Seven Theses on Workers’ Control (1958)

Fiat plant occupied by the workers, 1920
Fiat plant occu­pied by the work­ers, 1920

This text was pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary 1958 in issue 2 of Mon­do Operaio [Work­ers’ World], signed Raniero Panzieri and Lucio Lib­er­ti­ni. Panzieri, after hav­ing been exclud­ed from the lead­er­ship of the PSI (Ital­ian Social­ist Par­ty) in 1956, became co-edi­tor with Nen­ni (de fac­to edi­tor) of the review, trans­form­ing it into an extra­or­di­nary lab­o­ra­to­ry of research. This essay forms part of the research car­ried out by Panzieri from a lib­er­tar­i­an per­spec­tive and from the left of the dou­ble cri­sis of the work­ers’ move­ment; on the one hand the inva­sion of Hun­gary in 1956, and on the oth­er the defeat of FIOM [met­al­work­ers’ union] in the big Turin fac­to­ries, start­ing with Fiat. This text, which rep­re­sents a point of syn­the­sis of a series of Panzieri’s elab­o­ra­tions on the theme of work­ers’ con­trol, opened a pas­sion­ate debate on the left, as much in the columns of Mon­do Operaio as in those of Avan­ti and Unità. (Pao­lo Fer­rero, Raniero Panzieri: un uomo di fron­tiera, Milan: Edi­tions Pun­to Rosso, 2006.)

The demand for work­ers’ con­trol of the fac­to­ries is at the cen­ter of the “demo­c­ra­t­ic and peace­ful road” to social­ism. The fol­low­ing the­ses mean to pro­vide an ini­tial, pro­vi­sion­al direc­tion for a wide debate that gath­ers not only the con­tri­bu­tions of politi­cians and spe­cial­ists but also and above all the expe­ri­ence of the work­ers’ move­ment, which are the only con­clu­sive ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the elab­o­ra­tion of social­ist thought.

1. On the question of the transition from capitalism to socialism

In the work­ers’ move­ment there has been for a long time, and in suc­ces­sive peri­ods, a dis­cus­sion of the ques­tion of the modes and tem­po­ral­i­ties of the tran­si­tion to social­ism. One ten­den­cy, which occurred in var­i­ous forms, believed it was pos­si­ble to schema­tize the tem­po­ral­i­ty of this process, as if social­ist con­struc­tion had to be pre­ced­ed, always and in every case, by the “phase” of con­struc­tion of bour­geois democ­ra­cy. In this way the pro­le­tari­at, where the bour­geoisie has not yet com­plet­ed its rev­o­lu­tion, would come to be assigned the task of con­duct­ing its strug­gle with a delim­it­ed end in view: that indeed of con­struct­ing or favor­ing the con­struc­tion of modes of pro­duc­tion and of polit­i­cal forms of a com­plet­ed bour­geois soci­ety. This con­cep­tion can be defined schemat­i­cal­ly because it claims to apply in the abstract and with­out ref­er­ence to a his­tor­i­cal real­i­ty, a pre­fab­ri­cat­ed mod­el. If in fact it is true that the real­i­ty of polit­i­cal Insti­tu­tions cor­re­sponds, in every epoch, to the eco­nom­ic real­i­ty, it is how­ev­er an error to believe that the eco­nom­ic real­i­ty (pro­duc­tive forces and rela­tions of pro­duc­tion) devel­ops accord­ing to a line that is always grad­ual, reg­u­lar, per­fect­ly pre­dictable because divid­ed in pre­cise suc­ces­sive phas­es, one dis­tinct from the oth­er. It is suf­fi­cient, to under­stand the nature of this error, to reflect on some his­tor­i­cal exam­ples. When, at the begin­ning of the last cen­tu­ry, tech­ni­cal progress (inven­tion of the mechan­i­cal loom and the steam engine) brought about a qual­i­ta­tive leap in pro­duc­tion (indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion) which remained in force, the old forms of pro­duc­tion [remained] along­side the new; and in the more eco­nom­i­cal­ly evolved coun­tries the polit­i­cal strug­gle had there­fore a rather com­plex char­ac­ter. On one side there was the resis­tance to the feu­dal sur­vivals, on the oth­er side the affir­ma­tion of the indus­tri­al bour­geoisie; and final­ly, at the same time, the appear­ance of a new class, the indus­tri­al pro­le­tari­at. In Rus­sia, at the end of the first rev­o­lu­tion­ary wave (Feb­ru­ary 1917), after the col­lapse of the Tsarist autoc­ra­cy and the mon­strous cap­i­tal­ist-feu­dal sys­tem, one part of the Marx­ist work­ers’ move­ment, falling into the same error, main­tained that the Russ­ian pro­le­tari­at had to join forces with the bour­geoisie to real­ize the nec­es­sary “sec­ond stage” (bour­geois democ­ra­cy) of the rev­o­lu­tion. As is known, this the­sis was defeat­ed by Lenin and the major­i­ty of the Russ­ian work­ers’ move­ment; in the total col­lapse of the old sys­tem the only real pro­tag­o­nist remained the pro­le­tari­at, and its prob­lem was not there­fore that of cre­at­ing the typ­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the bour­geoisie, but of con­struct­ing the insti­tu­tions of its democ­ra­cy, of social­ist democ­ra­cy. In Chi­na between 1924 and 1928, there was the preva­lence in the com­mu­nist par­ty of those who erro­neous­ly want­ed to com­mit the class move­ment to uncon­di­tion­al­ly sup­port­ing the Kuom­intang of Chi­ang Kai-shek, help­ing it to real­ize, after the col­lapse of the Manchu dynasty and the feu­dal sys­tem, the sec­ond stage (bour­geois democ­ra­cy): they did not account for the inex­is­tence of a Chi­nese bour­geoisie capa­ble of estab­lish­ing itself as a “nation­al” class, or for the fact that the immense mass­es of peas­ants of this coun­try could strug­gle only for the cause of their own eman­ci­pa­tion, and not in pur­suit of abstract and incom­pre­hen­si­ble schemes.

These con­sid­er­a­tions do not lead by any means to exalt­ing an intel­lec­tu­al­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ary vol­un­tarism (to affirm­ing, that is, that the rev­o­lu­tion can be the fruit of an act of will of a van­guard group), but only to clar­i­fy­ing as, first of all, every polit­i­cal force, rather than chas­ing pre­fab­ri­cat­ed mod­els, must become aware of its own real­i­ty, the always com­plex and spe­cif­ic field with­in which it moves. It is social democ­ra­cy in all its forms which, to cov­er up its oppor­tunism and jus­ti­fy it ide­o­log­i­cal­ly, sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly mix­es up the cards on the table and reduces every posi­tion con­sis­tent with the rev­o­lu­tion­ary left to that of an intel­lec­tu­al­ist vol­un­tarism. The his­tor­i­cal essence of the social-demo­c­ra­t­ic expe­ri­ence con­sists more­over in this: in the assign­ing, with the pre­text of the strug­gle against max­i­mal­ism, to the pro­le­tari­at the task of sup­port­ing the bour­geoisie or even of replac­ing it in the con­struc­tion of bour­geois democ­ra­cy: and by that very fact it denies the tasks and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary auton­o­my of the pro­le­tari­at, and fin­ish­es by assign­ing to it the posi­tion of a sub­al­tern force.

In today’s Ital­ian soci­ety the fun­da­men­tal fac­tor is con­sti­tut­ed by the fact that the bour­geoisie has nev­er been, is not, can nev­er be a “nation­al” class; a class thus capa­ble (as hap­pened in Eng­land and France) of guar­an­tee­ing, albeit in a cer­tain peri­od of time, the devel­op­ment of nation­al soci­ety, in its whole. The Ital­ian bour­geoisie arose on a cor­po­rate and par­a­sit­i­cal basis, name­ly:

  • through the for­ma­tion of indi­vid­ual indus­tri­al sec­tors that did not con­sti­tute a nation­al mar­ket, but sur­vived on the exploita­tion of a mar­ket of a qua­si-colo­nial kind (the South)
  • by means of the per­ma­nent recourse to the pro­tec­tion and active sup­port of the State
  • with the alliance with the remains of feu­dal­ism (agrar­i­an bloc of the South)

Fas­cism was the inflamed expres­sion of this con­tra­dic­to­ry equi­lib­ri­um, and of the dom­i­na­tion, in this form, of the bour­geoisie: it, also through the mas­sive inter­ven­tion of the total­i­tar­i­an State in favor of bank­rupt pri­vate indus­try (IRI) [Isti­tu­to per la Ricostruzione Indus­tri­ale, fas­cist bailout in 1933], pro­mot­ed to the max­i­mum the trans­for­ma­tion of deter­mi­nate indus­tri­al sec­tors into pow­er­ful monop­o­lis­tic struc­tures (Fiat, Mon­te­ca­ti­ni, Edi­son, etc.). After the col­lapse of fas­cism the monop­o­lies found, in the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the rela­tions with Amer­i­can big indus­try and in the sub­or­di­na­tion to it, the con­tin­u­a­tion of their old anti-nation­al pol­i­cy (Ital­ian big indus­try is always, in one way or anoth­er, cartelized with big inter­na­tion­al monop­o­lies; one of the cas­es in which these links have appeared with great evi­dence was when Fiat, Edi­son, and Mon­te­ca­ti­ni sup­port­ed in Italy the cam­paign for the inter­na­tion­al oil car­tel; and in gen­er­al the Atlanti­cism of the par­ties of the cen­ter-right is the expres­sion of links of sub­or­di­na­tion that we have indi­cat­ed. The Mar­shall Plan, expres­sion of Amer­i­can impe­ri­al­ism, was accept­ed by Ital­ian monop­o­lies before the polit­i­cal par­ties). Thus is estab­lished a sit­u­a­tion in which next to the monop­o­lis­tic areas there coex­ist large areas of deep depres­sion and back­ward­ness, (many zones in the moun­tains and hills, the Po delta and, more gen­er­al­ly, the South and the islands); the dis­tance between social stra­tum and social stra­tum [ceto sociale], between region and region, increas­es enor­mous­ly; the tra­di­tion­al imbal­ances of indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion grow; the monop­o­lis­tic bot­tle­necks tight­en (the lim­i­ta­tions and dis­tor­tions, that is, that the pow­er and pol­i­tics of monop­o­lies oppose the full and bal­anced devel­op­ment of the pro­duc­tive forces); there is mass unem­ploy­ment that becomes a per­ma­nent ele­ment of our econ­o­my; the tra­di­tion­al terms of the great­est prob­lem of our socioe­co­nom­ic struc­ture (the South­ern ques­tion) are repro­duced in an aggra­vat­ed fash­ion.

How­ev­er, it would be a great error to reaf­firm the exis­tence of these facts to con­ceal, as has been done in recent years, the new ele­ments. There is no doubt that, start­ing above all with 1951-52, in some sec­tors Ital­ian cap­i­tal­ism was able to take advan­tage of the favor­able inter­na­tion­al con­junc­ture and the con­sid­er­able eco­nom­ic progress: there was thus a phase of expan­sion (rapid growth of pro­duc­tion, growth of income, rapid accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal and intense boost in fixed cap­i­tal) that nev­er­the­less, unfold­ing under the con­trol of the monop­o­lies, remained restrict­ed to their area, and even pro­voked the aggra­va­tion of the fun­da­men­tal imbal­ances of the Ital­ian econ­o­my.

The con­tra­dic­to­ry sit­u­a­tion, dom­i­nat­ed by large areas of depres­sion and the cri­sis we have described, is not going to improve but wors­en, whether because of a pos­si­ble rever­sal of the inter­na­tion­al con­junc­ture, or a prob­a­ble growth of tech­no­log­i­cal unem­ploy­ment, or the neg­a­tive effects of the Com­mon Mar­ket, or final­ly because the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the inter­nal Ital­ian mar­ket (its nar­row-mind­ed­ness, its pover­ty) don’t pro­vide an ade­quate area to merge with pro­duc­tive capac­i­ty and tech­no­log­i­cal matu­ri­ty, which is fur­ther matur­ing in the monop­o­lis­tic area.

An analy­sis of this type does not aim and does not serve nat­u­ral­ly to val­orize the prospect of a “cat­a­stroph­ic” cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism; and more­over a polemic on the ter­rain of prophe­cies, and in these terms, would serve only to par­a­lyze and ster­il­ize the action of the class move­ment. What fol­lows from this analy­sis is the exis­tence of cer­tain real con­di­tions and the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the ten­den­cy of devel­op­ment implic­it in them; and the con­clu­sion that with­in the bound­aries of these con­di­tions and of this ten­den­cy the work­ers’ move­ment must act.

In light of these con­sid­er­a­tions the fol­low­ing the­ses appear there­fore quite abstract and unre­al (specif­i­cal­ly today in Italy): a) the class move­ment must sub­stan­tial­ly lim­it itself to giv­ing sup­port to the cap­i­tal­ist class (or deter­mi­nate bour­geois groups) in the con­struc­tion of a regime of com­plet­ed bour­geois democ­ra­cy; b) the class move­ment must essen­tial­ly sub­sti­tute itself for the cap­i­tal­ist class and assume in its own right the task of con­struct­ing a regime of com­plet­ed bour­geois democ­ra­cy.

Instead the con­tra­dic­tions that sharply tear apart Ital­ian soci­ety, the weight that the monop­o­lies have acquired and con­tin­u­al­ly tend more to assume, the con­tra­dic­tions between tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment and the cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, the weak­ness of the bour­geoisie as a nation­al class, lead the work­ers’ move­ment to take on tasks of a dif­fer­ent nature; to strug­gle at the same time for reforms with a bour­geois con­tent and for reforms with a social­ist con­tent. On the polit­i­cal lev­el this sig­ni­fies that the lead­ing force of demo­c­ra­t­ic devel­op­ment in Italy is the work­ing class and under its direc­tion can be real­ized the only effi­cient sys­tem of alliance, with the intel­lec­tu­als, with the peas­ants, with the groups of small and medi­um bour­geois pro­duc­ers. It is this sys­tem of alliances and this kind of lead­er­ship that cor­re­spond to the real per­spec­tive.

2. The democratic road to socialism is the road of workers’ democracy.

It is a false deduc­tion, which emerges from a wrong analy­sis of the Ital­ian sit­u­a­tion, and from a sim­plis­tic inter­pre­ta­tion of the turn­ing point reg­is­tered in the the­ses pro­claimed at the 20th con­fer­ence of the CPSU, to affirm that the Ital­ian road to social­ism, demo­c­ra­t­ic and peace­ful, coin­cides with a “par­lia­men­tary” road to social­ism. The affir­ma­tion of the demo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of social­ism is in fact cor­rect, in the sense that it refutes all the old con­cep­tions accord­ing to which the tran­si­tion to social­ism is an act of rev­o­lu­tion­ary vol­un­tarism, and the work of an iso­lat­ed minor­i­ty, with­out the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions hav­ing matured; it just as much rejects the con­cep­tion that ties the the tran­si­tion to social­ism to the auto­mat­ic ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the “crash” of cap­i­tal­ism. But the demo­c­ra­t­ic road can­not be reduced to an always and nec­es­sar­i­ly peace­ful road, as in the moment when [dal momen­to che], includ­ing in a deter­mi­nate Coun­try when the con­di­tions for social­ism are mature and its forces have attained the major­i­ty of the votes, the resis­tance of the cap­i­tal­ist class and its recourse to vio­lence nev­er­the­less lead to an armed assault, and to the neces­si­ty of pro­le­tar­i­an vio­lence.

Nev­er­the­less, in Italy today there is a demo­c­ra­t­ic and peace­ful per­spec­tive for social­ism. But those who iden­ti­fy the exclu­sive (or even just the only sig­nif­i­cant or char­ac­ter­is­tic) instru­ment of the peace­ful tran­si­tion to social­ism in Par­lia­ment, emp­ty the very notion of the demo­c­ra­t­ic and peace­ful road of any real sub­stance. In this way they revive instead the old bour­geois mys­ti­fi­ca­tions that present the bour­geois rep­re­sen­ta­tive State not as it is, as a class State, but as a State above class­es; where the Par­lia­ment is only the place for the rat­i­fi­ca­tion and reg­is­tra­tion of the rela­tions of force between class­es, which devel­op and are deter­mined out­side of it, and the econ­o­my remains the sphere in which real rela­tions are pro­duced and is the real source of pow­er.

It is right on the oth­er hand to affirm that the use of the par­lia­men­tary insti­tu­tions is also one of most impor­tant tasks laid out for the class move­ment, and that these very insti­tu­tions can be trans­formed (by the pres­sure exer­cised from below by the work­ers’ move­ment through its new insti­tu­tions) from the rep­re­sen­ta­tive seat of mere­ly polit­i­cal, for­mal lead­er­ship, to the expres­sion of sub­stan­tial polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic rights at the same time.

3. The proletariat educates itself by constructing its own institutions.

When, in gen­er­al, the road to social­ism is defined as demo­c­ra­t­ic, with the hope of ful­ly guar­an­tee­ing the prospects of peace­ful tran­si­tion, the fol­low­ing con­cept is accord­ing­ly and in sub­stance affirmed: that there is con­ti­nu­ity in the meth­ods of polit­i­cal strug­gle before, dur­ing, and after the rev­o­lu­tion­ary leap, and that there­fore the insti­tu­tions of pro­le­tar­i­an pow­er must form them­selves not only after the rev­o­lu­tion­ary leap, but in the very course of the whole strug­gle of the work­ers’ move­ment for pow­er. These insti­tu­tions must arise from the eco­nom­ic sphere, where there is the real source of pow­er, and rep­re­sent there­fore man not only as as cit­i­zen but also as pro­duc­er: and the rights that are deter­mined in these insti­tu­tions must be polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic rights at the same time. The real force of the class move­ment mea­sures itself form the share of pow­er and the capac­i­ty to exer­cise a lead­ing func­tion with­in the struc­ture of pro­duc­tion. The dis­tance that sep­a­rates the insti­tu­tions of bour­geois democ­ra­cy from the insti­tu­tions of work­ers’ democ­ra­cy is qual­i­ta­tive­ly the same as that which sep­a­rates bour­geois soci­ety divid­ed into class­es from social­ist soci­ety with­out class­es. It is also to ward off the con­cep­tion, of naive Enlight­en­ment ori­gins, that wants to gener­i­cal­ly “train” the pro­le­tari­at for pow­er, dis­re­gard­ing the con­crete con­struc­tion of its insti­tu­tions. Thus we hear of the “sub­jec­tive prepa­ra­tion” of the pro­le­tari­at, of the “edu­ca­tion” of the pro­le­tari­at (and whose turn is it to play the role of edu­ca­tor?); but every­body knows that only those who jump in water learn how to swim (and for this rea­son, among oth­ers, it is best to start by throw­ing the Enlight­ened “edu­ca­tor” in the water).

Cer­tain­ly these things aren’t new. They are the his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence of the work­ers’ move­ment and of Marx­ism, from the Sovi­et of 1917 to the Turin move­ment of fac­to­ry coun­cils, to the Pol­ish and Yugoslav work­ers’ coun­cils, to the nec­es­sary dis­cus­sion of the the­ses of the 20th Con­gress, that are going to take flesh before our eyes. It is all the more super­flu­ous to have to recall that it is exact­ly on this issue, in the last years, that the Social­ist Par­ty has pro­vid­ed the most orig­i­nal con­tri­bu­tions to the entire Ital­ian work­ers’ move­ment.

4. On the current conditions of workers’ control.

Today the demand for work­ers’ con­trol (work­ers and tech­ni­cians) is not laid out only in rela­tion with the rea­sons that have just been explained, but is con­nect­ed to a series of new con­di­tions which ren­der this demand deeply con­tem­po­rary and place it at the cen­ter of the strug­gle of the class move­ment:

  • The first of these con­di­tions is con­sti­tut­ed by the devel­op­ment of the mod­ern fac­to­ry. On this ter­rain aris­es the prac­tice and the ide­ol­o­gy of the con­tem­po­rary monop­oly (human rela­tions, sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tion of labor, etc.), which aims at sub­or­di­nat­ing in an inte­gral way spir­it and body – the labor­er to his boss, reduc­ing him to a small cog in the gears of a large machine whose com­plex­i­ty remains unknown to him. The only way of break­ing this process of total sub­jec­tion of the per­son of the labor­er is, aside from the labor­er him­self, that of first of all becom­ing con­scious of the sit­u­a­tion as it is in pro­duc­tive busi­ness terms; and to oppose to “busi­ness democ­ra­cy” in the boss’s brand name, and to the mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of “human rela­tions,” the demand of a con­scious role for the labor­er in the busi­ness com­plex: the demand of work­ers’ democ­ra­cy;
  • if the organs of polit­i­cal pow­er in the bour­geois State have always remained the “exec­u­tive com­mit­tee” of the cap­i­tal­ist class, today we are nev­er­the­less observ­ing an even big­ger inter­pen­e­tra­tion than in the past between the State and the monop­o­lies: whether because the monop­oly, accord­ing to its inter­nal log­ic, is led to assume an always greater direct con­trol, or because the eco­nom­ic oper­a­tions of the monop­oly (and in this regard lais­sez-faire illu­sions are by now col­laps­ing) demand in increas­ing ways the aid and friend­ly inter­ven­tion of the State. Pre­cise­ly because, then, the author­i­ties of the econ­o­my extend their direct polit­i­cal func­tions (and behind the facade of the Rule of law increase the real and direct func­tions of the class State), the work­ers’ move­ment is learn­ing the lessons of its adver­sary, must always shift fur­ther its cen­ter of strug­gle onto the ter­rain of real and des­ig­nat­ed pow­er. And, for the same rea­son, the strug­gle of the class move­ment for con­trol can­not exhaust itself with­in the lim­its of a sin­gle firm, but must be con­nect­ed and extend­ed in all sec­tors, on all pro­duc­tive fronts. To con­ceive of the work­ers’ con­trol as some­thing that could be restrict­ed to a sin­gle firm does not only mean “lim­it­ing” the demand of con­trol, but emp­ty­ing it of its real mean­ing, and caus­ing it to break down on the cor­po­rate lev­el;
  • there is final­ly a last new con­di­tion that is at the roots of the demand for the work­ers’ con­trol. The devel­op­ment of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism, on the one hand, and on the oth­er, the devel­op­ment of the social­ist forces in the world and the dif­fi­cult prob­lem­at­ic of pow­er, which impos­es itself force­ful­ly in the coun­tries in which the class move­ment has already made its rev­o­lu­tion, indi­cate the impor­tance today of defend­ing and guar­an­tee­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary auton­o­my of the pro­le­tari­at, whether against the new forms of reformism, or against the bureau­cra­ti­za­tion of pow­er, that is to say, against reformist bureau­cra­ti­za­tion and against the con­cep­tions of “lead­ers” (par­ty-leader, State-leader).

The defense, in this sit­u­a­tion, of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary auton­o­my of the pro­le­tari­at, man­i­fests itself in the cre­ation from below, before and after the con­quest of pow­er, of insti­tu­tions of social­ist democ­ra­cy, and in the return of the par­ty to its func­tion as instru­ment of the polit­i­cal for­ma­tion of the class move­ment (instru­ment, that is, not of a pater­nal­is­tic leader, from above, but of encour­ag­ing and sup­port­ing the orga­ni­za­tions in which the uni­ty of the class is artic­u­lat­ed). The impor­tance now of the auton­o­my of the Social­ist Par­ty in Italy is pre­cise­ly in this: cer­tain­ly not in how much it advances or fore­casts the scis­sion of the class move­ment, not in oppos­ing one “leader” to anoth­er “leader,” but in the guar­an­tee of the auton­o­my of the entire work­ers’ move­ment from any exter­nal, bureau­crat­ic, and pater­nal­is­tic direc­tion.

Affirm­ing this def­i­nite­ly does not mean that the ques­tion of pow­er, the essen­tial con­di­tion for the con­struc­tion of social­ism, has been for­got­ten: but the social­ist nature of pow­er is exact­ly deter­mined by the base of work­ers’ democ­ra­cy on which it rests, and that can­not be impro­vised in the after­math of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary “leap” in the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion. This is the only seri­ous method, not reformist, of oppos­ing the prospect of bureau­crat­ic social­ism (Stal­in­ism).

5. The meaning of class unity is the question of the connection between partial struggles and general ends.

The demand for work­ers’ con­trol, the prob­lems it rais­es, the the­o­ret­i­cal prepa­ra­tion con­nect­ed to it implies nec­es­sar­i­ly the uni­ty of the mass­es, and the refusal of every rigid par­ty con­cep­tion that reduces the very the­sis of con­trol to a wretched par­o­dy. There is no work­ers’ con­trol with­out uni­ty of action of all labor­ers in the same firm, in the same sec­tor, in the entire pro­duc­tive front: a uni­ty that is not mytho­log­i­cal or pure­ly an adorn­ment to the pro­pa­gan­da of a par­ty, but a real­i­ty that is imple­ment­ed from below, with labor­ers becom­ing con­scious of their func­tion in the pro­duc­tive process, and the simul­ta­ne­ous cre­ation of uni­tary insti­tu­tions of a new pow­er. It is there­fore to reject, in this con­text, the reduc­tion of the strug­gles of labor­ers to a pure instru­ment of rein­force­ment of a par­ty or of its more or less clan­des­tine strat­e­gy. The ques­tion, long debat­ed, of how to con­nect and har­mo­nize demands and par­tial, imme­di­ate strug­gles, with gen­er­al ends, is resolved pre­cise­ly in affirm­ing the con­ti­nu­ity of strug­gles and of their nature. In effect this con­nec­tion and this har­mo­niza­tion are impos­si­ble, and are an ide­o­log­i­cal mess, as long as there is still the idea that there is a realm of social­ism, a for the time unknow­able mys­tery, that will appear one day as a mirac­u­lous dawn to achieve the dreams of man. The ide­al of social­ism is indeed an ide­al that con­trasts pro­found­ly and with­out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of accom­mo­da­tion with cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, but it is an ide­al that needs to be made alive day by day, won moment by moment in strug­gles; that aris­es and devel­ops inso­far as every strug­gle serves to mature and advance insti­tu­tions that emerge from below, the nature of which is exact­ly already the affir­ma­tion of social­ism.

6. The class movement and economic development.

A con­cep­tion that is based on work­ers’ con­trol and on the uni­ty with­in the strug­gles of the mass­es car­ries with it the rejec­tion of every atti­tude or ori­en­ta­tion which hinges on a cat­a­stroph­ic per­spec­tive (auto­mat­ic col­lapse of cap­i­tal­ism), and the full and uncon­di­tion­al adher­ence to a pol­i­tics of eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment. But this pol­i­tics of eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment is not an adjust­ment, a cor­rec­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist course, nor does it con­sist of an abstract plan­ning that would be pro­posed to the bour­geois state; it is real­ized in the strug­gle of the mass­es, and man­i­fests itself by grad­u­al­ly break­ing the cap­i­tal­ist struc­ture, and from this tak­ing to head a new impulse. When in this sense it is affirmed that the strug­gles of the pro­le­tari­at serve to gain day by day new shares of pow­er we should not under­stand this to mean that the pro­le­tari­at gains day by day por­tions of bour­geois pow­er (or of col­lab­o­ra­tion with bour­geois pow­er) but that day by day it oppos­es to bour­geois pow­er the demand, the affir­ma­tion, and the form of a new pow­er that comes direct­ly, and with­out prox­ies, from below.

The work­ing class, slow­ly, through the strug­gle for con­trol, becomes the active sub­ject of a new eco­nom­ic pol­i­tics, takes on for itself the respon­si­bil­i­ty for a bal­anced eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, such that it inter­rupts the pow­er of monop­o­lies and their con­se­quences: imbal­ances between region and region, between stra­tum and stra­tum, between sec­tor and sec­tor. For this rea­son, sim­i­lar­ly, over­turn­ing the con­tem­po­rary func­tion of pub­lic enter­prise, trans­form­ing it from an ele­ment of sup­port and pro­tec­tion for monop­o­lies, into a direct instru­ment of the indus­tri­al­iza­tion of the South and depressed areas. In prac­tice this makes the pol­i­tics of eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment into an ele­ment of harsh con­trast with the monop­o­lies; a con­trast that presents itself first and fore­most as a con­flict between the pub­lic sec­tor (allied with the small and medi­um enter­pris­es) and the sec­tor of big pri­vate enter­prise. It should also be empha­sized that the class move­ment, car­ry­ing for­ward an equi­lib­ri­um and ade­quate process of indus­tri­al­iza­tion does not “sub­sti­tute” itself for cap­i­tal­ism, nor does it “com­plete the work,” but joins eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment to the par­al­lel trans­for­ma­tion of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion; because, today in Italy, these old, cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion are pre­cise­ly the irrec­on­cil­able obsta­cle for a pol­i­tics of eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment. Who­ev­er con­fus­es indus­tri­al­iza­tion (growth of accu­mu­la­tion) with the expan­sion of cap­i­tal­ism (econ­o­my of prof­it), does not only com­mit a the­o­ret­i­cal error but has also not even man­aged to take note of Ital­ian real­i­ty in its most evi­dent terms.

A pol­i­tics of eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment entrusts to the con­trol of the labor­ers com­plete­ly the guar­an­tee of tech­ni­cal devel­op­ment; not only elim­i­nates the prac­ti­cal sep­a­ra­tion between it and the labor­ers, but makes the labor­ers their own most direct bear­ers and advo­cates, real­iz­ing final­ly the con­ver­gence, at the lev­el of strug­gle, between work­ers and tech­ni­cians.

7. The forms of workers’ control.

The demand for con­trol on the part of labor­ers is by its nature uni­tary, and it aris­es and devel­ops at the lev­el of strug­gle. In the con­crete sit­u­a­tion of the class strug­gle in our Coun­try con­trol does not arise as a gener­ic, pro­gram­mat­ic demand, and much less as a demand for leg­isla­tive for­mu­la­tions on the part of Par­lia­ment: prepa­ra­tions and for­mu­las of this kind can only dis­tort the prob­lem of con­trol, even reduc­ing it to a veiled or open for­mu­la for col­lab­o­ra­tionism, or bring­ing it back in to a frame­work of a dan­ger­ous par­lia­men­tary pater­nal­ism. By this we cer­tain­ly don’t mean that it’s a mat­ter of exclud­ing a leg­isla­tive for­mu­la­tion on work­ers’ con­trol, but that this can­not be bestowed pater­nal­is­ti­cal­ly from above, nor can it be achieved just by gener­ic strug­gles of a par­lia­men­tary kind; in this field Par­lia­ment can only reg­is­ter, reflect the result of a strug­gle that takes place in the eco­nom­ic sphere (that is to say essen­tial­ly of the work­ing class). The ques­tion of con­trol advances inso­far as the labor­ers, in the pro­duc­tive struc­ture, uni­tar­i­ly become con­scious of their neces­si­ty in the pro­duc­tive sys­tem, and of the pro­duc­tive real­i­ty, and strug­gle on their own. It is clear more­over, by the things already said, that there is no dif­fer­ence for this theme between state enter­pris­es and pri­vate enter­pris­es: the demand for con­trol aris­es in both sec­tors on the same lev­el of strug­gle. On the oth­er hand the demand for con­trol is not the roman­tic exhuma­tion of a past that nev­er repeats itself in the same form, nor can it be con­fused with the revin­dica­tive func­tions of deter­mi­nate union organs (and there­fore can­not be con­fused with an expan­sion of the pow­er of inter­nal com­mis­sions): and this last thing is also true of the work­ers, in many places, giv­ing this form to demands for con­trol because the inter­nal com­mis­sions have remained a sym­bol of real work­ers’ uni­ty in places of labor.

There­fore every utopi­an antic­i­pa­tion must be banned, while it must be empha­sized that the forms of con­trol must not be deter­mined by a com­mit­tee of “spe­cial­ists,” but rise up only from the con­crete expe­ri­ence of labor­ers. In this sense three points must already be men­tioned that come from cer­tain work­ers’ sec­tors. The first of them con­cerns the Con­fer­ences of pro­duc­tion [Con­feren­ze di pro­duzione] as a con­crete form from which it can launch a move­ment for con­trol. The sec­ond refers on the oth­er hand to the demand that the ques­tion of con­trol be placed at the cen­ter of the gen­er­al strug­gle for the recap­ture of con­trac­tu­al pow­er and the free­dom of work­ers in the fac­to­ries, and thus for instance, that it be man­i­fest­ed in elect­ed Com­mis­sions that would con­trol employ­ment and pre­vent dis­crim­i­na­tion. The third, while it empha­sizes the needs of link­ing between var­i­ous firms, pos­es the prob­lem of par­tic­i­pa­tion in rep­re­sen­ta­tive ter­ri­to­r­i­al democ­ra­cy to the elab­o­ra­tion of pro­duc­tive pro­grams.

These are very use­ful points, result­ing already from basic expe­ri­ence, to which cer­tain­ly oth­ers will be added: each one of these will be fur­ther and more deeply dis­cussed, bear­ing in mind that the scope of appli­ca­tion and of study is pri­mar­i­ly the fac­to­ry, and the best test is the uni­tary strug­gle.

– Trans­lat­ed by Asad Haider. The trans­la­tor would like to thank Andrea Righi and Salar Mohan­desi for check­ing the draft.

Author of the article

was the founder of Quaderni Rossi.