A Living Unity in the Marxist: Introduction to Tronti’s Early Writings

Joseph Nicolaus Robert-Fleury, Galileo Galilei before the Holy Office in the Vatican, 1847
Joseph Nico­laus Robert-Fleury, Galileo Galilei before the Holy Office in the Vat­i­can, 1847


In 1959, a twen­ty-eight year old Mario Tron­ti lament­ed the fate that had befall­en the Ital­ian Marx­ist Anto­nio Labri­o­la: “rarely was he read, for that which he said.”1 Tron­ti then quips that the same epi­taph could be giv­en to Karl Marx him­self, whose recep­tion on the penin­su­la was fueled by selec­tive inter­pre­ta­tions rather than close read­ings. Tron­ti could not have known that fifty years lat­er, despite the ris­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of operais­mo and its prog­e­ny among inter­na­tion­al left­ists, his own work would suf­fer the same fate, at least among Anglo­phones. Although many of the short essays col­lect­ed in Tronti’s Operai e cap­i­tale (1966) are avail­able to the Eng­lish read­er, the cen­tral sec­tion of this “bible” of operais­mo – “Marx, Labor-Pow­er, Work­ing Class” – remains noto­ri­ous­ly untrans­lat­ed.2

While we con­tin­ue to await that text, here we present three ear­li­er works by the young Tron­ti, writ­ten sev­er­al years before the first essays of Operai e cap­i­tale, in order to give some con­text to his intel­lec­tu­al tra­jec­to­ry. If Tronti’s 1960s writ­ings have appeared in frag­ments, his pri­or for­ma­tion has remained almost entire­ly obscured, as if he burst onto the scene ful­ly-formed in the pages of Quaderni Rossi. Two of these ear­ly works – often dense with philo­soph­i­cal lan­guage but not with­out the sharp bursts of lucid prose that char­ac­ter­ize Tronti’s lat­er writ­ings – ana­lyze a rather unique object for an operaista: the thought of Anto­nio Gram­sci. They pro­vide the read­er, then, with not only some of the ideas per­co­lat­ing in the mind of the young Tron­ti, but also a win­dow into the pre­his­to­ry of operais­mo: the tumul­tuous debates with­in the Ital­ian left of the 1950s over the mean­ings of Marx­ism.

The rela­tion­ship between Gram­sci and operais­mo, if occa­sion­al­ly men­tioned, is rarely expli­cat­ed in Eng­lish-lan­guage lit­er­a­ture.3 Yet if we are to under­stand how the work­erist fer­ment devel­oped, we must grasp how its prin­ci­pal expo­nents, Tron­ti among them, sought to dis­tance them­selves from the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty (PCI), not only in mat­ters of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, but on the­o­ret­i­cal grounds as well. And to make sense of Tronti’s stance in these texts, it is essen­tial to account for the influ­ence of two oth­er dis­si­dent philoso­phers, Gal­vano Del­la Volpe and Lucio Col­let­ti, who from the begin­ning of the decade had pro­vid­ed cogent cri­tiques of Ital­ian Hegelian­ism in the­o­ry and the post-war PCI’s reformist Gram­s­cian­ism in prac­tice.

In the first two of Tronti’s essays – “Some Prob­lems around Gramsci’s Marx­ism” (1958) and “Between Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and Phi­los­o­phy of Prax­is: Gram­sci and Labri­o­la” (1959) – one will rec­og­nize an atti­tude that car­ries over into the work­erists’ rejec­tion of the PCI’s “nation­al-pop­u­lar” strat­e­gy.4 Yet the young Tronti’s cri­tique focus­es pri­mar­i­ly on Gramsci’s debt to a line of Ital­ian philoso­phers whose read­ing of Marx was less con­cerned with his cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my than with his sup­posed cul­mi­na­tion of the philo­soph­i­cal project asso­ci­at­ed with Hegel. This thread, Tron­ti explains, begins with Labri­o­la, who first intro­duced Marx into Italy, and con­tin­ues through Benedet­to Croce, the influ­en­tial lib­er­al ide­al­ist, to Gio­van­ni Gen­tile, the fas­cist edu­ca­tion min­is­ter and philoso­pher. Although Gram­sci had sought to pro­duce an “Anti-Croce,” Tron­ti argues that Gram­sci was so steeped in this tra­di­tion that he had ignored the basic con­tri­bu­tions of Marx and fall­en back on a Hegelian phi­los­o­phy of his­to­ry. For these and oth­er rea­sons which will be explored below, Tron­ti con­demns Gramsci’s his­tori­cism as well as his con­cep­tion of Marx­ism as phi­los­o­phy of prax­is as unsci­en­tif­ic. While he sym­pa­thizes with Gramsci’s move to reval­orize sub­jec­tiv­i­ty in the face of a reign­ing objec­tivist ortho­doxy, Tron­ti ulti­mate­ly deems that Gram­sci over­com­pen­sat­ed for the Sec­ond International’s short­com­ings and aban­doned Marx’s mate­ri­al­ism alto­geth­er, nar­row­ing the causal agent of his­to­ry to the sub­jec­tive will alone.

Del­la Volpe, Col­let­ti, and Tron­ti argue that the post-war Ital­ian left was stunt­ed by its reliance on Gram­sci for under­stand­ing Marx. As the PCI had renounced the strat­e­gy of the “rev­o­lu­tion­ary leap” pio­neered by the Bol­she­viks in the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917, the devel­op­ment of Gram­s­cian­ism coin­cid­ed with a par­tic­u­lar approach to pol­i­tics: the PCI’s leader Palmiro Togli­at­ti com­mit­ted the par­ty to par­tic­i­pat­ing in the grad­ual devel­op­ment of Ital­ian cap­i­tal­ism, which he argued would pave the way for an “Ital­ian road to social­ism.”5 We must also read these philo­soph­i­cal texts, then, in light of the shift­ing pow­er rela­tions with­in the Par­ty in the mid-1950s.

In the third piece trans­lat­ed here, “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­o­gy” (1959), Tron­ti responds to a talk giv­en by Col­let­ti at the Isti­tu­to Gram­sci and out­lines an argu­ment for the uni­ty of the­o­ry, research, and polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion in the per­son of the Marx­ist. These exhor­ta­tions rep­re­sent a pre­scient method­olog­i­cal state­ment on the nascent work­erist project, which would lat­er be real­ized in the pages of Quaderni Rossi, found­ed in 1961, as well as in Classe Opera­ia, from 1964. Here above all Tron­ti illus­trates that the polit­i­cal (or prac­ti­cal) and the philo­soph­i­cal (or the­o­ret­i­cal) are dis­tinct moments in the uni­ty posed by Marx­ism. This pre­cise reartic­u­la­tion of the­o­ry and prac­tice would lead Tron­ti and oth­er work­erists to move beyond the Dellavol­pean frame­work; as Tron­ti would write in 1961, after the pub­li­ca­tion of these essays:

The sci­ence of cap­i­tal­ism, the sci­ence of Cap­i­tal, is pos­si­ble only in the per­spec­tive of the social­ist rev­o­lu­tion. Sci­ence and his­to­ry is a dis­course that still falls entire­ly with­in sci­ence: it is the log­ic of the­o­ry. But there is anoth­er dis­course: sci­ence and his­to­ry which fall entire­ly with­in his­to­ry, which is the log­ic of prac­tice. The first pre­sup­pos­es a mate­ri­al­ist thought, the sec­ond a sub­ver­sive prax­is. Today, to say the­o­ry and prac­tice is too lit­tle. One must say sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry and rev­o­lu­tion­ary prac­tice.6

It would be false, then, to char­ac­ter­ize these ear­ly writ­ings, penned by Tron­ti in the late 1950s, as foun­da­tion­al texts for operais­mo; “Dellavolpism” did not devel­op lin­ear­ly into work­erism. Nor does Tronti’s cri­tique of Gram­sci pre­clude the pos­si­bil­i­ty of fruit­ful­ly read­ing Gram­sci and work­erism togeth­er.

Determinate Abstraction and the Challenge to Italian Hegelianism

In order to con­tex­tu­al­ize Tronti’s demand for a break with Gram­s­cian­ism we must first recall the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of 1956, a water­shed year in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­nist move­ment. Tron­ti recalls it as the tran­si­tion “from a par­ty truth to a class truth.”7 In Feb­ru­ary 1956, at the Twen­ti­eth Con­gress of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty of the Sovi­et Union, Niki­ta Khrushchev deliv­ered his secret speech, “On the Cult of Per­son­al­i­ty and Its Con­se­quences,” which indict­ed Stalin’s author­i­tar­i­an­ism. The fol­low­ing autumn brought the Hun­gar­i­an work­ers’ upris­ing against Sovi­et rule and the quelling of the rev­o­lu­tion by Russ­ian tanks. In the inter­im there occurred, in Tronti’s rec­ol­lec­tion, “a sequence of leaps in the aware­ness of a young gen­er­a­tion of intel­lec­tu­als.”8 An open­ing thus emerged in which dis­si­dent com­mu­nist thought could cir­cu­late with­in nation­al par­ties, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Italy, where Togli­at­ti had already estab­lished some degree of auton­o­my from the Sovi­et Union.

After the end of the war, Togli­at­ti had returned from exile in the Sovi­et Union to lead the refoun­da­tion of the PCI. He announced the cre­ation of “il par­ti­to nuo­vo” (the new par­ty), which would leave behind its Lenin­ist roots and tran­si­tion to mass pol­i­tics, pur­su­ing its own “Ital­ian road.” The PCI helped to draft the new con­sti­tu­tion in 1947 and sub­se­quent­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in par­lia­ment, where it coop­er­at­ed with the Chris­t­ian Democ­rats and oth­er bour­geois par­ties seek­ing to devel­op Ital­ian cap­i­tal­ism in the post-war era. Dur­ing this time, Gramsci’s writ­ings on hege­mo­ny – a term which he had used to describe the achieve­ment of polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al lead­er­ship by a van­guard class which had unit­ed oth­er frac­tions of the pop­u­la­tion into an his­tor­i­cal bloc – were instru­men­tal­ized by Togli­at­ti and oth­er par­ty the­o­rists to jus­ti­fy the PCI’s pro­gram of mobi­liz­ing the mass­es to mod­ern­ize the nation.9

After the thaw of 1956, the party’s dom­i­nant mode of pol­i­tics and the val­oriza­tion of a par­tic­u­lar read­ing of Gram­sci were increas­ing­ly chal­lenged from with­in by its own left flank. A key fig­ure in this cri­tique was the philoso­pher Gal­vano Del­la Volpe, who had devel­oped an orig­i­nal inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism that opposed the his­tori­cist and ide­al­ist ver­sions preva­lent in post-war Italy.10 Although in his ear­ly years Del­la Volpe had stud­ied with Gen­tile and even ded­i­cat­ed his first book to the philoso­pher of fas­cism, in the 1930s he began to devel­op a cri­tique of all forms of a pri­ori rea­son­ing through a close study of David Hume.11 He joined the PCI in 1944 and in 1950 he pub­lished a major work, Log­ic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, in which he out­lined his read­ing of what he termed Marx’s “moral Galileanism.”12 This book, as well as oth­er writ­ings, rep­re­sent­ed, in the words of Mar­tin Jay, a “fresh read­ing of Marx’s texts unen­cum­bered by the inter­ven­ing com­men­taries of his offi­cial inter­preters.”13 Del­la Volpe’s redi­rec­tion of Ital­ian left­ists’ atten­tion toward Marx would be a great influ­ence on the young Tron­ti, and so we require a detour through Del­la Volpe’s thought in order to clar­i­fy the terms of the essays trans­lat­ed below.

Del­la Volpe based his cri­tique of Hegelian Marx­ism on a pro­posed sep­a­ra­tion of the spec­u­la­tive dialec­tic of Hegel from the sci­en­tif­ic dialec­tic of Marx. The spec­u­la­tive dialec­tic, he argued, func­tions via hypo­sta­ti­za­tion. In a help­ful clar­i­fi­ca­tion for­mu­lat­ed by Mario Mon­tano, “First, spec­u­la­tion reduces real­i­ty to an idea, then it takes this idea as real­i­ty itself and sub­stan­ti­fies it.”14 Del­la Volpe found that Marx him­self had iden­ti­fied this ten­den­cy toward hypo­sta­ti­za­tion in his Cri­tique of Hegel’s Phi­los­o­phy of Right, where Marx had writ­ten, “As the Idea is sub­jec­tivized, the actu­al sub­jects – civ­il soci­ety, fam­i­ly, etc. – become… objec­tive moments of the Idea.”15

Hegel had per­formed a “gener­ic” abstrac­tion; he posit­ed the State as the uni­ver­sal in which the con­tra­dic­tions of soci­ety were sup­pos­ed­ly rec­on­ciled. And, accord­ing to Del­la Volpe, the polit­i­cal econ­o­mists sim­i­lar­ly claimed that the com­mod­i­ty rep­re­sent­ed the equal­iza­tion of the con­flict between labor and cap­i­tal. Both of these view­points, for Del­la Volpe, were meta­phys­i­cal; he argued that the spec­u­la­tive dialec­tic func­tions via an inde­ter­mi­nate or gener­ic abstrac­tion, which dis­pos­es of all speci­fici­ty “in the name of the Gen­er­al and the Uni­ver­sal, or in the name of the Idea.”16 Such think­ing, as Marx had long ago shown, led to the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the present form of soci­ety as ratio­nal, nat­ur­al, and eter­nal.

Del­la Volpe argued that in the work of Marx one can observe a dif­fer­ent sort of oper­a­tion, a method of “exper­i­men­tal­ism” which can be found in both the nat­ur­al and social sci­ences. While bour­geois soci­ety had achieved great advances in the nat­ur­al sci­ences, Del­la Volpe insist­ed that the social sci­ences until Marx had been blind­ed by their assump­tion that bour­geois social and prop­er­ty rela­tions were fixed.17

The sci­en­tif­ic dialec­tic of Marx and Galileo func­tions via a deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion which is spe­cif­ic and his­tor­i­cal. Cit­ing Marx’s “1857 Intro­duc­tion,”18 Del­la Volpe argued that Marx’s cat­e­gories of cap­i­tal, abstract labor, and com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion are all abstrac­tions that emerge from a men­tal oper­a­tion that con­forms to “the mate­ri­al­ist log­ic of mod­ern sci­ence.”19 Marx’s soci­ol­o­gy is as sci­en­tif­ic as Newton’s physics because both “share a com­mon exper­i­men­tal method­olog­i­cal struc­ture.”20 This method­ol­o­gy oper­ates by means of a cir­cu­lar move­ment from the sim­ple con­crete toward a more com­plex con­crete deter­mi­na­tion by way of abstrac­tion. Del­la Volpe sum­ma­rizes the stages as fol­lows:

(a) the prob­lema­tized con­crete or datum (his­tori­co-mate­r­i­al instance); (b) the hypoth­e­sis or set­ting up of nor­ma­tive, non-absolute means (tr. – in the math­e­mat­i­cal sense) of the antecedents or con­di­tions of the giv­en con­se­quent (his­tori­co-ratio­nal instance); (c) the cri­te­ri­on of prac­tice which val­i­dates, or ver­i­fies, the hypoth­e­sis, turn­ing it into a law (last instance of the his­tor­i­cal rec­i­p­ro­cal func­tion­al­i­ty of giv­en and hypoth­e­sis, mat­ter and rea­son, induc­tion and deduc­tion).21

One begins with the con­crete and posits deter­mi­nate abstrac­tions until achiev­ing a law that is true in prac­tice. Thus deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion is not mere­ly a men­tal prac­tice but a fact: only under mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety can the con­cept as well as the actu­al­i­ty of abstract labor emerge. In Steve Wright’s gloss, this cir­cle is “his­tor­i­cal, and there­fore dynam­ic, mov­ing from the con­crete to the con­crete… there­fore afford[ing] gen­uine devel­op­ment.”22 This was Marx’s “moral Galileanism” at work, his “mate­ri­al­ist soci­o­log­i­cal eco­nom­ics,” the appli­ca­tion of sci­ence to mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. In Del­la Volpe’s own words:

We thus turn yet again to the same cen­tral point: the rec­i­p­ro­cal func­tion­al­i­ty of induc­tion and deduc­tion, of mat­ter and rea­son, of fact (or “acci­den­tal”) and hypoth­e­sis (or “nec­es­sary”). It is the twofold func­tion­al­i­ty, required by the sci­en­tif­ic dialec­tic, that pro­duces deter­mi­nate or his­tor­i­cal abstrac­tion and there­by laws in the mate­ri­al­ist sense; it is sym­bol­ized by the method­olog­i­cal cir­cle of con­crete-abstract-con­crete expound­ed by Marx in his 1857 intro­duc­tion and applied with max­i­mum rig­or and suc­cess in Cap­i­tal.23

By fus­ing induc­tion and deduc­tion, mat­ter and rea­son, Del­la Volpe attempts to avoid apri­or­ism as well as Gen­til­ian actu­al­ism. He dis­tin­guish­es his “method­olog­i­cal cir­cle” from ide­al­ism by begin­ning with a con­crete, “his­tori­co-mate­r­i­al instance,” and by employ­ing the sci­en­tif­ic rather than the spec­u­la­tive dialec­tic. But he also dif­fer­en­ti­ates his the­o­ry from a vul­gar mate­ri­al­ism or an induc­tive pos­i­tivism by con­ceiv­ing of the “his­tori­co-ratio­nal instance” as nec­es­sary to pro­duc­ing a grasp of his­tor­i­cal causal­i­ty.24

Between these extremes, he argues, one finds sci­ence, which begins from the con­crete but which seeks a high­er lev­el of gen­er­al­i­ty. Del­la Volpe wield­ed this con­cep­tion of Marx­ism as sci­ence against tra­di­tion­al inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx­ism with­in Ital­ian thought, which tend­ed to read him as an improve­ment upon, but nev­er­the­less behold­en to, Hegel. Regard­ing Marx’s occa­sion­al recourse to Hegelian lan­guage, Del­la Volpe respond­ed that Marx had mere­ly “flirt­ed” with Hegel “on the lev­el of metaphor” in order to explain him­self in the intel­lec­tu­al cli­mate of his day.25 Marx’s real con­tri­bu­tion, on the con­trary, was to have applied the sci­en­tif­ic method to soci­ety.

Tronti’s debt to Del­la Volpe is clear in “Some Ques­tions around Gramsci’s Marx­ism.” Here he argues that Gram­sci under­stands the des­tiny of the phi­los­o­phy of prax­is – which Tron­ti con­sid­ers no inno­cent code­word for Marx­ism but rather a par­tic­u­lar inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism – to be the cul­mi­na­tion of the devel­op­ment of the “log­i­cal instru­ment of the Hegelian method.”26 For Gram­sci, Marx­ism will suc­ceed where Croce and Gen­tile had failed. But accord­ing to Del­la Volpe, Marx did not use Hegel’s method, as the Ital­ian ide­al­ists includ­ing Gram­sci had believed, because it was yoked to a sys­tem of spec­u­la­tive phi­los­o­phy. Tron­ti believes with Del­la Volpe that Marx’s work was no mere reform of phi­los­o­phy: Marx was a sci­en­tist, fol­low­ing the same method of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion as Galileo in order to deter­mine spe­cif­ic laws that per­tain to cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.

In “Between Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and the Phi­los­o­phy of Prax­is,” Tron­ti deter­mines that “phi­los­o­phy of prax­is” is not just anoth­er name for Marx­ism but rather con­sti­tutes a par­tic­u­lar inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism. While the Ital­ian ide­al­ists with whom it is asso­ci­at­ed tend­ed to dis­tance them­selves from Sec­ond-Inter­na­tion­al reformisms and dialec­ti­cal-mate­ri­al­ist evo­lu­tion­ism, Tron­ti finds that these schools of thought all share an unsci­en­tif­ic and there­fore mys­ti­fy­ing essence. In a detailed geneal­o­gy, Tron­ti traces Gramsci’s use of the term, orig­i­nal­ly coined by Anto­nio Labri­o­la, to the social-demo­c­rat Rodol­fo Mon­dol­fo, for whom Marx­ism was a phi­los­o­phy of action, a “vol­un­taris­tic ide­al­ism” in which prax­is rep­re­sents the individual’s point of view.27 The phi­los­o­phy of prax­is was fur­ther devel­oped by Gio­van­ni Gen­tile, who argued against any giv­en exter­nal real­i­ty not pro­duced by activ­i­ty and knowl­edge. Gen­tile argued that the only true real­i­ty resides with­in thought itself, which grows more prac­ti­cal­ly con­crete in the act of think­ing.

Tron­ti also exam­ines Benedet­to Croce’s con­tri­bu­tion to the inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism as phi­los­o­phy of prax­is, in which Croce argues that Marx­ism lacks a true phi­los­o­phy and con­sists only in his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism, which for him is mere­ly a real­is­tic con­cep­tion of his­to­ry. Croce thus pio­neered the use of Marx as a means for reach­ing cer­tain ends, depend­ing on whether the researcher was an econ­o­mist, his­to­ri­an, or politi­cian. From this per­spec­tive, Marx offered tech­niques which could be used to rein­vig­o­rate oth­er dis­ci­plines. Croce, for his part, claimed to under­stand Hegel and his dialec­tic more clear­ly after read­ing Marx, while Gen­tile believed, after Marx’s con­tri­bu­tions, that philosophy’s impor­tance was safe­guard­ed from the assault by pos­i­tivism, and that one could final­ly pro­claim that truth is gen­er­at­ed through expe­ri­ence and real­i­ty is the prod­uct of the act of know­ing.

In recount­ing this his­to­ry, Tron­ti demon­strates how Marx was used in Italy both to com­bat pos­i­tivism and as a means for achiev­ing a new syn­the­sis between spir­i­tu­al­ism and nat­u­ral­ism with the reju­ve­na­tion of Ital­ian ide­al­ism. If Marx influ­enced the devel­op­ment of mod­ern Ital­ian ide­al­ism by stand­ing at its ori­gin, ide­al­ism more defin­i­tive­ly delim­it­ed the read­ing of Marx in Italy. “We have had a ten­den­tial­ly Marx­i­an Hegel and a deci­sive­ly Hegelian Marx,” Tron­ti con­cludes.28

Tronti’s major con­cern is that, if Marx­ism were to be under­stood as a par­tial­ly suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion to Hegel, it would have out­lived its his­toric func­tion, and it would be required to cede ground to a more thor­ough the­o­ret­i­cal attempt to com­plete what Hegel start­ed. Marx­ism would then lack any autonomous jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for its exis­tence: “first one has all of Marx revolve around Hegel, then one removes Hegel from the cen­ter and says: see, Marx fails to rotate on his own.”29 The inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx as an attempt to com­plete Hegel leads not only to a false under­stand­ing of Marx­ism but to Marxism’s very liq­ui­da­tion. This, Tron­ti argues, was why Marx had been mar­gin­al­ized in the Ital­ian left of the 1950s: “Marx­ism as ‘phi­los­o­phy of prax­is’ is what is left of Marx­ism after it has been liq­ui­dat­ed by the ide­al­is­tic inter­pre­ta­tion.”30 What is left is mere­ly a the­o­ry of action, a phi­los­o­phy of will, a tech­nique for pol­i­tics.

In Tronti’s esti­ma­tion in “Some Ques­tions around Gramsci’s Marx­ism,” prax­is, the uni­ty between the per­son and the world, between the human will and the eco­nom­ic struc­ture, pre­serves human agency as the dri­ving force of his­to­ry. Tron­ti con­cedes that Gram­sci does dis­place Hegel’s spec­u­la­tive Idea to Marx’s his­tori­cized super­struc­ture, where the Idea becomes ide­ol­o­gy, but Tron­ti main­tains that, for Gram­sci, his­to­ry remains a Hegelian process of becom­ing. Regard­less of its change of sub­ject from Idea to pro­le­tari­at, Gram­s­cian­ism holds onto Hegelian­ism as the orig­i­nal the­sis that must be ful­ly devel­oped. The prob­lem, accord­ing to Tron­ti, is that Gram­sci doesn’t rec­og­nize that his under­stand­ing of Marx­ism is so steeped in the Ital­ian ide­al­ist inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx­ism – Croce’s in par­tic­u­lar – that Gram­sci miss­es what is unique­ly valu­able in Marx’s work. If Gramsci’s goal was to make his­to­ry pro­ceed cor­rect­ly by over­throw­ing the bad prax­is of the ide­al­ists, Tronti’s is to fol­low Marx’s exam­ple and find a “deter­mi­nate impu­ri­ty” through the work of thought, to arrive at con­crete­ness by way of the­o­ry.31

Del­la Volpe’s “deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion,” the move­ment from sim­ple con­crete to com­plex con­crete by way of abstrac­tion, is a process which he claims to be both the cor­rect method­olog­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion for the­o­ry to adopt as well as the real move­ment of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. Marx’s method, opposed to empiri­cism and pos­i­tivism, grasps the con­crete only through a trans­la­tion into abstract terms. A giv­en real­i­ty, then, can only be under­stood through con­cep­tu­al medi­a­tion; but the con­cep­tu­al grasp of the con­crete must then be re-sub­mit­ted to con­crete real­i­ty for prac­ti­cal ver­i­fi­ca­tion as a law. Tron­ti would take from Del­la Volpe the con­vic­tion that this method was valid only for mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety; the cat­e­go­ry of labor in gen­er­al, which Smith and Ricar­do had under­stood to be tran­shis­tor­i­cal, was only think­able from with­in the mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist con­junc­ture, because it only exist­ed in fact in the present moment.32

Del­la Volpe finds that Marx’s log­ic is the imma­nent, his­tor­i­cal­ly deter­mi­nate log­ic of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism: “it was the his­toric­i­ty of the log­i­cal dis­course, its deter­mi­na­cy, which guar­an­teed its root­ed­ness and effi­ca­cy in a spe­cif­ic real­i­ty, in which it active­ly inter­vened.”33 This is what makes Marx­ism the unique sci­ence of mod­ern soci­ety: its ana­lyt­i­cal oper­a­tions fol­low the same rhythm as the mate­r­i­al devel­op­ments of the eco­nom­ic-social for­ma­tion: “the sci­en­tif­ic method [Marx] described was not whol­ly invent­ed by Marx but employed and applied…”34 Del­la Volpe thus declared Marx’s dis­cov­ery to be that of deter­mi­nate laws derived from a crit­i­cal analy­sis of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. These were not, con­tra Friedrich Engels and Joseph Stal­in, nat­ur­al laws that could be extend­ed to every epoch of human his­to­ry and every realm of bio­log­i­cal exis­tence.

From Abstract Logic to Class Subjects

Despite an unswerv­ing feal­ty to Par­ty lead­er­ship, Del­la Volpe’s thought earned him the sta­tus of heretic in the eyes of main­stream PCI intel­lec­tu­als.35 Nev­er­the­less his the­o­ries fueled pro­found polit­i­cal debates with­in Par­ty cir­cles, attract­ing many young fol­low­ers and draw­ing charges of “frac­tion­al­ism.”36 His work influ­enced Tron­ti, as we have seen, but Lucio Col­let­ti was the pupil who first clar­i­fied Del­la Volpe’s argu­ments and employed them to devel­op a rad­i­cal cri­tique of the Par­ty.

A sur­vey of their shared inter­ests in the 1950s reveals the depth of the rela­tion­ship between Del­la Volpe and Col­let­ti. Col­let­ti was in fact the first to trans­late that text which had been so cru­cial for Del­la Volpe, Marx’s “1857 Intro­duc­tion,” which he pub­lished in Ital­ian in 1954.37 And after the thaw of 1956, Del­la Volpe had been invit­ed by Mario Ali­ca­ta, the head of cul­tur­al affairs for the Par­ty, to join the edi­to­r­i­al board of the PCI jour­nal Soci­età. In the fol­low­ing year Col­let­ti joined him and helped to cre­ate the impres­sion of a Dellavol­pean “school” devel­op­ing in the pages of the jour­nal.

Draw­ing on Del­la Volpe’s efforts, Colletti’s ear­ly writ­ings con­tin­ued the attack on Hegelian Marx­ism with recourse to sci­en­tif­ic, deter­mi­nate abstrac­tions. In 1958 Col­let­ti launched a pub­lic chal­lenge to Gram­s­cian his­tori­cist and human­ist ortho­doxy in the PCI. His polemic, inspired by Del­la Volpe’s work, was laid out in a series of pub­lic let­ters between him and Valenti­no Ger­ratana on the top­ic of Lenin’s Philo­soph­i­cal Note­books, which Col­let­ti him­self had recent­ly trans­lat­ed into Ital­ian.38 With his trans­la­tion Col­let­ti had pub­lished a sweep­ing, 150-page intro­duc­tion, which would lat­er come to form the first part of his Il marx­is­mo e Hegel.39

In this intro­duc­tion, Col­let­ti dis­missed Lenin’s rap­proche­ment with Hegel in the Bolshevik’s 1914–16 notes on the Log­ic. Col­let­ti dis­put­ed Lenin’s – as well as var­i­ous Hegelian Marx­ists’ – claim that there might be “a (pre­sumed) con­tra­dic­tion in the phi­los­o­phy of Hegel between the prin­ci­ples (rev­o­lu­tion­ary) and the con­clu­sions (con­ser­v­a­tive).”40 Col­let­ti there­fore dis­avowed Lenin’s attempt to read Hegel mate­ri­al­is­ti­cal­ly, an error that he attrib­uted ulti­mate­ly to Engels. Yet despite Colletti’s crit­i­cal stance regard­ing the Philo­soph­i­cal Note­books, Lenin was a key fig­ure in his polit­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal project. In the same intro­duc­tion, Col­let­ti argued that in Lenin’s ear­li­er works, espe­cial­ly What the Friends of the Peo­ple Are (1894) and Mate­ri­al­ism and Empirio-Crit­i­cism (1909), one finds not only a Lenin who was crit­i­cal of Hegel but also “moral Galileanism,” that “exper­i­men­tal, dialec­ti­cal method” iden­ti­fied by Del­la Volpe and com­plete­ly opposed to “ide­al­ist and the­ol­o­giz­ing his­tori­cism.”41 Col­let­ti fur­ther argued that Lenin’s as well as Marx’s work ought to be char­ac­ter­ized not as philo­soph­i­cal but as eco­nom­ic and soci­o­log­i­cal.

In this intro­duc­to­ry text Col­let­ti also blamed Gram­sci for the “decom­po­si­tion” of Marx­ism into “meta­phys­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism on the one hand, and the Hegelian dialec­tic on the oth­er.”42 This bifur­ca­tion would remain a cen­tral con­cern for Tron­ti through­out the three essays trans­lat­ed below. For Col­let­ti, in bring­ing the eco­nom­ic and soci­o­log­i­cal togeth­er, Marx­ism thus con­sti­tut­ed the unique sci­ence of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, opposed to Engel­sian and Sovi­et Dia­mat on the one hand, and the PCI’s his­tori­cism and oth­er vari­eties of ide­al­ism on the oth­er.43 We see here the foun­da­tions of Tronti’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the split with­in Ital­ian Marx­ism.

In April 1959 the Isti­tu­to Gram­sci in Rome held a con­fer­ence on “Marx­ism and Soci­ol­o­gy.” There Col­let­ti gave a lengthy pre­sen­ta­tion, and Tron­ti offered a con­cise rejoin­der.44 It is worth­while to recount the major points made by Col­let­ti in this influ­en­tial essay because they help­ful­ly clar­i­fy the Dellavol­pean frame­work and pro­vide the imme­di­ate con­text for Tronti’s inter­ven­tion. But this essay also deserves spe­cial men­tion in the her­itage of operais­mo, because in it we find an ear­ly iter­a­tion of the con­cept of “class com­po­si­tion,” which would lat­er inform so much of the work­erist project, in both its “the­o­ret­i­cal” and “soci­o­log­i­cal” branch­es.45

Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Del­la Volpe, Col­let­ti employs Marx’s “1857 Intro­duc­tion” to assert that Marx’s research focus­es not on soci­ety in gen­er­al but on mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety:

Hence the need for a new method, a new type of abstrac­tion… an approach which can encom­pass the dif­fer­ences pre­sent­ed by one object or species with respect to all the oth­ers – for exam­ple bour­geois soci­ety as against feu­dal soci­ety – and which does not, there­fore, arrive at the gener­ic, ide­al­ist notion of soci­ety “in gen­er­al,” but rather hangs on to this deter­mi­nate soci­ety, the par­tic­u­lar object in ques­tion. (The need for a method which does not give us abstrac­tions, but facts.)46

This new method of abstrac­tion pro­duces facts with­in a spe­cif­ic his­toric con­text, unlike the spec­u­la­tive abstrac­tion of philoso­phies which sought ahis­tor­i­cal truths. But, Col­let­ti con­tin­ues, it is equal­ly impor­tant not to deny abstrac­tion alto­geth­er and fetishize the par­tic­u­lar:

On the oth­er hand, how­ev­er, the indi­vid­ual fact, in its unique, absolute sin­gu­lar­i­ty, is as gener­ic as the abstract genus. Hence the need for a non-empiri­cist method which is also – as well as fact – abstrac­tion, and does not pre­clude the spe­cif­ic iden­ti­ty, the species, and hence that typ­i­cal­i­ty by which each object is what it is pre­cise­ly because it is an expres­sion of its “class.”47

The non-empiri­cist method thus seeks to deter­mine what knits the “species” togeth­er. Col­let­ti reca­pit­u­lates Del­la Volpe’s the­sis of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion, show­ing that it relies upon two dis­tinct moments: that of “obser­va­tion-induc­tion” and that of “hypoth­e­sis-deduc­tion”:

For us, “this” deter­mi­nate nat­ur­al event is impos­si­ble unless it is not simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a nat­ur­al law, and hence simul­ta­ne­ous­ly indi­vid­ual and repeat­able… Nei­ther abstrac­tion from the dif­fer­ences between bour­geois soci­ety and oth­er social regimes; nor abstrac­tion, in exam­in­ing a par­tic­u­lar case such as nine­teenth- and twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Britain, from what is the spe­cif­ic and essen­tial aspect of this case – name­ly its cap­i­tal­ist orga­ni­za­tion. The need, in sum, for the method of deter­mi­nate, spe­cif­ic or sci­en­tif­ic abstrac­tion; i.e. the need for a method which (for­give the para­dox) is no longer nor exclu­sive­ly a method – at least in the tra­di­tion­al, for­mal­ist sense in which thought and log­ic are assumed to be self-enclosed, autonomous spheres.48

Deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion thus also involves grasp­ing what is spe­cif­ic and essen­tial to a giv­en socio-eco­nom­ic for­ma­tion. Here we see Col­let­ti, fol­low­ing Del­la Volpe, posit the method itself as the men­tal cor­re­late of the objec­tive move­ment of the cur­rent socio-eco­nom­ic for­ma­tion:

Hence Marx’s method can nev­er be divorced from the par­tic­u­lar objec­tive pat­terns which are reflect­ed in it (still less, there­fore, from mate­ri­al­ism). Nor can any seri­ous Marx­ist sub­sti­tute or inte­grate these objec­tive mate­r­i­al pat­terns with “objects,” as offered him by the pro­ce­dures of oth­er method­olo­gies.49

Marx­ism, as Tron­ti will also argue, is not a series of tech­niques or a canon to offer the dis­ci­plines, a pure method­ol­o­gy applic­a­ble to any object of study.50 As a method of analy­sis it can­not be sep­a­rat­ed from its mate­r­i­al sub­strate, the socio-eco­nom­ic for­ma­tion which pro­duced it. Col­let­ti empha­sizes this con­clu­sion, present in Del­la Volpe but sec­ondary to his project of spec­i­fy­ing a high­ly for­mal log­ic, that Marx­ism is the unique and true sci­ence of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety: “On the one side, then, Cap­i­tal is not a study of ‘soci­ety’ but of this soci­ety; not an abstrac­tion, but rather a real process…”51

In “Between Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and Phi­los­o­phy of Prax­is,” Tron­ti iden­ti­fies an acknowl­edge­ment of the his­tor­i­cal speci­fici­ty of Marx­ism in the work of the 19th-cen­tu­ry Ital­ian philoso­pher Anto­nio Labri­o­la.52 Writ­ing dur­ing the era of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al, Labri­o­la advo­cat­ed a return to Marx and, unlike the ide­al­ists he inspired, was not inter­est­ed in com­bin­ing Marx with oth­er philoso­phers. Instead he sought to spec­i­fy what was nec­es­sary and implic­it in Marx’s own work. In order to under­stand Marx, Labri­o­la argued, one ought not look at Marx’s influ­ences but rather at the fac­tu­al and his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of mod­ern soci­ety. “The­o­ry,” he argued, “is a pla­gia­rism of the things which it explains,” and “sci­en­tif­ic social­ism,” as Labri­o­la dis­tin­guish­es Marx­ism from utopi­an socialisms, is the dis­cov­ery of the self-cri­tique that is in things them­selves.53 In Labriola’s under­stand­ing there is no sub­jec­tive genius who pro­duces this cri­tique. The rhythm of thought, if cor­rect, repro­duces the rhythm of real­i­ty, which is dri­ven by the pro­le­tari­at.

Ulti­mate­ly Tron­ti finds Labriola’s work to be polit­i­cal­ly inef­fec­tive and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly insuf­fi­cient because it failed to ana­lyze a par­tic­u­lar moment in his­to­ry, “a spe­cif­ic and deter­mi­nate type of eco­nom­ic-social for­ma­tion.”54 Despite rec­og­niz­ing that Marx had per­formed such an analy­sis, Labri­o­la could not bring him­self to car­ry out a sim­i­lar oper­a­tion. His work, then, like much of Engels’, was broad and vague, attempt­ing to account for many cen­turies of great events with­out grasp­ing the his­tor­i­cal speci­fici­ty of any one in par­tic­u­lar. Tron­ti asserts that Labri­o­la might have been more suc­cess­ful at resus­ci­tat­ing Marx with­in his con­junc­ture had he lim­it­ed him­self to study­ing from the point of view of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism, on the basis of which one can “inau­gu­rate a new com­par­i­son of thought with things.”55

This cri­tique, artic­u­lat­ed by Tron­ti in 1959, reflects the lat­er work­erist con­dem­na­tion of Del­la Volpe and even of Col­let­ti. While Tron­ti, Negri, and oth­ers would con­tin­ue to share the premise that one must return to Marx, they would also impa­tient­ly insist that only Lenin after Marx had grasped the deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion and used it to inter­vene polit­i­cal­ly in his­to­ry. This stance would form the basis of the work­erist project, espe­cial­ly with the more explic­it­ly polit­i­cal inter­ven­tions of Classe Opera­ia.

For Col­let­ti, one can­not absolute­ly sep­a­rate the mate­r­i­al and ide­o­log­i­cal lev­els of exis­tence. The con­cept “socio-eco­nom­ic for­ma­tion” shows that Cap­i­tal/capital is a whole and can­not be dual­is­ti­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed between object and sub­ject. As Marx’s object of analy­sis, the “object of Cap­i­tal,” only becomes a deter­mi­nate object through a con­sid­er­a­tion of both social being and social con­scious­ness, the mate­r­i­al and ide­o­log­i­cal planes must there­fore be con­sid­ered togeth­er, the super­struc­ture as an aspect of the struc­ture. Accord­ing to Col­let­ti, the crit­i­cism of art, phi­los­o­phy, or sci­ence as artic­u­la­tions of soci­ety is thus already crit­i­cism of soci­ety, or in oth­er words a soci­ol­o­gy. And lest the Dellavol­pean praise for sci­ence be mis­con­strued as advo­cat­ing an appro­pri­a­tion of the tech­niques of bour­geois soci­ol­o­gy by Marx­ism, Col­let­ti asserts that Marx­ism itself is the true soci­ol­o­gy. Through the super­struc­tur­al ide­ol­o­gy or con­scious­ness, “soci­ety real­izes one of its func­tions that could not be oth­er­wise real­ized.”56 Con­scious­ness is part of being and yet reflects on it: what makes it a part of the whole is also what dis­tin­guish­es it from the whole.

In “Some Ques­tions” Tron­ti notes that Marx finds a sin­gle log­i­cal pro­ce­dure through­out mod­ern bour­geois soci­ety. The real con­flict between civ­il and polit­i­cal soci­ety, as well as the log­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions with­in the thought of Hegel, Robe­spierre, or Ricar­do, all fol­low from the con­flict between labor and cap­i­tal in the pro­duc­tion process. The rea­son for Marx’s close study of Hegel as well as his atten­tion to the­o­ries of polit­i­cal econ­o­my is that, as ele­ments of the super­struc­tur­al jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the socio-eco­nom­ic for­ma­tion, they are inte­gral aspects of mod­ern bour­geois soci­ety. As Col­let­ti indi­cat­ed, to study bour­geois thought is to already begin to study bour­geois soci­ety.

Yet Tron­ti main­tains and fur­ther empha­sizes the impor­tant dis­tinc­tion between bour­geois thought and bour­geois soci­ety with­in the uni­ty of bour­geois soci­ety. While there is a uni­ty of dis­tinct moments, one should not mis­take this for an iden­ti­ty. Thought does not exhaust the object, Tron­ti asserts. If thought were the entire object, then Gentile’s absolute, ide­al­is­tic actu­al­ism would be an ade­quate the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work. Tron­ti finds in the phi­los­o­phy of prax­is that the meld­ing of rea­son and mat­ter obstructs the recog­ni­tion of their non-iden­ti­ty. He takes Gramsci’s insis­tence that the phi­los­o­phy of prax­is is inte­gral phi­los­o­phy and “absolute his­tori­cism” to mean that Gram­sci advo­cates a col­laps­ing of thought into soci­ety, ren­der­ing them iden­ti­cal.57 Equal­ly dan­ger­ous for Tron­ti, and what he admits Gram­sci had jus­ti­fi­ably rebelled against, would be to define thought as pure­ly deriv­a­tive, as a mere reflec­tion of empir­i­cal real­i­ty, while the object has some pow­er­ful con­sis­ten­cy. Nei­ther an objec­tivist nor a sub­jec­tivist under­stand­ing of Marx­ism is suf­fi­cient.

Return­ing to Colletti’s essay, we must also note that he argues that the uni­ty of being and con­scious­ness implies the “fun­da­men­tal… pri­or­i­ty of being over thought, i.e. mate­ri­al­ism.58 He jus­ti­fies his asser­tion again by way of Marx’s “1857 Intro­duc­tion,” in which Marx argues that, in the uni­ty of pro­duc­tion-cir­cu­la­tion-dis­tri­b­u­tion-con­sump­tion, pro­duc­tion remains the pre­sup­po­si­tion of the entire process. Cir­cu­la­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and con­sump­tion are moments of the pro­duc­tion process, and while they react back upon pro­duc­tion and deter­mine its char­ac­ter, pro­duc­tion is the fun­da­men­tal con­di­tion of their exis­tence. Col­let­ti writes: “The­o­ry is prac­tice inso­far as it is one aspect or moment of prac­tice: i.e. inso­far as it is rein­cor­po­rat­ed with­in the lat­ter as one of its spe­cif­ic func­tions – and hence inso­far as it does not absorb prac­tice with­in itself, but is instead sur­round­ed by it, and has it out­side itself.”59 Because the­o­ry is part of soci­ety, “the con­tent of the­o­ret­i­cal gen­er­al­iza­tion can only be ver­i­fied as a deter­mi­na­tion or aspect of the object of analy­sis.”60 The cor­rect­ness of the­o­ry is there­fore con­tin­gent upon its applic­a­bil­i­ty to prac­ti­cal and there­fore polit­i­cal activ­i­ty.

Col­let­ti, and Tron­ti after him, insist that all of Marx’s cat­e­gories are both eco­nom­ic and soci­o­log­i­cal. It is here that Col­let­ti makes a con­tri­bu­tion which will lat­er con­sti­tute the core of the work­erist project: M-C-M is already the rela­tion­ship between cap­i­tal and labor-pow­er, between the two class­es.61 The rela­tion­ship mon­ey-com­mod­i­ty is cap­i­tal-labor pow­er, is the rela­tion between con­stant and vari­able cap­i­tal, between active objects, between socio-his­tor­i­cal agents. Marx’s refusal to slide into objec­tivism or sub­jec­tivism means that “the objec­tive fac­tors of pro­duc­tion are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly pre­sent­ed as sub­jec­tive agents or social class­es.”62

We find here that a con­cept of class com­po­si­tion is, to a cer­tain extent, iden­ti­fied already by Col­let­ti in 1959. As Cristi­na Cor­ra­di writes:

Marx, accord­ing to Col­let­ti, thus inau­gu­rates a new the­o­ry of the sub­ject as his­tori­co-nat­ur­al being: the his­tor­i­cal sub­ject is not the Idea, the Spir­it of the world, the Vichi­an Prov­i­dence, the tran­scen­den­tal sub­ject, Evo­lu­tion or the Strug­gle for exis­tence, but the class as “organ­ic uni­ty of econ­o­my and soci­ol­o­gy,” of objec­tive con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion and of sub­jec­tive con­di­tions of pol­i­tics.63

Colletti’s atten­tion to class marks a clear depar­ture from the Dellavol­pean schema in which sci­ence and log­ic are the only sub­jects. In Colletti’s words:

“Class” has a dou­ble sig­nif­i­cance: first­ly as fac­tors or objec­tive con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion (as a cer­tain his­tor­i­cal phase of the divi­sion of labor, of course); and sec­ond­ly as the polit­i­cal agents of the whole human social process. Class­es are pre­cise­ly sec­tions which cut ver­ti­cal­ly and hor­i­zon­tal­ly through the entire soci­ety, from top to bot­tom. Hence the pro­found and organ­ic uni­ty between Marx’s his­tor­i­cal-eco­nom­ic work and his his­tor­i­cal-polit­i­cal work.64

With these pas­sages Col­let­ti defin­i­tive­ly goes beyond Del­la Volpe to artic­u­late the tech­ni­cal and polit­i­cal aspects of class com­po­si­tion, a con­cept impor­tant for Tron­ti and Negri as well as for Romano Alquati, Ser­gio Bologna, and so many oth­ers.65

Anoth­er aspect of Colletti’s cri­tique of ide­al­ist Marx­ism is around the ques­tion of gen­er­al ver­sus his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic laws. He notes that the pur­suit of gen­er­al laws, valid for all of his­to­ry, was impor­tant to both Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al reformism and Engel­sian dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism:

This dis­tor­tion of Marx’s thought by Kaut­sky and Plekhanov…was already part­ly pre­pared, if only in embryo, in some aspects of Engels’s work…in gen­er­al the search for most gen­er­al laws of devel­op­ment in nature and his­to­ry made these aspects a pre­con­sti­tu­tion of the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion with Hegelian­ism and Dar­win­ism…66

With Engels “one sole law” comes to gov­ern “the homoge­nous flow of the ages…in the form of the ‘nega­tion of the nega­tion,’ seen as the trans­for­ma­tion of liq­uids into solids, of tad­poles into frogs, and bour­geois soci­ety into social­ism…”67 But Col­let­ti finds that Engels had else­where for­mu­lat­ed the prob­lem cor­rect­ly, rec­og­niz­ing that

“the reflec­tion of the his­tor­i­cal course in abstract and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly con­sis­tent form” must be con­tin­u­ous­ly “cor­rect­ed” and read­just­ed with respect to the present, since each cat­e­go­ry and each moment is “to be con­sid­ered at the point of devel­op­ment of its full matu­ri­ty, of its clas­sic form,” that is, in the light of today.68

As Marx notes through­out the Grun­drisse, the order of pre­sen­ta­tion of cat­e­gories must not match of the order of their his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment; in fact the method of under­stand­ing, the sequence or order­ing of cat­e­gories, must be the inverse of their nat­ur­al suc­ces­sion. One must start from here and now; only from the present can the sci­en­tif­ic abstrac­tion be derived.

To aban­don sci­ence, speci­fici­ty, or deter­mi­na­cy of abstrac­tions means to “lose all ref­er­ence to real­i­ty” and pro­duce only “vague laws, good for any time and any place, the only effect of which is to extrap­o­late rela­tions valid under deter­mi­nate con­di­tions to all aspects and all lev­els of real­i­ty.”69 As Lenin put it: “Do we learn any­thing at all about the caus­es of ‘want,’ about its polit­i­cal-eco­nom­ic con­tent and course of devel­op­ment if we are told that it is the meta­mor­pho­sis of the strug­gle for exis­tence?”70

Col­let­ti argues that both dialec­ti­cal and his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ists think Cap­i­tal “is only an ‘exam­ple’ or ‘par­tic­u­lar appli­ca­tion’ of a gen­er­al con­cep­tion of the his­to­ry pre­ced­ing it.”71 They thus enact a sep­a­ra­tion between sci­ence (as vul­gar empiri­cists, they want to study only par­tic­u­lar aspects of soci­ety in iso­la­tion) and their phi­los­o­phy of his­to­ry (which he finds objec­tion­able in any case). Col­let­ti explains the con­se­quences of fail­ing to adopt a uni­tary and his­tor­i­cal under­stand­ing of Marx­ism:

To fail to see this (as even many Marx­ists still do) means in prac­tice to fail to grasp the his­tori­co-social preg­nan­cy of all the eco­nom­ic cat­e­gories in Cap­i­tal, includ­ing the most “abstract” ones. It means to repro­duce the bour­geois sep­a­ra­tion of eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics, of nature and his­to­ry.72

This split, Col­let­ti and Tron­ti both argue, gets repro­duced with­in Marx­ism itself. In “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­o­gy,” Tron­ti artic­u­lates the dif­fer­ence between Dellavol­pean sci­ence and bad empiri­cism, assert­ing that the lat­ter involves imag­in­ing one­self as research­ing empir­i­cal real­i­ty with­out the use of the­o­ry, and thus mis­un­der­stand­ing real­i­ty as a fact apart from sen­su­ous expe­ri­ence. This error leads one to bour­geois con­clu­sions because the dom­i­nant ideas are always those of the rul­ing class.73

Col­let­ti goes on to argue that only if we under­stand labor-pow­er in the con­tem­po­rary moment can we under­stand his­to­ry, because we under­stand how pre­vi­ous his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tions dif­fer from those which pre­vail in the cur­rent moment. As Marx writes in the “1857 Intro­duc­tion”:

Human anato­my con­tains a key to the anato­my of the ape. The inti­ma­tions of high­er devel­op­ment among the sub­or­di­nate ani­mal species, how­ev­er, can be under­stood only after the high­er devel­op­ment is already known. The bour­geois econ­o­my thus sup­plies the key to the ancient, etc.74

Fol­low­ing Marx, Col­let­ti argues that abstract labor is the key to under­stand­ing pri­or forms of labor because only now, in mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism, has labor reached this gen­er­al­i­ty. This abstract under­stand­ing of labor illus­trates the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. Col­let­ti argues that abstract labor is the com­mon ele­ment in all types of con­crete labor, but it express­es the nov­el­ty of the “real abstraction…achieved in fact in bour­geois soci­ety.”75 The abstrac­tion of labor from con­crete labors is the only way to illus­trate the spe­cif­ic dif­fer­ence of labor in bour­geois soci­ety from all pri­or forms of labor. Hence, using Marx against dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism, Col­let­ti argues that one should not seek gen­er­al laws but ana­lyze the present socio-eco­nom­ic for­ma­tion.

It is on exact­ly this point of gen­er­al laws that Tron­ti indicts Gram­sci in “Some Ques­tions.” Gram­sci under­stands the dis­cov­er­ies of Ricar­do to inau­gu­rate a new con­cep­tion of neces­si­ty and free­dom, which Marx uni­ver­sal­ized and extend­ed to all of his­to­ry by means of con­struct­ing his phi­los­o­phy of prax­is.76 Tron­ti coun­ters that the oppo­site has tak­en place: Marx his­tori­cized the so-called nat­ur­al cat­e­gories of polit­i­cal econ­o­my to under­stand the par­tic­u­lar, deter­mi­nate soci­ety which pro­duced them, and he used these cat­e­gories to estab­lish a method­olog­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion from which he ana­lyzed his­to­ry in a sys­tem­at­ic and sci­en­tif­ic man­ner.

Final­ly in Col­let­ti we also find a strong argu­ment for the reval­oriza­tion of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. He argues that the ortho­dox, Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al tra­di­tion

effec­tive­ly reduces the moment of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty to a mere link in an objec­tive chain of cause and effect, or, alter­na­tive­ly, to mere acci­dent. It pre­cludes any pos­si­ble com­pre­hen­sion that human prac­tice, includ­ing the prac­tice of knowl­edge itself, is inscribed in objec­tiv­i­ty, but also involves a reversed causal­i­ty, i.e. a final­ism, a process char­ac­ter­ized (bear­ing in mind the pas­sage from Marx on human labor) by the antic­i­pa­tion or ide­al pres­ence, in the mind, of the result.77

In “Some Ques­tions,” Tron­ti too argues for a renewed atten­tion to the sub­jec­tive ele­ment in his­to­ry. Here he express­es dis­may that the “prac­ti­cal influ­ence that the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion has had on the­o­ret­i­cal Marx­ism” has not yet been stud­ied well.78 He deter­mines that in the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al era, reformism tend­ed toward a pos­i­tivis­tic inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx­ism because it want­ed to deny the neces­si­ty of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary “leap.” Yet the fail­ure of reformism every­where and the suc­cess of rev­o­lu­tion in Rus­sia deny the valid­i­ty of both evo­lu­tion­ism and spon­tane­ity, and con­firm the impor­tance of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary rup­ture “in gen­er­al.79 Hence Tron­ti believes that this calls for a reeval­u­a­tion of the sub­jec­tive, cre­ative, active ele­ment of the his­tor­i­cal-social rela­tion, against the objec­tive, inert, social con­di­tions which com­pose the oth­er ele­ment.

Tron­ti argues that the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion was so pow­er­ful that it caused a rethink­ing of Marx­ism as vol­un­tarism alone, which Tron­ti thinks led Gram­sci to reduce Marx­ism to only this sub­jec­tive ele­ment, leav­ing aside the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my. Tron­ti under­stands that Gram­sci too was react­ing against this fatal­is­tic con­cep­tion of soci­ety, but ulti­mate­ly Gram­sci enacts an “inte­ri­or­iza­tion” of the cause of his­to­ry from the exter­nal (mechan­i­cal forces) to the inter­nal (human con­scious­ness, will). In Tronti’s analy­sis, Gram­sci, by over­valu­ing the sub­jec­tive “will,” los­es his grasp on the uni­ty of sub­ject and object.

Beyond Dellavolpism, toward Militant Research

In ret­ro­spect Tron­ti recalls that “we out­grew this [Dellavol­pean] schema as far as con­tent was con­cerned, while retain­ing its lessons with regard to method.”80 Tron­ti and the work­erists would come to crit­i­cize Del­la Volpe and to a less­er extent Col­let­ti for their fail­ure to fol­low through on the rad­i­cal impli­ca­tions of the prin­ci­ple of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion. Quaderni Rossi can be seen as a prac­ti­cal cri­tique of those posi­tions; in its fusion of soci­o­log­i­cal research and the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion it sought to embody this the­sis in its prac­tice. And indeed in Classe Opera­ia the impor­tance of polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion would grow even stronger.81

Despite his tren­chant crit­i­cisms of Gramsci’s Hegelian­ism, there remain glar­ing omis­sions in Tronti’s argu­ment. While the com­plete crit­i­cal edi­tion of Gramsci’s Prison Note­books edit­ed by Valenti­no Ger­ratana would not be pub­lished until 1975, the­mat­ic edi­tions were avail­able to the Ital­ian read­er, and yet Tron­ti quotes from only one, His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and the Phi­los­o­phy of Benedet­to Croce.82 This nar­row focus ignores Gramsci’s polit­i­cal stud­ies, which con­cern top­ics more famil­iar in the Anglo­phone world: the rela­tion­ship between state and civ­il soci­ety, the Risorg­i­men­to as pas­sive rev­o­lu­tion, organ­ic and tra­di­tion­al intel­lec­tu­als, etc. The pre-prison essay “Some Aspects of the South­ern Ques­tion,” in which Gram­sci demon­strates his capac­i­ty for adroit polit­i­cal-eco­nom­ic analy­sis, is also com­plete­ly ignored by Tron­ti. We might crit­i­cize Tron­ti, then, for com­mit­ting the sin which he levies against unso­phis­ti­cat­ed read­ers of Marx: he ana­lyzes Gramsci’s thought with­out putting it into the com­plete per­spec­tive of Gramsci’s life as a Marx­ist, neglect­ing to con­sid­er his polit­i­cal work as a Com­mu­nist Par­ty leader as well as his agi­ta­tion­al pre-prison writ­ings, not to men­tion the var­i­ous and com­plex themes devel­oped across the com­plete Prison Note­books.

Yet we would be remiss if we did not take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to also draw out sev­er­al pro­duc­tive syn­er­gies avail­able to the read­er who wish­es to con­sid­er Gram­sci and Tron­ti togeth­er. Tron­ti smiles most approv­ing­ly on Gram­sci with regards to his for­mu­la­tion of the “cor­rect solu­tion to the prob­lem of the rela­tion­ship between ‘the­o­ry and prac­tice.’”83 Gram­sci con­sid­ers Marx and Lenin to embody two phas­es of rev­o­lu­tion­ary, crit­i­cal, prac­ti­cal activ­i­ty, and he refus­es to fit them into a hier­ar­chy. He employs the con­cept of “sci­ence-action” to sig­ni­fy the simul­tane­ity of these two phas­es: sci­ence is already action and action is already sci­en­tif­ic. This is not an imme­di­ate iden­ti­ty, Tron­ti stress­es, but two dis­tinct moments in which no pri­or­i­ti­za­tion exists. The one is prac­tice seen the­o­ret­i­cal­ly, the oth­er is the­o­ry used prac­ti­cal­ly. Tron­ti argues that in moments of his­tor­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion – we might remem­ber that these essays were writ­ten imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing 1956 – prac­ti­cal activ­i­ty requires the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion in order to con­sol­i­date itself; mean­while, in such tur­bu­lent times, the­o­ries also pro­lif­er­ate and must be jus­ti­fied in prac­tice, in their applic­a­bil­i­ty to move­ment activ­i­ty. Tron­ti finds such an out­look reflect­ed in Gramsci’s for­mu­la­tion of the­o­ry as a means for accel­er­at­ing the his­tor­i­cal process by ren­der­ing the work­ing-class more “homo­ge­neous” and its polit­i­cal prac­tice more effec­tive. For Gram­sci, the­o­ry iden­ti­fies “deci­sive” ele­ments of prac­tice and devel­ops them, after which its effec­tive­ness is mea­sured by the extent to which it is “assim­i­lat­ed into prac­ti­cal move­ments.”84

In “Marx­ism and Soci­ol­o­gy” Tron­ti argues that the split between dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism and his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism implies that, in soci­ety, there are nat­ur­al laws sep­a­rate from con­crete inquiry. This, he argued, destroys the bril­liant uni­ty posed by Marx­ism. Tron­ti rejects the split between pol­i­tics and sci­ence by, like Gram­sci, ref­er­enc­ing Marx and Lenin, who embod­ied this “uni­ty of het­ero­ge­neous ele­ments” in their per­sons, as the­o­rists and activists at the same time. But also, and per­haps more inter­est­ing­ly, Tron­ti also rejects the divi­sion of labor between the­o­rists and researchers – Marx was able to do both, he argues, and thus the uni­ty of these dif­fer­ent types of work must be pre­served in the fig­ure of the Marx­ist.85

Tron­ti empha­sizes that this equi­lib­ri­um, this uni­ty of het­eroge­nous ele­ments in the per­son of the Marx­ist, is a dai­ly oper­a­tion. The Prison Note­books, Tron­ti admits on this point, are a great school against dog­ma­tism and cat­e­chism, in that they do not seek to pose an absolute knowl­edge, con­quered once and for all. But Tron­ti also admon­ish­es Gram­sci for imag­in­ing Marx­ism to be still in its stage of devel­op­ment and of polemic. Tron­ti agrees that there is no Marx­ist doc­trine; Marx­ism, he writes, was born of an “intrin­sic, imma­nent, log­i­cal neces­si­ty, inti­mate­ly tied to its inter­nal nature” – a sys­tem­at­ic con­sid­er­a­tion of it can­not then pro­duce a doc­tri­naire sys­tem of fixed and final propo­si­tions.86 It can­not be closed off, but its log­ic requires no fur­ther elab­o­ra­tion. Here is the key dif­fer­ence: for Gram­sci, Marx­ism has future poten­tial­i­ties that must be real­ized. His hes­i­tance may be attrib­uted to the fact that rev­o­lu­tion had not yet occurred in Italy, in Europe, or glob­al­ly. But Tron­ti, influ­enced by Del­la Volpe and Col­let­ti, does not find this his­tor­i­cal fact to pre­vent one from declar­ing Marx­ism to be an already per­fect sci­ence. In Tronti’s mind, for Gram­sci to say that Marx­ism is not yet able to be sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly pre­sent­ed means that Gram­sci renounces cer­tain­ty and pre­ci­sion. Gramsci’s inti­ma­tion that Marx­ism is open to inter­pre­ta­tion frus­trates Tron­ti, inspired as he is by Del­la Volpe and Colletti’s faith in sci­en­tif­ic cer­tain­ty.

Fol­low­ing Del­la Volpe and Col­let­ti, Tron­ti argues in “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­o­gy” that Marx’s mer­it is to have found the log­i­cal process which repeats the con­crete his­tor­i­cal method of the cap­i­tal­ist eco­nom­ic-social for­ma­tion. Thus its sta­tus as a unique and per­fect sci­ence is already there with­in it, as it is the super­struc­ture that cor­re­sponds to the soci­ety it explains. Con­tra Gramsci’s analy­sis, Marx­ism is not a con­tin­u­a­tion of Hegel, and it is not await­ing a fur­ther real­iza­tion into the true and per­fect syn­the­sis of his­to­ry. It is rather a sci­ence of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that is pro­duced in prac­tice – and this inno­va­tion is Tronti’s – in rela­tions between researchers and soci­ety, between mil­i­tants and the work­ing class.

In his 1959 talk we find Tron­ti torn between the Dellavol­pean school of thought, which imag­ines Marx­ism as a unique and per­fect sci­ence, and his new attrac­tion to inquiry and research, the real­iza­tion of the prin­ci­ple of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion that was only the­o­rized by the Dellavol­peans but not put into prac­tice, because in prac­tice it must nec­es­sar­i­ly lead to amend­ments to Marx’s orig­i­nal sci­ence, as the con­crete deter­mi­nate process­es of cap­i­tal­ism also change. Michele Fil­ip­pi­ni notes this rad­i­cal promise inher­ent in the prin­ci­ple:

The inver­sion is rad­i­cal: one pass­es from the ide­al­is­tic assump­tion that the­o­ry “is put into prac­tice,” to the­o­ry (the abstract) as the only pos­si­ble “real” deter­mi­na­tion of the con­crete… This would already sug­gest the use of stan­dards of polit­i­cal effi­ca­cy as a means to mea­sure the­o­ry, which does not exist if it is not embod­ied in a sub­ject, if it makes no his­to­ry, if it does not open a space for action that can val­i­date its own pri­or assump­tions.87

Rad­i­cal as it may be, we can find the seeds of this Tron­tian inno­va­tion already in Gramsci’s analy­sis of the rela­tion­ship between the­o­ry and prac­tice, and his asser­tion that the­o­ry proves itself prac­ti­cal when it is tak­en up by move­ments and mil­i­tants – in oth­er words, when it sticks.


The prin­ci­ple of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion allows for the uni­ty of the abstract and the con­crete in the prac­tice of the mil­i­tant researcher-the­o­rist. And the spe­cif­ic knowl­edge pro­duced through par­tic­u­lar research projects is pre­served because the gen­er­al con­cept is under­stood in advance, based upon an analy­sis of cap­i­tal­ism as a sys­tem. The read­er might note that, in an exten­sion of the prin­ci­ple of deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion to Tronti’s polit­i­cal work­erism, the point at which research acts back upon the gen­er­al con­cept to trans­form it, and how one might main­tain that any such amend­ment to the orig­i­nal hypoth­e­sis is a tru­ly sci­en­tif­ic advance and not some ele­ment import­ed into Marx­ism by the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy of the bour­geoisie, proves dif­fi­cult to deter­mine in a pre­cise man­ner. But this very thorny issue defines the work­erist project: to return to Marx while delv­ing into the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry fac­to­ries in order to grasp the ten­den­cies of the present and has­ten them toward the full expres­sion of their antag­o­nism, revi­tal­iz­ing Marx­ism in the process.

Ulti­mate­ly the young Tron­ti deter­mines that what is need­ed now is a Marx­ism as far from phi­los­o­phy of prax­is as from dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism, nei­ther a sub­jec­tivist vol­un­tarism nor an objec­tivist fatal­ism, nei­ther a pure­ly tech­ni­cal method­ol­o­gy of knowl­edge and human action nor a total­iz­ing meta­physic, but a Marx­ism that is rig­or­ous but not dog­mat­ic, his­tor­i­cal yet not his­tori­cist, polit­i­cal as well as the­o­ret­i­cal. We hope that the trans­la­tion of these essays will help to ori­ent a new read­er­ship to the philo­soph­i­cal points of depar­ture for such a project.

Thanks to Asad Haider and Salar Mohan­desi for their per­cep­tive com­ments and help­ful sug­ges­tions regard­ing ear­li­er drafts of this intro­duc­tion.

This arti­cle is part of a dossier enti­tled The Young Mario Tron­ti.

  1. Mario Tron­ti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism and Phi­los­o­phy of Prax­is: Gram­sci and Labri­o­la.” 

  2. Mario Tron­ti, Operai e cap­i­tale (Roma: DeriveAp­pro­di, 2013). On the need for a close recon­sid­er­a­tion of this cru­cial, untrans­lat­ed sec­tion, see Asad Haider and Salar Mohan­desi, “Work­ers’ Inquiry: A Geneal­o­gy,” View­point 3 (Sep­tem­ber 2013). 

  3. For a notable excep­tion, see Pao­lo Capuz­zo and San­dro Mez­zadra, “Provin­cial­iz­ing the Ital­ian read­ing of Gram­sci,” in The Post­colo­nial Gram­sci, eds. Nee­lam Sri­vas­ta­va and Baidik Bhattar­charya (New York and Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2012), 34–54. Andrea Righi has also done impor­tant work to sit­u­ate Gramsci’s work in rela­tion to lat­er post-work­erist and fem­i­nist thought; see Biopol­i­tics and Social Change in Italy: From Gram­sci to Pasoli­ni to Negri (New York: Pal­grave Macmil­lian, 2011). 

  4. For the work­erist cri­tique of Gram­sci, one is usu­al­ly referred to Alber­to Asor Rosa, Scrit­tori e popo­lo (Roma: Samonà e Savel­li, 1966), forth­com­ing in Eng­lish as The Writer and the Peo­ple, trans. Mat­teo Man­dari­ni (Lon­don: Seag­ull Books, 2016). 

  5. For an analy­sis of the impor­tance of the “leap” in Tronti’s thought more gen­er­al­ly, see Michele Fil­ip­pi­ni, Leap­ing For­ward: Mario Tron­ti and the his­to­ry of polit­i­cal work­erism (Maas­tricht: Jan van Eyck Acad­e­mie, 2012). 

  6. Mario Tron­ti, “Stu­di recen­ti sul­la log­i­ca del Cap­i­tale,” Soci­età 17, no. 6 (Decem­ber 6, 1961): 903. 

  7. Mario Tron­ti, “Our Operais­mo,” trans. Eleanor Chiari, New Left Review 73 (January–February 2012): 119–139. 

  8. Ibid. 

  9. Capuz­zo and Mez­zadra, “Provin­cial­iz­ing the Ital­ian read­ing of Gram­sci,” 35. 

  10. Del­la Volpe would also write impor­tant works on polit­i­cal thought, espe­cial­ly con­cern­ing Rousseau, as well as aes­thet­ics. For an exam­ple of the for­mer, see Rousseau and Marx: and oth­er writ­ings, trans. John Fras­er (Atlantic High­lands, N.J: Human­i­ties Press, 1979), and for the lat­ter, see Cri­tique of Taste, trans. Michael Cae­sar (Lon­don: NLB, 1978). 

  11. John Fras­er, An Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Del­la Volpe (Lon­don: Lawrence and Wishart, 1977), 9. 

  12. Gal­vano Del­la Volpe, Log­ic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, trans. Jon Roth­schild (Lon­don: NLB, 1980). 

  13. Mar­tin Jay, Marx­ism and Total­i­ty (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 1984), 430. Jay also points out that Del­la Volpe uses “moral” in the sense of “per­tain­ing to soci­ety.” 

  14. Mario Mon­tano, “On the Method­ol­o­gy of Deter­mi­nate Abstrac­tion: Essay on Gal­vano Del­la Volpe,” Telos 7 (Spring 1971): 33. 

  15. Karl Marx, “From the Cri­tique of Hegel’s Phi­los­o­phy of Right” in Marx: Ear­ly Polit­i­cal Writ­ings, ed. Joseph J. O’Malley (Cam­bridge and New York: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1994), 2. 

  16. Mon­tano, “Method­ol­o­gy of Deter­mi­nate Abstrac­tion,” 34. 

  17. For this and some oth­er for­mu­la­tions in the fol­low­ing para­graphs I am indebt­ed to Steve Wright, Storm­ing Heav­en: Class com­po­si­tion and strug­gle in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism (Lon­don: Plu­to Press, 2002), espe­cial­ly the sec­tion, “The Prob­lem of a ‘Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Cor­rect’ Method,” 25–31. 

  18. At the time the “1857 Intro­duc­tion” was asso­ci­at­ed with the Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my. Today it is more com­mon­ly found with (and referred to as) the “Intro­duc­tion” to the Grun­drisse. See Karl Marx, Grun­drisse: Foun­da­tions of the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, trans. Mar­tin Nico­laus (New York: Pen­guin, 1993), 81–111. 

  19. Del­la Volpe, Log­ic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, 198. 

  20. Mon­tano, “Method­ol­o­gy of Deter­mi­nate Abstrac­tion,” 34. 

  21. Del­la Volpe, Log­ic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, qtd. in Fras­er, Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Del­la Volpe, 84. This exact for­mu­la­tion can­not be found in the Eng­lish trans­la­tion, but as Fras­er notes, Del­la Volpe revised and re-pub­lished his Log­ic a num­ber of times. 

  22. Wright, Storm­ing Heav­en, 26. 

  23. Del­la Volpe, Log­ic as a Pos­i­tive Sci­ence, 200. 

  24. Fras­er, Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Del­la Volpe, 57. 

  25. Ibid., 202. 

  26. Mario Tron­ti, “Some Ques­tions around Gramsci’s Marx­ism.” 

  27. Mario Tron­ti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal.” 

  28. Ibid. 

  29. Ibid. 

  30. Ibid. 

  31. Ibid. 

  32. On this and the fol­low­ing epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ques­tions a sus­tained analy­sis of Tronti’s ear­ly writ­ings in light of Louis Althusser’s work, par­tic­u­lar­ly “The Object of Cap­i­tal,” could prove extreme­ly fruit­ful. At this time we must lim­it our­selves to acknowl­edg­ing that first foot­note of the sec­tion “Marx­ism Is Not a His­tori­cism” cites Tron­ti, but only in order to quote from Gramsci’s “The Rev­o­lu­tion against Cap­i­tal.” See Louis Althuss­er et al., Read­ing Cap­i­tal: The Com­plete Edi­tion, trans. Ben Brew­ster and David Fern­bach (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2015), 269n1. 

  33. Fras­er, Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Del­la Volpe, 24. 

  34. Ibid., 46. 

  35. Mario Alcaro, Dellavolpis­mo e nuo­va sin­is­tra (Bari: Deda­lo, 1977), 47–48. 

  36. Fras­er, Intro­duc­tion to the thought of Gal­vano Del­la Volpe, 15. 

  37. Mario Tron­ti, “Italy,” trans. Ari­an­na Bove, in Karl Marx’s Grun­drisse: Foun­da­tions of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my 150 years lat­er, ed. Mar­cel­lo Mus­to (Lon­don and New York: Rout­ledge, 2008), 230. 

  38. Jay, Marx­ism and Total­i­ty, 429. 

  39. The Eng­lish ver­sion of Marx­ism and Hegel, trans. Lawrence Gar­ner (Lon­don: NLB, 1973), only repro­duces part two of Il marx­is­mo e Hegel (Bari: Lat­erza, 1969), omit­ting Colletti’s intro­duc­tion to Lenin’s Philo­soph­i­cal Note­books. This essay remains untrans­lat­ed into Eng­lish. 

  40. Col­let­ti, qtd. in Kevin Ander­son, Lenin, Hegel, and West­ern Marx­ism: A Crit­i­cal Study (Urbana: Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois Press, 1995), 222. 

  41. Ibid., 223. 

  42. Ander­son, Lenin, Hegel, and West­ern Marx­ism, 223. 

  43. Wright, Storm­ing Heav­en, 27. 

  44. Colletti’s talk was pub­lished lat­er that year in Soci­etá 15, no. 4, under the title “Il marx­is­mo come soci­olo­gia” (“Marx­ism as Soci­ol­o­gy”). It would lat­er be includ­ed as the first essay in Colletti’s book, Ide­olo­gia e Soci­età (Bari: Lat­erza, 1969). Eng­lish trans­la­tion is avail­able as “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy” in From Rousseau to Lenin: Stud­ies in Ide­ol­o­gy and Soci­ety, trans. John Mer­ring­ton and Judith White (New York: Month­ly Review, 1972), 3–44. 

  45. For a geneal­o­gy of this concept’s use in operais­mo see Salar Mohan­desi, “Class Con­scious­ness or Class Com­po­si­tion?” Sci­ence and Soci­ety 77, no. 1 (Jan­u­ary 2013): 72–97, as well as Steve Wright, Storm­ing Heav­en. 

  46. Col­let­ti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy,” 8. 

  47. Ibid. 

  48. Ibid. 

  49. Ibid., 9. 

  50. Tron­ti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal.” 

  51. Col­let­ti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy,” 10. 

  52. Tron­ti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal.” 

  53. Anto­nio Labri­o­la, “His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism,” in Essays on the Mate­ri­al­ist Con­cep­tion of His­to­ry, trans. Charles H. Kerr (Chica­go: Charles H. Kerr & Com­pa­ny, 1908), 157. Trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. 

  54. Tron­ti, “Between Dialec­ti­cal.” 

  55. Ibid. 

  56. Col­let­ti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy,” 11. 

  57. Anto­nio Gram­sci, Selec­tions from the Prison Note­books, trans. Quintin Hoare and Geof­frey Now­ell Smith (New York: Inter­na­tion­al Pub­lish­ers, 1972), 465. For an alter­na­tive read­ing of Gramsci’s state­ment here, see Peter D. Thomas, The Gram­s­cian Moment: Phi­los­o­phy, Hege­mo­ny, Marx­ism (Chica­go: Hay­mar­ket, 2010), chap­ter 7. 

  58. Col­let­ti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy,” 11. 

  59. Ibid. 

  60. Ibid., 12. 

  61. Ibid., 13. 

  62. Ibid., 16. 

  63. Cristi­na Cor­ra­di, Sto­ria dei marx­is­mi in Italia (Roma: Man­i­festo lib­ri, 2005), 128. 

  64. Col­let­ti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy,” 14. 

  65. Mohan­desi, “Class Con­scious­ness or Class Com­po­si­tion?” 

  66. Col­let­ti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy,” 26. 

  67. Ibid., 27. 

  68. Ibid., 28. Col­let­ti is quot­ing from Friedrich Engels, “Review of Karl Marx’s Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my,” 1859. 

  69. Ibid., 29. 

  70. Ibid. Col­let­ti is quot­ing from V.I. Lenin, The Eco­nom­ic Con­tent of Pop­ulism, 1894. 

  71. Ibid., 21. 

  72. Ibid., 15. 

  73. Tron­ti, “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­o­gy.” 

  74. Marx, Grun­drisse, 105. 

  75. Col­let­ti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy,” 22. 

  76. Gram­sci, Selec­tions from the Prison Note­books, 401. 

  77. Col­let­ti, “Marx­ism as a Soci­ol­o­gy,” 32. 

  78. Tron­ti, “Some Ques­tions.” 

  79. Ibid. 

  80. Tron­ti, “Our Operais­mo.” 

  81. Fol­low­ing Tronti’s appre­ci­a­tion for Lenin’s study of the socio-eco­nom­ic for­ma­tion in Rus­sia, Anto­nio Negri employs the deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion approach in Fac­to­ry of Strat­e­gy: Thir­ty-Three Lessons on Lenin, trans. Ari­an­na Bove (New York: Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2014), as well as in his Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grun­drisse, trans. Har­ry Cleaver, Michael Ryan, and Mau­r­izio Viano (South Hadley, M.A.: Bergin & Gar­vey, 1984). 

  82. The Eng­lish Selec­tions from the Prison Note­books, trans­lat­ed and edit­ed by Hoare and Smith, fol­lows the thema­ti­za­tion of these ear­ly Ital­ian edi­tions. A com­pre­hen­sive Eng­lish crit­i­cal edi­tion, trans­lat­ed and edit­ed by Joseph Buttigieg (New York: Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1992–2007), includes three of eight total vol­umes as of this writ­ing. See Peter D. Thomas’ The Gram­s­cian Moment for a thor­ough explo­ration of the his­to­ry of pub­li­ca­tions of the Prison Note­books. 

  83. Tron­ti, “Some Ques­tions.” 

  84. Gram­sci, Selec­tions from the Prison Note­books, 365. 

  85. Tron­ti, “On Marx­ism and Soci­ol­o­gy.” 

  86. Tron­ti, “Some Ques­tions.” 

  87. Fil­ip­pi­ni, Leap­ing For­ward, 13. 

Author of the article

is a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint and a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center.