Ernest Mandel

Workers’ Control and Workers’ Councils

(Spring 1973)

From International, the theoretical review of the International Marxist Group, British Section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1973, pp. 1-17.
Scanned and prepared by Paul Flewers for the Marxist Internet Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Every general workers’ struggle, which goes beyond immediate and narrowly corporative objectives, poses the question of forms of organisation of that struggle that contain the seeds of a challenge to capitalist power.

The Prussian minister von Puttkammer was quite right in his statement that: ‘Every strike contains the hydra of the revolution.’

A strike for purely economic objectives may be directed solely to a more favourable division – from the point of view of those who sell their labour-power – of the new value they are creating, as between themselves and capital. But even that form of economic strike, if carried out with sufficient energy and combativeness, is actually challenging small areas of capitalist power. It is an attempt to prevent the boss from buying labour-power ‘freely’ by forcing the workers into mutual competition, whereas they can only defend themselves against the economic omnipotence of Capital if they can overcome competition within their own class. It is an attempt to prevent the boss from bringing into ‘his’ factory whomsoever he wishes; that is the condition for any strike being a success. By the same token it challenges the right of the bourgeoisie as a whole – of the bourgeois state – to control roads and traffic; that is the purpose of strike pickets, who become ‘the strikers’ traffic police’ around the works where the strike is taking place.

It also challenges the ruling bourgeois ideology, including bourgeois law, by showing how even the most ‘liberal’ of bourgeois states, when it comes to defending such abstract principles as ‘freedom to work’ or ‘the right to travel freely on the roads’ (that is, access to factories), far from declaring itself ‘neutral’ or adopting the role of conciliator in the class struggle, comes down actively on the side of Capital against Labour. For a strike is a statement by the workers of their right to fight against ‘freedom of exploitation’, and to fight for control of their own labour by the workers themselves as a body. The ruling ideology is bourgeois, but it is also contradictory. Though it proclaims ‘freedom of work’, it prevents the majority of strikers from exercising their right not to work in conditions they find unsatisfactory, while at the same time failing to guarantee them the possibility of always being able to work (full employment). ‘Freedom of work’ thus becomes merely the freedom of Capital to buy labour-power when it wants to, and upon whatever terms it chooses, together with a combination of social, juridical and ideological factors which force the worker to sell his labour-power on those terms. All genuine human rights are trampled underfoot, and the only ‘right’ that remains is the ‘right’ not to starve – by submitting to the terms laid down by Capital.

But all these elements of a global challenge to bourgeois society which are present only in an embryonic form in purely economic, sectional strikes, tend to come more clearly to the fore when the strike is on a larger scale. When a strike in one firm develops into a strike throughout a whole branch of industry; when such a strike grows into a local, a regional or even a national general strike; when a strike in which the workers simply walk out becomes one in which factories, works and offices are occupied; and when a simple occupation becomes an ‘active’ one, in which the workers start to work again under their own management; then all that is only potentially present in the small ‘industrial dispute’ has reached its ultimate consequences: a trial of strength to decide who is to be master, in the factory, in the economy, and in the state – the working class or the bourgeoisie.

It is in the organisation the workers adopt to wage the battle with the greatest chance of success that this embryonic ‘counter-power’ produced by the strike appears most clearly. An effective strike committee, if only the strike be large-scale and lengthy enough and managed aggressively enough, will be forced to establish, within itself and from among the strikers, commissions whose job it is to collect and distribute support funds, to give food and clothing to the strikers and their families, to prevent access to the firm’s buildings, to organise the strikers’ spare-time activities, to defend the strikers’ cause to the rest of working-class public opinion, to get information about the enemy’s plans, and so on. In these commissions we see the seeds of a workers’ power organising its various administrative departments: Finance, Food, the Armed Militia, Information, Leisure and even a ‘Secret Service’. Once the strike becomes active, then departments for Industrial Production, for Planning and even for Foreign Trade, will logically follow on from that. And even where it only exists in embryo, the workers’ power of the future already gives evidence of its characteristic tendency to try to associate as many people as possible in the exercise of power. An efficient strike committee’s objective will be to hold daily general assemblies of strikers and involve a maximum number of workers, their wives and children in the above-mentioned tasks – thereby trying to overcome as far as possible the social division of labour between those who administer and those who are being administered, which is essential to the bourgeois state, as to every state throughout history which has defended the interests of the exploiting classes.

From the moment we are faced with a local, regional and national general strike, these seeds of workers’ power begin to germinate and spread outwards in all directions. Even though its leaders may be relatively moderate, and certainly non-revolutionary, a central strike committee in any large working-class town is forced to start taking charge of arrangements for food supplies and public services. In Liège in Belgium, during the general strikes of 1950 and 1960-61, the strike leaders directed the motor traffic in the town, and banned from entering it any lorry not having an entry permit from the strike committee. The local people, including the bourgeoisie, faced with this de facto situation, gave way and went to the union headquarters for their permits just as in normal circumstances they would have gone to the Town Hall. The seed had begun to grow; the embryo was ready to be born.

A strike can be directed bureaucratically by a union – directed, that is, by officials far away from the actual places of work, who only visit them perfunctorily to assess the state of mind of ‘their’ troops. It can be directed democratically by a union, that is by meetings of the striking unionists, who control all decisions as to how their struggle is to develop. But obviously the most truly democratic form of directing a strike is through a strike committee elected by all the strikers as a whole, whether they belong to a union of not, a committee which submits democratically to the decisions of regularly-convened general meetings of all the strikers.

If this last situation obtains, then the strike is beginning to fulfil more than its immediate purposes. For such a democratic fighting organisation does more than merely assure the success of the strike and the achievement of its freely chosen objectives. It is a first step in the liberation of the individual worker from a long habit of economic passivity, submission and obedience. It is a first step in the removal of the burden of the various ‘authorities’ which crush him in daily life. It is thus the first step in a process of dis-alienation, of emancipation in the true sense. The worker is starting to change from being a creature ruled by the social and economic system, by Capital, the ‘laws of the market’, the machines, foremen and a whole lot of other supposed ‘facts of life’, into a man who can rule himself. That is why careful observers have always recognised the explosions of freedom and of genuine joie de vivre to be found in all the major strikes of recent times.

When there is a general strike, even if only a local one; when democratically elected strike committees supported by general assemblies of strikers become established not just in one firm, but in all the firms in the town (and a fortiori in the district or the country); when those committees link up and become centralised, and create a body in which their delegates meet regularly; then we see the birth of territorial workers’ councils, the basic cells of the future workers’ state. The first Petrograd Soviet was precisely that: a council of delegates from the strike committees of all the major firms in the city.

Consciousness and the Proletarian Revolution

Though any widespread, lengthy and combative strike contains the seeds of this kind of power which challenges the power of Capital, obviously much more is needed for the seeds to germinate in each case. We must in fact recognise that in most cases they will not germinate at all. For between a potential attack on the capitalist regime and its realisation, there is more than just a difference in degree, in breadth of action, in the number of strikers, in the impact of the strike on the capitalist national economy and so on. What divides the one from the other is the level of awareness among the workers. Without a series of conscious decisions, no strike can effectively threaten the regime; no strike committee will spontaneously turn into a soviet.

Here we come to one of the fundamental characteristics of socialist and proletarian revolutions. All the social revolutions of the past have brought to power social classes which already held in their hands most of the wealth of the country. All they really did, therefore, was to legalise an already existing situation. The working class, on the other hand, is the first class in history which can only take over the means of production and the national wealth when it becomes politically emancipated and achieves power. Without overthrowing the power of the state and the bourgeoisie, it cannot take permanent control of factories and worksites, any more than it can permanently get rid of the power of the capitalist state without seizing control of the means of material production.

Now to overthrow the power of the state and the bourgeoisie calls for planned and centralised political action; and to organise a socialised and planned economy also calls for coherently worked out and well-formulated moves. In short, the socialist revolution cannot possibly be simply an elemental and spontaneous mass movement – though clearly there is such a movement in every popular revolution, and without it no genuine socialist revolution is conceivable – but must be a complex of planned upheavals, each leading on to the next, in which the absence of only one link in the chain is enough to spell disaster for the whole undertaking. [1]

In a more general way, a socialist revolution which will transform the vast majority of workers, and indeed all the exploited and oppressed, from objects into subjects of history, from alienated people into people who guide their own destinies – such a revolution is inconceivable without the workers’ own conscious participation in the whole movement. Such a revolution can no more take place behind the backs of those concerned than an economic plan can be put into effect behind the backs of the people managing the economy.

If the seeds of dual power which are present in every large-scale, lengthy and combative strike are to become fully grown, there must be a whole complex of conditions which favour a sharp change, a ‘great leap forward’, in the class-consciousness of the proletariat. These conditions are well known. They are those which create all pre-revolutionary situations: an objective crisis in the capitalist relations of production (which may, or may not, be reinforced by simultaneous crises of over-production, now known as ‘recessions’); a crisis in the power of the bourgeois state, involving all the important parts of the superstructure; disunity and indecisiveness within the government and the whole governing class; a massive discontent among intermediate social strata (the petit-bourgeoisie); a long build-up of discontent and unsatisfied aspirations in the working class; a growing confidence in their own strength on the part of the workers, which tips the social balance of power in their favour and against the ruling classes; a series of preliminary skirmishes ending without defeat; and the consolidation of a vanguard – which at this stage in the pre-revolutionary situation need not necessarily take the form of a revolutionary party already having a decisive influence on the mass of the workers. [2]

Once all or even most of these conditions come together, almost any spark can set off the explosion. Strikes, instead of remaining within the traditional framework of a struggle for immediate objectives of a purely economic nature, are taken to the threshold of dual power. Whether or not they cross that threshold depends essentially on the consciousness of the vanguard workers. And that consciousness in turn depends on several factors, of which obviously a major one is the presence of a revolutionary organisation among the masses for some time beforehand, and the degree of systematic education it has managed to achieve. The threshold was crossed in Russia in 1905 and in Spain in 1936; it was not crossed in Italy in 1948 or 1969, nor in France in 1968.

The manipulation of the workers’ consciousness (and even of their subconscious) by the capitalists and their state, who control the mass media, is today a very fashionable subject for study. But Marxists did not need Herbert Marcuse to tell them that the ruling ideology of every era is bound to be the ideology of the ruling class. It was so in the past; it is so today. The capitalist regime would not last a week if the workers as a whole were fully liberated from the influence of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideology. It would be painting far too rosy a picture of capitalism to say that the workers can ever become totally free of the influence of that ideology as long as Capital is in power. For the rule of Capital does not just mean the rule of bourgeois schools, churches, press, radio, television and cinema. It also, and above all, means the rule of the market economy; of universal reification; of the slavery of wage labour, which is forced and alienated labour, and of fragmented work, which cannot fail to create a ‘false consciousness’ of social reality in the vast majority of people.

The specific characteristic of rule by Capital is that it need not normally be exercised through the medium of any mechanism of domination external to everyday life of a directly political or violent kind. Only at moments of acute crisis for the regime does the bourgeoisie have to use means of massive repression to remain in power. Normally Capital rules through the medium of everyday market relationships which everyone, including the proletariat, accepts as self-evident and inevitable. Everyone ‘buys’ bread and shoes, ‘pays’ his rent and his taxes, and in order to do so has to ‘sell’ his labour-power (unless he happens to possess some capital).

Even workers whose study, thinking and political education have enabled them to draw general conclusions from individual experiences of struggle, and to realise that these capitalist market relations are by no means self-evident or ‘natural’, but the source of all the suffering in bourgeois society, and that they can and must be replaced by other kinds of production relations; even they are forced in practice to tolerate, submit to and sustain capitalist relationships, unless they are willing to become ‘drop-outs’. [3]

Relatively seldom, then, does a slow building up of resentment, anxiety, worry, indignation, experience of struggle and new ideas produce a sudden upsurge in the consciousness of the toiling masses (or rather of a vanguard among them of sufficient size and influence to involve a decisive number of the rest). People then suddenly understand, be it in an instinctive way, that it is neither ‘normal’ nor ‘inevitable’ for the capitalist to order them around, for the machines and factories to belong to people who do not work them. Then they question why labour-power, the source of all wealth, should be relegated to the level of a commodity to be bought as inanimate objects are bought. They realise too that workers from time to time earn less or lose their jobs, not because society is producing too little, but because it is producing too much.

That is the point at which they instinctively seek to change things fundamentally, in other words to change the structure of society and the system of production. And when they see how vast their strength is – not merely in terms of numbers, of cohesion and of the collective force they represent by banding together, but in terms of the strength they feel when they are sole masters of the factory and have the totality of economic power within their grasp – then what is present potentially in every large and militant strike suddenly and consciously becomes a reality.

The workers do then, in fact, challenge the bourgeois ‘order’. Their councils do in fact assume the privileges of power. They become actually involved in all the political, economic, military, cultural and international problems of the country. They actually set their class solutions up against all the solutions of the bourgeoisie. Then, as in Russia between the February revolution and October 1917, a genuine dual power emerges. Then the workers’ councils act as the organs of a new state power coming to birth. There remains the final confrontation – an insurrection in the political sense, more or less violent depending on the extent of the enemy’s resistance – which will decide the victory as between the old bourgeois state (which history has condemned to die, but which may still survive if the energy and clear-headedness of the workers should fail at the decisive moment, or if they lack adequate revolutionary leadership) and the young workers’ state already coming into being.

The Strategy of Transitional Demands

Every major strike contains the seeds of the ultimate objective of the class struggle, which is to contest the power of the capitalist in industry, and of the capitalist class in society and the state. If that battle is to develop its ultimate logic, there must be a favourable relationship of forces. But Marxists are not purely commentators on social and political life. They are not content simply to note the relationship of forces as something given and immutable or to estimate the chances of change in the future. They act in a precise way: they try to alter the relationship of forces between Capital and Labour, by stimulating the workers’ confidence in their own strength, raising their class consciousness, widening their political horizon, reinforcing their organisation and unity, and creating a revolutionary vanguard capable of leading them to fight and win.

This does not, of course, mean that Marxists are unaware of the limitations imposed by conditions which, in a given situation, may be unfavourable to transforming the workers’ self-organisation and self-defence bodies into real organs of dual power. It was stirring to see how, after more than 25 years of fascism and a senile military dictatorship, the Spanish workers instinctively returned to a form of organisation on the factory floor which linked up with the finest traditions of the Spanish revolution: the comisiones obreras (workers’ commissions). [4] The moderate and opportunist leaders of the underground Spanish workers’ movement (especially those of the Spanish Communist Party) tried to transform those commissions into semi-legal trade unions, which was of course precisely what would have suited the book of the employers. But the workers understood instinctively that in a situation of direct political dictatorship by Capital, to limit the activities of their commissions to wage claims and other purely economic functions was out of the question. The comisiones obreras saw the logic of the situation as demanding that they try to become representative self-defence bodies for workers, dealing with all sorts of problems arising from the specific situation in Spain. They fought for democratic rights as well as material ones, for the defence of victims of repression and class justice as much as for the recognition of their rights to negotiate in the name of all their fellow-workers. But they could not become real organs of dual power as long as the dictatorship was not on the point of being overthrown by a strong revolutionary upsurge of the mass of the people.

The revolutionary Marxist vanguard cannot ‘provoke’ pre-revolutionary situations, still less revolutions. These can only come about through the coincidence of a large number of ‘molecular’ or ‘underground’ changes. Some of these changes can of course be directly influenced by conscious revolutionary action; others can at least be foreseen; but there are some which are quite outside the realm of accurate prediction, at least in the present state of our knowledge. On the other hand, what the revolutionary vanguard can and must do is to prepare favourable conditions for the workers to make a breakthrough towards socialism, by establishing organs of dual power at the height of a pre-revolutionary period, and by making sure that the revolutionary period culminates in the conquest of power.

Four major elements are involved in that preparatory work. First comes the tireless propagation among the working class [5] of the kind of programmatic ideas which will enable the masses to react in a certain, objectively revolutionary direction once a generalised struggle breaks out. Next is the training of a vanguard of militants inside factories, shops, offices, docks, etc, who will interpret this programme to their fellow-workers and will gain enough hearing and authority among them to enable them to compete for the leadership of the masses once a generalised struggle begins. Next is the grouping of these militants into a national and international organisation, in which they are united with manual and intellectual workers, students, revolutionary poor peasants from other factories, districts and countries. This will overcome the narrowness of horizon inevitable in any worker with only a limited experience of struggle, and will neutralise the effects of the fragmentation, of work and the incomplete – and therefore false – consciousness arising from it. It will thus, by way of a universal revolutionary praxis, give the worker access to a theory which sees the problems of imperialism and the socialist revolution as a totality, and thereby enable him to advance his practical struggle and bring it to a far higher level of coordination and effectiveness. Finally, this vanguard organisation (or at least sections of it) must move beyond the stage of propaganda and verbal criticism, and become capable of launching exemplary actions, showing the workers in a concrete way the purpose of the revolutionary socialist strategy which Marxists stand for, as against the reformism and neo-reformism of the traditional, bureaucratised organisations of the workers’ movement.

This strategy of transitional demands – which we in Belgium know as ‘anti-capitalist structural reforms’ – is directed to extricating the actions of the workers from a contradiction which has been inherent in the workers’ movement, at least in the imperialist countries, since mass organisations first came into being. Inevitably, workers’ actions are always directed to immediate objectives (material demands; social legislation; political rights; resistance to repressive regimes or reactionary coups d’état, etc.). Therefore the activities of organisations claiming to belong to the workers’ movement have always centred on these immediate objectives, sometimes (though not always) combining these concrete activities with abstract propaganda for ‘socialism’ (or the ‘socialist revolution’ or the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, or whatever).

In this way, the historical goal of the labour movement has always been divorced from the practical, day-to-day struggle. This is true as much for the reformists, whether old-style or new – to whom, to paraphrase Eduard Bernstein, the movement for immediate objectives is everything, and the final goal nothing – as for the ‘left-wing extremists’, who disdain the struggle for immediate objectives and will only accept as worthwhile the struggle for ‘the conquest of power’ (or ‘workers’ power’, or ‘the destruction of the state’ or some such high-sounding aim). In practice, the two attitudes both have the same effect, that of consolidating a radical divorce between the concrete everyday struggles of the workers and the ‘final goal’ of overthrowing capitalism.

The strategy of transitional demands is an attempt to overcome this dualism. With that in mind, it begins by recognising a basic ‘fact of life’ about modern capitalism: what has up to now facilitated the survival of that regime is the fact that all immediate demands, however radical they may seem, can always be integrated into that regime as long as they do not question the very basis of capitalism: the domination by Capital of both machines and labour, as well as of the state.

Of course, whether the capitalist will, at a given moment, resist rather than grant an increase in wages, allow once again a free exercise of the right to strike or a free negotiation of rates of pay, will depend on the economic conjuncture and on the seriousness of the structural crisis threatening a declining capitalism. But however serious its internal problems, none of these claims is ultimately too much for the regime to assimilate, none is fatal to it. And when the system faces a really large-scale movement with a serious revolutionary potential, it will always find it preferable to grant those demands rather than risk losing its power altogether. In point of fact it has many means at its disposal for defusing any element in those concessions that could become explosive to the capitalist economy, as long as it preserves real power.

If, however, starting with the immediate concerns of the workers, we formulate demands which cannot be assimilated by the regime, and if the workers become convinced of the need to fight for those demands, then we shall have made a decisive step towards welding together the struggle for immediate demands and the long-term struggle to overthrow Capital. For in such a situation, the struggle for transitional demands is bound to become a struggle which shakes the very foundations of capitalism, and Capital will be forced to contest it fiercely. The most typical example of the struggle for transitional demands is the struggle for workers’ control. [6]

Siren Songs of Participation

In the past the day-to-day class struggle centred upon the problem of how the new value created by Labour should be shared as between Capital and Labour. The political demands which came to be added (such as the demand for universal suffrage) only had the function of additional weapons in the fight to improve the workers’ share – for example, through social legislation and so on. Only in times of acute crisis, like the period immediately after the First World War, has the problem of the ‘socialisation’ of sectors of industry arisen, and that as a result not so much of a big leap forward in working-class consciousness regarding the global nature of capitalist exploitation, as of specific considerations of an economic or a political nature (disorganisation of the economy, mass unemployment, acts of capitalists against ‘left’ governments, etc.).

In recent decades, the axis on which the class struggle turns has gradually shifted direction, not because of any agitation or evil conspiracy on the part of Marxists, but because of the way the capitalist system of production itself has developed. For one thing, the third technological revolution has brought about a speeding up of the cycle of reproduction of fixed capital and of the rhythm of technological advance. This involves the need for big capitalist firms to work out very precise plans for the amortisation of fixed capital and accumulation of fresh capital, in other words to work out long-term cost-planning (including wage cost planning), and to move in the direction of national, and indeed international, ‘economic programming’. For another thing, the capitalist regime, being even weaker on the international level after the Second World War than it was after the First, can no longer allow itself the luxury of permitting such catastrophic crises of over-production as took place in 1929-32. It must therefore allow for a full range of anti-recession measures, based in essence on the inflation of paper money and credit.

These two factors have meant enormous changes in the conditions governing the traditional skirmishes between Capital and Labour within the bourgeois democratic system. The monopolies often want to avoid strikes at almost any cost, and with this in mind to integrate the union bureaucracy into state bodies whose function is to ‘plan’ wages just as they also ‘plan economic growth’ with incomes policies, ‘social programming’, government-controlled ‘wages policy’, ‘concerted actions’, whatever may be the different names given to these devices in different countries. When the authority of the union bureaucracy becomes weakened by a long-term application of such policies, then it becomes indispensable to penalise ‘wild-cat strikes’ in order to keep the system functioning. [7] On the other hand, when there is a general economic climate of inflation together with rapid technological changes, then the attention of the workers will inevitably be drawn to problems like the organisation of the labour process, methods of payment, the speed of the assembly-line, job security and investment patterns – especially since there is a general (though far from justified) impression that in a situation of full, or almost full, employment, wage claims will in most cases be met.

This change is the more striking in that the third technological revolution has brought out a further contradiction. There is a gradual decrease in the need for unskilled and purely repetitive work in the production process; consequently there is a demand for a more skilled, better trained labour force, educated to a higher level than in the past – though even this will remain a fragmented education, far below what is made possible, and even objectively needed, by present-day science. But the workers turned out by this improved training find themselves suddenly thrust into an industry where, despite all the refined techniques of ‘human relations’, of ‘delegation of power’ and of ‘establishing informal communication lines’, there is no hiding the fact that the relationship between Capital and Labour remains a hierarchised one, with a straightforward division into those who give the orders and those who have to obey them.

Thus the centre of gravity in the class struggle is shifting from problems concerning the distribution of the national income to the problems of organising work and production, the problems, that is to say, of the capitalist relations of production themselves. For whether it is a matter of contesting the boss’s right to determine the rhythm of the assembly-line, or his right to choose the site for establishing a new factory; whether of objecting to the types of product made by a firm, or of trying to oppose elected leaders to management-appointed foremen or ‘managers’; whether the workers are trying to prevent redundancies and a declining volume of employment in an area, or trying to calculate for themselves the rises in the cost of living; whatever they are trying to do amounts, in the last analysis, to one and the same thing: [8] Labour is no longer willing to let Capital be in control of industry and the economy. It no longer accepts the logic of the capitalist economy which is the logic of profit. It is trying to reorganise the economy on the basis of quite different principles – the socialist principles which correspond to its own interests.

All intelligent capitalists are well aware of the threat to their entire regime posed by this instinctive revolt of the workers against capitalist relations of production. [9] They also realise that if that revolt were to unite with the propaganda, agitation and action of the revolutionary vanguard for workers’ control, it would endanger the very survival of the system. So they endeavour to canalise and deflect that revolt, with the help of the trade union bureaucracy, towards class collaboration and away from class confrontation. This is the purpose of all the propaganda for the idea of ‘participation’, Mitbestimmung, ‘co-management’ and so on, being put forward by large groups among the bourgeoisie in Europe today (and doubtless in Japan and North America tomorrow). The formulae used are generally clear enough to indicate the difference between them and the transitional demands I have spoken of. There is confusion only when the left wing of the union bureaucracy takes up the slogan of workers’ control, while giving it an entirely different meaning from that given by revolutionary Marxists.

One can sum up the basic difference between the ideology of ‘participation’ and ‘co-management’ on the one hand, and the demand for workers’ control on the other, in the following ways. Workers’ control rejects the idea that the unions and/or workers’ representatives should share in the management of capitalist industry; it demands for the workers a power of veto in a whole series of spheres relating to working conditions on the job, etc. Workers’ control rejects any idea of secrecy, with the account books being opened only to a handful of carefully chosen union officials. On the contrary, it demands the widest, most total publicity for all that the workers may discover, not only from their examination of the employer’s accounts and the way the firm’s money is handled, but also, more important, by comparing those accounts on the shop floor with the economic reality they are supposed to reflect. Workers’ control rejects all institutionalisation [10], all notion of becoming, even provisionally, party to the functioning of the system; for its protagonists realise that any such integration would inevitably mean its becoming a tool for class conciliation instead of one for an intensified class struggle.

All this is not just a dogmatic position adopted because of passionate and irrational prejudice. On the contrary, it is the logical conclusion to which one is forced if one analyses the deepest trends of contemporary capitalism in terms of the class struggle.

Contemporary capitalism is trying, first and foremost, to keep its grip on all the elements required to ensure an uninterrupted expansion in the reproduction of capital. That is the underlying meaning of such phrases as ‘economic programming’, ‘planning means the elimination of chance’, and other slogans which express in their various ways the new constraints which, for Capital, result from the speeding up of the cycle of reproduction of fixed capital. Consequently it makes little difference whether certain groups of workers see their ‘rights’ increased at any given phase in the production process, as long as Capital retains, consolidates and strengthens its hold on the reproduction process as a whole.

In fact, insofar as certain sectors of the working class agree to become associated in the management of ‘their’ particular firm, even if they have equal voting power on the board of management and the incentive of ‘profit-sharing’, they cannot help making the ‘firm’s interests’ their own, as against those of its competitors. In other words, capitalist competition will be brought back into the working class, so that when such competition strikes at this particular firm, that section of the workers will be unable to defend itself otherwise than by sacrificing income and employment for the sake of protecting the firm’s profitability.

All this can do nothing but good to the capitalist class in the struggle at the present juncture, even though it may involve an abandonment of certain ‘principles’ which the bourgeoisie was unwilling to abandon in the past, when the universal stability of its system, and a more favourable balance of power everywhere, did not make such ‘sacrifices’ necessary and useful.

The working class, however, can only suffer irreparable weakness, soon leading to total paralysis, if it once lets the principle of competition be brought from the capitalist market and bourgeois society into its own organisation and consciousness. It must seek to turn the development of society in exactly the opposite direction: to bring into the organisation of the economy the principles of association, cooperation and solidarity which it has initially experienced in its own organisations. Far from accepting ‘co-management’, which can only fragment the force of the working class as a whole, since if the workers are to identify with the ‘firm’ it is really the capitalists with whom they are identifying, socialists propose instead the principle of ‘workers’ control’ whereby the principle of collective solidarity is opposed to that of the individual firm’s profitability.

Irrespective of the ‘economic inability’ of this or that factory, we reject redundancies and unemployment. Irrespective of the ‘interests of rationalisation’, we reject the speed-up of assembly lines. Irrespective of the ‘need to increase productivity’, we reject any introduction of new pay systems which will fragment the unity of the workers in the factory. That is the spirit of workers’ control, which must be implanted among the mass of workers. It is in this very clear direction that we have to present propaganda for workers’ control as against the snares and siren songs of ‘co-management’.

Is this attitude ‘irrational’ from the economic standpoint? Far from it: the practical basis for such an attitude is the conviction – confirmed by economic theory – that the global viability of the national (and international) economy would be far greater than the sum of ‘individual viabilities’, if a democratically centralised system of planning operated with a certain minimum of efficiency.

We are told that it is Utopian to hope to see such an attitude adopted by ever greater number of workers, ‘except in times of revolutionary crisis’. But this objection corresponds to a non-dialectical concept of the uneven development of working-class consciousness of the working masses and their actions. But the truth is that for large bodies of workers to be capable of fighting for workers’ control straight away in movements of great explosions of class struggle, they would have first to have been familiarised, during the period before the struggle, with this demand, and its meaning, and all that it involves. Such preparation cannot be adequately made with written or spoken propaganda alone; it must try, at least occasionally, to move from words to action, and to get workers’ control accepted as one of the objectives being fought for in limited confrontations brought about by more advanced sectors of the working class. The practical experience that comes out of such confrontations, their value as object lessons, the involvement they give people in the switch-over to this entirely new orientation – all of this constitutes an indispensable stage in the development of revolutionary class consciousness.

Obviously this is not to say that agitation and action are to be lightly undertaken around such an explosive slogan during a period of lull in the class struggle. All it means is that any revolutionary vanguard worthy of the name should follow with close attention the impact its propaganda for workers’ control is having on advanced sectors of the working class. As soon as it becomes clear that the message has got across, and that more and more workers are starting to move in the same direction of their own accord, it becomes the duty of the vanguard no longer to avoid but positively to seek out some limited opportunity for agitation and action. After all, the ‘distance’ between a period of ‘business as usual’ and a pre-revolutionary phase might well be crossed as a result of the repercussions of a struggle for workers’ control in a particular large factory, town or district.

Reformist Illusions

For a long time reformists have sincerely believed that coalition governments between ‘liberal’ bourgeois parties and Social Democrats were a step on the way to purely socialist governments. Experience has shown that such governments, functioning within the framework of the bourgeois state, really do nothing to weaken the foundations of the capitalist regime because they cannot but defend the fundamental class interests of Capital. In point of fact, such governments are a step towards integrating ‘workers’ parties’ into the bourgeois state – the precise opposite of the ‘conquest of the bourgeois state’ by the working class.

But what is true of the state is a thousand times more true of the economy. The capitalist economy can only function on the basis of profit. Any ‘participation’ by workers’ representatives in the management of capitalist firms must, in such a situation, force them into ‘participating’ in the constant attempt to rationalise – which notably involves periodic reductions in the number of jobs and continual attempts to increase the exploitation of the individual worker.

Far from being a step on the way to ‘taking over industry’, this participation is merely the final step in the integration of the trade unions into the bourgeois state; from an instrument for defending the immediate interests of the workers against the bourgeoisie, they become transformed into an instrument for defending the interests of a ‘stable’ bourgeois society against the workers.

The notion of a gradual achievement of ‘economic democracy’, without any previous overthrow of the power of the bourgeois state or expropriation of Capital, is as old as Social Democratic reformism itself. It originated with Bernstein at the end of the last century. After the First World War, Bernstein could even boast that international social democracy now took its inspiration from his theory, and not from that of Kautsky and Bebel who had been his opponents in the great controversy over ‘revisionism’. [11]

It is a fact that the turning of the works councils which arose in 1918-19 from embryonic forms of workers’ power into instruments of class collaboration within capitalist industry was one of the greatest ‘successes’ of international social democracy during the early 1920s in countries like Germany and Austria. It is true that, as Otto Bauer honestly believed, what was initially intended was ‘a first step towards the socialist form of production’. [12] But, ‘the relationship of forces having deteriorated’, those works councils could soon play only a defensive role. With the economic crisis of 1929-32, their integration into the ‘industrial community’ became more and more evident. Instead of being a force in the class struggle, they became instruments for paralysing and dividing the working class. [13]

After the Second World War, the relationship of forces having once again changed to the detriment of the bourgeoisie, the idea of ‘co-management’ rose from its ashes and the illusion was fostered that, combined with ‘democratic nationalisation’, it could increase the influence of the workers’ movement within state monopoly capitalism. [14] However, once again the practice of class collaboration, imposed this time not only by the Social-Democratic bureaucracy, but also by that of the Communist Party, worked in favour of Capital, whose tottering power was thus steadied and its profits guaranteed.

The notion of ‘public control’ being exercised over the capitalist economy by government, parliament, local councils, joint committees of workers and management, etc., remains a myth as long as real economic and political power remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie. For reformists and neo-reformists, participation in coalition governments with the bourgeoisie is justified by ‘victories’ of this kind which, on a closer look, can be seen to be even more limited and pathetic than those achieved by the German Social Democrats at the beginning of the Weimar Republic.

An Austrian left-wing Social Democrat, Eduard März, is today the last survivor of the Austro-Marxist centrist tradition of the 1920s and 1930s. For him, ‘co-management’ is only a stage on the way to workers’ management, just as participation in a coalition government is only a stage on the way to full power. All that is necessary for success is not to remain content with ‘co-management at the top’, but to insist on also having ‘co-management on the shop floor’, and to ‘give new force to general assemblies of union members on the shop floor’, or to ‘general workers’ meetings’, and get them involved in an ever-widening series of controlling and co-managing functions. [15] The left wing of the West German trade unions and Social Democrats are trying to draw up projects at present under discussion in their country for generalised workers’ participation in industry in a similar direction.

Revolutionary Marxists have obviously nothing to gain by letting themselves get caught up in semantic disputes. If we give the formula of ‘co-determination on the shop floor’ (Mitbestimmung am Arbeitzplatz) exactly the same sense we gave earlier to ‘workers’ control’, without the addition of any element of shared responsibility for the management of capitalist industries, or the capitalist economy as a whole, then the dispute becomes meaningless.

But if instead we envisage this ‘co-determination on the shop floor’ as functioning in combination with various bodies and mechanisms for workers’ ‘representation’ alongside the representatives of Capital, then there really is a problem. For everything in the logic of the capitalist regime will inevitably act to transform such bodies into agencies of class collaboration, in other words, agencies for reinforcing Capital, while weakening and dividing the workers. Now even the most advanced among the left-wing or centrist Social Democrats allow for the possibility of precisely such a combination. What they are suggesting, therefore, is not a struggle for a new type of workers’ control, but a pure and simple repetition of the gradualist class collaboration myths of the past.

One very clever – though also very old – way in which reformists have distorted the idea of workers’ control has recently come to the fore once again inside the French PSU. Gilles Martinet has enshrined it in a book whose title clearly expresses the concept of reformism: La conquête des pouvoirs (The Conquest of Powers). Starting off from the undeniable fact that the power of any ruling class – including, obviously, the capitalist class – is always a social fact that extends to every sphere of society, the neo-reformists go on to conclude that power has therefore to be won in each of those spheres. In this they are forgetting that those ‘powers’ are linked together in a perfectly articulated way around two central structures: the mode of production (that is, the right of Capital to dominate the major forces of production by means of institutions which constantly reproduce a capitalist economy – private property, wage labour, generalised market economy, integration into the international capitalist market, etc.) and the bourgeois state. The gradualist illusion that one can whittle away the ‘powers’ of capitalism one by one is as unfounded as the illusion that the nature of an army could be changed by ‘conquering’ it battalion by battalion.

The same gradualist and unrealistic idea is to be found in the statements of the CFDT (the second-strongest trade union federation in France), obviously inspired by some of the experiences of ‘active strikes’ in May 1968. [16] (I am referring here to the majority of the CFDT, and not to Krumnov’s minority tendency which holds positions closer to my own). They propose ‘self-management of industries’ combined with the abolition of private property in some but by no means all of them. ‘Self-management’ is presented as ‘the best model for the democratisation of industry’, as making it possible for the workers to achieve ‘the power of economic decisions’.

But the ‘power of decision’ is thus detached from ‘power’ as such – in other words the power of the state and economic power. ‘Democratic planning’ appears as something quite apart from workers’ self-management. Parliament, too, subsists as something quite separate from the congresses of workers’ councils. Even self-management is to be applied not by a workers’ council, but by a ‘governing body elected by the workers’.

The CFDT ideologues seem not to grasp that it is completely Utopian to think of such ‘self-management’ as possible without bourgeois state power first being overthrown. And if that state power is overthrown, any distinction between economic ‘management bodies’ in the industrial sphere, and ‘political leaders’ working in the framework of a Parliamentary democracy, will perpetuate the division of citizens into those who rule and those who are ruled – a division which can only serve to accelerate the very process of bureaucratisation which the CFDT activists say they are so anxious to prevent.

In short, the confusion between ‘workers’ control’ demanded within the capitalist regime for the purpose of making workers understand the need to get rid of that regime, ‘workers’ self-management’ achieved only after the overthrow of the rule of capital, and workers’ power which means a power that is both political and economic, acting politically through workers’ councils (soviets) just as it does in industry, results in a kind of mongrel concept retaining nearly all the illusions of reformism – chief among them the possibility of a gradual advance to genuine workers’ self-management actually within the capitalist regime.

Bourgeois State Power Will Not Simply Melt Away

It is on the shop floor that the universal competition between individuals, ‘war of all against all’, which is the special mark of bourgeois society, first begins to be overcome among the workers. It is on the shop floor that there arises the kind of spontaneous cooperation and solidarity among workmates which enables the workers to overcome their powerlessness in the face of capitalists who are so much wealthier, more self-confident and better-educated than they. The shop floor has always been the first locus for ‘workers power’. [17] As workers’ organisations move away from the place of work, and become larger, more complex, less open, more opaque, they always seem to become hierarchised, gradually delegating power in ever more various ways, until they finally cease to be under the control of their founders and organisers, and even at times do the precise opposite of what they were founded for. So the immediately perceivable realities of working-class life, reinforced by the bitter experience of mass organisations becoming bureaucratised, has led many people to believe that ‘workers’ power’ can only be exercised at the level of the individual workplace. Revolutionary syndicalism and the ideas of the Radenkommunisten thus join those Proudhonist theories, which Marx attacked so fiercely, and whose Utopian character has so often been confirmed by events. [18]

The most far-seeing of the anarchists recognised the flaw: the inevitable tendency of present-day productive forces to become centralised, to grow ever more complex, to be ‘socialised’ in the objective sense of the word, that is, simultaneously to involve in their own development vast masses of both productive and non-productive workers (using productive here in the sense of profit-producing rather than socially useful). So they dreamed of a world in which another type of technology would operate, which would make it possible to divide factories and producers into ever smaller and smaller self-contained units. [19] This is a good example of a fundamentally petit-bourgeois aspect of anarchism, an ideology which, though it has many objectives in common with Marxism, and supports the historic movement of the proletariat, pursues at the same time an ideal based on the small-scale peasant and craft production of the past. Experience has made it quite clear, however, that the fundamental tendency of modern technology (which remains dominant, despite certain conflicting tendencies also present) is to move towards a centralisation and socialisation of labour, and not the other way; also that this tendency has a powerful emancipatory potential, since it makes possible a radical reduction of the working week and the gradual disappearance of alienating mechanical labour, once capitalism has been overthrown.

The idea that the emancipation of the workers can be reduced to meaning no more than the taking over of individual factories by workers’ councils is a Utopian one at several levels. First and foremost – and it is upon this that the Marxist critique of syndicalism has so far concentrated – merely to reject the necessity of the state is not to overthrow it. One cannot simply wait for it to be overthrown as the ‘automatic’ result of a strike, even a general strike with active occupation of factories. When its back is to the wall, the bourgeoisie will use every means of power at its disposal to defend private property. And it has at its disposal a very powerful apparatus for repression, with the police and the armed forces, and a correspondingly complex network of communications. None of this will melt away like snow in the sun simply because of a general sit-down strike. Such a strike furthermore would to some extent dissipate the power of the workers, not merely as between different factories, but more especially by dividing those who are occupying factories from those who, for whatever reason, remain at home. Dispersed strongholds of workers can be attacked and defeated individually by the concentrated power of the bourgeoisie if they are not linked together among themselves, and if they cannot confront the centralised state apparatus of Capital with a centralisation of worker’s power. History has given ample confirmation of this: the workers will never succeed in liberating themselves from Capital without overthrowing the bourgeois state by centralised political action, and replacing the apparatus of the bourgeois state by a new kind of state altogether, a workers’ state. [20]

In the present state of development of the productive forces, it is objectively unavoidable for all essential economic activities to be coordinated. Basically there are only two possible forms of coordination: either consciously planned coordination, or spontaneous coordination through the market. By rejecting planned coordination, on the ground that it must inevitably result in ‘administrative centralisation’ and bureaucratisation, propagandists for the idea that each firm should have its own ‘workers’ power’ are in practice opening the way to a generalised return to the market economy, whose effects would be quite as harmful as those of a central bureaucracy. [21]

The emancipation of the working class does not merely demand the abolition of private property and of the domination of Capital over Labour. The withering away of commodity production, which causes reification of human relationships and alienation, is also an essential precondition. It also demands the gradual withering away of the social division of labour, the fragmentation of work processes and the separation of administrative from productive functions. What it demands, therefore, is not workers attached to ‘their’ factory, jealously defending ‘their’ jobs (or, even worse, ‘their’ share in the profits made by ‘their’ firm), but workers who, on the basis of a guaranteed standard of living, progressively become familiar with the whole range of work processes and social activities, and consequently achieve a tremendous widening of their horizons, their knowledge and their culture. All this is very different from an ‘emancipation’ related solely to a single firm, or, still worse, to the ‘profits’ that firm makes.

If the syndicalist or Proudhonist idea of a seizure of the means of production by the workers in each individual firm is a Utopian one, how much more so is that of a similar seizure by isolated ‘cooperative’ or ‘self-managing’ groups within a capitalist society, along the lines of production cooperatives or the Israeli kibbutzim. [22] Where they are not doomed to rapid failure (like most of the ‘communist’ colonies in the United States in the last century), such experiments inevitably become businesses which form capitalist and exploitative relationships with the rest of society. Only at a time of revolutionary crisis, when the experiment of workers’ control is already beginning to be generalised and is thus in no danger of remaining isolated, can factories occupied by workers experience the beginnings of real workers’ management, and thus help to bring the crisis to a head and turn it into the starting-point of the final struggle for a national seizure of power.

For the same reason it would be wrong today to replace the demand for ‘workers’ control’ with one for ‘self-management’ as the central point in the transitional programme. The essential function of that programme must be to help raise the level of consciousness among the mass of people by getting them mobilised to the point at which they begin to overthrow the capitalist regime. To agitate for self-management is to behave as though the key problem still to be solved had already been solved. Anyone who believes that the mass of workers in the imperialist countries are today ready to take over the running of the economy at once, without first passing through the school of workers’ control, is deceiving himself and others with dangerous illusions as to the true level of consciousness of the masses.

The whole function of agitating for workers’ control is to lead the mass of the working class, through their own experience, and starting from their immediate concerns, to discover the need to drive the capitalists out of the factories and the capitalist class out of power. If this highly educative agitation is replaced by agitation for ‘self-management’, the great majority of the workers will be denied all such experience, and will in practice be encouraged to confine themselves to immediate demands only; there will also be the risk of provoking a few isolated experiments in ‘self-management’ by vanguard workers, doomed, in the capitalist context, to peter out.

Another harmful result of attempts to put workers’ self-management into effect within the capitalist production system when there is no revolutionary situation is that it would tend to transfer the energy of the workers’ vanguard, which could be used for agitation, towards production. Instead of organising themselves in their occupied factories with the object of extending the struggle to other factories in the same town, the same district, the same industry, or even all over the country, the workers taking production into their own hands would have to concentrate all their efforts on the sheer organisation of that production, especially given the isolated situation in which they would be working. Instead of taking their stand on the ground where they are strongest – the expanding class struggle – they would be taking a stand on the ground where their inferiority is most evident: competition in the capitalist market.

Workers’ Power, Soviet Democracy

The elected strike committees originating from a big strike wave or a major revolutionary battle, or constituted in the context of the struggle for workers’ control or a confrontation between workers and repressive state power, are the natural agents for exercising workers’ power. [23] From the ‘workers’ committees’ spoken of by Marx in 1850, based on the experience of the 1848 revolution, from the 1871 Paris Commune, and the Petrograd soviet of 1905, to the soviets which took power in the October revolution, and the workers’ councils established during the revolutions in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Spain, the second Hungarian revolution and elsewhere [24], this form of organising proletarian power comes to seem ever more inevitable in revolutionary practice, for reasons that are evident.

It is a most flexible form of organisation, allowing for a great variety of arrangements, both territorially and in its functioning (with soviets of workers, soldiers, poor peasants, students, sailors, teachers and so on). It makes it possible to involve the mass of those fighting as closely as possible in the exercise of power. It also makes it possible largely to overcome the separation between legislative and executive functions. It makes direct control by the masses easier, enabling everyone to see what is being done, to elect representatives and, equally, to recall them. Above all, it forms the ideal framework for proletarian and socialist democracy. For it constitutes both an arena in which the various workers’ parties and tendencies can fight their political and ideological battles, and a rational limitation to those battles, in the unity of action and agreed minimum of discipline in face of the common enemy which constitute the one condition for taking part in the councils (you cannot after all belong to a strike committee without being yourself a striker and a supporter of the strike), and which the masses themselves guard as jealously as they do respect for workers’ democracy.

It is improbable that wholly new forms of organisation for workers’ power will be invented in future revolutions, just as it is improbable that future forms will be merely carbon copies of the Russian soviets at various stages of the Revolution in the former empire of the Tsars. What we shall see is a number of varying types of organisation modelled on the workers’ council: but the basic characteristics which we have sketched out will for the most part undoubtedly remain.

The particular experience of the bureaucratic distortion, and eventual bureaucratic degeneration, of the workers’ state in Russia, and above all the experience of the Stalin dictatorship, have created enormous confusion as to the possibility of democracy in a state founded on the power of workers’ councils. Later events, such as the violent suppression of the workers’ councils in Hungary in 1956, and the less violent but equally damaging stifling of the beginnings of socialist democracy in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic after August 1968, have confirmed, at least in the eyes of objective observers, that Stalinist dictatorship and a state founded on workers’ councils – far from being identical – are in fact incompatible. However, the myths so warmly defended by the present leaders of the USSR and its satellites concerning Lenin’s teachings about the state are all so much grist to the mill of those who deny that any superior, or even genuine, form of democracy could exist outside the framework of bourgeois parliamentary democracy.

In this connection we should recall some elementary truths. Neither Marx nor Lenin ever proclaimed the absurd principle that there is room for only one party in the framework of a dictatorship of the proletariat; or even that the working class itself should be represented by a single party. The whole experience of the workers’ movement indicates, on the contrary, that the multiplicity of ideas and parties among the working class corresponds as much to social differences as to the ideological differences inevitable within the proletariat. [25] The right to form tendencies and the freedom to form new parties, within a framework of socialist legality, are not just an expression of this situation of fact; they are also a prerequisite for any long-term effective action. A great many of the problems which the working class in power has to face are new problems, and the various solutions to them proposed by different people can only be evaluated in practice and over a period of time. If the party in power suppresses the right to found new parties, then it is in fact stifling democracy within its own ranks. For internal democracy requires the right to tendency; and it is impossible to avoid the accusation that a tendency waging a fierce struggle on points of principle is a potential new party. In stifling democracy within its own ranks, any party automatically both reduces its own possibility of avoiding political mistakes, and lessens the likelihood that such mistakes will be corrected.

The democracy of workers’ councils implies free access to the mass media (press, radio and television), to means of propaganda, to meeting halls, and so on, for any group of workers acting within the terms of socialist legality. All Lenin’s arguments for the superiority of soviet democracy over bourgeois democracy, in terms of the mass of workers effectively enjoying democratic freedom, were based on such rights. The notion that only the party in power should be able to use the press and the mass media, that it has the sole right to appoint editors to newspapers, and to censor news (an idea fervently defended by Brezhnev and his disciples in various countries, not least Czechoslovakia itself, since the ‘Prague Spring’), is a flagrant distortion of Lenin’s principles of soviet democracy as formulated in State and Revolution. I need hardly remind readers that Lenin often stressed that even the question of whether or not democratic rights should be granted to the bourgeoisie was not a matter of principle at all, but merely one of tactics, depending upon the relationship of forces. [26] And certainly the idea that the enjoyment of those rights should be withdrawn from the great majority of the workers, simply because they do not accept the line being taken at a given moment by the Communist Party, would never have entered his head.

To get these principles of socialist democracy genuinely and faithfully put into effect obviously depends upon the real class struggle, and not just upon abstract and pious wishes. When its regime has been in danger, even the most liberal bourgeoisie has, on many occasions, suspended the democratic liberties it grudgingly allows the people, established a dictatorship and set up a bloody reign of terror against the oppressed. The workers, anxious to preserve their new-found freedom, will defend themselves fiercely against the attempts of Capital to recover the power it has lost. The less violent that class struggle is, the more stable will be the workers’ state, the more relaxed social relations, and the more rapidly removed the restrictions of democratic freedom imposed on its opponents by the new regime. The workers’ state, repressive only towards a tiny handful of exploiters, and serving the vast majority of the people, must in any case be a very special kind of state – a state which, as Lenin said, starts withering away, so to say, from birth.

One may agree with Mao Tse-tung that the class struggle can at times become more acute during the very period of transition from capitalism to socialism. But to think that after the final victorious construction of socialism, that is to say of the classless society, a state will still be needed, or that one may even have to envisage at that time an aggravation of the class struggle, is the kind of theoretical absurdity that only a man like Stalin would be capable of formulating. (After all, there can hardly be a class struggle without classes!)

Management of the Transitional Economy

Though Marxist theory is clear enough on how the workers’ state itself should be organised, it is far from offering a final picture of how the economy should function during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism. How in practice the planning of the economy – Marx many times declared planning to be the basic principle of a socialised economy – should link up with the exercise of power by the working class, in a system of ‘associated producers’, remains a matter of dispute. The manifold experiences accumulated at the various stages of development first of the Soviet economy, and later of the economies of the other countries where capitalism has been abolished, present a kaleidoscope of different solutions, from extreme bureaucratic centralisation on the one hand to the Yugoslav system based on a combination of factory self-management and ‘socialist market economy’.

It must be admitted that theory has not progressed very far on this question. Marx makes one brief allusion to producers’ cooperatives in which the members themselves nominate the managers. De Leon had a vague theory of ‘industrial unions’ which would organise production after the seizure of power. The Bolshevik party drew its inspiration largely from this, and during the first few years after the October revolution it entrusted the management of the economy to trade union organisations. The results were far from brilliant, and there was a gradual transition from a system of mixed management (that is, managers + trade unions) to the system of ‘single management’ officially proclaimed by Stalin in 1930.

The idea that the economy should be managed by the factory soviets (workers’ councils) was defended by a number of left-wing communists during the years just after the October revolution. It was also widely taken up by left-wing communists in Europe, particularly in Germany and the Netherlands.

Present-day discussion of this question is undoubtedly polarised by the two most extreme examples – the Stalinist experience and the Yugoslav one. Both sides are trying to fit all the possible varieties of management systems into the following dilemma: either factories are largely autonomous, and their performance is to be judged by a single, universal criterion, that of financial viability (that is, profit) as indicated by the market; or there must be administrative centralisation of major decision-making, which makes any genuine workers’ self-management impossible.

The argument that workers’ self-management necessarily involves a high degree of economic decentralisation, and an increasing recourse to the ‘socialist market economy’, is an unconvincing one. Why should workers’ self-management not be compatible with a democratic delegation of decision-making powers – not to management, but to people freely elected by the workers concerned (with national, regional and local congresses of workers’ councils – and in future, doubtless, international ones)? Actually, a whole range of economic decisions cannot be made at all effectively at the level of the individual factory. To say that ‘self-managing workers’ are ‘free’ to make such decisions is to conceal half the truth; their decisions will be rapidly ‘rectified’ by the market, and may have a result entirely opposite to what the workers intended. What then is the difference between ‘economic laws’, realising themselves, so to speak, ‘behind the backs’ of the ‘self-managing workers’, and administrative decrees imposed upon them from above? Are not both systems very similar, and both equally oppressive and alienating? Surely the truly socialist and democratic solution would consist in getting all such decisions made consciously, by congresses of workers’ councils, at all appropriate levels (for there are, of course, a whole range of decisions that can properly be made at the level of a single factory, or even a single workshop or department).

Nor is it true that the only, or principal, source of bureaucratisation, of omnipotence of the bureaucracy, is to be found in its central control over the social surplus product, through the system of bureaucratic planning. The ultimate source of bureaucratisation lies in the social division of labour, that is in the lack of knowledge, of skills, of initiative, of culture and of social and political activity among the workers. This is, of course, primarily a consequence of the capitalist past and of the capitalist environment, a consequence of the inadequate development of the productive forces. But all the factors that tend to discourage the workers, that weaken their class consciousness and unity, are likely to increase their passivity, and thus reinforce the control of the bureaucracy over the management of the economy and the social surplus product. Such control may operate through the intermediary of the market, in a system of decentralised management, just as effectively as through a system of administrative centralisation. Among the factors which add to the discouragement of the workers must be noted not only the lack of any real participation in the management of industry (which is among the most obvious causes of alienation), but also the increase in social inequality, the universal commercialisation of social life and the reification of all the human relationships flowing from it, the increased competition among different groups of workers, the disintegration of class solidarity, the return of unemployment, and a whole lot of other inescapable consequences of the ‘socialist market economy’ as developing now in Yugoslavia. [27]

Marxists firmly believe in workers’ self-management of the economy. But they are convinced that the Yugoslav leaders have done the greatest disservice to the cause of workers’ self-management by their ill-conceived linking of the idea of self-management with that of the ‘socialist market economy’. The genuine de-proletarianisation of Labour demands not just abolishing private ownership of the means of production and liberating the economy from bureaucratic management, but also the withering away of commodity relations and of the social division of labour. [28] This is not something that can happen from one day to the next, any more than the withering away of the state. But just as the fact that the withering away of the state will be a lengthy process should not be used as a pretext for waiting till Doomsday to get it under way, equally there is no logic in refusing to start working towards the withering away of market relations on the ground that the process cannot be actually completed until an abundance of goods and essential services can be guaranteed to everyone.

In point of fact, workers’ self-management, being a process of gradual disappearance of alienation in production relationships, should take place simultaneously at all the levels at which the producer is still subject to alienating economic relationships. It therefore implies that all decisions affecting a given factory, and which can be taken effectively at factory level, should be taken at that level with the conscious participation of every worker involved, by democratically elected workers’ councils, free of any outside interference. It implies that where decisions of coordination must be made, affecting the factory’s relationships with other bodies, those decisions should be made, with the full knowledge of all, by congresses elected by the workers’ councils. It implies the disintegration of the hierarchical structure of management, and of market relations, as a growing range of goods and services are distributed according to the principle of satisfaction of needs (without payment), and according to priorities democratically determined by the mass of workers themselves. It implies that, in a whole series of areas (education, culture, recreation, health, preservation of the natural environment, town-planning, etc) the criterion of ‘profitability’ be abandoned in favour of the criteria of public service and social utility. [29] Obviously the capacity of any given economy to achieve all this during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism will depend on its relative wealth. But every economy has the capacity to start taking steps in that direction.

The Self-Management Camouflage in Yugoslavia

One neo-Marxist variant on the doctrine of workers’ councils which is being defended now by Yugoslav theorists amounts to a barely-veiled justification of the contradictory situation now prevailing in Yugoslavia: it is that workers are, or should be, able to exercise power directly only in the economic sphere, by means of factory self-management. In the state, power should belong to the ‘conscious forces of society’ – in other words, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. The more hypocritical supporters of this theory declare that even in society as a whole, there is no point in establishing any new political structures because the state is withering away. Yet it would be hard to deny that it is still far from dead. Why, then, should the workers’ councils not wield the political power always planned for the soviets in Marxist-Leninist political theory? No satisfactory reason has ever been given by the official Yugoslav theorists.

Actually, the most obvious contradiction in the Yugoslav system is that, though self-management is the declared principle on which the economy is based, its political structures are very far from being based on any direct exercise of power by the workers. As we have already seen, in conditions of excessive economic decentralisation, of systematic and exaggerated recourse to the workings of the ‘socialist market economy’, and of an increasing integration of the Yugoslav economy into international capitalist economy, there is a danger that ‘self-management’ by producers at the shop-floor level will become meaningless. In addition, genuine economic self-management only becomes possible in relation to the economy as a whole (through a congress of workers’ councils). But there is another point that should also be noted here: no self-management can be genuine if it exists solely in the context of factory life, whether in isolated firms or even in all firms, grouped together in some coherent fashion.

The forms of interaction between economics and politics during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism are endless (indeed, they are already on the increase in the period of imperialism and late capitalism). This phenomenon is well summed up in the term ‘economic policy’. Officially, the workers’ council may control the part of the social surplus created within the factory; in practice, such ‘control’ is illusory, when the government’s economic policy (its taxation policy, credit policy, monetary policy, commercial policy, foreign policy, etc.) can change at a moment’s notice the conditions in which that surplus is ‘realised’, thereby modifying both its quantity and its quality. Once again, the whole process is a camouflage operation rather than a true dis-alienation.

Furthermore, no congress of workers’ councils can have any effective right of decision in planning, in the distribution of the national income and in investment (that is, economic growth), if it cannot also claim the right of decision in all those areas which have an important influence on the trends in economic development (as listed in the preceding paragraph). If it has not got that right, a dangerous ‘duality of power’ arises within society. If it does get it, then what functions remain to any other representative central organisations of a parliamentary type? Of course there are certain well-defined spheres (cultural affairs, matters affecting education and public health, etc.) in which they can do useful work. But to give them work in specific areas is hardly consistent with a parliamentary system; it would in fact imply a disproportionate representation for certain social groups in order to foster the closest possible fusion between legislative and executive functions.

Since key economic decisions are related to basic economic problems, genuine self-management, even at shop-floor level, calls for the ‘self-managers’ to have the right to intervene actively in ‘economic policy’ at the national level – in other words, to intervene actively in politics generally. It presupposes the right of every workers’ council to present counter-proposals to government long-term economic development plans, to seek allies on that basis throughout the country, to inform public opinion of the alternatives presented, and so on. Genuine self-management thus demands respect for the principles of socialist democracy in the political sphere, and that is something that is far from being assured in Yugoslavia. [30]

In the absence of this socialist democracy, self-management becomes largely bureaucratised and is deprived of its emancipating force. And since no public debate can produce clear information without organised tendencies, the absence of the right to organise other parties which also respect the socialist constitution (as well as the absence of the right to tendency within the League of Communists) contributes to denaturing self-management still further.

The crowning point in all these contradictions and distortions of the Yugoslav system of self-management is to be found in the theory according to which the problem of modifying production relations comes down in the final analysis to no more than an organisation of profit-sharing within individual firms! Self-management then basically means simply the right of the workers to vote on such profit-sharing; everything else is determined by technocrats – and the market. I need hardly point out that this is a typically technocratic ideology which has little in common with Marxism. The relations of production are concerned not primarily with how the fruits of labour are divided but with how production is organised. To see the distribution of income as the ‘essential’ economic phenomenon implies acceptance of wage labour and a market economy. It also presupposes that the organisation of labour, the determination of the use values produced, that is, of the goals of production, remain in the main outside the control of the workers. In this situation their continuing alienation is all the more evident.

If carried to its ultimate conclusion, the ‘socialist market economy’ creates a danger of undermining workers’ self-management even in the limited form in which it has been practised in Yugoslavia since 1950. Pressure from the technocrats, managers and bureaucratised elements in industry is obviously going that way: they are trying to shift more and more of the power of deciding how work and production should be organised onto agents outside the workers’ councils, on the ground that the workers are not ‘experts’ – who are, it now seems, the only people ‘competent’ to decide such matters. The de facto abolition of the management council, the proposal to establish long-term contracts between the workers’ council and the manager, giving that manager full powers over day-to-day decision-making throughout that period, and even an attempt to turn the workers’ council into a body concerned merely with annual incomes and distribution arrangements within the firm – all these are so many practical stages in the direction of dismantling workers’ self-management, and are the logical consequences of ‘socialist competition’, that cornerstone of the ‘socialist market economy’.

Despite my outspoken criticism of Yugoslav deviations from Marxism, I would not want my readers to forget that introduction of the self-management system into industry in Yugoslavia has created conditions there which are far more favourable to the emergence of genuine workers’ power than those existing in any of the other countries where capitalism has been abolished. My criticism is aimed at enabling revolutionary vanguard workers to escape from the dilemma: either Stalinist hyper-centralisation, or a Yugoslav-style ‘socialist market economy’. We can still recognise for what they are worth the Yugoslav experiments in self-management, as points of reference for future revolutions and future workers’ states continuing to seek a valid model for economic organisation during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism.

Intellectual Work as Wage Labour

The changes effected in bourgeois society by the third technological revolution have been manifold. The peasantry and the former middle classes have become so reduced a sector of the economy as to become negligible in some countries. The proportion of people in the liberal professions and the ‘new middle class’ has barely grown from the point it had reached on the eve of the great economic crisis of 1929-32. On the other hand, the number of wage and salary-earners who can live only by selling their labour has continued to grow. Contrary to a deep-rooted and widespread myth, the inner cohesion of this vast mass – containing between 70 and 85 per cent of the active population in most of the industrially advanced countries – is stronger than ever before. Then too, the differences both in income and social status among manual workers, office workers, salaried technicians and all but the top level of officials have diminished in comparison with what they were at the beginning of the century, or even the beginning of the 1930s. And the changes brought about by this third technological revolution mean that even the nature of the jobs performed in semi-automated factories by, say, a mobile squad of general maintenance workers, accountants working with the help of computers, and technicians installing a new machine, is tending to become surprisingly uniform.

The social consequences of this growing homogenisation of the work done by wage-earners were evident in the explosion of May 1968 in France, and in the 24-hour general strikes which rocked Italy during the following year. The number of strikers exceeded anything witnessed in the past (10 million in France; 15 million in Italy). Most significant was the massive participation of white-collar workers, officials, teachers and even management personnel. Their participation was not just limited to demanding improved working conditions and pay, alongside the workers; it extended to demands which turned these battles into serious confrontations, bringing into question the capitalist relations of production as such – by attacking the whole authoritarian structure of the factories, offices, work-sites and service industries, by contesting the rights of Capital and the capitalist state to control men and machines.

Even before then, students had drawn on the revolutionary Marxist tradition by demanding such things as ‘student control’, ‘student power’ and ‘self-management’ in schools and universities. What was striking in that revolutionary May in France was the fact that similar claims were being made in areas which, though marginal to the economy as such, can only continue to grow in importance in the present state of development of the productive forces: researchers and scholars, doctors and hospital staff, reporters working for press, radio and television, actors and other workers in the entertainment industry, and so on. [31]

All this was the result of various profound historical transformations of enormous importance for the struggle for socialism. The third technological revolution has brought about a massive reintegration of intellectual work into production in the form of wage labour. This is objectively the basis for the alliance between manual workers on the one hand, and students and intellectuals on the other. Intellectuals are tending to lose their petit-bourgeois character; students are gradually changing from apprentice–bourgeois into apprentice–intellectual–wage-labourer. But this reintegration of intellectual labour into production, in a society in which labour remains more than ever a commodity, means that intellectual labour becomes subject to all the consequences – objective and subjective – of proletarianisation: division of labour, more and more hyper-specialisation and subdividing of jobs, a brutal subordination of individual talents and needs to ‘social needs’ which become identified with Capital’s needs for profit (involving pre-selection and often decreases in overall skills), an increasing alienation of intellectual work, and so on. This is the objective basis for the universal revolt among students, as well as the possible addition of whole groups of intellectuals, who come as most valuable allies to the workers’ revolutionary movement, not only in the struggle to overthrow capitalism, but also in the effort to build a socialist society founded on planned self-management by all those involved in production.

However, the difference in nature between the labour which provides the material foundation for people’s lives, and the activity which is essentially directed to areas outside material production, involves considerable differences in the way in which management should be organised. And this will remain the case as long as we have not reached that state of plenty in which goods and services everywhere can be distributed in accord with the needs of every individual. In the last analysis, workers’ self-management means that the producers themselves will determine how hard they will work and what sacrifices they are prepared to make, as long as resources are still scarce so that priorities have to be worked out in deciding upon their distribution. But if one wants to extend this principle to such fields as education, the health services or the mass media, one must not forget that in these fields, it is not a question of the use of material resources by those producing them, but of the use of material resources which the rest of society makes available for these purposes. The community has obviously far more of a right to control the use of these resources than it does those placed at the disposal of factories.

With the press, radio and television, the situation is even clearer. Confronted with capitalist owners, or a state which can cynically doctor the news, journalists are very right to demand control and to defend their autonomy – although one should not forget that printing workers and radio and television technicians also have interests and rights equally deserving of consideration. But in a post-capitalist society with genuine socialist democracy, it would obviously be absurd to make journalists the arbiters of what is and what is not made public. The logic of social democracy in this case would demand that access to the various media of information be extended to society as a whole (to groups of working citizens of a certain numerical strength, perhaps). It could not allow a monopoly of access to or management of the media to a single profession.

Clearly, then, the extension of the slogans of ‘control’ or ‘self-management’ to these various fields must be made with the greatest care, allowing for the structural differences I have outlined. It remains true, nonetheless, that the overthrow of authoritarian structures is fully justified in all these fields. The replacement of an enforced hierarchy by forms of organisation based on the principle of councils – with elections, power of the voters to remove delegates from office, continuing control of the summit by the base, the widest possible association of all those concerned with the exercise of administrative functions, the full development of people’s creative capacities, etc – can be considered to be a completely legitimate revolutionary socialist objective in all spheres. [32] The notion of socialist society consisting of a vast, planned and consciously directed complex of producers and citizens who administer their own lives represents the very essence of Marxism.

Workers’ Power and the Vanguard Party

There remains one final controversial point to be elucidated: what is the relationship between the activities of the mass of workers trying to get control of the running of their own lives – by means of the struggle for workers’ control and workers’ self-management, and of the creation of workers’ councils – and the effort to form revolutionary vanguard parties? The way the democracy of the workers’ councils has been stifled by the bureaucracy in Russia and the countries influenced by her has again given credence in some vanguard circles to theories which historical experience had previously many times refuted. It is therefore important that we restate firmly what is the essence of Marxist-Leninist theory on this matter.

The objective bases of the need for revolutionary vanguard parties are threefold: first, the partial and fragmentary nature of the experience, whether of bourgeois society or of the class struggle, which groups of workers can gain in one industry or one area (this results ultimately from the capitalist division of labour and its consequences for the level of immediate consciousness which can be achieved by the worker subject to it); second, the inevitable ideological differentiation within the working class, arising both from differences in jobs and in social origins and from superstructural factors (family influence, school formation, the differing ideological influences to which people are exposed, etc); third, the lack of continuity in the political activity of the masses – the ebbs and flows of the revolutionary tide.

For these three reasons, it is inevitable that a vanguard distinct from the class as a whole should come into being. It is made up of people who, by individual effort, manage to overcome the partial and fragmentary nature of the elementary class consciousness attainable by the wider mass of people. This vanguard makes it possible to weld together the partial experiences of revolutionary struggle from diverse times and places into a single and infinitely richer experience, thus bringing together these partial experiences into a total scientific theory, the revolutionary Marxist programme. Finally, it draws together individuals who, by their awareness, temperament, capacity for dedication and identification with the cause of their class, preserve a high level of activity even during periods when the mass struggle is at a low ebb.

If only for this last reason, the existence of a revolutionary vanguard organisation is indispensable, in order to promote the mass revolutionary tide of the future. In periods of ebb, that organisation will preserve what has been learnt theoretically; it will prevent the idea of workers’ councils from sinking into oblivion and demoralisation, educate a new generation in the knowledge of the past, and battle against contrary forces to spread the programme more and more widely. I need hardly point out the fact that, thanks to such activity, the possibility of seeing a new upsurge of workers’ councils is far greater than it would otherwise be.

A revolutionary vanguard organisation is indispensable if a victorious revolution is to be assured. This will demand a concentration of effort, a sensitivity to the ripeness of specific conditions, a detailed analysis of the enemy’s preparations and plans, and the development of a true ‘science of revolution’ which the masses as a whole could hardly achieve spontaneously. A great many revolutions have broken out spontaneously, but there has never been one which has spontaneously triumphed.

The revolutionary vanguard organisation, finally, also constitutes an indispensable tool with which to combat the danger of a bureaucratic distortion of workers’ power after the victory of the revolution. Anyone who believes that workers’ self-management alone provides a sufficient guarantee against such distortion is failing to grasp its deeper underlying cause, that is to say the partial survival of the social division of labour and of the market economy during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism. This is a time when conflicts of interest among industries, professions, regions and different groups of producers are absolutely inevitable. It is an illusion to suppose that the democratic process alone (that is, the vote) will automatically result in majority support for the policies which best represent the interests of the class as a whole. Such measures can only win the day through a continuing political and ideological struggle; through a process of political formulation which that struggle can only assist. The organic structuring of differing tendencies into organisations and parties makes it possible to clarify the debate; the confused arguing of vast numbers of non-organised individuals can only make it easier for demagogues or privileged groups to take over.

There is no contradiction between the necessary spontaneity of the masses and the function of revolutionary vanguard organisations. The vanguard channels the spontaneity of the masses in times of upsurge, and sustains it in time of decline. Still less is there any incompatibility between the social democracy of the councils, with full sovereignty exercised by the workers’ councils and their congresses, and the activity of a revolutionary vanguard organisation. In fact the latter helps to provide the links needed by the former, and ultimately tends to facilitate the exercise of power by the proletariat by setting the various options clearly before them. Similarly, the existence of a revolutionary International makes it possible to integrate the theory and practice of the various national vanguard organisations into a coherent whole; such integration, which cannot be achieved without adequate organisation, is absolutely indispensable at a time when all aspects of social life are becoming more and more fully internationalised.

What must be attacked is the notion that any self-proclaimed vanguard group can acquire some kind of material or political privilege by the mere fact of putting itself forward as such. Material privilege should be out of the question in any case. As for political ‘privilege’, all that the activists in a revolutionary party have any right to claim is the privilege of fighting in the front line for the interests of their class, and of devoting a far larger proportion of their time to social action than other people. This does not give them any additional rights; but it undoubtedly does give them a greater possibility of influencing and convincing their workmates and fellow-citizens than others have. In a socialist democracy this possibility is open to anyone, and the only form of selection that operates in regard to it is what may be called selection by praxis. In any case, it is only when the masses come to begin to accept the leadership of the revolutionary organisation that it stops being simply a self-declared vanguard and becomes a real vanguard in the objective sense of the word.

Those who deny the need for a revolutionary vanguard party on the ground that it represses the spontaneity of the masses, or who even try to prevent its being established on the ground that the sovereignty of the workers’ councils must not be infringed, are in fact falling into a parallel error to that of the Stalinist single-party concept, which rejects the sovereignty of the workers’ councils in favour of some universal wisdom which the party is supposed automatically to embody. Both errors allege an incompatibility between the vanguard’s duty of political leadership and persuasion on the one hand, and the activity of the organised masses on the other. But for Marxist-Leninism no such incompatibility exists. The need for a vanguard party is seen as an indispensable complement to the organisation of the masses in workers’ councils. Marx and Engels explained this complementarity in essence at the time of the Communist Manifesto, and I can do no better than conclude by quoting what they said then:

The Communists ... have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only. 1: In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2: In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. [33]


1. Cf. the failure to disarm the former Reichswehr in November-December 1918 in Germany; the failure to distribute land to the peasants in the Hungarian revolution of 1919; the failure to set up a central government based exclusively on revolutionary power structures, established locally and linked together nationally, in Spain in 1936; and so on.

2. Cf. the role played by the revolutionäre Obleute (revolutionary shop stewards) among the Berlin metal-workers in preparing the November 1918 revolution in Germany.

3. I use this term pejoratively, but not of course in the bourgeois sense. In my view they are ‘drop-outs’ because they are no longer taking part in a movement to set free the exploited; they are content to live in the illusion of their own individual emancipation in the midst of universal exploitation.

4. For more about the workers’ commissions see, for example, Le Commissioni Operaie Spagnole (Turin 1969).

5. Let me make it clear that in this context I am using the term ‘working class’ to apply to all those who sell their labour-power, and whose work is indispensable for the production of surplus value.

6. In English, there is an ambiguity about the word ‘control’ which does not exist in other European languages. The phrase ‘workers’ control’ is here used in its traditional Marxist sense, and is not identical with workers’ management.

7. Note with what fervour the ‘socialist’ Wilson advocated penalisation of this sort!

8. In the Pirelli Works in Milan, the workers unilaterally altered their production routines. In the Fiat works in Turin, attempts were made to prevent the boss from shifting the output from popular cars to luxury models; an elected workers’ council came into being there at the beginning of 1970. In Belgium, there has been widespread discussion of the right of veto by elected shop stewards against any lay-offs. Etc., etc.

9. As long ago as 1963, the highly intelligent French banker Bloch-Laine grasped this, pointing out that the dissatisfaction of workers, because of their alienation as producers, could provoke real revolution if there were the slightest weakening of the economy (Pour une réforme de l’entreprise, Paris 1963).

10. It is on this point that I part company with Andre Gorz who, in Stratégie ouvrière et néo-capitalisme (Paris 1964), pp. 116-17, defends a gradualist concept of workers’ control, with graduated objectives, and the idea of a series of achievable intermediate claims which would open a ‘practicable way’ to socialism. This notion fails to recognise that there must be a revolutionary mass mobilisation like that which occurred in May 1968 if workers’ control is to be achieved. Nor does it understand the close links between such a mobilisation and the question of political power inevitably posed by it, and the impossibility of permanently preserving what Gorz calls ‘the balance’ between the workers’ movement and capitalism – which in such a situation is not in fact a balance at all, but a highly unstable and fragile dual power. Gorz has since then at least partially modified his views on this subject.

11. For the origins of the concept of ‘industrial democracy’, see Eduard Bernstein, Die Veraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie, first published in 1899. My reference is to the Dietz edition (Stuttgart 1921), especially pp. 170ff., 186-90.

12. Otto Bauer, Die österreichische Revolution (Vienna 1923), p. 171.

13. An interesting summary of the development of the German trade union leaders’ practice in that period is offered by Hannes Heer, Burgfrieden oder Klassenkampf (Neuwied 1971).

14. Eugene Varga, Essais sur l’économie politique du capitalisme (Moscow 1967), pp. 73-76.

15. Eduard März, La prospettiva storica della cogestione, Critica Sociale, No. 20, 1969, pp. 606-08. This article first appeared in the Austrian Social Democrat review, Die Zukunft.

16. Gilles Martinet, La conquête des pouvoirs (Paris 1968); also, Perspectives et stratégie de la CFDT – Inventaire des problèmes, pp. 13-14 of the special supplement in No. 1247 of the weekly Syndicalisme.

17. It is true that during the first and second technological revolutions, the bonds of solidarity and class cooperation originally forged on the shop floor were supported and reinforced by collective leisure activities in working-class districts and towns. Here, two factors in present-day capitalist civilisation, private cars and private television, tend to replace the collective life outside the factory of the past with a re-privatisation of leisure occupations and of housing. Instead of spending their free time together, in their union halls, educational institutes, cafés and bars, the workers tend to spend it separately, which diminishes class solidarity, and makes the links forged on the shop floor all the more vital.

18. See Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Oeuvres complètes (Paris, ed. Rivière); James Guillaume, Idée sur l’organisation sociale (1876), and a good summary in Daniel Guérin, L’anarchisme (Paris 1965). Marx’s classic reply is contained in The Poverty of Philosophy.

19. See Peter Kropotkin, Landwirtschaft, Industrie und Handwerk, first published in 1898.

20. On the general problem of bureaucracy in the workers’ state, its origins and ways to combat it, see Fernand Charlier, The Roots of Bureaucracy and Ways to Fight It, in Ernest Mandel (ed.), Fifty Years of World Revolution (New York 1968), pp. 253-74).

21. Consider the painful experience of Yugoslavia, especially since the 1965 economic reform. In section nine below we shall be looking at the problems of ‘socialist market economy’, and its interplay with the dynamics of bureaucratisation.

22. See, for example, Eliyahn Kanovsky, The Economy of the Israeli Kibbutz (Cambridge, Mass. 1966), pp. 87, 123-24, 138-39, and Martin Pallmann, Der Kibbutz: um Strukturwandel eines konkreten Kommunetyps in nichtsozialistischer Umwelt (Basle 1966), on how the ‘profitability’ of the kibbutzim depends more and more on the exploitation of outside industrial wage labour. According to Pallmann (p. 171), in 1963-64 this already provided 50 per cent of the kibbutzim’s industrial labour force.

23. It is Trotsky who must take the credit for having been the first to recognise the universal application of soviets, in 1906.

24. According to information which seeped through to the West, in spite of severe censorship, the striking workers of the Baltic ports of Szczecin and Gdańsk formed workers’ councils in December 1970.

25. See in this connection the interesting study by Ossip K. Flechtheim on the sociology of the split in the German workers’ movement between the SPD and the KPD (1920-33). What this study shows above all is that at the point of the greatest strength of the workers’ movement – the period from 1921 to 1928 – the Communist Party actually won the majority in those branches of industry where wages were highest and industrial concentration greatest, whereas the SPD maintained its hold over the less well paid and more scattered bodies of workers. (Die KPD in der Weimarer Republik, Frankfurt 1969, pp. 311-21).

26. For example, Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Selected Works, Vol. 3, (Moscow 1967), p. 80.

27. The most fanatical apologists for the Yugoslav bureaucracy persist in denying this, and are thus led to make statements that are positively grotesque. For instance, writing in the paper Student (18 March 1969), one partisan of the ‘socialist market economy’ speaks against the strict application of the principle of paying people according to the amount of work they actually contribute to society, on the ground that this principle ‘does not allow for differences in talents [sic] and contributions. Such a demand leads to the formation of an omnipotent administrative and bureaucratic force, above production and above society, a force which establishes an artificial [sic, again!] and superficial equality, and whose power results in want, inequality and privilege.’ Bureaucracy growing out of the establishment of equality – quite a concept for someone who claims to be a Marxist!

28. I am happy to note that the main Yugoslav theoretician, Edvard Kardelj, after strenuously denying this for 15 years, has now finally admitted it in his report to the 1971 Sarajevo Congress of Self-Managing Bodies.

29. ‘This struggle about the legal restriction of the hours of labour raged the more fiercely since, apart from frightened avarice, it told indeed upon the great contest between the blind rule of the supply and demand laws which form the political economy of the middle class, and social production controlled by social foresight, which forms the political economy of the working class.’ (Inaugural Address of the Working Men’s International Association, Marx and Engels, Selected Works (Moscow 1958), pp. 382-83, my emphasis)

30. Witness the recent wave of bans on journals, for example, the Belgrade student paper, Student.

31. See J. Pesquet, Des soviets à Saclay? (Paris 1968).

32. In this connection we may recall that the establishment of ‘school councils’ and ‘student councils’ was fairly common in the Russian revolution in 1917-18, and still more so in the Hungarian revolution. See, for instance, Die Jugend der Revolution (Berlin 1921), pp. 202, 212-23.

33. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, in Marx and Engels, Selected Works (London, 1970), p. 46.

Last updated on 16.5.2011