These materials are therefore of two sorts: first, are earlier works upon which the authors drew, and second, are some writings by the authors and comrades that were crafted for other, related political purposes.
Some of these materials are referenced in the various articles, some are not. Those that have been included here seem to the editor to be of enough importance to be made readily available in digital form. Some can be found elsewhere on the web, some were scanned and digitized for the first time.
Choosing what to include here and what to leave out has presented a number of problems. First was the simple phenomenon that some members of the Zerowork Collective had access to materials that were unavailable to others. For instance, those who spoke and read Italian and had either contacts in Italy or had spent time there, had access to much, if not necessarily all, of the considerable literature of the Italian New Left. Those, on the other hand, who had none of the foregoing abilities and opportunities only had access to the tiny portion of that literature that had been translated into English - or some other language with which they were familiar. Now, it is true that those in the latter group had some exposure to the ideas and politics contained in such foreign materials through discussions with those who had more direct access, but, of course, such indirect exposure is not the same as reading original materials or even discussing those original materials with their authors.
One highly relevant example of the above were the writings of Mario Tronti, an important contributor to the re-interpretation of both Marxist theory and some important moments in the history of working class struggle. Although Tronti contributed many articles to several extraparliamentary journals, and indeed was the chief editor of one (Classe Operaia), neither most of those articles, nor his major synthesis of them in his book Operai e capitale had been translated into English in the period leading up to and including the life-span of the Zerowork Collective. As a result, most of the members of the collective only had access to a handful of articles — some translated by other members or comrades of the group.
What was true of Tronti was even more true of several other Italian militants whose writings were influential in the Italian New Left, e.g., Toni Negri, Raniero Panzieri, and Romano Alquati. Even today (2012), only the works of Toni Negri have become widely available in English and only since the the publication of the book he co-authored with Michael Hardt, Empire (2000).
A second problem is that the evolution of ideas and political theories and practices are generally far more complicated than those involved in that evolution are aware. Individuals and groups are often unaware, or only very partially aware, of the historical genesis of both the ideas and practices they embrace at any given moment. Thus, many, perhaps most of the members of the Zerowork Collective were unfamiliar with various historical roots of their own developing perspective — not only the Italian roots discussed above, but others, including American, British and French ones. Inevitably, therefore, being unaware of some of these roots, individuals would have only a limited understanding of how those various roots had intertwined and influenced one another.
One example of this was the history of the Johnson-Forest Tendency of the late 1940s and early 1950s that evolved into Correspondence and then Facing Reality on the one hand, and News & Letters on the other in the 1960s. Although a few members of the Zerowork Collective were familiar with this or that publication by C. L. R. James, Marty Glaberman or Raya Dunayevskaya, the primary, and very limited, portal into that history for most were the writings of Selma James, an American contributor to the Correspondence newspaper, wife of C. L. R. James, participant with him in several of the above-mentioned groups as well as other militant efforts in Trinidad and England, and best-known by those in the Zerowork Collective as one of the founders of the Wages for Housework Campaign.
Unfortunately, most of her writings — being focused as they were on the Wages for Housework Campaign — made little or no reference to either the history of the struggles by the aforementioned groups or to the writings by their members. Therefore, for most members of the Zerowork Collective that history and that literature remained unknown and unreferenced. As a result, they were ignorant not only of that history, but of how it had influenced some of the writings with which they were familiar. Here I am referring not only to the writings of Selma James but to those of the Italian workerists such as Panzieri, Alquati and Tronti.
A prime example of this influence was the translation, first into French and then into Italian, of The American Worker written by Paul Romano and Ria Stone (Grace Lee, later Boggs), published by the Johnson-Forest Tendency in 1947. Romano was a young worker in a General Motors plant and Ria Stone was a member of the Tendency group. A substantial, 70 page, pamphlet, The American Worker became an influential example of "the return to the factory" that was one of the hallmarks of "workerism". Instead of merely quoting what Marx had written in the mid-19th Century or of repeating Party dogma, the pamphlet examined the concrete conditions prevailing in a modern auto plant — both the organization of production and the struggles by workers within and against that organization. What this pamphlet revealed — and led to its translation first into French and its publication in the radical journal Socialisme ou Barbarie and then into Italian by Danilo Montaldi — was that for all the continuities in the organization of capitalist social relations between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s, much had changed and contemporary Marxist militants needed to do what Marx did: study the concrete realities of the class struggle. And this is precisely what those associated with Socialisme ou Barbarie did in France and what workerists such as Panzieri and Alquati did in Italy. Two examples: 1) in issues #11, 12, 14, 15-16 and 17 we find a long document by G. Vivier titled "La vie en usine" whose content and analysis clearly parallels that in The American Worker, and 2) in article after article, published first in the workerist journal Quaderni Rossi and later collected in the book Sulla FIAT (1975) Romano Alquati studied and analyzed the organization and struggles within the giant Fiat auto complex in Turin.
Therefore, given these two problems, what I have chosen to include here as background for understanding the genesis of Zerowork consists primarily of English language material that was readily available and familiar to most members of the collective. But I am also including some material from the then relatively unknown earlier background.
Some of the materials chosen, and made available here, were final, published works — articles, pamphlets or books — others were informal documents drawn up by some for discussion with others. Examples of the latter from the period leading up to the formation of the Zerowork Collective are outline summaries of some parts of the Italian literature prepared by those familiar with them, e.g., John Merrington, who made the basic ideas of and research by Alquati available to others.
A final note: all of the materials provided in this section pre-date the publication of Zerowork #1 that appeared in December 1975 and were available to the members of the Zerowork Collective while they were drafting and polishing that first issue.
For further discussion of these materials and their importance, see the "Historical Sketch" of the Genesis of Zerowork on this website.