J. T. Murphy

A Revolutionary Workers’ Government

Date: (1929?)
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


THE revolutionary period of human history has come again. Already two kinds of society exist in the world. A Revolutionary Workers’ Government rules over one sixth of the earth since November, 1917, and the remainder is governed by capitalist governments. Within all capitalist countries the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class becomes more and more powerful. Millions upon millions of workers have no longer any faith in capitalism. They are sceptical and cynical in their attitude to capitalist parliaments. They look for a new kind of government—a workers’ government that will function in the interests of the working class and bring in socialism, but as yet they do not know how such a government can be formed. It is our purpose not only to show that the workers of other countries have already shown the way, but that the workers of this country have a rich experience which reveals how such a government will be formed out of their daily conflicts against their exploiters and how it will deal with the workers’ problems.

The idea of the working class becoming the ruling class as the means to doing away with class rule has deep roots in the British working class movement. “The Red Republican” of July, 1850, an organ of the Chartist Movement, says:—

“As regards the working man swamping all other classes, the answer is simple—other classes have no right to exist. To prepare the way for the absolute supremacy of the working class, preparatory to the abolition of the system of classes, is the mission of “The Red Republican.”
(See article by Groves in “Labour Monthly,” April, 1929.)

Thus twenty-one years before the Paris Commune and seventy-seven years before the Russian revolution British workers understood the meaning and outcome of the war of the classes. Indeed Ernest Jones, the Chartist leader, used the slogan “Class against Class.” Let those praters about “Bolshevism” being a “foreign” importation now be silent.

The Revolutionary Workers’ Government is the workers’ State power which grows up in the struggle for power and is established with the defeat of the capitalist class in the class war. It is not a parliamentary government, for a parliament is a capitalist institution which hides the dictatorship of the capitalists. At times the dictatorship is revealed in all its nakedness as in the days of the General Strike. Then Parliament was closed down and Government acted as open dictators, calling out the soldiers, organising special transport, O.M.S., etc., etc.

The First Revolutionary Workers’ Government

The first Revolutionary Workers’ Government in history was the Paris Commune of 1871.

“On the dawn of the 1st March, Paris arose to the thunderburst of Vive la Commune!” That is the Commune, that sphinx so tantalising to the bourgeois mind?

“The proletarians of Paris,” said the Central Committee in its manifesto of the 18th March, “amidst the failures and treason of the ruling classes, have understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of public affairs. . . They have understood that it is their imperious duty and absolute right to render themselves masters of their own destinies by seizing upon governmental power. But the working class cannot simply take hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”
(“Civil War in France,” Marx.)

The workers must destroy the capitalist State power. Hence “The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the general government, the police was at once stripped of its political attitude and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agents of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages.”

“. . . It was essentially a working-class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political government at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour. . . Wonderful, indeed was the change the Commune had wrought in Paris! No longer any trace of the meretricious Paris of the second Empire. No longer was Paris the rendezvous of British landlords, Irish absentees, American ex-slaveholders and shoddy men, Russian ex-serfowners and Wallachian Boyards. No more corpses at the morgue, no nocturnal burglaries, scarcely any robbery; in fact, for the first time since the days of February of 1848 the streets of Paris were safe, and that without police of any kind. “We,” said a member of the Commune, “hear no longer of assassinations, theft and personal assault; it seems, indeed, as if the police had dragged along with it to Versailles all its conservative friends.”
(“Civil War in France,” Marx.)

This was the first Revolutionary Workers’ Government in history. Against it the forces of international capitalism combined to smash it to pieces exactly as they did at a later period in history when the Revolutionary Workers’ Government was established in Russia under the leadership of the Communist Party. Marx pillories the act of international brigandage in unforgettable words as the historic evidence, not of the final crushing of the working class but the sign of the decay of capitalism. Still more he declared “The highest heroic effort of which the old society is still capable is national war; and this is now proved to be a mere governmental humbug, intended to defer the struggle of the classes, and to be thrown aside as soon as that class struggle bursts out in civil war. Class rule is no longer able to disguise itself in a national uniform, the national governments are one as against the proletariat!”

The Second Revolutionary Workers’ Government

This was formed in what was then called St. Petersburg in October, 1904. Following upon the Russo-Japanese war, in which the Russians were severely defeated, terrible economic and social conditions existed throughout Russia amongst the workers and peasants. Unemployment grew to enormous proportions. The protests of the workers and peasants only succeeded in bringing forth new measures of tyranny from the Tsar and his despotic government. A mass demonstration of workers, led by a priest called Gapon carrying a petition to the Tsar, was shut in a great square surrounding the Tsar’s palace, and hundreds of the demonstrators were slaughtered by the Tsar’s troops. This day is known as Bloody Sunday.

It roused a protest throughout Russia as had never been seen in its history. Strikes, uprising of the peasants spread like wildfire. A general strike of printers broke out in St. Petersburg. The workers of five great factories joined them. The strike spread and included the railwaymen throughout Russia. Government administration was then held up. The Government ordered the soldiers to shoot without stint. In reply all the unions came out on strike. They formed a central Strike Committee. The more the struggle extended the greater became the power of the Committee. By the end of October it was established as the St. Petersburg Soviet (Workers’ Council). Its numbers rose to 400 delegates. It forced all employers to close their works and stopped all payment for food and lodging. It became the central authority of the great mass activities spread throughout Russia, where peasants were dispossessing the landlords and workers were taking charge of the factories.

It was finally defeated, primarily because the workers had not won the army to their side and the workers had not yet formed a Communist Party as its centralised leadership. Nevertheless the manner of its coming into being shows the way in which the Revolutionary Workers’ Government comes.

The Third Revolutionary Workers’ Government

Twelve years after the defeat of the first Russian revolution saw Russia exhausted by the war of 1914-1918. The Whole economic system was in ruins. The masses of workers and peasants and the vast armies spread over thousands of miles of war front were exhausted, hungry, and badly equipped. Mass revolt was the only possible course they could take. This time the army was with the workers and peasants. “Peace and Bread” expressed their needs. Workers elected factory committees, trade union committees, etc. Peasants formed Peasants’ Councils, soldiers formed Soldiers’ Councils. They took matters into their own hands. The rank and file of the army discharged the officers of the landed aristocracy and elected their own officers. Workers took charge of the factories and sacked the bosses. Peasants began to seize the land from the landlords. In all centres workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ organisations came together and established thereby Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Soviets (Councils).

The revolutionary workers’ party, the Communist Party, led by Lenin, increased its influence and power and became the recognised leader of the revolution. The workers threw over Kerensky and other labour leaders such as run the British Labour Party and gave full support to the Communist Party. Hence on November 7th, 1917, under the leadership of the Communist Party, the working classes of Russia, in alliance with the soldiers and peasants, became the ruling class. Once again the working class struggle revealed that the path to power is the path of struggle and direct mass action, and that voting in elections is at best but a very minor part of the preparation of the working class for mass struggle.

This time the working class, with its allies, was triumphant. They beat off the intervention of British, American, French, Belgian, German, Japanese troops and others besides, and completely conquered the capitalists and landlords of Russia. The administration of the country was then thoroughly re-organised on the basis of the social ownership of the land, property and all the principal means of production. Each village has its own Workers’ and Peasants’ Council or Soviet. Each town has its Workers’ Council composed of delegates elected from the factories and various workers’ organisations. Only workers, soldiers and peasants who do not employ labour have the vote. The Workers’ Council is responsible for the administration of the town in conjunction with the trade unions which are organised, one union for each industry with the factory committee as the unit of organisation. The factory committees regulate, with the Workers’ Management appointed by the workers’ authority, the working conditions of the factories.

Each district has its District Workers’ Council elected by a congress of delegates from the town and village Workers’ and Peasants’ Councils. The country as a whole has its national congress of delegates from the District and Town Soviets. This congress elects the Government which is answerable to the Congress, the delegates of which are in turn answerable to the local organs of the workers. Throughout the whole apparatus the workers have complete control of the economic and social life of the country.

By these means the workers of the Soviet Union have not only been successful in beating off the interventionists, but have triumphed over famine, disease, and the ruin of the imperialist and civil war and built up the economic life of the country. Its achievements in the face of stupendous difficulties are unparalleled in the history of mankind.

For the first time in history it became possible to work out the development of industry according to plans based on a scientific examination of resources, needs and possibilities.

In the face of enormous difficulties the Communist Party leadership of the workers began to lay the foundations of a new society. At no time and in no place is it possible to find such achievements as have been accomplished by the workers of the Soviet Union in so short a period.

After ten years, six of which were taken up with the fight against the capitalists and landlords of all countries, against consequent famine and desolation, the workers of Soviet Russia can record that they own the land, the banks, the great industries, the railways, the factories, all the buildings once owned by the Tsar and his landlords, and the property formerly held by the capitalists. The palaces have become the rest homes for the toilers, the sick, the tired. Their trade unions have been re-organised into 23 industrial unions with a membership of over 11 millions. The Co-operative Societies have become a tremendous power with 15½ million members. Illiteracy which kept the millions in darkness has been swept away completely from the towns. The workers in general have the eight hour day. The miners have a six hour day, and within a few years the seven hour day which is already introduced for 250,000 textile workers will be general. Women are now equal with men. Special care is provided for expectant mothers, who have two months’ holiday before child-birth and two months after with full pay. There is now a daily issue of 10,000,000 copies of newspapers, whereas before the revolution there were only 2½ million, and these were mainly capitalist. There are not less than 5,000 workers’ clubs, 25,000 reading rooms in the villages, 20,000 libraries, 6,000 popular and peasant homes, 2,000 travelling cinemas. The secondary schools and universities have now become workers’ secondary schools and workers’ universities, of which there are 40 with 100,000 students. The army is a workers’ and peasants’ army. The following table indicates the comparative monthly production in the main products:—


Thousands of Tons
Monthly Average Coal Oil Iron Steel
1913 2,267 734 767 354
1924-25 1,340 580 178 156
1925-26 2,035 685 276 243
1926-27 2,578 844 401 299
August, 1927 2,426 863 446 312
August, 1928 2,659 1,021 561 337


Monthly Average Cotton Tissues
(Mil’n meters)
Wollen Tissues
(Mil’n meters)
(Mil’n sq. meters)
(Mil’n sq. meters)
1913 6
1924-25 125 4 11 689
1925-26 169 5 14 877
1926-27 195 7 15 976
August, 1927 183 7 7 1,075
August, 1928 220 9 10 1,312


Industrial Average
Output per day
per worker
(1,000 roubles)
Real Wage index
per cent.
1913 1,889 6.8 100
1924-25 1,522 6.4 82.6
1925-26 1,908 7.2 92.34
1926-27 2,006 8.0 111.6
June, 1928 2,198 9.6 125.4


These achievements should be related to the five years plan now being put into operation (See Communist Review, May, 1929). Sufficient here to show how the workers can conquer the capitalists and can build a new society. No other government can work out such a plan. Only socialist economy permits of such planning. Capitalism is anarchy.

The Workers’ Experience in Britain

Several examples have now been given from the history of the international working class showing under what conditions the workers have come to power.

Two of the illustrations we have given show the workers defeated, and once triumphant. The causes of the defeat are apparent. First the workers had no revolutionary Party and were therefore without a general staff to lead them. Second, they had not won the rank and file of the army and navy to their side because of the absence of such a Party and because also the economic and social crisis which had engulfed the rest of the population had not reached the army and navy. The victory of the proletariat, therefore, is historically shown to be possible only when there is an all-embracing national crisis, when the ruling class can no longer function as hitherto, when the working class has the will to conquer the capitalists and the landlord classes, when it has a revolutionary party to decisively prepare and lead into action when the foregoing conditions obtain. It was in such conditions that the Russian workers conquered power and kept the power.

There have been numerous uprisings and revolutionary movements and an examination of any and all of them will show that some one or other of the factors were absent which led to their defeat. The German revolution of 1918 which forced the abdication of the Kaiser started with an all-national crisis. The masses came on the streets with arms in hand. The sailors and soldiers revolted, formed their councils, dismissed their officers. Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils spread all over Germany. But the German working class at this period had no Communist Party, no revolutionary general staff. It had only a Labour Party and a trade union bureaucracy of exactly the same type as the British Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy who functioned as the executioners of the German revolution on behalf of the German capitalist class. It would be possible to extend our illustrations by reference to the Finnish revolution of 1919, the Hungarian revolution and the Chinese revolution. Every one of these experiences confirm the principal course of the workers’ struggle for power in the illustrations we have given and the conclusion we have drawn at the beginning of this chapter. Nowhere in history is it possible to show the working class coming into power through Parliament. There have been Labour Governments, but all Labour Governments, whether in England or Germany, in Austria or Sweden, have proved themselves to be capitalist governments co-operating with the capitalists and preventing the workers coming into power.

This fact alone, and especially when placed in relation to the revolutionary experience already cited, emphasises the importance of understanding the workers’ struggle here. It was in 1917 that a great convention of workers at Leeds, consisting of more than 2,000 delegates, passed a resolution demanding the setting up of a Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council. MacDonald and the rest of the leaders of the Labour Party were on the platform welcoming the March revolution in Russia. But this was only window-dressing in response to the mass welcome of the first stage of the Russian revolution and the ferment amongst the workers in the war industries. A moment’s consideration of the preceding pages and the conditions we have indicated as necessary for such a proposal to be really practical politics will expose the superficial character of the resolutions and the convention.

The nearest approach to the conditions we have regarded as necessary for such a proposal to be real was in the events of 1926. For eighteen months prior to May Day of that year the whole trade union and Labour movement were backing the miners against threatened reduction in wages. So determined were the workers that even MacDonald and Thomas dare not openly attack the miners and tell them in plain words to accept reductions. They hid their real position by talking about “facing the facts” and “and unscientific reductions will get us nowhere,” and on the platform of the Conference of Executives they supported strike action, not, let it be clearly understood, in defence of wages, but on the question of re-opening negotiations with the Government, in which they were manœuvring the miners into the acceptance of reductions. The masses, however, were not thinking of negotiations but wages. “Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day” were the slogans of the strikers. The one explains the machinery of betrayal, which covers betrayal by formal explanation, the other explains the enthusiasm of the workers. They identified their own enthusiasm and ideas with the leaders, but they were obviously poles apart. Hence the contrast between the cowardly flabbiness of the leaders with the enthusiasm of the workers. The leaders thought action was a calamity, and exclaimed, “God help us if in such a conflict the Government does not win.” The workers thought it the greatest action they had ever made. And so it was, great in its magnificence and solidarity, great in its potentialities, great in the flood of light it threw upon the war of the classes in this country.

For the first time the working class confronted the ruling class on such a scale as to raise the question—which class shall rule? The declaration of the General Council that they were not challenging constitutional government was stupid and childish. No one would question that it was not their intention to challenge the constitution. A Council comprised of Labour leaders who were nothing more than capitalist politicians and sheep, the one intent on betraying the workers and the other frightened to death, is not expected to challenge the powerful class enemy of the workers. But the facts are bigger and more important than the intentions of the Labour leaders. The outstanding fact is that three to four million stopped work and thereby challenged the Government and the employing class and its administration with a stoppage of such dimensions. And to these strikers must be added the million and half unemployed. When goods are not produced and the railways and general transport ceases to run there must come a decisive moment when one or other authority in the country must have the upper hand and decide that the wheels of industry shall go round. The more determined both sides become as to the terms upon which industry shall work again, the more it becomes a question of authority and that is a question which can only be settled in terms of power—the power of one class to impose its authority over the other.

In every locality there existed two authorities, the Council of Action or Strike Committee, and the city municipal authority or controller under the direction of the Government. Goods which were moved were moved on the instruction of one or other of these bodies. The Government were calling on the workers to work. The General Council were for nine days ordering them not to work. When such a situation exists on so great a scale as to involve the whole population into taking sides with one authority or the other what is this new authority but an alternative Government in embryo? Had the strike extended and embraced more and more workers it requires no stretch of imagination whatever to see the local Councils of Action securing the allegiance of the majority of workers who are also the majority of the people. The Council of Action would then have had to do more than make provision for hospitals; they would have had to take charge of feeding the workers and therefore working mills and transporting goods as happened in the 40 hour strike in Glasgow and the Belfast strike of 1919. To take control of any factory would have meant running them with factory committees in charge. Again reviewing the situation which existed on a national scale, the whole of the Councils awaited the instructions of the General Council and not the instructions of the Government. Had the struggle continued there can be no question that there would have had to be a conference of delegates from the local Councils of Action. There is no one with any experience of the local Councils but can see that. Here then we have established that in our own experience of 1926 the first stages of dual government were in existence for nine days—one a capitalist government and the other a Workers’ Government in a situation becoming more and more revolutionary without a revolutionary leadership. No worker can conceive of permitting employers and their class to have a vote in any of the Councils. Both the nature of the apparatus and the character of the franchise established by the workers are at once apparent. Its victory would mean a workers’ dictatorship over the other class, democracy would be entirely a workers’ democracy.

What we saw in the General Strike was not the completely developed workers’ council but a transitional form of organisation, changing its structure as its power extended and new tasks had to be undertaken. The General Strike demonstrated before our eyes how the working class comes to power and creates its own form of government as the struggle extends. The more the masses are drawn into the conflict with the ruling class, the more extensive becomes the apparatus of the Workers’ Government, and always it has to be based upon the carrying into life of the actual decisions taken by the workers.

This applies even to the question of how a workers’ army is created. This also was seen in the General Strike. The Government brought out its army, which is divided into social classes. It organised the O.M.S. and armies of blacklegs. The workers organised their pickets, mass pickets, too. The conflict between the rival armies of Workers’ Defence on the one hand and the Government forces on the other was demanding each day, and would have demanded more and more had the struggle continued, the strengthening of the Workers’ Defence and the winning over of the workers in the Army. Again, therefore, in embryo the General Strike showed how the workers in a direct mass struggle forge their own weapons of power.

That history will repeat itself in detail, of course, is out of the question, but in essentials the war between the classes must develop its own forms, and these are seen to be, so far as the workers are concerned, the Workers and Soldiers’ Council as the only possible form of government for the exercise of working-class rule.

The General Strike thus exploded the idea of the working class coming to power through Parliament. It added a new experience to the workers disillusioned by the Labour Government of 1924. From this time henceforth to set before the workers of this country any other aim than that which experience now revealed as the path to power would be to play the capitalist’s game, to foster capitalist illusions, to weaken the forces of the working class.

The task of a workers’ party from henceforth must be to prepare the workers for the task which experience shows lies directly ahead of them. It is for this reason that the Communist Party, as the Party of the working class, places the slogan of the “Revolutionary Workers’ Government” on its banner and enters the Parliamentary election to expose the shams of parliamentary- democracy to reveal the realities of the class war and prepare the workers for the conquest of power. This it can only do by relating all questions to the main question of the present period—the Revolutionary Workers’ Government.

The General Strike met its inevitable end, and because of precisely similar reasons as we have seen were the cause of the defeat of other workers’ revolts. The workers were not led by a revolutionary party. How can revolutionary tasks be tackled by non-revolutionary leadership? It is out of the question. There had been no preparation in spite of the efforts of the Communist Party and the Minority Movement. The workers had the will to victory, but without an organised party leadership, with both the will to victory and the understanding of the full implications of so vast an action to guide them, they could not become the ruling class.

Nevertheless, the General Strike revealed very clearly in the lives of the workers of this country that a Revolutionary Workers’ Government, i.e., a workers’ government which carries through a complete change with the workers as a ruling class, is not a parliamentary government but an instrument of their own creation, adapted to the requirements of the fight against the capitalist class and their own administration of industry, etc.

Its completed form would be similar to that we have described as obtaining in the Soviet Union. This is now proven historically to be the form of working-class government. With such a government in being, elected from a national delegate congress of workers (men and women), who, in turn, have been elected in the factories, the mills, the mines, the barracks, and with the capitalist class defeated and compelled to recognise the authority of the Workers’ Government, the problem of reorganising the economic life of Britain does not present more than a fraction of the difficulties which have been overcome by the workers of the Soviet Union. Britain is so highly industrialised that with the land, banks and factories centralised in the hands of the Workers’ State, as indicated in the programme of the Revolutionary Workers’ Government as outlined in the General Election programme, “Class Against Class,” Britain would rapidly pass from a country of tremendous contrasts of wealth and poverty, luxury and misery into a land free from unemployment, free from the social misery which abounds everywhere, rich in its social possessions and unlimited in abounding opportunities for all.