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.

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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 inter-capitalist 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 page-clicks: their children.