Open Letter to ‘Council Communism’ (Denmark)

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The 21 Theses of Council Communism Today written by a group of council communists in Denmark expresses the continuing res­urgence of revolutionary groups and ideas since 1968. It isn't accidental that these Theses appeared in the spring of 1980, at the wake of high levels of class struggle in France, Britain, Holland, etc and just a few weeks before the Swedish general strike. We cannot ignore in add­ition the splendid example provided rec­ently by the mass strike in Poland, con­firming that we live in a period of mounting class struggles leading to a series of proletarian insurrections. Indeed, the contributions of the Danish comrades can only be seen in this light as another welcome sign of our times. Their contributions will hopefully stim­ulate further discussion and help clarify the positions revolutionaries require for their intervention in this decisive period of history.

We don't believe that discussion amongst revolutionaries takes place to score points against other groups or to compare local notes in an academic fashion. We believe that revolutionary groups have the responsibility to discuss in order to clarify their ideas. This they do because it is crucial to have clear ideas when yon intervene in the class struggle. It is in the heat of the class struggle, in pract­ice, that the validity of revolutionary positions is tested in the end. Discuss­ions among revolutionary groups are there­fore a vital part of their action. With this in mind, we think that the most eff­ective way of intervening in the inter­national class struggle is for revolut­ionaries to regroup their forces on a clear basis, and also on an international scale. This is a process that can only take place through systematic and frat­ernal political clarification, allowing the open confrontation of ideas. It is this spirit, with this ultimate goal, that we contribute these critical remarks in response to the Theses of Council Communism.

1. Capitalism, Crisis, Revolution, Communism

This section of the Theses defends many class positions which are integral to the communist movement. The comrades assert, with Marx, that the only progressive solution to the capitalist crisis is the workers' revolution. They thus defend the dictatorship of the proletariat, without identifying it with any party rule, as the substitutionists of today do. The dictatorship of the proletariat is ident­ified instead with the rule of the workers' councils:

"The result of the revolution is the autonomous assumption of power and production for human needs. Thus the workers' council is the basic element of the anti-capitalist struggle, of the dictatorship of the working class and of the future communist society." (thesis no.4)

However, it is also asserted that:

"...capitalism will and must be over­thrown in the process of production ie in the workers' autonomous struggle for command of the single factory. The workers are the direct and practical masters of the machinery." (thesis no.2)

This conception seems to us misleading because it places the whole focus of the class struggle at the point of production or in the production process, as does the anarcho-syndicalist tradition. But this is a perspective proven wrong by history. Also, it is not true that the workers are the direct and practical masters of the machinery. Capitalism clearly owns and masters the machinery, and capitalism is not just fixed capital -- it is above all a social relationship based on the exploitation of wage labor. True, the workers can't liberate themselves without destroying the whole exploitative and hierarch­ical apparatus which rules in industry. But it is more than factory despotism which secures the conditions for the exploitation of the working class. The whole political apparatus of the state helps insure, indirectly and directly, with mystifications and with naked terror the total subordination of the proletariat to capitalism. The state, as we know, belongs to the superstructure of capitalism. But it isn't less decisive or imp­ortant because of this. On the contrary, as the general guardian of all capitalist interests, it plays a role far more pern­icious to the working class than managers or foremen in single factories.

The political rule of the state over soc­iety must therefore be defeated by the workers. This need begins to dawn on workers when they start seeing themselves as capable of transforming the whole of society -- not just a sum of single fact­ories -- through mass unitary action. Then the movement of the class struggle assumes truly insurrectionary proportions.

Clearly, workers can't learn to act coll­ectively at this scale by staying inside ‘their' single factories. They have to transcend the artificial separations imp­osed on them by capitalism, symbolized by the factory gates. Thus we also disagree with this conception:

"The basis of the revolution is the economic council-power organized on the basis of each factory -- but when the workers' action has become so powerful that the very organs of government have become paralyzed the councils must undertake political functions too."

Here we would like to remark that the ‘economic council-power' based on each factory is illusory as long as the capit­alist state still rules and defends the national economy. The pre-condition for any real and lasting economic and social transformation is the abolition of the capitalist state. The workers' councils, far from waiting to take political func­tions after a period of ‘economic power', must adopt immediate political functions if they are to survive against the maneuvers of the state.

The recent mass strike in Poland amply confirms this tendency which emerges clearly only in the decadent epoch of capitalism (see our editorial ‘The Inter­national Dimension of the Workers' Strugg­les in Poland' in the recent International Review no.24). There the workers' meas­ures of economic defense have intermingled with political thrusts which tend to con­front the state, expose its terrorist secret police, etc. To imagine that work­ers during a mass strike would limit their actions to occupations of factories as they unfortunately did in Italy in 1920, is to limit arbitrarily the revolutionary scope of their actions. The working class doesn't need a sort of high-school train­ing in ‘mastering production' in order to confront the state.

The state can't be isolated or paralyzed by workers' actions which are essentially defensive and isolated at the point of production. The only way through which the state is sapped is through a process of dual power, in which the organs of proletarian mass rule continuously extend the scope of their political impositions on the state. This cannot be a permanent process, and it most certainly cannot be a ‘training period' for acquiring ‘skills' in so-called economic mastery. The period of dual power, which combines from the start economic and political offensives, must sooner or later end in an insurrect­ionary attempt on the part of the workers' councils. This is the only way to over­throw the state. We should be under no illusions that the state, this cunning machine of terror, will simply accept defeat at the hands of factory occupations.

We agree that there will be a moment when the offensive of the workers' councils is so powerful that the state will recoil and even begin to disintegrate. But this will be only if from the start the workers' mass organs managed to combine economic and political methods of struggle. The mass strike process involves not only the control of the factories (as a whole, not ‘one by one') but the growing armament of the proletariat and the population which is passing to the side of the workers (Rosa Luxemburg's analysis of the mass strike in her The Mass Strike, the Polit­ical Party and the Trade Unions, appears to us extremely relevant for today's period. Especially the sections which deal with the relationships between the political and economic struggles of the proletariat).

The conceptions defended in the Theses on the workers' councils seem similar to us to those of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian revolutionary who theorized his views in the newspaper L'Ordine Nuovo in the early 1920s. Gramsci claimed that his ideas arose as a result of the concrete exper­iences of the Russian proletariat. But in this he was wrong. The whole dynamic of the workers' soviets in Russia from Febru­ary to October 1917 was to oppose the cap­italist state of Kerensky. The movement of the factory committees and for ‘workers' control' was from the start part of this mass onslaught. This was a classical case of ‘dual power' as Trotsky describes it so well in his History. It twas easy for the workers in motion to understand that without kicking Kerensky out nothing could be done which was lasting in the factories. Only after the overthrow of Kerensky in October was it possible to re-organize the internal economic resour­ces of the Russian proletariat in order to place them at the disposal of the world revolution. That the October rev­olution was in the end isolated and that it degenerated further under the wrong policies of the Bolsheviks and the Comin­tern is not the issue here. What we are trying to explain is that Gramsci distort­ed the experience of the Russian workers' soviets. We will elaborate further.

Gramsci theorized a revolution in Italy based on a gradual taking over of society by the workers' soviets. In Gramsci's conceptions, the Russian factory committ­ees and the soviets had carried out this process of economic takeover in October. But this didn't happen during the Russian revolution. In Russia, the factory comm­ittees, and their attempts at ‘workers' control', were political weapons of the working class not only against employers but against the government. What the workers learnt in that process of dual power was politics, in other words, how to gain political hegemony in society against the capitalist state. But in Gramsci's views, the worker first had to see himself as a ‘producer' in a single factory. Only then would he escalate further the ladder of class consciousness:

"Starting off from his original all, the factory (sic!), seen as a unit, as an act that creates a particular product, the worker proceeds to the comp­rehension of ever vaster units, right to the level of the nation itself..."[1]

From this sublime peak, the nation, Gramsci elevated his single worker to the level of the world and then Communism:

"At this point he is aware of his class; he becomes a communist, because productivity does not require private property; he becomes a revolutionary because he sees the capitalist, the private property owner, as a dead hand, an encumbrance on the productive proc­ess, which must be done away with."[2]

From this ‘heightened consciousness' (which some may call a technocratic delirium) Gramsci makes his worker achieve the pinnacle of enlightenment: "the aware­ness of the State, that ‘gigantic appar­atus of product' that will develop the ‘communist economy' in a ‘harmonized and hierarchical' fashion."[3]

In Gramsci's schema, the workers achieve class consciousness not through the class struggle, as Marx described, but through a gradual pedagogic process of ‘economic mastery'. Gramsci viewed the workers as single ants, which achieved redemption from their base existence only through awareness of how they fitted in a grand economic plan, a statist anthill. Apart from the entomological aspect, this is an idealist view of the class struggle, and one that helped lead Gramsci to opportunism. The proletarian revolution is not determined by the previous edu­cational level of the workers, their culture or their technical skills. On the contrary, the proletarian revolution takes place precisely to obtain and generalize through humanity those cultural and technical advances already existing in society. The revolution is caused by the inner crisis of the capitalist system. This is correctly affirmed by you:

"The anti-capitalist actions rise in a spontaneous way. They are forced upon workers by capitalism. The action is not called forth by a conscious intention; it rises spontaneously and irresistibly." (thesis no.3)

This is why it is wrong to imagine that the proletarian revolution will develop gradually, from the cellular unit of the single factory to society as a whole, through the educational process envisaged by Gramsci. Historically, the great revol­utionary upsurges of the working class have not developed in this schematic manner. True, single incidents have trigg­ered mass actions, and will continue to do so. But this has nothing in common with the gradualist idea that class consciousness grows as the aggregate of all these little incidents, or as a result of ‘experiments' of ‘workers' control'. In any case, single incidents which may trigger a mass response aren't limited to single factories or even less to the shop floor. They could take place at a demonstration, a picket line, a bread queue, an unemployment centre, etc. Regarding workers' control, Paul Mattick is quite correct when he says that:

"Workers' control of production pre­supposes a social revolution. It cannot gradually be achieved through working class actions within the capitalist system."[4]

Gramsci's ideas had a fundamentally reformist substance, and allowed for the idea that workers can permanently learn to control capitalist production from within capitalism. This idea is doubly incorrect as the workers' revolution is not about controlling capitalist production, and neither is it about ‘self-manage­ment' nor ‘mastering production' within capitalism. All these are capitalist myths even if they are presented in their hoary, ‘violent' anarcho-syndicalist way.

As you remark, the workers' councils appear spontaneously and massively in society during a pre-revolutionary situation. They are not ‘technically' or ‘economically' prepared in advance. The crisis of capitalism finally pushes workers to unify themselves at all levels

-- economic, political, social -- in the factories, in the neighborhoods, in the docks and mines, in all places of work.

Their final aim can only be the destruct­ion of the capitalist state. Thus their ‘immediate' aim is to prepare themselves for political power. Whatever measures of ‘workers' control' take place within the places of work or society at large, they are strictly subordinated to this urgent and immediate aim: to disorganize and isolate the power of the capitalist state. Without this aim, the workers' autonomous actions will be dissipated and. fragmented, as they wouldn't have an axis or goal to pursue. The goal of ‘economic mastery' of each factory would provide a myriad of ‘single little aims', all dis­persing the unified forces of the workers. This goal would blunt the offensive of the workers' councils, reducing their task to that of feeble ‘factory committees' con­cerned only with the affairs of ‘their single factory'. But, just as socialism cannot be prepared or achieved in a single country, so it can't in one single factory.

The last ‘thesis' in this section (no.7) explains that the basis of communist soc­iety is the production of use values:

"Decisive for the political economy of communism is that the principle of abstract work has been abolished: the law of value does no longer rule the production of use value. The political economy of communism is utterly simple: the two basic elements are the concrete working time and statistics."

This is correct but incomplete as the international dimension of the proletarian revolution is not mentioned. In fact, this is the decisive element in the grad­ual elimination of the law of value: the world revolution which will permit the working class to have unlimited access to all the resources previously created by capitalism. We wouldn't call the commun­ist mode of production a ‘political econ­omy of communism', as that implies the survival of politics and economics, basic features of capitalism. We also note that the transition period from capitalism to communism is not mentioned. But the world revolution will not take place in one day. Thus we must expect a whole historic period, shorter or longer, during which the capit­alist state everywhere will be defeated, and the remnants of capitalism eliminated throughout the whole planet. Only then will the working class really be able to cast off the remnants of the law of value and transcend whatever temporary measures it had to take to deal with scarcity or technical difficulties. To pose the exist­ence of a ‘communist economy' in one single country would therefore be a basic error. This is one of the ambiguities that appear in the Basic Principles of Communist Prod­uction and Distribution written by the GIK-H (the group of International Commun­ists of Holland) and one that revolution­aries today must clarify.

Before discussing the second section of your Theses, we would like to point out that your admittedly brief analysis of the causes of the capitalist crisis doesn't mention a fundamental tenet of historical materialism. That is, has the capitalist mode of production become historically obsolete? Or, to use Marx's own concept, has it entered its decline? This is a decisive question for revolutionaries and for the working class. For the ICC, the capitalist system has been a decadent system of production since the First World War. This position is at the heart of our political platform.

To affirm that capitalism is still ascen­dant or youthful (even if ‘only' in certain areas of the planet) would be tantamount to saying that the communist revolution would be postponed for at least the coming historical period. A specific, and false, political practice would follow this affirmation.

On the other hand, to deny that the Marxist concept of decadence has any relevance to the capitalist mode of production would be a serious methodological error, leading to aberrant practices.

You also mention that overproduction is not the reason for the capitalist crisis. This may seem to be a criticism directed at Rosa Luxemburg, who analyzed precisely this problem in her The Accumulation of Capital. However, Luxemburg's analysis is above all an analysis of the historic decline of the capitalist system of its imperialist epoch. The question of the market and thus of overproduction is clearly relevant here, and not something to ignore as ‘underconsumption' (which was not Luxemburg's position). Even Mattick, who has consistently criticized Luxemburg's economic views, cannot ignore the question of the market:

"...the crisis must first make its appearance on the surface of the mar­ket, even though it was already present in changed value relations in the prod­uction process. And it is via the market that the needed reorganization of capital is brought about, even though this must be actualized through changes in the exploitative capital-labor relations at the point of production."[5]

We don't have to follow Mattick's reduct­ionism, which transforms the overproduct­ion crisis into a mere manifestation of changed value relations at the point of production. But evidently the crisis of markets expresses the historical limit­ation of capitalism in its imperialist epoch. This limitation is violently confirmed by the imperialist war of 1914. Mattick has not clearly answered this question: has capitalism entered its decadent phase or not? Luxembourg answer­ed yes, and provided an analysis to back this materialist affirmation. Those who insist that the reason for the crisis is only the falling rate of profit with its corresponding class struggle ‘at the point of production', generally ignore the question of decadence, and thus ignore the global analysis of capital Marx made, which included crises of overproduction. Since 1914, this crisis has become permanent, as capitalist expansion reached a structural barrier in a world market divided by imperialism.

How and when would capitalism reach its apogee and then decline, as previous modes of production had declined, Marx could not grasp fully. But it is surely a legitimate question for revolutionaries. This was at the heart of the debate between Luxembourg and Bernstein regarding reformism, and later between her and the German Social Democratic (Marxist) left against the right and Kautsky's ‘centre' in the SPD. Therefore we say without any hesitation that the really basic issue in ‘what is the reason for the capitalist crisis?' is the question of capitalist decadence. We agree that decadent capit­alism suffers internally from a growing organic composition which will make further accumulation impossible (as a tendency), and that it also suffers from an external problem (today affecting the whole world economy) which is the lack of profitable markets. How these two mortal crises interact and complement each other is a very complex problem. The question is not to deny one for the other; the question is to see how they express the utter putrefaction of the system today. For Marxists, the issue of capitalist decadence is a crucial and most practical issue.

2. The capitalist workers' organizations

"The basis of social democracy is the immediate consciousness of the masses."

But this ambiguous definition implies that Social Democracy is a stage of working class consciousness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The history of Social Democratic Parties shows that from 1914 they passed to the side of capital­ism. The First World War was their acid test, when they supported the imperialist butchery. This test was soon to be followed by a further immersion in the acid (or cesspool) by attacking the October revolution. Social Democracy, Menshevism, the ‘Socialist International' -- whatever name this repugnant capitalist faction may go under, it has definitely crossed the class barrier. In all countries where they exist, the Social Democratic parties are fart of the political apparatus of the bourgeoisie. Social Democracy is not a servant of tine bourgeoisie -- it is a faction of the capitalist class.

It is one thing to say that the workers have illusions in Social Democracy. But it is another to say that these constit­ute something like a level or stage of consciousness proper to the nature of the working class. Class consciousness for the proletariat is not a mass of illusions and mystifications. It is the true perception of its class position in society, of its relationship to the means of production, the state, the other classes, and above all, perception of its revolutionary goals. Illusions, ideology, mystifications, are a product of capitalist society which inevitably affects the proletariat, distorting its class consciousness. Marx says that the ruling ideas of a society are the ideas of its ruling class. This is generally true, but for the proletar­iat this only means that it can be under the influence of these alien ideas, not that it has a ‘bourgeois consciousness'. Social Democratic ideology, being part of capitalist ideology, thus affects layers of the working class. You say yourselves that "Social democratism is a counter­revolutionary movement." (thesis no. 8). For a party to be counter-revolutionary today means that it is capitalist. Other­wise the term ‘counter-revolutionary' would just be an insult, not a social and political definition as it is for Marxism.

The same applies to the trade unions. They do not, as you claim, "...take a bigger or smaller part of the surplus value from the capital." (thesis no.9) On the contrary, as capitalist organs, they help capitalism extract the maximum amount of surplus value possible. They do this in relative or absolute terms, but in either case they do it. In moments of deep crisis as today, they help ‘rationalize' the economy by supporting the draconian austerity measures of the government against the working class. They contribute directly to increasing unemployment. They try to deflect, fragment and dissipate the combativity of the workers. If the workers are able, here and there, to temporarily maintain their precarious living standards, this is because of their own determination, their own self-activity, not because of the unions. The unions are, as you say, "...opposed to the revolutionary workers' councils.".(thesis no.9) But why project their reactionary role only into the future, or the past (when the SPD unions opposed the German Revolution of 1918-19)? They are opposed today to any form of struggle preparatory to the workers' councils of tomorrow. The unions don't mediate the sale of labor power; they aren't the workers' ‘middlemen' in the labor market. In reality they depress the value of labor power constantly. They are a capitalist police force within the proletariat. If the situation requires it, the unions will physically defend the cap­italist state together with the other forces of repression. The trade unions are as capitalist and counter-revolutionary as Social Democracy, If the past 50 years of proletarian defeats show us something, it is this.

The term ‘capitalist workers' organization' is misleading as it implies that these capitalist organs have a dual class nature, half proletarian and half capitalist. It could also imply that during periods of economic boom these capitalist organs ‘serve' the workers, only to oppose them in periods of depression and crisis. But this is false. In any case, their class nature would be imprecisely defined by this term, thus, opening the door to all sorts of ‘trade-unionist' opportunisms.

Lenin and the Comintern coined the confus­ing idea of a ‘capitalist workers' party' in reference to the British Labor Party and other Social Democratic parties. This had an opportunist motive, as the 1921 tactic of the ‘united front' was to show. The Comintern called for ‘unity in action' with these parties, which had clearly passed to the camp of the bourgeoisie forever. Once a workers' organization betrays and becomes capitalist, it can't revert back to being proletarian. In making overtures to these class enemies, the Comintern hastened its own decline and degeneration. The fact that the Social Democratic parties and the unions had millions of workers didn't alter the basic, irrefutable fact that, politically, and hence sociologically, these organizations had become part and parcel of the capital­ist system.

The ‘Communist' parties are also part of the political apparatus of capitalism. Through Stalinism, they became active instigators of the counter-revolution which crushed the October Revolution and corrupted the Comintern in the 1920's and 1930's. These false communist parties are not, however, agents of Moscow or Peking, but loyal servants of their own national states. To call them ‘Leninist parties' is a travesty of history. The party of Lenin, the Bolsheviks, plus the initial Comintern, were organs of the working class in spite of all the deformations they contained. To identify them with the most brutal counter-revolution the prolet­ariat has ever suffered is profoundly mistaken.

This takes us to the question of the Russian Revolution. You claim that it was a ‘peasant revolution' (thesis no. 10). Hence, a bourgeois revolution? But this reveals a basic misunderstanding of what is a proletarian revolution and what is a bourgeois revolution. Let's deal first with the question of its proletarian nature.

The fact that October was a proletarian revolution was recognized by the whole communist movement of its time. Are you claiming that all these revolutionaries were blind to the real class nature of October? This is a completely unwarranted assumption, which partakes of Menshevik and Social Democratic prejudices. Not only Luxembourg and the Spartacists recognized October as theirs, but so did Gorter, Pannekoek, Roland-Holst, Bordiga, Fraina, Posmer, the Bulgarian Narrows, Pankhurst, etc. The revolutionary workers of that time also recognized it as such. In fact, the first imperialist war was stopped because all the imperialist governments feared a ‘Bolshevik infection' in their armies and populations. The October revolution was thought to be by revolutionar­ies the first of a series of international revolutions in this epoch of capitalist decay. This is why the Comintern was founded in 1919, to hasten the process of world revolution. The revolutionary wave failed in the end, but not because October was doomed to being a ‘peasant revolution'.

True, the October revolution had the part­icipation of millions of peasants who org­anized themselves in soldiers' soviets, village committees and rural soviets. But the main ‘peasant' party, the Social Revol­utionaries, had divided itself, one side supporting the bourgeoisie and the other supporting the most revolutionary workers' party at that time, the Bolsheviks. The peasants followed the city workers and took the lead from them. Yet the fact that the majority of the population was peasant doesn't make Red October ‘peasant'. The peasantry is not a class capable ever of ruling society, not even of creating mass parties autonomous of the bourgeoisie. No, the October revolution proves once and for all that the peasantry can only follow one of the main two classes of bourgeois society: the utterly reactionary bourg­eoisie or the working class. In October, the peasantry followed the proletariat, thus ensuring a mass popular support for the workers' revolution.

As regards the idea that October was a ‘bourgeois revolution'. This idea was defended by many ‘left-communists' and later by ‘council communists' when they suffered the whole weight and isolation of the counter-revolution. Originally, it was a Menshevik conception. But this view ignored the decadence of the world system manifested by the imperialist war. The bourgeoisie had become a socially decadent class everywhere; thus the period of ‘bourgeois revolutions' had come to a close. The communist revolution was posed objectively throughout the whole world. Russia was ready for socialism not because of its internal resources (which were backward) but because the whole world economy cried urgently for a communist reorganization and socialization of the productive forces, which were ‘over-ripe' for socialism. This the Bolsheviks saw clearly -- and put all their hopes in the extension of the world revolution. The Mensheviks, who saw every­thing in terms of isolated national econ­omies and ‘stages', were unable to grasp the new period of capitalism. Thus they were led to oppose the proletarian revol­ution, considering it ‘premature' or ‘anarchist'. The ‘left communists' who defended this idea of the ‘bourgeois rev­olution' in Russia surely didn't oppose the workers' revolution. But they were nonetheless defending an incoherent polit­ical framework.

The Bolshevik party that you misrepresent as a "...well-disciplined and united vanguard party" (thesis no.10) was a prol­etarian party based on the workers' coun­cils and factory committees. Its ideas, its revolutionary program (despite its imperfections) came from the international working class. To whom else could the slogans ‘down with the imperialist war', ‘turn the imperialist war into a civil war', and ‘all power to the soviets' belong? To the bourgeoisie? To the peasan­try? No, these slogans expressed the needs of the world proletariat at that time. The idea that the Bolshevik party represented the ‘bureaucracy' -- the ‘new ruling class' -- is an anti-Marxist idea. First, because it is completely false regarding the Bolshevik party and second because it defends not only the idea of a ‘new class' but suggests a new, ‘third' mode of production, neither capitalist or communist. The dilemma of humanity would no longer be ‘socialism or barbarism', as the proletarian solution would seem to have failed, but ‘capitalism or barbarism' (sic!). Varieties of this ‘theory', defended by many renegades of Marxism like Burnham, Wittfogel, Cardan, etc, were first supported in the 1920s by Social Democratic pundits including Kautsky, Hilferding and Pauer. This type of ‘anti-Leninism' belongs to capitalism hook, line and sinker.

Once again, it is untrue that the goal of the workers' revolution is that "...the workers themselves will be the masters of production". (thesis no.10) This is at variance with the aim you defend in the first section, which is the creation of a mode of production based on need, on use values. Evidently, communism cannot be created by an elite or a ‘vanguard party' of any sort. It requires the fullest participation of the whole class, of the whole population, in the construction of a world free of nations, war, famine and despair. A world of human solidarity, where the individual will complement the community and vice versa. That certainly is the goal of the workers' revolution! In the road to this of course workers will be ‘masters of production', but not to maintain their fragmented status of ‘work­er' but to transform themselves into free associated producers. If communism is a classless society, the working class will have to disappear as a special or even ‘privileged' category of production. Communist humanity will ceaselessly try to master the whole of society, not only the production and distribution processes.

3. The present situation

When you assert that the "...reproduction of capital has not yet been thrown into a crisis which totally changes all social life." (thesis no. 11), in order to say that the immediate needs of the working class in Western Europe are not revolut­ionary, it is difficult to know what to say.

What events will convince you that capit­alism in Western Europe (not mentioning the rest of the world!) is in the deepest crisis since the 1930's? The search for an adequate dip in the falling rate of profit is surely not what you propose as that would be the crudest fatalism. The object­ive circumstances are ripe for a revolut­ionary overthrow -- indeed, they have been so for the past 60 years! The important, the decisive thing is that capitalism is sinking into its gravest economic crisis, and this is what will provide the working class with opportunities to dispel its illusions about surviving under capital­ism. Revolutionaries must therefore prepare themselves to intervene system­atically in this period, to patiently explain the goals of the movement, to participate and learn from the class struggle, so that their intervention really serves as an active factor in communist consciousness. The times are ripe, so ripe that the conditions for revolution could become ‘rotten' if the working class fails to destroy capitalism. The only outcome of that failure would be a third imperialist war and perhaps the annihilation of any communist future.

To say that Western Europe is in a ‘pre­revolutionary situation' (thesis no. 11) can only mean that today the class struggle is preparing itself, is maturing the conditions for a whole series of massive onslaughts against the capitalist system. To ignore this conclusion would be blindness. The unveiled and growing state violence in Western Europe fully confirms this trend: the bourgeoisie prepares itself for civil war against the threat of proletarian revolution. To say that the level of class consciousness is still not homogeneous and active enough as to attempt a revolutionary overthrow is one thing. But it is false to say that the needs of the class aren't revolutionary. What would they be then? More Social Democratic levels of ‘immediate conscious­ness'? More lessons on the ‘justification and limits' of trade unions today?

You seem to be saying that the defense of the immediate economic interests of the workers is capitalist, and that the unions carry out this function (well or badly depending on economic conditions). It has to defend its conditions of existence within capitalism. In the end, because of the crisis, and the threat of a new imperialist war, it will understand that it can only defend itself through a polit­ical offensive. In other words, the exploited and revolutionary natures of the working class always intermingle, and tend to consciously fuse as the capitalist system decomposes into full barbarism. Never has the system been so objectively vulnerable as today. At one point in their struggle, the workers will realize this. As we said before, the role of the unions is to confuse this unity of consciousness, to separate the economic struggles from the political ones, in order to sabotage and destroy both. The unions defend capitalism, not any ‘capitalist-worker' absurdity.

In your thesis no .17 you talk about the ‘left wing movement'. We assume you mean the extreme leftist groups. These groups defend, in one degree or another, the unions, Social Democracy, Stalinism and state capitalism. They participate in the electoral shams, they support inter-imperialist or bourgeois faction fights (in El Salvador, the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, etc). They are nothing but capitalist appendages of larger capit­alist groups. They are part of the ‘left of capital'. They aren't opportunist or reformist. Opportunism, reformism, and revisionism were specific historic deviat­ions in the workers' movement prior to 1914. The Comintern also suffered these diseases, though not for long, before it died. As mass phenomena, these deviations exist nowhere today. Capitalist decay, which has eroded any material possibility for a mass and permanent workers' movement (as was the Second International), indirectly too has eliminated the basis for these historic deformations which the proletariat suffered last century. Within the small revolutionary milieu which exists today, forms of opportunism can still be found, usually combined with its twin ailment, sectarianism. But this is due to theoretical sclerosis and conservatism, not to any ‘reformist mass base'. The extreme leftist groups, however, have different class nature to this milieu. The left Social Democrats (and their ‘youth' groups), the Trotskyists, ‘Communists', Maoists and other small fry of leftism-populism, belong entirely to the capitalist camp.

The destruction of the whole political apparatus of capitalism, of its left and right, is the task of the working class as a whole. What revolutionaries must untiringly do is to denounce the react­ionary, capitalist ideas and actions of these groups, especially the leftists as they do affect the class directly. This has to be done in front of the working class. If Social Democracy is, as you say, "...the most serious hindrance for the revolution and ... the last hope of the bourgeoisie ..." (thesis no.17) it follows that all its political parasites are also enemies of the working class. To say this to our class is an elementary responsibility.

As conclusion

The term ‘left communist' is today a misnomer because the previous mass comm­unist movement of the first revolutionary wave (1917-27) is dead. The ‘left comm­unists' of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s were miniscule Marxist fractions that attempted to survive the counter-revolution and thus prepare the theoretical and practical re­armament of the future. These included the comrades of the GIK of Holland and Germany, the comrades of the ‘Italian Left' in exile who published Bilan, etc. Various tendencies which stem theoretic­ally from these fractions are alive today and growing. But there's no need to call ourselves ‘left communists', as we const­itute part of the only communist, ie, Marxist, movement of today. The leftist apparatus of capitalism has nothing to do with Marxism. It is the deadly opponent of communism and the working class. It is a decadent movement which defends state capitalism and the counter-revolut­ion. We are not its ‘left'.

Similarly, the name ‘council communism' is inadequate, as it identifies communism with councils. This is an unwarranted claim. The workers' councils still express that society is divided into classes. The term is therefore not synonymous with the communist mode of production. The name also implies that there are ‘varieties' of communists -- some ‘party communists', ‘state communists', .... ‘village commun­ists', or ‘borough communists'? But in reality we are simply communists.

To call ourselves ‘anti-capitalist workers' groups' would also be a misnomer. Revol­utionaries define themselves in an affirm­ative way, and don't conceal their views. An ‘anti-capitalist worker' is a purely negative definition. Revolutionary groups today can't limit themselves to be ‘infor­mation centers' -- or forums of local exper­iences. They aren't workers' discussion circles either, which are temporary by their very nature. Though vital for the class as a whole, these circles don't, and can't, carry out an active and system­atic international task of propaganda and agitation. Similarly, revolutionary groups aren't strike committees or the ‘Mister Do-Goods' at the service of strikes. A revolutionary group is a part of the class, but it is a political, and voluntary, part of the class. It attempts to defend a clear and coherent political platform in the working class struggle. In the movement of the class, it points out the general and final goals of the proletarian revolution.

The task of a genuine self-organization of the class falls upon the class itself, through its mass spontaneous action. Revolutionaries can't initiate that unitary task which can only be effected by hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers. The task of revolutionaries is to organize themselves, to clarify their ideas, so that they can participate and help fertil­ize the whole mass movement of tomorrow with lessons of the historical experience of the world proletariat. The working class struggle has a past, a present and an unfulfilled future. There is an org­anic link uniting these moments of its historic trajectory. Revolutionaries try to unravel this link in theoretical form first of all. To participate fully, with one's whole will and enthusiasm in this task, to contribute one's best insights and years to this struggle for human lib­eration, is to give hope and happiness its only meaning today!

International Communist Current

January 1981

[1] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings 1910-1920; ‘Syndicalism and the Councils', article in L'Ordine Nuovo, 8 November 1919. London 1977, pp 110-111.

[2] Ibid, p.111

[3] For a comprehensive critique of the period (including the factory occupations) see ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Italy', in the ICC's International Review no. 2, p. 18

[4] Paul Mattick, ‘Workers' Control', in The New Left, Boston, 1970, p. 392.

[5] Paul Mattick, Economics, Politics and the Age of Inflation, London, 1980, p. 123.

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