Cajo Brendel Meetings in Germany

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Through his exposes and his contributions to the discussions, Cajo Brendel proved, in our opinion, that the 'classic' positions of the German-Dutch left have lost none of their relevance even if, as Brendel asserted, along with Marx, "our theory is not a dogma but a guide to action". As has long been the case with, what can be called "the Dutch can be called "the Dutch school of marxism", which was animated by, among others, Anton Pannekoek and Hermann Gorter, comrade Brendel denounced the bourgeois character of parliamentarism, the trade unions, and social democracy, and the state capitalist nature of the former eastern bloc. And while the state capitalist currents like Stalinism and Trotskyism have welcomed the new "Red-Green" government in Germany as a step forward for the working class, Brendel showed the profoundly anti-working class nature of this government.

With regard to the "voluntarism" that has become fashionable today, Brendel explained that it's not enough just to want the revolution. Revolution presupposes the objective economic and social crisis of the system.

Understanding the 20th century and the question of determinism

Cajo Brendel's positions gave rise to some controversial discussions, as was his intention. The question was raised of integrating the major events of the 20th century into an overall understanding of the historic period and of the balance of forces between the classes. For Brendel, a victorious proletarian revolution in Spain in the 1930s was not possible above all because modern capitalism had not yause modern capitalism had not yet arrived in Spain (for a detailed presentation of Brendel's position on Spain, see the pamphlet (written with Henri Simon) "From anti-Francoism to after-Francoism: political illusions and the class struggle" - Editions Spartacus).

For Brendel, there are certain parallels between Spain in the 30s and Russia in 1917: in both cases these were bourgeois revolutions.

A participant remarked that Spain in the 1930s was still an essentially agrarian country but that agriculture like industry functioned on a capitalist basis. The main criticism of Brendel's conception, for whom the bourgeois revolution was still on the agenda at that time in Spain, was raised by comrades of the former group "The Social Revolution is not a Party Matter" (founded in Germany after 1968, this group was in its time the first left communist organisation in Germany for decades, even if it only had an ephemeral existence). These comrades declared that Cajo Brendel was only seeing the events in themselves, isolated from the international and historical framework. The question of why the workers' struggles in Spain had not given rise to workers' councils and were doomed to defeat can only be explained with reference to the international situatince to the international situation. The workers' councils in Russia, in Germany and central Europe which arose at the end of the first world war, the comrades argued, proved that the proletarian revolution was on the agenda, not locally but on a world scale.

The comrades in Berlin subjected Brendel's position to another important criticism: the fact that the revolutionary struggle ended in defeat does not in itself mean that the proletarian revolution is not on the historical agenda. There cannot be a proletarian revolution without the objective conditions for it being ripe. But objective conditions alone are not enough to guarantee its success. By underestimating the question of the development of revolutionary consciousness within the working class - a consciousness which in 1917-18 was on the rise but then clearly went into retreat (this was the reason why the Spanish workers could relatively easily be mobilised onto the terrain of bourgeois democracy) - Cajo Brendel, in our opinion, is the victim of a determinist conception.

At this public meeting, the ICC declared itself to be in agreement with the former Social Revolution comrades. In fact, the council communist branch of the communist left, as defended by Cajo Brendel, had, on the question of the Russian ree question of the Russian revolution, fallen into the old conception of Kautsky and the Mensheviks, according to which, owing to the backward state of Russia in 1917, only a bourgeois revolution was on the agenda at the time. But all the revolutionaries of that period, whether Lenin and Luxemburg or Bordiga and Pannekoek, knew that the only possible revolution was the world proletarian revolution.

At the public meeting entitled 'Council communism against Bolshevism', held in Berlin, one participant rightly criticised the theory of 'the collapse of capitalism' which, in the 1920s, led a part of the German-Dutch left to wait for a sudden and objective paralysis of capitalist economic activity on such a scale that the proletariat would be more or less forced to make the revolution. This conception also underestimates the role of class consciousness.

The events in Spain and the decadence of capitalism

The ICC's intervention at the public meeting on the war in Spain focused on the defence of the attitude of the Italian and Dutch left communists towards these events. Both the Italian Fraction in exile around the review Bilan, and the Gruppe Internationale Kommunisten in Holland explained that both the fascist explained that both the fascists under Franco and the Popular Front of the bourgeois left were enemies of the proletariat, and that the contribution of the Stalinists and of the anarchists of the CNT to this defeat was considerable. Bilan and the GIK agreed on the fact that it was no longer the bourgeois revolution that was on the agenda but a bourgeois counter-revolution.

But even Cajo Brendel's group at that time, which published the review Proletarier in the Hague, strictly refused to support the anti-fascist Popular Front. These were the political foundations for the defence of proletarian internationalism - in continuity with Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg - by the communist left during the second world war. We asked Cajo Brendel to take a position on our presentation on the attitude of the left communists. He replied, without going into details, that the starting point of these currents had not been the struggle against both fronts but how to fight fascism in the most effective way. In a letter in which he took position on the first draft of this article dealing with his visit to Germany, Cajo Brendel was more precise about his attitude towards the role of the anarchists in Spain: "It was not the CNT which abandoned the working class but certain anarcho-syndicalist ministers".

Because of this it seems to us that Brendel's view represents a step backwards, not only in relation to the GIK but also to his own position at the time. For us, this political weakness is linked to the rejection of the theory of decadence. When the Communist International was founded in 1919, all the marxists shared the conception that capitalism had entered into its period of decline since 1914. With the victory of the counter-revolution, and above all after the second world war, parts of the communist left - Bordigists as well as council communists - abandoned the theory of decadence.

The question of class consciousness

At the meeting on councilism and Bolshevism, Brendel encountered lively opposition to his assertion that the more workers become conscious, the more they move away from their material interests. Such conceptions, in our view, show the degree to which council communism today has distanced itself from the basic approach of Pannekoek, for whom class consciousness and self-organisation were the only weapons of the working class. And, while the original German-Dutch left passionately supported the necessity for an organised and centralised intervention by revolutionaries, the contemporary viaries, the contemporary view of council communism is that class consciousness only appears and develops in a local, immediate way in day-to-day struggles(1). In this conception, while the unification of revolutionaries in a particular organisation is not excluded, neither is it seen as being very important.

A positive balance sheet

For us, the balance sheet of this series of public meetings organised by Brendel is a positive one. It succeeded it bringing the positions of the communist left to a wider public. Moreover, an authentic image of proletarian discussion was given in these meetings, totally different from the Stalinist and Trotskyist policy of manoeuvring and sabotaging debate. Cajo Brendel, the ICC, the former Social Revolution members, and other sympathisers of the proletarian political milieu, were able to make a common defence of the positions of the communist left. Cajo Brendel's attitude to the discussion was open, polemical, fraternal, and thus profitable to political clarification.

These public meetings not only provided a focus for clarification, but also for political combat. The ruling class followed attentively Brendel's visit to Germany and was prepared for it. Representatives of the lefr it. Representatives of the left wing of capital were present in numbers, but for the most part did not openly intervene under their bourgeois flags. Instead they did all they could to prevent discussion on the historic significance of the political positions of the communist left by diverting attention towards the errors of council communism today.

This fact was a determining element in all the interventions by our organisation. There are of course numerous disagreements between the ICC and Brendel's group Daad en Gedachte; we have debated them publicly in the past and we will continue to do so in the future. But for us what was essential at this meeting was to proclaim and defend together our common political heritage. For us, Cajo Brendel is a part of the proletarian political milieu, a comrade of the communist left. It was thus vital to stand together against the bourgeoisie's attacks and slanders, its attempts to stifle debate. It was vital to prevent the bourgeoisie from hijacking the left communist tradition in order to distort it and emasculate it.

Up till recently the German bourgeoisie has tended to present the German-Dutch left as a radical curiosity of the past, a museum piece of merely academic interest. Recently however the ruling class has identified the ruling class has identified the communist left as a major political enemy. Only a few years ago big European dailies such as Le Monde or the Zeitung Frankfurter Allgemeine put out whole pages of slanders against Amadeo Bordiga's internationalist attitude towards the second world war. And indeed, the resolute defence of internationalism during the war in Spain and the second world war, when anarchism and Trotskyism betrayed the proletarian cause, is the primordial and common characteristic of our tradition - whether we are talking about the 'Dutch', 'Italian' or 'French' left.

And as the events in Iraq and the Balkans show, capitalism today is plunging deeper and deeper into militarism and war. As always in such periods, the 'comrades without a country', the consistent proletarian internationalists, are the most dangerous enemies of the bourgeoisie. We are proud of it.

(from Weltrevolution 92, ICC paper in Germany)

(1) We sent the draft of this article to comrade Brendel so he could make sure that his positions had been accurately represented. It was important for us to avoid any misunderstandings which could only take the debate in a false direction. As regards his position on class consciousness at this series of meetings, comrade Brendel wrote to as follows: "It is really ridiculous to say that 'the question of revolutionary class consciousness within the working class' was omitted. I discussed this the first evening with one of the young women present. I again raised it another evening. Perhaps the ICC people were not present. But it is necessary to avoid such affirmations".