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Lenin In England

Mario Tronti

Despite its title, this article is not about’ England as such. It marks, in 1964, one of the early points in the continuity of political theory that reaches through our book to the most recent works of Toni Negri (Domination & Sabotage); it also marks an early point of the continuity of the political practice of the working class, in the sense that Tronti’s affirmation that “a new era in the class struggle is beginning” must be closely related to the renewed experience of class autonomy expressed in the events of Piazza Statuto in 1962 (see the final section of this book).

Tronti goes on to explore the nature of this new era. His concern is to start the building of the new revolutionary working class organisation – a new area of theoretical research, a new project for a working class newspaper.

The article was originally written for Issue No.1 of the revolutionary newspaper Classe Operaia (“Working Class”) in January 1964, and was republished in Operai e Capitale (“Workers and Capital”), Einaudi, Turin, 1966, p.89-95, under the heading “A New Style of Political Experiment”.

Lenin In England

A new era in the class struggle is beginning. The workers have imposed it on the capitalists, through the violent reality of their organised strength in the factories. Capital’s power appears to be stable and solid…. the balance of forces appears to be weighted against the workers… and yet precisely at the points where capital’s power appears most dominant, we see how deeply it is penetrated by this menace this threat of the working class.

It is easy not to see it. We shall need to study, to look long and hard at the class situation of the working class. Capitalist society has its laws of development: economists have invented them, governments have imposed them, and workers have suffered them. But who will uncover the laws of development of the working class? Capital has its history, and its historians write it – but who is going to write the history of the working class?

Capitalist exploitation can impose its political domination through a hundred and one different forms – but how are we going to sort out the form that will be taken by the future dictatorship of the workers organised as the ruling class? This is explosive material; it is intensely social; we must live it, work from within it, and work patiently.

We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first, and workers second. This is a mistake. And now we have to turn the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class. At’ the level of socially developed capital, capitalist development becomes subordinated to working class struggles; it follows behind them, and they set the pace to which the political mechanisms of capital’s own reproduction must be tuned.

This is not a rhetorical proposition. Nor is it intended just to restore our confidence. Of course, we urgently need to shake off that sense of working class defeat which has for decades dragged down this movement which, in its origins, was the only revolutionary movement of this era. But an urgent practical need is never sufficient basis for a scientific thesis: such a thesis must stand on its own feet, on a solid and complex grounding of material, historical fact. At that point, our case will be proven: in June 1848 (that fateful month, a thousand times cursed by the bourgeoisie), and possibly even earlier, the working class took over the stage, and they have never left it since. In different periods they have voluntarily taken on different roles – as actors, as prompters, as technicians or stage-hands – whilst all the time waiting to wade into the theatre and attack the audience. So how does the working class present itself today, on the contemporary stage?

Our new approach starts from the proposition that, at both national and international level, it is the specific, present, political situation of the working class that both necessitates and directs the given forms of capital’s development. From this beginning we must now move forward to a new understanding of the entire world network of social relations.

For instance take the basic material feature of this network – the fact that the world market has been undergoing reconstruction – a process which we can trace back to the ending of Stalinism’ s Stranglehold over development, It would be easy to explain this in terms that are economistic, addressing ourselves to “the problem of markets in capitalist production”. But the working class viewpoint seeks to find a political explanation. The meaning of a unified world market today is that it brings an international level of control of social labour power. It is possible -albeit difficult – to organise commodity production within a limited free-trade zone. But not so the movements of the working class. Historically, right at its origins, workers’ labour power was already homogeneous at the international level, and – in the course of a long historical period – it has forced capital to become equally homogeneous. And today it is precisely the unity of movement of the working class at the world level which forces capital rapidly to salvage a unified response.
But when we say that there is a unity in the movements of the international working class – how are we to grasp it? The various institutional levels of the official labour movement only create divisions in everything; the structures of capitalism unify everything -but only in capital’s interests. An act of political struggle can’t be simply tested and measured by empirical ans. The only way to prove this unity is to start organising it. Then we shall discover that the new forms of class unity is wholly implicit in the new forms of working class struggle, and that the field of this struggle is social capital at an international level.

At this level, the political situation of the working class has never been so clear: wherever in history we find concentrated the social mass of an industrial labour force, we can see at a glance the same collective attitudes, the same basic practices, and the same unified political growth. Planned non-cooperation, organised passivity, polemical expectations, a political refusal, and a permanent continuity of struggles – these are the specific historical forms in which working class struggle today is generalising and developing itself. They are transitory forms of a transitory situation, in which, in social terms, the workers have already gone beyond the old Organisations, but have not yet reached a new organisation a vacuum of political organisation, be it reformist or revolutionary. We have reached a period of in-between in working class history: we must examine it deeply and grasp its implications, for its political consequences will be decisive.

The first consequence is, not surprisingly, a difficulty: how are we to grasp the material movements of the class, in the absence of levels of institutions corresponding to those movements – i.e. the lack of those channels through which class consciousness usually expresses itself? This clearly demands a greater theoretical effort (and one more capable of making abstractions), but it also has a clearer practical function: for we are compelled to analyse the working class independently of the working class movement.

The second consequence is that we find contradictions and seeming uncertainties in the movements of the class. It is clear that if the working class had a revolutionary political organisation, it would aim3 everywhere, at making use of the highest developed point of capitalist reformism. The process of building a unification of capital at the international level can only become the material base for a political recomposition of the working class (and in this sense a positive strategic moment for the revolution) if it is accompanied by a revolutionary growth not only of the class, but also of class organisation. If this element is absent, the whole process works to the advantage of capital, as a tactical moment of a one-sided stabilisation of the system, seemingly integrating the working class within the system.

The historical workings of Italian capitalism – ie the organic political accord between Catholics and Socialists – could perhaps reopen a revolutionary process along classical lines, if it again managed to provide Italian workers with a working class party which would be committed to direct opposition to the capitalist system in the democratic phase of capital’s class dictatorship. Without this, the dominance of capitalist exploitation will, for the time being, become more stable, and the workers will be forced to seek other paths towards their revolution. Whilst it is true that the working class objectively forces capital into clear, precise choices, it is also true that capital then makes these choices work against the working class. Capital, at this moment, is better organised than the working class: the choices that the working class imposes on capital run the risk of giving strength to capital. This gives the working class an immediate interest in opposing these choices.

Today the strategic viewpoint of the working class is so clear that we wonder whether it is only now coming to the full richness of its maturity. It has discovered (or rediscovered) the true secret, which will be the death sentence on its class enemy: the political ability to force capital into reformism, and then to blatantly make use of that reformism for the working class revolution.

But the present tactical position of the working class – as a class without class organisation – is, and must necessarily be, less clear and more subtly ambiguous. The working class is still forced to make use of contradictions which create crisis within capitalist reformism; it has to play up the elements which hinder and retard capitalist development, since it knows and senses that to allow a free hand for capital’s reformist operations in the absence of a political organisation of the working class, would amount to freezing for a long period the entire revolutionary process (and, by the same token, if such an organisation did exist, it would open this process immediately).

Thus the two reformisms – that of capital and that of the labour movement – should certainly meet, but only through a direct initiative by the working class. When – as at the present moment – all the initiative is in capital’s hands, the workers’ immediate interest is to keep them apart. From a tactical point of view, too, it is correct that this meeting should take place once the working class has experienced not only struggle, but also revolutionary struggle, and within revolutionary struggle has also experienced alternative models of organisation. At that point, the historic encounter of capitalist reformism with the reformism of the labour movement will really mark the beginning of the revolutionary process. But our present situation is different: it precedes and paves the way for that later stage. From this follows both the workers strategic support for capital’s development in general and their tactical opposition to the particular forms of that development. So, in the working class today there is a contradiction between tactics and strategy.

In other words, the political moment of tactics and the theoretical moment of strategy are in contradiction, in a complex and very much mediated relationship between revolutionary organisation and working class science. Today, at the theoretical level, the workers viewpoint must be unrestricted, it must not limit itself, it must leap (forward by transcending and negating all the empirical evidence which the intellectual cowardice of the petty-bourgeois is forever demanding. For working class thouht, the moment of discovery has returned. The days of systems building, of repetition, and vulgarity elevated to the status of systematic discourse are definitely over. What is needed now is to start again, with rigorously one-sided class logic – courage and determination for ourselves, and detached irony towards the rest.

This is not to be confused with the creation of a political programme; we must resist the temptation to carry this theoretical out-look immediately into the arena of the political struggle – a struggle which is articulated on the basis of a precise content, which, in some cases, may even contradict (quite correctly) our theoretical statements. As regards the practical resolution of practical problems of direct struggles, of direct organisation3 of direct intervention in a given class situation where workers are involved – all these should be gauged first of all by what the movement needs for its own development. Only secondarily should they be judged from the viewpoint of a general perspective which subjectively imposes these things on the class enemy.

But the separation of theory and politics is only the consequence of the contradiction between tactics and strategy. Both have their material base in the process (still slowly developing) by which the class and the historical organisations of the class – the 1’working class” and the “labour movement” – first become divided, and then come to counterpose each other. What does this mean concretely, and where will it lead us? The first thing to say is that the goal, the aim of this approach is the solid recomposition of a politically correct relationship between the two moments. No separation between them can be theoretically justified, and no counterposition can be effected at any point, not even provisionally. If a part of the labour movement finds again the path to revolution as signalled by the working class, then the process of unification of these moments will be easier, quicker, more direct and more secure. Otherwise, the revolutionary process, although nonetheless assured, will be less clear, less decisive, longer and more full of drama. It is easy to see the job of mystification that the old organisations are doing on the new working class struggles. But it is harder to grasp the way that workers are continuously, consciously making use of that institution which capital still ‘believes to be the movement of the organised workers.

In particular, the working class has left in the hands of the traditional organisations all the problems of tactics, while maintaining for itself an autonomous strategic perspective free from restriction and compromises. And again we have the temporary outcome, of a revolutionary strategy and reformist tactics. Even if, as often happens, the opposite appears to be the case. It appears that workers are now in accord with the system, and only occasionally come into friction with it: but this is the “bourgeois” appearance of capitalist social relations. The truth is that, politically speaking, even the Unions’ skirmishes represent for the workers an academic exercise in their struggle for power: it is as such that they take them on, make use of them, and once they have been made use of, hand them back to the bosses. As a matter of fact, the classical Marxist thesis – that the Union holds the tactical moment, and the Party holds the strategic moment -still holds true for the workers. This is why, if a link still exists between the working class and the unions, it does not exist between the working class and the Party. It is this fact which frees the strategic perspective from the immediate 0rganisationa~ tasks; it splits, temporarily, class struggle and class organisation; it splits the ongoing moment of struggle and temporary forms of organisation -all of which is the consequence of the historical failure of Socialist reformism, as well as being a premise of the political development of the working class revolution.

Theoretical research and practical political work have to be dragged – violently if need be – into focusing on this question: not the development of capitalism, but the development of the revolution. We have no models. The history of past experiences serves only to free us of those experiences. We must entrust ourselves to a new kind of scientific interpretation. We know that the whole process of development is materially embodied in the new level of working class struggles. Our starting point might therefore be in uncovering certain forms of working class struggles which set in motion a certain type of capitalist development which goes in the direction of the revolution. Then we would consider how to articulate these experiences within the working class, choosing subjectively the nerve points at which it is possible to strike at capitalist production. And on this basis, testing and re-testing, we could approach the problem of how to create a relationship, a new and ongoing organisation which could match these struggles. Then perhaps we would discover that “organisational miracles” are always happening, and have always been happening, within those miraculous struggles of the working class that nobody wants to know about but which perhaps, all by themselves, make and have made more revolutionary history than all the revolutions the colonised people have ever made.

But this practical work, articulated on the basis of the factory, and then made to function throughout the terrain of the social relations of production, this work needs to be continually judged and mediated by a political level which can generalise it. This is a new kind of political level, which requires us to look into and organise a new form of working class newspaper. This would not be designed to immediately report and reflect on all particular experiences of struggle; rather, its task would be to concentrate these experiences into a general political approach. In this sense, the newspaper would provide a monitoring of the strategic validity of particular instances of struggle. The formal procedure for carrying out such a verification would have -to be turned on its head. It is the political ‘approach which must verify the correctness of the particular struggles, and not vice-versa.

Because, on this basis, the political approach would be the total viewpoint of the working class, and therefore the actual real situation. And it is easy to see how such an approach takes us, away from the Leninist conception of the working class newspaper: this was conceived as the collective organiser on the basis of, or in anticipation of, a Bolshevik organisation of the class and of the Party. These are impossible objectives for us at this stage of the class struggle: this is the stage where we must embark on a discovery, not of the political organisation of advanced vanguards, but of the political organisation of the whole, compact social mass which the working class has become, in the period of its high political maturity – a class which, precisely because of these character istics, is the only revolutionary force, a force which, proud and menacing, controls the present order of things.

We know it. And Lenin knew it before us. And before Lenin, Marx also discovered, in his own experience, how the hardest point is the transition to organisation. The continuity of the struggle is a simple matter: the workers only need themselves, and the bosses facing them. But continuity of organisation is a rare and complex thing: no sooner is organisation institutionalied into a form, than it is immediately used by capitalism (or by the labour movement on behalf of capitalism).

This explains the fact that workers will very fast drop forms of organisation that they have only just won. And in place of the bureaucratic void of the general political organisation, they substitute the ongoing struggle at factory level – a struggle which takes ever-new forms which only the intellectual creativity of productive work can discover. Unless a directlyworking class political organisation can be generalised, the revolutionary process will not begin: workers know it, and this is why you will not find them in the chapels of the official parties singing hymns to the ‘democratic’ revolution.

The reality of the working class is tied firmly to the name of Karl Marx, while the need of the working class for political Organisation is tied equally firmly to the name of Lenin. With a masterly stroke, the Leninist ‘strategy brought Marx to St Petersburg: only the working class viewpoint could have carried out such a bold revolutionary step. Now let us try to retrace the path, with the same scientific spirit of adventure and political discovery. What we call “Lenin in England” is a project to research a new Marxist practice of the working class party: it is the theme of struggle and of organisation at the highest level of political development of the working class.

January 1964

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11 Comments

  1. First thoughts….
    Reading “Lenin in England” by Tronti is a like drinking a strange tonic: difficult to swallow and one wonders what they will be transformed into. Communist Frankensteins from the 60s stalk postmodernity. Tronti’s essential challenge – that proletarian organisation must be based on the existing reality of the proletariat and its barbarian existence against capital – remains our challenge too. Like Tronti we need to propose the reinvention of the ‘Party’ (whatever that means; some form of ‘organisation’) not in relation to doxa but the actual content of struggle. Thus it makes no sense to read “Lenin in England” like so many read What is to be done: as if it is a blueprint for party-building. Rather it jolts us into approaching questions in a certain way; to reinvent communist perspectives by rediscovering the monstrous and wonderful elements of our condition: we are unbearable for capital.
    Tronti starts by brushing aside the ideological mystifications that confront him. Whilst “Capital’s power appears to be stable and solid” this is the very moment that “we see how deeply it is penetrated by this menace this threat of the working class”. We can see this if we grasp that capitalist modernisation is actual driven by the power of the working class and the working class has the ability to both push this modernisation in ways that it sees as desirable and also to bloc this ‘progress’ and tear it apart.
    Was this claim valid? Is it valid now?
    Much of Tronti’s hope is based on homogeneity of the working class:
    At this level, the political situation of the working class has never been so clear: wherever in history we find concentrated the social mass of an industrial labour force, we can see at a glance the same collective attitudes, the same basic practices, and the same unified political growth. Planned non-cooperation, organised passivity, polemical expectations, a political refusal, and a permanent continuity of struggles – these are the specific historical forms in which working class struggle today is generalising and developing itself.
    However even though Tronti sees proletariat as having an international form he, from the outset dismisses the divisions within the class brought about by imperialism. He speaks of the “miraculous struggles of the working class that nobody wants to know about but which perhaps, all by themselves, make and have made more revolutionary history than all the revolutions the colonised people have ever made.” As such his theorisation rests on a dismissal of struggle in the then peripheries and the elevation of struggles in the then core into those of proletarian Atlases: they carry the world on their shoulders.
    Not only was this incorrect in the early sixties, it is ridiculous now. The condition of proletarianisation in postFordism functions through the proliferation of differences and of hierarchies of difference. Without a homogeneous proletariat (which never really existed anyway) can we hope?

  2. hey there –
    “capitalist modernisation is actual driven by the power of the working class and the working class has the ability to both push this modernisation in ways that it sees as desirable and also to bloc this ‘progress’ and tear it apart.”

    It seems to me this is actually two claims, first that the working class is the engine for capitalist development, and that the working class can shape or use capitalist development. The first claim is not true, if it means that behind all capitalist development we can find working class initiative. It is true if the claim means that the working class is *sometimes* the engine of development, or that capitalism always seeks to make working class intransigence functional to its own purposes (but failing that, capitalists and their states may simply start killing people). The second claim is I think true, but “can” or “has the ability” doesn’t say anything about what is and isn’t a good idea for the class at any particular moment.

    On homogeneity, I think Tronti mostly means political homogeneity – unity in revolutionary struggle – but I think there is the element you talk about and rightly criticize him for, inattention to other areas of struggle. I also want to add that I think proletarianization and management of the proletariat always involves the production and management of hierarchies inside the class.

    cheers,
    Nate

  3. Hey Nate I agree with your last point that:

    that I think proletarianization and management of the proletariat always involves the production and management of hierarchies inside the class.

    I guess the Midnight Notes Collective are the best proponent of this view from an autonomist perspective.

    Indeed I think this is possibly the major challenge that reconstituting communist politics faces: how to deal with the hierarchies of differences amongst us, particularly since they often open to the potential of collapsing into vortexes of identity based violence.

    Thought I think Tronti is arguing that revolutionary unity is based on a material homogeneity and division is imposed from without (by capital and by the labour movement such as it is). If such a homogeneity does not exist does it mean that Tronti’s politics become inoperable?

    rebel love
    Dave

  4. Nate wrote:

    It seems to me this is actually two claims, first that the working class is the engine for capitalist development, and that the working class can shape or use capitalist development. The first claim is not true, if it means that behind all capitalist development we can find working class initiative. It is true if the claim means that the working class is *sometimes* the engine of development, or that capitalism always seeks to make working class intransigence functional to its own purposes (but failing that, capitalists and their states may simply start killing people).

    Surely the claim that the working class ( or at least the struggle of the working class – and what is the relation between the two?) Is the core contention of the operaismo-then-autonomist position? After all it is in Lenin in England where Tronti presents his ‘Copernican Inversion’ which is often presented as the key stone of almost all later postoperaismo theorisation. Quote:

    We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first, and workers second. This is a mistake. And now we have to turn the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class. At’ the level of socially developed capital, capitalist development becomes subordinated to working class struggles; it follows behind them, and they set the pace to which the political mechanisms of capital’s own reproduction must be tuned….

    Our new approach starts from the proposition that, at both national and international level, it is the specific, present, political situation of the working class that both necessitates and directs the given forms of capital’s development. From this beginning we must now move forward to a new understanding of the entire world network of social relations.

    In this essay it seems that Tronti understands this due to the victories gained through struggle.

    in June 1848 (that fateful month, a thousand times cursed by the bourgeoisie), and possibly even earlier, the working class took over the stage, and they have never left it since. In different periods they have voluntarily taken on different roles – as actors, as prompters, as technicians or stage-hands – whilst all the time waiting to wade into the theatre and attack the audience.

    Thus capital is driven by labour largely due to the political power of labour. As much as labour constitutes itself as a force we can say that capital is driven by the struggle of labour. Thus Tronti sees the current crisis as a product of inter-capitalist conflict.

    This can be compared to the other variants of autonomism such as Holloway that sees labour as the engine of capitalist development due to the nature of the category of capital: i.e. since capital is the product of labour, a vampiric growth, it can only gain motion as much as it can grasp the activity of the force it vampirises. This is the cause of its ‘madness’ and our hope.

    This difference leads to two different politic roads (at least)..

  5. Hi all, these comments don’t really take into account any of the comments made so far but are based on my reading of the text.

    My general impression upon reading “Lenin in England” is that it contains kernels of great wisdom enmeshed in a mire of confusion. If we situate the piece historically, it was written in 1964, this is no great surprise. Today we can talk about ‘autonomist’ Marxism and employ a wide variety of sophisticated theories and terms which have been developed over many years. Tronti in 1964 however, is obviously grappling with a new kind of revolutionary theory within the still dominant traditions of Leninism and Italian Communism.

    The greatest theoretical insight in the piece, which Tronti repeats and rephrases several times throughout, is the statement that “the beginning is the class struggle of the working class.” This so called “Copernican” inversion of accepted Marxist wisdom opened the door to a whole new praxis of revolution and theory. Tronti’s conviction of the primacy of working class struggle as the active agent of history is strong. He even gives us a date, June 1848, when the class “took over the stage” and he claims that they have remained the prime mover of history ever since. Capital does not direct the development of the capitalist system but rather “it is the specific, present , political situation of the working class that both necessitates and directs the given forms of capital’s development.” From this fundamental, ‘paradigm’ shift Tronti derives the radical consequence that “we are compelled to analyse the working class independently of the working class movement.”

    He states that despite the overwhelming power of the working class struggle to determine the development of society “it is not easy to see it.” Thus for Tronti, the project is not one only of uncovering a previously hidden, subjective truth, but in recognising the fact that our very perception and perspective, our theoretical work itself are a part of the class struggle. He reminds us that Capital has its share of economists, governments and historians who work hard to cast society in capital’s mold. What is lacking is an historian to write “the history of the working class”. Again, Tronti recognises a fundamental problem of this radical, one-sided theory: when confidence and rhetoric substitute themselves for reality. He argues, though, that this revelation is not only desirable but necessary and true. It’s truth is to be found in the material reality of the struggles themselves and in “the violent reality of their organised strength in the factories”. At the same time working class power is not something which relies on “empirical evidence” to prove its existence. It is based in a “rigourously one-sided class logic” and demands of its proponents both courage and determination. It is our responsibility to make theory and practice focus not on”the development of capitalism, but the development of the revolution.”

    Yet at the very moment of recognition and amid the passionate cries to dedicate ourselves to this perspective Tronti is unable to escape the Leninist conception of working class organisation. He correctly identifies the fundamental weakness of Leninism while still searching everywhere for a Leninist solution to the problem. It is a testament to his conviction and honesty that he does not solve the problem but merely grapples with it. For it is a problem whose solution he did not have the tools to describe but merely to point out some of the trail markers.

    We can see in Lenin in England the outlines of a theory of constituent and constituted power. Tronti refers again and again to the tendency of working class power, when constituted, to act as an impediment to revolution. “The various institutional levels of the official labour movement,” he states “only create divisions in everything.” In terms of political organisations Tronti recognises, even in 1964, that “the workers have already gone beyond the old Organisations”. Yet he shies away from embracing the radical possibility of this by pointing to the lack, the “vacuum of political organisation” he perceives in place of the old organisations. We are at, he states “a period of in-between in working class history”, but what on earth is that supposed to mean? If indeed we are “to analyse the working class independently of the working class movement” can we not conceive of organisation at the level of the class itself? Indeed, I propose that we can and must, but it is clear that Tronti is not quite ready to make that leap. He moves from these radical insights into speculation about a new working class party “committed to direct opposition to the capitalist system”.

    Despite Tronti’s recognition of the class’s power to resist he describes it “as a class without class organisation”. Yet within his own argument there are frequent references to the activity of the class which appears quite organised. He states that the class has “discovered (or rediscovered) … the political ability to force capital into reformism, and then to blatantly make use of that reformism for the working class revolution”. Cleary, a strategic perspective such as this is demonstrative of a level of internal organisation. Tronti makes reference to the complex relationship between the class itself and the working class organisations. On the one hand “it is easy to see the job of mystification that the old organisations are doing on the new working class struggles” but Tronti argues that at the same time “the workers are continously, consciously making use of the institution which capital still ‘believes to be the movement of the organised workers'”. In other words the organisation of the class includes a complex dynamic between constituted and constituent power. It is my conviction that Tronti was able to perceive the weakness of constituted bodies of working class power and their tendency to shore up capitalism but he was incapable of fully realising the degree to which constituent power is actually organised power but in a radically different way. We can see the outlines of this idea in the statement that “‘organisational miracles’ are always happening and have always been happening, within those miraculous struggles of the working class”.

    Despite the breadth of Tronti’s insight he remains bound to the Leninist idea of the intellectual who stands outside of the class struggle. Although he does not state this in the article it is clear from his language, from his objectification of the working class as ‘other’ that a separation exists between the author and the class itself. Tronti acknowledges that the practical work of revolution is “articulated on the basis of the factory” but he claims that in order to “be made to function throughout the terrain of of the social relations of production, this work needs to be continually judged and mediated by a political level which can generalise it”. Even here at his most Leninist moment, Tronti struggles to see beyond it. He argues not for “the political organisation of advanced vanguards, but of the political organisation of the whole, compact social mass which the working class has become”. It is here at the intersection of profound insight into the limits of Leninist concepts of revolution and the pressing immediate question of how best to intervene in the class struggle that ‘Lenin in England’ stands. Unable to free itself of the legacy of the Bolsheviks, Tronti’s analysis falters. He articulates profound and important insights into the nature of class struggle and capitalist social relations and points at the problem of political organisation but he cannot make the leap which would see the abandonment of ‘the Party’ as a strategy and the situation of the radical intellectual not at the separate ‘political’ level of class organisation but as a living, breathing part of that compact social mass which struggles daily for revolution.

  6. I might start by giving my impressions by themselves, in isolation, before returning shortly to consider other’s contributions.

    Tronti, or his translator, needs a good kick, and a reminder that translations may require adequate footnoting. I feel like I know what he’s talking about half the time, and the other half of the time assuming his incomprehensibility is connected to specifically Italian situations.

    I’m pretty happy with the idea of the working class driving the motion of capital, but I’m fairly workerist, and see capital embedded primarily in the relations of production. I’m happy with the idea of the contingency of particular ways of doing things.

    What I love is the idea that our class no sooner creates new organisations, struggles, ways of being, than it discards them as flawed, colonised by capital, not advancing its own interests.

  7. Loved your contribution Alexander. But firstly, Dave’s reference to Tronti seeing the current crisis as a product of “inter-capitalist conflict”. Isn’t this “inter-capitalist conflict” also a result of global proletarian power and about how best to subdue and harness it?

    As Tronti and Alexander point out, what is important is to try and understand the specific, present, political situation of the class. This situation is something that Tronti tends to view both pessimistically and therefore not suprisingly, conservatively. In the recent piece by Tronti that Dave provided the link to he claims that workers are “mute” arguing that “we need to make workers speak”. Here he proposes a new left party “rooted in the real country, with mass confidence – social before it is electoral – a mass party of working men and women.”

    Obviously Tronti is still “unable to escape the Leninist conception of working class organisation”. Trust me, there are still many Trontis in Wollongong, yearning for ‘the Party’, hoping for a ‘new left party’, writing “the history of the working class” and trying to “make the workers speak”. But those who have gone beyond Lenin need to stop believing in “miracles”. Recognising immanent communism and the current level of global proletarian power we can see how the class has the ability to force capital into reformism, and potentially to make use of that reformism for revolution.

    Like Sam I also like “the idea that our class no sooner creates new organisations, struggles, ways of being, than it discards them as flawed, colonised by capital, not advancing its own interests”. But maybe, rather than “discards them”, the class continues to struggle within and against them, pushing, subverting, avoiding and negating them.

  8. hey y’all,
    It seems to me that if there’s a claim that capitalism develops (and enters into crisis) due to and only due to working class initiative then that’s an empirical matter, and it’s not true at the level of all cases. There are clear instances when this happens for reasons other than working class initiative. These instances still involve managing the working class, because of the nature of capitalism, but the point is that capitalist class can also have initiative sometimes. All of that said, I think the claim about the working class being behind capitalist development is useful for orienting people methodologically, putting the working class first in our approach. This is a little abstract but we might say that Tronti is reversing (or, I would argue, clearly stating) the conceptual priority of Marx. Instead of starting with the commodity and objects and market relations, Tronti starts with the working class, the commodity labor power, production, and the labor market. I think that’s tremendously valuable. I don’t think there’s any reason to limit that a certain era, though.

    Re: the Leninism, I think Alexander Brown’s comments are dead on. Tronti produces innovative stuff within a problematic framework. I don’t have much else to add on that.

    By the way, around roughly the same time, and publishing in the same milieu, Raniero Panzieri published material gently criticizing Lenin and Leninist categories, but also without taking on organizational questions. It’s here – http://www.geocities.com/Cordobakaf/surplus_value.html Panzieri and Tronti wrote a document together that sometimes gets called Theses On The Party. I worked on a draft translation of it but for the life of me I can’t find, which is annoying.

    take care,
    Nate

  9. Comrade Nick wrote

    Isn’t this “inter-capitalist conflict” also a result of global proletarian power and about how best to subdue and harness it?

    Personally I think yes. We can ( for example) see both major world wars as capital’s reaction to proletarian struggle, and even imperialism as capital’s attempt to escape the heat of the class war at home. But I don’t think Tronti does. At some level Tronti only sees the working class as driving capital due to the political power it won in 1848; and there is the implication, in what I have seen in his more recent work, that it has lost this power and thus its role as the motor force of capitalism.

    This I think is totally wrong. It relies on the existence of this separate realm called ‘politics’, rather than seeing politics ( or proletarian politics, or communist politics, or communist anti-politics) growing out of struggles and rebellions that are already happening.

    rebel love
    Dave

  10. Hi Comrades,

    this discussion has been interesting. I agree with Dave’s most recent post, and the critique of Tronti he makes, and that others have made – the retaining of the Leninist framework, and that the class has lost its power in the contemporary situation.

    I would like to continue on the relationship to the present situation in a fairly confused manner (hope this is ok because I won’t be discussing Tronti directly), particularly the question of inter-capitalist conflict and crisis as a result of global proletarian power, and its use as a strategy to harness and subdue proletarian power. I think this is of course partly true, but not necessarily completely.

    To see this crisis and competition as a result of an expansion of proletarian power and desire I think is somewhat problematic, because I don’t think this is all it has been that has contributed to this crisis. I think there are a number of contributing, causal forces – not all of which emerge from the proletariat. The way in which Bifo refers to the vectorial basis of class, and compositionism is useful, if not necessarily new or unique. But it is important, I think, to retain the concept of class decomposition, as well as re-composition, as a moment and process within the class struggle. This is important not so we can just record the banal, brutal, movements of capital as a class force, but so we can look more concretely at strategies within the class struggle, to “try and understand the specific, present, political situation of the class” – as they arise both from the struggle as immanent communism, and as capital organises. To acknowledge decomposition is not necessarily pessimistic, and it certainly doesn’t require one to follow Tronti’s line of argument concerning class organisation in his more recent article posted above.

    So, to the extent that we can see the imposition of credit, or debt, as a response to proletarian power, then it seems to have been somewhat effective as a means of decomposition. As a strategy of capital to undermine the collective class strength of the proletariat, to individualise consumption, and bind each worker to an intensification of work to meet debt – this has had some success. So there is a relationship there, I guess between where we are now and proletarian power – but it seems primarily as decomposition. But, things like securitisation, commodifying risk, trading debt etc. – is this directly related to an expansion of proletarian power? Or is it an upshot of contradictions within capital, and how it has sort to organise itself globally? Perhaps I am simplifying too much?

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that struggle has stopped, or that the proletariat is without power and that it hasn’t expanded in some respects, or that capital completely holds the reigns. But I do think that the process of reconstituting the struggle, of re-composition, has suffered a number of set-backs in recent years, and hasn’t quite known how to deal with the conditions we find ourselves in. I guess it is for this reason that I don’t clearly see how this crisis, and inter-capitalist competition is directly, or at least solely, related to an expansion of proletarian power in the immediate situation we are in. Without doubt the crisis will try to be used to attack the proletariat. Any reforms that come of this will also definitely be used by functionaries of capital to subdue the upsurge in class hatred recently, whilst also being a result in some ways of this class hatred. But I think this is different to saying that an expansion of proletarian power in recent years is the cause of the crisis.

    Love,
    mark

  11. Hi Comrades,

    this discussion has been interesting. I agree with Dave’s most recent post, and the critique of Tronti he makes, and that others have made – the retaining of the Leninist framework, and that the class has lost its power in the contemporary situation.

    I would like to continue on the relationship to the present situation in a fairly confused manner (hope this is ok because I won’t be discussing Tronti directly), particularly the question of inter-capitalist conflict and crisis as a result of global proletarian power, and its use as a strategy to harness and subdue proletarian power. I think this is of course partly true, but not necessarily completely.

    To see this crisis and competition as a result of an expansion of proletarian power and desire I think is somewhat problematic, because I don’t think this is all it has been that has contributed to this crisis. I think there are a number of contributing, causal forces – not all of which emerge from the proletariat. The way in which Bifo refers to the vectorial basis of class, and compositionism is useful, if not necessarily new or unique. But it is important, I think, to retain the concept of class decomposition, as well as re-composition, as a moment and process within the class struggle. This is important not so we can just record the banal, brutal, movements of capital as a class force, but so we can look more concretely at strategies within the class struggle, to “try and understand the specific, present, political situation of the class” – as they arise both from the struggle as immanent communism, and as capital organises. To acknowledge decomposition is not necessarily pessimistic, and it certainly doesn’t require one to follow Tronti’s line of argument concerning class organisation in his more recent article.

    So, to the extent that we can see the imposition of credit, or debt, as a response to proletarian power, then it seems to have been somewhat effective as a means of decomposition. As a strategy of capital to undermine the collective class strength of the proletariat, to individualise consumption, and bind each worker to an intensification of work to meet debt – this has had some success. So there is a relationship there, I guess between where we are now and proletarian power – but it seems primarily as decomposition. But, things like securitisation, commodifying risk, trading debt etc. – is this directly related to an expansion of proletarian power? Or is it an upshot of contradictions within capital, and how it has sort to organise itself globally? Perhaps I am simplifying too much…

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that struggle has stopped, or that the proletariat is without power and that it hasn’t expanded in some respects, or that capital completely holds the reigns. But I do think that the process of reconstituting the struggle, of re-composition, has suffered a number of set-backs in recent years, and hasn’t quite known how to deal with the conditions we find ourselves in. I guess it is for this reason that I don’t clearly see how this crisis, and inter-capitalist competition is directly, or at least solely, related to an expansion of proletarian power in the immediate situation we are in. Without doubt the crisis will try to be used to attack the proletariat. Any reforms that come of this will also definitely be used to subdue the upsurge in class hatred recently, whilst also being a result in some ways of this class hatred. But I think this is different to saying that an expansion of proletarian power in recent years is the cause of the crisis.
    Love,
    mark


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