Crisis theories in the Dutch Left

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In this third part of the series, we are going to deal with one of the most important theoretical foundations of the Dutch Left. From its origin at the begin­ning of this century, the Dutch Left gave an interpretation of historical materialism which be­came a characteristic mark of the ‘Dutch Marxist school' (Anton Pannekoek, Hermann Gorter, H. Roland-H­olst). This interpretation of Marxist method is often called ‘spontaneism'. We will show in this article why the term is inappropriate. Gorter and Pannekoeks' position on the role of spontaneity allowed the Dutch Left to understand the changes imposed on the class struggle with the onset of capitalist decadence. At the same time, we can see certain weaknesses in Pannekoek which today's ‘councilists' have pushed to their most absurd conclusions.


Marxism made a decisive contribution to socialist theory in that unlike the utopian socialists, it did not depart from arbitrary or dogmatic presuppo­sitions. Marxist theory in fact departs from "real individuals, their acts and the material conditions in which they live, those they find and at the same time those they bring about by their own acts" (Marx and Engels, The German Ideology). Let us recall the formulation on historical materialism in the ‘Preface to a Contribution of Political Economy' by Marx:

"In the social production of their existence, men enter into definite, necessary relations, which are independent of their will, namely, relations of production corresponding to a determinate stage of development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which there arises a legal and political superstructure and to which there correspond definite forms of social conscious­ness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellec­tual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary it is their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or -- what is merely a legal expres­sion for the same thing -- with the property relations within the framework of which they have hitherto operated. From forms of develop­ment of the productive forces these relations turn into fetters. At that point an era of social revolution begins. With the change in the economic foundation the whole immense superstructure is more slowly or more rapidly transformed. In considering such transforma­tions it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the eco­nomic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic, in short, ideological, forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such an epoch of transfor­mation by its consciousness, but, on the contr­ary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social forces cf production and the relations of production. A social order never perishes before all the productive forces for which it is broadly sufficient have been developed, and new sup­erior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the womb of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it can solve, since closer examination will also show that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already pre­sent or at least in the process of formation. In broad outline, the Asian, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as progressive epochs of the socio-economic order. The bourgeois rela­tions of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production -- antagonistic not in the sense of an individual antagonism but of an antagonism growing out of the social conditions of existence of the individuals; but the productive forces deve­loping in the womb of bourgeois society simultaneously create the material conditions for the solution of this antagonism. The pre­history of human society therefore closes with this social formation."

The contribution of the Dutch Left to historical materialism

One can distinguish two fundamental aspects of historical materialism that are indissolubly linked:

  1. That there is a relationship between being and consciousness, or in other words, between the infrastructure and the superstructure.
  2. That there is necessarily a relationship bet­ween the development of the productive forces and the relations of production.

It is from the antagonism between the productive forces and the relations of production that we can deduce the objective necessity for a commu­nist society. Marxist theory, for which being determines consciousness, also allows one to understand how the workers subjectively act in the process of revolution. The ‘Dutch Marxist school' always put the emphasis on this subjective factor, on the relationship between being and consciousness, on the relation between infra­structure and superstructure. Rosa Luxemburg was just as keen to clarify the question of class consciousness. In 1904 she opposed Lenin, who defended Kautsky's position that conscious­ness was brought from outside in the class struggle and was not a product of the struggle itself. For Rosa Luxemburg, faced with the bureaucratization of German Social Democracy, this question was of central importance. By basing herself on the history of the workers' movement in Russia, she showed that only the creative initiative of the large proletarian masses could lead to victory.

"In general, the tactical policy of the social democracy is not something that may be ‘invented'. It is the product of a series of great creative acts of the often spontaneous class struggle seeking its way forward. The uncons­cious comes before the conscious. The logic of the historic process comes before the subjective logic of the human beings who participate in the historic process." (Rosa Luxemburg, Organizational Question of Social Democracy)

Rosa Luxemburg and the Dutch Left defended this position on the role of spontaneity for the masses which has nothing to do with the spontan­eist position of today's ‘councilists'. ‘Spontan­eism' completely neglects the task of the most conscious elements in the class: that conscious­ness once arisen from the experience of struggle becomes the point of departure for future struggles. The spontaneists and the councilists embrace proletarian experience only to reject it later.

The ‘Dutch Marxist school', on the contrary, deepened the positions defended by Rosa Luxem­burg on the role of spontaneity in the develop­ment of class consciousness. Gorter, Pannekoek and Roland-Holst found in the work of Joseph Dietzgen, a first generation social democrat, a development of Marx's basic conception that being determines consciousness. They wrote many articles on Dietzgen's positions and Gorter translated his most important work The Essence of Human Intellectual Work[1] into Dutch.

The Dutch Left thought it was necessary to stress the subjective aspects of historical materialism because:

"The great revolutions in modes of production (from feudalism to capitalism, from capita­lism to socialism) happen because new neces­sities transform the mind of man and produce a will; when this will is translated into acts, man changes society in order to respond to new needs." (Pannekoek, ‘Marxism as Action', in Lichstrahlen, no.6, 1915)

These lines were written at the time when the productive forces had clearly entered into contradiction with capitalist relations of production; World War I had demonstrated the decadence of capitalism in the most horrible manner. Social Democracy had been shown incapable of adapting itself to the needs of the proletariat in the period of decadence, in the epoch of wars and social revolutions.

"Today, the hour has come to underline the other aspect, neglected by Marxism up to now, because the workers' movement must reorient itself, it must liberate itself from the narrowness and passivity of the past period in order to overcome its crisis." (Ibid)

However, while stressing the subjective aspect of Marxism, Pannekoek neglected the objective aspect of historical materialism. The contra­dictions, which were clearly present in the economic base of society in the period of capi­talist decadence, were neglected, denied, put aside for the future (later on we will look at Pannekoek's critique of different crisis theories and the effects of his critique on today's councilist epigones). Pannekoek feared that certain of the crisis theories could lead the working class to passively wait for an ‘auto­matic' collapse of the capitalist system. In the article of 1915 quoted above, Pannekoek pointed out that Marxism has two aspects: "man is the product of circumstances, but he also transforms the circumstances". According to Pannekoek, these two aspects are: "... equally correct and important; it is only by their close relationship that they form a coherent theory. But of course in different circumstances one or other of these two aspects prevail" (Ibid). Thus in the difficult period of the anti-socialist laws of 1878, 1890, when Bismarck put Social Democracy outside the law, the idea was to let the circumstances mature. The strongly fatalistic turn taken by historical materialism during those years was, according to Pannekoek, deliberately maintained in the years preceding World War I. Kautsky said that a true Marxist was one who let circumstances mature. The need for new methods of struggle threatened the rou­tine habits of the leaders of the party. Panne­koek was right when he stressed the need to put the emphasis on the subjective element in histo­rical materialism, but in doing this he under­estimated the objective evolution of capitalism. The proletariat must act consciously, pose new problems, raise them and resolve them in the experience of struggle. Of course, but why? What are these new problems? Why are they raised? Why the need for a new society, for communism? Can capitalism still develop? What can it offer humanity?

Pannekoek doesn't provide the answers, not even insufficient or false ones. He didn't see clearly that the objective change in capitalism, its decadence, posed the necessity for the mass acti­vity of the proletariat. In the progressive development of capitalism the objective of class struggle was in general limited; thus the strug­gles for reforms led by the unions and parliamen­tary socialists were adequate in the preceding period, but were no longer appropriate in the period of decadence.

Crisis theories

The answers to the questions posed above are found in Marxist theories of crisis. By seeking to determine the objective laws of capitalism's development, these theories have tried to evaluate if the crises which have taken place are the crises of growth of an ascendant mode of production in its prosperous period, or if, on the contrary, these crises are expressions of a system in decline which must be consciously replaced by a new revolutionary class.

On the basis of crisis theories we can draw cer­tain important programmatic consequences, even if it remains true that consciousness of the necessity to accelerate the evolution of capita­lism through struggle is never the product of ‘purely economic' arguments. Crisis theories clarify the process of class struggle. But at the same time, this clarification is an important need of the struggle. A theory of crisis provides revolutionaries with precious arguments against bourgeois ideology in their task of stimulating class consciousness which develops through and in the struggle. With theories of crisis, the working class could understand, for example, that Proudhonist ideas of self-management do not in fact abolish wage slavery. The Marxist theory of crisis combatted reformist illusions by show­ing that reforms meant nothing more than a rela­tive amelioration in the situation of the working class which at the same time pushed capitalist development towards its final decadence. Today a Marxist theory of crisis shows the working class that the struggle to defend its living standards can no longer be a struggle for reforms when capitalism can no longer offer lasting improvements.

The fundamental unity of these two aspects of historical materialism, the objective and the subjective, appears very clearly in the work of Rosa Luxemburg. She doesn't simply put the acc­ent on the role of the spontaneity of the masses in the development of new methods of struggle, she also shows why these new tactics are necessary. In a course given at the central school of the party in 1907, she pointed out that "the strong­est unions are completely impotent" against the consequences that technical progress has on wages:

"The struggle against a relative fall in wages is no longer a struggle within the con­text of a commodity economy but is becoming a revolutionary attack against the very exis­tence of this economy; it is the socialist movement of the proletariat. Hence the sympa­thies of the capitalist class for the unions (even though previously it had struggled furiously against them) because as the social­ist struggle begins, so the unions will turn against socialism." (Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Intro­duction to Political Economy', ed. Antropos, 1970, p.248)

In the Accumulation of Capital, Rosa Luxemburg traces the historic limits of capitalist produc­tion in the development of the world market. In the Communist Manifesto, we already find the idea that cyclical crises, which for Marx and Engels were an expression of the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of produc­tion, could only be surmounted by the conquest of new markets, by the creation of the world market. In the German Ideology they call this creation of the world market "a universal inter­dependence, this first natural form of the histo­rical world co-operation of individuals", a pre­condition for the world revolution which will lead to the "control and conscious management of those forces which, though born of the interac­tion of men have until now dazzled and dominated them". In Capital, Marx explicitly says:

"In our description of how production relations are converted into entities and rendered independent in relation to the agents of produc­tion, we leave aside the manner in which the interrelations, due to the world-market, its conjunctures, movements of market-prices, periods of credit, industrial and commercial cycles, alternations of prosperity and crisis, appear to them as overwhelming natural laws that irresistibly enforce their will over them, and confront them as blind necessity. We leave this aside because the actual movement of competition belongs beyond our scope, and we need present only the inner organization of the capitalist mode of production, in its ideal average, as it were." (Marx, Capital, vol.3, part vii, chap.48)

This plan to simply describe the internal organi­zation of capitalism was justified because capi­talism, after the troubled revolutionary years of 1848-49, had entered into a long period of pros­perity. Marx and Engels concluded "a new revolu­tion is only possible as a result of a new crisis. But it is as certain as the crisis itself". Marx seemed to take account of the fact that the per­iod of social revolution hadn't yet started and that capitalism was still in its period of pro­gressive development. Capital demystifies the contemporary bourgeois ideology which tried to mask the division of society into classes and to present capitalism as an eternally progressive system.

Clearly Rosa Luxemburg could not be satisfied with Marx's plan. She saw in the mass movements and in imperialism the beginning of the end of the progressive era of capitalism. Her study of the Accumulation of Capital enabled her to write in the Program of the Communist Party of Germany after World War I and in the midst of the German revolution:

"The World War confronted society with a choice of two alternatives; either the continued existence of capitalism, with its consequent new wars and inevitable and speedy destruction due to chaos and anarchy, or the abolition of capitalist exploitation.

With the end of the World War the class rule of the capitalists lost its right to existence. It is no longer capable of leading society out of the terrible economic chaos which the imperialist orgy has left in its wake. (...) Only the worldwide proletarian revolution can establish order in place of this anarchy." (Rosa Luxemburg, What Does Spartacus Want?)

With the onset of the period of decadence, all revolutionaries felt the need to develop a theory of crisis in order to show the consequences of decadence on the class struggle: Lenin, Bukharin, Luxemburg and Gorter (cf his pamphlet entitled Imperialism, World War and Social Democracy, 1915, and quoted in the first part of this series of articles). Pannekoek, who more than others, had grasped the political implications of the change in capitalism, remained firmly opposed to economic theories which sought to deduce changes in the methods of proletarian struggle from objective causes. As we will see, his criticism of theories of crisis unhappily contributed very little to the development of class consciousness.

Pannekoek's critique of the theory of the mortal crisis of capitalism

After the reflux in the revolutionary struggle, the KAPD turned its attention towards developing a theory of the ‘mortal crisis of capitalism'.

After years of almost total silence, Pannekoek once more entered into the discussions going on within the Dutch Left. In 1927, under the pseudonym of Karl Horner, he published an article in Proletarier (organ of the Berlin tendency of the KAPD) called ‘Principle and Tactic' (July/ August 1927). Refuting the theory of the ‘mortal crisis of capitalism', Pannekoek defined the question of the crisis in a new way:

"What are the consequences for the develop­ment of revolution? Once more the question of the ‘mortal crisis' comes to the fore, now clearly posed: are we faced with an economic depression of such length that the reaction to it by the proletariat will become perman­ent and lead to revolution? It is true that the KAPD shares the position that capitalism can no longer return to a phase of prosperity and has reached a final crisis that can no longer be resolved. Because this question is very important for the tactics of the KAPD, it requires a very profound examination."

Pannekoek quite rightly remarked that the ‘mortal crisis of capitalism' goes back to the Accumula­tion of Capital by Rosa Luxemburg, but he also said that this theory leads to conclusions which are not drawn in the Accumulation of Capital because "the book was published some years before the war" (sic!). Then Pannekoek returned to his critique of the Accumulation of Capital published in 1913 and in one of the first issues of Proletarier. In these criticisms, Pannekoek went into details about the schemas of capitalist reproduction that are found in Capital, vol. 2. We will not enter here into the debate on how Rosa Luxemburg and others have interpreted Marx's schema. The essential question is that the schema must be corrected, as we said above, a question never taken up by Pannekoek. Panne­koek warned against the position which said that capitalism had reached a final crisis because he thought that would lead to the adoption of short term tactics. He thought that a new period of prosperity could not be excluded.

To argue this position, he showed that new dis­coveries of gold could possibly stimulate demand again and insisted that the emergence of East Asia was an independent factor in capitalist production. To the extent that Pannekoek illus­trated the question of gold and East Asia by referring to capitalism in the nineteenth century, he not only defended the possibility of an econo­mic recovery (as the theory of the mortal crisis had posed the problem), but he even denied that capitalism had entered a new phase different from the phase of ascendancy and prosperity which the nineteenth century had been a part of. The recovery of capitalist production which effec­tively took place in the mid-thirties wasn't the result of discoveries of gold[2] but of a dis­covery which had the same outcome!

It wasn't the discovery of new resources of gold which got the economy moving, but the discovery of the stimulating role of the state in the economy through inflation. But from 1933 to the war this hardly stimulated any demand in the means of production and consumption as the Keynesian ideology of state intervention claims, but mostly in the means of destruction: war material, what a wonderful prosperity! In the same way, the appearance of East Asia as an independent factor in capitalist production, took the form of Japanese imperialism and the Berlin/Rome/Tokyo axis.

The ‘new period of capitalist economic prosperity' predicted by Pannekoek, cannot be compared with the conjunctural movements of prosperity and commercial crises of the nineteenth century. The so-called ‘prosperity' of the war economy of the mid-thirties was only an essential moment in the cycle of crisis, war, reconstruction, crisis etc, characteristic of the historic period of the decadence of capitalism. But, nevertheless, Pannekoek put his finger on the question when he said that any eventual prosperity must lead to a more violent crisis, which would provoke revolution again.

Decadence? Final crisis? The political consequences of the crisis according to the KAPD and the GIC

In the second part of this article we saw how Pannekoek showed that from the beginning the ‘Unions' were not unitary organizations and that it was preferable to abandon the ‘Unions' for the party. Also, the question of knowing whether the ‘Unions' must organize or support wage strug­gles wasn't the right question in his eyes. More interesting for him was the question of knowing whether or not revolutionaries must intervene in the wage struggles, and if so, how? In spite of all the confusions on the tasks of the ‘Unions', we find in a text of the Essen Tendency of the KAPD/AAUD on the ‘mortal crisis of capitalism' some very valuable arguments on the imperious need to transform wage struggles into struggles for the destruction of capitalism:

"Where the bourgeoisie's offensive of reducing workers' wages and living conditions leads to a purely economic struggle by the affected group of workers, this struggle almost with­out exception ends up in a victory for the bosses and a defeat for the workers. The reason for the defeat of workers in such struggles, despite tenacious and powerful strikes, lies once more in the reality of the mortal crisis of capitalism (...). The outc­ome of these defensive struggles for wages in the period of capitalism's mortal crisis is a bitter but irreversible proof that the strug­gle for better wages and conditions for wor­kers in the present phase of mortal crisis is a pure utopia; and consequently the unions, as well,(whose only historic task was to take care of the selling of labor power to the bourgeoisie) with all their aims, their means of struggle and their forms of organization, have, because of the historic process, become completely anachronistic and are therefore counter-revolutionary structures. The trade unions know that with the collapse of the capitalist economic system their vital role as sellers of proletarian labor power will be over as will be the basis for that exchange. As a result, they try to conserve capitalism's conditions of existence, which are at the same time their own conditions of existence, by trading proletarian labor power for the lowest price." (Proletarier, 1922)

Pannekoek paid close attention to this economic argument. Pannekoek's article ‘Principle and Tactic' had such a success in the organizations of the Dutch and German communist lefts in the late 1920s that some tendencies started to see a contradiction between discussing crisis theories and discussing class consciousness. Some tenden­cies completely denied any need for a theoretical elaboration of the crisis. But they all stuck to the position on ‘the crisis of capitalism' and the ‘decadence of capitalism' formulated in the KAPD's program of 1920, from which they had all originated. This was also the case with the Group of Communist Internationalists (GIC) to which, from 1926, Pannekoek regularly contributed. The GIC wrote this on the positions:

"The development of capitalism leads to increa­singly violent crises which express themselves in an ever growing unemployment and greater and greater dislocation of the productive apparatus, so that millions of workers find themselves outside production and at the mercy of starvation. The increasing impoverishment and uncertitude of existence force the working class to start to struggle for the communist mode of production ..."

When Paul Mattick, after the 1929 crash, made the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) adopt Grossman's theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall in their program (see the Mortal Crisis of Capitalism, Chicago, 1933) Pannekoek extended his critique of Rosa Luxemburg to Mattick's theory of the crisis in a presentation which he made to the GIC and which was published. Again he warned that the final collapse of capi­talism that Mattick talked about could take place later than foreseen and that, fundamentally, only the working class could put an end to capitalism. The GIC was in agreement with the political consequences of Pannekoek's critique, and today we think that revolutionary groups and elements can also be in broad agreement with these consequences. In 1933 the GIC, in a pamph­let on ‘the movements of the capitalist economy' engaged in a chicken and egg type discussion which continues today between those who defend a theory of the crisis based on the saturation of markets (Rosa Luxemburg) and those who defend a theory of the crisis based on the tendency of the falling rate of profit (Bukharin/Lenin, Grossman/ Mattick). In this pamphlet the GIC presents it­self as a supporter of the falling rate of profit analysis but insists at the same time on a fact stressed by the theory of the saturation of markets:

"The whole world has been made into a gigantic workshop. This means that crises on the present level of specialization have an international character."

We can say that the GIC, in its main lines, foll­owed Mattick's economic theory. But, at the same time, the GIC put forward the same warning as Pannekoek:

"Particularly at the present time when there is so much talk about the ‘mortal crisis' of capitalism, of the ‘final crisis' in which we find ourselves, it is important to be aware of the essential characteristics of the pre­sent crisis. Not to do so would mean submit­ting to all sorts of illusions and surprises regarding the measures which the ruling class tries in order to maintain the future devel­opment of the capitalist system. An ‘absolute' collapse is expected, without taking into account what that means. One must say that capitalism is stronger than was foreseen bec­ause the ‘absolute' collapse hasn't happened, because a large part of economic life contin­ues to function. Thus the transition from capitalism to communism isn't automatic but will always be linked to the level of consc­iousness developed in the working class. It is precisely because of this that the propa­ganda of principles is necessary." (De bewegingen van het kaitalistische bedrijfs­leven, Permateriaal GIC, 6 Jg, no.5)

And so, in the following years, the GIC analyzed the measures of the bourgeoisie which led to the development of the war economy. It showed that economic ‘planning' lowered the standard of living of the working class without really over­coming the crisis. Here is the conclusion of an article on economic ‘planning' in Holland:

"It is clear that the relations of property have entered into conflict with the productive forces. And, at the same time, this clearly shows that the problem cannot be resolved on the basis of capitalist production. The problem can only be solved through a world 'economy' based on an international division of labor, on communist foundations." (Radencommunisme, May 1936)

A second article on this question demystified the social democratic ‘labor plans' which were part of the tendency towards statification, and which followed the example of the fascist organization of capital. The GIC showed that with the social democrats in power national defense would be stimulated while at the same time the war economy created new conditions of struggle for the workers: the purely economic struggles became useless against the organized policy of prices and so were struggles for the preservation of the dying, democratic bourgeois legal system. The GIC's articles on Germany showed how, during the period of the Weimar Republic, social democracy and Russia's foreign policy brought about economic ‘planning', the defeat of workers' struggles and preserved Germany's military might which could be perfected by the Nazis into a fully functioning war machine.

From Pannekoek to the Councilist Epigones

Let us return to Pannekoek's ‘disgust' for econo­mic theories of the crisis. In Workers' Councils, written during World War II, he treated the ques­tion of the limits of capitalist development in a coherent and global manner. Departing from the idea developed in the Communist Manifesto about the expansion of capitalism on a world scale, Pannekoek arrived at the conclusion that the end of capitalism would be approached:

"When tens of millions of people who live in the fertile plains of East Asia and the South are pushed into the orbit of capitalism, the principal task of capitalism would have been fulfilled." (P. Aartsz, Workers' Councils, chap.II)

It is interesting to see that Marx posed the same question in a letter to Engels (8.10.1858):

"The specific task of bourgeois society is the establishment of a world market, at least in outline, and of production based upon this world market. As the world is round, this seems to have been completed by the coloniza­tion of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan. The difficult question for us is this: on the Continent the revolution is imminent and will immediately assume a socialist character. Is it not bound to be crushed in this little corner, considering that in a far greater territory the movement of bourgeois society is still in the ascendant?"

But in his article on China in the same years, (published in the New York Daily Tribune), Marx responded to this question in the negative.

Today, 120 years later, Pannekoek's epigones continue to defend the idea that capitalism still has a great task to fulfill in Asia[3]. While Marx in the 1850s showed that American and Brit­ish expectations concerning the development of trade with the opening up of China were greatly exaggerated, today, the bourgeoisie of the US bloc has already reached this conclusion concer­ning the recent re-opening up of China to the western bloc: the western bourgeoisie merely provides military equipment in preparation for a third world war and even sees its trade diminish given the restricted nature of the Chinese mar­ket. Today, the crisis is there. Nobody with sense would dare to claim that it doesn't exist.

Today's councilists, like Daad en Gedacht would leave one to understand that capitalism is free of crises, if not in words, then at least by their silence on the present crisis. Is that an exaggeration on our part? This is what Cajo Brendel claims in reply to our criticisms (in Wereld Revolutie):

"I thought I knew the positions of Daad en Gedacht to some degree. I want to know where Daad en Gedacht has ever written something which could justify this position. As far as I know Daad en Gedacht takes exactly the opposite position by saying that capitalism cannot be crisis-free (...) It is one thing to say that there cannot be a crisis-free capitalism and quite another to speak of a ‘permanent crisis' or a ‘mortal crisis' of capitalism or something like that. Already the GIC, in the thirties, not only presumed but also proved with arguments that the permanent crisis didn't exist. I agree with this, but whoever interprets this as a belief in a crisis-free capitalism show, in my opinion, that he has understood nothing of this position ..."

We also think we know a bit about the positions of Daad en Gedacht insofar as they are found in their publications! Perhaps we don't read very well, but nowhere do we find that there can't be a crisis-free capitalism. Apart from the pamphlet Beschouwingen over geld en goud (a repetition of the Marxist labor theory of value and functions of money and gold), we haven't found a single article on economic subjects for the last ten years. This silence on the crisis seems to be one of the principles of this group!

So, what do we understand by the ‘permanent crisis' and ‘mortal crisis', terms which were developed by the German Left? Do we defend the idea that the collapse, the death of capitalism is as certain as a physical phenomenon in a laboratory? That's not what we think.

If the term ‘permanent crisis' means something, it is because it refers to a whole period of capitalism, the period of decadence, in which the cycle crisis-war-reconstruction-crisis ... has replaced the periodic and conjunctural cycle of commercial crises and crises of prosperity in the ascendant period of capitalism. Of course, there isn't a mortal crisis in the sense of an automatic collapse of capitalism; capitalism's solution is world war if the proletariat doesn't act in a revolutionary way. Capitalism could come out of crisis while it was in a period of development because it could still penetrate new geographic areas, a possibility suggested by Cajo Brendel in his book on Spain and China. But Cajo Brendel and Daad en Gedacht aren't interested in this question. Their study of many so-called ‘bourgeois revolutions' (Spain ‘36, China) depart from a national framework and not from the internationalist framework which was the deter­mining factor for Marx and Pannekoek (cf Workers' Councils by Pannekoek), even if Pannekoek made a different response to this question.

It is this internationalism of Pannekoek and of the international communist left of which the Dutch Left was a part before slowly degenerating, that we lay claim to.

Today when the open crisis of world capitalism is a flagrant reality, it is important to deepen the contributions of the Dutch Left. If it was tentative, multi-faceted and diverse in its elaboration of the theory of capitalist crisis, it at least exposed the problems and contributed to the enriching of Marxist theory even if it didn't resolve them. Above all it maintained the essentials: its class loyalty to the commun­ist revolution, to internationalism, to proletarian principles.


[1] Translation Champ Libre, 1973 with preface by Pannekoek.

[2] "Because gold, alone of the products of labor, has the specific power to buy without having been sold in the first place, it can be the point of departure of the cycle and put it into movement." (Karl Horner, ‘Principle and Tactic', Proletarier, 1927)

[3] See the ICC's critique on ‘Theses of the Chinese Revolution' by Cajo Brendel in the ‘Epigones of Councilism', Part II, International Review, no. 2.

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: 

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