Willy Huhn (1961): On the doctrine of the revolutionary party (1)

In ‘A Free Retriever’s Digest’ Vol.2 #1 (February -March 2018) we presented a biographic work on the council communist Willy Huhn (1909 – 1970), together with a concise review (Book Review: “In Search of Rosa’s Heritage”). Subsequently we translated a text expounding Huhn’s view on Lenin:  Willy Huhn (1948): ‘Lenin as a Utopian’ (in Vol.2 #2, April – May 2018).  In the following  we resume our translation series with (the first part of) a more extensive article, in which Huhn compares the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ conception of the communist party and that developed by Marx and Engels, in a polemic that took place in the early 1960s.

Willy Huhn poses the question how far Lenin has “directly taken up the doctrine of Marx and Engels in the question of the Party”, as his adversary put it. Contrary to Dracker’s ahistorical approach, Huhn endeavors to explain how the organizational question arose in the practice of the 1848 bourgeois revolutions. In doing so, he shows that Lenin, in the (supposedly) bourgeois revolution in Russia from the outset of the 20th Century, represented a concept of organization that was substantially different from that of Marx and Engels.

Today more than 150 years have passed since the 1848 bourgeois revolutions; more than 100 years since the proletarian world revolution announced itself in the Red October of 1917, and almost 60 years since Huhn opposed Leninism in this text. The communist minorities again face the question of how to organize themselves to fulfill their function in the workers’ struggle. Huhn’s text advances  essential elements for a valid reply, even if it is still deeply influenced by the last years of the counterrevolution at the time.


[The relationship of the communists to the working class]

In WISO” (Issue 13 of July 1, 1961, pp. 604 to 618) Heinz-Otto Dracker examines “the Lenin-style Party on the basis of authentic sources”, which he distinguishes from the “party of the old type”, the “electoral apparatus” according to Stalin. This electoral apparatus, the old party type that belonged to the pre-revolutionary period, is re­placed by the new party type in the revolutionary period. In Dracker’s presentation, the “party of a new type” appears as a Leninist-Stalinist party because his authentic sources are almost exclusively “the works of Lenin and Stalin”. In addition to Lenin’s “works” and Stalin’s “Questions of Leninism”, the “Foundations of Marxism-Leninism” were de­claredly “of particular value” to his expositions. (1)

It is thus about the Leninist-Stalinist doctrine of the revolutionary party. Of course, “the doctrine of Marx and Engels” is given as its basis. In fact, Marx and Engels are in­deed quoted ten times, but almost exclusively with regards to expounding the “Marx/Engelsian doctrine of the State (pp. 87-89). Although Dracker explains that Lenin “hardly added anything to it theoretically”, he even quotes three out of eight Marx/Engels references to Engels’ work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State from a second hand, namely Lenin’s.

But since it is primarily intended to be an exposition of the doctrine of the revolution­ary party, one would like to know which Marx/Engelsian party doctrine Lenin has di­rectly taken up. In fact, we still find the two Marx/Engels quotations from the Com­munist Manifesto (pp. 85-86), where three paragraphs are quoted from especially Section II on “Proletarians and Communists”. These give Dracker the opportunity to emphasize “the essence of a proletarian (communist) party” and to explain to us what “the communists are” (p. 136):

a) a part of the working class, namely b) its most resolute, dynamic part, c) its most insightful, most conscious part. [accentuation by Dracker]. The “part” so emphasized by Dracker appears only once in the middle sentence in the three paragraphs he quotes, namely in the following sentence:

“The communists, therefore, are practically the most resolute, ever advancing part of the workers’ parties of all countries […]” (Marx-Engels, “The Communist Manifesto”) [accentuation by Willy Huhn]. (2)

As my emphasis is intended to underline, for Dracker it is about making the assertion that ac­cording to Marx and Engels the communists, and this means the proletarian, revolutionary party, are part of the working class. But this assertion is not even supported by his own quotations: these clearly state that the communists, i.e. the revolutionary proletarians, are a part of the Workers’ Parties of all countries, and even the first paragraph of the “Manifesto”, which he cites, is only about what distinguishes the communists “from the other proletarian parties”.

Here Dracker, in order to justify his strange way of quoting and interpreting, could point out that, according to the last sentence quoted, the communists after all are a party alongside the other proletarian parties. In fact, by his strange way of quoting, he has taken the best precautions for such a misinterpretation. For he simply omitted three important sentences prior to the three paragraphs he cited! Section II of the Communist Manifesto deals with the relationship between the “proletarians and com­munists”. The first sentence immediately poses the question: In what relation do the communists stand to the proletarians at all? And the answer is unmistakable:

“The communists are not a particular party opposed to the other workers’ parties. They have no interests separate from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not establish particular principles according to which they want to model the prole­tarian movement.” (loc. cit.)

The three paragraphs quoted by Dracker immediately follow on. It is quite obvious that the three first principles about the communists’ relationship with the working class do not want to fit into the Leninist-Stalinist concept of Dracker’s revo­lutionary party. Did they therefore have to be ignored? What is certain is that “Lenin­ism-Stalinism” wanted to “model” the proletarian movement and modeled it. Its techni­cal means for this was the so-called “Communist Party”, while according to the “Mani­festo” there was to be no particular party” of communists opposed to the other workers’ parties. It will also hardly be possible to deny – except by those interested – that the CPSU, at least in the Stalin era, represented primarily state interests, i.e. in­terests separated from those of the entire proletariat. If Stalinists embezzle such sen­tences, I am not surprised, but here? Dracker therefore not only withholds from us the important core proposition that the communists are not a particular party opposed to other workers’ parties, but he also re-models Marx/Engels’s proposition that the communists are “practically the most resolute, ever-advancing part of the workers’ parties of all countries”, to the effect that the communists would be part of the working class. And he also does us the favor of telling us why he interprets or re­vises the Marx/Engels text in this way. For he adds in a footnote: “Later the expres­sion of the ‘Vorhut’ (or vanguard) of the proletariat becomes common” (p. 101). A ‘Vorhut’ or vanguard of the proletariat can, of course, only be a “part of the working class”. Here is a prime example of how a certain doctrine – the Leninist-Stalinist party doctrine – can prevent someone from reading or understanding a text correctly. We know this doctrinal narrow-mindedness above all from the history of Christian theol­ogy, especially from scholasticism. Imagine how the Catholic clergy would take up the sentence: “Catholics are a part, and notably the vanguard of Christianity”, and how, by contrast, it would take up the sentence: “Catholics are the most resolute part of the Christian churches of all countries”! Anyone who wants to build a sole beatifying church” is cer­tainly not content with the role of leaven…

We do not stop at the fact that the critic of Rosa Luxemburg, Fred Oelssner, is cited as an authentic author (p. 90), while Rosa Luxemburg herself is mentioned only once, on the tenth page of the treatise (p. 94). We content ourselves with sketching “the doctrine of Marx and Engels” on the revolutionary organization of the proletariat, which Lenin did however not take up in the question of the party, and which Dracker has inadequately treated and moreover misinterpreted – not to say disfigured – “on the basis of authentic sources”, albeit by no means exhaustively.


[The communists strive to create an independent organization out of the proletarian movement]

In this it cannot be avoided that we start from a fundamental knowledge of an historical-philosophical kind, namely the historical materialism of Marx and Engels. But we do so only to the extent that this is indispensable for understanding the historical role of the communists and their task with regards to the working class. As long as the productive forces are still insufficiently developed in the bosom of the bourgeoisie itself to allow the material conditions necessary for the liberation of the proletariat and for the formation of a new society to shine through; as long as the proletariat is still insufficiently developed to constitute itself as a class – and therefore the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie does not yet have a political character – the already appearing communists or socialists are “merely Utopians who, in order to meet the needs of the oppressed classes, devise systems and search for a regenerating science. But in the measure that history moves forward, and with it the struggle of the proletariat assumes clearer outlines, they no longer need to seek science in their minds; they only have to give account of what is happening before their eyes, and to become its mouthpiece. (…) From this moment, science becomes a product of the historical movement and it has ceased to be doctrinaire, it has become revolutionary.” (Karl Marx, “The Misery of Philosophy”) (3)

Utopians thus differ from Marxists in that they devise scientific systems according to which social reality should direct itself, or that they allow themselves to be guided by the “ideas” or “ideals” which still have to be “realized”. For the Marxists, on the other hand, communism is not a state that is yet to be established, but

“an ideal according to which reality will have to direct itself. We call communism the real movement that abolishes the present state.” (Marx/Engels, “The German Ideology”). (4)

Scientific socialism or communism (which the Utopians also claimed for themselves, but in the above-described doctrinal form), as Marx/Engels developed it further, thus only gives account of the real communist movement of the workers themselves, which takes place in the form of the workers’ movement before our eyes, and makes itself an organ or instrument of the same. And this means that the communists or Marxists serve the workers’ movement, in the way of the following characterization of their function:

“Just as the economists are the scientific representatives of the bourgeois class, so the Socialists and Communists are the theoreticians of the proletarian class.” (Marx, “The Misery of Philosophy”, loc. cit.)

So the communists or Marxists are the theorists or the scientific representatives of the working class. Already here it becomes clear how much “utopianism” is still to be found in the dominant doctrines of the so-called “Communist Parties”, as measured by such main propositions of the founders of Marxism. One can declare them to be false and outdated, then one should overcome them critically and scientifically, but one cannot and must not, like Dracker, assert and write that “Lenin, also in the question of the party, takes up directly the doctrine of Marx and Engels” (p. 85). The latter [doctrine], “Marxism” as it was first published in popular form as the “Communist Manifesto”, established the scientific insight into the economic structure of bourgeois society as the only tenable theoretical foundation”, and explained that it was not a matter of putting some Utopian system into effect, but of self-conscious participation in the historical process of revolutionizing society that is taking place before our very eyes,” as Marx himself still explained in 1860. (Karl Marx, “Herr Vogt”) (5) He writes this while reporting in retrospect on the “Bund der Kommunisten” [Communists’ League] and its Manifesto” (February 1848), which says of the “theoretical propositions of the communists” – i.e. those of Marx/Engels themselves – that they are “only general expressions of actual conditions of an existing class struggle, of a historical movement going on before our eyes.” (“Manifesto”, loc. cit., p. 19). (6)

The communists or Marxists thus participate as scientific representatives of the working class in their movement that is already taking place. They therefore join “the already constituted workers’ parties” in all countries without forming a party themselves, i.e. the “Chartists” in England, the agrarian reformers in the U.S.A., the “Socialist Democratic Party” in France (under Ledru-Rollin and Louis Blanc!), etc., they thus support “every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political conditions” everywhere. (See the whole fourth and final section of the “Manifesto”!) (7) The prerequisite for the activity of the communists or Marxists is therefore always the existence of a historical movement of a social-revolutionary process. In doing so, they never fail to

“work out a consciousness as clear as possible with the workers about the hostile opposition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat”,

that is, to clarify the class consciousness of the workers. Nevertheless, Marx/ Engels use the term “communist party” also in this section for the struggle of the “Communists’ League” in Germany. How is this to be understood? According to Section II of the “Manifesto”, “the next aim of the communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties”, and the “formation of the proletariat into a class” is mentioned in the first place (loc. cit., p. 18). Accordingly, neither the communist nor another proletarian party appears as the proper class organization of the proletariat.

The communists, united in their “league”, which is not a “particular party” opposed to the other workers’ parties, of whom they are the most resolute, [forward] driving part, with whom they have the next aims in common – even the “overthrow of the bourgeoisie rule”, the “conquest of political power by the proletariat” (emphasis by me!) – apparently regard that “formation of the proletariat into a class” as a prerequisite for these actions, that is, the creation of a revolutionary class organization of the workers. There exist sufficient other testimonies for this interpretation: In March 1850, the Zentralbehörde’ [central authority] of the Communists’ League gave its emissaries the task that “the independence of the workers must be established” and that, when a new revolution is imminent, “the workers’ party must appear as organized as possible, as unanimous as possible, and as independent as possible”. (Karl Marx, “Address of the Central Authority to the League of March 1850”). (8)

Here there seems to be a difference with today’s use of language: while today we are inclined to identify party and organization, Marx/ Engels apparently have the idea that the “workers’ party” first has to be organized “as far as possible”! At the end of this speech, it is said that the German workers themselves must do “the most” for their final victory, namely

“that they clarify themselves about their class interests, take up their independent party position as soon as possible, [and that they] do not, for any moment, let themselves be fooled away (…) from the independent organization of the proletarian party.” (Ibidem, p. 136)

The “communist party” or the “Communists’ League” obviously do not regard themselves as that independent organization of the proletariat! Note also the following passage:

“[Instead of once more lowering themselves into serving the bourgeois democrats as an applauding choir,] the workers, especially the League, must work to establish an independent secret and public organization of the workers’ party alongside the official Democrats, and to turn each community (of the League, Willy Huhn) into the center and nucleus of workers’ associations, in which the position and interests of the proletariat are discussed independently of bourgeois influences.” (Ibidem, p. 130).

The main task of the Communists’ League, alias the communist party”, thus seems to reside in promoting the emergence of an own and independent class organization of the workers and to support the constitution of an “organization of the workers’ party”. The word “workers’ party” seems to be almost identical with the term “workers’ movement”, and the communists are trying to turn this proletarian movement into an independent organization without bourgeois influences. Accordingly, after the victory of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the workers should immediately create independent government organs of their class alongside the official ones of the bourgeois:

“Alongside the new official governments they must simultaneously constitute own revolutionary workers’ governments, be it in the form of community executive committees, community councils, be it by workers’ clubs or workers’ committees (…) behind which the whole mass of the workers stands.” (Ibidem, p. 131/132).

Here it is obvious that these factory committees, community and worker’s councils are conceived as independent class organs of the proletariat.

End of the first part

Translation: Jac. Johanson, May 23, 2019

MEW source references and proofreading: F.C., May 2019

Latest text corrections: May 29, 2019


1. Bibliographic reference

First published in WISO, Korre­spondenz für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Issue 15, September 1961, Volume 6, in response to a contribution of the same name by Heinz-Otto Dracker in Issue 13, July 1961, Volume 6. Both articles were subsequently republished by the Karin Kramer Verlag, as part of the text collection “Anton Pannekoek u.a.: Partei und Revolution”, Berlin 1970. The page references regarding Dracker refer to this edition, except for the opening clause.

The text is taken from the CD accompanying Jochen Gester’s “Auf der Suche nach Rosas Erbe. Der Deutsche Marxist Willy Huhn (1909-1970)”, Berlin, Die Buchmacherei, 2017. A presentation and a short review of this biography are available at this blog: Willy Huhn, an unknown coun­cil communist (F.C., December 27, 2017)

2. Source References

The quotations from Marx/Engels have been translated from the Marx-Engels Werke (MEW). They are referenced in German in the footnotes and can be looked up in the searchable MEW facsimiles at the Antonie Pannekoek Archives web site.

A German language transcription is available in pdf at Left-dis; Online language versions can be found in the ‘Willy Huhn’ section of the Antonie Pannekoek Archives.

3. The Marx-Engels editions used by Willy Huhn

  • Marx-Engels, “Das kommunistische Manifest”, sixth authorized German edition, Berlin 1894.
  • Karl Marx, “Das Elend der Philosophie”, 9th Edition, Stuttgart/Berlin 1921.
  • Marx/Engels, “Die Deutsche Ideologie”, Part I. in: “Der Historische Materialismus. Die Frühschriften”. Published by S. Landshut and J.P. Mayer. Leipzig, 1932, Volume II, p. 25. New edition, East Berlin 1953.
  • Karl Marx, “Herr Vogt”, First New Edition after the Original London 1860, Moscow 1941.
  • Karl Marx, “Enthüllungen über den Kommunistenprozess zu Köln”, 1852, Annex to the Zurich Edition of 1885: “Ansprache der Zentralbehörde an den Bund vom März 1850”. Reprint East Berlin 1952.

Editorial Notes

1 Counting the quotations in Dracker’s article, Huhn finds Lenin quoted by Dracker 30 times and Stalin 27 times.

2 Marx-Engels, “Das Kommunistische Manifest” (MEW Bd. 4, p. 459 ff. Text based on the last edition edited by Engels, 1890).

3 Karl Marx, “Das Elend der Philosophie”, Chapter 2: “Die Methaphysik der politischen Ökonomie”, §1: Die Methode (MEW Bd. 4 p. 143).

4 Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, “Die Deutsche Ideologie” (MEW Bd. 3, p. 35). The opposition (“but an ideal”) in the transcription from Huhn is not to be found in the sentence quoted from Marx/Engels (Translator’s note).

5 Karl Marx, “Herr Vogt” (MEW Bd. 14, p. 439)

6 Marx-Engels, “Das Kommunistische Manifest” (MEW Bd. 4, p. 474/475).

7 Ibidem (MEW Bd. 4, p. 492/493).

8 Marx-Engels, Ansprache der Zentralbehörde an den Bund vom März 1850” (MEW Bd. 7, p 244 – 254).