The Rebirth of Conflict (at FIAT), 5 – Conclusion … and the Origins of Operaismo

For Accornero, what the strike demonstrated was the crisis ‘compulsory collaboration’, or what he called the ‘Italian version of bourgeois reformism’ (Accornero, Tronti, et al. 1962: 631), a crisis exemplified by the establishment of the Centre-Left government. The ironic reference to the ‘Italian version’ of bourgeois reformism, served to highlight the authoritarianism of the ‘compromise’ at FIAT – comparatively high pay and benefits, but a brutal work regimen and union repression. As he pointed out, the consequence of the ‘economic miracle’ was expansion of employment and homogenisation of working conditions, which meant that the ‘FIAT myth’ – that it served a ‘labour aristocracy’ – was soon put to bed. The Centre-Left advanced a notion of workplace conflict not as ‘pathological’ but as ‘physiological’, treating it as a signal of issues in the production process that could be best absorbed and used as information conduits for better planning. This was actioned concretely with triangular ‘conferences’ established between government ministers, Confindustria, and trade unions. The strike at FIAT indicating that the last bastion of ‘bourgeois reformism’ had failed; that FIAT workers recognised their unity with industrial workers throughout Italy.

Mirafiori FIAT workers

As Tronti argued, what looked like a ‘wildcat strike’ at FIAT, went to show the backwardness of the FIAT bosses (and many in the workers’ movement), who had not caught up with the fact that capitalism ‘does not tolerate the category of the particularity; it tends by its nature toward the plenitude of the universal’. This emergent unity of struggle reflected, in short, the ‘determinate level of capitalist development’; which is to say, an increasingly unified set of conditions of production. The formation of the Centre-Left was a response that attempted to resolve the contradictions of the particular level of development from the standpoint of capital, which is to say, of ‘bourgeois society’, once the operation of class division – under the ‘leadership’ of a controlled and docile labour aristocracy at FIAT – had failed. But this operation was itself, necessarily, an ideological one, i.e., one that left the conditions of exploitation, the place where capital and workers meet – the factory – unchanged, and shifted the struggle to where the working class was weakest, which is to say, outside of the factory. For the workers’ movement to itself support such an operation revealed a subalternity in their understanding of capitalist development.

‘But, a scientific understanding of capital can remain in the hands of workers’ thought, only on the condition that the working class separates itself from the mechanism of capitalist development, makes itself independent from it and autonomous in an organisation of its own; that is, that it presents itself as a class antagonistic to the whole system of capitalist production; and in this sense, it becomes a living moment [istanza] of society in the face of the infamy of private property.’ (Tronti ‘Studi recenti sulla logica del Capitale di Marx’, 1961: 903)

‘It’s nothing but the start, the struggle continues’ (Erosanteros Theatre Company)

From the standpoint of Accornero and Tronti, the question that the strike posed for the workers’ movement, even more than for capital, was one that would undermine the practical and intellectual bases of reformist strategy: whether it was the neocapitalist strategy of the planning of production dependent upon the integration of the working class and its organisations; or the parallel one of a capitalist development to be advanced in the interests of the working class by participant collaborators in the workers’ movement. What Operaismo would call for, was not a ‘balanced development’ designed to overcome unevenness and inequalities in growth, but rather to ‘organise the imbalance’, realising the ‘immense power of the negative’ (Tronti 1961: 902-3).

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