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As part of my PhD research, I’m investigating what’s become known as ‘Autonomist Marxism’, a Marxist tendency that grew out of workers’ struggles and theoretical positions outside the Communist Party in Italy in the 1960s. In its early days, this tendency was known as operaismo (usually translated as “workerism”), and its leading theoreticians were Romano Alquati, Raniero Panziero, and Mario Tronti. In the early 1970, the movement split and evolved into a loose agglomeration of “extra-parliamentary” (and sometimes violent) groups under the umbrella term autonomia operaia (Workers’ Autonomy). The best-known figure of this tendency is, arguably, Antonio Negri. The idea of “workers’ autonomy” comes from the idea, based on a particular reading of Chapter 10 of Capital, the Grundrisse, and the unpublished sixth chapter of Capital, that the working class, far from being structurally determined by capital, has its own autonomy, its own agency. In this view, technical innovations carried out by capital are part of a political as well as an economic attempt to subdue the autonomous power of workers’ struggle. For Negri, the development of capital is a continuing attempt to free itself from the power of labour.

One of, if not the most important text of the early years of operaismo is Mario Tronti’s Operai e capitale (Workers and Capital) of 1966. This is a collection of essays that Tronti wrote for the newspapers of the early workerist movement. Despite its importance in the history of Italian Marxism, and despite the rise, in recent years of an “Italian Theory” comparable to the “French Theory” of the 1960-80s, Operai e capitale has never been fully translated into English. I need to read it as part of my research project, so I thought I might try my hand at translating some of it.

The first essay in the book, “Marx Yesterday and Today”, interrogates the relationship between Marxism as an analysis of contemporary capitalism and as a critique of ideology - all ideology, including the reformist ideologies of the workers’ movement as well as vulgar Marxism. In this essay, Tronti lays out in ideological terms the autonomy of the workers from capital.

I’m not a professional translator, and there are some areas where Tronti’s tricky prose was probably beyond my capacity, but I think this translations gets the gist of Tronti’s argument across.

Read the Translation Here (pdf)


Sam Popowich

Discovery and Web Services Librarian, University of Alberta

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