communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Month: September, 2014

A Small Guide To The System of the Left in Germany

(communists in situ – berlin faction hereby presents a translation of “System der Linke: Kleine Einführung” from Die Axt #4, Organ of Social Decomposition , by the Office of Mental Rampage)



Leninists: see Stalinists

Stalinists: Authoritarian scumbags; by socialism, they understand the police state; claim to introduce freedom by means of the whip; weak philosophers, bad aesthetes, big tendency for sectarianism.

Trotskyists: Stalinists who lost the power struggle for the Kremlin after Lenin’s death. Even bigger tendency for sectarianism.

Maoists: Stalinists who took over the Chinese imperial throne.

Anarchists: 1) Petty-bourgeois nonsense from Proudhon to the Ego and its Own. 2) Current of anti-authoritarian socialism; provided some of the best class-strugglers of their time. Representatives: Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Durruti. Parties: Jura section, FAI.



68ers: The so-called 68ers are not at all what’s interesting about what happened around 1968. Although at that time they weren’t identical with what became of them, others were still smarter and more interesting than they, including Subversive Action, French workers, Yippies, Zengakuren, et al. German Parties: University, Student Councils, SDS, then KPD-XY, later the Greens and the Federal Army.

Situationists: Screw together Dutch-German council communism with Lettrism (a kind of French Dada) and Hegelian-Marxism and go beyond all, i.e., to outline a critique of the totality of the commodity-economy and late-capitalist daily life, and explore some ways to dissolve it. Overestimated their times, but made a fucking big party in May 68 in Paris, then drank a nightcap in Italy and Spain. Party: Guy Debord.

Terrorists: Nechayevistic comrades who cause and suffer indescribable, but quite unnecessary aggravation. Parties: RAF, June 2nd Movement, Conspiracy Cells of Fire




Undogmatic Left: Doesn’t exist in Germany; here each leftist and each sect has at least one dogma; after a short discussion, it’s clear that this is their identity, criticism of which is hence undesirable.

Antifa: Clubs of mostly young people who reject society but are still a bit unclear about why; that’s why they try to hoist their social criticism onto the nastiness of neo-Nazis. Leading the young comrades are at least two or three older people who refuse to grow up because they are too stupid to read intelligent books.

Ums-Ganze: Opportunistic bunch of older anti-fascists who, despite recognizing that anti-fascism is not enough for the “categorical critique of the capitalist socialization of value,” nonetheless still shy away from filling in the content of such phrases, i.e. to work towards a consistent critique of capitalist totality. “Theory” in general stands fairly indifferent as to its unification, since it’s not about knowledge for them, but rather about keywords for their “praxis.” They don’t want to let go of the occupational therapy learned in antifa (demos, campaigns, left coalitions, podium discussions), but of course in private they know it’s pointless, that’s why they don’t perceive theses things politically, but rather as “social events.”

Anti-imps: Leftists who’d rather talk about peoples and cultures than classes. Obsessively passionate about reproaching the Jewish state for its crimes (of which it certainly often exaggerates); no inclination for a materialist critique of the state. Have sympathies for even the most heinous dictatorships, as long as they are against “foreign domination.” Parties: RAF from 1972, Baath, Hezbollah.

Anti-Germans: Mostly responsible for making some leftists read Adorno again. For about ten years now though they’re not so different from their main enemies, the Anti-imps, even if they just adore the states that the Anti-imps most abhor. They don’t behave as social critics, but rather government advisors; geostrategy instead of social criticism. Only the early texts up to 2003 are of interest. Parties: Bahamas, DIG

Anti-German Communists: Anti-German comrades that remain communists. Try to move the reflection on Auschwitz into the center of Marxism. Party: ISF

Pomos / Poststructuralists: Want to abolish truth and objectivity; these poor devils cannot understand that truth is objective and not merely plausible. For them, society is based on all-powerful “discourses,” not relations of production and (material) violence. Bad metaphysicians who deny the body. With their irrationalism, they prepare the way for the authoritarian state. Successors: FLT and CW.

Women, Lesbian, Trans*-Activists (FLT*): Substitute the main contradiction between capital and labor for the one between sexes. Love to invent new words, abbreviations and offenses. Looks at the world through a microscope. Staunchly anti-materialist; don’t get to the bottom of sexism. Respond often to real filth and problems by proposing solutions that are mostly worse than the problems themselves. Cementing victim roles, instead of revolutionizing individuals. Party: Definitionsmacht

Critical Whiteness: Something like the FLT*-activists in the realm of antiracism. Making jokes irritates them even more. Think that reality would be different if all the bad words were censored. Pronounced paranoia. Quite often further the racialization of individuals themselves.

Autonomen: Are there any left?

Marxologists: Former philosophy students, thus foolish schmucks that waste too much brain power on dividing up Marx & Engels according to the motto: propositions that we agree with come from Marx, and whatever we dislike is Engel’s fault. After a while, the knowledge margin for others is quite small. Disarm and humiliate revolutionary criticism as an academic discipline. Don’t understand that the truth of society is not a reconstruction of Marx, but its negation. Some philological diligence. Parties: New Marx Reading, MEGA.

(Anarcho)-Syndicalists: Left-radical trade unionists who see the liberation of workers in their self-exploitation. Still mentally stuck in the Spanish Civil War, but on the side of the CNT and not the FAI. Party: FAU

Cultural Left: Students who read subversive potential into culture industry products that meet their personal taste. At best, you can drink a nice beer with them.

Left-communist-Bordigists: Don’t understand the difference between the first and second world war. What does it matter whether the CDU or the NSDAP governs since it’s all merely the rule of capital and a few million dead Jews are not as important as five oppositional workers.

Anti-speciesists: Vegans who can’t see the difference between dogs and humans. Enjoy living in construction trailers under conditions that no one would wish upon dogs. No smoking or drinking, true to their motto: „Whoever insults life is dumb or bad.“

Environmentalists: Petty-bourgeois opportunists who get very upset about global warming or whaling, but don’t see that the destruction of the planet can’t be stopped by some engagement in civil society, rather only by proletarian world revolution.

Kommunisierung und Wertformtheorie

mondrian_checkerboard_1919 small

(german translation of Communisation and Value-Form Theory, Endnotes 2, von, 11.9.14)

Einleitung [1]

„Die Wertform des Arbeitsprodukts ist die abstrakteste, aber auch allgemeinste Form der bürgerlichen Produktionsweise, die hierdurch als eine besondere Art gesellschaftlicher Produktion und damit zugleich historisch charakterisiert wird.“ [2]

In der ersten Nummer von Endnotes beschrieben wir die Entstehung der Theorie der Kommunisierung in den Jahren nach Mai 1968 in Frankreich. Der folgende Text und andere in dieser Nummer stehen in der Tradition dieser Perspektive der Kommunisierung, doch sie sind auch stark beeinflusst von theoretischen Entwicklungen im Bereich der Marxschen Theorie der Wertform und insbesondere von der Tendenz der „systematischen Dialektik“, welche in den letzten Jahren aufgekommen ist [3].

Marx war diesbezüglich klar, dass das, was seinen Ansatz von anderen unterschied und ihn zu einer Kritik eher als zu einer Fortsetzung der politischen Ökonomie machte, die Analyse der Wertform war. In seiner berühmten Darstellung „Der Fetischcharakter der Ware und sein Geheimnis“ schreibt er:

„Die politische Ökonomie hat nun zwar, wenn auch unvollkommen Wert und Wertgröße analysiert und den in diesen Formen versteckten Inhalt entdeckt. Sie hat niemals auch nur die Frage gestellt, warum dieser Inhalt jene Form annimmt, warum sich also die Arbeit im Wert und das Maß der Arbeit durch ihre Zeitdauer in der Wertgröße des Arbeitsprodukts darstellt? Formen, denen es auf der Stirn geschrieben steht, daß sie einer Gesellschaftsformation angehören, worin der Produktionsprozeß die Menschen, der Mensch noch nicht den Produktionsprozeß bemeistert, gelten ihrem bürgerlichen Bewußtsein für ebenso selbstverständliche Naturnotwendigkeit als die produktive Arbeit selbst.“ [4]

Trotz solchen Aussagen von Marx spielte die Verbindung zwischen der Wertform und dem Fetischismus – die Verkehrung und Umkehrung der Verhältnisse, in welcher die Menschen von den Resultaten ihrer eigenen Tätigkeit beherrscht werden – bis in die 1960er Jahre kaum eine Rolle in der Art und Weise, Das Kapital zu interpretieren. Stattdessen betonten Darstellungen der „Marxschen Ökonomie“ das scheinbar simple Argument der ersten zwei Unterkapitel des ersten Kapitels im Kapital, wo Arbeit als das definiert wird, was hinter dem Wert der Waren steht. Die letzten beiden Unterkapitel des Kapitels – über die Warenform und den Fetischismus – wurden in der Regel als mehr oder weniger verschachtelte Art und Weise der Beschreibung des Marktes betrachtet und einfach schnell mal quergelesen. Dadurch wurde die sorgfältige Art und Weise von Marx nicht untersucht, seine Sichtweise von der klassischen politischen Ökonomie von Ricardo zu unterscheiden [5].

Read the rest of this entry »

Withered aristocracy #1


(c.i.s. nyc – guest post:  Max. K. Schwarz)

I’ll begin this new blog with an anecdote:

It was a hot summer morning several months into my apprenticeship within the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. It was also two weeks since I had ‘broken into’ (that is to say, gained consistent employment with) a large scaffolding and hoist company based in Queens, New York. I had gotten a text from the General Foreman the afternoon before that I was to report to the company yard at 7:00am. I arrived early with my coffee and bagel, prepared for my first day of shop work.

Shop work! Both a blessing and a curse – at once freed from the glaring sun and psychological abuses of toiling on the busy streets of New York, while at the same time toiling under the constant surveillance of the company brass.

The shop foreman, a younger Greek-American guy with a penchant for alternating rapid-fire, cynical humor with full-throated tirades of anger at all and sundry, directed me to the area of the dusty old building he had set up for me to work. He gave me hasty instructions on how to build a wooden parapet (the ubiquitous, green, wooden panels that surround every work site in New York City) before leaving me with the tools and materials I would for eight hours of work. He then ran off to yell at somebody about something. I was too morning-dazed and overwhelmed by my three minute tutorial on parapet making to acknowledge what that might be.

“Ok,” I thought to myself, “let’s get to it.” As a first year apprentice I knew I had to bust ass to keep my job and I knew that this task would require me to discover a system that would increase my output quickly. As a radical who disdains wage labor and the toll it takes on mind and body, I looked forward to getting to that point where I could work on auto-pilot: letting my muscle memory do the work while I could let my mind drift to anything (ANYTHING!) besides the visceral tedium and indignity that derives from the commodification and alienation of my labor.

Read the rest of this entry »

“We don’t like Samba” – watch here


Until recently, Brazil was one of the shooting-stars of the BRIC states. But after a decade of economic growth, the social cement began to crumble. Many people can no longer see a better future in the credit-based boom of the past years. One year before the World Cup and three years before the Olympics came the big bang. The biggest mass movement in decades emerged after the costs for public transportation rose in June 2013. Inspired by that insurrection, social struggles are now spreading like woldfire: workers going on wildcat strikes, young women mobilizing against the visit of the Pope, people fighting against urbanization projects. And in many favelas, resistance against militarization and displacement is on the rise. “We are not samba dancers” say the striking garbage workers known as “Garis” in one interview. “We are rebels”. They and other rebels tell their story in this documentary: We don’t like Samba.

“We don’t like Samba” made its unofficial premiere at the Fusion Festival, on June 28th 2014. For more, info see

Postkapitalismus oder Kommunismus? Eine Kritik des Akzelerationismus


Sonntag 7. September 2014von

Auf einmal kann es die FAZ nicht mehr erwarten: „Die Revolution soll sich beeilen“ [1]betitelt sie die Rezension des Sammelbandes zum Akzelerationismus [2]. Auch in anderen bürgerlichen Feuilletons wurde das Erscheinen des kleinen Büchleins als Ereignis gefeiert. Georg Diez bringt im Spiegel den bürgerlichen Enthusiasmus für diese „neue linke Theorieströmung“ auf den Punkt: „Sie sind gegen Nostalgie und für mehr Fortschritt.“ [3] Ganz schnell vorwärts zum Postkapitalismus? Da sollte man sich doch mal genauer anschauen, wo die Reise denn genau hingehen soll.

Neben Nick Land, einem britischen Philosophen, der dem spekulativen Realismus zugerechnet wird, wird im „Beschleunigungsmanifest“ auch Karl Marx als wichtiger Vordenker bezeichnet: „Karl Marx bleibt, neben Land, der beispielgebende Vordenker des Akzelerationismus. Der allzu vertrauten Kritik und sogar dem Verhalten einiger zeitgenössischer Marxisten zum Trotz [sic!] müssen wir uns daran erinnern, dass Marx selbst – in dem Bestreben, seine Welt vollständig zu begreifen und zu verändern – die fortschrittlichsten theoretischen Werkzeuge und empirischen Daten, die ihm zugänglich waren, nutzte. Er war kein Denker, der sich gegen die Moderne sträubte, sondern eher einer, der in ihr nach Wegen suchte, um sie zu analysieren und zu verändern. Er verstand, dass der Kapitalismus trotz all seiner Ausbeutung und Korruption das bis dato fortschrittlichste Wirtschaftssystem war und dass dessen Errungenschaften nicht rückgängig gemacht, sondern über die Beschränkungen der kapitalistischen Wertschöpfung hinaus beschleunigt werden sollten.“ [4]

Grosso modo handelt es sich um eine von der angelsächsischen realistischen und analytischen philosophischen Tradition inspirierte Rezeption der (post-)operaistischen Diskussion über das Maschinenfragment und den general intellect. Das Kognitariat war ein Produkt dieser Diskussion und Marx ist daran tatsächlich nicht ganz unschuldig: „Die Natur baut keine Maschinen, keine Lokomotiven, Eisenbahnen, electric telegraphs, selfacting mules etc. Sie sind Produkte der menschlichen Industrie; natürliches Material, verwandelt in Organe des menschlichen Willens über die Natur oder seiner Betätigung in der Natur. Sie sind von der menschlichen Hand geschaffne Organe des menschlichen Hirns; vergegenständlichte Wissenskraft. Die Entwicklung des capital fixe zeigt an, bis zu welchem Grade das allgemeine gesellschaftliche Wissen, knowledge, zur unmittelbarenProduktivkraft geworden ist und daher die Bedingungen des gesellschaftlichen Lebensprozesses selbst unter die Kontrolle des general intellect gekommen und ihm gemäß umgeschaffen sind.“ [5] Wo „Wissen zur unmittelbaren Produktivkraft“ wird, ist logischerweise ein Platz frei für ein neues Subjekt und das Kognitariat wurde von der Philosophie auf diesen Thron gesetzt.

Read the rest of this entry »

Communism for Children

By Bini Adamczak 

The following are excerpts from the upcoming English translation of Bini Adamczak’s Communism for Children, a fable of capitalist dystopia and communist revolution. Translated from the German by Sophie Lewis and Jacob Blumenfeld.

What is Crisis?

The next time our protagonist factory goes to market, it brings twice as many steam irons, because it reckons to itself: “The other factory is bankrupt: fantastic! Now, all the people who used to buy their irons there will come to me instead. I’ll have twice as many customers, so I’ll need twice as many irons.” But what should our factory discover on arrival at the “irons-and-MORE!” marketplace? That almost nobody wants to buy irons anymore—at all. Because what happened on our street, between our factory and the other factory, also happened everywhere. In the world there are countlessfactories: not just those that produce irons, but also those that produce pistols. And now that many people can only go to the movies once a week, or even not at all, they don’t feel like buying irons. Instead, they buy TVs and DVD-players so they can watch movies at home. It’s not the same, but the people tell themselves “better than nothing, eh.”

Still, some of them aren’t simply unable to go to the movies anymore—they don’t have enough to eat. And so they buy tomatoes and eggs to throw at the factory walls, because that seems like a priority. The factory, though, has no use for tomatoes, since it’s an iron factory and not so much in the business of manufacturing tomato sauce. It’s stuck with making and selling irons. As we know, it has brought twice as many irons to market as usual. Today, however, it can’t sell twice as many irons, and can only get itself into twice as much debt. Sure enough, our factory goes bankrupt as well. And it fires all the iron-making people.

Now there’s nothing left. No factories, no machines, no sheet-metal or nails, and no iron-making people at all. But there are vast piles of irons that nobody needs. Although no terrible disaster has occurred—no earthquake, no war, no visit from the pope—all of a sudden, everyone is sitting around, bored stiff and hungry to boot. Some try to turn the irons into marmalade, but this proves mostly fruitless. “We’re in a real mess now,” the people say. “If only we hadn’t listened to that factory!” And one person adds: “You know what? It’s all these things! We make them in the first place in order for them to serve us, but then, they start getting uppity and we have to serve them. Now we’re stuck hanging out with all these damn irons!” And another one, someone really angry, adds: “I knew it! I knew it! It’s these stupid objects, it’s this god-damned ob- … ob-…  objectification! I knew it!”

So everybody sits down around the irons to have a good long think about capitalism. They conclude that the mess really is all capitalism’s fault. “Well! That certainly didn’t work out well,” they reflect. “Not only did capitalism make us all unhappy, it was, in fact, constantly going wrong.” “And another thing,” someone comments loudly, “we’ve had capitalism far too long a time—about 200-500 years—surely we’ve had enough now. It’s time for some relief. What we want is something new.” “Yes! Something new, but what?” asks somebody else. At this point there is a long silence, as the people turn it over in their minds. Each one of them would love to know the answer to this question.

Suddenly, it comes to them. “COMMUNISM!” they exclaim. “Obviously! Since communism is the society that does away with all the evils people suffer under capitalism. Let’s go for communism!”  “Oh gosh,” the people groan, “of course!” And they all slap their foreheads, as it seems so obvious now that somebody has said it. “Why didn’t we think of that?”

The people are sure of two things. First, they know that capitalism doesn’t make them happy, and second, they know that communism does. So they decide to try communism. Alas, it’s not so simple. Since true communism has never existed in the entire history of humankind, no one has any clue what communism looks like. What the people do have is various ideas of what the communist society should look like. If communism is the society that does away with all the evils people suffer under capitalism, then the best idea of communism ought to be the one that does away with the greatest number of evils. In order to figure out the best idea of communism, the people discuss which of their ideas could do away with all the evils of capitalism—not just one-third or half of them. If we don’t try them out, after all, well then, they definitely won’t work. “We’d better all try out these ideas one by one,” the people resolve. “Then, we’ll see.” And so things proceed.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Recuperation (Gilles Dauvé)


There are worker councils: “Councils were easy to form and had enormous potential. They were flexible and democratic. They presupposed cooperation and coordination, and they extended notions of popular governance and grassroots participation. For council members, neither pre-existing organizations nor a background in socialist theory were prerequisites. Councils made the unions and political parties redundant. They could embrace as much of the population as prevailing political understandings and cultural prejudices made possible. Because of the councils, society was both thrown into chaos and was susceptible to a thorough and radical reorganization. If councils are still relevant today, it’s not because they imply a particular solution to humanity’s problems, but because the need for something new in both form and content grows ever more pressing.” (1)

And there is councilism, the ideology of self-management, in the past usually equated with the running of factories by the workers themselves, now extended to self-managing  our whole life.

Needless to say, the “victory” we speak of here is not the sort of achievement that past and present councilists were and are aiming at: only a sad unavoidable ideological victory,

Ideology is not necessarily made of false data, nor does it put forward only wrong ideas. It is a deformed consciousness of reality (and therefore usually incorporates hard facts), which provides people with a way of (mis)understanding history and themselves in it.

Councilism is a mental mapping born as much out of proletarian endeavours as out of their limits. While worker self-organization was (and remains) necessary, it was (and is) not enough to overthrow capitalism. Instead of perceiving this limit for what it is – a limit –ideology sets it as the objective of the movement. Ideologization is the process by which the whole of proletarian history is re-interpreted as if this limitation was its essence. Councilism is worker councils turned into the be-all-and-end-all of revolution.

Like any other partial truth, it has fallen prey to “recuperation”. The ability of modern society to integrate and digest radical critique is nothing new, or to be afraid of. Nowadays, because capitalism carries the day, as long as the essentials (private property, wage-labour, the authority of the State) are respected, the allowed margin of freedom is larger than before, and we are granted lots of “discursive space”. I once saw a graffiti on a white wall in Vienna :

←           freedom from here to here         

     Not only is “law and order” compatible with innocuous critique and inoffensive social experiment, it also needs our active involvement in the day-to-day running of society. In democratic countries, providing you pay the rent and obey the cop, you’re free to extol Buddha or Bakunin. “Changing things so everything stays the same”, as novelist Lampedusa wrote in The Leopard. Traditional “bourgeois” culture has gone multicultural and nonconformity is marketed. More harmless personal freedom, more leeway, more community watch, more peer-control too. The most modern aspects of contemporary discourse have renounced a strict hierarchy, and see no contradiction in promoting at the same time individualism (self-empowerment) and collective values (the team spirit).

“Self-empowerment in its simplest form means taking charge of your own life, in your work place, with your colleagues, with your subordinates, with your superiors, with your body, with your illness and for you caring for yourself.” (Self-Empowerment & Development Centre, 2013)

As a result, a consensus has emerged on the virtues of autonomy: peer assessment in the classroom, power-sharing and self-governance for local associations and public bodies, management by agreed-upon objectives in the office, horizontalism in the Occupy and the Squares movements, autonomous space for alternativists in many cities, etc. Parliamentarianism is aging, let’s revive it with strong doses of participatory or monitory democracy. Communal goal-setting, self-development and networking make the news. Leninist party builders are a joke. Partyism is down, grassroots-ism prevails.

Secondly, “information first” has become part of dominant ideology: maximum and fastest information ! The assumption is, the more we know, the more we understand, but above all we need facts, and correct understanding will comes from lots of data : “Knowing is Doing”. Mainstream society is obsessed with education and empowerment: community civic classes (learning to be a community-minded citizen) now extends to global civics (learning to be ecologically-concerned).

This universal trend is unfortunately reflected in the radical milieu. Informations & Correspondance Ouvrières (1961-73), andnow Echanges & Mouvement claimed to have no theory except the theory that only the proletarians could determine their own methods and aims. Likewise, thousands of infokiosks and indymedia collectives profess to have no specific doctrine (Marxist, anarchist, ecologist, feminist, whatever), and say their sole purpose is to serve as a meeting place and communication centre meant to promote social struggles, with the difference that the “historical subject” is no longer the working class, but the people (the famous 99%). They act as if ICO’s  “choice of non-existence” (IS, # 11) had been inverted into the choice of 24/7 on-line presence, yet information firstremains the priority, too often with similar features as “bourgeois” media : constant data flow, information overload and obsolescence, sensationalism… Radicalism is reduced to a description and exaltation of manifold struggles.

The autonomy principle and the information fascination can best be seen at work in the world wide web: the Internet is the universal dispenser, accelerator and multiplier of data and ideas. The “chattering classes” have expanded far beyond the readership of the Guardian or the New York Times: everyone is an opinion giver and receiver now. For those who believe that social change will come out of ever more global knowledge and discussion, cyber-activism is ideal. A planetary critical sub-society is waging a permanent war of the words.

This is all happening in the realm of ideology. In reality, we do not live in a bottom-up society. Far from it. 19th century factory despotism has not gone. Today’s boss tells you what to do and punishes you if you misbehave, and not just in dictatorial China. In Amazon’s European warehouses, the company lords over the life of its labour force to the point of telling employees how to park their cars: trespassing over the white line separating the parking spaces gets you a “warning”. And democratic America offers a wide range of societal and cultural arch-conservatives who manage to put back the cultural societal clock.

So, as far as ideas matter, a mere ideological victory, miles away from Anton Pannekoek’s writings or ultra-leftist summer camps. At the end of the 19th century, Marxism watered-down Marx to an apologist of worker productivism. Later, hundreds of millions were oppressed in his name, and North Koreans still are. More recently, Debord has been transmogrified into an anti-art artist: he no longer has a “bad reputation”. Amadeo Bordiga would prove too much to chew for acamedia pundits, but who knows ? The old Neapolitan’s insights on ecology, his cutting sharp-worded style and scathing wit could add a much-wanted provocative flavour to current discourse. There is no doctrine that infotainment is unable to feed on. No-one is innocent. Everybody is liable to prosecution or recuperation.

The German-Dutch Left indeed had a strong point in 1920 and later, when it rejected the mass parties of the 2nd and 3rdInternationals in the name of radical worker self-activity. The conundrum was that the call for worker power conflicted with the communist perspective of the abolition of work, when only the abolition of work could get rid of capitalism. In 1920, the proletarians stood at the crossroads, stayed there, did not meet the challenge that their own uprising had created, and were defeated. As the perspective of going beyond work and the commodity had hardly emerged in the 1920s or 30s, and only began to assert itself in the 60s, the contradiction was inevitable at the time and lingered on in the way the radical minority could understand itself. Recuperation always feeds on such inner contradictions, by prioritizing some aspects of theory and deflecting others. (2)

Self-organizing is indispensable. Self-managing factories, neighbourhoods or schools is another thing. Though self-organization and self-management are not necessarily synonyms, ideology blurs the difference. It is an inevitable illusion for workers at one time or other to believe that they would be free if they took work into their own hands, that is, without doing away with work as such. And for people in general to believe that we could change society merely by running society ourselves. Revolution will not clear up these illusions in a day.

“Recuperation” is the normal process by which society recovers parts of what tried to negate it, so there is nothing here to reproach councilists with. What is objectionable, though, is a persistent failure to realise how and why such a specific ideologizing diversion could take place. Some basic councilist tenets have been incorporated within dominant ideas, because they were based on historical limits, and it is these limits that we must comprehend. Ideology only trivializes and sterilizes theoretical aspects by separating theory from the practice where it originated.

“The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” These were the Rules of the International Workingmen Association, approved by its Geneva congress in 1866. Autonomy is indispensable, not just to initiate revolution, also to accomplish it: who else but the self-organizing proletarians could do away with the proletariat ? But it’s not enough. It is not the principle on which everything can or must be based. Autonomy means giving oneself one’s own law (nomos). It’s based on the self (auto). As far as the proletarians are concerned, what self are we talking about ? Praising worker autonomy is mistaking the part for the whole, fragment of a frozen totality. (3)


(1) Insurgent Notes 2013 review of two recent history books – by M. Comack and G. Kuhn – on worker councils : see

(2 )The same obviously applies to the most recuperated of all, Karl Marx : we cannot be content with repeating that the dictatorship of the proletariat he wrote about had absolutely nothing in common with Trotsky’s militarization of labour or Stalin’s Five Year Plan. As we hope our Value, Time & Communism: Re-Reading Marx shows, there is no point for us reading Marx unless we care to see how much he owed to his time.

(3) For more on autonomy and democracy, see our Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy (on this site).


Gilles Dauvé

The Bitter Victory of Councilism (2014) – This is a chapter from Eclipse & Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement (PM Press, to be published in Autumn 2014). § 5 of the preceding chapter (“Value, Time & Communism: Re-Reading Marx”), deals with Council Communism & Labour Time, and is a critique of the famous councilist  1930 text titled Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution.