Fran�ois Matheron


The Italian theoretical and political movement, Operaismo was fundamentally active during the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. In an epoch when the crisis of the workers movement was dominated by excessively “ideological” debates, Operaismo was essentially characterised by the proposition of a “return to the working class”. It is characterised by:

1) A method. “We too have considered in first place capitalist development, and only afterward the workers struggles. This is an error. It is necessary to invert the problem, change the sign, and begin again: and the beginning is the struggle of the working class.” (M. Tronti, p. 105) As such, not only is class struggle the motor of history, but rather, above all, the relation is asymmetric. It is the ever visible movement of the working class that explains capital and capitalist society, and not the inverse.

This abstract idea acquires its meaning with the introduction of the concept of class composition. The working class is not a mythological notion, but rather a historically constructed whole. Technical composition: analysis of the labor process, of the technology, not in sociological terms but rather as sanction of the relations of force between classes. Example: fordism and taylorism embody the principle of eliminating the resistance of the workers and their unions imposing a new type of work. It makes sense then, to analyse the labour process and its modifications in detail in order to understand what “class struggle” means: there has never been more Marxist “evidence”. Political composition: inside the working class certain factions play a minor political role. The working class is not content with reacting to the dominion of capital, it is continually immersed in the process of political recomposition, and capital is obliged to respond with a continual restructuration of the labor process. As such it makes sense to analyse this political recomposition, the cycle of struggles.

2) A global point of view. In the first texts of Raniero Panzieri, attention is centred on planning. Capital acquires more relevance as a social power that tries to control the movements of the class, and less relevance as private property. From here there arises a new vision of the state: no longer is it the simple guarantor of exploitation, but rather the organiser, intervening directly in production. The form of the state is a consequence of the class composition. Antonio Negri can thus demonstrate that the “keynsian” state and what he calls in general the “planner state” is nothing other than the insertion of the October Revolution into capitalist development: workers' power is considered as an independent variable.

3) A political movement. If the working class is the motor of capitalist development, it can equally be, and is, a force of rupture. In a period of apparent reflux, in which one can speak of a working class will to integration, the operaists preached about and tried to organise new struggles impelled by a new figure: the “mass worker”, the nonqualified worker in the large factories. Struggles for wage equality were not corporatist claims but rather political forces of rupture capable of blocking the system and augmenting workers' power. The movement of 1968 would be perceived as confirmation of this thesis. There exists the possibility of rupture, and therefore the possibility for construction of communism (against socialism, the new form of development). But equally the state can also impose its restructuration, once again transforming the workers struggles into simple motors for development.

4) A movement in history. The will to organize the movements in open conflict with the traditional worker movement provoked a rupture in Quaderni Rossi (the originary journal of this tendency), lead by Panzieri. In 1964 the periodical Classe Operaia was born, animated by Mario Tronti, Romano Alquati and Antonio Negri among others - from which a part of the group, lead by Mario Tronti, separated in 1966 - that would end up entering into the PCI. After 1968, the group Potere Operaio would be one mode of inheriting the earlier tendency; its self-dissolution in 1973 signalled the appearance of “Autonomia Operaia”. Negri would elaborate the theory of the “diffuse social worker” as a new figure of a working class that had ceased to be concentrated in the large factories and had come to be distributed in a more diffused form in the totality of the territory, with the concept of productive work adopting a greater extension, and the state converting itself into the principle direct enemy. But that is already another story.

Journals: Quaderni Rossi, 1961-1965, republished, Roma, Nuove edizioni operaie, 1976-1978; Classe operaia, 1964-1967, republished, Milan, Machina Libri, 1979; Contropiano, Firenze, La Nuova Italia.

Books: (in general collections of articles, assembled much later) Romano Alquati, Sulla Fiat, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1975; Antonio Negri, La Forma-Stato, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1977; Id., Crisi dello Stato-piano, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1974; Id., Proletari e Stato, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1976, Raniero Panzieri, La crisi del movimento operaio, Milan, Lampugnani Nigri, 1973; Id., La ripresa del marxismo-leninismo in Italia, Milan, Sapere Edizioni, 1973; Mario Tronti, Operai e Capitale, Tur�n, Einaudi, 1966.

Anthologies: Operai e Stato, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1972; Crisi e organizzazione operaia, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1974; L’operaio multinazionale in Europa, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1974; Imperialismo e classe operaia multinazionale, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1976.

Originally published as Fran�ois Matheron, � Opera�sme �, en Bensussan - Labica, Dictionnaire critique du marxisme, Paris, Quadrigue - Presses Universitaires de France, 1999. This article is available in French on Multitudes. Translated from the Spanish version, available at EspaiMarx.

Translated by Nate Holdren. Edited for G-O by EE.

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