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Tag: council communism

The Permanent Crisis (Mattick, 1934)

Henryk Grossmann’s Interpretation of Marx’s Theory of Capitalist Accumulation

by Paul Mattick, International Council Correspondence Vol. 1, no. 2, November 1934, pp. 1-20. PDF

I.

According to Marx, the development of the productive forces of society is the motive power of historical development. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production, and in changing their mode of production, their manner of gaining a living, they change all their social relations. The transformation of the spinning wheel, the hand-loom and blacksmiths sledge, into the self-tending mule, the power-loom and the steam hammer was not only accompanied by a change of the small individual shops of the craftsmen into huge industrial plants employing thousands of workers, but there also came with it the social overturn from feudalism to capitalism; that is, not merely a material revolution, but a cultural revolution as well.

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The Test of Communism (Bernes, 2021)

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by Jasper Bernes (2021) PDF

Communism is an old idea in the world. Let’s call it ancient, for it may as well be our antiquity. We need not track down its origins in the alleyways of insurrection, only know that millions have struggled and died in its name. In this sense, it is not just an idea but a real force in history, product of and factor in a proletarian movement that has for at least two centuries now posed the overcoming of capitalism by classless, stateless, moneyless society. In fact, what’s remarkable about the history of the workers’ movement of the last two centuries is that this real ideal has until recently not only seemed inevitable but obvious. Even where they disagreed, violently, about how to achieve such a state of affairs, anarchists, communists, socialists, Marxists, syndicalists, and even some liberals, all stood joined by a common vision of a future classless society.

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Left Radicalism and the Milky Way: Connecting the Scientific and Socialist Virtues of Anton Pannekoek (Tai, 2017)

Pannekoek

by Chaokang Tai, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 47, Number 2, 200–254, 2017

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Anton Pannekoek (1873–60) was both an influential Marxist and an innovative astronomer. This paper will analyze the various innovative methods that he developed to represent the visual aspect of the Milky Way and the statistical distribution of stars in the galaxy through a framework of epistemic virtues. Doing so will not only emphasize the unique aspects of his astronomical research, but also reveal its connections to his left radical brand of Marxism. A crucial feature of Pannekoek’s astronomical method was the active role ascribed to astronomers. They were expected to use their intuitive ability to organize data according to the appearance of the Milky Way, even as they had to avoid the influence of personal experience and theoretical presuppositions about the shape of the system. With this method, Pannekoek produced results that went against the Kapteyn Universe and instead made him the first astronomer in the Netherlands to find supporting evidence for Harlow Shapley’s extended galaxy. After exploring Pannekoek’s Marxist philosophy, it is argued that both his astronomical method and his interpretation of historical materialism can be seen as strategies developed to make optical use of his particular conception of the human mind.

Mattick and Council Communism in Miserable Times: Critique Between Defeat and Crisis

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A reading list by A New Institute for Social Research, 2021

See also: Theses on the Council Concept

A few accounts of the emergence of the tendency

New theory, new practice

Against and beyond the old movements

The critique of organization

From depression to fascist war

Mattick’s critical theory vs. postwar society

The Economic Foundations of Council Society (Canne-Meijer, 1948)

Henk-Canne-Meijer-1961

1954, Henk Canne Meijer and Gé Hoogland

by Henk Canne-Meijer

Originally published in Dutch in Radencommunisme, 1948, as part of the Dutch and German communist left’s debate about the period of transition from capitalism to communism. The text later appeared in pamphlet form in 1972, from which this translation was made. – via marxists.org. See also: The Dutch and German Communist Left (1900-1968) by Philippe Bourrinet

Preface

Only about a year ago we accomplished a new, a fourth, edition of the study by the Dutch prewar Group of International Communists, which first appeared in 1931: The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution.

As this G.I.C. published a second edition in 1935, it wrote in a preface: “At present the politico-economic ideal of the masses, of either socialist and communist or of catholic, christian or of neutral workers, envisages the State as the big, general caretaker of their interests. The practical implication is that the masses are orientated towards state capitalism, even if they are not conscious of it.“

The preface payed attention to the fact that this situation had its origins in a truth of experience from the period that lies behind us; that the conditions of struggle are completely different in the forthcoming period; that henceforth the self-determination of the masses, born from the necessities of the struggle, becomes the guiding principle of the new ordering of social life.

Under these circumstances the “Fundamental Principles” became a theoretical writing against old state socialist conceptions in the first place.

How these necessities of the struggle and, accordingly, the new experiences have articulated themselves was the problem that occupied Jan Appel, Henk Canne Meijer and B.A. Sijes in this study of 1946, as former members of the G.I.C. (who had fused with the Communistenbond Spartacus). At present, parties and parliaments lose significance and interest. Be it with clarity, or in part still confused, the workers generate waves of strikes and enterprise occupations throughout the whole of Europe.

November 1972
Spartacusbond and Uitgeverij De Vlam

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On The Impotence of Revolutionary Groups (Moss, 1939)

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by Sam Moss (Living Marxism, 1939) PDF

I.

The difference between the radical organizations and the broad masses appears as a difference of objectives. The former apparently seek to overthrow capitalism; the masses seek only to maintain their living standards within capitalism. The revolutionary groups agitate for the abolition of private property; the people, called the masses, either own bits of private property, or hope some day to own them. The communist-minded struggle for the eradication of the profit system; the masses, capitalist minded, speak of the bosses’ right to a “fair profit.” As long as a relatively large majority of the American working class maintain the living conditions to which they are accustomed, and have the leisure to follow their pursuits, such as baseball and movies, they are generally well content, and they are grateful to the system that makes these things possible. The radical, who opposes this system and thereby jeopardizes their position within it, is far more dangerous to them than the bosses who pay them, and they do not hesitate to make a martyr of him. As long as the system satisfies their basic needs in the accustomed manner, they are well satisfied with it and whatever evils they behold in society, they attribute to “unfair bosses,” “bad administrators” or other individuals.

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The council communists between the New Deal and fascism (Bonacchi, 1976)

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A history by Gabriella M. Bonacchi of council communist efforts in the US in the 1930s. Published in Telos #30, Winter 1976

In recent years growing interest in the problems of the 1930s has brought to light aspects of the labor movement that had been relegated to oblivion by traditional historiography. This is especially true for the council communists who in an America upset by the Great Depression sought to renew a political project that had been crushed in Europe. While there have already been numerous studies of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the harsh and violent context of American factories prior to WW II, there has not yet been any thorough investigation of the convergence of the remnants of the IWW and the council communists.

Generally speaking the progressive loss of influence of those defined as “the most dangerous subversives ever raised on sacred American soil” over the American proletariat after WW I, goes back to the incongruence of their strategic “lack of organisation” with the changes imposed on American capital and labor by the real winners of the war: the key auto, steel and rubber industries.

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International Council Correspondence / Living Marxism / New Essays, 1934-1943

International Council Correspondence Volume 3, Number 9-10 (October 1937)


(source)

Introduction

Brought together here are references to all the publications by the International Council Correspondence-group in Chicago, Illinois, USA, originally named “United Workers’ Party”; the party-name was dropped early 1936. The periodical was published in ever bigger volumes with ever longer articles but appearing ever less frequent, discontinued in 1943.

The whole series of periodicals: International Council Correspondence; Living Marxism (International Council Correspondence); and New Essays, but without the pamphlets, was reprinted in 1970 in five volumes: in photographic reproduction of reduced size without transcription, edition, annotation or source, by the in 2015 still existing Greenwood Reprint Corporation , Westport, Connecticut, under the general title “New Essays”; with a short introduction in the first volume by Paul Mattick sr. (see below).


The first volume can also be found as pdf at: libcom.org , in a much smaller file of lower resolution and without optical character recognition. For complete scans in a better resolution but also without (searchable) optical character recognition, also see libcom.org , posted by Stephen, 13 May 2014; in September 2015 we were unaware of the existence of this publication as proper references to the whole series and tables of content were missing; since, we have given permission to libcom.org  to reproduce the scans made by us.

An anonymous incomplete table of contents, apparently originally compiled by Bjarne Avlund Frandsen (a source is not given), and amended, with links to html-versions of some of the texts, can be found at marxists.org . One might doubt the attribution of some articles to Paul Mattick; sources are not given.

Another one, with some texts and some French translations attached (1) at: La Bataille socialiste  (libertarian marxist blog).


Among the original group in Chicago: Paul Mattick, Rudolf (Rüdiger) Raube, Carl Berreitter, Al Givens, Kristen Svanum, Allen Garman (edited Paul Mattick’s essays), Frieda Mattick; later joined by: Karl Korsch, Walter Auerbach (author and co-author with Paul Mattick), Fritz Henssler (negociated possible mergers with other journals), and the New York group: Walter Boelke, Wendeling Thomas, Hans Schaper, Emmy Tetschner, Mary MacCollum. Living Marxism in Chicago in the late 1930’s: Jake Faber, Emil White, Sam Moss, Dinsmore Wheeler (edited Paul Mattick’s essays), Fairfield Porter (financial contributor), Ilse Mattick (2). A regular outside collaborator was Anton Pannekoek. Finally there was Jos. Wagner. For a somewhat “sociological” yet informative introduction to this group, see: The Council Communists between the New Deal and Fascism / Gabriella M. Bonacchi (1976).

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On Recuperation (Gilles Dauvé)

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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)

G.D.

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

(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.