Council Democracy: Towards a Democratic Socialist Politics, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Council Democracy

Towards a Democratic Socialist Politics, 1st Edition

Edited by James Muldoon


258 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9780815383697
pub: 2018-07-19
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781351205634
pub: 2018-07-24
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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.


'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

Table of Contents

1. Council Democracy: Towards a Democratic Socialist Politics

[James Muldoon]

Part 1: The Councils in Historical Perspective

2. The Development of Workers’ Councils: Between Spontaneity and Organisation

[Donny Gluckstein]

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

[Gabriel Wollner]

5. Council Democracy and the Socialisation Dilemma

[Nicholas Vrousalis]

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

[Christopher Holman]

8. Hannah Arendt, the Council System, and Contemporary Political Theory

[Shmuel Lederman]

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

[John Medearis]

11. The Case for Workplace Democracy

[David Ellerman]

12. The Legacy of Workers’ Councils in Contemporary Social Movements

[Dario Azzellini]

About the Editor

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.

About the Series

Routledge Advances in Democratic Theory

Advisory Board: Amy Allen (Penn State University), Benjamin Barber (City University of New York), Rajeev Bhargava (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies), Fred Dallmayr (University of Notre Dame), John Keane (University of Sydney), James R. Martel (San Francisco State University), Chantal Mouffe (University of Westminster), Davide Panagia (UCLA), Bhikhu Parekh (House of Lords), and Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University)

Democracy is being re-thought almost everywhere today: with the widespread questioning of the rationalist assumptions of classical liberalism, and the implications this has for representational competition; with the Arab Spring, destabilizing many assumptions about the geographic spread of democracy; with the deficits of democracy apparent in the Euro-zone crisis, especially as it affects the management of budget deficits; with democracy increasingly understand as a process of social empowerment and equalization, blurring the lines of division between formal and informal spheres; and with growing demands for democracy to be reformulated to include the needs of those currently marginalized or even to include the representation of non-human forms of life with whom we share our planet.

Routledge Advances in Democratic Theory publishes state of the art theoretical reflection on the problems and prospects of democratic theory when many of the traditional categories and concepts are being reworked and rethought in our globalized and complex times.

The series is published in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London, UK.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Democracy
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory