Not very clear notes on reading for the operaismo discussion group.
[Edit: Turns out I’ve already written some notes on this stuff! That’s kind of embarrassing. I’ve got a poor memory, I guess. Previous notes on the Panzieri are here. Previous notes on the Tronti are here. End edit.]

Panzieri, “Surplus value and planning: notes on the reading of ‘Capital'”

Panzieri quotes Lenin on “the contradiction between the social character of production (socialized by capitalism) and the private, individual mode of appropriation.'” Lenin “sees the movements of capitalist society and of capital as an evolution of the social relations of production” and sees capitalism as being both historically necessary and historically progressive in developing this social character.

Panzieri criticizes Lenin on this pointy, calling his perspective “unilateral and limited.” Lenin “seems to see the ‘antagonistic nature’ of development as nothing more than a relationship between the socialization of production and the anarchy of circulation.”

Lenin fails to “see how the laws of capitalist development in the era of competition appear as capitalist planning in the sphere of direct production at the level of the factory. The predominating law of relative surplus value in this era simultaneously makes individual capital the mainspring of the development of social capital and forces increasing planning in the factory.” Unlike Lenin, Marx understood that “the basis of capital’s despotic plan lies in the capitalist appropriation of scientific technique.”

Panzieri’s basic point is that the dichotomy between planning and capitalism, and the identity between communism and planning, is a false one. “Since he does not see that capitalist planning with its concomitant socialization of labour is a fundamental form of direct production, Lenin can only understand capitalist technology and capitalist planning as totally external to the social relationship that dominates and moulds them.”

After criticizing Lenin, Panzieri begins to lay out his own perspective more clearly. “he socialization of labour does not fall within a socially neutral sphere, but appears within the framework of capitalist development right from the outset. The basis of the capitalist process is the transformation of labour into commodities, during which the worker surrenders to the capitalist the use of his individual labour-power. This remains true on whatever scale the labour-power is sold and bought.” Panzieri reads Marx’s discussion of cooperation from Volume 1 of Capital, concluding that “In the capitalist mode of production cooperation is the fundamental form. Cooperation is the basis for the development of labour’s social productive forces. Cooperation in its capitalist form is therefore the first and basic expression of the law of (surplus) value.”

“Starting from cooperation, capital takes command over a planned labour process. Planning immediately appears at the level of direct production not in contradiction to capital’s mode of operation but as an essential aspect of capital’s development. Therefore there is no incompatibility between planning and capital (…) capital utilizes planning at increasingly higher levels of the productive process – from simple cooperation to manufacture and to large-scale industry – in order to strengthen and extend its command over labour power and obtain an even larger access to it.”

I agree with Panzieri 100% here as he criticizes Lenin, but I think he bends the stick too far when he writes that “[t]he co-operation of wage labourers is entirely brought about by the capital that employs them. Their union into one single productive body and the establishment of a connection between their individual functions are matter foreign and external to them, are not their own act, but the act of capital that brings them and keeps together.” Entirely? Wholly external? This seems inaccurate. There is an important point here, that capitalist planning is precisely capitalist planning, and that the cooperation of workers in producing surplus value is the cooperation of workers in their role as variable capital, but the role of workers in enacting this is underemphasized in Panzieri’s presentation. If working class co-operation in production was wholly external to the working class then why would there be any need for intervention of the Taylorist sort, where the workers’ methods of carrying out their jobs were studies in order to be supplanted.

Panzieri writes, I think rightly, that “Capital’s planning mechanism tends to extend and perfect its despotic nature during the course of capital’s development. For it has to control a growing mass of labour-power with the concomitant increase of workers’ resistance.” But this working class resistance makes less sense if working class co-operation is (mis)understood as _wholly_ external to the working class.

Panzieri does not see solely planning in capitalism, however. He writes “this is the general way in which competitive capitalism works during the manufacturing stage: anarchy in the social division of labour, despotism (plan) in the division of labour at the level the factory.” That is to say, inter-firm competition and all the irrationalities of market capitalism that critics decry, along with planning at the point of production.

Working class struggle figures in Panzieri’s argument as an engine for capitalist development, though not in so many words. Working class imposed “limit placed on the working day forces the capitalist to a more rigorous economizing of the costs of production. Herein lies the passage from labour’s formal subordination under capital’s command to its real subordination.” (Subordination is also translatable as “subsumption.”)

For Panzieri “the fundamental expression of the antagonistic nature of capitalist production” is not “in the movements of individual capitals (…) not internal to capital; the sole limit to the development of capital is not capital itself but the resistance of the working class. The principle of planning, which for the capitalist means ‘prediction, ‘certainty of result’, etc., is imposed on the worker (…) the anarchical aspect of capitalist production lies solely in the insubordination of the working class, in its rejection of ‘despotic rationality’.”

This point could perhaps be extended to a criticism of the legal regime of industrial relations inaugurated with the Wagner Act, with its explicit enshrining of industrial peace (which is to say, class war continuing on capital’s terms).

“The relations of production are within the productive forces, and these have been ‘moulded’ by capital.”

[The passage on v3 of Capital on how the capitalist becomes the manager might be useful to revisit for arguments with comrades who are unfortunately taken with three class analysis.

Incidentally, I wonder if the following, including the quotes from Marx, might serve toward historicizing the concept of fetishism within capitalism and Marxian analysis:

“All social forms associated with merchant capital and monetary circulation cause a mystification, ‘that transforms the social relations, for which the material elements of wealth serve as bearers in production, into properties of these things themselves (commodities) and still more pronouncedly transforms the production relation itself into a thing (money) … under the capitalist mode of production and in the case of capital, which forms its dominant category, its determining production relation, this enchanted and perverted world develops still more.’ [70]

The capitalist relationship first appears clearly when capital ‘siphons off’ absolute surplus value by prolonging the working day. But, as we have seen, with the development of relative surplus value, or rather, with the ‘actual specifically capitalist mode of production, whereby the productive powers of social labour are developed, these productive powers and the social interrelations of labour in the direct labour process seem transferred from labour to capital.'[71] Thus capital has already become a ‘very mystic being.'”]

Panzieri states that “[w]hen the law of surplus value functions as planning only at the level of the factory, the working class political struggle essentially takes the form of a struggle against anarchy in society.” If this is meant as a statement about necessity or about some relationship between the political composition of the class and technical composition of production, then this is highly suspect. On the other hand, as a statement of what probably happened historically, then I have no objection.

At that point in history “[t]he struggle in the sphere of direct production” was understood as “economic’ struggle, and trade-unionism is its typical form. In this perspective, the model of socialist society is identified with planning, while the social relations in the sphere of direct production, in the factory, are left undetermined. This is the young Lenin’s position we have discussed.” Panzieri is in a sense saying that Lenin made a plausible mistake, though still a mistake.

Over all, capitalism “tends to react to any contradiction or limitation on its own maintenance and development by increasing its degree of planning. And, in this, it basically expresses the law of surplus value.” This is the heart of the matter as far as I’m concerned:

“the abolition of the old division of labour is not automatically prepared by capitalist development. All that is prepared, in the capitalist plan’s antagonistic form, are ‘revolutionary ferments’. The capitalist caricature of the regulated labour process is not a simple wrapping, which falls away to reveal the forms of the new society ready and waiting, for the capitalist plan is not a legacy that the working class can take over from capital.” Thus the “identification of socialism and planning” so common in the Marxist tradition, and exemplified in Panzieri’s essay by the young Lenin, is wholly to be rejected.

This point is also important: “the capitalist system has the capacity of reacting to the destructive consequences of certain ‘laws’ by introducing new laws that are destined to guarantee its continuity on the basis of the law of surplus value.” There is no lawbound inherent drive toward collapse within capitalism. “[T]he only constant is the tendency for capital’s domination over labour-power to increase.” The tendency is a political drive as well, also not a lawbound and foreordained outcome.

“The mythology of capitalism’s ‘last phase’ is present in both Lenin and Kautsky – though with different, and even opposed, ideological functions. In Lenin’s case, it serves to legitimate the rupture of the system in the less advanced points of its development; in Kautsky’s case, it serves to sanction a reformist postponement of revolutionary action till ‘the fullness of times’. Since the 1917 revolution did not link up with the revolution in the more advanced countries, it fell back on those contents that were immediately realizable at the level of development of Russia. In Lenin there seems to be a lack of clarity regarding the possibility that capitalist social relations may be present in socialist planning. This lack of clarity would later facilitate the repetition of capitalist forms in the relations of production both at the ‘factory level and at the level of the overall production – all this, behind the ideological screen of the identification of socialism with planning, and of the possibility of socialism in one country only.

Marxism itself thus can become an apologetic form of thought linked to a formalistic vision which moves on the surface of the economic reality and falls to grasp both the totality and the internal variability of the system’s functioning. Thus changes in capitalism are detected at the empirical level, but when an attempt is made to reach the ‘scientific’ level, there is a return to explanatory models that abstract from historical development (and therefore paradoxically repeat the schematicism of the eternally valid ‘rational’ economy). In brief, Marxist thought has failed to grasp the fundamental characteristic of modern-day capitalism, [78] which lies in its capacity for salvaging the fundamental expression of the law of surplus value, i.e. planning, both at the level of the factory and at the social level.”

[Here’s Panzieri’s footnote 78: “Authoritarian planning as the fundamental expression of the law of surplus value (as well as its tendency to extend to the overall social production), is intrinsic in capitalist development. In the current phase, this process appears with greater clarity as a distinct trait of capitalist societies, and in forms which are irreversible. Of course, this does not mean that today capitalism’s ‘last stage’ is being realized. Among other things, the controlled proportionality between production and consumption is still effected with approximating instruments; and what counts more, it is still done in a national context or in a limited international context and by the more advanced countries, on the basis of durable consumer goods’ production. In other words, it is done within limits which are insufficient.”]

** ** **

Notes on Panzieri’s “The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx Versus the Objectivists'”

Panzieri begins writing of “the cooperation that is the fundamental form of capitalist production.” As in his other essay, Panzieri discusses Marx’s discussion of cooperation. “[C]ooperation, the mutual relationship between workers,only begins with the labour process, but by then they have ceased to belong to themselves. On entering the labour process they are incorporated into capital. As co-operators, as members of a working organism, they merely form a particular mode of existence of capital. Hence the productive power developed by the worker socially is the productive power of capital. The socially productive power of labour develops as a free gift to capital whenever the workers are placed under certain conditions, and it is capital which places them under these conditions. Because this power costs capital nothing, while on the other hand it is not developed by the worker until his labour itself belongs to capital.” As with the other essay, there is an important point here – that cooperation and planning are fundamental to capitalism, and that capitalism is a relationship of command (such that no dignity of labor argument makes sense) – but working class cooperation in production, however productive for capitalism, is also a possibility for power.

This seems right to me, though: “The process of industrialization, as it achieves more and more advanced levels of technological progress, coincides with a continual growth of the capitalist’s authority.”

Panzieri writes that “There exists no ‘objective’, occult factor, inherent in the characteristics of technological development or planning in the capitalist society of today, which can guarantee the ‘automatic’ transformation or ‘necessary’ overthrow of existing relations. The new ‘technical bases’ progressively attained in production provide capitalism with new possibilities for the consolidation of its power. This does not mean, of course, that the possibilities for overthrowing the system do not increase at the same time. But these possibilities coincide with the wholly subversive character which working-class ‘insubordination’ tends to assume in face of the increasingly independent ‘objective framework’ of the capitalist mechanism.”

Again, there is no built-in tendency toward revolution within capitalism: capitalism does not inherently point toward its own dissolution. Any tendency toward resolution is subjective, not objective, which is to say, within and of the working class.

Panzieri holds that capitalists use “the new ‘technical bases’ offered by the passage from the preceding stages to that of high mechanization (and to automation) in order to perpetuate and consolidate the authoritarian structure of factory organization.” For Panzieri there is an important political point to this, in that we must attend to “the concrete historical reality in which the working-class movement finds itself living and fighting (the daily ‘capitalist use’ of machinery and organization),” something which an overly technical understanding prevents.

“An ‘objective’ view of the new technological-organizational forms gives rise to particularly serious distortions of the nature of employment in the modern factory. There is a tendency to perceive a disappearance of parcellized functions and establishment of new tasks of a unitary character, allegedly involving responsibility, decision-making and a multiplicity of technical skills. The development of techniques and functions connected with management is isolated from the concrete social context in which it occurs, i.e. from the growing centralization of capitalist power, and hence viewed as the basis for new categories of workers (technicians, ‘productive intellectuals’). (…) All this, of course has a direct impact on how the working-class struggle is conceived on the way in which the actual protagonists of this struggle see it. The reality of today’s struggles shows the various ‘levels’ of workers created by the present organization of the large factory tending to converge on self-management demands. This, it goes without saying, is a process which takes place on the basis of objective factors, represented precisely by the various ways in which workers are ‘situated’ in the productive process, the various types of relation to production and organization, etc., etc. But the specific element of the process of ‘unitary recomposition’ cannot be grasped if the connection between the ‘technological’ and politico-organizational (power) elements in the capitalist productive process is either missed or else denied.” Though this passage pre-dates the post-operaismo discussions of immaterial labor by decades, I think it’s relevant for the problems with those positions.

In his other essay Panzieri discusses the working class as the anarchic component in capitalism. He develops a similar point here, characterizing working class struggle as opposed to capitalist planning and so taking the form exclusively of rupture. This might fit with a councilist/left communist take on unions, and with the capitalist planning elements to the laws around industrial relations.

The following quote from Panzieri seems to support this speculation:

“The rupture, the superseding of the wage/productivity mechanism, thus cannot be posed as a ‘general’ demand for increased wage levels. It is obvious that action tending to supersede wage inequalities constitutes an aspect of the superseding of that relationship; of itself; it does not in any way guarantee a rupture of the system, but merely ‘chains of brighter gold’ for the entire working class. Only by attacking the alienation processes at their roots, and isolating the growing political dependence upon capital, is it possible to give shape to a truly general class action. In other words, the subversive strength of the working class, its revolutionary capacity, appears (potentially) strongest precisely at capitalism’s ‘development points’, where the crushing preponderance of constant capital over living labour, together with the rationality embodied in the former, immediately faces the working class with the question of its political enslavement.” (Note the spontaneism here.)

Interestingly enough, Panzieri celebrates contractual demands for control over work and time, rather than wage demands. While this makes sense as a way to assess better and worse contracts, there is no suggestion in the essay of the role of contracts in labor relations as an element of capitalist planning and rendering labor relations predictable.

** ** **

Tronti, Social Capital.

Tronti writes that “Capital’s “plan” comes primarily about from the necessity of making the working class function as such within social capital. The growing socialization of the capitalist relation of production does not bring with it the socialist society, but only growing power for the workers within the capitalist system.” This seems rather a different point from Panzieri’s.

“When social capital as value undergoes a revolution of value, individual capital is always in danger of going under if it does not adjust to the conditions of this change of value.” This may be a way to explain the anarchic-seeming qualities of inter-capitalist competition. Managing this anarchic quality is part of the over-all planning function of the state as collective capitalist.

In contrast to Panzieri’s criticisms of Lenin (even though these were made with kid gloves), Tronti approvingly writes “Lenin wrote that “…the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary.” The working class suffers more for the shortcomings of capitalist development than capitalism itself. In fact, the bourgeois revolution offers the greatest advantages to the proletariat: in a way, it is “in the highest degree advantageous to the proletariat.”

I like this quote:

“There is a point in which it is still the development of capitalist production in itself which can precipitate the capitalist system into a crisis. Labor’s answer can come so immediate as to provoke a high degree of class-struggle, and the coming into being of a revolutionary process that goes behind the system. Thus, the take-off of capitalist society can offer the historical occasion for a revolution with socialist content: if the labor movement finds itself politically better organized than the bourgeoisie. But it would be an error to generalize this movement. We are using it here only to reiterate that a revolutionary rupture of the capitalist system can occur at different levels of capitalist development. We cannot expect that the history of capitalism be concluded, in order to begin to organize the process of its dissolution.”


“social capital is not just the total capital of society: it is not the simple sum of individual capitals. It is the whole process of socialization of capitalist production: it is capital itself that becomes uncovered, at a certain level of its development, as social power.

Even in terms of individual capital, capital is a social relation, and the individual capitalist is the personification of this relation: he is a function of his own capital. and the direct expression of his private property. But in terms of social capital, capital comes to represent all capitalists, and the individual capitalist is reduced to an individual personification of this totality: the direct functionary, no longer of his own capital, but of the capitalist class. At this point, the management of the individual enterprise can still remain in the hands of manager, its property is the property of capital and it appears as an objective part of social wealth.

Actually, this social wealth now finds its private proprietor in the figure, itself historically determinate, of the collective capitalist which, on the one hand is the supreme mediation and composition of all particular bourgeois interests, while on the other it is the direct representative of the general social interest for capital. The collective capitalist is the form assumed by power in the hands of social capital-the power of capitalist society upon itself, capital’s self-government, and therefore government of the capitalist class, capitalism’s maximum result and probably the final form of its existence. We must not take seriously the bourgeois arguments concerning State intervention in the economy: at a certain level of development this apparent external intervention is nothing more than a very advanced form of self-regulation of the economic mechanism or, in certain cases, it serves to put back in motion that type of mechanism at a higher level. Capitalist planning itself can be a particular moment within the development of capital. The specific general trait remains the objective historical existence of social capital.”

“labor struggle has always objectively functioned as a dynamic moment of capitalist development.” This strikes me as false, an overstatement of an important point. Neither of these are the case:
– that working class struggle always produces capitalist development
– that capitalist development always derives from or responds to working class struggle

The important point is one of what to look for and watch out for: watch out for the attempt to make working class struggle into an engine of development, and in response to capitalist development look for how it relates to working class struggle.

Tronti criticizes unions here:

“[T]he tension between capital and labor becomes a “legal institution of society,” and all the institutions which guarantee an orderly bourgeois development of particular labor claims can be legally recognized in their full autonomy. The very organizations of workers acquire a decisive importance for the social interests of capital. There is a time in which modern capital cannot do without a modern union, in the factory, in society, and directly in the state. The political integration of the labor party within the absurd antedeluvian forms of bourgeois parliament, becomes itself a secondary moment of mediation, in order to arrive at the true organic integration of labor unions within the programmed development of capitalist society. From here, again, follows the whole restructuring which invests the general form of power, in the search for a different difficult equilibrium between the growing requirement of a centralization of decisions and the need for an effective decentralization of the functions of collaboration and control: a tendential unity of authority and pluralism, of central direction and of local autonomy, with political dictatorship and an economic democracy, an authoritarian state and a democratic society. True, at this point there is no longer capitalist development without a capitalist plan. But there cannot be a plan of capital without social capital. It is the capitalist society which, by itself, programs its own development. And this is precisely democratic planning. (…) Unions are typical democratic institutions of capitalist planning. (…) “The individual reproduction of the single worker is no longer sufficient. A social reproduction of the collective workers becomes necessary, i.e., the brute survival of labor-power as such is no longer sufficient: what is needed is a process of accumulation of labor-power for social capital. Now, labor-power must reappear in that real natural form which is its social nature: variable capital must directly re-enter the process of capitalist production as working class. There is a long historical moment in which the production of capital finds itself caught in this necessity. All of the processes of rational decomposition of concrete labor which tend to destroy the abstract possibility of its own social organization, find an objective limit in the material necessity of subsequently regaining labor-power itself as an autonomous social force within capital. The apparent “decomposition” of capital and labor, each in its own field, is only the specific form assumed by the process of real internal unification, each in its own terrain, of the capitalist and of the working class.
Collective capital now needs to have before itself collective labor for the economic calculation of its own planned development. ”

“The trade-union and the union struggle cannot by themselves get outside of the system and are destined to be inevitably part of its development. The interests of capital are no longer corporate: only the interests of labor outside of capital arc. A trade union which, as such, i.e., without party and without the political organization of the class, pretends to be autonomous from the plan of capital, succeeds only in attaining the most perfect form of integration of the working class within capitalism. Modern unionism, i.e., the party as the transmission belt of the trade-union, is the highest form of capitalist reformism. It is the way in which the objective need of capitalist production of regaining the real political terrain of the class struggle is overrun and at the same time utilized within the subjective initiative of capital.”

This is awesome:

“the demand for power must precede everything. Only in this fashion is everything organized for the conquest of power. The dominating class must be immediately challenged concerning political domination: subsequently it is also possible to contract with it regarding the ground of the struggle.
The first step always remains the regaining of an irreducible workers’ partiality against the entire social system of capital. Nothing will take place without class hatred: neither the elaboration of the theory, nor the practical organization. Only from a rigorously working-class viewpoint will the total movement of capitalist production be comprehended and utilized as a particular moment of the workers’ revolution. Only one-sidedness, in science and in struggle, opens the way both to the understanding of everything and to its destruction. Any attempt to assume the general interest, every temptation to stop at the level of social science, will only serve to better inscribe the working class within the development of capital.”