National Sections of the L5I:

Workers’ councils and the struggle for working class power

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The focal point of the programme of transitional demands is the formation of bodies that can unite all the fighting groups and co-ordinate them into an effective class-wide struggle. In different countries, and in different languages, such organisations have come into existence: councils of action, juntas, co-ordinadores, cordones industriales, and soviets.

These councils of employed and unemployed workers, peasants and the urban poor bring together delegates elected in every workplace, in every working class neighbourhood. The delegates must be subject to recall by their electors whenever a majority of them wish it. The delegates must not only decide on what to do but participate themselves in the implementation of their decisions. In this way, no massive apparatus of fulltime officials will be necessary.

The first task of workers’ councils is to co-ordinate resistance to capitalism across a city or territory and to link it up on a national basis. Their democratic character makes it easier for the masses to exercise control over their leadership and replace it if it tries to betray the struggle. Workers must be absolutely free to decide which parties they support.

Workers’ democracy is the best – the only – antidote to bureaucracy. And behind bureaucracy stands surrender to the bourgeoisie. All the contending political forces in the working class movement must be judged by the masses according to whether their programmes serve the needs of the struggle and its goal.

Embryonic workers’ councils can emerge in any heightened period of class struggle from existing fighting bodies: militant and democratic trade unions, factory committees, action councils built to support particular struggles, unemployed organisations. But such bodies alone, no matter how radical, cannot in themselves serve as workers’ councils.

Workers’ councils must transcend the factory, industry or section of workers. They must break down all sectional barriers and achieve class unity. By spreading the form of the council of recallable delegates to other popular strata and classes, by example, they can assemble the majority of the population even in industrially underdeveloped countries. In a revolution, they can and must win the rank and file soldiers to forming such councils.

Delegate councils arise only when society enters a revolutionary crisis, when the masses outgrow the confines of their traditional organisations and turn to revolutionary forms of struggle and organisation.

A revolutionary crisis exists when society reaches an impasse. The normal economic and political order breaks down under the impact of economic crisis or war. The ruling class is divided and racked by acute governmental crises. On the other hand, the mass of the people refuse to tolerate economic misery and the corruption of the old regime. On the streets, faced with the forces of order, they repeatedly demonstrate their will to sacrifice their lives to defeat it.

Workers’ councils are a direct challenge to the capitalists’ right to manage and control society. They represent the potential of an alternative state – one through which the working class can rule society. As long as they co-exist with a capitalist government, they will present a rival power. This dual power situation can only persist if the capitalists have lost control over their own armed forces or fear to use them, and if the leadership of the working class is unwilling to seize power. If this indecision is not broken, sooner or later the capitalists will incorporate, bureaucratise or crush the councils. The only way forward is for the councils to overthrow the government and create a working class state.