ⓘ Workerism


ⓘ Workerism

Workerism is a political theory that emphasizes the importance of, or glorifies, the working class. Workerism, or operaismo, was of particular significance in Italian left politics.


1. As revolutionary praxis

Workerism or operaismo is a political analysis, whose main elements were to merge into autonomism, that starts out from the power of the working class. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, known as operaist and autonomist writers, offer a definition of operaismo, quoting from Marx as they do so:

Operaismo builds on Marxs claim that capital reacts to the struggles of the working class; the working class is active and capital reactive. Technological development: Where there are strikes, machines will follow. "It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt." Political development: The factory legislation in England was a response to the working class struggle over the length of the working day. "Their formulation, official recognition and proclamation by the State were the result of a long class struggle." Operaismo takes this as its fundamental axiom: the struggles of the working class precede and prefigure the successive re-structurations of capital.

The workerists followed Marx in seeking to base their politics on an investigation of working class life and struggle. Through translations made available by Danilo Montaldi and others, they drew upon previous activist research in the United States by the Johnson-Forest Tendency and in France by the group Socialisme ou Barbarie. The Johnson-Forest Tendency had studied working class life and struggles within the Detroit auto industry, publishing pamphlets such as "The American Worker" 1947, "Punching Out" 1952 and "Union Committeemen and Wildcat Strikes" 1955. That work was translated into French by Socialisme ou Barbarie and published, serially, in their journal. They too began investigating and writing about what was going on inside workplaces, in their case inside both auto factories and insurance offices.

The journal Quaderni Rossi "Red Notebooks", 1961–5, along with its successor Classe Operaia "Working Class", 1963–6, both founded by Negri and Tronti, developed workerist theory, focusing on the struggles of proletarians.

Associated with this theoretical development was a praxis based on workplace organising, most notably by Lotta Continua. This reached its peak in the Italian "Hot Autumn" of 1969.

By the mid-1970s, however, the emphasis shifted from the factory to "the social factory" - the everyday lives of working people in their communities. The operaist movement was increasingly known as autonomist.


2. As a negative cultural phenomenon

More broadly, workerism can imply the idealization of workers, especially manual workers, working class culture or an idealized conception of it and manual labour in general. Socialist realism is an example of a form of expression that would be likely to be accused of workerism in this sense, but this also applies to Fascism, such as Francos Falangist movement, which often used propaganda showing workers living and working in equitable conditions.

The charge of workerism is often levelled at syndicalists. Traditional communist parties are also thought to be workerist, because of their supposed glorification of manual workers to the exclusion of white-collar workers.

This use of the term was the most common English language use during the twentieth century.