marković on social preconditions of self-management

9 03 2009

intro by Chris Kane

The Commune is pleased to publish below an article by comrade Goran Marković, one of the editors of the magazine Novi Plamen (The New Flame) with whom we have fraternal relations.  This is a democratic socialist publication aimed at audiences across the territory of the former Yugoslavia.   Novi Plamen has been pro-active in developing discussion on the questions of workers’ self-management which has a long tradition in the labour movement in the Balkans.  This article was also published by comrades in Hungary in the journal Eszmelet (Consciousness) in a special issue dedicated to self-government and direct democracy.

Goran Marković


Self-management is quite a specific concept of social organization which aims not only at a change of state organization or function of economic units but also at a completely new and different type of relations between individuals and social groups. This is its basic feature which one has to have at mind while exploring its possibilities.

Undoubtedly self-management is a political aim too. It is part of aparticular political program which aims at specific transformations of social relations and state organization. That is why some political subjects advocate it. But political parties or political movements are not the only – and even not the most important and visible – bearers of the idea of self-management. Very often it receives wide attention and popularity among workers and other oppressed social layers during deep social crises when established social relations and political institutions show their impotence. It could become an influential concept even without previous work of political parties or even despite their political and propaganda work which is oriented in an anti-self-management course. This shows the dual nature of self-management.

Self-organization and self-management

As it is well known, a society is a complex of individuals, social groups and their mutual relations. Social groups differ among themselves according to their social status and social interests. The working class, as an exploited class, has an interest to overcome its subordinate social status. It can achieve this aim only if a society is organized on a totally different basis – as a community of individuals equal in their rights, not in a constant state of executing someone else’s orders.

How could the working class achieve this aim other than through its organization? The next question is what kind of organization has to be established in order to facilitate social struggle for really democratic social structures and processes of decision-making. Past democratic, and especially socialist, movements gave different answers to this question, but in my opinion none of them succeeded. Namely, radical social change requires the activity of a great number of people. New forms of social organizations (political parties, trade unions, civic associations) have to count on this. On the other hand, it is not enough that many people – even if it could be the absolute majority of the population – take part in social struggles (strikes, demonstrations, elections, etc.). The nature of their role in these struggles is what is really matters. The activity of millions of people in one society doesn’t necessarily mean that they achieved their social freedom and that they really drive the course of events. If willingness for social changes is expressed in their execution of the plans and orders of leaders of their social organizations, it could also mean that a new kind of social hierarchy has been established – that the working class or other oppressed social layers accept their own leaders as new political elite.

It has happened many times during history, the October Revolution being maybe the most important example, with far-reaching consequences. In this case, there was a small political elite that presented itself as representative of the historical interests of the working class, who in the name of this class took all levers of power in its hands. Political power was made complete with control over the process of production and state ownership which meant that one ruling class, destroyed by social revolution, has been replaced with another  – landowners and bourgeoisie replaced with bureaucracy. This was also a social revolution, but not the kind that was expected or that it was intended to be, because social relations based on the unequal distribution of social power were not abolished. That was the main reason why such revolutions could not establish self-management – their social basis was too tiny for such a step and the established social relations were in opposition to the very idea of self-management.

Self-management requires specific type of social relations and social organization. First of all, society has to be organized horizontally and not vertically in order to lay down the preconditions for self-management. And vice versa: only self-organization in social struggles can be the basis for horizontal social organization. Therefore, each real radical social change which has as its result real democratization of all spheres of social life can be achieved only through the self-organization of the mass of the population where division between the elite and the masses would vanish. Otherwise the iron law of oligarchy would prove its endurance.

What is self-organization? It is a way of organizing individuals and groups where all of them have equal chance to manage the process of establishing their organization, define its goals and ideology and effectively control their fulfillment. There is no one group of individuals who formulate the political program or ideology and who impose them on a definite or indefinite number of individuals. There is no presumption that this group is a historic vanguard of an organization. It has to prove its vanguard role and it is under check throughout the existence of the organization. Members of such an organization effectively control the way the organization functions and therefore all of them are in a position to be the organization’s “elite” for some time.

What does self-management mean? It is a principle of mutual relations between members of a social organization as well as of members and groups of an entire society, where no member or social group has the privilege to be in permanent dominant position in processes of social organization, decision-making and governing social life. So, there is no permanent barrier between those who order and those who execute without any chance of real control over the former.

1. Historic examples

History proved that organizations which did not rest on the principle of self-organization were not able to bear the idea of self-management even if they plead for social change. For example, the November revolution in Germany in 1918 could not mean radical social change because the Social Democratic Party, with the overwhelming support of the working class, was a bureaucratic organization with a clear division between its leaders and ordinary members, where the political elite decided political direction. Such an organization, however, found its ideological expression in demands for a political system of parliamentary democracy, where all social changes would outgrow from a parliamentary process of decision-making by elites who received their legitimacy by democratic elections. Even when German workers, as a result of catastrophic social and economic conditions during the First World War, organized mass strikes and created workers’ and soldiers’ councils, the SPD tried and succeeded to put them under its control. The need for social changes, however, had been so deep that new forms of social and state organization emerged. For example, new provisional government was elected not by a constituent assembly of all citizens but by Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, representative of workers and soldiers. However, new organs of revolution were not able to act independently of political parties because the new government was composed of three members of the SPD and three members of the USPD (Independent Social Democratic Party). Mass working class actions, even against the will of its leading party (SPD), and the mass creation of workers’ and soldiers’ councils as new organs of struggle and power, didn’t correspond with the outcome of elections. Although two socialist parties (SPD and USPD) got 45 per cent of votes in 1919, they didn’t accept new forms of democracy at workplace level as real organs of power.

In the Russian Revolution, as another important example, workers organized factory councils independently at the beginning of the February Revolution. Having in mind that socialist parties (the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks) had not developed projects of workers’ self-management or workers’ control of production and that trade unions in tsarist Russia had been undeveloped, workers in revolt spontaneously created these organs. Factory councils (or committees) not only have been “limited to wages or hours but challenged (d) many managerial prerogatives”. Although representatives of factory committees set a relatively narrow framework for their work, workers “determined their own terms of reference, in each factory, steadily expanding their prerogatives and decided on what their representatives might do, according to the relation of forces in each particular instance”. Conferences of factory committees at regional and state level rarely declared for direct management of enterprises as a function of these organs. They had rather been seen as organs for the regulation of certain social and organizational issues (wages, working hours, etc.) and for control of the production process. In some cases, however, committees took over managerial functions as well if they were strong enough to do that. The Decree on Workers’ Control, which the Bolshevik government enacted immediately after the October Revolution, guaranteed workers’ right to create organs of workers’ control in each enterprise with more than five employees or with an annual turnover not less than 100,000 rubles. Workers’ control would be carried out by all workers or by their directly elected delegates. However, the new government, which had already established control over trade unions through its party, nullified the real autonomy of factory committees in several ways. First of all, their decisions could be nullified by trade unions or congresses. Secondly, in all significant enterprises,  factory committees had to be answerable to the state. Thirdly, factory committees did not have the power to administer enterprises but only to control the managerial process delivered by the state or private owner.

Italy saw a series of factory occupations during 1920, when workers organized factory councils as organs of workers’ self-management. This was in many ways a self-organized movement, where around 600,000 workers (out of almost 4 million unionized workers) participated although the main workers’ organizations – the Socialist Party and CGIL (General Confederation of Labor) – did not support them. As the Socialist Party was not compromised by its practical policies, and believed that the rule of the party superseded the rule of the class itself, it could be understood why this movement of the self-organized could not get enough support, especially in a situation of temporary stabilization of the existing social order.

The Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974 also saw massive activity of citizens, with the working class in the lead. It was overwhelmingly leftist revolution, where left parties won elections with a 58% majority (the reformist Socialist Party alone won almost 38%). Despite this, left-wingers didn’t outline any program of workers’ control or workers’ self-management. Workers organized workers’ committees themselves and in some cases even introduced self-management without the assistance of political left.

The 1968 student and workers’ revolt in France saw the occupation of many factories and universities. Students occupied the Sorbonne. There were organized workers’ and student Committees of Action as direct representatives of workers and students in struggle despite the existence of very strong trade unions and left political parties. The important role of students in the revolt influenced the way of thinking of young workers, who accepted the idea of self-organization through forms of direct democracy. Workers’ strikes, which included two-thirds of the French working class, or 10 million people, were not formally organized and led by official trade unions, which tried to put them under their control with moderate demands.

The Spanish Republic 1936-1939 also witnessed examples of self-organization which led to self-management. Namely the Spanish revolution, which had a pluralistic character, with socialists, communists and anarcho-syndicalists exercising most influence. Not only were enterprises run by workers’ committees but also there existed councils that exercised power in local communities. These functioned despite highly centralized socialist and communist organizations and the fact that the anarcho-syndicalist leaders of CNT-FAI were not as radical as their local activists.

Modern history saw the most important examples of self-organization in Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil. Argentina had very rich experience with worker-occupied factories. Worker-recovered enterprises involve at the moment around 180 enterprises with between 8,000 and 12,000 workers. The social preconditions for such actions by the working class were social movements of unemployed workers gathered in the so-called piquetero movement, or the movement of unemployed workers. On the other hand, the sharp economic crisis and the  insensitivity of elites to workers’ needs caused workers’ self-organization because they had to invent new forms of struggle and to answer the fact that they would lose workplaces in the face of the economic downfall. Occupied enterprises established a national co-ordination – National Movement of Recovered Enterprises (MNER), thus giving to its movement a national but non-hierarchical character. However, not only was it not the case that any movement or organization started the movement of recuperating enterprises, but also none of them imposed itself on the movement while it lasted. The absence of the serious influence of political parties or trade unions on the movement as well as the depth of the economic crisis led to a firm connection between self-organization and self-management in the case of Argentina. Workers couldn’t stop at the beginning of the process because their primordial idea was not to realize self-management out of ideological reasons. It became the logical result of their endeavors to save their jobs which was impossible without self-organization and self-management in a situation when the market and the state could not guarantee any degree of social and economic certainty.

Venezuela under the presidency of Hugo Chavez has tried to implement workers’ co-management in enterprises and to introduce participatory democracy through communal councils. There already exist a number of enterprises where workers participate in management through their representatives in managerial bodies. Other enterprises are workers’ cooperatives or expropriated enterprises under workers’ control. In some factories general assemblies of workers elect their council while there also exist permanent commissions specialized for particular tasks. Those workers who advocate self-management think that enterprises should be 100 per cent in state ownership with established workers’ control through these councils. Some of these workers’ councils have developed outside the trade union movement and connected themselves in the Revolutionary Front of Workers in Occupied and Co-managed Factories. Even when workers’ co-management showed good results it clashed with the bureaucracy, which wants to maintain its control over state-owned enterprises. The so-called Bolivarian movement, which is governing the country, includes in itself sectors of the state bureaucracy who don’t look at the experience with workers’ co-management as something good, because their positions in the system would be endangered. The level of workers’ self-organizations and their consciousness is not so wide that they could overcome these obstacles. Because of general political trends in the society and the dominance of the Bolivarian movement the bureaucracy can’t abolish experiments with workers’ co-management. But lack of sufficient self-organization neutralizes those who try to introduce workers’ co-management as the dominant mode of decision-making in economy.

2. Interrelation between self-organization and self-management

These examples, which are not the only ones, show how the limitation of self-organization leads to the destruction or at least additional limitation of democratic structuring of the process of decision-making. The self-organized mass, for example self-organized workers, do not know and do not accept vertical type of organization. They organize themselves just because they don’t recognize the existing type of organizing as legitimate and because they understand that the realization of their social aims requires different type of organization. And because they try to fulfill their aims themselves and not through existing power elites and their organizations they aspire to create new kinds of organization. This is because different social aims dictate different types of social organization.

But even when they create such organizations, they come up against existing social organizations which build up their legitimacy and strength out of existing political culture and types of social system. For example, grassroots political movements which tend to create a new type of political relations or political system are confronted with bureaucratized political parties rooted in parliamentary and electoral work. Workers’ councils and other forms of direct workers’ organizations are confronted with bureaucratized trade unions which are adapted to the role of partner in the process of collective bargaining.

Self-organization is a precondition of self-management. There is no self-management under the framework of a parliamentary type of organization where representatives are not really accountable to electors and where there exist conditions for a vertical type of organization. On the other hand, self-organization doesn’t necessarily lead to self-management. Many factors determine whether self-management will emerge as a consequence of self-organization. First among them is a degree of involvement of workers or citizens in self-organization, i.e. organizations set up and led according to horizontal principles and direct democracy. Whereas self-management rests on the above-mentioned principles, it would be impossible for it to become the dominant social relationship if workers or citizens don’t act according to them. Undoubtedly, self-management as an idea appears only in specific social conditions, when radical social changes are on the agenda. If social layers interested in radical social changes allow themselves to be led by old types of social organizations (parties, trade unions, etc.), they  agree only to a change in the bearers of political power, and not on the termination of political power as an alienated social power. If only a small minority accepts self-organization, existing organizations based on hierarchy would use such consciousness and impose itself as a vanguard in social change.

Secondly, self-organization could be sufficiently developed and lead to self-management only in the case of a crisis of legitimacy of the existing social order. Since self-organization is an alternative to existing forms of social organization and self-management is an alternative to existing forms of organizing the process of decision-making, they can’t count on wider social support unless an economic, social and political crisis of the capitalist system puts on the agenda the issue of its radical overthrow.

Thirdly, the social composition of a society is also very important. For example, in turbulent times all social layers mobilize in one way or another. If self-organized layers (for example, the working class) who tend to establish self-management compose only a small minority of society, it would be highly improbable that they would be able to use their self-organization to impose new social relations against the organized majority of population.

Fourthly, the legitimacy of existing organizations and their ideologies influences very much the possibility of self-organization and self-management. If existing political parties or trade unions enjoy popular support and are widely seen as subjects of desirable social change, new forms of organizations and new ideologies would not have much chance for success. Participation in political power, for example in governments, without visible or expected results, could lead to less legitimacy and therefore could influence a search for new solutions. That is the reason why in a crisis situation workers have established their independent organizations and acted even contrary to the suggestions and wishes of their organizations’ leaderships (strikes, factory occupations, workers’ self-management, etc.).

Political parties and self-management

Political parties struggle to conquer political power. Even when in opposition they build their apparatus, which guides party activities and has the power to define the party’s policies and behavior. Political parties, especially when adapted for a parliamentary method of struggle, are under control of a party bureaucracy which is hostile to the very idea of self-management because puts into question whether the process of decision-making should be under control of party elites or self-organized workers and citizens.

Even leftist political parties which advocate radical social change often see themselves as their standard-bearers, while new institutions, in their opinion, have to be led by party representatives. If a party has already developed its own bureaucracy it would certainly not be interested in developing such forms of social organization as to decrease its power and influence. If the masses are despite this self-organized, the party bureaucracy would allow a degree of economic democracy (in a form of participatory democracy) or wider political democracy (with forms of direct democracy) but would try to accept only those solutions which don’t substantially jeopardize its position.

The bureaucracy would sometimes even draw such legislation as to enable it to delegate a section of its representatives to managerial bodies (if we talk about economic democracy) or to limit possibilities for direct decision-making in other ways. Even if these means are not sufficient, bureaucracy still has at its disposal powerful means of propaganda and ideological dominance over the minds of people and it always acts from the positions of power which enable it to find solutions appropriate to itself.

Therefore, victory over bureaucracy and change of the social role of political parties is an essential precondition for self-management. Undoubtedly, political parties will have a significant role in any social change. They are part of each modern political culture and it is not easy to persuade people that they can achieve their aims, especially far-reaching ones, without support of strong political parties. On the other hand, political parties will try to use this element of thought and political culture to impose themselves as the most important subjects of change. Even when new institutions have tried to implement direct democracy and self-organization, political parties have sent in their representatives in order to control them. This happened in all the revolutions of 20th century and with all new institutions created on the basis of direct democracy – soviets and factory committees in Russia, workers’ and soldiers’ councils in Germany, workers’ committees in Portugal, etc. This is a great threat for self-management for two reasons. Firstly, institutions of direct democracy and self-management mustn’t become a field for party struggle and for the overbalance of one of the party factions. Secondly, if political parties succeed in imposing party issues as dominant agenda of their work, these institutions would not be able to include in their ranks non-partisans, who represent the great majority of workers and citizens, depending which institutions we are talking about.

There is no totally secure way to neutralize party dominance over institutions of self-management. One of them could be of a legal nature – laws could establish that each institution of self-management could include only a portion of party members which is in accordance with the total participation of party members among the citizenry or working class. Having in mind that in modern democracies between 6 and 10 per cent of citizens are party-members and that in periods of social upheavals this percentage rises significantly, but nevertheless under half of the population, it could be reasonable that political parties’ members could count on significantly less than half of total places in self-managing institutions at all levels. Non-partisans can’t contest elections for institutions of self-management on an equal footing with party members and therefore they should be specially protected. In Yugoslavia, for example, where self-management has been imposed by constitution and laws, the communist party members constituted 60 per cent of municipal assemblies and up to 90 per cent of the federal assembly while they also prevailed in many workers’ councils. This very fact, however, would not be negative if the party was not a disciplinarian structure whose members had to act according to party bodies’ directives. So, if party members constituted the majority of the membership of workers’ councils and other self-managing institutions, they certainly represented their party. Whether they represented their fellow workers or neighbors, it could not be said in advance with certainty. Because even formally speaking they both had to act according to their voters’ instructions, and they also had to listen to their party.

Another way to limit of party influence over institutions of self-management is the self-activity of workers and citizens who become aware of their own social worth and are not ready to submit their faith to party elites. In this case, a plurality of social organizations – political parties, trade unions and civic associations as well as of new institutions of self-management – could be of decisive significance for diversification of social power. There would be no one center which would guide the whole of society and each organization would serve as a piece of control over the others. In Yugoslavia, for example, there was only one party, whose members occupied all important posts, while the one-party system precluded any possibility of opposition, even a socialist one. Trade unions also were under party control as well as other social organizations. In such a case, the party bureaucracy could decide to impose controlled and limited self-management. In that way it legitimized itself as democratic and anti-Stalinist while it still retained its power. Workers and citizens didn’t have an alternative center of power which they could use for struggle against bureaucracy when those institutions of self-management didn’t function properly.

If existing political parties prove incapable of understanding the importance of self-management, radical social layers could decide to act not only independently of parties but even against their will. They could try to organize a new party or political movement or to act without political representation in the form of a political party. If there are institutions of self-management, they could frame themselves in a national network such as a congress of workers’ councils and to act as a dual power along with political parties. If existing political parties have not lost much of their legitimacy and confidence among the social layers they aspire to represent, their role in society would be bigger and institutions of self-management would function with more obstacles from party elites. If existing parties prove incapable of leading the masses in social struggles or if there are no such strong parties, the chances of success are greater. This was the case in Argentina, where small left-wing parties were not able to control the workers’ movement to occupy factories and establish organs of workers’ self-management. If existing political parties are strong enough to take over the movement towards self-management, but are not willing to do so because of their tight attachment to an established mode of parliamentary functioning, new institutions of self-management could use the moment to act independently of parties. Sucha  situation existed in France in 1968, when the Communists and the Socialists were not interested in the radicalization of student and workers’ movement. Of course, some other factors also precluded development of self-management.

Radical social changes lead to more open and participatory party structures. This is what theorists of participatory democracy (Carole Pateman, Nikos Poulantzas) wanted to see. However, more open party structures mean only that party elites are more vulnerable to the masses’ requests. If there is a wish for fundamentally new democratic order, parties have to be restrained by self-management.

Self-managing society is a constant struggle between self-management and party elites. Elites want to preserve social division between the elite and the masses, while the masses wants everybody to become members of an overall “elite”. This struggle decided the fate of Yugoslav self-management, for example. Self-management became an empty shell because the party elite was able to impose its dominance over self-managing structures, primarily through its control of surplus value and processes of decision-making, because party cadres represented the majority of members of almost all institutions and through their control of the ideological apparatus, because the party had been proclaimed as historic leader of working people towards a better future. These three key factors decisively influenced final outcome of struggle between party elite and workers for dominance over self-managing structures.

Political culture and socio-economic factors

Self-management seeks a new type of democratic political culture. It is not sufficient to say that it is a type of participatory political culture, as  has been said by theorists of participatory democracy. This type of political culture requires the active participation of workers or citizens in the decision-making process but self-management demands that they are able to dominate these processes. In order to dominate them, they have to change their attitude toward their own social role, social role and value of political institutions and organizations, in the first place the one of political parties and trade unions. Political culture required for self-management can’t achieve on premises of representative democracy or temporary direct action, such as modern democratic political culture of parliamentary democracies. Political parties have to be understood only as one possible type of social organizations whose aim is to act through political institutions and to present particular programs and ideologies. They mustn’t be understood as organizations for conquest and execution of political power but rather as useful organizations for easier achievement of some aims. New democratic political culture has also to be pluralist in a sense that individuals don’t attach themselves only to one type of social engagement or social organization, for example to political party or to participation in elections. An individual has to be a member or a party, a trade union, a workers’ council, a civic association, at the same time, or some of them, and to understand that neither of them has a historic vanguard role. Rather he or she can fulfill his or her aims acting in all of them or in some of them, during shorter or longer periods. In a word, neither organization should have fetish character. For example, if there is a workers’ council in an enterprise, workers have to elect its members and to control them independently of their possible party belonging. On the other hand, council members have to feel primary responsibility to their colleagues and then to their party. This kind of political culture can’t be achieved in a culturally and economically underdeveloped society and in a society where there is no variety of independent social organizations.

Lack of this type of political culture is one of the reasons for failure of Yugoslav experience with self-management. Yugoslav society up to the end of the Second World War rested on authoritarian political culture. Culturally underdeveloped nations without experience in political democracy and class struggles searched for strong political leaders, especially those who would lead their struggle for national liberation. The victory of the Communist Party in the National Liberation War and Revolution set preconditions for economic and cultural development. However, authoritarian political culture couldn’t be overcome because the party has been stalinized before the war and accepted Stalinist model of social system. Introduction of centralized system with monopoly of one party quickly led to formation of bureaucracy who took under its control not only state apparatus but state-owned means of production as well. Such a monopoly of political elite excluded any real chance for participation in decision-making processes let alone real self-management. As the party has proclaimed its vanguard and historic role with its charismatic and almost infallible leader as a father of nation, authoritarian political culture just changed its forms and bearers but essentially remained intact. Self-management could not be achieved in a society where the president of the Republic is irremovable while his party is able to find the best possible solutions for prosperous present and future. In such an ideological matrix workers could only gather in their self-managing bodies to agree on the most suitable ways for fulfillment of these solutions.

Yugoslav society also lacked socio-economic and political conditions for success of self-management. A working class without experience in class struggle was underrepresented in social structures because of the agrarian character of economy, very high level of illiteracy, low level of workers’ skills, and nonexistent civil society as products of pre-communist regimes were mixed up with the introduction of Stalinist system. Yugoslav communist elite didn’t intend to introduce any kind of economic or political democracy before its clash with Stalin. Only this conflict forced the Yugoslav elite to review its ideology in order to explain itself why conflict emerged, then to show that Stalin was wrong to accusing of revisionism, and last to initiate systemic reforms which had to lead to more economic efficiency and decentralization. Workers’ self-management and after it social self-management as an integral self-managing system emerged as a logic consequence of renewed studying of Marxism. The political elite until then, however, had already monopolized social power and was not ready to equally share it with other social subjects let alone to deliver it to working class. Forms of workers’ self-management were not so rich in content and didn’t give real managerial power to workers. According to the 1950 law, which nevertheless had a historic meaning, workers’ councils had between 15 and 120 members, while managerial boards and directors retained a great deal of power. State retained right to decide about income for a long period of time. Therefore, workers’ self-management in fact existed as a form of workers’ participation in management. The 1970s saw some improvements in legal solutions. As the party still retained its control over self-management, the Leninist model of popular (in this case, workers’) participation in management, described generally in The State and Revolution, was realized for the first time in history. It was a kind of decreed self-management where a political elite decided its degree, forms and content.

Only the significant participation of working class and the whole population, existence of tradition of social struggles, relatively high levels of education and a sufficient material base can provide solid social preconditions for self-management. Apart from these, other social preconditions are as follows: self-organization of the working class and other social layers interested in social changes; their independence from party elites and trade union bureaucracy; new types of democratic political culture based on voluntary involvement of people in decision-making process; overcoming fetishising any social organization, especially political parties.

Author is a co-editor of The New Flame (Novi Plamen) magazine, Marxist and direct-democracy oriented magazine based in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, and also a Ph.D. candidate, employed at the Faculty of Law of University of Eastern Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

By 1912, SPD had 15,000 full time party workers and one million members, while its assets were worth more than 21 million gold marks. (Rob Sewell, Germany: from Revolution to Counter-Revolution, In Defence of Marxism web site,

“The decades of peaceful gradual development transformed the character of social democracy. The labour leaders had bent under the sustained pressures of capitalism. For the developing careerists Marxist phrases were used at May Day processions, on workers’ holidays and other such occasions, whereas in day to day work they adapted themselves to bourgeois society. The trade unions and the SPD had become rich and powerful, and had begun to harbour careerists and place-seekers at every level. These privileged layers now had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, in effect becoming not an instrument for the overthrow of capitalism, but of mediation between the classes.” (ibid.)

“Workers, soldiers and sailors took power into their own hands and spontaneously formed councils which took charge of the situation. (…) In the short term, despite the treacherous role of the SPD leaders, who opposed the revolution, the masses saw their traditional organisation as the embodiment of the party that had awakened them to political life.” (ibid.)

Demonstrators, for example, occupied even offices of SPD’s newspaper Vorwaerts and Reichstag building and demanded resignation of Social Democratic government.

The proletariat without legislative sanction, started simultaneously to create all its organisations: soviets of workers’ deputies, trade unions and Factory Committees.” (Anna Pankratova, according to: Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers Control 1917-1921, Spunk Library Internet web site,



Minister of Labour, who was a leader of the Social Democratic Menshevik faction, thought that the State would administer and control economy while enterpises would not be trasnfered to the people.

Socialists didn’t approve a concept according to which workers’ organizations govern instead of a political party and trade unions: „They were opposed to any interpretation of workers power in society in terms of mass organizations in workplaces instead of the direct rule of the Socialist Party.” (Tom Wetzel, Italy 1920, Conference on Workers’ Self-Organization. St. Louis, 1988,

Self-management has been introduced mainly in those cases where capitalists left their enterprises and workers’ committees took over managerial functions.

Every factory of any size is being reorganised. The workers are making demands which in most cases include a minimum wage and the saneamento (purging) of former managers. No group has called for workers’ control but workers have virtually seized control themselves. There are Committees in many public concerns. Sometimes workers totally manage the enterprise. In the private sector things are different.” (Phil Mailer, Portugal – The Impossible Revolution, These committees were elected by all workers of particular enterprises at general assemblies with a task to defend workers’ interest. Although only few of them demanded abolition of capitalist mode of production they tried to act independently of trade unions and new political institutions created by political parties in revolution.

“The first workers to be influenced by the student movement for autonomy and direct self-government were workers who had much in common with the students, namely young, educated and highly politicized workers. The factory revolutionaries are neither the old party stalwarts nor the uneducated and superexploited foreign workers, but rather relatively privileged young French workers. It is these young workers who take part in the continuous discussions of direct democracy and the overthrow of capitalism and statism which take place continuously at the University of Paris. And it is these workers who are the first to call for strikes in a factory, and who define the goals of the strike as a substitution of capitalism and statism by a system of direct, socialist, workers’ democracy.” (Roger Gregoire – Fredy Perlman, Worker-Student Action Committes, France May ’68,

Workers demanded resignation of the President of the Republic and the Government and in some cases tried to run their enterprises.

This movement reached its peak in 2000/01, at the height of socio-economic and political crisis. At that time Argentina has not had any strong party or movement (with support of more than 1% of electorate) which advocated self-organization or self-management, while the strongest political force in country has been of center-left origin without sentiment for self-organization or self-management.

Marcelo Vieta, Argentina’s worker-recovered enterprise movement, „The New Socialist”, issue 57/2006,

It must be noted that Argentina saw popular self-organization outside economy too, for example in the form of popular assemblies as forms of citizens’ self-organization at the level of local communities.

“These impact-filled days in reality were the expression of a confluence of several socio-economic factors: the desperation and hunger of the most neglected classes; a fury over the levels of structural unemployment not experienced in a country such as Argentina until that moment; the indignation of middle class sectors due to the confiscation of their savings; the perception that life projects and the much-promised possibility of rising in social status – that dream of the “grand” and “empowered” Argentina that had enraptured generations – had disappeared, witnessed in the rise of individualism and the loss of the most entrenched forms of social solidarity; and political manipulations that saw existing apparatuses of power casting out their nets. All of these factors meshed with the astonishing stupidity of a government that did not understand what was going on and that stubbornly clung to a standard of political life that turned its back on reality.” (Andrés Ruggeri, The Worker-Recovered Enterprises in Argentina: The Political and Socioeconomic Challenges of Self-Management, Center For Global Justice web site,

“(…) no popular organization or movement proposing fundamental changes to the social and economic structures of Argentina could take advantage of this scenario.” (ibid.)

“(…) workers council at Inveval developed largely outside the framework of the organized trade union movement in Venezuela. And in February 2006, the workers in Inveval initiated the Revolutionary Front of Workers in Occupied and Co-managed Factories (FRETECO), because, “We saw that here in Venezuela the unions were not supporting the struggle for occupying and taking over factories through the UNT.” (Kiraz Janicke, Without Workers Management There Can Be No Socialism,, Venezuela News, Views, and Analysis,

“In PDVSA and the state electrical company, workers have faced attacks at the hands of a bureaucracy that is afraid of losing power if workers take on a greater role in management.” (Federico Fuentes, Venezuela: Second Wave of Nationalizations Waved, “Green Left Weekly”, issue #765)

One of Italian Socialist leaders at the beginning of the 20th century, Serrati, told that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the conscious dictatorship of the Socialist Party. Karl Kautsky also thought that the state would run economy while the party would have majority in parliament and therefore control the government: “It would presuppose that in Germany the State is to become the director of production of two million productive plants and to act as medium for the circulation of this product, which will come to it partially in the form of means of production and partially as means of consumption to be distributed to sixty million consumers, of which each one has a special and changing need.” (Karl Kautsky, The Social Revolution (1902), Marxists Internet Archive, Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky although gave priority to the party rather than to self-activity of people or workers. Even in his writing State and Revolution, where he advocated withering away of the state and participation of masses in government, Lenin wrote about vanguard role of the party. So, masses participate in governing the country and economy as well but only under general guidance of the party. Lenin extensively argues for a state where whole population more and more learn how to govern: “We, the workers, shall organize large-scale production on the basis of what capitalism has already created, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing strict, iron discipline backed up by the state power of the armed workers. We shall reduce the role of state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, revocable, modestly paid “foremen and accountants” (of course, with the aid of technicians of all sorts, types and degrees).” (Lenin, State and Revolution (1917), Marxists Internet Archive, However, he thinks that workers’ party is an ultimate ruler, as a vanguard of all workers, their teacher: “By educating workers’ party, Marxism educates proletarian vanguard, which is capable to take the power and lead the whole people toward socialism, to define direction and organize new social order (…)” (ibid.) In his Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder Lenin wrote that proletariat exercised its dictatorship through soviets under guidance of the communist party (Lenin, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder , Marxists Internet Archive,

It is interested to cite an author who enumerates which subjects actually suppressed self-managemnet movements: „(…) in Russia in 1905 (crushed by the Czarist regime), in 1917 (coopted and destroyed by the Bolsheviks), and in 1921 (crushed at Kronstadt by Lenin and Trotsky); in Germany in 1918 (crushed by the socialists); in Italy in 1920 (destroyed by the socialists and the labor unions); in Spain in 1934 (the Asturian revolution, crushed by the republican government) and in 1936-1937 (coopted by the anarchist labor union and crushed by the Stalinists); and in Hungary in 1956 (crushed by the “Soviet” state (…)” (Raoul Vaneigem,
From Wildcat Strike to Total Self-Management,

For example, Poland and Hungary saw in 1956 emerge of forms of workers’ self-management through workers’ councils. Having in mind that ruling Stalinist bureaucray was highly illegitimate workers massively react against it but they didn’t demanded revival of capitalism. They established workers’ management in enterprises and even organized workers’ councils on territorial level. The fact that workers did not have their autonomous organizations able to lead this rebellion, fact that „socialism” was imposed to them after 1945 as a result of Soviet Union’s dominance over Eastern Europe and overall presence of the Soviet Army in these countries neutralized the victory of workers’ councils. In Hungary, factory councils after 1957 were only a form of trade union work with right to be consulted and to control instead to manage an enterprise as it was the case during the 1956 uprising. In Poland, bureaucracy achieved its victory over workers’ councils when it established conferences of workers’ self-management, composed of workers’ councils, party committees and trade union committees. Workers’ councils do not make decision anymore but only give advices, propositions and opinions about which managers decide. “Instead of assuming of spontaneously set up workers’ councils as basic cells of socialist reconstruction of the whole society, firstly their competences have been reduced and then they have been totally disbanded. This chance have not been utilized even when working class in struggle against ‘its own’ state oligarchy again created self-managing organs spontaneously (Hungary and Poland). ”  (Svetozar Stojanović, Društveno samoupravljanje i socijalistička zajednica, “Praxis”, no. 5-6/1967, Beograd)

Delegate system with imperative mandat has been introduced in Yugoslavia only at the end of 1960s and then in 1974 Constitution. Before that, members of workers’ councils and other institutions of self-management were elected by workers or neighbors or other kind of electors and were accountable to them, but were not obliged to receive from them imperative instructions about their behavior.

In that case, even parties’ role will change. As Gramsci wrote, party would become ”a party of the masses who, through their own efforts, are striving to liberate themselves autonomously from political and industrial servitude through the organization of political economy, and not a party which makes use of the masses for its own heroic attempts to imitate the French Jacobins. (Antonio Gramsci, Two Revolutions (1920), according to: Carl Boggs, The Two Revolutions, 1982, pp. 106-107)

In 1980s, 87% of workers who were outside the Party felt politically powerless. (Laslo Sekelj, Jugoslavija: struktura raspadanja, „Rad”, Beograd, 1990, p. 80). In 1989, 80% workers felt that they had no significant influence on selection of their chiefs. (ibid., p. 53)

Although workers formally elected enteprises’ managers, they could not enter these positions without consent of local party committees. Therefore, directors in fact were political functionaries and obliged to belong to the ruling party.

Municipal assemblies were not decisive political institutions. However, even there party members participated five times more than they participated in overall electorate.

Rosa Luxembourg’s critics of Bolshevik anti-democratic measures and their plead for political freedoms in socialism (see: The Russian Revolution and programmatic writ about the Spartacist League) sound very modern and offer new solutions.

Preamble of the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution proclaimed that the League of Communists of Yugoslavia has been a bearer and a promotor of political activity with aim of further development and protection of socialist revolution and socialist self-management (article VIII of Preamble)

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4 responses

10 03 2009
Ante Lauc

i think that NOW there are enormous opportunity to create self-management society because financial manipulations (bailout) discovered bankers unethical self-organization (like mafia). Owing to scientific and technological achievements it is possible NOW

30 12 2009

what is “wrong” with this article and my reply that there is NO COMMENT?

30 12 2009

The lack of comments is probably mainly a function of the fact that most people who read this site would largely agree with it… it is nonetheless very good to have an article which draws out the idea of self-management in some detail and with various examples.

We should probably publish more ‘polemic’ against other ideas of self-management such as the Chavista, co-operativist or ‘market socialism’ type…

30 12 2009

The lack of comments is probably also due to the fact that the strucuture of the site as a blog means that articles are ‘lost’ from site once they are knocked off the front page.


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