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A workers' council or labor council is a form of political and economic organization in which a workplace or municipality is governed by a council made up of workers or their elected delegates. The workers within each council decide on what their agenda is and what their needs are. The council communist Pannekoek describes shop-committees and sectional assemblies as the basis for workers' management of the industrial system. A variation is a soldiers' council, where soldiers direct a mutiny. Workers and soldiers have also operated councils in conjunction (like the 1918 German Arbeiter- und Soldatenrat). Workers' councils may in turn elect delegates to central committees, such as the Congress of Soviets.
In such a system, the workers themselves are able to exercise decision-making power. Some socialists believe that workers' councils are necessary for the organization of a proletarian revolution and the implementation of a communist society. A works council is distinct from a workers' council in that it is organized by a firm to assist with shop-floor management, rather than organizing a socialist revolution. These organizations exist on a legal basis and are common among businesses in Germany. The term has also been applied to unions such as the Nigeria Workers' Council.
Workers' councils have played a significant role in the communist revolutions of the 20th century. They originated in lands of the Russian Empire (including Congress Poland and Latvia) in 1905, with the workers' councils (soviets) acting as labor committees which coordinated strike activities throughout the cities due to repression of trade unions. During the Revolutions of 1917–1923, councils of socialist workers were able to exercise political authority. Communists such as Anton Pannekoek and Rosa Luxemburg advocated for the control of the revolution by the workers' councils. Several times in recent history, the socialists have organized workers' councils during periods of unrest. Examples include:
Despite Lenin's declarations that "the workers must demand the immediate establishment of genuine control, to be exercised by the workers themselves", on May 30, the Menshevik minister of labor, Matvey Skobelev, pledged to not give the control of industry to the workers but instead to the state: "The transfer of enterprises into the hands of the people will not at the present time assist the revolution [...] The regulation and control of industry is not a matter for a particular class. It is a task for the state. Upon the individual class, especially the working class, lies the responsibility for helping the state in its organizational work." Council communists criticize the Bolsheviks for superseding the soviet democracy formed by the councils and creating a bureaucratic system of state capitalism.
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Council Communism is a system of workers councils, as opposed to a Communist party or trade union, to coordinate class struggle. Workers directly control production and construct higher organizational bodies from below. Recall-able delegates can be elected from individual workplaces to represent workers on a societal level. Council communists, such as the Dutch-German current of left communists, believe that their nature means that workers' councils do away with bureaucratic form of the state and instead give power directly to workers through a soviet democracy. Libertarian communists view this organization of a revolutionary government as an anti-authoritarian approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Supporters of workers' councils argue that they are the most natural form of working-class organization. In 1917, councils such as the Petrograd Soviet were formed by striking workers to coordinate the Russian Revolution, exercising political power in the absence of the Czar's governance. In the workers' councils organized as part of the 1918 German revolution, factory organizations such as the General Workers' Union of Germany formed the basis for region-wide councils. The council communists in the Communist Workers' Party of Germany advocated organizing "on the basis of places of work, not trades, and to establish a National Federation of Works Committees." The Central Workers Council of Greater Budapest occupied this role in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, between late October and early January 1957, where it grew out of local factory committees.