Workers' Control

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The slogan "workers' control," popular among radical Russian workers during the 1917 Revolution and the early years of Bolshevik rule, designated a program that was supposed to lead directly to socialism. The program called for the proletariat to seize and operate the capitalists' factories and to plan and manage production and distribution throughout Russian industry. The concept had its roots in nineteenth-century European socialism and especially in the syndicalist movement, which espoused economic units organized and run by workers.

Immediately after the February 1917 Revolution, demands for workers' control began to spread among activist workers in large enterprises. The slogan attracted growing support in the summer and fall of 1917 as economic conditions worsened, real wages fell, and some factories closed, while workers were locked out of other plants. Several Bolshevik leaders espoused workers' control as early as April 1917, and Lenin, recognizing the slogan's broad appeal, adopted it as part of the Bolshevik platform in June, encouraging its use in Bolshevik propaganda.

In August, September, and October 1917, workers seized some factories, and more were taken over after the Bolsheviks came to power. But faced with shortages of basic supplies, chaotic markets, labor absenteeism, and inadequate technical and managerial know-how, proletarian owners had little success in getting factories back into production. Lenin soon soured on the practice of workers' control, and beginning in early 1918 he started centralizing economic decision-making. He also called for unitary or one-man management (edinonachalie ) in industries and individual enterprises as well as use of bourgeois specialistsformer engineers, technicians, and managersto help operate the factories and reenergize the economy. Although workers' control was largely dropped, a faction within the Bolshevik party known as the Workers' Opposition campaigned unsuccessfully during 1919 and 1920 for trade unions to have a greater role in running the Soviet economy.

See also: edinonachalie; february revolution; workers' opposition


Smith, Stephen A. (1983). Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 19171918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wade, Rex. (2000). The Russian Revolution, 1917. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

John M. Thompson