(The following is a guest post by Doug Johnson, from The Weblog)
A critique of culture means to refuse to be intellectuals. Theory of revolution means direct practice of the class struggle. - Mario Tronti, "The Strategy of the Refusal"
So far as I know, Steve Wright's tendentious and hackneyed monograph Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism is unfortunately the best (perhaps only?) English language, book length account of the movement from which Antonio Negri arose. Wright is highly critical of Negri, and basically attributes the downfall of Autonomia to the forsaking by Negri and others of Tronti's insistence that there be "no intellectuals," that "theory of revolution" must always be undertaken by those who "direct[ly] practice class struggle" through time in the factory.
That Wright should fault Negri on this charge is absolutely ludicrous: has Wright spent hard time in the pokey for his participation or role in factory or other work place resistance? Wright focuses on Negri's understanding of the socialized worker, a concept that broadens the domain of struggle far beyond the scope of traditional "blue class" workers. He seems incapable of understanding the necessity of widening the struggle and, apparently, would have preferred that Negri hold down a job at Fiat or some other large factory while publishing his findings solely in obscure circulations.
Still, Wright's book does highlight just how important it was and is that any worthwhile theory of revolution earn its stripes by working alongside those whom it hopes to mobilize. For most of us, taking Tronti seriously would mean a refusal of a university job. To make use of Negri's constitutive power/constituted Power distinction, we might say that a refusal of the university means a refusal of Power. Let's face it, the professorate is the second most respected profession (at least in the U.S.; M.D.'s are first), and professors, while ever carrying the potential to change thinking (and thus not to be refused completely), are more often essentially midwifing minds for the corporation. But what then?
How about getting our asses behind cubicles and fomenting an office workers revolution? Actually, most of us would probably be horrible organizers. But seriously, I am more and more struck by the observations that 1) as factory work is continually being outsourced, the office is replacing the factory as the site of the proletarian work force 2) the people who are most likely to hate their jobs already are office workers (witness the cult popularity of the movie Office Space) 3) there is a major dearth of office workers unions (did some quick google work here, but will spare the details) 4) the office worker is far more essential to first world domestic economies than we have presently acknowledged.
The power of autonomia and ultimately of Negri's thinking rested squarely on the shoulders of some hard working, theoretical social analysis that could only be undertaken by those who were in the trenches in factories. The radicality of Italian thought and practice has been driven by Trontian strategies of refusal - for smart folk a strategy of refusal that means refusing the intellectual temptation.