Tronti on Generational Conflict

Those of us who had lived through the struggles of the factory workers in the early 60s looked on the student protests with sympathetic detachment. We had not predicted a clash of generations, though in the factories we had met the new layer of workers—especially young migrants from the South—who were active and creative, always in the lead (certainly compared to the older workers who were exhausted by past defeats). But in the factories, the bond between fathers and sons still held together; it was among the middle classes that it had snapped. This was an interesting phenomenon, but not decisive for changing the structural balance of forces between the classes. At Valle Giulia, in March 68, we were with the students against the police—not like Pasolini. But at the same time, we knew it was a struggle behind enemy lines, to determine who would be in charge of modernization. The old ruling class, the war-time generation, was exhausted. A new elite was pressing forward into the light; a new ruling class for the globalized capitalism that lay in the future.

The remarkable youth of 68 did not understand—nor did we, though we would grasp it soon enough—this truth: to demolish authority did not automatically mean the liberation of human diversity; it could mean, and this is what happened, freedom specifically for the animal spirits of capitalism, which had been stamping restlessly inside the iron cage of the social contract that the system had seen as an unavoidable cure for the years of revolution, crisis and war.

Mario Tronti, “Our Operaismo”

So if we take Tronti’s prescience at face-value, what he already detected during 1968 was intercapitalist competition within generational struggle. With the ambivalence that marks the entire essay, Tronti shows how the Old Fordist CEOs were being challenged by those who would later extract surplus value from Foxconn workers and pageclicks: their children.


10 Responses to Tronti on Generational Conflict

  1. Also the intracapitalist competition here is the struggle of US imperialism to subordinate Italian capital – everything that became so clear around the Moro assassination.

  2. Sorry, the Moro assassination reference is above my head. But thank you for the book, it looks really good.

  3. Is this in reference to Moro’s willingness to form a government with the PCI? And then the U.S. had him snuffed?

  4. Yeah.

    The generational thing is another plank of the fasho revival, following on the renewal of swaggering white supremacy and misogyny. Taken all together you see what’s being created again – violent young white men certain that everyone else is a burden on them, holding them back from utopia, preventing their transcendence….A certain psychosis is encouraged by this, these young white men invited to feel immortal and eternally young, the superman thing, because they are actually attacking their future selves in denial that they will ever be anything but blond beasts in the prime of life.

  5. It’s the Theweleit thing – their fear isn’t the ruling class per se (or even increased labour exploitation, or the threat of poverty). It’s the terror they’ll never get the opportunity to emerge as ‘real men’, living out their lives as muted, mortgaged office drones – without the chance to be ‘reborn’ (and expecting this to be reflected in society).

    It’s Tyler Durden’s trailer speech as ‘revolutionary theory’. Their fervour would be settled if they got the chance to live their lives with the unquestioned authority of a Donald Draper.

  6. I think Harris just has you beat on this issue. I see what you’re driving at… but regardless…

    The generational or “cohort” component can’t be erased away or ignored. Its a major issues regardless of how sloppy of an issue it is…

    Just my two cents.

    Arms and Legs
    By Malcolm Harris

    • Well, I don’t see it on the competitive terms that you do. Any “generational war” perspective that doesn’t take what’s in this thread into account is dangerously flawed. In any case, I’ve never had a conversation with working people in which they believed that war against their parents (or aunties and uncles, or grandparents) was in their best political interests. Debts are shared within families. People understand their families (and not nuclear, patriarchal ones) as ways to renew and replenish themselves for the fight against the dictates of capital — generations working together. This may be different in the bourgeoisie, but this is not really my concern.

      • fill says:

        I didn’t mean “have you beat” as if this issue was a game to be won. I just think that Harris puts forth a compelling argument.

        I’ve been following recent postings on this issue and its apparent that there’s a lot of surrounding disagreement- and I suppose that there should be given the issue’s complexity.

        I think an examination of generational conflict is necessary and shouldn’t be closed off or approached in a similarly dismissive manner as some commenters here have done:

        David W Kasper says:
        “their fear isn’t the ruling class per se (or even increased
        labour exploitation, or the threat of poverty). It’s the terror
        they’ll never get the opportunity to emerge as ‘real men’,”

        lecolonelchabert says:
        “The generational thing is another plank of the fashorevival,
        following on the renewal of swaggering white supremacy and

        Generational conflict has a component that’s detached from the family. Someone said or wrote that to grow up is to turn or move away from family and confront the world in which one lives… I don’t really put much faith in families as units able to endure the workings of capital. Just on an individual, for whatever its worth basis,

        Tronti observed how the middle class unexpectedly snapped and generational conflict became evident… maybe moving forward that snap (or the next one) will not be so closely contained… which isn’t necessarily to say that such a snap would be desirable.

  7. “I think Harris just has you beat on this issue.”

    The bourgeois approach to political debate: Fraternal team sport.

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