Author’s note: These ten theses were supposed to open a debate between a group of journals (Settegiorni, Rinascita, Relazioni sociali, Quaderni di Azione sociale, Quaderni dell’Acpol, Problemi del socialismo, Il ponte, Mondo Nuovo, il manifesto, economia & lavoro, Critica Marxista, Mondo operaio, and Contropiano), which ran out of steam after an initial exchange. Most probably the interlocuters were too much in disagreement even on the basics to be able to engage in constructive dialogue.
Preamble. The need to confront, in a short space, several themes that are necessarily linked amongst themselves to provide the basis for a broad discussion, drove me to set things out in the schematic form of theses. A number of moves in the exposition will thus appear blunt and several topics are not even touched upon (e.g. completely lacking is the analysis of the ruling class, as is that of the development of Italian capitalism, etc.). The entire discussion is supposed to express a ‘hypothesis’ on the class situation in Italy today, and this is what matters. Besides, having been assigned the somewhat thankless task of opening the discussion, I hope I shall be permitted intervene again and further on as a mere ‘debater’ on more specific themes and thus on those that are more thoroughly developed.
1. The 1960s. At the heart of the 1960s in Italy there was an interrupted chain of workers’ struggles that were destined to change the social aspect of the nation and profoundly modify traditional political and institutional arrangement, both for the opposition and for the governing camp. The impetuous development of capitalism and the crisis of political institutions; the growing divergence between party and class as it had developed in the years following the Liberation, and the search – by the [political] parties – for a new political space on a broader social terrain; the beginning of a laborious [process of] trade union restructuring around the great themes of generalised and articulated struggle, of unity and autonomy, of the acceptance or refusal of incomes policies – these are just some of the processes that the growth of the Italian working class has provoked and imposed. Two great material facts are crucial for defining the nature and probable future direction of this set of phenomena.
First, there is a change in the weight of the working class towards its outside: this is not only due to the sociological fact of its objective growth, but due to the powerful subjective charge produced by the social situation of the country brought about by the acceleration of struggles, which has included, in concentric circles, increasingly vaster strata and categories of workers traditionally rarely present in clashes (from students, to office workers, and technicians), transmitting to them methods and aims [contenuti] of struggles. Second, there is a substantial shift in the internal composition of the class: both in the balance between different sectors, and within the same factory and the same sector – with a coming to the forefront of a new (to Italy) type of modern mass worker, whose relations to political and union organisations no longer pass through the hierarchy of professionalisation and occupation [mestiere]. Hence, while the objective conditions for the extension of the hegemony of the working class over the whole of society multiply, there grows simultaneously and consequentially the need to redefine new forms of organic link between struggle and organisation on the basis of the different structure and composition of the class. If it is true that the historical and strategic experience of 1945 goes into crisis towards the middle of the 1950s, the decade of the 1960s constitutes for the working class and its organisations the arduous approach to the new levels and dimensions of class conflict during a period of growth towards a mature capitalism. The knots tied in the ‘60s are not undone in ‘68-‘69 but present themselves anew with formidable urgency and necessity. This brief glance on the past is necessary to precisely identify the characteristics and limits of the latest examples of struggle, without indulging in triumphalism but also without repeating the errors in evaluation that could have been avoided from the start of the 1960s with a minimum show of foresight.
2. Working class self-organisation. The struggles of 1968-’69 have shed light on the Italian workers’ growing disposition to recover their own class autonomy and unity. This is not a metaphysical process, coming from above by divine action [virtù], but of an extremely concrete, historical, material fact that stems from specific needs and aims to bring about definite results, by way of instruments suitable for such ends. This discussion, then, concerns both forms and objectives of struggle. As far as the forms are concerned: alongside the distinctive characteristics of the entire cycle of the ‘60s, but they too in this final phase achieve a high left of refinement (massification and generalisation of struggle, excellent transmission of slogans), there emerges between 1968 and ’69 the tendency to fix the utmost levels of worker combativeness in stable organisational instruments. This in two distinct, not always well-integrated, directions: on one hand, with the creation of united organs somewhere between trade union forms and political ones, which take on the leadership of the struggle in the name of the drive from the base of a specific factory or firm (the united ‘committees of the base’ [comitati unitari di base]); on the other hand, with the creation of a working class organisational network, that exploits – in reverse – the tracks of the capitalist organisation of production so as to recompose the unity of struggle grounded in the basic work units [unità lavorative di base] (team and division delegates, workshop committees, etc.). Neither in one case nor the other does it seem possible to speak of these experiences as the embryo of a New Party or Union (the spontaneist hypothesis) or of the Socialist state in construction (the Soviet hypothesis). The enormous importance of this lies in the possibility that it expresses [the desire] to create, in the factory, a line of fortification and of attack that is immediately of the working class and immediately united, against the capitalist reorganisation of production. As a delegate from Mirafiori wrote: ‘The delegate is not the political vanguard. The delegate is the expression of the organic grouping of workers and is born for the purpose of a certain type of internal struggle’ (Gaudenti in il manifesto, 1970 n. 1). That does not mean that the ‘united committees of the base’ and the division delegates do not present strategic or organisational problems. Of course they do, but they do so precisely to the same extent that any leap forward in the consciousness and self-organisation of the workers poses the problem of finding political solutions that correspond to them. Thus, from within the organisational experiences of the workers remerges, but enormously richer, the old problem of the political vanguard, which is capable of generalising and imposing at the general social level the most advanced aims [contenuti] developed in the workers’ struggles themselves. Only a qualitative leap on the plane of the organised vanguard can, at this point, enable the definitive bedding down and even the political growth of the very experiences of working class organisation.
3. Struggles over wages and over work. Working class organisational experiences cannot be dissociated from the results that they aimed to achieve in this phase. And the struggle was, first, over working conditions and over the wage; second, on trade union rights, precisely to stabilise the results of the first two. A struggle over working conditions as a struggle, perhaps for the first time, against the capitalist organisation of work. The struggle over the wage as the umpteenth, but more generalised episode of that decades long struggle that workers of advanced capitalist nations conduct on the terrain of development, so as to use the mechanism of accumulation for their own ends, and to recompose themselves and grow at the expense of the general wealth that they themselves produce. On the one hand, then, the observation of capitalist command in the factory and the putting into crisis of the ‘objective’ logic of production have on several occasions pressed beyond the margins of what is bearable that is conceded to the system (struggles over piece-rates at Pirelli, over working hours and rhythms at FIAT, etc.); on the other hand, the solid identification of profit as the nerve centre of capital on which to graft the struggle and to knock the system off-balance, has constituted a further basis for the internal unity and external expansion of the class. From the leading sectors to the less advanced, from the worker sectors to that of the technicians, the office workers, the day labourers and farm workers, the demand for ‘more money’, perhaps in the extremely significant form of the equivalent salary rise for all, pushes towards a mass, not elitistconsciousness of the real class relationship existing in a society of mature capitalism, and supplies the material base for a strategic discourse that does not seeks to be purely ideological. A warning: there are at least two versions of this discourse, one marked by extremism and that other that is strictly trade unionist. The former advances the naïve illusion that the revolution consists in quantitatively forcing working class struggle onto the wage and against work – as if it were enough to ask for more money or to refuse tout court work to put the system in crisis. The other is satisfied with using this struggle ‘within’ the mechanism of development of the system and objectively turning the struggle against work into the necessary step for technological leaps and the struggle for the wage as an incentive for increasing productivity. The signs coming from the working class in placing at the heart of things the wage struggle and [conditions of] work seem different. The problems of the wage and of work are so important because it is to these that can be led back what pertains to the working class as a class in its relationship with the development of advanced capitalism. Thus, the working class chooses as the terrain of battle precisely what characterises it and is evermore destined to characterise it as a class. Precisely because it moves in determinate conditions, it does not refuse to articulate its struggles in successive moves [passaggi], each of which represent a temporary mediatory relation with capitalist development (thus a refusal of the extremist hypothesis); but at the same time it today appears very clear that each of these moves [passaggi] must be considered strategically positive only if the class strengthens its overall weight in relation to capitalism both in the factory and in society. This overall weight, while it has grown through what have at times been merely contractual struggles, cannot be merely of a trade union form but must necessarily be political. Only that ‘political’ for us only has meaning if it corresponds to a conscious, generalised, enduring, and practicable project of revolutionary transformation of society. It is not that the struggle over wages and over work are in themselves political – even though they overstep, even spontaneously, the border of trade union discourse – but the struggle over wages and over work are only political when conducted and controlled by the working class political organisation, the party, and is able to win for itself instruments, also the institutional ones, to be generalised and realised at the national level (or better still, at the European level if we broaden our gaze, as we can, to the international level).
4. From the factory to society. Having posed the problem of the factory in those terms, a direct expansion of the struggle to society follows. Even at the subjective level, there is amongst the workers a growing knowledge, even if in unequal and uneven forms, of the relationship between the capitalist organisation of production and the capitalist organisation of society. Perhaps, for the first time, there are objective and subjective conditions for turning working class struggle into an immediately social struggle and of turning struggles in specific points of the system’s social mechanism into immediately working class struggles. The examples are well-known: fiscal policy, prices, homes, services. But what’s new is that the workers begin to see them as the immediate projection of an entire series of problems that they have had to confront and have in part been able to resolve in their factory struggles: whether, once again, in terms of wage battles (defending spending power, alignment – even by means of attack– of price dynamics to wage dynamics and not vice versa), or in terms of working conditions (services, transportation as part and parcel of provision of labour, and so on). A vast field of experimentation opens up to this new type of relationship between factory and society (a relationship that is not merely theoretical or sociological but of struggle): from problematising the urban and territorial fabric on the basis of specific working class demands to the unprecedented impact upon the mass of problems concerning financial and credit policy of large-scale capital and the government. In other words, today, there is the possibility of breaking the encirclement of the factory and of escaping its position as working class ghetto to transform it into the privileged centre for the promotion of political pressure generally and socially. But for this to happen, specific acts of subjective will are necessary by the organised forces of the moment. Without it, precisely the force of the pressure in this direction could result in an equally emphatic reflux, aiming to recuperate the struggle in the factory, as if it were the last card working class resistance can play in the face of a fraying and inert social struggle.
5. Political leadership [direzione] and spontaneity. What the struggles of 1968-’69 have presented us with is not the triumph of ‘the movement’ (although this too), but more a whole complex interweaving of tasks of political leadership, which we can in no way think have been overcome, and their relationship with class autonomy, which one must recognise as growing. Without taking into account these two elements, and of their reciprocal influence, we run the risk of ending up in a repetition of bureaucratic schema or an illusory glorification of the spontaneous creativity of the masses. But to refuse to concede to the celebration of the movement, does not mean failing to see that it exists and expresses its positions [contenuti] independently of and sometimes in opposition to the [official] organisations. The problem is precisely that of identifying the contents of the struggles, the tendential lines expressed by the autumn battle, and of inserting the one and the other within a long-term strategic framework able to operate from today in response to the proposed objectives and the real demands of the great masses in struggle. Not a liquidation of Leninism, we might say, but its renewal. Or, with a different emphasis: the revival of Leninism, provided it is renewed.
6. Party and union. The autumn struggles have forcefully presented again the problem of the relations of force between the party and the union. The union has gone a long way forward, whereas the parties have remained a long way back. The unions have moved forward essentially because they have gathered up and handled real worker pressure, even though it was only possible to activate the part of it destined to remain and move within development. But this was enough to immediately revive the discussion concerning strategy and organisation in which everyone has been caught up in. In this sense, it is true that one cannot even distinguish in trade union action a precise division between the political and the economic, although it is equally true (the autumn struggles confirm it) that the union must remain rigorously within its institutional confines for its very survival and vitality. It is nevertheless certain that the processes of trade union unity and autonomy have weighed positively upon the internal and political life of the parties. Today, however, the real situation seems reversed. If the situation of the parties continues not to change, the growth of the unions also remains blocked, and this not only for the most visible reason that the parties continue to forcefully weigh upon the internal life of the trade unions, but above all because an audacious process of restructuring, such as the one of union unity and autonomy, does not take place within a deficient political framework such as that of the current Italian left. Here too the discussion returns to that of party-lines and structures. It seems indeed clear that today, either everything together takes a step forward, or everything goes backwards – the union like the party, the movement and working class self-organisation along with the party and the union.
7. Party and mass movement. This relationship is one of those issues that lie upstream from every [attempt at] redefinition of the organic link between struggles and strategy, between mass pressure and political organisation. We note that this relationship has often been seen by the parties of the left purely as a task of mediation between the demands of the struggling masses and political actors – with, what’s worse, that frequently the internal logic of the political actors usurps that of the mass movements. Some intelligent openings on the issues newly emerging, e.g. from the student movement (the articles by [Luigi] Longo at the start of 1968, those of the Central Committee of PSIUP on schooling), remained isolated and without practical application. In truth, the problem posed here is vast, since it concerns the establishing of a useful and positive relationship between the organised forces of the working class and a tumultuous, ever-changing social field in which the tendential fall of aging social classes and alliances opens the possibility for an antagonistic formation that is even richer and more articulated than in the past. A fundamental novelty of the situation could be the following: the tendentially antagonistic social classes and strata that show themselves today to be ready for an extended, if not strategic struggle with the system, do not, as they did, represent economic and social forces of the past that capitalism tends to erase in the course of its development and that are thus prompted into becoming pockets of resistance, at times important ones even if without a future. Rather, they are born as original products of capitalist development and so maintain an extremely complex relationship with it, at once of participation and opposition. An organic relationship with the organised forces of the working class can thus come about if two conditions are satisfied: 1) if the organised forces of the working class intend for the antagonistic discourse of the new social forces to be all the more general [globale] the more their relationship with the system unfolds at the highest levels of technological and institutional rationalisation, and so can with much greater difficulty be contained within the boundaries of pure agitational and contractual demands; 2) if the organised forces of the working class (unions and parties) are able to guarantee to these new social forces a relationship with the working class at the highest level of contents that [the working class] expresses in the course of its struggles. Every attempt to lead these mass movements (such as the student movement) to the average level of national class conflict (to use a terminology that is statistical but also political), would be to let it slip through one’s fingers and, moreover, to condemn it to failure. Which is not to say that there is no average level of national class conflict that should be born in mind. But it does mean that it does not constitute the correct criterion with which to measure the antagonistic expectations of technicians, students, researchers, of proletarianized intellectuals, and of any other category born of the crisis of capitalist development.
8. The party in the factory. The central problem, however, remains that of the relationship between class and party since the possibility of alliances and of the true legitimacy of the hegemonic plan depends on it. Two convergent processes meet on this terrain and render the problem all the more urgent the more difficult it is to resolve. On the one hand, the crisis of the idea of the party delegate, which had a certain force and justification in the years following 1945, runs into serious obstacles in developing a new conception and new practice of the party in the factory over the entire long period when the party appears to entrust the union with the task of reunifying and homogenising the differing class levels. In such a situation no one could pretend that, in the eyes of the working class, the party was anything else but the guarantor, on the general social level, of its victories in the factory. On the other hand, however, the process of union growth, even without reaching its highest point, incinerates within the factory the last possible old-style party discussions and instead tends to spread – thanks to the very force of the workers’ drive – into the social areas traditionally reserved for the parties. The problem posed by such phenomena could be summarised as follows: the parties note that the place for real politics tends evermore to be the factory and that only a correct, organic relationship with the class within the factory permits an effective grasp of the whole of society. From here stems the revival of the old slogan ‘the party in the factory’, based on a new relationship that can no longer be that of 1945. The tangible signs of the emergence of this line could be: some aspects of the XIIth Congress of the PCI, the conference on the mass struggles of the PSIUP in the spring of 1969, the last Central Committee of the PCI, Piero Ingrao’s recent article in Rinascita. There appear to be two conditions for this revival of the party in the factory. The first, more obvious condition, is that there is no effective relationship with the class unless the party is a dynamic element with the struggles and that it should grow with it. Second, far more important, that that there is no relationship with the class if the party fails to gather within its stance [linea] the political contents of the struggles and turn them into the axis for a general social and political battle. If these conditions are not met, the working class will always prefer union politics (trade union but political) to the ideological and merely solidaristic relationship with the party. The line of ‘the party in the factory’ is thus a strategic one, not a mere tactical adjustment (if, that is, it presumes to operate). The party in the factory is, in fact, only the first half of a political formula, which fully expressed can be roughly stated as follows: the party in the factory – the factory in the party; or better still: the party in the factory only if, in the political line of the party the line of the workers’ struggle lives and grows in hegemony; that is, that the strategic content expressed in it expresses itself and seeks a political outlet.
9. The strategy of reforms. The strategy of reforms has also received a powerful shock from the workers’ struggles of the last two years. The massive presence of workers’ struggles in society has made clearer the contradiction between two ways of understanding and practicing such a strategy within the Italian workers’ movement: on the one hand, as a set of provisions aiming to rectify bottlenecks and lags [arretratezze] of the system and to thereby facilitate the social advance and material well-being of the working and popular classes; on the other, as a chain of validation points (also of a legislative type) for the achievements reached by the movement, which with such institutional consolidation acquires a greater possibility of passing to higher and more decisive points of the conflict. It is not a case of a mere distinction between two methods, it is an issue of contents. By bursting onto the social terrain, the workers’ struggle of the last two years has shown what the path could be to weld together worker demands and general social demands on the terrain of plans of reform as well. For example: pensions, wage differentials [gabbie salariali], placements of day labourers. Today: prices, taxes, housing, services, health. The lesson emerging from this sort of worker participation in the struggles over reform would appear to be the following: the capitalist organisation of society, as it advances and perfects itself, increasingly interweaves itself with the capitalist organisation of production; the life of the great masses is conditioned by an economic and political apparatus that extends its links everywhere and everywhere can be effectively struck, if everywhere one aims at its pulsing heart, which is the mechanism of accumulation. The working class has managed to transform into a struggle over the wage and over [conditions of] work the strategy of reforms as well. This is a precious sign. Not only does it not isolate the working class from the other great working masses, but it reveals the concrete, material terrain for new alliances and for an extension of its hegemony based on specific interests that fan out from the condition of the working class in the factory to the whole of society. Think of the question of employment, to its relationship, first, with the southern question, and then the worker issue, and finally with the question of schooling. Think of the problems of the taxation and of circulating wealth, which are destined to raise tensions among all categories of working people and to thus encourage further processes of unification between the different levels of labour-power. Understood in this way, a battle on reforms could still make some sense. Everything depends upon understanding and making others understand that each of these moments should be determined from the start by specific class needs, and one then needs to adopt and put them into practice not to make a ‘better society’ but to strengthen the working class.
10. A political unity of the working class. While the Italian working class conducts its battles and even achieves important victories, capital makes every effort to rediscover its inner unity and appears to succeed. Carli’s ‘virtuous circle’ – productivity growth, wage growth, consumption growth, investment growth, productivity growth –, having become by now irremovable dogma of the most advanced strata of the ruling capitalist class [ceto], seeks to finally achieve its perfect application. The alliance between political stratum [ceto] and economic stratum [ceto] is re-established based upon a ‘moderate’ development policy. There is of course no order-bloc, but there is a preeminent need to restore the unity of all of great capital and the entire political stratum [ceto] of government so as to be able to 1) win back complete institutional control over the class, 2) to avoid, at this time, a radical crisis of the institutions that would sweep away even the possibility of a long-term prospect of reform (i.e. the socialists in government). The answer of the parties shouldn’t be difficult, if one bears in mind the lessons learnt from the workers’ struggles: one cannot permit, at this time, that the struggles become caged once and for all within the definite parameters of the existing institutions, nor facilitate in any way the blackmail based upon the (today, false) antithesis between reform and revolution. The conditions – present in the factory and in society – for the revival of the struggles exist. But if these seem to be the correct answer to capital’s countermoves today, a response for the future cannot satisfy itself with following the moves of the class adversary. The fundamental theme that the Italian working class has reproposed with its massively united struggle, is that of the political unity of the class formation [schieramento]. One should not understand this discussion as a mere retracing of some mass behaviours of workers, nor as a naïve development of the theme of trade union unity (with which, of course, there are strong links). Here we simply want to underline the fact that the political demands emerging from the working class struggles of 1968-’69 cannot be adopted wholesale within the historical tradition (strategic and organisational) of the Italian workers’ movement. This situation is probably destined to last some time. But, frankly, this problem – sooner or later – will have to be confronted, given the fact that the contradictions, sometimes fertile, positive ones (the party in the factory), mount up. It would already be important if the PCI, the PSIUP, and other forces of the left that are actively present in the struggles were to consider, from today, even if in the form of a process, the refoundation of a united political organisation as a fundamental problem; or, better still, as the crucial problem of the strategic relationship between the party and the class, between concrete, particular, everyday struggle and revolutionary outlook; and if there were to intervene in the struggles, attempting to configure and make them operate with this objective. Historically speaking, capitalist development and the political organisation of the working class have always been discordant and reciprocally elided one another. It could be that the political unity of the working class, which is to be constructed not in the abstract but through struggles and with the correct relationship to the class, is able to illuminate what remains the great difficulty of the revolution in a nation such as Italy (and equally, the great problem of how to resolve, the contradiction to be put to work[da far funzionare]), which is to say, the passage of capitalism to its full maturity alongside the political and organisational growth of the working class. The struggles of 1968-’69 have demonstrated that the objective, material conditions for this process are already ripe. We must verify, through discussion and in practice, the point reached by the subjective conditions for which the worker-left as a whole is responsible. With the sense, as well, of the urgency with which these problems are confronted: because capital goes ahead and makes its moves, we cannot justifiably hope that the conditions that – on the whole – are in our favour, can resist for a long time. It is probably that 1970-’71 end up being decisive, one way or another, for the subsequent phase.
 [The autumn in question is the one that started in 1969, marked by a rising tide of workers’ struggles in the industrial north of Italy, led by industrial workers but with large participation by students, office workers, technical workers, and beyond. There are numerous accounts of the period worth looking at. A good place to start is with Ben Noys’ accompaniment to Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything: https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2711-fiat-has-branded-me-a-hot-autumn-timeline-for-nanni-balestrini-s-we-want-everything – translator’s note].
 [The term classe operaia, translated here as ‘working class’, refers specifically to the industrial working class, typically what we think of as an assembly line worker in a Fordist factory. It is important that this hegemonic figure is what we bear in mind when we think of the ‘working class’ in these theses (and indeed, throughout the tradition of Operaismo) – translator’s note.]
 [1945, the Liberation, was characterised by a central role for the Italian Communist Party both in the partisan struggle and as a central player in the peace, even a major actor in drawing up the Italian constitution – which remains one of the more ‘progressive’ constitutions in Europe. 1955 marks the traumatic point when the communist trade union (the FIOM) lost its hegemony over the working class, defeated in the elections at FIAT for the ‘internal commissions’ to more ‘collaborationist’ unions. This depressed the intensity of class struggle and, critically, the influence of the PCI within the factory workforce for the rest of the decade and, at FIAT (the leading Italian firm), till 1962. The question of how to regain a role for the party in the factory, and how communists in the factory could regain influence over the parliamentary party, would characterise many of the debates and conflicts within the workers’ movement throughout the 1960s and ‘70s – translator’s note.]
 [These were organising bodies that grew up out of factory struggles of 1968-‘69 in opposition to the official union ‘internal commissions’ (commissioni interne) – translator’s note.]
 [Mirafiori is FIAT’s central factory and headquarters in Turin – translator’s note].
 [For example: Longo, ‘Il movimento studentesco nella lotta anticapitalistic’, Rinascita, 3 May 1968. Longo (1900-1980) was the general secretary of the PCI following the death of Palmiro Togliatti. – translator’s note.]
 [Partito Socialista Italiano di Unità Proletaria, a political party born from a split within the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), which was contrary to the PSI’s shift to a policy of isolating the PCI and entering into coalitions with the Christian Democrats in governments of the ‘so-called’ Centre-Left. – translator’s note.]
 [Reference is probably to Ingrao’s ‘Partito e movimento di massa’, Rinascita, 30th January 1970, pp. 5-6, which appears under an overall heading of ‘The Role of the Political Organisation within the Factory’. Although factions were not permitted in the PCI, had they been, Ingrao would have been considered the leader of the left faction – translator’s note.]
 Guido Carli, at that time Governor of the Bank of Italy, was the most authoritative and listened-to supporter of a policy of the limitation of income expansion and the controlled contraction of development. [This note was added by Asor Rosa long after these these were drawn up, in Le armi della critica. Scritti e saggi degli anni ruggenti (1960-1970), Einaudi, Turin 2011 – translator’s note.]