Notes on ch4, the portion that’s been translated. This chapter, Lenin In England, has been translated. I believe it first appeared in English in the Red Notes collection Working Class Autonomy And The Crisis, but I’m not sure. Red Notes and the circulation of translated materials from Italy in the 60s and 70s is a whole other topic worth researching. In any case, the essay was published in 1964 for the first issue of Classe Operaia. I’d like to get some background on these different newspapers/journals and the social/political context at the time, generally and in movements of the day. The piece is brilliant, and some of the more famous things Tronti’s said appear in it. It also opens the second section of the book, A Political Experiment Of A New Type.
Tronti begins by declaring that “A new era in the class struggle is beginning.” It results from the class struggle of the workers, having imposed it on the capitalists. We need to look closely to see the power of the working class, which is fully present but difficult to make apparent. It is real but hard to see.
“Capitalist society has its laws of development: economists have invented them, governments have imposed them, and workers have suffered them. But who will uncover the laws of development of the working class? Capital has its history, and its historians write it - but who is going to write the history of the working class? Capitalist exploitation can impose its political domination through a hundred and one different forms - but how are we going to sort out the form that will be taken by the future dictatorship of the workers organised as the ruling class?” This is excellent, but the question is what kind of laws? Necessitarian developments? Or more like a “logic”, an unfolding that makes sense…? The dictatorship of the proletariat, eh? Don’t know what to do with that.
“We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first, and workers second. This is a mistake. And now we have to turn the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class.” Excellent. This is the whole impulse that draws many of us to sources like Tronti, operaismo, and the other moments in the autonomist tradition more broadly construed. The same sentiment is expressed one paragraph down:
“Our new approach starts from the proposition that, at both national and international level, it is the specific, present, political situation of the working class that both necessitates and directs the given forms of capital’s development.”
But… “At the level of socially developed capital, capitalist development becomes subordinated to working class struggles; it follows behind them, and they set the pace to which the political mechanisms of capital’s own reproduction must be tuned.” This reminds me of Negri, who sometimes sounds like he says that in a certain stage autonomy is attained. In this case, we don’t start from the beginning. We start from the present, and read forward. To start from the beginning would mean to start from the present forward politically/organizationally, and to start from the present backward historically, a historiographic project of re-reading history and criticizing the received traditions and concepts of the workers movements. As a stage attained, the autonomy of the working class differs from the sort of Deleuzian ontological priority of resistance, rather it’s an ontological priority of something else (history?) that, at a certain point, cedes its position to the workign class.
“we urgently need to shake off that sense of working class defeat which has for decades dragged down this movement which, in its origins, was the only revolutionary movement of this era. But an urgent practical need is never sufficient basis for a scientific thesis: such a thesis must stand on its own feet, on a solid and complex grounding of material, historical fact.” I like this a lot too: our ideas need to be livable, we can’t live in the dead end of purely and solely critical marxism and its lamentations. But positive projects and those outlooks must be based on possibilities that are present in the world, not simply on rhetorical gestures and grand philosophic positions.
Economy should be explained politically (reading politically, as Harry has put it), not the other way around - contra objectivism.
Pre-echoes of _Empire_ - workers movements (metaphorically, in the sense of social movements, and literally in migration, movements across the globe) push capital to globalize.
“the workers have already gone beyond the old Organisations, but have not yet reached a new organisation a vacuum of political organisation, be it reformist or revolutionary. We have reached a period of in-between in working class history: we must examine it deeply and grasp its implications, for its political consequences will be decisive.” We’re still in this condition. But I wonder - does organization require Organization? And what was in this going-beyond? Tronti’s critical of unions at times, I’d want to make a criticism of the party form - and not simply that it’s outmoded but that it was a bad idea.
As a result of the period we’re in, the in-between condition, Tronti says the question we’re faced with is “how are we to grasp the material movements of the class, in the absence of levels of institutions corresponding to those movements - i.e. the lack of those channels through which class consciousness usually expresses itself? This clearly demands a greater theoretical effort (and one more capable of making abstractions), but it also has a clearer practical function: for we are compelled to analyse the working class independently of the working class movement.” What was the character of those institutions? For at least some of them, contradictory at best. And this compulsion to analyse the class indepedendent of the working class movement, is this from the present onward (because of the state of things today) or does this involve a re-reading and criticism of the history of the working class and its organizations (and perhaps some impostors that posed as its organizations…)?
“if the working class had a revolutionary political organisation, it would aim everywhere, at making use of the highest developed point of capitalist reformism.” I don’t know what this means, exactly.
“The process of building a unification of capital at the international level can only become the material base for a political recomposition of the working class (and in this sense a positive strategic moment for the revolution) if it is accompanied by a revolutionary growth not only of the class, but also of class organisation. If this element is absent, the whole process works to the advantage of capital” I like the identification of recomposition with organization, but, does organization mean an organization, or some specific Organization that Tronti has in mind or simply organizing?
“Today the strategic viewpoint of the working class is so clear that we wonder whether it is only now coming to the full richness of its maturity. It has discovered (or rediscovered) the true secret, which will be the death sentence on its class enemy: the political ability to force capital into reformism, and then to blatantly make use of that reformism for the working class revolution. But the present tactical position of the working class - as a class without class organisation - is, and must necessarily be, less clear and more subtly ambiguous. The working class is still forced to make use of contradictions which create crisis within capitalist reformism; it has to play up the elements which hinder and retard capitalist development, since it knows and senses that to allow a free hand for capital’s reformist operations in the absence of a political organisation of the working class, would amount to freezing for a long period the entire revolutionary process” Ahh. I suspect now that Tronti doesn’t just mean “organizing”, what is needed is “a political organization” for the class. Coming to maturity… more progressivism? I like the part about forcing capital into and then taking full advantage of reforms. And the compositional processes required to win reforms, at least some of the time, lay groundwork for future class recomposition.
“the two reformisms - that of capital and that of the labour movement - should certainly meet, but only through a direct initiative by the working class. When - as at the present moment - all the initiative is in capital’s hands, the workers’ immediate interest is to keep them apart. From a tactical point of view, too, it is correct that this meeting should take place once the working class has experienced not only struggle, but also revolutionary struggle, and within revolutionary struggle has also experienced alternative models of organisation. At that point, the historic encounter of capitalist reformism with the reformism of the labour movement will really mark the beginning of the revolutionary process.” Three place relationship: capital, labor movement, working class. The comment on alternative models is interesting. I keep wanting to read Tronti on organization in lowercase and plural or indeterminate - organization, many instances of organization - and not in the singular capital - Organization, An/The Organization - but I can’t tell if that’s in keeping w/ what he means or not. I suspect the distinction between struggle and organization means he’s got more the latter in mind. Struggle is organization, which is to say, activity like a march on the boss or a sitdown strike not only requires organization to happen, but it is organization. (The analytis, then, must be one of modes or levels or registers of organization, and how they inter-relate and, sometimes, accumulate.)
“For working class thouht, the moment of discovery has returned. The days of systems building, of repetition, and vulgarity elevated to the status of systematic discourse are definitely over. What is needed now is to start again, with rigorously one-sided class logic - courage and determination for ourselves, and detached irony towards the rest.” Indeed. But was one-sidedness previously not a good starting point, or was it simply not the starting point that was selected?
“As regards the practical resolution of practical problems of direct struggles, of direct organisation of direct intervention in a given class situation where workers are involved - all these should be gauged first of all by what the movement needs for its own development. Only secondarily should they be judged from the viewpoint of a general perspective which subjectively imposes these things on the class enemy.” I’m not clear on this. Intervention into a situation should be guaged by what the movement needs, or by what that situation needs? Both? To my mind, the needs of the movement can only be advanced by a series of points of development based on the needs of situations. (Bottom up, for lack of a better phrase.) And, again, is this a new condition of our political moment, or a general point about how organization and intervention should be carried out as such?
This is excellent: “It is easy to see the job of mystification that the old organisations are doing on the new working class struggles. But it is harder to grasp the way that workers are continuously, consciously making use of that institution which capital still believes to be the movement of the organised workers.” Again I’m reminded of the arguments on autopsy about the NEFAC position paper on workplace organizing, and the general left communist anti-union stance. Workers are not simply dupes of the manipulative bureaucracies, but rather exist in a contradictory relationship with them.
Re: union, the workers “take them on, make use of them, and once they have been made use of, hand them back to the bosses”, contra the simple equation that takes unions as simply bankrupt and counter-revolutionary in their entirety.
Skipping down closer to the end, Tronti says “workers will very fast drop forms of organisation that they have only just won. And in place of the bureaucratic void of the general political organisation, they substitute the ongoing struggle at factory level - a struggle which takes ever-new forms which only the intellectual creativity of productive work can discover. Unless a directly working class political organisation can be generalised, the revolutionary process will not begin” I like the first half quite a bit. It rephrases the point about thinking about the working class independent of organizations - not in the sense of external to, but in the sense of an independent variable, sometimes in and sometimes out of organizations. It’s not the in or out that’s important, but the movement of the class. Not sure about the productive work part - I assume this means the industrial proletariat, not the expansive sense of production that I’d like to read into Marx (housework and schoolwork as productive, I like to call it the ‘one big tent’ account of productive labor). And again, what’s this organization?
Backing up a bit to the stuff on unions - “As a matter of fact, the classical Marxist thesis - that the Union holds the tactical moment, and the Party holds the strategic moment -still holds true for the workers. This is why, if a link still exists between the working class and the unions, it does not exist between the working class and the Party. It is this fact which frees the strategic perspective from the immediate 0rganisationa~ tasks; it splits, temporarily, class struggle and class organisation; it splits the ongoing moment of struggle and temporary forms of organisation -all of which is the consequence of the historical failure of Socialist reformism, as well as being a premise of the political development of the working class revolution.” I’ve got more of a syndicalist bent, so in some ways I’m probably for a refusal of strategy (as a refusal of strategists), which would basically be the admission that there are only tactics. Where does this classical Marxist thesis occur? I’ve avoided more of classical Marxism than I probably should have because the people who speak in its name generally strike me as fucks, particularly in their involvement in movements. I’m now trying to play catch up, because I want to know the tradition better.
“Theoretical research and practical political work have to be dragged - violently if need be - into focusing on this question: not the development of capitalism, but the development of the revolution. We have no models. The history of past experiences serves only to free us of those experiences. We must entrust ourselves to a new kind of scientific interpretation. We know that the whole process of development is materially embodied in the new level of working class struggles. Our starting point might therefore be in uncovering certain forms of working class struggles which set in motion a certain type of capitalist development which goes in the direction of the revolution. Then we would consider how to articulate these experiences within the working class, choosing subjectively the nerve points at which it is possible to strike at capitalist production. And on this basis, testing and re-testing, we could approach the problem of how to create a relationship, a new and ongoing organisation which could match these struggles. Then perhaps we would discover that “organisational miracles” are always happening, and have always been happening, within those miraculous struggles of the working class that nobody wants to know about but which perhaps, all by themselves, make and have made more revolutionary history than all the revolutions the colonised people have ever made.” Who interprets, though? Generally, is Tronti posing a distinction between the audience (”we”) and “the working class”? What was Tronti doing at the time of this writing? Not working? Or, is the distinction between some of us in the working class and a lot of the rest of the working class? (I don’t think this distinction can be avoided.) I’d want to say that the forms of struggle and organization that are already happening involve some kind of interpretation that’s already happening, by definition. That can be improved of course, and circulated (along w/ the organization processes) - in this sense the ‘uncovering’ would mean ‘uncovering for us and for some other workers’, not any kind of leading of already-organizing workers to consciousness. Also, what’s the last line about, re: colonize people? Is this an anti- thirdworldist/anti-imperialist politics? Is there a contemporary debate Tronti is referencing here?
I don’t understand this: “It is the political ‘approach which must verify the correctness of the particular struggles, and not vice-versa. Because, on this basis, the political approach would be the total viewpoint of the working class, and therefore the actual real situation.” Presumably this implies someone who knows and represents the total class viewpoint (the party?), in some kind of true or objective fashion (ie, in a fashion that doesn’t involve any intra-class political decision). I don’t think that’s possible. Quite Leninist here.
And yet, a heterodox Leninism - “such an approach takes us, away from the Leninist conception of the working class newspaper: this was conceived as the collective organiser on the basis of, or in anticipation of, a Bolshevik organisation of the class and of the Party. These are impossible objectives for us at this stage of the class struggle: this is the stage where we must embark on a discovery, not of the political organisation of advanced vanguards, but of the political organisation of the whole, compact social mass which the working class has become, in the period of its high political maturity - a class which, precisely because of these character istics, is the only revolutionary force, a force which, proud and menacing, controls the present order of things.” Is this transformed Leninism changed because of the change in the objective order, the stage attained - social capital?
“What we call “Lenin in England” is a project to research a new Marxist practice of the working class party: it is the theme of struggle and of organisation at the highest level of political development of the working class.” Hmm. How about Joe Hill in England?