Unemployed Councils

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Unemployed Councils
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I've been doing research for an article on American soviets, and found this passage about the pro-communist elements of the IWW and central-European (German, Austrian,etc) left communists who emigrated to the US and joined these IWW branches- and actively propogated in organizations of unemployed workers in a region/city ('unemployed councils'):

"Because of the lack of any emancipatory development in existing movements, American labor's 1920 stagnation favored the transplantation of foreign political experiences onto American soil. Later, the Great Depression offered an exceptional opportunity for the consolidation and development of middle-European revolutionary hypotheses. In fact, the latter seemed to provide the only usable tools for understanding the radical mass organizations that were spontaneously formed by the unemployed in the new realities of Hooverville since the vanguard organizations of the whole American labor movement were caught completely unprepared by developments whose causes and results remained incomprehensible. This also explains the impact of German militants connected with the IWW working in the new Chicagoer Arbeiter Zeitung, edited by Mattick, and the Communists' early success in the "unemployed councils." It was within these organizations that the advocates of the "theory of the crisis" were most successful. It was in their educational meetings that their analyses were rigorously developed, as Korsch favorably notes in a letter to Mattick. There, they undertook a critical re-elaboration of the Luxemburgian thesis, which would later constitute the theoretical platform of the Groups of Council Communists and, after 1934, of their journal International Council Correspondence."


I'm curious what ICC members, sympathizers and other readers of this site/forum think about Unemployed Workers Councils, in the past, present and future? Are they a legitimate form of extending the class struggle and organizing the unemployed members of the proletariat? Are they on equal footing with traditional soviets/workers councils?


red flag
Unemployed workers divisions

The problem that I have with the idea that Unemployed Workers Councils can act as a way to extend or radicalise workers struggles is that unemployed workers organisations have a tendency to reinforce the division within the working class. I have done some research into the National Unemployed Workers Movement which existed in Britain during the inter war period and have found that while they were able to mobilise unemployed workers around specific issues usually cuts in benefits they were unable to unite workers as workers both employed or unemployed. In fact it seems to me that the bourgeoise actually prefers such organisations as it ensures that the divisions which are intrinsic to capitalism are in fact reinforced by unemployed workers organisations.

Also hoping that unemployed workers councils can morph into workers councils is mistaken due to unemployed workers councils being firmly on capitalist terrain. By this I mean that if we look at the actual functioning of previous organisations in Britain the National Unemployed Workers Movement 1919-1939 for all the ups and downs of the struggle for all the repression the capitalist state meted out the focus of all the campaigns was to put pressure on either the local state or the national state to get either higher benefit payments or to get work through local authorities. In fact in some local organisations the NUWM was split between seeing their role as advice workers or advocates and those who saw their role more in the form of direct action to put pressure on the state.

I’m afraid there are no short cuts in building working class solidarity apart from the actual class struggle itself. The role of revolutionaries is to assist in the struggle and to put forward the ideas that globally workers need to break from the unions and the respective labour parties. In place of these pro capitalist organisations workers need to have workers assemblies with revocable delegates. These organisations need to have at the centre of their struggles the question of working class political power rather than autonomous organisations of the unemployed.

This is from an article in

This is from an article in International Review 14 on unemployment and the class struggle. It argues that the unemployed can indeed organise as the unemployed:

In order to wage the struggle imposed by their conditions, the unemployed workers, like the rest of their class, tend to reg­roup themselves. Because of their dispersed situation, this need to regroup is relatively more difficult for them than for workers concentrated at the workplace, the factories. But beginning from the unemployment exchanges or the neighborhood where they meet each other, they do find ways to assemble and group together. Having a lot of ‘free time’ at their disposal, chased from their homes by boredom, misery or the cold, looking for contact with others, they end up claiming and getting public locals where they can meet. There thus arise permanent meeting places where conversations, reflections and discussions are transformed into permanent meetings. This is an enormous advantage for the politicization of these important masses of workers. It is of the greatest importance to counteract the maneuvers of parties and especially of the unions, who try to infiltrate these gatherings and make them appendages of the unions. These gath­erings, whatever they are called: group; committee; nucleus; etc, are not unions, if only for the reason that they are not struc­tured on the same model -- they don’t have statutes, membership cards and dues. Even when they form committees these are not permanent and are constantly under the con­trol of the participants who are always present, who assemble daily. In many ways, these are the equivalent of the general assemblies of struggling factory workers and, like the latter, are threatened by the maneuvers of the unions who try to control them, take them over and infiltrate them, the better to sterilize them.

Obviously there is the danger of a kind of unemployed 'corporatism' but the examples quoted by Red Flag is not altogether reliable since the NUWM was heavily under the influence of the Stalinists. I think more independent forms of organisation in that period appeared in the USA and Holland (the council communists participated in them, and I think this is mentioned in our book on the communist left). An important issue to raise and discuss however

If you try and check out the

If you try and check out the UK ones they are usually very much intent on receiving/continuing receipt of funding from the TUC/working with trade unions/the labour party. So I don't think what's there is much to work with.

Apart from that it mostly seems to be localised groups who have a section of unemployed workers, or single-issue groups for example the incapacity benefit claimants legal action thing.

It is vital to link up all those who are going to suffer from cuts in the welfare system, there is no easy answer of how to do this though, plus it doesnt really seem right to make an unemployed only sort of group as that reinforces the division of labour..

The NUWM is similar to the

The NUWM is similar to the CPUSA sponsored 'Unemployed Councils' and other groups created by the Socialists (eventually all merged into a NUWM-like group in the US).

However, the Unemployed Councils the article mentions (and that I think are worth a discussion) are the ones that sprung up during the peak of the Great Depression in the massive Hoovervilles/shanty-towns as a form of de facto government (similar to the Farmer's Councils of the same era). These did have Council Communist agitation from former KAPD/KAUD/AAUD European immigrants fleeing Hitler.

This article from Prol-Position is related:


In times like these with the highest unemployment since the Great Depression, are the type of Unemployed Councils mentioned above a valid method of struggle  for the masses of unemployed workers?

red flag
I still think that’s

I still think that’s it’s a mistake for the unemployed to be organised in a separate organisation be it under the name of unemployed workers councils or be it a unemployed workers movement. The result will be the same in maintaining the division within the working class created by capitalism. For me the role of revolutionaries is to try to convince workers both unemployed as well as unemployed that the only way forward is in independent sovereign assemblies of workers. With the austerity attacks being put into place and not only jobs but also services under threat this period should be the best there has been for arguing for the necessity of sovereign assemblies of workers.

On the point of the NUWM in its early incarnation as the National Unemployed Workers Committee Movement its leadership was not yet under the influence of Stalinists that came much later. The problem with the movement was that it was never really able to overcome this division between the employed and unemployed although they tried but were handicapped by the idea of being a pressure group within the working class.