Open letter to council communist militants (from Gauche Communiste Libertaire)
We are a small group based in the Vaucluse [south of France, ed.], and we identify with libertarian marxism.
In your article, you say that some parts of council communism had “an incorrect analysis of the defeat of the Russian revolution, considered (…) as a bourgeois revolution whose defeat is attributed (…) to ‘bourgeois’ conceptions defended by the Bolshevik party and by Lenin, such as the necessity of the revolutionary party”.
In fact, we are in agreement with those components of council communism who see the Russian revolution as a bourgeois revolution led by Jacobins.
It seems to us that Pannekoek would agree with us, so let us quote him: “There are many who persist in imagining the proletarian revolution in the guise of past bourgeois revolutions, in other words as a series of phases, each one engendering the next: first, the conquest of political power and the creation of a new government; then the expropriation by decree of the capitalist class; finally, a reorganisation of the process of production. But in this case, it is impossible to end up with anything other than state capitalism. For the proletariat to become truly master of its destiny, it must create simultaneously its own organisation and the forms of the new economic order. These two elements are inseparable and constitute the process of social revolution”.
Is it not because the Russian revolution was a bourgeois revolution that it took on the shape that Pannekoek describes?
In what way are these conceptions a serious theoretical weakness? You don’t say…
By contrast, Lenin’s conceptions remain Jacobin and bourgeois: a minority, a vanguard, the elite of a party ends up substituting itself for the working class, which was moreover in the minority in Russia. This substitutionism led to the repression of Kronstadt in 1921, the repression of a soviet which demanded political freedom and the liberation of the anarchist and Socialist-Revolutionary oppositionists. This substitutionism led to the repression of all the currents of the workers’ movement: the anarchists (Makhno, Voline…), the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the centrists (Dan and Martov…).
Need we remind you that within the Bolshevik party, only Miasnikov defended the freedom of the press. The same Miasnikov was excluded by a commission of the Orgburo that included Trotsky and Bukharin!
Otto Rühle shared our views on the Bolshevik party: “The Party was considered as a military academy of professional revolutionaries. Its main pedagogical principles were the undisputed authority of the leader, a rigid centralism, iron discipline, conformism, militarism, and the sacrifice of the personality to the interests of the Party. What Lenin developed in reality was an elite of intellectuals, a nucleus which, thrown into the revolution, would seize the leadership and would take the power to themselves” (text quoted in La contre-revolution bureaucratique, ed: 10/18).
Lenin’s conception of an active minority of professional revolutionaries is opposed by Otto Rühle, an anti-authoritarian marxist excluded from the KAPD on Moscow’s orders and theoretician in 1920 of the General Workers’ Union (AAUE), which was neither a trades union, nor a vanguard, but a union of revolutionaries within the councils in Germany. This “Union” was based on the precept: “The emancipation of the workers will be the task of the workers themselves”, as Marx wrote in 1864.
This conception of Lenin’s, of an active minority, is not the only spoonful of tar in the honey-pot of Leninist theory. Lenin also defended the bourgeois right of the self-determination of nations. His text published in June 1914 is nothing but a polemic against Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin supported Polish nationalism, that poison dividing the proletariat. In Germany, these conceptions of Lenin ended up in a support for German nationalism during the occupation of the Ruhr, and the celebration of the German national hero Schlageter (a nationalist shot by French troops during the occupation of the Ruhr). The German Communist Party thus made common cause with the fascists! Similarly, in Leftism, an infantile disorder, Lenin defended bourgeois parliamentarism, compromises with the bourgeoisie, and the entry of “communists” into the reactionary bourgeois trades unions.
Worse still, Lenin’s text Materialism and Empirio-criticism represents a return to 18th-century bourgeois materialism, and forgets the historical materialism of Marx expressed in the Theses on Feuerbach.
So, what is historical materialism?
You say that it is a method for analysing the class contradictions of any society… very well! But an analytical method for action, and action for the liberation of human beings from all exploitation and oppression. Marx defended “the abstract principle of individual freedom” just as much as the anarchists. Marx appears to us today as a libertarian, a moralist of freedom. He criticises a capitalism that denies the personality, and the freedom of the individual. A “marxist” must defend liberty and respect the liberty of others. Respect for equality means nothing. Men are different from women. All individuals are different from each other.
This is a position of principle that goes beyond the struggle of the proletariat. Some of the non-industrialised tribes of the Indonesian or Amazonian forests are right from a marxist viewpoint to oppose the destruction of nature and of their life environment, even if as a result they oppose the particular interests of the proletarians who are lumberjacks or road-builders…
Similarly, non-working mothers are exploited by the class system; they work to raise their children even if they don’t sell their labour power. Their struggle for the liberation of women from exploitation is necessary to the arrival of communism. Prostitutes are also exploited as sexual objects; their struggle for the disappearance of prostitution seems like a struggle for council socialism. Real marxism is always anti-authoritarian, anti-hierarchical, for the disappearance of psychiatric asylums, the disappearance of prisons, and the destruction of all systems of punishment in the school or the family.
When you describe the tendencies of anarchism, you leave out anarcho-syndicalism. Did not the philosopher Georges Sorel consider the anarchists entry into the trades unions as one of the greatest events of his day? You confuse Bakunin, an anti-authoritarian and rarely a Jacobin, with his disciple Netchaev, a real putschist. You ignore the Berne Congress of 1876 which gave anarchism its substitutionist deviation of “propaganda by the deed”. You also ignore the work of Daniel Guerin on the French Revolution, fascism, anarchism… You ignore also that libertarians like Erich Muhsam were at the head of the Bavarian workers’ councils in 1919. When you describe the struggle of tendencies within the Social Democracy, you caricature this as a struggle between the marxists and the revisionists. In fact, there were four tendencies within the pre-1914 Social Democracy:
- a marxist wing: Rosa Luxemburg, Pannekoek defending the proletarian struggle, the mass strike and the destruction of the state;
- reformist revisionists like Edward Bernstein defending capitalism’s “peaceful evolution” through reforms;
- an “orthodox” centre, including Karl Kautsky, characterised by economic fatalism and a cult of the productive forces, which for this kind of degenerated marxism became a sort of god. For Karl Kautsky, it was the intellectuals who were to bring socialist consciousness to the proletariat from the outside: a real revision of marxism!
- finally, Kautsky’s Russian Bolshevik disciples, a typically Russian amalgam of Jacobinism and Blanquism.
The workers’ councils did not exist during the Paris Commune. Marx therefore doesn’t talk about them. But when they appeared during the 1905 Russian Revolution, Lenin (1907) saw them not as an organ of proletarian self-government, but as mere struggle committees…
The phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” no longer means anything today: the words have covered the facts. Facts have changed the meaning of the words.
In 1871, the Paris Commune was the destruction of the state by a government where a debate existed between Proudhonists and Blanquists.
The 1917 October Revolution was the Jacobin dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party.
It would therefore be better to use the expression “the power of the councils”.
Jean-Luc Dallemagne, an orthodox Trotskyist theoretician who defends the Stalinist USSR (and China, Cuba, etc…) as “workers’ states” also accuses the ultra-left currents of being petty-bourgeois: “The various ultra-left currents, that came out of the opposition to Lenin, come together again in the moralising and petty-bourgeois demand for ‘freedom’” (Construction du socialisme et revolution, Jean-Luc Dallemagne, Ed. Maspero).
This same Dallemagne defends the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party and the repression of Kronstadt as the realisation of the dictatorship of the proletariat!
Let us not confuse state capitalism with the power of the workers’ councils!
Let us conclude on the Spanish Revolution of 1937: during a revolutionary period, the “Friends of Durrutti” had a mass influence, like the AAUE in Germany in 1920. But try to understand them, rather than curling up in your own convictions. Don’t accuse them peremptorily of having revolutionary positions “despite themselves and their own confusions”, by accident, “by class instinct rather than out of a real understanding of the situation of the proletariat as a whole”.
In short, it seems to me that the ICC wants to close prematurely a fertile debate between anarchism and marxism.
Gauche Communiste Libertaire