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(sup) (en) Workers Power and the Russian Revolution By Tom Wetzel
Victor Chernov <email@example.com>
Sun, 10 Apr 2005 16:33:06 +0200 (CEST)
A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
This review appers on the website of the Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA)
ww.workersolidarity.org (click on Historical)
Workers Power and the Russian Revolution
A review of Maurice Brinton's For Workers Power
By Tom Wetzel
I was attracted to radical politics in the late 1960s/early '70s when I was
in my twenties. Most of the people who were drawn to serious revolutionary
politics back then ended up in Leninist organizations of some sort, if only
for a time. Third World revolutions were one influence. Various
Marxist-Leninist parties had come to power based on guerrilla struggles, in
places like China and Cuba, and this augmented the claim of Leninism that it
was "successful" in charting a way to a post-capitalist future.
But it seemed obvious to me that workers did not have power in production in
the various Communist countries. They're subordinated to a managerial
hierarchy. Thus, I reasoned, workers must be a subjugated and exploited
class in those countries.
A work I found particularly helpful in the '70s was Maurice Brinton's The
Bolsheviks and Workers Control. This clear-headed and well-researched little
book was an indispensable source of arguments to explode the myth of the
Bolshevik party building "proletarian power" in Russia. AK Press has now
re-issued this booklet as part of an anthology, For Workers Power. Brinton
was the main writer for the London libertarian socialist group Solidarity.
This anthology collects in one place many of Brinton's writings, including
The Irrational in Politics and Paris: May 1968. In this review I'll mainly
focus on the Russian revolution.
Brinton believes that the working class cannot have power in society, cannot
liberate itself from its condition as a subjugated and exploited class,
unless it gains direct management power over production. He believes that
the working class must also gain control over the whole structure of the
society to ensure its liberation. But he rejects the idea that the working
class could have power in society if it is subjugated in production. This is
the heart of Brinton's argument.
People sometimes say that "workers councils" were the organizational means
for workers fighting for and attaining power in the Russian revolution.(1)
But there were two different types of mass organization supported by workers
in the Russian revolution that could be called "workers councils": the
soviets (soviet is Russian for council) and the factory committees. Let's
look at each.
The Petrograd soviet was formed during the tumultuous events in February,
1917 that led to the abdication of the czar. A group of radical and liberal
intellectuals formed the soviet top-down when they constituted themselves as
the "Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet" on February 27, 1917. They
then sent out a call for election of delegates.(2) Moreover, the soviet
assemblies were not where the real decisions were made. The executive made
the real decisions in the backrooms. Some decisions were submitted to the
assembled delegates for ratification, some were not. The soviet assembly
tended to be just an open meeting, where anyone could speak. Soviets formed
in other Russian cities were similar.
The factory committees, unlike the soviets, were initiated directly by
Russian workers themselves, and these organizations became the main vehicle
of self-organization of workers in the revolution. These committees were
typically made up of elected worker delegates. The most important decisions
were made in general assemblies of the rank and file.
On May 30, 1917 there was a meeting of over 400 representatives of factory
committees in the Petrograd area. They described the situation they faced:
"From the beginning of the revolution the administrative staffs of the
factories have relinquished their posts. The workmen of the factories have
become the masters. To keep the factories going, the workers' committees
have had to take the management into their own hands. In the first days of
the revolution, in February and March, the workmen left the factories and
went into the streets...Later, the workmen returned to their work. They
found that many factories had been deserted. The managers, engineers,
generals, mechanics, foremen had reason to believe that the workmen would
wreak their vengeance on them, and they had disappeared. The workmen had to
begin work with no administrative staff to guide them. They had to elect
committees which gradually re-established a normal system of work. The
committees had to find the necessary raw materials, and...take upon
themselves all kinds of unexpected and unaccustomed duties."(3)
The factory committees were described as "fighting organizations, elected on
the basis of the widest democracy and with collective leadership," with the
aim of creating "the organization of thorough control by labor over
production and distribution."
Russian workers found that neither the soviets nor the industrial unions
could be used by them to solve their immediate economic problems or help to
coordinate activities between different workplaces. The soviets were tightly
controlled by their executive and were taken up with fighting the government
over political issues such as continued Russian involvement in the world
The industrial unions weren't much help either. Unions had been illegal
under czarism. The unions had been formed top-down by the political parties
and continued to be largely an appendage of the parties. Throughout most of
1917 most of the unions were controlled by the Mensheviks. Although union
membership rose from 100,000 to over a million during 1917, this was largely
an effect of the growth of the factory committees. Radical workers tended to
join the industrial unions as a matter of principle, not because the unions
had a real presence in the workplaces. Bill Shatov, an American IWW member
who returned to his native Russia, described the Russian unions as "living
By September, 1917 the Bolsheviks had gained majorities in the key Russian
soviets. About half the delegates in the Petrograd soviet represented
personnel in the Russian military. With the troops loyal to the soviets,
Bolshevik control of the soviets enabled them to capture state power at the
end of October.
The new governmental structure vested authority in the Russian parliament -
the 350-member Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of
Soviets. As in other parliamentary systems, the government was formed as an
executive committee, or cabinet of ministers, of the parliament. This
executive was the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom). Lenin, as
chair of this committee, was premier or head of the government.(4) The local
and regional soviets, which were little more than rubber stamps for their
party-controlled executives anyway, came to function as an "electoral
college" (in the American sense) for the indirect election of the
parliament. The soviet structure provided legitimacy for the new Bolshevik
government, based on the widespread support for the soviets among Russian
workers and military personnel in 1917. But the indirect system of election
and the tight centralization meant it could not be effectively controlled by
rank-and-file workers or used by them to initiate and control decisions.
By October 1917 a complex situation existed in Russian industry. "In
practice the implementation of workers' control took on a variety of forms
in different parts of Russia," Brinton writes. "These were partly determined
by local conditions but primarily by the degree of resistance shown by
different sections of the employing class. In some places the employers were
expropriated forthwith, 'from below.' In other instances they were merely
submitted to a supervisory type of 'control,' exercised by the factory
committees." This "supervisor control" included, for example, the right to
veto management hiring decisions, to prevent employment of strikebreakers.
After the coming to power of the Bolshevik Party, the situation would become
even more complex with some enterprises "nationalized from above by decree
of the Central Government."
At the end of 1917 Lenin did not favor immediate nationalization of the
economy. Brinton believes that Lenin opposed expropriation of the
capitalists "because of his underestimation of the technological and
administrative maturity of the proletariat." Lenin envisioned that the "dual
power" situation of "supervisory control" which existed in many
privately-owned enterprises would continue for some time. The right of the
factory committees to engage in this supervisory control was legalized in
November, 1917 by Lenin's decree on "workers control." Lenin was not
advocating that workers take over management of production or expropriate
capitalists on their own initiative.
During 1917 many Russian workers envisioned a division of labor where the
factory committees would take over the running of the economy while the
soviets would become the new polity or governmental structure.(5) The
Bolsheviks encouraged the factory committee movement to restrict its
ambitions to "the economy." The "workers party" would take political power.
Limiting their aspiration for power to the economy would prove to be the
undoing of the Russian factory committee movement. Direct management of
production may be necessary for worker power in society, but it is not
sufficient. Workers need to also control the polity - the institutions for
making the basic rules in society and enforcing them. If they don't, they
won't be able to defend their power in production.
Russian workers assumed that the Bolshevik seizure of state power through
the soviets would support their aspirations for economic control. The
creation of the new Bolshevik government in October thus spurred a new burst
of activity by the factory committee movement. Although Lenin's "workers
control" decree only legalized the degree of control the factory committees
had already achieved, it encouraged workers to go farther because now they
believed that their efforts would gain official sanction. Workers didn't put
too much stock in the boundary Lenin drew between control and management.
Moreover, Lenin's idea that the situation of "dual power" in the factories
could be maintained indefinitely was unrealistic. Kritzman, a "left"
Communist, criticized the workers control decree:
"Employers would not be inclined to run their businesses with the sole aim
of teaching the workers how to manage them. Conversely, the workers felt
only hatred for the capitalists and saw no reason why they should
voluntarily remain exploited."
"The spontaneous inclination of the workers to organize factory committees,"
wrote historian E. H. Carr, "was inevitably encouraged by a revolution which
led the workers to believe that the productive machinery of the country
belonged to them and could be operated by them at their own discretion and
to their own advantage. What had begun to happen before the October
revolution now happened more frequently and more openly; and for the moment
nothing would have dammed the tide of revolt."(6)
Out of this upsurge of activity came the first attempt by the factory
committee movement to form its own national organization, independent of the
trade unions and political parties. In December the Central Soviet of
Factory Committees of the Petrograd Area published a Practical Manual for
the Implementation of Workers' Control of Industry. The manual proposed that
"workers control could rapidly be extended into 'workers' management'." The
manual also announced the intention of forming the factory committees into
regional federations and a national federation.
Isaac Deutscher explains what then happened:
"The Factory Committees attempted to form their own national organization,
which was to secure their virtual economic dictatorship. The Bolsheviks now
called upon the trade unions to render a special service to the nascent
Soviet State and to discipline the Factory Committees. The unions came out
firmly against the attempt of the Factory Committees to form a national
organization of their own. They prevented the convocation of the planned
All-Russian Congress of Factory Committees and demanded total subordination
on the part of the Committees."(7)
However, the Bolshevik Party had only just taken state power — and their
grip on power would become even more tenuous with the onset of the Russian
civil war in May, 1918. This resulted in a compromise in which the party
committed itself to trade union control of the economy.
This helped the party leadership to gain the cooperation of the party's
trade union cadres in suppressing the drive of the factory committee
movement for direct worker management. The trade union control concept would
be encapsulated in Point 5 of the program adopted at the 1919 Communist
"The organizational apparatus of socialized industry must be based primarily
on the trade unions...Participating already in accordance with the laws of
the Soviet Republic and established practice in all local and central organs
of industrial administration, the trade unions must proceed to the actual
concentration in their own hands of all the administration of the entire
economy, as a single economic unit."
The first step in supplanting the workers' drive for economic
self-management with central planning from above was the decree on December
5, 1917, setting up the Supreme Economic Council (Vesenka), under the direct
authority of Sovnarkom. Vesenka was made up of Bolshevik trade union
officials, Bolshevik Party stalwarts and "experts" appointed from above by
the government. Vesenka was assigned the task of creating "a plan for the
organization of the economic life of the country" and was to "direct to a
uniform end" the activities of all existing economic authorities. Here we
have the beginnings of a central planning apparatus assuming managerial
The fate of the factory committee movement was fought out at the first
All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions in January, 1918. Here the Bolsheviks
put forward their plan to subordinate the factory committees to hierarchical
union control. The main Russian political tendency with a vision for direct
workers management were the anarcho-syndicalists. At the congress, the 25
anarcho-syndicalist delegates, representing Don Basin miners, Moscow railway
workers and other workers, made a desperate effort to defend the factory
committee movement and its drive for direct workers' management. They
proposed "that the organization of production, transport and distribution be
immediately transferred to the hands of the toiling people themselves, and
not to the state or some civil service machine made up of one kind or
another of class enemy." G.P. Maximov, a prominent anarcho-syndicalist,
distinguished between horizontal coordination and hierarchical control of
"The aim of the proletariat was to coordinate all activity,...to create a
center, but not a center of decrees and ordinances but a center of
regulation, of guidance — and only through such a center to organize the
industrial life of the country."
However, the Bolsheviks got the decision they wanted. They had the majority
of delegates, and Menshevik and Social Revolutionary Party supporters at the
congress also voted for subordination of the factory committees to the trade
With control over the government, the armed forces, the trade union
apparatus, and majorities on many of the factory committees, the Bolshevik
Party was able to tame the factory committee movement. Any factory committee
that didn't go along could be isolated; a factory could be denied resources
"Bolshevik propaganda in later years," Brinton notes, would harp on the
theme that the factory committees "were not a suitable means for organizing
production on a national scale." Deutscher, for example, says that "almost
from their creation, the Factory Committees...aspired to have the...final
say on all matters affecting their factory, its output, its stocks of raw
materials, its conditions of work, etc. and paid little or no attention to
the needs of industry as a whole."
The Leninist argument makes a false assumption: Either anarchic and
uncoordinated autonomy of each individual factory, or a central planning
apparatus to create a plan and then issue orders through a hierarchy,
top-down. Leninists "dismiss workers' self-management with derogatory
comments about 'socialism in one factory'," says Brinton, "or with
profundities like 'you can't have groups of workers doing whatever they
like, without taking into account the requirements of the economy as a
whole.'" But there is a third alternative: A system of horizontal,
self-managed planning and coordination. Why can't workers and consumers
themselves create the plan?
Through their own experience the Russian workers themselves had come to
realize the need for coordination and planning of the economy on a broader
scale. This was the point to the proposals for regional and national
federations of factory committees, and the convening of a national factory
The consumer cooperatives in the Russian revolution grew to 12 million
members. When workers took over factories in 1917, they sometimes developed
links with these organizations for distribution of the products of their
factory. This relationship could have been systematized to provide consumer
input to some sort of grassroots-controlled, participatory planning system.
The proposal for union management of the economy, endorsed by the Communist
Party congress in 1919, was never implemented. In exchange for their efforts
to suppress the independent initiative of factory committees, Communist
Party trade union cadres had been appointed to various government and
management bodies, but this was combined with government appointment of
managers and control from above. As early as November 9, 1917, the Central
Soviet of Employees that had taken over the postal system during the
revolution was abolished. The new minister in charge decreed:
"No...committees for the administration of the department of Posts and
Telegraphs can usurp the functions belonging to the central power and to me
as People's Commissar."
By 1921 worker discontent was widespread and strikes broke out in Petrograd
and Moscow. The immediate danger posed by foreign embargo and civil war had
ended and now the trade union base of the party was pushing for a greater
say in the running of the economy. This debate would come to a head at the
Communist Party congress in March, 1921. The Workers Opposition charged that
the party leaders had failed to carry out the promises in the 1919 program,
and had "reduced to almost nil the influence of the working class." With
"the Party and economic authorities having been swamped by bourgeois
technicians," they argued that the solution was union management of the
economy. They thus proposed to invoke an All-Russian Producers Congress to
elect the management of the national economy, with the various industrial
unions electing the management boards of their respective industries.
Lenin denounced the push for union management as a "syndicalist deviation."
"It destroyed the need for the Party. If the trade unions, nine-tenths of
whose members are non-Party workers, appoint the managers of industry, what
is the use of the Party?", Lenin asked. Here we see Lenin's view of the
party as managers, implementing their program through a top-down hierarchy.
He assumes that the workers themselves are somehow incapable of running the
economy, that the party intelligentsia must be in charge.
Trotsky denounced the Workers Opposition for raising "dangerous slogans":
"They have made a fetish of democratic principles. They have placed the
workers' right to elect representatives above the Party. As if the Party
were not entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship
clashed with the passing moods of the workers' democracy."
The party congress ended not only with the defeat of the Workers Opposition
but with the party banning internal dissent. The officers of the Russian
metalworkers union were leaders of the Workers Opposition. When the party
fraction in the union refused to go along with party orders to kick them out
of office, the party-state leaders imposed a trusteeship (as the AFL-CIO
would say). The union's elected officers were replaced with party
appointees. This was not the first time this tactic had been employed. In
1920, Trotsky, as Commissar of Transport, had broken the railway workers
union by appointing new leaders.
Shortly after the 1921 party congress Bogdanov and his Workers Truth group
(of Bolshevik origin) were to declare that the revolution had led to "a
complete defeat for the working class."
Probably the most important condition that made victory difficult for the
workers revolution in Russia was the fact that the working class in Russia
was a small minority of the population, no more than 10 percent. Russia in
1917 was still semi-feudal. The vast majority of the population were
peasants whose concern in the revolution was mainly to expropriate the big
landlords and gain control of their small farms. Peasants produced largely
for their own consumption; productivity was low. The poverty,
disorganization and illiteracy of the Russian peasantry prevented them from
imposing their own solution on Russian society. In Russia there didn't exist
the sort of widespread worker unionism in agriculture that enabled the
Spanish agricultural workers to play an important role in the Spanish
revolution in 1936.
Did the minority status of the working class doom it to defeat? G.P.
Maximov, who was an agronomist, had hoped that czarist war industry could be
converted to the manufacture of tractors, electrical generating equipment
and other things to exchange with the peasantry for their products. He hoped
that a strategy of investing in the agricultural economy would encourage
collective organizational methods, a collectivist outlook, and increased
productivity in the peasant communities. This was Maximov's libertarian
socialist path for Russian agriculture.(8)
Even if the Bolsheviks had wanted to pursue this peace conversion strategy,
the onset of the Russian civil war in May, 1918 would have gotten in the
way. Virtually the whole of Russian industry was converted into a supply
organization for the Red Army. The cities produced nothing that could be
traded to the peasants for their products. So, the Bolsheviks resorted to
forced requisitions, seizing agricultural products at the point of a gun.
This strategy was not very effective. The peasants resisted and the cities
starved. The urban population of Russia was cut in half during the civil
war. Workers moved in with their country cousins. At least they wouldn't
starve in the countryside.
Lenin's solution to the growing peasant discontent was the New Economic
Policy, enacted in 1921. This policy encouraged capitalist development and
free trade in agricultural products. Eventually it was Stalin who "solved"
the problem of low agricultural productivity through forced collectivization
and mechanization. This allowed much of the rural population to be moved to
work in urban industry, beginning in the late '20s. The state hierarchy
could then capture the efficiency gains from agricultural investment to
build up Russian industry.
Bolshevik apologists usually point to various "conjunctural" factors to
explain the defeat of the workers revolution in Russia — foreign invasion
and civil war, failure of the revolution in Germany and other European
countries, and so on. But neither these factors nor the minority status of
the working class in Russia are sufficient to explain why the Russian
workers' revolution was defeated in the peculiar way it was. Worker
revolutions have often been defeated by a violent reaction that saves the
property system of the capitalist class, as in Italy in the '20s, Spain in
the '30s, and Chile in 1973.
But the capitalist class was expropriated in Russia, and a new economic
system emerged, based on public ownership, and subordination of the economy
to central planning, not market governance.
A new class emerged as the rulers of this economic system. Unlike the
capitalist class they were hired labor, employees of the state. Brinton
refers to this class as "the bureaucracy." But there are "bureaucracies" in
all kinds of organizations. A class, however, is distinguished by its
particular role in social production.
I think it is helpful here to look at the sort of hierarchy that was being
developed in capitalist industry in the U.S. in the early 20th century. The
emergence of the large corporations gave the capitalists sufficient
resources to systematically re-design jobs and the production process to
their advantage, destroying the skill and autonomy of workers that had been
inherited from the artisan tradition. "Efficiency experts" like Frederick
Taylor advocated concentration of conceptualization and decision-making in
the hands of a managerial control hierarchy, removing it from the shopfloor.
The point to Taylorism was to shift the balance of power on the shopfloor to
the advantage of management. This attempt to gain greater control over what
workers do was justified to the owners in terms of the ability of the firm
to ensure long-term profitability, but it also empowers a new class. The
period between the 1890s and 1920s saw the emergence of a new class of
professional managers, engineers, and other expert advisors to management.
These were the cadres who made up the new control hierarchies in the
corporations and the state. As hired employees, the power of this
techno-managerial or coordinator class(9) is not based on ownership of
capital assets, but on concentration of expertise and decision-making
The coordinator class was only in its early stages of development in the
Russian economy in the early 20th century. In the actual situation the
Bolshevik party intelligentsia were thrown into the breach, along with
technicians and managers inherited from the capitalist regime. The Russian
revolution showed that it was possible to use the state to build an economy
where the coordinator class was the ruling class. Bolshevik ideology and
program are an essential part of the explanation for the emergence of this
new class system.
Brinton makes a convincing case that neither Lenin nor Trotsky ever believed
in or advocated workers' management of production. After the Bolshevik
takeover in October, 1917, Lenin's "whole practice," Brinton notes, "was to
denounce attempts at workers' management as 'premature,' 'utopian,'
'anarchist,' 'harmful,'" and so on.
Much of the debate within the Communist Party in 1920-21 was over "one-man
management." As early as April, 1918 Lenin wrote:
"Unquestioning submission to a single will is absolutely necessary for the
success of labor processes that are based on large-scale machine
industry...today the revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that
the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labor
But the "one-man management" debate was somewhat misleading since the real
issue is not whether there is a committee in charge or one person but the
relationship of the mass of workers to the authority of management. Would
they possess this authority themselves or not?
Nonetheless, the logic of central planning does favor having one person in
charge. If plans are crafted by an elite group of planners and then
implemented as a set of orders that must be carried out by the workforce,
the planning apparatus will want to have the ability to enforce their
orders. And this is easier if there is just one person who is answerable to
those above rather than a whole collective.
The Bolshevik leaders assumed that the sort of hierarchical structures in
industry evolved by capitalism were class-neutral. They maintained that
managerial hierarchy could be wielded in the interests of the working class
as long as the "workers party" controlled the state that owned the economy.
This idea was not unique to Bolshevism but was common among
social-democratic Marxists prior to World War I. For example, in The Common
Sense of Socialism, published in 1911, John Spargo, a member of the American
Socialist Party, argues that control of the state by the labor-based
socialist political party is sufficient to ensure working class control of a
state-owned economy. In Brinton's view, the commitment to the persistence of
hierarchy - the division of society into those who give orders and those who
are expected to obey them - is as rooted in social-democracy as it is in
When Marx drew up the statutes of the first International Workers
Association in 1864, he included Flora Tristan's slogan: "The emancipation
of the working class must be the work of the workers themselves." Brinton's
analysis of the Russian revolution shows how the Bolsheviks failed to take
this principle seriously. Brinton agrees with Marx that the class struggle
is a process that drives social change, and that through this process the
working class can liberate itself. The fact that workers must work, not to
fulfill their own aims, but are forced to act as instruments for the aims of
others - our situation in capitalist society — is what Marx called
"alienated labor." Brinton believes this condition of "alienation" is
pervasive in existing society, not just in work. Liberation presupposes that
this condition be replaced by self-determination in production and all
aspects of life. In order to work out a path to liberation, Marx believed it
was necessary to be realistic, to "see through" all phony ideology, like the
rhetoric in bourgeois liberalism about "freedom" and "democracy."
The emphasis upon self-activity, class struggle, and realism about society
are the good side of Marx, the part that Brinton retains in his own
thinking. But in the Marxist political tradition this is combined with
hierarchical aspects. Why? In Marx's theory of "historical materialism,"
social formations become vulnerable to instability and replacement when they
"fetter the development of the productive forces." Marx assumes that a drive
for ever-increasing productive output is a trans-historical force that is
the gauge of social progress. If Taylorism and the development of hierarchy
in industry are the particular way that capitalism increases productive
output, these must be "progressive," some Marxists infer. "We must raise the
question of applying much of what is scientific and progressive in the
Taylor system," Lenin wrote in 1918. Lenin thus supported the adoption of
Taylor's piecework schemes. "The Soviet Republic...must organize in Russia
the study and teaching of the Taylor system." The fallacy in this argument
is the assumption that productive effectiveness could not be achieved
through the development of the skill and knowledge of workers, under
In Marx's analysis of capitalism the division between labor and capital
takes center stage. Because the working class does not own the means of
production, we must sell our time to employers. The class power of the
owners enables them to rip off the working class, accumulating surplus value
as private capital.
But there is another systematic rip off of the working class that becomes
entrenched once capitalism reaches its mature corporate form. The logic of
capitalist development then systematically under-develops worker potentials,
as expertise and decision-making is accumulated as the possession of another
class, the techno-managerial or coordinator class. But Marxism doesn't "see"
This failure makes Marxism self-contradictory. The hierarchical dimension of
Marxism converts it into a coordinator class ideology, a program for the
continued subordination of the working class. The concept of the "vanguard
party" as managers of the movement for social change, concentrating
expertise and decision-making in their hands; the idea that "proletarian
power" consists in a particular party leadership controlling a state,
implementing its program top-down through the state hierarchy; control of
the economy by a central planning apparatus — these things don't empower the
Hierarchies of the state, like the similar hierarchies in the private
corporations, are based on the concentration of professional expertise and
decision-making power into the hands of a coordinatorist elite. A statist
strategic orientation that thinks in terms of a party leadership capturing a
state and then implementing its program top-down through the state hierarchy
is a stategy that empowers the coordinator class. This contradicts the
liberatory and egalitarian rhetoric that socialism traditionally appeals to
to motivate activists.
I'm not here arguing that the empowerment of the working class would not
presuppose the taking of political power. The working class can't empower
itself if it doesn't take over both the running of industry and the
governing of the society. This presupposes that it control the polity - the
structure through which the basic rules in society are made and enforced.
But a hierarchical state is not the only possible form of polity. We can
also envision a self-managed polity - based on grassroots conventions,
accountable to base assemblies of residents in neighborhoods and workers in
worksites. The point is that it must be the mass of the people themselves
who "take power," through institutions of mass participatory democracy that
the people create and control.
(1) For example, Alan Maas of the International Socialist Organization
writes: “…the October revolution of 1917 won power for the workers’
councils, or soviets, establishing the basic institution of a socialist
society” (Maas reply to Michael Albert). Maas therefore identifies “the
basic institution of a socialist society” not with a particular economic
institution or workers direct management of industry but with the Soviet
polity, that is, a state controlled by the Bolshevik Party.
(2) Oscar Anweiler, Les Soviets en Rusie, 1905-1921, cited in Rachleff (see
(3) Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, pp. 140-141. John Reed provides
descriptions of some worker takeovers in the article cited in note (3).
(4) John Reed, "The Structure of the Soviet System," Liberation, July, 1918
(reprinted in Socialist Viewpoint, Sept. 15, 2002).
(5) Peter Rachleff, Soviets and Factory Committees in the Russian
(6) E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, p. 69, cited in Rachleff.
(7) Quoted in Brinton, p. 320.
(8) G. P. Maximov, Constructive Anarchism.
(9) "Coordinator class" is the term that Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel use
for this class. Albert and Hahnel, "A Ticket to Ride: More Locations on the
Class Map," in Between Labor and Capital, Pat Walker, ed.
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