‘On Panzieri’ – Claudio Napoleoni (1963/’64)

(These are notes made on Raniero Panzieri’s ‘Surplus Value and Planning: notes on the reading of Capital’,[1] by the Marxist economist Claudio Napoleoni. They are, to my knowledge, unpublished in any language. They are undated but thought to be from 1963 or ’64. They can be found in the Gramsci Institute in Turin.)[2]

Raniero Panzieri, Mario Tronti, Gaspare de Caro, Toni Negri, Quaderni Rossi, Turin 1962

[Panzieri’s] article accepts the traditional thesis according to which capitalism reduces society as a whole to itself, in this dual sense: 1) there are no other classes other than capitalists and proletarians; 2) there is no consumption other than productive consumption, in the sense that all one’s salary is consumed and that all profit is invested.

Such a hypothesis must suppose that capitalism arrives at some sort of inter-firm planning which, through the overcoming of the market, renders the effects of ‘anarchy’ inoperative in a context of underconsumption.

In a similar picture, all possibility of configuring a crisis of capitalism on the terrain of the ‘base’, falls away; hence the thesis that: [the] ‘only limit to the development of capital is not capital itself, but the resistance of the working class’[3] (Quaderni Rossi, 4, p. 270).

Hence, both because society is reduced to the two organic classes of capitalism in their pure forms, and because the hypothesis that capitalism can be planned exclude a crisis of capitalism on the economic terrain itself, he concludes that there is no other political prospective than that of head-on class conflict, independent of any problem of alliances.

One must oppose to this a shift in the initial hypothesis that, in reality society in the capitalist epoch cannot and is unable to be that of pure capitalism, since unproductive consumption is an ineliminable moment of the realization of capital when it is privately appropriated. From this it follows that, in reality, the class structure is much more complex than the one the author supposes.

On the other hand, on the economic terrain, the presence of unproductive consumption, and so the reduction of accumulation, in no way renders inter-firm planning, much beyond the typical agreements reached between groups of firms, necessary to the life of the system. This allows one to take up again, even if in a different sense, Marx’s thesis of capital as its own limit: indeed capitalism, while it eliminates its own crises via unproductive consumption, it also drastically reduces its own possibilities of development. 

Within this in mind, one must consider: 1) that the relations of power have been substantially modified by the position that the working class has begun to assume within capitalism itself. 2) That the type of social structure in place within capitalism still renders the problem of alliances decisive for those changing structures of power to be effectively exploited. 3) That the point of departure of every political struggle must be the consciousness that capital has already effectively posited a limit to itself.

As far as the endpoint of struggle is concerned, the author contests the identification of socialism and planning, and this is obviously congruent with his early framing: if planning is the realization of capital, it cannot be affirmed as the content of socialism.

Cover of Napoleoni’s book on Marx’s ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production’

Where this is true, is that the full realization of capitalism requires planning. The error lies in maintaining that this planning can be realised by capitalism, an error that itself follows from having failed to distinguish capital from capitalism. In truth, precisely because within capitalism capital has posed a limit to itself, the first objective of political struggle is the overcoming of such a limit, and hence the full development of capital outside of the conditions of capitalism, and so a planning whose author is the proletariat. But this very planning cannot simply be considered purely as coordination substituting for the market, since it must be realised alongside a change in the concept and the reality of unproductive consumption, and in view of the explicit realization of two objectives homogenous with capital: productivity and employment.

The thesis that the particular technical configuration of capital given today cannot be transposed into the final post-revolutionary situation is certainly true, and here the entire Marxian distinction between machine and capitalist use of machinery must be carefully revised. But it is also true that this is another problem, one which cannot be posed before capital has served its ‘historic mission’, without [the risk of] falling into narrow working class corporativism.

[1] ‘Plusvalore e pianificazione. Appunti di lettura del capitale’, first published in Quaderni Rossi, 4: 257-288. An English translation is available at: https://libcom.org/library/surplus-value-planning-raniero-panzieri

[2] Thanks to the Gramsci Institute in Turin who hold the archive of Napoleoni’s papers for access to these notes.

[3] I have, for the sake of a little more elegance and a little less precision, chosen to translate classe operaia with ‘working class’, whereas the reference is specifically to the industrial working class, the mass worker of the assembly line for instance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s