Workers Inquiry refs and what not.

Talk for Future Tense and later expanded here: I want to focus primarily on the development of workplace or workers inquiry. First of all reference is to Engels The Condition of the Working Class in Manchester, then the huge chapter ‘The Working Day’ in Marx’s Capital, volume one, right through to very late in Marx’s life when he penned 100 questions for a ‘Workers Inquiry’ wanting to generalize the Factory Inspections of England to France, and beyond? Then trace this perhaps to  the Bolsheviks, and Lenin of 1902, the so-called Factory Exposures, to Mao in Hunan, and many other examples. Even that called a parallel sociology, owing debts to Adorno as well as Kracauer’s 1920s work on the Salaried Masses, through to the Italian post-war Marxist Operaist tradition starting with Panzieri in the journal Quaderni Rossi (Wright 2002:21) and the Workerism of Italian autonomia, on up to Negri and Hardt (though of course with reservations (Hutnyk 2004)). I am also tempted to explore, alongside this, from outside the labour movement, how the collection of oral histories and questionnaires of the ‘poverty-stricken’ came to be known as co-research, and how the term Inquiry has much wider appeal among contemporary activists. Journals like Ephemera, The Commune, Common Sense, Capital and Class, Aufheben, Riff Raff, all have interesting things to say about Workers Inquiries. There is a ton of stuff to read.

It is of course standard to say, as I think we must, that everyone can trace this work back to the figure of the Factory Inspector Leonard Horner as described by Marx in his chapter on ‘The Working Day’ in Capital.

Towards the very end of his life, Marx declared as much in a short notice in La Revue Socialiste April, 20, 1980, that called for a official Inquiry:

The blackguardly features of capitalist exploitation which were exposed by the official investigation organized by the English government and the legislation which was necessitated there as a result of these revelations (legal limitation of the working day to 10 hours, the law concerning female and child labor, etc.), have forced the French bourgeoisie to tremble even more before the dangers which an impartial and systematic investigation might represent. In the hope that maybe we shall induce a republican government to follow the example of the monarchical government of England by likewise organizing a far reaching investigation into facts and crimes of capitalist exploitation, we shall attempt to initiate an inquiry of this kind with those poor resources which are at our disposal. We hope to meet in this work with the support of all workers in town and country who understand that they alone can describe with full knowledge the misfortunes form which they suffer and that only they, and not saviors sent by providence, can energetically apply the healing remedies for the social ills which they are prey. We also rely upon socialists of all schools who, being wishful for social reform, must wish for an exact and positive knowledge of the conditions in which the working class — the class to whom the future belongs -works and moves.


Recommend reading:

Wright, 2000 Storming Heaven, London: Pluto.

Kolinko 1999 Hotlines: Call Centre Communism

Dowling, Emma, R. Nunes & B. Trott (eds) special issue on Affective Labour in Ephemera

Shukaitus, Stevphen and David Graeber 2007 Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations, Collective Theorization AK Press.

Palgin, Trevor and Thompson, A.C 2006 Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights, Hoboken: Melville House Publishing.

Otterman, Michael 2007 American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, London: Pluto Press.

Kracauer, Siegfried 1930 The Salaried Masses London: Verso 1998

Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio 1994 The Labour of Dionysius University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Negri, Antonio 1991 Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons in the Grundrisse Autonomedia, New York

Negri, Antonio 1999 Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State Massechusetts: University of Minnesota Press

Negri, Antonio 1988 Revolution Retrieved London: Red Notes

Negri, Antonio 2005 Books for Burning: Between Civil War and Democracy in 1970s Italy London: Verso

Additional stuff


Some crucial things from the Aut-op-sy list, which I was on for the first few years, but could not keep up:

Aufheben A range of articles from the British journal

Franco Barchiesi, Flexibility in Manufacturing — Organization and Subjectivity

George Caffentzis, A Reply to Aufheben magazine’s review of Midnight Oil


Massimo De Angelis, The Autonomy of the Economy and Globalization

Echanges et Mouvement, Presentation Pamphlet

Dan Krasivyj, For the Recomposition of Social Labour

Steve Wright, The Limits of Negri’s Class Analysis


A bunch of stuff from Generation Online – which again I was on from (near) the start but simply could not cope with the avalanch os stuff. Very huge, adn somewhat unweildy, site – but lots of good things:


and from Nate: (links not live – cut and paste into your browser)

Basic list of primary materialsRed Notes, Brief Chronology and Glossary (Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis, iii-x)

François Matheron, “Operaismo”

Zerowork, definition of Class Composition

The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx Versus the Objectivists. 1961 (

Surplus value and planning’; The Labour Process & Class Strategies. 1964. (

Tronti, material republished in Workers and Capital [starting page in brackets]
Social Capital. 1963.
[p64 Spanish / p60 Italian]

Lenin In England. 1964.
[p93 Spanish / p89 Italian]

Class and Party. 1964.
[p93 Spanish / ???? Italian]

The Strategy of the Refusal. 1966?
[p244 Spanish / p234 Italian]

Struggle Against Labor. 1966?
[p262 Spanish / p259 Italian]

Workers and Captial. 1966?
[p275 Spanish / p267 Italian]

Romano Alquati. The Network of Struggles in Italy.

Guido Baldi. Theses on the Mass Workers and Social Capital. 1972.

Sergio Bologna. Money and Crisis: Marx as Correspondent of the New York Daily Tribune, 1856-57.

Optional additional primary materials

Panzieri, Socialist uses of workers’ inquiry


Labor in the Constitution. 1964 (Labor of Dionysus 53-136)

Keynes and the Capitalist Theory of the State. 1967 (Labor of Dionysus 23-50)

Marx on Cycle and Crisis. 1968 (Revolution Retrieved 43-90)

Crisis of the Planner State: Communism and Revolutionary Organization. 1971 (Revolution Retrieved 91-148, Books for Burning 1-50)

Workers Party Against Work. 1973 (Books for Burning 51-117)

Communist State Theory. 1974 (Labor of Dionysus 138-176)

Proletarians and the State. 1975 (Books for Burning 118-179)

The State and Public Spending. 1975 (Labor of Dionysus 179-213)

Towards a Critique of the Material Constitution. 1977. (Books for Burning, 180-230.)

Domination and Sabotage. 1977. (Books for Burning 231-290. The first half, pages 231-258, are online at

Crisis of the Crisis State. 1980 (

Archaeology and Project: The Mass Worker and the Social Worker. 1982 (

Files uploaded to the google group

– Brief Chronology and Glossary (iii-x)
– Potere Operaio, Italy 1973: Workers Struggles and the Capitalist Crisis and Red Notes, A Note on Potere Operaio (23-32)
– Negri, One Step Forward Two Steps Back (55-59)
– Negri, The Workers’ Party of Mirafiori (61-65)

From Red Notes, Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis, paper copy only:
Interview with Tronti (21-22)
– Negri, Reformism and Restructuration (33-37)
– A Note on the “Social” Worker (37-38)
– Negri, Theses on the Crisis (39-54)

Secondary Sources:

Steve Wright, Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism
Excerpts online here:

Interview with Steve Wright

Sergio Bologna’s review of Storming Heaven

Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically
(Especially the introduction, the section titled The Italian New Left –

Harry Cleaver’s reading guide to autonomist marxism, section Four: The Theory of the Mass Worker and the Social Factory

Steve Wright, “The Limits of Negri’s Class Analysis: Italian Autonomist Theory in the Seventies”

Steve Wright, “A Party of Autonomy?”

Steve Wright, Operaismo, Autonomia, Settantasette in Translation: Then, Now, the Future.


Historical context

Red Notes, “Italy 1977-8 – ‘Living with an Earthquake’”

Robert Lumley, States of Emergency: Cultures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978

Nanni Balestini, The Unseen

Review of Red Notes, Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis

Lotta Continua: Take Over the City. 1973.

Wicked Messengers: Politics in the First Person: the autonomous workers movement in Italy. 1974,

Bruno Ramirez: Self-Reduction of Prices. 1975.

Sergio Bologna. The Tribe of Moles. 1977.

Patrick Cuninghame. For an Analysis of Autonomia -An Interview with Sergio Bologna

No Past? No! – Interview with Sergio Bologna

Marco Revelli: Defeat at Fiat. 1980.


Analysis outside of Italy

Kolinko, Class Composition

Paolo Carpignano: U.S. Class Composition in the Sixties

Christian Marazzi: Money in the World Crisis

Mario Montano: Notes On The International Crisis

Class Composition and Developing a New Working Class Strategy.
Excerpt from Toward the New Commons: Working Class Strategies and the Zapatistas by Monty Neill, with George Caffentzis and Johnny Machete


Sergio Bologna. NAZISM AND THE WORKING CLASS – 1933-93

Guido De Masi and Giacomo Marramao : COUNCILS AND STATE IN WEIMAR GERMANY


Ed Emery. No Politics Without Inquiry!


More recent

Steve Wright, Confronting the crisis of ‘fordism’: Italian debates around social transition

Steve Wright, “There and back again: mapping the pathways within autonomist Marxism”

Steve Wright, “Cattivi Maestri: Some Reflections on the Legacy of Guido Bianchini, Luciano Ferrari Bravo and Primo Moroni”

Wildcat, The Renascence of Operaismo

Dan Krasivyj. For the Recomposition of Social Labour

Feruccio Gambino: A Critique of the Fordism of the Regulation School

Riccardo Bellofiore: Lavori in corso

Nick Dyer-Witheford
Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism (1999)

George Caffentzis: Immeasurable Value?: An Essay on Marx’s Legacy

Also here, here and here