Template:Left communism Council communism is a Radical Left movement originating in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1920s. Its primary organization was the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD). Council communism continues today as a theoretical and activist position within both left-wing Marxism and Libertarian Socialism, and shares a number of traits with Anarchism.
The central argument of Council Communism, in contrast to those of Social democracy and Leninist communism, is that workers' councils arising in the factories and municipalities are the natural form of working class organisation and governmental power. This view is opposed to both the Reformist and the Bolshevik stress on vanguard parties, parliaments or bureaucratic states.
The core principle of council communism is that the government and the economy should be managed by workers' councils composed of delegates elected at workplaces and recallable at any moment. As such, council communists oppose state-run "bureaucratic collectivism". They also oppose the idea of a "revolutionary party", since council communists believe that a revolution led by a party will necessarily produce a party dictatorship. Council communists support a workers' democracy, which they want to produce through a federation of workers' councils.
Council Communists support workers' revolutions, but oppose one-party dictatorships. This has much in common with libertarian communism and most strains of anarchism, although the latter usually upholds individual liberty and autonomy as paramount over all else, which Council Communism does not.
Council Communists also believe in diminishing the role of the party to one purely of agitation and propaganda; they reject all participation in elections or parliamentary procedures; and they argue that workers should leave the reactionary trade unions and form one big revolutionary union. It is still actively debated whether the Industrial Workers of the World is a fulfillment of council communist wishes.
The legacy of the council communist movement was taken up by such groups as Socialisme ou Barbarie, Solidarity (UK) and the Situationist International. Most Libertarian socialists agree with some of the ideas of council communism. Sometimes Bordigist theory is held to retain some features of council communism- it would be more accurate to say that the Italian Communist Left respected councils as necessary organs of class struggle (a standard Leninist position) but saw the Communist Party as the ultimate wielder of the proletarian dictatorship.
History of Council Communism Edit
As the Second International decayed at the beginning of World War I, socialists who opposed nationalism and supported proletarian internationalism regrouped. In Germany, two major communist trends emerged. First, the Spartacist League was created by the radical socialist Rosa Luxemburg. The second trend emerged amongst the German rank-and-file unionists who opposed their unions and organized increasingly radical strikes towards the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918. This second trend created the German Left Communist movement that would become the KAPD after the abortive German revolution of 1918-1919.
As the Communist International inspired by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia formed, a Left Communist tendency developed in the Comintern's German, Dutch, Bulgarian, and Italian sections. In the United Kingdom, Sylvia Pankhurst's theoretically amorphous group, the Communist Party British Section of the Third International, also identified with the Left Communist tendency.
Alongside these formal Left Communist tendencies, the Italian group led by Amadeo Bordiga is often commonly recognised as a Left Communist party, although both Bordiga and the Italian Communist Left disputed this and qualified their politics as separate, distinct and more in line with the Third International's positions than the politics of Left Communism. Bordiga himself did not advocate abstention from the unions, although later Italian Left currents developed a critique of the "regime unions", positing that most or all unions had become tools of capitalism by submitting themselves to bourgeois interests and were no longer viable as organs of class struggle. Nevertheless, those "Bordigists" who put forward this critique still held out the necessity of "red unions" or "class unions" re-emerging, outside and against the regime unions, which would openly advocate class struggle and allow the participation of communist militants.
Despite a common general direction, and despite sharing the criticism of Lenin, there were few politics held in common between these movements. An example of this divergence is that the Italians supported the Right of Nations to Self Determination, while the Dutch and Germans rejected this policy (seeing it as a form of bourgeois nationalism). However, all of the Left Communist tendencies opposed what they called "Frontism". Frontism was a tactic endorsed by Lenin, where Communists sought tactical agreements with reformist (social democratic) parties in pursuit of a definite, usually defensive, goal. In addition to opposing "Frontism", the Dutch-German tendency, the Bulgarians and British also refused to participate in bourgeois elections, which they denounced as parliamentarism.
In Germany, the Left Communists were expelled from the Communist Party of Germany, and they formed the Communist Workers Party (KAPD). Similar parties were formed in the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Britain. The KAPD rapidly lost most of its members and it eventually dissolved. However, some of its militants had been instrumental in organising factory-based unions like the AAUD and AAUD-E, the latter being opposed to separate party organisation (see: Syndicalism).
The leading theoreticians of the KAPD had developed a new series of ideas based on their opposition to party organisation, and their conception of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia as having been a bourgeois revolution. Their leading figures were Anton Pannekoek and Herman Gorter, as well as Otto Rühle. Rühle later left the KAPD, and was one of the founders of the AAUD-E. Another leading theoretician of Council Communism was Paul Mattick, who later emigrated to the USA. A minor figure in the Council Communist movement in the Netherlands was Marinus van der Lubbe, whose name is attached to the burning of the Reichstag in 1933.
Council Communism within the Soviet UnionEdit
The Russian word for council is "soviet," and during the early years of Bolshevist Russia workers' councils were politically significant. Indeed, the name "Supreme Soviet," by which the national parliament of the Soviet Union was later called, as well as the name of the Soviet Union itself, imply that the country was meant to be ruled by workers' councils. This was largely the case in the beginning, but the workers' councils soon lost their power and significance because Lenin had always envisioned the Communist Party, not the soviets, as truly entitled to run the State. After the forced dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, of which Lenin had been the head, after the October Revolution, the Supreme Soviet was relegated to the role of a rubber-stamp parliament, and real power was concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party.
For these reasons, Council Communists described the Soviet Union as a capitalist state, believing that the Bolshevik revolution in Russia became a "bourgeois revolution" when a party bureaucracy replaced the old feudal aristocracy. Although most Council Communists felt the Russian Revolution was working class in character, they believed that since capitalist relations still existed (for example, the New Economic Policy), the Soviet Union ended up as a state capitalist country, with the state replacing the individual capitalist.
- Anton Pannekoek, Workers’ Councils, AK Press, 2003
- Anton Pannekoek, Anton Pannekoek Archive
- Collective Action Notes A collection of Council Communist and other anti-authoritarian marxist literature
- Communism or Reforms two articles by Sylvia Pankhurst and Anton Pannekoek, first published in the Workers Dreadnought in 1922. First published as a pamphlet in 1974 by Workers Voice, a Communist group based in Liverpool.
- Kurasje ”The Council Communist Archive”
- The communist tendency in history
- Libertarian Communist Library Largest online archive of Council Communist texts.
- Paul Mattick, Paul Mattick Archive