The return to public assemblies and direct democratic methods in the wave of the global "squares movements" since 2011 has rejuvenated interest in forms of council organisation and action. The European council movements, which developed in the immediate post-First World War era, were the most impressive of a number of attempts to develop workers’ councils throughout the twentieth century. However, in spite of the recent challenges to liberal democracy, the question of council democracy has so far been neglected within democratic theory. This book seeks to interrogate contemporary democratic institutions from the perspective of the resources that can be drawn from a revival and re-evaluation of the forgotten ideal of council democracy.
This collection brings together democratic theorists, socialists and labour historians on the question of the relevance of council democracy for contemporary democratic practices. Historical reflection on the councils opens our political imagination to an expanded scope of the possibilities for political transformation by drawing from debates and events at an important historical juncture before the dominance of current forms of liberal democracy. It offers a critical perspective on the limits of current democratic regimes for enabling widespread political participation and holding elites accountable.
This timely read provides students and scholars with innovative analyses of the councils on the 100th anniversary of their development. It offers new analytic frameworks for conceptualising the relationship between politics and the economy and contributes to emerging debates within political theory on workplace, economic and council democracy.
Table of Contents
1. Council Democracy: Towards a Democratic Socialist Politics
Part 1: The Councils in Historical Perspective
2. The Development of Workers’ Councils: Between Spontaneity and Organisation
3. Rediscovering the Hamburg Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils
[Gaard Kets and James Muldoon]
Part 2: Councils, the State and the Problem of Socialisation
4. In Defence of Council Democracy
5. Council Democracy and the Socialisation Dilemma
6. A Theory of Council Republicanism
[Michael J. Thompson]
Part 3: The Councils in Radical Democratic Theory
7. The Councils as Ontological Form: Cornelius Castoriadis and the Autonomous Potential of Council Democracy
8. Hannah Arendt, the Council System, and Contemporary Political Theory
9. The Self-Limiting Revolution and the Mixed Constitution of Socialist Democracy: Claude Lefort’s Vision of Council Democracy
[Benjamin Ask Popp-Madsen]
Part 4: Beyond the Councils
10. After the Councils: Opposing Domination and Developing Democratic Agency
11. The Case for Workplace Democracy
12. The Legacy of Workers’ Councils in Contemporary Social Movements
James Muldoon is a lecturer in political science at the University of Exeter. His main research interests are in democratic theory, socialism and the history of political thought. His work has appeared in History of Political Thought, Political Studies, Theory, Culture & Society, Constellations and Critical Horizons.
'This fine collection answers an urgent need to take up the challenge of transforming capitalist market relations as part of the task of envisioning new modes of democratic politics. The authors draw on an archive—the theory and history of council democracy—that Western political theory has mostly overlooked but that provides today’s protest movements with new institutional models and a new confidence in the possibilities for large-scale social transformation.' - Lisa Disch, Professor of Political Science and Women’s Studies, The University of Michigan
'With the rising profile of new and innovative democratic practices around the world, it is critical to revisit radical ideas from the not-so-distant past. This volume’s impressive appraisal of council democracy is a significant achievement. Its in-depth analysis will be of great interest to those concerned with democracy’s potential in contemporary capitalism, the extension of democracy into social and economic life, and the future of the political left.' - Michael Saward, Professor of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick