The full book is available to download or buy.


I would like to thank my friends and comrades for their enthusiasm and support in the course of preparing this book, especially my partner Shannon. I am also particularly thankful for the support of my friend Jamie Woodcock and my fellow editors from Notes From Below, as well as the translators Maciej Zurowski and Riva Boutylkova, who contributed to the making of this book.

A special acknowledgement is owed to Dante Philp, Ollie Turbitt and Matthew – friends whose conversations over our shared passion for operaismo have been invaluable throughout the past years.

The text would also not have been possible without the rich tradition of workers’ inquiry, and the contemporaries who keep this tendency alive and thriving. In particular the editors of Viewpoint Magazine, the Pagliacci Rossi collective, and the efforts of Angry Workers – groups who, if they are not all cited explicitly in this text, is only because their influence is extensive, and should be beyond note.

A special thank you to Marcelo Hoffman, Wendy Liu, and Steve Wright.

This book is dedicated to all these comrades who maintain the effort of building a contemporary international workerism.


In 1880, Karl Marx composed a 101-questioned survey, the Enquête Ouvrière (“Workers’ Inquiry”), for Benoît Malon’s French newspaper La Revue Socialiste. Distributed in 25,000 copies to workers across France, the inquiry was later described as a “masterpiece”, “a magnificent example of Marx’s work”.1 The questions ask, in striking detail, for factual information about the world of work inside and outside the workplace, allowing respondents to convey information while also coming to a greater understanding of the capitalist labour-process. Crucially, the inquiry was geared to highlight where workers have material leverage within the workplace, enabling them to organise successfully against exploitation and advance their own interests.

As part of broader attempts to initiate inquiries into the situations of workers across Europe, the Enquête Ouvrière established an important methodology that has been subsequently utilised by workers and militant researchers throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: the method of workers’ inquiry. From the efforts of the Johnson-Forest Tendency in the US to the monumental workers’ movement in Italy in the 1960s-70s, Marx’s inquiry has been consistently reproduced alongside the most significant moments of the class-struggle between labour and capital, providing a way for socialist militants to grasp the ever-changing technical and social composition of the working-class.2 Aiming to increase knowledge of workers’ situations in order to advance workers’ power, the method of inquiry continues to form the basis of vibrant and subversive undercurrents of workers across the world today.

There is also an extensive and rich tradition of scholarship tracing the history of inquiry since Marx’s questionnaire. Works such as Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi’s Workers’ Inquiry: A Genealogy (2013), Jamie Woodcock’s The Workers’ Inquiry from Trotskyism to Operaismo (2014), and Marcelo Hoffman’s Militant Acts (2019), have made significant contributions in this regard: advancing an understanding of the complex and interconnected histories emerging since Marx’s effort.

Yet, despite this influence, the original impact of Marx’s Enquête has been notably overlooked. While valued for its conceptual design and practical import, most scholars agree that the inquiry was, in Marx’s own time, a categorical failure: that it received no responses, and that it was condemned to irrelevance, “forgotten for sixty years” amidst dusty archives.3 This consensus, however, is far from accurate in its pessimistic appraisal of the results of the Enquête Ouvrière. In reality, Marx’s inquiry enjoyed a remarkable circulation across Europe in the 1880s. Widely reproduced and translated, the Enquête found enthusiastic support in the Netherlands, for instance, amongst trade unionists and socialist workers, who submitted considerable responses to the questionnaire. In Poland, it was smuggled past the shadow of the Tsar and into the first factories of the Russian-partition, inspiring subsequent attempts at inquiry by Marxist revolutionaries in Eastern Europe. So subversive was the Enquête, it was even seized and suppressed by Italian police in Milan, twice.4

This early history of Marx’s inquiry has been uncovered by the editor of this volume through substantial archival research. The impetus for this was the discovery of a curious footnote in an appendix of the Marx-Engels Collected Works, revealing the publication of the Enquête Ouvrière in the above-mentioned countries in 1880.5 By initially attempting to find these reproductions, I subsequently discovered that Marx’s inquiry had not only enjoyed a significant circulation in the immediate years following its publication, but that it formed the basis for further, novel developments in the practice of workers’ inquiry in different countries.6 Not only did these efforts receive responses, but the method of inquiry itself appeared as a central method of operation for important struggles in the workers’ movement of the late nineteenth century.

The purpose of this book, then, is to present these materials and highlight their significance. It is hoped that, by doing so, this volume will enable a wider readership to appreciate the early fruits of Marx’s inquiry – “the most recent example of Marxism as practiced by Marx himself”7 – as well as to see the relevance and importance of this method for our own time, beyond its historical significance, as a concrete form of intervention into the class-struggle.

Reproductions of the uncovered materials have been collected, translated into English, and published in the second half of this issue for the first time. Also included are significant introductions to the inquiry, as well as other documents related to its history. In this first section, I offer a brief overview and historical contextualisation of these sources, beginning with Marx’s organising efforts within the First International Workingmen’s Association – an important starting-point for understanding workers’ inquiry which, incidentally, has also been largely overlooked.

Inquiry and the IWMA

Founded in St Martins Hall in London in 1864, the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA) was established to facilitate increased communication and cooperation between workers’ organisations operating in different countries, aiming at “the protection, advancement, and complete emancipation of the working classes”, and “the abolition of all class rule”.8 As part of this effort, Marx, who was elected to the leading General Council and Standing Committee of the IWMA from its earliest days, developed the idea of a statistical inquiry into the situations of workers across Europe.9 Specifically, he recommended that inquiries, “instituted by the working classes themselves”, be coordinated through the regional branches of the International, that reports be compiled, and that these be published and printed on an annual basis.10

Marx submitted these ideas as a central motion to the Association’s pivotal Geneva Congress of 1866. His proposal was unanimously accepted, although widespread repression of the IWMA, including state-seizure of its assets and resources, prevented central reports from materialising as planned. Nevertheless, at a local level, inquiries successfully took place. 2,000 miners from Lugau, Germany, for example, sent detailed accounts of their living and working conditions after affiliating to the International in 1868.11 A report on the German miners’ situations was published the following year by Friedrich Engels, Marx’s long-time comrade, who previously established his proficiency in the art of inquiry with the monumental study Conditions of the Working Class in England (1844). Included in this volume, Engels’ report on the Lugau miners represents a fascinating early example of workers’ inquiry. It details with clarity the methods employers used to cheat workers out of their pension contributions and extort their labour through the imposition of severe piece-work rates.

More than reports, the political thrust of inquiry is demonstrated in the IWMA’s continual interventions in the class-struggle of the 19th century. Through its extensive networks and branches, the International was able to generate funds to aid striking-workers across Europe and America, and utilised its international communication channels to warn workers of strike-breaking, helping solidify transnational solidarity between the international working-class. In this way, inquiry formed a crucial precondition for concrete acts of solidarity. At the same time, inquiries were organised by capitalists: in Britain, for instance, select government commissions investigated trade unions, opposing their existence, and smearing them as a threat to the economy and the security of the state – in other words, as a threat to the smooth functioning of organised exploitation.12 For Marx, who highlighted these investigations, it was clear: inquiry is never neutral. Inquiry is a political act, aimed at enforcing a particular material reality, not simply a quest to uncover truth or uphold ideas of justice.

La Revue Socialiste: The Enquête Ouvrière

Despite the gradual decline of the International in the late 1870s, Marx continued to refine the method of workers’ inquiry: composing, in 1880, the famous Enquête Ouvrière. It is important to contextualise the appearance of this document against the situation of the workers’ movement at the time, as well as within the trajectory of Marx’s own thinking. Workers had achieved some remarkable victories in the preceding decades, from the growth of powerful trade unions in Britain to the abolition of slavery in America. These victories led Marx to speak of the proletariat as a conquering power, and to exalt, in his letter to Abraham Lincoln, the “triumphant war cry” of the working-classes against slavery and exploitation.13

This optimism, however, was balanced with a serious consideration of some major defeats: in particular the 1864 January Uprising in Poland and the brutal suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871. The defeat of the Paris Commune, an attempt by the working-class to govern their own city, led to a period of suppression for workers and communists in France. This had an especially draining effect on Marx – who fell into an intense period of depression as a result of this. To make matters worse, the IWMA itself split in 1872 following irreconcilable differences between anarchist and socialist factions, primarily over how to interpret and move forward after the defeat of the Commune. These political experiences were also accompanied by new advances in the capitalist organisation of work, including the introduction of new forms of technology and large-scale machinery into production.

Following such developments, communists needed to focus on new strategies, new techniques, and new forms of organisation. In this context, Marx stated: “I regard all the workers’ congresses, particularly socialist congresses, in so far as they are not related to the immediate given conditions in this or that particular nation, as not merely useless but harmful.”14 Without organised, working-class fighting-power, without proletarian Angriffskraft, Marx claimed that any attempts to pursue socialist politics “will always fade away in innumerable stale generalised banalities.” For Marx, what was necessary then, as it is for militants today, was to seek “for an exact and positive knowledge of the conditions in which the working-class – the class to whom the future belongs – works and moves.”15 Such an endeavour, pursued with cautious optimism, was articulated in the Enquête Ouvrière.

The Enquête represents a significant expansion on the questions previously posed in the IWMA efforts. Indeed, it entails a fundamentally qualitative shift: rather than pursuing a broad knowledge of workers’ situations, the questionnaire rigorously scrutinises the immediate dynamics of the capitalist labour-process. Its political character is obvious: through pursuing the questions, the respondent is led to consider the disjuncture between workers and capitalists, and is faced with an empirical demonstration of opposing interests in the capitalist organisation of work. Consider, for example, the following questions:

  1. Compare the price of the commodities you manufacture or the services you render with the price of your labour.
  2. Do any resistance associations exist in your trade and how are they led?
  3. How many strikes have taken place in your trade that you are aware of?
  4. Have there ever existed associations among the employers with the object of imposing a reduction of wages, a longer working day, of hindering strikes and generally imposing their own wishes?
  5. State the obligations of the workers living under this system [profit-sharing]. May they go on strike, etc. or are they only permitted to be devoted servants of their employers?16

The document, in many ways, represents one of the clearest demonstrations of Marx’s political method: “the ruthless criticism of the existing order, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be.”17 Although published over 140 years ago, the vast majority of the questions could be asked of workers today, emphasising the fundamental invariance of capitalist relations of production.

It is clear that the Enquête Ouvrière, whilst a novel and unique document, did not emerge from thin-air: it appeared long after widespread attempts to pursue inquiry through the International. The inquiry can, therefore, be said to represent the finished-product of a sustained attempt by Marx to create an original methodology, one that would simultaneously increase knowledge of work and workers’ situations whilst also acting as a political intervention to advance workers’ leverage and power: the method of Workers’ Inquiry.

Although responses to the French questionnaire have eluded discovery, this is not the case with other incarnations of Marx’s inquiry. The Enquête Ouvrière was reproduced in the July-August 1880 issue of Polish journal Równość (“Equality”) as Kwestyjonaryjusz Robotniczy, and appeared again later that year in the Dutch socialist newspaper Recht Voor Allen. Both efforts led to the establishment of further inquiries undertaken amidst complex and competitive political climates. Significantly, responses from workers survive in both instances. A closer look at these efforts, and the figures involved in pursuing them, reveals deeper connections to the IWMA and Marx. In order to recount these, it is necessary to first briefly consider the political context within which these endeavours took place.

Workers’ Inquiry in Poland

In the nineteenth century, Poland was partitioned into different territories belonging to Russia, Austria-Hungary and Prussia. Significant industrialisation began in the Russian Partition – known as Congress Poland – in the 1860s, with an estimated 300,000 industrial workers emerging in the subsequent decades. So vast was the expanse of industry, the city of Łόdź became known as “Polish Manchester”, referencing its extensive factories and large working-class population.18

Inspired by the IWMA, the first socialist militants began operating in Poland at this time. Innovative methods were employed for building contacts with workers: including securing jobs in factories and forming political cells (nuclei of militants rooted in the workplace), setting up strike funds and disseminating propaganda.19 These efforts were considerably successful. In Warsaw, a group around the militants Ludwik Waryński and Stanislaw Mendelson had, by 1876, organised between 300-400 workers in resistance organisations based on the principles of the First International.20 They drafted the first Programme of Polish Socialists, a Marxist political declaration which affirmed the necessity of workers’ revolution and reproduced the official Statutes of the IWMA.

This was a daring, dangerous undertaking. The Tsarist secret police had declared to the Russian Tsar earlier that decade their desire to establish a commission to investigate and suppress workers’ organising:

to investigate to what extent there is at present any agitation among the workers in the Kingdom of Poland and what measures are advisable on the part of the Government as well as private owners in order to preserve our land from being penetrated by the International and similar associations.21

Indeed, the Tsarist bureaucracy maintained: “Of all lands belonging to His Imperial Majesty, the kingdom of Poland more than any other constitutes a favourable ground for the International.” A decade previously, Polish revolutionaries attempted to overthrow the Russian authorities in the January Uprising of 1863-64, a failed rebellion against which Russia implemented martial law and the policy of Russification. Many thousands of rebels were executed, or else sentenced to hard labour in Siberia. Others fled – to Geneva, Paris, and London.22 Mass repression began again in 1878, targeting the nascent workers’ movement, and forcing many socialists to flee the country, including Waryński and Mendelson.

Kwestyjonaryjusz Robotniczy

Relocating to Geneva, Mendelson published the journal Równość from 1879, facilitating a means of communication between the workers’ movement and the Polish exile community. The purpose of the journal was to advance the Programme of Polish Socialists. This included presenting an overview and history of the workers’ movement, “exposing the facts of the economic, political and moral life of our society”, and discussing the practical issues of “organising a socialist party in Poland and in other European countries.”23

In a special issue in July 1880, the journal published a “Kwestyjonaryjusz Robotniczy” (Workers’ Questionnaire): a reproduction of Marx’s Enquête Ouvrière from La Revue Socialiste. With a new introduction focusing on the situation in Poland, the Kwestyjonaryjusz affirmed the necessity of international inquiries: only in this way, the editors emphasised, can the working-class combat the nationalism, antisemitism, and all other ideologies which served then, as now, to keep the working-class divided and exploited: “be they the citizens of the Republic or the slaves of the Tsar”, the inquiry reads, “the interests of the working people are always the same wherever there are entrepreneurs and workers, capitalists and proletarians.”

Significantly, the editors of Równość declared their intention to publish a new questionnaire, modelled on the Enquête Ouvrière, encompassing questions directed specifically towards Polish workers – focused, for example, on examining guild relations. This emphasises the novel impact of the original survey – not only reproduced here in a completely different national, social, and political context, but also acting as a blueprint for future, unique workers’ inquiries. These future efforts would materialise in issues of the radical newspaper Przedświt (“Daybreak”), also edited by Mendelson. In surviving issues of the paper, references can be found to a Kwestyjonaryjusz Robotniczy published in 1881 – often advertised as a pamphlet available to buy from the editors.24 Beyond reasonable doubt, this is the product of the above-mentioned plan for a specific inquiry into the situation of Polish workers.

Unfortunately, copies of the questionnaire itself have evaded discovery, although it was certainly smuggled into Poland and used there to supplement the organising efforts of the early socialist movement – as indicated by a significant appeal in the paper in 1886. Emphasising the necessity of inquiry with pugnacious militancy, this 1886 Przedświt appeal does not mince words, affirming the abolition of capitalism as the ultimate aim of workers’ organising. “Even though they rule the world today, capitalists never stop looking for ways to increase their power”, reads one part of the appeal. “In Warsaw, the society for the support of industry, composed of capitalists and farmers, also organises a survey, because in order to maximise profits from their capital, they need to know the state of the country”, reads another. In order to combat the predominance of these capitalist inquiries, Przedświt put forward a novel suggestion, recommending individual workers create their own questionnaires:

If each one of us works in this way, we can build an edifice of knowledge from tiny blocks – workers’ knowledge, knowledge of the prevailing oppression and of the need for a better social order… whoever does not have a printed questionnaire, let him compose one himself.
The importance placed on workers’ knowledge should not be understated. The Przedświt appeal emphasises this as follows:
In the past, when small workshops were the norm, the foreman kept his secrets to himself. Today it is a different matter, since everything is in the hands of the workers. The old mysteries of the foremen have sunk into the machines that the workers create and with which they work… In the past, high walls divided one craft from another, and guild laws were strictly observed. Today, all the crafts are merging into a single whole, and every separate craft is broken up again into fractions, and it embraces ever greater masses of workers. In short, nothing is a secret from today’s workers. The factory is a big, open book – you only have to read it, and you will understand what it is that ails you, and what you have to do to change things for the better.

The optimism with which the writers of Przedświt regard workers’ knowledge of production should be considered in light of subsequent attempts to limit, distort, and control this. Just as the medieval craft guilds were broken down by capitalist relations of production, so too does capital demand the breaking-up of workers’ knowledge of production in the modern factory, achieved through successive de-skilling and Taylorist management techniques which concentrate knowledge in the hands of managers. As the Przedświt inquiry claims: “the factory”, or any workplace for that matter, “is a big, open book – you only have to read it.” Such a reading today necessitates an understanding that the factory is not always an open book, but a distorted economic battlefield.

Przedświt encouraged workers to maintain correspondence with the paper, while also acknowledging the dangerous circumstances workers operated under: “There are other ways to send letters from the Kingdom of Poland, though of course we cannot write about them publicly.” Following this is printed a letter from a worker, “Wola”, rooted in a factory cell in Poznan, detailing the realities of wage-labour across six different workplaces. In Wola’s account, workers in these factories experienced chronic overwork, pitiful wages, threats of sackings and deportations, and were even, in some cases, physically beaten by employers. If ever one needed a case for the complete emancipation of the working-class and the abolition of capitalist relations of production, it exists in the reports of workers’ inquiries – whether of the 19th century or today.


Ultimately, the efforts of the groups around Równość and Przedświt were not undertaken simply to gain a greater understanding of workers’ situations, but to come to this understanding in connection with (and as a precondition for) organising workers in the class-struggle. This is demonstrated in the formation of the first Marxist political party in Poland, Proletaryat, of which Ludwik Waryński assumed a key role. The party printed a paper of the same name in Warsaw, containing workers’ accounts of employment and working conditions in local factories and providing a means for workers to share and circulate information. Members were also well-rooted amongst the working-class, helping to support numerous strikes, and notably organised against an attempt by the Warsaw police to force women into degrading fortnightly hygiene examinations.25 These efforts were coordinated through the distribution of pamphlets and the party’s paper – showing how workers’ inquiry is a political activity undertaken to aid the proletariat’s material struggle against exploitation.

Proletaryat had to operate covertly and illegally to avoid persecution by the state. According to historian Lucjan Blit, the party’s members were constantly armed with revolvers, knives and knuckle-dusters in preparation for police-raids on their printing-press.26 Indeed, as early as 1881, socialists were arrested for possession of the journal Równość – and by extension, the Kwestyjonaryjusz Robotniczy. Ultimately, Proletaryat was brutally suppressed in 1883, its members executed or sentenced to forced-labour. Waryński himself died in a Russian labour camp in 1889. Hundreds more workers and organisers were arrested, deported, or executed between 1883-1886. The contemporary details of these persecutions are detailed in issues of Przedświt, then still printed in Geneva by Waryński’s comrade, Stanislaw Mendelson.

Yet, as the Przedświt appeal and Wola’s inquiry of 1886 attest, Polish workers continued to organise throughout the nineteenth century. Various subsequent incarnations of Proletaryat emerged later that decade, acting as an early hub for future Eastern European communist revolutionaries. Rosa Luxemburg, for example, received her first political training through the clandestine party. Mendelson would also go on to establish the Polish Socialist Party, a mass party which held a substantial influence in Polish politics into the twentieth century. In spite of subsequent differences which would emerge between these groups – including, for example, splits over the importance of the Polish national question, and debates over the adoption of reformist or revolutionary strategies – their influence on aiding proletarian struggles in Poland is unquestionable. Ultimately, the central role attributed to workers’ inquiry by these groups attests to the method’s importance: for raising consciousness as much as investigating work, and acting as a groundwork towards developing a socialist political strategy.

Strongly echoing these Polish efforts, Marxist militants in Russia adopted similar methods in the subsequent decade. In 1894, Lenin produced a questionnaire for worker-organisers to use in factories in St Petersburg. Reminiscent of the questions posed in Marx’s inquiry, and sharing the same political purpose as the Polish attempts, the questionnaire was part of the first organising efforts leading to the establishment of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working-Class - a predecessor of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and the Bolsheviks.

The Kwestyjonaryjusz Robotniczy from Równość, the Przedświt appeal, and Wola’s inquiry have each been translated into English and published in the collection below. Lenin’s questionnaire is also included.

Workers’ Inquiry in the Netherlands

In October 1880, Marx’s inquiry was published in the Dutch socialist newspaper Recht Voor Allen, and later the trade unionist paper De Werkmansbode. The pursuit of inquiry in the Netherlands took place amidst a complex terrain of struggle, with numerous simultaneous inquiries promoted by capitalists at the time. These have been documented meticulously in the Dutch literature, especially J. M. Welcker’s 1978 study Gentlemen and Workers. As Welcker emphasises, inquiries into working conditions and wages were pursued by the bourgeois ‘Society for the Promotion of Industry’ (an association of employers) as early as 1870 – as a response to, and in an attempt to combat the rise of radical trade unions and socialist demands amongst the working-class.
At the same time, the Hague section of the Dutch International organised their own inquiry into the budgets of working-class households. It is unclear whether or not the Dutch Internationalists’ inquiry was undertaken as part of the wider IWMA effort promoted by Marx, or whether it was pursued on the local branch’s own initiative. In any case, the inquiry (completed in 1871) was considered a pivotal endeavour, described by one former IWMA member as “the only useful work we [the Hague section] have done”.27

In 1872, a broader survey was initiated through the trade union federation ANWV (Algemeen Nederlandsch Werklieden-Verbond). The ANWV was politically moderate, having been founded, ironically enough, with the intention of curbing the influence of the communist International. Nevertheless, it did support workers’ actions and generated strike-funds to aid workers in the class-struggle. The federation would later become more sympathetic to the International, with its chairman, Heldt, declaring: “we also want the abolition of child labour, cooperation, better education, more pay, less working time…”.28 Many Internationalists organised with the ANWV, and likely had a role in promoting the inquiry of 1872. Its results, alas, were seemingly inconsiderable.

Despite these shortfalls, plans for the survey would feature heavily in the correspondence between two prominent Dutch socialists: the militant blacksmith Willem Ansing, who founded the first Dutch branch of the International, and the former Lutheran preacher Domela Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis, who became a significant figure of the Dutch labour-movement, was known (rather sycophantically) by many of his followers as “redeemer” and “King of the Poor”.29 Marx would later characterise him as an annoying “little Dutch parson”, and Eleanor Marx described him in no uncertain terms: a “Jesus Christ mal tourné”.30 In preparation for a wide-ranging workers’ survey, Nieuwenhuis received the ANWV inquiry from Ansing in 1878, who also generated support amongst trade unions for continued efforts at inquiry. This led to the publication, in October 1880, of a major workers’ questionnaire in Nieuwenhuis’ paper Recht Voor Allen and (later) the ANWV paper De Werkmansbode. Links to Marx and the International would come full circle here, as the questionnaire was lifted, with some alterations, from the original workers’ inquiry of La Revue Socialiste.

Significantly, the Recht Voor Allen reproduction of Marx’s inquiry received many responses from workers. Fifty-eight of these survived, discovered in the archive of Lodewijk van Deyssel by J. M. Welcker.31 The responses came from workers in various industries, and they reveal the dire working conditions and wages received by Dutch workers at the time. The Recht Voor Allen inquiry also sparked major debates over the role of statistics in politics, leading ultimately to significant workers’ participation in a national inquiry conducted by the Dutch state in 1887.32 Incidentally, this was one of Marx’s aims in his original questionnaire, where he stated the importance of pressuring the French state to institute “a far reaching investigation into facts and crimes of capitalist exploitation”.

Although conducted by socialists, and indeed while constituting the most radical and extensive of all the surveys produced in that period in the Netherlands, there are important, if subtle, distinctions between the Recht Voor Allen inquiry and Marx’s original Enquête Ouvrière. Some discussion of these differences already exists in the Dutch literature, notably in Welcker’s work, and also by Veenman (2019). A brief expansion on these is necessary here.

As Marx emphasises, workers’ inquiry should be undertaken by and for workers, as only workers “and not saviours sent by providence, can energetically apply the healing remedies for the social ills to which they are prey.” Working-class emancipation can only be conquered by and for the working-class themselves, and so the Enquête Ouvrière is entrusted directly to the hands of the proletariat. While reproducing many of the questions from the Enquête, the Recht Voor Allen inquiry proceeds according to different ideas over the emancipation of workers. As emphasised by Veenman (2019), Nieuwenhuis asks for “the help of the workers” in his appeal, so that he can conduct his own survey and his own analysis.33

This would be emphasised again in a further issue of his newspaper, where one enthusiastic contributor writes: “The excellent idea of ​​Mr. Domela Nieuwenhuis must be vigorously put into practice, but if left to the sole workman, I fear little will come of it; the boards therefore have to take the matter to heart.” Where Marx is unequivocal over working-class autonomy, here instead it appears that the inquiry is not to be led by workers, but by professional bureaucrats. Construing the workers as an external subject, there to aid the researcher who, while supportive of workers’ struggle, directs the inquiry ‘from above’, upholds the distinction between intellectual and manual labour. More than this, it can lead sympathetic militants to erroneous conclusions: for example, following the institutions that claim to represent workers, rather than engaging with the class itself.

Workers’ inquiry is also primarily a political tool, used to supplement the organisation of proletarian power in the class struggle. Nieuwenhuis’ own later efforts at this, as a major leader of the Dutch labour-movement, fell short. One important reason for this was his antisemitism. In the 1880s, Nieuwenhuis would open up his newspaper – by this time the official organ of the Dutch Social Democratic League – to conspiracy theories and attacks against Jews.34 His party actively neglected to organise with the Jewish proletariat in Amsterdam – at the time probably the largest working-class Jewish community in Western Europe.35 In this way, the pretensions of a vile ideology, harboured and promoted by political leaders standing outside of the working-class, served to work against the principles of internationalism and universality at the core of socialist politics, and split the proletariat along racist and identitarian lines, and into competing trade unions.

This highlights the contested terrains upon which inquiry proceeds – not only is this undertaken opposingly by workers and employers, but even those considered socialist revolutionaries may well pursue inquiry without recognising workers’ autonomy, and work (intentionally or otherwise) ‘above’ the class itself, even turning sectors of the proletariat against each other.

Marx’s Inquiry in the Twentieth Century

The influence of Marx’s Enquête Ouvrière in the twentieth century is monumental. Published in the American Trotskyist paper New International in 1938, the inquiry was brought to the attention of CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya, two prominent Marxist militants who facilitated novel developments in worker-writing in 1940s America. Known from their pseudonyms as the organising figures of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, the group produced classic, historically significant workers’ inquiries, including The American Worker (1947), Indignant Heart: A Black Workers’ Journal (1952), and A Woman’s Place (1953).

The work of the Johnson-Forest Tendency informed a rich tradition of workers’ inquiry in Europe – inspiring the groups Socialisme ou Barbarie in France and Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia in Italy. In the 1960s, the politics around these tendencies played a key role in the workerist and autonomist currents in European Marxism, forming an important bedrock to one of the largest proletarian rebellions of the twentieth century. The history of these struggles, and of the role played by workers’ inquiry in understanding and advancing them, has been thoroughly documented by Balestrini and Moroni (2021)36 and Wright (2002; 2021)37, amongst others.

Outside these struggles, Marx’s Enquête Ouvrière continued to inform important communist political organising throughout the twentieth century, reproduced amidst a fascinating variety of historically significant contexts. In Weimar Germany, for example, Marx’s inquiry acted as the blueprint for a massive socio-psychoanalytic inquiry into working-class psychology on the eve of fascism in 1929. Conducted by the Institute for Social Research and led by the prominent psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, the study was withheld from publication until 1984, then released as The Working-Class in Weimar Germany: A Psychological and Sociological Study. In addition to many of Marx’s original questions, the survey also focused on workers’ subjective attitudes and political leanings, asking, for example, about workers’ opinions on marriage and child raising, whether they belonged to any political parties, and what books they liked to read.

The inquiry received 1,100 responses, although many were lost as the Institute fled from Nazi persecution in the 1930s. 584 surviving responses were analysed by Fromm and Hilde Weiss (who uncovered Marx’s inquiry in the archives of the German Social Democratic Party) and subsequently incorporated as an important part of the Frankfurt School’s study on Authority and the Family, and later influencing The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno et al.38 Weiss also published a significant essay on Marx’s original questionnaire in the Frankfurt School’s journal, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, in 1936. Contextualising the inquiry against previous attempts to investigate the working-class in France, as well as discussing the epistemological profundity of the survey, Weiss’ essay is probably the most detailed and in-depth analysis of Marx’s questionnaire to date. It has been translated into English and published in full in the second part of this issue.

The inclusion of psychological questions was inspired by a separate inquiry from 1912: Adolf Levenstein’s Die Arbeiterfrage, probably the first workers’ questionnaire to include sustained psychological questions. Although undertaken with no reference to Marx’s Enquête Ouvrière, Levenstein’s work deserves a reassessment alongside Marx’s workers’ inquiry. Conducted autonomously with workers, Levenstein’s inquiry is the result of four years of worker-writing and investigation. Levenstein posed questions about subjective experiences, asking, for example: “Do you think while you work, and what do you think about – and is it at all possible to think while you work?”.39 Questions like this provoked imaginative and fascinating responses: one Silesian miner stated, “At work I build castles in the air, construct countries and worlds, conduct politics great and small, and philosophise like Diogenes”.40 The survey also demonstrated a significant proletarian affection for Marx and Nietzsche, whose books workers reported thinking of as an escape from monotonous manual labour while at work.

Elsewhere, the Communist Party of Great Britain published Marx’s questionnaire as a pamphlet in 1933. The introduction, written by Andrew Rothstein, has been reproduced below. In Sri Lanka, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, a mass Trotskyist party which played a pivotal role in establishing Indian and Sri Lankan Independence, also printed the inquiry in 1955. Iranian communist exiles under the name Nabarde Kargar (Workers’ Struggle) translated the inquiry into Persian in 1977, in London. With an introduction addressed specifically to Iranian workers, the Persian pamphlet has been translated into English below.

Marx’s inquiry was also reproduced by the radical journalist Ken Lawrence for the Freedom Information Service in America, in 1973. The FIS played an important role in the American South during the civil rights movement, advancing the struggles of black workers against racist oppression and capitalist exploitation. Lawrence’s introduction to Marx’s workers’ inquiry contains an important statement affirming the importance of the questionnaire for understanding Marxism as a material practice, not simply an abstract theory. He states: “it is the most recent example of Marxism as practiced by Marx himself.”

The work of Marx, who claimed “I am not a Marxist”, has often been misrepresented as an abstract philosophical effort, or worse, an ideology. The importance of the questionnaire throughout Marx’s political life, from its centrality within the IWMA to the survey of La Revue Socialiste, demonstrates the opposite, and underlines the practical import at the core of Marxism: a tool for understanding and advancing proletarian power in the class-struggle.

  1. Rothstein, 1933, Karl Marx: A Workers’ Enquiry, 3-7. 

  2. For a detailed discussion of class composition, see: ‘What is class composition’, Notes from Below, available at: 

  3. Ovetz, 2020, Workers’ Inquiry and Global Class Struggle; Haider and Mohandesi, 2013, Workers’ Inquiry: A Genealogy. 

  4. Marx’s inquiry was published in Italian in the first two issues of Paulo Valera’s Milanese newspaper La Lotta in July, 1880 (Crotti, I. and Ricorda, R., (1992), Scapigliatura e dintorni, Padua: Piccin Nuova Libraria). Both issues of the paper were seized and destroyed by Italian police, as indicated in contemporary commentary from the 14 July 1880 issue of French paper L’Égalité. (Gallica ( 

  5. Marx-Engels Collected Works (MECW), Volume 24, 1874-83: 635-36. 

  6. The majority of research was conducted through digitalised archives. The Polish material was sourced through the extensive Jagiellońska Biblioteka Cyfrowa, and Dutch material through Delpher. 

  7. Lawrence, K. (1973) A Workers’ Inquiry by Karl Marx - included in a later chapter. 

  8. MECW, Volume 20, 1864-68: 14-15. 

  9. Documents of the First International, Volume 1, The General Council of the First International 1864-1866. The London Conference, 1865. Minutes. 13-14; 341-42. 

  10. MECW, Volume 20, 1864-66: 186-87. 

  11. MECW, Volume 21, 1867-70: 37-44; 464. 

  12. MECW, Volume 20, 1864-66: 510. 

  13. MECW, Volume 20, 1864-66: 19-20. 

  14. Marx, Letter to Nieuwenhuis, February 1881. 

  15. Marx, Workers’ Inquiry/Enquête Ouvrière, La Revue Socialiste, 1880. 

  16. Surviving responses to the French inquiry may elude us, but they do exist. This is confirmed in an appeal from a later issue of the paper in July 1880: “A number of our friends have already sent a response to our workers’ inquiry questionnaire; we thank them, and we insist to those of our friends and our readers who have not yet answered, to be good enough to hail themselves.” (La Revue Socialiste, 05 July 1880, Gallica ( 

  17. Marx, Letter to Ruge, September 1843. 

  18. Dziewanowski, M. K., 1951, ‘The Beginnings of Socialism in Poland’, The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 29, No. 73: 520. 

  19. Blit, L., 1971, The Origins of Polish Socialism, the History and Ideas of the First Polish Socialist Party, 1878-1886, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 24-27; Dziewanowski, 1951: 523. 

  20. Dziewanowski, 1951: 523. 

  21. Dziewanowski, 1951: 522. 

  22. Dziewanowski, 1951: 514. The issue of Polish independence was of central concern to the workers’ movement in the nineteenth century – forming the impetus for the formation of the International in 1864. Many participants of the January Uprising, such as aristocratic rebel Anna Henryka, later fought for the Paris Commune in 1871. 

  23. Równość, No.1, 1879. Jagiellonian Digital Library, available at: 

  24. Issues 6-7 (1881) and issue 5 (1884) of Przedświt contain advertisements for the questionnaire, indicating its circulation throughout the decade. 

  25. Blit, 1971: 68-69. 

  26. Blit, 1971: 84. 

  27. Welcker, J. M., 1978, Heren en Arbeiders: in de vroege Nederlandse arbeidersbeweging 1870-1914, Amsterdam, Van Gennep: 8. 

  28. Welcker, 1978: 33. 

  29. Stutje, J. W., 2012, ‘Bearded, Attractive and Beloved: The Charisma of Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, (1846-1919)’, in J. W. Stutje (ed), Charismatic Leadership and Social Movements: The Revolutionary Power of Ordinary Men and Women, Berghahn Books: 66; Veenman, J., 2019, Domela’s Arbeiders Enquête: Een zoektocht naar bruikbare statistiek, online dissertation: 6. 

  30. Stutje, 2012: 68; MECW Volume 46, 1880-83: 365. 

  31. Hart, P. D. ‘t., 1979, ‘J. M. Welcker, Heren en arbeiders in de vroege Nederlandse arbeidersbeweging 1870-1914’, in Bijdragen en mededelingen betreffende de geschiedenis der Nederlanden, Vol. 94, No. 2: 314. 

  32. Giele, J., 1981, ‘De arbeidsenquête van 1887, Deel 3: De vlasindustrie’, Tilburg: Uitgeverij Link: 323-26. 

  33. Veenman, 2019: 28-29. 

  34. Stutje, J. W., 2017, ‘Antisemitism among Dutch Socialists in the 1880s and 1890s’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 51, No. 3-4: 335-55. 

  35. Stutje, 2017: 344-45. 

  36. Balestrini, N. and Moroni, P., 2021, The Golden Horde: Revolutionary Italy 1960-1977, London: Seagull Books. 

  37. Wright, S., 2002, Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism, London: Pluto Press; Wright, S., 2021, The Weight of the Printed Word: Text, Context and Militancy in Operaismo, London: Brill. 

  38. Roiser, M. and Willig, C., 1995, ‘The Hidden History of Authoritarianism’, History of the Human Sciences, Vol. 8, No. 4: 77-97. 

  39. Roiser and Willig, 1995: 88. 

  40. Sweeney, D., 2003, ‘Cultural Practice and Utopian Desire in German Social Democracy: Reading Adolf Levenstein’s Arbeiterfrage (1912)’, Social History, Vol. 28, No. 2: 187. 


Clark McAllister

Clark McAllister is a writer and researcher.