Ancient Athenian Democracy, Workers’ Councils, and Leftist Criticism of Stalinist Russia
Keywords:Arthur Rosenberg, Anton Pannekoek, democracy, Athens, workers councils
“The political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labor.” With these words, Marx described the Paris Commune of 1871. It “was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short term […] a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.” The political tradition of the Commune was inherited by the Russian soviets and inspired Lenin, who explained the role of those governing bodies as a “reversion to primitive democracy.” Arthur Rosenberg, professor of Ancient History at Berlin University, tried in his book Democracy and Class Struggle in the Ancient World to offer historical ground for the ideas developed by Lenin in State and Revolution and compared ancient Athenian democracy to the contemporary German and Russian councils. During the 1920s, as a communist leader and MP, Rosenberg, recalling his ideas on Athenian democracy, criticized the political degeneration of the Russian workers’ State. He stressed how Soviet Russia, in limiting the power of the councils, had suppressed the governing body of socialist direct democracy. In his work Workers’ Councils, Dutch revolutionary Anton Pannekoek renewed Rosenberg’s criticism at the end of World War II, returning to the image of ancient democratic Athens as a forerunner of the socialist councils.
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