Five Theses on the Class Struggle - Anton Pannekoek

Anton Pannekoek's classic manifesto against state socialism (democratic or otherwise) and for council communism, an industrial society governed by a democracy of workers' councils

Submitted by The_Dilettante on May 5, 2020


Capitalism in one century of growth has enormously increased its power, not only through expansion over the entire earth, but also through development into new forms. With it the working class has increased in power, in numbers, in concentrated mass, in organization. Its fight against capitalist exploitation, for mastery over the means of production, is also continually developing and has to develop into new forms. The development of capitalism led to concentration of power over the chief branches of production in the hands of big monopolist concerns. They are intimately connected with State power and dominate it; they control the main part of the press, they direct public opinion. Middle class democracy has proved the best camouflage of this political dominance of big capital. At the same time there is a growing tendency in most countries to use the organized power of the State in concentrating the management of the key industries in its hands, as a beginning of planned economy. In Nazi Germany, a State-directed economy united political leadership and capitalist management into one combined-exploiting class. In Russian State-capitalism, the bureaucracy is collective master over the means of production, and by dictatorial government keeps the exploited masses in submission.


Socialism, put up as the goal of the worker's fight, is the organization of production by Government. It means State-socialism, the command of the State-officials over production and the command of managers, scientists, shop-officials in the shop. In socialist economy this body, forming a well-organized bureaucracy, is the direct master over the process of production. It has the disposal over the total product, determining what part shall be assigned as wages to the workers, and takes the rest for general needs and for itself. The workers under democracy may choose their masters, but they are not themselves master of their work: they receive only part of the produce, assigned to them by others; they are still exploited and have to obey the new master class. The democratic forms, supposed or intended to accompany it, do not alter the fundamental structure of this economic system.

Socialism was proclaimed the goal of the working class when in its first rise it felt powerless, unable by itself to conquer command over the shops, and looking to the State for protection against the capitalist class by means of social reforms. The large political parties embodying these aims, the Social Democratic and the Labor Parties, turned into instruments for regimenting the entire working class into the service of capitalism, in its wars for world power as well as in peace-time home politics. The Labor Government of the British Labor Party cannot even be said to be socialistic; what it does is not liberating the workers, but modernizing capitalism. By abolishing its ignominies and backwardness, by introducing State management to preserve and guarantee profits for the capitalists, it strengthens capitalist domination and perpetuates the exploitation of the workers.


The goal of the working class is liberation from exploitation. This goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie. It is only realized by the workers themselves being master over production.

Mastery of the workers over production means, first, organization of the work in every shop and enterprise by its personnel. Instead of through command of a manager and his underlings all the regulations are made through decision of the entire body of the workers. This body, comprising all kinds of workers, specialists, and scientists all taking part in the production, in assembly decides everything related to the common work. The rule that those who have to do the work also have to regulate their work and take the responsibility, within the scope of the whole, can be applied to all branches of production. It means, secondly, that the workers create their organs for combining the separate enterprises into an organized entirety of planned production. These organs are the workers' councils.

The workers' councils are bodies of delegates, sent out by the personnels of the separate shops or sections of big enterprises, carrying the intentions and opinions of these personnels, in order to discuss and take decisions on the common affairs, and to bring back the results to their mandatories. They state and proclaim the necessary regulations, and by uniting the different opinions into one common result, form the connection of the separate units into a well-organized whole. They are no permanent board of leaders, but can be recalled and changed at every moment. Their first germs appeared in the beginning of the Russian and German revolutions (Soviet, Arbeiterrate). They are to play an increasing role in the future workingclass developments.


Political parties up to the present times have two functions. They aspire, first, at political power, at dominance in the State, to take government into their hands and use its power to put their program into practice. For this purpose they have, secondly, to win the masses of the working people to their programs: by means of their teaching clarifying the insight, or, by their propaganda, simply trying to make of them a herd of sheep.

Working class parties put up as their goal the conquest of political power in order to govern in the interest of the workers, and especially to abolish capitalism. They claim to be the vanguard of the working class, its most clear-sighted part, capable of leading the uninstructed majority of the class, acting in its name as its representative. They claim to be able to liberate the workers from exploitation. An exploited class, however, cannot be liberated simply by voting freedom, but, when it wins, only new forms of domination.

Freedom can be won by the working masses only through their own organized action, by taking their lot in their own hands, in devoted exertion of all their faculties, by directing and organizing their fight and their work themselves by means of their Councils.

For the parties, then, remains the second function, to spread insight and knowledge, to study, discuss and formulate social ideas, and by their propaganda to enlighten the minds of the masses. The workers' councils are the organs for practical action and fight of the working class; to the Parties falls the task of the building up of its spiritual power. Their work forms an indispensable part in the self-liberation of the workingclass.


The strongest form of fight against the capitalist class is the strike. Strikes are more than ever necessary against the capitalists' tendency to increase their profits by lowering wages and increasing the hours or the intensity of work. Trade unions have been formed as instruments of organized resistance, based on strong solidarity and mutual help. With the growth of big business capitalist power has increased enormously, so that only in special cases are the workers able to withstand the worsening of their working conditions. The Trade Unions grow into instruments of mediation between capitalists and workers; they make treaties with the employers which they try to force upon the often unwilling workers. The leaders aspire to become a recognized part of the power structure of capital and State dominating the working class; the Unions grow into instruments of monopolist capital, by means of which it dictates its terms to the workers.

The fight of the working class, under these circumstances, more and more takes the form of wild-cat strikes. They are spontaneous, mass outbursts of the long-suppressed spirit of resistance. They are direct actions in which the workers take their fight entirely into their own hands, leaving the Unions and their leaders outside.

The organization of the fight is accomplished by the strike-committees, delegates of the strikers, chosen and given mandate by the personnels. By means of discussions in these committees the workers establish their unity of action. Extension of the strike to ever larger masses, the only tactics appropriate to wrench concessions from capital, is fundamentally opposed to the Trade Union tactics of resisting the fight and putting an end to it as soon as possible. Such wild-cat strikes in the present times are the only real class fights of the workers against capital. Here they assert their freedom, themselves choosing and directing their actions, not directed by other powers for other interests.

This last shows the importance of such class contests for the future. When the wild-cat strikes take on ever larger extension they find the entire physical power of the State against them. So they assume a revolutionary character. When capitalism turns into an organized world government - though as yet only in the form of two contending powers, threatening mankind with entire devastation - the fight for freedom of the working class takes the form of a fight against State Power. Its strikes assume the character of big political strikes, sometimes universal strikes. Then the strike-committees must take on general social and political functions, and assume the character of workers' councils. The revolutionary struggle for social power then becomes a fight for mastery over and in the shops, and the workers' councils, as the organs of struggle, grow into organs of production at the same time.