The 1917 revolution in Russia, and the comeback of workers’ councils, signalled the start of a revolutionary wave that spread across the world over the next ten years. The map below is an attempt at charting the spread of the council movement in the 1917-1927 period. Work in progress!
The topic of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils, or soviets as they were known in Russia, is often neglected in mainstream accounts of the revolution. So is the existence of an international revolutionary wave which, while unsuccessful, left its mark all over the globe. Looking at the events of 1917-1927 from the point of view of workers’ councils – which at their best represented an attempt by workers to take control over their daily lives and transform society – can reveal more about the forms that class struggle took, and the international characteristic of the movement.
Colours of the icons signify the date of the formation of the workers' council. • All dates are New Style. • Zoom in and click on an individual workers' council to find out more, and see the source for the data. • May take a moment to load.
The criteria we used for what constitutes a workers’ council was quite lenient. For reference, this 1938 quote from the GIK provides a more grounded definition, but certainly not all of the councils on the map would meet these criteria:
"Real workers' councils we know are established in the teeth of opposition from management, state, trade unions and even (or especially) shop stewards whose power they threaten. Councils are established not just in factories, but over whole working class districts. They deal not just with workers' organization of production, but with all aspects of social life – food, housing, transport, education and so on. They are made up of delegates elected by mass assemblies and all delegates are instantly revocable and answerable to those assemblies. These councils first came into existence in Russia in 1905 (the word 'soviet' means council in Russian) and at all times of revolutionary upheaval ever since. In Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, wherever workers form a distinctive section of the population this form of organization has emerged time and again. The establishment of working class organs of power on a wide scale challenges all capitalist institutions, especially the state and its representatives the army and police.” Gruppe Internationaler Kommunisten: The Origins of the Movement for Workers' Councils in Germany (1938)
The map was put together thanks to the collective effort of some 10-20 people who took part in online discussions and provided data on the councils. The project was started in a closed Facebook group in February 2016 but despite the group growing to over 100 members, activity has sharply dwindled down over the months. By releasing the map to a public audience now (on the centenary of the Russian Revolution), we hope we can spark some new discussions and maybe receive new submissions with data on councils still missing from the map.
In other words, the map is still a work in progress. For example, while we now have many soviets from the territories of the former Russian Empire included on the map, it's not a complete record. A number of other considerations should also be kept in mind:
- Data is only as accurate as the sources we found. For every council we tried to provide at least one legitimate source. However, not every council on the map was a revolutionary council, or even a genuine workers’ council. Some, like the councils in the UK or the US, were often failed attempts at kick-starting a council movement which never held much economic or political power. Others, like some of the councils in Germany, Poland or Norway, were dominated by reformist political currents, which prevented the councils from challenging the state.
- This map will never be quite complete. Much information regarding workers’ councils is lost or was never recorded in the first place (be it location, size or political and social composition). The lack of councils in a given country however does not mean there were no significant workers’ movements there – other forms of class struggle were also widespread, such as factory committees, mass strikes, radical parties and unions, protests or insurrections, and these are not recorded on the map.
Finally, here are a number of quotes just to illustrate the importance of workers’ councils in the thinking of some of the most well-known figures of the revolutionary movement of those years.
“As early as the revolution of 1905-6, class organisations of the workers, known as soviets of workers' delegates, came into existence. In the revolution of 1917, these organisations appeared in far greater abundance; almost everywhere there sprouted like mushrooms workers' soviets, soldiers' soviets, and subsequently peasants' soviets. It became clear that these soviets, which had originated as instruments for use in the struggle for power, must inevitably be transformed into the instruments for the wielding of power.” Nikolai Bukharin and Yevgeni Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism (1920)
“The Soviets, or workers' occupational councils, will form the administrative machinery for supplying the needs of the people in Communist society; they will also make the revolution by seizing control of all the industries and services of the community.” Sylvia Pankhurst: Communism and its Tactics (1921)
“During the proletarian revolution, the new rising class creates its new forms of organisation which step by step in the process of revolution supersede the old State organization. The workers’ councils, as the new form of political organisation, take the place of parliamentarism, the political form of capitalist rule.” Anton Pannekoek: Workers Councils (1936)
“From the uppermost summit of the state down to the tiniest parish, the proletarian mass must therefore replace the inherited organs of bourgeois class rule – the assemblies, parliaments, and city councils – with its own class organs – with workers’ and soldiers’ councils. It must occupy all the posts, supervise all functions, measure all official needs by the standard of its own class interests and the tasks of socialism. Only through constant, vital, reciprocal contact between the masses of the people and their organs, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, can the activity of the people fill the state with a socialist spirit.” Rosa Luxemburg: What Does the Spartacus League Want? (1918)
Any feedback, new data submissions or better sources are welcome! These can all be added to the current version to make the map more complete, so please post them in the comments below.
Interesting stuff, keep up
Interesting stuff, keep up the good work!
On soviets in Russian empire,
On soviets in Russian empire, this recent upload is excellent (in particular onward from p. 37): https://archive.org/details/SovietsEveOctRev
The Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on the Eve of the October Revolution: March-October 1917
by A. Andreyev
And some photos of soviets in Russia collected here.
which i have marked as my "favo(u)rite page on libcom"
Don't know if it counts but
Don't know if it counts but the Gilan Republic/Persian Socialist Soviet Republic might be a good addition?
Thanks for the feedback.
Thanks for the feedback.
@Noa: I will have a look at the book. Does it by any chance contain a list of the soviets, even if only the most well-known ones? And yes, those are some nice pictures on the ICC forum.
@petey: That thread was actually very helpful for finding out information about the US councils. Hopefully we've not missed any.
@Ed: The Gilan Republic was mentioned during the discussions, but if I remember right we didn't find evidence of the existence of workers' councils (one would assume they existed since it was called a soviet republic after all, but again if I remember right, the Halliday article doesn't really go into how exactly it was organised).
No list, but in the book it
No list, but in the book it goes over a whole lot of names (like I said onward from here, and for peasants' soviets here).
For Finland, a note in Lenin's CW seems to name the soviets there "seims":
Just had a closer look at the
Just had a closer look at the sections you linked, and that's exactly the kind of source I need! Expect some Russian soviets in the next map update.
UPDATE: about 150 soviets
UPDATE: about 150 soviets from the former Russian Empire have now been added to the map.
It's great work. April 7-23
It's great work.
April 7-23 (20-23), 1917, the Congress of Soviets of Workers' Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies in Eastern Siberia began in Irkutsk. In the photo delegates of the 1st District Congress of Soviets of the Lower Amursky District: (h/t БОЛЬШЕВИКИ)
There continued to be created soviets in more places into 1918.
yes, this is first class
yes, this is first class stuff. i live in NYC and to the best of my imperfect knowledge there were no councils around here.
In the hunger years of
In the hunger years of 1917-1919, bread riots and local revolts broke out over Sweden.
In the industrial city of Västervik a mass meeting led by the secretary of the local federation of the anarcho-syndicalist SAC, FJ Gustafsson, a worker at the grinding mill, adopted a resolution to be telegraphed to the rest of the city advocating price controls, tax reductions for workers and other demands, ending in the threat of violent revolt if these demands are not met. (Reforms were quickly won in the city). In modern times the website of the city describes the hunger riots and rebellions that resulted in councils being formed thusly, "In 1917 workers' councils (1917-1918) were formed in the city, taking almost total control over the city".
UPDATE: more soviets from the
UPDATE: more soviets from the former Russian Empire added, plus the Republic of Als, the Monaghan Asylum Soviet and the Västervik Workers' Council. Keep the suggestions coming as the map will be updated (though I'll only leave a comment here about an update when a significant number of councils gets added).
That is very cool.
That is very cool.
It all depends on your
It all depends on your definition of 'workers council' and whether basic occupations of factories count. However, here is Paulo Spriano's "The Occupation of the Factories: Italy 1920", p60:
Sorry if there's any spelling mistakes of Italian regions/areas/towns, I typed it out referring to my hardcopy of the book. The movement itself wasn't universal in character and in some of those areas it could be construed just as a strike tactic of the workers as opposed to any revolutionary move to seize the means of production.
This is by far the best thing
This is by far the best thing on the internet
@GiantMonkeyMan: since Turin
@GiantMonkeyMan: since Turin was already on the map, I've now added Milan and Genoa too. The Spriano book is actually on libcom, so I'll have a browse and see if there's any indication as to what degree all these factory occupations and committees could be considered proto-soviets.
This project is getting huge.
This project is getting huge. I want to congratulate you about the idea.
I've got a question? How would you guys call another type of councils that had the name of commune? I'm thinking in places like Encarnacion Commune (Paraguay)(https://praxislibertaria.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/la-comuna-de-encarnacic3b3n-de-paraguay-1931.pdf)
or the villages that proclaimed libertarian communism in Spain under the period 1932-34 (quite a lot). Or what to do with "partiggiani republics" in Italy during WWII (many led by a mixture of communists, anarchist, republican and socialists)? My suggestion is to create another map with this kind of insurrectionary republics to fit from Baja California and Morelos in the Mexican revolution (1910-1917) to Marquetalia Republic in 1948, passing through sandinista movement in 1934, communist insurrection in El Salvador 1932, or the anarchist insurrection in Rio de Janeiro in 1918
Another new map could be done for the big strikes :) another huge work to be done.
In the end my conclusion is that anarchism, anarchosyndicalism or revolutionary syndicalism are part of a bigger movement.
Another question, what's
Another question, what's about Russian "third" revolution (Gulay Pole, Krondstadt, Tambov, Siberia, etc. - check Nick Heath's articles)?
Yes, maps like this could
Yes, maps like this could certainly be made for other historical periods. I'm currently working on one for the workers' councils in the 1905 revolution since I've already got most of the data (will be up on libcom eventually). It would be interesting to see ones for the 1930s communes, or the 1944-48 workers' councils. But I expect reliable data regarding the locations of some of these might be hard to track down.
On the workers' councils vs. communes question, there's some overlap. But a workers' council denotes both a certain model of organisation and its class content, whereas commune is often used more loosely (the Partisan Republics you group under this label for example were led by the National Liberation Committee, a cross class alliance, these were not a form of workers' power like the soviets, but building blocks for the post-war democratic state).
The Kronstadt Soviet is already on the map, but I'll add the 1921 Conference of Delegates as a separate point. If there's data on workers' councils in the Free Territory, I'll add them as well. But rebellions like the one in Tambov were primarily peasant uprisings, even more so than Makhno's army. Unlike the peasants' councils which were allied with the workers' councils, these rebellions don't really fit here conceptually - the Tambov rebels for example opposed Soviet power and wanted to reconvene the Constituent Assembly instead.
Salvoechea wrote: Another new
Actually one thing we're hoping to have when we finally do the site upgrade is to have an interactive map for exactly this so that you can search, say, 'general strikes' and all the articles we have in the general strikes tag show up on the map. Hopefully we can get it done asap!
Quote: Actually one thing
That would be a great feature!
Here’s the interactive map of
Here’s the interactive map of the 1905 revolution.
Ed wrote: Salvoechea
Actually we already have that. See for example: http://libcom.org/library/map?tid=general+strikes
but one thing which is very clear is that it is not highlighted enough (especially if even one of the admins didn't know about it!)
So in the redesign we want to highlight the map feature much better, and also add basically everything in working class history which has ever happened to the map. Which can then be browsed by category, or we want people to be able to look at the map on their mobile device to be able to see things which occurred near them, or to do self-guided walking tours etc.
As you can see from our general map (http://libcom.org/library/map) it has huge amounts of information on it, but we want lots more like the kind of thing people have mentioned here, so especially when the redesign is more sorted we would love to have help from users putting stuff in.
Also the intention is to be able to browse the same type of content on visual timelines
Comuna Natales (Chili) - 23
Comuna Natales (Chili) - 23 january 1919
Patagonia Rebelde - Rio Gallegos (Argentina) 24 oct - 20 dec, 1921