autonomist marxism dated Wed, 21 Dec 1994 01:49:42 -0500 (EST)

sj at sj at
Thu Dec 22 21:07:55 MST 1994

Here are a few brief thoughts prompted by Jon's post *Re: middle class and

Since I don't receive pen-l, I don't know the exact context in which Peter
Bratsis made his comments about Negri. In any case, it was interesting to see
the relationship between exploitation and domination raised, although I don't
agree that the dichotomy  between the two that Peter suggests has ever been
formulated as such in Italian workerism. Binding them together, rather, is the
notion of capitalist command, whether this be in the form of constant capital
(command over living labour) or of money (credit as a claim on the future
exploitation of labour). Of course, the degree to which such a conception is
itself adequate continues to be up for debate...

Jon raised a number of other interesting points, including the possibilities
autonomist marxism(s) might offer in developing  what he called 'a
coalitionist concept of working class'. Yet, while that school may have helped
formulate some of the right questions, I'm not so sure how it (we?) are going
with the answers.

In its original form back in the sixties and early seventies, workerism tended
to see each specific composition of the working class as dominated (there's
that word again) by a particular class figure, behind which other sectors were
expected to fall in. Or as Romano Alquati would put it:

>the mass worker, and even before it the skilled worker in relation to
>peasants, have taught us that hegemony resides not in numbers, but in the
>quality of the relation within accumulation ("Universita', formazione della
>forza lavoro intellettuale, terziarizzazione", in R. Tomassini (ed.) (1977)
>*Studenti e composizione di classe*. aut aut, Milan, pp.75-6).

 What's striking about workerism as a whole is that, having done an impressive
job mapping the behaviours of the mass worker found in fordist production
regimes, its traditional conceptual apparatus began to unravel when that class
figure seemed to stumble about the time of the Oil Crisis. In the years that
followed, there were often furious debates about its likely successor, with
Negri's particular notion of the socialised worker (operaio sociale) - a *new*
class composition constituted throughout the arc of the valorisation process -
becoming the most widely accepted one within the autonomist movement of the
late seventies.

With hindsight, the original workerist notion of the mass worker reveals a
series of flaws, perhaps the most important of which concerns its blindness to
the gendered nature of paid work (not that other marxist tendencies of the
time fared better on this score). When some of the more interesting workerists
set out to rectify this in the late seventies, with their research into the
FIAT workforce of that time, they found themselves once again confronting the
question as to whether particular owners of the commodity labour-power could
claim hegemony over the rest of those with nothing to sell but their ability
to work. Debates around the meaning of class composition since that time have,
IMHO, continued to be blocked by this problem, as well as the lingering
leninism of some of the participants (having thousands of comrades locked up
in the early eighties didn't exactly help, either).

Does any of this make sense? I fear my brain has been fried by too many games
of Wolfenstein 3D...

A very fine discussion of all this is Nick Witheford's piece on "Autonomist
Marxism and the Information Society" in a recent issue of *Capital & Class*.
Perhaps if Nick (as well as MIchael) are out there somewhere, I hope they will
offer their own points of view.

Steve Wright
Centre for European Studies
Monash University
Clayton 3168

sj at
steven.wright at


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