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

Introduction

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 Montaño, “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.

Conclusion

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.

References   [ + ]

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 Montaño, “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. Montaño, “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. Montaño, “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.