Mario Tronti | Struggle against Labour!

László Moholy Nagy | Photogram, 1941 (negative)


To conclude, let us go back to the beginning: to nature that is double and divided as well as opposed to labor. No longer labor contained in commodities, but the working class contained in capital. The zwieschlächtige Natur of the working class consists in being this together with concrete and abstract labor, work and the workforce, the value in use and productive work, together with capital and non-capital—hence capital and working class together. It is here that the division is already a counterposition. And counterposition is always struggle. But struggle is still not organization. It is not sufficient that work and the workforce, in the working class, be objectively divided: they are actually united in capital. They must be divided with a subjective action: only in this way are they indeed a means of an alternative power. It is true that Trennung, separation, division, is the normal relation in this society. Yet it is also true that keeping together what is divided is the real power of capital; it has run its course, and it will continue to follow what is left of its future. Keeping the working class inside itself and against itself, and on this basis impose on society the laws of its very development—this is the life of capital, and for this reason there is no life other than this. Thus the point must be found where it is possible to impede unity, where it becomes feasible to block the mechanism of synthesis, separating the extremes by force, up to a breaking point and beyond. This point is inside the working class, just as the working class is inside capital. It is the very separation of the working class from itself, from labor, and therefore from capital. It is the separation of political power from the economic category. And division or separation is not enough: struggle, opposition, and counterposition are necessary. To struggle against capital, the working class must struggle against itself insofar as it is capital. It is the point of maximum contradiction, not for workers, but for capitalists. All that is needed is to exacerbate this point, to organize this contradiction, and the capitalist system will no longer work, and the plan of capital will start to go backward, not as social development, but as revolutionary process. The working class’s struggle against labor, the working class’s struggle against itself as a worker, the refusal by the working masses of the use of labor force: these are the terms in which it is strategically proposed at this point, following the approach of research, the initial division-counterposition that Marxian analysis was the first to have discovered in the nature of labor. The Doppelcharakter of work represented in commodities is revealed as the double nature of the working class, double and also divided, divided and also opposed, opposed and also in a struggle against itself. We must realize that all the big problems of organization, and their solution in a newfound organic relationship between class and party, base their vast political complexity on this critical relationship within the working class itself, which the more one sees as an unresolved problem, the more the working class grows as a dominating force. It is on this that the sharp tools of theory as well as the rough material tools of daily life must be focused from now on. After all, there is not much more that can be invented even here. The modern contemporary forms of the workers’ struggle in the countries of advanced capitalism all have, as rich contents of their own spontaneity, the motto of the struggle against work as the only means to strike at capital. Once again, the party is the organization of what already exists within the class, but which the class cannot succeed in organizing by itself. No worker today is disposed to recognize the existence of work outside capital. Work = exploitation: this is the logical prerequisite and, at the same time, the historical result of capitalist civilization. This is a point of no return. Workers do not know what to do with the dignity of labor. And they leave all the pride of the producer to the boss. Only the bosses pronounce eulogies in praise of labor. In the organized workers’ movement it is, unfortunately, still so, though it is not in the working class itself; there is no longer room for ideology. Today, the working class need only look at itself to understand capital. It need only fight itself to destroy capital. It must
recognize itself as a political force. It must deny itself as a productive force. Just look at the moment of struggle itself: for the worker, the producer gets confused with the class enemy. Labor is seen by the working class as an enemy; it is against them; it is therefore the starting point not only for antagonism but for the organization of antagonism. If the alienation of the worker has any meaning, it is a highly revolutionary one. The organization of alienation: this is the obligatory step that should be imposed by the head of the party on the workers’ spontaneity. The objective is again that of refusal, at a higher level: active and collective refusal, organized and planned mass political refusal. The immediate task of workers’ organization is now that of overcoming passivity. It is possible to achieve this on one condition: that this passivity be recognized as a spontaneous, elementary form of workers’ refusal. Mass passivity always comes either after the political defeat of the workers, which should be ascribed to the official organizations, or else after a leap in capitalist development, in the appropriation of social productive forces. We all know that these two objective premises of workers’ passivity have developed together over the past few decades and that together they have increasingly become the absolute despotic power of capital. While this was conquering, at an international level, the whole of society and was itself becoming socialized, the idea of the workers’ movement taking on a political role in the management of the national social interest led to the risk of a historical suicide. It interrupted a revolutionary process that had seen its successive phases in June 1848, in 1871, and in 1917. Since then, the annals of revolution have had the title the workers’ defeat. What intervened at that point to block the process? What prevented the process from taking off? The closer one looks, the more one realizes that it is the great barrier of passivity that blocks all future possibilities of a revolutionary revival. In reality, the workers’ massive renunciation in considering itself an active part of capitalist society is already a way of taking itself out of the game, against social interests. Hence, what appears as the integration of workers into the system is actually not a renunciation of the struggle against capital, but a renunciation to develop and establish it beyond certain political limits, beyond certain safe confines, from which to set out on subsequent sallies. As workers were looking for a single response to capitalist production and the official workers’ movement, the response could only be this: a specific form of self-organization, entirely carried out within the working class itself, based on the spontaneity of passivity; an organization without organization, which meant workers’ organization without bourgeois institutionalization. This was one of those miracles of organization that are possible only from the workers’ point of view, like Lenin’s bourgeois state without a bourgeoisie, no longer an intermediary form of the workers’ state, but a preliminary form of the workers’ party. This shows that though the rebuilding of the party is being carried out today on the political void in terms of practical experience and theoretical research, this does not alter the fact that on the firm ground of the working class deep foundations have already been laid, showing where to start and the direction in which to go. Passive non-collaboration in the development of capitalism and active political opposition to the power of capital are precisely the point of departure and the point of arrival of this organizational leap forward. The opening of the revolutionary process lies entirely beyond this point. There are all the current problems of organization for the revolution on this side. Tactics of organization to reach the strategy of refusal are called for. Throughout this process, the enemy must constantly have the only subversive weapon capable of reducing him to a subordinate position pointed at him: the threat of taking away the mediation of the working class in the capitalist relations of production. The working class must no longer bear the requirements of capital, even in the form of its own demands; it must make the capitalist class present its objective needs directly and then refuse them subjectively; it must make the bosses ask, because the workers can actively, that is in an organized way, say, “No!” Overcoming working-class passivity is only possible today by the use of this means— inverting the current form of its spontaneity, keeping its current political content of negation and revolt. The first “No!” by the workers to the first demands made by capitalists will then be heard as a declaration of total class war, a historic call to the decisive phase of the struggle, the modern version of the classic revolutionary words “Workers of the world, unite!” None of this will be possible without the highest level of violence. This we know. The form of productive activity has never been touched by any of the social uprisings in the past. It has always only been a question of a different distribution of this activity, of work being redistributed to other people. Only the communist revolution, as Marx said, or simply only the revolution, as we can begin to say today, and that is only the current minimum program of the working class, challenges for the first time the whole of the productive activity that has hitherto existed. Doing this will suppress labor. And in this very way it will abolish class domination. The suppression of labor by the working class and the violent destruction of capital are therefore one and the same thing. What then of labor as “the prime necessity of human existence”? Perhaps it would be better to transfer it from the future prospect of communism to the present history of capitalism—and let it fall from the workers’ hands and consign it to the bosses. Does this mean, with regard to Marx, that the working-class point of view will arrive at the point of parricide? It is a question we cannot yet answer. Further research will be decisive in finding a solution to this as it will for all the other problems it raises. There are none at present. Once again, everything remains to be done. To do it, we must keep our eye on the most obscure aspect of the whole process, until we have come to a point where we can clearly see what has happened within the working class since Marx.

Translation by Mike Harakis


Mario Tronti, “Lotta contro il lavoro!,” in Operai e capitale (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1971 [orig. 1966]).

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