Class and Party

Posted: September 29, 2010 in Mario Tronti

Class and Party

Excerpt from Tronti’s largely untranslated book Operai e capitale.

Class and Party
By Mario Tronti

The search for a new strategy for the class struggle in advanced capitalism is the order of the day. The urgency to arrive at a general perspective on this terrain prevails in the movement with the power of great historic necessities. This immense work will be collective or it will not be; it will either arrive immediately to know how to move near the social mass of workers, or it will remain blocked, it will stagnate and regress. There is no autonomous development of theoretical discoveries that is separate of their organizational practices. It is impossible to foresee the struggle when one is not in it. A command that does not understand the weapons to impose it is not a command. Such are the laws that govern the history of workers’ experiences. Of course there have already been moments where the relation between the class and its political organization brutally hid the character of the problem to resolve before all others; but this problem never imposed itself as abruptly as today under the imminent pressure, complex and clear at once, of a historic node as will be necessary to undo politically in the short period fixed by the situation of the social relations including by the subjective forces that are present. The discourse to be made today on the party will be thrown in a crucible of problems again revealed, melted in the new form that worker’s thought is able to give to the new class realities, modeled, sealed in the mold of their brutal nature, while examining with a critical eye all past models, and with a skilled tactical interest with regard to certain solutions offered by the current situation. Each of these moments must appear explicitly in the analysis if one wants to be able to confront the theme of the class party on the political field. To do this, it is necessary to introduce immediately, in place of the old, a new concept of the workers’ political struggle.

One knows the Leninist distinction between economic struggle (against the individual capitalists or groups of individual capitalists with the intention to improve the situation of workers) and political struggle (against the government to expand the rights of the people, that is to say, in favor of democracy). Lenin’s Marxism united subsequently in an indissoluble whole these two moments of the working class struggle. Without Marxism and without Lenin, these two moments became separated. Once divided, they entered in a double crisis that forms the current crisis of the class struggle in the Leninist sense of the term, that is in the sense of its organization and of its direction. Understood literally, this distinction boils down to a class union and a people’s party. A very “ Italian ” reality that we all have before our eyes, and forms the opportunism that has not even had to cut its bridges with Leninism. From this follow two consequences: an union that finds itself having to manage the concrete forms of the class struggle without even being able even to evoke their political potential, and a party that exhausts itself talking about this political opening without the least reference, or the least link with the concrete forms of the class struggle. For extreme confusion, extreme remedy. To abolish the consequences, it is necessary to destroy the premises. It is necessary to explode the old distinction between economic struggle and political struggle; this will explode in one blow one of the cardinal points of reformism under its most modern form: post-Leninist and Communist.

This should not constitute a difficult task. If we examine well advanced capitalism, we will see that this distinction has already disappeared. At the stage of social capital, when we are witnessing the putting in place of integration processes on the grandest scale between the state and society, between the political stratum of the bourgeois and the social class of the capitalists, between the institutional cogs of power and the cogs of production regarding profit, at this stage, all labour struggle that limits itself voluntarily to the economic terrain ends up coinciding with the most reformist politics. When the historic democracy / capitalism complex finds for the first time its final, definitive authority in the only form that is possible: that is, under authoritarian planning that requires, through the more and more direct exercise of popular sovereignty, an “active” consensus of the productive social forces, from that moment, all labour struggle that limits itself voluntarily to the “political ” field (no longer for democracy, but for democratic planning!) finishes by confusing itself with the most opportunist economism. In order to avoid finding ourselves on the precipice [“en porte-a-faux,” delicate/dangerous situation?] on these two fields artificially proposed by the capitalists to the worker movement in order to confine the class struggle in a cage, it is necessary again to give on every occasion its character of a unique and global clash, probably the only one that is feasible today. In modern capitalism, the political struggle from the workers’ viewpoint is the one that aims consciously to put in crisis capitalist development in its economic mechanisms. The elements of this definition blankets all in equal importance. The research of the strategic point around which to tip in a positive manner the relation that exists between the political movement, on the workers’ side and the economic crisis of capitalism, was already the object of theoretical analyses that we will resume soon in order to deepen them and to engage with them in a longer debate. The interpretation of the situation that Italian capitalism is currently undergoing, already taken up in these columns [1], can serve as an illustration of the possibility to apply tactically this strategic reconstruction; it is rich, in nothing but its exposition, in practical consequences of which it would only be a matter henceforth of putting into practice. On the other hand, what interests us today, is to place in the foreground an element that we have only slightly taken into account so far: that of the subjective conscience, internal and essential part of the very concept of political struggle, and constitutive of all active intervention by the revolutionary subjectivity, in so far as it has as its result organization. And in fact, it is within this definition of the political content of the class struggle that one will discover the irreplaceable function of the party, that the party will be reaffirmed and that it will impose itself again.

If it is accurate to say that the different moments of labour struggle condition by preceding the various moments of the capitalist cycle, it is necessary to add that, to give a revolutionary content to these struggles, it is at the mass social level and in a conscious manner that it is necessary to condition by preceding the movements of capital, brief in an organized manner from the standpoint of political intervention. If this holds true, then it raises the condition of a workers’ domination that exercises itself on the capitalist production process and that should constitute the immediate premise of its overthrow. But, one does not do this without passing through the organization of this domination, without the political expression of organization, without the mediation of the party. It is only by a subjective, conscious intervention, from the summit, thanks to a material force that grants you the functioning mechanism of the system to be destroyed and that makes you the employer, it is only by using socially this power that it will not only be possible to foresee the mutations that intervene in the development cycle of capital, but also to measure, to control, to manage and thus to organize the political growth of the working class by forcing it to pass through a chain of clashes at different levels and on various occasions, until the one where it is necessary to take the decision to break the chain, to reverse the relations between the classes and to break the state apparatus.

It is necessary to establish a new relation in these conditions between spontaneity and organization. Because the old relation no longer functions. It rested on the illusion that it is enough to know capital in order to know the working class. From this, the approximate knowledge that is currently found among some in the higher levels of the party. From this also the current attempts to adapt the organisational instrument of the party to the necessities dictated by the development of capitalist society, rather than to the needs of the revolutionary workers’ revolt. It is necessary to repeat once again that the establishment of a correct relationship between class and party supposes initially on behalf of the party a scientific knowledge of the material, objective, spontaneous movements of the working class; and that it is only this that makes it possible to know scientifically the movements of the capitalist class and its social organization. It is in this sense that the party presents itself as the theoretical organ of the class, as the collective brain which has in itself the material reality of the class, of its movements, its development and its objectives. The leader of the party must necessarily have as a quality a political judgment capable of synthesis which can come only from vast experience [experimentation], carried out with refined instruments, modern, complex and possessed deeply. The leaders of the party [groupe dirigeant] as a whole, must know how to express in itself the synthetic unity of the working class science. [science ouvriere] He cannot ask for it from someone else, he must hold it within himself. The function of the party intellectual is definitively finished: as “a cultivated man” he does not have a place in the working class party. A science of the social relations separated from the practical capacity to overthrow them is no longer really possible if it ever was. And consequently a correct relationship between class and party, supposes in the second place precisely this practical capacity to plan [prevoir], to guide [diriger] the class movements in the historically given situations: not only to know the laws of action, but to be able to act concretely because one possesses intimately what can be called the theory and the practice of the law of tactics. In this sense the party is not only the scientific vehicle of strategy, it is equally the practical organization of its tactical application. The working class spontaneously possesses the strategy of its own movements and its development; the party has but to collect it, express it and organize it. But the true tactical moment, the class does not possess it on any level, neither with at that of spontaneity or at that of organization. All the lost historical occasions, all the offensives against the class enemy that failed, all the employers’ attacks that were not punished by the response of the working class that they deserved are due and are due only to one factor: the ignorance that only the party had and has the ability to isolate in order to seize the given moment where the confrontation of the classes becomes and can be made into social revolution. The great Leninist moment of the party marks, on the workers’ side, the historical conquest of the world of the tactic; it is not by chance that his name is tied for the first time to a historically concrete revolutionary experiment.

But it is not necessary to create illusions: never during these historic occasions will the relationship between class and party, between the working class and workers’ movement, express itself in a perfect form. If this was the case, we should declare finished the history of the class: in fact it has seemed finished every time where it was claimed that the perfect from had been attained. No party will ever succeed to express, in its entirety, the incomparable wealth of the experiences of struggle that are lived at the level of the class as a class in itself. [la classes en tant que telle] The party must continually aim to understand within itself the global reality of the working class while planning and guiding its movements, all the while knowing from the start, that between its own margins of subjective action and the pressure that is exercised on it by its base as a whole, constraining its ability to act, there will always be a gap in the end. This tension towards the working class must be lived in the party as its reason to be. And the party leader, the professional revolutionary must be the living mirror of this revolutionary tension at once towards his own class and against the opposing class. All action of the working class leader [dirigeant ouvriere] finds itself trapped between these two contradictory extremes. It is from this constraint that are born all the true theoretical discoveries, that is all the unforeseen intuitions, the inspired syntheses of social reality, of which alone the workers’ viewpoint is capable. Thus is born simultaneously the tactical capacity to move among the facts, to move then according to one’s will, to destroy them and to rebuild them, with the subjective violence organized by these forces themselves. The revolutionary leader represents this living contradiction that does not have a solution. But when we depart from there to then find ourself opposite the party bureaucrat, we feel all the urgency to dig deeply the mine of historic research that will explain what has happened during these decades in the workers’ movement.

Nevertheless it would be mistaken and morally abstract [faire du moralisme abstrait] to stop here. It would be easy at this point to deviate from the essential points. We want deliberately to undervalue the internal institutional problems to the party, as well as its organisational structures: These are the easiest problems to resolve and they will resolve themselves in time. It is the new course that imposes a new organization and not the opposite. And we have learned to attach little importance to the moments of internal democracy that do not put into question the general course. It is evident that it is in the factory that must be born the political relationship between class and party, that it is from there that it must leave to invest the whole of society, including its State. And it is towards the factory, on this decisive terrain, that the political mechanisms of the revolutionary process must return in order to progress. Such is the correct way, on the only condition that we hold to the scientific concept of the factory, which will prevent us from remaining on the side of the relations of production, confined in a network of empirical relationships with the individual employer, and at the same time that we go immediately beyond to confront the social employer in a general uprising, and to the formal political level. The party’s command in the factory requires, to fulfill its role, that the factory is already inside the party. In order that the party organization can have a material life in every factory, it is necessary first that the relations of production succeed in possessing a political life within the party program [ligne]. And if one looks closer, one will discover that none of these two moments precedes truly the other, that they have an interrelated existence and than it is only as such that they can exist, in an organic whole, in a historic relation of movement to organization, of spontaneity to direction, of strategic course to tactical moves. This is a matter of the decisive problem towards which must converge the solution of all others problems: the problem of joining [point de suture] party and class, brief of the terrain of common struggle of the social class and of the political party, the only one upon which a class party can exist from the workers’ viewpoint.

Of course, the road to be traveled is still long. Beyond all the chatter on the concept of autonomy, one cannot deny that there are some completely current occasions where tying the union to the party as its transmission belt seems again the most feasible method of class struggle. But it is clear that with the exception of these occasions, the belt tends to break and the relationship to reverses itself. This is why it can be foreseen that in the long run there will inevitably come to be an identification on the class terrain between the party and the union. And the reduction of the union to a party, or rather of the class union to a class party, will constitute maybe the first scientific formulation of the workers’ party in advanced capitalism. At this stage, the union will be reduced more and more to a defensive function of the conservation and of the development of the material and economical value of social labour power, while the growth of the party will have to be made more and more in the direction of an offensive weapon of the political interest of the workers against the system of capital, and that serves to attack it. If one has a workers’ party, and let us be clear, only given this condition, the union will be able to resume fully its natural role as defender of the workers’ human rights [des droits du people des travailleurs]. The new definition of the political struggle requires in fact, at the least a class party and a popular union. There will be a moment – and that necessarily – where the union will only shelter the workers’ mediation of the capitalist interest, while the direct interest of the workers will live, in the party and only in the party. To such an extent that the working class will seem to have totally disappeared outside of the party, except to reappear in the phases of acute social tension and when there is a general clash. When the revolutionary organization will have found a first successful application in developed capitalism, it will aim completely at a revolutionary process, foreseen, prepared, practiced, the end [cloture] of which will have been only provisional and it will be constantly reopened. This will be nothing more than the organization of a continuity always stronger, and of a more and more accelerated succession of underground growth phases of the class and of revolutionary attacks by the party. At a certain stage of the struggle, it will be necessary in reality to make capital dance a long time to this music before we are be able to deliver the decisive blow.

Our goal today is to discover and to clear the road that will bring us to this stage. The goal still remains consequently to lay the foundation of a revolutionary process by advancing the objective conditions and by beginning to organize the subjective forces. We will not reach it without joining immediately a grand strategic insight and a strong dose of political realism. Already Marx, due to his maturity, [parvenu a sa maturite] had understood that “it is from within the current society that it is necessary to take all the weapons to fight it.” It is from this maturity that it is necessary for us to set off again today if we want to avoid rediscovering the childhood sensations of the workers movement. It is evident for example that different levels of political development exist, that will always exist, at the heart very of the working class, and that the most advanced sectors will always have to confront the problem of the direction of the most backward sectors, just as the whole of the class will have to confront the problem of a real political unity that cannot be achieved except through the party and its center [en son sein]. It is also as evident that the problem of the workers’ hegemony exists not over the other classes, but over the other parts of what we will call approximately and in a general manner the working [laborieuses] masses. This, on the theoretical level, constitutes the difference between the direct forms of productive work and its indirect forms, a difference that will deepen, express itself, on the directly political level, exactly by the hegemony of the working class over the nation [le peuple]. To ensure that it is inside the working class that the nation plays its role, this is always a current problem for the revolution in Italy. Not of course to win a democratic majority in the bourgeois parliament, but to construct a political bloc of social forces and to use it as a material lever that will derail one by one, then together, the internal connections of the political power of the opponent: a fearsome popular power, maneuvered, controlled and directed by the working class thanks to its tool, the party. It is what had always characterized the goals of the party, that is now precisely excluded: to play the role of mediator in the relations that exist between related classes, that is between the different stratums and all their ideologies, all in an system of alliance. To have reduced the party to be the wax that seals the historic bloc, this was, if not the most, one of the most determinant factors, of the blocking of all revolutionary perspective in Italy. The Gramscian concept of the historic bloc limited itself to identifying a specific state, a national moment of capitalist development. Its immediate generalization, that one finds in the works written in prison, was already a first error. The second error, a lot more grave, was in the Togliattian vulgarisation under the form of the new party that had to aim to identify itself more and more with this historic bloc going as far as to dissolve itself in it until the history of the nation comes to merge completely with the national politics of the people’s party. It is too easy to say today: the design failed. The truth is that it could not have succeed. Capitalism does not allow those that speak in the name of the class enemy to do these kinds of things. This would be in a purely formal manner. This program, capitalism keeps for itself, adapts it to its level and uses it for its own development. Everyone said that Togliatti was realistic. He was maybe the man most removed from the social reality of his country that the Italian workers’ movement ever knew. One wonders if his realism was really calculating opportunism, or very well, a poorly argued utopia.

It is not by chance if it is necessary to resume, at this point, the analysis of the current phase of this social reality. It still remains entirely to sort out the account of Italian capitalism. It is undoubted that Italy finds itself currently in the phase that precedes immediately a stabilization of capitalism at its level of full maturity. The internal situation as well as the international links forge ahead this process with an irresistible force. It is also as evident that the Italian workers’ movement finds itself in the phase that precedes immediately a social democratic compromise at the traditional political level. And there again the internal context just as the international situation pushes in the direction of a strong acceleration of this development. We propose the hypothesis that these two processes do not present the same mechanical and irresistible objectivity. And that on the contrary the class struggle, in its current phase in Italy, must seek to separate these two processes, to put them in contradiction in such a way as to make them progress in opposite directions. The objective being to reach for the first time and therefore during an original revolutionary experience an economic maturity of capital in the presence of a politically strong working class. To do this it is necessary first of all to block in Italy what has constituted the historic path that all the advanced capitalist societies have followed; this is only feasible by preventing a stabilization of the system to another level, that would gain it, at that very moment, all that the political terrain counts as new available margins [compte de nouvelles marges disponible]; this is also the only way to preserve for workers this political threat towards the system which everyone knows well risks disappearing during the following decades if it does not endow itself in its decisive moments and in its crucial points, with functioning forms and with explicit organization. Maturity without stabilization, economic development without political stability: it is on this stiff rope that it is necessary to make capital walk, in order to mobilize again at the same time the working class forces that will cause it to fall. Without the general defeat of the working class there will not be political stabilization: in this moment this is what the capitalist initiative wants to bring about. The workers’ defeats on the general level, are also the ones (maybe the only ones) that mow down the base and decapitate all possibilities to form organizations immediately by removing all the concrete potentials of offensive struggles, by redirecting the mass of workers towards henceforth traditional behaviors of political passivity and of purely economic refusal. When the official workers movement of a capitalist country displays in its entirety openly social democratic positions, it is necessary to possess an alternative organization ready to take over its role: that is to be able to pull behind it right away the political majority of the working class. The experience that we have of international capitalism showed that if this condition is not met revolutionary perspectives are closed off for a long period. Consequently this is the condition that it is necessary to bring about. It is necessary to work starting today to prepare this alternative organization at the moment, by mustering the maximum amount of forces, by maintaining as much control as possible of the situation, and by displaying the largest measure of long term insight, and of practical skillfulness.

Today as during other historic periods, the struggle inside the worker movement represents an essential part and a basic moment of the class struggle in general. To ignore it, we lose the complexity, the knowledge, the control of the class struggle against capital and, thus, the possibility to act. It is not a matter today of using the PCI in a revolutionary direction. It is far too late for this; the goal is again completely negative. It is a matter of preventing the process of the explicit social democratization of the Communist party. For to prevent this, is already to block the political stabilization of capitalism in Italy. This means not allowing the whole of the Italian worker movement to accept here and now the new margins [marges] proposed by capital’s reformism, at a moment where, outside of the official worker movement, on the class level, no truly organized power and consequently no seriously feasible offer of an alternative political organization exists. This returns finally to avoiding a terrible defeat of the workers that would set the struggle back years, that would put an end to the prospect of a rupture of the system in the short run, and that would therefore reintegrate within [rentre dans le rang] western capitalism, the Italian class situation that could not be kept there, that must not return there, where it is necessary to not let it return regardless of personal sacrifices, of theoretical delays and finally of practical compromises. The first political objective regarding organizational practice, is to not abandon the PCI to the reformist transaction of capital even if it came to such a degree of solicitation; on this objective it is only within a struggle that it will be possible to reformulate quickly in terms of revolutionary action the political relationship that exists between class and party. The revolution “in the short run ” in Italy finds itself linked to this prospect. And it is a difficult prospect that will not be available if we do not have the courage to take certain positions, the patience to initiate political initiatives of long duration and the power to wage a violent struggle when the day comes. Everyone sees clearly that the last act of the comedy, that should result in the complete liquidation of the class party, has already practically began. The liquidators of the party will have to be liquidated in their turn and right away. Lenin explained: “The liquidators are not only opportunists. The opportunists push the party in a bourgeois and erroneous direction on the path of worker political liberalism, but they do not renounce the party itself, they do not liquidate it. The liquidators represent the form of opportunism that goes as far as to renounce the party.” It is against this extreme form of opportunism, that renounces all, that we will have to carry out the next battle. Not to stop there, but to go beyond, towards the workers’ party.

But all these facts that will come about in time, what might be their spatial limits? In which historic horizon will they inscribe themselves? Does one not run here again the risks of overestimating a national moment, a specific stage of capitalist development? All this analysis does it not cheapen the huge complexity of the problems of the worker revolution that are present today at the international level? The complexity of this problem is huge, it is true. We could not escape it even if we wanted. All that has been said so far represents only a tenth of what it would be necessary to say now. We do not even know if this is what is most important. But definitely, this is what is most urgent, most harmful, brief the starting premise. A form of opportunism exists today internationally [dans l’internationalisme] that is strange and strangely current; this is the reason it will also be necessary to be right on the idea according to which all will only be able to be resolved on a world-wide and generic scale and in terms of revolution or integration. It is an intellectual bias among so many others to rid themselves of concrete moments of the true class struggle. Nevertheless no powerful idea today [idée-force] seems to us to have the ongoing importance of the Leninist thesis according to which the chain of capitalism will break at a point and that tries to focus and to resolve the various problems of organization and of direction on this essential objective. This thesis saw and sees again its importance grow as a supranational integration of contemporary capitalism is taking place. The channels of communication established by capital according to its interests constitute henceforth an objective fact including for the working class. It is only today that a revolutionary rupture at the national level begins to really have the possibility to become generalized in chain at the international level. Better, this proves to be itself more and more the only possibility. For it appears clearly henceforth that only a true revolutionary experience will be able set in motion the overall mechanism of the international revolution. No theoretical discourse, no political alternative that remains at the stage of a program will be able to have this impact, this value as a model [valuer de modele], this role of brutal practical proposition that currently constitutes the necessary minimum in the most advanced capitalism needed to break the de-facto truce [treve de fait] that exists between the workers’ revolution and the development of capital. Of course it is necessary to correct the Leninist thesis on a point. We will put less emphasis today on the inequalities of capitalist economic development than on the inequalities of the political development of the working class: this in order to accept the neo-Leninist principle according to which the chain will not break where capital is weakest but where the working class is strongest. It is very necessary get this in our minds– and this is not easy to do – that there is no mechanical coincidence between the level of capitalist development and of the development of the working class. Once more the practice of struggle reveals itself richer than all the wealth that the worker thought [pensee ouvriere] has accumulated thus far. We will choose therefore the chain link where we find simultaneously ourselves in the presence of a capitalist economic development sufficiently elevated and of a very high political development of the working class. Is Italy therefore in the process of becoming the epicenter of the revolution in West? It is too early to say. All depends on the limits that we will seek to overcome, on the path to be opened. [Tout depend des delais que nous mettrons a faire passer la ligne, a ouvrir la voie]

(December 1964)

[1] This refers to the columns of the newspaper Classe Operaia, that appeared from 1964 to 1966, and from which the present chapter is taken as well as the three preceding ones. (NDT.)

Translated (rough draft) March 2006 by Alex Diceanu, from the French translation, by Yann Moulier (with the assistance of G. Bezza) published in 1977. The original Italian article was written in 1964. It was included in Workers and Capital (1st ed. 1966) under the title “A new kind of political experiment.” The French translation of Tronti’s Operai e capitale is online in its entirety here:


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