The NEP of Classe Operaia

Franco Angeli, senza titolo, 1963
Fran­co Angeli, Unti­tled, 1963


Translator’s Introduction: The Victory of Defeat

Raf­faele Sbardel­la is unknown to the Eng­lish-speak­ing world, and even among Ital­ian rad­i­cals he is an obscure fig­ure.1 If it nonethe­less seems worth intro­duc­ing him to the read­ers of View­point, it is on the strength of the essay that we are pre­sent­ing in trans­la­tion below. “The NEP of Classe Opera­ia” is a rare bird: it is a cri­tique of Ital­ian work­erism (or operais­mo) from the left. We do not lack for crit­i­cal per­spec­tives on the lat­er auton­o­mist and post-auton­o­mist the­o­ries of Toni Negri, Fran­co “Bifo” Berar­di, Pao­lo Virno, Mau­r­izio Laz­zara­to, and oth­ers, whose work became more wide­ly known due to the suc­cess of Negri and Michael Hardt’s Empire tril­o­gy in the 2000s. The well­spring from which this entire tra­di­tion draws, how­ev­er, is the unortho­dox con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of class strug­gle, work­ers’ auton­o­my, and cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment that took shape in the pages of the jour­nals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Opera­ia in the ear­ly and mid-1960s. This ear­li­er stage remains murky to all but a few spe­cial­ists in the mat­ter.2 The work­erist lega­cy is buried in the rub­ble of a cat­a­clysmic defeat; there is much work still to be done sim­ply to unearth its ruins. It may seem per­verse to offer an attack on the main­stream of work­erism – and espe­cial­ly one as with­er­ing and par­ti­san as Sbardella’s – when many of the foun­da­tion­al texts to which the essay makes ref­er­ence are still unavail­able in Eng­lish. I have cho­sen to trans­late and pub­lish the piece nonethe­less because I am con­vinced that its inter­est exceeds the mere­ly anti­quar­i­an.

Sbardella’s inter­ven­tion is his­to­ri­o­graph­ic: he aims to show that the lat­er errors of the auton­o­mist move­ment can be traced back to an ide­ol­o­gy that took hold in the Classe Opera­ia group, and in par­tic­u­lar in the work of its lead­ing light, Mario Tron­ti. The essay itself is a doc­u­ment of defeat. Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1980, it was writ­ten in the wake of the Move­ment of ’77 – the last great out­pour­ing of Italy’s decade-long “Creep­ing May” – and more specif­i­cal­ly in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Ital­ian state’s repres­sion of Autono­mia in 1979. By the time Sbardel­la was pre­sum­ably writ­ing, many of the movement’s lead­ers were in prison (includ­ing, most famous­ly, Negri), or had fled the coun­try. But there was anoth­er and less painful exit avail­able to erst­while cham­pi­ons of work­ers’ auton­o­my. It was a choice, more­over, that some had made as ear­ly as the mid-1960s. This was the deci­sion to rejoin one or anoth­er of the exist­ing par­ties of the work­ing class and thus to aban­don the extra­parlia­men­tary strug­gle to its fate. Such was the tra­jec­to­ry of Tron­ti – the pri­ma­ry tar­get of Sbardella’s arti­cle.

If “The NEP of Classe Opera­ia” were con­cerned only to chas­tise an apos­tate it would be of lit­tle inter­est, of course. For­tu­nate­ly, it has a broad­er agen­da. Tron­ti had been a mem­ber of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty (PCI) in the 1950s; although he nev­er tech­ni­cal­ly left, he effec­tive­ly dis­tanced him­self from it at the begin­ning of the fol­low­ing decade. At this time, he start­ed work­ing with Raniero Panzieri – who was affil­i­at­ed with the Ital­ian Social­ist Par­ty, or PSI, the Com­mu­nist Party’s major com­peti­tor on the left – at the influ­en­tial jour­nal Quaderni Rossi (Red Notes). In 1964, Tron­ti left Quaderni Rossi to co-found Classe Opera­ia (Work­ing Class), whose con­trib­u­tors would include Negri, Alber­to Asor Rosa, Mas­si­mo Cac­cia­ri, and Romano Alquati, among oth­ers. In 1967 Tron­ti was rec­on­ciled to the PCI. Between the prodigal’s depar­ture and return, how­ev­er, he pub­lished Operai e Cap­i­tale (Work­ers and Cap­i­tal), the first edi­tion of which appeared in 1966.3 This book effec­tive­ly cod­i­fied the major propo­si­tions of work­erism: for instance, that the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal is large­ly a response to the self-activ­i­ty of the work­ing class, and that rev­o­lu­tion is to be accom­plished through the “strat­e­gy of refusal,” in oth­er words, by work­ers’ with­draw­al from cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. Sbardel­la chal­lenges some of these propo­si­tions. But he does so not in the abstract, refut­ing one after the oth­er as if they were float­ing in the ahis­tor­i­cal ether. Rather, he aims to show his read­ers where these ideas came from – and, more impor­tant­ly, where they led. For this rea­son, “The NEP of Classe Opera­ia” takes the form of a chron­i­cle.4 Or, one could say, a geneal­o­gy. Tronti’s embrace of the PCI appeared to many work­erists and auton­o­mists as a bla­tant con­tra­dic­tion of his own argu­ments in Operai e Cap­i­tale. Sbardella’s aim is to show that it was any­thing but. At stake are the philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­nings of work­erism itself.

Sbardella’s nar­ra­tive begins in media res. The year is 1964: Tron­ti has already bro­ken with Panzieri and oth­er com­rades from Quaderni Rossi; the rest of the action traces the rise and fall of Classe Opera­ia. Yet the basic shape of Tronti’s pol­i­tics has already con­gealed. It is found­ed on what Sbardel­la describes as an ide­al­iza­tion of the con­cept of pro­le­tar­i­an sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. He aligns Tron­ti, unex­pect­ed­ly, with the reac­tionary neo-Hegelian­ism of Gio­van­ni Gen­tile, Mussolini’s court philoso­pher. Gentile’s impos­ing body even­tu­al­ly turned up rid­dled with par­ti­san bul­lets on the streets of Flo­rence in 1944 – an appro­pri­ate end to the thinker who cham­pi­oned the phi­los­o­phy of the “act,” in oth­er words, brute pow­er as the truth of dialec­tics. The point of Sbardella’s scan­dalous maneu­ver is to argue for a link between Gentile’s “actu­al ide­al­ism” and Tronti’s own work­erist ide­ol­o­gy. In his telling, Tronti’s the­o­ry of the invari­able pos­i­tiv­i­ty of the pro­le­tar­i­an sub­ject meant that this subject’s actions could only be, ipso fac­to, cor­rect. This was, there­fore, an “ide­al­ism of the Sub­ject” that amount­ed to an affir­ma­tion of what already exists: and thus effec­tive­ly an affir­ma­tion – in a for­mu­la­tion that echoes Gen­tile – of the bal­ance of class pow­er at any giv­en moment.

When the work­ing class was, indeed, on the offen­sive, the effects of this ide­al­ism were, at least, innocu­ous. Borne along by the ris­ing tide of strug­gle, work­erism gave a new impe­tus to the project of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing the auton­o­my of the work­ing class from its own reformist insti­tu­tions. There was, at first, much talk of an entire­ly new and gen­uine­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary Par­ty to come – out­side of, and against, the PCI. But Tronti’s phi­los­o­phy refused to give the neg­a­tive its due. Sbardella’s sto­ry picks up in the years of the “retreat,” or riflus­so, of work­ing-class strug­gles that occurred after the decline of an impor­tant strike wave in 1962. Sud­den­ly, Tron­ti and his com­rades faced the conun­drum of explain­ing these set­backs with­out at the same time aban­don­ing their the­sis of the inex­orable advance of pro­le­tar­i­an pow­er. Instead of build­ing their own autonomous orga­ni­za­tions, Tron­ti and oth­ers cor­rect­ly observed that work­ers in this peri­od were increas­ing­ly reen­ter­ing their old and by this time rather tooth­less left-wing par­ties, above all the PCI. It was this phe­nom­e­non that demand­ed urgent expla­na­tion, since the very legit­i­ma­cy of work­erist analy­sis was at stake. Thus began a peri­od of tor­tur­ous realign­ment on the part of the Classe Opera­ia the­o­rists: their posi­tions shift­ed rapid­ly from the imper­a­tive to con­struct a new rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty, to the call to pre­vent the social-democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the PCI (and thus to con­duct the class strug­gle with­in rather than out­side the Com­mu­nist Par­ty), to sug­ges­tions for var­i­ous alliances with oth­er forces of the left. This led, even­tu­al­ly, to abject sub­mis­sion to the PCI exact­ly as it was. After all, if the migra­tion back to the PCI was a gen­uine mass move­ment on the part of the work­ers, it could hard­ly be sim­ply wrong. Tronti’s lat­er alle­giance to the Com­mu­nist Par­ty was no anom­aly, but was rather the log­i­cal con­se­quence of his own work­erist assump­tions.

This is the core of the argu­ment. Sbardella’s cri­tique of Tron­ti is sub­tler than might first appear, how­ev­er. Fol­low­ing an insight not only of work­erism itself, but also of a much old­er left com­mu­nist tra­di­tion, he rec­og­nizes the his­tor­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment as found­ed on expro­pri­a­tion. Clas­si­cal par­ties such as the PCI indeed rep­re­sent the will of the class, but only as sep­a­rate and alien­at­ed from the class. Par­ties monop­o­lize polit­i­cal sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. Yet this does not mean that the pure unmedi­at­ed activ­i­ty of the class is there­fore inher­ent­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary, as a cer­tain naive­ly left com­mu­nist posi­tion would imply. On the con­trary: when the class suf­fers mate­r­i­al defeat, its strat­e­gy, too, is thrown into dis­ar­ray. Work­ers then find them­selves hud­dling around what­ev­er con­cen­tra­tions of pow­er still sur­vive. In these cir­cum­stances, spon­tane­ity leads to bad pol­i­tics, not because work­ers lack direc­tion from a prop­er rev­o­lu­tion­ary van­guard, but rather because the objec­tive sit­u­a­tion leaves them few oth­er options. In such a peri­od even the most impec­ca­bly com­mit­ted cadres are only capa­ble of orga­niz­ing defeat. It is not the case, accord­ing to Sbardel­la, that an oppo­si­tion­al sub­jec­tiv­i­ty always exists. It is rather con­sti­tut­ed and decon­sti­tut­ed in the flux of the class strug­gle. For all their empha­sis on class com­po­si­tion, the work­erists around Tron­ti failed to rec­og­nize this fact.

Sbardel­la argues that Tron­ti and his com­rades were hoist­ed on their own petard. Because they had ide­al­ized pro­le­tar­i­an sub­jec­tiv­i­ty as invari­ably rev­o­lu­tion­ary, they were unpre­pared to prop­er­ly ana­lyze the Ital­ian proletariat’s retreat into its own stul­ti­fy­ing insti­tu­tions. They were then left with no choice but to rat­i­fy this retreat as one more mas­ter­stroke of the proletariat’s undoubt­ed­ly cor­rect, if inscrutable, strat­e­gy. When the strug­gle in the fac­to­ries began to heat up again at the end of the ‘60s, how­ev­er, Tron­ti and his fol­low­ers were blind­sided once again. Hav­ing already declared the PCI to be the authen­tic expres­sion of the work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, they were left with no way to respond to the new avalanche of defec­tions. This accounts, Sbardel­la argues, for the emer­gence of Tronti’s utter­ly mys­ti­fied doc­trine of the “auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal.” If it was true that the work­ers had del­e­gat­ed their polit­i­cal will to the Par­ty, then that Par­ty implic­it­ly would retain its legit­i­ma­cy as the polit­i­cal expres­sion of the class, even if – as indeed actu­al­ly hap­pened – that author­i­ty were to be turned against the class itself. What becomes autonomous here is not the class but rather its polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. And this auton­o­miza­tion then has no effect oth­er than to con­ceal, and to oppose, the real move­ment of the class.

Can one right­ly say, then, that Sbardella’s analy­sis is marked by an implaca­ble oppo­si­tion to the form of the par­ty, which after all makes an appear­ance here only to alien­ate work­ers of their sub­jec­tiv­i­ty? Not quite. The essay is pep­pered with ref­er­ences to a prop­er­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty-form, though this remains hypo­thet­i­cal. It would be an “instru­men­tal par­ty” sub­or­di­nat­ed to the work­ing class rather than stand­ing above it. Sbardella’s own polit­i­cal engage­ments do not sug­gest that he belonged to the left­most mar­gin of Ital­ian pol­i­tics. He had, in fact, start­ed out in the PCI in 1950s, before join­ing the Quaderni Rossi col­lec­tive and, sub­se­quent­ly, the group that pub­lished Classe Opera­ia itself. His path was there­fore extreme­ly close to Tronti’s own, at least until the mid­dle of the ‘60s. Sbardel­la at some point stud­ied with the Marx­ist philoso­pher Lucio Col­let­ti, dur­ing which time he began devel­op­ing his own analy­sis of alien­ation and abstrac­tion (the fruits of which are clear­ly to be read in “The NEP of Classe Opera­ia”). He then passed through the orbit of at least two small par­ties to the left of the PCI: suc­ces­sive­ly, the PDUP (Par­ty of Pro­le­tar­i­an Uni­ty) and Democrazia Pro­le­taria (Pro­le­tar­i­an Democ­ra­cy). In the 1970s and ear­ly ‘80s he was also involved in the pub­li­ca­tion of the jour­nals Metrop­o­lis, I Quaderni del No, I Quaderni del CRIC (the jour­nal of the Cen­tro di Ricerche e Inizia­ti­va Comu­nista, or Cen­ter for Com­mu­nist Research and Ini­tia­tive), and final­ly Unità Pro­le­taria. He also wrote books on the “cri­tique of pol­i­tics” and the eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry penal reformer Cesare Bec­ca­ria. At the turn of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry Sbardel­la reemerged in the pages of the Ital­ian Marx­ist jour­nal Vis-à-vis, where “The NEP of Classe Opera­ia” was in fact repub­lished.5 He is still alive today, though evi­dent­ly rather elu­sive.6

Though it would be irre­spon­si­ble to spec­u­late fur­ther, what this record at least sug­gests is an atti­tude of pro­found sus­pi­cion towards polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion that all the same does not reject the par­ty-form per se. The errors to which Sbardel­la sees Tron­ti falling prey are, on the one side, an uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of imme­di­a­cy and spon­ta­neous action, and on the oth­er side, an equal­ly uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of polit­i­cal medi­a­tion as the direct expres­sion of pro­le­tar­i­an sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. In fact the two errors are sym­met­ri­cal – two sides of the same coin. This is an insight of rel­e­vance to sit­u­a­tions some­what removed from its point of ori­gin. One of the more remark­able sec­tions of the essay, for exam­ple, is a long foot­note on Toni Negri. Sbardel­la acknowl­edges that Negri reject­ed Tronti’s increas­ing recourse to polit­i­cal medi­a­tion. Yet he did not there­by “suc­ceed in over­com­ing and crit­i­cal­ly liq­ui­dat­ing the ide­al­ism of the Sub­ject.” Instead, Negri’s theod­i­cy of revolt mere­ly played a game of musi­cal chairs, aban­don­ing the clas­si­cal pro­le­tari­at (and its his­tor­i­cal insti­tu­tions) in favor of “what­ev­er is still oppo­si­tion­al” – mar­gin­al groups or social fig­ures that sup­pos­ed­ly escape the grid of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Sbardel­la argues that Negri in fact rat­i­fies the effects of capital’s assault on work­ers, and thus mis­rec­og­nizes the decom­po­si­tion of the class as a defin­i­tive break with the cen­tral­i­ty of the pro­duc­tive sphere in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment. This is an inci­sive com­ment that has clear impli­ca­tions for Negri’s lat­er pro­mo­tion of the “mul­ti­tude” as a replace­ment for the indus­tri­al pro­le­tari­at – as well as for any oth­er pre­ma­ture iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of puta­tive­ly new rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­jects.

“The NEP of Classe Opera­ia” is of course embed­ded in the pol­i­tics of its moment. Sbardel­la sure­ly had in mind the “His­toric Com­pro­mise” that had recent­ly brought the PCI into an ulti­mate­ly dis­as­trous rap­proche­ment with the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian Democ­rats. Indeed, the PCI was to dis­solve com­plete­ly lit­tle over a decade lat­er. Par­ties in this mold are as good as extinct today, so it may be that Sbardella’s ani­mus will strike con­tem­po­rary read­ers as passé. Yet the prob­lems at stake are not endem­ic to the Ital­ian expe­ri­ence of some thir­ty or forty years past. Sbardel­la ulti­mate­ly pro­pos­es an alter­na­tive to the phan­tas­mal oppo­si­tion between “spon­tane­ity” and “orga­ni­za­tion” that remains a promi­nent fea­ture of debates on the left to this day. Nei­ther pole has any rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­tent in and of itself. As fetish­es, both are capa­ble of lead­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, lem­ming-like, over the cliff. The virtue of Sbardella’s essay is to show how an incur­able opti­mism with respect to the proletariat’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary capac­i­ties (incur­able pes­simism might well have the same effect) can blind even the best and bright­est to the real state of the world. And that state, need­less to say, is bad these days.

I there­fore offer this trans­la­tion as a mod­est con­tri­bu­tion to a future the­o­ry of the strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance of dis­as­ter.

– Daniel Spauld­ing




The left has nev­er seri­ous­ly tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion the philo­soph­i­cal matri­ces of Tron­tism and of the ide­ol­o­gy of those com­rades who, after the break with Quaderni Rossi, gath­ered around the review Classe Opera­ia: this is a fact. And also, of course, an error, because the work­erist ide­ol­o­gy of these com­rades has spread through the move­ment mys­ti­fy­ing read­ings of real­i­ty and polit­i­cal behav­iors that are any­thing but ade­quate to the real lev­els of strug­gle. We have nev­er seri­ous­ly and crit­i­cal­ly tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion the ide­al­is­tic, or rather Gen­til­ian7, nature of Tronti’s thought; we have not empha­sized with suf­fi­cient clar­i­ty the neg­a­tiv­i­ty of the abso­l­u­ti­za­tion of the idea of Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty that he intro­duced and which con­tin­ues to be the cause of con­sid­er­able real fail­ures in the move­ment.8 The break with Panzieri may be ful­ly explained only if we remem­ber the ide­al­is­tic and actu­al­is­tic nature of Tronti’s think­ing.9 On the oth­er hand, the coher­ence and con­ti­nu­ity of this author’s thought, the non-con­tra­dic­tion between the the­o­ry of the “rough pagan race”10 and that of the “auton­o­my of the Polit­i­cal,” can emerge in all their dimen­sions only if the analy­sis suc­ceeds in crit­i­cal­ly trac­ing this the­o­ret­i­cal path. It is a con­ti­nu­ity and coher­ence that in turn make the sto­ry of Classe opera­ia itself com­pre­hen­si­ble: the exit, first, of the Genoese group, then the split and, lat­er, the dis­so­lu­tion of the group of those com­rades clos­est to the posi­tions of Toni Negri. In this way it is pos­si­ble to explain, with suf­fi­cient clar­i­ty, the refusal of medi­a­tions – with­in the same ide­al­is­tic con­cep­tion of the work­ing class – that Tron­ti was grad­u­al­ly intro­duc­ing into his polit­i­cal dis­course in order to mas­ter the new real­i­ty of the “retreat” and to grant a sub­jec­tive valence to that which was not sub­jec­tive.

Many com­rades are still con­vinced that the the­ses con­tained in Operai e Cap­i­tale remain sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly valid and authen­ti­cal­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary, and are to be opposed, not with­out embar­rass­ment, to Tronti’s cur­rent posi­tions.11 We, on the con­trary, believe that, if we tru­ly wish to con­struct a par­ty com­plete­ly immersed in the present com­po­si­tion of the class – a “par­ty-instru­ment” which will have made its own both the cri­tique of pol­i­tics and the new behav­iors and needs of col­lec­tive sub­jects – it is nec­es­sary to seri­ous­ly and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly reck­on with the work­erist ide­ol­o­gy of Classe Opera­ia.12

After the break with Panzieri, and after the pub­li­ca­tion of the sole issue of Cronache Operaie, the com­rades who had left Quaderni Rossi found the review Classe Opera­ia, gath­er­ing and uni­fy­ing around them­selves var­i­ous groups of polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion and a num­ber of region­al news­pa­pers. The last issue of Classe Opera­ia is pub­lished in March of 1967: the expe­ri­ence of this group will there­fore take place dur­ing the years of the work­ing class “retreat,” the “cold” years of the “con­junc­tur­al cri­sis.” The hypoth­e­sis accord­ing to which the work­ing class’ attack on cap­i­tal was per­ma­nent and grow­ing in a lin­ear fash­ion, and hence that the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions for the con­struc­tion of a “new rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty” were present – a hypoth­e­sis which was also for­mu­lat­ed on the basis of a total­ly mys­ti­cal con­cep­tion of work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty – very soon reveals itself as unfound­ed and not in cor­re­spon­dence with the neg­a­tive real­i­ty of the “retreat.”13 The ground­less­ness of this hypoth­e­sis caus­es seri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties for the group and, from the out­set, neg­a­tive­ly affects the reg­u­lar­i­ty of the journal’s pub­li­ca­tion: the group does not grow, the orga­ni­za­tion does not mature and the work­ing class does not reach the hypoth­e­sized lev­els of strug­gle.

The “polit­i­cal intel­li­gence” of the jour­nal is thus forced to pro­gres­sive­ly redis­cov­er the “impor­tance” and the “strength” of the his­tor­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the work­ing class, to give new val­ue to the deter­mi­nant weight of the Polit­i­cal. With one clar­i­fi­ca­tion, how­ev­er: that the polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the class, due pre­cise­ly to the a pri­ori ide­al rep­re­sent­ed by this myth­i­cal work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, are redis­cov­ered not as what they are, name­ly as per­ma­nent sources of alien­ation for the class – as Panzieri right­ly said – but rather as instru­ments which the class itself will suc­ceed in con­quer­ing, con­trol­ling, and using pos­i­tive­ly in cer­tain par­tic­u­lar moments of its his­to­ry.14 Indica­tive of this fail­ure is – as we have said – the pro­gres­sive decline in Classe Opera­ia’s fre­quen­cy of pub­li­ca­tion: there were, in fact, eight issues, as well as a sup­ple­ment to no. 6, pub­lished in 1964; four issues and a fly­er in 1965; two (one of which was a work­ing report) in 1966; and only a sin­gle issue in 1967, after the defin­i­tive dis­so­lu­tion of the group had been decid­ed at the end of 1966 dur­ing a nation­al meet­ing in Flo­rence held at the head­quar­ters of the Gio­van­ni Fran­covich Cen­ter.15

The first issue of the jour­nal per­haps does not yet faith­ful­ly reflect the pro­gram that the group had giv­en itself: as a mat­ter of fact this first issue does not at all respect the imme­di­a­cy of the ide­al Sub­ject that is at the foun­da­tion of the com­mon polit­i­cal posi­tion of the var­i­ous groups that con­verge in Classe Opera­ia.16 Already in the first issue, the Lenin­ist exi­gency of the “par­ty” emerges as a pri­or­i­ty: nat­u­ral­ly, giv­en these the­o­ret­i­cal premis­es, what real­ly emerges is an “organi­cist” and exclu­sive­ly polit­i­cal con­cep­tion of the “par­ty,” there­fore a con­cep­tion that, in the com­plete­ly ahis­tor­i­cal and uncrit­i­cal redis­cov­ery of Lenin’s thought, con­sid­ers the “par­ty” to be the place where the Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of the class is incar­nat­ed. The Par­ty, in short, is not pre­sent­ed as that which it is, with its his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of sep­a­ra­tion and alter­i­ty with respect to the class, but is rather iden­ti­fied with the class and total­ly con­fused with the work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty – some­thing that is of course absent from the thought of Lenin, who, on the con­trary, knew very well that the “par­ty” is “nec­es­sar­i­ly” exter­nal to the class.17 With respect to the rad­i­cal imme­di­a­cy and the per­ma­nent activ­i­ty of ide­al­ized Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, this most par­tic­u­lar use of Lenin rep­re­sents, even if covert­ly, a first logi­co-polit­i­cal medi­a­tion, or rather the first timid step towards the cur­rent Tron­tian dis­course – the result, obvi­ous­ly, not of an objec­tivist con­cep­tion of the class – as in Lenin – but of the ide­al path of the same Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty: the par­tic­u­lar, con­crete acts of the class, all of its man­i­fes­ta­tions (whether these are expres­sions of a real col­lec­tive sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, or the pas­sive result of atom­ized objec­tiv­i­ty, is of lit­tle impor­tance), all of these, to repeat, are con­sid­ered as real actions, strate­gic moments, of the per­ma­nent Sub­ject which is the work­ing class, or, more cor­rect­ly, as moments of the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Idea of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, or rather of the Spir­it. More­over, that the redis­cov­ery of Lenin occurs with­in a sub­jec­tivist under­stand­ing of the class is well demon­strat­ed by the fact that the “neces­si­ty of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion” (which is for Tron­ti “defin­i­tive­ly linked to the name of Lenin”) has as its gen­er­al frame of ref­er­ence a dis­course which in fact revers­es the method­olog­i­cal view­point of the Third Inter­na­tion­al­ist tra­di­tion: “it is nec­es­sary” – Tron­ti writes – “to reverse the prob­lem, to change the sign, to start again from the begin­ning: and the begin­ning is the strug­gle of the work­ing class.”18) It could not have been oth­er­wise. The dis­course of the “auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal” was nec­es­sar­i­ly born with “Lenin in Eng­land,” an arti­cle that if on one hand offered a first polit­i­cal medi­a­tion to the group, on the oth­er laid the the­o­reti­co-polit­i­cal foun­da­tions of Ital­ian work­erism in the 1960s and ‘70s.

The eco­nom­ic-polit­i­cal sys­tem reacts to the work­ers’ gains in the first years of the 1960s with an “invest­ment strike” and a “vio­lent cred­it crunch,” but also with a polit­i­cal cri­sis and an inten­si­fi­ca­tion of repres­sion so as to pro­voke a par­tial retreat and back­track­ing on the part of the move­ment. Let us not for­get that the first inter­views in which Agnel­li announces and threat­ens mass lay­offs date pre­cise­ly from 1963.19 1964 was, there­fore, a year in which the move­ment and the strug­gles of the work­ers come to a par­tial stop and, con­front­ed with the mas­sive con­junc­tur­al attack, inevitably flow back into a space of wait­ing and resis­tance: “a retreat that in cer­tain aspects recalls the dark days of the ‘50s.”20 Panzieri, fore­see­ing all of this, coher­ent­ly crit­i­cizes those who, on the con­trary, were hypoth­e­siz­ing an unin­ter­rupt­ed con­ti­nu­ity in the strug­gles. Not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, it would be pre­cise­ly over the judg­ment of this phase that the Tron­tian group would break with Quaderni Rossi: this same idea of Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty – sub­jec­tiv­i­ty as con­tin­u­um – does not per­mit the group to under­stand Panzieri’s analy­ses and to cor­rect­ly reg­is­ter the real­i­ty in the fac­to­ries and the tem­po­rary absence of the col­lec­tive sub­ject.21

Thus, a con­tra­dic­tion is already present in the first issue: if one the one hand this myth­ic belief in a per­ma­nent class Sub­ject rep­re­sents the warp of its dis­course, on the oth­er hand, it is forced to reg­is­ter, but at the same time to present as an expres­sion of this myth­ic sub­ject, the real work­ing class’ moments of “retreat.”22) The auton­o­my of the strug­gles and the anti-con­sti­tu­tion­al char­ac­ter­is­tics of the new col­lec­tive sub­ject are exalt­ed, but the real­i­ty of the rel­a­tive “retreat” of the strug­gles becomes the object of a ver­i­ta­ble ide­o­log­i­cal manip­u­la­tion and mys­ti­fi­ca­tion, a rever­sal of sig­nif­i­cance.23) The strate­gic point of view is reversed but at the same time tak­en for grant­ed; it is pre­sumed, in oppo­si­tion to the Union and the Par­ty, that the work­ers can “do it them­selves,” but at the same time the nec­es­sary medi­a­tion of the “par­ty” reap­pears – or rather, one uncrit­i­cal­ly places “Lenin in Eng­land.”

Nat­u­ral­ly, in this first phase the pro­posed “rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty” is sup­posed to be born ex novo from with­in the class itself, autonomous­ly and “against” the exist­ing par­ty.24 Nonethe­less the dif­fi­cul­ties are not under­es­ti­mat­ed: “Orga­ni­za­tion” – Tron­ti writes – “is the most dif­fi­cult point […] as soon as you become insti­tu­tion­al­ized in a form you are used by cap­i­tal.”25 A prob­lem, evi­dent­ly, that Tron­ti him­self was to under­es­ti­mate, since it is pre­cise­ly with this first issue of Classe Opera­ia (name­ly in the moment of what seems to be the high­est con­scious­ness of the neg­a­tiv­i­ty of polit­i­cal forms) that he ini­ti­ates – as we have empha­sized – the true path of the “auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal”: “This prac­ti­cal work, artic­u­lat­ed on the basis of the fac­to­ry, must, in order to func­tion on the ter­rain of the social rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, be con­tin­u­al­ly judged and medi­at­ed [empha­sis added] by a polit­i­cal lev­el that gen­er­al­izes it.”26

It is pre­cise­ly the two fun­da­men­tal the­o­ret­i­cal ele­ments of this journal’s dis­course – hypo­sta­tized Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and the con­se­quent con­ceal­ment of the moments of the class’ real objec­tiv­i­ty – that do not per­mit them to grasp the his­tor­i­cal-neg­a­tive sig­nif­i­cance of the sep­a­ra­tion of polit­i­cal forms, the fact that they are, in any case, a source of alien­ation for the class: in fact, in order to exist, this Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty has need at every moment – in real­i­ty, in the moments of the class’ objec­tiv­i­ty and pas­siv­i­ty – of cer­tain the­o­ret­i­cal-prac­ti­cal medi­a­tions. The entire­ly polit­i­cal redis­cov­ery of Lenin (the tac­ti­cal Par­ty) is there­fore, with­in this dis­course, a first medi­a­tion: in this case as well – as we have said – the sep­a­rate­ness of the par­ty one wish­es to build is con­cealed in order to dis­play it, in a way that mys­ti­fies real­i­ty, as a pos­si­ble instru­ment in the hands of the work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty.


But the birth of the hypoth­e­sized “par­ty” is over­due; the fac­to­ry orga­ni­za­tion does not gen­er­al­ize and does not offer the “par­ty” the mass van­guards that it needs. And in this way there emerges in the sec­ond issue – ded­i­cat­ed entire­ly to Europe – a sec­ond medi­a­tion that is cer­tain­ly more advanced and sig­nif­i­cant. This time the medi­a­tion is rep­re­sent­ed by the iron­i­cal­ly crit­i­cal inter­est that the jour­nal address­es to the Com­mu­nist Par­ty of Italy (PCI), or more exact­ly to nos. 5-6 of Crit­i­ca Marx­ista, which are ded­i­cat­ed to the ques­tion of orga­ni­za­tion and the Par­ty.27 The polemic is harsh, its ver­bal expres­sion vio­lent, but it nonethe­less opens a new chap­ter in the brief his­to­ry of Classe opera­ia. Let us pay atten­tion to the fol­low­ing: “And at this point we stop […]. We leave gos­sipy cries of joy to the bour­geois news­pa­pers. All of this is right for them, and for their boss­es. It is nev­er right for the work­ers to be polit­i­cal­ly dis­or­ga­nized on prin­ci­ple”; from this one rec­og­nizes that the class with­out the PCI is “polit­i­cal­ly dis­or­ga­nized.”28 Com­pared to the hypoth­e­sis of the con­struc­tion of a “new rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty,” this crit­i­cal inter­est, but also this evi­dent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the sep­a­ra­tion of the Par­ty from the class, rep­re­sent a real – and sud­den, one could say – rever­sal of the polit­i­cal line that had emerged in the first num­ber of the jour­nal. This turn, obvi­ous­ly, is not itself causal: it is in fact the his­tor­i­cal result of the meet­ing of Tron­tian ide­ol­o­gy – ide­al Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty – with a real phe­nom­e­non, name­ly that of the ten­den­tial and pro­gres­sive “reen­try” of the van­guards of the strug­gle into the his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment.

It is in fact pre­cise­ly in this peri­od of “retreat” in the strug­gles and of the atom­iza­tion of the col­lec­tive body of the class that the work­ers them­selves, forced to del­e­gate their uni­tary will to the exist­ing par­ty, jump­start the expro­pria­tive mech­a­nism that trans­mits their capac­i­ty-to-will: a mech­a­nism that only appar­ent­ly seems to recon­sti­tute a pos­i­tive link between the work­ing class and its insti­tu­tions – giv­en that con­sent always pre­sup­pos­es the divi­sion and pas­siv­i­ty of the mass­es, and hides their polit­i­cal alien­ation behind a pre­cise­ly rep­re­sent­ed, abstract, and sep­a­rat­ed Uni­ty.

The group notes the reestab­lish­ment of the rep­re­sen­ta­tive rela­tion­ship and the “reen­try” of the work­ers into the PCI with extreme prompt­ness, but the abso­l­u­ti­za­tion of work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, which does not per­mit them to grasp these same phe­nom­e­na at a lev­el beyond sim­ple empir­i­cal appear­ance, para­dox­i­cal­ly forces the group mem­bers to see in the mechan­i­cal and pas­sive prod­uct of the class’ objec­tiv­i­ty and atom­iza­tion an organ­ic, col­lec­tive, and rig­or­ous­ly con­scious “choice” on the part of the work­ers in strug­gle.

In the March issue, Toni Negri, with a brief, syn­the­siz­ing edi­to­r­i­al, attempts to shore up the dis­course of Classe Opera­ia on the irre­ducible oppo­si­tion between work­ers and cap­i­tal, con­ceiv­ing the prob­lem of alliances as the “bloc of the work­ing class with itself, the block of the work­ing class against the class adver­sary.”29 He aims to rad­i­cal­ize Tronti’s hypo­sta­tized dis­course from the left. There is no doubt that this edi­to­r­i­al rep­re­sents a first clear resis­tance to the new dis­course on the insti­tu­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment that is begin­ning to pen­e­trate and cir­cu­late with ever greater insis­tence with­in the group. This ini­tial resis­tance is nev­er­the­less defeat­ed with rel­a­tive ease: issues 4-5, 8-9, and 10-12 of the review will be ded­i­cat­ed to deep and expand­ed analy­ses relat­ed to the ques­tion, ever more cru­cial, of the Par­ty and the Union. Tron­ti writes:

The imbal­ance between wages and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty is a polit­i­cal fact, and should be under­stand as a polit­i­cal fact and be used polit­i­cal­ly […]. In these years the work­ers’ use of the labor union strug­gle has in fact sur­passed and defeat­ed the cap­i­tal­ist use of the union, today it is there­fore nec­es­sary to drag along the old orga­ni­za­tions.30

Imme­di­ate, too, is the reac­tion of the Turin group and of all those com­rades who par­tic­i­pat­ed more close­ly and atten­tive­ly in the strug­gles of 1962. The sup­ple­ment to issue no. 6, “ded­i­cat­ed to the work­ers’ strug­gle at Fiat,” which cir­cu­lat­ed essen­tial­ly at Turin but was also present as an insert in the nation­al edi­tion, responds with extreme sever­i­ty:

Today our first prob­lem is this: we must make a clean break with the peri­od in which we let the union do as it would, and we must build our orga­ni­za­tion to car­ry for­ward our class strug­gle against cap­i­tal […]. The new par­ty of the work­ing class will not be born out of any of the cur­rent­ly exist­ing par­ties, nor will it be the result of one of their uni­fi­ca­tions or dis­in­te­gra­tion, but will be the fruit of a long expe­ri­ence of han­dling strug­gles: all the orga­ni­za­tion­al forms devel­oped in the strug­gle will flow into it.31

In the edi­to­r­i­al of no. 8-9 – part of which is devot­ed to the prob­lem of the “par­ty” and the PCI – Tron­ti responds polem­i­cal­ly, defin­i­tive­ly clar­i­fy­ing his posi­tion:

The time is ripe, at the lev­el of the class, for a direct dis­course on the con­di­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment [read: PCI] in Italy: now is the moment to open a debate, to con­duct an analy­sis, to com­mence a pre­cise polit­i­cal action on this ter­rain. Do not for­get [Tron­ti observes] that the PCI still main­tains a real rela­tion to the work­ing class. [… There­fore] let us say that today it is pos­si­ble to choose the way that pass­es through a pos­i­tive cri­sis of at least a part of the old orga­ni­za­tions. This imme­di­ate­ly clears the ground of the dan­ger of start­ing over with the build­ing of a new bureau­crat­ic struc­ture.32

The crit­i­cal tone present in this issue is, nonethe­less, still quite harsh: the jour­nal force­ful­ly denounces the pro­gres­sive diminu­tion, between 1950 and 1962, of the num­ber of work­ers enrolled in the Par­ty, and the par­a­lyz­ing “gap” between mem­bers and vot­ers.

It is – as we have empha­sized – pre­cise­ly in this peri­od that the the­sis accord­ing to which the work­ing class would not know what to do with yet anoth­er failed minori­tar­i­an expe­ri­ence begins to cir­cu­late and spread through the mem­bers of the group: now, it is said, the class prefers to trans­form the exist­ing Par­ty, “in a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sense”; it has cho­sen to “bring the PCI back into the fac­to­ry” and there to use it for its own rev­o­lu­tion­ary ends. That the strug­gles suf­fer a rel­a­tive set­back, that the organ­ic char­ac­ter of the real col­lec­tive sub­ject shows signs of atom­iza­tion, that the work­ers are divid­ed and opposed to each oth­er, medi­at­ed by the abstract­ing pres­ence of com­modi­ties and thus forced to alien­ate their own polit­i­cal will in rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tions: all of this is evi­dent­ly of lit­tle inter­est, or rather is set aside or pre­sent­ed as its exact oppo­site. In short, the not-imme­di­ate­ly evi­dent fact that the work­ers, due to a tem­po­rary defeat, are forced to alien­ate them­selves in the PCI, in order in some way to recov­er their lost uni­ty, is passed off as the coher­ent result of the col­lec­tive subject’s free choice.

In this way the promise to ded­i­cate more space and atten­tion to the prob­lem of the “par­ty” was duly kept. The Decem­ber issue will in fact be entire­ly ded­i­cat­ed to the PCI. It is only with this final issue of 1964 that the polit­i­cal shift clear­ly emerges with all its prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions: thus we too have arrived at the prob­lem of the par­ty, or real­ly, of the PCI.33 Tron­ti crit­i­cizes him­self: “This immense work will be col­lec­tive, or will not be; it will suc­ceed in imme­di­ate­ly meet­ing the dai­ly move­ments of the social mass of work­ers, or will remain blocked in itself, will stag­nate, and will turn back­wards.”34 This may even seem to be a just demand, but, as we know, the oth­er face of ide­al­ism is the uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of vul­gar empiri­cism, or rather of the real data assumed acrit­i­cal­ly: indeed, if the “dai­ly move­ments” of the work­ers are in real­i­ty equiv­a­lent to their atom­istic and alien­at­ed move­ment in the direc­tion of the PCI, then it is inevitable that the his­tor­i­cal encounter with this “social mass of work­ers,” once the neg­a­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of this trend are con­cealed, can only hap­pen with­in the PCI itself. Lenin is aban­doned in Eng­land, with few regrets, while the PCI is redis­cov­ered in Italy. For now, the work­ers’ redis­cov­ery of the PCI is crit­i­cal, and the work­ers’ deci­sion to “enter” it pre­sup­pos­es – so it is believed – a clear rev­o­lu­tion­ary will: the “par­ty” must be trans­formed and bent to the “sub­ver­sive” needs of the work­ers. “The work­ers’ use of the com­mu­nist par­ty” is not peace­ful; it is a use that pro­found­ly trans­forms that which is used. This the­sis – which pre­sup­pos­es, as one can eas­i­ly see, a Sub­ject that is always pro­vid­ed with con­scious­ness and its own strat­e­gy (a the­sis that the facts will also very soon bla­tant­ly con­tra­dict) – there­fore places on the agen­da the “imme­di­ate block­ing” of the process of social-democ­ra­ti­za­tion that has affect­ed even the PCI. “The tac­tic of the par­ty [Tron­ti writes on this point] today rests on the illu­sion that it suf­fices to know cap­i­tal in order to under­stand the work­ing class”; with this approach one inevitably falls into the error of hav­ing to “adapt the orga­ni­za­tion­al instru­ment of the par­ty to the neces­si­ties of the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.”35

The great medi­a­tion rep­re­sent­ed by the auton­o­my of the Polit­i­cal is still far off; the view­point still remains direct­ly tied to work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­i­ty; the method­olog­i­cal rever­sal remains that of the first issue; the claim that it is the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal that can be explained by the devel­op­ment and growth of work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and their strug­gles do not not under­go sig­nif­i­cant trans­for­ma­tions. The the­sis now main­tained is that, if on the one hand the work­ing class wants the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal, on the oth­er hand it does not want to adapt itself to its polit­i­cal expres­sions; it wants to pre­serve its auton­o­my with respect to polit­i­cal process­es that occur with­in the sphere of the state and are under the sign of cap­i­tal­ist pow­er. The “polit­i­cal” sub­or­di­na­tion to cap­i­tal is the true lim­it, the clas­sic error of reformism, and there­fore must be defeat­ed with­in the PCI with­out delay. The devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal must be pushed for­ward, just as the work­ers want, but the Par­ty, even if it is a “work­ers’ par­ty,” must not adapt or sub­mit itself to this same devel­op­ment, must not become a polit­i­cal func­tion: the Par­ty, while cap­i­tal forces it into devel­op­ment, must make sure to remove pow­er from the hands of the cap­i­tal­ist class; it must, in short, destroy cap­i­tal­ist com­mand over the whole of soci­ety. To suc­ceed in doing so it is suf­fi­cient – again accord­ing to Tron­ti – to poss­es the “view­point of the work­ing class”: cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment plus “work­ers’ pow­er,” this is the Ital­ian NEP of the ‘60s that the Tron­tians hypoth­e­sized and pro­posed in this peri­od; this is the only pos­si­ble path for the rev­o­lu­tion in Italy. What is miss­ing, how­ev­er, is a “par­ty” that firm­ly pos­sess­es the work­ers’ view­point. The work­ers them­selves will come to real­ize that the ambi­gu­i­ties of the PCI are to be explod­ed by the work­ers them­selves, who, for this very rea­son, will reen­ter the par­ty en masse.

Con­se­quent­ly, in the arti­cle “Classe e Par­ti­to,” which is signed by Tron­ti, there exists a con­cep­tion of the par­ty that is rev­o­lu­tion­ary only in terms of con­tent, or bet­ter, only imag­i­nar­i­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary: for this author, in fact, it is suf­fi­cient that the PCI should change its polit­i­cal line, acquire a work­ers’ nature and cul­ture, that it liq­ui­date its “pop­ulism” and become active in the fac­to­ry, because it is indeed ulti­mate­ly capa­ble of trans­form­ing itself into a tru­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary “par­ty.” Total­ly absent from this dis­course is a cri­tique of the struc­tur­al sep­a­ra­tion of the exist­ing Par­ty, of its rep­re­sen­ta­tive nature, of the alien­at­ing nature of polit­i­cal medi­a­tions; total­ly absent is a crit­i­cal con­nec­tion between the sep­a­rate form of the PCI and the reformist con­tent of its polit­i­cal line. This entire crit­i­cal dis­course rotates around the sim­ple obser­va­tion that the PCI lacks a “coher­ent” class cul­ture. Not, there­fore, work­ers’ strug­gles and self-orga­ni­za­tion plus a par­ty that knows to remain strict­ly their instru­ment or appendage, that knows how to defeat every ten­den­cy towards sta­t­i­fi­ca­tion with­in itself; but rather strug­gles “with­in” cap­i­tal and as a func­tion of its devel­op­ment plus more pow­er firm­ly in the hands of the work­ers’ “par­ty.” Thus the work­ers sup­pos­ed­ly enter the PCI not to destroy the sep­a­ra­tion, or indeed the source of their own alien­ation, but instead only to over­throw the ide­o­log­i­cal view and to impose their own class view­point. It is hence not a mat­ter of putting back on its feet an alien­at­ing and paci­fy­ing orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture, it is a mat­ter only of intro­duc­ing into it, as it is, the prop­er class cul­ture and view­point. The prin­ci­ple error of Togliatti’s Par­ty was not that of hav­ing con­struct­ed a mech­a­nism sim­i­lar to the state in order to expro­pri­ate the polit­i­cal will of the mass­es, but instead only that of hav­ing iden­ti­fied polit­i­cal­ly and cul­tur­al­ly with a his­tor­i­cal bloc “until it dis­ap­peared into it, until it became the par­ty of all the peo­ple.”36 There­fore: to the class, “strat­e­gy”; to the par­ty, “tac­tics.”

In the first issue of 1965, the choice of the field is fur­ther explained and devel­oped: “For the entire year this sec­tion of the jour­nal will remain open to dis­cus­sion about the par­ty.” This time it is Alber­to Asor Rosa who clar­i­fies which par­ty is at stake: “Beyond the sin­gle par­ty, but also beyond the new par­ty, the bonds that hold the work­ing class to its par­ty are slow­ly, labo­ri­ous­ly, and tire­less­ly being dis­cov­ered.”37 The review’s dis­course now turns to the “com­mu­nist cadres in the fac­to­ry,” who are assigned the task of explod­ing the “clique” of reformist bureau­crats and of tak­ing the reins of the “par­ty” in order to deci­sive­ly bring it back into the fac­to­ry, and there to con­nect it with the “work­ers’ capac­i­ty to strug­gle”: “these work­ers’ polit­i­cal cadres poten­tial­ly exist both inside and out­side the PCI. In this sense the polit­i­cal work must nec­es­sar­i­ly extend to the lev­el of the work­ers’ offi­cial insti­tu­tions.”38 In the same num­ber of the jour­nal, Romano Alquati, in an arti­cle on the inter­nal struc­ture of the class that is rich in stim­u­lat­ing intu­itions, adheres to the group’s new polit­i­cal course; he writes:

Today it is any­thing but neg­a­tive to val­orize the poten­tial tac­ti­cal capac­i­ty of the mil­i­tant, in rela­tion to the class and the com­mu­nist par­ty – its sub­jec­tive capac­i­ty linked to a real pres­ence. It is a polit­i­cal force that is now very impor­tant, that has already borne fruit by rais­ing the prob­lem of the mil­i­tants, throw­ing it in the face of the party’s reformist direc­tion.39

Toni Negri, on the con­trary, prefers not to enter direct­ly into the mer­its of the polemic and, bypass­ing the obsta­cle of the PCI, pub­lish­es in this first issue of 1965 a long and inter­est­ing essay on Lenin and the Sovi­ets. The pur­pose of this dis­course is clear enough, even if it is pre­sent­ed indi­rect­ly: the Lenin of the Sovi­ets is opposed to the Lenin of the NEP; rup­ture is opposed to con­ti­nu­ity.40

The “par­ty in the fac­to­ry” will be the cen­tral theme of the third issue in 1965: “The Call to the Third Con­fer­ence of Com­mu­nists in the Fac­to­ries” pro­pos­es to use this polit­i­cal occa­sion to “impose the fol­low­ing choice. The choice is: either the work­ers’ par­ty in the fac­to­ry, or a uni­fied social­ist par­ty. To say no to the sin­gle par­ty is easy. We must say yes to the class par­ty.”41

“This time the work­ers’ cadres will both pro­voke and pre­vail in the clash between the PCI’s reformist strat­e­gy and its rev­o­lu­tion­ary tac­tics.”42 [?!]


In the final issue of 1965, after the “work­ers’ con­fer­ence” and with the 11th Con­gress43 around the cor­ner, Tron­ti fur­ther devel­ops his reflec­tions and begins to wor­ried­ly spec­u­late whether the slo­gan “Block the process of social-democ­ra­ti­za­tion; the PCI in the fac­to­ry in the work­ers’ hands” might still have a cer­tain valid­i­ty and prac­ti­cal func­tion: “What is dif­fi­cult here is not the words. What is dif­fi­cult is the work.”44 The dis­course of the “par­ty in the fac­to­ry” and “work­ers’ con­trol of the par­ty” takes a back­seat and fades con­sid­er­ably: “We have said: either the sin­gle par­ty or the par­ty in the fac­to­ry. Let us take a step for­ward and say: par­ty-class uni­ty against social demo­c­ra­t­ic uni­fi­ca­tion.”45 This is undoubt­ed­ly a step for­ward with respect to the con­tents expressed in the Octo­ber issue, where indeed every­thing had fall­en into the prob­lem­at­ic of the “par­ty in the fac­to­ry.”

Tron­ti, evi­dent­ly, begins to per­ceive the qual­i­ty of the work­ers’ “com­mand” or “use” of the PCI; he begins to per­ceive the work­ers’ pas­sive atti­tude with­in the par­ty, their lack of impact on its polit­i­cal line. All of this, nat­u­ral­ly, with­out how­ev­er suc­ceed­ing in pass­ing beyond the thresh­old of appear­ances, and thus with­out real­iz­ing that this pas­sive atti­tude and this lack of impact are the spe­cif­ic prod­uct – at least with­in the Par­ty – of the rep­re­sen­ta­tive mech­a­nism that also rules the inter­nal life of the orga­ni­za­tion and the for­ma­tion of polit­i­cal will. What Tron­ti is unable to rec­og­nize and to under­stand is the fact that the non-trans­for­ma­tive pres­ence of the work­ers with­in the Par­ty depends essen­tial­ly on their exter­nal atom­iza­tion, and thus on their indi­vid­ual iso­la­tion and on the pas­sive pres­ence with­in its inte­ri­or to which the par­ty con­signs them. And it could not have been oth­er­wise, giv­en that the Par­ty, as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tion, has as its basis of exis­tence this same atom­iza­tion of the class, and is there­fore one of the caus­es of this atom­iza­tion: with­in itself, the par­ty can­not abide any­thing oth­er than indi­vid­ual work­ers whose own polit­i­cal will has been expro­pri­at­ed and thus made pas­sive, or rather made into a sim­ple trans­mis­sion belt for bring­ing the polit­i­cal line decid­ed at the top to the gen­er­al­i­ty of the class. The Party’s inte­ri­or spaces are the king­dom of pas­siv­i­ty, the spe­cif­ic loca­tion where the Polit­i­cal becomes Sub­ject and the real sub­ject becomes the pred­i­cate of its pred­i­cate. But this pas­sive pres­ence of the work­ers, into which the lead­ers effort­less­ly pour their gener­ic polit­i­cal con­tents, must be absolute­ly exor­cized: as we know, the Idea of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty – the ide­al­ism of the col­lec­tive sub­ject – is not able to tol­er­ate this in any way.

For now, how­ev­er, these per­plex­i­ties remain cir­cum­scribed and indeed pass unno­ticed. As a mat­ter of fact, on the occa­sion on the 11th Con­fer­ence – the first after Togliatti’s death – the Classe Opera­ia group will pub­lish and dis­trib­ute among the work­ers a pam­phlet whose basic lines still ges­ture towards the strug­gle around social-demo­c­ra­t­ic uni­fi­ca­tion and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary “use” of the PCI, or real­ly of the “par­ty in the fac­to­ry”: it invites the work­ers’ del­e­gates to con­duct a polit­i­cal­ly clear and open bat­tle at the con­gress with the aim of break­ing up the reformist lead­er­ship. At the end of May 1966, prac­ti­cal­ly all of the local groups of Classe Opera­ia con­tin­ue to oper­ate with this polit­i­cal hypoth­e­sis and to use these slo­gans for their polit­i­cal inter­ven­tions in front of the fac­to­ries – when con­front­ed with real­i­ty, how­ev­er, those slo­gans, being dic­tat­ed as we have seen by pure­ly ide­o­log­i­cal motives, begin to reveal their inter­nal weak­ness and polit­i­cal incon­sis­ten­cy.

The first issue of 1966, which does not arrive until May, reg­is­ters the fail­ure of these slo­gans defin­i­tive­ly and with­out entrench­ment. Asor Rosa takes stock of the sit­u­a­tion with extreme lucid­i­ty. He writes:

The first obser­va­tion is that the debate before and dur­ing the Con­gress did not suc­ceed in cre­at­ing a true left […]. The episodes of “resis­tance” are infi­nite. None of these have exceed­ed the lev­el of the sec­tion. […]. There is no doubt that the birth of a true left with­in the PCI has failed.46

So goes the line of Tron­ti, who, in the edi­to­r­i­al of the very same issue, con­dens­es and syn­the­sizes it in the slo­gan: “unit­ed front against social democ­ra­cy.”47 What now counts most is polit­i­cal uni­ty to the left: no longer the “par­ty” in the hands of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary work­ers nor “par­ty-class” uni­ty – which had nonethe­less rep­re­sent­ed an over­com­ing of the slo­gan of the “par­ty in the fac­to­ry”; now what counts is uni­ty on the left of insti­tu­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment against the uni­fi­ca­tion of the PSI and PSDI [Ital­ian Social­ist Par­ty and Ital­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ist Par­ty].48 All efforts must aim at the uni­fi­ca­tion between the PCI and PSIUP [Ital­ian Social­ist Par­ty of Pro­le­tar­i­an Uni­ty]:49

This log­ic impos­es an ever-more vast and organ­ic acqui­si­tion by all of the prin­ci­ple that the “social­ist trans­for­ma­tion” of the coun­try will not hap­pen with­out open dia­log with the oth­er demo­c­ra­t­ic forces of the left. PSIUP can­not, as such, reject this per­spec­tive.50



In Octo­ber the last issue of 1966 comes out (the fly­er): it con­tains a long analy­sis of this phase; the polemic is direct­ed not only against PSIUP, which right­ly oppos­es, with strong resis­tance, the the­sis of a merg­er with the PCI, but also with­in the group, and specif­i­cal­ly against those “who already see as equals the PCI, as it is, and the social demo­c­ra­t­ic forces that have only just become uni­fied.”51 In the first half of Octo­ber a fly­er is dis­trib­uted in var­i­ous places in the North (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Vene­to and Emil­ia) which exalts the strug­gles and the high lev­el of con­flict that the work­ers have expressed, and in which the defin­i­tive social-democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the PCI is already tak­en for grant­ed. Today the posi­tion of these com­rades seems more cor­rect than ever. Intran­si­gent strug­gle against the liq­uida­tors; the “par­ty” in the fac­to­ry func­tion­ing to uni­fy the work­ers’ strug­gles; no hint of the pure­ly polit­i­cal uni­fi­ca­tion of the PCI and PSIUP pro­posed by the Roman group:

By now the PCI has lost sight of the sub­stance of the cap­i­tal­ist rela­tion of pro­duc­tion, which is exploita­tion […]; Iso­late and strike social democ­ra­cy wher­ev­er it appears: in the unions, in the social­ist par­ties, and also and above all in the Com­mu­nist Par­ty.52

The last issue of Classe Opera­ia appears in March 1967, after the deci­sion to dis­solve as an orga­nized group had been made at a nation­al meet­ing held in Flo­rence at the Gio­van­ni Fran­covich Cen­ter: the deci­sion to dis­solve as an orga­nized group – and in this way to avoid falling into the old errors of the his­tor­i­cal minori­tar­i­an­ism of the groups to the left of the PCI – is the clear­est evi­dence of just how bank­rupt the hypoth­e­sis of the “par­ty in the hands of the work­ers” had shown itself, and con­verse­ly of how unchange­able the PCI had proven to be. The the­sis of “uni­fi­ca­tion to the left,” once it had been detached from real strug­gles, is forced to live on and artic­u­late itself exclu­sive­ly with­in the polit­i­cal sphere: in this way, every crit­i­cal judg­ment on the PCI col­laps­es and the ultra-minori­tar­i­an prac­tice of entry­ism is redis­cov­ered. Tronti’s farewell, in the edi­to­r­i­al of the last issue, verges on the ridicu­lous:

Now we are leav­ing. We do not lack things to do. A mon­u­men­tal task of research and study cours­es through our head. And polit­i­cal­ly, with our feet again on the recov­ered ground, it is a mat­ter of gain­ing a new lev­el of action. It will not be easy.53

From with­in Con­tropi­ano, after Toni Negri’s defin­i­tive break, the “recov­ered ground” – the “con­ti­nent” of the PCI (now tak­en as it is) – would be observed with increas­ing atten­tion, admi­ra­tion, and respect.54 In this way the “new lev­el of action” would be quite eas­i­ly achieved with the offi­cial reen­try of the group into the PCI (Mario Tron­ti and Aris Accornero had nev­er left it). After offi­cial­ly join­ing PSIUP, Alber­to Asor Rosa and a few oth­ers would go on to pro­mote a merg­er. A par­ty game? The fact remains that in the ear­ly months of 1967 the first issue of Classe e par­ti­to is dis­trib­uted at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rome, a jour­nal – we read – “elab­o­rat­ed and com­posed almost entire­ly by com­rades in the PCI and FGCI [Com­mu­nist Ital­ian Youth Fed­er­a­tion],” under the direc­tion of Clau­dio Cola­ia­cono – an iron­clad Asor-Rosian – and aimed pri­mar­i­ly at the Roman base of the PSIUP youth fed­er­a­tion:55 “Our dis­course is there­fore born from a direct expe­ri­ence of the PCI and FGCI […], it is the dis­course – we believe – that may inter­est those sec­tors of PSIUP who are also search­ing for real uni­ty at the base.”56 In this peri­od Asor Rosa is there­fore search­ing for prop­er bar­gain­ing pow­er, an area to hege­mo­nize. It is not by chance that, one year lat­er (the first issue of Con­tropi­ano appears in this same peri­od), a notice informs the read­ers of Mon­do Nuo­vo that Asor Rosa, “who has recent­ly joined PSIUP […], resumes his col­lab­o­ra­tion with our week­ly in the arti­cle that we are pleased to host in this issue.”57

This dis­en­chant­ed trans­mi­gra­tion of Classe Opera­ia into the his­tor­i­cal par­ties of the work­ers’ move­ment was itself easy to pre­dict. In fact the work­ers’ strug­gle against the reformist bureau­crats does not suc­ceed, as had been sug­gest­ed, in bring­ing the “par­ty” back into the fac­to­ry; dur­ing the “work­ers’ con­fer­ence” the com­mu­nist lead­ers hint at self-crit­i­cism and part­ly suc­ceed in defus­ing dis­sent. Aris Accornero attempts to lim­it the effects of the polemic that the Par­ty, in view of the con­gress, had decid­ed to launch against the group (or is this rather a wrong move on the part of the group itself?); Emanuele Macalu­so instead harsh­ly attacks the Classe Opera­ia group, denounc­ing from his own work­ing class basis the adven­tur­ism of its “false­ly work­erist” dis­course.58 At the con­gress, then, the polit­i­cal line of the Par­ty suc­cumbs to yet anoth­er twist to the right and pass­es, after the defeat of the “left,” to the the­sis of the “fail­ure of the cen­ter-left.” Thus, after the 11th Con­gress, the slo­gan of mass work­ers’ entry­ism into the PCI, or rather into the “par­ty in the fac­to­ry,” will ful­ly dis­play its ide­al­is­tic and fan­ci­ful nature. But even in this case a mys­ti­fi­ca­tion is still oper­a­tive – as we have already empha­sized: this action on the part of the work­ers is not tak­en as evi­dence of fail­ure, as the occa­sion for a self-crit­i­cism capa­ble of uncov­er­ing the defi­cien­cy and ide­o­log­i­cal abstrac­tion of one’s own analy­ses; the work­ers’ pas­siv­i­ty in the PCI is not tak­en for what it is, but is rather as always trans­formed, from the heights of the work­ers’ ide­al Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, into a bril­liant new move on the part of the work­ing class. Now – it is said – the work­ers do not want to enter the PCI in order to rev­o­lu­tion­ize it, that is, to change its cul­ture and inter­nal nature; now they enter the Par­ty with the spe­cif­ic aim of uti­liz­ing it as it is. In this way, the work­ers’ defeat – their defeat with­in the Par­ty – is read, para­dox­i­cal­ly, as the umpteenth tri­umphant move of a work­ing class that is believed to be per­ma­nent­ly active and on the attack. With this new stunt, the pres­ence of Medi­a­tion emerges defin­i­tive­ly and in all of its dimen­sions. From this moment the bal­let of sur­rep­ti­tious medi­a­tions and inter­po­la­tions emerges into the light of day: now it is com­plete­ly vis­i­ble. It is not by chance that, again in Flo­rence, Mario Tron­ti will affirm that the group’s polit­i­cal lim­it man­i­fests “in the imme­di­ate appli­ca­tion” of the the­sis of a strate­gic rever­sal between class and cap­i­tal: “today we instead find our­selves faced with the need to find cer­tain con­crete medi­a­tions in the appli­ca­tion of this guid­ing prin­ci­ple to the his­to­ry of the work­ers’ strug­gles.”59 The becom­ing-vis­i­ble of Medi­a­tion coin­cides as well with Tronti’s “pas­sage” to a more open­ly Hegelian prob­lem­at­ic, to an appar­ent­ly more con­sis­tent “object and objec­tiv­i­ty.” In this man­ner the final issue of Classe Opera­ia, which had appeared a few months before, sud­den­ly becomes obso­lete: the slo­gan “No to social-demo­c­ra­t­ic uni­fi­ca­tion – uni­ty of the left to leave open the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a clash between work­ers and cap­i­tal” is total­ly aban­doned. Now, it is pos­si­ble for Tron­ti to hypoth­e­size that “a stretch of road (may) be laid joint­ly by the work­ing class and cap­i­tal,” and thus that it is pos­si­ble to hypoth­e­size a long peri­od of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment in the pres­ence of a polit­i­cal pow­er in the hands of the work­ers’ par­ty, but – this is the nov­el­ty! – as it is or even as it may become:

When I speak of the par­ty […] I clear­ly do not refer to the PCI such as it is, but also to a pos­si­ble gen­er­al social demo­c­ra­t­ic solu­tion to the orga­ni­za­tion of the work­ers’ move­ment […]. Tac­tics does not exclude any solu­tion.60

In short, there is noth­ing left of the strug­gle against social democ­ra­cy: now the work­ers appear to have acquired the capac­i­ty to uti­lize every­thing, even social democ­ra­cy itself.

Rita Di Leo – Tronti’s most faith­ful fol­low­er – in this peri­od often likes to repeat (tak­ing Tronti’s dis­course to the extreme, per­haps out of a love for para­dox) that even with­in the PRI [Ital­ian Repub­li­can Par­ty] it might be pos­si­ble to do fruit­ful work for the work­ing class: as we know, the Spir­it incar­nates itself every­where, in all things, with­out any restraint.61


In his 1971 post­script to the sec­ond edi­tion of Operai e cap­i­tale, Tron­ti, fol­low­ing the con­sis­tent log­ic of his dis­course, makes the sen­sa­tion­al dis­cov­ery that “Amer­i­can pol­i­tics of yes­ter­day (could) be our his­tor­i­cal present of today.”62 The New Deal, there­fore – again accord­ing to Tron­ti – may have been a polit­i­cal state of affairs that the work­ers imposed on the boss­es: “the great cap­i­tal­ist ini­tia­tive was a vic­to­ry for the work­ers.”63 Roosevelt’s entire­ly polit­i­cal action – the pro­found trans­for­ma­tion of the sep­a­rate sphere of the Polit­i­cal – is there­fore the pos­i­tive result of the work­ing class strug­gle, a result that the work­ing class had con­scious­ly pur­sued: “the truth is that the Weber­ian con­cep­tion of total­ly and exclu­sive­ly polit­i­cal action could per­haps only have been ful­ly applied from the work­ers’ point of view.”64

Thus does the form of pure pol­i­tics final­ly come to light – the pos­i­tiv­i­ty of exclu­sive­ly polit­i­cal action, in short the pri­ma­cy of the polit­i­cal strug­gle: only that in each of these fig­ures, with­in, name­ly, the var­i­ous artic­u­la­tions of mod­ern polit­i­cal alien­ation, Tron­ti dis­cov­ers every time, by div­ina­to­ry means, the pres­ence of the work­ing class (or rather, of the work­ers’ Spir­it), in short the work­ers’ Will, which, accord­ing to Tron­ti, is able to func­tion­al­ize for its own ends all of the exist­ing polit­i­cal artic­u­la­tions of Pow­er with­out wor­ry­ing in the slight­est about their class char­ac­ter or alien­at­ing nature. But this direct rela­tion between the work­ing class and the polit­i­cal sphere, or rather this imme­di­ate use of Medi­a­tion, is above all imag­i­nary and thus doomed to van­ish when faced with real­i­ty.

In 1968-69, new strug­gles explode that show no sign of flow­ing back; instead they extend and gen­er­al­ize them­selves ever more, attack­ing, with their destruc­tive charge, not only Cap­i­tal and its State but also – and this is the point – the rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment. At this point Tron­ti finds him­self in a tru­ly embar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion: com­pelled by the pre­ced­ing low ebb in the strug­gles and work­ing-class pas­siv­i­ty dur­ing the years 1964-66, he was forced to par­tial­ly cor­rect the log­ic of his dis­course in order to pre­serve intact his ide­al Sub­ject; he was forced to redis­cov­er Hegel in order to bring into the open the effec­tive pres­ence of Medi­a­tion. Now, how­ev­er, that the owl of Min­er­va has tak­en flight, it is sud­den­ly day, and the night reveals itself to have been the effect of a sim­ple eclipse. But the owl can­not stop or turn back, it can only close its eyes and con­tin­ue its flight into the imag­i­nary dark­ness of its own night. In short, this rela­tion of iden­ti­ty between class and Par­ty, and (medi­at­ed by the par­ty) between class and State, is thus con­demned, by the inten­si­ty and by the new qual­i­ty of the social strug­gles – and in the first place by the prac­ti­cal crit­i­cism of the Polit­i­cal – to break off and wrap itself in ever-more para­dox­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions. But we ought not to be sur­prised: para­dox­i­cal­i­ty rep­re­sents the most nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion for an ide­al­ist mode of thought – such as, pre­cise­ly, Tronti’s.

The years 1968-72 – those five long years of excep­tion­al work­ers’ and social strug­gles – will defin­i­tive­ly break that link of iden­ti­ty, or rather the imme­di­ate instru­men­tal rela­tion of “Pol­i­tics,” and will final­ly pro­duce in Tronti’s mind the rather orig­i­nal the­sis accord­ing to which “Pol­i­tics” (and in par­tic­u­lar the Par­ty) are entire­ly “autonomous”: autonomous even from the work­ing class itself, from its strug­gles, from its sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, from its inter­ests and needs.65 Now the “class” – it is pre­sumed – con­cedes full auton­o­my to its “par­ty,” lib­er­at­ing it even from the too-tight bonds rep­re­sent­ed by its own strug­gles and its own real move­ment: the “class” treats its own sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and its own strug­gles with con­tempt, as par­tic­u­lar moments deprived of real impor­tance. The real move­ment is now pure appear­ance, and the “par­ty,” on the con­trary, is the real sub­stance of the “class.” Now the Par­ty can also dis­pense with the appar­ent real­i­ty of strug­gles. Now the “class” only indi­rect­ly “pulls all the strings.” The “par­ty,” now that the “class” has grant­ed it full auton­o­my, may calm­ly oppose itself to the work­ers’ strug­gles, may calm­ly sup­press them, inas­much as it knows itself to be, in any case, the most authen­tic expres­sion of the “class”; it is the expres­sion, all the same, of its most inti­mate Truth.


Now, how­ev­er, spurred by recent events and by the wide­spread reemer­gence of the real move­ment, and under attack from the mas­sive crit­i­cism of the Polit­i­cal mount­ed by new col­lec­tive sub­jects, under attack from the cri­sis of cred­i­bil­i­ty that is rack­ing the PCI, Tron­ti gives the the the­sis of the “auton­o­my of the Polit­i­cal” a twist, appar­ent­ly to the left. In real­i­ty it is a mat­ter (as always) of a con­sis­tent devel­op­ment of his thought, of a fur­ther con­cep­tu­al artic­u­la­tion of the the­sis of the “auton­o­my of the Polit­i­cal”: when the Spir­it is rig­or­ous­ly imma­nent, it pos­sess­es the capac­i­ty to tra­verse every real­i­ty while con­serv­ing in the new that which it has moved beyond, thus firm­ly pre­serv­ing, with every new step, its own iden­ti­ty. What is impor­tant is the mobil­i­ty, the rest­less­ness of this Spir­it that at all times must prove itself capa­ble of pos­sess­ing and dom­i­nat­ing every­thing new that emerges from the real: every “new” real­i­ty that emerges – Tron­ti writes, sig­nif­i­cant­ly – “must not dis­place, must not fore­close, name­ly, the defense of the already done, the already said.”66 It must not fore­close, for exam­ple, the defense of the “auton­o­my of the Polit­i­cal” – the “already said”; if any­thing, it should rather com­pel us to search for rich­er artic­u­la­tions and fur­ther devel­op­ments of this the­sis: in short, it should com­pel us to find a way to pre­serve the past through change. The empha­sis seems to be new­ly placed on the imme­di­ate iden­ti­ty of class and Par­ty: in real­i­ty this new step in Tron­tian dis­course rep­re­sents – as we will soon see – an even more refined way to pre­serve the auton­o­my of the Par­ty from the class; to pre­serve, exact­ly, that medi­a­tion, rep­re­sent­ed by the con­cept of “auton­o­my,” that allows the (work­ers’) Spir­it, even in the pres­ence of a real move­ment, to yet again incar­nate itself in the Par­ty, or rather to ide­al­ly iden­ti­fy itself with it.

“The prac­tice of mass pol­i­tics, its recov­ery by the class, the direct appro­pri­a­tion of its polit­i­cal func­tions by the work­ers, is” – Tron­ti writes – “an achieve­ment that must be wrest­ed from this soci­ety:” although this step is rather gener­ic, it appears, in some respects, to be a cor­rect descrip­tion of what is stir­ring in the move­ment.67 In real­i­ty, on clos­er inspec­tion the con­cept of the “polit­i­cal” uti­lized here is extreme­ly ambigu­ous and already con­tains in itself all of the sep­a­rate­ness that char­ac­ter­izes the polit­i­cal Sphere of Rep­re­sen­ta­tion. There is a rad­i­cal dif­fer­ence between the polit­i­cal will of the mass­es and social sub­jects and the polit­i­cal Will of the Par­ty and the State: the lat­ter is in fact equiv­a­lent to the alien­ation of the first. The first will is con­crete because it is lived, in a non-alien­at­ed way, by the col­lec­tive sub­ject, the sec­ond is abstract because this sub­ject is sep­a­rate and is itself a source of atom­iza­tion and pas­siv­i­ty. Thus, to affirm, as Tron­ti does in repeat­ing Schmitt’s lessons ver­ba­tim, that the “Polit­i­cal” is not exhaust­ed in the State, but is rather present out­side of it among the mass move­ments as well, with­out clear­ly dis­tin­guish­ing between these var­i­ous moments of the “polit­i­cal,” and, to the con­trary – giv­en that the con­cept of “auton­o­my” must cer­tain­ly per­sist – con­tin­u­ous­ly con­fus­ing non-rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al pol­i­tics with rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al Pol­i­tics: this is pure nom­i­nal­ism, a real ide­o­log­i­cal swin­dle that is equiv­a­lent, in effect, to an apolo­gia for the world of fetish­es and the con­ceal­ment of real social sub­jects. In Tronti’s dis­course, in fact, the “process of the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the polit­i­cal, the entry of new social forces into the polit­i­cal, the birth of new polit­i­cal sub­jects,” are for­mu­la­tions that con­cep­tu­al­ly con­tain in them­selves the ambi­gu­i­ty of refer­ring at once to the real move­ment and to the rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tions, such as, for exam­ple, the par­ties of the work­ers’ move­ment.68 In oth­er words the ambi­gu­i­ty lies in the fact that for Tron­ti the “entry into the Polit­i­cal” of “new social forces” resolves, for the lat­ter, as a real mor­tal leap into Rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Indeed, if there is a “need to make strat­e­gy, a will to look into the dis­tance, a revolt against the day-to-day rou­tine that ris­es from below,” is this not per­haps the same as say­ing that the need to alien­ate one­self in the sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tion of the Par­ty ris­es from below?69 On the oth­er hand, for Tron­ti the “new polit­i­cal sub­jects” do not indeed rep­re­sent the new move­ments born from with­in the social, but rather those polit­i­cal par­ties which are, or will be, those move­ments’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion. And Tron­ti him­self con­firms that this is so when he writes that “along­side the State there have appeared oth­er stake­hold­ers, oth­er sub­jects [empha­sis added] of polit­i­cal real­i­ty, in the form of the par­ties.”70 It is thus clear that “this achieve­ment,” which for Tron­ti must be “wrest­ed from this soci­ety,” is unthink­able with this sub­ject that is the Par­ty; or rather it seems to be pre­cise­ly this Sub­ject that, in the name of the mass­es, direct­ly prac­tices the reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the “func­tions of the polit­i­cal.”

These are the steps, then, in brief: in a first moment, the Spir­it, by objec­ti­fy­ing itself in the Par­ty, makes the Par­ty iden­ti­cal to itself. After this, hav­ing reg­is­tered the class’ oppo­si­tion to the Par­ty, it ren­ders the Par­ty autonomous from the class of which it is, exact­ly, the Spir­it. Thus auton­o­mized, the Par­ty now makes the “needs” of the real move­ment mys­ti­cal­ly emerge anew. In oth­er words, in Tronti’s lat­er writ­ings, the return of the Iden­ti­cal is not indeed equiv­a­lent to the over­com­ing of the Party’s auton­o­my, but is rather its con­sis­tent devel­op­ment: that is, its devel­op­ment towards being the Spir­it that is iden­ti­cal to the Par­ty, but which is also medi­at­ed, in its iden­ti­ty, by the same Party’s auton­o­my. This auton­o­my, in its own turn, no longer appears to oppose the real move­ment of the class, but rather now appears to rec­on­cile and to reunite the move­ment to itself, thus recov­er­ing its prop­er legit­i­ma­cy.

Thus, with this mag­is­te­r­i­al tourni­quet, the PCI is once again saved, and the real move­ment once again con­cealed.71

This essay was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the review Classe, no. 17, June 1980. The trans­la­tion is based on a reprint in Vis-à-vis, no. 8 (2000): 172-88.

  1. Both the present intro­duc­to­ry essay and the trans­la­tion that fol­lows have ben­e­fit­ed from exchanges with Mar­co Schulz (who first alert­ed me to Sbardella’s text), Har­ri­son Fluss, and Jason E. Smith. 

  2. Steve Wright’s book, Storm­ing Heav­en: Class Com­po­si­tion and Strug­gle in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism (Lon­don and Ster­ling, VA: Plu­to Press, 2002) is the most com­plete account of the devel­op­ment of work­erism that has been pub­lished to date. It is worth men­tion­ing that Ric­car­do Bellofiore and Mas­si­m­il­iano Tomba’s after­word to the Ital­ian edi­tion of this book agrees in some respects with the analy­sis found in Sbardella’s much ear­li­er essay (avail­able as “On Ital­ian Work­erism,” on 

  3. No full Eng­lish trans­la­tion of this book yet exists, although French and Ger­man ver­sions were pub­lished in the 1970s. 

  4. The title refers to the Sovi­et New Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy that was inau­gu­rat­ed in 1921. The NEP marked a tran­si­tion from the peri­od of War Com­mu­nism to a par­tial rein­tro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions in the USSR; it there­fore stands here, fig­u­ra­tive­ly, for Classe Opera­ia’s com­pro­mise with the ene­my. 

  5. The entire run of Vis-à-vis is avail­able at

  6. I am grate­ful to Ric­car­do Bellofiore for con­firm­ing the bio­graph­i­cal details in this para­graph. 

  7. On this point, see our “Gen­til­is­mo e tradizione ide­al­is­ti­ca nell’esperienza polit­i­ca di ‘Classe Opera­ia,’” in AA.VV., Le maschere delle polit­i­ca la riv­o­luzione pos­si­bile, ed. Otta­viano (Milan, 1979). 

  8. One thing must how­ev­er be said clear­ly: that in the face of the pas­sive objec­tivism of the Third Inter­na­tion­al­ist and Togli­at­t­ian ide­o­log­i­cal tra­di­tion, these com­rades force­ful­ly posed the prob­lem, even if in an ide­al­ized form, of the pri­ma­cy of col­lec­tive sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, demon­strat­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of anoth­er read­ing of social real­i­ty. (the new class com­po­si­tion, the mass work­er, the fac­to­ry-soci­ety rela­tion, the new char­ac­ter­is­tics of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, the polit­i­cal char­ac­ter of wage strug­gles, the strug­gle against “work,” the need for com­mu­nism, etc). Translator’s note: Palmiro Togli­at­ti was the leader of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty from 1927 until his death in 1964. 

  9. Expla­na­tions that do not take account of the fun­da­men­tal dimen­sions of this the­o­ry are inevitably con­demned to par­tial­i­ty and nec­es­sar­i­ly lose their polit­i­cal effi­ca­cious­ness. See on this point: Viot­to­rio Riese, “Quaderni rossi,” “Ren­di­con­ti, no. 10, 1965; also, Mario Valente, Ide­olo­gia e potere (Turin, 1978). 

  10. Translator’s note: Tron­ti used the phrase “rude pagan race” to describe the pro­le­tari­at in his arti­cle “Estrem­is­mo e riformis­mo,” Con­tropi­ano no. 1, 1968, 51-58. 

  11. Mario Tron­ti, Operai e cap­i­tale (Turin: Ein­au­di, 1966). Sig­nif­i­cant, here, is the posi­tion of those who, while hav­ing autonomous­ly elab­o­rat­ed the most impor­tant themes of work­erism, today choose the easy path of exclu­sive­ly his­tor­i­cal-chrono­log­i­cal recon­struc­tion, avoid­ing in this way the dif­fi­cult task of crit­i­cal­ly rethink­ing their own the­o­ret­i­cal-polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence. See on this point: Ser­gio Bologna, “Così visse e morì Potere Operaio,” il man­i­festo, March, 25, 1979. Do not over­look, how­ev­er, the sub­se­quent clar­i­fi­ca­tions con­tained in “Con­tro la strate­gia del­la con­fu­sione,” il man­i­festo, April 11, 1979. 

  12. Translator’s note: The term “par­ti­to-stru­men­to,” which I’ve trans­lat­ed as “par­ty instru­ment,” defines the par­ty not as instru­men­tal in end but as an instru­ment itself, there­by fur­ther dis­avow­ing any ten­den­cy toward the auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal appa­ra­tus from the strug­gle that artic­u­lates it. 

  13. “The his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tic of the class sit­u­a­tion in Italy is shown in the open form that the strug­gle assumes in all sit­u­a­tions and on every occa­sion […]. The anti-cap­i­tal­ist polit­i­cal capa­bil­i­ty that is present in the work­ing class every­where where cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion exists is here expressed in the con­tin­u­ous­ly [empha­sis added] aggres­sive form of direct con­fronta­tion. This char­ac­ter­is­tic is not dimin­ish­ing, but has rather grown and become more rad­i­cal.” [Empha­sis added.] (“Inter­ven­to politi­co nelle lotte,” Classe Opera­ia, no. 6, June 1964. 

  14. See on this ques­tion: Raniero Panzieri, “Let­tera a Mario Tron­ti” (Decem­ber 12, 1960), in Scrit­ti, inter­ven­ti, let­tere (Milan, 1973), 283. 

  15. In effect the March issue (no. 2) may be con­sid­ered a work­ing report, being an issue of only four pages. It is large­ly ded­i­cat­ed to the work­ers’ strug­gles in Milan and Turin that had explod­ed in the month of Decem­ber. “Against the artic­u­lat­ed strug­gle, the gen­er­al strike”: this was the key slo­gan con­tained in this report. The fly­er ded­i­cat­ed to the 3rd Con­fer­ence of Com­mu­nists in the fac­to­ries was pub­lished in May as a sup­ple­ment to issue no. 2. The Octo­ber issue was pub­lished as a dou­ble issue, although it had few­er pages com­pared to the num­bers of the pre­vi­ous year. 

  16. This is a con­tra­dic­tion that is also expressed in the ever-more oli­garchic and sep­a­rat­ed con­duct of the jour­nal. Giv­en that the source of every deci­sion was made to coin­cide with the work­ers’ Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, which is thought to auto­mat­i­cal­ly express its own strat­e­gy, the ini­tial project pre­sup­posed decen­tered moments of elab­o­ra­tion that would be autonomous and direct­ly man­aged by the work­ers. The sole issue of Cronache Operaie par­tial­ly reflects this pro­gram. At the turn of the ‘70s, Cahiers de Mai would real­ize this pro­gram with greater suc­cess. Translator’s note: Les Cahiers de Mai was a French jour­nal that began pub­li­ca­tion imme­di­ate­ly after the events of May 1968 and ran until 1974. It was char­ac­ter­ized espe­cial­ly by the prac­tice of work­ers’ inquiry. 

  17. Lenin, in fact, by virtue of his objec­tivist under­stand­ing of the class, is able to keep hold of the qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ences that exist between class and Par­ty. Or rather: in Lenin, the class is abso­l­u­tized as a pas­sive object, and the Par­ty is con­sid­ered the only true Sub­ject. There­fore: what a strange “Lenin­ism” is Tronti’s! Not under­stand­ing the par­tic­u­lar­i­ty of this Tron­tian read­ing of Lenin’s works, Lapo Berti, for exam­ple, let it slip into a (log­i­cal) trap of per­spec­tive; he sees, in Tronti’s first edi­to­r­i­al, the birth of the “auton­o­my of the Polit­i­cal,” but not as a logi­co-polit­i­cal artic­u­la­tion with­in a sub­jec­tivist con­cept of the class, but rather – this is the point! – as the coher­ent result of an exclu­sive­ly objec­tivist con­cep­tion. This is a para­dox­i­cal result, and we think that it serves to safe­guard the old work­erist con­cep­tion of the class as a con­tin­u­um, which is exact­ly that of Tron­ti and which he nev­er real­ly aban­doned. See, Lapo Berti, “L’idea del potere,” Aut Aut, no. 169, 1979. 

  18. M. Tron­ti, op. cit. A hypo­sta­tized method­olog­i­cal rever­sal which pro­vokes a rad­i­cal refoun­da­tion, but with the same his­tor­i­cal-soci­o­log­i­cal ide­al: “The dis­course of Classe opera­ia in ’63 opened on a strate­gic per­spec­tive; in it the ‘glob­al uni­fi­ca­tion of mar­kets’ and the ‘plan of cap­i­tal’ were seen as his­tor­i­cal expres­sions of com­plex social cap­i­tal and were dis­cov­ered to be the prod­uct of a con­tin­u­ous [empha­sis added] devel­op­ment of the work­ing class.” (M. Tron­ti, “Si piani­fi­ca solo la con­trat­tazione,” Classe opera­ia, no. 4-5, 1965.) This is an ide­al­ism that abso­l­u­tizes the real fact of devel­op­ment as the cap­i­tal­ist response to the work­ers’ strug­gles, while remain­ing entire­ly in the dark about the oth­er fact, just as real, of the class as a his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion deter­mined and made pas­sive by cap­i­tal. “What one gath­ers [as Panzieri right­ly said, recall­ing the words of a Span­ish anar­chosyn­di­cal­ist] is that cap­i­tal­ism lives by auto­sug­ges­tion.” (R. Panzieri, “Inedi­ti,” Quaderni Pia­cen­ti­ni, no. 28, 1967. 

  19. See: AA.VV., “Cap­i­tale e classe opera­ia alla Fiat, Sem­i­nario sul­la com­po­sizione di classe,” held at the Gio­van­ni Fran­covich Cen­ter, Flo­rence, 1978. Translator’s note: the ref­er­ence is to Gian­ni Agnel­li, a Fiat exec­u­tive and head of the com­pa­ny from 1966 onward. He was per­haps Italy’s most promi­nent indus­tri­al­ist dur­ing the tur­bu­lent years of the 1960s and ‘70s. 

  20. Emilio Reynieri, “Com­por­ta­men­to di classe e nuo­vo ciclo di lotte,” in Prob­le­mi del movi­men­to sindi­cale in Italia 1943-73, “Annali” del­la Fon­dazione Gian­gia­co­mo Fel­trinel­li, 1974-75. 

  21. Let us remem­ber here that Tron­ti, pre­cise­ly in the edi­to­r­i­al of the first issue of Classe opera­ia, writes: “Today it is urgent­ly nec­es­sary to shake off this air of work­ers’ defeat […] Today the work­ers’ total­ly clear strate­gic vision makes one sus­pect that only now are we begin­ning to expe­ri­ence the hour of their splen­did matu­ri­ty.” M. Tron­ti, op. cit. 

  22. Hypo­sta­tized sub­jec­tiv­i­ty – this per­ma­nent sub­jec­tiv­i­ty – is very clear­ly expressed in the fol­low­ing pas­sage: “Now, every­one must know that from at least June 1848, though cursed a thou­sand times by the bour­geoisie, the work­ers have climbed onto the scene and have nev­er since aban­doned it [empha­sis added]: they have vol­un­tar­i­ly cho­sen, from time to time, to present them­selves in dif­fer­ent roles, as actors, as prompters, as tech­ni­cians, as work­ers, wait­ing to descend into the audi­ence to attack the spec­ta­tors.” (Ibid. 

  23. The work­ing class “has dis­cov­ered or redis­cov­ered the true secret which will con­demn its class ene­my to vio­lent death: the polit­i­cal capac­i­ty to skill­ful­ly impose reformism on cap­i­tal and to crude­ly uti­lize it for the work­ers’ rev­o­lu­tion.” (Ibid. 

  24. Tron­ti in fact writes: “Lenin in Eng­land is the search for a new Marx­ist prac­tice of the work­ers’ par­ty.” 

  25. Ibid. 

  26. Ibid. Thus, as ear­ly as this first edi­to­r­i­al, the work­ers’ Spir­it – this ide­al sub­jec­tiv­i­ty – incar­nates itself in the fig­ure of the Polit­i­cal, and, through it, shows one of its infi­nite faces: “It is polit­i­cal dis­course” – Tron­ti writes, sig­nif­i­cant­ly – “that must ver­i­fy the cor­rect­ness of par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ences: and vice ver­sa. Because polit­i­cal dis­course is, on this basis, the total view­point of the class [empha­sis added] and there­fore the real mate­r­i­al datum of this same real process” (ibid.); here this con­fu­sion between class (mate­ri­al­i­ty) and Par­ty (Pol­i­tics) is new­ly pre­sent­ed. 

  27. At issue is an unsigned arti­cle enti­tled “Crit­i­ca marx­ista del Par­ti­to?” in Classe opera­ia, no. 2, Feb­ru­ary 1964. Translator’s note: Crit­i­ca Marx­ista was found­ed in 1963 as the the­o­ret­i­cal jour­nal of the PCI. It still exists, hav­ing suf­fered only a short break in pub­li­ca­tion fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the PCI in 1991. 

  28. Ibid. 

  29. T. Negri, “Operai sen­za alleati,” Classe opera­ia, no. 3, March 1964. 

  30. M. Tron­ti, “Vec­chia tat­ti­ca per una nuo­va strate­gia,” Classe opera­ia, no. 4-5, May 1964. 

  31. “Lot­ti­amo per la nos­tra orga­niz­zazione,” Classe opera­ia, sup­ple­ment to no. 6, June 1964. 

  32. M. Tron­ti, “1905 in Italia,” Classe opera­ia, no. 8-9, Sep­tem­ber 1964. 

  33. With this issue the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Genoese group also comes to an end. 

  34. M. Tron­ti, “Classe e par­ti­to,” Classe opera­ia, no. 10-12, Decem­ber 1964. 

  35. Ibid. 

  36. Ibid. As regards the cri­tique of the pop­ulism of the com­mu­nist matrix, see also: Alber­to Asor Rosa, Scirt­tori e popo­lo, Edi­tori Riu­ni­ti, Rome, 1964. Translator’s note: the term “his­toric bloc” derives from Anto­nio Gram­sci, whose works were regard­ed as canon­i­cal with­in the post­war PCI. The con­cept refers to an alliance of social forces that suc­cess­ful­ly exerts hege­mo­ny. 

  37. A. Asor Rosa, “Par­ti­to nuo­vo, par­ti­to uni­co, par­ti­to di classe,” in Classe Opera­ia, no. 1, Feb­ru­ary 1965. Translator’s note: in this con­text, the phrase par­ti­to uni­co refers to the pro­pos­al to unite the Ital­ian par­ties of left into a sin­gle, broad­ly social demo­c­ra­t­ic rather than rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty. 

  38. A. Nor­fi, “Man­ca l’organizzazione di classe,” Classe Opera­ia, op. cit. 

  39. Romano Alquati, “Una ricer­ca sul­la strut­tura inter­na del­la classe opera­ia in Italia,” Classe Opera­ia, op. cit. 

  40. On this point see: T. Negri, “Lenin e i Sovi­et nel­la rev­oluzione,” Classe opera­ia, op. cit. 

  41. “Sì al par­ti­to di classe,” Classe Opera­ia, no. 3, May 1965. In ear­ly July of 1965, on the occa­sion of a nation­al met­al­lur­gists’ strike to be held on the 13th of that month, the Tori­nese group dis­trib­utes a fly­er under the head­line “Il Movi­men­to di Classe Opera­ia.” Here one reads that: “The Com­mu­nist Par­ty is not com­posed only of man­agers (even if up to the present they have always made all the deci­sions); there are also work­er mil­i­tants. And it is these that we address our­selves.” “As of now, the par­ty in the fac­to­ry may func­tion if the work­ing class leads it to these per­spec­tives” – this is writ­ten in anoth­er fly­er that the Tus­can group dis­trib­uted in Novem­ber with a view to the dead­line for the met­al­lur­gists’ con­tract, under the head­ing “Classe opera­ia,” Flo­rence-Pisa-Livorno, and dat­ed Novem­ber 1965. The “Cir­co­lo operaio” is a direct ema­na­tion of the Roman group (Tron­ti, Asor Rosa, Di Leo, Coldag­el­li, De Caro, etc.): “On the ini­tia­tive of a group of mil­i­tant com­rades in the polit­i­cal and trade union orga­ni­za­tions of the work­ing class, the “Cir­co­lo operaio romano” [Roman Work­ers’ Cir­cle] was con­sti­tut­ed,” reads a mimeo­graph from March. In June the first work­ing report is pub­lished and cir­cu­lat­ed, under the title “Lotte operaie e pro­gram­ma cap­i­tal­is­ti­co” [Work­ing Class Strug­gles and the Cap­i­tal­ist Pro­gram]. Also in June they orga­nize a debate held at the Teatro dei Satiri on the theme “Par­ti­to uni­co e par­ti­to di classe” [Sin­gle par­ty and class par­ty], with inter­ven­tions by Gior­gio Migliar­di (FGS [Fed­er­a­tion of Young Social­ists] of PSIUP [Ital­ian Social­ist Par­ty of Pro­le­tar­i­an Uni­ty]), Clau­dio Petruc­ci­oli (FGCI [Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Youth Fed­er­a­tion]), Lucio Col­let­ti and, as always, Mario Tron­ti. Translator’s note: The FGS was the youth orga­ni­za­tion of the Ital­ian Social­ist Par­ty (POS). PSIUP was a left­ist split from the PSI that exist­ed from 1964 to 1972. The FGCI was the youth orga­ni­za­tion of the PCI. 

  42. Rita Di Leo, “Operai e PCI, Sto­ria di un rap­por­to dif­fi­cile,” Classe Opera­ia, op. cit. 

  43. Translator’s note: The 11th Con­gress of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty took place in Jan­u­ary, 1966. 

  44. M. Tron­ti, “Una sola unifi­cazione tra classe e par­ti­to,” Classe Opera­ia, op. cit. 

  45. Ibid. 

  46. A. Asor Rosa, “Le amb­gui­tà si chiariscono,” in Classe Opera­ia, no. 1, May 1966. 

  47. M. Tron­ti, “Fronte uni­co con­tro la socialdemocrazia,” Classe opera­ia, op. cit. 

  48. On this point, see also: M. Tron­ti, “Non è l’ora del­la socialdemocrazia, è l’ora di bat­ter­la per la pri­ma vol­ta da sin­is­tra” (tran­script of the Con­fer­ence held in Flo­rence, April 2, at the Gio­van­ni Fran­covich Cen­ter), Classe opera­ia, op. cit. 

  49. Translator’s note: the PSDI, or Par­ti­to Social­ista Demo­c­ra­ti­co Ital­iano, split from the PSI in 1947. The PSDI did in fact merge with the PSI in 1966, but the union would last only two years. PSIUP was found­ed as a split from the PSI in 1964. For the most part they favored coop­er­a­tion, but not merg­er, with the PCI. Fol­low­ing a poor show­ing in the 1972 elec­tions, a major­i­ty of PSIUP mem­bers left to join the PCI, while a minor­i­ty would go on to found the Par­ti­to di Unità Pro­le­taria (Par­ty of Pro­le­tar­i­an Uni­ty, or PdUP). 

  50. A. Asor Rosa, Classe Opera­ia, op. cit. 

  51. “L’alternativa alla socialdemocrazia: unifi­cazione a sin­is­tra,” in Classe Opera­ia, no. 2, Octo­ber 1966. 

  52. The fly­er is dat­ed “Por­to Marghera-Bologna, Octo­ber 15, 1966,” and signed “Potere operaio and the Venet­ian-Emil­ian edi­to­r­i­al board of Classe Opera­ia.” Translator’s note: a num­ber of groups call­ing them­selves Potere Operaio, or Work­ers’ Pow­er, formed in var­i­ous parts of North­ern Italy in the mid- to late-‘60s, although the uni­fied group of this name was not offi­cial­ly found­ed until 1969. Potere Operaio lead­ers in the Vene­to includ­ed Toni Negri and oth­ers involved with Classe Opera­ia. The group dis­band­ed in 1973.] To reread it today is to be sur­prised by its lucid­i­ty and capac­i­ty to fore­see, even then, the ten­den­cy that now pre­vails with­in the offi­cial work­ers’ move­ment. See also the fly­er enti­tled “La tregua è una trap­po­la” [“The truce is a trap”] (the request­ed truce between Inter­sind [Translator’s note: an orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing Ital­ian pub­lic sec­tor enter­pris­es] and Con­find­us­tria [Translator’s note: Ital­ian employ­ers’ fed­er­a­tion]; the fly­er signed “grup­pi di azione pro­le­taria,” [Group of Pro­le­tar­i­an Action] “Potere operaio,” Pad­ua-Por­to Marghera-Vicen­za-Por­de­none, is dat­ed May 20, 1966; and the fly­er “Com­pag­ni” (a response to a PCI fly­er which severe­ly attacks the group Potere operaio), enti­tled “Potere operaio,” Venet­ian edi­to­r­i­al staff of Classe opera­ia, dat­ed Por­to Marghera, May 30, 1966, in which one reads the fol­low­ing: “If this orga­ni­za­tion of the class van­guard is miss­ing, the entire work­ing class will nec­es­sar­i­ly find itself – when the push to strug­gle for con­tracts, with­out polit­i­cal guid­ance, is exhaust­ed – with­out a polit­i­cal guide, with­out its own polit­i­cal force.” After the chemists enter the field, anoth­er mimeo­graph is cir­cu­lat­ed (a doc­u­ment of four pages), also enti­tled “Potere operaio,” signed by the Venet­ian edi­to­r­i­al col­lec­tive of Classe opera­ia and dat­ed Octo­ber 7, 1966. Among oth­er things, we here read that: “The exis­tence of a mass social demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty guar­an­tees at least this fact: the iso­la­tion of strug­gles at sec­toral lev­els, in revin­dica­tive, union­ist terms. Euro­pean expe­ri­ence clear­ly teach­es us that. At this time the work­ing class has no weapons oth­er than the polit­i­cal growth and effec­tive gen­er­al­iza­tion of the strug­gle.” 

  53. M. Tron­ti, “Classe, par­ti­to, classe,” Classe opera­ia, no. 3 (in real­i­ty, no. 1), March 1967. 

  54. In the same issue of Classe opera­ia in which Tron­ti attempts to focus on the bound­aries of the “new con­ti­nent,” Negri con­cludes his arti­cle thus­ly: “What are the forms through which the inter­na­tion­al work­ing class threat­ens cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment? This is the new sci­en­tif­ic ques­tion, the new hori­zon of both knowl­edge and orga­ni­za­tion.” In Toni Negri, “Cronache del ceto politi­co,” Classe opera­ia, op. cit. Translator’s note: Con­tropi­ano was pub­lished from 1968 to 1971. Numer­ous mem­bers of Classe opera­ia con­tin­ued to work togeth­er at Con­tropi­ano, among them Tron­ti, Negri, and Asor Rosa, although Negri would break from the group after the first issue as a result of dis­agree­ments with Tron­ti.

    A major polit­i­cal insight? It would in fact seem so. In fact, while Tron­ti com­plete­ly aban­dons the spe­cif­ic lev­el of strug­gles and of the social, as well as the analy­sis of the ten­den­cies at work with­in the giv­en com­po­si­tion of the work­ing class, in order to make an entire­ly politi­cist choice and a total­ly acrit­i­cal dis­cov­ery of the his­tor­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the class, Negri intu­its the mean­ing of that social mag­ma that was expressed at the turn of 1967; he intu­its that the strug­gles are about to start again and that the col­lec­tive sub­ject is about to reemerge. The defin­i­tive rup­ture would nev­er­the­less come in 1968, when, rid­ing the wave of the May strug­gles, Negri once again pos­es, against the Lenin of the NEP, the Lenin of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary “rup­ture,” the Lenin, that is, who sit­u­ates the rup­ture “in that par­tic­u­lar but nec­es­sary moment of devel­op­ment which is the cri­sis […]: here [writes Negri] the break is nec­es­sary and pos­si­ble […]. And it is this Lenin­ist expe­ri­ence of the break that is retrieved in the the­o­ret­i­cal expe­ri­ence of the work­ing class.” (T. Negri, “Marx sul ciclo e la crisi,” Con­tropi­ano, no. 2, 1968.)

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Negri’s polemic, due to the philo­soph­i­cal matrix of his think­ing, does not suc­ceed in over­com­ing and crit­i­cal­ly liq­ui­dat­ing the ide­al­ism of the Sub­ject. What Negri real­ly crit­i­cizes and rejects is the pas­sage, oper­a­tive in Tron­ti, to a “dialec­ti­cal” log­ic clos­er to that of Hegel and more avail­able to polit­i­cal medi­a­tions and com­pro­mis­es with real­i­ty as it is; what he rejects, in sum, is the tau­to-het­ero­log­i­cal moment of the inter­pen­e­tra­tion of oppo­sites (which effec­tive­ly, if not crit­i­cal­ly con­trolled, per­mits and jus­ti­fies all sorts of prac­ti­co-polit­i­cal oper­a­tions). What results from this is a sort of (Kant­ian?) log­ic of sep­a­ra­tion and of real oppo­si­tion ide­al­ly applied to his­to­ry and to the strug­gles of the work­ing class. A log­ic that itself has need, nonethe­less, of a polit­i­cal medi­a­tion. And thus, in the case of Toni Negri, the medi­a­tion is still quite obscured behind the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Par­ty with class: “Lenin,” as in ear­ly Tron­ti, is com­plete­ly con­fused with the will-to-rup­ture (the hard strug­gle “against work”) on the part of the class, the “par­ty” that, while main­tain­ing its char­ac­ter­is­tics of tac­ti­cal direc­tion, and as the “nec­es­sary” sub­ject, is ide­al­ly made iden­ti­cal with the gen­er­al mass of work­ers. In Tronti’s case, on the con­trary, the medi­a­tion is, now, entire­ly vis­i­ble and the iden­ti­ty between the class and the Par­ty is real­ized through its con­trary, and thus by means of an ide­al and there­fore arbi­trary dialec­ti­cal leap. What must now be iden­ti­fied are two real­i­ties – the work­ers and the PCI – which, when they are not actu­al­ly opposed to each oth­er and open­ly in con­flict, are nonethe­less linked by a rela­tion­ship of sep­a­ra­tion and alien­ation: in this case one would appar­ent­ly sur­mise that the work­ing class, in order to recov­er its “tac­ti­cal artic­u­la­tions,” would be dis­posed to “uti­lize” the PCI through a series of self-nega­tions and medi­a­tions. The diver­gences can no longer be silenced and recom­posed. Con­tropi­ano pub­lish­es, at the end of Negri’s arti­cle, a brief state­ment with this noti­fi­ca­tion to read­ers of the break that had occurred: “Due to sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ences relat­ed to the polit­i­cal posi­tion­ing of the jour­nal, Toni Negri is leav­ing edi­to­r­i­al staff with this issue.” The devel­op­ment of Negri’s think­ing after the hot years of the strug­gle and with­in the real cri­sis of work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­i­ty will lead this author more and more to priv­i­lege (in a Fou­cault­ian man­ner) all of those social real­i­ties exter­nal to the work­ers’ sub­jec­tiv­i­ty which express them­selves in the mode of irre­ducible oppo­si­tion. We think that this log­ic has been one of the sources of all those polit­i­cal errors into which vast sec­tors of Autono­mia Opera­ia have fall­en in the last few years.

    In fact, when the class is atom­ized and forced into the con­di­tion of pas­siv­i­ty, the ide­al­ism of the Sub­ject, once the logi­co-polit­i­cal medi­a­tions of the Tron­tian type have been reject­ed, is com­pelled to trans­fer its own attrib­ut­es some­where else, name­ly into those places where it can still incar­nate itself in what­ev­er is still oppo­si­tion­al. And it is thus that these char­ac­ter­is­tics, at first attrib­uted to the unit­ed and active mass of the work­ers in strug­gle, become pred­i­cates either of the small frac­tions of the class that are still active but sep­a­rate from one anoth­er, or of oth­er “sub­jects” or social fig­ures active sole­ly in the sphere of the Abstract, or rather com­plete­ly dis­con­nect­ed from the sig­ni­fy­ing struc­ture of the Sys­tem; or, even, of those van­guards con­sti­tut­ed in “par­ties” which are com­plete­ly dis­con­nect­ed from the con­crete con­di­tion of the mass­es. Inevitably, this trans­mi­gra­tion of the Spir­it con­ceals the work­ing class as a point of ref­er­ence that is still cen­tral, just as it con­ceals the pro­duc­tion process as the site for the for­ma­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. What counts now is only the rela­tion of “dom­i­nance”; and this rela­tion empha­sizes by con­trast the “new rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­jects.” To the effects of the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the pro­duc­tive fab­ric, decen­tral­iza­tion, unem­ploy­ment, and the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of vast social sec­tors, one acrit­i­cal­ly affix­es a pos­i­tive sign, thus plac­ing one­self in the posi­tion of not being able to iden­ti­fy the real pos­i­tive ten­den­cies of recom­po­si­tion and the new uni­tary behav­iors that, beneath the sur­face, are pass­ing through the neg­a­tive. When the neg­a­tive is pre­sent­ed as pos­i­tive, we are in the pres­ence of a pas­sive reflec­tion of the cri­sis of the cen­tral rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject; we are in the pres­ence, there­fore, of a the­o­ry that, hav­ing been acrit­i­cal­ly con­struct­ed on the basis of the real dis­in­te­gra­tion induced by the class ene­my, can do noth­ing oth­er than present all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of sub­or­di­na­tion: in cer­tain respects it also rep­re­sents an apolo­gia for the (eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal) pow­er of cap­i­tal­ism. Even if these the­o­ries indi­cate and inter­pret (though still dis­tort­ing the mean­ing of) cur­rent ten­den­cies or behav­iors that are des­tined to con­tribute to the new com­po­si­tion of the class, they are nonethe­less ide­olo­gies doomed to be swept away by the class itself when, recom­pos­ing itself as a uni­tary sub­ject, it restarts a new cycle of strug­gles. On this point, see: T. Negri, Pro­le­tario e Sta­to, Fel­trinel­li, Milan, 1976; and also, Dominio e sab­o­tag­gio, Fel­trinel­li, Milan, 1978. Do not for­get, how­ev­er, Fran­co Piper­no, “Sul lavoro non operaio,” Preprint, sup­ple­ment to no. 0 of Metropoli; and also Oreste Scal­zone, “Rap­por­to sul­lo Sta­to del movi­men­to e i suoi nodi da sciogliere,” Preprint, op. cit. This last arti­cle in par­tic­u­lar, although it still remains with­in the usu­al hypo­sta­tized log­ic of ide­al sub­jec­tivism, nonethe­less has the mer­it of lim­it­ing its ref­er­ences to “non-work­ing class labor” and of par­tial­ly bring­ing back the “work­ing class refusal of work” to the move­ments of the class prop­er, or to that which is defined as “com­mu­nism in progress”; it has the mer­it (even if the results are some­what con­fused and at times even para­dox­i­cal) of not refus­ing an open and shut con­fronta­tion with the cri­tique of the Polit­i­cal and with all those prac­ti­cal behav­iors which have been expressed most recent­ly as the col­lec­tive reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the class’ own polit­i­cal will. 

  55. Translator’s note: the Fed­er­azione Gio­vanile Comu­nisti Ital­iani was the PCI’s youth orga­ni­za­tion. 

  56. Classe e par­ti­to, no. 1, Novem­ber 1966. The sec­ond issue, in real­i­ty a work­ing report, comes out in March of 1967. 

  57. A. Asor Rosa, “Da qui agli anni ’70,” Mon­do Nuo­vo, no. 17, April 1968. Translator’s note: Mon­do Nuo­vo was a PSIUP pub­li­ca­tion. 

  58. Emanuele Macalu­so, “Par­ti­to e classe opera­ia,” Rinasci­ta, no. 45, Novem­ber 1965. The arti­cle in ques­tion con­tains a scathing response to two let­ters, sent to Gian­car­lo Pajet­ta, the direc­tor of the com­mu­nist week­ly, in defense of the posi­tions of Classe opera­ia that are crit­i­cized in Accornero’s arti­cle. Aris Accornero, “‘Operais­mo’ ster­ile,” Rinasci­ta, no. 42, Octo­ber 1965. In this arti­cle cer­tain of Classe opera­ia’s posi­tions are cor­rect­ly repro­duced and exten­sive­ly quot­ed, while oth­ers are harsh­ly crit­i­cized. The polemic con­tained in this arti­cle thus appears to be direct­ed not so much to the posi­tions of Classe opera­ia as to those of Mario Tron­ti, and to the polit­i­cal posi­tions that Toni Negri had expressed in the arti­cle of issue no. 3, 1964, enti­tled “Operai sen­za alleati.” 

  59. M. Tron­ti, “La nuo­va sin­te­si: den­tro e con­tro,” con­tri­bu­tion at the Sem­i­nar on class com­po­si­tion, orga­nized by the “Gio­van­ni Fran­covich” Cen­ter, mimeo­graph, lat­er pub­lished in Gio­vane crit­i­ca, no. 17, Autumn 1967. 

  60. Ibid. 

  61. Translator’s note: the PRI is a cen­trist lib­er­al par­ty. In these years it was gen­er­al­ly in alliance with the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian Democ­rats. 

  62. M. Tron­ti, Operai e cap­i­tal, 2nd edi­tion, Ein­au­di, Turin, 1971, 311. 

  63. Ibid., 292. 

  64. Ibid., 281. 

  65. The theme of the “Auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal” appears for the first time as a cen­tral theme in the report Tron­ti held on the occa­sion of a meet­ing held at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Turin, Decem­ber 5, 1972. The mimeo­graph doc­u­ment that appeared sev­er­al months lat­er con­tains, among oth­er reports, Tronti’s dis­cus­sion and con­clu­sions. Edi­zione Fel­trinel­li would lat­er pub­lish the whole of it in 1975, with the addi­tion of a sec­ond report and a brief intro­duc­tion. On this point, see, by the same author, Hegel politi­co, Isti­tu­to del­la Enci­clo­pe­dia Ital­iana, Rome, 1975; “La tran­sizione,” in AA.VV., Sta­to e riv­o­luzione in Inghilter­ra, Il Sag­gia­tore, Milan, 1977. 

  66. M. Tron­ti, “Polit­i­ca e potere,” Crit­i­ca marx­ista, no. 3, 1977. 

  67. Ibid. 

  68. Ibid. 

  69. Ibid. 

  70. Ibid. 

  71. In ref­er­ence to this last rethink­ing, see also: M. Tron­ti, “La sin­is­tra e la via di una ricer­ca comune,” l’Unità, Sep­tem­ber 26, 1978. 

Author of the article

is an Italian Marxist theorist once involved with the workerist journals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia.