Le operaie della casa (1977)

Le operaie della casa 1 of 3


1977 saw the emer­gence of a new wave of social con­flict in many parts of Italy, one that ques­tioned fun­da­men­tal assump­tions about class strug­gle, polit­i­cal forms, and the nature of social sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. 1977 was also the year in which the auton­o­mist move­ment briefly came to dom­i­nate the local rev­o­lu­tion­ary milieu, only to retreat in con­fu­sion and dis­or­der by the year’s end. Across those twelve months, hun­dreds of per­spec­tives doc­u­ments were pro­duced and cir­cu­lat­ed in Italy by orga­ni­za­tions large and small, out­lin­ing how cap­i­tal and the state might be defeat­ed in cir­cum­stances where a pow­er­ful Com­mu­nist Par­ty and union move­ment were call­ing for social peace and aus­ter­i­ty in the name of nation­al uni­ty. What fol­lows are two extracts from one such per­spec­tives doc­u­ment, pub­lished in the Jan­u­ary-April 1977 (and final) issue of Le operaie del­la casa. This jour­nal was the mouth­piece of the Comi­ta­to per il Salario al Lavoro Domes­ti­co di Pado­va, a group then active in the Vene­to region, and count­ing amongst its more promi­nent mem­bers Mari­arosa Del­la Cos­ta and Leopold­ina For­tu­nati.

The whole of this fourth issue of Le operaie del­la casa was giv­en over to a long doc­u­ment that, in crit­i­ciz­ing the views of the dom­i­nant camps with­in the con­tem­po­rary rev­o­lu­tion­ary left (par­tic­u­lar­ly those based in Italy’s North), offered a quite dif­fer­ent out­look as to how social con­flict should be pros­e­cut­ed there and inter­na­tion­al­ly. The doc­u­ment was divid­ed into sec­tions: after an intro­duc­tion that par­o­died Mao (“Great is the dis­or­der in com­rades’ heads; the sit­u­a­tion there­fore is wor­ry­ing”), a sus­tained polemic was out­lined against “The New Strat­e­gy” pro­posed both by lead­ing auton­o­mist orga­ni­za­tions (above all, the Rosso group led by Toni Negri, and the Sen­za Tregua group led by Oreste Scal­zone and oth­ers), as well as by cir­cles asso­ci­at­ed with frag­ments of Lot­ta Con­tin­ua (e.g. the jour­nal Ombre Rosse) and sec­tions of the fem­i­nist and anar­chist move­ments (although who pre­cise­ly of the lat­ter is being crit­i­cized is not clear). Top­ics addressed includ­ed devel­op­ment, under­de­vel­op­ment, and rev­o­lu­tion, with many auton­o­mists being accused of a blind wor­ship of “the pro­duc­tive forces” aimed at set­ting the waged and unwaged to fur­ther toil after “the rev­o­lu­tion”; the new­found enthu­si­asm with­in much of Autono­mia for “build­ing the par­ty” and “seiz­ing the state,” and what the con­se­quences of that approach might again be for the weak­est sec­tions of the class; and final­ly, the flaws of those fem­i­nist groups who opposed the pol­i­tics of wages for house­work advo­cat­ed by Le operaie del­la casa.

We present here excerpts from the orig­i­nal doc­u­ment in Le operaie del­la casa, con­cern­ing women’s auton­o­my, “seiz­ing the state,” and the relat­ed ques­tion of “coun­ter­pow­er.” While acute­ly aware that the cir­cum­stances of Italy forty years ago are pro­found­ly dif­fer­ent to those we face today, it is hoped that this material’s appear­ance will spur oth­ers to re-exam­ine the debates of those times (and to them­selves trans­late more of this and oth­er rel­e­vant doc­u­ments of the sev­en­ties) – debates which raised a num­ber of impor­tant ques­tions, many of which remain unan­swered in any prac­ti­cal man­ner.

 – Steve Wright

Women: The Third World in the Metropolis1

The flaw dis­cred­it­ing the whole out­look of our male com­rades is that once again, in cri­sis just as in devel­op­ment, their eyes are locked sole­ly on the fac­to­ry, and thus they make an inevitably dis­tort­ed assess­ment of the forces the class can mobi­lize against the attack of cap­i­tal. In fact, just as they fail to see the strug­gles of the unwaged in the Third World, like­wise they do not see the strug­gles of unwaged work­ers in the metrop­o­lis­es, and there­fore can­not see the vari­ety of the trench­es from which the work­ers’ coun­ter­at­tack departs today.

This out­look con­tin­ues to ignore, thus, that in the cri­sis itself a move­ment of women has devel­oped on an inter­na­tion­al lev­el, which on the ter­rain of the wage and the refusal of work has under­mined the mech­a­nisms of accu­mu­la­tion in a fun­da­men­tal way. This move­ment con­sists of all the strug­gles which have always been invis­i­ble in the eyes of the left (see the decline in birth rates at the inter­na­tion­al lev­el, the esca­la­tion in the divorce rate, the num­ber of fam­i­lies head­ed by a woman, and of the women who aban­don the fam­i­ly – now one in three in the USA – the num­ber of ille­git­i­mate chil­dren, etc.) It also includes all those strug­gles that, inso­far in as the left rec­og­nizes them, it con­sid­ers acts of coun­ter­cul­ture – the les­bian women’s move­ment, for exam­ple. In real­i­ty all these strug­gles are strug­gles against house­work. These move­ments have been able to com­mit to an inter­na­tion­al lev­el pre­cise­ly because they have been sus­tained by a mas­sive con­quest of mon­ey for this labor. Sure enough, hav­ing our own mon­ey is for women an unavoid­able con­di­tion for our abil­i­ty to refuse depen­dence on men, and to refuse, there­fore, our own work. This we reit­er­ate for every­one who still tells us today that the strug­gle for “lib­er­a­tion” is not reducible to any one demand, and hav­ing mon­ey is not what is most impor­tant, but rather “trans­form­ing the every­day.” But with our pock­ets emp­ty and con­strained to per­son­al depen­dence, it is very dif­fi­cult to take back our lives and trans­form our social rela­tions. Not by coin­ci­dence, the mas­si­fi­ca­tion of the strug­gle for wages and the mas­si­fi­ca­tion of the refusal of house­work go hand in hand. Thus not only has a big cut of the so-called “pub­lic spend­ing” of many states (see wel­fare in the USA, Cana­da, Eng­land, New Zealand; the “famil­ial salary” in France, etc.) been met­ed out to com­pen­sate domes­tic labor on the waves of women’s strug­gles, but actu­al­ly more and more the state has had to invest in the repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er.

But the more women have nego­ti­at­ed mon­ey with the state the more they have man­aged to refuse house­work and dic­tate dif­fer­ent con­di­tions. Fur­ther­more the mas­si­fi­ca­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion (upon which more than 10% of the pop­u­la­tion in Italy sur­vives, accord­ing to Cor­riere del­la Sera) demon­strates the refusal of women to sup­ply unpaid domes­tic labor – in this case, sex­u­al labor. In this direc­tion advances the very sig­nif­i­cant strug­gle that pros­ti­tutes are car­ry­ing out in the USA, Eng­land, France, and Spain, etc.

That this kind of strug­gle, this polit­i­cal sub­ject remains unseen indi­cates all the lim­its char­ac­ter­iz­ing the out­look of the left. The NAP2, dif­fer­ent­ly than many oth­ers, sees in the pros­ti­tute – inso­far as she is an extrale­gal pro­le­tar­i­an and a pre­car­i­ous work­er – a poten­tial rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject, but only if she goes to prison. Only with the expe­ri­ence of prison, accord­ing to NAP, can the extrale­gal pro­le­tar­i­an over­come uncon­trolled, anar­chic indi­vid­u­al­ism to dis­cov­er a col­lec­tive iden­ti­ty, over­come uncon­trolled con­sumerism (“easy” mon­ey squan­dered on exclu­sive, triv­ial lux­u­ry goods), to dis­cov­er a rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal posi­tion. From here it is a short step to the rhetoric of the Red Brigades, for whom noth­ing helps “raise con­scious­ness” like a stint in prison, accord­ing to the old “the worse, the bet­ter” dis­course.

Does Lyon3, for these com­rades, mean noth­ing to the his­to­ry of the class strug­gle? These same pros­ti­tutes they con­sid­er unbri­dled indi­vid­u­al­ists and con­sumerists, redeemable for the class strug­gle only through prison, have occu­pied church­es, gone on strike, attacked the state with very clear demands. They have called for decrim­i­nal­iza­tion against the restruc­tur­ing plan that would have them closed up in “Eros Cen­ters,”4 and have demand­ed to keep their chil­dren with them, against the state con­trol that de fac­to obstructs every social life, etc. In more and more towns the pros­ti­tutes are orga­niz­ing as a move­ment. This move­ment, accord­ing to our male com­rades, evi­dent­ly does not exist?

We can direct the same ques­tion also to the com­rades of Con­tropotere who write:

Ask the pun­dit in the big room press­ing all the but­tons what will hap­pen before long, today, this evening. He’ll enjoy him­self, com­rades, with women we pay with labor, and he will bring them into hous­es we build, and he will use rela­tion­ships we cre­ate work­ing. (Con­tropotere N.O., Sep­tem­ber ’76)

Here the com­rades are osten­si­bly berat­ing the cap­i­tal­ist. In real­i­ty they are berat­ing the pros­ti­tutes, who are imme­di­ate­ly por­trayed as leech­es on worker’s labor, and not as work­ers in their own right who on a ter­rain of domes­tic labor have man­aged to charge for at least some of the tasks of this work. This is the same under­stand­ing for which in Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia, Laos, Mozam­bique the pros­ti­tutes were per­se­cut­ed and man­dat­ed to “reha­bil­i­tate” them­selves (that is, pre­pare them­selves for “more pro­duc­tive” work) in actu­al con­cen­tra­tion camps. This is after they were large­ly used (as women always are) dur­ing the wars for lib­er­a­tion, often to car­ry out very dan­ger­ous tasks. Par­tic­u­lar­ly after all this, no one ever cared about how these women could sur­vive eco­nom­i­cal­ly beyond depen­dence on men, in war or not.

If this is the des­tiny into which “red cap­i­tal,” just as “white cap­i­tal,” has forced women – try­ing to close them in the Eros Cen­ters, the sex fac­to­ries, to increase their sex­u­al pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and at the same time iso­late them from oth­er women and thus restrain in some way the increase of pros­ti­tu­tion – there is there­fore is a sig­nif­i­cant con­nec­tion between the plan of “white” cap­i­tal and that of “red cap­i­tal,” both aimed at attack­ing and repress­ing in any way the strug­gles of pros­ti­tutes in the world.

It is pre­cise­ly the igno­rance of this arc of strug­gles (if not the will to repress them) that has been the source of a great sense of defeat for the left regard­ing the cur­rent rela­tion of forces between class and cap­i­tal. This igno­rance is also found­ed upon the left’s fail­ure to rec­og­nize strug­gles that advance at dif­fer­ent lev­els and with dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­tures, for which our male com­rades will always find the bar­rel of the gun more defin­i­tive than a fac­to­ry invad­ed by chil­dren. This “dif­fer­ence” is rather always inter­pret­ed as weak­ness. It is not a coin­ci­dence that our male com­rades have nev­er rec­og­nized any­thing in the strug­gles of women, and (some) have begun to char­ac­ter­ize us as a “pro­le­tar­i­an force” (even if they are always ready to for­get about us) only when they need to deal with our mass pres­ence in the streets. First of all, unlike the male work­ers – who, when they “weren’t strug­gling” only rep­re­sent­ed “mere labor-pow­er” – we women were lit­tle more than ele­ments, some­times pret­ty ele­ments, of the nat­ur­al land­scape.

But if we must speak of our “weak­ness,” then we need to say imme­di­ate­ly that if we as women do not rep­re­sent a major force it is also because we have always found our­selves face to face with (and against) a left which has con­tin­u­ous­ly repressed our inter­ests. In this they are all in agree­ment, from the PCI5 to the “rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.” All accuse us of being back­wards and blame us because we wouldn’t aban­don our strug­gles – the only ones that would guar­an­tee us real pow­er – to line up at their sides. Let the com­rades of the Red Brigades serve as an exam­ple: those who con­tin­ue to dis­miss our strug­gle against exploita­tion, con­trast­ing it with a “class strug­gle” of which obvi­ous­ly we women nev­er had any part.

Not until a woman lays claim to not only eco­nom­ic auton­o­my and the right to choose her own way of life, but also rec­og­nizes her­self in the exploit­ed class and begins a prac­tice of class strug­gle…

Sim­i­lar­ly in Sen­za Tregua of Naples:

it’s nec­es­sary to crit­i­cise the goal of wages for house­work, which oper­ates from a cor­rect read­ing of the process of social­iza­tion of cap­i­tal, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and house­work, and is char­ac­ter­is­tic of a sec­tor which is cer­tain­ly at the van­guard in the the­o­ry and prac­tice of women’s strug­gle. At the same time, the dis­course of the refusal of house­work, the chal­leng­ing of that role, and the reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the polit­i­cal and social dimen­sion, are not pre­sent­ed clear­ly by these com­rades. This lim­it becomes more grave if we con­sid­er that, on the oth­er hand, their aim does not take account of how the cri­sis clos­es polit­i­cal spaces for our demands, and that for the pro­gram of strug­gle for the wage as a moment of aggre­ga­tion against devel­op­ment, we must nec­es­sar­i­ly sub­sti­tute our orga­ni­za­tion­al capac­i­ty to express pow­er, to assert our will in the form of decree.

But if the left does not under­stand the pro­found anti-cap­i­tal­ist rad­i­cal­ism of the strug­gle of women for wages against house­work, the state does very well. Today like nev­er before, in fact, cap­i­tal knows that undis­ci­plined women pro­duce undis­ci­plined chil­dren, and that there is a direct umbil­i­cal cord between the refusal of cook­ing and the refusal of the assem­bly line, of the school, of the army.

It is pre­cise­ly this strug­gle against work, upon which accu­mu­la­tion and the dis­ci­plin­ing of the class are large­ly found­ed, that has com­pelled the state to invest more and more in the ter­rain of the repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er. Thus the enor­mous growth of “pub­lic spend­ing” has emerged at the inter­na­tion­al lev­el.

In fact, behind the process which our male com­rades define as “ter­tiariza­tion” there is in large part the social­iza­tion of var­i­ous tasks of house­work (social assis­tance, “col­lec­tive moth­ers” etc.), the imme­di­ate con­se­quence of which is the increase in the cost of labor-pow­er itself. nd it is pre­cise­ly this increase, that is, the need to invest more and more in the repro­duc­tion of liv­ing labor, which con­sti­tutes one of the fun­da­men­tal fac­tors of the present cri­sis of cap­i­tal.

It is not enough to exam­ine the mas­si­fi­ca­tion of the refusal of women on the ter­rain of house­work. We must also under­stand what there is behind the orga­ni­za­tion­al dif­fi­cul­ties which work­ers today encounter in respect to their strug­gles and the refusal of their work. It is a fact, for exam­ple, that in addi­tion to the male worker’s defense of the wage at the price of the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of work, women refuse to bear the brunt of the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of house­work to avoid the low­er­ing stan­dard of the fam­i­ly. (The oth­er exam­ple of this refusal is the great cri­sis of the fam­i­ly in the USA with the mas­si­fi­ca­tion of unem­ploy­ment, in which women often aban­doned their unem­ployed hus­bands.)

Sim­i­lar­ly, few­er and few­er women are will­ing to func­tion as footholds, like sup­port pil­lars, to the strug­gles that men wage. This is true regard­ing house­work as much as for polit­i­cal work. With­out a doubt the fact that women are no longer will­ing to sac­ri­fice them­selves, com­pen­sat­ing with their labor for the cap­i­tal­ist attack against work­ers, rep­re­sents in the short term a moment of weak­ness for men. But only in the short term, because in real­i­ty cap­i­tal has found­ed its author­i­ty over male work­ers upon the sac­ri­fice of women. In fact, if women’s depen­dence on men rep­re­sent­ed a pow­er for men who could always count on their jobs, it is alter­na­tive­ly true that it has rep­re­sent­ed a great weak­ness for men against cap­i­tal, because hav­ing depen­dents has always sig­ni­fied a great dis­ci­pli­nary force in the work­place. So the fact that women will not sub­ju­gate them­selves to plug up the leaks is in the long term a moment of pow­er for men too, inso­far as cap­i­tal has played the pow­er dif­fer­ence with­in the class against them too.

We hoped that our male com­rades would have learned this les­son with the emer­gence of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment, which if on the one hand sig­naled a great orga­ni­za­tion­al cri­sis for the com­rades (they were los­ing their wives, sec­re­taries, and woman-com­rade maids), rep­re­sent­ed on the oth­er hand a great leap of pow­er for the whole class. But instead of glean­ing from the emer­gence of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment some new strate­gic direc­tions, our male com­rades sought to repress this move­ment because it threat­ened their imme­di­ate inter­ests; or they sought to use it, to instru­men­tal­ize it, for what had always been its projects.

New strate­gic direc­tions, we have said. The first and most evi­dent being that to go beyond the fac­to­ry doesn’t mean falling into a void that only the assault rifle can fill. Rather it means to unite, and to recom­pose on the basis of the com­mon need for wages with all these polit­i­cal sub­jects, which, start­ing with women, are mov­ing on this ter­rain. Wages against house­work, against pre­car­i­ous work, against school work, and against fac­to­ry work, remain, in fact, today as always, the slo­gans of the class.


Con­clud­ing, what does the cur­rent cri­sis of cap­i­tal amount to in our point of view? For us too it is a defin­i­tive cri­sis that sig­nals the extreme lim­it of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment. It is not because cap­i­tal does not know how to resolve these organ­ic con­tra­dic­tions, but exact­ly because the class has attacked the mech­a­nisms of the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal.

Seizing the State6

The dis­course on the seizure of pow­er trans­lates more or less explic­it­ly into the objec­tive of “seiz­ing the state.” “More or less explic­it­ly” because while there is a great homo­gene­ity in the com­rades’ posi­tions con­cern­ing the seizure of pow­er, on the seizure of the state the posi­tions are more nuanced: at least for now, or at least in words. The most explic­it, as always, are the com­rades of Sen­za Tregua:

The class con­sti­tutes itself as state [si fa sta­to], it seizes polit­i­cal pow­er before rather than after the insur­rec­tion (Sup­ple­men­to a Sen­za Tregua, 14 July 1976).

Appar­ent­ly the oppo­site stance is tak­en by Rosso, whose mem­bers speak of the “extinc­tion” of the state. Clear­ly, how­ev­er, this is an affec­ta­tion [pic­co­lo vez­zo], since his­tor­i­cal­ly the extinc­tion of the state has nev­er meant its destruc­tion.

But let’s approach things method­i­cal­ly.

What is the State?

Le operaie della casa 3 of 3

For Marx and the Marx­ists, the State is the prod­uct of the irre­ducible con­tra­dic­tion between the work­ing class and cap­i­tal, and the guar­an­tor of the pri­ma­cy of capital’s inter­ests. For this rea­son Marx­ists have always crit­i­cized Kaut­sky­ist (social demo­c­ra­t­ic) con­cep­tions of the State as an organ of medi­a­tion-con­cil­i­a­tion of opposed inter­ests, the con­cil­i­a­tion-medi­a­tion of the strug­gle between the work­ing class and cap­i­tal. Lenin went back to Marx: the State must be destroyed. At the same time he envi­sioned, as an inter­me­di­ary objec­tive, the neces­si­ty of seiz­ing the state and man­ag­ing it, with a view to its extinc­tion. Lenin, like Engels before him, start­ed from the assump­tion that once the pri­vate own­er­ship of the means of pro­duc­tion had been abol­ished – in oth­er words, once these means had become the prop­er­ty of the state (sta­t­i­fied, nation­al­ized) – the State in its cap­i­tal­ist-bour­geois func­tion would no longer have any rea­son to exist. Mean­ing that its extinc­tion would be the inevitable result of the sta­t­i­fi­ca­tion of cap­i­tal (indeed, Lenin’s strug­gle was against the anar­chy of pro­duc­tion).

In real­i­ty, cap­i­tal is not abol­ished once it is sim­ply nation­al­ized and sta­t­i­fied. Exploita­tion remains, even if the man­ag­er of accu­mu­la­tion and the class rela­tion is the state in the imme­di­ate form of the par­ty-tech­noc­ra­cy. On the oth­er hand, even in the social­ist non-com­mu­nist coun­tries, the state has become the direct man­ag­er of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment: the enter­prise state. To take an exam­ple that affects us direct­ly, in Italy at least 50% of cap­i­tal is the prop­er­ty of the state (Monte­di­son, ENI, IRI etc.). But there is much more to this. Not only does the state increas­ing­ly man­age and con­trol pro­duc­tion direct­ly; it is also the guar­an­tor for cap­i­tal of the repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er (and there­fore the first orga­niz­er and con­troller of house­work).

That the state is the boss of women and the con­troller-guar­an­tor of the repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er can be seen direct­ly in the fact that: a) it is the state that con­trols the fam­i­ly, the birth rate, immi­gra­tion, emi­gra­tion etc. through the pro­mul­ga­tion of per­ti­nent laws; b) it is always the state that inter­venes to stand in [sos­ti­tuire] for women every time the refusal of house­work [lavoro domes­ti­co] deep­ens. Indeed, the strug­gle of women against house­work is the fun­da­men­tal fac­tor behind cer­tain trans­for­ma­tions in the state.

Con­sid­er the pro­gres­sive growth of state invest­ment in the social repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er: hos­pi­tals, schools, men­tal health cen­ters, con­trols at the neigh­bor­hood lev­el through social work­ers, etc., that stand in for moth­ers and wives. Today, in fact, the state – far from the army/police/government as seen from Lenin’s view­point! – is incar­nat­ed first and fore­most in those insti­tu­tions that must orga­nize, con­trol and guar­an­tee the repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er. But guar­an­tee­ing, orga­niz­ing the repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er has also meant guar­an­tee­ing and orga­niz­ing pow­er divi­sions with­in the class. Divi­sions based upon the wage and being unwaged, and main­tained through the con­trol of the unwaged by the waged: men in rela­tion to women, par­ents in rela­tion to chil­dren, doc­tors and teach­ers etc. in rela­tion to women and chil­dren. Today, in fact, every time a lay­er of the class con­trols and com­mands the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of anoth­er lay­er, it always incar­nates direct­ly the author­i­ty and func­tion of the state, it is the state in rela­tion to the lay­er sub­or­di­nat­ed to it.

There­fore the oth­er essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tic of the state is that it is not only the prod­uct of the strug­gle between class and cap­i­tal, and guar­an­tor of the latter’s pri­ma­cy. It is also the orga­niz­er and guar­an­tor of the pow­er divi­sion with­in the class between waged and unwaged, and guar­an­tor of the pri­ma­cy of the waged over the unwaged (beat­ing your wife is not vio­lence, beat­ing your chil­dren is even less so).

What does it mean, there­fore, to seize the state? It means quite sim­ply tak­ing charge of the mech­a­nisms of exploita­tion, start­ing with the exploita­tion of house­work in all its aspects (birth rates, reg­u­la­tion of sex­u­al labor etc. – speak­ing of which, what will become of pros­ti­tutes in the new rev­o­lu­tion­ary state?). And, nat­u­ral­ly, ratio­nal­iz­ing them, and devel­op­ing them.

We should add that the dis­course on the seizure of the state reflects once again the nation­al­is­tic optic through which these com­rades con­sid­er mat­ters, an optic that can only be anti-work­er in pre­sup­pos­ing the class as a nation­al rather than inter­na­tion­al class. This is equiv­a­lent to sus­pend­ing [con­ge­lare] the rev­o­lu­tion­ary process, a process that is nec­es­sar­i­ly inter­na­tion­al giv­en that the work­ing class is inter­na­tion­al. Seiz­ing com­mand (the dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at) over the cap­i­tal­ist mech­a­nism in a giv­en coun­try means engag­ing [riferir­si] with the social wealth present at the nation­al lev­el, rather than the social wealth accu­mu­lat­ed inter­na­tion­al­ly. It means nav­i­gat­ing with­in the equi­lib­ria of the inter­na­tion­al rela­tions between var­i­ous cap­i­tal­ist sec­tors and state, in the process oper­at­ing in a man­ner that remains com­pat­i­ble with such equi­lib­ria – the oppo­site of sub­vert­ing the lat­ter. This per­spec­tive of the self-lim­i­ta­tion of strug­gle in terms of the inter­na­tion­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary process is already present in Sen­za Tregua:

Grasp­ing the fact that the lim­i­ta­tions imposed by the net­work of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions per­sist – still not hav­ing been sub­vert­ed at the glob­al lev­el – assumes there­fore the per­ma­nence of the social product’s com­mod­i­ty form, and thus the per­ma­nence of the val­oriza­tion process… assum­ing by hypoth­e­sis the neces­si­ty of main­tain­ing and increas­ing, for a cer­tain num­ber of years, at the rhythms indi­cat­ed by Eco­nom­ic The­o­ry [?], a quo­tient of gross domes­tic prod­uct (and there­fore a fund of labor-hours to accu­mu­late, with the aim of pro­duc­ing com­modi­ties), pos­es the ques­tion of how to dis­trib­ute pro­duc­tive activ­i­ty amongst the pop­u­la­tion (Sup­ple­men­to a Sen­za Tregua, 14 July 1976).

This then is the sense of that “seiz­ing the state” pro­posed today by many com­rades. And this holds also for those who, more prim­ly, speak only of “seiz­ing pow­er” while has­ten­ing to speak of the extinc­tion of the state. But, as we have said, his­tor­i­cal­ly extinc­tion has nev­er meant the destruc­tion of the state, but only the destruc­tion of one of its par­tic­u­lar forms as a means towards its ratio­nal­iza­tion.

Nonethe­less, we can say that “seiz­ing the state” is con­sis­tent with “seiz­ing pow­er,” as seiz­ing pow­er means “the reor­ga­ni­za­tion of labor.” But this is once again the scrap heap of a com­mu­nist strat­e­gy that has now had fifty years of work­ing class refusal and irre­ducibil­i­ty to embrace as its own.

China is at Hand: Or, the Areas of Counterpower7

The the­mat­ic of coun­ter­pow­er, launched by the Red Brigades, recurs per­sis­tent­ly in the dis­cours­es of the com­rades. It is based on the neces­si­ty that the class already posits itself and acts as an alter­na­tive pow­er to the pow­er of cap­i­tal. Class indeed: as coun­ter­pow­er. A telling aspect of this propo­si­tion is the empha­sis every­one places on the decree (coun­ter­posed to demands, which pre­sup­pose the per­ma­nence of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions) with which the class express­es its essen­tial objec­tives: with which the class, in oth­er words, leg­is­lates.

How is that pro­le­tar­i­an coun­ter­pow­er which today rep­re­sents the inter­me­di­ary objec­tive of the whole Move­ment made con­crete? The dis­course is rather neb­u­lous, but always revolves around the formation/construction of Areas of Coun­ter­pow­er, mod­eled on the one hand on “no go” zones (lib­er­at­ed zones on the mod­el of Ire­land and Ango­la), on the oth­er hand on the expe­ri­ence of self-man­age­ment:8 that is, the self-man­age­ment of par­tic­u­lar struc­tures and “polit­i­cal spaces”.

The most con­crete in this regard are the com­rades of Sen­za Tregua, who think imme­di­ate­ly of the direct man­age­ment of appropriated/liberated fac­to­ries for the pro­duc­tion of arms and of means of sub­sis­tence:

Thus, if today it was pos­si­ble, in fac­to­ry x locat­ed with­in ter­ri­to­ry y, to pro­mote forms of “pro­vi­sion­al work­ers’ gov­ern­ment” on a ter­ri­to­r­i­al scale (assem­blies, coun­cils, equipped to car­ry out their own decrees on a whole “pack­et” of ques­tions: prices and tar­iffs; fac­to­ry staffing lev­els and hours; the pro­duc­tion goals for small units that gen­er­ate wage goods for small scale cir­cu­la­tion (for exam­ple bak­eries, pas­ta mak­ers etc), the dis­tri­b­u­tion pro­fes­sion­al ser­vices on the part of non-work­ing class occu­pa­tions (doc­tors) etc. …) (Sup­ple­men­to a Sen­za Tregua, 14 July 1976).

And again:

Pro­duc­tion for sub­sis­tence, pro­duc­tion for com­bat: with­in the con­quest of these over­ar­ch­ing terms, a process can devel­op through which the pro­le­tari­at begins to con­struct the auton­o­my of its social dic­ta­tor­ship, in pow­er… (Sen­za Tregua 25 March 1976).

And again:

We must build the pow­er to occu­py and set to work fac­to­ries able to pro­duce the means of sub­sis­tence and of strug­gle! Out­side, against the reformist fan­tasies of self-man­age­ment, we must begin to demon­strate the explo­sive force of a new rev­o­lu­tion­ary work­ing class dis­ci­pline (Sen­za Tregua 25 March 1976).

It is self-gov­ern­ment at a local lev­el that is pro­posed here; despite the com­rades’ exhor­ta­tions, this does indeed incar­nate the reformist fan­tasies of self-man­age­ment. In fact self-man­age­ment, the self-gov­ern­ment of the local ter­ri­to­ry, like the per­spec­tive of lib­er­at­ed zones that we must defend with arms, makes it pos­si­ble, under the illu­sion of self-con­trol, to jus­ti­fy a pol­i­tics of mis­ery [mis­e­ria], of self-help, of mak­ing do with what is to hand. In both cas­es it is the self-man­age­ment of one’s own pover­ty [mis­e­ria] (see the expe­ri­ence of the Chi­nese com­munes). And it could not be oth­er­wise, because when one’s own area, rather than wealth at an inter­na­tion­al lev­el, becomes the ref­er­ence point for what can be obtained, one winds up nec­es­sar­i­ly with the auton­o­my of one’s own mis­ery. As a con­se­quence, one falls into the propo­si­tion of aus­ter­i­ty, of the lim­i­ta­tion of needs: and this holds whether one is talk­ing of areas of coun­ter­pow­er, or of the seizure of pow­er, or of the self-gov­ern­ment of the pro­duc­ers.

Linked to the theme of self-man­age­ment is the envi­sioned end of the divi­sion of labor – and, in par­tic­u­lar, the end of the divi­sion between man­u­al and intel­lec­tu­al labor.

We can say straight away that this dis­course also con­ceals a fur­ther inten­si­fi­ca­tion of labor. Not only will they make us work, not only will they exploit us, but they will make us plan the forms and man­ner of our exploita­tion. As in the com­munes, this clas­sic mod­el of social­ism – with the elim­i­na­tion of the divi­sion between “work­er,” “super­vi­sor” and “plan­ner” – will not only inten­si­fy labor, but has attempt­ed and will con­tin­ue to attempt to con­tain class con­flict, mak­ing work­ers inter­nal­ize and direct­ly man­age their own con­trol and dis­ci­plin­ing.

We women know quite a bit about this, giv­en that we have always had to self-man­age our kitchens and bed­rooms. And we have always per­formed both man­u­al and intel­lec­tu­al labor, since not only have we had to sweep,9 clean plates etc., but we have also had to plan the whole family’s bud­get and activ­i­ties [vita].

After all, not only women, but the class as a whole, has always used self-man­age­ment. In the office, the fac­to­ry, the school, work­ers have always been respon­si­ble for the orga­ni­za­tion-divi­sion-coop­er­a­tion of labor, cov­er­ing for each oth­er when some­one is absent, divid­ing up the work to make it more bear­able, etc. But self-man­age­ment has always been used as a defen­sive, not an offen­sive weapon – let alone as a strat­e­gy.

As we have seen, the the­mat­ic of self-man­age­ment is cen­tral to the objec­tive of coun­ter­pow­er. This is a point upon which there is con­ver­gence between two of the Movement’s ten­den­cies – the Lenin­ist and the anar­cho-lib­er­tar­i­an (Sit­u­a­tion­ist, Dadaist) – that are con­tra­dic­to­ry only in appear­ance. This should come as no sur­prise, since the antag­o­nism tra­di­tion­al­ly expressed at the lev­el of ide­ol­o­gy between Stal­in­ists and anar­cho-lib­er­tar­i­ans has always been resolved har­mo­nious­ly in prac­tice (in this regard, Lenin had seen the coop­er­a­tive as a mod­el of social­ist labor).

In fact there is com­ple­men­tar­i­ty, not con­tra­dic­tion, between the the­mat­ic of seiz­ing the state, and the the­mat­ic of coun­ter­pow­er. There is no con­tra­dic­tion between the per­spec­tive of a cen­tral­ized plan­ning of pro­duc­tion and the self-man­aged decen­tral­iza­tion of its exe­cu­tion. Not only do all the con­tem­po­rary expe­ri­ences of cap­i­tal­ist orga­ni­za­tion demon­strate that the more com­mand is cen­tral­ized, the more is exe­cu­tion can be decen­tral­ized, but the very expe­ri­ence of real­ized social­ism has always posed these two pre­rog­a­tives as com­ple­men­tary.

On the oth­er hand, the anar­cho-lib­er­tar­i­an dream of self-man­age­ment (start­ing from local self-gov­ern­ment) has nev­er been in con­tra­dic­tion with the seizure of pow­er, because the anar­cho-lib­er­tar­i­ans’ dis­in­ter­est for the state is a dis­in­ter­est not only for its seizure, but for its very destruc­tion. As his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence has shown, the lib­er­tar­i­an left has nev­er rep­re­sent­ed a force against the state; it has been inte­grat­ed, as we have said, in all the com­mu­nist labor plans (see also the expe­ri­ence of the social­ist com­munes, mod­eled pre­cise­ly by anar­cho-lib­er­tar­i­an exam­ples).

This inte­gra­tion has always occurred because there is a fun­da­men­tal agree­ment, start­ing from a com­mon iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in labor, on the neces­si­ty of man­ag­ing, con­trol­ling one’s own pro­duc­tion, accord­ing to the ide­al of the arti­sans who express their cre­ativ­i­ty through their own labor. As a con­se­quence there is a com­mon agree­ment in con­sid­er­ing the wage as a ter­rain that has been sur­passed in terms of the class strug­gle. In its place, the anar­cho-lib­er­tar­i­ans have sub­sti­tut­ed the self-man­age­ment of the per­son­al: that is, the trans­for­ma­tion of pro­duc­tion start­ing from the ambit of the home and famil­ial rela­tions – “the trans­for­ma­tion of dai­ly life.” It is in this sense that we must read their “NO” to the repro­duc­tion of the fam­i­ly (which is a com­plete “no” of mon­ey to women), by which they under­stand “reclaim­ing life.” In the place of mon­ey they offer us cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion (a rev­o­lu­tion of lan­guage, of signs, as well as a sex­u­al rev­o­lu­tion, etc.), that is a new alter­na­tive mod­el of liv­ing – one that can be realised imme­di­ate­ly, because it costs noth­ing, apart from a bit of good will, a lot of men­tal elas­tic­i­ty, a lucid increase in aware­ness [pre­sa di coscien­za] – and, obvi­ous­ly, a spir­it of mim­ic­ry [imi­tazione]. In par­tic­u­lar, it is back­ward to get mar­ried, to live as a cou­ple, to have chil­dren etc. – and this holds for men as well as women, giv­en that is has been decreed that we are equal.

It’s clear how the anar­cho-lib­er­tar­i­ans use this “decreed equal­i­ty” between men and women to palm us off, we women, and to close down our process of strug­gle against men. Which is why, look­ing at the length and breadth of the lib­er­a­tion for which they yearn reveals the true mean­ing for them of “women’s lib­er­a­tion.” They are AUTONOMOUS, yes – but their auton­o­my is not from cap­i­tal but rather from the CLASS, start­ing with women.

It is this frac­ture between the prob­lem of dai­ly life and the dai­ly prob­lem of mon­ey that the future pink/reddish boss­es are seek­ing to recom­pose, unit­ed in refus­ing mon­ey to the class, start­ing with women. Instead they offer us a reheat­ed ver­sion of the same old stuff of a “new con­scious­ness” (which, as we know, costs noth­ing, beyond some small indi­vid­ual effort) – the reor­ga­ni­za­tion of our mis­ery.

  1. Trans­lat­ed by Sam Pin­to. All notes are by the trans­la­tors. 

  2. Nuclei Armati Popo­lari, an armed left extra­parlia­men­tary group active in South­ern Italy from 1974-1977. 

  3. This refers to the 1975 occu­pa­tion of Saint-Nizier church in Lyon, when over one hun­dred pros­ti­tutes occu­pied the church in protest against police repres­sion. 

  4. State-reg­u­lat­ed broth­els in Ger­many. 

  5. Par­ti­to Comu­nista Ital­iano, Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty. 

  6. Trans­lat­ed by Steve Wright. 

  7. Trans­lat­ed by Steve Wright. 

  8. In Eng­lish in the orig­i­nal. 

  9. The word used is “sco­pare,” which also car­ries the con­no­ta­tion of engag­ing in sex­u­al inter­course. 

Author of the article

was a revolutionary feminist organization active in 1970s Italy.