Workers' council

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A workers' council, or labor council,[1] is a type of council in a workplace or a locality made up of workers or of temporary and instantly revocable delegates elected by the workers in a locality's workplaces.[2] In such a system of political and economic organization, the workers themselves are able to exercise decision-making power. Furthermore, the workers within each council decide on what their agenda is and what their needs are. The council communist Antonie Pannekoek describes shop-committees and sectional assemblies as the basis for workers' management of the industrial system.[3] A variation is a soldiers' council, where soldiers direct a mutiny. Workers and soldiers have also operated councils in conjunction (like the 1918 German Arbeiter- und Soldatenrat). Workers' councils may in turn elect delegates to central committees, such as the Congress of Soviets.

Supporters of workers' councils (such as council communists,[4] libertarian socialists,[5] Leninists,[6] anarchists,[7] and Marxists[8]) argue that they are the most natural form of working-class organization, and believe that workers' councils are necessary for the organization of a proletarian revolution and the implementation of an anarchist or communist society.

The Paris Commune of 1871 became a model for how future workers' councils would be organised for revolution and socialist governance. Workers' councils have played a significant role in the communist revolutions of the 20th century. This was most notable in the lands of the Russian Empire (including Congress Poland and Latvia) in 1905, with the workers' councils (soviets) acting as labor committees which coordinated strike activities throughout the cities due to repression of trade unions. During the Revolutions of 1917–1923, councils of socialist workers were able to exercise political authority. In the workers' councils organized as part of the 1918 German revolution, factory organizations such as the General Workers' Union of Germany formed the basis for region-wide councils.

In Socialist Theory and Movements[edit]


Anarchists advocate for a stateless society based on horizontal social organisation through voluntary federations of communes, with workers' councils and voluntary associations acting as the basic units of such societies. Early conceptions of this theory have come from the writings of French anarchist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. His theory of mutualism envisioned a society organised through workers' councils, cooperatives, and other types of workers' associations.[9][10]

At the First International, followers of Proudhon and the collectivists led by Mikhail Bakunin have endorsed the use of workers' councils both as a means for organising class struggle and for forming the structural basis of a future anarchist society.[11] Writing for the French anarchist journal The New Times [fr], Russian theorist Peter Kropotkin has praised the workers of Russia for using this form of organisation during the Revolution of 1905.[12]

Modern anarchists, such as proponents of participatory economics, advocate for the use of workers' councils as a means for participatory urban planning as well as decentralised planning of the economy.[13]

Council Communism[edit]

Council Communism is a libertarian Marxist current that advocates for a system of workers councils, as opposed to a communist party or trade union, to coordinate class struggle. Workers directly control production and construct higher organizational bodies from below. Recall-able delegates can be elected from individual workplaces to represent workers on a societal level. Council communists, such as the Dutch-German current of left communists, believe that their nature means that workers' councils do away with bureaucratic form of the state and instead give power directly to workers through a soviet democracy. Council communists view this organization of a revolutionary government as an anti-authoritarian approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat.[14]

The council communists in the Communist Workers' Party of Germany advocated organizing "on the basis of places of work, not trades, and to establish a National Federation of Works Committees."[15] The Central Workers Council of Greater Budapest occupied this role in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, between late October and early January 1957, where it grew out of local factory committees.[16]

Orthodox Marxism[edit]


Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin proposed that the dictatorship of the proletariat should come in the form of a soviet republic. He proposed that the socialist revolution should be led by a revolutionary party, which should seize state power and establish a socialist state based on soviet democracy. Lenin's model for the dictatorship of the proletariat is based on that of the Paris Commune, and is meant to fullfil the task of suppressing the bourgeoisie and other counter-revolutionary forces, and "wither away" after the counter-revolution is fully suppressed and as the state institutions begin to "lose their political character".[6]

Some academics and socialists disputed the commitments Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky had toward workers' councils after the Russian Revolution of 1917, noting that workers' councils "were never meant to become a permanent political form of self-governance" and were therefore sidelined by the Communist Party.[5][17][18][19] Some socialists have argued this as an example of the Bolsheviks' betrayal of socialist principles,[5] while others have defended it as necessary for the social conditions at the time to maintain and advance the Revolution.[20]


Rosa Luxemburg was a vocal proponent of radical socialist democracy, and advocated for the revolution to be led by workers' and soldiers' councils.[21] She was also openly critical of the actions of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, arguing that their approach was anti-democratic and totalitarian.[22]

Historical examples[edit]

At several times, both in late modern and in recent history, socialists and communists have organized workers' councils during periods of unrest. Examples include:

Paris Commune[edit]

The Paris Commune of 1871 (La Commune de Paris) was a revolutionary government that seized control of the city of Paris, which governed the city for two months based on socialist principles through the combined efforts of social democrats, anarchists, Blanquists, and Jacobins.[23] The commune was headed by the Commune Council (French: conseil de la Commune),[24] which was composed of delegates who were each subject to immediate recall by their electors. The events of this period has been a significant influence on the development of Marxist and anarchist political theory and revolutionary praxis. Friedrich Engels named the Paris Commune as the first example of a dictatorship of the proletariat.[25]

Strandza Commune[edit]

1905 Russian Revolution[edit]

The Soviet of Workers' Deputies of St. Petersburg in 1905: Leon Trotsky in the center.

The 1905 Russian Revolution saw the spontaneous emergence of workers' councils (otherwise known locally as soviets) in the Russian Empire.[27]

Revolution in Congress Poland[edit]

Mexican Revolution[edit]

Red Clydeside[edit]

Revolutions of 1917-1923[edit]

1917 Russian Revolution[edit]

Councils such as the Petrograd Soviet were formed by striking workers to coordinate the revolution, exercising political power in the absence of the Tsar's governance.[30]

Despite Lenin's declarations that "the workers must demand the immediate establishment of genuine control, to be exercised by the workers themselves", on May 30, the Menshevik minister of labor, Matvey Skobelev, pledged to not give the control of industry to the workers but instead to the state: "The transfer of enterprises into the hands of the people will not at the present time assist the revolution [...] The regulation and control of industry is not a matter for a particular class. It is a task for the state. Upon the individual class, especially the working class, lies the responsibility for helping the state in its organizational work."[31][32] Council communists criticize the Bolsheviks for superseding the soviet democracy formed by the councils and creating a bureaucratic system of state capitalism.

Kronstadt Rebellion[edit]

Austro-Hungarian Strike, 1918[edit]

Finnish Civil War[edit]

Makhno Movement, 1918-1921[edit]

During the Russian Revolution, the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine led by Nestor Makhno established a stateless territory in Eastern Ukraine on the principles of anarchist communism. The Makhnovists established a system of free soviets (vilni rady), which allowed workers, peasants, and militants to self-govern their communities through workers' self management and send delegates to the Regional Congress of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents.[33]

German Revolution, 1918-1919[edit]

Hungarian Soviet Republic[edit]

Biennio Rosso[edit]

Irish War of Independence[edit]

Chinese National Revolution[edit]

Korean People's Association in Manchuria[edit]

Nghệ-Tĩnh Soviets, 1930-1931[edit]

Spanish Revolution[edit]

The Spanish Revolution of 1936 saw the creation of anarchist communes across much of Spain. These communes operated under the principle "From each according to his ability to each according to his needs". Decision-making in the communes were conducted through workers' councils (comités trabajadores).[34]

Post-Independence Algeria[edit]

Algeria, in the aftermath of the Algerian War, oversaw the widespread practice of workers' self-management. This was subsequently suppressed by conservative forces in the country.[28][35]

Indonesian War of Independence[edit]

Post-war Korea[edit]

1945 Saigon Uprising[edit]

1956 Hungarian Revolution[edit]

Poznań protests of 1956[edit]

Polish October[edit]

Shanghai People's Commune[edit]

Protests of 1968[edit]

May '68[edit]

During the May 1968 events in France, "[t]he largest general strike that ever stopped the economy of an advanced industrial country, and the first wildcat general strike in history",[36] the Situationists, against the unions and the French Communist Party that were starting to side with the de Gaulle government to contain the revolt, called for the formation of workers' councils (comités d'entreprise) to take control of the cities, expelling union leaders and left-wing bureaucrats, in order to keep the power in the hands of the workers with direct democracy.[36]

Prague Spring[edit]

Hot Autumn[edit]

Free Derry[edit]

Solidarność riots, 1970[edit]

Sri Lanka[edit]


1973 Chilean coup d'état[edit]

Argentine Revolution[edit]

Ulster Workers' Council Strike[edit]

Processo Revolucionário Em Curso[edit]

1979 Iranian Revolution[edit]

Solidarność Strike, 1980-1981[edit]


Tiananmen Square Protests[edit]

December 2001 Riots, Argentina[edit]

Bolivarian Circles[edit]

Rojava Revolution[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rocker, Rudolf (2004). Anarcho-syndicalism: Theory and Practice. AK Press. p. 63. ISBN 1902593928.
  2. ^ Castoriadis, Cornelius (2014). Workers' Councils and the Economics of Self-Managed Society. Thought Crime Ink. ISBN 9780981289762.
  3. ^ Pannekoek, Anton (1946). Workers' Councils. Wageningen, Netherlands: Communistenbond Spartacus. ISBN 9781902593562.
  4. ^ Mattick, Paul (1967). "Workers' Control". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 2023-07-27.
  5. ^ a b c Albert, Michael; Hahnel, Robin (1991). Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-89608-405-1.
  6. ^ a b Lenin, Vladimir (2019). The State and Revolution. The Leftist Public Domain Project. ISBN 978-1795754613.
  7. ^ "A Brief History of Popular Assemblies and Worker Councils". The Anarchist Library. Retrieved 2023-07-27.
  8. ^ Smaldone, William (March 17, 2023). "Otto Bauer and the Austro-Marxists Wanted a Socialist Revolution in Democracy". Jacobin. Retrieved 2023-07-27.
  9. ^ Alger, Abby Langdon; Martin, Henri (1877). A Popular History of France from the First Revolution to the Present Time. D. Estes and C. E. Lauria. p. 189.
  10. ^ The Anarchist FAQ Collective; McKay, Ian, ed. (2008/2012). An Anarchist Faq. I/II. Oakland/Edinburgh: AK Press. ISBN 9781902593906, 9781849351225. OCLC 182529204.
  11. ^ Avrich, Paul (2005). The Russian Anarchists. AK Press. ISBN 9781904859482.
  12. ^ McKay, Iain (July 11, 2019). "Precursors of Syndicalism III". Anarchist Writers.
  13. ^ Albert, Michael (2004). Parecon: Life after Capitalism. Verso Books. ISBN 185984698X.
  14. ^ Muldoon, James (2021). "After council communism: the post-war rediscovery of the council tradition". Intellectual History Review. 31 (2): 341–362. doi:10.1080/17496977.2020.1738762. hdl:10871/120315. S2CID 216214616.
  15. ^ Bernhard Reichenbach, The KAPD in Retrospect: An Interview with a Member of the Communist Workers Party of Germany
  16. ^ a b "Balazs Nagy: Budapest 1956 - the Central Workers' Council (Autumn 1964)". Marxist Archive.
  17. ^ Popp-Madsen, Benjamin Ask; Kets, Gaard (2021-01-01). "Workers' Councils and Radical Democracy: Toward a Conceptual History of Council Democracy from Marx to Occupy". Polity. 53 (1): 160–188. doi:10.1086/711750. hdl:2066/228676. ISSN 0032-3497. S2CID 228852799.
  18. ^ Brown, Tom (2012). wojtek (ed.). "Lenin and workers' control". Retrieved 2023-07-27.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control: The State and Counter-Revolution". Marxist Archive. Retrieved 2023-07-27.
  21. ^ Luxemburg, Rosa. "Our Program and the Political Situation". Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.
  22. ^ Luxemburg, Rosa (1940) [1918]. "The Problem of Dictatorship". The Russian Revolution. Translated by Wolfe, Bertram. New York: Workers Age Publishers.
  23. ^ Rougerie, Jacques (2014). La Commune de 1871 [The commune of 1871] (in French). Paris: Presses universitaires de France. pp. 58–60. ISBN 978-2-13-062078-5.
  24. ^ Tombs, Robert (2014). The Paris Commune 1871. Taylor & Francis. p. 74. ISBN 978-1-317-88384-5.
  25. ^ "The Civil War in France" (PDF). Marxists Internet Archive.
  26. ^ Tarinski, Yavor (6 June 2022). "The Commune and the Balkans: The Case of Bulgaria". Freedom News. Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  27. ^ Maurice Brinton, pseud. (Christopher Agamemnon Pallis). The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control. (Orig: Solidarity UK, London, 1970), The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control introduction
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ness, Immanuel (2011). Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present. Haymarket Books. ISBN 978-1-60846-119-6.
  29. ^ "1915-1920: Red Clydeside and the shop stewards' movement". 2006. Retrieved 2023-09-02.
  30. ^ Pannekoek, Antonie. "Workers Councils". Marxists Internet Archive.
  31. ^ Tony Cliff Lenin 2 Chapter 12 Lenin and Workers’ Control, section The Rise of Factory Committees
  32. ^ Amosov et al. (1927) Oktiabrskaia Revoliutsiia i Fazavkomy, vol. 1, p. 83. (published in Moscow)
  33. ^ Nestor Makhno and Rural Anarchism in Ukraine. Pluto Press. 2020. ISBN 978-0-74533-887-3.
  34. ^ González Martínez, Carmen (1999). Guerra civil en Murcia. Un análisis sobre el poder y los comportamientos colectivos [Civil war in Murcia. An analysis of power and collective behaviors.] (in Spanish). Murcia: Universidad de Murcia. p. 93. ISBN 84-8371-096-X – via Google Books.
  35. ^ Greenland, Hall. "After Independence, Algeria Launched an Experiment in Self-Managing Socialism". Jacobin.
  36. ^ a b "The Beginning of an Era", from Situationist International No 12 (September 1969). Translated by Ken Knabb.
  37. ^ Goonewardena, Leslie (1975). "Employees Councils and Self Management in Sri Lanka". State. 1: 32–37.
  38. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2014). New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism. PM Press. pp. 184–203. ISBN 9781604869569.
  39. ^ Poya, Maryam (2002) [1987]. "Iran 1979: Long live the Revolution! ... Long Live Islam?". In Barker, Colin (ed.). Revolutionary Rehearsals. Chicago: Haymarket Books. pp. 143–149. ISBN 1-931859-02-7.
  40. ^ A Small Key Can Open a Large Door: The Rojava Revolution (1st ed.). Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness. 4 March 2015. According to Dr. Ahmad Yousef, an economic co-minister, three-quarters of traditional private property is being used as commons and one quarter is still being owned by use of individuals...According to the Ministry of Economics, worker councils have only been set up for about one third of the enterprises in Rojava so far.

External links[edit]