Self-Management Marxism and Revolutionary Experiences – Gabriel Teles


The practice lesson shows that self-management is possible, but encounters serious obstacles that arise in the revolutionary process itself. Therefore, the lesson of practice not only places us before the necessary paths to realize the self-management revolution, but also reveals to us the threat of counter-revolution and the forces that embody that threat. Hence the importance and the need to analyze the self-management experiences.
Lucien Rivière

Contemporary capitalism presents itself as an immense monster with its multiple tentacles involving and dominating us. In its appearance, it seems impossible to escape from its claws. Would its vitality be inexorable, then? Would the philosopher Fukuyama (1992), who, at the end of the 1990s, decreed the end of history and announced that the capitalism had won the fight against the utopias that echoed a radically different new society, be correct? Have we finally reached the exhaustion of the utopian energies put forth by Habermas (1987)?

The answer to that question lives at the heart of the possibility or not of a social transformation. In other words, is the social revolution, even after the various modifications of modern society, a possible horizon? From our perspective, the answer to this question is categorical: it is not only possible, but it reveals itself as a historical trend. This is exactly what revolutionary experiences, such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1905 and 1917, the German Revolution of 1918, the Portuguese Revolution of 1974, and several others have demonstrated. Such experiences can also be characterized as practical essays of a new society founded on social self-management. They are, therefore, unfinished self-management experiences, but which pointed to the radical transformation of society.

The basis of this answer is not the appearance of the phenomena that surround and is part of the social, but the synthesis of the multiple determinations that is the concrete (MARX, 2011). Here we are faced with the contributions of the revolutionary theory of our times and with the possibility of overcoming the realm of appearances and expressing the concrete reality: Marxism.

Marxism, in general terms, is the theoretical expression of a social class that, due to its class condition and its position in the social division of labor, has the necessity and the possibility of destroying capitalist society and, on its rubble, building a new, radically distinct one: the proletariat (KORSCH, 1977). Along this path, Sartre’s (1967) assertion is correct when he states, in his book Question of Method, that Marxism is the revolutionary theory of our time and is still unsurpassed. Insuperable, then, are the circumstances and determinations that engendered it. Thus, as long as the capitalist society exists, Marxism will exist as its political and theoretical counterpoint.

The theoretical counterpoint of contemporary capitalism is self-management Marxism. Thus, self-management Marxism is nothing more than the historical and theoretical development of Marxism itself throughout its history, since the nineteenth century, with its emergence in the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The self-management foundation of Marxist theory was already outlined in Marx’s own work, which was later updated and developed by several revolutionaries throughout history, contributing to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. These contributions occurred both in the heat of the moment, in times of intensification of class struggle (especially in revolutionary periods), and in its moments of ebb and flow, developing and deepening various theoretical and political elements important to the proletarian struggle and of the other lower classes. Thus, Marxism seeks to contribute to the proletarian revolution; it is its theoretical expression.

In view of this debate, the objective of this text is to demonstrate, even if briefly, the importance of self-management experiences for the development of self-management Marxism and how this theory rescues and contributes to the analysis of these same experiences. Therefore, we will try to discuss about the self-management experiences throughout the history of capitalism, their value for the development of Marxism in general and, later on, we will focus on their importance for self-management Marxism.


The word experience refers to a variety of definitions, ranging from its most immediate understanding to philosophical and scientific formulations, ranging from Montaigne to Foucault (JAY, 2009). What this diversity has in common is that it leads us to think of it as “attempt”, “trial”, “proof”. Thus, to think of a self-management experience is to think of an attempt to establish Social Self-Management; it is its practical essay, the proof of its possibility and of its historical tendency. If a (social) experience can be characterized as self-management, what does self-management mean? This word was used to express several social phenomena throughout its lexical history. There is, therefore, a struggle of what is self-management. A quick digression about its history will be useful to us.

The word appears in Yugoslavia, in Serbo-Croatian samoupravlje, junction of samo (auto) and upravlje (management), later translated into French as autogestion (GUILLERM & BOURDET, 1976; MEISTER, 1970). The term is introduced in France to name the Yugoslavian experience of the late 1950s, whose regime, led by Josip Broz Tito, was partly opposed to the imperialism of Soviet state capitalism. Thus, the word self-management was used not only to distinguish itself from the Soviet bureaucracy, but also to delimit the specificity of the Titoist regime, based on worker participation in factories (worker control) and small private properties. Thus, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, self-management will be understood, in France, still in the terms expressed by the Yugoslavian experience, as worker participation in the production chain, as co-management. In this period the sign (self-management) had not yet met its meaning (radical change in society).

But it is from the process of radicalization of the class struggle at the end of the regime of combined accumulation[1], especially in the French context of 1968, that the term self-management begins to outline a change in its meaning, being used by both intellectuals and militants (students and workers), deviating from the meaning initially adopted in Yugoslavia.

It is with the refusal of Soviet state capitalism, as well as of the so-called communist (Leninist ballast) political parties and unions, that intellectuals and militants who participated (directly or indirectly) in May 68[2] will use the term self-management as the fundamental determination of a process of social transformation. There is a resignification of the term, since the supposed “self-management character” of the Yugoslavian regime was based only on the question of workers’ participation (co-management), and not on the whole of social relations[3]. Self-management, the main relation of production of what Marx (2011) called “self-government of producers” (communism), becomes an antonym of heterogeneity, the main element of capitalist relations of production. Thus, self-management does not mean a matter of management within capitalist relations of production, but rather the core of a radical change; its fundamental determination (GUILLERM & BOURDET, 1976). Communism and self-management become synonymous, and the latter’s choice to express this change comes from the deformation of the former by pseudomarxism (Leninism, social democracy, etc.), especially after the Soviet experience and the Bolshevization of communist parties.

From this angle, self-management experiences (or revolutionary experiences) are all those historical events that have expressed practical essays on self-management or that have had the goal of achieving it (VIANA, 2018). Such experiences have been countless throughout history and have expressed moments of radicality of the proletariat (as a self-determined class), rupture with social relations derived from capitalist relations of production, and the outline of a new sociability and mode of production based on self-management. This means that the process of social transformation by the proletariat can only be effected if it reaches the totality of society – unlike the bourgeois revolutions which were initially ‘economic’ and then political, that is, partial[4].

The first major self-management experience was the Paris Commune in 1871. It was from this experience that the proletariat demonstrated in a concrete way its strength and capacity to produce, in the process of radicalized struggle, the embryo of a new society, which pointed to the abolition of social classes, the state, capital and other elements of capitalist society in particular, and of classist societies in general. It is in the exhaustion of the regime of intensive accumulation, in the context of the crisis of capital accumulation and war (Franco-Prussian) that the self-determined proletariat emerges and demonstrates the possibility of the realization of the proletarian revolution.

Since the Commune, throughout the history of capitalism, various self-management experiences have burst forth in various countries, in the most varied forms, with various levels of amplitude, radicality and in the most variable adversities and challenges. By way of example, let us mention some, even if briefly: the Paris Commune (1871); the Russian Revolution (1905 and 1917); the German Revolution (1918-1921); the Hungarian Revolution (1918); the Italian Revolution (1919-1920); the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939); the Portuguese Revolution (1974); the Polish Revolution (1980), among others. And here we do not even enter into the minor experiments, which, although they did not produce a practical essay of self-management, established, in the conflicts of their time and space, the self-management project, such as the student rebellion of May 1968 (in articulation with certain sectors of the workers’ movement); the radicalized struggles of the Argentinean piqueteiro movement at the end of the 1990s; the Chilean industrial cords in opposition to the government of Salvador Allende in 1973; the factory committees in the wildcat strikes in the context of the Brazilian military dictatorship; etc.

As is noticeable, self-management experiences have always been present in the history of capitalism. They are the proletarian response to domination and exploitation; it is a simultaneous moment of destruction and creation: destruction of the capitalist mode of production and the social forms derived from that society; and the creation of new social relations based on social self-management. However, self-management experiments have not become widespread and have been defeated in their attempts; they are unfinished experiments, since counter-revolution has been victorious (either by the state bureaucracy or by the civil bureaucracy, depending on the context) or they have stumbled to their own limits. The victory of a self-management experience is a self-management society, which has not yet materialized, after all, we continue within capitalism. The struggle still lasts.

It now remains for us to carry out the analysis of the relationship between Marxism and self-management experiences. If these revolutionary experiences have as fundamental the proletarian class that effects social transformation, what has their theoretical expression (that is, Marxism) contributed, both in the heat of the moment and in their later analyses? That is what we will execute in the next topic.


As we highlighted at the beginning of this text, Marxism, like any other element or phenomenon of social reality, has a history linked to the broader development of society. If the best definition of Marxism was given by Korsch (theoretical expression of the proletariat), it is also his, for the first time[5], in which there is the realization of a dialectic analysis of the very history of Marxism (KORSCH, 1977). The analysis of the development of Marxism can only be effected using historical materialism in historical materialism itself. In other words, it is a Marxist analysis of Marxism. This procedure is radically different and antagonistic to the procedure done, for example, by Kautsky (1980) and Lenin (1982), who sought to base Marxism on its formal aspects, displaced from concrete reality and the class struggle within capitalism.

Thus, the development of Marxism means its metamorphoses throughout history, being developed, updated and deepened by several revolutionaries linked to this theoretical expression (GOULDNER, 2014)[6]. On a general level, we can speak of three great periods of Marxism.

The first is the very birth of Marxism, in the context of the second half of the 19th century, in the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which extends until the end of this century. This is the moment of the inauguration of historical materialism, the dialectical method and main political principles of Marxism, and the analysis of the essence of the capitalist mode of production. Thus, the fundamental axis of Marxism is developed in this historical period. It is, then, the original Marxism.

With Marx’s death, Engels’ theoretical-political ambiguity and the hegemonic rise of the social democrat party in Germany, the first distorting appropriation of Marxism emerged in Kaustky and then, on another level, by Bernstein. Marxism in this period, especially in the last two decades of the 19th century, became peripheral and pseudomarxism reigned almost absolute. It survives from individuals like Antonio Labriola in Italy and Makhaisky in Russia; and closely, in the dissidences within social democracy, represented by the Dutch Tribunists (Henriëtte Roland-Holst, Herman Gorter, Anton Pannekoek) that later many would become council communists, and Rosa Luxemburg and the militants who later would form the Spartacus League.

The second period, against the backdrop of the intensification of the class struggle in the first decades of the 20th century and the emergence of workers’ councils (soviets) in the revolutionary context of some countries, is the emergence of council communism, represented by Anton Pannekoek, Otto Rühle, Herman Gorter, Paul Mattick, Helmut Wagner and others. Council communism contributed to the rejection of pseudomarxism (social democracy and Leninism), the criticism of state capitalism (which was placed as socialism), the criticism of bureaucratic organizations (political parties, unions, state enterprises, etc.), the defense of proletarian self-emancipation and maintenance of authentic Marxism, the active role in the German revolutionary experience, among other elements (MAIA, 2015; VIANA, 2015).

Finally, self-management Marxism, which arises in the context of the crisis of the exhaustion of transnational oligopolistic capitalism (the regime of combined accumulation) and the intensification of social conflicts at the end of the 1960s (the student rebellion in May 68 as the most important and radical), began in the 1970s in France, especially in the works of Yvon Bourdet and Allain Guillerm and has important developments in other countries, such as Brazil (Maurício Tragtenberg, Nildo Viana, etc.). Self-directed Marxism is then the contemporary expression of authentic Marxism, updating and deepening various elements placed both by Marx’s original Marxism and by the Marxism of council communism. We will go deeper into its fundamental elements and characteristics below.

It is now a question of highlighting how Marxism, in each historical period, analyzed the self-management experiences of its time.

Original Marxism and the Paris Commune

The Paris Commune, as we have already said, was the first great revolutionary experience within capitalist society. It emerges in the context of the formation of the French proletariat in the light of the accelerated industrial process and the intense exploitation of the underprivileged classes, which was under the judgement of the Bonapartist state of the second half of the 19th century. The detonation of the communal proletarian revolution comes with the Franco-Prussian war in 1871, where the German army surrounds the city of Paris and the population (especially the lower classes) opts for resistance, expelling the local ruling class and the destruction of the capitalist state. What interests us about this issue is how Marx’s original Marxism analyzed and assimilated this self-management experience[7].

The work that Marx (1986) analyses the Paris Commune is the text The Civil War in France. It is a fundamental text for the deepening of Marx’s thought and the consolidation of the theory of the proletarian revolution in Marxism. The French experience of 1871 in Marx signified the destruction of the state and the outline of the abolition of the relations of production of the capitalist mode of production. If before this experience Marx had only used the rational glimpse (VIANA, 2017) to address the revolutionary process, now his theory gains concreteness with a historical experience that he will call “self-government” of producers.

One of the main elements in which Marx drew from the Paris Commune is the impossibility for the self-determined proletariat to seize the state machine, since it is a fundamental organ for the reproduction of capitalism. Thus, he explains the need to abolish the state in the revolutionary process: “[…] the working class cannot confine itself to taking possession of the state machine as it stands and using it for its own ends” (MARX, 2011, p. 69). Moreover, it shows how the communal experience reaches the totality of social relations present in Paris, abolishing not only institutions (especially the state), but also transforming everyday social relations, education, culture, etc. This means that it was not a mere ‘Political Revolution’, like the past bourgeois revolutions. The proletarian revolution, because of its own conditions and specificities, must be a revolution which affects the totality of social relations.

The Paris Commune represented one of the most important and significant moments for the workers’ movement. For Marxism, its theoretical expression meant and attested to the concreteness of its theory and contributed to the advancement of issues that were still only outlined in Marx’s work. One of these is the question of the state, which receives a new reassessment with the Paris Commune. If in the Communist Manifesto (published in 1848) Marx speaks of “nationalization of the means of production,” with the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 that part is reassessed. Such a reformulation will appear in the postface made for a new edition of the Manifesto:

Although conditions have changed greatly in the last 25 years, the general principles set out in the Manifesto still retain all their accuracy today. Certain parts should be retouched. The Manifesto itself explains that the application of these principles will always and everywhere depend on existing historical circumstances and that, therefore, too much importance should not be attached to the revolutionary measures listed at the end of the second chapter. This passage, in more than one respect, would be worded differently today. In view of the colossal development of big industry in the last 25 years and the corresponding progress in the organization of the working class in party; in view first of the experience of the February Revolution and then, above all, of the Paris Commune, which for the first time allowed the proletariat to hold political power for two months, this program is now aging on some points. The Commune has shown above all that “it is not enough for the working class to take possession of the existing state machine to make it serve their own ends” (MARX and ENGELS, 2006, p. 80).

Here we can see the coherence that Marx establishes with his theory of history (historical materialism). The central idea of this theory is that the history of all class societies is marked by class struggle. Thus, communism can only be seen as a tendency within the capitalist society whose germ is the proletariat and not the ideas created by thinkers or reformers of the world. Its re-evaluation is the fruit of this principle, which gives primacy to the concrete reality and the real movement of the self-determined proletariat in struggle.

The Paris Commune undoubtedly contributed to a major change in the theory of the proletarian revolution in Marx, which still foresaw it in an abstract way. The self-managing character (self-government of producers) of the revolutionary process of the proletariat in which the Commune first sketched out is evidenced and attested to in all the other great self-managing experiences.

Council communism and the self-management experiences of the early 20th century (Russian, German, Hungarian, Italian Revolution, etc.)

Council communism emerges in a context of radicalization of the worker’s struggles of the early twentieth century, in a process of intensification of class struggle at the general level in the capitalism of its time. The main and most prominent representatives of council communism were Anton Pannekoek, Otto Rühle, Herman Gorter, Karl Korsch, Paul Mattick, Helmut Wagner, among others. However, these militants were not “born” council communists and their political activities point to a greater radicalization as the struggles also became radicalized[8]. Thus, council communism emerges in the very dynamics of the revolutions of the early 20th century.

The Russian Revolution played a fundamental role in this process, since it was from this experience that the first form of revolutionary autarchic organization of workers (self-organization) emerged: the soviets (workers’ councils in Russian). This organization emerged, albeit in an embryonic form, in 1905 (but it will only become widespread in Russian society with the February Revolution in 1917). The workers’ councils will be of fundamental importance for the development of later proletarian struggles, both in Russia itself and in the rest of the world, especially in Europe. With the worsening of the crisis of the capital-intensive accumulation regime and the emergence, consolidation and development of the soviets in 1917[9], conflicts in capitalist society intensify and open a new phase of class struggle where, in many countries, there is a shift from daily and autonomous struggles to self-management struggles (JENSEN, 2014).      It is in this historical moment, at the end of the 1910s until the end of the 1920s, that several revolutionary processes take place in several countries (Russia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, etc.).

In the wake of these experiences, especially the German Revolution, which began in 1918, the council communism began to develop. Such a tendency arises in antagonism to the so-called party “communism”, linked to Bolshevism and the social democracy of the time. Council communism made radical Marxist criticism of the organizations and ideologies that presented themselves as representatives of the proletariat: political parties, trade unions, the ideology of the vanguard, etc. What used to be a divergence of tactics[10] or specific political issues becomes a real antagonism: Bolshevism, the post-October 1917 Soviet experience, communist parties, trade unions, social democracy, etc., become harmful to the workers’ movement and must be fought. And that is exactly what they did, both in the bulge of the revolutionary experiments (they did so directly in the German Revolution), and later, in the ebb and flow of radicalized struggles. In this process, we have the refusal of pseudo-Marxism and its theoretical and political propositions, the deepening and rescue of authentic Marxism, and the defense of worker’s councils as a revolutionary autarchic organization.

The contributions of council communism to the self-management experiences of the early 20th century are linked to the struggle and rejection of bureaucratic organizations and ideologies in the midst of revolutionary experiences themselves and in the search for proletarian hegemony in the defence of worker’s councils and in the articulation of these organizations to create conditions for self-management relations of production[11]. This process can be seen, for example, in Otto Rühle’s writings, where he will highlight the importance of workers’s councils as organs of proletarian self-liberation, a new way of managing communist society that he called the council system (RÜHLE, 1975a) and in the criticism of the political parties that placed themselves as workers’ spokesmen (RÜHLE, 1975b), in the radical criticism that Wagner makes of Bolshevism (WAGNER, 2014), in the theorization of the emergence and development of worker’s councils by Anton Pannekoek (1977), among other various contributions.

In summary, it is precisely because they were directly involved in the German Revolution (which was related to the self-management experiences of their time) that they made it possible to update, deepen and develop some elements of the political struggle within Marxism[12] and to contribute to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat in the first decades of the 20th century.

Marxism, as a theoretical expression of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, is updated with self-management experiences in addition to seeking to contribute to the revolutionary process itself. This is what we can see not only in the relationship of the Paris Commune with Original Marxism, but also with the revolutionary experiences (Russian, German, Italian, etc.) of the beginning of the last century and the council communism. It is now a question of analyzing the relationship between self-management Marxism and the self-management experiences.


The historical and political significance of self-management Marxism

Self-management Marxism is the contemporary manifestation of authentic Marxism. It is, then, the updating of Marxism to contemporaneity; the present time, the regime of integral accumulation. It emerges after the conflicts of the late 1960s, especially in France (May 68), and is structured over the decades in various places in the world. The fundamental element of the characterization and adjectivation of Marxism as a “self-management” takes place with the linguistic appropriateness that took place, in a finished form, after the conflicts of 1968, with the replacement of the term “communism” by “self-management”. As we have previously put it, due to the hegemony of pseudomarxism, especially Leninism, the word “communism” suffered several deformations, losing its original meaning placed by Marx (self-government of producers) and metamorphosing into one of the elements that justified “real socialism” (in fact, a state capitalism). It is, then, an adaptation in the linguistic field of the Marxist episteme (VIANA, 2019). In this sense, the word “self-management” is used as an alternative to “communism,” and this process collaborates both with the updating of Marxism and with the explicitification of the antagonistic character of Leninism (TELES, 2019).

The first great contribution of self-management Marxism is undoubtedly the rescue of the revolutionary character of Marxism. It drains the swamp of deformations in the analysis of Marx’s work and thought and expresses the self-management foundation of his thought. The contributions of Marxism subsequent to Marx’s work are also rescued: individually the contributions of Rosa Luxemburg, Antônio Labriola, Jan Wacław Machajski, among others; in addition to the more structured contributions such as that of the current that best expressed Marxism in the first half of the 20th century: the council communism. Thus, the theoretical and political universe of Marxism is rescued, used by self-management Marxism, which ranges from the dialectical method and its theory of history, to more specific theories, such as the theory of conscience, capitalism, social classes, the question of revolutionary organization, etc. With this rescue, which encompasses the most expressive set of the main theses, concepts and political propositions of Marxism, the contemporary manifestation of the revolutionary theory of the proletariat is enriched and contributes to the strengthening of the revolutionary bloc[13] and the fomentation of a contesting culture.

The second major contribution is the radical and merciless fight against pseudomarxism in its various forms (social democracy, Leninism, Eurocommunism, etc.). This process was already carried out by council communism, but still in a rudimentary and unstructured theoretically (with variations between their representatives in how to characterize the pseudomarxism). The self-management Marxism, however, evidences the antagonistic character between Marxism and pseudomarxism (TELES, 2019). It is not, as some want, about certain differences within certain concordances (opposition), but about a strong antagonism, which expresses the interests of different classes and political projects, both on a theoretical and methodological level, as well as on a value level.

The third great contribution is the renewal and updating of Marxism for the present time, the deepening of some aspects of Marxist theory, and the perception of other elements that until then were not on the analytical horizon of the revolutionaries of the past. This process occurs because capitalist society, while safeguarding its fundamental determination, is undergoing changes and has a history marked by a succession of accumulation regimes. Thus, if we can speak of the history of humanity and its various phases, we can also speak of the history of capitalism and its phases, which is conceptually apprehended from the concept of accumulation regimes[14]. The regime of integral accumulation, that is, contemporary capitalism, has brought diverse new elements which have reinforced bourgeois hegemony, such as a new state form (neoliberalism), a new form assumed by the process of valorisation (toyotism) and a certain form of international exploitation (hyperimperialism), in addition to a new renewal of the hegemonic paradigm of the bourgeois episteme (subjectivism).

All these new elements of capitalism are analyzed and criticized by self-management Marxism, updating it to the contemporary. However, not only the present time is analyzed, but also the past and the perception about its historical and political meaning. With the development of revolutionary theory, elements of society that before were not fully developed or that until then had no basis to explain them, are targets of analysis and make perceptible that which before was not. This is the case, for example, of the counterrevolutionary role of the bureaucracy as a social class and the implications of this process in self-management experiences (we will go deeper into this question below).

In general and schematically, these are the three major contributions of self-management Marxism. According to Viana (2015), we can synthesize in nine fundamental principles that give structure to this theory:

  1. The history of class societies is the history of class struggle;
  2. The proletariat is the revolutionary class of capitalist society;
  3. Proletarian self-emancipation is the form of realization of human emancipation;
  4. Self-management is the fundamental determination of the new society that emerges after capitalism;
  5. The proletarian revolution can only be victorious if it abolishes the state and capital, without the ideology of the “period of transition,” that is, a total (and not partial) revolution, as occurred in the bourgeois revolutions;
  6. Overcome and criticize the “towing” and vanguardism and build a revolutionary strategy;
  7. The bureaucracy is a counter-revolutionary social class and must therefore be fought, as must all bureaucratic organizations (parties, unions, the State, etc.);
  8. The cultural struggle[15] is one of the fundamental actions to be carried out by revolutionary groups;
  9.  It is necessary that the revolutionary strategy unifies means and ends and puts as fundamental the final objective (social self-management) and this determines the means.

Such principles have permeated throughout the history of Marxism, some of which have only been developed or further elaborated contemporaneously by self-management[16]Marxism. It now remains for us to analyze how self-management Marxism analyzed and helped rescue self-management experiences, the theme of our next topic.

Marxism self-management and revolutionary experiences

Not only did Marxism seek to rescue the history of the great revolutionary experiences and the Marxists who interpreted and analyzed them, but it also contributed with new analyses of these same events from new elements that until then were not put to the authors of the past. Thus, we will present the relationship between self-management Marxism and self-management experiences related to the three great contributions that we have placed on the previous topic, namely, the rescue of the revolutionary character of Marxism, the detached critique of pseudomarxism, and the development and adaptation of revolutionary theory contemporaneously.

The self-managers (partisans of self-management marxism) rescued all the revolutionary potentiality of Marx’s writings and council communism. From Yvon Bourdet and Allain Guillerm, in France, to Nildo Viana, Brazil, we have a group of committed militants who contributed to a revolutionary and non-dogmatic reading of Marxism and the writings on self-management experiences. What unites the most diverse analyses of these authors is the self-management core of the proletarian revolutions and the way in which Marxism learned about and contributed to these experiences. Self-management is, from this angle, the fundamental determination of the revolutionary process and the essence of a new society (which is called self-management[17]):

Self-management is not a “vague idea,” an “ideal. It has deep sources in human history, in action and in the revolutionary thought of the proletariat, although the word self-management is very recent, at least in French. From the slogan “people, save yourself”, to that of “self-government of associated producers”; from Enragé Varlet to Karl Marx, the proletarian movement has claimed what the word expresses: the workers’ management not only of companies, but of the whole society. The watchword of self-management synthesizes the essential concepts of the struggle of the modern proletariat (GUILLERM; BOURDET, 1976, p. 210).

The rescue of writings about revolutionary experiences does not occur by mere intellectual vanity or something similar. It is a necessity because of the deformers and simplifiers of the contributions of Marxists like Karl Marx, Anton Pannekoek, Karl Korsch, Otto Rühle and others. The case of Marx is even more emblematic, an author much discussed, badly read, and widely deformed. During his lifetime, Marx analyzed the Paris Commune and its texts suffered tons of deformations, serving as a pretext for counterrevolutionary processes and bureaucratic justifications. The collection Revolutionary Writings on the Paris Commune, organized by Nildo Viana (2013), is part of the cultural struggle proposed by self-management Marxism to rescue the revolutionary writings on this revolutionary experience. In the introduction, the organizer already highlights and justifies the reason for the publication of the collection:

A revolutionary text can be interpreted in a non-revolutionary way and thus be deformed and, through this interpretation, not contribute to the revolutionary project. The real content of the work is overshadowed by biased interpretations and mediated by other interpreters. Marx’s case is exemplary, where reading is usually mediated by Leninist conception and thus far removed from what the author really meant. […] A revolutionary text has a close relationship with the revolutionary project, it is always an extra brick in the edifice of revolutionary theory and practice. And so it has to be revolutionary also in the sense of breaking with dogmatism, dogmatic readings, group divisions, etc. (VIANA, 2013, p. 06-07).

This collection, which has texts not only from Marxists (Marx, Nildo Viana, Karl Korsch and Marcos Vinicius da Conceição), but also from anarchists (Bakunin, Kropotkin, Saddi), situationalists (Attila Kotányi, Guy Debord, Roaul Vaneigem) and comments on these analyses, their limits, advances and contributions to the revolutionary process.

Still on the Paris Commune, we have the rescue of this experience and the interpretation of Marx by Santos (2015) and Marques (2015). The latter exposes the link of this experience with the self-management project:

The historical significance of the Paris Commune of 1871 did not remain in the past, it is part of the present; it must be remembered as long as the objective of the class that generated it is not realized. And its objective will continue as a specter haunting capitalism as long as it exists, until the day it comes to collapse at the hands of the exploited and oppressed classes and finally, as it was on March 18, 1871, we can wake up in a new society with the cry “Long Live Social Self-Management!” definitely meeting freedom. In short, the Commune left to humanity the project of a new society based on social self-management. Its construction depends solely and exclusively on the revolutionary struggle of the working class. This imposes on those who aspire to human emancipation to insert themselves into the struggle and to contribute so that the proletariat may begin its historical mission as soon as possible (MARQUES, 2015, p. 119-120).

Finally, there is a set of authors and texts, linked to self-management Marxism, which analyzes and rescues Marx’s thought and its link to the self-management project. This process also occurs with the council communists, which, despite being those militants who continued and developed Marxism in the first half of the 20th century, are marginalized and few are known[18] (especially in times of stability in the accumulation regime). Thus, the deformations of their writings are minor, which[19] means that the work is more of a divulgation and rescue. This process can be seen[20] in the analysis that Yvon Bourdet and Allain Guillerm make of the difference between the conceptions of theory and revolution in Lenin and Pannekoek (1976); the question of the proletarian organization in the revolutionary process in Pannekoek made by Marques (2011); the book Council Communism and Social Self-Management of Maia (2015); the analysis of the theory of proletarian revolution in Otto Ruhle made by Viana (2012), among several others. These texts contribute to expressing the correspondence between council communism and the revolutionary proletariat of the workers’ revolutions at the beginning of the 20th century (Russian, German, Italian, Hungarian, etc.). This process makes explicit and rescues how council communism became the most finished and developed form of Marxism in its period of activity, being a theoretical and political expression of the self-determined proletariat that produced the workers’ councils.

As Pannekoek said, workers’ councils are not a finished form, they are a principle. council communism is the theoretical expression of the workers’ movement in its most developed form, the workers’ councils. The workers, throughout the 20th century, whenever they organized themselves towards the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, found in the workers’ councils their most radical and revolutionary expression. The perspective that best expressed and understood the revolutionary workers’ movement and the possibilities of establishing a self-management society was the council communism (MAIA, 2015, p. 32).

Thus, besides assimilating the main theses of council communism, the self-managers (partisans of self-management marxism) seek to divulge and rescue their writings and revolutionary actions that have a fundamental importance to understand the dynamics of social blocks[21] within the unfinished revolutions of the last century.

Another contribution of self-management Marxism is the realization of the merciless criticism against all kinds of pseudomarxism and the explicitness of the antagonistic character in relation to it. This process can be seen, largely, in the writings dealing with revolutionary experiences. One of the elements leading to the defeat of the worker’s movement and the revolutionary bloc in a revolutionary process is related to their fragility[22] with the force, in certain contexts, of bureaucratic counter-revolution[23]. Thus, self-management Marxism contributes not only to the rescue of those who contributed to the revolutionary struggle, but also to that which destroyed it. This is the case, for example, with the counterrevolutionary role of Bolshevism and communist parties in the revolutionary experiments of the 20th century, especially in Russia, where the bureaucracy succeeded in its actions and produced a new manifestation of capitalism: state capitalism.

Thus, self-management Marxism, anchored especially in council communism (which participated, directly or indirectly, in the conflicts of the Russian Revolution, Germany, etc.) and in other authors and politically close groups,[24] explain and analyze the dangers of bureaucratic organizations, such as political parties, trade unions, etc., originating from Bolshevism, social democracy, etc. The books The Russian Revolution and Reflections on Socialism by Maurício Tragtenberg (2007, 2008), Nildo Viana’s The State Capitalism in the USSR (1993), Leonel dos Santos’ The Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Counter-Revolution (2018), Lucas Maia’s The Russian and German Revolutions: The Question of the State, Parties, Trade Unions and Workers’ Councils (2017), the text Transition Period or Bureaucratic Counter-Revolution? Criticism of Leninism and its historical developments by Gabriel Teles and Aline Ferreira (2017), among other texts, contribute to expressing the proletarian perspective of revolutionary processes and the danger of the bureaucratic counter-revolution also effected by pseudomarxism. This process is synthesized by Santos, when dealing with the Russian Revolution of 1917:

The Russian Revolution of 1917 is one of the most important events of the 20th century. The dominant historiography is basically divided into two versions of the event. The first is that of the bourgeois perspective, which aims to report the episode usually linked to barbarism, “totalitarianism”, “Bolshevik dictatorship”, etc. The second, from the perspective of the Bolshevik bureaucracy, widely propagated due to the very power that was to become the USSR, called the event ‘glorious revolution’, ‘communist victory’. However, there is a third perspective that is marginalized, hidden and deformed. It is the proletarian perspective. This article will analyze the revolution from the proletarian perspective and from that the role of the Bolshevik Party as agent of counterrevolution (SANTOS, 2018, p. 45).

This quotation shows that an analysis that starts from the proletarian perspective should also make explicit the dangers of bureaucratic counter-revolution, showing its actions, unmasking its ideologies and fighting its justifications for control and domination under the workers’ movement.

To study, from a proletarian class perspective, the Russian and German revolutions [this is suitable for all self-management experiments – GT], means to unveil, to make public, the danger they represent for workers, party organizations (of all flags and ideological colors), unions (of all shades) and the state (with their parliamentary tricks, danger of dictatorships, democratic lies, etc.). The legacy left to us by these revolutions is an important laboratory for anyone who wants to better understand the defeats of the past in order to build the struggles in the future (MAIA, 2017, p. 77).

Finally, the last major contribution of self-management Marxism is the development and/or adaptation of certain aspects of revolutionary theory. On revolutionary experiences, a new fundamental adequacy was, still on the question of pseudomarxism, the more structured perception of bureaucracy as a social class and as a part of it seeks to autonomize itself and take state power for itself (especially its lower fractions, close to the workers).

In spite of the fact that council communism correctly exposed the counterrevolutionary character of Bolshevism with the seizure of state power in October 1917 and the execution of the soviets’ emptying in Russia, they did not perceive, in a structured and conceptual way, the class character of Bolshevism as a fraction of the civil bureaucracy. This is why Pannekoek (2017), for example, will accuse Bolshevism of “neoblanquism,” a perspective in which a “revolutionary minority” takes over state power[25]. Helmut Wagner, for his part, will classify Bolshevism as a “Jacobinist”[26]. Thus, at that time there was no systematic and unitary analysis of the class character of Bolshevism and Leninism, although, in some texts, this question is implicit. It was only with the consolidation of self-management Marxism that a process of development of social class theory took place[27] and the location of Leninism (the main exponent of pseudomarxism) as a fraction of the bureaucratic class.

The bureaucratic class is not the owning class in capitalist society, the bourgeoisie has this role. The bureaucracy is an auxiliary class to the bourgeoisie. This means it is a class opposed to the proletariat. However, because it is not a homogeneous class, but rather a stratified one, there are strata within it that approach the proletariat and others that approach the bourgeoisie. This peculiarity allowed her, from her nearest fractions to the proletariat, to express herself as representative of the working class. This explains the development of the “working” or “left” parties and the unions (MAIA, 2015, p. 61).

It is in these lower strata that we can verify the class origin of Leninism and the interests of Bolshevism in taking state power. That is what has happened in Russia:

By seizing state power, the party bureaucracy merges with the state bureaucracy and thus metamorphoses into the bourgeoisie of the state, a class that simultaneously appropriates surplus value and is the bureaucratic leader of society as a whole, forming state capitalism, as theorized by various authors, in distinct forms. Thus the Bolshevik practice affirms a dictatorial regime, in which there is the prohibition of dissident fractions within the party and the silencing of external dissidence (anarchists, Marxists, etc.), physical and political repression of the proletariat, peasantry, etc., as in the case of Ukraine and Kronstadt, the emptying of workers’ councils, ‘soviets’ and the bureaucratization of society (VIANA, 2017, p.210).

With these elements, it becomes clear the distinct and antagonistic class character of Leninism in relation to the proletarian perspective. This perception contributes not only to concrete analysis, which expresses the reality of a given social reality, but also demonstrates the need to combat bureaucratic organizations and their legitimizing ideologies. It has served, in many revolutionary experiments, as the last trench of the bourgeoisie. Thus, one of the consequences of this antagonism is the need for criticism, combat and denunciation:

The second consequence of the antagonistic character between self-management Marxism and Leninism is the need to criticize and combat the ideologies not only of Lenin, but also of his epigones. […] Thus it is necessary not only to rescue the criticisms of Leninism already made by various Marxists throughout history, but also to develop, update and contextualize them. Since its emergence in the late 1960s, self-management Marxism has developed and carried out such a struggle […] The Soviet experience, since the Bolsheviks took power in October 1917, shows us how harmful it can be not to fight and not to denounce the counterrevolutionary measures of organizations that claim to contribute to the proletarian struggle. The emptying of the soviets (workers’ councils) or their machinery by unions of the Bolshevik party, military work, the suppression and persecution of dissidents and revolutionary organizations critical of the Soviet state, the crushing and murder of workers, campesinos and revolutionaries in Kronstadt and Makhno, are important episodes and elements that must be in our militant memory (TELES, 2019, pp. 124-126).

Another contribution to the updating and development of self-management Marxism is the importance given to cultural struggle in the dynamics of class struggle. Its significance points to class struggle on the cultural level of society. Thus, the cultural struggle is effected by all social classes and they digress to express their political perspectives in the search for a cultural hegemony[28]. This struggle occurs in the most diverse forms: propaganda, theory, artistic manifestations, criticism, etc., which are materialized in pamphlets, books, music, poetry, use of the internet, magazines, etc.

The cultural struggle is a form of revolutionary strategy indispensable in the fight against the illusions systematized by ideologists, thus enabling the advance of revolutionary consciousness. The strategy of cultural struggle is essential in a period of ebb and flow of workers’ struggle since it creates the possibility of the emergence of a revolutionary process. When carried out, it strengthens the revolutionary bloc and helps the proletarian class struggle by keeping the revolutionary consciousness intact in the cultural sphere; it makes evident the ends to be achieved by the struggle, that is, that of abolishing the capitalist mode of production and instituting self-management (MARQUES, 2019, p. 54).

The proletarian cultural struggle, effected by the revolutionary bloc, has a crucial importance in revolutionary experiences, since it contributes to and combats the bourgeois and bureaucratic cultural struggle, both of which seek to obliterate the advance of the proletariat as a self-determined class and to effect the generalization of self-management in society as a whole. Thus, self-management Marxism contributes by demonstrating such importance and how the revolutionary bloc effected this process of cultural struggle in revolutionary experiences. Nildo Viana, for example, points out how the absence of a solid cultural struggle on the part of the revolutionary bloc contributed to the nonperception of the counterrevolutionary role of Bolshevism in the pre-coup of October 1917:

The revolutionary bloc was fragile and despite a certain amount, it lacked greater theoretical and strategic capacity, and its great expression until the October coup was Makhaisky and his group, without greater intervention force. The weakness of the revolutionary bloc, including its semi-proletarian wing represented by anarchism, was another determination in that process, as well as its cultural struggle prior to the outbreak of the revolutionary process, since a greater cultural presence would help the proletariat to gather the elements of conscience necessary to avoid the dangers of bureaucracy (VIANA, 2018, p. 225).

The same process can be seen, with some differences, in the case of the German Revolution, where the revolutionary bloc was more consolidated and stronger (and this process contributed, among other things, to the formation of the Workers’ Unions and that of the Council Republics), but still not enough to combat the totality of the great prestige that social democracy held within the German workers’ movement. Thus, the perception and analysis of the importance of the cultural struggle is effected by self-managers demonstrating the need for its development not only in revolutionary periods, but also in times of reflux, sedimenting a culture of contestation which, later, with the intensification of the class struggle, will collaborate with the advancement of the consciousness of the proletariat in struggle in a more accelerated manner.

There are several other specific elements developed or updated by self-management Marxism in relation to revolutionary experiences, but we will limit ourselves to these two which demonstrate that Marxism has not only absorbed the lessons of these experiences, but has also contributed to making their limits, possibilities, contradictions and advances clearer. Thus, the relationship between theory and revolution is of paramount importance for the success of the self-management project, and this can be verified throughout the history of Marxism.

The link between theory and revolution occurs before the revolution. It begins as a theoretical revolution, which goes beyond not only phenomenological consciousness but also the world of dominant ideologies and conceptions[…] The rise of one tends to reinforce the other and one is generated externally to the revolutionary movement and therefore its focus must be on the internal aspect, for it is in this sphere that it can strengthen the struggle and thus reinforce the external conditions and tendency of the proletarian revolution. […] The development of consciousness is one of the determinations of this process, and the production and diffusion of theory has an important significance in this process. Thus, it is fundamental to carry out a struggle based on the fusion of theory and practice and to produce, disseminate, reinforce the theory is one of its main forms (BERGER, 2015, p. 11-12).

Marxism, self-management, therefore, fulfills its historical mission to be the theoretical, contemporary expression of the revolutionary proletariat. The rescue, the analysis and the fight against the deformations on the self-management experiences becomes a fundamental element of the cultural struggle carried out by the revolutionaries.


The itinerary of this work has shown, even if briefly, the link between the development of Marxism throughout history and the proletarian revolutions. Along this path, we demonstrate the importance of revolutionary experiences for the progress of self-management Marxism and how this theory rescues and contributes to the very analysis of these same experiences.

The self-management experiences attest to the concreteness of Marxist theory and demonstrate that human emancipation, via the proletarian revolution, is not only possible but, thanks to the dynamics of capitalist society, is a historical trend. However, the “game” is not won. Social transformation, no matter how much it is a trend, does not imply its automatic victory. The bourgeoisie and its auxiliary classes are a great obstacle fighting for the conservation of the capitalist society. This means that the class struggle is not restricted only to the workers’ struggle, but to the totality of social classes, which implies a certain dynamic of correlation of forces.

From this angle, the revolutionary bloc has a fundamental role in the process of helping to accelerate the revolutionary process and create favorable conditions for the victory of the working class when a revolutionary situation explodes. Thus the cultural struggle becomes an indispensable weapon to erode bourgeois hegemony and create favorable conditions for the proletariat to reach the self-management stage of its struggles. In this process, the rescue of revolutionary experiences means an important moment that highlights the difficulties and challenges that the workers’ movement had in its past so as not to repeat them in the future.


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[1] An accumulation regime can be defined as a certain stage of capitalist development, marked by a certain form of work organisation, a certain state form and a certain form of international exploitation (VIANA, 2009).

[2] Such a change of meaning is perceptible in the pamphlets, posters and other materials used in the cultural struggle of militants, especially among students in the context of May 68 French, influenced by a libertarian political culture. The word, finally, is socialised by the militants and interpreted, in various ways, by the whole of society: the media, political parties, trade unions, etc. But it is some intellectuals, especially linked to the Marxist perspective (and many of them participants in May 68), who will transform self-management not only into a political word, but into an analytical concept, articulated to a certain conceptual universe that expresses the possibility of social change (TELES, 2018).

[3] Some authors have advanced in the distinction of the word self-management with other related terms, which is often confused with self-management, such as cooperativism, co-management, worker control, participation, etc. (VIANA 2014; FAZARIA, 2009; GUILLERM & BOURDET, 1976).

[4] We will not develop here the history and a detailed analysis of each self-management experience, not only because of the space, but also because it is not the goal of the text. Throughout the development of our argumentation we will indicate the main works and contributions that analyze, from the perspective of the proletariat, these self-management experiences.

[5] The application of historical materialism to himself was first indicated and outlined by Antonio Labriola (1979) in La Concepción Materialista de la História, of 1896, Rosa Luxemburg (2011) in Paralysis and Progress in Marxism, of 1903, and finally Georg Lukács in History and Class Consciousness (2012), of 1923. But it is only in Korsch that this procedure appears with all its theoretical consequences and methodological developments.

[6]As this is not our focus, we will not bring here the distorting appropriations of Marxism, but only the development of authentic Marxism throughout history.

[7] For a more detailed description of the facts and events of this self-management experience, we indicate the works of Lissagaray (1995), Dunois (1968), Michel (1971) and Viana (2011).

[8] Many council communists, before the constitution of council communism, were militants on the left of political parties (German Social Democratic Party, Dutch, etc.).

[9]And here we refer to the revolutionary period of the Russian experience in 1917, before the Bolsheviks took over the state, which actually meant a counter-revolution with the process of emptying the soviets, repression of strikes and the emergence of Russian state capitalism.

[10] An example of this kind of criticism within the representatives of communism councils before their formation is the text Open Letter to Comrade Lenin, by Herman Gorter, written in 1920 (GORTER, 1981).

[11] Just check out the most diverse organizations that the council communists participated in or created during the German revolutionary process: the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD), a non-party despite carrying this name; AUU (General Workers’ Union), AUU-E (General Workers’ Union Unitary Organization), etc.

[12] The political issue was the most developed scope of council communism, but there were other important contributions such as the development and rescue of materialist dialectics by Korsch (1977) and the subsequent analysis of capitalism by Mattick (1977; 2010).

[13] Social blocks are the most organized, active and conscious sectors of social classes. Cf.

[14] A system of accumulation expresses a certain stage of capitalist development, marked by a certain form of work organisation, a certain form of state and a certain form of international exploitation (VIANA, 2009).

[15] Cultural struggle is the expression of class struggle in the cultural sphere.

[16] Marx, for example, in spite of perceiving the bureaucracy as a social class, could not, in his time, analyze the harmful and counterrevolutionary role of the civil bureaucracy (partisan, union, etc.), since it was not yet developed as it would later be with the development of the social division of labour.

[17] Marx called it Communism or Self-government of producers. Some council communists called it a council system, etc.

[18] Mattick’s assertion about this marginalization is correct: “Nothing proves more peremptory the revolutionary character of Marx’s theories [and Marxism in general – GT] than the difficulty of ensuring their maintenance in non-revolutionary periods”.

[19] But it still exists, especially with the dogmatic creation of a contemporary “conselhismo” that does not exist in concrete reality, or of analyses that deform the revolutionary meaning of the council communism, such as those of Martorano (2011) adequately criticized by Maia (2017).

[20] Here we cite only those who directly deal with self-management experiences or who have consequences for them.

[21] See note 14.

[22] This can occur for several reasons: incipient self-training, fragility of revolutionaries, self-limitation, etc.

[23] Counterrevolution is not necessarily bureaucratic; it can come, for example, from the bourgeois forces themselves, such as the brutal repression of the Paris Commune, where there was not enough organized civil bureaucracy (political parties, unions, etc.) to dismantle the revolutionary process.

[24] Solidarity Group (especially the work of Maurice Brinton), Situationist International, Socialism or Barbary, etc.

[25] […] What is represented here is the dictatorship of the party, the neo-Blanquist dictatorship of the absolute minority”. (PANNEKOEK, 2017, s/p).

[26] “The basic principle of Bolshevik politics – the conquest and exercise of power by the organization – is Jacobin; the grand political perspective and its realization, through the tactics of the Bolshevik organization to fight for power, is Jacobin; the mobilization of all the means and forces of society apt for the defeat of the absolutist opponent, combined with the application of all the methods that promised success, the maneuvers and commitments of the Bolshevik party with any social force that can be used, even if only for a moment and in the least important sector….all this is Jacobin spirit. Finally, the essential concept of the Bolshevik organization is Jacobin, for it consists in the creation of a strict organization of professional revolutionaries that is, and will remain, the docile and militarily disciplined tool of an omnipotent leadership”. (WAGNER, 2014, p. 67).

[27] We understand social classes as a set of individuals who have a certain way of life, interests and struggles in common against other social classes from a certain activity established in the social division of labor, derived from the dominant mode of production (MARX, 2010; MARX, 1986; MARX & ENGELS, 1992; VIANA, 2017).

[28] Hegemony understood as cultural validity, which refers to what is predominant from the point of view of representations, cultural, values, etc., within a given collectivity. The idea of hegemony worked on here, despite some similarities, is different from the one put forward by Gramsci who would be the “moral and intellectual direction” of a certain collectivity.

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Self-Management Marxism and Revolutionary Experiences (Libcom)
Self-management Marxism and revolutionary experiences (Leftdis)

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