the workers’ inquiry: what’s the point?

16 05 2011

Joe Thorne looks at the history of the “workers’ inquiry” idea: from Marx, to Italy in the 1960s, to the present day.  This fairly long article touches on debates amongst those influenced by operaismo about how we should relate to the modern workplace.

What can we learn from focussed investigations of contemporary working class reality?

The point of these notes is: to understand what the term ‘workers’ inquiry means; to argue that it has come to mean at least two different things; to characterise the political objective of these different projects; and to evaluate both the importance of those objectives and how well they are met by the methods in question.  The point is to articulate what place I believe the inquiry ought to have in the ideas and practice of revolutionaries.  It will also say something about research into class composition more generally.

Karl Marx

The term “workers’ inquiry”, its basis in Marxist orthodoxy, and its association with lengthy surveys (100, questions, no less), originates in an 1880 proposal by Karl Marx.

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.[1]

The questions included:

15.  State the number of rooms in which the various branches of production are carried on. Describe the specialty in which you are engaged. Describe not only the technical side, but the muscular and nervous strain required, and its general effect on the health of the workers.

40.  Do schools exist for children and young people employed in your trade? If they exist, in what hours do the lessons take place? Who manages the schools? What is taught in them?

81.  Do any resistance associations exist in your trade and how are they led? Send us their rules and regulations

The most obvious reason for caution about any plan drawing inspiration from Marx’s is that there is no record of any responses to his proposal, nor any suggestion that it lead anywhere.  This is reason for caution, no more than that: but as we shall see, it was not to be the first time.

Quaderni Rossi

The most important modern inspiration for the workers’ inquiry is dissident Italian Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s.  Originating in the Quaderni Rossi journal, the idea was taken up by elements in Potere Operaio, Autonomia and Lotta Continua.

Within Quaderni Rossi there were disagreements about the method and purpose of the inquiry.

On the one side, there was the faction of “sociologists” (lead by Vittorio Rieser), and at that time the most numerous. This section understood the inquiry as a cognitive tool in order to understand a transformed worker reality, and oriented towards provide the tools for producing a theoretical and political renovation of the worker movement’s official institutions. On the other side, we find Alquati and a few more (Soave and Gaparotto), who, based on factory experiences in the US and France, considered the inquiry as the basis for a political intervention oriented towards organising workers’ antagonism. It was a considerable difference from the point of view of the concrete goals of the survey. The distance was even greater though in terms of method: in fact, while the first faction was actualising Marxist theory with themes and methods from North American industrial sociology, Alquati was proposing a kind of strategic research in the study of the factory.[2]

This latter tendency didn’t just have a research agenda.  They had a tactical agenda, part of which was that the inquiry needed to be a workers’ self-inquiry.  It implied that not only would the researcher be immersed (working, living) within the research context in question, other workers would be engaged in the process, not merely as objects of research (respondents to questionnaires), but co-researchers themselves.

This version of the worker inquiry implied a further step from the simple questionnaire towards a process of co-research: one the one hand, inserting militant-intellectuals, who were pursuing research into the object-territory (almost always the factory, and some times, neighbourhoods), transforming them into additional subject-agents of that territory. On the other hand, actively implicating the subjects who inhabit that territory (mainly workers, and sometimes, students and homemakers) in the research process, at the same time, would transform them into subject-researchers (not merely objects). When this double movement worked well, the knowledge production emerging from the research process mutually nurtured a self-empowerment process and the production of a rebel subjectivity in the factory and neighbourhoods.[3]

This (dialogical, organisational, tactical) aspect of the workers’ inquiry is also the one emphasised by Raniero Panzieri:

The aims of inquiry can be schematically summarised thus: we have important instrumental goals driven by the character of inquiry as a correct, efficient and politically fertile method to establish contacts with singular and grouped workers. This is a crucial objective: not only is there no discrepancy, gap or contradiction between inquiry and the labour of building political relations; inquiry is also fundamental to such process. Moreover, the work needed for inquiry, the labour of theoretical discussion with comrades and workers, is one of serious political training, and inquiry is a great tool for this.

Inquiry should also aim to decisively eliminate ambiguities that persist in our theoretical formation, that is the theory elaborated in Quaderni Rossi, because as other comrades have already pointed out many aspects of this draft of a theory are arrived at only by antithesis; they are drawn from a critique of official policies and of the theoretical developments of the workers’ movement, yet they are not positively grounded nor empirically based at the level of class.[4]

Why inquiry?  Wasn’t it sufficient simply to develop the correct line, and hand out leaflets to the workers telling them what they should do?  What set the inquiry method apart from this approach was the recognition that beneath the official rhetoric of demands over pay and perhaps hours, workers had other concerns about their work.

A historian of the period, Robert Lumley, gives an example of a woman worker who had been complaining “to Communist Party officials that they had not understood the problems on the shop-floor (tens of women had been suffering fainting fits and hysteria because of the pressure of work, but the union agreed to compensation rather than a reduction of line-speeds).”[5]  She recounts:

they came back at me with ‘that’s what the Quaderni Rossi people say` and so on. I, poor thing, hadn’t a clue who these people were, so I went to find out.[6]

Lumley continues:

She described how, when she went to speak about working conditions at meetings, ‘an official was sent with me so that I bore witness to my experience, and he drew the political conclusions’. The Quaderni Rossi experiment, in other words, proposed an alternative method of political work which attempted to overcome this division of labour.[7]

The Tribe of Moles

Whilst we are discussing the Italian Marxism of that period, we would do well to mention Sergio Bologna’s text The Tribe of Moles, which seeks to explain the explosions in student militancy in 1977 as an expression of a specific process of class recomposition.  As far as I am aware, the text was never described as a workers’ inquiry: but it is nonetheless considered important and influential as a text which addresses the question of the relationship between class composition and struggle.

Bologna’s objective was “to uncover the new class composition underlying these struggles, and to indicate the first elements of a programme to advance and further generalise the movement.”[8]  In the conclusion to the text, he anticipated and replied to a particular line of criticism:

Such a proposal cannot be simply written off as a step backwards in collective bargaining, that would prepare the ground for a new social contract between the Government and the unions. It would be absurd to reject it out of hand, for the simple reason that such new objectives would carry within them the representative weight of the infinite political creativity that has emerged in these past few years. Rather, the bigger problem is how we are going to find the point where such a project can be applied – in short, to choose the “new Mirafioris” out of all the various “driving sectors” of the so-called tertiary sector. More specifically, out of those sectors which function as a connecting link between the production of absolute surplus value and the production of relative surplus value – like, for example, the cycle of transportation. Moreoever, even in the simple extension of the rigidity of labour (even in its form as a system of trade union guarantism) to lavoro nero, subcontracted work etc, would have the effect of forcing the factory struggle to take a leap forward. In short, we are looking for the social channels whereby we could break the encirclement that is currently under way, and prevent the movement dispersing itself into a thousand decentralised moments of struggle – a new, long Purgatory of endemic struggles. We have to find something which can function in the same way as did the strikes over pensions and the strikes over wage-zones did, in relation to the workers’ cycle of struggles in 1968-69.[9]

But there were no new ‘Mirafioris’, not then, and not yet.[10]  Over the next decade, the Italian revolutionary left dissolved its own organisations.  What informal organisation was left was smashed, and many of its best militants – Sofri, Negri – are still in prison.

We should be clear about the logic of Bologna’s programme, and how it relates to subsequent historical developments.  Bologna’s idea was that the sort of research he was doing could help reorientate revolutionary activists to focus on those areas of the economy which were most capable of producing militancy and radicalism. It provided, was able to provide, no such assistance.  In general, this idea – that we can find and target the most important sectors with militant activity is, if not useless, problematic.  There are arguably cases when such orientation was effective, including the decision of the Russian Bolsheviks to concentrate their activity on urban factory workers.  But it is not very often possible to identify the next “mass vanguard”.  For example, it seems unlikely that it would have been possible, in early November 2010 (unless through an organisation with exceptionally deep roots), to identify 16-18 school and college students as the subjects of the next great upsurge.  Last summer, we asked Sheila Cohen to write an article for our paper “to look at the broader political sweep of how changes in class structure and composition interact – or don’t – with issues of consciousness and resistance.”  Her conclusion?  “Mostly the story is one of almost complete unpredictability.”[11]

Decomposing the inquiry I: Wildcat

Under the heading of the workers’ inquiry, a great diversity of approaches to research and writing have developed: the Wildcat group in Germany being the best known and most committed proponents of these techniques, research models, and political concerns.  It is possible to argue that these approaches tend more to Bologna’s, as discussed above, than they do to the original idea of the workers’ inquiry.  In any case, they include:

  • An organisation basing itself on regular, systematic local reports, which seek to answer a defined series of questions relating to class composition, struggle, etc.  (The ongoing practice of Wildcat in Germany.)
  • In depth interviews or personal description of experience in a single workplace, industry, or job.  M has written on his experience at Hackney street cleansing department.[12]  The ‘Call Centre Inquiry Communism’ (Kolinko) project, which resulted in a book-length write up on experience, class composition and capitalist accumulation in call centres is perhaps the most important product of this agenda.  The full text is available online.[13]
  • Macro-level analysis of class composition and existing struggles in a borough[14], city[15], region, or nation state.

It is obvious what these have to do with class-composition.  But it is not obvious that they should be discussed under the same category as the workers’ inquiry, which seems to be a very different sort of project – one in which revolutionaries not only investigate proletarian reality, but engage other proletarians in that process of collective evaluation, as part of a process of promoting communist ideas and workers’ struggle.  Nonetheless, as we will see, such projects are often promoted under the banner of the workers’ inquiry, and by those who do refer explicitly to the inquiry idea.

But what are the functions claimed for these different techniques?  One is similar to that claimed by Bologna for his approach in The Tribe of Moles.  As the proposal which lead to Kolinko put it, “we want to attack the question of whether there is a broader tendency of capitalist development and the possibilities for communism behind this formation of a new type of worker.”[16]  Or as they said elsewhere, “Investigation means first of all to find out how we can fight against work and exploitation together with other workers in a particular place and how we can develop a form of power at the same time.”[17]

I have explained above why I am sceptical about this approach, and if anything the scepticism seems validated by the Kolinko experience.  What more do we know, now, about the possibilities for communism?  What more do we know about how we can fight and develop a form of power?  Not much.

Who’s listening?

Ironically, I believe it is possible to argue that, while proponents of the modern workers’ inquiry officially emphasise the importance of listening to workers, and the importance of rigorously evaluating militant experience, these values are not present within their attitude to their own practice and theory of the workers’ enquiry.  A member of The Commune, a call centre worker, has reviewed Prol-Position’s Call-centre, inquiry, communism (Kolinko) publication.[18]

Prol Position activists are constantly guarding against being seen to “represent” workers, but rather want to “promote” self-organisation, and so their leaflets and materials are of a largely descriptive character, while also making sharp criticisms of trade unions and pointing to the limits of different forms of struggle. They furthermore take part in activist initiatives set up with the aim of ‘supporting’ working class struggles, for example in the Call Centre Offensive outlined in the book. The chapter on trade unions, ‘base unions’, petitions and strikes has much of interest on the different means of resistance employed by workers, such as in the 1999 BT strike, “Large amounts of overseas phone calls were reportedly made, apparently totaling over £15,000. One call was claimed to have been made to the speaking clock in Zimbabwe with the receiver left off the hook overnight; as well as this, top of the range stock was sent out to householders with faulty BT equipment”.

But this part of the study seems to have a somewhat artificial character: the Marxists get jobs in a call centre in order to find out what is going on and relay it back to the workforce, but stop short of giving any practical advice for how to advance struggles. To a limited extent, this seems to recreate a mirror image of the crude “Leninist” form of “intervening” in a workplace from the outside and giving lectures on the lessons of history: i.e. the revolutionaries see themselves as separate from the workforce and with different objectives, using their enquiry to inform their own theories, understand how the working class resists work and to help them(selves) reflect on the world, but not actually doing much to test the water of organizing tactics which could actually succeed. It is no surprise that they report that their materials about working conditions often meet with the response “OK, so what? We know that already. What can we do?” Indeed, the chapter on organizing initiatives concludes with the questions “how can we relate to strikes and conflicts and thus support some kind of learning process? What kind of means do we need to be able to hear about the important developments? What can we learn within strikes and other struggles? How can we participate in the discussions of the workers?…”, the Prol Position activists presenting themselves as outsiders. They hope to promote the values of self-organisation (solidarity, democracy, serious focus on the workers’ own most pressing concerns) within the class, but in fact the book tends towards merely discerning to what extent resistance is taking place already.

. . .

The workers’ enquiry is a useful tool in the early stages of such organizing work. Whether by deliberate “intervention” or not being able to get a better job, a worker who goes into a call centre already a revolutionary ought to understand the ins and outs of the workplace and the views of her/his colleague. But its value is premised not merely on sociological analysis and personal reflection on the results of the study, but rather as a means to an end. The working class understanding itself not merely in terms of the work it does and the conditions to which it is subject, but rather as an agent of transformative change which examines its force and rights all the better to change them. Workers’ self-inquiry, not an inquiry about workers.[19]

A review in Aufheben 12 (2004, not online) makes some similar points.  If the idea is that the workers’ inquiry is a qualitatively different and better way to engage with workers than the standard methods of the left, isn’t it a subject of some concern that workers don’t find the texts which are produced, or the process of research, more engaging, empowering, or useful?  Isn’t it of similar concern that the interviewees often find the interviews themselves disempowering, even didactic (through leading questions)?  Why haven’t young workers in the recomposing class been attracted to the workers’ inquiry?  Enough young workers must have come across the Prol-Position researchers in the course of producing the book to test this: was there any noticeable attraction toward involvement in Prol-Position, Wildcat, or workers’ inquiry in general.  Why has Wildcat, whilst promoting this approach – which allegedly brings it closer to the working class – been less good at attracting radical workers than Trotskyist organisations, or even spreading its ideas?  Could it be that workers are sometimes more interested in general political ideas, or practical ways to build their confidence in action, than microscopic accounts of empirical reality?  Is this wrong?  Who says?  Should the Prol-Position activists have tried to promote answers on the level of organisation?  Would those who participated be in favour of doing that another time?  If not, why not?

Decomposing the inquiry II: no politics without inquiry?

Ed Emery, a prominent partisan of the inquiry idea made a proposal in 1995 for a workers’ inquiry project in Britain, entitled No politics without inquiry!  The practical objective of Emery’s proposal was described as follows:

To set up an intercommunicating network of militants doing more or less detailed work on class composition in their local areas; to meet as and when appropriate; and to circulate the results of our collective work.[20]

The political need which this programme was supposed to meet was described as follows.

The old class forces have been taken apart. World-wide. “Decomposed”. New class forces are emerging. New configurations. This is what we call a “new class composition”.  .  . The new class composition is more or less a mystery to us (and to capital, and to itself) because it is still in the process of formation. Eternally in flux, of course, but periodically consolidating nodes of class power.  Before we can make politics, we have to understand that class composition. This requires us to study it. Analyse it. We do this through a process of inquiry.[21]

In other words, much like Bologna and Wildcat (whose approach he explicitly seeks to emulate), Emery is conceiving research, inquiry as an aid to a grand strategy for revolutionary militants.  Panzieri’s idea of the inquiry as an organising, project is absent from the proposal.  However, if Emery’s approach to the function of the inquiry seems somewhat derivative, his conception of its potential diversity of form and subject matter is creative and interesting.  He asks:

why stop at the printed word? We could include song. Woody Guthrie, singing the lives and times of the migrant workers of Dust Bowl USA. Alan Lomax, collecting blues and prison work songs. Pete Seeger and Bob Reiser with their Carry It On: A History in Song and Picture of the Working Men and Women of America . . . And photography. For example, Sebastiao Salgado’s incredible Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age, which he defines as a work of “militant photography”.  And Jo Spence, in Putting Myself in the Picture, where, among other things, she charts the process (a labour process, in the arena of reproduction) of her own death from cancer. Bringing the Inquiry right home into the front room, into the family . . .[22]

The bibliography lists such luminaries as Tony Cliff and Mao Tse Tung as practitioners of the workers’ inquiry, each in their own way.  As far as I know, much like Marx’s proposal, and much like the proposal presented to the 2010 ‘Meltdown’ conference hosted by our organisation, this proposal didn’t get anywhere.

Recomposing the inquiry: workers’ stories and faceless resistance

Young militants of the Swedish group Kämpa Tillsammans have developed their own method of inquiry, which does not rely on the lengthy interviews typically used by Wildcat.  For the purpose of this review, their experience is worth quoting at length.

While traditional workers’ inquiries tend to be quite formal, often involving questionnaires and formal interviews, the members of Kämpa Tillsammans chose instead to document their own (often humorous) work experiences, draw lessons from them and publish them on the internet. They deliberately chose the medium of story-telling because they wanted workers to engage with the stories in a way that is not possible with formal surveys. Kim Muller of Kämpa Tillsammans explains that they wanted to change the popular idea of what it was to be a worker; workers do not communicate with each other via “written pamphlets or leaflets but by talking and storytelling”, thus stories provide a far better way to develop a new workers’ discourse than dry analysis and documentation.

This practice has since become popular in the Swedish workers movement, with many militants reporting on their workplaces online on sites such as forenadevardare.se (for health workers) or Arbetsförnedringen (for job seekers). The practice of workplace blogging can easily spread work experiences, showing the political dimensions in daily conflicts as well as giving clues about the changing composition of the working class.

One such blog, ‘Postverket’ is written by Postal Service workers. They see it as a way of developing the discussions that start in the canteen or on the shopfloor and circulating them among other workers in different sections and in other parts of the country. In turn, the discussions on the blog can serve as the basis for further discussion and action within the workplace.

The writers have found that, once introduced to the blog, their co-workers start to read it and discuss it with other workmates, helping to develop their ideas and sharpen their criticism of the bosses and the work.

Thus for the Swedish movement, workplace blogging has a number of different functions. On the one hand, by publishing online, workers can transcend their individual workplace to connect their experiences and ideas with those of other workers on the other side of the country. It allows for the deepening of political arguments and critique. On the other hand, workplace blogs can create a new discourse of work, and help to form the basis of a new working class identity. For many people, the mention of ‘working class’ summons up a dozen grey clichés, none of which are relevant to their experiences. Stories and experiences from modern workplaces can help to popularise a more relevant conception of work and class, that can in turn help to propel working class mobilisations.[23]

Perhaps, in this idea of workers’ stories, we can see a return to the Quaderni Rossi conception of the inquiry: workers’experience as a means to involve workers in general (not only revolutionary workers!) in the promotion of class consciousness, political organisation, and perhaps one day – struggle.  One implicit criticism of the Wildcat approach by Kämpa Tillsammans is that the formal interview process is somewhat alienating and boring.  This view is also expressed by a member of The Commune who has been interviewed as part of a Wildcat inquiry.[24]

It would be interesting to know what a workplace intervention or organising drive based around stories and first person accounts would be like.  Although at least one member of our organisation is currently involved in such a project, the lack of access to materials from past interventions makes it difficult to ascertain the existence of such a project, and evaluate its relative impact.  We do have access to a bulletin and leaflets produced by Big Flame – a British group which drew on the influence of the Italian Marxist traditions we have discussed – but in fact they are fairly ‘political’ and ‘objective’ in their tone, although less so than the (admittedly, much shorter) bulletins  of Trotskyist groups such as Workers’ Fight.[25]  For an example of something a bit different, see page 11 of the Ford Halewood bulletin, which contains a letter and a poem.[26]  My impression is that the Big Flame interventions had a less didactic character, not because of the style of the texts, but because of how they were organised: with open editorial meetings, and because of the time which was put in at the factory gate listening to workers, and basing their politics faithfully on the submerged aspirations of the most militant layers.  It’s hard to imagine any effective organising based only on passively reflecting mass subjectivity, rather than by bringing to the fore particular elements.

An intermission: The American worker

Well before Quaderni Rossi, a young American factory worker wrote about his experiences at work.  What he and his fellow workers felt, smelled, saw, said, and thought.  It was published in 1947, the first half of The American Worker.  In the introduction, he gives us some idea of the power which dragging working class experience out of the shadows, and placing it in the light can have.

The rough draft of this pamphlet was given to workers across the country. Their reaction was as one. They were surprised and gratified to see in print the experiences and thoughts which they have rarely put into words. Workers arrive home from the factory too exhausted to read more than the daily comics. Yet most of the workers who read the pamphlet stayed up well into the night to finish the reading once they had started.

In direct contrast was the attitude of the intellectuals who are detached from the working class. To them it was a repetition of an oft-written story. They felt cheated. There was too much dirt and noise. They could not see the content for the words. The best expression of what they had to say was: “So what?” It was to be expected, for how could those so removed from the daily experiences of the laboring masses of the country expect to understand the life of the worker as only the worker can understand it.

I am not writing in order to gain the approval or sympathy of these intellectuals for the workers’ actions. I want instead to illustrate to the workers themselves that sometimes when their conditions seem everlasting and hopeless, they are in actuality revealing by their every-day reactions and expressions that they are the road to a far-reaching change.[27]

The whole pamphlet is worth reading.  It burns with working class life, and we can see why a factory worker at the time would have lost sleep to read it.  It doesn’t quite fit into the conception a of workers’ inquiry as a process through which to organise, but as a text it clearly has the potential to act as an organising or consciousness raising tool, just by dint of being hard hitting, raw, well written, and most importantly backed up by a clear intention to distribute it to relevant people by a political network (in this case the Johnson-Forest Tendency[28]) with the means to do so.  In our paper, we’ve carried a few reports from comrades on their work, or other aspects of their lives.  We should do more of this; but seek to take a leaf out of Paul Romano’s book: trying to find something in the experience of work which does point in the way of communism.  As for how he does it, I can’t detail that here, it’s necessary to read the text.  However, Ria Stone, who provides a sort of theoretical after-word, concludes like this:

“Sure, we could do it better.” In these words, there is contained the workers’ recognition of the enormous scope of their natural and acquired powers, and the distorted and wasteful abuse of these powers within the existing society. In these words is contained also the overwhelming anger of the workers against the capitalist barriers stifling their energies and hence victimizing the whole world. Never has society so needed the direct intervention of the workers. Never have the workers been so ready to come to grips with the fundamental problems of society. The destinies of the two are indissolubly united. When the workers take their fate into their own hands, when they seize the power and begin their reconstruction of society, all of mankind will leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.[29]

The inquiry in context: the contributions of organising and politics

Quaderni Rossi’s inquiries, and those of their immediate political descendents, took place in a period of high and sustained class struggle.  This was not incidental to the context in which the inquiry had such relevance, but – in Panzieri’s account – fundamental to it.

it is extremely important to remember the outcome of our previous discussion: inquiry needs to be carried out in the heat of the moment and on the spot, it must investigate a situation of great transformation and conflict, and investigate the relationship between conflict and antagonism within it. In other words, we need to investigate the manner in which the system of values expressed by the workers in normal circumstances changes, and detect those values that are substituted or disappear when the awareness of alternatives arises, because some of the values held by workers under normal circumstances are absent from moments of class conflict and vice versa.[30]

Such a warning should give us cause to be wary about what we can expect from an inquiry in a period of low class struggle; and therefore some of its limits as an approach to communist activism.

If we return to Robert Lumley’s account of the period, he argues that, alongside the emergence of previously submerged demands (assisted by Quaderni Rossi), an organising tradition based around politically educated militants was vital.

The agitators within the factories in the period before 1968 were mainly drawn from, or had been within, the ranks of the Communist Party, and were the backbone of union organization. They were especially well qualified for this role for a number of reasons, which related mostly to their political rather than their trade union identities. Above all, these people resisted the pressures of everyday experience that seemed to say that nothing could really be changed.[31]

The emphasis in the passage is mine.  The point is that it is necessary, in order to build a militant, working class communist movement, not mainly to enumerate the various reasons for our sense of disempowerment, which are many, but to assert that general truth: that the working class can, through its own action, change the world. This idea has a certain power to break through the fixed objectivity of the present moment.  An understanding of the world as it is must constantly be subjected to the countervailing pressure of working class self-confidence; which does not always have a real, objective manifestation, but which we can assert only on the level of politics, and of our general, abstract understanding of the world.  And indeed, that was the very point of the theory of proletarian autonomy, developed in Quaderni Rossi by Mario Tronti and others.

According to one militant who left the Communist Party in 1967:

it seemed that at a certain moment along the road something could happen that had never happened before . . . at one level, ingenuously, I believed that this society is not ours, and we must create a society of our own that is different. This is what the PCI taught and it did it well. It is not by chance that it took the best part of the working class because of its sense of responsibility the militant had to be very serious, honest, humble, conscientious, and present himself to the workers by putting himself at their service.[32]

My emphasis again: political education is vital; and not all politics flows from analyses of experience or class composition, much of it is based on general and abstract conviction.  This is worth mentioning because is a tendency to see inquiry type politics as the crucial form of political activity: and that propaganda, political education, and agitation for action represent, in some sense, ideological and didactic diversions from the real business of politics.  But if we return to look at the context in which the modern idea of the workers’ inquiry emerged, we can see the importance, to what happened next (the ‘creeping May’ period of intense class struggle, 1969 – 1976) of these very things.  The explosive combination came when the new subjectivity broke through the limits of the old ways of doing things: but in that breaking through, militants took much of value with them:

The Communist Party membership and background was . . . no automatic guarantee of a militant’s ability to represent and mobilize fellow workers. When ideology was separated out from, and even counter-posed to the ‘moral economies’ of groups of workers, then it could function repressively as seen in the instance of the response of PCI officials to emotional reactions to working conditions, which was regarded as an economic issue to be resolved by monetary agreement. In the mid to late sixties, a number of agitators found themselves in conflict with the party, which seemed incapable of organizing the intense feelings of resentment and outrage on the shop-floor, and which they felt had reneged on its promise to bring about radical change. For them, immersion in the daily realities of the factory was also an act of purification and a return to the roots of the Communist project. The role of these agitators was enhanced by their political connections, which linked them to outside networks, giving them additional resources of information and moral and intellectual support.[33]

Therefore, analysing the period which gave birth to the workers’ inquiry, we can say that we need: not only attention to the subterranean elements of proletarian consciousness, but also, no less vitally, political education, and effective organisers.  We need to be interested in these elements as well.

Inquiry, research, and building a working class communist movement

The point of this text is to allow me to explain, coherently and in the context of the existing tradition, what competing strands I see in the idea of the “workers’ inquiry” (and, more generally, class-composition related research), and which of those strands I see as being valuable and important.

I have argued that there are two principle strands within the idea of the workers’ enquiry: the activist, militant strand, which engages workers as the subjects of research and action; and the strand which seeks to analyse class composition as an aid to the orientation of revolutionary militants.  I argued, broadly, for a positive attitude toward the former (as one element in a broader agitational strategy), and a sceptical attitude toward the latter.

To be clear: the conception of the militant workers’ self-inquiry, articulated in the comments of Panzieri quoted above, I think is of tremendous political importance.  It suggests a means of engaging with workers which is more dialogic than didactic.  But how we integrate that dialogic intention into our organising will differ from time to time and place to place.  I think that the workers’ stories idea of Kämpa Tillsammans is probably the most interesting, clearly articulated contemporary idea about how to approach that practically (and the aspect of humour is important!).  I think that an inquiry which does not involve others – outside the existing communist layer – as active participants in setting the research agenda, and which does not integrate that with a project to promote militancy, will be of little usefulness; amounting to freelance academia, whether or not that is the intention.  But this means we have to prioritise the question: in what forms, now, are workers interested in sharing their experiences?  Or if they are not, most of all, interested in that, what are they interested in?

For these reasons, I am much more sceptical about the model of the very different “workers’ inquiry” promoted by Wildcat, which draws (as I see it) on a wholly different set of objectives, which I have suggested are drawn from Sergio Bologna’s interest in the changing structure of class composition as a potential guide to revolutionary orientation.  So, I think when we talk about inquiry proposals, it is best we talk in very definite terms, and try to answer the question, first: how does it engage people beyond our organisation (and beyond the ranks of organised politicos) as active participants?  (If it can’t, then isn’t that a sign that we ought to be doing something else instead, which can?)  And second: what is its militant content?  That is, what does it try to do on the level of political organisation?

So much for the workers’ inquiry.  Is all research which does not fit this conception useless?  No!  As it happens, I find the idea of a study into the class-composition (and capitalist functioning) of a city such as Bristol fascinating, and I would be interested in working with others to develop a fairly full account of changing patterns of work and industry in Britain, as well as the British economy’s connection to the wider global one.  My political motivation for this is that I want to understand the world that I live in, and I want other people to as well, although I’m not convinced either project would end up being able to inform anything on the level of strategy or propaganda.  For this reason, I don’t grant any overwhelming priority to such projects.

For example, let’s take the proposal – currently being considered by some comrades – for an enquiry into the capitalism and class composition in Bristol.  If the idea of the Bristol study got to the point of talking to workers, it could have real organising implications, which would be fantastic.  But this sort of research does not begin from working class experience – in the case of Bristol, for instance, it begins with asking questions such as: what industries are where?  Where do workers live?  What is the relation of those companies to global supply chains?

So what importance do I think this sort of research has?  I think it does have some importance, but not such importance that I think it ought to be a major drain on time, certainly not to the extent that it competes with workplace activity, in which collective self-inquiry and the promotion of militant activity ought to seamlessly merge.  Unlike the self-inquiry proper, I don’t think this ‘objective’ analysis of changing class structure is even necessarily more of a priority than answering questions such as – what is the function of trade unions in Britain today?  Or – what is the function of ‘humanitarian intervention’ in the modern world system?  Ultimately, I think any serious organisation must be able to address these ‘big’ political questions, as well as know about the structure of employment on the docks.  They are both necessary.

Postscript: the inquiry and our organisation

How do these attitudes relate to the recent proposals a number of London comrades have made about our paper and organisation?  In a number of ways.  First of all, because if we want to promote any method at all – whether it’s the workers’ inquiry or armed struggle – it’s necessary to organise to grow as a method of, and with the aim of, doing so.  There’s no point having a great idea such as the inquiry, if there’s no attempt to promote it.  Secondly, because having such a small organisation and such a small circulation paper doesn’t provide the basis for having a genuine class conversation, which would imply a certain diversity of experiential input, and ideally a certain plurality of involvement in certain industries, areas and job types – such that one can expect a reply from others informed by their own experience.  Thirdly, because, to return to the original point of the workers’ inquiry – building a communist movement amongst workers’ – the workers’ inquiry isn’t the only way to do that.  There are other methods, and neither Marx nor the Quaderni Rossi researchers pretended otherwise.  Diffuse propaganda, political education, agitation for direct action and solidarity, as well as other forms of activity, also have a role.  They have had for every remotely successful organisation in the past, and no doubt will in the future too.


[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.generation-online.org/t/tpanzieri.htm  Note than insofar as the inquiry is meant to lead to a superior “theoretical formation”, it is by addressing “ambiguities” – or presumably, errors – in existing theory.  The point is not to come up with theories about class composition in order to prove or disprove them.  The point is to use studies of class composition or working class experience to address the questions which workers and revolutionaries are already asking, because they are implied by the political challenges of the moment.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Fiat Mirafiori in Turin was the most important factory in developing  the practice of workers’ autonomy, and hosted the most important of the worker-student assemblies, the movement around which produced Lotta Continua in 1969.  What about now? http://cachef.ft.com/cms/s/0/3d897c94-1dce-11e0-badd-00144feab49a.html#axzz1MSZ9KC3D   http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2011-01-15/open-letter-from-the-workers-of-fiat-mirafiori Contra Bologna, the small factories didn’t turn out to be the next major site of struggle either.

[15] As I believe the comrades in Bristol are considering. . .

[24] A personal aside.  I previously proposed that we base a pamphlet on student occupations around asking participants to give their own accounts of the occupations, and draw out what seemed important to them.  Comrade L argued that we shouldn’t bother “scratching the issue” unless we use proper “research methods”.  I think we should be prepared to see an approach based on soliciting stories as a method as worthwhile as a 100 question survey.  It has some flaws, sure, but it also has the strength of recognising the subjectivity – in the jargon of 1960s Italian Marxism ‘encouraging the self-valorisation’ – of the participants, and their more equal agency in the inquiry process.  At any rate, it isn’t a more eclectic approach than that proposed by Ed Emery, who wants to use photography and folk song!

[28] The Johnson-Forest Tendency was a split from Trotskyism in the US (at different times, both the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Workers’ Party) lead by C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee Boggs: its orientation can be identified as roughly ‘Marxist humanist’.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

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10 responses

17 05 2011
c0mmunard

“The Quaderni Rossi experiment, in other words, proposed an alternative method of political work which attempted to overcome this division of labour”.

I think this is another question we have to ask about (what I identify as) the Bologna-ist tendency – does it actually do this? Or is this another objective which has become submerged?

17 05 2011
c0mmunard

Some more links, for the interested.

Steve Wright on QR and the inquiry (should it be “workers’ enquiry”?):

http://libcom.org/library/2-quaderni-rossi-workers-enquiry (see further sections at the bottom), including:

While for Panzieri the subsequent break with the official labour movement proved traumatic, those closest to Alquati experienced it as the release from an increasingly impossible collaboration. Having correctly identified the estrangement between workers and unions, many of the Northerners now considered as completely mistaken the group’s original premise that their reconciliation could be achieved in a form antagonistic to capital. For these Zengakuren, as they were then dubbed (Alquati 1975: 27), a new tack was required, one which drew sustenance directly from working-class struggle itself. The first effort along these lines was attempted by the Venetian circle, in the form of workplace rank-and-file committees organised in Porto Marghera (Negri 1964a; Isnenghi 1980). With the revival of industrial activity amongst metalworkers in 1963, both the Zengakuren and the Roman members of Quaderni Rossi pushed for a concerted, autonomous intervention at the national level, starting with a more agitational form of publication than the existing theoretical review.

The interventionist paper which resulted was called Cronache Operaie. There was also a publication at FIAT called Gatto Selvaggio. See http://libcom.org/library/birth-workerism

Out of this tendency, a split emerged between those, like Panzieri, who were sceptical about the possibilities for a new mass labour movement (and who grudgingly accepted the unions’ apparent uselessness in generalising struggle, or taking up the latent demands, but who were by no means as firm on the question as the others), and those (including Alquati and Negri) who asserted the need for a new labour movement, and wanted to go about helping it to constitute itself. It must be admitted, however, that in the dip in struggle between ’62 and ’68 this tendency had a real crisis of confidence: were the earlier signs that the working class would go beyond the union form an illusory blip?

Romano Alquati:

http://www.generation-online.org/p/p_alquati.htm

http://fuckyeahmilitantresearch.tumblr.com/post/502186794/romano-alquati-militant-researcher-operaist

For conricerca has never been for Romano a “research from below”: either it was the organization of workers’ autonomy, or it did not exist. He had no populist ideal of horizontalism: the prefix “con” meant to question the borders between the production of knowledge and political subjectivity, science and conflict. It was not simply a matter of knowledge but the organization of a threat. Conricerca was working class science. At the same time, there would not be any sociology work in Italy today without that experience. Radically bypassing it, they invented sociology.
But in no way Alquati wanted to be called the inventor of conricerca. “ Political militants have always done conricerca. We would go in front of the factory and speak with workers: there cannot be organization otherwise. If I put shoes on and find a street full of stones, I cannot say I invented them.”

Tronti – I briefly mentioned the idea of proletarian autonomy- in Lenin in England (1964):

We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first, and workers second. This is a mistake. And now we have to turn the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class.

. . .

the political moment of tactics and the theoretical moment of strategy are in contradiction, in a complex and very much mediated relationship between revolutionary organisation and working class science. Today, at the theoretical level, the workers viewpoint must be unrestricted, it must not limit itself, it must leap (forward by transcending and negating all the empirical evidence which the intellectual cowardice of the petty-bourgeois is forever demanding. For working class thought, the moment of discovery has returned. The days of systems building, of repetition, and vulgarity elevated to the status of systematic discourse are definitely over. What is needed now is to start again, with rigorously one-sided class logic — courage and determination for ourselves, and detached irony towards the rest.

Theoretical research and practical political work have to be dragged — violently if need be — into focusing on this question: not the development of capitalism, but the development of the revolution. We have no models. The history of past experiences serves only to free us of those experiences. We must entrust ourselves to a new kind of scientific interpretation. We know that the whole process of development is materially embodied in the new level of working class struggles. Our starting point might therefore be in uncovering certain forms of working class struggles which set in motion a certain type of capitalist development which goes in the direction of the revolution. Then we would consider how to articulate these experiences within the working class, choosing subjectively the nerve points at which it is possible to strike at capitalist production. And on this basis, testing and re-testing, we could approach the problem of how to create a relationship, a new and ongoing organisation which could match these struggles. Then perhaps we would discover that “organisational miracles” are always happening, and have always been happening, within those miraculous struggles of the working class that nobody wants to know about but which perhaps, all by themselves, make and have made more revolutionary history than all the revolutions the colonised people have ever made.

. . .

But this practical work, articulated on the basis of the factory, and then made to function throughout the terrain of the social relations of production, this work needs to be continually judged and mediated by a political level which can generalise it. This is a new kind of political level, which requires us to look into and organise a new form of working class newspaper. This would not be designed to immediately report and reflect on all particular experiences of struggle; rather, its task would be to concentrate these experiences into a general political approach.

. . .

The reality of the working class is tied firmly to the name of Karl Marx, while the need of the working class for political organisation is tied equally firmly to the name of Lenin. With a masterly stroke, the Leninist strategy brought Marx to St Petersburg: only the working class viewpoint could have carried out such a bold revolutionary step. Now let us try to retrace the path, with the same scientific spirit of adventure and political discovery. What we call “Lenin in England” is a project to research a new Marxist practice of the working class party: it is the theme of struggle and of organisation at the highest level of political development of the working class.

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/it/tronti.htm

17 05 2011
Dave Spencer

On Joe’s desire to find out about the changes in industry etc. in Bristol — in Coventry in the 1970s we had a Trades Council magazine which tried to gain just such information. We had articles by workers about their workplaces as well as more general pieces about the international car industry, the machine tool industry etc. A lot of our info came from the local Council’s statistics department and the local Chamber of Commerce as well as academics at the Universities. It was used in industrial bulletins too which were based on the Lutte Ouvriere model. The abiding lesson to me of the 1970s was the tremendous militancy of the workforce true but also the complete failure of any of the TUs or political groups to prepare for the mass redundancies in manufacturing. The convenors knew what was about to happen but had no idea what to do to prevent it or give any answers. I remember doing research on Alfred Herberts machine tool co. the largest MT manufacturing firm in Europe and if you had been an apprentice there like my father and my uncle, you were the king of the world. We turned up outside the gates with our latest copy of the rank and file paper “Machine Tool Worker” with the headline “Alfred Herberts to close down” and we didn’t sell one paper — except to the convenor who bought 100 for the Shop Stewards Committee. He agreed to meet us and confessed that he knew the situation but could think of no way out of it. Strikes were no good because the firm was closing anyway. The redundancy payments were generous. What did we suggest? I mentioned Mike Cooley’s pamphlet about Lucas Aerospace which had researched the equipment in the factory and had come up with alternatives the workforce could make like kidney dialysis machines. Too late he said the whole of the city’s in the same state. What genuinely worried him was what future were they leaving for young people in Coventry — no industrial apprenticeships. Nevertheless he took his reundancy and i think bought a B&B in Blackpool.

In building communism from below we have to encourage the voice of the working class to speak. It’s like feminism demanding that women’s voices must be heard. The working class is still silent and almost asleep. At the same time communism from below means changing the working class environment and workplaces from below. Militancy in itself is not enough. That surely must be the lesson of the 1970s and 1984/5 miners’ strike. You have to prepare for the future and you have to change work practices. What would work in this place be like under communism? Going into some of the factories in the 1970s was like going into Dante’s Hell. No wonder they were keen to go out on strike. When my father retired in 1978 there were machines in the Chrysler toolroom that had been brought in when my grandfather worked there in the 1914-18 War. As my father constantly said “It can’t go on like this!”

18 05 2011
c0mmunard

Thanks Dave. What happened to the left and to industry at the end of the ’70s, and the relation between the two, is really fascinating.

19 05 2011
Nate

Thanks for this article comrades. I want to go back over it and perhaps write something in response. For now, a few things. First, the article writes “It would be interesting to know what a workplace intervention or organising drive based around stories and first person accounts would be like.” In my experience first person stories have a crucial role in moving people to action. I’m an IWW member in the US. We have a training program where we talk about this stuff, and to a limited extent practice it (via roleplay). We emphasize face to face conversations with people primarily asking questions to get people to narrate their own experiences in ways that get at issues of what they value and how their work experiences are in tension with those values. (We’re not at all unique on this, many unions and community organizations in the US do the same and train people on this.) I haven’t had many experiences like this but I have had several times where a line of questions plus genuine emotional response leads to a worker breaking into tears because work and/or what it does to their lives is so awful. That’s an intense experience and not enjoyable but that’s the general area to aim at I think, to get people to share emotionally charged material and through talking about that material to try to get them to be moved to participate in collective action against those things that they experience viscerally as injustices. So, it seems to me that a lot of good organizing is based on stories and first person accounts. I think another parallel would be the practices of consciousness raising groups in second wave feminism (and I believe these recurred in riotgrrl in the US in the 90s).

That aside, in case anyone’s interested, this is a blog post I wrote on some related themes, not workers inquiry but militant research –

http://whatinthehell.blogsome.com/2010/04/03/are-the-politics-of-militant-research/

I used to be quite taken with stuff around that, from the Italians as well as some groups from Spain and Argentina, I’m now much more skeptical about it.

19 05 2011
c0mmunard

Hey again Nate, thanks for that.

For my sins, I used to be a union organiser, so I know what you mean about a one to one being about opening up experiences: I guess most of us would probably take that for granted, even people totally uninterested in the inquiry (enquiry?) idea. (Though we do have less of an articulated ‘organising’ culture here, amongst revolutionaries, so true – it’s something that needs to be worked on.)

I suppose what the inquiry idea (at least the strand I’m more positive about, above) could add to that would be: i) a focus on taking those experiences out of the private (one to one) conversation, and making them public (perhaps in written form, perhaps in other ways); ii) thinking about ways to get workers to formulate the ‘research agenda’ (‘what do they want to know from others?’, or ‘about the company?’, could they find some of those things out?); and iii) perhaps some idea that the (provisional) conclusions ought to be stated politically and debated . . . even outside the confines of the workplace or industry.

I guess an excellent organising process would do alot of that anyway, but perhaps the inquiry idea is a good way to make those things explicit.

I think you’re right to make the parallel with conciousness raising groups and, on your blog, with counselling type relationships.

19 05 2011
Nate

hi Communard,
I want to think more about that. The operaismo stuff was a massive influence on me and I’ve moved away from it but have great affection for it and so want to find ways to make it more relevant than I often think it is, so I’d like to see this work… Off the top of my head on your three points –
i) I agree completely that the experiences needs to be made collective and then tied into collective action which further builds a collectivity. These terms are wonky but I sort of think that the idea here is to get people to narrate their individual experiences of the social scripts that are handed down, get them to see that their place in those scripts is a collective one (most of us are extras in the global disaster film that is capitalism), then get them engaged in a process of collective improvisation which runs counter do the dominant scripts. Folk ought to also then be pushed to reflect and narrate, individually and collectively, on their experiences of that collective action and participation in the collectivity. Gah, rambling, anyway, I’m for what you said. I think that it’s important though that the in-writing bit be considered an additional and different tool, rather than the same tool as or a replacement for the spoken and face to face narration of experiences. Put simply, I think people make commitments and change who they are more in face to face contact than in face-to-paper contact. That’s not say writing has no place, far from it, just that it’s a different sort of tool, and one that should whenever possible be reintegrated into face to face contact (for instance, people’s written experiences of work and fighting back could be used in discussion groups by other people who also share their experiences etc). I guess all I’m saying is that, when talking about this for the purposes of organization building, there ought to be an operational reason — as in “we will do XYZ with this with persons ABC in QRS manner” — for the “put it in writing” impulse, rather than a general reason like “we want our publication to reflect workers voices.” Otherwise I think it ends up in the ‘freelance academic’ mode. Given the article I suspect we’re in agreement on all this so I’ll stop belaboring the point.

On ii) I agree. I also think that there are several different related agendas to balance there. One is a democratic and participatory one. Another is a mentorship or skill-sharing one – developing peoples abilities. Another is developing people’s consciousness/radicalism/commitment. Another is a sort of efficacy of the research and its products for some purpose – division of labor for efficiency’s sake and delegation of tasks to people who have more experience and have had more success in carrying out those tasks. I think it’s like to be difficult to fully meet each of these agendas in any given project (and even less so if they’re not explicitly stated and some goals set). For whatever it’s worth I generally favor, in order, skill development, consciousness/commitment development, with efficacy and democracy tied for 3rd depending on the stakes. I think this is relevant to your point ii) in part because it’s likely that some workers, depending on what they do, are not going to have a clear research agenda (at least not without fairly extensive coaxing/coaching and repeating back to them the knowledge implicit in their individual and collective experiences in order to make it explicit and identify gaps). I suspect that the first time people go through an inquiry process once that they’d have a much harder time and have less productive questions than a second time around, working with others. That could be quite productive, though, as one project could communicate to another starting project like “we did an inquiry on our stuff, here’s what we learned about how best to do the process, that we’d suggest for you,” which would be great for sharing expertise and working against the revolutionary grouping as experts dynamic.

on iii) absolutely, and probably in two ways – one in a relatively less accessible in-group vocabulary which includes terms like “workers’ inquiry” and “class composition” ;) and is partly about the orientation of existing radicals, and one in a way which tries to speak a less specialized vocabulary and tries to involve larger numbers and more ideologically diverse groups of workers in some manner. Here too I suspect we’re in agreement, it just helps me to think this out. After all this I’m more positive to the idea of an organizational use of the inquiry than I had been, which is nice. I hope you lot do try out different approaches to this and report on the findings, it’s an exciting prospect.

comradely,
Nate

22 05 2011
Mark

Hi,

Just to clarify. Bristol Commune are not actively considering an analysis of class compositiion and struggle in the city. This was something that I considered a number of years ago after attending a meeting on union struggles in the city. It was actually raised by others at the meeting as something that would usefully ground political activity. Nothing came of it, probably because those interested didn’t know each other that well and there was no follow up meeting, but I’m sure it was mainly down to the fact that it was also a daunting prospect!

Recently, with the proposal for local reports, I began to consider reviving this idea, on which I’ve made a start. However, although it is interesting, it is a lot of work and it competes for time with other projects/writing/activity not least of which is keeping up with debates in the Commune!

However, having said that, it is not something which Bristol Commune is engaged in as some collective activity or is proposing to do so. Also, it is not expected that local reports would have anything like the depth of analysis of the full blown research which I’d like to undertake.

Mark

27 05 2011
c0mmunard

http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1975/lenin1/chap02.htm

From Chapter 2 of Cliff’s Lenin: building the party:

To elicit the necessary information for their leaflets, the League began to distribute questionnaires to individual workers, with whom contact had been made through the teachers. Fitter Ivan Babushkin reported, “We received lists with prepared questions, which demanded from us a careful observation of factory life … My tool box was constantly packed tight with the most varied notices, and I exerted myself to write down unobserved the amount of the daily wages in our workshop.”

And Lenin writes:

I vividly recall my “first experiment” which I would never like to repeat. I spent many weeks “examining” a worker, who would often visit me, regarding every aspect of the conditions prevailing in the enormous factory at which he was employed. True, after great effort, I managed to obtain material for a description (of the one single factory!), but at the end of the interview the worker would wipe the sweat from his brow, and say to me smilingly: “I find it easier to work overtime than to answer your questions.”

The information obtained in this way was edited and written up in the form of leaflets for the workers of the individual plants. The leaflets dealt with concrete issues that all the workers understood.

Lenin spent months studying Labour legislation, so that he could explain clearly the relevant laws and practices prevailing in the factories, and formulate the demands about which workers should complain to management. Krupskaya wrote:

Vladimir Ilyich was interested in the minutest detail describing the conditions and life of the workers. Taking the features separately, he endeavoured to grasp the life of the worker as a whole – he tried to find what one could seize upon in order better to approach the worker with revolutionary propaganda. Most of the intellectuals of those days badly understood the workers. An intellectual would come to a circle and read the workers a kind of lecture.

I remember, for example, how the material about the Thornton factory was collected. It was decided that I should send for a pupil of mine named Krolikov, a sorter in that factory, who had previously been deported from Petersburg. I was to collect from him all information according to a plan drawn up by Vladimir Ilyich. Krolikov arrived in a fine fur coat he had borrowed from someone and brought a whole exercise book full of information, which he further supplemented verbally. This data was very valuable. In fact Vladimir Ilyich fairly pounced on it. Afterwards, I and Apollinaria Alexandrovna Yakubova put kerchiefs on our heads and made ourselves look like women factory workers, and went personally to the Thornton factory barracks, visiting both the single and married quarter. Conditions were most appalling. It was solely on the basis of material gathered in this manner that Vladimir Ilyich wrote his letters and leaflets. Examine his leaflets addressed to the working men and women of the Thornton factory. The detailed knowledge of the subject they deal with is at once apparent. And what a schooling this was for all the comrades working then! It was just then that we were learning attention to details. And how profoundly these details were engraved in our minds.

5 06 2011
Boffy

Comrades,

The whole point about the Workers Inquiry, as I see it, is precisely that it is about building Socialism from below. It is openly saying both, we do not trust the Capitalist State to provide impartial information, and secondly we insist on doing this in order to train oursleves to be able to run society. I covered this element in my blog on the Politics and programme Of The First International, one of whose first actions was to engage in an international statiscical analysis conducted by its national components.

Its like Marx argued about the Factory Acts, or Education. We look to establish some legal framework that only is a rationalisation of the agreements we would otherwise make with individual employers, and armed with it, we engage on a case by case basis to carry out the tasks it makes possible. So Marx never suggested we simply leave it to Factory Inspectors to implement the Factory Acts. In fact, although we have Health & safety Reps, we really ought to press for external Workers Inspection, so that workers in the given workplace are less likely to face intimidation, and to cover unionised workplaces.

In the light of the Panorama programme on abuse of residents at Winterbourne House, and the failure yet again of Inspection by the Capitalist State, in my blog Capitalism & Care, I have suggested that this is another instance of where we need a Committee of Workers Inspection. But, to be effective, it would really be necessary to combine it with Workers Commissioning of Care via a Commissioning Co-op. Only in that way would workers have control over the purse strings, in order to be able to act accordingly.




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