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Review Article Hotlines: Call Centre, Inquiry, Communism (Duisburg: Kolinko, 2002).

Submitted by Joseph Kay on July 10, 2012

In recent years there has been a revival of interest within some political circles to the left of Leninism both in the concept and practice of workers’ inquiry and in ’autonomist’ politics in general [1]. At a time when class struggle is often characterised as being at a low ebb, some have turned to categories of class composition in an attempt to understand ’where things are at, and where they might be headed’ in terms of capitalist social relations. For some within these circles, workers’ inquiry has afforded an answer to the much debated question ‘what can we do, what is the role for revolutionaries in times of low class mobilization?’

One such group is the German Ruhr based collective Kolinko, who have made workers’ inquiry the basis for their practice; their book, Hotlines - Call Centre, Inquiry, Communism, details such a project over three years in call centres in the region. The book consists of the group’s understanding and application of worker’s inquiry; an analysis of call centres and restructuring in the sectors which they service, such as banking, commerce, telecommunications and services; the new organisation of the work process; subjective accounts of everyday experience and individual work refusal in call centres; a critique of forms of collective struggle in call centres; a proposal for revolutionary ‘nuclei’ to undertake inquiries and exchange on regional and international basis; and appendices of questionnaires, leaflets used in ‘interventions’.

Kolinko have faced criticism from two opposing angles as a result of their promotion of workers’ inquiry as a political project: on the one hand they have been accused of engaging in ‘radical sociology’; on the other they have been reproached for ‘Leninist militantism’; they deny both charges. This review article will address some of the issues thrown up by this tension between sociology and interventionism in relation to Kolinko’s project, and assess whether their attempt to steer a course between the two is successful.

Kolinko’s call centre inquiry raises a number of problems as to the nature of class struggle, the role (if any) for ‘revolutionary’ groups in these struggles and what might constitute a ‘revolutionary practice’, which we will look at in this review article. We will also ask the question of whether workers’ inquiry itself is an appropriate tool for ‘revolutionary intervention’ - or indeed whether the idea of ‘revolutionary intervention’ makes sense.

Background to worker’s inquiry

‘No investigation, no right to speak!’ [2] Mao’s injunction to learn from the working class and also to agitate was taken up by Maoist groups around the world, who sent moles into the factories in many Western countries in the 60s and 70s. Often they would find themselves in competition in these workplaces with other Leninist militants who had also gone into the factories with the idea of leading the workers. Kolinko seek to distance themselves from these practices, and in making use of workers’ inquiry, take as a reference point the work along these lines of several earlier revolutionary currents: it is worth comparing the work of the Johnson-Forest tendency in US, Socialisme ou Barbarie in France and Quaderni Rossi and the workerists in Italy to Kolinko’s inquiry project [3], in order to understand the relation of these groups’ activity to the working class struggles of the times, and to trace the theoretical development of categories of class composition and ‘workers’ autonomy’ or ‘self-activity’ which underlie Kolinko’s project.

Into the factories
Workers’ inquiry, or ‘militant research’ as it has been called by the German group Wildcat, is most readily associated with the Italian workerist tradition; yet in many ways two groups, the Johnson-Forest Tendency in the US and Socialisme ou Barbarie in France were precursors of operaismo.

These groups dedicated much of their energy in the 1950s to exploring the ‘authentic proletarian experience’ hitherto passed over by party dogma and developed theories of working-class autonomy against the conception of the passive role of the class in the various currents of both ‘orthodox’ and ‘revisionist’ Marxism. Both groups had broken with Trotskyism over its critical defence of the Soviet Union as a ‘degenerated workers’ state’ and now rejected the politics of subordinating class struggles in the West to the interests of the USSR. With the distraction of the Soviet question out of the way, they now chose to investigate the actual situation in the factories, and focus on the ‘autonomous behaviour’ of workers.

The Johnson-Forest Tendency
The Johnson-Forest Tendency [4], born in 1941, considered that the USSR had become ‘state capitalist’. In 1946 they published State Capitalism and World Revolution, which was both a ‘theory of a stage in world capitalism’ and a break with ‘orthodox’ Marxism and its preoccupation with the question of the formal ownership of the means of production: their analysis was founded instead on the relationship between concrete working conditions and the ‘self-activity and -organization’ of the workers in the United States in the 30s and 40s.

The tendency was born against a background of intense class struggle in the United States. The new forms of production - with factories organized along fordist and taylorist lines, typified by the assembly lines in the automobile plants, had engendered a high level of class struggles as workers in the new plants developed the ‘sit down’ strikes. Migration, predominantly of blacks from the rural South and tenant farmers compelled to leave their land due to the drought in the ‘dust-bowl’ to the rapidly industrializing North, helped create a new, increasingly semi- and unskilled proletariat in a process of permanent recomposition, neglected by the traditional craft unions of the American Federation of Labour (AFL).

1936 had seen the first ‘sit-down’ strike at GM plant in Flint, with 140,000 workers taking part. In 1937 the whole company was stopped because of the occupation of the plants in Flint and Cleveland. It seemed that the workers had found the Achilles heel of the new industrial production-chain and were able to exercise their power. 1937 saw more than 447 ‘sit-downs’ with more than 300,000 workers. It was in these struggles that the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as a modern industrial union came to the fore, organizing women, blacks and unskilled workers. [5]

Struggles continued through the 40s and 50s; there were many instances of wildcat strikes in the automobile industry in the 50s, for example, where work at the assembly line was attacked in a direct way and a strike in one or two plants had the power to stop the whole production of the company. The Johnson-Forest Tendency attempted to recognize this workers’ ‘self-activity’ and to relate to the class struggle through a number of methods. Firstly, through Correspondence, a newspaper reflecting ‘the forms that the class uses in expressing itself’. A 1953 editorial of Correspondence admonishes: ‘we must watch with an eagle eye every change or indication of the things (the relations in his living culture) that these changes reflect’. Correspondence was a real forum of workers’ discussions. The Johnson-Forest Tendency stressed the importance of making newspapers ‘by workers not for workers’. Secondly, through interviews - this was the method of ‘record and recognize’. The Johnson-Forest Tendency emphasized the importance of the circulation of ideas and experiences, and saw this as being the role of newspapers and interviews. Thirdly through going into the plants themselves ’to develop organic ties with the working class’, ‘to learn not to teach’. Whilst these Tendency members did not aspire to be a formal leadership for the workers, it is clear that they would experiment with interventions and attempt to prompt struggles: according to Martin Glaberman [6] ‘our concept was not that we weren’t going to be activists or we weren’t going to be leaders, but it didn’t have to be formal leadership’ [7].

The Tendency’s project, then, clearly went beyond sociology: on discussions with other workers which led to wildcat strikes, Glaberman states: ‘we felt proud that we could play a role in getting a massive undertaking like that underway.. this kind of experience makes you feel that you are invaluable to the working class, that the workers wouldn’t have done this by themselves. You have an independent power.’ On the relationship between revolutionary group and the working class Glaberman advises that ‘there has to be a way of communication to each other, to society as a whole and to the working class. In both directions. Not giving lessons, but also learning’ [8]. There is a tension here, which resurfaces in Kolinko’s project, between privileging workers’ self-activity and the pretension of the revolutionary group that it can speak to the working class as a whole, and perhaps make decisive interventions to alter the course of struggles.

Perhaps the most influential product of The Johnson-Forest Tendency’s work in focusing on relations in the sphere of production was The American Worker (1947) [9], a pamphlet in which an industrial worker gives a descriptive account of the working conditions, the division of labour and the subjective experiences of semi-skilled workers in mass production and their (often contradictory) attitudes to work and its organisation, strikes, slow-downs and the union. This account is supplemented by a theoretical analysis by one of the group’s members, Ria Stone, who described the reasons for seeking out and publishing the experience of a young worker: ‘Today it is the American working class which provides the foundation for an analysis of the economic transition from capitalism to socialism, or the concrete demonstration of the new society developing within the old’. As Martin Glaberman puts it in the introduction to the pamphlet, they sought ‘the experience of workers to provide the basis for the continuing expansion and development of theory, that is, of the continuing analysis of capitalist society and the socialist revolution being created within it’.

This was at odds with the traditional Leninist assumption that workers were only capable of developing a ‘trade union consciousness’. Glaberman talks of the dialectical relationship between the theoretical analysis and the practical experience of workers, albeit separated in the persons of the intellectual and the industrial worker: ‘The fusion of worker and intellectual into one totality..had not been achieved by any Marxist group. But at the same time that The American Worker was evidence of that separation, it was also evidence of the attempt to overcome that separation, if only in the formal placing of two articles side by side.’

As we shall see later, Kolinko attempt to overcome this separation through their inquiry or ‘self-inquiry’.
Later incarnations of the tendency, namely the Correspondence Publishing Committee and Facing Reality, continued to publish accounts and analyses of the conditions in large-scale industry in the U.S., in which the beginnings of an exploration of the relationship between the (re-)organization of the production process and forms of workers’ organization can be seen. These publications were always intended to be read by workers, and not academics.

In ‘Be His Payment High Or Low’: The American Working Class of the Sixties [10], Martin Glaberman describes the changing nature of struggle in response to modernisation of the production process, automation and mechanisation in sixties America: ‘The workers are engaged today in a process of reorganisation, corresponding to the capitalist reorganisation of production, in a search for new forms of organisation that are adequate for their needs.’ (p13). Glaberman sees in the waves of wildcat strikes and sabotage a searching for new forms of struggle outside the unions, which in the words of Paul Jacobs, have become through their contracts, ‘part of the plant government, not only a force for justice but also an integral part of the system of authority needed to operate the plant.’ (p4)

The same theme runs through Glaberman’s earlier Punching Out (1952) [11], in which workers’ control of production is seen as the ultimate goal of these struggles.

Indeed we can see a partially worked out critique of the role of the unions in the Johnson-Forest Tendency; Glaberman and others became union representatives, only to reach the conclusion that they were ‘enforcing the contract and enforcing the company rules’. ‘If you become a committeeman you have an objective role, and no matter who you are, you are an alternative bureaucrat’ (a theme later developed by Socialisme ou Barbarie). Glaberman considered that workers’ self-activity did create the unions and other institutions, which subsequently became bureaucratized and turned against the worker.

The contradictory relationship between workers and unions is evident in Wartime Strikes - The struggle against the no-strike pledge in the UAW during World War II [12], which details the wildcats in the auto plants by the majority of auto workers in defiance of the no-strike pledge that a majority of auto workers had voted for, and also examines the changing composition of the American working class in general and auto workers in particular.

In the ‘rank-and-file revolt against both speed-up and the union’, the Johnson-Forest Tendency saw a relation between the development of the forces of production and workers’ power, which they considered would lead to the socialist revolution and workers’ self-management of production. According to Harry Cleaver in Reading Capital Politically, the Johnson-Forest Tendency ‘recognized the autonomy of the working-class itself, from capital and from its ‘official’ organizations: the Party and the unions’ [13].

Socialisme ou Barbarie
In France, the organization Socialisme ou Barbarie (with a journal of the same name), was undergoing a parallel development. Indeed the two groups were in contact and collaborated on a number of projects. Formed in 1949 by militants leaving the Trotskyist Fourth International, again over the question of the latter’s critical defence of the Soviet Union, Socialisme ou Barbarie too began to focus attention on the question of the workers’ actual experience in the process of production. This was in opposition to the Stalinist practice (of the Parti Communiste and Confédération Générale du Travail) of attempting to instrumentalize workers’ struggles for the defence of the USSR, or for parliamentary manoeuvres.
In breaking with the objectivism of Marxist ‘orthodoxy’ which only understood work and the working class in economic terms, and in rejecting the belief that the development of the forces of production would lead automatically to communism, Socialisme ou Barbarie promoted instead an activist-oriented and ‘non-dogmatic’ Marxist theory. They stressed the centrality of the production process and the need for its systematic analysis, a ‘work-science with a revolutionary intention’ (Claude Lefort in L’expérience prolétarienne [14]). The exploration of workers’ experience of the production process was fundamental for the reconstruction of an authentic class movement and for the renewal of revolutionary theory, in which ‘the greatest force of production, the revolutionary class itself’ didn’t merely react to objective conditions in some automatic fashion but acted according to the whole ensemble of its experience: ‘The history of the proletariat is experience, and this experience has to be understood as a process of self-organization’.

Socialisme ou Barbarie’s work in describing and analysing the relationship between conditions in the factories, the work process and the behaviour of the workers produced a series published in the journal on Factory Life (G. Vivier), Diary of a worker at Renault, French and North African workers, Agitation at Renault (D. Mothé) [15]; they also supported an underground paper, Tribune Ouvrière at the Renault-Billancourt factory. Much of their work was prompted by the sudden explosion of struggles in the 50s in particular the strike movements of 1953, 1955 and 1957. (In 1953 there were 4 million workers on strike against the Laniel government’s austerity measures; in 1955 there were bitter struggles in shipyards and metal-shops of Saint-Nazaire and Nantes - S ou B emphasize that these struggles escaped control of the unions and became autonomous; in 1957 the strike movement involved much of the tertiary sector.)

The approach used by the group is typified in Henri Simon’s An experience of workers’ organisation [16], a detailed description of formation of an ‘employee’s council’ at the state insurance firm: ‘we wanted to situate this experience in the total framework of the enterprise, and to this end, analyse its structure and the correlated evolution of work conditions on the one side, and of the mentality and behaviour of the employees on the other’.

Members of Socialisme ou Barbarie attempted to systematize the investigation of proletarian experience: Lefort, inspired by the example of The American Worker proposed collecting testimonies (témoignages) of workers’ experiences, in order to gain insight into the specific social relations inside and outside the factory. Areas to be covered included the relations between workers; their relation to their work (their ‘productive function’ in the factory), to technology and the organization of the production process; their relation to the rationalization measures of the bosses; the division of labour and the hierarchy of wages and functions; and also the workers’ knowledge of social organization, their perceptions of their relations with society as a whole and their relation to a proletarian tradition and history. The task of this analysis was to find out if workers articulated a common experience, and if this experience contained new social relations and communist tendencies. Témoignages were intended to be a contribution to revolutionary theory as well as to a revolutionary practice. This project was not carried out systematically, but some testimonies were received, and discussions of members of the group with workers were recorded.

The members of Socialisme ou Barbarie saw their role as both an analytical and an agitational one: Simon reflects on the experience in the state insurance firm: ‘The creation of a council of the staff of Assurances Générales-Vie, in a firm with solid implantation of the traditional unions, demonstrates that where there is a nucleus of lucid, patient and resolute militants, employees can regroup on a practical terrain and take into their own hands their own defence.’ (Was this the type of result Kolinko were hoping for? Of course there is the important difference that in this case the ‘nucleus of militants’ didn’t come from the outside, but was already working at the firm.)

Socialisme ou Barbarie grappled with the dilemma posed by their insistence on workers’ autonomous organization on the one hand, and the recuperation of their struggles by the labour bureaucracy on the other: ‘Their oscillation between spontaneous revolt and struggle led by the union leaders signifies that workers are searching for a solution to the problems posed by their opposition both to the capitalist bourgeoisie and to the bureaucracy.’

In attempting to resolve these contradictions, tensions arose within the organization over the question of the party. Cornelius Castoriadis [17] envisaged a new party, in opposition to the existing ‘degenerated’ organizations, bringing together the diffused vanguard of revolutionaries spread out over the country - ‘The programme of this organisation should be socialism, embodied in workers’ power, the total power of the workers’ councils which will realize the workers’ management of the firm and of society.’

The ‘autonomous’ faction led by Lefort on the other hand were sceptical of the need for a party organization: ‘The only way in which the proletariat could develop its power was through autonomous forms of organisation. Everything depended on this and not on the party, which was simply a historically determined expression of specific labour experiences and could therefore be superfluous or even undesirable in other circumstances. This is why Socialisme ou Barbarie should not so much concern itself with revolution and the conquest of state power, as with the experiences of the working class in the process of organising itself.’

Socialisme ou Barbarie’s explorations of objective conditions and subjective experience in the process of production led them to a critique of technology: the splitting up of particular tasks, the conveyor belt, were methods used by management to increase their control over the workers. By exactly prescribing every bodily movement in connection with machines their independence could be further affected. Technology was, therefore, first and foremost class-technology. The deskilling which the changes in the production process brought about also had implications for workers’ collective experience: in Factory Life, Vivier develops an analysis of the homogenisation of the proletarian condition which to an extent anticipates the later ‘mass worker’ thesis of the Italian workerists.

The work of Socialisme ou Barbarie, drawing on that of the Johnson-Forest tendency in the US, can be seen as a precursor/prototype of the workerist inquiry into class composition.
Both these currents saw that the new structure of the labour process (Taylorism, ‘Scientific management’, Fordism, with work rhythm dictated by machines) left its mark on the daily life and consciousness of the workers; the point for the Johnson-Forest Tendency and Socialisme ou Barbarie was to study the consequences of these changes for the ‘self-organisation’ of the workers. Both tendencies envisaged that the new proletariat would develop its power to the extent that it would take over the organization of production.

The Italian workerists
These two currents in turn influenced the development of inquiry into proletarian experience in the rapidly industrialising Italy of the 1950s and 60s, where young dissidents from the Socialist and Communist Parties initiated a project of attempting to ‘apply Marx’s critique of political economy.. to unravel the fundamental power relationships of modern class society.. In the process, they sought to confront Capital with ‘the real study of a real factory’, in pursuit of a clearer understanding of the new instances of independent working-class action’ [18].

Particularly the Renault militant Daniel Mothé’s diary and The American Worker influenced the early workerists’ view that there was amongst the workers a permanent, if contradictory, antagonism to the capitalist organization of labour.
Some of these Italian dissident Marxists considered that bourgeois sociology [19] could be utilised in a radical way - and even that sociological inquiry could be the means to establish a new ‘organic’ relation between intellectuals and working people, based on the joint production of social knowledge ‘from below’. Romano Alquati however deemed the use of sociology to be merely a ‘first approximation to that ‘self-research’ which the autonomous organization of the working class required.

From the end of the 50s, new waves of struggle were breaking out in the factories of the North, chiefly among the unskilled workers from the South, who were discovering new forms of organisation such as the assembly and the council, and used rolling strikes that went from department to department, the unions were hardly present in these struggles, which were not just for higher wages but against working conditions in general under the new regime of taylorism and the assembly line. It was against this backdrop that the group around Raniero Panzieri began to discuss inquiry. Quaderni Rossi was a heterogeneous group; a ‘sociological-objectivist’ current wanted to analyse the conditions in the factories and used interview-techniques from American industrial sociology. For this current the working class appeared merely as the object of research - the subject/object relation of the Leninist party-concepts was repeated, whereby the party imparts class ‘consciousness’ to the workers from the outside. On the other hand a more subtle form of Leninism characterized the ‘political-interventionist’ current of Quaderni Rossi, which understood workers’ inquiry as a means of organising the workers’ struggle. Their intention was that workers would be the subject and object of inquiry at the same time. Starting from the informal class struggle in the factories, the sabotage at the assembly lines, they hoped for the construction of a new workers’ party as a function of self-organised workers’ autonomy. Workers’ inquiry was to aid in this process and was seen as a political concept against the detachment from the class and the reformism of the existing workers’ parties and unions. As Asor Rosa was to put it in 1965 in Classe Operaia, the journal which succeeded Quaderni Rossi: ‘If there are reasons why the working class must overthrow and smash the domination of the capitalist system, they certainly cannot be found outside the material, objective characteristics of the class itself’ [20].

Alquati’s FIAT studies (started at a time of quiescence at FIAT) and at Olivetti were based on ‘co-research’ carried out with help of a critical faction of the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL) during the 50s.
These studies, although somewhat journalistic, examined the situation, position and attitudes of the workers in those factories, particularly the technicians. Alquati hoped that inquiry would become self-inquiry by the workers’ themselves. This conception of inquiry would not see the worker as a mere supplier of information, but would instead try to create a situation where workers themselves are subjects, and not external forces. In reality the few concrete inquiries organised by the group around Quaderni Rossi did not live up to this aspiration. In the words of a Kolinko member: ‘There was no autonomous workers’ inquiry but a contradictory relation of informal, spontaneous workers’ autonomy at the assembly lines and some intellectuals, who tried to support that process in favour of a new political organisation. This was only possible because of the existence of spontaneous workers’ resistance on one side and the opening gap between the workers and the historical workers’ organisations on the other.’
For Alquati, inquiry was firstly an excuse to create contacts with some workers. Those contacts were intended to facilitate an understanding of the factory and of the subjective situation of workers; this understanding would be useful to the workerists within the concrete organising of workers’ struggles and also in relation to conflicts within political organizations. The aim of inquiry was to also uncover the hidden autonomous and spontaneous organization within the factory. Quaderni Rossi had always stressed the importance of the ‘collective worker’; through inquiry, the group around Alquati hoped to demonstrate that the ‘collective worker’ did not just exist as the producer of capital, but that it was possible to discover him/her politically and to support him/her in the struggle against capital.

Through interviews and discussions with workers, Alquati and others got a new picture of the working class. Alquati’s FIAT study, focusing as it did on the position of the technicians, was strongly imbued with self-management ideology - workers in conversation moved from criticizing their individual job role to questioning the rationality of the firm’s division of labour. Alquati saw a new ‘figure’ in the young technicians who had gone through technical school, who were dissatisfied with the work, who were self-confident and thought they could lead production themselves - and in reality had to perform some simple and repetitive work-task.

By the time of the FIAT wildcats in 1963, when the union was excluded from the direction of the struggle and workers demanded nothing, Alquati had rejected self-management and workers’ control as union attempts to bind labour to accumulation. He saw the spontaneity of these types of actions of the workers, along with their ‘invisible organization’ in the workplace, as consciousness in embryonic form; hence a Party form was still needed (a formal class organization under control of the workers).

In his later Olivetti work, Alquati hinted at the development of the ‘mass worker’ thesis, with the decomposition of the skilled working-class: ‘Alquati now judged the introduction of new machinery as a gauge of the general level and quality of the relations of force between the classes in that moment. With the growing application of Henry Ford’s productive innovations to Northern industry during the 1950s, he noted, Frederick Winslow Taylor’s goal of ‘scientifically’ disintegrating the proletariat as a political force had won an important victory’ [21].

The workerists considered that de-skilling and the concentration of unskilled workers in the factories had created a new hegemonic proletarian subject, with a homogenized experience. In contrast to the skilled workers who had earlier fought for control over the production process, the ‘mass worker’s’ work was totally subsumed under capital, which led the new subject to struggle against capital itself, its technical existence.

By the time the class composition of the ‘mass worker’ had reached its heyday at the end of the sixties, the workerists, many of whom were now organized within Potere Operaio, had largely abandoned inquiry [22], and were focused instead on a more direct form of interventionism in the factories through the workplace rank-and-file committees. For Potere Operaio ‘the only valid starting point for any theory that sought to be revolutionary lay in the analysis of working-class behaviour in the most advanced sectors of the economy.’

With the defeat of the struggles of the ‘mass worker’, class composition began to take on new meanings for a current within workerism, as Toni Negri developed his thesis of the operaio sociale [23]- ‘a new proletariat disseminated throughout society’ as a result of the decomposition of the ‘mass worker’ through restructuring and the ‘further massification of abstract labour’. No longer connected to any concrete empirical research in the sphere of production, class composition was divested of its material basis. Not until the end of the seventies did some workerists (the editors of Primo Maggio) propose a return to inquiry, but an inquiry which would be obliged to follow the workers outside the factory - for the times were deemed to be over when ‘the factory produced politics, and the inquiry was struggle’.

Wildcat, Kolinko, and the exhumation of inquiry
The emergence of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, Socialisme ou Barbarie and Quaderni Rossi was inextricably linked to the new forms of production, the formation of a new working-class, new forms of struggle. In each of these cases the inquiry (using this term loosely) was predicated on and prompted by a general situation of struggles of workers in the workplace (although it is true that Alquati hoped to stir up antagonism with his inquiry at Fiat at time of relative quiescence there).

In contrast, it is an interesting irony that Kolinko, in deciding to resurrect the practice of workers’ inquiry, have inverted the situation (put the cart before the horse perhaps) - it seems they are now attempting to use the inquiry as a radical tool, even perhaps as a voluntaristic attempt to prompt struggle, at time of low class mobilisation. It has been argued that workers’ inquiry only made sense in the time of the ‘mass-worker’, when the working-class was reaching the height of its empowerment and homogeneity within capitalism; according to this view, workers’ inquiries were a product of their time, and were subsequently overtaken by events, as the industrial struggles of the late 60s resulted in the defeat of the working class. Kolinko would beg to differ, and describe their goals as follows: ‘Our aim now is to understand the real conditions within the sphere of exploitation and to allow us to realize the possibilities and starting points of new struggles in order to be able to support them.’

Kolinko’s project in some ways appears to be an attempt to return to classical workerism, an updated version of workers’ inquiry without the Leninism or self-managementism of the earlier currents (each of the tendencies Johnson-Forest, Socialisme ou Barbarie, and operaismo were to some extent split along these lines).

But what led Kolinko to their inquiry project? Here we trace the trajectory of German Wildcat in the 70s and 80s, their ‘turn to theory’ in the 90s, and the emergence of Kolinko as an off-shoot involving some younger Wildcat members.

Wildcat, which could be described as an operaismo-influenced network (and journal of the same name), based its work in following and analysing workplace and social struggles, always with the emphasis on autonomous working-class activity outside and against the unions (hence the name). Through detailed examinations of the concrete experience of the class, an example of which is the pamphlet Class Struggle In A German Town [24], Wildcat hoped to facilitate a clearer understanding of actual class relations. Their ‘militant research’ involved members getting jobs in the same workplace in order to agitate, and publishing reports on the situation of struggles in their workplaces. Wildcat, with their connections to the ‘social-revolutionary’ wing of the autonomous movement [25], were part of the wider ‘jobbers’’ scene, in which militants would get precarious jobs: ‘jobbing’ was a way of doing ‘any old shitty job for a short time, in order then to have time for ourselves, for political struggle and for pleasure.’ [26] There was the idea in this scene that the precarious, highly mobile worker had the potential to be a new (revolutionary) subject. By the early 90s, with the fall of the Berlin wall [27], the collapse of the radical left/autonomen and the self-conscious practice of ‘jobbing’ [28], and the apparent social peace at the point of production, Wildcat members began to question the validity of the journal as its circulation fell. Feeling the need for a process of theoretical clarification in the face of this new situation, Wildcat ceased publishing the journal and initiated instead an internal theoretical review, Wildcat Zirkular. [29]

During their ‘retreat into theory’, Wildcat continued to consider the question of militant research, and in 1995 described the tasks of a new inquiry as follows: ‘Now a collective work of inquiry has to start that tries to find out what the world-wide remaking of the proletariat will look like. Firstly, there has to be the verification of this hypothesis through many discussions with workers in the modern factory, casual employees, immigrants, so-called self-employed workers etc. Secondly, we need to develop a precise terminology. And thirdly, this would mean to actively intervene through initiatives of struggle and organising attempts in order to speed up the process of understanding (realisation) and to uncover the hidden tendency towards communism, that go along with the class movements.’ [30]

After several years of theoretical discussion, Kolinko decided in 1999 to take this task upon themselves. Restructuring and the emergence of the ‘new economy’ had particularly affected the Ruhr area, where the group was based. The group’s aim was to investigate the hypothesis of a new capitalist cycle of accumulation based on the ‘new economy’, a corresponding reorganisation of work and potentially a new cycle of struggles. Kolinko’s decision to conduct a workers’ inquiry in call centres perhaps reflected some ideas current a few years ago that call centres might be the new factories, with their concentration of many semi- or unskilled casualized workers under one roof, and that a new proletarian subject might be about to emerge.

Some four decades earlier in Italy the circle around Alquati had considered that ‘a whole series of objective and subjective processes were unfolding at FIAT such as to lay the basis for a resurgence of class struggle within the firm’ [31]. It seems Kolinko thought there was the possibility of an analogous situation developing in the call centres, which themselves were the result of ‘technical recomposition’ in banking, trade, insurance, telecoms, and taylorisation of work in these sectors etc. This restructuring was intended to defeat the entrenched workforce in these sectors and break certain behaviours or positions of workers, in order to intensify exploitation through flexibilisation, casualisation, monitoring and control. The Citibank strike in Bochum at the end of 1998 against the relocation of its call centre seemed to Kolinko to hold some promise of such a new cycle of struggles..all that remained was to launch an inquiry..

Problems of worker’s inquiry as revolutionary practice

Kolinko’s approach to workers’ inquiry consisted of getting jobs in call centres, using questionnaires to attempt to stimulate discussion, and leaflets to agitate. Some of the interviews were carried out in order to get information about work organization, machinery, hierarchy, workers’ behaviour, and others with the focus on discussion and agitation, and still others for exchange of information with other workplaces; for each of these interviews they wrote questionnaires which they hoped would be taken up by other workers: ‘Most important here is that interviews don’t remain a one-sided thing but become a joint discussion and even a “self-inquiry” where others use the questionnaires in their sectors and exchange the results of the discussions.’

Although Kolinko only carried out a few interviews with a dozen other workers, their inquiry project undoubtedly had some merits. Firstly, although as Kolinko readily admit the interventions through questionnaires and leaflets often did not have the desired impact, there were isolated successes in their own terms, as the following report from Medion in Muelheim suggests: ‘The first hotline-leaflet made big waves at Medion. Everywhere in the company workers started discussing, even people who did not know each other before’ (p162). The report goes on to say that although these discussions ebbed away, more favourable conditions were introduced by management soon after; the report leaves open the question of whether the hotline-leaflet and the discussions it provoked had an influence in the management decision.

Secondly, as members of the group report, the process of inquiry did cause the people involved to work through their ideas in relation to capital and class struggle through many hours of discussion, and in ‘relating to actual situations of exploitation in the workplace, as workers’.

Thirdly, the inquiry project was asking important questions of class composition, the changing relations of exploitation through restructuring and the introduction of new technology, the connection between workers in the work process, and the nature of class struggle: ‘Inquiry means understanding the context between the daily cooperation of the workers and their forms of struggle and finding the new (communist) sociality within’. (p10)

Hotlines is useful for its detailed description and analysis of the restructuring in different sectors of the sphere of circulation which has given rise to call centre phenomenon, and the accompanying changes in work relations, the deskilling, the relationship between workers and between workers and machinery. Drawing upon Panzieri’s critique of capitalist technology, Kolinko examine the use of machinery and technology in the labour process in relation to class behaviour, for rationalising production and as authoritarian subjugation of living labour. We would say that as a critique of existing relations in call centres, Hotlines is useful.

Ultimately, however, in its own terms the Kolinko project was frustrated by the lack of struggles in their chosen sector; the ‘new factories’, with their concentration of workers under one roof, failed to throw up the struggles of the ‘mass worker’ on the assembly line. The few struggles that Kolinko report from the call centres were mainly defensive ones against worsening pay and conditions and lay-offs as companies restructured. The scenario is one of political decomposition in the workplace, without the long hoped-for recomposition through new movements..

Kolinko’s evaluation of the lack of struggles in call centres betrays a voluntarism and a belief that the workers have not learnt how to struggle properly: ‘So far the workers in call centres have not found “their” form of struggle, one that uses the possibilities that call centres are centres of communication. Other workers - for example in car factories - needed a generation to learn to use the assembly line for the coordination of strikes and sabotage. Do we want to wait that long?’ (p128) Kolinko evidently believed that inquiry might provide a short-cut, and yet ultimately they are disappointed: ‘We asked ourselves, what is the point in leaflets and other kinds of interventions at all if there is no workers’ self-activity to refer to? We don’t think that interventions in a period of relatively few struggles inevitably descend into vanguardism or unionism, but they do remain on the outside. This could be the reason why the inquiry stayed in our hands and did not become a ‘workers’ self-inquiry’, where we could discuss the political content of everyday working life with other workers, and arrive at a common strategy for developing the class struggle.’ Was it naïve of Kolinko to believe that their inquiry project would be well received by the call-centre workers?

Members of Kolinko complain that critiques of the call centre project are limited to criticisms on a theoretical, or worse ideological level, and that there is little discussion of the actual experience and the methods used in the inquiry. If we devote little attention in this article to the minutiae of inquiry techniques, it is because we do not believe the problems encountered by Kolinko were problems of method - rather they were problems of militant inquiry per se.

Kolinko, borrowing heavily from workerism/autonomism, make a critique of Leninism, the party form, the unions, syndicalism, rank-and-file ism, councilism, self-management etc, privileging instead workers’ self-activity; they problematise the question of ‘consciousness’. ‘“Political consciousness”, the consciousness to confront capital as a class, cannot be brought to the workers from outside, but can only develop in the struggle itself’. [32]

Yet in spite of their stated positions, we would argue that they fall into trap of attempting to bring ‘consciousness’ to the class through the veiled form of the inquiry. The questionnaire, with its didactic, at times even patronising questioning seems intended as a spark of consciousness. Sometimes there is a sense that the questionnaire is almost manipulative; or that the ‘right’ answers are being elicited, as when a teacher tries to guide pupils to giving the correct response by prompt-feeding. There could be a link here with certain management techniques involving use of questionnaires to make workers feel included, listened to. Both management and revolutionaries in a sense are trying to get the workers to do what they want them to do. So there is a sense in which Kolinko, while criticising Leninist vanguardism (for what they want the workers to do is to self-organise!), are almost attempting to ‘get in through the back door’, anti-Leninist alibi at the ready, with a more subtle or disguised form of consciousness-raising by questionnaire.

Their role is seen as ‘role supporting workers’ self-reflection and their discussion through leaflets, interviews and other forms of intervention and making proposals’. Revealingly, we are told: ‘All in all, the questionnaire did not produce a “representative” result. We don’t even know if the questionnaire opened up the consciousness [33] or the eyes of comrades in other call centres.’ (p16)

Hotlines is riven with contradictions, and a sense of self-criticism pervades the book; ultimately, though, the self-criticisms are not taken on board, or if they are, they seem to be used as alibis for continuing with a militant project. Kolinko speak of agitation, well-aimed interventions, but also say ‘We know ... that we cannot initiate struggles or a movement’. Kolinko’s self-criticism would seem to be the pre-emptive self-defence of the militant.

Kolinko argue that workers’ inquiry is also process of self-inquiry, that they ask themselves the same questions as they ask other workers, and that the process should be a mutual one of discussion and exchange of ideas and understanding. Yet in their series of hotlines leaflets handed out at call centres, many of these questions are answered. In fact Kolinko describe the problem of how to make the connection between concrete struggles and totality in their leaflets without teaching the workers.

As we have seen, Kolinko hoped that their inquiry would stimulate call-centre workers to carry out their own ‘self-inquiry’. As we have seen, this was also the goal of some of the early Italian workerists. However there is something of a ‘false consciousness’ in this self-inquiry ideal - actually workers don’t need to do an inquiry, not even a ‘self-inquiry’: the problem is not so much that workers are not aware of their situation of exploitation; the question is more what they can do about it...

Kolinko write: ‘only as part of a movement, where struggling workers themselves analyse their conditions and connections, can the inquiry become a joint search for a new world..’ The implication here is that workers are failing to do this at the moment, that they are struggling blindly, and need to be taught how to see by means of the inquiry.

Kolinko criticise the Italian workerists for failing to leave behind the subject/object relation of Leninist party concepts, whereby the party teaches the workers class ‘consciousness’ from the outside. In Kolinko’s conception, inquiry as intervention or ‘self-inquiry’ is intended to create a situation where workers are subjects, yet we could argue that even this interventionism to stimulate self-activity bears a Leninist residue. Kolinko describe one of the desired functions of their questionnaire for discussion and agitation as follows: ‘The questionnaire is also a support while confronting the workers with their behaviour, while searching for the break-up points [34] and rebellious moments..’ It would seem that Kolinko see themselves as revolutionary mentors.

It might be argued that inquiry is rooted in the old social democratic or Leninist conception that by themselves, workers lack ‘consciousness’. Only in the case of Kolinko’s inquiry, it seems that the problem is conceived to be that the workers don’t know how to organize themselves and that the militant has an indispensable role in stimulating discussions so that the workers themselves can produce ‘consciousness’.

As one member of Kolinko has remarked, Quaderni Rossi did not organize many concrete inquiries - and most of them from the outside. They did not overcome the division between the ‘subjects’ and the ‘objects’ of the inquiry. But as Kolinko acknowledge, the call centre project also failed to overcome this division. Kolinko are at pains to perfect the technique of inquiry with a view to solving these problems; yet it would seem that these problems are inherent to inquiry itself, and that self-inquiry is a chimera.

In practice the lengthy questionnaires (156 questions in the ‘facts and overview’ questionnaire!) probably do not solve the problems of social communication, as attested to by the embarrassment some Kolinko members have reported when trying to get a fellow worker to answer them; in fact the questionnaire, reminiscent of the politics of democracy, opinion polls, and referendums would probably appear to most people quite an artificial and alienated form of communication. A related problem is that most workers are probably not interested in answering questions about work; they would just like to get away from work. One of the approaches used was to invite work-mates to go for a drink after work; one can imagine they might be less than enthusiastic to talk shop.

In their self-critical evaluation of the project, Kolinko acknowledge some of these problems: ‘We have been asked if we benefited from the questionnaire and the interviews. In the beginning we had the idea that a political discussion could come about through the reciprocal interviews with other workers in which the daily organisation of work is criticised. But we only did a few interviews with a dozen other workers so it is hard to answer the question.

We mostly got to know these ‘other workers’ through political contacts rather than at work. During the interviews we had some discussions but there were just too many questions.’(p16); ‘Some of us preferred to have conversations at work instead of interviews...’ (p192).

These problems of communication relate to the unease which some Kolinko members have reported about the inquiry; should they openly admit that they are there to agitate, or not? If they do, then they risk being treated with the same contempt that many workers reserve for leftist militants; if they don’t then there is something dishonest about the relation between inquirer and the other workers. They are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

Kolinko certainly couch the project of inquiry in ambitious terms: ‘That’s how we perceive our inquiry and intervention in call centres in the last three years: as a revolutionary project in a specific sector that tries to understand and criticize the totality of capitalist relations.’ (p10).

But does worker’s inquiry correspond to the crisis of the militant, the need to fill the gap in practice through ‘proletarian intervention’ (p14)? Any sense that workers’ inquiry could kick-start struggle in call-centres is soon dispelled for the members of Kolinko; they recognise the danger of ‘trying to make up for the workers’ passivity through our own activism’ (p23).

Here we are into the realm of the psychology of the militant, where the subjective needs of the activist perhaps diverge from those of (other) proletarians. Interestingly, Kolinko say ‘we ourselves had the idea that “inquiry” would be a “liberation” for us’ (p14). The inquiry helps to create an image of the inquirers as people who are really doing something, who can list their connections to the class and adopt the role of the revolutionary militant worker. Revolutionaries need to feel connected to the class! Inquiry represents for the militant an attempt to overcome the dichotomy between theory and practice.

There might be something artificial about militants choosing to work in call-centres - Kolinko talk of ‘throwing ourselves into the sweatshops of the New Economy’ (p10), which appears to be at odds with their stated goal of overcoming ‘the leftist culture of...self-sacrifice’. This practice could create the situation whereby militants stay in job situations which they would otherwise try to escape (by looking for a less boring job for example, or claiming unemployment benefit) for the sake of the political project. In this way a tension can arise through the separation of proletarian needs and political needs.

In recommending workers’ inquiry, Kolinko suggest that prospective inquirers should evaluate where struggles are happening and focus on those sectors. As militants the prime need is to be involved in struggle (or struggle-chasing). They don’t recommend inquiries where you happen to be working: ‘Where you are at the moment is mainly by chance and it does not make much sense to hang around in some sector where nothing is happening or where there are no conflicts.’

This particular need immediately separates the militant from other proletarians, and inevitably creates a distorted relationshipbetween militants and other workers.

The particular needs of the militant as opposed to Joe(sephine) Prole - are to be involved in struggle. Proletarians are indifferent to the labour they perform, and seek the job with the best pay and conditions. Not so the militant, who seeks the job with the best prospects of struggle.

Inquiry might be useful in terms of shedding some light on the reality of the workplace, but in the renewed interest in workers’ inquiry as a political practice, is there an attempt to turn it into a philosopher’s stone of revolutionary intervention?

The role of the revolutionary group
So how do Kolinko conceive of their own role as a revolutionary group? The following remarks [35] give us a clear idea: ‘In order to find an answer to “what makes struggles revolutionary?” we need to discuss the history of the struggles... but that’s not enough: we need to investigate class reality in the sphere of exploitation and be present in the conflicts ourselves...Of course, not by playing some kind of “revolutionary vanguard”. History shows that their intervention rather played the role of disciplining the struggles, leading them towards some kind of arrangement within capitalist relations by re-establishing hierarchies and the law of value. Still, we don’t want to wait for the “inevitable” historical outcome of class struggle - nothing is inevitable if we understand capitalism as a relation/antagonism - but get involved, struggle ourselves..’ The revolutionary group’s role, then, is to intervene in struggles without being a vanguard. Inquiry provides Kolinko with a vehicle for their intervention.

But the question needs to be posed as to why worker’s inquiry is necessary. To establish connections between struggles in different workplaces? We can compare here ICO’s [36] self-ascribed role of class postman, Precari Nati’s idea of the crucial role of the revolutionary group [37], versus Echanges et Mouvement’s and other councilists’ extreme caution not to intervene in any way, so as not to contaminate a class movement. Kolinko attempt to steer a middle course between a vanguardist concept of organization/intervention and the non-interventionism of the councilists; they want to intervene in order to promote the self-activity of workers. Can the circle be squared?

Connections between workplaces (and between the spheres of production and the reproduction of labour-power) if they are made, are made at times of class struggle, when movements become socialised. The attempt to fill the gap in practice, to make up for the lack of class struggle arguably corresponds to the fetishisation of worker’s inquiry as radical tool.

The question of separation:
Kolinko attempt to overcome theoretically the problem of separation: ‘The relation to other exploited workers is neither “tactical” - as between functionaries and a revolutionary subject - nor “enlightening”.’ Yet there still seems to be on their part a willingness to adopt the identity and role of revolutionary : ‘revolutionary organising is not “organising of other workers” but of revolutionaries who know their way [38] in the sphere of exploitation and together look for tendencies of a revolutionary movement’ .

‘We cannot instigate struggles but we can summarise the most advanced discussions, the weak points of capitalist control and critique the workers. And we can generalize these experiences and circulate them within the sphere of exploitation. The relation between revolutionaries and workers is that of a collective process: where is the possibility of workers’ power and self-liberation in the daily experiences of exploitation?’ [39] A collective process, then, but with a division of labour - with the revolutionaries acting as the intellect of the class and having the role of admonishing the workers when they don’t behave?

Do Kolinko see themselves as militants going in from the outside? Kolinko would argue that workers are far from homogeneous, and they merely form another group within the workplace; they are there to earn money just like everybody else. Kolinko see themselves as both workers and intellectuals/theorists unlike the separation in The American Worker.

However we would argue that as one of the motivations for workers’ inquiry is to ‘join the working class’ and ‘get in touch with the workers’, inquiry proceeds from the stand-point of separation.

Kolinko have this need to understand what is going on, not just in one sector, but everywhere (an understandable urge..); they propose that like-minded groups establish inquiries in strategic sectors where struggles are occurring, and that these groups establish a network on a worldwide basis. One has the impression that while engaging in their own particular inquiry, they simultaneously want to get the whole picture almost like revolutionary strategists standing outside the battlefield of class struggle.

A common counter to many of these arguments is that to reach these conclusions can only lead to a sort of ‘ultra-left’ paralysis, where armchair theorists, in the absence of a practice, ‘disappear up their own arses’. Yet we would argue that intervention and non-intervention are both premised on a separation - the separation of the revolutionary group which sees itself as being apart from the class or the class struggle in some way.

Problems of the ‘ultra-left’ critique of unions
and conceptions of class:
‘passivity of the class’ vs ‘class autonomy’

A movement which is broken is breakable.
Kolinko are exasperated by the failure of call-centre workers to act independently of unions and works councils, except on an individual basis (eg tricks to skive off). Kolinko document numerous examples of struggles which are negotiated away by unions and works councils, with negligible gains for the workers. It is possible that a rigid anti-union position has a certain validity in the context of the German corporatist ‘social partnership’ between the state, employers and unions. However the critique of the recuperative role of unions has a tendency to become ideological with ‘ultra-left’ groups; a common characterisation of the role of the unions as functionaries of capital is that they act as a ’safety-valve’ to dissipate the revolutionary energy of an otherwise rebellious class; this conception runs the risk of not understanding the process of struggle. The class has a critique of the unions when it is in a position to have one - i.e. through struggles and positions of relative strength. There is a danger of seeing workers as a dumb passive mass duped by the unions. This is a common contradiction of many ‘ultra-left’ analyses, which seek to differentiate a pure, autonomous class from the ‘external’ institutions of the workers’ movement (unions, leftist parties), and in so doing, end up concluding that the class has been duped by the ideology of these external forces.

We would argue that Kolinko’s critique of the unions and privileging of ‘self-activity’, autonomous organizing, and wildcat strikes reflects such an ‘ultra-left’ ideological position; this position freezes the high points of class struggle, when the balance of forces is such that it is in workers’ collective interests to act outside or against the unions, and seeks to preserve them as principles or measures by which it judges the present situation. In our experience the attitude of workers to unions varies: some are relatively pro-union, others anti-union, some both at the same time or both but in different situations, and many are indifferent; yet in concrete situations of disputes, their attitude to the union is more likely to be based on practical considerations, rather than ideological ones - their criterion is more likely to be whether something is to be gained by following the union, or alternatively by acting outside the union. In contrast the ‘ultra-left’ critique of the unions doesn’t relate to practical situations as they present themselves. However this is not to take the romantic view that ‘the workers are always right’ or that they are not atomized. It is more the case that in the absence of a generalized situation of struggle, workers feel that their possibilities are more limited; we would argue that this does not necessarily indicate a lack of ‘class consciousness’.

In developing their notion of class autonomy, Kolinko place much emphasis on the collective worker and cooperation in the labour process - they see in the network of collectivity of workers a latent strength which could be turned against capital. However some have criticized the idea of the possibility of any workers’ autonomy within or against capital: according to this criticism the cooperation between workers in production should not be understood as something appropriated by capital, and hence as something which workers could reappropriate for themselves, for it is capital which brings together the workers in the capitalist production process. This is not to deny of course that alienated labour engenders an antagonism which is expressed in class struggle.

We would argue that the notion of autonomy fails to describe the contradictory existence of the working class within capitalism. This contradiction is neatly expressed by Sandro Studer [40] who argues for the need to examine ‘the daily relationship between workers and productive forces which is always an ambiguous relationship, where both the acceptance and refusal of capitalist labour coexist, where workers’ passive objectification and subjective (collective) resistance coexist within the subsumption of labour-power to the productive process.’


The inquiry project carried out by Kolinko has the merit of giving an insight into the situation in call centres in the Ruhr. But in Hotlines there is perhaps a lack of a theoretical analysis of the reasons for the low level of collective struggles on the part of the workers and the absence of a political recomposition to accompany the new ‘technical composition’ in call centres. And if we broaden the question, how can we account for the failure of a ‘new subject’ to emerge from capitalist restructuring? Wildcat’s hypothesis of a worldwide remaking of the proletariat for the time being remains unverified. If inquiry were generalized to a world-wide level, we would certainly be interested to read the results!

For the time being, workers’ inquiry might be useful, perhaps for the people engaged in it (‘revolutionaries’ [41] with a burning urge to ‘do something’) and people like ourselves (‘revolutionaries’/bohemian drop-outs/doley scum, most of whom have hardly ever had a proper proletarian job), who might be interested in reading about the situation in the call-centres for example. Attempts to sell the book to people who actually work in call centres have probably been less successful.
As a vehicle for political ‘intervention’, we would argue that inquiry is doomed to failure [42]. As we have seen, Kolinko, following the Italian workerists, attempt to construct a third way between sociology and Leninist militancy with their notion of ‘self-inquiry’; unfortunately their project seems to confirm that there is no possibility of such a third way.
Hotlines ends with something of an ambitious proposal: they want to have an overview of the international situation of the class. In arguing for ‘revolutionary’ groups to follow their example and carry out inquiries and interventions, both regionally and internationally, Kolinko envisage ‘nuclei’ (p130) exchanging information about struggles in different areas and sectors; the use of the term ‘nuclei’ here is revealing; we would argue it is based on a conception of the role of the revolutionary minority in dynamising struggles. Kolinko seem to want to overcome the limits of current struggles and the separation and fragmentation of workers through the planned intervention of ‘revolutionaries’. It is almost as if workers’ inquiry is to substitute for the organic development of struggles and social movements. Kolinko envisage playing a pro-active role in the linking of struggles beyond sectional and national boundaries.

It is curious that having acknowledged the failure of their own project, Kolinko now seek to extend it on a grand scale.

Perhaps a sign of the limited success of the workers’ inquiry project is that instead of doing it, Kolinko are now doing lecture tours and book launches and proselytising - ‘we’ve got something to tell you’ [43].
If this review seems a little harsh, it is not out a motivation to rubbish our comrades’ activity - after all, we can’t offer a better alternative of ‘something to do’ at the present time...other than participate in the class struggle as it affects us.

did you


[1] The publication of Steve Wright’s book Storming Heaven - Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism (London: Pluto Press 2002), reviewed in Aufheben #11, has contributed much to this renewed interest.

[2] Quotation from ‘Oppose Book Worship’ in Selected Readings (Foreign Languages Press, Peking 1971)

[3] Indeed in tracing the history of workers’ inquiry it would be possible to go back as far as Marx’s 1880 questionnaire with a hundred of questions in a French workers’ newspaper, La Revue Socialiste, dealing with everything from lavatories, soap, wine strikes and unions to ‘the general, intellectual, and moral conditions of life of the working men and women in your trade.’ See http://www.ex.ac.uk/Projects/meia/A...

[4] The Johnson-Forest Tendency was named after the pseudonyms of C.L.R. James (aka Johnson) and Raya Dunayevskaya (aka Forest)

[5] See ‘State of the unions: recent US labour struggles in perspective’ in Aufheben #7 (autumn 1998).

[6] Johnson-Forest Tendency militant who worked for many years in car factories.

[7] From ‘Workers have to deal with their own reality and that transforms them’ by Martin Glaberman
http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/ rgibson/...

[8] See ‘Revolutionary Optimist - An Interview With Martin Glaberman’ at ca.geocities.com/red_black_ca/glaberman.htm

[9] Reprinted by Bewick Editions, Detroit 1972

[10] Bewick Editions, Facing Reality 1965

[11] Reprinted by Bewick Editions, Detroit 1973.

[12] Bewick Editions, Detroit 1980.

[13] As we shall see, we find this conception of workers’ autonomy to be problematic.

[14] In Socialisme ou Barbarie, Nr. 11 (November-December 1952).

[15] All of these texts are to be found (in French) in Socialisme ou Barbarie Anthologie (Acratie, Mauléon 1985)

[16] ‘Une expérience d’organisation ouvrière’ in Socialisme ou Barbarie nr. 20, Dec 1956-Feb 1957

[17] aka Paul Cardan

[18] Steve Wright op. cit. p3

[19] Industrial sociology had been developed in the US in the early part of the 20th Century as a means of extracting a precise knowledge of the actual production process from the workers using interviews, but, of course, for the improvement of exploitation for the capitalists.

[20] ‘Quattro note di ‘politica culturale’’, Classe Operaia II(3)

[21] Steve Wright op. cit. p55

[22] An exception was ‘Porto Marghera: An Analysis of Workers’ Struggles and the Capitalists’ Attempts to Restructure the Chemical Industry, a Workers’ Inquiry’ (in Potere Operaio Nov 1971)

[23] The ‘socialized’ worker. Later still this category came to be associated with the ‘immaterial labour’ of computer programmers etc.

[24] The pamphlet describes the experience of Wildcat members working in the construction of a nuclear power plant. See http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/thekla...

[25] That is, the ‘better’ wing of the autonomen, the other wing being the anti-imperialists who spent much time supporting the struggles of the Red Army Faction

[26] From Wildcat’s ‘Open Letter to John Holloway’ at

[27] Many in the German radical left had envisaged an upswing in struggles after reunification, as East German workers found their job security and conditions eroded.

[28] Taking precarious jobs had become a necessity rather than a choice for many.

[29] 2003 marked the return of the Wildcat journal, a decision prompted by the emergence of the ‘anti-globalization movement’, increasing interest in the ‘social question’ and an influx of young members to the loose network around Wildcat.

[30] In ‘Renaissance des Operaismus?’ - Wildcat Nr. 64, March 1995

[31] Steve Wright op.cit. p47

[32] Kolinko paper on class composition - www.nadir.org/nadir/initiati...

[33] Our emphasis

[34] Points of conflict?

[35] From an informal Kolinko presentation

[36] Informations et Corréspondance Ouvrières - an offshoot from Socialisme ou Barbarie.

[37] Precari Nati (i.e. ‘born precarious’), an Italian group influenced by the German/Dutch Left, and which later became CRAC (Research Centre for Communist Action), emphasized that they didn’t want to lead the class, but saw a vital role for themselves as a conduit for the exchange of information between groups of workers.
It could be argued that there is a relation between the notion of the role of the revolutionary group and a positive conception of class (essentialism).

[38] Our emphasis.

[39] Kolinko, ‘The Subversion of Everyday Life’, October 1999 http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiati...

[40] In ‘Per un’alternativa al leninismo. Sul rifiuto operaio della ‘coscienza esterna’, Metropolis 1, Oct 1977

[41] We problematise the term ‘revolutionaries’ here, and the tendency to adopt a ‘revolutionary’ identity or positions in the absence of the real movement which abolishes capitalism.

[42] Indeed we would argue that ‘intervention’ per se is doomed to failure and that to ask ‘what is to be done?’ is to pose the wrong question...

[43] This is the title of the first chapter of Hotlines