Red Letter
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The Factory Council
by Antonio Gramsci
1920
Estimated Reading Time: 13 min


The proletarian revolution is not the arbitrary act of an organization that declares itself to be revolutionary. or of a system of organizations that declare themselves to be revolutionary. The proletarian revolution is a prolonged historical process that manifests itself in the rise and development ofgiven forces of production (which we summarize by the expression "proletariat") in a given historical context (which we summarize by the expressions "regime of private property, capitalist mode of production, factory system, organization of society in a democratic-parliamentary State"). At a given stage in this process, the new forces of production are no longer able to develop or organize themselves on an autonomous basis within the official framework oftbe human community. It is at this given stage that the revolutionary act occurs: it consists in an effort aimed at violently smashing this framework, at destroying the whole apparatus of political and economic power in which the revolutionary productive forces are oppressively contained. It consists in an effort aimed at shattering the bourgeois State machine and forming a new type of State in whose framework the liberated productive forces find an adequate form for their further development and expansion; in whose organization they find strong defences and the necessary and sufficient arms to suppress their adversaries.


The actual process of the proletarian revolution cannot be identified with the development and activity of revolutionary organizations of a voluntary and contractual nature, such as political parties and trade unions. These organizations arise in the sphere of bourgeois democracy and political liberty, as affirmations and developments of this political liberty. In so far as they embody a doctrine that interprets tbe revolutionary process and predicts its development (within certain limits of historical probability), and are recognized by the broad masses as their expression and embryonic apparatus of government, these organizations are currently - and increasingly - the direct and responsible agents for the successive acts of liberation which the entire working class will attempt in the course of the revolutionary process. But all the same they do not embody this process. They do not supersede the bourgeois State; they do not and cannot embrace the whole spectrum of teeming revolutionary forces that capitalism throws up in the course of its implacable development as a machine or exploitation and oppression.

During the period in which the bourgeois class is economicaUy and politically dominant, the actual unfolding of the revolutionary process takes place subterraneously, in the murky depths of the factory and of the minds of the countless multitudes that capitalism subjects to its laws. This unfolding cannot be controlled or documented: it will be so in the future when the elements that constitute it (feelings, desires, mores, the stirrings of initiative and of a new way of life) are developed and purified with the development of society and the position that the working class comes to occupy in the sphere of production. Revolutionary organizations (political parties and trade unions) arise in the sphere of political liberty and bourgeois democracy, as affirmations and developments of liberty and democracy in general, and where relations of citizen to citizen still exist. The revolutionary process takes place in the sphere of production, in the factory, where the relations are those of oppressor to oppressed, exploiter to exploited, where freedom for the worker does not exist, and democracy does not exist. The revolutionary process takes place where the worker is nothing but intends to become all, where the power of the proprietor is unlimited, where the proprietor has power of life or death over the worker, and over his wife and children.


When we say that the historical process of the workers' revolution which is inherent in the capitalist social system, which obeys its own intrinsic laws and develops of necessity through the confluence of a multiplicity of actions, all of which are uncontrollable since they arise from a situation that the worker neither willed not foresaw - when we say that this historical process has exploded into the light of day, does this mean it can now be controlled and documented?

We say it can be when the whole of the working class has become revolutionary - no longer in the sense that it refuses in a general way to collaborate with the governing institutions of the bourgeois class and to function as an opposition within the framework of democracy, but in the sense that the whole of the working class, as it is to be found in a factory, launches a movement that must necessarily result in the founding of a workers' State and the shaping of human society in an absolutely original and universal form that embraces the whole workers' International, and hence the whole of humanity. And we say the present period is revolutionary because we can see that the working class, all over the world, is beginning to create, is beginning with all its energies (albeit with the mistakes, gropings and impediments natural in an oppressed class that has no historical experience and must do everything for the first time) to generate working-class institutions of a new type, representative in character and constructed on an industry basis. We say the present period is revolutionary because the working class is beginning to exert all its strength and will to found its own State. This is why we say that the birth of the workers' Factory Councils is a major historical event - the beginning of a new era in the history of the human race. For now the revolutionary process has burst into the light of day, and entered the phase where it can be controlled and documented.


In the liberal phase of the historical evolution of the bourgeois class and the society dominated by the bourgeoisie, the basic unit of the State was the proprietor subjugating the working class to his profit in the factory. In this liberal phase, the proprietor was also an entrepreneur and industrialist. Industrial power, the source of industrial power lay in the factory, and the worker could not succeed in freeing himself from the conviction that the proprietor was necessary: his person was identified with that of the industrialist, with that of the manager responsible for production and hence also for the worker's wages, his bread, his clothing and the roof over his head.

In the imperialist phase of the historical evolution of the bourgeois class, industrial power is divorced from the factory and concentrated in a trust, a monopoly, a bank, the State bureaucracy. Industrial power does not have to answer for what it does and becomes more autocratic, ruthless and arbitrary. But the worker, freed from the boss's subjection and from the servile mentality generated by a hierarchy, and driven too by the new social conditions resulting from the new historical phase, achieves priceless gains in terms of autonomy and initiative.

In the factory, the working class becomes a given "instrument of production" in a given organic system. Each worker comes to play a part in this system "by chance" - by chance as regards his own intentions, but not by chance as regards the job he does, since he represents a given necessity in the labor and productive process. This is the only way he is taken on, and it is the only way he can earn his bread. He is a cog in the division-of-labor machine, in the working class constituted as an insuument of production. If the worker acquires a clear consciousness of this "given necessity" that he represents, and builds upon it a representative apparatus that has all the hallmarks of a State (i.e. an apparatus that is not voluntary or contractual, organized around membership cards, but is absolute, organic, closely corresponding to a reality that must be recognized if bread, clothing, housing and industrial production are to be guaranteed) - if the worker, the working class does this, it achieves something of deep significance. It begins a new history, the era of workers' States that must coalesce to form a communist society: a society organized on the model of a large engineering works, a communist International in which every people, every part of humanity acquires a character in so far as it carries out a particular form of production and no longer in so far as it is organized in the form of a State with particular frontiers.

In so far as it constructs this representative apparatus, the working class in effect completes the expropriation of the primum mobile, of the most important instrument of production of all - the working class itself. It thereby rediscovers itself, acquiring consciousness of its organic unity and counterposing itself as a whole to capitalism. The working class asserts in this way that industrial power and its source ought to return to the factory. It presents the factory in a new light, from the workers' point of view, as a form in which the working class constitutes itself into a specific organic body, as the cell of a new State - the workers' State - and as the basis of a new representative system - the system of Councils. The workers' State, since it arises in accordance with a given pattern of production, has within it the seeds of its own development, of its own dissolution as a State and of its organic Incorporation into a world system - the Communist International.

Styria is a state in the southeast of Austria.

Just as today, in the Council of a large engineering plant, every work crew (by craft) is amalgamated, from the proletarian point ofview, with the other crews in the same shop; just as every stage of the industrial Process is merged, from the proletarian point of view, with the other stages, throwing into relief the productive process - so on a world scale, English coal will merge with Russian oil, Siberian grain with Sicilian sulphur, rice from Vercelli with wood from Styria ... in a single organism, subject to an international administration governing the riches of the world in the name of all humanity. In this sense the workers' Factory Council is the first step in a historical process that should lead eventually to the Communist International, no longer as a political organization of the revolutionary proletariat, but as a reorganization of the world economy and of the whole human community, on a national as well as a world level. The value and historical reality of every revolutionary action today depends on whether it fits into this process, and is designed successfully to free it from the bourgeois superstructures that restrict and obstruct it.


The relations that should link the political party and the Factory Council, the trade union and the Factory Council, are implicitly contained in the argument presented above. The party and trade unions should not project themselves as tutors or as ready-made superstructures for this new institution, in which the historical process of the revolution takes a controllable historical form. They should project themselves as the conscious agents of its liberation from the restrictive forces concentrated in the bourgeois State. They should set themselves the task of organizing the general (political) external conditions that will allow the revolutionary process to move at maximum speed, and the liberated productive forces to find their maximum expansion.

 
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