How to deal with the Russian enigma?

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We are publishing below a reply to one of our contacts, who wrote to defend what the comrade called "the councilist balance-sheet of the Russian revolution". There no longer exists - since the disappearance of the Dutch group Daad en Gedachte - any organised expression of the councilist current within the proletarian movement. The councilist position nonetheless continues to enjoy a strong influence within the present revolutionary movement.

councilism tries to reject on the one hand, the Liberal, anarchist and Social Democratic positions, and on the other the "Leninist", Stalinist and Trotskyist positions. At a first glance this looks enormously attractive.

At the heart of the councilist position lies what has been called the "Russian enigma" this question is of the greatest importance for the present and future workers' movement. It poses the question of understanding whether the Russian revolution forms an experience that, considered in a critical manner - as is always the case with marxism - will serve as the basis for the next revolutionary attempt or rather - as the bourgeoisie say, backed up by anarchism and indirectly by councilism - it is something that has to be absolutely rejected because the monster of Stalinism had its origins in "Leninism"[1]

In our view, it is important to reply to this letter since this debate allows us to refute the councilist position, and so to contribute to the clarification of the revolutionary movement.

Dear Comrade

Your text begins by posing a question that we fully share: "The understanding of the defeat of the Russian revolution is a fundamental question for the working class, because we still live under the weight of the consequences of the failure of the revolutionary cycle begun by the Russian revolution: above all, because the counter-revolution did not take the classic form of a military restoration of the former power, but of Stalinism, which called itself ?Communist?. This struck a terrible blow against the world working class. The bourgeoisie has taken full advantage of this in order to create confusion and demoralisation amongst workers and to deny communism as the historical perspective of humanity. Therefore we have to draw up a historical balance sheet based on the historical experience of the working class and the scientific method of marxism: as the fractions of the Communist Left did during 50 years of counter-revolution. A balance sheet that we can retransmit to new generations of proletarians".

Exactly! The counter-revolution was not made in the name of the "restoration of capitalism" but under the banner of "Communism". It was not the White army that imposed capitalist order in Russia but the same party that had been the vanguard of the revolution.

This outcome has traumatized the present generations of proletarians and revolutionaries leading to doubts about the capacity of their class and the validity of its revolutionary traditions. Did Lenin and Marx not contribute, even inadvertently, to Stalinist barbarity? Was there an authentic revolution in Russia? Is there a danger that "political thinking" will destroy what the workers build?

The bourgeoisie has fed these fears with its permanent campaign of denigration of the Russian revolution, Bolshevism and Lenin, all of which has been reinforced by the Stalinists' lies. The democratic ideology that the bourgeoisie has propagated to incredible levels throughout the 20th century has reinforced these feelings with its insistence on the sovereignty of the individual, "respect for every opinion" and the rejection of "dogmatism" and "bureaucracy".

The notions of centralisation, the class party and the dictatorship of the proletariat that are the fruits of bloody struggles, enormous efforts of political and theoretical clarification, are besmirched by the shameful stigma of suspicion. Not to mention Lenin who is utterly rejected and whose contribution is subjected to the most tenacious ostracism, by the use that is made of phrases torn out of context, amongst which is the famous phrase about "consciousness being imported from the outside"![2]

The combination of these fears and doubts on the one hand and the pressure of bourgeois ideology on the other, contains the danger that we lose the link with the historical continuity of our class, with its programme and its scientific method without which a new revolution is impossible.

councilism is the expression of this ideological weight which concretises itself through grasping onto the immediate, the local, the economic, considering them as "the closest and most controllable" and the visceral rejection of anything that smells of politics or centralisation, which are always seen as abstractions, distant and hostile.

You talk about appropriating "the contributions of the fractions of the Communist Left who went against the current during 50 years of counter-revolution". We totally agree! However, councilism does not belong among these contributions, rather it is situated outside of them. It is necessary to differentiate council communism from councilism.[3] councilism is the extreme expression and degeneration of the errors that began to be theorized in the 1930s within the living movement that was council communism. councilism is an openly opportunist attempt to give a "marxist" form to positions put forwards by the bourgeoisie thousands of times - and repeated by anarchism - about the Russian Revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Party, centralisation etc.

Basing ourselves concretely on the Russian experience, we can see that councilism attacks two basic pillars of marxism: the international and fundamentally political character of the proletarian revolution.

We are going to concentrate solely on these two questions. There are many more that could be developed. How is class-consciousness formed? What is the role of the party and its links with the class etc.? However, we do not think there is enough room to deal with these and, above all, these two questions  - about which you are especially insistent - appear to us to be crucial to solving the "Russian enigma".

World revolution or "socialism in one country"?

In various passages of your text you insist on the danger of taking the "world revolution" as an excuse for putting off indefintely the struggle for communism and justifying the dictatorship of the party. "There are those who attribute all the bureaucratic deformations of the revolution to the civil war and its devastation, its isolation due to the lack of a world revolution and the backward character of the Russian economy, but this does not explain the internal degeneration of the revolution, why it was not defeated on the field of battle but from the inside. The only explanation that this gives us is that we formulate wishes about the next revolution having to take place in the developed countries and not remaining isolated". A few pages later on you remark that: "the revolution cannot limit itself to the management of capitalism until the triumph of the world revolution, it has to abolish capitalist relations of production (wage labour, commodities)".

The bourgeois revolutions were national revolutions. Capitalism first developed in cities and for a long time lived together with an agrarian world dominated by feudalism; its social relations could be developed within one country, isolated form others. Thus, in England the bourgeois revolution triumphed in 1640 whilst on the rest of the continent the feudal regime dominated.

Can the proletariat follow the same road? Can the proletariat begin to "abolish capitalist relations of production" in one country without having to wait for the "far off world revolution"?

We are certain that you are against the Stalinist position of "socialism in one country", however, when you accept that the proletariat can "begin to abolish wage labour and commodities without waiting for a world revolution" this lets back in through the window a position that has already been thrown out the door. There is no middle way between the worldwide construction of communism and the building of socialism in one country.

There is a fundamental difference between bourgeois and proletarian revolutions. The former are national in their means and aims, on the other hand, the proletarian revolution is the first world wide revolution in history both in its aim (communism) and in its means (the international character both of the revolution and the construction of the new society).

In the first place, because "big industry created a class, which in all nations has the same interest and with which nationality is already dead" (German Ideology, page 78, English students edition), proletarians have no fatherland and have nothing to lose because they possess nothing. In the second place, because this same large-scale industry "by creating the world market, has so linked up all the peoples of the earth, and especially the civilized peoples, that each people is dependent on what happens to another. Further, in all civilized countries large-scale industry has so leveled social development that in all these countries the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have become the two decisive classes of society and the struggle between them the main struggle of the day. The communist revolution will therefore be no merely national one; it will be a revolution taking place simultaneously in all civilised counties, that is, at least in England, America, France and Germany" ("The principles of communism". Marx and Engels Collected Works vol. 6, p. 351-2. Our emphasis).

Against this internationalist way of thinking, Stalinism in 1926-27 put forward the thesis of "socialism in one country". Trotsky and all the tendencies of the Communist Left (including the German-Dutch communists) considered this position as treason and the Italian Left group Bilan saw it as the death of the Communist International.

For its part, anarchism?s reasoning is basically the same as Stalinism. Its anti-centralisation makes it loath the formulation "socialism in one country", but, on the base of "autonomy" and "self-management" it proposes, "socialism in one village", or in "one factory". These formulations have a more "democratic" appearance and are more "respectful of the initiative of the masses" but they lead to the same things as Stalinism: the defence of capitalist exploitation and the bourgeois state.[4] The road is different of course: in the case of Stalinism it is the brutal method of an openly bureaucratic hierarchy, whereas anarchism exploits and develops democratic prejudices about "sovereignty" and the "autonomy" of the "free" individual and calls on workers to manage their own misery through local and sectoral organs.

What is the position of councilism? As we said at the beginning there has been an evolution of the different components of this current. The "Theses on Bolshevism"[5] adopted by the GIK opened the doors to the worst confusions. However, the GIK never put the nature of the world wide proletarian revolution openly in question. Nevertheless, its insistence on its "fundamentally economic" character and its rejection of the party leads it implicitly into this swamp. The later councilist groups ? particularly those in the 1970's ? openly theorized the thesis about the construction of "local and national" socialism. We have combated this in different polemical articles in our International Review, against the Third Worldism and self-management visions of various councilist groups.[6]

Contrary to what you give us to understand, proletarian internationalism is not a pious wish or one option amongst others, it is the concrete response to the historical evolution of capitalism. From 1914, all revolutionaries understood that the only revolution that was posed was the socialist, international and proletarian one: "It was not our impatience, nor our wishes, but the objective conditions created by the imperialist war that brought the whole of humanity to an impasse, that placed it in a dilemma: either allow the destruction of more millions of lives and utterly ruin European civilisation, or hand over power in all the civilised countries to the revolutionary proletariat, carry through the socialist revolution." ("Letter of farewell to the Swiss Workers", April 1917, Lenin's emphasis,

It is not only the maturation of the historic situation that poses the world revolution. It is also the analysis of the balance of class forces at a worldwide level. The formation, as early as possible, of the International Party of the proletariat is also a crucial element for pushing the balance of forces with the enemy in the proletariat's favour. The rapid formation of an International will make it more difficult for the bourgeoisie to isolate the revolutionary focal points. Lenin was already struggling in 1917, before taking power, for the Zimmerwald Left to immediately constitute a new International: "It is we who must found, and right now, without delay, a new, revolutionary, proletarian International, or rather, we must not fear to acknowledge publicly that this new International is already established and operating" ("The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution", 1917. Collected Works Volume 24).

In September 1917, Lenin posed the necessity of taking power, basing himself on an analysis of the international situation of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie; in a letter to the Bolshevik Congress of the Northern region (October 8th 1917) "Our revolution is passing through a highly critical period. This crisis coincides with the great crisis ? the growth of the world socialist revolution and the struggle against world imperialism (?) [the taking of power] will save the world revolution as much as the Russian Revolution". The revolution in Russia - after the aborted Kornilov revolt - was at a delicate moment: if the Soviets did not go onto the offensive (take power) Kerensky and his friends would make new efforts to paralyze them and later to liquidate them, so destroying the revolution. This took on even greater importance in Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain etc: where workers? discontent would receive a powerful impulse with the Russian example or on the contrary, run the risk of diluting itself in a series of dispersed struggles.

The taking of power in Russia was always seen as a contribution to the world revolution and not as a task of national economic management. Several months after October, Lenin spoke to the Conference of Factory Committees in the Moscow region in these terms "The Russian revolution is only one of the contingents of the international socialist army, on the action of which the success and triumph of our revolution depends. This is a fact which none of us loses sight of (?) Aware of the isolation of its revolution, the Russian proletariat clearly realises that an essential condition and prime requisite for its victory is the united action of the workers of the whole world" (

Economic revolution or political revolution?

Basing yourself on the councilist position, you consider that the driving force from the first day of the proletarian revolution is the adoption of communist economic measures. You develop this in numerous passages in your text "in April 1918 Lenin published ?The immediate tasks of Soviet power? in which he explored the idea of the construction of a state capitalism under the control of the party, developing productivity, accountability and discipline at work, putting an end to the petty-bourgeois mentality and anarchist influence, and without a doubt propagating bourgeois methods: such as the use of bourgeois specialists, piece work, the adoption of Taylorism, one man management[7]... As if the methods of capitalist production are neutral and their use by a 'workers' party will guarantee their socialist character. The ends of socialist construction justify the means" (page 9). As an alternative you propose that "the revolution cannot limit itself to the management of capitalism until some remote world wide triumph of the revolution, it must abolish capitalist relations of production (wage labour, commodities)", developing "the communisation of the relations of production, with the calculation of the necessary social labour for the production of goods" (page 15).

Capitalism has completed the formation of the world market since the beginning of the 20th century. This means that the law of value operates on the whole international economy and no country or group of countries can escape it. The proletarian bastion (the country or group of countries where the revolution has triumphed) is no exception. The seizure of power in the proletarian bastion does not mean creating a "liberated territory". On the contrary, this territory will still belong to the enemy since it will continue to be entirely submitted to the law of value of the capitalist world.[8] The power of the proletariat is essentially political and the essential role of territory that has been won is to act as the bridgehead of the world revolution.

Capitalism's two principle legacies to the history of humanity have been the formation of the proletariat and the objectively international character that it has given to the forces of production. These two legacies are fundamentally attacked by the theory of the "immediate communisation of the relations of production": the supposed "abolition" of wage labour and the market at the level of each factory, locality or country. On the one hand, this turns production in to a mixture of small autonomous pieces, thus making it prisoner to the tendency towards explosion and fragmentation that capitalism contains in its historical period of decadence and which has been concretised in a dramatic form in its terminal phase of decomposition.[9] On the other hand, it leads to the dividing of the proletariat through binding it to the interests and needs of each of the local, sectoral or national units of production in which the capitalist relations of production have been "liberated".

You say that "Russia in 1917 opened up a revolutionary cycle that closed in 1937. The Russian workers were capable of taking power, but not of using it for a communist transformation. Backwardness, war, economic collapse and international isolation in themselves do not explain the regression. This explanation is a political one that fetishises power and separates it from the economic transformations carried out by the class organs: assemblies and councils where the division between political and union functions is overcome. The Leninist conception gives the question of political power a privileged position in determining the socialization of the economy and the transformation of the relations of production: Leninism is the bureaucratic illness of communism. If the revolution is primarily political, it limits itself to managing capitalism in the hope of the world revolution, it creates a power that has no other function than repression and the struggle against the bourgeoisie which ends up perpetuating itself at all costs, first in the perspective of the world revolution and then for itself".

The reason why you desperately make "Communist economic measures" central is the fear that the proletarian revolution "will remain blocked at the political level" turning it into an empty shell which will not bring about any significant change in the conditions of the working class.

The bourgeois revolution was primarily economic and finished off the task of uprooting the political power of the old feudal class or arriving at an accommodation with it. "Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune; here independent urban republic (...), there taxable 'third estate' of the monarchy (...), afterward, in the period of manufacture proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, corner-stone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of modern industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative state, exclusive political sway" ("Communist Manifesto", Marx: the revolutions of 1848. Penguin Books, 1973, p69). The bourgeoisie, over the course of three centuries, gained an unrivaled position on the economic level (trade, lending, manufacture, large scale industry), which enabled it to conquer political power through revolutions whose paradigm, was France 1789.

This outline of its historical evolution corresponds to its nature as an exploiting class (aspiring to install a new form of exploitation, "free" wage labour as opposed to feudal serfdom) and to the characteristics of its mode of production: private and national appropriation of surplus-value.

Should the proletariat follow the same trajectory in its struggle for communism? Its aim is not to create a new form of exploitation, rather the abolition of all exploitation. This means that it cannot aspire to raise up within the old society an economic power base from which to launch its conquest of political power rather it has to follow exactly the opposite trajectory: taking political power at the world level and from here building the new society.

The economy means the submission of human beings to objective laws independent of their will. The economy means exploitation and alienation. Marx does not talk about a "communist economy" but about the critique of political economy. Communism means the reign of freedom rather than the reign of necessity that has dominated the history of humanity under exploitation and poverty. The principle error of The principles of communist production and distribution[10] a central text for the councilist current which tried to establish labour time as a neutral and impersonal economic automatism that will regulate production. Marx criticized this vision in the Critique of the Gotha Programme where he showed that the proposal of "equal work equal pay" still moves within the parameters of bourgeois rights. Long before this, in The poverty of philosophy, he had already emphasised that "In a future society, in which class antagonism will have ceased, in which there will no longer be any classes, use will no longer be determined by the minimum time of production; but the time of production devoted to an article will be determined by the degree of social utility (Marx and Engels Collected Works vol. 6, p 134) "Competition implements the law according to which the relative value of a product is determined by the labour time needed to produce it. Labour time serving as the measure of marketable value becomes in this way the law of the continual depreciation of labour" (idem. p 135).[11]

In your text you present "Leninism" as creating a "fetishisation" of the political. In reality, all of the workers' movement beginning with Marx himself would be guilty of such a "failure". It was Marx in his polemic with Proudhon (the above cited book) who showed that: "the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is a struggle class against class, a struggle which carried to its highest expression is a total revolution. Indeed, is it at all surprising that a society founded on the oppression of classes should culminate in brutal contradiction, the shock of body against body, as its final denouement?".

Do not say that social movement excludes political movement. There is never a political movement, which is not at the same time social.

It is only in an order of things in which there are no more classes and class antagonisms that social evolutions will cease to be political revolutions. Till then, on the eve of every general reshuffling of society, the last word of social science will always be "Combat or death, bloody struggle or extinction. Thus the question is inexorably put" (George Sand) (idem. p 212).

Councilism bases its defence of the economic character of the proletarian revolution on the following syllogism: since the basis of the exploitation of the proletariat is economic it is necessary to take communist economic measures. in order to abolish it

In order to reply to this sophism we have to abandon the slippery ground of formal logic and situate ourselves on the solid ground of historical evolution. In the historical evolution of humanity two intimately related but independent factors intervene: on the one hand, the development of the productive forces and the configuration of the relations of production (the economic factor); and on the other, the class struggle (the political factor). The actions of the classes are certainly based on the evolution of the economic factor but they do not merely reflect this, they are not just a simple response to economic impulses like Pavlov's dog. In the historic evolution of humanity we have seen a tendency towards an increasing weight of the political factor (the class struggle): the disintegration of the old primitive communism and its replacement by slave society was an essentially violent objective process, the product of many centuries of evolution. The passage from slavery to feudalism arose from the gradual process of the crumbling of the old order and the re-composition of a new one, where the conscious factor had a limited weight. On the other hand, in the bourgeois revolutions the actions of the classes had a greater weight although "the movement of the immense majority was carried out in the interest of a minority". Nevertheless, as we have demonstrated, the bourgeoisie rode on the overwhelming strength of the enormous economic transformations that in great part were the product of an objective and ineluctable process. The weight of the economic factor was still overwhelming.

On the other hand, the proletarian revolution is the end result of the class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie which requires a high level of consciousness and active participation from the beginning. This fundamental and principle dimension of the subjective factor (the consciousness, unity, solidarity, confidence, of the proletarian masses) signifies the primacy of the political character of the proletarian revolution that is the first massive and conscious revolution in history.

You are in favour of a proletarian revolution carried out by the active and conscious participation of the great majority of the workers, where the maximum unity, solidarity, consciousness, heroism, creative will, is expressed. Well, in this resides the political character of the proletarian revolution.

Councilism's "economic revolution" in practice.

Your bilan of the Russian revolution can be reduced to this: if instead of the fetishisation of politics and the hope of "far off world revolution" they had adopted the immediate measures of workers' control of the factories, the abolition of wage labour and of the exchange of commodities, then they would not have produced "bureaucratism" and the revolution would have gone forwards. It is a lesson that tempted council communism and which councilism has vulgarised in our day.

When councilism draws this lesson it is breaking with the tradition of marxism and links itself to another: anarchism and Economism. This formulation of councilism is nothing original: Proudhon defended it - and this was taken apart by Marx in his critique; it was later taken up by cooperative theories; then by anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism and in Russia by Economism. In 1917-23 it re-emerged with Austro-marxism[12] Gramsci and his "theory" of the Factory Councils;[13] Otto Ruhle and certain theoreticians of the AUUD followed the same road. In Russia, in spite of the development of correct arguments, such as those by the Democratic Centrism group, Kollontai?s Workers' Opposition fell into the same ideas. In 1936, anarchism made the Spanish "collectives" the great alternative to the Bolshevik's[14] "bureaucratic and state communism".

What is common to all these visions - and which is the root of councilism - is a conception of the working class as a mere economic and sociological category. It does not see the working class as an historic class, denoted by the continuity of its struggle and its consciousness, but rather as a sum of individuals who are motivated by the most narrow economic interests.[15]

The calculation of the councilists is the following; in order for the workers to defend the revolution they have "to check" that it gives immediate results, that they take into their own hands the fruits of the revolution. This is seen as them taking "control" of the factories, allowing them to manage them themselves.[16]

"Factory control"? What control can there be when production is submitted to the costs and rate of profit brought about by competition on the world market? This means one of two things: either declare autarchy and with this bring about a regression of incalculable proportions that will annihilate the whole revolution; or work within the world market subjugated to its laws.

The councilists propose the "abolition of wage labour", through the elimination of wages and their substitution by "labour-time vouchers". This avoids the problems with fine-sounding words: it is necessary to work a determined number of hours and however correct the voucher there will always be some hours that are paid and others that are not: in other words surplus-value. The slogan "a fair days work for a fair days pay" forms part of bourgeois law and encompasses the worst of injustices, as Marx demonstrated.

Councilism proclaims the "abolition of commodities" and their replacement by "bookkeeping between factories". But we are in the same situation: what is produced will have to adjust itself to the value of exchange imposed by competition within the world market.

Councilism tries to resolve the problem of the revolutionary transformation of society with "forms and names" avoiding the root of the problem. "Mr. Bray does not see that this equalitarian relation, this corrective ideal that he would like to apply to the world, is itself nothing but the reflection of the actual world; and that therefore it is totally impossible to reconstitute society on the basis of what is merely an embellished shadow of it. In proportion as this shadow takes on substance again, we perceive that this substance, far from being the transfiguration dreamt of, is the actual body of existing society" ("The Poverty of philosophy", Marx and Engels Collected Works vol. 6  p.144).

Anarchism and councilism's proposals about the "economic revolution" go in the same direction as Mr. Bray: when this shadow takes on substance it is nothing but the actual body of existing society. In 1936 anarchism with its collectives did nothing but implement a regimen of extreme exploitation, at the service of the war economy, embellishing the whole thing with ideas about "self-management", the "abolition of money" and other rubbish.

However, there are very serious consequences to these councilist proposals: they lead the working class to renounce its historical mission for a mess of pottage from the "immediate seizure of the factories".

In your text you underlined that "class and party do not have identical intentions. The workers' aspirations go in the direction of seizing the leadership of the factories and directing production themselves". "Seizing the leadership of the factories" means that each sector of the working class takes its share of the plunder recently grabbed from capitalism and manages it for its own benefit, while "coordinating" with workers in other factories. That is to say we will pass from the property of the capitalists to the property of individual workers. We have not left capitalism!

But worse still, it means that the generation of workers who make the revolution will have to consume the riches recently taken from capitalism for their own benefit without a thought for the future. This leads to the working class renouncing its historical mission to build communism on a world level and falling for the illusion of "having it all straight away".

This temptation to fall into the "sharing out of the factories" constitutes a real danger for the next revolutionary attempt, because today capitalism has entered its terminal phase: decomposition.[17] Decomposition means chaos, disintegration, implosion of the economic and social structures into a mosaic of disarticulated fragments and at the ideological level a loss of the historical, global and unitary vision that democratic ideology seeks to systematically demonize as "totalitarian" and "bureaucratic". The forces of the bourgeoisie do this in the name of "democratic control", "self-management" and other similar phrases. The danger is that the class will be defeated due to the total loss of historical perspective and be imprisoned in each factory and locality. This will not only be an almost definitive defeat but will mean that the working class has allowed itself to be dragged down by the lack of historical perspective, by egotism, immediatism and the absolute absence of aims that is propagated by the whole of bourgeois ideology in this present situation of decomposition.

The real lessons of the Russian Revolution

The proletarian bastion is born within a brutal and agonising contradiction: on the one hand, capitalism wages a struggle to the death against it through its economic, military and imperialist laws (military invasion, blockade, the need to trade goods under unfavorable conditions in order to survive etc); on the other, it has to break the noose around its neck with the only weapons that it possesses: the unity and consciousness of the whole proletarian class and the international extension of the revolution.

This forces it to carry out a complex, and on occasions, contradictory policy, in order to keep a society threatened by disintegration afloat (supplies, the minimal functioning of the productive apparatus, military defence etc) and, simultaneously, to dedicate the bulk of its forces to the extension of the revolution, the explosion of new proletarian insurrectionary movements.

In the first years of soviet power, the Bolsheviks firmly followed this policy. In her critical study of the Russian Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg made it very clear that: "The fate of the revolution in Russia depends fully upon international events. That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political farsightedness and firmness of principles." (The Russian Revolution.) As the Resolution of the Moscow Territorial Bureau of the Bolshevik party adopted in February 1918 in relation to the Brest-Litovsk debate states: "In the interests of the international revolution we accept the risk of the soviets losing their power, that it is turned in to something purely formal; today, as yesterday, the principle task that we have is the extension of the revolution to all countries.[18]

Within this policy, the Bolsheviks committed a whole series of errors. Nevertheless, these errors could be corrected whilst the force of the world revolution continued to live. It was only from 1923, when the revolution suffered a mortal blow in Germany, that the tendency of the Bolsheviks to make themselves prisoners of the Russian territorial state and of the state to come into an increasingly irreconcilable contradiction with the interests of the world proletariat, became definitive. The Bolshevik party began to be transformed into a mere manager of capital.

A marxist critique of these errors has nothing to do with the critique made by councilism. The councilist critique pushes towards anarchism and the bourgeoisie, whereas the marxist critique enables the strengthening of proletarian positions. Many of the errors committed by the Bolsheviks were shared by the rest of the international workers' movement (Rosa Luxemburg, Bordiga, Pannekoek). Our aim here is not to "wash away the sins" of the Bolsheviks but simply to show that it is a question of a problem for the whole of the international working class and not the product of "evil", "Machiavellianism" and the "hidden bourgeois character" of the Bolsheviks as the councilist think.

We do not have time to expound on the marxist critique of the Bolshevik's errors, however we have carried out a developed work within the Current around this question. We particularly want to highlight the following texts:

-         the series on Communism in International Review n°s99 and 100

-         the pamphlet (in English) on the Period of Transition

-         the pamphlet (in English) on the Russian Revolution.

These documents can serve as the basis for the continuation of the discussion.

We hope that we have contributed to a clear and fraternal debate. Please accept our communist greetings:

Accion Proletaria/ International Communist Current.

[1] The most extreme councilists do not stop at calling into question Lenin. They go as far as questioning Marx and embracing Proudhon and Bakunin. In fact, what they are doing is applying the implacable logic of the position according to which there is a continuity between Lenin and Stalin. See our article "In defence of the proletarian character of October 1917" in International Review n°12 and n°13, which is a fundamental article for the discussion of the Russian question

[2] We reject the bourgeoisie's campaign against Lenin, but this in no way means that we blindly accept all his positions. On the contrary, in different texts we have taken full account of his errors and confusions about imperialism, the relationship between party and class etc. Such critiques form part of the revolutionary tradition (as Rosa Luxemburg said it is the necessary air for us to breath). But revolutionary criticism has method and an orientation that is the antithesis of the bourgeoisie's and the parasites? denigration and lies.

[3] We will not develop on this question here. We have sent you the book we have published in French and English on the German and Dutch Communist Left.

[4] See our article "The myth of the anarchist collectives" published in International Review nº15 and in our book 1936: Franco y la Republica aplastan al proletariado. We obviously cannot develop on this question here: faced with the supposedly bureaucratic and authoritarian Russian "model", it was the 1936 Spanish "model" that was "democratic", "self-managed" and "based on the autonomous initiative of the masses".

[5] Within the framework of this reply we cannot make a response to the main affirmation of the Theses on Bolshevism - the bourgeois nature of the Russian revolution. It is a point that we have fully replied to in International Reviews no12 and no13 (see note 1) and in the "Reply to Lenin as philosopher by Pannekoek" in International Review n°s25, 27 and 30. In any case, this represents a break with the previous position defended by many members of the councilist current: in 1921 Pannekoek affirmed that "The action of the Bolsheviks is incommensurably great for the revolution in Western Europe. They have first by taking power, given example to the proletariat of the whole world?By their praxis they have posed the great principle of communism: dictatorship of the proletariat and the system of soviets or councils" (cited in our book The Dutch and German Communist Left. Footnote 69, p. 194 English Edition).

[6] See "The epigones of  councilism in practice" in International Review no2, "Letter to Arbetamarket" in International Review no4 and "Response to solidarity on the national question" in International Review no15, "The councilist danger" in International Review no40, "The poverty of modern councilism" in International Review no42.

[7] We have always made clear that we criticise certain methods of production put forwards by Lenin and they were also criticised from inside the party by groups such as the Democratic Centralism group. See article from the the series on communism published in International Review no99.

[8] The proletarian bastion will have to buy food, medicines, raw materials, industrial goods etc, at disadvantageous prices, confronted with blockades and in conditions of more than probable disorganised transport. This is not only a problem of backwards Russia; as we demonstrate in our pamphlet Russia 1917: the beginning of the world revolution the problem will be even more serious in the central countries such as Germany or Great Britain. To this has to be added the bourgeoisie's war against the proletarian bastion; trade blockades, military war, sabotage etc. And finally the proletariat's future revolutionary attempts will be faced with the heavy weight of the consequences of the continuation of capitalism in conditions of its historical decomposition; the collapse of the infrastructure, chaotic communications and supplies, the devastating effects of an interminable succession of regional wars, ecological destruction.

[9] All the present harangues about the "globalisation" of capitalism that share as much the expression "neo-Liberalism" as its supposed antagonist ?the   "anti-globalisation movement", hid the fact that the world market has been formed for more than a century and that today the problem that confronts the system is its irremediable tendency to explosion and brutal self-destruction through imperialist wars above all.

[10] We cannot develop a critique of the Principles here. However, we would remind you of our book which we have already referred to about the history of the German and Dutch Communist Left: see pages 248 to 269, in the English edition.

[11] Pannekoek, with good reason, formulated serious reservations about the Principles. See our already mentioned book.

[12] See "From Austro-marxism to Austro-fascism" in International Review no2

[13] See in the book Debate on the factory councils the clear critique that Bordiga makes of Gramsci's speculations.

[14] See note 4

[15] There is no paradox in the fact that councilism makes the same mistake that Lenin fell into in What is to be done?, in saying that "workers can only develop a trade unionist consciousness". However, there is a world of difference between Lenin and the councilists; whilst the first was capable of correcting his error (and not for the tactical reasons that you indicate) the councilists are incapable of recognising this.

[16] Bearing in mind the differences and without wanting to exaggerate the comparison, the councilists see the workers as having the same role as the peasants in the French Revolution. This freed them from certain feudal burdens on agrarian property and this made them enthusiastic soldier in the revolutionary army and especially so in the Napoleonic army. Apart from this conception revealing a subordinate and unconscious vision of the proletariat that contradicts all of the protests about the "participation" and the "initiative" of the masses espoused by councilism, what is more serious is that it forgets that whilst the peasants could be freed through changes in landownership the proletariat will never free itself through changing the ownership of the factory. The proletarian revolution does not consist of the purely local and judicial freeing of the workers from the oppression of a capitalist gentleman, but from the liberating of the proletariat and the whole of humanity from the yoke of global and objective social relations that are imposed beyond personal and property relations: the relations of capitalist production based on commodities and wage labour.

[17] See International Review no62 "Theses on decomposition".

[18] In relation to the Brest Litovsk Treaty you say that it meant the "the rejection of the revolutionary war which, although in the short-term had meant the temporary loss of cities, had enabled the development of a popular war with the formation of militias in the countryside and the fusion of the revolutionary worker with the peasant which as the Bolshevik Left proposed created the possibility of the beginning of the constitution of a communist mode of production". We cannot develop on this question here (we refer you to our French pamphlet mentioned in note 8). However, your reflection does pose some questions. In the first place, What is the "peasant revolution"?  What "revolution" can be made by the peasantry what has had to fuse with the "revolutionary worker"? The peasantry is not a class but a social category in which are mixed various social classes with diametrically opposed interests: landlords, medium land owners, small landowners, day workers...

On the other hand, How can the constitution of the "communist mode of production" be begun on the basis of guerrillas in the countryside with the cities abandoned to the enemy?


History of the workers' movement: 

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: