the workers’ councils of 1956 – by tamas krausz

A lecture by Tamas Krausz, a communist based in Budapest, about the 1956 Hungarian revolution, its workers’ councils and forms of workers’ self-management

1. Prehistory[1]

The history of the workers’ councils of 1956 cannot be understood without the history of the Hungarian working class. The intellectual-political and socio-cultural development of the Hungarian working class has been shaped by diverse and complex historical processes in the interwar period. The counter-revolutionary system of Horthy destroyed and criminalized the 1918-1919 revolutionary tradition of the workers’ councils of the Hungarian working class, it banned the communist party and it declared in the name of the sanctity of private property that communal property – which was defined as the essence of socialism from Marx and Lenin till Zsigmond Kunfi, Justus and Lukács – was a sinful idea. Continue reading “the workers’ councils of 1956 – by tamas krausz”

the communist revolution and the necessity of workers’ self-management

by Chris Kane

If co-operative production is not to remain a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the capitalist system; if united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon a common plan, thus taking it under their own control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of capitalist production – what else, gentlemen, would it be but communism, “possible” communism?

Karl Marx, The Civil War in France

The communist revolution is fundamentally different from the process imagined by those who see the capturing of Parliament or a coup d’état by an elitist party as an end in itself.  Marx, as is now well known, emphasised the self-emancipation of the working class: in 1871, amongst the conclusions he drew from the experience of the Paris Commune, he said that:  1. we cannot lay hold of the existing state machinery, 2. the commune was the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of the working class.  Alongside the Paris Commune we now have extensive historical experience of similar forms of workers’ self organisation by which to address its relationship to the communist society latent already in the class struggles within capitalism, whose potential has almost been realised in past efforts to reach the first phase of communism. Continue reading “the communist revolution and the necessity of workers’ self-management”

the origins of the movement for workers’ councils in germany

Ninety years ago the German working class unseated the Kaiser and the military establishment with a series of strikes and mutinies which brought World War I to a close.

Conscripted sailors and soldiers created strike committees, and then joined with industrial workers to create workers’ councils akin to the soviets which existed during the Russian revolution. These enjoyed extensive working class participation and in some cities held power: but over the subsequent five year revolutionary wave the working class was time and again crushed by the Social Democrats and the right-wing troops it could call upon to defend capital.

For our latest pamphlet we have reprinted a seventy-year old pamphlet on the workers’ council movement produced by the Dutch GIK (Group of International Communists) accompanied by the autobiography of leading GIK member Jan Appel (a participant in the revolution and the commandeering of a ship) along with a chronology of the German revolution.

Printed copies cost £1 each – email or write to The Commune, 2nd Floor, 145-157 St John Street, London EC1V 4PY.

click here for pdf

the communal system of government – by mészáros

The following essay, “The Communal System and the Principle of Self-Critique,” by the esteemed Marxist scholar István Mészáros was published in the Hungarian journal Eszmélet (‘Consciousness, No. 79, Autumn 2008) with whom The Commune has fraternal relations.   Eds.

The Communal System and the Principle of Self-Critique
by István Mészáros

The Necessity of Self-Critique

The conscious adoption and successful maintenance of the orienting principle of self-critique is an absolutely fundamental requirement of the historically sustainable hegemonic alternative to capital’s social metabolic order as an organic system.

Since it cannot be allowed to conflict in any way with the necessarily open-ended historical determinations of labor’s alternative reproductive order—on the contrary, it must be a vital guarantee against all temptations to relapse into a self-complacent closure, and thereby into the reproduction of vitiating vested interests, corresponding to the traditional pattern of the past—the envisaged and knowingly pursued faithfulness to the theoretical as well as practical operative methodological principle of self-critique needs to be embraced as a permanent feature of the new, positively enduring, social formation. For precisely through the genuine and continuing exercise of that orienting principle it becomes possible to correct in good time the tendencies that might otherwise not only appear but, worse than that, also consolidate themselves in favor of the ossification of a given stage of the present, undermining thereby the prospects of a sustainable future. Continue reading “the communal system of government – by mészáros”

considerations on self-management – by henri simon

We are pleased to publish this letter we received from Henri Simon, a French activist who has been involved in the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, Informations et liaisons ouvrières/Informations et correspondances ouvrières and Échanges et mouvement. A long-time council communist favouring a self-managed society based on workers’ councils, Henri has written about the impossibility of maintaining self-managed units as islands of communism within capitalist society:

What follows is only a schematic look at my views on self management and not at all a complete and well documented article on the subject of self management. I was for a long time, and still now am interested by all kinds of experiments which could be connected to this idea of self management from the Israeli kibbutz up to the past and recent experience of cooperatives or communes, and have got some material about all that. Continue reading “considerations on self-management – by henri simon”

new pamphlet: ‘nationalisation or workers’ management?’

We have produced a pamphlet on the subject of workers’ control and management, counterposing working-class power exercised from below to nationalisations by the bourgeois state.

The pamphlet, costing £1, includes the following articles:

Review of the LEAP pamphlet on social ownership for the 21st century

The struggle for self-management (by Solidarity)

An exchange between Solidarity and the Institute for Workers’ Control

The ambiguities of workers’ control (by Solidarity)

The Harrogate debates: the 1977 debate between the then secretary of state for energy Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield from the NUM on workers’ control. Includes summaries of contributions from the floor.

As indicated above, we have posted some of the contents on this website already, but we have not yet uploaded the Harrogate debates piece, which represents about half the pamphlet’s length.

If you would like a copy of the 26 page pamphlet, email or write to us at The Commune, 2nd Floor, 145-157 St John Street, London EC1V 4PY.

cover of pamphlet on nationalisation and workers' management

the ambiguities of “workers’ control”

The Commune has opened a discussion on the meaning of workers’ self-management and workers’ control, two concepts which are often confused with each other and given a wide range of meanings, from trade union participation on management boards to collective ownership and management of a workplace by its workers themselves. We will be having a forum on the question on 29th September, but are also looking to stimulate a broader debate in the movement. 

We will soon be publishing a review of the new Left Economics Advisory Panel pamphlet on “social ownership for the 21st century”, and have also put online two pieces from previous debates on the meaning of “workers’ control”: an exchange between the libertarian socialist ‘Solidarity’ group and the Institute for Workers’ Control as well as the piece below, also from ‘Solidarity’. Continue reading “the ambiguities of “workers’ control””

kapd documents in ‘ideas’

Introduction by Chris Ford

The following two texts are from the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD).  The KAPD is mostly known through the critique written by Lenin, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder, aimed at the KAPD amongst others.   As result the KAPD are often simply dismissed amongst the traditional left as “anarchists” and “ultra-left”.  In fact the KAPD were none of these things:  they were a mass communist party and played a key role in the German Revolution. Continue reading “kapd documents in ‘ideas’”

independent labour party pamphlets

today we added two new items to the ‘ideas‘ section of the website, both pamphlets produced in the late 1950s by the independent labour party but which have long been out of print.

socialism and workers’ councils (1957) and nationalisation: a socialist analysis (1958) both counterpose industrial democracy to nationalisation by the bourgeois state, and pose the question of how the working class can rule both economically and politically.

revolutionary strategy: reply by mike macnair

on friday 29th david broder posted a review of revolutionary strategy, a new book by the cpgb’s mike macnair. this provoked more than seventy comments, and mike himself has written a response, which we reproduce here. Continue reading “revolutionary strategy: reply by mike macnair”

links added in ‘ideas’

today we have added three more links to the ‘ideas‘ page of the commune.

the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in marx and engels, by hal draper, explains how marx and engels used the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ not to mean a specific form of government but rather to denote the class rule of the working class once it has overthrown the bourgeoisie. in this vein draper attacks the understanding of the term elaborated by plekhanov, who proclaimed “when we come to power, we will allow no freedom for anyone but ourselves”.

anton pannekoek’s world revolution and communist tactics, written for an organ of the comintern in 1920, effectively combats statist visions of working-class power and bureaucracy in the workers’ movement, and looks at the new organisational forms workers must use to re-shape society: “the formation by the workers of the soviets, their own organs of power and action, in itself signifies the disintegration and dissolution of the state. as a much more recent form of organisation and one created by the proletariat itself, the trade union will survive much longer, because it has its roots in a much more living tradition of personal experience, and once it has shaken off state-democratic illusions, will therefore claim a place in the conceptual world of the proletariat. but since the trade unions have emerged from the proletariat itself, as products of its own creative activity, it is in this field that we shall see the most new formations as continual attempts to adapt to new conditions; following the process of revolution, new forms of struggle and organisation will be built on the model of the soviets in a process of constant transformation and development”.

ubu saved from drowning: worker insurgency and statist containment in portugal and spain 1974-77, by loren goldner, is of particular interest in that focuses on the struggles of the portuguese working class rather than merely the history of the sects that aspired to lead it (much like mailer’s the impossible revolution). the fact that the portuguese revolution represented the end of an era of class struggle rather than the beginning of a new one, and that the onward march of state capitalism had also petered out by the end of the 1970s, by no means devalues the lessons of the portuguese revolutionary crisis, which saw mass working-class mobilisation, factory expropriations and efforts at workers’ self-management.

revolutionary strategy

david broder reviews revolutionary strategy, a new book by the cpgb’s mike macnair

There is much of value in any serious attempt to talk about the tasks of the left today, and what exactly the purpose of its existence is: Mike Macnair’s new book, which carries the subtitle “Marxism and the challenge of left unity” is certainly this. The left sects are crying out for some ideas and some definition for their project: what we have at the moment is a maelstrom of sectarian and internally undemocratic groups, with philistine hostility towards discussion and utter disdain for ideas other than those quoted from the holy texts of Lenin and Trotsky. Continue reading “revolutionary strategy”

the fundamental principles of communist production and distribution

Today we have added to the site The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, a book produced by the Dutch GIK (Group of International Communists) in 1930, putting forward a vision of communist society totally different from that of the many failed state-socialist experiments. Below we reproduce the foreword written in 1989 by Mike Baker, who translated this important work into English. Continue reading “the fundamental principles of communist production and distribution”