Council communists' opinion on bureaucracy in the Petrograd soviet Feb-Oct 1917

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Lucky Black Cat
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Aug 30 2021 05:00
Council communists' opinion on bureaucracy in the Petrograd soviet Feb-Oct 1917

Council communists see councils/soviets as the organs of revolution, they reject party dictatorship and advocate democratic councils/soviets, but what do they think of the bureaucracy that existed in the Petrograd soviet even before the October revolution?

This soviet had an executive committee and an even smaller bureau that called most of the shots. Most of the soviet's delegates were left out; a very flawed democracy. This began immediately after the February revolution.

Is this something council communists are critical of or do they think it's no big deal?
Are there any texts by council communists discussing this?

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Aug 30 2021 05:34

I posted this question on facebook and someone mentioned they don't think bureaucracy is the right word to describe this. Perhaps not. In any case, it's still a concentration of power that excluded most delegates. I'm curious what council communists think of this.

Dyjbas
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Aug 30 2021 10:04

Not quite a council communist (but a left communist) - having some kind of structure and a degree of centralisation does not necessarily equal bureaucracy. Particularly if higher bodies are still made up of delegates (as is the case for soviet democracy). Even the soviets in Makhno's territory had their own executive committees.

But if you a priori oppose any "concentration of power" then your issue might be with soviet democracy itself, since it's an expression of workers' power.

Spikymike
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Aug 30 2021 10:39

The factory committees (as building blocks of the Soviet council system) were a positive working class response to the immediate practical problems that workers faced in extreme conditions - still an experiment and work in progress - best look to the limitations in that in the objective circumstances, class composition, and most recent history of workplace struggle prior to the emergence of the committees. Please consult:
https://libcom.org/library/red-petrograd-revolution-factories-1917-1918-...

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Aug 30 2021 15:26

Thanks for the replies.

Dyjbas - as a left communist, are you more influenced by the Italian tendency or the Dutch-German tendency?

Quote:
But if you a priori oppose any "concentration of power" then your issue might be with soviet democracy itself, since it's an expression of workers' power.

No, because workers' power can be more widely dispersed among workers or at least among their delegates. Most of their delegates were left out of the decision making process, concentrating the power in only a fraction of them.

Spikymike - Thanks for the reading recommendation, seems interesting based on the book description, but I'm not understanding what's the connection to my question?

adri
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Aug 30 2021 23:24
LBC wrote:
Dyjbas wrote:
But if you a priori oppose any "concentration of power" then your issue might be with soviet democracy itself, since it's an expression of workers' power.

No, because workers' power can be more widely dispersed among workers or at least among their delegates. Most of their delegates were left out of the decision making process, concentrating the power in only a fraction of them.

I believe Dyjbas' point is that if you oppose "concentrating power" as some principle, then concentrating power in the hands of workers, excluding capitalists etc., would seem to contradict that.

In decision-making itself there will always be a minority whose say is subordinate to that of a majority, which the former might see as violating their liberty. What's "authoritarian," a "violation of liberty" or an "illegitimate concentration of power" is relative, and it's not very useful if such ideas/principles are at the forefront of a societal critique, as they were for Bakunin and others.

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Aug 31 2021 01:46

I understand, and if I'd been talking abstractly I can see how I could have been misunderstood, but I was using a specific example of power concentration that excluded the delegates of workers and soldiers, so I thought it would be clear what I meant.

ajjohnstone
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Aug 31 2021 02:04

I think we need to differentiate between an administrative structure of self-management and sectional ownership of a means of production.

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Aug 31 2021 02:56

Not sure about council communists specifically, so this might not be relevant for you. But I think spikyMike mentioned factory committees is that lots of people to the left of Bolsheviks typically do have a critique in general of soviets in the Russian revolution, and often point to factory committees as being better examples of working class democracy in practice at a grassroots level. Because even though there were many positive things about soviets, in many cases they were quite small, relatively, and quite distant from workers on the ground.
This pamphlet has more useful info, both on the committees and where they came into conflict with the, typically more moderate and bureaucratic soviets: https://libcom.org/library/factory-committees-russian-revolution-rod-jon...

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Aug 31 2021 03:58
Quote:
I think we need to differentiate between an administrative structure of self-management and sectional ownership of a means of production.

AJ, can you elaborate on this?

Quote:
I think spikyMike mentioned factory committees is that lots of people to the left of Bolsheviks typically do have a critique in general of soviets in the Russian revolution, and often point to factory committees as being better examples of working class democracy in practice at a grassroots level. Because even though there were many positive things about soviets, in many cases they were quite small, relatively, and quite distant from workers on the ground.

That makes sense. I wonder if council communists share this critique of the soviets.

From what I remember, although factory committees were better examples of working class democracy, they were focused on production issues, which, though important, leaves out a lot of other important realms of decision making, which were handled by the soviets. So it's unfortunate that the soviets weren't better at adhering to democracy, and maintaining connection to, communication with, and directions from the masses of workers and soldiers, though I sympathize with the logistical difficulties of doing so during a hectic and rapidly evolving revolutionary situation.

ajjohnstone
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Aug 31 2021 09:02
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AJ, can you elaborate

All I was trying to say, LBC, is that the conventional and now outdated interpretation of syndicalism and industrial unionism and workers councils was that the workers would own their place of work, not too much different from today's Wolff's Workers Self Directed Enterprises proposals and many other advocates of cooperatives.

It was once summed up in the slogan, mines to the miners, the railways to the train workers and the garbage to the garbage collectors (or words to that effect)

What was being overlooked was the means of production should be socially own and controlled by society, not merely the workers in all the varied industries, who may well have conflicting interests. For example, I note Dave Douglass, one-time NUM militant still promotes the coal industry as positive and is against the fossil fuel opponents.

The day-to-day operation of manufacturing and transport will be carried out by various forms of workers councils and management committees but they will not collectively "own" it. They will run it on behalf of the rest of us.

They will have the task of fulfilling the wishes and meeting the demands of the community and of the wider society as a whole.

The IWW recognised the issue and introduced qualifications for new IU sectors to include actual non-paid workers such as those termed homeworkers so these anomalies are understood and being addressed.

Dyjbas
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Aug 31 2021 12:23

It's also important to remember that the soviets functioned a bit differently across space and time. The Petrograd Soviet, with its many district soviets, was not, say, the Baku Soviet, where the hold of the working class was always weaker. And the Petrograd Soviet of March 1917 was not the Petrograd Soviet of December 1917. In fact, during the first six months after the October Revolution the Bolsheviks actually extended the soviet system and the principle of delegation and recall to many other areas of public life. Factory committees, which in many factories were actually called "soviets of workers' deputies" and sent delegates to district soviets and congresses, were part of that widespread grassroots.

In general, soviet democracy was the synthesis of centralisation and decentralisation. The Congress of Soviets, made up of delegates from district, regional, provincial, county and rural soviets, had supreme power. The Congress then delegated a Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) which held supreme power in between the congresses. The VTsIK then formed a Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) and various other departments. The real issues only began during the Civil War, as working class self-organisation on a local level gradually exhausted itself and the mutual relationship between the higher and lower organs of soviet democracy was interrupted. It's in the course of that process that particularly the Sovnarkom began to assume the role of a capitalist state formation.

adri wrote:
I believe Dyjbas' point is that if you oppose "concentrating power" as some principle, then concentrating power in the hands of workers, excluding capitalists etc., would seem to contradict that.

Yes, this.

Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Dyjbas - as a left communist, are you more influenced by the Italian tendency or the Dutch-German tendency?

Italian Left (I'm in the CWO-ICT), but there are important lessons to be learned from the Dutch-German Left as well.

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Sep 1 2021 15:34
ajjohnstone wrote:
the conventional and now outdated interpretation of syndicalism and industrial unionism and workers councils was that the workers would own their place of work, not too much different from today's Wolff's Workers Self Directed Enterprises proposals and many other advocates of cooperatives.

It was once summed up in the slogan, mines to the miners, the railways to the train workers and the garbage to the garbage collectors (or words to that effect)

What was being overlooked was the means of production should be socially own and controlled by society

Yes, I agree the MOP should be owned by society as a whole, though "garbage to the garbage collectors is pretty hilarious. grin I can't see the connection to my post, though. Had I said something that made you think I saw it differently?

ajjohnstone
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Sep 1 2021 16:39
Quote:
I can't see the connection to my post, though. Had I said something that made you think I saw it differently?

Not at all, LBC, as the topic was on workers' councils, it just had to be said.

In fact, your posts have been very welcome, bringing attention to many basic discussion points on Libcom, which for a while was a little bit inactive.

Dyjbas
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Sep 1 2021 17:00
ajjohnstone wrote:
All I was trying to say, LBC, is that the conventional and now outdated interpretation of syndicalism and industrial unionism and workers councils was that the workers would own their place of work, not too much different from today's Wolff's Workers Self Directed Enterprises proposals and many other advocates of cooperatives. It was once summed up in the slogan, mines to the miners, the railways to the train workers and the garbage to the garbage collectors (or words to that effect) What was being overlooked was the means of production should be socially own and controlled by society, not merely the workers in all the varied industries, who may well have conflicting interests.

Except the means of production being "socially own[ed] and controlled by society, not merely [by] the workers in all the varied industries" is exactly how workers' councils were understood by most communists at the time, e.g.:

"The Soviets are the organs that take the place of parliament and the bourgeois administrative assemblies and gradually replace all the other ramifications of the State. To put it in the words of the most recent congress of the Russian communists, as quoted by Comrade Zinoviev, "the Soviets are the State organizations of the workers and poor peasants; they exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat during the stage when all previous forms of the State are being extinguished." In the final analysis, this system of State organizations gives representation to all producers in their capacity as members of the working class, and not as members of a particular trade or industrial sector. According to the latest manifesto of the Third International, the Soviets represent "a new type of mass organization, one which embraces the working class in its entirety, irrespective of individual trades or levels of political maturity"." (Bordiga, 1920)