Leon Trotsky

Factory Councils and Workers’
Control of Production

(September 1931)

Written in exile in Turkey, September 12 1931
Translated for The Militant, November 21 1931/July 20,1933.

Dear Comrades:

You refute the slogan of workers’ control of production in general and the attempts to achieve it by the factory councils, in particular. Your main reason is the statement that the “legal” factory councils are inadequate for the purpose. Nowhere in my article did I speak of “legal” factory councils. Not only that: I pointed out quite unequivocally that the factory councils can become organs of workers’ control only on the premise of such pressure on the part of the masses that a dual power in the factories and in the country has been partly prepared and partly already established. It is clear that this can happen as little under the existing law on the factory councils, as the revolution can take place in the framework of the Weimar Constitution. [1]

And only anarchists can draw the conclusion from this that it is impermissible to exploit either the Weimar Constitution or the law on the factory councils. It is necessary to exploit the one as well as the other. But, in a revolutionary fashion. The factory councils are not what the law makes them, but what the workers make them. At a certain stage, the workers dislocate the framework of the law or break it down, or else simply disregard it altogether. Precisely therein consists the transition to a purely revolutionary situation. Still, this transition is as yet before us, and not behind us. It must be prepared.

That careerists, fascists, Social Democrats are very often to be found in the factory councils, does not speak against making use of them, but only proves the weakness of the revolutionary party. As long as the workers tolerate such factory councilmen, they will not be able to make a revolution. Apart from the workers, the party cannot grow stronger, for the most important arena for the activity of the workers is the factory.

But, you will reply, there are the thousands of the unemployed in Germany. I did not overlook this. But what conclusion can be drawn from this? To neglect the employed workers entirely and to stake all hopes on the unemployed? That would be a purely anarchist tactic. Naturally, the unemployed form a powerful revolutionary factor, particularly so in Germany. But not as an independent proletarian army; rather as the left wing of such an army. The chief kernel of the workers is always to be sought in the factory. That is why the question of the factory councils continues to exist in all its sharpness.

Furthermore, even for the unemployed it is not at all of no concern what takes place in the enterprises and in the process of production as a whole. The unemployed must unreservedly be drawn in on the control of production Its organizational forms will be found. They will result from the practical struggle itself Naturally, all this will not take place in the framework of the existing laws. But forms must be found that will embrace the employed as well as the unemployed. One’s own weakness and passivity cannot be justified by referring to the existence of the unemployed.

You say that the Brandlerites are for control of production and for the factory councils. Unfortunately, I have long ago ceased to follow their literature, because of lack of time. I do not know how they pose the question. It is quite probable that here too they have not rid themselves of the spirit of opportunism and Philistinism. But can the position of the Brandlerites, even in a negative sense, have a decisive importance for us? The Brandlerites learned something at the Third Congress of the Comintern. They distort the Bolshevik methods of the struggle for the masses in their application or propagation. Must we really, for this reason, give up these methods?

As I can gather from your letter, you are also opponents of work in the trade unions and participation in parliament. If that is the case, then we are separated by an abyss from one another. I am a Marxist, not a Bakuninist. [2] I stand on the ground of the reality of bourgeois society, in order to find in it the forces and the levers with which to overthrow it.

As against the factory councils, the trade unions, parliament you counterpose – the soviet system. In this connection, the Germans have a very excellent verse: “Schön ist ein Zylinderhut, wenn man ihn besitzen tut.” (Indeed a silk hat is very fine, provided only it is mine.) You have not only no soviets, you have not even a bridge to them, not even a road to the bridge, nor a footpath to the road. Die Aktion has transformed the soviets into a fetish, into a supersocial specter, into a religious myth. Mythology serves people as a cover for their own weakness or at best as a consolation. “Because we are powerless in the face of death, because we can do nothing in the factories, therefore... therefore, as a reward for this, we rise to such a height, that the soviets fall from heaven to our assistance.” There you have the entire philosophy of the German ultra-lefts.

No. With this policy, I have nothing in common. Our differences of opinion are not restricted at all to the German factory council law; they are related to the Marxist laws of the proletarian revolution.

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Last updated on: 25.4.2007