In revolutionary times the popular clamour for greater rights has often been accompanied by the spontaneous emergence of bodies of direct political representation known as councils or communes. Theorists and historians have repeatedly drawn attention to a recurrent council movement by pointing to the soldiers councils in the English revolution of the seventeenth century, the Paris Commune during the French Revolution, the Luxembourg Commission in the February Revolution of 1848, and the Russian soviets.
Major works have been written about councils as an ideal of radical or workers democracy. Yet the Russian soviets themselves, which dwarfed other experiments in council democracy both in breadth of popular participation and in duration, and also sparked the search for historical antecedents and the growth of council ideology, had never been studied in depth. This provocative and expert history is a classic in the literature of democratic experimentation and in the historiography of the Russian Revolution.