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February 2008: Workers' Self-Management. A Bibliography Printer Friendly Version

Workers’ Self-Management
A Bibliography

James Herod, February, 2008

There is an extensive literature about workers’ control, workers’ councils, and workers’ self-management, seeing that these were central to the anarcho-syndicalist strategy for more than a hundred years, and seeing also that workers’ councils have appeared in just about every major revolt over this same period. Here is an introductory list which should be enough to get you well into this literature.

[Note: The annotated items below were lifted (with some editing, additions, and revisions) from my big bibliography on Emancipatory Social Thought, which is posted on my web site. The annotations don’t signify any greater importance than the non-annotated items; it’s just that they were on hand. However, these twenty items are certainly all very worthy of study. And Pannekoek’s Workers Councils, the first item listed, is a good place to begin.]

Pannekoek, Anton, Workers Councils [1941-42]. (First published in English as a book in Melbourne, Australia in 1950, 231 pages. Recently reprinted by AK Press, 2002) This is the defining text of the ‘council communists’ – Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter, Henrietta Roland-Holst, Karl Korsch – the left wing of the German and Dutch communist parties. See also, Serge Bricianer, Pannekoek and the Workers’ Councils (Telos Press, 1978, 304 pages), and John Gerber, Anton Pannekoek and the Socialism of Workers’ Self-Emancipation, 1873-1960 (Kluwer, 1989, 250 pages).

Rocker, Rudolf, Anarcho-Syndicalism [1938]. (Pluto Press, London, 1989, 166 pages.) Possibly the best introduction to anarcho-syndicalism by one its major advocates. The anarcho-syndicalist goal, of course, was based on the idea of workers’ control through councils which were federated on the factory, town, region, and national levels.

Anderson, Andy, Hungary 1956. (Solidarity, North London, 1964; Black and Red, Detroit, 1976, 138 pages.) This is a live account of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, from an anarcho-syndicalist perspective, which focuses on the creation of workers councils.

Debord, Guy, Society of the Spectacle [1967]. (Black & Red, Detroit, 1970, 1977, 120 pages.) This is a founding text of the French Situationist International, and a brilliant attempt to rethink and update the radical project. There is a strong emphasis on workers councils, in addition, of course, to the main theme about commodified culture. See also his assessment twenty years later, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (Verso, London, 1990, 94 pages).

Dolgoff, Sam, editor, The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self-management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939. (Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1974, 192 pages.) This is a great introduction to attempts at self-government made during the greatest revolution so far. Besides Dolgoff’s contributions, there are essays by Leval, Souchy, Santilan, Pierats, and others. It covers both industrial and rural collectives, plus other topics (land, money, exchange). For other works on the Spanish Revolution see the useful 20-page bibliographical essay in Vernon Richards’, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution. Many works which have appeared since Richards wrote [1972] are listed under the Vernon Richards entry in my bibliography, Emancipatory Social Thought. See also, Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, Pierre Broue, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, and Abel Paz, Durruti in the Spanish Revolution.

Brinton, Maurice, The Bolsheviks and Workers Control 1917-1921: The State and Counter-revolution. (Solidarity, North London, 1970, 89 pages.) A blow by blow account, thoroughly researched and documented, of how the Bolsheviks destroyed the workers councils (Soviets) during the first years of the revolution.

Castoriadis, Cornelius, Workers Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society [1957]. (Solidarity, North London, 1972, 52 pages.) This is a pamphlet version of part two of Castoriadis’ essay, "The Content of Socialism" (part one, 1955, part three, 1958), originally published in the French journal, Socialisme ou Barbarie, of which Castoriadis was a founder and editor. It is a rare attempt to picture in concrete detail how a worker self-managed society would work. The pamphlet was republished by Philadelphia Solidarity in 1975, and then by Wooden Shoe bookstore in Philadelphia in 1984. The original essays are now available in English in his Political and Social Writings (3 vols).

Korsch, Karl, Marxism and Philosophy [1923, 1930]. (New Left Books, London, 1970, 159 pages.) A brilliant philosophical rejection of both Leninism and Social Democracy by a left German communist, council communist, and anarcho-syndicalist. Korsch helped bring Hegel back into Marxism in the twenties, and helped lay the foundation for a third road, an anti-statist road, that is, an anarchist road, to communism. For more Korsch, see Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory (Texas University Press, 1974, 299 pages, edited by Douglas Kellner). Kellner provides a 110-page introduction to this book, "Korsch’s Revolutionary Marxism," as well as lengthy introductions to the six chapters of selected texts (23 items). Korsch’s study of workers councils has never been translated (Arbeitsrecht fur Betriebsrate), nor has his critique of Kautsky, both of which should be. Two other books in English though are Three Essays on Marxism, (Monthly Review Press, 1971, 71 pages), and Karl Marx [1938]

Gorter, Herman, Open Letter to Comrade Lenin: A Reply to ‘Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder’ (by Lenin) [1920]. (Originally published in Workers’ Dreadnought, London. Republished finally as a Wildcat pamphlet in London, September 1989, 41 pages.) A Dutch comrade of Anton Pannekoek, Gorter wrote this reply to Lenin’s attack immediately. It stands as one of the first and most vigorous rejections of Bolshevism by Europe’s anarchists. See also, D.A. Smart, editor, Pannekoek and Gorter’s Marxism (Pluto Press, 1978, 176 pages), which contains the only two other essays in English by Gorter I am aware of: "The Origins of Nationalism in the Proletariat," and The Organisation of the Proletariat’s Class Struggle," as well as three essays by Pannekoek, and a long introduction by Smart.

James, C.L.R., Facing Reality [1958]. With Grace C. Lee and Pierre Chaulieu. (Bewick Editions, Detroit, 1974, 174 pages.) A recasting of radical social philosophy in light of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the workers councils created there, by activists in the process of breaking with Trotskyism, Leninism, and orthodox marxism. A famous text of the so-called Johnson-Forrest tendency, and of autonomous marxism.

Carsten, F.L., Revolution in Central Europe 1918-1919. (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1972, 360 pages.) A study of the workers, soldiers, and peasants councils movements in Germany and Austria after WWI, and their defeat.

Ostergaard, Geoffrey, The Tradition of Workers’ Control: Selected Writings. (Freedom Press, London, 1997, 154 pages.) The title essay, written in 1956 (pp. 27-94), is an excellent overview of the subject for Britain. It covers British syndicalism and its disintegration, guild socialism, and so forth. It has an introduction and afterword by Brian Bamford.

Anweiler, Oskar, The Soviets: The Russian Workers, Peasants, and Soldiers Councils, 1905-1921 [1958]. (Pantheon Books, New York, 1974, 337 pages.) Anweiler begins with a brief consideration of the historical and theoretical antecedents of the council concept. He picks up the story with the emergence of councils in the revolution of 1905, and follows it through to the end of the council movement in the Kronstadt insurrection of 1921. This is the most detailed history so far.

Krimerman, Len, and Frank Lindenfeld, editors, When Workers Decide: Worplace Democracy Takes Root in North America. (New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, 1992, 308 pages.) This is an extensive anthology of accounts of contemporary experiments with workers control. It has a lengthy bibliography of recent works, "References and Bibliography on Workers’ Participation, Worker Ownership, and Workplace Democracy, 1979-1991". It also includes an extensive list of resources. Krimerman and Lindenfeld founded The Grassroots Economic Organizing Newsletter. Its precursors were Workplace Democracy, and Changing Work. The GEO collective has recently published a directory: An Economy of Hope: Annotated National Directory of Worker Co-Ops, Democratic ESOPs, Sustainable Enterprises, Support Organizations, and Resources.

Pankhurst, Sylvia, A Sylvia Pankhurst Reader, edited by Kathryn Dodd. (Manchester University Press, Manchester, United Kingdom, 1993, 248 pages.) An early feminist and suffragette, and an anarcho-syndicalist and anti-bolshevik communist, allied with the Kollontai (in Russia), Pannekoek, Roland-Holst, and Gorter (in Holland), and Gramsci and Bordiga (in Italy). She was the target of Lenin’s notorious pamphlet, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Pankhurst adapted the concept of councils to women, neighborhoods, and the unemployed. She published Britain’s liveliest left communist newspaper, Workers’ Dreadnought (formerly Woman’s Dreadnought) from 1914-1921. For a biography, see Patricia W. Romero, E. Sylvia Pankhurst: Portrait of a Radical.

Haffner, Sebastian, Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-1919 [1969]. (Banner Press, Chicago, 1986, 211 pages.) A history of the revolution that swept Germany after World War I, with the establishment of soldiers and workers councils across the country, and their ultimate defeat, a defeat engineered by the Social Democrats themselves, resulting in the murders of Karl Liebnecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Gustav Landauer, and many thousands more. A dismal, heart-rending story of missed opportunities, betrayal, and defeat, a defeat which paved the way for another century of capitalist expansion.

Williams, Gwyn A., Proletarian Order: Antonio Gramsci, Factory Councils, and the Origins of Communism in Italy 1911-1921. (Pluto Press, London, 1975, 368 pages.) Most attention is given to the factory council movement in Turin in 1919-1921, its historical background, and Gramsci’s newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo, and the aftermath of defeat.

Cole, G.D.H., Guild Socialism Restated [1920]. (Transaction Books, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1980, 224 pages.) A British non-marxian brand of socialism rooted in Carlyle, Ruskin, and Morris. Also being, however, a British adaptation of pre-WWI French revolutionary syndicalism, "which sought to transfer the powers of capital and government to self-governing associations of workers through the tactics of direct action" (from Vernon’s introduction). Guild socialism faded as a movement after the defeat of the general strike in Britain in 1926. Cole not only summarizes the political philosophy of guild socialism but gives a detailed description of how society could be reorganized along those lines.

Kasmir, Sharryn, The Myth of Mondragon: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-Class Life in a Basque Town. (State University of New York Press, Albany, 1996, 243 pages.) "The author argues that the vast scholarly and popular literature on Mondragon idealizes the cooperatives by falsely portraying them as apolitical institutions and by ignoring the experiences of shop floor workers. She shows how this creation of an idealized image of the cooperatives is part of a new global ideology that promotes cooperative labor-management relations in order to discredit labor unions and working-class organizations." (from the jacket). See also, for a more regular study of the cooperatives, William Foote White and Kathleen King White, Making Mondragon: The Growth and Dynamics of the Worker Cooperative Complex (ILR Press, Cornell, Ithaca, New York, 1991, second edition).

Curl, John, History of Work Cooperation in America: Cooperatives, Cooperative Movements, Collectivity, and Communalism from Early America to the Present. (Homeward Press, Berkeley, 1980, 58 pages, 8x11 inches) Considering the overwhelming hegemony achieved by corporate values over American life during the past quarter century, it’s almost surreal to realize that there is also a long tradition of cooperation, mutual aid, and anti-capitalist culture here (or at least there was). This small book tells that story, as regards work.

Further Studies for Individual Countries

Ian Clegg, Workers’ Self-Management in Algeria (Monthly Review Press, 1971)

Vladimir Fisera, editor, Workers’ Councils in Czechoslovakia: Documents and Essays 1968-69 (Allison & Busby, 1978)

Paolo Spriano, The Occupation of the Factories: Italy 1920 (Pluto Press, 1964)

Nancy Gina Bermeo, The Revolution within the Revolution: Workers’ Control in Rural Portugal (Princeton, 1986)

Najdan Pasic, editor, Workers’ Management in Yugoslavia: Recent Developments and Trends (International Labor Office, 1982)

Branko Pribicevic, The Shop Stewards’ Movement and Workers’ Control 1910-1922 [in Britain] (Blackwell, 1959)

Michel Raptis, Revolution and Counter Revolution in Chile: A Dossier on Workers’ Participation in the Revolutionary Process (St. Martin’s Press, 1973)

Donny Gluckstein, The Western Soviets: Workers’ Councils versus Parliament 1915-1920 [with focus on Scotland, Germany, Italy] (Bookmarks, 1985)

Carmen Sirianni, Workers Control and Socialist Democracy: The Soviet Experience (Verso, 1982). Includes an extensive bibliography, pp. 414-433, with many references to workers’ councils.

David Montgomery, Workers’ Control in America (Cambridge University Press, 1979, with a nine-page bibliographical essay).


Branko Karvat, Mihailo Markovic, and Rudi Supek, editors, Self-Governing Socialism (in two volumes, International Arts and Sciences Press, 1975, 490 & 327 pages)

Ken Coates and Anthony Topham, editors, Industrial Democracy in Great Britain: A Book of Readings and Witnesses for Workers’ Control. (Macgibbon & Kee, 1968)

Jaroslav Vanek, editor, Self-Management: Economic Liberation of Man. (Penguin, 1975)

Gerry Hunnius, G. David Garson, and John Case, editors, Workers’ Control: A Reader on Labor and Social Change (Vintage, 1973)

Frank Lindenfeld and Joyce Rothschild-Whitt, editors, Workplace Democracy and Social Change (Porter Sargent, 1982). Bibliography, pp. 413-429.

Jon Wisman, editor, Worker Empowerment: The Struggle for Workplace Democracy (Bootstrap Press, 1991).

Other More General Studies

Daniel Zwerdling, Workplace Democracy: A Guide to Workplace Ownership, Participation, and Self-Management Experiments in the United States and Europe (Harper, 1978). Includes a four-page list of books and resources.

H.B. Wilson, Democracy and the Workplace (Black Rose Books, 1974)

Ken Coates, Essays on Industrial Democracy (Spokesman Books, 1971)

Assef Bayat, Work, Politics, and Power: An International Perspective on Workers’ Control and Self-Management (Monthly Review Press, 1991)

George Benello, From the Ground Up: Essays on Grassroots and Workplace Democracy (South End Press, 1992)

Adolf Sturmthal, Workers Councils: A Study of Workplace Organization on both sides of the Iron Curtain (Harvard, 1964).

Robert A. Dahl, A Preface to Economic Democracy. (California UP, 1985, 184 pages). Bibliography, pp. 165-173.

Radoslav Selucky, Marxism, Socialism, Freedom: Towards a General Democratic Theory of Labour-Managed Systems. (St. Martin’s Press, 1979, 237 pages.)

Martin Carnoy, Economic Democracy. (Random House, 1980)