We republish here an article which appeared on the Italian workerist journal Primo Maggio in 1981. It was written in the context of the disappearance of the old class composition of the ‘mass worker’, which thrust workerist theory into crisis. While Battaggia deals primarily with Toni Negri’s theory of the ‘social worker’, the problems posed in this article remain burning questions for today. What are the difficulties of class composition theory after the end of mass Fordist production?

Mass worker and social worker: reflections on the “new class composition”

Alberto Battaggia
Primo Maggio 14, Winter 1981

The notion of a “new class composition” stems from the conceptual terrain of workerism [operaismo]. But to what extent are the analytical premises of “classical” workerism the same as those of “neo-workerism”? To what extent is the conceptual scheme which uncovered the technical and political composition of the mass worker analogous to the theoretical basis of the new class composition of the social worker [operaio sociale]? The ongoing, heated debates on this question suggest that something is different; something must have changed between the new theories and the clear, formal structure of workerist discourse. It seems that certain concepts refer to different contents, while the current methodological premises are different.

I believe that the fundamental aim of workerist research - the reason for its results and political outcomes - consisted in the recovery of a rigorously historical marxian critical methodology. It was a formulation according to which the critique of political economy and the critique of politics must take place through a series of categories and conceptual tools strictly related to the historic dynamic of the class struggle. In other words, their meaning and their heuristic value depend on the particular features of the reality to which they refer.

Consider the refusal to use a general and indistinct notion of “the working class” and the introduction of the concept of “class composition”: they expressed a necessity to adopt flexible and meaningful analytical tools. We therefore no longer saw the “worker”, the “State”, the “party”, etc, but rather the “working class figure” [figura operaia], the “State-form”, the “party-form” and so on. These were a series of specific, historically specific abstractions, endowed with particular meanings and implications even if they all referred to the same generic capitalist reality. The working class and capital therefore took on original forms depending on the particular historic arrangement of their mutual relation.

The materialist premise is a crucial element of workerist thought. It allowed for the reconstruction of a succession of class figures in the history of the class relation. The scope of analysis was the bond between bodies and instruments of labour, between workers’ outlooks and behaviours and the form of production. Between subjectivity and objectivity. This showed that the political behaviours, forms and needs expressed by the class struggle are materially shaped by the objective relation between labour and capital. Thus while the professional worker - faced with a merely formal subsumption of their labour by capital - struggled to re-appropriate the means of production and self-manage the factory, the mass worker struggles directly against the materiality of capital, its technical way of being, expressing a now real subsumption of work. According to this formulation, the revolutionary process is swayed by the class figure which tends to dominate in the capitalist organisation of work. The technical class composition specifies that section of the working class on which capital bases its accumulation, while the political class composition specifies the materially determined characteristics of class antagonism.

If this, in its essential features, is the theoretical matrix of workerist discourse - if the successes of “classical” workerism depended on the recognition of the revolutionary efficacy of materialist critique and the rigorous historical basis of its categories - then the new notion of class composition must be evaluated on these same premises. In particular, we should verify whether it is characterised by those same elements which defined the mass worker: an objective relation to the form of production and a resulting homogeneity of behaviours and political objectives. Naturally, I don’t pretend to articulate all the particular theorisations of the new class composition. I will limit myself to isolating the most recurrent concepts which lay the basis for this theory. Apart from the occasional citation, I will focus primarily on the Interview on workerism with Toni Negri.1 Not because I wish to impute to Negri the definitive theoretical systemization of the new class composition, but because his text expresses the complexity and difficulty of the theory of the social worker.

The “history” of the social worker

The social worker is said to be the fruit of the colossal project of restructuring undertaken by capital to resume the process of accumulation, after it was interrupted by the struggles of the mass worker from ‘69 to ‘72. Such restructuring is seen as a new strategy of accumulation, together with the redefinition of the role of the State as guarantor of capitalist self-valorisation. We can summarise four concrete instruments of this process: the decentralisation of production, the inflationary mechanism, the reorientation of public spending and the party system.

Decentralised production

The decentralisation of production, the so-called “submerged economy”, is not a qualitatively original phenomenon in the extortion of surplus value. By turning to small and medium sized units of production, capital would have managed to resume the exploitation of wage labour in its traditional form, while breaking the compact front posed by the mass worker. The margins of flexibility in the management of small enterprises are indeed greater than those of large factories, while the use of a young, often female labour-force, with low levels of unionisation and politicisation moved the balance of power towards capital. The employment of part-time, seasonal and undeclared work [lavoro nero], organised with new techniques of socialised production, allows for greater profit margins.

But like all of capital’s operations, decentralisation carries with it a contradiction. The diffusion of sections of the class across the territory would have also diffused the accumulated antagonism of the previous cycle of struggle. It is argued that working class deconcentration did not come with the expected reduction of conflict. Vice versa: the political heritage of the mass worker, collected by these new segments of the class, would have been propagated to those sections of the proletariat not directly involved in immediate relations of production.

The current class figure is therefore “social” because, in the first place, it is tied to the decomposition of the class across the territory. Work is socialised in a “physical” sense.

The “subsumption of circulation by production”

But the real qualitative jump towards the socialisation of productive labour - the shift of productive labour from factory work to social work in general - is argued to have been achieved through a shuffling of the various moments of the capitalist economy, particularly through the “subsumption of circulation by production”. The inflationary manoeuvre and the re-orientation of public expenditure are said to be the agents of this operation. It must be stated that the level of comprehension of the problem of inflation is still insufficient. However, some interesting attempts have been made to analyse how inflation has established a new relation between money and value. We already mentioned the block on accumulation imposed by the struggles of the mass worker: the wage struggle brought the price of labour-power to the point that it equalled the value of the commodities it produced. This meant that those commodities no longer contained surplus value. To resolve this situation, capital would have subsumed the moment of circulation into production, turning it into the constitutive moment of surplus value.

To understand this mechanism, let us quickly follow the marxian scheme of valorisation. Capital pays labour-power at its value, equal to the price of the means necessary to its reproduction. But the value which labour-power is able to create is greater than its own value: within commodities, there is therefore a portion of value which represents the value of labour-power, and another portion which is surplus value. The market is limited to the “realisation” of this value, its monetisation. Conversely, in the current situation, commodities reach the market without surplus value. But inflation allows for the creation of an artificial monetary margin between the real value of commodities and the value they take on, monetarily, on the market. It is therefore able to constantly devalue labour-power, a posteriori. The constant character of inflation is clearly crucial for successful cooperation, for otherwise wage demands would bring this game of value to its initial position. “The profits which aren’t founded on processes of material valorisation, but more simply on the monetary expansion of abstract wealth, are not able to sediment, since they are periodically swallowed by the adjustment of costs. The price-cost-price spiral is thus able to create consistent margins of monetary profit, only to erase them in each successive instant and recreate them on an analogous and equally temporary basis”.2

In short: from the law of value to the quantitative theory of money. A sophisticated and effective mechanism. Both in so far as it allowed for the recovery of the valorisation process, as well as for its preventive anti-worker politics. Double-digit inflation empties the wage struggle of its subversive content, turning what was once a destabilising agent of the entire industrial system - an independent variable of working class counterpower - into a mere instrument for the defence of purchasing power.

The role of the state

The intertwining of state organisation and this complex model of accumulation takes place on several levels. Regarding the decentralisation of production we should note how, in parallel to the decomposition of the class across the territory, the central working class was frozen politically by the intervention of the union and the parties, who founded their project of social-democratization of the italian workers’ movement on the destruction of the previous class composition. As for the inflationary mechanism, the organisation of credit and the management of public expenditure played a crucial role. Credit became the only source of finance for enterprises, while inflationary public expenditure - once simply a tool for the clientelistic manufacturing of consent and the Keynesian creation of effective demand - now increasingly functions as a distributor of abstract wealth finalised to the “creation” of surplus value (not just its “realisation). It is therefore argued that the inflationary process results from the price-politics of enterprises as well as from the circulation of growing masses of money directed towards the support of accumulation (credit) and of demand as “valorisation” (public expenditure).

All of this is characterised by a salient fact: the complete reversal of traditional anti working class economic policies. If cycles of struggle were once attacked with the classic deflationary policies tending to the contraction of employment and direct incision into the wage, now the re-establishment of profit margins takes place through the continuous deferral of the crisis into the future. But this bold strategy also came with intense contradictions. The unloading of the factory’s crisis of valorisation onto all the non-factory sectors of the proletariat is argued to have entailed a class recomposition on the social terrain. The radical antagonism of the mass worker, the object of capital’s attack, was spread across the whole territory. And since the entire institutional apparatus - the parties first and foremost - converged to protect this manoeuvre, society would have unmasked itself as the society of capital, making it so that social antagonism would turn against all of its expressions.

Toni Negri’s formulation

At this point, Negri’s thought deserves to be considered. For him, the phenomenon of the “subsumption of circulation by the moment of production” was the fundamental agent for the formation of a new class composition (but not the only agent, as we’ll see). He analyses this phenomenon in different terms from the ones we have exposed, though surplus value and valorisation are not missing. “When we say social worker, we are fundamentally saying, with extreme precision, that surplus value is extracted from this subject. When we speak of the social worker we speak of a worker who is productive, and when we say that he is productive, we mean that he is productive of surplus value, either immediately or via mediation”.3

But he seems to focus more on the characteristics of command taken on by public expenditure, towards the political functionalization of the supply of income according to the needs of the social reproduction of the capital relation, than to any new processes of surplus value creation. He says: “Consequently, we hypothesize that public expenditure on the one hand represents the new dimension of the capital relation with respect to social reproduction, while on the other it produces within itself criteria of hierarchisation, of total functionalization of subjects to the project of reproducing classes according to hierarchical schemes. In short: of that effective inequality which public expenditure must, in terms of command, produce”.4 But insofar as “capital and its State-form”, manage to “continually prefigure the steps of circulation as fundamental elements of their permanence, of their reproduction” and transform “to this end all the costs of circulation into costs of production”, they expose themselves “enormously to the proletarian counter-attack”.5 As soon as public expenditure was transformed into a wage form of command, it unchained that proletarian antagonism which up until now - for better or worse - was confined to the factory, setting it free onto the plane of social reproduction.

Negri indicates two more agents of class recomposition, which turn society into a factory [fabrichizzazione della società]. He seems to make a fleeting allusion to the decentralisation of production: “We find ourselves facing a mass of labour-power with very high rates of exploitation and very low wage rates. This means that the devaluation of labour-power, of its cost, which wasn’t possible in certain advanced sectors of the working class [classe operaia], is overturned onto other sectors of the class”.6 But there is another element which he considers absolutely fundamental, the process of abstraction of social work: “One of the things which struck us in these past few years was that the behaviour of, say, bank workers, looked increasingly like the behaviour of factory workers [l’operaizzazione dei comportamenti]. Then if you went to see how things were, you’d find that those behaviours [comportamenti operaistici] were completely tied to the structure of the labour process of these bank workers. They had become calculator workers, just like many chemical workers who had become operators within a productive cycle”.7

And further: “The fundamental thesis on which the entire theory of workerism is built is the successive abstraction of work which runs in parallel to its socialisation”.8 In this way, the new class composition enriches itself of a purely materialistic motivation: rebellion against de-professionalisation, against the transformation of human beings into things… [trasformazione dell’uomo in cosalità]

What makes a class composition?

Let’s rearticulate. The new class composition turns out to be defined by the following elements: the disseminated character of work into small factories across the territory, the value relation assumed by any proletarian income in relation to capitalist accumulation, the wage form of command assumed by public expenditure and the process of abstraction of social work. These analyses are not without their charm; but let us confront this historical-political genesis of the social worker with that of the mass worker.

The class composition of the mass worker constituted what in the field of statistics is called a “population”, i.e. the basic dimension of scientific observation: a set of homogeneous units defined by a particular “characteristic”. In our case, a section of the labour force made materially homogenous by a particular relationship to capitalist technology (the assembly line) and a consequent political behaviour: the demand for wages as income, the refusal of work and sabotage. It was precisely this homogeneity which allowed the working class of the Hot Autumn to become a “class composition”, drive the revolutionary process, impose its struggles onto society and force a profound revision of the traditional theoretical apparatus of class struggle. All of this was made possible by the powerful link between an objective fact (material conditions of exploitation) and a subjective one (political behaviour). The mass worker was a section of the class which could be recognised with extreme precision, which could be exactly quantified and from which driving political objectives could be identified with relative immediacy.

By contrast, as it is currently formulated, the new class composition does not seem to be held up internally by such a material homogeneity. Its physical components do not appear to be tied together, either by material conditions of exploitation or by immediate political objectives. It contains a plurality of class segments often very distant from each other: decentralised factory workers, young unemployed proletarians, inhabitants of marginalised neighbourhoods, housewives, women, homeless students, underemployed intellectuals… In other words: subjects with completely autonomous immediate motivations. One could object that homogeneity is given by their common relationship to the process of valorisation. This objection may be faultless on the formal plane of the critique of political economy, but it is weak on the substantial plain of the critique of politics, i.e. of the revolutionary political organisation of antagonism. The term “class composition” shouldn’t be limited to the description of modes of being of the working class, but must also locate those crucial elements of political struggle which unite its components: those struggles which, in the case of the mass worker, pivoted on the conjunction between the immediate motivations of antagonism (the struggle against the machine) and more general and historical ones (the negation of the capitalist mode of production).

The analyses of the social worker, or at least of the new class composition, seem to express the descriptive side of the notion of “class composition” and not the active, political side. They illustrate the way capital functions more than the way to attack it. The fact that the political composition of the mass worker was determined by material relations of production, while that of the social worker by abstract relations of value, establishes a substantial difference. Because in this respect income - as effective demand, as an instrument of the monetary transformation of commodities, as money - has always established a relationship between capitalist valorisation and proletarian society as a whole. In this sense the social worker has always existed.

The abstraction of labour

I don’t know if Negri has perceived this structural discontinuity between the previous articulation of workerist discourse and the current one; but it is significant that he has introduced the abstraction of social work, a strictly material fact, as a foundational element of class recomposition. In fact, if we could maintain that modern social conflict is essentially motivated by the real subsumption not just of factory work, but of work in general, then the neo-capitalist circle would be perfectly complete. Social workers, like mass workers, would present a compact homogeneity in their conditions of exploitation and in their political content, which would be aimed, in essence, at the overcoming of the social-capitalist mode of production. The analogous use of the preceding workerist schema would be absolutely justified. But all of this cannot be maintained. Precisely where Negri says that “we are unable to translate the personal, individual determinations of behaviours into the dimension of political planning [progettazione politica]”,9 and that we require “a critique of politics capable of identifying political forms, i.e. general forms, for the expression of this antagonism…”,10 he himself immediately removes the consistency of a motivational hypothesis of that kind. He indirectly confirms that the vivacity, the extent, the wealth of contents of modern social antagonism lies precisely in the great specificity and autonomy of its protagonists, in its articulated and material immediacy.

It is clear that the tendency towards the abstraction of work is an indisputable fact, but it is indisputable precisely for its glaring obviousness. A bit like the process of proletarianisation of the middle classes [ceti medi]: it is a fact that the vast majority of society, not in possession of its own means of production, is compelled to sell its own manual or intellectual labour-power on the market. These are facts which constitute a historical background we are implicitly forced to consider in any historical analysis, but which offer very little towards an immediate hypothesis for political work. It may be true that there has been a generalisation of indifference towards the professional content of, say, office work, but the development of working class political militancy [l’operaizzazione politica] in the service sector has more to do with the loss of social and economic prestige of the classes [ceti] employed in these sectors than the dehumanising introduction of machines (computer technology) into the organisation of this work. To propose a parallel between ‘assembly line equals refusal of wage work’ ergo ‘abstraction of social work equals refusal of work in general’ seems, at least for now, an obviously forced argument.

Ultimately, whatever aspect we emphasise to give shape to the theory of the “new class composition”, the theory is unable, precisely because of its tendentially totalising character, to bind together the contradictory and centrifugal class situations we see today. Let us be clear: these analyses present important cues for scientific research. They are far less convincing, however, if they pretend to condense into a univocal theorisation of class conflict. Wishing to ride contemporary social antagonism with such a notion - that is with a category that should express, with linear immediacy, a well-defined political project - means flattening a class reality which finds its raison d’etre in its variety, in its differentiated expansion. The class composition of the mass worker specified an extremely circumscribed referential field: a specific section of the class, found in a particular place, identified in a precise way. The class composition of the social worker looks rather like a series of social phenomena which, from the outside, have been imputed with a revolutionary political programme they themselves do not present, if not in a very generic form.

Subjectivism: original sin of workerism?

When the workerist scheme of interpretation (conceptually confined to the factory setting [territorio fabbrichistico]) is expanded to include “the social”, it inevitably loses its most characteristic connotation: the strict bond between subjectivity and objectivity, between mode of production and mode of rebellion. And the crystal-clear marxian link between base and superstructure cedes its place to a forcibly subjective foundation for proletarian antagonism. Along with the factory, it loses the possibility to dialectically base its “voluntaristic” side on a reassuring and precise material foundation: the organisation of work and the struggle against it.

Contrary to the claims of Costanzo Preve (Dopo l’operaismo, in “Alfabeta” 15-16, 1980) subjectivism is not a foundational element of workerist discourse, but merely the consequence of its displacement into an inadequate historical scope. Preve describes the internal coherence of early workerism in these terms: “The marxian social relation of production was absorbed into the unfounded and founding activity of the subject […] and consequently the object […] came to lose any legitimacy given by its form of value.” This would have led to “the concentration of all the ‘ontological’ aspects of praxis into the activity of the subject”. It seems to me that Preve attributes to yesterday what he should attribute to the present day. If there has ever been a current of thought so interested and concentrated on the “objective” side of reality, it is precisely workerism. So much so that the very notion of subjectivity tended to be seen as the mechanical translation of objective determinations of existence to the level of consciousness; as if a physical and psychical energy were sucked out of the machine and turned against it. “Class composition”, besides being a political category, was in the first place a behavioural fact objectively tied to the production techniques of the capitalist factory. And it was precisely this adherence to the historically specific materiality of exploitation that protected the political theorisation of antagonism from the risks of ideology, i.e. the arbitrary and external attribution of a “meaning” to struggles which is not linked to their immediate contents. So much for the “unfounded activity of the subject”! “Subjectivist twists” are not implicit in the workerist theoretical paradigm. Far from it. If anything this took place later, in the recent history of workerism. The notion of an irreversible path towards a total division between social proletariat and capitalist society has led to the belief that the analysis of the specific “form of value of the object” [forma di valore dell’oggetto] is no longer crucial for revolutionary theory.

The theoretical axis moved so far to the side of the subject that the real referent of antagonism, factory society, was seen as a generic compulsion to wage-labour. The preceding dialectical unity between the form of capital relation and the form of working class resistance was therefore broken, in favour of a separation between revolutionary subjectivity and the concrete content of capitalist relations of production. It is on this plane, on this rupture, that the autonomy of the political and the self-valorisation of the social worker can somehow be grouped together. But the “theoretical illusion of building a materialistic theory of political forms starting from the level of circulation” does not depend on an exasperated voluntarism originating in workerism, but on the difficulty of decanting the order of discourse from the referential context to which it belonged (the factory) to another (society).

The theory of precarity

A very interesting and linear (almost pragmatic) critique of neo-workerist subjectivism comes from Centro Sabot in Naples.11 According to the Sabot collective, the neo-workerists (primarily Piperno) have mistaken for a “new class composition” what is in fact the current form of the industrial reserve army. The phenomenon of part-time, home-based, undeclared [nero], casual, precarious and seasonal labour, and the relatively high mobility of the “non guaranteed” workforce - far from representing a new anticapitalist subjectivity which refuses the classical form of command (the factory, but also fixed employment), and far from expressing a revolutionary will to self-manage one’s own labour-time - would be the renovated aspect of unemployment as it is expressed in the current phase of capitalist domination. All of the triumphalism that comes with the theme of the refusal of work is drastically reorientated; and Piperno’s optimism over the proletarian self-management of the “how” and “when” to work is accused of reflecting neoclassical theorisations (De Meo) on the freedom of individuals in the labour market to choose their form of employment. In other words, it is accused of being a profoundly ideological and objectively pro-bourgeois discourse.

Centro Sabot make their arguments with reference to the characteristics of the Italian labour market; this is not the place to discuss such a complex problem, even though it it is true that the notion of “industrial reserve army” and the analysis of the forms of the labour market have strangely been often left out of the analytical horizon of late workerism, and it would be interesting to recover their discussion. What is relevant, however, is that the possibility of being exposed to such ridiculously devastating attacks demonstrates at the very least the theoretical fragility of the reduction of proletarian struggles across the territory to a single, cohesive revolutionary content. Of course, capitalist restructuring is not Piperno’s invention. It has undoubtedly redefined class conflict in Italy and triggered new forms of working class behaviours. Nevertheless, there always remains the danger of generalising partial and local aspects of class struggle, forcibly projecting them onto an undefined new epoch of capitalist relations of production, which still awaits full empirical verification.

Beyond workerism?

Already in the eleventh issue of “Primo Maggio” (From the new way of making cars to self-valorisation), Guido De Masi had picked up on the serious difficulties presented by the application of the workerist schema to the struggles of this period. Examining the Negrian notion of “self-valorisation”, he emphasised that it “tends to substitute the theory of class recomposition, giving linguistic unity to contradictory fragments […] In political terms this means that the various struggles and social situations (all very interesting precisely because they are so different from each other) which have given form to the theory of self-valorisation lack connection between each other. They don’t represent a qualitative jump with respect to class recomposition, but its disintegration, period!” De Masi could clearly see that the theory of self-valorisation was a very elegant tool to synthesise a plurality of social behaviours, but which, precisely for its excessive synthesising aspect, flattened them, negating their specificity. It is also significant that De Masi substantially agreed with other analyses in his recognition of a genetic link between the “new way to produce money” and the crushing of the class composition of the mass worker, but was cautious to automatically infer a parallel recompositional movement of the class. For him, in fact, “the true ideological limit of the movement of ‘77” was “in the small size and marginality of the social subject which constituted it”.

Lapo Berti’s reflections on the content of “proletarian power” published in the same issue of “Primo Maggio” (To the heart of the state and back) confirmed all the perils of a forced external application of the category of “class composition” to the present form of social conflict. Berti asked whether the political experiences of these last years had shown that the notion of “proletarian power” had mutated in content with respect to the Leninist and Third-Internationalist model recuperated and perpetuated by the Red Brigades. He responded by arguing for “the immanent political nature of proletarian power”, in the sense that politics, the search for power, no longer expressed itself as a temporal and geographical march to the “place of power”, to the “war room” [stanza dei bottoni]. The aim was no longer a mere symbolic shift [cambiamento di segno] of the institutional apparatus, but instead the opting “in favour of a vision of the conflict process as the continuity and permanence of proletarian antagonism, which incessantly redefines the terrain of struggle, the relations of power between classes, pushes forward the contents of its own political presence, conditioning and remoulding the total configuration of capitalist relations of production”. We could push even further and ask if it wasn’t precisely the struggles of the mass worker which uncovered this concrete dimension of the microphysics of power.

But let us return to the initial problem. We do not wish to simply negate the validity of these analyses; we want to clarify whether it’s possible to group certain social phenomena under certain categories. To see whether the notion of “class composition” is not just able to thoroughly describe the complex and contradictory process of capitalist restructuring, but also to found on top of it a complete, determined political project, characterised by precise elements which reunify the entire class movement under a single revolutionary politics. If our response is negative, if we consider an analogous relaunching of workerist discourse unacceptable, then two roads can be taken: either ignore reality and confirm theory, or ignore theory and confirm reality. That is: either conclude that the class struggle stopped in Italy in 1972; or refine our critical tools, categories and methodology.

That the latter is and arduous road is confirmed by De Masi’s own intervention in the last issue of the journal. Instead of resuming and developing the lucid observations made in the above cited article, he calls not for a redefinition of the weapons of criticism as much as “a restoration of the law of value, in strictly productive terms, which returns vigour and political centrality to the working class, consenting it to depart with greater knowledge of its past errors”.12 In short, De Masi calls for the defeat of these years to be made complete, for the economy to return to function the way God intended, for the law of value to reimpose itself over the quantitative theory of money, for surplus value to be extracted, for circulation to return to its role as monetary realisation of surplus value and thus for the mass worker to march down once more from the factories, calling the shots for the whole movement. Maybe all of this will happen (certainly not any time soon); but then the political task of “the entire revolutionary Left” is no longer that of “filling the void between technical class composition […] and the new phenomena of self-valorisation emerging from the movement”13 but to wait patiently for the “laws of political economy” to bring the political composition of the class to coincide with the technical composition. In this way, after an embarrassing interlude which has now lasted ten years, the class struggle will resume in all its limpid efficacy…

I don’t know, but I fear that there is something fatalistic about this attitude, a fatalism which is used to glide over the current situation of theoretical difficulty.

If, instead, class conflict will take place in the next years in a more “social”, diffuse, polycentric form, concentrated on autonomous immediate objectives and led by various sections of proletarians in struggle, then at the very least it would be useful to introduce some categories that differentiate from the old ones, so as to avoid the intertwining (and confusion) of categories belonging to different phases of the capital relation. In this regard, Lapo Berti’s invitation to use a more “fluid” notion of class composition, located “on the wider background of social composition”14 seems to betray an ambiguous intent: the broadening of the semantic field of the term in parallel to the extension of the conflictuality to which it refers. An attempt with highly uncertain results, for in this passage from the “class” to the “social” the term itself tends less to define a precise political project, and more an indeterminate sociological universe. Thus it changes meaning. Yet Berti’s invitations are undeniably stimulating, not least because they refuse to force the “new” order of things to coincide with the “old” order of discourse.

The best way to defend workerism today is to supercede it, recognising the interpretative effectiveness of its ideas, but without hesitating to critically scrutinise its chronological and contextual limits.

  1. A. Negri, Dall’operaio massa all’operaio sociale. Multhipla Editori, Milan, 1979. 

  2. M. Messori and M. Revelli. Centralità operaia. In La tribu delle talpe. Feltrinelli, Milan, 1978, p. 48. 

  3. A Negri, Ibid., p. 10 

  4. Ibid, p. 157. 

  5. Ibid, p. 149. 

  6. Ibid, p. 21. 

  7. Ibid, p. 10. 

  8. Ibid, p. 11. 

  9. Ibid, p. 151. 

  10. Ibid, p. 151. 

  11. Sul mercato del lavoro: difficoltà della talpa. In Materiali di studio a cura del centro Sabot - Napoli. 1979. 

  12. G. De Masi. Composizione di classe e progetto politico. In “Primo Maggio” n. 13, p. 7. 

  13. G. De Masi. Dal nuovo modo di fare l’automobile all’autovalorizzazione. In “Primo Maggio” n. 11, p. 37. 

  14. L. Berti. Note per un dibattito possibile, unpublished text circulated within the “Primo Maggio” group. 


Alberto Battaggia

Alberto Battaggia was a coordinator of the Italian workerist magazine Primo Maggio, which ran from 1973 to 1988.