Maurice Brinton

The Bolsheviks and
Workers' Control

The State and Counter-Revolution

Published: As pamphlet by Solidarity, London 1970
Transcribed: by Jonas Holmgren
Proofed: by Zdravko Saveski



Strikes and bread riots in Petrograd. Angry street demonstrations against the Government. Troops, sent to restore order, fraternize with demonstrators. Soviets reappear in several cities, for the first time since 1905.

February 27

Abdication of Nicholas II. Formation of Provisional Government (Prince Lvov as Prime Minister).


Factory and Shop Committees,[1] Workers' Councils and Councils of Elders appear in every major industrial centre of European Russia. From the onset, their demands are not limited to wages or hours but challenge many managerial prerogatives.

In several instances Factory Committees were set up because the previous owners or managers had disappeared during the February turmoil. Most of those who later drifted back were allowed to resume their positions - but had to accept the Factory Committees. "The proletariat", wrote Pankratova,[2*] "without legislative sanction, started simultaneously to create all its organizations: Soviets of Workers' Deputies, trade unions and Factory Committees".[2] A tremendous working-class pressure was developing all over Russia.

March 10

First formal capitulation by a significant body of employers. Agreement signed between Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet and Petrograd Manufacturers' Association, granting the eight-hour day in some enterprises and "recognizing" some of the Committees. Most other employers refused to follow suit. For instance on March 14 the Committee for Commerce and Industry declared that "the question of the eight-hour day cannot be resolved by reciprocal agreement between workers and employers, because it is a matter of state importance." The first major fight of the Factory Committees took place on this issue.

The eight-hour day was soon imposed in Petrograd, either with the reluctant consent of the employers or unilaterally by the workers. The "recognition" of the Factory Committees proved much more difficult to impose, both employers and State recognizing the threat to them inherent in this form of organization.

April 2

Exploratory Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd War Industries, convened on the initiative of the workers of the Artillery Department. This Conference was to proclaim what were, at that time, the most advanced "terms of reference" for any Factory Committee. Paragraphs 5 to 7 of the proclamation stipulated:

"From the Factory Committee should emanate all instructions concerning internal factory organization (i.e. instructions concerning such matters as hours of work, wages, hiring and firing, holidays, etc.). The factory manager to be kept notified...

The whole administrative personnel (management at all levels and technicians) is taken on with the consent of the Factory Committee which has to notify the workers of its decisions at mass meetings of the whole factory or through shop committees...

The Factory Committee controls managerial activity in the administrative, economic and technical fields...representatives of the Factory Committee must be provided, for information, with all official documents of the management, production budgets and details of all items entering or leaving the factory..."[3]

April 7

Publication of April Theses, shortly after Lenin had returned to Petrograd from abroad. Only reference to workers' control is in Thesis 8: "Our immediate task shall not be the 'introduction of socialism' but to bring social production and distribution of products...under the control of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies".

April 23

The new government had to make some verbal concessions. It passed a law partially "recognizing" the Committees but carefully restricting their influence. All the key issues were left to the "mutual agreement of the parties concerned" - in other words there was no statutory obligation on the employers to deal directly with the Committees.

The workers however showed little concern about the provisions of the law. "They commented, in their own fashion, on the law of April 23...They determined their own terms of reference, in each factory, steadily expanding their prerogatives and decided on what their representatives might do, according to the relation of forces in each particular instance".[4]

Lenin writes: "Such measures as the nationalization of the land and of the banks and syndicates of capitalists, or at least the immediate establishment of the control of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies over them (measures which do not in any way imply the 'introduction of socialism') must be absolutely insisted on and whenever possible introduced by revolutionary means". Such measures were "entirely feasible economically" and without them it would be "impossible to heal the wounds of the war and prevent the impending collapse".[5]

To Lenin's basic ideas of workers' control as a "curb on the capitalists" and "a means of preventing collapse", a third was soon to be added with recurs in much of Lenin's writing of this period. It is the concept of workers' control as a "prelude to nationalization". For instance: "We must at once prepare the Soviets of Workers' Deputies, the Soviet of Deputies of Bank Employees, etc., to proceed to the adoption of feasible and practicable measures for the merging of all the banks into one single national bank, to be followed by the establishment of the control of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies over the banks and syndicates and then by their nationalization".[6]


More and more employers were "having to cope" with Factory Committees. The bourgeois press launched a massive campaign against the eight-hour day and the Committees, trying to smear the workers in the eyes of the soldiers as lazy, greedy, good-for-nothings, leading the country to ruin through their "excessive" demands. The workers' press patiently explains the real causes of industrial stagnation and the real conditions of working-class life. At the invitation of various Factory Committees, Army delegates were sent to "verify" conditions at the rear. Then they publicly testified as to the truth of what the workers were saying...

May 17

In Pravda Lenin explicitly endorses the slogan of workers' control, declaring that "the workers must demand the immediate realization of control, in fact and without fail, by the workers themselves".[7]

May 20

Lenin produces draft for a new Party programme:

"The Party fights for a more democratic workers' and peasants' republic, in which the police and standing army will be completely abolished and replaced by the universally armed people, by a universal militia. All official persons will not only be elected but also subject to recall at any time upon the demand of a majority of the electors. All official persons, without exception, will be paid at a rate not exceeding the average wage of a competent worker."

At the same time Lenin calls for the "unconditional participation [my emphasis] of the workers in the control of the affairs of the trusts" - which could be brought about "by a decree requiring but a single day to draft".[8] The concept that "workers' participation" should be introduced by legislative means (i.e. from above) clearly has an illustrious ancestry.

May 29

Kharkov Conference of Factory Committees. In certain respects the provinces were in advance of Petrograd and Moscow. The Kharkov Conference demanded that the Factory Committees become "organs of the Revolution...aiming at consolidating its victories". "The Factory Committees must take over production, protect it, develop it". "They must fix wages, look after hygiene, control the technical quality of products, decree all internal factory regulations and determine solutions to all conflicts".[9] Some non-Bolshevik delegates even proposed that the Committees should take over the factories directly and exercise all managerial functions.

May 30-June 5

First full Conference of Petrograd Factory Committees. The Conference met in the Tauride Palace, in the same hall where three months earlier the State Duma (Parliament) had assembled. At least half the Committee represented were from the engineering industry. "The long and flowery speeches of the bourgeois parliamentarians had given way to the sincere, simple and usually concise contributions of 'deputies' who had just left their tools or their machines, to express for the first time in public their humiliations, their class needs and their needs as human beings".[10]

Bolshevik delegates were in a majority. Although most of their contributions centred on the need to introduce workers' control as a means of "restoring order" and "maintaining production", other viewpoints were also voiced. Nemtsov, a Bolshevik metal worker, proclaimed that the

"working of the factories is now in the exclusive hands of higher management. We must introduce the principle of election. To assess work...we don't need the individual decisions of foremen. By introducing the elective principle we can control production."

Naumov, another delegate, claimed that "by taking into our own hands the control of production we will learn about its practical aspects and raise it to the level of future socialist production".[11] We are a long way here from the later Bolshevik advocacy of the "efficiency" of one-man management and from their later practice of appointments from above.

The Conference was widely attended. Even M. I. Skobelev, Menshevik Minister of Labour in the Provisional Government, was to address it. His contribution was of interest as a sort of anticipation of what the Bolsheviks would be saying before the year was up. Skobelev asserted that:

"the regulation and control of industry was a task for the State. Upon the individual class, especially the working class, lies the responsibility for helping the state in its organizational work."

He also stated that "the transfer of enterprises into the hands of the people at the present time would not assist the Revolution". The regulation of industry was the function of Government, not of autonomous Factory Committees. "The Committees would best serve the workers' cause by becoming subordinate units in a state-wide network of trade unions".[12]

A similar viewpoint was put by Rozanov, one of the founders of the Professional Workers' Union. His assertions that the "functions of the Factory Committees were ephemeral" and that "Factory Committees should constitute the basic elements of the unions" were sharply criticized. Yet this is exactly the role to which - within a few months - the Factory Committees were to be relegated by Bolshevik practice. At this stage, however, the Bolsheviks were critical of the idea (the unions were still largely under Menshevik influence).

Lenin's address to the Conference contained a hint of things to come. He explained that workers' control meant "that the majority of workers should enter all responsible institutions and that the administration should render an account of its actions to the most authoritative workers' organizations".[13] Under "workers' control" Lenin clearly envisaged an "administration" other than the workers themselves.

The final resolution, supported by 336 of the 421 delegates, proclaimed the Factory Committees "fighting organizations, elected on the basis of the widest democracy and with a collective leadership". Their objectives were the "creation of new conditions of work". The resolution called for "the organization of thorough control by labour over production and distribution" and for "a proletarian majority in all institutions having executive power".[14]

The next few weeks witnessed a considerable growth of the Factory Committees. Wherever they were strong enough (both before but especially after the October Revolution, when they were abetted by local Soviets) the Committees "boldly ousted the management and assumed direct control of their respective plants".[15]

June 16

First All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

June 20-28

A trade union conference held in Petrograd passed a resolution which stipulated that "the trade unions, defending the rights and interests of hired labour...cannot take upon themselves administrative-economic functions in production".[16] The Factory Committees were relegated to the role of seeing to it "that laws for the defence of labour were observed and that collective agreements concluded by the unions were also observed". The Factory Committees were to agitate for the entrance of all workers of the enterprise into the union. They should "work to strengthen and extend the trade unions, contribute to the unity of their fighting action" and "increase the authority of the unions in the eyes of unorganized workers".[17]

This conference, dominated by Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, had considerable misgivings concerning the Factory Committees. It expressed these by advocating that the Committees should be elected on the basis of lists drawn up by the trade unions.

The Bolshevik theses, presented to the conference by Glebov-Avilov, suggested that for the conduct of workers' control "economic control commissions" should be attached to the central administration of the unions. These commissions were to be made up of members of the Factory Committees and were to co-operate with the latter in each individual enterprise. The Factory Committees were not only to perform "control functions" for the trade unions but were also to be financially dependent upon the union.[18]

The conference set up an All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, to which representatives were elected in proportion to the numerical strength of the various political tendencies present at the conference.

At this stage the Bolsheviks were riding two horses, seeking to gain the ascendancy in both the unions and the Committees. They were not averse to a considerable amount of double talk in the pursuit of this double objective. In unions under strong Menshevik control, the Bolsheviks would press for considerable autonomy for the Factory Committees. In unions under their own control, they would be far less enthusiastic about the matter.

It is necessary at this stage to say a few words about the role of the unions before and immediately after the February Revolution.

Before 1917 the unions had been relatively unimportant in Russian labour history. Russian industry was still very young. Under Tsardom (at least until the turn of the century) trade-union organization had been illegal and persecuted.

"In suppressing trade unionism Tsardom unwittingly put a premium upon revolutionary political organization...Only the most politically-minded workers, those prepared to pay for their conviction with prison and exile, could be willing to join trade unions in these circumstances...whereas in Britain the Labour Party was created by the trade unions, the Russian trade unions from their beginning led their existence in the shadow of the political movement."[19]

The analysis is correct - and moreover of much deeper significance than Deutscher probably realized. The Russian trade unions of 1917 reflected this peculiar development of the Russian working-class movement. On the one hand the unions were the auxiliaries of the political parties, which utilized them for recruiting purposes and as a mass to be manoeuvred.[3*] On the other hand the union movement, reborn in a sense after February 1917, was pushed forward by the more educated workers: the leadership of the various unions reflected the predominance of a sort of intellectual elite, favourable at first to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, but later won over, in varying proportions, to the Bolsheviks.

It is important to realize that from the beginning of the Revolution the unions were tightly controlled by political organizations, which used them to solicit support for their various actions. This explains the ease with which the Party was able - at a later date - to manipulate the unions. It also helps one understand the fact that the unions (and their problems) were often to prove the battleground on which political differences between the Party leaders were again and again to be fought out. Taken in conjunction with the fact that the Party's whole previous development (including its tightly centralized structure and hierarchical organizational conceptions) had tended to separate it from the working class, one can understand how heavily the cards were stacked against any autonomous expression or even voicing of working-class aspirations. In a sense these found a freer expression in the Soviets than in either the Party or the trade unions.

Be that as it may trade union membership increased rapidly after February, workers taking advantage of their newly won freedom.

"During the first months of 1917 [union] membership rose from a few scores of thousands to 1.5 million...But the practical role of the trade unions did not correspond to their numerical strength...In 1917 strikes never assumed the scale and power they had in 1905...The economic ruin of Russia, the galloping inflation, the scarcity of consumers' goods, and so on, made normal 'bread and butter' struggle look unreal. In addition the threat of mobilization hung over would-be strikers. The working class was in no mood to strive for limited economic advantage and partial reforms. The entire social order of Russia was at stake."[20]


Persistent efforts of Mensheviks fully to subordinate the Factory and Plant Committees to the trade unions. These were successfully resisted by a temporary alliance of anarchists - objecting on grounds of principle - and of Bolsheviks acting on the basis of tactical considerations.

The autonomous Factory Committee Movement found its highest development and most militant expression in the engineering industry.[21] This is of particular relevance as it explains the drastic measures the Bolsheviks had to resort to, in 1922, to break the independent organizations of the engineering workers.

July 26-August 3

Sixth Party Congress. Milyutin declares: "We will ride on the crest of the economic wave of the movement of the workers and we will turn this spontaneous movement into a conscious political movement against the existing state power".[22]

August 7-12

Second Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd, its Environs, and Neighbouring Provinces, held at the Smolny Institute.

The Conference resolved that 1/4% of the wages of all workers represented should go to support a "Central Soviet of Factory Committees", thus made financially independent of the unions.[23] Rank-and-file supporters of the Factory Committees viewed the setting up of this "Central Soviet" with mixed feelings. On the one hand they sensed the need for co-ordination. On the other hand they wanted this co-ordination to be carried out from below, by themselves. Many were suspicious of the motives of the Bolsheviks, on whose initiative the "Central Soviet" had been bureaucratically set up. The Bolshevik Skrypnik spoke of the difficulties of the Central Soviet of Factory Committees, attributing them "in part to the workers themselves". Factory Committees had been reluctant to free their members for work in the Centre. Some of the Committees "refrained from participation in the Central Soviet because of Bolshevik predominance in it".[24] V. M. Levin, another Bolshevik, was to complain that the workers "didn't distinguish between the conception of control and the conception of taking possession".[25]

The Second Conference adopted a whole number of statutes, regulating the work of the Committees, the duties of the management (sic!), procedures for electing the Committees, etc.[26] "All decrees of Factory Committees" were declared compulsory "for the factory administration as well as for the workers and employees - until such time as those decrees were abolished by the Committee itself, or by the Central Soviet of Factory Committees". The Committees were to meet regularly during working hours. Meetings were to be held on days designated by the Committees themselves. Members of the Committees were to receive full pay - from the employers - while on Committee business. Notice to the appropriate administrative personnel was to be deemed sufficient to free a member of the Factory Committee from work so that he might fulfill his obligations to the Committee. In the periods between meetings, selected members of the Factory Committees were to occupy premises, within the factory, at which they could receive information from the workers and employees. Factory administrations were to provide funds "for the maintenance of the Committees and the conduct of their affairs". Factory Committees were to have "control over the composition of the administration and the right to dismiss all those who could not guarantee normal relations with the workers or who were incompetent for other reasons".

"All administrative factory personnel can only enter into service with the consent of the Factory Committee, which must declare its [sic!] hirings at a General Meeting of all the factory or through departmental or workshop committees."

The "internal organization" of the factory (working time, wages, holidays, etc.) was also to be determined by the Factory Committees. Factory Committees were to have their own press and were "to inform the workers and employees of the enterprise concerning their resolutions by posting an announcement in a conspicuous place". But as the Bolshevik Skrypnik realistically reminded the Conference, "we must not forget that these are not normal statutes confirmed by the Government. They are our platform, on the basis of which we will fight". The basis of the demands was "customary revolutionary right".


Campaign launched by Provisional Government against "Factory Committees" in the Railways. Kukel, Vice-Minister for the Navy, proposes proclamation of martial law on the Railways and the creation of commissions entitled to "dissolve the Committees". (This is the voice of the bourgeoisie in August 1917 - not of Trotsky, in August 1920! See August 1920.)

At a Government-sponsored "consultation with the rank-and-file" held in Moscow on August 10 the catastrophic condition of the Railways was to be attributed to the existence of the Railway Committees:

"According to an enquiry conducted at a meeting of Railway Managers, 5,531 workers had been nominated to participate in these Committees on the 37 main lines. These people were absolved of all commitments to work. On the basis of an average minimum of 2,000 rubles, this little business was costing the Government 11 million rubles. And this only concerned 37 of the 60 main lines..."[27]

At about the same time Struve, a well-known bourgeois ideologist and economist, was writing that "just as in the military field the elimination of officers by soldiers leads to the destruction of the Army (because it implies a legalization of revolt incompatible with the very existence of the Army), so in the economic field: the substitution of managerial power by workers' management implies the destruction of normal economic order and life in the enterprises".[28]

A little later in the month a Conference of Employers was held in Petrograd. It set up a Union of Employers' Associations. The main function of the new organization was described by its president Bymanov as "the elimination of interference by the Factory Committees in what are managerial functions".

August 11

First issue of Golos Truda, published in Russia under banner of the Union of Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda.

August 25

Golos Truda, in a famous article headed "Questions of the Hour", wrote:

"We say to the Russian workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionists: above all, continue the revolution. Continue to organize yourselves solidly and to unite your new organizations: your communes, your unions, your committees, your soviets. Continue, with firmness and perseverance, always and everywhere to participate more and more extensively and more and more effectively in the economic life of the country, continue to take into your hands, that is into the hands of your organizations, all the raw materials and all the instruments indispensable to your labour. Continue the Revolution. Do not hesitate to face the solution of the burning questions of the present. Create everywhere the necessary organizations to achieve these solutions. Peasants, take the land and put it at the disposal of your committees. Workers, proceed to put in the hands of and at the disposal of your own social organizations - everywhere on the spot - the mines and the subsoil, the enterprises and the establishments of all sorts, the works and factories, the workshops and the machines."

A little later, issue No. 15 of the same paper urged its readers to

"begin immediately to organize the social and economic life of the country on new bases. Then a sort of 'dictatorship of labour' will begin to be achieved, easily and in a natural manner. And the people would learn, little by little, to do it."

During this period there were a number of important strikes (tannery and textile workers in Moscow, engineering workers in Petrograd, petrol workers in Baku, miners in the Donbas).

"There was a common feature to these struggles: the employers were prepared to make concessions through increased wages but categorically refused to recognize any rights to the Factory Committees. The workers in struggle...were prepared to fight to the bitter end not so much on the question of wage increases as on the question of the recognition of their factory organizations."[29]

One of the main demands was the transfer to the Committees of the rights of hiring and firing. The inadequacies of the "law" of April 23 were by now widely realized. Demands for the Soviets to take the power were beginning to evoke an echo. "During its struggle for a 'factory constitution' the working class had become aware of the need itself to manage production".[30]

August 28

In response to an increasing campaign in the bourgeois journals against the Factory Committees and "working class anarchism", the Menshevik Minister of Labour Skobelev issued his famous "Circular No. 421" forbidding meetings of the Factory Committees during working hours ("because of the need to devote every energy and every second to intensive work"). The circular authorized management to deduct from wages time lost by workers in attending Committee meetings. This was at a time when Kornilov was marching on Petrograd, and "when the workers were rising, threatening, to the defence of the Revolution without considering whether they were doing so during working hours or not".[31]


Bolshevik Party wins majorities in both Petrograd and Moscow Soviets.

September 10

Third Conference of Factory Committees. On September 4, another circular from the Ministry of Labour had stated that the right of hiring and firing of workers belonged to the owners of the enterprise. The Provisional Government, by now very alarmed at the growth of the Factory Committees, was striving desperately to curtail their power.

The Menshevik Kolokolnikov attended the Conference as the representative of the Ministry of Labour. He defended the circulars. He "explained" that the circulars did not deprive the workers of the right of control over hiring and firing...but only of the right to hire and fire. "As the Bolsheviks were themselves to do later Kolokolnikov defined control as supervision over policy, as opposed to the right of making policy."[32]

At the conference a worker called Afinogenev asserted that "all parties, not excluding the Bolsheviks, entice the workers with the promise of the Kingdom of God on earth a hundred years from now...We don't need improvement in a hundred years time, but now, immediately."[33] The Conference, which only lasted two sessions, decreed that it would seek the immediate abolition of the circulars.

September 14

Meeting of the Government-sponsored Democratic Conference. Emphasizing that the tasks of the Factory Committees were "essentially different" from those of the trade unions, the Bolsheviks requested 25 seats for the Factory Committees. (The same number had been allocated by the Government to the unions.)

September 26

Lenin writes: "The Soviet Government must immediately introduce throughout the state workers' control over production and distribution". "Failing such control...famine and catastrophe of unprecedented dimensions threaten the country from week to week".[34]

For several weeks the employers had been resorting to lockouts on an increasing scale in an attempt to break the power of the Committees. Between March and August 1917, 586 enterprises employing over 100,000 workers had been closed down,[35] sometimes because of the lack of fuel or raw materials but often as a deliberate attempt by the employers to evade the increasing power of the Committees. One of the functions of workers' control was seen as putting an end to such practices.

October 1

Publication of Lenin's Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? This text contains certain passages which help one understand many subsequent events:

"When we say workers' control, always associating that slogan with the dictatorship of the proletariat, and always putting it after the latter, we thereby make plain what state we have in mind...If it is a proletarian state we are referring to (i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat) then workers' control can become a national, all-embracing, omnipresent, extremely precise and extremely scrupulous accounting [emphasis in original] of the production and distribution of goods."

In the same pamphlet Lenin defines the type of "socialist apparatus" (or framework) within which the function of accountancy (workers' control) will be exercised:

"Without big banks socialism would be impossible of realization. The big banks are a 'stable apparatus' we need for the realization of socialism and which we shall take from capitalism ready made. Our problem here is only to lop away that which capitalistically disfigures this otherwise excellent apparatus and to make it still bigger, still more democratic, still more comprehensive...

A single huge state bank, with branches in every rural district and in every factory - that will already be nine-tenths of a socialist apparatus."

According to Lenin this type of apparatus would allow "general state book-keeping, general state accounting of the production and distribution of goods", and would be "something in the nature, so to speak, of the skeleton of a socialist society".[36]

No one disputes the importance of keeping reliable records, but Lenin's identification of workers' control in a "workers' state" with the function of accountancy (i.e. checking the implementation of decisions taken by others) is extremely revealing. Nowhere in Lenin's writings is workers' control ever equated with fundamental decision-taking (i.e. with the initiation of decisions) relating to production (how much to produce, how to produce it, at what cost, at whose cost, etc.).

Other writings by Lenin in this period reiterate that one of the functions of workers' control is to prevent sabotage by the higher bureaucrats and functionaries:

"As for the higher employees...we shall have to treat them as we treat the capitalists - roughly. They, like the capitalists, will offer resistance...we may succeed with the help of workers' control in rendering such resistance impossible."[37]

Lenin's notions of workers' control (as a means of preventing lockouts) and his repeated demands for the "opening of the books" (as a means of preventing economic sabotage) referred both to the immediate situation, and to the months which were to follow the Revolution. He envisaged a period during which, in a workers' state, the bourgeoisie would still retain the formal ownership and effective management of most of the productive apparatus. The new state, in Lenin's estimation, would not be able immediately to take over the running of industry. There would be a transitional period during which the capitalists would be coerced into co-operation. "Workers' control" was seen as the instrument of this coercion.

October 10

Fourth Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd and its Environs.

The main business on the agenda was the convocation of the first All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees.

October 13

Golos Truda calls for "total workers' control, embracing all plant operations, real and not fictitious control, control over work rules, hiring and firing, hours and wages and the procedures of manufacture".

Soviets and Factory Committees were appearing everywhere at a phenomenal rate. Their growth can be explained by the extremely radical nature of the tasks confronting the working class. Soviets and Committees were far more closely associated with the realities of everyday life than were the unions. They therefore proved far more effective mouthpieces of fundamental popular aspirations.

During this period intensive propaganda was conducted for libertarian ideas:

"Not a single newspaper was closed, not a single leaflet, pamphlet or book confiscated, not a single rally or mass meeting forbidden...True the Government at that period was not averse to dealing severely with both Anarchists and Bolsheviks. Kerensky threatened many times to 'burn them out with red hot irons'. But the Government was powerless, because the Revolution was in full swing."[38]

As already pointed out, the Bolsheviks at this stage still supported the Factory Committees. They saw them as "the battering ram that would deal blows to capitalism, organs of class struggle created by the working class on its own ground".[39] They also saw in the slogan of "workers' control" a means of undermining Menshevik influence in the unions. But the Bolsheviks were being "carried along by a movement which was in many respects embarrassing to them but which, as a main driving force of the revolution, they could not fail to endorse"[40]. During the middle of 1917 Bolshevik support for the Factory Committees was such that the Mensheviks were to accuse them of "abandoning" Marxism in favour of anarchism.

"Actually Lenin and his followers remained firm upholders of the Marxist conception of the centralized state. Their immediate objective, however, was not yet to set up the centralized proletarian dictatorship, but to decentralize as much as possible the bourgeois state and the bourgeois economy. This was a necessary condition for the success of the revolution. In the economic field therefore, the Factory Committee, the organ on the spot, rather than the trade union was the most potent and deadly instrument of upheaval. Thus the trade unions were relegated to the background..."[41]

This is perhaps the most explicit statement of why the Bolsheviks at this stage supported workers' control and its organizational vehicle, the Factory Committees. Today only the ignorant or those willing to be deceived can still kid themselves into believing that proletarian power, at the point of production was ever a fundamental tenet or objective of Bolshevism.

October 17-22

First All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees, convened by Novy Put (New Path) a paper "strongly coloured with a new kind of anarcho-syndicalism, though no anarcho-syndicalists were on its staff".[42]

According to later Bolshevik sources, of the 137 delegates attending the Conference there were 86 Bolsheviks, 22 Social Revolutionaries, 11 anarcho-syndicalists, 8 Mensheviks, 6 "maximalists" and 4 "non-party".[43] The Bolsheviks were on the verge of seizing power, and their attitude to the Factory Committees was already beginning to change. Shmidt, future Commissar for Labour in Lenin's government, described what had happened in many areas:

"At the moment when the Factory Committees were formed, the trade unions actually did not yet exist. The Factory Committees filled the vacuum."[44]

Another Bolshevik speaker stated:

"the growth of the influence of the Factory Committees has naturally occurred at the expense of centralized economic organizations of the working class such as the trade unions. This of course is a highly abnormal development which has in practice led to very undesirable results."[45]

A different viewpoint was stressed by a delegate from Odessa. He declared that "the Control Commissions must not be mere checking commissions but must be the cells of the future, which even now are preparing for the transfer of production into the hands of the workers".[46] An anarchist speaker argued:

"the trade unions wish to devour the Factory Committees. There is no popular discontent with the Factory Committees, but there is discontent with the trade unions. To the worker the trade union is a form of organization imposed from without. The Factory Committee is closer to them."

Returning to a theme that was to recur repeatedly he also emphasized that "the Factory Committees were cells of the future...They, not the State, should now administer".[47]

Lenin at this stage saw the tremendous importance of the Factory a means of helping the Bolshevik Party to seize power. According to Ordzhonikidze he asserted:

"we must shift the centre of gravity to the Factory Committees. The Factory Committees must become the organs of insurrection. We must change our slogan and instead of saying 'All Power to the Soviets' we must say 'All Power to the Factory Committees'."[48]

A resolution was passed at the Conference proclaiming that "workers' control - within the limits assigned to it by the Conference - was only possible under the political and economic rule of the working class". It warned against "isolated" and "disorganized" activities and pointed out that "the seizure of factories by the workers and their operation for personal profit was incompatible with the aims of the proletariat".[49]

October 25

Overthrow of Kerensky's Provisional Government. Proclamation of Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) during opening session of Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

October 26

At Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, Bolshevik spokesmen proclaimed:

"The Revolution has been victorious. All power has passed to the Soviets...New laws will he proclaimed within a few days dealing with workers' problems. One of the most important will deal with workers' control of production and with the return of industry to normal conditions. Strikes and demonstrations are harmful in Petrograd. We ask you to put an end to all strikes on economic and political issues, to resume work and to carry it out in a perfectly orderly manner...Every man to his place. The best way to support the Soviet Government these days is to carry on with one's job."[50]

Without apparently batting an eyelid Pankratova could write that "the first day of workers' power was ushered in by this call to work and to the edification of the new kind of factory".[51]

Publication of Decree on the Land. Lands of nobility, church and crown transferred to custody of peasants.

November 3

Publication in Pravda of Lenin's "Draft Decree on Workers' Control".[52] This provided for the "introduction of workers' control of the production, warehousing, purchase and sale of all products and raw materials in all industrial, commercial, banking, agricultural and other enterprises employing a total of not less than five workers and employees - or with a turnover of not less than 10,000 rubles per annum".

Workers' control was to be "carried out by all the workers and employees in a given enterprise, either directly if the enterprise is small enough to permit it, or through delegates to be immediately elected at mass meetings". Elected delegates were to "have access to all books and documents and to all warehouses and stocks of material, instruments and products, without exception".

These excellent, and often quoted, provisions in fact only listed and legalized what had already been achieved and implemented in many places by the working class in the course of the struggles of the previous months. They were to be followed by three further provisions, of ominous import. It is amazing that these are not better known. In practice they were soon to nullify the positive features of the previous provisions. They stipulated (point 5) that "the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees were legally binding upon the owners of enterprises" but that they could be "annulled by trade unions and congresses" (our emphasis). This was exactly the fate that was to befall the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees: the trade unions proved to be the main medium through which the Bolsheviks sought to break the autonomous power of the Factory Committees.

The Draft Decree also stressed (point 6) that "in all enterprises of state importance" all delegates elected to exercise workers' control were to be "answerable to the State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property". Enterprises "of importance to the State" were defined (point 7) - and this has a familiar tone for all revolutionaries - as "all enterprises working for defence purposes, or in any way connected with the production of articles necessary for the existence of the masses of the population" (our emphasis). In other words practically any enterprise could be declared by the new Russian State as "of importance to the State". The delegates from such an enterprise (elected to exercise workers' control) were now made answerable to a higher authority. Moreover if the trade unions (already fairly bureaucratized) could "annul" the decisions of rank-and-file delegates, what real power in production had the rank and file? The Decree on Workers' Control was soon proved, in practice, not to be worth the paper it was written on.[4*]

November 9

Decree dissolving Soviet in the People's Commissariat of Posts and Telegraphs.[53]

The concept of workers' control had spread even to the Civil Service. A Soviet of Employees had taken control of the People's Commissariat of Posts and Telegraphs and another had established itself in the Admiralty. On November 9 an appeal was issued by the People's Commissar for the Ministry (sic) of Posts and telegraphs which concluded: "I declare that no so-called initiatory groups or committees for the administration of the department of Posts and Telegraphs can usurp the functions belonging to the central power and to me as People's Commissar".[54]

November 14

Lenin expected his "draft statutes on Workers' Control" to be ratified, with only minor modifications, by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets (V.Ts.I.K.) and by the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom). In fact his proposals were to give rise to heated discussion and to be criticized from both right and left. Lozovsky, a Bolshevik trade unionist, was to write:

"To us, it seemed that the basic control units should only act within limits rigorously determined by higher organs of control. But the comrades who were for the decentralization of workers control were pressing for the independence and autonomy of these lower organs, because they felt that the masses themselves would incarnate the principle of control."[55]

Lozovsky believed that

"the lower organs of control must confine their activities within the limits set by the instructions of the proposed All-Russian Council of Workers' Control. We must say it quite clearly and categorically, so that workers in various enterprises don't go away with the idea that the factories belong to them."

Despite heated protests from the rank and file - and after nearly two weeks of controversy - a "compromise" was adopted in which the trade unions - now the "unexpected champions of order, discipline and centralized direction of production"[56] - had clearly won the upper hand. The new text was adopted by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets (V.Ts.I.K.) on November 14 (by 24 votes to 10), ratified by the Council of People's Commissars on November 15 and released the following day. Milyutin, who presented the revised decree to the V.Ts.I.K., explained somewhat apologetically that "life overtook us" and that it had become urgently necessary to "unite into one solid state apparatus the workers' control which was being operated on the spot". "Legislation on workers' control which should logically have fitted into the framework of an economic plan had had to precede legislation on the plan itself.[57] There could be no clearer recognition of the tremendous pressures from below and of the difficulties the Bolsheviks were experiencing in their attempts to canalize them.

In the revised decree Lenin's eight original points had now increased to fourteen.[58] The new decree started with the ingenious statement that: "In the interests of a planned regulation of the national economy" the new Government "recognized the authority of workers' control throughout the economy". But there had to be a firm hierarchy of control organs. Factory Committees would be "allowed" to remain the control organ of each individual enterprise. But each Committee was to be responsible to a "Regional Council of Workers' Control", subordinated in turn to an "All-Russian Council of Workers' Control".[59] The composition of these higher organs was decided by the Party.

The trade unions were massively represented in the middle and higher strata of this new pyramid of "institutionalized workers' control". For instance the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control was to consist of 21 "representatives": five from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, five from the Executive of the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions, five from the Association of Engineers and Technicians, two from the Association of Agronomists, two from the Petrograd Trade Union Council, one from each All-Russian Trade Union Federation numbering fewer than 100,000 members (two for Federations of over this number)...and five from the All-Russian Council of Factory Committees! The Factory Committees often under anarcho-syndicalist influence had been well and truly "cut down to size".

Long gone were the days when Lenin had asserted "the source of power is not a law previously discussed and passed by parliament, but the direct initiative of the masses from below, in their localities - outright 'seizure', to use a popular expression".[60]

The very mention however in the decree of an "All-Russian Council of Factory Committees" meant that side by side with the "official" structure of organs of "workers' control" another structure was still present, almost inevitably antagonistic: the pyramid of organs representing the Factory Committees. It also shows that the Factory Committee Movement was still seeking to co-ordinate its activities on a nationwide basis. Even this minor representation for the Factory Committees had been a tactical concession on Lenin's part and events were soon to show that the leaders of the Russian government had no intention of accepting for long this potential threat to the hegemony of the Party and of its supporters within the unions. The Party got to work. "Those who had paid most lip-service to workers' control and purported to 'expand' it were in fact engaged in a skilful attempt to make it orderly and innocuous by turning it into a large scale, centralized, public institution".[61]

Bolshevik propaganda, in later years, was constantly to reiterate the theme that the Factory Committees were not a suitable instrument for organizing production on a national scale. Deutscher for instance claims that, almost from their creation, the "anarchic characteristics of the Committees made themselves felt: every Factory Committee aspired to have the last and final say on all matters affecting the factory, its output, its stocks of raw material, its conditions of work, etc., and paid little or no attention to the needs of industry as a whole".[62] Yet in the very next sentence Deutscher points out that

"a few weeks after the upheaval [the October Revolution] the Factory Committees attempted to form their own national organization, which was to secure their virtual economic dictatorship. The Bolsheviks now called upon the trade unions to render a special service to the nascent Soviet State and to discipline the Factory Committees. The unions came out firmly against the attempt of the Factory Committees to form a national organization of their own. They prevented the convocation of a planned All-Russian Congress of Factory Committees and demanded total subordination on the part of the Committees."

The essential precondition for the Committees to have started tackling regional and national tasks was their federation on a regional and national basis. It is the height of hypocrisy for latter-day Bolsheviks to blame the Committees of 1917-18 for showing only parochial preoccupations when the Party itself was to do all in its power to prevent the Committees from federating from below, in an autonomous manner. The Bolshevik-sponsored "Central Soviet of Factory Committees" was wound up, after the overthrow of the Provisional Government, as quickly as it had been set up. The Revolutionary Centre of Factory Committees, a body of anarchist inspiration which had been going for several months, never succeeded in supplanting it, so many were the obstacles put in its path.

Some comments are called for in relation to these developments. The disorganization created by the war and by the resistance of the employing class (manifested as sabotage or desertion of their enterprises) clearly made it imperative to minimize and if possible eliminate unnecessary struggles, between Factory Committees, such as struggles for scanty fuel or raw materials. There was clearly a need to co-ordinate the activity of the Committees on a vast scale, a need of which many who had been most active in the Committee Movement were well aware. The point at issue is not that a functional differentiation was found necessary between the various organs of working-class power (Soviets, Factory Committees, etc.) or that a definition was sought as to what were local tasks and what were regional or national tasks. The modalities of such a differentiation could have been - and probably would have been - determined by the proposed Congress of Factory Committees. The important thing is that a hierarchical pattern of differentiation was externally elaborated and imposed, by an agency other than the producers themselves.

A Bolshevik spokesman described the situation, as seen through the eyes of those now in power: "Instead of a rapid normalization of production and distribution, instead of measures which would have led towards a socialist organization of society, we found a practice which recalled the anarchist dreams of autonomous productive communes".[63] Pankratova puts the matter even more bluntly:

"During the transitional period one had to accept the negative aspects of workers' control, which was just a method of struggle between capital and labour. But once power had passed into the hands of the proletariat [i.e. into the hands of the Party] the practice of the Factory Committees of acting as if they owned the factories became anti-proletarian."[64]

These subtleties were however above the heads of most workers. They took Bolshevik propaganda about workers' control at face value. They didn't see it as "something transitional" or as "just a stage towards other methods of normalization of economic life".[65] For them it was not just a means of combating the economic sabotage of the ruling class or a correct tactical slogan, decided in committee as "appropriate" to a given stage of the "developing revolution". For the masses "workers' control" was the expression of their deepest aspirations. Who would be boss in the factory? Instinctively they sensed that who managed production would manage all aspects of social life. The subtle difference between "control" and "management" of which most Bolsheviks were deeply aware[5*] eluded the masses. The misunderstanding was to have bloody repercussions.

The November 1917 Decree on Workers' Control appeared to give official sanction to the drive of the working class towards total domination of the conditions of its life. A metalworkers' paper wrote that "the working class by its nature...should occupy the central place both in production and especially in its organization...All production in the future will...represent a reflection of the proletarian will and mind".[66] Whereas before October workers' control had usually taken a passive, observational form, workers' committees now took on an increasingly important role in the overall management of various enterprises. "For several months following the Revolution the Russian working class enjoyed a degree of freedom and a sense of power probably unique in its history".[67]

There is unfortunately little detailed information available concerning this most interesting period. The data available usually comes from sources (either bourgeois or bureaucratic) fundamentally hostile to the very idea of workers' management and solely concerned in proving its "inefficiency" and "impracticability". An interesting account of what happened at the Nobel Oil refinery has been published.[68] This illustrates the fundamental tendency of the working class towards self-management and the hostility it encountered in Party circles. Other examples will doubtless come to light.

November 28

Meeting of the newly decreed All-Russian Council of Workers' Control.

The previous disagreements reappeared.[69] Larin, representative of the Bolshevik fraction in the unions, declared that

"the trade unions represent the interests of the class as a whole whereas the Factory Committees only represent particular interests. The Factory Committees should be subordinated to the trade unions."

Zhivotov, spokesman of the Factory Committee movement, declared:

"In the Factory Committees we elaborate instructions which come from below, with a view to seeing how they can be applied to industry as a whole. These are the instructions of the workshop, of life itself. They are the only instructions that can have real meaning. They show what the Factory Committees are capable of, and should therefore come to the forefront in discussions of workers' control."

The Factory Committees felt that

"control was the task of the committee in each establishment. The committees of each town should then meet...and later establish co-ordination on a regional basis."

The setting up of the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control by the Bolsheviks was clearly an attempt to bypass the Committee movement. The attempt proved partly successful. The Factory Committees continued their agitation. But their voice, silenced by administrative means, only evoked a feeble echo within the All-Russian Council itself dominated as it was by Party nominees.

In January 1918 Ryazanov was to declare that the body had only met once (and in May 1918 that it had never really met at all). According to another source it "tried to meet" but couldn't gather a quorum.[70]

What is certain is that it never really functioned at all. It is difficult to say whether this was due to systematic Bolshevik boycott and obstruction, to lack of understanding on the part of non-Bolshevik revolutionaries as to what was actually happening, or whether it was due to the genuine weakness of the movement, unable to burst through the bureaucratic straitjacket in which it was being progressively incarcerated. All three factors probably played a part.

November 28

Decree dissolving Soviet in the Admiralty.[71]

December 5

Decree issued[72] setting up a Supreme Economic Council (Vesenka) to which were assigned the tasks of working out "a plan for the organization of the economic life of the country and the financial resources of the government". The Vesenka was to "direct to a uniform end" the activities of all existing economic authorities, central and local, including the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control.[73] The Vesenka was to be "attached to the Council of People's Commissars" (itself made up entirely of members of the Bolshevik Party).

The composition of the Vesenka was instructive. It comprised a few members of the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control (a very indirect sop to the Factory Committees), massive representation from all the new Commissariats and a number of experts, nominated from above in a "consultative capacity". The Vesenka was to have a double structure: (a) the "centres" (Glavki), designed to deal with different sectors of industry, and (b) the regional organs: the "local Council of National Economy" (Sovnarkhozy).

At first the "left" Bolsheviks held a majority of the leading positions on the Vesenka. The first Chairman was Osinsky and the governing bureau included Bukharin, Sakolnikov, Milyutin, Lomov and Schmidt. Despite its "left" leadership the new body "absorbed" the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control before the latter had even got going. This step was openly acknowledged by the Bolsheviks as a move towards "statization" (ogosudarstvleniye) of economic authority. The net effect of the setting up of Vesenka was to silence still further the voice of the Factory Committees. As Lenin put it a few weeks later, "we passed from workers' control to the creation of the Supreme Council of National Economy".[74] The function of this Council was clearly to "replace, absorb and supersede the machinery of workers' control."[75]

A process can now be discerned, of which the rest of this pamphlet will seek to unravel the unfolding. It is a process which leads, within a short period of four years, from the tremendous upsurge of the Factory Committee Movement (a movement which both implicitly and explicitly sought to alter the relations of production) to the establishment of unquestioned domination by a monolithic and bureaucratic agency (the Party) over all aspects of economic and political life. This agency not being based on production, its rule could only epitomize the continued limitation of the authority of the workers in the productive process. This necessarily implied the perpetuation of hierarchical relations within production itself, and therefore the perpetuation of class society.

The first stage of this process was the subordination of the Factory Committees to the All-Russian Council for Workers' Control in which the unions (themselves already strongly under Party influence) were heavily represented. The second phase - which almost immediately followed the first - was the incorporation of this All-Russian Council for Workers' Control into the Vesenka, even more heavily weighted in favour of the unions, but also comprising direct nominees of the State (i.e. of the Party). The Vesenka was momentarily allowed to retain a "left" Communist leadership. A little later these "lefts" were to be removed. A sustained campaign was then launched to curb the power of the unions which, albeit in a very indirect and distorted way, could still be influenced by the working class. It was particularly important to curb such power as the unions still held in relation to production - and to replace it by the authority of direct Party nominees. These managers and administrators, nearly all appointed from above, gradually came to form the basis of the new bureaucracy.

Each of these steps was to be resisted, but each fight was to be lost. Each time the adversary appeared in the garb of the new "proletarian" power. And each defeat was to make it more difficult for the working class itself directly to manage production, i.e. fundamentally to alter the relations of production. Until these relations of production had been altered the revolution could not really be considered to have achieved its socialist objective, whatever the pronouncements of its leaders. This is the real lesson of the Russian Revolution.

The problem can be envisaged in yet another way. The setting up of the Vesenka represents a partial fusion - in a position of economic authority - of trade-union officials, Party stalwarts and "experts" nominated by the "workers' state". But these are not three social categories "representing the workers". They were three social categories which were already assuming managerial functions - i.e. were already dominating the workers in production. Because of their own antecedent history each of these groups was, for different reasons, already somewhat remote from the working class. Their fusion was to enhance this separation. The result is that from 1918 on, the new State (although officially described as a "workers' state" or a "soviet republic" - and although by and large supported by the mass of the working class during the Civil War) was not in fact an institution managed by the working class.[6*]

If one can read between the lines (and not be blinded by terms such as "workers' state" and "socialist perspective", which only reflect the false consciousness so prevalent at the time), the following account by Pankratova as to what was at stake in the formation of the Vesenka is most informative. "We needed", she said,

"a more efficient form of organization than the Factory Committees and a more flexible tool than workers' control. We had to link the management of the new factories to the principle of a single economic plan and we had to do it in relation to the socialist perspectives of the young workers' state...the Factory Committees lacked practice and technical know-how...The enormous economic tasks of the transition period towards socialism necessitated the creation of a single organism to normalize the national economy on a state-wide basis. The proletariat understood this. [This was wishful thinking, if ever there was (MB).] Freeing the Factory Committees of their mandates, which no longer corresponded to the new economic needs, the workers delegated authority to the newly created organs, the Council of National Economy."

She concludes with a telling sentence: "The Petrograd Factory Committees, which in May 1917 had proclaimed the need for workers' control, unanimously buried the idea at the time of the Sixth Conference".[76]

Subsequent events were to show that although these were the aims and perspectives of the Party leadership, they were far from being accepted by the Party rank and file, let alone by the masses, "on whose behalf the Party was already assuming the right to speak.

December (Early)

Publication of Lenin's State and Revolution (which had been written a few months earlier). In this major theoretical work there is little discussion of workers' control and certainly no identification of socialism with "workers' management of production". Lenin speaks in rather abstract terms of "immediate change such that all fulfil the functions of control and supervision, that all become 'bureaucrats' for a time, and that no one therefore can become a 'bureaucrat' ".

This was part of the libertarian rhetoric of the Bolshevism of 1917. But Lenin, as usual, had his feet firmly on the ground. He spelled out what this would mean in practice. The development of capitalism created the "economic prerequisites" which made it "quite possible, immediately, overnight after the overthrow of the capitalists and the bureaucrats, to supersede them in the control of production and distribution, in the work of keeping account of labour and its products by the armed workers, by the whole of the armed population":

"The accountancy and control necessary for this have been so utterly simplified by capitalism that they have become the extraordinarily simple operations of checking, recording and issuing receipts, which anyone who can read and write and who knows the first four rules of arithmetic can perform."[77]

There is no mention of who will initiate the decisions which the masses will then "check" and "record". State and Revolution includes the interesting phrase: "We want the socialist revolution with human nature as it is now, with human nature that cannot dispense with subordination, control and managers".[78]

The year 1917 certainly saw a tremendous social upheaval. But it was a Utopian dream to assume that socialism could be achieved without a large proportion of the population both understanding and wanting it The building of socialism (unlike the development of capitalism, which can safely be left to market forces) can only be the self-conscious and collective act of the immense majority.


Publication, by the Central Council of the Petrograd Factory Committees, of the famous Practical Manual for the Implementation of Workers' Control of Industry. To the intense annoyance of Party members this was widely distributed in the suburbs of Petrograd.

The main value of this pamphlet is that it deals with how "workers' control" could rapidly be extended into "workers' management". Neither in Lenin's view - nor in that of the authors (despite the title) - was there any confusion between "control" and "management". Lenin was advocating "workers' control" and his whole practice, after the revolution, was to denounce attempts at workers' management as "premature", "utopian", "anarchist", "harmful", "intolerable", etc. It would be tragic if the ahistoricism and anti-theoretical bias of much of the libertarian movement today allowed new militants to fall into old traps or compelled them again to take turnings that at best lead nowhere - or at worst on to the grounds of previous defeats.

The Manual made a number of concrete suggestions to the Factory Committees. Each Committee should set up four control commissions, "entitled to invite the attendance of technicians and others in a consultative capacity" (so much for the widely peddled lie that the Factory Committees were not prepared to associate the technicians or specialists in their work).

The functions of the four commissions were to be: (a) the organization of production; (b) the reconversion from war production; (c) the supply of raw materials; and (d) the supply of fuel. The proposals are developed in considerable detail. It is stressed throughout that "workers' control" is not just a question of taking stock of the supplies of raw materials and fuel (cf. Lenin's "Socialism is stocktaking; every time you take stock of iron bars or of pieces of cloth, that is socialism"),[79] but that it is intimately related to the transformation of these raw materials within the factory - in other words with the totality of the work processes culminating in a finished product.

The "production commission" should be entrusted with the task of establishing the necessary links between the different sections of the factory, of supervising the state of the machinery, of advising on and overcoming various deficiencies in the arrangement of the factory or plant, of determining the coefficients of exploitation in each section, of deciding on the optimum number of shops, and of workers in each shop, of investigating the depreciation of machines and of buildings, of determining job allocations (from the post of administrator down) and of taking charge of the financial relations of the factory.

The authors of the Manual announce that they intend to group the Factory Committees into Regional Federations and these in turn into an All-Russian Federation. And to be sure there was no misunderstanding they stressed that:

"workers' control of industry, as a part of workers' control of the totality of economic life, must not be seen in the narrow sense of a reform of institutions but in the widest possible sense: that of moving into fields previously dominated by others. Control should merge into management."

In practice the implementation of workers' control took on a variety of forms, in different parts of Russia. These were partly determined by local conditions but primarily by the degree of resistance shown by different sections of the employing class. In some places the employers were expropriated forthwith, "from below". In other instances they were merely submitted to a supervisory type of "control", exercised by the Factory Committees. There was no predetermined model to follow. The various practices and experiments were at first the subject of heated discussions. These were not a waste of time, as was later to be alleged. They should be seen as essential by all who accepted that the advance towards socialism can only come about through the self-emancipation of the working class. The discussions unfortunately were soon to be drawn to a close.

December 13

Isvestiya publishes the General Instructions on Workers' Control in Conformity with the Decree of November 14. These became known as the Counter-Manual and represent the finished expression of the Leninist point of view.[7*]

The first four sections deal with the organization of workers' control in the factories and with the election of control commissions. The next five sections decree the duties and rights of these commissions, stressing which functions they should undertake and which should remain the prerogative of the owner-managers. Section 5 stresses that insofar as the commissions play any real role in the management of enterprises, this role should be confined to supervising the carrying out of directives issued by those Central Government agencies "specifically entrusted with the regulation of economic activity on a national scale". Section 7 states that:

"the right to issue orders relating to the management, running and functioning of enterprises remains in the hands of the owner. The control commissions must not participate in the management of enterprises and have no responsibilities in relation to their functioning. This responsibility also remains vested in the hands of the owner."

Section 8 specifies that the commissions should not concern themselves with matters relating to finance, all such matters being the prerogative of the Central Governmental Institutions. Section 9 specifically forbids the commissions from expropriating and managing enterprises. They are however entitled to "raise the question of taking over enterprises with the Government, through the medium of the higher organs of workers' control". Section 14 finally puts down on paper what had been in the minds of the Bolshevik leaders for several weeks. Even at a local level the Factory Committees were to be made to merge with the union apparatus:

"The control commissions in each factory were to constitute the executive organs of the 'control of distribution section' of the local trade-union federation. The activities of the control commissions should be made to conform with the decisions of the latter."

The fact that these "general instructions" were issued within a fortnight of the setting up of the Vesenka clearly shows the systematic lines along which Lenin and his collaborators were thinking. They may have been "right" or they may have been "wrong". (This depends on one's ideas of the kind of society they were trying to bring about.) But it is ridiculous to claim - as so many do today - that in 1917 the Bolsheviks really stood for the full, total and direct control by working people of the factories, mines, building sites or other enterprises in which they worked, i.e. that they stood for workers' self-management.

December 20

The official trade-union journal Professional'ny Vestnik (Trade-Union Herald) published a "Resolution Concerning the Trade Unions and the Political Parties". "Without turning into independent organs of political struggle, into independent political parties or appendages to them, the trade unions cannot remain indifferent to the problems advanced by the political struggle of the proletariat". After these banal generalities the resolution came down to earth. "Joining their destiny organizationally with some political party, the trade unions, as fighting class organizations of the proletariat, must support the political slogans and tactics of that proletarian party, which at the given moment approaches more closely than others the solution of the historical tasks, etc. etc..."

The same issue of the paper carried an article by the Bolshevik Lozovsky protesting against the Bolshevik policy of suppressing by violence workers' strikes against the new government. "The tasks of the trade unions and of the Soviet power is the isolation of the bourgeois elements who lead strikes and sabotage, but this isolation should not be achieved merely by mechanical means, by arrests, by shipping to the front or by deprivation of bread cards":

"Preliminary censorship, the destruction of newspapers, the annihilation of freedom of agitation for the socialist and democratic parties is for us absolutely inadmissible. The closing of the newspapers, violence against strikers, etc., irritated open wounds. There has been too much of this type of 'action' recently in the memory of the Russian toiling masses and this can lead to an analogy deadly to the Soviet power."

That a leading Party member should have to speak in this manner is a telling indictment of how widespread these practices must have been. This was increasingly the method by which the Party was seeking to settle its differences not only with its bourgeois opponents but with its more articulate opponents within the working-class movement itself. Withdrawal of bread cards deprived those subject to it of the legal right to rations, i.e. of the right to eat. Individuals deprived of their cards would be forced to obtain food on the black market or by other illegal means. Their "crimes against the State" would then be used as legal means of "neutralizing" them.

It was in this atmosphere concerning Party, unions and non-Party masses (euphemistically described as "bourgeois elements") that the big debate of January 1918 was to take place.

December 23

Decree setting up a network of Regional Councils of National Economy (Sovnarkhozy) under the supervision of the Vesenka:

"Each regional Sovnarkhoz was [to be] a replica in miniature of Vesenka at the Centre. It was to be divided into fourteen sections for different branches of production and was to contain representatives of local institutions and organizations..."

Each Sovnarkhoz could set up "smaller units incorporating the corresponding organs of workers control where the latter had come into being". "What had been created was a central economic department with local offices".[80]


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Table of Contents



[1*] On February 14, 1918, Russia abandoned the old Julian calendar and adopted the Gregorian one in use in Western Europe. February 1 became February 14. Old style dates have been observed up to this point. New style dates thereafter.

[2*] Anna Mikhailovna Pankratova joined the Bolshevik Party in 1919 as an Odessa University student. She wrote a number of books on the history of the Russian labour movement and later became a professor at Moscow University and at the Academy of Social Sciences. In 1952 she was elected to the Central Committee of the Party and the following year became editor-in-chief of the Party journal, Voprosii Istorii (Questions of History). She died in 1957.

Published before the era of systematic historical distortion, her pamphlet on the Factory Committees contains interesting material. Her scope and vision are however seriously limited because of her endorsement of two fundamental Bolshevik assumptions: (a) "that the role of the Factory Committees ends either with the ebb of the revolutionary tide or with the victory of the Revolution" and (b) that the "demands and aspirations arising from the depths of the working class are given formulation, and provided with ideological content and organizational cement through the Party...The struggle for workers' control took place under the leadership of the Party, which had allowed [sic!] the proletariat to take political and economic power".

[3*] We are not here "denouncing" the fact that the unions were being influenced by political parties. Nor are we advocating anything as simplistic as "keeping politics out of the unions". We are simply describing the real state of affairs in Russia in 1917, with a view to assessing its significance in the subsequent development of the Russian Revolution.

[4*] It is quite dishonest for those who should know better (see article by T. Cliff in Labour Worker of November 1967) to trumpet these decrees on workers' control as something they never were - and were never intended to become.

[5*] Unlike so many anarchists of today, most anarchists at the time were also well aware of the difference. Voline (op. cit., p. 77) says: "the anarchists rejected the vague, nebulous slogan of 'control of production'. They advocated expropriation - progressive but immediate - of private industry by the organizations of collective production".

[6*] It is not a question of counterpoising, as various anarchists do, "the movement of the masses" to "dictatorship by the state" but of understanding the specific form of the new authority relations which arose at that particular point of history.

[7*] Both the Manual and the Counter-Manual should be translated into English. An idea of their contents can be obtained from Limon, op. cit., although the article degenerates in places into sophisticated Leninist apologetics.



[1] Fabzavkomy: short for fabrichno-zavodnye komitety.

[2] A. M. Pankratova, Fabzavkomy Rossii v borbe za sotsialisticheskuyu fabriku (Russian Factory Committees in the Struggle for the Socialist Factory) (Moscow, 1923), p. 9. Parts of this important document were published in the French journal, Autogestion, no. 34 (December 1967) and the page numbers refer to the French version.

[3] Ibid., pp. 12-13.

[4] Ibid., p. 12.

[5] V. I. Lenin, "Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution", Selected Works, VI, p. 62.

[6] V. I. Lenin, "Political Parties and Tasks of the Proletariat", ibid., pp. 85-6.

[7] V. I. Lenin, "Materials on Revision of Party Programme", ibid., pp. 116-117.

[8] V. I. Lenin, "Ruin is Threatening", ibid., p. 142.

[9] I. Kreizel, Iz istorii profdvizheniya g. Kharkova v 1917 godu (On the History of the Trade Union Movement in Kharkov in 1917) (Kharkov, 1921). Referred to by Pankratova, op. cit., p. 15.

[10] Pankratova, op. cit., p. 19.

[11] Ibid., p. 19.

[12] Pervaya rabochaya konferentsiya fabrichno-zavodskikh komitetov (First Workers' Conference of Factory Committees) (Petrograd, 1917).

[13] V. I. Lenin, Sochineniya, XX, p. 459.

[14] S. O. Zagorsky, State Control of Industry in Russia during the War (New Haven, 1928), pp. 174-5.

[15] Daniels, op. cit., 1960), p. 83.

[16] Tretya vserossiiskaya konferentsiya professionalnykh soyuzov: Rezolyutsii prinyatiya na zasedaniakh konfer-entsii 20-28 lyunya / 3-11 lyulya 1917 g (Third All-Russian Conference of Trade Unions: Resolutions Adopted at the Sessions of the Conference of June 20-28 / July 3-11, 1917) (Petrograd, n.d.), p. 18.

[17] Ibid., para 6.

[18] Ibid., p. 323.

[19] I. Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1950), pp. 1-2.

[20] Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, op. cit., p. 13.

[21] See statistics on political strikes in V. L. Meller and A. M. Pankratova, Rabocheye dvizheniye v 1917 godu (The Workers' Movement in 1917), pp. 16, 20. Also M. C. Fleer, Rabocheye dvizheniye v godu voiny (The Workers' Movement in the War Years) (Moscow, 1925), pp. 4-7.

[22] Shestoi s'yezd RSDRP(b): Protokoly (The Sixth Congress of the RSDWP(b): Protocols) [1917]; (Moscow: IMEL, 1934), p. 134.

[23] Oktyabrskaya revolutsiya i fabzavkomy: materiali po istorii fabrchno-zavidskikh komitetov (The October Revolution and the Factory Committees: Materials for a History of the Factory Commitees) (Moscow, 3 vols., 1927-1929), I, pp. 229, 259. These volumes (henceforth referred to as Okt. Rev. i Fabzavkomy) are the most useful source on the Factory Committees.

[24] Ibid., p. 190.

[25] Ibid., p. 171.

[26] These are described in great detail in Okt Rev. i fabzavkomy.

[27] Pankratova, op. cit., p. 25.

[28] Ibid., p. 25.

[29] Ibid., p. 29. So much for the workers "only being capable of trade-union consciousness".

[30] Ibid., p. 36.

[31] Novy Put (New Path), October 15, 1917, nos. 1-2. Novy Put was the organ of the Central Soviet of Factory Committees.

[32] F. I. Kaplan, Bolshevik Ideology (London: Peter Owen, 1969), p. 83.

[33] Okt. Rev. i Fabzavkomy, II, p. 23.

[34] V. I. Lenin, "The Aims of the Revolution", Selected Works, VI, pp. 245-6.

[35] V. P. Milyutin, Istoriya ekonomicheskogo razvitiya SSSR, 1917-1927 (History of the Economic Development of the USSR) (Moscow and Leningrad, 1927), p. 45.

[36] Lenin's emphasis throughout.

[37] Lenin, Selected Works, VI, pp. 265-7.

[38] C. P. Maximov, Syndicalists in the Russian Revolution (London: Direct Action pamphlet, no. 11), p. 6.

[39] Pankratova, op. cit., p. 5.

[40] E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution (Penguin edn.), II, p. 80.

[41] Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, op. cit., pp. 15-16.

[42] Maximov, op. cit., pp. 11-12.

[43] Okt. Rev. i Fabzavkomy, II, p. 114.

[44] Ibid., II, p. 188.

[45] Ibid., II, p. 190.

[46] Ibid., II, p. 180.

[47] Ibid., II, p. 191.

[48] G. K. Ordzhonikidze, Izbrannye statii i rechi 1911-1937 (Selected Articles and Speeches) (Moscow, 1939), p. 124.

[49] Pankratova, op. cit., pp. 48-9.

[50] Ibid., p. 50.

[51] Ibid., p. 51.

[52] V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, VI, pp. 410-11.

[53] Sobraniye Uzakonenii 1917-18 (Collection of Statutes 1917-18), no. 3, art. 30.

[54] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 77, n. 1.

[55] A. Lozovsky, Rabochii Kontrol (Workers' Control) (Petrograd: Socialist Publishing House, 1918), p. 10.

[56] Carr, op. cit., II p. 73.

[57] Protokoly zasedanii VTsIK 2 sozyva (1918), p. 60.

[58] See Appendices to Lenin, Sochineniya, XXII. Also D. L. Limon, "Lenine et le contrôle ouvrier", Autogestion, December 1967.

[59] Sbornik dekretov i postanovlenii po narodnomu khozyaistvu (25 oktyabrya 1917 g - 25 oktyabrya 1918 g) (Moscow, 1918, pp. 171-72)

[60] Lenin, Selected Works, VI, pp. 27-8.

[61] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 75.

[62] Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, op. cit., p. 17.

[63] I. I. Stepanov-Skvortsov, Ot rabochego kontrolya k rabochemu upravleniyu (From Workers' Control to Workers' Management) (Moscow, 1918).

[64] Pankratova, op. cit., p. 54.

[65] Ibid., p. 54.

[66] N. Filippov, Ob organizatsii proizvodstva (On the Organization of Production), Vestnik metallista (The Metalworker's Herald), January 1918, pp. 40, 43.

[67] P. Avrich, The Russian Anarchists (Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 162.

[68] Voline, op. cit., pp. 139-145. Voline's section of "personal experiences" is well worth reading.

[69] See Limon, op. cit., p. 74.

[70] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 75, n. 3.

[71] Sobraniye Uzakonenii 1917-1918, no. 4, art. 58.

[72] Ibid., no. 5, art 83.

[73] Natsionalizatsiya promyshlennosti v SSSR: sbornik dokumentov i materialov, 1917-1920 gg (The Nationalization of Industry in the USSR: Collected Documents and Source Material) (Moscow, 1954), p. 499.

[74] Lenin, Sochineniya, XXII, p. 215.

[75] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 80.

[76] Pankratova, op. cit., p. 59.

[77] Lenin, Selected Works, VII, pp. 92-3.

[78] Ibid., p. 47.

[79] Speech of November 4, 1917, to the Petrograd Workers' and Soldiers' Soviet.

[80] Carr, op. cit., II, pp. 82-3.


Last updated on: 6.14.2009