The Development of Workers’ Councils
DOI link for The Development of Workers’ Councils
The Development of Workers’ Councils book
Workers’ councils began with the development of soviets in Russia during the First World War, which then spread across Western Europe. They did not follow a pre-determined blueprint or set out to replace the bourgeois state, but represented a mass response to pressing needs. With conventional channels of parliamentary democracy suspended, radical workers had to improvise in the face of murderous imperialist war abroad, economic dislocation and an assault on basic freedoms at home. Councils developed organically from barracks and workplaces as a class-based rupture from geographical parliamentary constituencies. In place of bureaucratic trade unionism with its detached full-time officials, councils were composed of shop stewards accountable to (and recallable by) their electors. This was direct democracy of a new kind. Although the councils arose spontaneously, their continued development was driven forward by conscious socialists as a means of defending workers’ interests. The pattern of council development across different countries was comparable. The first step was a strike that, under wartime conditions, was automatically in defiance of the state and unions. If the lay strike committee continued and joined with other workplaces the basis for mass collective resistance was established. Finally, in a situation of revolution councils could become both detonators of action and an alternative state power. This sequence suggests that in every collective struggle from below, in every extension to encompass wider groupings, there are the germs of grass-roots democracy.