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Operaismo, Autonomia, Settantasette in Translation

"Operaismo, Autonomia, Settantasette in
Translation: Then, Now, The Future" (1)

Steve Wright

Originally published in Strategies, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2003

Interest in the work of Antonio Negri is considerable these days, and can be
measured by a variety of means. For the past few years, the prestigious Italian
leftist daily Il manifesto has published the 30 most-searched-for terms within the
newspaper’s online edition. Of these, the word “Negri” ranked fifth in 1999, 14th
in 2000, ninth in 2001, 11th in 2002, and ninth again for the month of May 2003.(2)

Engagement with Negri’s work has also been on the rise in the English language
press, as reactions to the success of the book Empire (co-authored with Michael
Hardt) attest. Within the various circles active against global capital, interest in
Negri has also been marked, with his ideas concerning the changing nature of
the world capitalist system widely debated.Such curiosity has brought a number of interesting developments in its wake.
One such consequence has been a growing concern not only with the trajectory
of Negri’s thought, but also its place within the broader panorama of Italian
anti-capitalist politics. Amongst other things, this has also opened some space to
examine the work of other proponents of Italian autonomist Marxism, from the
operaisti of the 1960s and 1970s, to the “post-workerist” sensibilities that began
to unfold from the late 1980s onwards. Along the way, it has provided further
insights into a stream of Marxism that has largely scorned the pretensions of
both dialectical and historical materialism, while holding fast to a “political
reading” of Marx’s critique of political economy; that has often eschewed the
“nobility” of labor in favor of the “refusal of work”; and that has argued for the
historical specificity (to borrow a term from Korsch) of working-class needs,
including the need for organization against capital.

In what follows, I would like
to focus in turn upon three issues:

• the earlier passage into English of materials concerning operaismo and some
of the movements associated with it (above all, that of 1977 — Settantasette in
Italian political parlance);

• some of the gaps that still remain in our knowledge of these currents and
events; and

• finally, an overview of a dozen books that should take priority for translation
from Italian.


Certainly the situation was very different 25 years ago. English-language
readers stumbling across operaismo in the late 1970s were greatly limited in the
texts they could access, and it seemed even harder then to find anyone with
whom to discuss them. What Italian texts in circulation were largely available
through the efforts of a small number of individuals (chief amongst them, Ed
Emery), and two journals then important within the post-1968 US New Left —
Radical America and Telos.(3)

In 1977, most of those in the English-speaking left with an interest in Italy had
their gaze focused upon the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI), at that time
seemingly on the threshold of political power thanks to the latest stage in the
“Italian road to socialism.” The prospect of a Historic Compromise with the
Christian Democrats was of major concern within Communist Party circles as
well as amongst left social democrats, and many books and articles were in
production on the subject (Bernstein and Lawrence, 1980).

This focus was shared
by an extreme left dominated by Leninist groups, and interested in Italy in so far
as it illustrated why Eurocommunism was a “mistaken” course, and what they
would do instead if only they were leading the Italian labor movement. Very
occasionally, in the pages of their publications, some glimpse might be had of
something known as “the Movement of ‘77” — although less as a subject in its
own right, and more as part of the morass into which Italy’s own beleaguered
far left parties were said to be sinking.

In 1977 I was 18. As an undergraduate greatly influenced by council communism,
I knew more about Bordiga than the post-1968 left in Italy. Towards the
end of that year, I was invited by one of my lecturers — a Communist Party of
Australia member for whom I felt great respect, whatever our political differences —
to an informal evening discussion of the contemporary situation in Italy.
There another Communist Party academic reported on a recent trip to Bologna
and Rome, and his enthusiasms for the PCI’s municipal policies. Above all, he
was impressed that the PCI was using forms of participatory democracy to
involve workers in decision making — decisions, for example, about how to best
implement austerity measures to ensure that working-class needs did not
undermine Italy’s economic development. Hearing this account threw many of
my previous assumptions about class politics into crisis: in particular, the belief
that forms of participatory and direct democracy were inherently anti-capitalist
and anti-statist. In the months to come, therefore, I began to seek out everything
I could find about the Italian situation, and in this way I eventually stumbled
across an anthology in pamphlet form called Italy 1977–8: “Living with an
Earthquake” (Red Notes, 1978). With its detailed account of the Movement of ‘77,
and the challenge that the latter mounted to far left as well as mainstream left
culture, this was an exciting collection of texts to ponder. Here were young
people (and some not so young), many of them workers, who sought not to
self-manage the economy, but instead challenge the very assumption that we
should live in order to work. In a very evocative sense, the images conjured up
by Italy 1977–8 lent flesh and blood to the sometimes rather abstract expositions
on “class composition” and “refusal of work” gleaned from those texts of Tronti
and others that had earlier appeared in the pages of Radical America or Telos.

A few other texts from that time are also worth mentioning. One is an article,
again from Radical America, looking at the fate of “Alice in Blunderland.” Like
"Living with an Earthquake," it conveyed some sense of the topsy-turvy nature of the
collision between Eurocommunism’s leading party, and the so-called “creative
wing” of the Movement of ‘77 (Cowan, 1978). Another was an essay by
Australian social theorist Meaghan Morris (1978); like Cowan’s piece, it centered upon relations between the Movement of ‘77 and the PCI.

By the beginning of
the 1980s — in some cases spurred on by the mass arrests of April 7, 1979 —f ive
or six longer accounts had appeared in English. One was an edited collection of
letters sent to the Lotta Continua daily newspaper, written for the most part
during 1977 (Kunzle, 1980). Finally, although it was somewhat brief, the introduction
to Harry Cleaver’s 1979 book Reading Capital Politically (reissued, with a
new introduction, in 2000) provided a very useful context in which to situate the work
of Negri and other theorists of operaismo.

I have suggested elsewhere (Wright, 2002) that the manner in which operaista
texts have hitherto appeared in English has tended to emphasize the works of
some theorists at the expense of others. So too with the impressions conveyed of
certain political tendencies associated with the Movement of ‘77 itself. Much of
the wealth and specificity of that movement could be gleaned from the texts in
translation: above all, the sense that a mass radical politics was possible outside
and beyond the notion of “militancy” then propagated by the Leninist groups.

Still, it was perhaps not surprising that each of these works tended to express the
affinities and preoccupations of those preparing them for publication. In certain
ways, and without necessarily intending to do so, they too helped to engender
myths about Settantasette. For example, the collection of letters to Lotta Continua
painted a picture in which personal crisis and political disintegration were
paramount within the Movement of ‘77, without offering similar insights into
the movement’s other facets and potentialities.

Perhaps the most important of these myths, however, was that the Autonomia
Operaia of the time was in its spirit and practice libertarian through and
through. It’s unlikely that anyone set out to perpetuate this misunderstanding
either. More likely, it was inferred from the observation that those in the
English-speaking world most influenced by operaismo — from the Wages for
Housework tendency, to editors of the journal Zerowork such as Cleaver — were
themselves quite explicitly non-Leninist in their politics (De Angelis, 1993).

Certainly there were clues here and there in the material already translated from
Italian — most importantly, Sergio Bologna’s long essay on “The Tribe of Moles,”
and in the various pieces that appeared in two important anthologies, edited by
Red Notes (1979) and Semiotext(e) (1980). In my own case, it would require a trip
to Italy in 1982 for a more direct confrontation with such apparent anomalies.
There I discovered not only back issues of Primo Maggio, within which Bologna
played a central role, but also Collegamenti, a journal and political project that did
fuse left libertarian precepts with a commitment to class composition analysis.

Just as importantly, I was fortunate enough in that first trip to meet participants
from a broad cross section of Italy’s far left, who provided some eye-opening
accounts of the self-styled “organized” factions jockeying for the leadership of
Autonomia and the broader movement in the second half of the 1970s.

Amongst those in the English-speaking world with some curiosity towards the
Movement of ‘77, very few in the early 1980s who did not read Italian (or
perhaps French) would have been in a position to unravel the place within
Autonomia’s history of what Oreste Scalzone once termed its “micro-factions.”
Nor was there much printed in English that could provide any detailed sense of
the relationship between particular armed groups and the movement, including
the phenomenon of “diffuse terrorism.” At best, there was the occasional stray
pamphlet able to cast some light on just how widespread politically-motivated violence had become in Italy by the late 1970s (Bratach Dubh, 1979).

Instead, and
with good reason, the focus of attention for those English speakers most
interested in operaismo commonly turned to publicizing the fate of Negri and
those arrested with and after him. After all, those detained in the April 7 sweep
and its successors would often be held in custody for four years or more,
awaiting trial on the patently absurd charge of providing the secret leadership
of the Brigate Rosse, and/or of organizing an insurrection in the early 1970s
(Red Notes, 1981; CARII, 1982).

Most of what did appear in English at this time were translations of works by
Negri.4 Perhaps the best known of these would be Domination and Sabotage, a text
that, in its embrace of the struggle against work and wavering over the
privileged role of the revolutionary party, is in many ways the least typical of
Negri’s writings of the 1970s. At the same time, other texts — for example, Marco
Revelli’s (1982) analysis of the FIAT workers’ defeat — did find their way into
print now and then, primarily in the pages of the journal Capital & Class.

Following Negri’s escape to France, more and more of his writings began to
come out in translation: thanks not only to the likes of Emery, Cleaver, and John
Merrington (Linebaugh, 1997) but also publishing houses such as Polity and

On the other hand, while Julian Bees translated essays by
Panzieri, Gambino and the Dalla Costa sisters for a variety of publications, it
would take until the middle of the 1990s for an anthology (Virno and Hardt,
1996) to appear of texts by other writers associated in some way with operaismo.

Interestingly, perhaps the most important book on Autonomia and the Movement
of ‘77 to find its way into English during the second half of the 1980s may
well have slipped under the radar of many observers, simply because it took the
form of fiction. Nanni Balestrini’s novel The Unseen (1989) doesn’t offer a clear
time frame for the events it recounts, but there are sufficient clues to suggest an
arc reaching from early 1975 until 1981 or so. Those readers prepared to persist
with Balestrini’s distinctive approach to punctuation and paragraph structure
will discover that The Unseen vividly portrays the trajectory of a small provincial
collective within “autonomia diffusa.” Like Balestrini’s earlier account of the Hot
Autumn (Vogliamo tutto), the book draws strongly on interviews with “real life”
participants. In doing so, The Unseen conveys both the excitement of its protagonists’
efforts to “change life” (Rimbaud), as well as the enormous wrenches —
conflicts over gender roles, the place of organized violence, the purpose of
communication — that such efforts played out for all concerned.

Without explicitly
naming traditional workerist categories such as “refusal of work” or
“class composition,” The Unseen clearly enunciates such precepts through its
descriptions of the rough and tumble of industrial conflict on the borders of
Italy’s burgeoning black economy. (5)

As Matteo Mandarini (2003, pp. 1–2) has noted, the 1980s saw not only the
political persecution of many exponents of operaismo and Autonomia, but also an
isolation compounded by “the almost complete self-censorship of the Italian
publishing world,” coupled with limited access to “a broader international
debate and social movement.” For a number of reasons, the 1990s would prove
far more promising. In Italy, the spread of squatted, self-managed social centers,
and a modest rise in industrial conflict, provided a backdrop more conducive to
the reconsideration of operaista sensibilities.

On the translations front, the past
decade has seen yet more Negri books come out in English, as well as a series of articles in the British journal Common Sense from workerists of a rather
different bent, such as Sergio Bologna and Ferruccio Gambino. Meanwhile, the
use of the Internet for Zapatista solidarity work would greatly facilitate links
between English-speaking activists and their Italian counterparts, and also make
it much easier to lay hands on original Italian language materials. Social centers
such as Leoncavallo began to place some of their historical records on the
WWW, while websites like Generation Online, (6) Aut-op-sy (7) and Interactivist Info
Exchange (8) have provided forums in which both to discuss operaismo and related
tendencies, and to circulate translated materials.


Electronic documents in both English and Italian concerning operaismo are
today scattered across a range of websites, and accessible through the more
common search engines. To take one pertinent example, Patrick Cuninghame’s
(2001) helpful discussion with Sergio Bologna concerning ways of reading the
Italian movement of the 1960s and 1970s is now hosted by a number of online
collections. As for materials already in print, these days an hour or two spent
over a hot photocopier, scanner, and spell checking software is enough to place
an article on the net available for download, as has occurred with a range of
materials relevant to the history of operaismo and Autonomia.

On the other hand,
the fluid nature of many websites has seen public access to other electronic
documents come and go. For example, a dozen or so Italian language accounts
of militancy in the autonomist organization Collettivi Politici Veneti, once
housed at the Radio Sherwood website, were online for a certain period, but
have since vanished into the ether. As with other spheres of endeavor on the
web, there is a growing need to address the archival aspects of electronic
documents pertaining to Italian social theory and social movements. If not, there
is a real risk that relevant materials may once again fall out of the public domain,
as happened with so much of the literature destroyed in the wake of the
crackdowns of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

On a brighter note, more and more texts by and about exponents of operaismo
are now appearing in English, of which perhaps the most recent is Negri’s 2003
book Time for Revolution. Given this, it may prove useful to take a moment and
reflect upon some of the gaps that remain to be filled in our knowledge.

Perhaps the first point to be made is that we still know so little about the
particular movements within which the ideas of Negri and others were first
gestated. On this score, Donald Rumsfeld is not the only one plagued by
“unknown unknowns,” by things “we don’t know we don’t know.”

Too little
relevant work is yet being published in Italian, which leaves slim pickings for
those keen to promote more translation into English. For example, there is still
no proper history in Italian of that country’s autonomist movement (whether
with a capital or small A). While there is now a history of the far left
organization Lotta Continua that draws extensively upon the reminiscences of
former members (Cazzullo, 1998), (9) there has been no comparable history of
Potere Operaio, the group in which so many exponents of workerism were
politically active 30 years ago. At best, we have some intriguing reflections from
Franco “Bifo” Berardi (1998) on Potere Operaio’s place within the broader
trajectory of operaismo, and a surprisingly balanced account by a judge then
involved in the April 7 case (which also includes a detailed discussion of the
Collettivi Politici Veneti (Palombarini, 1982). Nor, apart from a recent book on
Radio Alice in Bologna, is there much in the way of histories of the libertarian
left, whether that be those influenced in some way by operaismo (e.g. Collegamenti),
the situationists (e.g. Ludd and Comontismo), or more traditional anarchist
groupings. Much of the best work that does exist appeared during the
1990s in the journal Per il Sessantotto, now sadly defunct.10

The picture for
research on the movements of the 1980s is again disappointing overall. For
example, there has been some useful work concerning the emergence of the
Leoncavallo and Conchetta social centers (Ibba, 1995; CS Cox 18 & Calusca City
Lights, 1996), and some brief if tantalizing pieces by Primo Moroni (1994, 1996)
concerning the geopolitics of the social centers of Milan.

As for those efforts at
workplace self-organization that the workerists (along with other revolutionaries)
did so much to promote in the 1960s and 1970s, few have yet joined Diego
Giachetti (1997) in his careful reconstruction of the events of the Hot Autumn
and beyond. One of the recent exceptions is an anthology edited by Carmelo
Adagio, Rocco Cerrato and Simona Urso (1999), which brings together 15 essays
on the social undercurrents that would converge with Italy’s decade-long
“1968,” including studies of the relationship between workplace activists and the
far left. Again, there are no signs that these kinds of studies will begin to appear
in translation any time soon.

Much of the material that has appeared in English of late might be better
called “post-operaista” in nature. This is an unwieldy label, but it does offer one
means to encompass a variety of broadly convergent outlooks that began to
coalesce by the end of the 1980s. These perspectives found their expression
above all in journals based in Italy (Luogo Comune, Posse, Derive Approdi) and
France (Futur Anterieur and Multitudes), through the pens not only of Negri and
others arrested back in 1979 (such as Paolo Virno), but also Augusto Illuminati,
Sandro Mezzadra and Marco Bascetta.

There a broad research agenda was
developed around the categories of post-Fordism, general intellect, mass intellectuality/
immaterial labor, exodus and a non-state public sphere, an agenda that
has since found considerable resonance within sections of the social centers
movement and elsewhere (Wright, 1996). If there are important elements of
continuity with certain themes of operaismo, there are also significant mutations
(e.g. in Negri’s case, the shift from emphasizing liberation from labor to the
liberation of labor, as Thoburn, 2001, has noted). There are also important
differences between such thinkers: the editors of Derive Approdi (2002), for
example, continue to insist that “the concept of the multitude acquires its fullest
and most proper significance only when it refers to a work force dominated by
capital (living labor).” Making sense of post-operaismo, then, promises to be a
worthy exercise in its own right, one of particular importance if we are to avoid
reading the history of Italian workerism itself as merely a precursor to current
debates around the utility or otherwise of notions such as “Empire.”

On the yet-to-be-published front, one important work already in English is
Patrick Cuninghame’s recent PhD dissertation (2002). Entitled “Autonomia: A
Movement of Refusal. Social Movements and Social Conflict in Italy in the
1970s,” this study draws upon a host of primary sources, both printed and oral,
to provide a detailed, critical assessment of the major tendencies within the autonomist movement of the 1970s. Using the Italian case to spell out many of
the limitations of contemporary academic interpretations of social movements,
Cuninghame (2002, p. 207) argues that the experience of Autonomia remains of
considerable relevance to present day anti-capitalist politics, embodying what he
terms “the ambiguity of revolutionary action in the post-industrial, post-modern
era.” Given its clarity, erudition and wide-ranging documentation, it can only be
hoped that this thesis will soon be made available to a wider public in book

Apart from Cuninghame’s work, there is still only limited documentation and
analysis — in any language — of the breadth and diversity within operaismo, Autonomia,
or the Movement of ‘77. Storming Heaven (Wright, 2002) aimed both to set
Negri’s ideas in a broader historical context, and to highlight the important role
played within operaismo of other thinkers such as Tronti, Bologna and Revelli.
Unfortunately, the price of this focus upon workerism’s “big names” was that
rather less space could be devoted to those whose work, if not so famous, was
still important for the tendency’s development. In this regard, Storming Heaven
only makes passing reference to the efforts of Gambino, Berti, Daghini and many
others, including the writings of workerist feminists such as the Dalla Costas, del
Re, and Fortunati. The appearance in early 2002 of the book Futuro Anteriore,
with an associated CD-ROM holding transcripts of discussion with nearly 60
interviewees, goes a long way to address this gap in our understanding of
workerism’s diversity. More than this, the accompanying interviews also hint at
the breadth of sensibilities within both Autonomia and the Movement of ‘77.
Here too, it is to be hoped that this book will soon appear in English. In the
meantime, and with any luck, the efforts of some translators associated with
Generation Online will make a number of the interviews from Futuro Anteriore
available for the growing numbers of English language readers with Internet

A final point in terms of “unknowns, known and unknown.” One important
way in which operaista themes have been taken up outside Italy over the past 20
years is in the realm of workers’ enquiries. In the collective process of enquiry,
interviews, questionnaires and workplace organizing combine in an effort to
map existing power relations in the workplace, and to ascertain how workers
might best challenge the latter. A vital part of Italian workerist political activity
at its best, the continuing relevance of such enquiries was stated succinctly by Ed
Emery (1995) nearly a decade ago:

The old class forces have been taken apart. “Decomposed.” New class forces are
emerging. New configurations. This is what we call a “new class composition.”
The new class composition is more or less a mystery to us (and to capital, and
to itself) because it is still in the process of formation.

Before we can make politics, we have to understand that class composition. In
order to understand that class composition, we have to study it, analyze it. We
do this through a process of inquiry. Hence: No Politics Without Inquiry.

For their part, the German grouping that produces the journal Wildcat conducted
a number of enquiries during the 1980s, as well as some conferences on this
theme in the early 1990s; accounts of some of their work can be found in English
at their website.11 Since that time, another German project with links to Wildcat
has hosted an ambitious cross-national project of enquiry focused upon call

center workers. The findings from this work, available at the Kolinko website in
a number of languages, including English, are of considerable relevance to
anyone who seeks to address how class composition has changed over the past

Enquiries have also continued in Italy itself. Back at the end of the 1980s, an
extensive survey of workers’ attitudes was carried out by workplace activists in
the banking industry (Collettivo Credito Democrazia Proletaria — Torino, Collettivo
Bancari Torinese & Centro Culturale Marxista Mondo Nuovo, 1991; Wright,
1994). More recently, the journal Posse, in which Negri plays a leading role, has
called for an enquiry into “what we are, where we live, how we work in this
new world that has begun to configure itself after ‘68” (Gruppo per l’inchiesta
metropolitana, 2000, p. 244). The publication of the book Futuro Anteriore has
given further stimulus to the question, and helped draw together a network of
local projects that also deserve closer scrutiny.13 (Brophy, forthcoming).

Examining the ways in which various categories of operaismo have been taken
up by English language writers requires another essay altogether. What can be
said here is that one obvious starting point is with North-America-based authors
associated over the years with Zerowork and Midnight Notes: not only Cleaver,
but also Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, Peter Linebaugh, Monty Neill, Steven
Colatrella, Bruno Ramirez, Phil Mattera and others. For now, it is intriguing to
note that, for all the ink that has been spilled on the subject to date, the category
of “multitude” most comes alive in a work (Linebaugh and Rediker, 2000) that
addresses a rather earlier manifestation of capital’s global Empire.

The Future: Twelve Books in Search of a Translator

Making sense of Italian revolutionary thought and experience, its weaknesses
as well as its strengths, requires that a broader selection of materials becomes
available to English-speaking audiences. Given the considerable effort involved
in translation, this will probably be a slow process. In the meantime, here are a
few books that sit near the top of my personal wish list.

• Mario Tronti (1971) Operai e capitale, 2nd edn (Turin: Einaudi).

Often described as “the bible” of operaismo, the book Workers and Capital brings
together Tronti’s key essays of the early 1960s, most of which had earlier
appeared in the journals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia. First published in
1966, a new edition of the book came out in 1971, along with a postscript written
after Tronti had led a wing of the original workerists back into the Communist

Some parts of the book would appear in English during the 1970s, courtesy of
Red Notes, Radical America and Telos. These texts (“Lenin in England,” “Social
Capital,” the 1971 postscript, and a fragment from “Marx, forza-lavoro, classe
operaia”) have now found their way onto the Internet. While they indicate the
originality of Tronti’s thought, there is much more to be found in the rest of the
book, from the bluntly instrumentalist insistence upon the party’s role in
revolution, to the exploration of the contradiction between labor and labor
power as the premise for capital’s destruction. Seeking to address the party’s
relationship to the unions “[b]eyond all the democratic chitchat over the concept of autonomy,” Tronti is not an author who minces words. For this reason alone,
access to this book can help to throw light upon the terms within which many
of the early workerists understood the relationship between political organization
and working class autonomy.

• Primo Moroni and Nanni Balestrini (1997) L’orda d’oro, 2nd edn (Milan:

A novelist and poet, Balestrini will be known to some as the author of The
a powerful account of the autonomist movement in the Lombardy of the
1970s. Long the proprietor of the Calusca bookstore in Milan, and an astute
chronicler of the radical left in that city, Moroni certainly deserves to be well
known to English readers. In the late 1980s Balestrini and Moroni assembled an
unmatched anthology of Italian revolutionary materials from across the postwar
period. A mixture of classic contemporary texts and later reminiscences by
participants, L’orda d’oro (The Golden Horde,/I>) is nearly 700 pages long, cleverly
woven together by Balestrini and Moroni’s thoughtful and self-critical narrative.
This second edition of the book is edited by Sergio Bianchi (whose life story is
recounted in The Unseen), and contains new material, such as an overview of
interviews provided by former members of the Collettivi Politici Veneti. There
are sections on youth rebellion and the new journals of the 1960s, on the student
movement of 1968 and the Hot Autumn of 1969, on the emergence of Italy’s
powerful women’s movement. There are also sections on the events of 1977,
when a wave of struggles by students and service sector workers challenged the
left, both official and dissident, on the autonomist movement of the 1970s, and
on communication and the role of intellectuals. If one single item from my list
deserves to be translated in the next two years, it is this book.

• R. Alquati (1975) Sulla FIAT e altri scritti (Milan: Feltrinelli).

Alquati was a key figure for operaismo in its formative years, helping to carry out
much of the tendency’s earliest efforts at “co-research” amongst workers at FIAT
and Olivetti, before striking out on his own by the time of the Hot Autumn. On
FIAT and Other Writings
contains his most important published papers from the
1960s, all but one of which had earlier been printed in Quaderni Rossi or Classe
Alongside the careful unraveling of power relations on the shopfloor,
the essays document the often difficult relationship between workplace activists
and Italy’s official labor movement. Last but far from least, the book is also of
note for the acerbic commentaries with which Alquati introduces each essay.

• R. Panzieri (1975) La ripresa del Marxismo–Leninismo in Italia, 2nd edn (Milan:

This oddly titled, posthumous collection brings together most of Panzieri’s
important essays. While two of these have long been available in English (and
are now on the Internet), others in the volume include his reflections upon
“Workers’ struggles in capitalist development” and “The socialist use of the
workers’ enquiry.” Finally, The Return of Marxism–Leninism in Italy contains a
useful selection of Panzieri’s shorter newspaper and journal contributions, from
the period of the workers’ control debate in the late 1950s, to the years of
Quaderni Rossi.

• Antonio Negri (1979) Dall’operaio massa all’operaio sociale: Intervista
(Milan: Multhipla edizioni).

In this book-length interview, Negri offers his own personal account of the
emergence of operaismo from within the dissident New Left of the 1950s.
Considerable attention is paid to Potere Operaio as well as Negri’s writings of
the 1970s, but much of From the Mass Worker to the Socialized Worker also focuses
upon earlier experiences leading to the Hot Autumn. Since Negri’s work is not
easy to read at the best of times, the conversational tone of the book provides a
very accessible introduction to his ideas as they stood in the years before the
April 7 case.

• Antonio Negri (1976) La fabbrica della strategia. 33 Lezioni su Lenin (Padua:

This book can likewise be recommended both for its content and for its
readability. Negri certainly knows his ways around Lenin’s collected works,
even if the portrait that emerges from the text will surprise and frustrate many
a contemporary bolshevik. Here a central theme long hinted at within much of
operaismo — that of seeking to rescue Lenin from Leninism — is finally addressed
directly, although with mixed results. Arguing that the nature of capitalism has
changed since Lenin’s time thanks to the ascendancy of capital’s real subsumption
of labor, Negri mounts a clever case as to what remains relevant in the
Russian revolutionary leader’s work. The Strategy Factory’s translation will allow
English language readers to decide for themselves the success or otherwise of
Negri’s efforts to salvage something of Lenin for a politics that is resolutely
anti-parliamentarian and anti-trade unionist. Some readers will likely be entranced;
others, no doubt, will enjoy the irony in all this of Negri’s dismissal of
Lenin’s own “infantile” critics in the early Comintern.

• Marco Revelli (1989) Lavorare in FIAT (Turin: Garzanti).

Now a prominent academic concerned both with the future of the left and the
continuing influence of the far right, Revelli was in the 1970s a leading Lotta
activist in Turin, then an editor of the workerist journal Primo Maggio.
The son of oral historian Nino Revelli, he deploys a similarly impressive array
of personal testimonies to chart the sudden rise and apparent eclipse of the mass
worker at Italy’s premier automobile firm. A beautifully written manuscript that
became a surprise best seller upon its release, the book paints an evocative
portrait of the oppressive atmosphere at FIAT in the years before the Hot
Autumn, before the mass rebellion of 1969 forced a fundamental shift in power
relations there. Like a Greek tragedy, Working at FIAT carefully traces the brief
ascendancy and subsequent fall of the Hot Autumn generation, and its ultimate
ignoble defeat at the hands of management and union officials a decade later.

• Gabriele Polo (ed.) (1989) Tamburi di Mirafiori (Turin: CRIC).

Eleven worker militants once active at FIAT, including some of those interviewed
by Revelli, offer their own accounts of the Hot Autumn of 1969. Between
them, they offer a subtle account of the relations of power on the shopfloor, and
the process by which they and other mass workers — the supposedly dispensable
cogs in this great automotive empire — were able to impose their collective will upon the firm. Sometimes amusing, always intriguing, the stories in The Drums
of Mirafiori
provide important clues as to how a generation of workers succeeded
in rewriting many of the rules of Italian industrial relations in the early 1970s.

• C. Marazzi (1995) Il posto dei calzini. La svolta linguistica dell’economia e i suoi
effetti sulla politica
(Bellinzona: Casagrande).

Marazzi wrote a key essay in the late 1970s for the journal Zerowork, and
provided an interview that frames the material translated for the special issue of
Semiotext(e) on Autonomia. One of the most important post-operaista texts
produced to date, this book examines the place of communication within what
the author terms the “post-Fordist” order within contemporary Western societies,
starting from the production process to explore the ramifications within
the sphere of political representation. A specialist in the realm of monetary
policy and poverty, Marazzi covers a range of topics along the way, from total
quality management to the social base of neo-liberalism. Marazzi is one of those
writers from whom one can learn in a productive manner, even while doubting
some of the fundamental premises of his outlook, and Where Socks Go is a very
elegant presentation of his ideas.

• C. Del Bello (1997) Una sparatoria tranquilla. Per una storia orale del ‘77 (Rome:

Rome was one of the cities were the Movement of ‘77 was a real force. In this
book, protagonists from different parts of the movement look back upon the
experience, often in a quite self-critical manner. The editor of A Tranquil Shootout
has made an effort to speak not only to the more prominent activists and
intellectuals of that year, but also cadre in both the Volsci (the dominant
grouping within the local Autonomia) and the Brigate Rosse, along with “rank
and file” movement participants. The picture that emerges is an exhilarating if
contradictory one, of a movement that continually challenged its own limitations,
only to become bogged down in a vicious circle of street confrontations
and repression that ultimately undermined its original rationale.

• G. Borio, F. Pozzi and G. Roggero (2002) Futuro anteriore. Dai “Quaderni
Rossi” ai movimenti globali: ricchezze e limiti dell’operaismo italiano
Derive Approdi).

I have reviewed Future Perfect> at some length for a forthcoming issue of the
journal Historical Materialism (Wright, forthcoming). Here I will simply say that
not only is the authors’ assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of operaismo
extremely useful, but the interviews that accompany the book are the richest
published sources currently available on the experiences of Potere Operaio and
Autonomia, seen from both within and without those formations. Care has been
taken to gather respondents from across a variety of generations and regions,
even if (as always) the North continues to be somewhat over-represented within
the sample.

• Various Authors (200?) Lost Classics of Operaismo.

Anyone familiar with Italian autonomist Marxism knows that much of the most
important writing has taken essay form. From Luciano Ferrari Bravo’s work on
imperialism, the New Deal, or sovereignty, to the debate around Sergio
Bologna’s “Tribe of Moles,” some of the best work has appeared either in
journals or in edited collections of papers. This particular book has yet to be
compiled, but would include a broad range of materials, from Ferruccio
Gambino’s essay on “forza-invenzione” to Gisela Bock’s analysis of the rise and
decline of the IWW, via papers on Marx and the money-form originally
published in Primo Maggio by Bologna, Christian Marazzi and Lapo Berti.


1. Thanks to Harry Cleaver and Enda Brophy for critical comments on an earlier version
of this article.

2. This is the most recent month on record at the time of writing — see Il Manifesto.

3. Two online catalogues of relevant materials — the Red Notes Italian Archive (Red Notes), and the (Texas
Archives of Autonomist Marxism

— list not only many key Italian texts, but also the overwhelming
majority of associated English language materials produced in the 1970s and 1980s.

4. See the bibliography compiled by Timothy Murphy here.

5. As Sergio Bianchi (2001) would later put it: “A slogan like ‘the refusal of
work’… corresponded to a material and immediate need not to accept those living
conditions; only later did we understand that it also had a very relevant theoretical
basis… What interested us was raising hell within the workplace, challenging the
factory regime.”

6. Generation OnLine.

7. Spoons

8. http://slash.autonomedia.org.

9. Also worthy of note is the dispassionate history of Lotta Continua by former
prominent member Luigi Bobbio (1979).

10. A collection of essays from the journal have been gathered in Giachetti, D. (ed.) (1998)
Per il sessantotto, studi e ricerche (Bolsena: Massari). Reviews of many of the books
issued for the 30th anniversary of 1968 can be found at http://www.media68.com/. Other journals with relevant historical research worth mentioning
are Progetto Memoria (Iperbole)
and (Vis-à-Vis). Of the various materials
produced for the 20th anniversary of 1968, the dictionary edited by Materiali per una
nuova sinistra (1988) is also useful, even if some of its judgements of Autonomia
remain debatable.

11. http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/eindex.htm.

12. http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/kolinko/engl/ e index.htm.

13. https://www.inventati.org/mailman/listinfo/conrice rca futuroanteriore.


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