Mapping the Terrain of Struggle: Autonomous Movements in 1970s Italy


The most recent cap­i­tal­ist offen­sive has sparked a vibrant new wave of strug­gles over the ques­tion of social repro­duc­tion. Water, hous­ing, edu­ca­tion, to name only a few, are now deci­sive sites of con­fronta­tion, and activists across the globe exper­i­ment with new tac­tics, forms of strug­gle, and mod­els of orga­ni­za­tion.

In some ways, our renewed focus on social repro­duc­tion shares inter­est­ing par­al­lels with the “Ital­ian Rev­o­lu­tion” of 1968-1980, the most rad­i­cal upheaval in post­war West­ern Europe. For while orig­i­nal­ly firm­ly anchored to the strug­gles of the fac­to­ry pro­le­tari­at, many move­ments began to wage a mul­ti­tude of strug­gles beyond the point of pro­duc­tion, devel­op­ing class pow­er on what was called the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion.

In fact, each phase of the polit­i­cal evo­lu­tion of the autonomous social move­ments was char­ac­ter­ized by its focus on social repro­duc­tion issues, such as self-reduc­tion cam­paigns on shop­ping, ener­gy bills, and pub­lic trans­port, often in con­junc­tion with the more rad­i­cal sec­tions of the unions in the ear­ly to mid-Sev­en­ties. Hous­ing occu­pa­tions and rent strikes became impor­tant in the mid-1970s as the cri­sis of Fordism-Key­ne­sian­ism deep­ened, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Rome where Work­ers Auton­o­my was strong in the urban periph­ery. Repro­duc­tive strug­gles were also car­ried out by stu­dents on school, uni­ver­si­ty, and edu­ca­tion issues. As the decade wore on, youth in the new, small­er, and more repres­sive post-Fordist fac­to­ries of the Milanese hin­ter­land began to orga­nize them­selves more out­side of work and in the social ter­ri­to­ry as the “Pro­le­tar­i­an Youth Cir­cles,” defy­ing the nation­al-pop­u­lar log­ic of PCI-cham­pi­oned aus­ter­i­ty pol­i­tics by demand­ing access to lux­u­ry goods, ser­vices, and cul­tur­al prod­ucts, not just the basic means of sur­vival, as their par­ents had. And as fac­to­ries were restruc­tured and decen­tral­ized, involv­ing the lay­ing off of tens of thou­sands of indus­tri­al work­ers and the automa­tion, robo­t­i­za­tion, and elim­i­na­tion of their posts, social move­ments of the unem­ployed, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the less devel­oped South, or Mez­zo­giorno, began to make a guar­an­teed social wage (salario sociale garan­ti­to) for all, both work­ing and unem­ployed, their cen­tral demand. But the most impor­tant repro­duc­tive labor strug­gles were those of Wages for House­work and oth­er fem­i­nist and women’s move­ment cam­paigns for the self-val­oriza­tion of the social repro­duc­tion of the work­force by women, par­tic­u­lar­ly house­wives, sex work­ers, and nurs­es.

While we must cer­tain­ly forge our own polit­i­cal forms today, there’s no need to rein­vent the wheel. Much has changed, but many of these issues remain as cru­cial as ever. In this con­text, crit­i­cal­ly revis­it­ing the robust arse­nal of polit­i­cal strug­gle bequeathed by the Ital­ian move­ments of that era can pro­vide us not only with inspi­ra­tion, but also mod­els to help guide us as we find our own way.

Theorizing Social Reproduction

The aim of this brief sum­ma­ry of the the­o­ret­i­cal debates on social repro­duc­tion with­in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism and the part of the fem­i­nist move­ment clos­est to it in polit­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal terms, above all the group of fem­i­nist intel­lec­tu­als and activists around the Wages for House­work cam­paign in Italy and inter­na­tion­al­ly, is to out­line a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work with­in which to ana­lyze the autonomous strug­gles on social repro­duc­tion in 1970s Italy. The main nodes of these debates are seen as Ital­ian work­erism, post-work­erism, post-autonomism and, for want of bet­ter terms, work­erist-influ­enced and post-work­erist fem­i­nism.

Karl Marx’s rather lim­it­ed dis­cus­sion of repro­duc­tion and cir­cu­la­tion in Cap­i­tal Vol­ume II was tak­en as the start­ing point by Anto­nio Negri and oth­ers in Quaderni Rossi and Classe Opera­ia, the main work­erist pub­li­ca­tions of the 1960s, to devel­op their analy­sis on the rela­tion­ship of repro­duc­tion with class antag­o­nism. Negri was one of the first work­erists to iden­ti­fy the antag­o­nis­tic nature of repro­duc­tion as part of social pro­duc­tion, rather than just cir­cu­la­tion with­in cap­i­tal, while crit­i­ciz­ing his more ortho­dox com­rades, such as the PCI-based Mario Tron­ti who con­tin­ued to reduce the prob­lem of repro­duc­tion to cir­cu­la­tion, as indeed had Marx:

we would be forced to reduce the Marx­i­an approach to the issue of repro­duc­tion to a ques­tion of cir­cu­la­tion: this would be absolute­ly ille­git­i­mate – even though it is com­mon, espe­cial­ly with­in Ital­ian work­erism … In fact, the con­stant upheaval of the terms of class strug­gle from with­in the work­ers’ strug­gle and cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing demon­strates exact­ly the oppo­site: the ter­rain of repro­duc­tion is dom­i­nat­ed by the antag­o­nis­tic cat­e­gories of pro­duc­tion and the process of pro­duc­tion does not dis­ap­pear in the com­mod­i­ty but re-emerges in all of its ele­ments (as iden­ti­fied by Marx rather than Smith) in the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal and work­ers’ strug­gles.… The work­ing class, through its strug­gles, moti­vates cap­i­tal to restruc­ture pro­duc­tion as well as repro­duc­tion (which is increas­ing­ly equiv­a­lent to social pro­duc­tion).… At the cur­rent lev­el of class strug­gle, work­er orga­ni­za­tion only emerges when the strug­gle can have an impact on fac­to­ry pro­duc­tion and from there be trans­ferred onto the whole mech­a­nism of repro­duc­tion of social cap­i­tal.1

This crit­i­cism of Marx, ortho­dox Marx­ism and even of some sec­tions of Ital­ian work­erism over the ques­tion of repro­duc­tion in fact owed much (although not appar­ent­ly acknowl­edged by Negri) to pre­vi­ous debates with­in Ital­ian and lat­er U.S.-based work­erist-influ­enced fem­i­nism. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci took Marx and all forms of Marx­ism, includ­ing operais­mo to task for ignor­ing or under­es­ti­mat­ing the cen­tral role of social repro­duc­tion as both sex­u­al repro­duc­tion and unpaid domes­tic labor in cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion and from there in class antag­o­nism. Refer­ring also to a broad­er fem­i­nist cri­tique of Marx, based on the work of the activists of the Wages for House­work cam­paign in the 1970s, such as Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta and Sel­ma James, Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, and more recent­ly of the Aus­tralian eco-fem­i­nist Ariel Salleh, and the Biele­feld fem­i­nist school of Maria Mies, Clau­dia Von Werl­hof, and Veron­i­ca Bennholdt-Thom­sen, Fed­eri­ci states that

this cri­tique argues that the analy­sis of Marx on cap­i­tal­ism was hin­dered by his inca­pac­i­ty to con­ceive of an activ­i­ty as being pro­duc­tive of val­ue unless it was for the pro­duc­tion of goods, and his con­se­quent blind­ness before the mean­ing of the unpaid repro­duc­tive activ­i­ty of women in the process of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion. To ignore this activ­i­ty lim­it­ed his com­pre­hen­sion of the true exten­sion of the cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion of work and the func­tion of the salary in the cre­ation of divi­sions with­in the work­ing class, begin­ning with the rela­tion between women and men. If Marx has rec­og­nized that cap­i­tal­ism need­ed to sup­port itself, not only in an immense quan­ti­ty of unpaid domes­tic activ­i­ty for the repro­duc­tion of the work force, but also in the deval­u­a­tion of these repro­duc­tive activ­i­ties with the aim of reduc­ing the cost of the labor force, pos­si­bly he would have been less inclined to con­sid­er cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment as inevitable and pro­gres­sive.2

As an at least par­tial riposte to such a cri­tique, the Ital­ian work­erist the­o­ry of the “social fac­to­ry” can be seen as an attempt to go beyond its orig­i­nal­ly exclu­sive focus on fac­to­ry-based autonomous strug­gles to include the relat­ed move­ments of 1968-69, par­tic­u­lar­ly of stu­dents, and of work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ty strug­gles over repro­duc­tive issues such as hous­ing, bills, and trans­port, although the cen­tral role of women in the social fac­to­ry is again brushed over. In Italy in the ear­ly 1970s the extra­or­di­nary wave of autonomous work­ers’ strug­gles launched dur­ing the 1969 “Hot Autumn” with­in the cen­tral­ized Fordist fac­to­ry were grad­u­al­ly being rolled back by tac­ti­cal cap­i­tal­ist retreats and strate­gic reforms, such as the Fac­to­ry Coun­cils and the 1970 Work­ers Char­ter, and the ful­crum of social con­flict began to shift towards the “social fac­to­ry,” lead­ing Tron­ti to extend his fac­to­ry-cen­tered approach over the rest of soci­ety, so defin­ing the social fac­to­ry as:

At the high­est lev­el of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, the social rela­tion becomes a moment of the rela­tion of pro­duc­tion, the whole soci­ety becomes an artic­u­la­tion of pro­duc­tion; in oth­er words, the whole of  soci­ety exists as a func­tion of the fac­to­ry and the fac­to­ry extends its exclu­sive dom­i­na­tion over the whole of soci­ety.3

Thus, the “social fac­to­ry” the­o­ry did not deal suf­fi­cient­ly with the fem­i­nist cri­tique of Marx­ism in gen­er­al and operais­mo in par­tic­u­lar, as nei­ther did Negri’s the­o­ry of the “social­ized work­er” (operaio sociale), sup­pos­ed­ly the new antag­o­nist sub­ject of the post-Fordist social fac­to­ry of decen­tral­ized pro­duc­tion, giv­en the neu­tral­iza­tion of the strug­gles of the “mass work­er” in the Fordist fac­to­ry of cen­tral­ized pro­duc­tion in the ear­ly 1970s as allud­ed to by Tron­ti in the pre­vi­ous para­graph. Although Negri devel­oped his the­o­ry of the social­ized work­er in the ear­ly to mid-1970s, the peri­od of the rise of both rad­i­cal fem­i­nism and Work­ers Auton­o­my as social move­ments based, in quite dif­fer­ent ways, on issues of social needs and repro­duc­tion, his attempt to lump togeth­er women and oth­er emer­gent social antag­o­nists of the peri­od with­in a “gen­er­al the­o­ry” was received with skep­ti­cism and accu­sa­tions of lack of ana­lyt­i­cal rig­or with­in Autono­mia itself, nev­er mind the fem­i­nist move­ment, although his crit­ics, in this case at least, can in turn be accused of empir­i­cal fetishism:

(y)our inter­est for the “emer­gent stra­ta” (pro­le­tar­i­an youth, fem­i­nists, homo­sex­u­als) and for new, and recon­cep­tu­al­ized polit­i­cal sub­jects (the “operaio sociale”) has always been and is still shared by us. But pre­cise­ly the unde­ni­able polit­i­cal impor­tance of these phe­nom­e­na demands extreme ana­lyt­i­cal rigour, great inves­tiga­tive cau­tion, a strong­ly empir­i­cal approach (facts, data, obser­va­tions and still more obser­va­tions, data, facts).4

Self-Reduction and Social Reproduction Struggles in 1970s Italy

The huge wave of work­ing class unrest begun in the “Hot Autumn” of 1969 con­tin­ued unabat­ed, reach­ing its peak with the armed occu­pa­tion of the gigan­tic FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin in March 1973 by a new gen­er­a­tion of even more mil­i­tant work­ers, the Faz­zo­let­ti Rossi (Red Ban­danas), who orga­nized autonomous­ly even from the van­guardist groups of the New Left. How­ev­er, from then on the effects of tech­no­log­i­cal restruc­tur­ing, redun­dan­cies, and the unions’ recu­per­a­tion of con­sen­sus and con­trol through the Fac­to­ry Coun­cils began to damp­en down the autonomous work­ers’ revolt, which nev­er­the­less con­tin­ued at an excep­tion­al­ly high lev­el, com­pared to the rest of West­ern Europe, until the end of the decade.5 The largest out­break of indus­tri­al unrest in Italy since the “Red Bien­ni­al” of 1920-21 soon spread to work­ing class dis­tricts, where the emerg­ing women’s move­ment, along with stu­dents (an increas­ing num­ber of whom came from the work­ing class since the advent of mass schol­ar­iza­tion in the ear­ly 1960s) and the New Left groups became active in the self-orga­nized neigh­bor­hood com­mit­tees (comi­tati di quartiere) which orga­nized rent and bill strikes, the self-reduc­tion (autoriduzione) of pub­lic trans­port tick­ets and hous­ing occu­pa­tions to demand an over­all improve­ment in work­ing class liv­ing stan­dards, as the grow­ing eco­nom­ic, oil, and stagfla­tion crises of the mid-1970s began to be felt.

Iron­i­cal­ly, while the broad­er move­ment of Autono­mia was gain­ing strength dur­ing the decade, its his­tor­i­cal antecedent since the ear­ly 1960s, the autonomous work­ers’ move­ment, went into decline. This devel­op­ment was the­o­rized by Negri, as the result of the “decom­po­si­tion of the mass work­er,” induced by indus­tri­al restruc­tura­tion, and the “recom­po­si­tion” of the new cen­tral actor in the class strug­gle, the “social­ized work­er,” sit­u­at­ed more in the social ter­ri­to­ry out­side and around the Fordist fac­to­ry.6 This post-work­erist the­o­ry was to prove high­ly con­tro­ver­sial with­in Autono­mia and its still work­erist intel­lec­tu­al milieu, accen­tu­at­ing the divi­sions between Negri’s cir­cle around the jour­nal Rosso and Ser­gio Bologna’s around Pri­mo Mag­gio, whose analy­sis con­tin­ued to priv­i­lege the strug­gles of the indus­tri­al “mass work­er.”7

One of the most impor­tant exam­ples of social repro­duc­tion strug­gles in the “social fac­to­ry” was the autoriduzione (self-reduc­tion) cam­paign in Turin in 1974 where work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties orga­nized to pay self-reduced fares on pub­lic trans­port, involv­ing the print­ing and issu­ing of their own tick­ets; a strug­gle in which rad­i­cal sec­tions of the trade unions, espe­cial­ly the PCI and PSI-based CGIL, were also engaged.8 Sim­i­lar strug­gles took place over com­mu­ni­ty con­trol of repro­duc­tive needs: low-cost social hous­ing, reg­u­lat­ed low rents, and secure ten­an­cies in the pri­vate sec­tor, domes­tic ener­gy con­sump­tion bills charged at the same low rate as indus­try, and “free” or “pro­le­tar­i­an” shop­ping in super­mar­kets as depict­ed in Dario Fo’s 1974 play “Can’t pay! Won’t pay!.”9 Lat­er on in the decade leisure and lux­u­ry needs became para­mount for young urban pro­le­tar­i­ans, espe­cial­ly in Milan, as part of their cri­tique of and oppo­si­tion to the divi­sion of labor between the “right” to basic needs for the work­ing class and the “right” to lux­u­ry and priv­i­lege for the bour­geoisie: self-reduced or expro­pri­at­ed eat­ing out in expen­sive restau­rants in the city cen­ter, the demand for and some­times direct prac­tice of free access to any kind of cul­ture, whether it be a Lou Reed rock con­cert or an art house movie.10

These broad­er social repro­duc­tion con­flicts were allied to the strug­gle of the women’s move­ment against the nuclear fam­i­ly as the site of the divi­sion of repro­duc­tive labor and domes­tic work, and for con­trol of their own bod­ies and lives through more lib­er­al and prop­er­ly enforced divorce and abor­tion laws (many con­ser­v­a­tive doc­tors in the pub­lic health ser­vice refused to car­ry out abor­tions under a clause per­mit­ting “con­sci­en­tious objec­tion,” some while con­tin­u­ing to do them clan­des­tine­ly in their own “back street abor­tion” clin­ics) and the democ­ra­ti­za­tion and fem­i­niza­tion of med­ical and social ser­vices. Oth­er forms of self-reduc­tive and social repro­duc­tion strug­gles took place in the ear­ly and mid 1970s through hous­ing occu­pa­tions and rent strikes, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the out­skirts of Rome, a par­tic­u­lar­ly hard-fought con­flict by the home­less, mar­gin­al­ized youth and unem­ployed pro­le­tari­at, which became one of the ear­ly focus­ing points of Rome Autono­mia.

Reproductive Labor Struggles and Wages for Housework

Some ex-Potere Operaio the­o­rists, active in the fem­i­nist move­ment, con­cen­trat­ed on the cat­e­go­ry of unpaid repro­duc­tive labor, which was seen as vital for the repro­duc­tion of liv­ing labor and there­fore cap­i­tal, par­tic­u­lar­ly Dal­la Cos­ta and James on women’s unpaid house­work,11 and For­tu­nati on repro­duc­tive labor as both house­work and sex work.12 On the basis of this research, a sec­tion of the women’s move­ment close to Potere Operaio and Lot­ta Con­tin­ua, Lot­ta Fem­i­nista,13 began a cam­paign known inter­na­tion­al­ly as “Wages for House­work,” link­ing up with Sel­ma James’ cam­paign in the USA and lat­er Britain.14  In June 1974 Rosso (the week­ly news­pa­per of Milanese “Orga­nized Work­ers’ Auton­o­my”), as part of a debate between those demand­ing wages for house­work and those who saw this as a “rat­i­fi­ca­tion” of house­work, pub­lished a report by the Pad­ua Com­mit­tee for Wages for House­work on three days of dis­cus­sion with the fem­i­nist move­ment in Mestre, near Venice.15

A large num­ber of house­wives, teach­ers, shop assis­tants and sec­re­taries had gath­ered to denounce their triple exploita­tion by their employ­ers, their hus­bands and the State, reject­ing the mis­ery and appalling con­di­tions of work that all imposed: “Our strug­gle is against fac­to­ries, … offices, against hav­ing to sit at a check-out counter all day … We are not fight­ing for such an orga­ni­za­tion of work, but against it.”16 They reject­ed the view of the polit­i­cal par­ties and extra-par­lia­men­tary groups that women’s eman­ci­pa­tion lay in exter­nal paid employ­ment, instead demand­ing that the State, whose most basic cel­lu­lar struc­ture was the nuclear fam­i­ly, pay them wages for their unpaid house­work since they were repro­duc­ing and car­ing for the next gen­er­a­tion of its cit­i­zens and work­ers, as well as for the old and infirm. They also denounced the inad­e­qua­cy of the few “social ser­vices” pro­vid­ed, the lack of crèch­es and nurs­eries for house­wives as well as for employed women, and the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion and abuse of women’s bod­ies by the “mas­culin­ist” pub­lic health sys­tem. They called on women to reclaim their bod­ies and take con­trol of their lives:

We women must reject the con­di­tions of pure sur­vival that the State wants to give us, we must always demand more and more, reap­pro­pri­ate the wealth removed from our hands every day to have more mon­ey, more pow­er, more free time to be with oth­ers, women, old peo­ple, chil­dren, not as appendages but as social indi­vid­u­als.17

Milan was the main cen­ter of the women’s move­ment and women in Rosso and Autono­mia often found them­selves torn in two direc­tions by their “dou­ble mil­i­tan­cy.” They con­tributed to the debates on vio­lence and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty both with­in fem­i­nism and Autono­mia, from the posi­tion that “vio­lence, [under­stood as aggres­sive self-asser­tion as an anti­dote to patri­ar­chal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of female pas­siv­i­ty and sub­or­di­na­tion], is a basis for sub­jec­tiv­i­ty.”18 Oth­er­wise, the prin­ci­pal areas of inter­ven­tion were the fac­to­ry and the refusal of work (togeth­er with Lot­ta Con­tin­ua’s Women’s Col­lec­tive), dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place, dereg­u­lat­ed infor­mal work (lavoro nero), pris­ons, sex­u­al vio­lence and machis­mo with­in Autono­mia and the over­all “Move­ment,” as well as the body and health. Action was tak­en in hos­pi­tals, over the unequal doc­tor-patient rela­tion­ship and the denun­ci­a­tion of those doc­tors and med­ical cen­ters that refused to car­ry out abor­tions, and of the ser­vice in gen­er­al which vic­tim­ized women and did not meet their actu­al health needs. Anoth­er area of inter­ven­tion was inter­na­tion­al “sol­i­darism rather than sol­i­dar­i­ty,” based on the fem­i­nist prac­tice of “start­ing from your­self” (par­tire da se). They were also in touch with rad­i­cal sep­a­ratist fem­i­nists, who used psy­cho­analy­sis for “con­scious­ness rais­ing” and were close to the Rad­i­cal Par­ty, although rela­tions with the broad­er fem­i­nist move­ment with its empha­sis on the pri­vate sphere, con­scious­ness rais­ing, and non-vio­lence, were con­flict­ual. A joint action of denun­ci­a­tion of the Catholic Church’s neg­a­tive impact on women’s con­trol over their own bod­ies and lives was the occu­pa­tion of the Duo­mo, Milan’s main cathe­dral and the reli­gious sym­bol of its offi­cial iden­ti­ty. Oth­er actions were tak­en to con­test the stereo­typ­ing of women in patri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety as pas­sive con­sumerist sex objects, includ­ing against wed­ding dress shops and dat­ing agen­cies. They also par­tic­i­pat­ed in Lea Melandri’s “Free Uni­ver­si­ty of Women,” where house­wives and intel­lec­tu­als car­ried out an inter­clas­sist work on the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. The crossover between Rosso and rad­i­cal fem­i­nism pro­duced two mag­a­zines itself, Malafem­i­na and Noi tes­tarde,19 mak­ing the “pol­i­tics of the per­son­al” and the ques­tion­ing of gen­der roles part of Autono­mia’s col­lec­tive iden­ti­ty, although dis­agree­ment with Orga­nized Work­ers’ Autonomy’s “work­ers’ cen­tral­i­ty” posi­tion was per­ma­nent.20

School and University Struggles

The post-work­erists of Autono­mia also saw the cog­ni­tive labor of stu­dents as essen­tial to the repro­duc­tion of the high­ly skilled sec­tor of the work force ( the “gen­er­al intel­lect” of Marx’s Grun­drisse)  and of cog­ni­tive cap­i­tal as intel­li­gence and knowl­edge, their stud­ies for a high­er entry into the labor mar­ket being con­sid­ered as unpaid repro­duc­tive labor. This was one of the the­o­ret­i­cal inno­va­tions that helped operais­mo in 1968-69 to break down the his­tor­i­cal divide between two of mature cap­i­tal­ist society’s main antag­o­nist group­ings – the indus­tri­al work­ing class and the hith­er­to main­ly mid­dle-class uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent – and build the alliance which was to form the basis of the Hot Autumn and the “Long Ital­ian ‘68.” Here again the ques­tion of class com­po­si­tion would be cru­cial in explain­ing the arrival of the stu­dents as a mass move­ment, not sim­ply for the much-need­ed reform of the uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem but for the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of soci­ety. As the Ital­ian econ­o­my expand­ed and soci­ety urban­ized dur­ing the 1960s there was a grow­ing need for qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als, tech­nocrats, and bureau­crats in both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors. Thus, the social basis of uni­ver­si­ty recruit­ment was widened to include large num­bers of work­ing class stu­dents. Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, the “Mir­a­cle” of unprece­dent­ed eco­nom­ic growth and rel­a­tive pros­per­i­ty since the 1950s meant that many work­ing class fam­i­lies could afford for the first time to put at least one child into high­er edu­ca­tion who could then aspire to social­ly upward mobil­i­ty.

How­ev­er, despite the cen­ter-left reforms of the 1960s, the edu­ca­tion sys­tem was com­plete­ly unable to meet such aspi­ra­tions, becom­ing one of the main caus­es of the 1968-69 Ital­ian stu­dents and work­ers upris­ing, accord­ing to Robert Lum­ley.21 By 1974, there were mass mobi­liza­tions of school stu­dents and their par­ents, par­tic­u­lar­ly women, through­out Italy against the dilap­i­dat­ed and under-fund­ed edu­ca­tion sys­tem, one of the first areas of pub­lic spend­ing to be affect­ed by post-Oil Cri­sis aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures.22 Both par­ents and chil­dren demon­strat­ed and occu­pied schools left emp­ty in protest against an acute short­age of class­room space, equip­ment, mate­ri­als, and teach­ers which left large areas, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the poor­er South, oper­at­ing part-time edu­ca­tion with a shift sys­tem. Worse, infla­tion and aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures forced the price of school­books beyond the reach of many work­ing-class fam­i­lies. While Mal­fat­ti, the Chris­t­ian Demo­c­rat Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter, ordered the sack­ing of mil­i­tant Left teach­ers, the over­all num­ber of teach­ers was reduced as 600,000 prospec­tive teach­ers applied for 23,000 posi­tions.23 The government’s run­ning down of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem in work­ing-class areas was bal­anced by its intro­duc­tion of the “Schools Coun­cils,” made up of del­e­gat­ed par­ents, teach­ers and stu­dents, with the aim, sim­i­lar to the Fac­to­ry Com­mit­tees with regard to indus­tri­al action, that “they would insti­tu­tion­al­ize the strug­gle in the schools and re-estab­lish polit­i­cal con­trol by the right-wing.”24

The edu­ca­tion cut­backs were also seen as a polit­i­cal attack on a key social antag­o­nist, which had allied itself close­ly to the over­all autonomous work­ers’ move­ment since 1968. In Octo­ber 1974, 45 sec­ondary schools and adult edu­ca­tion col­leges in Turin went on strike in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the FIAT nation­al strike of Octo­ber 17 and 4,000 stu­dents and teach­ers marched through the city cen­ter to pick­et the main gates of the Mirafiori plant. An anal­o­gy was drawn between the num­ber of peo­ple los­ing their jobs and the ris­ing num­ber of work­ing class chil­dren being failed in exams and expelled from the edu­ca­tion sys­tem. The same month there were school strikes and demon­stra­tions all over Italy mak­ing the com­mon demand for an end to part-time school­ing, small­er class­es, imme­di­ate build­ing pro­grams for new schools and class­rooms, no reduc­tion in the num­ber of teach­ers, improved hygiene, and facil­i­ties, local coun­cils to make avail­able funds they were hold­ing back, free trans­port, books, and equip­ment for stu­dents, and free day cen­ters for preschool chil­dren. Links were made between the com­mit­tees cam­paign­ing against the edu­ca­tion cuts and the autonomous work­ers’ move­ment.

In Rome, 3,000 con­struc­tion and engi­neer­ing work­ers joined a demon­stra­tion against edu­ca­tion cuts. Stu­dents and work­ers set up joint com­muter com­mit­tees to oppose the increase in pub­lic trans­port fares. Women were espe­cial­ly active on this issue, as they were on vir­tu­al­ly all social issues in the mid-1970s, the peak of the mass mobi­liza­tion phase of the women’s move­ment, march­ing on schools, orga­niz­ing pick­ets, occu­py­ing class­rooms, set­ting up road blocks, all with the demand for bet­ter schools and day-care facil­i­ties.25 These mobi­liza­tions were self-orga­nized with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Autono­mia, the New Left groups, par­tic­u­lar­ly Lot­ta Con­tin­ua in the South, as well as some of the unions, but were oth­er­wise char­ac­ter­ized by their auton­o­my from and hos­til­i­ty towards the polit­i­cal par­ties.

Anoth­er impor­tant ele­ment in the youth move­ment of the mid-sev­en­ties were the “autonomous stu­dent col­lec­tives” (ASC). In the sec­ondary schools stu­dents and par­ents demand­ed and prac­ticed direct par­tic­i­pa­tion in deci­sion-mak­ing, which had pre­vi­ous­ly been reg­u­lat­ed by insti­tu­tion­al­ized elec­toral rules and rep­re­sen­ta­tive bod­ies. So were born in the ear­ly 1970s the ASC, one of the social bases of Autonomía and the ’77 Move­ment. They orga­nized strikes, occu­pa­tions, the “tri­al” and expul­sion of fas­cists, and auto­didác­ti­ca (self-teach­ing) where stu­dents in dis­pute exclud­ed their con­ser­v­a­tive teach­ers and taught them­selves, some­times for months. Increas­ing­ly, con­flict in and out­side high schools took place not only against the FUAN and oth­er neo-fas­cist youth groups but also with the FGCI, the PCI’s youth wing, and with Comu­nione e Lib­er­azione, a fun­da­men­tal­ist Catholic youth move­ment. In the most rad­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, autonomous stu­dents effec­tive­ly “lib­er­at­ed” schools from their func­tion as total insti­tu­tions for the incul­ca­tion of cap­i­tal­ist inte­gra­tive val­ues based on work and the fam­i­ly, con­vert­ing them into pro­to­type “social cen­ters.”26

Social Autonomia: The Socialized Worker in the Social Factory

One of the key aspects of Autono­mia that sep­a­rat­ed it from the “bureau­crat­ic legal­ism” of much of the New Left groups was its prac­tice of “mass ille­gal­i­ty” through hous­ing squats, occu­pa­tions of pub­lic spaces, the self-reduc­tion of cul­tur­al as well as social costs, and forms of social expro­pri­a­tion such as “pro­le­tar­i­an shop­ping.” The New Left, which con­tin­ued to priv­i­lege strug­gles at the point of pro­duc­tion, attacked this as “sub­pro­le­tar­i­an” adven­tur­ism. Autono­mia’s laud­ing of “pro­le­tar­i­an ille­gal­i­ty against bour­geois legal­i­ty” as an aspect of the “refusal of work” extend­ed to micro-crim­i­nal behav­iors; the indi­vid­ual cir­cum­vent­ing of the law in every­day life, typ­i­cal of the Ital­ian pro­le­tar­i­an arte di arran­gia­r­si (art of get­ting by), par­tic­u­lar­ly in the South where pover­ty and mass unem­ploy­ment were rife. Here, Autono­mia merid­ionale (south­ern auton­o­my) became a dif­fused social force among work­ers, the unem­ployed, and their com­mu­ni­ties, although rel­a­tive­ly ignored by the late-1970s’ press cam­paign against Orga­nized Work­ers Auton­o­my, based more in north­ern and cen­tral Italy.

The “area of dif­fused Autono­mia” (or social auton­o­my) was the broad­er move­ment of work­ers, stu­dents, women, and youth, who pre­ferred to devel­op their antag­o­nism to cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety through a hor­i­zon­tal net­work struc­ture, guar­an­tee­ing the auton­o­my of each sec­tor and local real­i­ty from any attempt at uni­fi­ca­tion and homog­e­niza­tion with­in a nation­al par­ty struc­ture, and there­fore in oppo­si­tion to the stat­ed aim of the Orga­nized Work­ers’ Auton­o­my ten­den­cy of the need to cre­ate a “Par­ty of Auton­o­my”27 This “auton­o­my of the periph­ery from the cen­ter” was close­ly linked to Autonomia’s dif­fer­ent social com­po­si­tion (a mix­ture of “sub­pro­le­tari­at and the intel­lec­tu­al­ized pro­le­tar­i­an labour force. (…) The inva­sion of the uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents with­out a future.”28 ), com­pared to that of Potere Operaio and the broad­er autonomous work­ers’ move­ment, which were based on the mass work­er:

One can talk about the auton­o­my of work­ers who tend to deny their sur­vival as such and to assert their life as com­mu­nists, of the auton­o­my of the pro­le­tar­i­an­ized who reject the mer­can­tile-spec­tac­u­lar soci­ety, plac­ing them­selves against it (nobody believes out­side it).29

Orga­nized Work­ers’ Auton­o­my, con­trast­ed with the “area of social auton­o­my” and oth­er new social move­ments. How­ev­er, the dis­parate and local­ized basis of even this more for­mal­ly orga­nized sec­tor of Autono­mia, which attempt­ed unsuc­cess­ful­ly to priv­i­lege the par­ty form, if under a dif­fer­ent guise, had con­trast­ing local char­ac­ter­is­tics and social com­po­si­tions in its prin­ci­pal loca­tions: in Milan, more linked to indus­tri­al fac­to­ry strug­gles and the new­er post-Fordist pro­duc­tive cir­cuits, but also to strug­gles around repro­duc­tion and the self-reduc­tion of social costs; in Pad­ua, around the stu­dents’ move­ment, pub­lic trans­port and youth issues, but also involved with strug­gles in the Autonomous Work­ers Assem­blies, post-Fordist fac­to­ries and sweat­shops; in Rome, where a more “pop­ulist” and coun­cil com­mu­nist-influ­enced ver­sion mil­i­tat­ed among the unem­ployed and mar­gin­al­ized youth of the urban periph­ery, but also among the grow­ing num­ber of ser­vice sec­tor work­ers, with a strong empha­sis on inter­na­tion­al­ism.

Its Milan-based nation­al news­pa­per Rosso took an increas­ing inter­est in social repro­duc­tion strug­gles:

[Rosso’s] great­est nov­el­ty con­sists in the aware­ness that the fac­to­ry (…) is not the only ter­rain where the ini­tia­tive of strug­gle has to devel­op. Oth­er pre­vi­ous­ly neglect­ed social con­di­tions assume an increas­ing­ly impor­tant role: those of women, youth, and the mar­gin­al­ized, nev­er con­sid­ered before as polit­i­cal sub­jects. Not imme­di­ate­ly polit­i­cal but fun­da­men­tal themes and prob­lems are faced, such as per­son­al rela­tion­ships and the “gen­er­al con­di­tions of life.” Sub­se­quent­ly, the news­pa­per indi­vid­u­al­ized three dif­fer­ent sec­tors of the pub­lic to address: the fac­to­ries, which the sec­tion Rosso fab­bri­ca was devot­ed to, con­sist­ing main­ly of inter­ven­tions by the autonomous com­mit­tees of var­i­ous fac­to­ries (Por­to Marghera, Alfa Romeo, Zanus­si etc.) (…); Rosso scuo­la, that includ­ed both the broad debates and news of the var­i­ous high school com­mit­tees; “Rosso tut­to il resto,” where space was giv­en to sec­tors of the youth move­ment orga­nized out­side the groups and of the fem­i­nist move­ment, that were fight­ing against mar­gin­al­iza­tion. (…) [It] was one of the first mag­a­zines to deal with the trans­for­ma­tion (…) from the mass work­er of the big indus­tri­al con­cen­tra­tions to the social­ized work­er of the dif­fused fac­to­ry in the ter­ri­to­ry. (…) This new polit­i­cal sub­ject was to have its moment of max­i­mum expres­sion in the ‘77 move­ment. At the begin­nings of 1978 the mag­a­zine iden­ti­fied four sec­tors of inter­ven­tion and debate: 1) direct­ly pro­duc­tive work, “for the reduc­tion of the work­ing day and for the con­quest of time freed from work”; 2) pub­lic spend­ing, “as the cen­tral moment of cap­i­tal­ist con­trol and the reduc­tion of the costs of social repro­duc­tion”; 3) the nuclear state and the pro­duc­tion of death; 4) the legit­imiza­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary action, against the repres­sive appa­ra­tus that the state­mo­bi­lizes for the per­pet­u­a­tion of its domin­ion.30

“Dif­fused” and “cre­ative” Autono­mia, parts of the “auton­o­my of the social,” were com­posed of counter-cul­tur­al, unem­ployed, and semi-employed urban youth, stu­dents, rad­i­cal fem­i­nists, homo­sex­u­als, and the cani sci­olti (“stray dogs,” unaf­fil­i­at­ed mil­i­tants and activists). Youth and grad­u­ate unem­ploy­ment reached cri­sis lev­els in the mid-1970s. Many young peo­ple con­scious­ly chose to avoid even look­ing for work (let alone the “refusal” of the late 1960s). Increas­ing­ly, they fled from the suf­fo­cat­ing patri­ar­chal author­i­tar­i­an­ism of the tra­di­tion­al Ital­ian nuclear fam­i­ly to live col­lec­tive­ly, often in squat­ted flats and occa­sion­al­ly in com­munes.31 They sur­vived par­tial­ly through “black mar­ket jobs”32 and par­tial­ly through mass expro­pri­a­tions of food from super­mar­kets and restau­rants, but also through the “self-reduc­tion” of bus fares, rock con­certs, and cin­e­ma tick­ets:

[It was] a swarm­ing process of dif­fused orga­ni­za­tion whose real pro­tag­o­nists were young pro­le­tar­i­ans, mar­gin­al to the orga­nized autonomous groups, but insert­ed into dynam­ics of spon­ta­neous, mag­mat­ic, uncon­trol­lable aggre­ga­tion.33

The expe­ri­ence of the “Pro­le­tar­i­an Youth Clubs” (PYC/ cir­coli pro­le­tari gio­vanili) was cen­tered in the met­ro­pol­i­tan periph­ery, such as the Quar­to Oggia­ro and Ses­to San Gio­vani dis­tricts in Milan where the effects of the mid-1970s eco­nom­ic cri­sis were worst felt. The sat­is­fac­tion of the more com­plex aspi­ra­tions of the indi­vid­ual had to be achieved “here and now” and not post­poned to the future elec­tion of a left­ist gov­ern­ment or the after­math of a social­ist rev­o­lu­tion. Like­wise, there was no demand for “the right to work,” but instead one for a “guar­an­teed social income.” The ethics of self-sac­ri­fice, aus­ter­i­ty, and the “dig­ni­ty of labor,” cen­tral to the PCI’s pro­ject­ed “moral cul­ture” and eco­nom­ic strat­e­gy, were reject­ed in favor of the “right to lux­u­ry” in the depths of Italy’s worst post­war eco­nom­ic cri­sis, which the PCI sought to force the Ital­ian work­ing class to accept as “theirs” and not just of cap­i­tal. Rather than demands, there were dif­fused behav­iors and prac­tices, such as espro­pri pro­le­tari (pro­le­tar­i­an shop­ping) and self-reduc­tion, but now of restau­rant bills and cin­e­ma and rock con­cert tick­ets, as well as of trans­port costs and house­hold bills: “The super­flu­ous [was] at the cen­ter of [their] demands to the indig­nant con­ster­na­tion of politi­cians and jour­nal­ists, intel­lec­tu­als, and indus­tri­al­ists.”34

An extreme ver­sion of the ide­ol­o­gy of con­sumerism was pro­posed, includ­ing the need and the right to con­sume all kinds of prod­ucts what­ev­er the extant eco­nom­ic cir­cum­stances. Indeed, even among the more lib­er­tar­i­an sec­tions of the social move­ments like the counter-cul­tur­al mag­a­zine Re Nudo (Naked King) there was pre­oc­cu­pa­tion over the “death of [the col­lec­tive ideals of] pro­le­tar­i­an youth,”35 as this new, more indi­vid­u­al­ist youth cul­ture, based more on “sub­jec­tiv­i­ty” than “sol­i­dar­i­ty,” over­whelmed the bound­aries of the post-1968 counter-cul­ture at the Par­co Lam­bro Free Fes­ti­val in Milan in June 1976. The expro­pri­a­tion of alter­na­tive prod­ucts, the pro­tag­o­nism of the spec­ta­tors rather than the per­form­ers, fem­i­nist sep­a­ratism and the grow­ing vis­i­bil­i­ty of the hero­in prob­lem led to the Festival’s implo­sion and seemed to sig­ni­fy the end of the ide­al of the col­lec­tive trans­for­ma­tion of the sta­tus quo.36

The event that pre­saged the ’77 Move­ment was the riot by the PYC and oth­ers from the “area of Autonomía” out­side the La Scala opera house in Milan against the first night of the opera sea­son in Decem­ber 1976, the first dis­play of a new kind of vio­lence, more of urban youth gangs than of clas­si­cal extreme Left­ism, express­ing the “pre­po­lit­i­cal” anger of the unem­ployed, mar­gin­al­ized youth of the “dor­mi­to­ry sub­urbs,” rid­dled with despair and a hero­in epi­dem­ic, against the pol­i­tics of aus­ter­i­ty and sac­ri­fice:37

[This] year the first night at La Scala is – for the Milanese mid­dle class – an occa­sion of polit­i­cal affir­ma­tion over the pro­le­tari­at and a dis­play of  force (…) it is an insult against the pro­le­tari­at, forced to make sac­ri­fices so that the bour­geoisie can go to its first night. The first night at La Scala is a polit­i­cal date today. The pro­le­tar­i­an youth present them­selves, togeth­er with the women [’s move­ment], as the det­o­na­tor and cul­tur­al van­guard of the det­o­na­tion of the present equi­lib­ri­ums of pow­er between the class­es, but there is some­thing more than 1968. The log­ic of sac­ri­fices is the bour­geois log­ic that says: for the pro­le­tar­i­ans pas­ta, for the mid­dle class­es caviar. We claim our right to caviar: … because nobody can ever con­vince us that in times of sac­ri­fices the bour­geoisie can go to the first night but we can’t, that they can eat parme­san but we can’t, or they can even force us to starve. The  priv­i­leges that the mid­dle class reserves for itself are ours, we pay for them. This is why we want to defeat them and we do so as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple … The right to take pos­ses­sion of some priv­i­leges of the  mid­dle class has been a new ele­ment since 1968, yes­ter­day rot­ten eggs today self-reduc­tion … Gras­si, “social­ist” and direc­tor of La Scala has told us that it’s all right to make the mid­dle class­es who want to go the first night pay 100,000 lira a head, so that cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion can be financed; we reply that the first nights’ tak­ings must go to the cen­ters of strug­gle against hero­in, that cul­ture must be for pro­le­tar­i­ans.38

Movements of the Unemployed for a Guaranteed Social Wage

A major sec­tion of the move­ment of the orga­nized unem­ployed in Naples also became part of “Autono­mia merid­ionale,” the rel­a­tive­ly for­got­ten part of the move­ment in the less devel­oped South. It was among the self-orga­nized unem­ployed move­ments in Naples and Catan­zaro that “Autono­mia merid­ionale” made its great­est impact, through the demand for an ade­quate “guar­an­teed social wage” from the State to coun­ter­act the social dev­as­ta­tion caused by endem­ic unem­ploy­ment and eco­nom­ic under­de­vel­op­ment. The his­tor­i­cal strug­gles of the unem­ployed for work in Naples, Italy’s poor­est major conur­ba­tion, and through­out the Mez­zo­giorno, appeared to be in con­tra­dic­tion with the movement’s refusal of work.  In fact the unem­ployed were seen as per­form­ing “unpaid labor”: through their nec­es­sary “job search” for a source of income they unin­ten­tion­al­ly depressed wages in the South and ulti­mate­ly through­out the nation­al econ­o­my as a reserve army of indus­tri­al labor, so per­form­ing a vital func­tion for cap­i­tal. The Naples unem­ployed were well aware of their objec­tive cap­i­tal­ist func­tion, lead­ing them to cam­paign through some­times vio­lent mass march­es and pick­ets of the city council’s offices for a “guar­an­teed social wage” and increased wel­fare, so that they would not be forced to accept depressed wages and could delay their entry into the labor mar­ket if nec­es­sary.

Mass unem­ploy­ment also wreaked hav­oc with work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties in the indus­tri­al North that were used to secure, ris­ing incomes dur­ing the pre­vi­ous 20 years, and there was a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the num­ber of sui­cides among redun­dant fac­to­ry work­ers in cities like Turin in the ear­ly 1980s. How­ev­er, for the “No Future” gen­er­a­tion of the “social­ized work­er” and in par­tic­u­lar for the ‘77 Move­ment, unem­ploy­ment was seen as an inevitable fate which could be turned into a pos­i­tive per­son­al and col­lec­tive oppor­tu­ni­ty giv­en the right con­di­tions: not only to “refuse work,” but also to found what Virno has called the “soci­ety of non-work,” based more on “exo­dus” from work as the defin­ing iden­ti­ty-for­ma­tion expe­ri­ence than resis­tance to work in the work­place.39

How suc­cess­ful this cam­paign of refusal to be black­mailed by unem­ploy­ment was remains unclear. The implo­sion of Autono­mia and most of the new social move­ments in the ear­ly 1980s, the sharp rise in hero­in addic­tion and the sui­cide rate among under-30s, and the search for indi­vid­ual neo-mys­ti­cal solu­tions through mem­ber­ship of reli­gious cults seems to indi­cate an exten­sive col­lec­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal cri­sis due to the loss of the sol­i­dar­i­ty and bonds of com­mu­ni­ties of strug­gle (includ­ing those based in the work­place), result­ing in much high­er lev­els of indi­vid­ual atom­iza­tion, alien­ation, and despair.40 An infor­mant describes the “implo­sion of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty” he wit­nessed on return­ing to Pad­ua from abroad in 1979 to find the piaz­zas desert­ed, where pre­vi­ous­ly young peo­ple had social­ized almost per­ma­nent­ly dur­ing the ‘77 Move­ment, now replaced by a with­draw­al into pri­vate life, hero­in addic­tion, and com­pul­sive tele­vi­sion view­ing.41

Occupied and Self-Managed Social Centers

The occu­pied and/or self-man­aged social cen­ters (cen­tri sociali ocupati/ auto­gesti­ti /CSO/A) which start­ed to appear in Milan and Rome in the mid 1970s were the main response by the auton­o­mist move­ments to the cri­sis of social repro­duc­tion of those years, as they sought to pro­vide social spaces for work­ing class youth and their com­mu­ni­ties to start pro­vid­ing for their own repro­duc­tive and cul­tur­al needs, with the with­er­ing of the wel­fare state as indus­tri­al restruc­tur­ing and aus­ter­i­ty poli­cies began to bite. Since the late 1980s, as post-Fordist glob­al­iza­tion deep­ened and the neolib­er­al poli­cies of pub­lic spend­ing cuts, pri­va­ti­za­tion of pub­lic ser­vices and the dereg­u­la­tion of the econ­o­my became the norm, they have become the “red bases” of the sec­ond-wave auton­o­mist move­ments in Italy, Europe and else­where, as autonomism glob­al­ized as one of the major com­po­nents of the “alter­glob­al” anti-cap­i­tal­ist move­ment.42

Often squat­ted and some­times con­ced­ed pub­lic build­ings, such as dis­used schools or fac­to­ries, were tak­en over by groups of youth, usu­al­ly from the area antag­o­nista (the post-1983 suc­ces­sors of Autono­mia) or anar­chists, but also by extra-comu­ni­tari immi­grants from Africa and Asia, as well as by anti-fas­cist foot­ball fans, to use as meet­ing places and cen­ters for the pro­vi­sion of alter­na­tive social and edu­ca­tion­al ser­vices, as well as cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal activ­i­ties, giv­en offi­cial neg­li­gence in pro­vid­ing such facil­i­ties. Orig­i­nal­ly, a social phe­nom­e­non almost unique to Italy, where squat­ted hous­ing was much rar­er than in oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries, it mush­roomed in the 1990s, result­ing in over 100 CSO/A in all the major cities, although many have since been evict­ed and shut down, par­tic­u­lar­ly by the high­ly repres­sive hard right Berlus­coni gov­ern­ments after 2001.

The Pro­le­tar­i­an Youth Clubs were instru­men­tal in estab­lish­ing the first squat­ted and self-man­aged social cen­ters in the periph­er­al Milanese work­ing class dis­tricts, orig­i­nal­ly as meet­ing places for youth deprived of any ser­vices or spaces by the city coun­cil. Most were either closed down by the police or fell into dis­use once hero­in addic­tion reached epi­dem­ic pro­por­tions in the late 1970s and ear­ly 1980s. One of the first to be found­ed in 1975 (by New Left and Autonomía activists, rather than the PYC with which it had poor rela­tions) was the Leon­cav­al­lo occu­pied social cen­ter, which based itself on the imme­di­ate social and edu­ca­tion­al needs of its local neigh­bor­hood and in oppo­si­tion to the prop­er­ty spec­u­la­tors who were already “gen­tri­fy­ing” the cen­ter of Milan, invit­ing local peo­ple to dis­cuss how to use the space:

The last city admin­is­tra­tion nev­er wor­ried about meet­ing our demands and on the oth­er hand they have nev­er even used the funds paid by indus­tries for social use (1% of local rates). The expe­ri­ences of the work­ers’ move­ment and of those in recent years in the neigh­bor­hoods have taught that only mobi­liza­tion and strug­gle pro­duce con­crete results: as in the fac­to­ry or in the [self-reduc­tion] of rents and elec­tric­i­ty and tele­phone bills. [T]hinking that only strug­gle is able to resolve the prob­lems of our neigh­bor­hood, the base organ­isms of the neigh­bor­hood have occu­pied and reac­ti­vat­ed the [unoc­cu­pied] fac­to­ry in Via Mancinel­li and have also invit­ed the new demo­c­ra­t­ic [red] ‘”jun­ta” of Milan to show in prac­tice its wish to meet the social demands of a pop­u­lar dis­trict such as ours by allow­ing the social use of the occu­pied build­ing. (…) Here is a pre­lim­i­nary list of the social struc­tures which are insuf­fi­cient in our dis­trict or even com­plete­ly miss­ing:











With the build­ing occu­pied, if we are sup­port­ed by a mobi­liza­tion of the whole dis­trict we can cov­er some of these require­ments.43


The sig­nif­i­cance of the 1970s Ital­ian strug­gles for today’s social repro­duc­tion strug­gles is unde­ni­able, both in the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal terms, par­tic­u­lar­ly at such a “dark moment” in recent human his­to­ry when ques­tions of social repro­duc­tion, self-reduc­tion and expro­pri­a­tion are once more to the fore. They not only offer an exam­ple how social repro­duc­tion can become a focal point of move­ment activ­i­ty and mobi­liza­tion in the face of the face of ris­ing poli­cies of aus­ter­i­ty and cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing, but also pro­vide con­crete strate­gies for con­nect­ing this ter­rain with oth­er spheres which could appear sep­a­rate: strug­gles of the unem­ployed, fac­to­ry occu­pa­tions, and indus­tri­al labor mil­i­tan­cy. In this sense, social repro­duc­tion was a nexus, a cru­cial link, in the chain of build­ing a renewed class pow­er – one that extend­ed from the work­place to the school, from the home to the occu­pied social cen­ter. More­over, the orga­ni­za­tion­al forms that devel­oped – a dense net­work (“swarm”) of com­mu­ni­ty coun­cils, clubs, com­mit­tees, and assem­blies – were suf­fi­cient­ly flex­i­ble so as to be eas­i­ly adapt­ed to the diver­gent urban con­texts of Rome, Milan, and Turin. Again, this should not be tak­en to mean that we can trans­port these polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences direct­ly to our present prob­lems; it means, rather, that the autonomous social move­ments of 1970s Italy are a liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry open to inves­ti­ga­tion, and involved a series of accu­mu­lat­ing cycles of strug­gles that demand care­ful his­tor­i­cal analy­sis. In oth­er words, trac­ing the inter­nal tra­jec­to­ry, shifts, and ten­den­cies of these col­lec­tive exper­i­men­ta­tions could give us a sol­id basis for approach­ing how to polit­i­cal­ly orga­nize on the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion today.

  1. Anto­nio Negri, Books for Burn­ing: Between Civ­il War and Democ­ra­cy in 1970s Italy, trans­lat­ed by Tim­o­thy S. Mur­phy, Ari­an­na Bove, Ed Emery, and F. Nov­el­lo (Lon­don & New York: Ver­so, 2005 [1977]), 190-191. Empha­sis pro­vid­ed in the orig­i­nal text. 

  2. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, La rev­olu­ción fem­i­nist inacaba­da: Mujeres, repro­duc­ción social y lucha por lo común, trans­lat­ed by R. Rodríguez Durán, P. Alvara­do Piza­ña, L. Lin­sala­ta, C. Fer­nán­dez Guervós, and P. Martín Ponz (Mex­i­co City: Escuela Calpul­li, 2013), 38. 

  3. Mario Tron­ti, Operai e cap­i­tale (Turin: Ein­au­di, 1971 [1965]), 51-52, 56. Cit­ed in Steve Wright, Storm­ing Heav­en: Class Com­po­si­tion and Strug­gle in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism (Lon­don: Plu­to Press, 2002), 37-38. 

  4. Riv­ol­ta di classe, “Let­ter aper­ta alla redazione milanese di ‘Rosso,” now in L. Castel­lano (ed.) Aut.Op. La sto­ria e i doc­u­men­ti: da Potere Operaio all’Autonomia orga­niz­za­ta (Rome: Savel­li, 1980, [1976]), 136. Cit­ed in Wright, op. cit. (2002), 171. 

  5. Con­sigli di fab­bri­ca (fac­to­ry coun­cils), intro­duced by the 1970 reform on work­ers rights, designed to coun­ter­act, demo­bi­lize and recu­per­ate the Autonomous Work­ers Assem­blies of the 1969 “Hot Autumn.” 

  6. Anto­nio Negri, Rev­o­lu­tion Retrieved: Select­ed Writ­ings 1967-83.  (Lon­don: Red Notes, 1988). 

  7. An operaist his­tor­i­cal jour­nal that took a more inde­pen­dent line on devel­op­ments with­in the social move­ments and the class strug­gle of the 1970s than the peri­od­i­cals linked with “Orga­nized Work­ers Auton­o­my.” 

  8. Eddy Cher­ki and Michel Wiev­ior­ka, “Autore­duc­tion move­ments in Turin,” Italy: Autono­mia - Post-Polit­i­cal Pol­i­tics, Semiotext(e), 3, no. 3, (1980), 72-77. 

  9. Tony Mitchell, Dario Fo: People’s Court Jester (Updat­ed and Expand­ed) (Lon­don: Methuen, 1999). 

  10. Cir­coli pro­le­tari gio­vanili di Milano, Sará un risot­to che vi sep­pel­lirá (Milan: Squi/libri, 1977). 

  11. Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta, The Pow­er of Women and the Sub­ver­sion of the Com­mu­ni­ty (with A Woman’s Place by S. James). (Lon­don: Falling Wall Press, 1974 [1972]). 

  12. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion: House­work, Pros­ti­tu­tion, Labor, and Cap­i­tal (New York: Autono­me­dia, 1995 [1978]). 

  13. Fem­i­nist Strug­gle: see Lum­ley (1990) and Balestri­ni and Moroni (1997, [1988]) for analy­ses of the dif­fer­ences and debates with­in the Ital­ian fem­i­nist move­ment. 

  14. This is an exam­ple of the con­tin­u­ing close links between the US Marx­ist-Human­ists of the John­son-For­est Ten­den­cy (pseu­do­nyms for CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya, Trotsky’s for­mer per­son­al sec­re­tary who had by then bro­ken with Trot­sky­ism) and the operaists of PO. See Har­ry Cleaver, Read­ing Cap­i­tal Polit­i­cal­ly (San Fran­cis­co: AK Press, 2000, [1979]) for the influ­ence of the John­son-For­est group and Cas­to­ri­adis’ Social­isme ou Bar­barie group on the Ital­ian work­erists. 

  15. Comi­ta­to per il salario al lavoro domes­ti­co (Pad­ua). 

  16. Rosso, “Lavoro domes­ti­co e salario,” no. 11, (1st ed.), June, (1974), 34. 

  17. Ibid. 

  18. Inter­view in Ital­ian with three women infor­mants, Milan, August 1998, and Rosso (Feb­ru­ary 14 1976),  9. 

  19. Bad female and We stub­born women, respec­tive­ly. 

  20. This para­graph is based on the pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned inter­view. 

  21. Robert Lum­ley, States of Emer­gency: Cul­tures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978  (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1990). 

  22. Red Notes (eds.), “Class Strug­gle in Italy: Octo­ber ‘74,” A Dossier of Class Strug­gle in Britain and Abroad – 1974  (Lon­don: Red Notes, 1975). 

  23. Red Notes, ibid. 

  24. Ibid., 14-15. 

  25. Ibid. 

  26. Nan­ni Balestri­ni, The Unseen (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1989). 

  27. Steve Wright,  “A Par­ty of Auton­o­my?,” in The Phi­los­o­phy of Anto­nio Negri: Resis­tance in Prac­tice, A. Mustapha and  T. Mur­phy (eds) (Lon­don: Plu­to Press, 2004),  73-106. 

  28. Inter­view with Gui­do Borio, Turin, April 1992. 

  29. Neg/azione, Autono­mia opera­ia e autono­mia dei pro­le­tari,” 68 - 77 grup­pi e movi­men­ti si rac­con­tano, 1976. 

  30. Scordi­no and DeriveAp­pro­di, ’77: L’anno del­la grande riv­ol­ta (Rome: DeriveApprodi/CSOA La Stra­da, ver­sion 1, [CD], 1997). 

  31. The issue of “prac­tic­ing com­mu­nism in every­day life” is one of the main dif­fer­ences between the Ital­ian Autono­mia of the 1970s and the Ger­man Autonomen of the 1980s and 1990s, since most autono­mi prob­a­bly remained liv­ing at home giv­en the dif­fi­cul­ties of squat­ting flats and eco­nom­ic sur­vival out­side the fam­i­ly, while most autonomen prob­a­bly lived out­side the fam­i­ly and in squat­ted com­munes and hous­es, giv­en a more exten­sive wel­fare state and a greater pos­si­bil­i­ty of col­lec­tive squat­ting. As a result, the pol­i­tics of the per­son­al and the need to com­bat sex­ism, homo­pho­bia and racism in every­day life as well as at the polit­i­cal lev­el was more present in the Autonomen than it was in Autono­mia (George Kat­si­afi­cas, The Sub­ver­sion of Pol­i­tics: Euro­pean Autonomous Social Move­ments and the Decol­o­niza­tion of Every­day Life (New Jer­sey: Human­i­ties Press, 1997). 

  32. Lavoro nero: the post-Fordist sec­tor of infor­mal, pre­car­i­ous, short-term, low paid, dereg­u­lat­ed and ille­gal sweat­shop labor, done more by “extra-Euro­pean” migrants since the 1980s. 

  33. Nan­ni Balestri­ni and Pri­mo Moroni, L’orda d’oro: 1968-1977. La grande onda­ta riv­o­luzionar­ia e cre­ati­va, polit­i­ca ed esisten­ziale (Milan: Sug­ar Co, Feltrinelli.1st & 2nd eds.,1997, [1988]), 445. 

  34. Mar­co Grispig­ni,  Il Set­tan­ta­sette: un man­uale per capire, un sag­gio per riflet­tere (Milan: il Sag­gia­tore, 1997) 14. 

  35. Ibid., 16 

  36. Idem. 

  37. Idem. 

  38. Vio­la, 1976. Cit­ed in Cir­coli pro­le­tari gio­vanili di Milano (op.cit., 1977), 107-109. 

  39. Pao­lo Virno, “Do You Remem­ber Coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion?,” in Rad­i­cal Thought in Italy: a Poten­tial Pol­i­tics, Pao­lo Virno and Michael Hardt (eds.) (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 1996), 241-259. 

  40. Alber­to Meluc­ci,  Chal­leng­ing Codes: Col­lec­tive Action in the Infor­ma­tion Age (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1996). 

  41. Inter­view in Eng­lish with an infor­mant from Venice, Lon­don, June 1999. 

  42. Patrick Cun­ing­hame, “Autonomism as a Glob­al Social Move­ment,” Work­ing USA: The Jour­nal of Labor and Soci­ety, no. 13, Decem­ber (2010), 451–464. 

  43. First leaflet of CSO Leon­cav­al­lo, Octo­ber 15 (Cen­tro Sociale Leon­cav­al­lo, 1975. 

Author of the article

is a lecturer in Sociology at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM) in Mexico City.