Breaking with Spartacusbond (Holland)
The following article was written by a Dutch comrade who has left the Spartacusbond (SB). The article is composed from various texts written in preparation for the last conference of the SB and serves as a parting letter to this organization. The aim of the present article is to clarify the developments within the SB to the outside world and, in doing so, to contribute to the process of international regroupment. This concern for the international regroupment of revolutionaries has led FK to join the ICC, considering it to be “the only serious pole of international regroupment of revolutionaries today.”Spartacusbond: Alone in the world
Since the second half of the 1960s, the workers’ struggle has taken on an openly revolutionary character once more. At the same time, revolutionary nuclei are emerging which try to understand the crisis of capitalism and the revival of the workers’ struggle. In doing so these revolutionary groups lay the foundations necessary for taking up propagandistic activities, as did organizations of revolutionaries which emerged during the first revolutionary wave of the world proletariat following the imperialist massacre of 1914-18. Such attempts are very difficult since fifty years of counter-revolution have led to an organic break not only with those communist parties which organized to form the Third International, but also with those who remained faithful to the world revolution after the Third International and the Bolshevik Party had degenerated and disintegrated. It is thus natural that the revolutionary groups emerging in recent years should engage in intense political discussion in order to re-appropriate the historical political gains of the working class, to clarify class positions, and to regroup internationally on the basis of a platform in which class positions have been elaborated. The ICC is an expression of the theoretical and organizational efforts of those revolutionary groups which have become conscious of the fact that they can only carry out their responsibilities in the working class within an international framework.
This effort is not immediately understood by everyone. Moreover, the numerous existing counter-revolutionary organizations contribute to derailing this effort. They have the doubtful honour, with hardly an exception, of being able to claim a living and organic continuity with currents which, one by one, have revealed themselves to be the executioners of the working class: for example, the Trotskyist/Stalinist/and Maoist products of the degeneration of the Third International and the Bolshevik Party. Like a bad penny they keep turning up in myriad forms. Counter-revolutionary groups are not threatened by a downturn in the workers’ struggle. On the contrary, they are bourgeois expressions and contribute to accelerating any reflux. Their mystifications consist of presenting defeats of the workers’ struggle as victories. In the context of the trade unions such defeats are called ‘a growth in unity’;. relapses into parliamentarism become ‘political struggles’; relapses into nationalism are presented as ‘proletarian internationalism’; and the workers’ involvement in imperialist war is portrayed as the defence of some ‘socialist country’.
The role of bourgeois, counter-revolutionary organizations is clear. But within the proletarian camp, is the effort towards international regroupment understood by the descendants of the Dutch and Italian Left; within those groups which are not the result of today’s revival of class struggle, but which were able to maintain a revolutionary stance towards certain vital problems which faced the class struggle in the past? Do such groups represent the living, unbroken, organic continuity with the revolutionary currents of the revolutionary wave of 1917-20? In other words, do they defend class positions and do they carry out their tasks as revolutionary organizations with regard to the class? These questions cannot be answered in a bloc. In the following, article we will examine the case of the Spartacusbond, a Dutch organization which is sometimes considered to be the organic continuation of the Dutch and German Left of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.The origins of the Spartacusbond
When the Communistenbond ‘Spartacus’ (League of Communists ‘Spartacus’) re-emerged from illegality after world War II, many members of the pre-war GIC1 appeared to be part of this former Trotskyist group. Originally the Spartacusbond was one of the illegal groups continuing the work of the RSAP of Sneevliet (Maring). In the second imperialist massacre, it held a coherent proletarian internationalist position by refusing to take sides in the imperialist war and defended working class struggle. The later Spartacus faction evolved particularly positively toward class positions by further abandoning Trotskyist positions. It understood the capitalist nature of the Soviet Union; rejected trade unionism; recognized factory committees as the organs of struggle of the working class; denounced parliamentarism; and insisted on the political nature of the struggle in the factories. The Spartacus group was further stimulated in its development by the former GIC, with whom it came into contact after the arrest and execution of Sneevliet and seven other comrades in 1943. The study and discussion of theoretical questions between the former Trotskyists and the GIC members evolved so positively that they decided to continue as Communistenbond ‘Spartacus’, which openly defended class positions in the Netherlands after World War II.
The end of World War II did not bring about the proletarian revolution contrary to expectations based on the events in Germany and Russia following World War I. Instead capitalism began its period of reconstruction into which it could attempt to integrate the working class in general. The Eenheidsvakcentrale (United Trade Union), which the Spartacus group had contributed to creating during its final years of illegality, and which the Spartacists hoped, through their propaganda for factory organization, would evolve in the direction of a kind of Arbeiter-Union of the German Revolution, in fact became an ordinary trade union and on top of that fell into Stalinist hands.
They then founded the Onafhankelijke Verbond van Bedrijfsorganisaties (Independent Alliance of Factory Organizations) which although it was not dominated by the Stalinists nevertheless also became a kind of trade union, given the pressures of the reconstruction period. After this, the Spartacists left the OVB. With the decrease in the number of wildcat strikes immediately following World War II, the SB entered a difficult period. Many members left and it became a small group desperately trying to row against the stream in the reflux of the workers’ struggle. Their dissemination of class positions found no audience because of the lack of movement in the class. Inevitably, the SB tried to account for this, but it fell into a gradual theorizing of the defeat. This process expressed itself, for example, in the emergence of a councilist faction within the SB which started to publish Daad en Gedachte (Act and Thought) independently from the SB in 1965.Councilism
Councilism2, as a current emerging from the reconstruction period, must be distinguished from the pre-war Left Communists.The germs of councilism, a product of degeneration after the war, can be found in some pre-war currents within the German and Dutch Left. This is particularly so in regard to the council communism of Otto Ruhle’s Einheidsorganisation (Unity Organization) and in the council communism of the GIC. Both these currents, however, were still an expression of the serious attempts made to clarify problems around the question of the Arbeiter-Union (Workers’ Union) prior to the war. Therefore, we call them council communists and not councilists. Although Otto Ruhle’s rejection of the need for political organization and the party was already at the time a mistake, we must understand his position in terms of the confusion which also existed in the KAPD over the question of the Arbeiter-Union. Only gradually was the insight gained that the working class could no longer have permanent organizations. This insight came to be expressed in the conceptions of the GIC. The council communism of the GIC must therefore also be distinguished from that of Ruhle.
Councilism, on the other hand, bases itself on fragments of the council communism of the GIC and particularly that of Otto Ruhle. Councilism must not be seen as an attempt to clarify the real problems arising from class struggle. Quite the opposite. It falls back to Ruhle’s rejection of political organization at a time when the questions raised about the organs of struggle and their position in relation to the political organization had already been clarified by the GIC. CounciIism thus neglects a fundamental lesson drawn from the workers’ struggle. Councilists take a lot of pains to project their positions back to encompass revolutionaries like Pannekoek. Daad en Gedachte (D&G) even suggest that it is the continuation of the GIC since all the ex-GIC members of the SB, became members of D&G in 1965. But the continuation of a revolutionary current is not guaranteed by the presence of certain people in an organization. A revolutionary current can only be maintained within the framework of an organization which publicly propagates class positions. This certainly cannot be said of D&G. On the contrary, D&G considers the propagation of class positions to be a ‘party practice’, which in the councilist vocabulary refers to the Social Democratic and Leninist position on the tasks of the party. The councilists completely overlook the fact that, since the foundation of the KAPD in 1920, revolutionaries defend the position that the tasks of the party are restricted to propaganda and to the clarification of consciousness, while the task of leading the struggle and taking power is to be accomplished by the struggling masses which use their elected committees for this purpose. This conception, of the urgent task of the party to intervene in the class struggle in an exclusively propagandistic manner, is a class line. It is a fundamental lesson which the KAPD learned from the practices of the reformist parties and trade unions and the perpetuation of such practices by the ‘Zentrale’ of the KPD(S) following the Moscow ‘lead’3. Otto Ruhle turned away from the KAPD because, according to him, it was financed by Moscow and was following a Leninist line. Gorter, Hempel, and Pannekoek, on the contrary, disapproved of Ruhle’s position because they were convinced that the most conscious workers, necessarily, first come together to study and discuss and then spread their positions through the entire class.
The councilists think they have found an additional argument4 against the propagandistic tasks of the party in the fact that class positions are grounded in the creative activity of the struggles of the working class instead of being developed independently by armchair theorists contemplating their navels. Indeed, class positions are the result of the study of workers’ struggle by the working class. Therefore, class positions change when the class struggle encounters opposition from a new obstacle and succeeds in creatively surmounting it. For that reason the councilists think it better not to propagate positions today which, in the future, might turn out to be limited. Secondly, they feel such activity would come down to an attempt to rob the workers of their chance of leading their own struggle. This opinion is based on a far too narrow definition of class positions.
Class positions are not detailed guide-lines telling the working class how to act in every given situation. They crystallize the political gains from the experience of the highlights of the workers’ struggles; as for example, the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution and German Revolution, or from the counter-revolution: the case of both world wars. Class frontiers are no more than a general orientation, a broad framework for the conscious action of the class, which can only be extended by events in the class struggle of world-historic dimensions. The fear of the councilists, that to propagate class positions comes down to political groups directing the workers’ struggle, is completely misplaced. This fear is even more out of place when we see that revolutionaries have argued since 1920 that the working class, through its struggles, produces two organizations: the unitary organization and the organization of revolutionaries.
Since the outbreak of World War I, capitalism has shown that it has entered its phase of decadence and revolution. In the period of decadence, gradual improvements in the position of the working class through parliamentary and trade union struggle have become impossible, because of the lack of real growth of the productive forces. This means that the working class can no longer unite in permanent organizations of struggle, organizations like the trade unions and parliamentary parties used to be. Only during its direct struggles; in which it defends its immediate interests, can the class form temporary organizational units. Direct struggles and the independent unitary organizational forms engendered by such struggles always come up against the impossibility of the working class gaining any lasting reforms under decadent capitalism. What remains are the experiences of the struggle, of its organization and its results. In elaborating these experiences, within the process of the rising consciousness of the workers through their struggles, about capitalist relations of production and about their own forms of organization, the class prepares itself for the fulfillment of its global historic task: the conscious overthrow of capitalism and the foundation of workers’ power based on the councils, in order to realize the communist mode of production. The process by which the class becomes conscious of its historical task is, therefore, not some idealistic fantasy which can be injected into the class from the outside. On the contrary, this consciousness is generated by the working class elaborating its experiences by engaging in intensive discussions around various points of view.
In order to develop and propagandize their positions in the best possible way, those who hold the same positions unite in political organizations of revolutionaries, which are the permanent expressions of the workers’ struggle, in so far as they are based on the study of the experiences of that struggle from the point of view of the working class. Apart from these organizations, there exist the organizations of struggle, developing towards the unity and independence of the working class against capital. These are temporary expressions of the upsurges in the workers’ struggle. The workers’ councils become permanent when they have destroyed the bourgeois state.Leaving the Spartacusbond
To understand the distinction between the unitary organs and the organization of revolutionaries, and also their mutual relationship, is a fundamental requirement for an organization of revolutionaries to fulfill its tasks in the class in the best possible way. Only if a full understanding of this problem is present can we talk about a living, organic, continuity with the Communist Left of the pre-war period. D&G are clearly not a continuation of the Dutch Left, but it would be an exaggeration to call D&G a counter-revolutionary group. But what about the SB?
It is impossible to describe here the complete history of the SB. We will limit ourselves to the remark that the SB was not freed from councilism after the D&G faction split from it. D&G, it is true, is the group which contributed most to the theoretical foundations of councilism and subsequently put it into practice, even propagating it at an international level. However, there are traces of councilism in the SB.
An evaluation of the councilist or communist nature of the SB becomes possible by studying developments at the latest conference of the SB. This conference was completely dedicated to the question of the organization of revolutionaries. The direction of the practical decisions taken at this conference were for the writer of this article, reason enough to leave the SB. The considerations produced here are not unknown to the SB; they can be found in all kinds of papers written in preparation for the conference, and in letters sent to the SB after it took place.
At this conference, the councilistic inclination to view all political/historical gains of the class struggle through the spectacles of defeat came very strongly to the fore. The conference, devoted to the question of the organization of revolutionaries, became necessary because of the faulty manner in which the SB worked. After publishing two international bulletins, the SB no longer appeared to be capable of reacting to the different groups that have recently arisen in the revolutionary milieu. The SB functioned so badly that even internal discussion became impossible. The conference could only have solved these problems by gaining some insight into the tasks and working procedures of a political organization. But the conference showed, alas, that there was a dreadful confusion in the SB about:
a. international regroupment;
b. the SB’s origins from the German and Dutch Left;
c. the tasks facing an organization of revolutionaries;
d, the regroupment of revolutionaries in the Netherlands.
In its report of the conference of 25/26 September, the SB explains its refusal to develop a platform by, among other things, the following statement:
“In a platform (theses) one is obliged to reproduce one’s opinions in very general terms, because one must say a lot of things in a few words. Therefore, in practice, a platform can only be understood by other groups. And it is only useful in that kind of communication. Spartacus is different: we aren’t interested, firstly, in other groups.... Those who search for a party-form with other international groups need a platform, an elaborated declaration to decide if and with whom one can cooperate.” (Spartacus, 1976-11)
Well, at the conference it was never argued that a platform would only, or even primarily, be useful for contacting other groups. Apart from that, we must conclude from this quotation that the SB thinks that it is the only revolutionary organization in the world, or else it considers contact between these organizations of no importance. This isolationism shown by the SB is clearly not an acquisition from the Dutch Left, as is shown by the following facts:
1. When Gorter and Pannekoek left the Dutch Social Democratic Party in 1908 to found a new, marxist, social democratic party, they made very sure that the new party would be organized in the Second International. During this same period, Pannekoek was also active in the left wing of the German Social Democratic Party.
2. During the first imperialist massacre, particularly Gorter actively joined in the efforts towards regroupment of the Left at Zimmerwald which ended with the formation of the Third International.
3. During the German Revolution, Pannekoek, and Gorter engaged in passionate discussions within the KPD(S) and the KAPD. Gorter made a journey to Moscow to defend the positions of the KAPD in the Executive Committee of the Communist International. After the Third Congress of the Comintern, when efforts to form an opposition failed, Gorter became one of the initiators of the Communist Workers’ International.
4. After the splits in the KAPD and the ‘Union’, Canne Meijer and Hempel were closely involved in efforts made to regroup German revolutionaries in the Kommunistische Arbeiter Union.
5. In the GIC, Canne Meijer, Hempel, and Pannekoek drew out the lessons from the German and Russian Revolutions while in permanent contact with comrades in Germany, France, the United States, and Belgium.
6. After World War II, when the GIC members emerged from illegality as part of the SB, the SB didn’t hold itself aloof from international discussion: contacts existed in Germany, France and Belgium. In this period the SB also came into contact with the precursors of the ICC.
These facts clearly illustrate that there would not have been a Dutch Left had it not developed within the framework of international discussions, both within the Second and Third Internationals, and among the international contacts after the degeneration of the Third International. The working class and its struggles don’t stop at national frontiers. On the contrary, it forms a unity spanning all the national capitals. It has to do this because its starting-point and the object of its struggle -- capitalism -- is organized internationally at the level of the world market. Two world wars and two waves of international workers’ struggle, that of 1917-20 and the present one, have made this clear. The international nature of the workers’ struggle also means that the various organizations of revolutionaries cannot lock themselves behind national boundaries and thus study and discuss the struggle within such a limited framework. But, on the contrary, revolutionaries must lay the foundation for international regroupment.
Unfortunately, it is characteristic of the isolationism of the SB not to invite other groups to its conference in order “to prevent the discussions from centering too much around the positions of the various groups” (Spartacus, 1976-11). Before the conference the argument against inviting other groups was that the work of the conference would constitute a pre-condition and a basis for a systematic discussion of the positions of the several groups. But when “a very deviating position” (Ibid) was proposed at the conference, namely, to translate the platforms of several foreign groups (for example, that of the CWO, the PIC, the RWG, and Arbetarmakt in so far as they weren’t already translated as was the platform of the ICC ), and after that to study and evaluate them, this proposal was rejected. One must fear that at future conferences of the SB no other groups will be present. The SB’s self-chosen isolation in the face of the re-emerging international class struggle and all the questions emerging from this will lead them to an increasingly dogmatic position. If the SB remains cut off from international contact, the progress of the new revolutionary wave will wash it ashore, in the bourgeois camp.b. The Origins of the SB from the German and Dutch Left
The SB not only refuses to study the platforms of currently existing groups, it also refuses to examine the programmes of the organizations from which it emerged: the KPD(S), the KAPD, the KAPN (Dutch KAP), the GIC, and even its own programme of 1945. Its argument is that ‘This is all old hat. Now we live in other times.’ But the fact is that nearly everything the SB puts forward consists of bits of theory deliberately wrenched out of the context of the overall theory of the German and Dutch Left. Refusing to recognize this is not only terribly arrogant, it is also dangerous. It is precisely the uncritical and superficial manner in which the SB brings forward now this and then that element of the positions of Rosa Luxemburg, Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter, Henk Canne Meijer, or Hempel which will inevitably bring the SB to the very dogmatic position it is so afraid of. The only way to arrive at class positions and to see how eventually they have to be extended or changed, as a consequence of radical changes in the class struggle, is to study the fundamental positions of the German and Dutch Left within the context of the circumstances in which they were developed and against the background of the present period which separates us from the pre-war communists. In the first place, the SB isn’t aware of the totality of the positions of the German and Dutch Left. Secondly, the SB has never heard about the positions of, for example, the Italian Left regarding various questions. Thirdly, the SB hasn’t got the faintest idea what the words ‘class frontier’ mean, from which it concludes, for reasons of minor importance, that a certain position ‘out of its time’ is dangerous or even counter-revolutionary.
The critical study of the positions on several questions of the German and Dutch Left and those of existing organizations could have led the SB to accept a platform. Even the way the SB chose to reject a platform shows its tendency to bring forward un-reflected fragments of theory:
“Our work consists in making our positions clear to people, to struggling individuals. To put it better, we try to propagate the class struggle. With a platform you run the risk of judging developments too much from the past, that you start working conservatively.” (Spartacus, 1976-11, underlined by F.K)
This is not a new contribution of the SB. No, this is a portion of Rosa Luxemburg’s theory, as can be seen from the following quotation:
“In general, the tactical policy of the Social Democracy is not something that may be ‘invented’. It is the product of a series of great creative acts of the often spontaneous class struggle seeking its way forward. The unconscious comes before the conscious. The logic of the historic process comes before the subjective logic of the human beings who participate in the historic process. The tendency is for the directing organs of the socialist party to play a conservative role. Experience shows that every time the labour movement wins new terrain those organs work it to the upmost. They transform it at the same time into a kind of bastion, which holds up advance on a wider scale.” (Underlined by Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy’, pt. l)
But for Rosa Luxemburg this consideration was not a justification for opposing the existence of a party programme. Some lines further on she says:
“Evidently, the important thing for the Social Democracy is not the preparation of a set of directives all ready for the future policy. It is important: 1. to encourage a correct historic appreciation of the forms of struggle corresponding to the given situations, and 2. to maintain an understanding of the relativity of the current phase and the inevitable increase of revolutionary tension as the final goal of the class struggle is approached.” (Luxemburg, Ibid)
Rosa Luxemburg gives an excellent definition of the origins and functions of the class positions that are written down in the platform or party programme of every revolutionary organization. Indeed, to record class positions has nothing at all to do with efforts to take over the leadership of the working class struggle or (what would be the result of this) obstructing the ‘often spontaneous class struggle’.
The text of Rosa Luxemburg, from which these quotations are taken, was written at a time when the period of capitalist decadence hadn’t yet begun and the working class could still force by means of parliament and the trade unions, a still-expanding capitalism to grant reforms. At that time revolutionaries were active in the Social Democratic organizations because they were permanent proletarian organizations of struggle and propaganda. The programme on which the KAPD was founded in 1920, took into account the period of the decadence of capitalism, which apparently had started in 1914. It also explained the marked inadequacy of parliament and the trade unions as means of struggle of the proletariat and recognized the distinction between the unitary organizations of the class and the organization of revolutionaries. This distinction marks a continuous theoretical evolution which began with Rosa Luxemburg’s opposition within Social Democracy. This theoretical evolution is in no way a result of navel-gazing, but of a thorough elaboration of the developments within the workers’ struggle up to 1920 which shows a distinction between the organizations of struggle and the organizations of the revolutionaries in the reality of class struggle. World War I and the revolutionary wave of 1917-20 shifted class frontiers, and the programme of the KAPD takes this into account. If the SB is suggesting that the class frontiers described in the programme of the KAPD have changed, through claiming they are ‘old hat’, then the SB’s responsibility is to show the historic facts proving this. It is our conviction that these facts do not exist. But the SB has very good reasons for refusing to study the programmes and platforms of the KAPD and its continuations in the Dutch Left. At present the SB is only held together by its councilist and activist refusal to take up its tasks as an organization of revolutionaries. The councilists, the older militants in the SB, gave up bringing forward class positions after the disappointing experiences which followed their efforts to do so during the now-ended period of reconstruction. The younger activists in the SB -- in a functioning organization of revolutionaries -- are afraid to give up the safe, localistic, limitations of their own place of work or their own district, and at the theoretical level, prefer their ‘chats’ with the workers.c. The Tasks of the Organization of Revolutionaries
During the conference, the SB couldn’t deny the distinction between the organization of revolutionaries and the unitary organizations. But this was arrived at only after the greatest effort and in spite of objections of a kind that can also be found in the report of the conference the SB published:
“But the conception that the political organization is so schematically distinct from the unitary organization that in practice it even boils down to a separation, doesn’t fit in with reality. In the first place it hardly ever happens that only direct and immediate interests are in the focus of a struggle or action. Precisely in the concrete struggle, interests and ideas develop which transcend the material, temporary, and local point of struggle. It is precisely here that the basis for further political evolution is laid. And in the second place, in many movements there is no unity of class but the co-operation of the interests concerned dominates (for example, actions in workers’ districts). There must be an evolution by unitary organizations and action groups towards study and the deepening of more general questions: an evolution from practice towards study of that practice. Of course the political group is distinct from the action groups and strike committees. Because the political group has a specific task of placing the experiences gained through these struggles in a broader perspective.” (Spartacus, 1976-11)
Now what the SB says here is very correct.
But it is no argument at all against the necessity for the organization of revolutionaries to be a political organization based on a platform. Because consciousness develops within the struggle from experiences, this is no automatic and simultaneous process. That’s why the elements which first come to consciousness must come together to deepen and propagate their understanding and positions. The SB seems to confirm this when it says:
“A platform consists of one’s positions written down in the form of theses. Positions relating to the history of class struggle, to actual and international experiences, to capitalism and the perspectives for the future. Everybody is agreed that these are things which a political group such as the SB should be engaged in. There has been a great deal of discussion about this and also a lot of confusion, but in this report we can be brief about it; everybody agreed and still agrees.” (Spartacus, 1976-11)
But what was the disagreement at the conference? According to the SB: “The disagreement was around the need to reproduce one’s positions in the form of theses and on the emphasis placed on studying a certain point.” (Spartacus, 1976-11)
Of course the disagreement wasn’t about the form a platform should take, whether theses, an essay, a poem, or a declaration of principles. The disagreement was, and is, about the content of a platform, a declaration of principles, or whatever you wish to call it. This is shown by the following: “If we want to accomplish our tasks, namely to propagate the insight resulting from study, then we need a permanent discussion. The evolution of many groups has shown in practice that a platform (along with its consequences -- national guidelines which local sections have to obey, months of discussion about the formulation of objectives and procedures, etc) only obstructs that permanent confrontation with reality.” (Spartacus, 1976-11)
By ‘reality’, the SB means the “everyday practice” of the activist who has chosen a certain “field of action”, this means for a partial struggle, and who doesn’t want to hear anything about matters which, according to him, have nothing to do with this. If he has chosen a certain workers’ district, he doesn’t want to hear about wage struggles, nor about struggles in the districts of Soweto, or Vitoria, or Gdansk, and least of all about the class positions elaborated from the highlights of the workers’ struggles historically.
The activists are characterized by their factual refusal of the organization of revolutionaries, which they wrongly identify with the Leninist party. The activists think ‘the’ political organization superfluous because they demand that political positions be directly applicable to their “field of action”. The positions resulting from past revolutionary highlights of the workers’ struggle, or from other countries, they consider to be “theory” and hence “impractical”. Activism in fact is an a-historic, localist tendency principally restricting itself to partial struggles. At its best, activism can be the reflection of a limited workers’ struggle. But activism can never help to transcend these limitations. On the contrary, it propagates the limitations of the partial struggle by holding it up before the class as exemplary.
While the working class as a class is always forced to generalize its struggle to all aspects of life and throughout a constantly enlarging part of itself, in order to make its proletarian revolution, it is confronted by the same kind of problems that earlier revolutions had to overcome. The activists stand there rejecting the experiences of earlier revolutionary highlights which have been elaborated and are formulated in the positions of the currents of the workers’ movement. Just like Lenin, the activists consider these theoretical conceptions as something which are properly alien to the working class, which according to them, only struggle on the basis of limited interests -- to which Lenin adds -- and which never can transcend this limitation without the leading role of the intelligensia. The activists conclude from this, differing from the Leninists, that ‘the’ political organization is superfluous. In doing so they find themselves in the company of the councilists who no longer believe in propagating class positions because they are tired of rowing against the reflux of the class movement during the last fifty years of counter-revolution. Leninists, activists, and councilists all agree, despite their other differences, in their denial of the origins of class positions from the historical workers’ struggle. Hence their rejection of the exclusively propagandistic intervention in the working class by the organization of revolutionaries.
The propagandistic intervention seems after all, only completely natural and necessary if one thinks that the positions are elaborated from the experiences of the class itself and that propaganda is a contribution to the elaboration of those experiences within the class, a contribution to the discussion in the working class.
A nice illustration of the SB’s tendency to consider class positions as products of navel-gazing theorists are the marginal notes in Spartacus, 1976-10 which is completely dedicated to the workers’ struggle in Poland during the winter of 1970-71 and the summer of 1976. About the author of the Poland edition, the SB remarks:
“He is ... himself not free from party conceptions, conceptions which should be distinguished from those which correspond to state-capitalist theories in which the party ‘leads’ or ‘uses’ the working class; a party which has to seize state-power. Nevertheless, the author has the conception of a party which puts forward the aim of the struggle -- the conquest of workers’ power -- and which always stimulates the workers to prepare themselves in every aspect of struggle for that ultimate goal. We get the impression that, through having these conceptions, he overlooks the immensely important fact that the working class will not permit its struggle to be directed by social ideals, but that the working class is inspired by the social reality it experiences.” (Spartacus, 1976-12)
As if the final object of the struggle, the conquest of workers’ power, is an ‘invention’ of the party! Even in the earlier years of scientific socialism the conquest of workers’ power was not the product of pure thought but a conclusion drawn from the historic, materialist inquiry into the essence and development of capitalism. And, at least since the Russian Revolution, the conquest of workers’ power is a fact of experience. For the workers of Szczecin during the winter of 1970-71, workers’ power was not an unknown fact; they held power over the city in their hands for some time: This power was snatched away from them by Gierek’s arrival at the shipyards. The discussions between the Szczecin workers’ council and Gierek and among the workers themselves (which is reproduced at length in Spartacus 1976-10), centred around the question of the “maintenance of workers’ power, or the handing of power over to Gierek in exchange for the satisfaction of demands.” In this respect Poland is a testing-ground for the position of the SB in a revolutionary situation:
“So it is our opinion that the workers of Szczecin and of some other towns in Poland were not able to bring down Eastern-European state capitalism. This need not be more surprising than the final defeat of the revolts in East Germany in 1953 and that of the Hungarian workers in 1956. In their isolation they were too restricted in their possibilities to allow for the complete conquest of power by those workers.” (Spartacus, 1976-12)d. The Regroupment of Revolutionaries in Holland
Given the revival of the revolutionary workers’ struggle after fifty years of counter-revolution, the SB’s councilist tendency to view all events through the glasses of defeat, turns into the open propaganda of defeat. The recent workers’ struggles in Poland are not isolated phenomena behind the Iron Curtain, but are part of the international workers’ struggle since the second half of the sixties: France in ‘68, Belgium ‘'73, Portugal ‘74/5, Spain, and again Poland 1976. Not to mention the struggles in other parts of the world. It is the task of revolutionaries always to propagate class positions. Once this was also the opinion of the SB:
“Only when the third opposition group left the ranks of the SB, did it become clear that the second and also the third split-off really did have principled reasons for doing so. The real disagreement was about the SB’s position in the present workers’ movement, at a time when, according to those who split off, there could be no revolutionary mass movements -- or if there could be -- these would not have a revolutionary character. The opinion of those former comrades was that the SB, while sticking to propaganda calling for ‘all power to the workers’ councils’, ‘production in the hands of the factory organizations’ and ‘communist production on the basis of calculating prices on the basis of the average working hour’5, should not intervene in the struggle of the workers as they appeared in an immediate context. The propaganda of the SB should have to be of a principled purity and if the masses were not interested at the moment, this would change when the mass movements would again become revolutionary.” (Uit Eigen Kring, end 1947)
So far the summary of the political reasons for the two opposition groups leaving the SB, by those who remained. The fear of the second and third opposition groups that the SB would become ‘diluted’ in the period when the workers’ struggle once more took on a revolutionary character, has come true. In a period of reviving revolutionary class struggle it becomes an absolute necessity to bring forward in the clearest possible way the historic acquisitions of the class, the class positions. The SB isn’t able to do this. An organization of revolutionaries which isn’t based on permanent discussion involving all its members on its fundamental positions, recorded in a platform, will perish. Because such an organization:
-- is not able to optimally propagate its positions (since they have not yet been determined) in the class from which they have been elaborated;
-- has no membership criteria. Thus it either has to isolate itself from potential new members and die out, or it has to open its door to all kinds of positions;
-- cannot distinguish itself from ‘competing’ organizations. Thus, it becomes a factor of confusion instead of clarification in the class struggle.Conclusion
The refusal of the SB to inaugurate a discussion aimed at forming a platform, essentially comes down to its refusal to submit to a rejuvenation cure against the three complaints of old age mentioned above. The SB has now been in existence for thirty-seven years. But this alone doesn’t make it the continuation of the Dutch Left. Its confused positions on the question of the organization of revolutionaries, and on its tasks, prove that there has been a real break in continuity with the pre-war communists. By adopting the position it chose at its latest conference, it can hardly be considered to be a functioning pole for the regroupment of revolutionaries in Holland. The deepening crisis and the upsurge in class struggle make regroupment an absolute necessity.
Unlike the period in which the Dutch Left was active, the Netherlands is now a highly industrialized country with a fully-developed working class. This doesn’t imply that the formation of an organization of revolutionaries in Holland should ever be restricted by national frontiers. The Dutch economy, especially since the reconstruction period, is firmly attached to the German economy and the Dutch bourgeoisie can use Germany’s relatively strong position and its own rich supply of natural gas to relieve the results of unemployment by welfare benefits and by stimulating industry through state intervention. Through the phasing-in of the crisis in the Netherlands, it has been possible until recently, to contain the workers’ struggles by channeling and detouring them into demands like the leveling of wage differentials and nationalizations. But revolutionaries know that although the leveling of wage differentials and nationalizations may well slow down the crisis, it will inevitably return like a boomerang. Recently, the crisis is being felt harder. The Social Democratic/Christian Democratic coalition government is starting to attack welfare benefits. Automatic compensation made to wage-earners to offset inflation is also being threatened. Slowly the Dutch working class is beginning to free itself from containment by the trade unions: in 1976 we saw wildcat strikes in the ports and in the construction industry, two traditionally militant sectors of the working class. The CP, Trotskyists, and Maoists played their part as the left support of Social Democracy. Their tactic was to drive the workers back into the trade unions, or into alternative mini-trade unions, set up by the Maoists. They put forward a bourgeois caricature of political struggle by defending parliamentarism, nationalizations, and national ‘independence’.
In view of the still weak development of the workers’ struggles in the Netherlands, the task of the revolutionary organization is to make the working class aware of the struggles of its class brothers in those countries which have already been hit by the crisis, and conscious of the historical perspectives of these struggles. This means that the formation of an organization of revolutionaries in Holland can only take place within an international perspective and therefore an international framework. Consequently, the activity of the ICC and especially its Belgian section, in relation to the Netherlands must be applauded.
The decision of the SB not to engage in a discussion to set up a platform does not have to be final. All the questions that were discussed at the last conference will return when the SB tries to formulate a ‘declaration of principles’. If this happens within a framework of an international discussion on the positions of the Communist Left during the period before World War II and the positions of existing revolutionary groups, it will certainly be a contribution towards the creation of a pole for regroupment of revolutionaries in Holland. Above all the SB could make a valuable international contribution by aiding the revolutionary groups which emerge towards a critical reappraisal of the political gains of the Dutch Left. Because the SB never was, and is not now, alone in the world.
1 GIC – Groep (en) van Internationale Communisten (Groups of International Communists) can be considered to be a continuation of the Dutch KAP.
2 We only offer here a critical examination of the councilist positions on the question of organization. More about this and the councilist positions on the Russian Revolution and national ‘liberation’ struggles in the International Review no. 2, ‘The Epigones of Councilism’.
3 The Kommunistische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands was formed by the majority of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Spartakusbund) which was maneuvered out of the party as a consequence of its anti-parliamentarist and anti-trade union positions.
4 This argument, from the theory of knowledge, is formulated by D&G in its motto: “In every specific act, thinking precedes action. In the action of the classes or masses the significance of the act, however, only appears afterwards. Here the action precedes the understanding.”
For a comparison with Pannekoek’s position, the interested reader can study a chapter in Worker’s Councils that, not completely accidentally, is entitled ‘Thought and Action’. We refer to the following quotation:
“Only when amongst the workers is present the understanding – at first vaguely – that they have to do everything on their own, that they themselves have to create the organization of work, beginning from the factories, will their actions signify the beginnings of more powerful developments.
The most important role of propaganda is to awaken this understanding: this is carried out by individuals and small groups who first attain this understanding.
As difficult as this may be to begin with, it will become fruitful because, it runs parallel with the line of the working class’ life experiences. This understanding will thus illuminate the masses like a torch and guide their first actions. Where this understanding is lacking (through backward political and economic circumstances) this evolution will go through many ups and downs.” (Anton Pannekoek, Workers’ Councils)
5 This position of the GIC was developed by Hempel while he was a political prisoner. He tried to draw the lessons from the general experiences of the German and Russian Revolutions, his specific experiences of the struggles of the shipyard workers in Hamburg, and his visits to the Soviets near Moscow during the Third Congress of the Comintern. The GIC worked out Hempel’s ideas in The Basic Principles of Communist Production and Distribution (published in German and Dutch), which is a valuable contribution to the question of economic aspects of the period of transition.