We are already being bombarded by constant news about the 2016 elections. We are supposed to believe that the political circus of the Democratic and Republican parties should determine our future. But, if we want to change our conditions, it will depend on our organization, our struggles as well as our understanding that those parties are the servants of the 1%, paid for and controlled by them.
Is there an alternative? What would the government be like if workers took power? History gives us an idea of our possibilities. Almost 100 years ago, in October of 1917, the Russian working class did take power. Faced with a severe economic crisis, the suffering from World War I and the lack of a democratic system to represent their interests, the working class pushed aside the capitalists and the landlords and began to construct a new society.
In February 1917 a popular movement overthrew the Tsar, the Russian ruler, and put in place a provisional government controlled by the capitalists. This government did not address the needs of working people. So, the workers created councils or soviets, to coordinate their struggles since they had no other organizations.
These councils were originally created in 1905, during an earlier revolution against the repressive tsarist regime. The councils or soviets, had one representative for each 500 workers, but smaller workplaces also had a right to a delegate. There were also councils for peasants in the villages and soldiers in the barracks. There were councils on the city level and national level. The councils met to make decisions to defend the workers interests.
They elected people they knew, who they worked with every day, not politicians who could promise anything and then disappear and do whatever they wanted. The delegates were elected for as long as those they represented wanted them in office. They were immediately recallable if they didn’t do what their constituency wanted.
Compare this to today with terms of office of 4 to 6 years, where it is almost impossible to get rid of someone who is elected. In the workers’ government, representatives were paid a worker’s wage. It was not a government of millionaires like we have today. Those who passed the laws were also responsible for carrying them out, not passing the buck to some bureaucrats somewhere else.
In 1917, between February, when the first revolution happened, and October, there were 5 elections. Different political parties ran candidates and people chose them on the basis of their program and also what they had done. As it got closer to October, they chose the most leftwing of the revolutionaries, the Bolshevik Party, which had advocated for the workers to lead the peasants and soldiers to take power themselves for several months already. The Bolsheviks were the majority and led the fight to take power. The councils were transformed from organizations of struggle to the new workers government.
Once in power the working class called for an immediate end to World War I. They offered all people of other nationalities, who had been oppressed by the Tsar, the right to separate from Russia if they chose. The workers organized the work in the factories. They encouraged the peasant farmers to take over the land and organize farming themselves. They established a workers militia to defend the workers’ interests. Judges were elected not appointed. They established equal rights for men and women. For example, a postcard sent to the soviet was enough for a woman to end her marriage. They set up communal daycare, public kitchens and laundries to liberate women from housework. Libraries were open 7 days a week.
The workers of Russia called on the workers of the rest of the world to join them. And revolutions were attempted in many other countries over the next ten years. But they were all unsuccessful. Russia, a poor and backward country was isolated, attacked by the capitalist powers and exhausted from war and civil war. The workers couldn’t hold onto power and a bureaucracy took over.
Nonetheless the actions of the workers in Russia in 1917 remain as an example for what is both possible and necessary if we are to chart the course for our own future.