Soviet Republic

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A council republic or council democracy is a political system in which so-called councils are elected via a tier system. The councils are directly responsible and bound by the instructions of their voters. Such an imperative mandate is in contrast to the free mandate , in which the elected mandate holders are only responsible to “their conscience ”. Councils can therefore be recalled or voted out of their posts at any time ( recall ).

In a soviet republic, the voters are organized in basic units, for example the workers of a company, the residents of a district or the soldiers of a barracks. You send the councils directly as public officials who form legislators, government and courts in one. In contrast to earlier models of democracy according to Locke and Montesquieu , there is no separation of powers . The councils are elected at several levels: At the residential and operational level , delegates are sent to the local councils in plenary meetings. These in turn delegate members to the next higher level, the district councils. The system of delegation continues up to the central council at the state level, the electoral processes thus take place from the bottom up. The levels are mostly tied to administrative levels.

The Paris Commune from March 18 to May 28, 1871 is regarded as a model for council democracy .

Barricades in Paris during the Paris Commune


Although councils were formed again and again in the first revolutions in England and France, and also in the following, but not with the power-political significance of a system based on councils. Oskar Anweiler , who dealt with the history of the Russian Revolution and the councils, describes Proudhon as the intellectual and theoretical mastermind of the council system because, among other things, he declared in 1863 that the correct form of government consists in the formation of as many small groups as possible with extensive self-administration . The idea of ​​councils was further developed in different ways in the labor movement , both by Michail Bakunin ( anarchism ) and by Karl Marx ( socialism / communism ) and Lenin as well as the council communists .

The Soviet Republic in Russia

First council system from 1905

After the military attempt of the Paris Commune in 1871, a council system based on their model was established in Russia during the Russian Revolution from 1905. As in Paris at the time, all elected members of the Russian councils were accountable and eligible for voting at any time; moreover, they were only allowed to earn an average wage and had no privileges. At that time spontaneous self-government organs (councils, Russian soviets ) were formed, which were supported by the Bolsheviks . The first council was the "Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies". 200,000 workers from 150 companies had sent their deputies to this council since October 1905. Previously, one of these representatives was elected from every 500 workers. But trade unionists were also sent to councils like St. Petersburg, with the same ratio of 500 trade unionists and one representative. A council was also elected in Moscow, where the strike movement originated. The meeting of workers' deputies from various associations, e.g. B. the printer, mechanic, carpenter, the worker in the tobacco industry made the decision to found a Soviet of Moscow workers. On jul. / 16th greg. December 1905 took place the collective arrest of the Petersburg Council. Even if grudgingly, the councils surrendered peacefully to the police. The Soviet was in fact history.

Second council system from 1917

In the course of the February Revolution in 1917 , a democratic council system was set up based on the same model, but this time nationwide and as part of the executive branch . The other part was held by the Provisional Government established after the overthrow and abdication of the Romanovs . This began the period of dual power between councils and parliament. After the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to power, the council system prevailed and was watered down and consolidated as the party's system of rule. In addition to the Russian, other Soviet republics were founded in Belarus , Ukraine and Transcaucasia , which became the basic structure of the later Soviet Union . With its establishment on December 30, 1922, greg. then the first council union (Russian: Soviet Union) emerged from the council republics.

In 1921 the Kronstadt sailors' uprising , which was influenced and supported by anarchists, sparked off the demand for independent councils. This demand ran counter to the Bolsheviks' intention to stabilize the young Soviet Russia and secure the power of their party. Trotsky , who opposed left Social Revolutionaries and anarchists politically, accused the insurgents of counterrevolutionary intentions and had the insurrection bloodily suppressed. After Lenin's death in 1924 and Stalin's takeover of power, the importance of the councils continued to decline.


Under Josef Stalin , democratic centralism was transformed into “bureaucratic absolutism” in order to be able to push the Left Opposition (under Trotsky ) and later the current under Bukharin, which Stalin called the Right Opposition , out of the party. Stalin also strengthened the power of his office (General Secretary of the CPSU ) and consolidated it with the creation of a personality cult around him. A critical term for this policy is "proletarian Bonapartism". In terms of foreign policy , the idea of world revolution was abandoned in favor of the doctrine of “ socialism in one country ”.

Between 1936 and 1938, the Soviet Union's system of councils ended, initiated by a constitutional amendment, by means of the so-called "Stalin Constitution". The decisive change is the introduction of the Soviet of Deputies of the Working People. The name Soviet was retained from the All-Union to the Village Soviet level, but the previous principle of independence from party (s) and trade union was abolished. The Congress of Councils (Soviet Congress) became the Supreme Soviet , the (all-Soviet) Central Executive Committee of the USSR, which had previously been the supreme power of the Soviet Union, was converted into a subordinate committee in 1938. It thus had changed and reduced powers. These changes made a real council democracy no longer possible. But even after the end of the USSR, no council democracy was reintroduced in the new successor states.

Germany from 1918

In the period of upheaval after the end of the First World War , workers 'and soldiers' councils were formed spontaneously in Austria, Hungary, Germany and elsewhere , first on November 4, 1918 in Kiel (→  Kiel Sailors Uprising , November Revolution ) , following the example of the Russian Soviet Republic . Already in December 1918 the councilors from all over Germany decided in the Reichsrätekongress to hold elections to a constituent German national assembly and thus the majority decided in favor of a parliamentary democracy and against a council system.

Proclamation of the takeover of power by the Workers 'and Soldiers' Council in Bremen on November 15, 1918
Essen - Call for the election of the mining councils January 15, 1919
Telegram from the revolutionary Central Council of Bavaria to the Fürth district office , signed by Ernst Niekisch : "The proclamation of the Soviet republic will take place on April 7th at noon ...". The Fürth Workers 'and Soldiers' Council and the mayor, who has been in office since 1914, confirmed the orders.

After the Spartacus uprising in January 1919, however, their number continued to rise in Germany - there were now workers 'and soldiers' councils in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Bremen and the Ruhr area. Linked to the idea of ​​the Soviet Republic was the goal of socializing the key industries (coal, iron and steel, banks) in the sense of Marx and partly according to the Soviet model. In spring 1919, following the example of Soviet Russia , council republics were officially proclaimed in Bremen , Mannheim , Braunschweig , and a few weeks after the fatal assassination attempt on Kurt Eisner in 1919 in Bavaria ( Munich , Augsburg , Fürth , Rosenheim , Würzburg, etc.). This was preceded by a violent wave of strikes across Germany from February to April 1919, which confronted the National Assembly with demands for council democracy. Especially in the Ruhr area, in central Germany around Halle and Merseburg, in Upper Silesia and in Berlin, these campaigns met with broad popular support. In the capital alone, around one million workers went on strike and demanded recognition of the councils in the new constitution as well as other measures such as socializing the economy and democratic military reform. Leading advocates of the council idea in Germany were Ernst Däumig and Richard Müller , who had a considerable influence on the movement with their theory of the “pure council system”.

In his article "The Council System in Germany", Müller wrote that the idea of ​​councils and the workers' councils were often referred to as "a specifically Russian phenomenon". This is based on a misunderstanding of the objective causes of this new idea. The idea of ​​councils is an expression of the proletarian class struggle, the proletarian revolution, which is in the decisive stage. One can, however, demonstrate similar manifestations from the history of the revolution in earlier centuries.

The German economy fought this movement with nationalist propaganda and donations. The Anti-Bolshevik Fund was founded at a meeting of the highest heads of German entrepreneurs and their associations on January 10, 1919 in the Blumeshof flight association building in Berlin . Hugo Stinnes was one of his supporters, who each contributed five million Reichsmarks . The money was used to finance anti-communist propaganda and the voluntary corps, private armies that were used on the borders and to fight communist uprisings.

The USPD issued the slogan in early January 1919: No bloodshed! Unification of the workers! The Bavarian Prime Minister Kurt Eisner and other state governments such as Saxony and Braunschweig called for the struggles to cease on the part of the majority socialist Ebert government and for negotiations with the left-wing forces in order to form a joint government of all Marxist parties. This was the exact opposite of what Stadtler and the business representatives demanded from the commander-in-chief of the military, Gustav Noske .

Stadtler said he visited Gustav Noske on January 9th. He later claimed that he broke "Noske's procrastination". On January 10, 1919, Noske gave the order to march into Berlin. However, the military success in Berlin did not bring the desired calm in Germany. The Soviet republic was also proclaimed in Bremen on January 10th. There was a strike in the Ruhr area and the Essen workers 'and soldiers' council set up a control commission over the coal syndicate and the mining association . Due to the lack of politicians of stature on the part of the majority socialist government and the increasing popularity of Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacists , a purely military solution did not seem suitable for all of Germany, and so he convinced the chief of staff of the Guards Cavalry on January 12, 1919 in the Eden Hotel -Schützen-Division Waldemar Pabst of "the necessity" to murder them. According to Pabst, there was also the consent of Gustav Noske and Friedrich Ebert (both SPD) for the political murder . Pabst also found generous financial support from two major industrialists. On January 15, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by people from the Chief of Staff of the Guard Cavalry Rifle Division Waldemar Pabst .

In addition to the examples mentioned of a fight against the councils by industry-related forces, there were also attempts to constructively participate in the council structures in order to lead the revolution on a “more moderate” course. The best example is probably the liberally-oriented group of democrats in the Berlin council structures of 1918/19, in which mainly employees and teachers, including female teachers, took part as the first female council delegates.

Participation in council structures went even further. Even Adolf Hitler was a shop steward for his company in Munich in April 1919 and was elected on April 15 as a substitute in the "Bataillons Rat" of the soldiers' councils of the Munich Council Republic - since April 13, communist . The Munich garrison had been firmly behind the revolution and the radical change to a Soviet republic since November 1918. In those months Hitler apparently shared the views of the socialist government to a certain extent; in any case he did not express a dissenting opinion, otherwise he would not have been elected as the soldiers' steward. Presumably he even wore the red armband of the revolution, like all soldiers in the Munich garrison, which is why Hitler later made little mention of this period. Opportunistic considerations (delaying demobilization) and / or the general “ideological confusion in people's heads” at the time are conceivable as explanations. Hitler was known among his close comrades as a counterrevolutionary by mid-April 1919 at the latest, as indicated by the denunciation of two colleagues from the “Council of Battalions” to a tribunal a few days after the Soviet Republic was put down.

In March 1919, the Reich government decided to take action against the councils throughout Germany: The Reichswehr and Freikorps soldiers (so-called " White Troops ") were given the task of taking action against the socialist and communist council militias, the "Red Troops", and disbanded them Council republics by force. On August 11, 1919, the Weimar Constitution came into force, which constituted the Weimar Republic . Of the councils in Germany only the rudiment of works councils that still exist today remains, which exercise considerable rights of co-determination in the company, but have no control or power of disposal over production.

Ralf Hoffrogge writes in his article The End of a Revolution: November Revolution 1918 and March Strikes 1919 , one of the achievements of the March strikes is Council Paragraph 165 in the Weimar Constitution. However, he was far from the idea of ​​the "pure council system" and had planned a cooperation between employers and workers, "corporatism instead of socialism". Its design in the Works Council Act of February 1920 made the rights of the councils even more narrow, what remained were employee representatives without real control rights. The defeat of the March strikes was decisive for the struggle for the constitution of the republic. In contrast to the January uprising and the later local council republics, a broad movement from the middle of the working population came together to turn the helm of the revolution once again - and failed.

Hungary and other Soviet republics

In Hungary , under significant influence from Béla Kun , the Federative Hungarian Socialist Council Republic was proclaimed in March 1919 , but it only lasted until August 1919. There were other council republics in Slovakia around the city of Košice in the summer of 1919 and in the Iranian province of Gilan for 16 months in 1920/21 . The councils also reappeared in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising .


The political theorist Hannah Arendt spoke out in several writings, especially in her work: On Revolution (German: Über die Revolution ), published in 1963 , in favor of a (federal) Soviet republic in the sense that the "spirit of the American Revolution " was taken up and enable the people to participate directly in political institutions. She was referring here to thoughts that Thomas Jefferson wrote in letters. He advocated a ward system (“district system” or “elementary republics”). These should each include 100 citizens.

The elementary republics of the councils, the district republics, the national republics and the republic of the Union should be structured in a series of powers, each of which, anchored in law, has the powers that fall to it and all together in a system of really balanced inhibitions and controls are integrated for the government. "

Arendt described such a form of government - contrary to the tendency to call it communist or socialist - as aristocratic, since a self-selected elite who would be really interested in the world would develop from the people. However, Arendt himself doubted that her concept of the Council State had a chance of being realized. Nonetheless, she saw later attempts to implement the idea of ​​councils in the Hungarian popular uprising .

Although then no longer called that, in 1989 in the final stages of the People's Republic of Poland and the German Democratic Republic, the occasional " round tables " had Council-Republican features.

Newer approaches

The model of a participatory economy follows the advice idea in many points. Michael Albert , one of the two creators of the vision of a participatory economy, names the following points as characteristics of pareconist institutions: self-administration in councils of workers and consumers, balanced and qualified fields of activity, remuneration according to commitment and privation and participatory planning. By establishing these criteria, a post-capitalist economic order is to be created. In the deliberations of the councils, production and consumption should also be discussed accordingly, and although Albert rejects the market as a model for distribution, the workers and consumers advise on the basis of “the best information that can be determined, and in this process make evaluations of the full social benefits and costs of the various options available to all. "

The political philosopher Takis Fotopoulos spoke out in favor of council democracy with his “Inclusive Democracy”.

See also


  • General congress of workers and soldiers' councils in Germany. 16. – 20. December 1918 Berlin - Stenographic reports, new edition for the 100th anniversary , edited by Dieter Braeg and Ralf Hoffrogge , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-9819243-6-7 .
Standard works
  • Karl Marx : The Civil War in France. German ed. by Friedrich Engels 1891.
  • Richard Müller : From the Empire to the Republic . Malik, Vienna 1924–1925, 2 volumes (Science and Society, Volume 3/4).
    • Volume 1: A Contribution to the History of the Revolutionary Labor Movement during the World War .
    • Volume 2: The November Revolution . Malik-Verlag, Vienna 1924.
  • Oscar Anweiler: The Council Movement in Russia 1905–1921. Leiden 1958.
  • Sebastian Haffner : The betrayal . Verlag 1900, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-930278-00-6 . (First edition 1968)
  • Ralf Hoffrogge : Richard Müller - The man behind the November Revolution. Karl Dietz Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-320-02148-1 .
  • Christian Koller and Matthias Marschik (eds.): The Hungarian Soviet Republic 1919. Inside views - outside perspectives - consequences. Promedia Verlag, Vienna 2018, ISBN 978-3-85371-446-1 .
  • Axel Weipert: The Second Revolution. Council movement in Berlin 1919/1920. be.bra Verlag, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-95410-062-0 .
  • Eberhard Kolb , Klaus Schönhoven: Regional and local council organizations in Württemberg. Droste, Düsseldorf 1976, ISBN 3-7700-5084-3 .
  • Ernst Rudolf Huber : German Constitutional History since 1789 , Vol. V: World War, Revolution and Renewal of the Reich: 1914-1919 , § 40 (p. 706 ff.). Stuttgart 1978, ISBN 3-17-001055-7 .
  • Peter von Oertzen : Works Councils in the November Revolution. A political science study of the ideas and structure of the industrial and economic workers' councils in the German revolution of 1918/19 . Droste, Düsseldorf 1963 (= contributions to the history of parliamentarism and political parties, volume 25)
  • Alexander Berkman : The ABC of Anarchism . Nevertheless publishing house , Grafenau 1999, ISBN 3-931786-00-5 .
Examples of modern council democracies
  • Ralf Burnicki : Anarchism and Consensus. Against representation and majority principle: structures of a non-hierarchical democracy . Verlag Edition AV, Frankfurt 2002, ISBN 3-936049-08-4 .
  • Takis Fotopoulos: Comprehensive Democracy. The answer to the crisis of the growth and market economy . Nevertheless, publishing cooperative, Grafenau 2003, ISBN 3-931786-23-4 .
Newer posts
  • Alex Demirović : Council Democracy or the End of Politics. in: PROKLA . Issue 155, vol. 39, 2009, No. 2, pp. 181-206.
  • Björn Allmendinger: Insights into the council discourse - the programmatic approaches of the 68 movement .

Web links

Wiktionary: Räterepublik  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hannah Arendt: About the Revolution, Munich 1963
  2. ^ Oskar Anweiler, The Council Movement in Russia 1905-1921 , EJ Brill, Leiden 1958, p. 10 ff .; Anweiler takes Proudhon's statement from Max Nettlau, Der Anarchismus von Proudhon zu Kropotkin: its historical development in the years 1859–1880 , Verl. Der Syndikalist, Berlin 1927.
  3. Leon Trotsky in the work Mein Leben - An attempt at a biography , published in 1929 , chapter 1905.
  4. Leon Trotsky, ibid
  5. ^ Oskar Anweiler: The council movement in Russia 1905-1921 . EJ Brill, Leiden 1958, p. 296, p. 318
  6. Archived copy ( Memento from June 21, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  7. Archived copy ( Memento of November 4, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Axel Weipert: The Second Revolution. Council movement in Berlin 1919/1920. Berlin 2015, pp. 41–159. In addition to a detailed description of Berlin, there is also an overview of the strike movements in the various parts of the country.
  9. Ralf Hoffrogge: Richard Müller - The man behind the November revolution. Berlin 2008, pp. 108–116ff .; House of Bavarian History (Ed.): Revolution! Bavaria 1918/19. Munich 2008. p. 25ff .; DGB-Geschichtswerkstatt Fürth (Ed.): The revolution 1918/1919 in Fürth. Fürth 1989. p. 35ff.
  10. ^ Richard Müller: The council system in Germany. (on-line)
  11. Gerald D. Feldman : Hugo Stinnes. Biography of an industrialist 1870-1924 . CH Beck, Munich 1998, p. 553
  12. ^ Eduard Stadtler: Memories, As Antibolschewist 1918-1919. Neuer Zeitverlag, Düsseldorf 1935, p. 46.
  13. a b Eduard Stadtler, Memories, Als Antibolschewist 1918-1919 , Neuer Zeitverlag GmbH, Düsseldorf 1935, pp. 46-52
  14. Gerhard Engel : The "Free Democratic Fraction" in the Greater Berlin Council Movement - Left Liberalism in the Revolution 1918/1919 , in: International Scientific Correspondence on the History of the German Workers' Movement (IWK), No. 2/2004, pp. 150-202.
  15. ^ Ian Kershaw: Hitler 1889-1936. Stuttgart 1998, p. 159 ff .; David Clay Large: Hitler's Munich - Rise and Fall of the Movement's Capital. Munich 2001, p. 159.
  16. a b Ralf Hoffrogge: The end of a revolution: November revolution 1918 and March strikes 1919. (online)
  17. ^ Letter of February 2, 1816 to Cabel, in English
  18. Hannah Arendt: About the revolution. 4th edition Piper, Munich 1994, p. 325f .; also in: The bourgeois revolutions in the 18th century. Series: themed books. World history in outline. Ed. Werner Ripper. Diesterweg, Frankfurt 1977, ISBN 3425073974 , p. 25f.
  19. Wolfgang Heuer, Bernd Heiter, Stefanie Rosenmüller: Arendt manual: Life - Work - Effect JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-02255-4 , p. 89.
  20. Michael Albert: Parecon and anarcho-syndicalism. (online) ( Memento from November 30, 2010 in the Internet Archive ).
  21. Michael Albert: Life after Capitalism. (online) ( Memento from November 30, 2010 in the Internet Archive ).
  22. Takis Fotopoulos: Comprehensive Democracy. The answer to the crisis of the growth and market economy. Nevertheless publishing cooperative, Grafenau 2003.