The epigones of “Councilism”

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Part I Spartacusbond haunted by Bolshevik ghosts

The Spartacusbond, a Dutch group from the Council Communist tradition, has recently published two issues of a Bulletin of International Discussion in English. It is certainly encouraging that the Spartacusbond make its ideas more available for those who cannot read Dutch and that they should be actively concerned about participating in international discussion and debate.

Both issues of the Spartacusbond International Discussion Bulletin have been devoted to a critique of our International Communist Current (ICC): the first issue was in answer to an article on international regroupment which appeared in Internationalism (USA), No 5; the second issue applauded Workers Voice's evolution away from our Current and criticized an article on the KAPD which appeared in Revolution Internationale, No 6 and Internationalism No 5.

The article on our international conference in 1974 from Internationalism No 5 stressed the need for a regroupment of revolutionaries in the period of heightened class struggle today. In the past, fifty years of counter-revolution, the defeat of the working class's revolutionary efforts, the mobilization for world war, and the lethargy of the years of reconstruction, had their effects on the revolutionary groups which tried to keep the flame of revolutionary theory alive as contribution to future struggle. The inevitable consequence of this long period of defeat and chaos was the atomization and isolation of revolutionary groups. But a necessity is not a virtue. The fragmentation and isolation of revolutionaries on an international scale is inevitable in defeat but today when the promise of revolution is once again alive in the struggles of the working class all over the world, this isolation of revolutionaries is no longer inevitable. On the contrary, our new period of class struggle has brought - and will bring - a new birth of consciousness in the working class which is already being expressed in the appearance of revolutionary groups and circles all over the world.

The purpose of the Internationalism article was to put forward the idea that:

* revolutionary groups must make the effort to understand and defend the principles of a revolutionary orientation today: they must base their activity on clear class positions.

* that this can only be achieved by understanding the historic dynamic of class struggle today and the lessons of past workers' struggles through international discussion and confrontation of ideas.

* that international discussion must take place within the framework of eventually UNITING our efforts if a clear principled basis is achieved, so that we may contribute to the development of class consciousness in the proletariat through active participation in the struggles of the class.

But where we write "regroupment of revolutionaries" the Spartacusbond sees only the Bolshevik party looming its head once again. "We wonder if the groups at the international conference really want to form a Bolshevik party." (Spartacusbond Bulletin, No l, p 3). For the Spartacusbond, apparently, any international organization has to be a party and any party has to be a Bolshevik one. This self-contained syllogism is in fact a condemnation of any revolutionary work today.... for fear that the demons of the past have not been exorcized.

First of all, it is surprising that Spartacusbond thinks it necessary to ask us whether we are heading towards a Bolshevik party or not. Surely if they have read our publications they must realize that the political platforms on which our activity is based in several countries are clear and unequivocal on the rejection of the Bolshevik conception of the party, both in its relation to the class and its internal structure. One of the basic premises of any possible revolutionary work today is the rejection of the Bolshevik conception of the party; without this basis no further discussion is possible. From its very beginnings, our Current has defended the idea that:

1. The Leninist conception of class consciousness coming from outside the class, from ‘intellectual' elements, is completely false. There can be no separation between being and consciousness, between the proletariat as an economic class and its historic goal of socialism, between the class and its struggles. Political organizations of revolutionaries are a manifestation of the class consciousness developing in the class; they are an emanation of the working class.

Consciousness is not limited to the party; .it exists in the whole class, but not in a homogeneous or simultaneous way. The aim of those who have come to consciousness faster than others in the class is to organize a way to contribute to the heightening of consciousness in the whole class. The party is not the sole repository of conscious­ness as the Bordigist ultra-Leninist conception would have it; it is simply an organized intervention which tends towards the greatest clarity and coherence of class 'perspectives so as to actively contribute to the process of developing consciousness in the class. This is by no means an absolute for all time but a constant effort to strengthen proletarian consciousness.

2. The Leninist conception, shared to one degree or another by all revolutionaries at the beginning of the great revolutionary wave of 1917-23, that the party has to take power ‘in the name of the class' must be rejected. The historical experience of the Russian Revolution shows that this conception leads only to state capitalism, not socialism.

The working class as a whole is the subject of revolution and no minority of the class or outside it can ‘bring' socialism to it, no matter how enlightened it may be or think it is. Socialism is only possible through organized, conscious self-activity of the working class, learning from its own practice and struggle.

The role of the party is not to ‘rule' over the workers in any way, shape or form; nor is it to assume state power. The party's role is to contribute to class consciousness; to the understanding of the general aims and historic purpose of the class struggle. The workers' councils are the instrument for the proletarian dictatorship and not the party.

3. Following Marx in rejecting the anarchist notion of ‘federalism' in revolutionary organization, our Current holds that the international centralization of revolutionary organizations does not mean any loss of democratic procedure within the framework of the political principles of the group. A political group is not a monolith on the Stalinist model and cannot possibly be if it is to express the real debates and discussions of the workers' movement. Comrades do not simply have the ‘right' but the duty to express and clarify all differences freely in the organization, within the framework of its political principles. The Bolsheviks built the party as a quasi-military apparatus because the goal was seen to be the taking of power by the party. This is NOT the goal of the proletarian party and therefore its internal structure must suit the needs of political clarification for which it was created.

These were and are, in short, the principles upon which all the groups in our Current are based. Wondering if we are not just going to become another Bolshevik party shows either that the Spartacusbond does not know our principles or that they feel that some ‘fatal destiny' will turn us into our opposite because despite everything we say or do the Spartacusbond sees the invisible stigmata of death upon us. We can only say that the Spartacusbond has no monopoly of sincere opposition to the Leninist conception of the party. Nor does everyone who rejects the Leninist conception of the party have to end up with the ideas of the Spartacusbond.

The real problem is that our Current is forming an international organi­zation. Not a party, because a party can only be formed in a period of intense and generalized class struggle. But we are building the political and organizational basis for an international regroupment. In rejecting the Leninist conception of organization, the Spartacusbond rejects ALL forms of international organization. "We dispute every idea of the necessity of a party in the workers' struggle" (Bulletin, No 2, p 3) and again: "their presentation (the ICC's) erodes the difference and opposition between party and class." (Bulletin, No 1, p 1) Leninists see the party as outside and above the class; the Spartacusbond accepts this definition as inevitable and true, and therefore rejects all parties. The reasoning is the same, only the conclusions are different.

Throughout the history of the working class movement political organi­zations have been formed, grouping those individuals who defend a given orientation in the class struggle. From Babeuf through the secret societies, the Communist League and the First International, the early years of the workers' movement were alive with political activity and debate. Gradually through the experience of struggle itself the perspective and role of these political organizations were tested against reality and many aspects were clarified or rejected. The conspiracies of sects, putschist notions were abandoned, and the role of the party as a contribution to the development of class consciousness became clearer with the positive and negative lessons of the Second and Third Internationals. Throughout this period, Marxists as well as Marx himself fought the Proudhonist refusal to organize politically as well as the anarchist resistance to centralization, stressing the need for revolutionaries to put forward a clear idea of the "final goals of the struggle and the means of attaining them."

It is fruitless to argue that growing consciousness in the working class did not express itself in the growth and unification of revolutionary groups. The Spartacusbond does not even attempt this. They simply state that TODAY these kinds of organizations have become not merely useless but a veritable hindrance to the working class movement.

Why? Has the development of class consciousness so essential to the proletarian struggle miraculously become a homogeneous and automatic process in the class? Is there no longer need for elements who see things more clearly at an earlier stage to join together to disseminate their analyses and perspectives? Clearly the answer to both these questions is NO. Even the Spartacusbond recognizes this. "There is no doubt that those who attain this insight (into the need for workers' councils) will feel the need to propagate their experiences in every field of the struggle. But as soon as they intend to start a party or an international which is considered to be the leader of the class, they will relapse into ideas and organizational patterns of the past." (Bulletin, No 2, p 3)

This is clearly a contradiction. If those who attain insights are inevitably going to want to organize to propagate their insights, are they making a positive contribution to the struggle or not? The answer seems to be that if they are simply a loose group of isolated individuals, they can say what they have to say without fear. But if they try to organize into an international organization and try to make their impact more widespread and effective, then according to the Spartacusbond, they are a hindrance to the class. As long as groups are inefficient, isolated and vague, the Spartacusbond is prepared to give them its seal of approval. But once they tend towards political and organizational coherence, groups supposedly become a positive evil. Why then does the Spartacusbond exist, we may ask? To organize themselves to tell others not to organize? An anti-group group? To the Spartacusbond once a group tries to exert any influence in favour of its ideas, it will inevitably become ‘leaders' (that is, on the Bolshevik model). If we follow this logic, our only hope is to condemn ourselves to self-imposed impotence.

The Spartacusbond claims to be part of the Dutch council communist tradition. Need we remind them that the council communists with Gorter tried to form a Fourth International in the early 20s? Does this mean that Gorter had become the Dutch disciple of Lenin? An unconscious Bolshevik? A similar effort was attempted by the Dutch council communist group (after the break with the Spartacusbond) in 1947. This group encouraged the initiative of the Belgian council communists who called for an international conference and the Dutch group actively participated in this conference of different groups of the left communist tradition in 1948. Is this not more in the real tradition of council communism than the Spartacusbond's non-participation then and condemnation of international regroupment today?

But the debate goes deeper. What is the role of revolutionaries? Is it simply to "propagate their experience" as individuals as the quote implies, or is it to distil the experience of all working class struggles in history, to enrich present-day struggles with the lessons of the past? But for the Spartacusbond, the past is wiped away in one anti-Leninist sweep. The Russian Revolution was merely a bourgeois revolution with the Bolsheviks as a state capitalist party "in its essence" from the beginning. The erroneous conceptions of the Bolsheviks were taken over from elements of the Social Democracy. Therefore the Second International must be wiped away as well. And we end up with a hodge-podge, incoherent, moralistic approach to history. Why even bother analyzing past struggles and defeats when it is so much more simple to read them out of existence?

The Russian Revolution, according to the Spartacusbond, was a bourgeois revolution. But in the "West" (Western Europe), revolution was on the agenda because of objective changes in the capitalist system (the period of decadence, the beginning of the cycle of crisis-war-reconstruction); and this brought forth revolutionary upheavals in Germany and elsewhere. The Spartacusbond realizes that a new period of struggle, revolutionary struggle, had begun at that time because they correctly maintain that unions were no longer adequate as organizations of working class struggle. So we are left with the absurd contradiction that capitalism was ripe for proletarian revolution in "Western Europe" but not in Russia where the bourgeoisie as a historical class was still capable of pushing forward its bourgeois revolution. Capitalism ceases to be a system which dominates the world and becomes a question of geographical regions: in one area the proletarian revolution is on the agenda; in another area we have the bourgeoisie just beginning its task. In one area workers are attempting to take power while in another area their fellow workers are fighting Russian ‘feudalism'. And the workers of Western Europe who are pushing forward struggles against the bourgeois order are, at the same time, so non-conscious that they join the Third International and mistake the "bourgeois" revolution in Russia for the avant-garde of their own revolution! This is a thoroughly incoherent logic, an Alice in Wonderland view of history. Either the revolutionary socialist programme is a world possibility or it is simply a utopian adventure for "Western" Europe. How the Spartacusbond explains the existence of workers' councils, the organization of the working class for the revolutionary assault on the capitalist order, in the midst of a "bourgeois" revolution in Russia, we shall leave to the contortions of their illogical argument. But the Russian Revolution remains a closed book to those who are so obsessed by defeat that they must simply refuse any proletarian character to the Russian experience. This inevitably leads to a rejection of any proletarian roots in the Third International. History becomes an enigma of everyone running around doing incomprehensible things. For the Spartacusbond any lessons of the past are useless because the major workers' struggles are "bourgeois"; proletarian history becomes a huge blank.

It is understandable that the Spartacusbond sees the revolutionary's contribution as simply propagating ‘their experience' in an immediatist way without a full historical dimension. They have a regrettable difficulty in coming to grips with the past as it really was. In an article on the KAPD printed in Internationalism, No 5, Hembe quotes Jan Appel's (Hempel) speech at the 3rd Congress of the Third International, to show that the KAPD was not anti-party as were certain later council communists. The KAPD opposed the Bolshevik policies in the Communist International and contested the whole idea of a party taking state power ‘in the name of the class'. But they did not reject the party as a necessary contribution to class consciousness.

"The proletariat needs a strongly formed, hard-core party. Each communist must be unimpeachable ... and he must be a leader on the spot. In the struggles into which he is thrown, he must be consistent and what enables him to do this is his programme. He acts in accordance with decisions made by the communist group. Here the strictest discipline reigns. Here one can change nothing or be excluded or sanctioned,....." Jan Appel

The Spartacusbond "wants to express (their) indignation about the fact that Internationalism is abusing Jan Appel's name in trying to re-harness the working class." (Bulletin, No 2, p 5)

First of all the Spartacusbond feels it necessary to prove that the KAPD is in ‘their' tradition and that our Current has no business quoting the KAPD to support our ideas. They are reduced to "doubting the correctness of the quote" which is a puerile tactic since none from the KAPD or Appel himself, either at the time or later on, or today, ever protested that these speeches were a falsification or a lie, The reader can refer to La Gauche Allemande (Supplement to Invariance No 2, Paris 1974) to discover whether Internationalism has correctly transcribed this quote from the interventions of the KAPD.

But the Spartacusbond goes further. "The fact is that he (Appel) left the Communist International and after that as a member of the KAPD went through the theoretical and practical struggle of the German working class." (Ibid., p 5) This quote implies that after making his speech Appel realized his error and joined the KAPD. In fact, Appel was speaking as a delegate of the KAPD to the Communist International and expressed the ideas of his organization which never renounced his speeches. Appel didn't wait until 1921 to be part of the struggles of the German working class; he was part of it from World War I onward. And he is still active in the revolutionary movement, in particular as a close associate of our Current, and has made valuable contributions to our international conferences. We would hardly have brought up this issue if the Spartacusbond had not deemed it necessary to parade their "indignation" and publicly accuse us of falsifying. It is certainly an accusation which can be easily turned against the accusers. But leaving aside polemics, it is revealing that those whose view of history is limited to an obsession with the Leninist party have difficulty in understanding the content of past experiences.

But what gives the Spartacusbond the right to claim our Current wishes to "re-harness the working class"? Aside from statements already referred to, the Spartacusbond berates us for trying to understand the positive contributions of the Bolsheviks. Our Current has indeed claimed that the clear and unequivocal positions of the Bolsheviks against the first imperialist world war were a clarion call to the working class and a rallying point for the international left which continued to defend an internationalist position against the war. The positions of the Bolshevik Party on this question and on the need to break with the Second international greatly influenced the German left communist movement, among others. The Bolshevik position against any compromise with the bourgeois democratic government of Kerensky and the call for "all power to the Soviets" are extremely positive contributions to revolutionary practice. Although we cannot go any deeper into the Russian experience here, we simply want to point out that these positions warrant the attention and study of revolutionaries and cannot simply be eliminated by the Spartacusbond's idea of the "essence" of Bolshevism or by pretending that this was all a Machia­vellian plot to fool the workers! Dealing with the Bolsheviks' positive contribution on these questions cannot in any way be interpreted as an apology for the Bolshevik position on the party or on other aspects of the class struggle. If the Bordigists make an apology for every sentence and word of Lenin, the Spartacusbond simply throws the baby out with the bath water and rejects everything the Bolsheviks may have said. Unfortunately for the Spartacusbond, real proletarian history cannot be reduced to the ‘all bad or all good' simplifications which they put forward.

We entirely agree with the .Sparatacusbond that workers' councils are the essential instrument of proletarian power, the class-wide organs revolutionary struggle and the construction of socialism. We also agree that parties are left-overs of a bourgeois society, a society divided into classes. Unfortunately the fact that the proletariat is an exploited class means that the power of "dominant ideas", bourgeois ideology, will retard and delay the simultaneous and homogeneous development of class consciousness in the working class. Therefore it is inevitable and necessary that those who can see the roots of the struggle more clearly will organize and try to propagate their ideas in the class. This aim cannot be served by remaining isolated and ineffective individuals or local groups, nor can revolutionary activity be limited to telling workers to "form workers' councils", or reduced to the ridiculous idea of telling other revolutionaries - "do not organize".

The working class does not need revolutionaries to prod them into forming workers' councils. In revolutionary periods, workers have done this without any advice on the mechanics of this operation. In the past, where the working class was inexperienced, revolutionaries played a significant role in encouraging the formation of the organizations of economic struggle, the unions. Today, the period is different and the form of workers' councils is much less the result of revolutionaries' agitation than a relatively spontaneous movement of the class in response to objective conditions. The task of the revolutionary organization is much more a question of clarifying the perspectives for struggle, of defending goals and offering a clear denunciation of the dangers of capitalist recuperation and partial struggles.

There is no opposition between the workers' councils and the party, between the whole and one of its parts. Each has a role to play in the life of the class.

The Spartacusbond's rejection of any role for an international revolutionary organization, not to mention a party, is not a continuation of the central ideas of the KAPD; it reflects the ideas of the Ruhle faction which left the KAPD, and these ideas were further developed in the thirties, during the period of defeat and demoralization. Despite the many contributions of council communism to a fuller understanding of the importance of workers' councils, the theories of some of its tendencies, notably the Spartacusbond remains unfinished and partial; in fact it remains locked in the Leninist trap. The only difference is that for the Leninists the party is everything,for the Spartacusbond the party is nothing.

"Of course there is no objection to international study and co-operation of groups which aim to stimulate the independent workers' struggle. But these groups cannot create a new international working class movement." (ibid., p 4).

Quote implies that as long as revolutionary groups ‘study' and ‘co-operate' they are part of the class. But if they want to push ‘co-operation' of local and national groups to the international level of a principled international organization with an active function in the class, then the Spartacusbond dooms their efforts. Each country for itself, each group for itself, - and above all do not come together internationally because regroupment will make you "leaders" and "Leninists". Apparently not only power corrupts, but also organization.

The fundamental incoherence of all this is perfectly clear. But more important, the influence of this fear and resistance to regroupment debilitates the workers movement and slows down the efforts of the new generation of revolutionaries to organize themselves in response to the needs of the contemporary class struggle.


Part II "Councilism" come to the aid of third-worldism

Present-day ‘councilists' like those around the Dutch groups, Spartacusbond and Daad en Gedachte are distinguished mainly by their Menshevik confusionism, which rises to the most pathetic heights when the question of the Russian Revolution is posed.

The council communists who in the 1930's struggled militantly for clarification against the counter-revolution, and who wrote for International Council Correspondence and other communist journals, were by no means Mensheviks. Their traditions were wholly proletarian. In the demoralization and confusion caused by the utter defeat of the world revolution, they tried to understand the reasons for the downturn within a proletarian framework even though they defended certain erroneous conceptions. But confronted with the decline of the proletarian revolution, they too began to decline. How different it had been when they were one with the proletarian revolution in the upsurge, when they enthusiastically swam with the seemingly irresistible tidal wave of class struggle marking the period 1917-23. Menshevism never stood that test of events: it attacked the proletarian revolution from start to finish.

A "bourgeois revolution": A case of sour grapes

Just like the fox in the fable who walked away from the unreachable grapes muttering that they must be sour anyway, the present-day ‘councilists' treat the October Revolution as a bourgeois revolution. As we have said, the German and Dutch Left Communists who began to espouse a theory of the ‘bourgeois revolution' in the1930s in order to explain the Russian counter-revolution, were an authentic communist current. This was so in spite of their tentative but erroneous assertions as to the reasons for the relapse of the Russian Revolution. Today's ‘councilists', however, do not constitute such a revolutionary current. They are but its pale and impoverished residue, sharing (and contributing more confusion) to all the later defects of the German and Dutch Left Communists. What is more telling is that they do not share any of the original ardour, creativity and coherence which distinguished the German and Dutch Left: in sum, none of their virtues. The revolutionaries of the KAPD, and of the other groups which identified with their positions began already as communist militants who unhesitantly supported the October Revolution, because they correctly saw it as a moment in the unfolding world revolution. What they said after, when the world revolutionary wave was receding, is another thing. In demoralization and retreat, communist minorities inevitably become confused and make mistakes, especially when the whole class has suffered epochal defeats. But let us be plain about this fact: Spartacusbond and Daad en Gedachte and Co. pick up from amongst the debris, all the confusion and demoralization of what once was an authentic evolutionary fraction. Therein lies the whole difference.

An examination of a few statements made by Spartacusbond glaringly demonstrates their complete regression from any revolutionary position:

"The Third International, being promoted by the economically and politically backward structure of the - in reality bourgeois - revolutionary Russia (sic), was such an organizational structure of the past, at least for Western Europe." (Spartacusbond Bulletin, No 2, p 3).


The decline of the revolution "was the result of the structure of Russia and the state-socialist ideas which existed in Bolshevism from the start and which could only result in state-capitalism." (Ibid., p3)

Cajo Brendel, a ‘councilist' contributor to Daad en Gedachte also believes that the October Revolution was ‘bourgeois':

"For some time the Russian (bourgeois) revolution seemed to have great consequences for similar bourgeois developments in Asia and Africa." (Cajo Brendel, Theses on the Chinese Revolution, Solidarity pamphlet 46, London 1974, p 3)

Observing the increasingly repugnant debasement of marxism and the needs of the world revolution perpetrated by Moscow and the Comintern, the German and Dutch Left Communists of the early 20's reacted in many confused ways. Some like Gorter and Pannekoek, began to say that what had happened in Russia was somehow ‘inevitable' owing to Russia's economic backwardness; Otto Ruhle and many others openly stated that Russia had gone through a ‘bourgeois revolution'. Even Lenin's Materialism and Empiriocriticism according to Pannekoek, philosophically expressed the economic level of arrested bourgeois development in Russia, and thus Bolshevism was more and more seen as a special ‘hybrid' type of bourgeois Jacobin movement, ‘forced' by history to establish state capitalism in Russia. Following this train of thought, but adding his own philistine garnishings, Brendel calls the Bolsheviks "political idealists" (Ibid., p 2) doomed to be "suddenly and horribly" awoken to the realities of state capitalism. Paul Mattick, who has become another ‘councilist' leftover, puts forward a similar idea: for the Bolsheviks to "remain in power under the actually ensuing conditions meant to accept the historical role of the bourgeoisie but with different social institutions and a different ideology." (Paul Mattick, ‘Workers Control' in The New Left, Boston, 1970, p 388). According to Mattick, the objective necessity of bourgeois revolution co-existed alongside a proletarian revolutionary wave (released by World War I) which he qualifies as "feeble". Thus everything that happened in Russia was inevitable because of the economic backwardness of Russia, Bolshevik state capitalist ideology and the feebleness of the world proletariat. The profundity lurking beneath the surface of these utterances could perhaps be summed up as: ‘All's bad that ends bad'.

Menshevism resurrected

Defending the Russian Revolution against the Menshevik and Kautskyite renegades, Luxemburg and the Western communists who supported the Bolshevik regime maintained that capitalism had in 1914 entered its long-awaited period of decline. Therefore the Russian Revolution was a link in the rising chain of proletarian communist revolutions. The imperialist war had given a mortal blow to the ascendant period of capitalist development. From then on the communist programme, the maximum programme, was on the immediate agenda of humanity. The working class was facing the alternative of socialism or barbarism in an ever-present epochal manner. The spiral of the war-reconstruction­crisis-war cycle had appeared in history with all its murderous effects, signifying that our epoch was also the epoch of the world proletarian revolution.

To speak of ‘bourgeois revolutions' under such conditions, or about ‘necessary capitalist stages' previous to the communist revolution when capitalism world-wide was showing the death agonies of decadence, was indeed the apex of Kautskyite cretinism. Kautsky and the Mensheviks opposed the October Revolution on the grounds that Russian economic development was too backward, allowing for only the creation of a bour geois republic. "Theoretically this doctrine ... follows from the ori­ginal ‘marxist' discovery that a socialist revolution is a national and, so to speak, a domestic affair in each modern country taken by itself", said Rosa Luxemburg (The Russian Revolution, in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, New York, 1970, p0368). But marxists of her time understood that bour­geois development was impossible within the limits of bourgeois society. This applied to all countries, from Russia to Paraguay. The world­wide connections of capital, which make of all countries a single inte­grated organism, the world market allowed no room for the theories of ‘exceptionalism' so beloved by leftists of all hues and persuasions. Already in 1905-6, Parvus and Trotsky had begun to grasp this reality, after the experience of the 1905 Russian Revolution. Lenin and Luxem­burg went firmly over to this point of view in 1917, and realized that the Russian proletariat could only take power as a prelude to the world socialist revolution. It was not that the workers in Russia had to take power in order to ‘complete the bourgeois revolution' even in passing, but that the world-wide capitalist crisis permitted only an uninterrupted and immediate struggle towards socialism.

The arguments of Kautsky, Plekhanov, and Martov and of the various doctrinaires of national-capitalism, were completely refuted by the revolutionary wave of 1917-23. The fact that this wave was finally crushed in no way alters this conclusion. If the proletarian revolu­tion's failures in the period of decadence are always due to ‘econo­mic backwardness' then there's no hope for communism. Capitalist decay moans precisely that the productive forces are increasingly constrained and dammed up by capitalist relations of production. In other words, capitalism in decline can only stagnate and check the development of the productive capacities of humanity; it can only maintain economic backwardness as a whole.

The reasons for the defeat of the 1917-23 revolutionary wave are too complex to discuss here. It is enough to note that the glib answers of the Mensheviks about the ‘backwardness' of Russia only confuse the issue. The roots of proletarian defeats during the epoch of the proletarian revolution are to be found mainly at the level of proletarian consciousness which in turn helps explain subjective factors such as the clinging to old traditions and insufficient clarity as to the communist programme, which are factors which might at given moments paralyse the class as a whole and allow capital to regain the upper hand. The subjective problems of the class thus assume a socio-­material aspect which can at times become an objective obstacle. But the mechanic determinism of the Kautskyites has nothing to say about this process, which is more akin to an ‘organic' process rather than a mathematical one.

It was therefore a theoretical regression for those Left Communists who were later called ‘council communists' to resurrect the Menshevik arguments about the inevitable ‘bourgeois nature' of the Russian Revolution. In so doing, these militants went against even their own pasts, and against one of the greatest of working class experiences. Yes, it was true that the Russian Revolution was drowned in blood by the world counter-revolution expressing itself through the ‘workers' state' in Russia. It was even more painful to see the Bolsheviks themselves assuming in the main, the task of foremen, in this degeneration. But this doesn't refute the proletarian nature of October, whose defeat meant a monstrous debacle for the world class.

Only stupidity can then haughtily raise its diminutive brow and find a ‘bourgeois revolution' amidst the carnage. If ‘bourgeois revolutions' emanate from the bones and blood of millions of defeated class conscious proletarians, or to put it differently, if ‘bourgeois revolutions' are what workers would simply call counter-revolutions then indeed the likes of Noske, Scheidemann, Stalin, Mao, Ho, Castro and countless others are ‘bourgeois revolutionaries'. But only impudence and obtuseness can honestly compare Cromwell, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Garibaldi, Marat, or William Blake to those bloody abortions of capitalist decay.

But scribblers like Brendel excel in impudence. Their profound decla­mations concerning the history of the proletarian revolution contrasts strikingly with the shallowness of such remarks as:

"The Chinese Revolution had essentially (not in details) the same character as that in Russia in 1917. There may indeed be diffe­rences between Moscow and Peking, but China just like Russia is on its way to state-capitalism. Just as Moscow does, Peking pursues a foreign policy that has little to do with revolution elsewhere in Asia (not even middle-class revolution)." (Brendel, op.cit.p.2)

Thus revolutions equal counter-revolutions; Lenin and Trotsky are the same as Mao and Chou-En-Lai. The most reactionary aspect of this ‘revolutionary' sauce is that it implicitly denigrates and shrouds in confusion extremely vital and complex moments of the workers' move­ment. Brendel, the barrister of eternal capitalist development, thinks himself capable of passing judgment on what he paternalistically calls ‘political idealists'. The Bolsheviks he-compares to Mao, the heir of Stalin and self-styled demigod to 800 million human beings. With a quick washing of hands, our Pontius Pilate denies any historical responsibility for the course of the Russian Revolution. All that was to be, was. But "It is not Russia's unripeness which has been proved by the events of the war and the Russian Revolution", asserted Luxem­burg, "but the unripeness of the German proletariat for the fulfill­ment of its historic tasks". Brendel, of course, will have none of this. In his meanderings, he too, like Kautsky or the Mensheviks, stumbles into the cesspit the workers' movement has set aside for those forever ‘unripe' to understand the communist revolution.

Roles in search of actors

Brendel speaks easily about the occurrence of all kinds of revolutions - middle class, state capitalist, bourgeois, and even peasant. Every­thing gets a mention except the proletarian revolution, which remains for him a closed book with seven seals attached. According to him, the bourgeois revolution is inevitable in backward areas and the drama ensues in desperately searching for actors to carry it through. Thus: "In neither Russia nor China could capitalism triumph except in its Bolshevik form." (Ibid., p.11) But nowhere does his Menshevik conception come out more openly than here:

"In both Russia and China the revolutions had to solve the same poli­tical and economic tasks. They had to destroy feudalism and to free the productive forces in agriculture from the fetters in which exist­ing relations bound them. They also had to prepare a basis for industrial development. They had to destroy absolutism and replace it by a form of government and by a state machine that would allow solutions to the existing economic problems. The economic and political problems were those of a bourgeois revolution; that is, of a revolution that was to make capitalism the dominant mode of production." (Ibid., p.10)

The message is clear: the proletariat ‘had' to be fragmented into different national units which in turn have exceptional paths of develop­ment which are separate from that of the world market and the world eco­nomy. Each national capital is autarkic and accumulation can proceed quite well within a purely capitalist confine. The only limits to healthy accumulation would be the sudden revolt o the ‘order-takers' (a la Cardan/Solidarity) or an eventual ‘fall in the rate of profit' (a 1a Grassman/Mattick). The important thing here is the conception that Brendel has of the proletarian revolution: a bourgeois, nationally frag­mented, localistic conception. But then how can the world proletariat, assert itself as a unified class? How will this be possible if each proletariat faces fundamentally different national conditions? What will materially unify the rising class struggle for world socialism? Brendel and the other journalists of ‘councilism' are silent on this point saving all their strength presumably, for spouting incantations about workers' councils, or ‘workers' self-management'.

Brendel, himself, is devoid of any awareness concerning these questions. For example, the Chinese workers' struggles according to him were doomed; not because those struggles found themselves at the mercy of the world counter-revolution (already triumphant in Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, etc) but because of the workers "insignificance" in numbers! But we must allow Brendel to delineate his own course of thought:

"It is claimed by some that these uprisings were attempts by the Chinese proletariat to influence events in a revolutionary direc­tion. This could not have been the case. Twenty-two years after the massacres in these two towns the Chinese Ministry of Social Affairs announced that in China there were fourteen industrial towns and just over a million industrial workers in a population of between four and five hundred millions - ie industrial workers comprised less than 0.25% of the population. In 1927 this figure must have been still lower.

"With the proletariat insignificant as a class in 1949, it seems unlikely (sic) that they could have engaged in revolutionary class activity twenty-two years earlier. The Shanghai uprising of March 1927 was a popular uprising whose aim was to support Chiang Kai­shek's Northern Expedition. The workers only played a significant role in it because Shanghai was China's most industrialized town, where one-third of the Chinese proletariat happened to live. The uprising was ‘radical-democratic' rather than proletarian in nature and was bloodily quelled by Chiang Kai-shek because he scorned Jacobinism not because he feared the proletariat. The so-called ‘Canton Commune' was no more than an adventure provoked by the Chi­nese Bolsheviks in an attempt to bring off what they had already failed to achieve in Wu Han.

"The Canton uprising of December 1927 had no political perspective and expressed proletarian resistance no more than the KTT (Chinese Communist Party) expressed proletarian aspirations. Borodin, the government's Russian adviser, said that he had come to China to fight for an idea; it was for similar political ideas that the KTT sacrificed the workers of Canton. These workers never seriously challenged Chiang Kai-shek and the right-wing of the KMT; the only serious, systematic and sustained challenge came from the peasantry." (ibid., p.15)

The charge that the Chinese workers never ‘seriously challenged' Chinese capital is a complete misconstruction. Any self-action of the prole­tariat challenges capitalism even if at the beginning stages the workers aren't aware of their own final goals and potential strength. But capital is, and that is why Chiang, Stalin, Bukharin and Borodin helped strangle the Chinese revolutionary movement. What criteria does Brendel use to make this nonsensical claim, this assertion of a "non-existing" proletarian challenge? Did the February 1917 Petrograd Soviet, control­led by Mensheviks and liberals "challenge" Russian capital? Brendel's answer would be ‘no'. In fact, for him, the workers should never think of challenging capitalism since all they are bound to get is state capitalism, ‘Jacobinism', etc. The Chinese workers in Shanghai, Hankow and Canton, indeed rose by the thousands and created strike committees and armed detachments which by their very nature would have had to con­front not only Chiang but the Chinese Communist Party if the class were to politically survive and connect up to the world class struggle. But because there was no world revolution to connect to anymore, no perspec­tives were open to the Chinese proletariat's rising. The proletarian movement was definitely strangled by world political reaction in 1927, not by its ‘numerical' lack of strength. The proletariat's weight in the economy, and its international class character, are, with its consciousness, the only real basis for its struggle. Brendel's slanders against the proletariat have, however, a more ominous ring. He is against ‘adventures' but only as long as they are proletarian. When he talks about the peasantry, his true colours show. Thus it was the pea­santry that presented ".... the only serious, systematic and sustained challenge...." to the KMT. No adventures here, please!

The logic of his position flows forth, almost majestically:

"After twenty years of tentative attempts, the peasant masses at last discovered how to unite a revolutionary force. It was not the working class, still very weak, which brought about the downfall of Chiang Kai-shek but the peasant masses, organized under primitive democracy into guerilla armies. This demonstrates another fundamen­tal difference between the .Chinese and Russian revolutions. In the latter the workers were at the head of events at Petrograd, Moscow and Kronstadt, and the revolution progressed outward from the towns into the countryside. In China the opposite was the case. The revolution moved from rural to urban areas." (Ibid, p.16)

It is no longer a question of the proletarian revolution struggling against capitalism; no, now it's a question of ‘revolutions' in the abstract, of plays in search of authors and actors. The idea that the peasants were organized under ‘primitive democracy' into guerilla armies is nothing but a cynical Maoist apology, typical of writers like Edgar Snow.

"In China, just as in Russia, it was not the party which showed the way to the peasants - the peasants showed the way to the party." (Ibid., p.17)

The logic of this position is clear, even if not spelled out by this half-wit: if the peasant masses show the way to the bureaucracy, then it follows that the bureaucracy can be controlled from below. Thus communists should support that bureaucracy against other capitalist factions which do not allow such control (ie Chiang's). The marxist movement of the nineteenth century in the ascendant period of capitalism didn't hesitate doing this when it supported genuine national libera­tion struggles; it supported the struggle of the petty-bourgeois democrats or advanced capitalist factions against reactionary or absolu­tist ones. The ethical cant of Brendel and Co., however, does not permit such honest admissions. The truth is that the Chinese peasants were mobilized by Mao's Chinese Communist Party during and after the anti-Japanese war as cannon-fodder for the imperialists' carve-up. During World War II Mao's CCP was simply allied to the democratic imper­ialist faction fighting the fascist imperialisms. Brendel is not the type who would have opposed such a war. In China he would have sided with ‘the peasants' democratic guerilla armies' (sic!), • In other words, he would have died with the Allies, like all liberals and Stalinists did. Our Pontius has shown, however, that he doesn't like things spelt out quite like this; straight in the face. But the traditions of the workers' movement demand it, because this is the only way the prole­tariat can affirm its revolutionary programme against all confusionists and openly reactionary scribes.

We thus have seen how Menshevism (old or new style) inevitably leads to a capitulation to different capitalist factions. There is nothing neutral in the class struggle, and those philistines who warn that ‘not everything is black or white, greys exist too' ignore the fact that in order to appreciate gradations in colour one mist first determine what is black and what is white. Another expression of this reactionary confusion appears in the following extract taken from a pamphlet pub­lished by Solidarity, a group which has been influenced by ‘councilism' in its degenerated form:

"Just because the communist front organization, for whatever tactical and sectional reasons, is at times forced to struggle, even if only to ‘represent' itself as the ‘leader' of that struggle, the revolutionary must not desert that struggle. To do so is to opt out of a struggle the terms of which have been determined by the class. To opt out is tantamount to asserting that the terms of the struggle have been decided by the ‘party' and not the ‘class'. Such a deci­sion in these circumstances would be totally reactionary." (Bob Potter, Vietnam: Whose Victory? Solidarity Pamphlet 43, London 1973, p.29)

So, for the sophist, Potter, the ‘class' ‘determines' the terms of the struggle. Thus the partisans of Tito, the British 8th Army, the American Rangers in D-Day, could all be called expressions of the ‘class' ‘determining' its ‘anti-fascist' struggle in 1939-45, just like the ‘class' in Vietnam supposedly ‘determined' the struggle against Thieu and US imperialism. The apology is again a cheap Stalinist trick. In fact, it signifies the complete degeneration of these ideas, which under the pretense of supporting the class ‘from below' in fact capitulates to capitalist factions which are portrayed as expressions, however dis­torted, of the class itself.

In their 1970 introduction to Brendel's Theses, the Cardanites of Aberdeen Solidarity nicely showed the utter subordination of latter-day ‘councilism' to the leftist ideology of third-worldism.

"However, the struggles of the colonial peoples made a contribution to the revolutionary movement. That poorly-armed peasant populations could withstand the enormous forces of modern imperialism, sha­ttered the myth of the invincible military-technological-scientific power of the West. The struggle also revealed to millions of people the brutality and racism of capitalism and drove many, especially youth and students, to come out in struggle against their own regimes. But the support of the colonial peoples against imperialism, does not, however, imply support for this or that organization engaged in the struggle." (Aberdeen Solidarity Pamphlet 2, p. iii)

The last sentence is a non-sequitor given what precedes it and in any case is merely thrown in to appease some bad consciences.

These conceptions are an inevitable result of the years of sterility and confusion which finally devoured the councilist movement. Menshe­vism was indeed resurrected by councilism (and the Bordigists who speak about the ‘colonial revolution' fervently join in this particular seance.

According to Biblical legend, Jesus resurrected Lazarus, and if all evi­dence is true, nobody seems to have opposed the deed. The case would have been different had Jesus chosen instead to resurrect Herod, Xerxes or any bloodthirsty Sumerian despot. This sort of "savior" would have rapidly earned the justifiable scorn of his contemporaries. The deed of Sparatacusbond, Daad en Gedachte, etc, in resurrecting Menshevism twice over is no less foul for the workers' movement.



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