness, but of escap­ing the pres­sures of com­rades, who demand “com­mit­ment” in a strike, by say­ing “but I’ve always done more for the labor move­ment than you have, I’m a par­ty mem­ber and I attend branch meet­ings.”

For exam­ple, there was no clo­sure even towards the Bor­digists, so long as they were com­mit­ted con­crete­ly in devel­op­ing an activ­i­ty that aimed at pro­vid­ing a social­ist, glob­al polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion, in terms of direct democ­ra­cy and work­ers’ self-man­age­ment, to the small and numer­ous strug­gles that – above all on the part of young work­ers – had sprung up in the fac­to­ry.

Ivrea has always been, in its his­to­ry, phys­i­cal­ly iso­lat­ed with­in the Canavese dis­trict, and so cut off from a series of gen­er­al facts. This has allowed Olivet­ti to real­ize a “par­tic­u­lar” poli­ty: but that “par­tic­u­lar­i­ty” is of such lit­tle impor­tance that it reveals just how deter­mi­nant objec­tive tech­no­log­i­cal ele­ments, labor rela­tions, and the uni­ver­sal log­ic of prof­it can be. In fact, we find in Ivrea the gen­er­al char­ac­ter­is­tics of the new forces, with that par­tic­u­lar rela­tion­ship between old­er and younger work­ers that we have seen in Turin’s fac­to­ries, formed in the cli­mate of the tra­di­tion of the Ital­ian labor move­ment (some­thing always worth remem­ber­ing). So two of the Ivrea social­ist com­rades began, refer­ring to a pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence of the FIOM at FIAT (more so than the PSI FIAT con­fer­ence, of which we wrote in the first issue of Quaderni Rossi, that had only devel­oped but not then real­ized a speci­fic work of solic­it­ing and orga­niz­ing work­ers’ upsurges), propos­ing to act as cadre only to kick things off, but with the objec­tive of con­nect­ing with some young non-mem­bers, and car­ry for­ward the dis­course togeth­er with them.

What did the­se com­rades do?

In Ivrea there is, amongst both com­rades but also work­ers, a pro­found dif­fi­dence towards soci­ol­o­gy. Many activists know what it is, they have seen it in action. Many of the most promi­nent Ital­ian soci­ol­o­gists cut their teeth at Olivet­ti, par­tic­u­lar­ly those “on the Left.”. Our com­rades know them, they have seen them in action, in the face of Cap­i­tal, on a num­ber of occa­sions: they did not much care for them. The soci­ol­o­gy that has blos­somed at Olivet­ti, today and in the past, did so “by exper­i­ment­ing on us,” in the new work rhythms. Besides (as was already the case for the Mirafiori cadres, for exam­ple), peo­ple were not pre­pared to lift a fin­ger for some­thing that, like all the oth­ers before it, would end up in a book or an arti­cle.

Every­one raised this prob­lem, at the end of the pre­lim­i­nary meet­ings: if some­thing was real­ly done to orga­nize work­ers polit­i­cal­ly and con­crete­ly in the fac­to­ry, mem­bers or not, so as to car­ry strug­gles out of a vicious cir­cle, there would be full sup­port: but if the out­come was just more talk, things were like­ly to end bad­ly.

We have already said that the ori­en­ta­tion was to build the work pro­gres­sive­ly, to deep­en it more and more so as to provide the par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence with greater sig­nif­i­cance in terms of gen­er­al­iza­tion.

Given this objec­tive, as we have repeat­ed ear­lier, one strong lim­it was the sit­u­a­tion of stag­na­tion, of the low lev­el of upsurge and strug­gle that char­ac­ter­ized pre­cise­ly the sit­u­a­tion of the large firm, and that still con­sti­tutes the key prob­lem more gen­er­al­ly. This stag­na­tion meant (as we shall soon see) a max­i­mum atom­iza­tion, it meant the worker’s max­i­mum pas­siv­i­ty and dis­trust, it meant self-lim­i­ta­tion, clo­sure with­in the job, accep­tance of the offi­cial ver­sion of things. It meant com­pli­ance with those com­pa­ny myths through which the firm sought to mys­ti­fy rela­tions. It meant indi­vid­u­al iso­la­tion, imme­di­atism, pri­va­ti­za­tion etc. This reduced to a min­i­mum the pos­si­bil­i­ty of devel­op­ing rank and file work. But it also meant extreme dif­fi­cul­ties in terms of inser­tion. This aggra­vat­ed and max­i­mized the dif­fi­cul­ty of address­ing the oth­er side of the prob­lem, reduc­ing rela­tions with the work­er either to vent­ing, or else to a mechan­i­cal inter­view where work­ers provide facts while remain­ing just as they were before.

The start­ing point there­fore was an ini­tial moment of research, a sur­vey of prob­lems, nec­es­sar­i­ly from the out­side and via inter­views, so as to accu­mu­late a cer­tain min­i­mum of points with which to dis­cuss with oth­ers. This ges­tured towards a deep­er under­stand­ing of prob­lems through direct encoun­ter and the crit­i­cal cir­cu­la­tion of expe­ri­ences, etc. The first objec­tive was to peel away the offi­cial myths and com­mon­places, through which the work­er – iso­lat­ed and pow­er­less in the face of a high­ly orga­nized boss – ratio­nal­ized their own des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion, so as to make bear­able. A whole series of real ele­ments were required in order to place the work­er in a ratio­nal atti­tude: that is, one crit­i­cal towards their own sit­u­a­tion. Only from this point could they be helped in a self-crit­i­cal analy­sis in search of some way out: the analy­sis of the sys­tem, of its con­tra­dic­tions and of the way in which the gen­er­al sit­u­a­tion might be orga­nized in order to attain a defin­i­tive solu­tion to the real rela­tions of exploita­tion, etc. In fur­ther talks, the sit­u­a­tions and solu­tions for­mu­lat­ed by oth­ers were dis­cussed. The dis­cus­sions became deep­er and deep­er, unrav­el­ling a whole series of things, so that the prob­lem­at­ic approach was soon aban­doned, and mat­ters cen­tered instead upon the prob­lems addressed in this arti­cle. Since the prob­lems dis­cussed were open ones, such as union strug­gle itself, or the nego­ti­a­tions in the fac­to­ry of the union com­mit­tee, some­times the dis­cus­sion already dis­played a direct ori­en­ta­tion, a com­mon elab­o­ra­tion on the part of the work­er.

There were ini­tial­ly two com­rades com­mit­ted to this work, with ten or so cadre also involved in the activ­i­ty, and dis­cus­sions with one hun­dred work­ers over the course of the sum­mer of 1961. This meant that the first objec­tive was com­plet­ed: name­ly, research amongst oth­er young non-mem­bers, and the engage­ment of some very young work­ers new to pol­i­tics who them­selves direct­ly car­ried out the type of activ­i­ty that was being devel­oped. Some also car­ried out small research projects of their own on themes that had emerged in the dis­cus­sions, and then inter­vened to sup­port us through their out­comes. Alongside the exten­sive labors – the rapid quan­ti­ta­tive devel­op­ment of con­tacts in which the young work­ers were direct­ly engaged, etc., seek­ing to extend the dis­cus­sion to the great­est num­ber of peo­ple, etc. – could be seen an inten­sive devel­op­ment. As fer­ment increased amongst young work­ers in the fac­to­ry, and local strug­gles mul­ti­plied, the dis­cus­sion began to address prob­lems of ever greater depth: some­thing that was pos­si­ble only by return­ing back to the work­ers them­selves to car­ry for­ward the dis­cus­sion, the objec­tive thread of the thematic’s politi­ciza­tion – not in order “to com­plete an inter­view for an inquiry,” but in order to estab­lish an ongo­ing rela­tion­ship, in order to cre­ate sta­ble ties around emerg­ing prob­lems, in order to cre­ate pre­cise­ly that polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion of work­ers in the fac­to­ry that the very type of prob­lems, at the lev­el of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, solicit­ed on an alter­na­tive, intrin­si­cal­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary lev­el.

How things unfolded in the Olivetti sections of Ivrea, S. Bernardo and Aglie

The order that we are fol­low­ing in this expo­si­tion there­fore is the same order in which indi­vid­u­al prob­lems were “nec­es­sar­i­ly” artic­u­lat­ed in dis­cus­sions with Olivet­ti work­ers, as we find in the sum­ma­rized notes made by the com­rades. We will begin our dis-organ­ic dis­course there­fore from the job, from the prob­lems that emerge from describ­ing the job.

The expe­ri­ence we are exam­in­ing con­cerns all the Olivet­ti sec­tions where pro­duc­tion takes place: Ivrea, S. Bernar­do and Aglie. In par­tic­u­lar, dis­cus­sions were held with work­ers involved in the fol­low­ing cycles: ini­tial man­u­fac­ture (machine shops, press­es, foundry); with assem­bly line work­ers; with work­ers in so-called “aux­il­iary” posi­tions (we use the­se divi­sions in an objec­tive­ly cap­i­tal­ist sense), main­te­nance of equip­ment, etc.; with work­ers engaged in “tech­ni­cal” plan­ning jobs, etc., design­ers; as well as work­ers in admin­is­tra­tive and account­ing posi­tions; with store­men and fork-lift dri­vers [addet­ti ai trasporti interni]; with con­trollers and oper­a­tors wherever.

Here we will lim­it our­selves to a dis­cus­sion that focus­es on the assem­bly lines, which above all bring to light some of the basic char­ac­ter­is­tics of “work orga­ni­za­tion” under advanced cap­i­tal­ism.

Our focus is upon the assem­bly line depart­ments of ICO and NUOVA ICO. The basic prod­ucts here are the Lex­i­con 82 type­writer and the MC 22 and MC 24 cal­cu­la­tors. The­se are the firm’s basic prod­ucts, those that (with the des­ig­na­tion 22) have been suc­cess­ful on the glob­al mar­ket. It’s point­less to say that this is very much a case of mass pro­duc­tion, where­as what is impor­tant to remem­ber are the par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics of this pro­duc­tion. Still con­sid­ered by many as cap­i­tal goods, the firm seeks to affirm (through attempt­ing to mod­i­fy pro­duct demand, which needs to be bet­ter ana­lyzed in its ever closer speci­fic rela­tions with changes under­way with­in pro­duc­tion con­sid­ered in the strict sense) the­se as con­sumer durables. (We will not dwell upon the notable dif­fer­ences between depart­ments since the­se do not impact great­ly upon the type of ques­tions we are rais­ing: if gen­er­al­iza­tion is pre­car­i­ous i.e. gener­ic, it is cer­tain­ly not for this rea­son. It goes with­out say­ing that we are not seek­ing any glim­mer of sta­tis­ti­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness in the data.)

Even if the key sec­tor of devel­op­ment in cap­i­tal­ist sys­tems remains the auto­mo­tive sec­tor, a study of assem­bly line pro­duc­tion at Olivet­ti from a few years ago would have allowed one to gen­er­al­ize about the pro­duc­tion char­ac­ter­is­tics that dis­tin­guish man­u­fac­tur­ing (the typ­i­cal home of the assem­bly line), the basic indus­try of a whole phase of eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, the pilot indus­try of cap­i­tal­ist com­pa­ny orga­ni­za­tion – the pilot indus­try, there­fore, also in terms of its qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive impact upon the labor move­ment. Today we see that a cer­tain reduc­tion in assem­bly oper­a­tions have been absorbed by tra­di­tion­al machine pro­duc­tion and foundry activ­i­ties, some­times lead­ing to a gen­uine replan­ning of par­tic­u­lars with­in the final assem­bly. Above all we see the devel­op­ment of the press­es, with­in which many assem­bly oper­a­tions are absorbed, as part of a process of ren­der­ing the inte­grat­ed mechan­i­cal cycle more flu­id.

It’s worth empha­siz­ing here how in a typ­i­cal assem­bly indus­try such as for type­writ­ers and cal­cu­la­tors, the mod­el in terms of the deci­sive prob­lem of the organ­ic com­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal tends to be (in a qual­i­ta­tive sense too) else­where, and increas­ing­ly in the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try. The assem­bly process at Olivet­ti imme­di­ate­ly rais­es the mat­ter of automa­tion, under­stood as a gen­er­al method of orga­niz­ing rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, as a new glob­al eco­nom­ic dimen­sion of the social sys­tem found in the area of influ­ence of large firms. This is close­ly tied up with the devel­op­ment and inte­gra­tion of a whole series of new man­age­ment tech­niques, with the for­mal­iza­tion of deci­sion-relat­ed tasks such as long term plan­ning, etc. etc. It is also close­ly tied up with the devel­op­ment of auton­o­miza­tion prop­er, and we will see that on the assem­bly line there are robots and auto­mat­ic con­vey­ors, etc. But real tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion (i.e. beyond a mere sub­sti­tu­tion or any gener­ic “change”) demands a total trans­for­ma­tion in the orga­ni­za­tion of the whole cycle of pro­duc­tion, which tends to become con­tin­u­ous in nature. It’s impor­tant to grasp the gen­er­al­iz­ing ele­ment here, which lends a speci­fic val­ue to the var­i­ous parts of the total­i­ty of the process.

But in our work, which oscil­lates mid­way between the imme­di­ate and the con­crete in Marx’s sense, the ref­er­ences to con­stant cap­i­tal waver between its phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions – which in an assem­bly depart­ment impos­es a dis­course that comes about only at a phase in the ide­al peri­odiza­tion of the abstract his­to­ry of pro­duc­tion process­es – and the con­crete glob­al dimen­sion of con­tem­po­rary oli­gop­o­lis­tic cap­i­tal­ism, ful­ly arrived at the phase of automa­tion and plan­ning at the lev­el of the firm. So, for exam­ple, the phe­nom­e­non that is very impor­tant to us, that of so-called bureau­cra­cy, presents itself as a phys­i­cal infla­tion [gon­fi­a­men­to] of the appa­ra­tus of social con­trol, or as its pro­gres­sive mech­a­niza­tion, depend­ing upon how one looks at it. And so it is for every­thing.

We con­sid­er this dis­course on pilot sec­tors and automa­tion to be non-aca­d­e­mic because on the gen­er­al lev­el, name­ly that of the gen­er­al­iza­tion and politi­ciza­tion of work­ers’ strug­gles, the­se eval­u­a­tions car­ry a cer­tain weight. Nev­er­the­less, almost para­dox­i­cal­ly (if one makes an excep­tion for the efforts of the FIOM in Tur­in), the prob­lem of assem­bly line work­ers has always been treat­ed by the union as an abnor­mal and patho­log­i­cal tran­si­tion­al phase, pre­cise­ly in a peri­od when they under­gird a good part of the weight of accu­mu­la­tion nec­es­sary to intro­duce the new sys­tems of auto­mat­ic pro­duc­tion: hence the expla­na­tion for the tech­ni­cist approach of labor move­ment orga­ni­za­tions to the prob­lems of the fac­to­ry. If instead the approach is under­stood as a polit­i­cal one, it can cen­tre upon the fun­da­men­tal ten­den­cies of the system’s qual­i­ta­tive dynam­ic.

The first gen­er­al aspect that the the­me of “con­stant cap­i­tal” rais­es, in all its enor­mous eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal and social sig­nif­i­cance, is obvi­ous­ly that of so-called objec­tive “imbal­ances” [sperequazioni]. This entails an immense range of prob­lems: but what is imme­di­ate­ly sur­pris­ing here is the anal­o­gy of their func­tion. When dis­cussed in terms of the dif­fer­ence between firms and arti­sanal under­tak­ings, or that between two suc­ces­sive phas­es of an assem­bly line, imbal­ances become the imme­di­ate and indi­rect occa­sion for a whole series of uses on the lev­el of func­tion­al rela­tions – that is, of social rela­tions in gen­er­al which, beyond their intrin­sic objec­tive val­ue as the direct con­di­tion­ing of the behav­ior of labor, become on the lev­el of the pro­duc­tion of sur­plus val­ue a main­stay of the employer’s pol­i­cy of the orga­ni­za­tion of work.

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly evi­dent and inter­est­ing at Olivet­ti, since this firm, amongst the var­i­ous com­ple­men­tary aspects that it has con­tribut­ed to the myth of the excel­lent com­pa­ny, has effec­tive­ly real­ized an orga­ni­za­tion­al pol­i­cy, above all in terms of its par­tic­u­lar­ly able func­tion­al rela­tions. Ratio­nal tech­niques are not some screen for a real­i­ty of fas­cism in the fac­to­ry, but are uti­lized pre­cise­ly for all that they can provide to the full inten­si­fi­ca­tion of labor exploita­tion, at all lev­els. This is real­ized in the par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion of the firm’s iso­la­tion with­in what had been a depressed area, one that remained sep­a­rate from the Tur­in proletariat’s notable his­to­ry of con­scious and rev­o­lu­tion­ary class strug­gle, which had expe­ri­enced and con­served beyond the war the expe­ri­ence of the fac­to­ry coun­cils, etc. This iso­la­tion is even more impor­tant than the peas­ant ori­gins of the great major­i­ty of employ­ees, because in real­i­ty in gen­er­al one encoun­ters a greater lev­el of politi­ciza­tion and class con­scious­ness pre­cise­ly in peas­ant fam­i­lies, whose young sons and daugh­ters are cur­rent­ly in the fac­to­ry. This does not con­tra­dict what we have been say­ing, because this iso­la­tion, which con­sti­tutes a dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of the large Ivrea firm, has con­ced­ed only a greater enlarge­ment of the objec­tive mar­gins that the devel­op­ment through tech­no­log­i­cal leaps of inno­va­tion has opened in the intro­duc­to­ry phase of ratio­nal­iza­tion; and it has per­mit­ted the thor­ough use of inter­nal and exter­nal imbal­ances, reveal­ing here more than ever a close rela­tion of con­ti­nu­ity, func­tion­al to the firm’s accu­mu­la­tion and growth, with the ratio­nal mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of the extreme­ly intense exploita­tion of cap­i­tal that has been real­ized. Today this game is com­ing to an end. The goal of prof­it emerges more clear­ly every­where. The inter­nal and exter­nal mar­gins decline, there are no work­ers (apart from the new­ly hired) who haven’t told us that now “it’s all just like at FIAT”; and in fact we have con­tin­u­al­ly been aware of the iden­ti­ty between the two firms (beyond the myth that the expo­nents of Olivet­ti obvi­ous­ly hold con­cern­ing FIAT). As the inter­nal mar­gins decline, pre­cise­ly due to the tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment that came in the wake of ratio­nal­iza­tion, so links with FIAT and oth­er Tur­in firms, and between Ivrea and Tur­in, are on the rise in the Canavese region and else­where. There is a whole con­ver­gence of inter­nal and exter­nal fac­tors, so that Olivet­ti today is of inter­est pre­cise­ly because it is revealed as a “big firm like all the oth­ers,” the typ­i­cal Ital­ian firm in a phase of indus­tri­al devel­op­ment that is now in search of man­pow­er that is either cheap, or only avail­able in the South. It is an “inter­me­di­ary” case com­pared to FIAT or Edis­on in Syra­cuse, Mon­te­ca­tini in Brin­disi, or Fin­sid­er in Taran­to, etc. The tru­ly “lim­it­ing” fact of Olivet­ti seems there­fore to us to be above all the per­sis­tence of well-con­struct­ed mys­ti­fi­ca­tion, so that where­as in its inter­nal and exter­nal pol­i­cy it is the epit­o­me of despo­tism, out­side Ivrea and Tur­in it is famous as a mod­el firm. It goes with­out say­ing that this fame per­sists with­in the lead­er­ship of the work­ers’ par­ties.

Sink­ing our teeth into this prob­lem con­crete­ly rais­es an evi­dent issue that is per­haps an extreme, even banal case. There are still many peo­ple who, hav­ing per­haps received a notion of the “soci­ol­o­gy of labor” at some uni­ver­si­ty, speak of the “man­u­fac­tur­ing char­ac­ter of assem­bly line labor.” Here many work­ers say: “on the assem­bly line, the work­er is closed with­in his job, and has only his hands’ – but com­pared to man­u­fac­tur­ing, there is an enor­mous leap involved, in terms of the job as well. This would be like talk­ing about “peas­ant civ­i­liza­tion” through ref­er­ence to a direct cul­ti­va­tor in Emil­ia. The assem­bly line work­ers only have their hands as instru­ments of labor, and are still their own motive forces – and cer­tain­ly, if you iso­late them from their work con­text, from a dis­tance they might seem rem­i­nis­cent of the work of pre­his­toric man… But it is enough to observe the absur­di­ty of this series of motions to rec­og­nize the impor­tance of the dis­tinc­tions pro­vid­ed by Marx in his his­tor­i­cal analy­sis of the­se con­cepts.

For their part, the oth­er work­ers con­sid­er those on the assem­bly line as some­what out­side the indus­try, refer­ring to them in terms of their social extrac­tion: for them they are ex-bak­ers, ex-bar­bers, ex-shop­keep­ers or ped­lars, school teach­ers etc. Still, the oth­er work­ers also all say that after a cer­tain time in the fac­to­ry, “they have got the hang of things,” and feel in gen­er­al that they have passed the test and no longer pester them. In this way they are con­sid­ered to have final­ly made it out of their pre-indus­tri­al state, even if they still have a sec­ond job or some land: that is a sec­ondary mat­ter. This holds, for exam­ple, for the old work­ers who con­tin­ue to work the land, who are con­sid­ered “Olivet­ti types” as much as the oth­ers: they are in the fac­to­ry eight hours a day, and their prob­lems are above all the prob­lems of the labor rela­tion in the fac­to­ry. So too for the youths from peas­ant fam­i­lies: from the moment that they enter the fac­to­ry, the land becomes an ele­ment of con­flict with their fathers, etc., and there is a sort of “shame” asso­ci­at­ed with those who of neces­si­ty remain peas­ants. The dis­course is dif­fer­ent for cer­tain ex-arti­sans or ex-work­ers from some of the “work­shops” [boite] or garages, etc. – many of them can go back to their ear­lier work, but they are no less “Olivet­ti types” for all that.

We are rais­ing here the­se themes from the sec­ond part of the expo­si­tion in order to trace out some gen­er­al hypothe­ses. Since the zone of South Africa where Olivet­ti has implant­ed its fac­to­ries is no longer a peas­ant zone, it now con­tains indi­vid­u­als who face the prob­lem of “doing as they please” [fare il tem­po] in the face of a whole devel­oped cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, with its mar­ket, con­sump­tion, its class­es and its prof­it, etc. As the­se indi­vid­u­als are with­in all this and not some­thing else, this intro­duces a whole series of con­flicts, ten­sions and com­pro­mis­es, their world of orig­in, the tra­di­tion­al sphere of socio-eco­nom­ic rela­tions of which they are part (even if in a dialec­ti­cal sense, even as nega­tion). So, if Olivet­ti has to be placed in rela­tion to the coun­tryside, it is absolute­ly not the prob­lem of peas­ant-work­ers that mat­ters, much less that of the rela­tion­ship with the Canavese region, where agri­cul­ture is an activ­i­ty in tran­si­tion to indus­try. Rather, what mat­ters is the prob­lem of rela­tions between the large firm and the new pow­er cen­ters of neo-cap­i­tal­ist agri­cul­ture, of the eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal coor­di­na­tion that cap­i­tal­ism now real­izes between the­se sec­tors on an inter­na­tion­al scale.

We see a sys­tem that is neo-cap­i­tal­ist pre­cise­ly thanks to its inter­nal imbal­ances, that repro­duce rel­a­tive “depres­sions” inter­nal­ly, and deep­ens them in order to advance as a sys­tem of prof­it. As for the anachro­nism of share­crop­ping, or the com­plete socio-eco­nom­ic mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of the small peas­ant enter­prise: the­se prob­lems are not “some­thing else entire­ly” from those of the work­er at a large firm who at a cer­tain point begins a sec­ond job off the books, doing the same kind of work for the old boss, or for a new sim­i­lar boss (even FIAT).

But even return­ing to the imme­di­a­cy of the job, the work­ers who speak of “only their hands” and of a series of motions (that with hind­sight have a cer­tain whiff of Meth­ods-Time Mea­sure­ment about them) imme­di­ate­ly shift the dis­course to what with pro­pri­ety they call “the equip­ment” – demon­strat­ing that they have a clear con­cept that the­se are machi­nes. On the assem­bly line the equip­ment more or less exhausts the dis­course on what could be called “fixed cap­i­tal.” In fact, in this man­u­al kind of labor [lavoro di carat­tere manu­ense], there are no machine oper­a­tors. The equip­ment there­fore always entails con­vey­or belts. Fixed cap­i­tal is con­sti­tut­ed there­fore by things that move, just as the work­ers who work on the line are always mov­ing back and forth with­in a deter­mi­nate part of the pro­duc­tion cycle, formed by a small closed cir­cuit. The equip­ment, sys­tems that auto­mat­i­cal­ly trans­port com­po­nents [par­ti­co­lari] of mechan­i­cal­ly trans­port­ed “pieces” from one work sta­tion to anoth­er: this is the so-called “assem­bly line.”

The equip­ment is a fact of even greater impor­tance than it mate­ri­al­ly appears to those who view it. It is this that links the work­sta­tions, con­nect­ing them also as phas­es on the assem­bly process, and link­ing them in a glob­al cycle with­in which each job is insert­ed. They inte­grate oper­a­tions in a mechan­i­cal way, and coor­di­nate them spa­tial­ly and tem­po­ral­ly with the total­i­ty of the oth­er moments of pro­duc­tion (for exam­ple, the con­vey­or brings the com­po­nents from the var­i­ous work­shops where they have been man­u­fac­tured) and has a con­stant rhythm that needs to express, with its reg­u­lar­i­ty, a whole series of pre­de­ter­mined steps [sca­den­ze], etc., etc., var­i­ous quan­ti­ties, var­i­ous types, in var­i­ous pre-estab­lished moments. The equip­ment express­es all this already. It already encap­su­lates the glob­al log­ic of neo-cap­i­tal­ism con­nect­ed to the phase of automa­tion, of decen­tral­iza­tion, of del­e­gat­ed plan­ning, of enter­prise-wide inte­grat­ed plan­ning, etc., and of the sys­tem with its mar­ket and its “qual­i­ta­tive” con­sumer goods. The equip­ment of the assem­bly line, rather than the super­vi­sor, has the func­tion of orga­niz­ing labor accord­ing to this log­ic. The supervisor’s func­tion instead involves inte­grat­ing or com­pen­sat­ing for the sec­ondary dys­func­tions that the sys­tem in its imper­fec­tion pro­duces.

The “peas­ant” who is insert­ed in all this becomes a moment of that cycle, the mean­ing of which lies only in its total­i­ty. Not only does it not make sense to talk of man­u­fac­tur­ing types of jobs, but the job itself demands a com­plete­ly rei­fied and atom­ized man [sic] in order to be able to ful­fill itself as a real process.

In the same way, the var­i­ous so-called “aux­il­iary” jobs, such as main­te­nance, whether part of the firm or car­ried out in an ‘arti­sanal’ work­shop, in real­i­ty refer imme­di­ate­ly to the speci­fic object of that “arti­sanal” labor, and then, even if this is done just with a file, it is still some­thing that func­tions as inte­grat­ed with­in that pro­duc­tion cycle, locat­ed with­in the “shop” that car­ries out main­te­nance, even if its work­ers have nev­er seen Olivet­ti. The same holds for the FIAT work­ers (ex-stu­dents) who run the press­es for the foundry and have nev­er set foot in the depart­ments where the smelt­ing occurs – in each case, the same log­ic of the neo-cap­i­tal­ist divi­sion of labor is at play.

Stay­ing with the the­me of inter­nal and exter­nal imbal­ances (that is, the arbi­trary nature of any rigid dis­tinc­tion between inter­nal and exter­nal in the oper­a­tion of the large firm with­in an oli­gop­o­lis­tic mar­ket), there are var­i­ous fac­tors of lesser impor­tance. In each part of the pro­duc­tion cycle, orga­nized inter­nal­ly in a lin­ear fash­ion, gen­er­al­ly the sta­tion found at a high­er tech­no­log­i­cal lev­el – mean­ing, where man-hours are still a notable part of the oper­a­tion, that it has a poten­tial­ly greater veloc­i­ty than oth­ers – above all for the tem­pos or what­ev­er most con­di­tions the oth­er phas­es [che piu’ con­diziona le altre fasi], is always found at the final stage. The more the cycle is inte­grat­ed, the greater the inter­de­pen­dence: gen­er­al­ly, the poten­tial­ly high­est tem­po tends pro­gres­sive­ly to car­ry the oth­er stages up to its lev­el. This can be achieved through the judi­cial dis­tri­b­u­tion of a cer­tain num­ber of “toad­ies” [ruf­fi­ani], or even just indi­vid­u­als who, as we shall see else­where, for a whole series of rea­sons (that the super­vi­sor con­trols) tend to “quick­en” the tem­po, etc. This inter­nal sit­u­a­tion can be a kind of “tem­plate” that reg­u­lates vaster sys­tems out­side, or also across the whole of a depart­ment, where at the start of the assem­bly process there might be groups orga­nized with old hand-based con­veyance sys­tems, then in the mid­dle those with con­vey­or belts, and final­ly the recent­ly installed carousels [giostre].  But despite all the­se notable dif­fer­ences, the trans­porter is the same for each sec­tion, and the con­vey­or is the same for each depart­ment: they are auto­mat­ic, they are con­trolled cen­tral­ly, that is else­where. The con­vey­or is the ele­ment in which the prin­ci­pal orga­ni­za­tion­al func­tions of labor in time and space are incor­po­rat­ed, and here, where the work of val­oriza­tion in the strict sense is car­ried out by the assem­blers, the con­vey­or (and above all the new assem­bly line) reveals itself as the orga­niz­ing and coor­di­nat­ing ele­ment in its pure state, reveal­ing pre­cise­ly a speci­fic, fun­da­men­tal ten­den­cy in the devel­op­ment of mech­a­niza­tion. With­in the strict ambit in which it oper­ates, the pre-emi­nent orga­ni­za­tion­al func­tion of the con­vey­or is to lev­el the var­i­ous tem­pos and oper­a­tions (which in the orga­ni­za­tion of the line are nec­es­sar­i­ly “diverse”) on the basis of the briefest pos­si­ble tem­po, by which its reg­u­lar rhythm, repeat­ed­ly accel­er­at­ed on a month­ly basis, express­es a pro­gres­sive and col­lec­tive reduc­tion in time. What inter­ests us here at this point is the fact that even this ulte­ri­or sit­u­a­tion can be tak­en as an explica­tive tem­plate of a whole series of vaster (inter­nal and exter­nal) phe­nom­e­na.

The functions of the “boite” within the oligopoly

It emerges from the inquiry that any one of the­se sec­tions, depart­ments, lines and indi­vid­u­al com­plex­es could, in cer­tain con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion prices, provide the large firm with an oppor­tu­ni­ty to out­source [dar­la fuori] to anoth­er fac­to­ry, to small scale indus­try, to a “boita” (work­shop), or to an “arti­san.” And we have seen that at times the large firms even go so far as to “lend” machin­ery, a tech­ni­cian, or cap­i­tal to a small entre­pre­neur for invest­ment. As a con­se­quence, “boite” with very mod­ern con­vey­ors [trasfert] are rather com­mon in the Tur­in province, where a very small num­ber of very young work­ers pro­duce com­po­nents for assem­bly at FIAT, Olivet­ti etc. And this (which many would see as small-scale indus­try to be defend­ed “with­in the con­text of a pol­i­tics of alliances”) with its rigid sched­ules, qual­i­ties and quan­ti­ties, etc., is sim­ply a depart­ment of the so-called “monopoly,” inte­grat­ed not only in the cycle of val­oriza­tion, but also eco­nom­i­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly. It’s a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion in the com­mer­cial sec­tor, with sales: Olivet­ti has its shops and agen­cies. The assem­bly line is the end point of the pro­duc­tion cycle (let’s over­look here the fun­da­men­tal dis­tinc­tion between val­oriza­tion and real­iza­tion), from here the pro­duct pass­es to the sub­sidiaries, to the point of sale; the rela­tion­ship is one of hor­i­zon­tal con­ti­nu­ity, with­in the over­all cycle of repro­duc­tion. How­ev­er, even if on an imme­di­ate lev­el, the con­nec­tions are con­tin­u­al­ly seized upon, every work­er notices how each accel­er­a­tion of rhythms on the assem­bly line is unload­ed on the sub­sidiaries and there­fore on the sell­ers and there­fore – so long as the­se have already min­i­mized the tem­pos – upon the con­sumers. Vice ver­sa, in order to pay for an adjust­ment in the orga­ni­za­tion of sales, Olivet­ti can cut its work­ers’ tem­pos, etc. etc.: and if the shop is “pri­vate,” things are lit­tle dif­fer­ent. But it is the con­vey­or that lev­els every­thing. Things don’t change even if the “boita” real­ly is just a small work­shop [boita], if it is some hole where an ex-work­er (may­be even the Com­mu­nist may­or of the vil­lage) sub­sti­tutes for the super­vi­sor, employ­ing 60 young girls who (with­out the famous con­vey­ors of Olivet­ti, but thanks to their man­u­al dex­ter­i­ty) quick­ly assem­ble com­po­nents which then go on the firm’s assem­bly line. This is an “ally,” and a “com­rade” – that is, an impor­tant ele­ment amongst the elec­toral clien­tele, and it is no coin­ci­dence that this entre­pre­neur has a par­ty card, is a loy­al mem­ber, and protests to the union if the 60 young girls go on strike, as has hap­pened more than once. The only dif­fer­ence is that the “com­po­nent” pro­duced out­side will have to pass a test [col­lau­do], which the large firms gen­er­al­ly call Col­lau­do Accettazioni Arrivi. And the boita can also be in the coun­tryside: there are many cot­tages scat­tered around out­side Tur­in, where amid­st the bucol­ic peace, under a small per­go­la that evokes “nature” and there­fore “human­iza­tion” and “social­ism,” the patri­ar­chal fam­i­ly works togeth­er doing pan­el beat­ing. So-called satel­lite indus­try has nev­er devel­oped around Ivrea, but it does exist else­where: dis­tances have shrunk, today automa­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions make decen­tral­iza­tion pos­si­ble, etc.

Olivetti’s pro­duc­tion con­tin­ues across a vast area, in all kinds of firms: those that remain rigid­ly cir­cum­scribed at Ivrea, in indi­vid­u­al sec­tions, detached from the great gen­er­al events of the work­ers’ strug­gle: only the pro­duc­ers reg­u­lar­ly remain closed with­in the fac­to­ry, in their respec­tive sec­tion as part of the wider firm, even if the firm fails to become their whole world. Even here the dis­course starts from a prob­lem that is the same for all, the same mech­a­nism that oper­ates with­in the inter­nal imbal­ances: the new carousels of the assem­bly line tend to align all the tem­pos, types, tol­er­ances and quan­ti­ties of the phas­es of the cycle, which are linked to it (inside and out­side the firm) in a more or less rigid way, to its new rhythm, to its depre­ci­a­tion, to the rigid­i­ty of its invest­ment, etc. The inter­de­pen­dence tight­ens, but the propul­sive moment belongs to the large firm, of the most advanced tech­no­log­i­cal lev­el, as pow­er, as the con­cen­tra­tion here of the prof­it motive.

And this is a dis­course that goes far, because there are “trucks” that shut­tle back and forth with large chests [cas­soni], there are ships, there is the trans­fer of cap­i­tal, etc. It is not dif­fi­cult to fol­low on to the dis­course of the estab­lish­ment in Africa, for exam­ple, of the rela­tion­ship between colo­nial­ism in devel­op­ment and the devel­op­ment of fac­to­ry despo­tism in the Olivet­ti fac­to­ry; all this throws light upon the­se mat­ters as well. One can speak, for exam­ple, of how not nec­es­sar­i­ly the colo­nial exploita­tion of Africans trans­lates into scraps for the Olivet­ti work­er: except that the wel­fare of the lat­ter, and the sat­is­fac­tion of the pri­ma­ry needs of the for­mer, are aspects of a sin­gle mech­a­nism of alien­ation and reifi­ca­tion; except that the colo­nial prof­its make pos­si­ble at Ivrea the intro­duc­tion of plant that car­ries the inten­si­fi­ca­tion in the exploita­tion of the work­ers of the “pole of devel­op­ment” to an even more advanced lev­el, and vice ver­sa. Even if none of the numer­ous young peo­ple who have told us that they fol­low with inter­est the prob­lem of Alge­ria end up con­clud­ing that it is only there at Ivrea that the cause is laid bare, i.e. that the solu­tion of the African prob­lem objec­tive­ly lies in their hands, with the young “sup­port­ers” who work in the pole of devel­op­ment, in the loca­tion of those levers of polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic pow­er that tend to decide in Africa – beyond the nation­al inde­pen­dence of indi­vid­u­al coun­tries – which of the­se are sub­or­di­nat­ed to this or that mar­ket, to this or that bloc of the big pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies. The Olivet­ti work­er has no polit­i­cal con­scious­ness on this front: but at the same time, the polit­i­cal con­scious­ness of the peas­ant or of the African neo-work­er has no rev­o­lu­tion­ary out­let if it does not become con­scious­ness of this real­i­ty, and if it does not pose, togeth­er with the work­ers move­ment of advanced cap­i­tal­ism, the objec­tive of the his­tor­i­cal over­com­ing of cap­i­tal­ism. The indif­fer­ence or “oppor­tunism” of the Olivet­ti work­ers towards the pro­le­tari­at of the under­de­vel­oped coun­tries is an arbi­trary pro­jec­tion onto the for­mer of a prob­lem that it is not in their con­di­tions to pose, because their sub­jec­tive sit­u­a­tion, i.e. the polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion of the class, is the most dis­as­trous pos­si­ble, and reduces them to a sit­u­a­tion of indi­vid­u­al oppor­tunism and indif­fer­ence in the face of the same prob­lem of the con­tin­u­al inten­si­fi­ca­tion of their exploita­tion, of their real­i­ty of iso­la­tion, of atom­iza­tion: in order to cre­ate this, the cap­i­tal­ist of the large firm then uses the­se very colo­nial prof­its, etc. etc.

Let’s con­sid­er once more the prob­lem posed by deter­mi­nate moments in the cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion cycle as a whole. For exam­ple, let’s take the trucks that car­ry stuff around: whether owned by the firm, or by their dri­vers, the prob­lems are the same: the func­tion of this trans­port is increas­ing­ly inte­grat­ed with the fork­lifts in the depart­ments, and final­ly with the con­vey­or sys­tem. Why should that trans­port be con­sid­ered as a ser­vice? What fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence is there with­in the pro­duc­tion process between the­se two par­tial tasks in the firm’s cycle com­pared to those we have already seen, such as the arti­san using a lathe in their cel­lar. All the­se par­tial tasks are part of a sin­gle uni­ty, which is coun­ter­posed to them: the uni­ty that the boss­es always real­ize in the gen­er­al­iza­tion and inten­si­fi­ca­tion of cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion. Again­st this front, the pol­i­tics of alliances prac­ticed by the his­toric orga­ni­za­tions of the labor move­ment appears as an ide­o­log­i­cal void: cap­i­tal­ism gen­er­al­izes the con­di­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion to new lay­ers [ceti], strata and sec­tors, so that today the con­di­tions of the pre­sumed “peas­ant” or “arti­san” are already in fact part of the rela­tion­ship of Olivet­ti work­ers with the pow­er group, etc. etc. This isn’t a mat­ter of alliances, but of the uni­ty of a strug­gle and of demands. That is, a uni­ty that is a polit­i­cal strug­gle to the extent that it mod­i­fies the pow­er rela­tions that the more or less planned devel­op­ment con­cen­trates in the hands of the group of exploiters.

The piv­otal point of devel­op­ment that gen­er­al­izes pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion lies in the firm (this requires, nat­u­ral­ly, aban­don­ing a nine­teen­th-cen­tu­ry idea of the objec­tive con­di­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion). All this is close­ly tied to the role of con­stant capital’s imbal­ances. In gen­er­al, one hypoth­e­sis aris­ing from the dis­cus­sion of the­se prob­lems might be put as fol­lows: pre­cise­ly because of the increas­ing­ly greater con­nec­tion and inte­gra­tion between zones, sec­tors, socio-eco­nom­ic func­tions and lay­ers in the latent sense, deter­mined by pro­duc­tive devel­op­ment and the very rapid tech­no­log­i­cal growth its propul­sion entails (i.e. the rise in the monopoly’s organ­ic com­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal), the devel­op­ment of objec­tive imbal­ances is imme­di­ate­ly observ­able on the abstract­ly tech­no­log­i­cal, task-relat­ed lev­el, with­in the large firm’s glob­al cycle of accu­mu­la­tion, that is in the neo-cap­i­tal­ist social sys­tem (whose nation­al bound­aries empha­size the struc­tural pres­ence of the State as its sub­or­di­nate and nec­es­sary moment). They lie in var­i­ous moments of the hor­i­zon­tal cycle of the accu­mu­la­tion process, more or less planned, in the socio-polit­i­cal sys­tem more or less encap­su­lat­ed [inglo­ba­to] in the large firm, in the hor­i­zon­tal lev­els of the mech­a­niza­tion of labor, ban­daged due [fasce dovu­to] to the retard­ed mech­a­niza­tion of labor in points that slow­ly, even out­side the bound­aries of the firm and of pro­duc­tion in the strict sense, come to invest all aspects of social life. The­se “retar­da­tions” in mech­a­niza­tion have “caus­es” that can be locat­ed hypo­thet­i­cal­ly between two rec­i­p­ro­cal­ly inter­act­ing his­tor­i­cal poles: gen­er­al polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic fac­tors that con­di­tion encap­su­la­tion [l’inglobamento] with­in the firm’s closed and planned sys­tem. Oth­er­wise, in an inter­de­pen­dent man­ner, the rel­a­tive con­tin­gent impos­si­bil­i­ty, given the gen­er­al lev­el of tech­ni­cal pro­gress, of extend­ing the high­er, poten­tial­ly gen­er­al­iz­able lev­el of the mech­a­niza­tion of labor to the folds [pieghe] and sec­tors of the social sys­tem (rais­ing the organ­ic com­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal to the point where the favor­able polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions to accom­plish it are already real­ized). This, in the increas­ing­ly close inter­de­pen­dence between hor­i­zon­tal moments of the cycle (pro­duc­tion, sale, con­sump­tion etc.) con­tin­u­al­ly leads us to the “dis­cov­ery” in every aspect of social life of anal­o­gous sit­u­a­tions with­in a cer­tain mar­gin: that is, of facets of tasks and of imme­di­ate prob­lems of the rela­tion­ship between man and the instru­ment of labor or, … for amuse­ment (thanks to an ingen­u­ous objec­tivism) and more­over to the dis­cov­ery that the­se ide­al ban­dages have a cer­tain cor­re­spon­dence with the phas­es of that ide­al peri­odiza­tion that can estab­lish itself in cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, as can be grasped in the his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of the pro­duc­tive orga­ni­za­tion of the pilot firm and propul­sive sec­tor. So, for exam­ple, there is always and every­where a sec­tor, a zone, or a “pro­fes­sion” that cor­re­sponds to a cer­tain phase of pro­duc­tive orga­ni­za­tion in the auto­mo­bile sec­tor, etc. We assume the schemat­ic hypoth­e­sis and sim­pli­fi­ca­tion accord­ing to which, more than ever, the uni­ver­sal gen­er­al­iza­tion and dif­fu­sion of the cap­i­tal­ist divi­sion of labor is revealed here as an aspect of the uni­ver­sal dif­fu­sion of cap­i­tal­ist despo­tism that real­izes itself above all through its tech­nol­o­gy, its “sci­ence,” the dif­fu­sion of its struc­tures of class exploita­tion in social life, through con­stant cap­i­tal which embraces all, from priests and police (both inside and out­side the fac­to­ry) to the Stal­in­ists.

This hypoth­e­sis con­cern­ing such gen­er­al aspects of cap­i­tal­ism comes from the analy­sis of con­nec­tions that the work­ers them­selves grasp in iso­la­tion as “facts,” in a process that starts from the fac­to­ry. Pre­cise­ly as a hypoth­e­sis con­cern­ing the gen­er­al aspects of cap­i­tal­ism, this allows us to provide an inter­pre­ta­tion as one step towards a class alter­na­tive, that which can pay off as a polit­i­cal per­spec­tive in more gen­er­al terms.

—Trans­lat­ed by Steve Wright

Image thanks to Mat­teo Baloc­co.


  1. Translator’s Note: I would like to thank Evan Calder Williams, Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bi­no, Ser­gio Bolog­na, Emil­iana Armano and espe­cial­ly Mar­co Sas­sano for their help­ful com­ments con­cern­ing the trans­la­tion of some of Alquati’s ter­mi­nol­o­gy. This is a par­tial trans­la­tion of a longer text, drawn from Sul­la Fiat e altri scrit­ti (Milano: Fel­trinel­li, 1975), 81-103. 

Author of the article

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