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.