A contribution to the history of the revolutionary movement: “Communistenbond Spartacus” and the councilist current (1942-1948)
The Communistenbond Spartacus (‘Spartacus' Communist League) began in 1942 as a split from the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front, itself a split from the RSAP. Before its dissolution by the Dutch government in 1940, the RSAP, whose dominant figure was Henk Sneevliet, oscillated between the POUM and Trotskyism, with anti-fascist positions, the defense of unions, ‘national liberation' and the Russian state. The MLL front which succeeded it, in clandestinity, began the internationalist work of denouncing all the fronts of the capitalist war. In 1941 its leadership, unanimously, except for one Trostskyist vote, decided not to support the USSR and denounced the German-Soviet pact as a part of the imperialist war front. The arrest of the MLL Front leadership, including Sneevliet, and their execution by the German army decapitated the MLL in 1942. Several months later the vestiges of the Front split in two: the small Trotskyist minority which chose the capitalist camp and the militant internationalists who, starting from great confusions would eventually form the Communistenbond. This latter organization would gradually evolve towards council communism. After representing the internationalist revolutionary current in Holland from 1945 through the fifties, it completely degenerated into councilist ideology. It disappeared as a group at the end of the seventies, leaving only epigones like Daad en Gedachte.
We are presenting the history of Communistenbond Spartacus here because this history is not well-known and even the Bond in degeneration considered its own history as just ‘old hat'. For revolutionary internationalists, the history of a communist group is never ‘old hat'. It's our history, the history of a political current which the working class gave life to. Making a balance sheet of this group and the councilist current today, drawing the positive and negative lessons from this experience is the way to forge the weapons of tomorrow. Because the councilist current is organizationally in decomposition in Holland, because it is no longer a living body capable to drawing essential lessons for the revolutionary struggle, the ICC must take up the task of drawing the lessons of the history of the Communistenbond Spartacus, in order to show elements of the class who are attracted to councilism that the logic of councilism leads to the void.
Two fundamental lessons to draw:
1. the rejection of October 1917 as a ‘bourgeois' revolution inevitably leads to a rejection of the whole history of the workers' movement since 1848. It necessarily goes along with a refusal to recognize the change in the historical period in 1914: the decadence of capitalism. It also logically leads to defending ‘national liberation struggles' as ‘progressive bourgeois revolutions'. This logic was chosen by the Swedish group Arbetarmakt who plunged head first into the leftist magma.
2. an incomprehension of the role and centralized functioning of the revolutionary organization inevitably leads to the void or to anarchist conceptions. Anti-centralism and individualism in the conception of the organization opens the door to workerism and immediatism which can happily coexist with academicism and opportunism. The results? The history of the Communistenbond shows us what they are - an abdication to anarchist and petty bourgeois tendencies. The end result is dislocation or capitulation to bourgeois ideology (unionism, national liberation struggles).
We hope that this history of Communistenbond Spartacus will help those who follow the council communist tradition to understand the need for organized activity based on the marxist conception of the decadence of capitalism. The political organization of revolutionaries on an international and centralized basis is an indispensable weapon that the class creates for the triumph of the world communist revolution.
The evolution of the MLL Front towards the internationalist positions of non-defense of Russia and against the imperialist war without any distinction for labels - either ‘democracy', ‘fascism' or ‘communism' - is an atypical evolution. Coming from the RSAP, which had been oriented towards left socialism, it went towards council communist positions. This orientation was largely due to the strong personality of Sneevliet who despite his old age was still capable of evolving politically and had nothing more to lose on a personal level. Such a profound political transformation cannot be compared to even that of the Munis group or the RKD which were also atypical.
But this evolution didn't go to its ultimate consequences. The death of Sneevliet and his comrades - particularly Ab Menlst - totally decapitated the leadership of the Front. The MLL owed its cohesion to the political weight of Sneevliet, who was more a militant guided by intuition and revolutionary convictions than a theoretician.
The death of Sneevliet and almost all the members of the Centrale reduced the organization to nothing for several months. From March to the summer of 1942, all the militants were in hiding and avoided any contact with each other because they thought the gestapo was using an informer from within the organization itself. But the police archives and the records of the Sneevliet trial show no evidence of a gestapo agent within the organization.
Of the leadership, only Stan Poppe survived. Under his influence the Revolutionair-socialistische Arbeidersbeweging (the Socialist Revolutionary Workers' Movement) was founded during the summer. The use of the term ‘Workers' Movement' meant that the organization that was the formal continuation of the MLL front saw itself as neither a front, nor a party.
In the wake of the formation of the Stan Poppe group the last partisans of Dolleman formed their own group with a Trotskyist orientation on 22 August 1942 at the Hague. Thus the ‘Comite van Revolutionaire Marxisten' was formed on the basis of the defense of Russia. This group was much smaller than Poppe's . It published a newspaper De Rode October (Red October) printing 2000 copies per month. Among the leaders of the CRM there was Max Perthus who had been freed from prison. The old Trotskyist faction of the MLL Front was thus reconstituted. The younger, more activist elements of the Front mainly joined the CRM. Logically the CRM was in the orbit of the IVth International; it became the IVth International's section in the Netherlands in June 1944.
This last split was the result of a confrontation between two irreconcilable positions: one defending the internationalist positions taken by Sneevliet and his comrades in July 1941; the other participating in the war by supporting Russia and thus the Allied military bloc.
Other personal and organizational reasons played a role in the split. In the summer of 1942 Poppe formed a new leadership eliminating all the supporters of the defense of Russia. Poppe was the last person to see Sneevliet before his arrest and this appeared suspicious to some.
In fact, the organization formed around Stan Poppe was perfectly prepared for clandestinity and was able to continue its political life until the end of the war without arrests. Leen Molenaar was one of the best counterfeiters of false papers and ration cards for the clandestine militants.
At the end of the summer, this group of fifty militants began editing more or less regularly a mimeographed bulletin called Spartacus. This was the organ of the Communistenbond Spartacus. Several pamphlets were edited which showed a higher theoretical level than the MLL Front. Towards the end of 1944, Spartacus became a monthly theoretical organ. From October 1944 until May 1945 they distributed a weekly page on immediate events: Spartacus Actuele Berichten (Current Events).
Politically, the Bond members, being older were less vulnerable and more theoretically formed than the younger Trotskyist elements. Many of them had been militants in the NAS and kept a certain revolutionary syndicalist mentality. Thus, Anton (Toon) van den Berg, a militant first of the OSP then the RSAP, had been a leader of the NAS in Rotterdam until 1940. The Rotterdam group of Communisten was formed around him and this group was characterized by an activist spirit until the end of the war. Other militants had a political past marked not so much by unionism but by left socialism and even the MLL Front. Such was the case of Stan Poppe.
Stan Poppe had played an important role in the OSP. He was in the leadership of this party as Secretary. At the fusion with the RSP, he became a member of the political bureau of the RSAP. Elected Secretary-Treasurer of this party, he was delegated - with Menlst - in December to the Conference of the Centre for the IVth International. A member of the political bureau in 1938, he was one of the leaders of the MLL Front in 1940. In the Front and later in the Communisten Spartacusbond, he was known under the name of Fjeerd Woudstra. Very oriented towards economic study, his political orientation was still a mixture of Leninism and councilism.
Most militants came from the old RSAP without going through the Trotskyist movement which was very weak in Holland anyway. Many of them continued to work in the Bond after the war, most of them until the end of their lives: Bertus Nansink, Jaap van Otterloo, Jaap Meulenkamp, Cees van der Kull, Wlebe van der Wal, Jan Vastenhouw, were these kind of militants.
But for two more years, the evolution of Spartacus contained political ambiguities which proved that the spirit of the RSAP had not totally disappeared. The old left socialist reflexes still showed through in contacts with a Social Democratic group which had left the SDAP at the beginning of the war and whose dominant personality was W. Romljn. At the end of 1943, under the pseudonym Soclus, Romljn wrote a pamphlet where he ‘tactically' supported the military struggle of the Allies. Spartacus strongly attacked this position and gave up the idea of negotiations for fusion with Romljn. But the very fact that there were proposals for fusion with this group showed that the Bond had no class analysis of Social Democracy. In this, ‘Spartacus' was very far from council communism which had always denounced socialist groups of the right and left as counter-revolutionary and bourgeois. This persistence in looking for contacts with left socialists could still be seen in November 1944, when for a time common work was done with the De Vonk work which finally failed because of the political divergences.
As for the Trotskyist current, although the organizational break was completed, the same was not true ideologically with these left tendencies. Poppe had two meetings in 1944 with the group ‘Against the Stream' (Tegen de Stroom, led by Vereeken). Although this group rejected the defense of Russia in June 1941, it remained linked to the French Communist Internationalist Committee of Henri Molinier. It joined the IVth International after the war. More significantly was the fact that even within the Spartacus Bond, the last hesitations on the defense of Russia were not totally eliminated. A small part of the organization - which was against the defense of the Russian camp in World War II - took a stand in favor of this defense in case of a third world war between the western Allies and the USSR.
For two years - until the theoretical contribution of the ex-GIC became preponderant - the Bond tried to clarify its political positions. Its activity consisted in large part in carrying out theoretical work, in the form of pamphlets. This work rested in large part on the shoulders of Bertus Nansink and above all of Stan Poppe.
Stan Poppe's pamphlet on Perspectives of Imperialism after the War in Europe and the Task of Socialist-Revolutionaries was written in December 1943 and appeared in January 1944. This text was very influenced by Lenin's book Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism and claimed a continuity with the ‘scientific socialism of Marx, Engels and Lenin' but not Rosa Luxemburg. It tried to define the evolution of capitalism and develop revolutionary perspectives for the proletariat.
The cause of the world war was attributed to ‘the general crisis of capitalism' since 1914. In a Leninist way, Poppe defined the new period as a crisis of ‘imperialist monopoly':
"This last and highest phase was defined by Lenin as imperialism. Imperialism is the political expression of a society producing in a capitalist-monopoly mode."
This reference to Lenin is particularly interesting when we think of how the ‘councilists' of Spartacus would define themselves as anti-Leninists in the future.
However, a certain amount of theoretical reflection can be discerned below the surface of these somewhat scholastic references to Lenin. Poppe saw the crisis as a crisis of overproduction. This led to state capitalism, the end-product of the monopoly stage, which gave rise to the arms economy. The latter invades all of production and "the (capitalist) system can only be propped up by war or production for war". In this text Poppe does not refer to Russia as state capitalist. On the contrary, he asserts that the USSR "is outside the hold of monopoly capitalist production and of the domination of the market"; Russia is "the only state organized adversary of imperialism". Such a statement is all the more surprising because in the MLL Front Poppe was one of those who considered Russia as state capitalist. The denunciation of state capitalist measures in all countries, "whether they be democratic or autocratic, republican or monarchical", except in Russia, is thus a notable contradiction in this text.
The analysis of the conflict in Europe was more lucid: "the war is ending. The military defeat of Germany and its allies is no longer speculation but a fact of life ..." Paradoxically Poppe thought that the second world war would be extended into a third world war in Asia, pitting Japan against the Anglo-American camp for the control of the colonies.
Somewhat like Bordiga after 1945, Poppe thought the war was leading to the political fascisation of the western democracies:
"On the level of foreign policy, the imperialist war is the other side of the monopolistic exploitation of labor power. In domestic policy, bourgeois democracy, corresponding to the same social order, is like fascism."
In the case of a revolutionary crisis, the democracies will see "their own future" in fascism. If there is no such revolutionary crisis, a form of neo-fascist economy will be imposed: "In words, there will be no more fascism but in fact we will live in the second golden age of fascism. At the heart of the neo-fascist social policy will be a constant decline in the workers' standard of living, the necessary consequence of deflationary policies."
With the example of the thirties in his mind, Poppe thought that the open crisis of capitalism would continue after the war: "there will be no reconstruction or else a very short and limited one". The alternative for the proletariat was "either socialism or a fall into barbarism", either proletarian revolution or war. But the text does not go into any prognosis. It emphasizes that the war "for the conquest of Indonesia and the Far East" implies "an inevitable war against the Soviet Union itself", either in the course of ‘third' war in the Orient or a ‘fourth' world war.
Nevertheless, "the general crisis of capitalism ripens the revolutionary crisis of the system". This does not mean to imply that "the revolution arises automatically". It "depends on the conscious intervention of the revolutionary class during the (revolutionary) process".
Theoretically, Poppe defines the revolution as the dictatorship of the proletariat and the withering away of this "dictatorship and of the state itself". This dictatorship will be a dictatorship of the factory councils which will form "the central councils of power". It is interesting to note that peasant soviets are excluded. In the ‘struggle for power' which is the "struggle for and with the councils", the proletariat of the factories is at the heart of the revolution. It is symptomatic of a Gramscilike factoryist vision that Poppe takes factory occupations like those in Italy in 1920 as his example.
But a separation is made between the revolution of the councils in the industrialized countries and the call for support for ‘national liberation struggles':
"There can be no socialist policy in Europe and America without proclaiming the complete independence of the former colonial peoples."
On the colonial question, Poppe takes Lenin's position on ‘the rights of peoples to self-determination'. It seems that Poppe's position on this did not reflect the opinion of all the militants: in 1940 Jan Vastenhouw, then a member of the MLL Front, firmly attacked Lenin's conception in an internal bulletin.
Poppe goes very far in his analysis. Not only does he consider that "the task (of revolutionary socialists) is of course to call on workers of all countries to get rid of the Japanese in the occupied territories of China and Indonesia" but he also proclaims that this ‘liberation' should be done under the banner of the USSR. Of course Poppe is not talking about a Stalinist USSR but a liberated one - as a result of the workers' councils taking power in Europe - ruled by the workers and peasants who will have overthrown Stalinism. In this vision, a mixture of fantasy and belief, there could be a revolutionary war of ‘national liberation':
"If socialists are correct in their analysis, it means that the Soviet Union will also become the most important factor in the struggle against Japanese imperialism. A Soviet Union that can count on an alliance with the people's councils in power instead of doubtful treaties with capitalist governments; a Soviet Union that enjoys the support of a system of united councils in Europe and the solidarity of the proletariat guided by revolutionary socialism will also be able to expel Japanese imperialism from Mandchu-Kuo and other parts of China and Indonesia - without the help of the British and American armies."
This idea of a war of ‘revolutionary liberation' is akin to the theory of the revolutionary war launched by the Comintern in 1920. One cannot help but notice that Poppe's ‘liberation' from the barrel of a gun was even more ‘national' (if not downright nationalistic) than revolutionary in its offer to "restore the territorial integrity of the Republic of China". He appears to be talking about a bourgeois national revolution, like the wars of the French Revolution, which established rather than destroyed the national framework. Poppe's theory of workers' councils is a national theory of a federated union of councils. The concept of a ‘national liberation struggle' is the corollary of a concept of workers' councils emerging from a national revolution.
The positions of Poppe and the Communistenbond were still at this time very far from the positions of council communism. They were still a mixture of Leninism, Trotskyism and even Gramsci. Until the summer of 1944 the Bond was unable to come to a political position on the nature of the USSR.
It was finally through discussions with former members of the GIC that Spartacus definitively moved towards council communism. Some members of the Bond made contact with Canne-Meijer, BA Sijes, Jan Appel, Theo Massen and Bruun van Albada and asked them to work in the Bond. They agreed to contribute theoretically through discussion and texts but they did not in any way wish to dissolve their own group nor immediately join the Bond. They were still very suspicious towards the new organization since it was marked by a Leninist tradition. They wanted to wait and see how far the Bond would evolve towards council communism. Little by little they participated in editorial activities and interventions, with a hybrid status as ‘guests'. They avoided taking positions on organizational matters of the Bond and did not participate in meetings when these questions were on the agenda. But a little before May 1945 they became full members of the organization once political and theoretical agreement had been reached on all sides.
The fruit of this political maturation of the Bond was the pamphlet published in August 1944: De Strijd om de macht (The Struggle for Power). This pamphlet took a stand against any union and parliamentary activity and called for the formation of new anti-union proletarian organs emerging from the spontaneous struggle: factory councils, the basis of the formation of workers' councils. The pamphlet pointed out those changes in the capitalist mode of production had led to structural modifications within the working class and thus required new forms of workers' organizations corresponding to the emergence of a ‘new workers' movement'.
In this pamphlet, and unlike the old GIC, the Bond called for the formation of a revolutionary party an International. However, unlike Trotskyism, the Bond emphasized that such a party could only emerge after the war when the organs of struggle of the proletariat would be formed.
When in May 1945, the Communistenbond Spartacus legally published the first issue of its monthly Spartacus it could no longer be considered a continuation of the MLL Front. With the militant contribution of the members of the GIC, the Bond became a council communist organization. As Canne-Meijer was to write in 1946:
"The present Spartacusbond cannot be seen as a direct continuation from the RSAP. Its composition is different and on many questions its positions are not the same ... Many of those who were part of the RSAP did not join Spartacus; some were attracted by Trotskyists. But they were not numerous because in any case Trotskyists are not very numerous."
Spartacus was the most important revolutionary organization in Holland and bore a heavy political responsibility on an international level in terms of the regroupment of revolutionaries in war-torn Europe, isolated by the Occupation and once again looking for international contacts. This possibility of becoming a pole of regroupment depended on the solidity of the organization, its political and theoretical homogeneity, of a clear will to escape from the linguistic barriers of a small country like Holland.
Numerically, the Bond was relatively strong for a revolutionary organization, especially in a small country. In 1945 it had about 100 members. It had a monthly theoretical review as well as a weekly paper printing 6,000 copies. It was present in most large cities, and in particular in the workers' centers of Amsterdam and Rotterdam where the council communist tradition was real.
But the organization was far from being homogeneous. It regrouped former members of the MLL Front and the GIC, but also syndicalists from the pre-war NAS. Anarchists were also in the Bond from the old ‘Libertarian Socialist Movement'. Many young people also joined Spartacus but without political experience or theoretical formation. It was thus a union of different origins but not really the fusion which could represent the basis for the creation of a homogeneous organization. Centrifugal tendencies were very strong as we will see later on. Libertarian elements carried with them anti-organizational conceptions. The ex-Syndicalists around de Toon van den Berg in Rotterdam were very activist and workerist. Their conception was more syndicalist than political. On the other hand, the young people had a propensity to follow along after one or the other tendency, mostly the first, because of their political immaturity.
Organizationally, the Bond had nothing to do with the old GIC which had seen itself as a federation of working groups. The Bond was a centralized organization and remained so until 1947. Its organization was composed of nuclei (kerne) or local sections of six members, and then city-wide or territorial sections. An executive committee of five members represented the organization to the outside world and was responsible to the Congress of the Bond which was the sovereign body. As with any revolutionary organization worthy of its name, it had elected working bodies: a political commission regrouping the editorial staff and responsible for political questions; an organization commission for current questions; a control commission responsible for verifying that decisions taken were indeed applied; a financial control commission. In 1945 there were between 21 to 27 people in the central organs.
The basis for joining was clearly defined by the statutes adopted in October 1945. The Bond put a very high value on the organization and accepted new members only with the greatest prudence and demanded of them "the discipline of a democratic centralist party". In fact, the Bond followed the tradition of the KAPD. But Communistenbond took over certain aspects of this tradition which were the least favorable for its work. The Bond was centralized by its organs but decentralized on a local level. It considered that each "nuclei was autonomous in its own region". Aiming at a ‘decentralization of work', it was inevitable that this decentralization clashed with the centralism of the organization.
At the same time, the Bond maintained certain conceptions of organization which had flourished during the period of mass political organizations. The organization was still seen as an organization of ‘cadres': hence the formation, decided at the conference of 21/22 July 1945, of a ‘school of marxist cadres'. It was not totally unitary: at its periphery there were the ‘Associations of Friends of Spartacus' (VSV). The VSV was the Bond's autonomous youth organization. Composed of young people between 20 and 25, this parallel organization was in fact an organization of young sympathizers. Although it had no duties vis-a-vis the Bond, it had to participate in propaganda and make financial contributions. Such a hazy line between militants and sympathizers helped to strengthen the centrifugal tendencies that existed within the organization.
Another example of the weight of the past was the creation in August 1945 of a ‘Workers' Aid' (Arbeidershulp). The idea was to set up, in the enterprises, an organ, or rather an assistance fund, to give financial aid to workers on strike. Underlying it was the notion that the Communistenbond had to direct the workers' struggle by substituting itself for their spontaneous efforts at self-organization. Nevertheless, this ‘Workers' Aid' only had a brief existence. The discussion on the party which took place throughout the Bond led to a more precise view of the nature and function of the political organization of revolutionaries.
Spartacus thought that the workers' struggles which broke out at the end of the war would open up a revolutionary period, if not immediately then at least in the future. In April 1945 the Bond's conference proclaimed the necessity for a party and the provisional character of its existence as a national organization:
"The Bond is a provisional organization of marxists, oriented towards the formation of a real international communist party, which will have to arise from the struggle of the working class."
It's noteworthy that this declaration posed the question of the birth of a party in the revolutionary period. Such a conception was the opposite to that of the Trotskyists in the 1930s, and then the Bordigists after 1945, who saw the question of when the party is formed as a secondary issue and considered that the party was a product of mere will. It was enough to ‘proclaim' it for it to exist. No less noteworthy was the ‘Inaugural Address' - voted at the July Conference - to internationalist revolutionary groups. It excluded the Trotskyist CRM of Holland, with whom the conference broke all contact, because of their position of ‘defense of the USSR'. It was an appeal for the regroupment of the different groups of the communist left, those who rejected the idea of the party taking power:
"It is in and through the movement itself that a new communist international can be born, with the participation of the communists of all countries, free of bureaucratic domination but also of any pretensions towards taking power for it itself."
It must be said however that this appeal for the regroupment of internationalist revolutionaries only gave rise to some limited measures. The conference decided to set up a secretariat for information in Brussels, the task of which would be to make contact with various groups and edit an information bulletin. At the same time there was a very brief revival of contact with the Vereeken group. It was clear that the positions of his group ‘Against the Stream' (Tegen de Stroom) were incompatible with those of the Bond. But the very fact of reviving contact showed an absence of political criteria for demarcating internationalist communist groups from confused or anarchist groups. This same absence of criteria could be seen again in 1947, at an international conference held in Brussels.
The Bond's preparation for the emergence of a party implied a greater homogeneity in the organization on the theoretical conception of the party. This is why the ‘Theses on the Task and Nature of the Party' were written for the Congress of 24-26 December 1945. They were adopted by the Congress and published as a pamphlet in January 1946. It is very significant that they were written by a former member of the GIC: Bruun van Albada. This fact itself showed the unanimity which then existed in the Bond on the question, and above all expressed an explicit rejection of the conceptions which had reigned in the GIC during the thirties.
The holding of public meetings on the theme of the party during the course of 1946 showed the importance that the organization accorded to the Theses.
The Theses are centered around the change in the function of the party between the period of capitalism's ascendance - described as the period of ‘liberal capitalism' - and the period of decadence that followed the first world war, the period of the domination of state capitalism. Although the concepts of the ascendance and decadence of capitalism are not used, the text strongly underlines the change in historic period, which implied a need to go beyond the old conceptions of the party:
"The present critique of the old parties is not just a critique of their political practice or of what their leaders get up to, but is a critique of the entire old conception of the party. It is a direct consequence of changes in the structure and objectives of the mass movement. The task of the (revolutionary) party is in its activity within the mass movement of the proletariat."
The Theses in a historical manner showed that the conception of a workers' party acting on the model of the bourgeois parties of the French revolution and not distinct from other social strata became obsolete with the Paris Commune. The party does not aim for the conquest of the state but for its destruction:
"In this period of the development of mass action, the political party of the working class had to play a much broader role. Because the workers had not yet become the overwhelming majority of the population, the political party still appeared as the organization necessary for mobilizing the majority of the population behind the action of the workers, in the same way that the bourgeois party acted in the bourgeois revolution. Because the proletarian party had to be at the head of the state, the proletariat had to conquer the state."
Showing the evolution of capitalism after 1900 "the period of growing prosperity for capitalism", the Theses traced the development of reformism in social democracy. They had a tendency to reject the parties of the IInd International after 1900, given their evolution towards parliamentary and union opportunism. And they ignored the reaction of the revolutionary left within these parties (Lenin, Luxemburg, Pannekoek). Demonstrating very clearly that classical social democracy only had a "semblance of real democracy" and that there was a "complete split between the mass of members and the party leadership", the Theses came to a negative conclusion and failed to show the positive contribution these organizations had made to the workers' movement of the time:
"The political party ceased being a formation of working class power. It became the diplomatic representative of the workers inside capitalist society. It participated as a loyal opposition in parliament, in the organization of capitalist society."
The First World War opened up a new period, the period of the proletarian revolution. The Theses considered that it was the absolute pauperisation of the proletariat and not the change in period which was at the origin of the revolution. From this standpoint it was hard to see how the revolutionary period of 1917-23 differed from that of 1848, a period of ‘absolute pauperization' characteristic of the situation of a nascent proletariat:
"The outbreak of the world war meant that the phase of relative pauperization was followed by that of absolute pauperization. This new evolution forced the workers into a revolutionary opposition against capital. Thus, at the same time, the workers entered into conflict with social democracy."
The Theses did not fail to underline the positive gains of the post-war revolutionary wave: the spontaneous emergence of "enterprise organizations and workers' councils as organs of workers' democracy within the enterprise and as organs of local political democracy". But the Theses minimized the revolutionary significance of 1917 in Russia: all they seem to retain of 1917 is what happened afterwards - the counterrevolution and state capitalism. They even saw the Stalinist counter-revolution originating in the revolution itself. The process of degeneration was denied and the Russian workers made responsible for the failure of the Russian revolution. Thus the development of ‘state socialism' (ie state capitalism) was seen as the "result of the revolutionary struggle of the peasants and workers".
However, the Theses were quite lucid about the pernicious effect of the confusion between socialism and state capitalism in the workers' minds at that time. This confusion got in the way of a full maturation of revolutionary consciousness: "... through the Russian revolution, the state socialist conception was given a revolutionary aura and this played no small part in preventing the development of a real revolutionary consciousness in the working class."
The implicit rejection of the Russian Revolution and the contribution of the Bolshevik party in 1917 led the author of the Theses to establish an identity between the revolutionary Bolshevism of the beginning, and Stalinism. For him there was no difference between Bolshevism and social democracy, "except in method". The aim of both was an "economy planned by the state".
More marginal was the definition of the role of the party and of revolutionaries in their intervention. Taking up the KAPD's conceptions in the 1920s, the Bond insisted that the role of the party was neither to guide, nor educate nor substitute itself for the working class:
"The role of the party is now restricted to that of an organization of clarification and propaganda. It no longer aspires to rule over the class."
The genesis of the party is tightly linked to the changes in capitalism - where the period "of liberal capitalism is definitively closed" - and to the transformation of the workers' class consciousness. The revolutionary struggle which gives rise to the party is above all a struggle against the state, produced by mass action. It is also a conscious struggle for organization: "The state has clearly become the mortal enemy of the working class ... In every case, the workers' struggle involves an irreconcilable opposition to the state, not only the government but the whole (state) apparatus, including the old parties and unions ... There is an indestructible connection between the three elements of the workers' struggle for emancipation: the upsurge of mass action, of organization and of consciousness."
The Theses established a dialectical interaction between the development of the revolutionary organization and the revolutionary struggle: "Thus organization develops materially and spiritually in the struggle; and with organization, the struggle itself develops."
The most significant aspect of the Theses is that they demonstrate the positive role of the revolutionary party in mass movements and define the type of revolutionary militant who corresponds to the new period. The party's field of action is clearly defined:
A. Necessity for the Party: The development of consciousness
The Theses show that the party is necessary, because it is a dialectical product of the development of class consciousness and consequently an active factor in this process of development. Here we are far indeed from the councilist vision that was to develop later on, in which unorganized revolutionaries simply dissolve themselves into the class. Also rejected was the Bordigist view which makes the party a sort of general staff to which the workers are blindly subordinated. The necessity for the party derived not from a relationship of force between this organization and the class, but from an organic relationship between party and class, born out of the development of class consciousness.
"In the process through which consciousness develops in the struggle, where the struggle itself becomes conscious, the party has an important and necessary role to play. In the first place tit supports this development of consciousness. The lessons that are drawn both from victories and defeats - lessons of which the workers, taken separately, are more or less aware - are formulated by the party and disseminated among the masses through its propaganda. The ‘idea', when it seizes hold of the masses, thus becomes a material force.
The party is neither a general staff detached from the masses, nor the ‘thinking brain' of the workers. It is the focus for expressing the growing consciousness of the workers."
While the party and the class have an organic, complementary relationship within the same unity of consciousness, they are not identical. The party is the highest expression of the proletariat's class consciousness - a political and historical consciousness, not a reflection of the immediate struggle (the immediate consciousness in the class). The party is thus a part of the class.
"A part of the class, the most conscious and formed element in the struggle, the party is the first to be able to understand the dangers that threaten (the workers' struggle), the first to discern the potentiality of the new organs of power. It must struggle within them so that its opinions are used to the full by the workers. It must propagate its positions through words, and then necessary through an intervention in deed, so that its example can advance the class in its struggle."
This conception of the propagandist function of the party "through words and deeds" is identical to that of the KAPD in the 1920s. Here the Bond had almost a voluntarist conception of the party's action, where the example of the party's action is a form of struggle and even a way of inciting struggle. This definition of the party is close to that of Bordiga, for whom the party was a program and a will to action. But for the Dutch Left, the program was less a totality of theoretical and political principles than the formulation of class consciousness, or even the sum of workers' consciousnesses:
"What every workers feels, ie that the situation is intolerable and that it is absolutely necessary to destroy capitalism, must be synthesized by the party in clear formulae."
B. The tasks of the Party: Theory and Praxis
For the Communistenbond, it was clear that there could be no separation between theoretical and practical intervention. Theory was not defined as a sum of individual opinions but as a science. As the Bond had already written in January 1945: "dialectical materialism is not simply the only exact method but also the only universal method of research". Paradoxically, it was the scientist Pannekoek who in his Workers' Councils rejected the idea of materialist scientific theory, considering that an organization expressed various opinions without scientific results and without method. In contrast to the Bond in the 1945-46 period, Pannekoek defended an eclectic method, ie he rejected any method of theoretical investigation, in line with the notion that a sum of units gives you a totality. As he put it: "in each of these diverse thoughts you can find a greater or lesser portion of truth". In contrast to this, the Theses affirmed that:
"Questions must be examined in their coherence; the results must be presented in their scientific clarity and determinism."
From this method derived the tasks of the party in the proletariat:
-- the task of ‘enlightenment' and not of organization, the latter being the task of the workers in struggle. The function of organizing the class disappeared in favor of the task of clarifying the struggle. This clarification was defined negatively as an ideological and practical struggle against "all the pernicious attempts of the bourgeoisie and its accomplices to contaminate the workers' organization with its own influence";
-- the task of "practical intervention in the class struggle". Realizing this task stems from the party's understanding that it cannot "carry out the workers' functions on their behalf":
"(The party) can only intervene as a part of the class and not in contradiction with it. Its position in its intervention is solely to contribute to the deepening and extension of the power of the democracy of the councils ...".
This function of the party didn't imply passivity. In contrast to the ‘councilists' of the fifties and sixties, the Spartacusbond had no fear of affirming itself as a ‘motor' of the class struggle, taking initiatives that compensated for the hesitations of the workers:
"... when the workers hesitate to take certain measures, members of the party can, as revolutionary industrial workers, take the initiative and they even have a duty to do so when it is possible and necessary to accomplish these measures. When the workers want to abrogate the decision to take action to a union representative, conscious communists must take the initiative for an intervention by the workers themselves. When, in a more developed phase of the struggle, the enterprise organizations and the workers' councils hesitate about a problem of organizing the economy, conscious communists must not only show them the necessity for such organization; they must also study these questions themselves and convene enterprise assemblies to discuss them. Thus, their activity unfolds within the struggle and as a motor to the struggle when it stagnates or threatens to be diverted into a dead-end."
We can see here a somewhat ouvrierist interpretation of intervention in the workers' councils. The idea that party members intervene as ‘industrial workers' seems to exclude the possibility that ‘conscious communists' of an intellectual origin can defend their point of view in front of the workers as party members. By this token Marx, Lenin, and Engels would be excluded. We know that in 1918 Rosa Luxemburg was deprived of the ‘right' to intervene in the Berlin Central Council on the pretext that she was an ‘intellectual'. Those who defended the motion excluding her were SPD members who were quite aware of Luxemburg's political weight. Here, the Theses seem to hold that the ‘intellectual' members of the party are foreign to the proletariat, even though the party is defined as "a part of the class".
At the same time, it is characteristic that the intervention of the party in the councils is straightaway centered round the economic problems of the period of transition: the management of production and the "organization of the economy through the democracy of the workers' councils, the base of which is calculation of labor time." In insisting that "the necessity of organizing a planned communist economy must be clearly demonstrated", the Spartacusbond showed a tendency to underestimate the political problems which would first be posed in the proletarian revolution, ie the seizure of power by the councils, the precondition for the period of transition to communism.
C. The functioning of the Party
The Theses were silent on the question of the centralization of the party. Neither the question of fractions and tendencies, nor that of internal democracy, were posed. The Bond showed a tendency to idealize the homogeneity of the party. Just like the Bordigist Internationalist Communist Party after the war, it did not conceive that divergences might appear within the organization. But while the Bordigist party found ‘guarantees' against divergences in an ideal and immutable ‘program', the Spartacusbond thought it had found them in the existence of ideal militants. According to the Bond a militant was someone who was always capable of being autonomous in his understanding and his judgment:
"(The party members) must be autonomous workers, with their own capacity for understanding and judging ..."
This definition of the militant appears as a ‘categorical imperative', an individual ethic within the party. It must be stressed that the Bond thought that an entirely proletarian composition and the high quality of each militant would shield the party from the risk of bureaucratic degeneration. However, it has to be said that parties composed overwhelmingly of workers, like the CPs in the twenties and thirties, were not shielded from Stalinist bureaucratization and that the organization of the party by factory cells stifled the militants' political capacity for "understanding and judgment", even that of the best militants. Furthermore, in a revolutionary party, there is no formal equality in everyone's capacities: real equality exists on the political level because the party is above all a political body whose cohesion is reflected in each one of its members. It is this body which enables its militants to tend individually towards political and theoretical homogeneity.
More profound is the Bond's rejection of a zombie-like Jesuit discipline - as in the famous watchword of the Society of Jesus ‘perinde ac cadaver' -which breaks the profound convictions of each militant:
"Adhering to the main general conceptions of the party, which are also their own conceptions, (the militants) must defend and apply them in all circumstances. They do not follow a zombie-like discipline, submitting to decisions without any will of their own. They only obey out of a deep conviction, based on a fundamental conception. In case of a conflict within the organization, it's conviction that settles things."
Thus the conception was of a freely consented organizational discipline, based on the defense of the party's main positions. It was this notion of discipline that was to be rejected a few years later by the Bond on the pretext that it infringed the free activity of each member as a "free man who thinks for himself".
There is a very important idea contained in the Theses. The party is not just a program, but is composed of men animated by a revolutionary passion. This passion, which the Bond called ‘conviction', was to protect the party from any tendency towards degeneration:
"This self-activity of the members, this general education and conscious participation in the workers' struggle makes it impossible for any bureaucracy to arise in the party. On the organizational level, there can be no effective measures against this (danger) if this self activity and education are missing. In that case the party can no longer be seen as a communist party. In a real communist party, whose fundamental idea is the self-activity of the class, this idea is incarnated in the flesh and bones of each one of its members. A party with a communist program can end up degenerating, perhaps; a party composed of communists, never."
Traumatized by the Russian experience, the Bond thought that militant will and theoretical formation constituted sufficient guarantees against the threat of degeneration. It thus tended to build up the image of a pure militant not subjected individually to the pressure of bourgeois ideology. Holding that the party is a sum of individuals following a ‘higher calling', the Theses express a certain voluntarism, even a naive idealism. The separation between the program, which is the fruit of constant theoretical research, and militant will, led to the rejection of the idea of a party as a programmatic and organic body. If the party is just a sum of individual wills, it can no longer be an organ irrigating the totality of its militant cells. A couple of years later, the Bond was to push this separation to an extreme.
D. The link with the class
Born out of the mass action of the proletariat, the party can in the end only find ‘guarantees' through its links with the proletariat.
"When this link doesn't exist, when the party is an organ which situates itself outside the class, there is no choice but to put oneself outside the class in a defeatist manner, or to force its leadership on the class. Thus, the party can only be truly revolutionary if it is anchored in the masses to such an extent that its activity is not, in general, distinct from that of the proletariat, and if the will, the aspirations and the conscious understanding of the working class are crystallized in the party."
In this definition the link with the class seems contradictory. The party catalyses the consciousness of the class in struggle and simultaneously fuses with the proletariat. The Bond only sees any contradiction between party and class when there is a process of degeneration, when the ‘link' is lost. The reason for this is that the revolutionaries of that period were haunted by the fear of a repetition of the horrors of the counter-revolution in Russia. But it needs to be said that the correspondence between the historic goals of the proletariat and those of the party doesn't mean a fusion. The history of the workers' movement, in particular, the Russian and German revolutions, is the history of the tormented relationship between party and class. In a revolutionary period, the party can be in disagreement with the actions of the class; thus in July 1917 the Bolsheviks were in disagreement with the working masses of Petrograd who wanted prematurely to take power. And like Luxemburg's Spartacusbund, the party can also be in agreement with the ‘will of the masses' when they are anxious to take power, as in Berlin 1919, which ended in the decapitation of the party. In fact, the ‘fusion' between party and masses is rarely achieved. Even in a revolutionary period and much more so in a counter-revolutionary phase, the party often has to go ‘against the stream' rather than with it. While being a ‘part of the class' - as the Theses put it - it is distinct from the totality of the class as long as its principles and its activity are not fully accepted by the mass of workers, or even encounter their hostility.
E. Party and state in the revolution
The Theses of December 1945 did not raise the problem of the relationship between party and state after the seizure of power. The question was raised within the Bond and in March 1946 there appeared a pamphlet which devoted a chapter to this problem: ‘Van slavenmaatschannij tot arbeidersmacht' ('From slave society to workers' power'). It affirmed that the party can neither take power nor ‘govern' the workers. Indeed, "whatever party forms the government, it must govern against men, for capital and a bureaucracy". This is why the party, which acts within the workers' councils, is distinct from the state:
"It is a very different party from those of bourgeois society. It does not itself participate in any form of power ... the proletarian seizure of power is neither the conquest of the state government by a ‘workers' party' nor the participation of such a party in a state government ... the state as such is by essence completely alien to the power of the workers; thus the forms of organization of workers' power have none of the characteristics of the exertion of power by the state."
But in 1946, in contrast to what happened later, it was Pannekoek who was influenced by the Communistenbond! In his Five Theses on the Class Struggle he affirmed - in contrast with his previous position -"that the work of (revolutionary) parties was an indispensable part of the self-emancipation of the working class", It's true that he reduced the function of these parties to a purely theoretical and propagandist one:
"It's the parties who have the second function (the first being the ‘conquest of political power'- ed), that is to disseminate knowledge and ideas, to study, discuss and formulate social ideas and enlighten the minds of the masses through propaganda."
The divergences which appeared in the Bond on the conception of the party - during the preparation for the Christmas 1945 Congress - were more in the nature of nuances than a rejection of the Theses. In any case, they were a rejection of Pannekoek's educationist theory. In another set of draft Theses - accepted by two members out of five of the political commission - it was stressed that "the new party is not the educator of the class". This draft aimed mainly at making more precise certain points that were somewhat vague in ‘Taak en Wezen van de nieuwe Partij'. In the first place - to clearly mark the break with Sneevliet's RSAP - ‘tactical' participation in parliament was firmly rejected: "The party does not of course participate in any parliamentary activity." In the second place, the author of the draft saw in the Theses a return to the activist conceptions of the KAPD, or rather of ‘leadership' tendencies in the mass struggle:
"The party does not lead any action and, as a party, does not conduct any action of the class. It's task is precisely to combat any subordination of the class, and its movements, to the leadership of a political group."
In this spirit, the new party "does not recognize any ‘leaders'; it simply executes the decisions of its members ... As long as a decision subsists, it is valid for all members."
(to be continued)
 Of Sneevliet's two sons, one committed suicide and the other died in Spain with the POUM militia fighting under the banner of anti-fascism, a victim of the positions of the RSAP.
 The Munis group, exiled in Mexico during the war, took internationalist positions on the nondefense of Russia. The RKD also came from Trotskyism and was composed of French and Austrian militants. It worked with the French Fraction of the Communist Left at the end of the war. Little by little it went towards anarchism and disappeared in 1948-49.
 The studies of Max Pesthus and Wim Bot on the MLL Front based on studies of German archives in Holland give no basis for this hypothesis.
 Winkel in his book De Ondergrondse pers 1940-45 (Hague 1954) asserts that the ex-head of the KAPN and friend of Gorter, Bavend Luteraan was the editor of the CRM. It seems that during the war Luteraan created his own group on the basis of Trotskyist positions. After the war, he became a member of the Dutch Social Democracy (Labor Party).
 The ‘Bolshevik-Leninist Group' was constituted on the basis of the positions of the IVth International in 1938 and disappeared during the war, after the arrest of the leadership. The CRM proclaimed itself a party in December 1945, even though very small, under the name Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). It published the weekly De Tribune which had nothing to do with the Tribunism of the SPD in the days of Gorter.
 After the war, suspicion fell on Stan Poppe. Sneevliet had been arrested after his visit to Poppe. In the Sneevliet trial records it was said that Sneevliet was arrested "with Poppe's help". An enquiry commission was formed in 1950 made up of the RCP, Communistenbond and a small independent union, the OVB. The commission unanimously arrived at the conclusion that Poppe's attitude was above reproach and that no blame could fall on him.
 300,000 people out of a population of 6 million inhabitants lived in clandestinity with false papers and false ration cards in Holland.
 See Spartacus, Bulletin van de revolutionairsocialistische Arbeidersbeweging in Nederland, Jan 1944.
 See Vereeken, Le Guipeau dans le mouvement Trotskyiste, Paris 1975, 1st chapter.
 See Spartacus no.4, Oct.1942 and in the same review, the issue of Feb.1944 in the article ‘De Sowiet-Unie en Wij' (the Soviet Union and US).
 ‘De perspectiven van het imperialisme na de vorlag in Europa en de taak van de revolutionaire socialisten' Dec 43. It is remarkable that this pamphlet whose theses are very far from council communism is given as the political basis of the Bond in 1945 without any criticism of the theses. See Spartacus Maanschrift voor de revolutionair-socialistische Arbeidersbeweging, May 1945, Beschonwingen over de situatie: de balans.
 See Prometeo, no.3, Oct.1946, ‘Le Prospettiva del dopoguerra in relazione alle piattaforma del Partito' (Post-war Perspectives in relation to the Party Platform). The author of this article, Bordiga, asserts that "western democracies are gradually moving towards totalitarian and fascist forms". In using these terms, Bordiga, like the Dutch Left, meant to emphasize the state capitalist tendencies in the countries of Western Europe.
 The Bond published a study of factory occupations in Italy ‘Een bedrijfsbezetting' (‘Factory Occupations') in its theoretical review Maanblad Spartacus in 1945 (nos. 9 & 12). This study asserts that in 1920 "The factories formed a unity which was not attached to a party as a union". "the movement ended with a compromise between the bosses and the unions". The text showed that factory occupations are not enough and that there must be workers' councils whose "first task is not managing industry but organizing struggle. A period of war will exist - civil war". This criticism of the factory occupations in Italy is very different from the factoryist view of ‘production management' by the councils defended later in the Bond by Pannekoek.
 For the history of the fusion between the ex-GIC and the Communistenbond, a letter from Canne Meijer of 30 June, 1946, to the paper Le Proletaire (RKD-CR) provides some useful details. In 1944 Canne Meijer wrote a discussion text on workers' democracy entitled ‘Arbeiders-democratie in de bedrijven', in Spartacus, no.1, Jan. 1945. Bruun van Albada published a study of the marxist method as a scientific, dialectical method of investigation: ‘Het marxisme als methode van onderzoek'.
 "... they were only ‘guests' (Canne Meijer notes in the same letter) doing all the work ... along with the comrades of the Bond but they took care not to interfere organizationally."
 In 1943 and 1944, however, members of the Bond participated in the creation of a little clandestine union Eenheidsvakbewweging. For the history of this union, see De Eenheidsvakcentrale (EVC) 1943-48. Groningen, 1976, by Coomans, T. de Jonge and E. Nijhof.
 In the letter of 30 June 1946, already mentioned, Canne Meijer thought that the Bond was part of the development of a "new workers' movement which was not an ‘opposition' to the old one, nor its ‘left', nor its ‘ultra-left' but a movement with another basis."
 Letter of Canne-Meijer in 27 June 1946, in the paper Le Proletaire. In 1946 the circulation of Spartacus fell to 4000 copies.
 The Statutes are in the internal bulletin of the Bond Uit eigen kring (In our circle), no.5, Oct.1945.
 A decision of the Conference of 21-22 July 1945, where twenty-one militants of the ‘Kerne' of Leiden, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, HilversumBussum were present. See Uit eigen Kring, no.2, August 1945.
 "The nucleus is autonomous in its own circle. It decides the admission and exclusion of its members. The central Executive Commission must first be consulted for admissions and exclusions". By this point of the Statutes, the autonomy of the nuclei remained limited in theory, all the more so because organizational discipline was affirmed: "The nucleus (main nucleus) are supposed to observe the decisions made by the Conference of the Bond and disseminate the principles of the Bond, as they are established by the Conferences of the Bond."
 Uit eigen kring, no.l, April 1945.
 Uit eigen kring, no.2, August 1945:
"The conference agrees to reject any collaboration with the CRM. The decision is made not to hold any discussion with the CRM."
 Uit eigen kring no.4, August 1945, draft inaugural address "to the manual and intellectual workers of all countries".
 The proposal to establish an information secretariat in Brussels came from ‘Against the Stream' and the Communisten Centre. The conference agreed. (Cf Uit eigen kring no.2, August 1945, point 8 of the resolution)
 The Theses, which was one of three draft Theses, appeared in Uit eigen kring, no.8, Dec. 1945, then as a pamphlet in January 1946. The two other drafts were put under discussion without being rejected.
 The Theses weren't questioned until 1951. Draft amendments were submitted to the organization by the Amsterdam group. (Cf Uit Eigen kring, 20 October 1951.
 In 1943, Pannekoek himself, despite his analysis of the Russian Revolution as ‘bourgeois' showed that October 1917 had a positive effect on class consciousness:
"Then, like a shining star in a sombre sky, the Russian Revolution illuminated the whole earth. Everywhere hope came to the masses. They became less receptive to their masters' orders, because they heard the appeals coming out of Russia; appeals to end the war, appeals for fraternity between the workers of all countries, appeals for the world revolution against capitalism." (The Workers' Councils)
 Cf Bordiga in Party and Class, 1921 (republished in Le Fils du Temps, no.8, Oct.1971): "A party lives when there lives a doctrine and a method of action. A party is a school of political thought and, consequently, an organization of struggle. First of all, there is a factor of consciousness; then a factor of will, or more exactly, a tendency towards a final goal."
 Cf Spartacus, Maandschrift voor de Revolutionaire-socialistische Arbeidersbeweging, no.l, ‘Het marxisme als methode van onderzoek', an article written by Van Albada, who was an astronomer.
 cf The Workers' Councils.
 Bordiga's Internationalist Communist Party saw itself as a ‘monolithic' party in which no ‘liberty of theory' could exist. Internal debates were made impossible by the ‘organic centralism' of a leadership which saw marxism as a matter of ‘conserving the doctrine'. In the Bond, internal debates existed, but its statutes did not define the framework in which they had to take place.
 Cf Bordiga, L'Unita, no.172, 26 July 1925:
"... leaders of a working class origin have shown themselves to be at least as capable as the intellectuals of opportunism and, in general, more susceptible to being absorbed by bourgeois influences ... We say that the worker, in the factory cell, will tend to discuss only particular questions of interest to the workers in his enterprise."
 A second set of draft theses on the party raised this question. It explicitly rejected the idea of the party taking and exercising power. Cf ‘Stellingen, taak en wezen van de Partij', thesis 9, in Uit eigen kring, no.7, Dec.1945.
 The pamphlet was one of the programmatic foundations of the Bond. It examined the question of power through the evolution of class societies from antiquity to capitalist society.
 Pannekoek's ‘Five Theses' were republished by Informations et Correspondence Ouvriere (ICO) in the pamphlet: The Generalized Strike in France, May-June 1968, supplement to ICO, no.72.
 Uit eigen kring, no.7, Dec.1945, ‘Stellingen over begrip en wezen van de partij' (‘Theses on the concept and essence of the party'). These Theses formed the third draft submitted to discussion by the Bond's Congress.