A Book Review by Ph. Bourrinet
The history of the council movement seemed a long outdated history after a myriad of studies in the 1960s and 1970s in both parts of Germany, often under very clear ideological banners: democracy versus dictatorship. After a long historiographical slumber on revolutionary events in Germany; after the so-called “collapse of communism”, important studies on the council movement emerged in 2013 with a volume devoted to the Hamburg Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council. () Axel Weipert’s study, published in Berlin in 2015, is a very notable contribution to the new historiography after the downfall of the (Berlin) wall, this time devoted to the “second revolution”, the second phase of the council movement after the January 1919 workers’ defeat in Berlin. ()
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The violently crushed Kronstadt uprising of March 1921, followed by the introduction of the NEP, marked a decisive turn in the consolidation of the state capitalist regime that had come to bearing through the October insurrection in Russia 1917. The struggle for “soviets without the communists” (i.e. without the Bolsheviks) led by the insurgent mariners would be the last attempt by the proletarian masses to reconquer political power over the state, whose grip had been strengthened under pressure of the ‘civil war’ in Russia, with its so-called ‘war-communism’, to the detriment of the councils (soviets). Having achieved a military victory over the “white armies” through an unprecedented militarization, the Bolshevik regime was confronted with a plain catastrophe at the economic level, resulting in mass famines and peasant insurrections, like the Makhnovchina in the South. The Kronstadt uprising was the top of the iceberg of a mass movement that had its counterpart among the industrial proletariat. With its defeat, and the subsequent repression of political life, the backbone of the proletarian mass strike in Russia since 1905 was crushed, sealing off the counter-revolutionary involution of the Bolshevik party in power.
The following chapter from his major work Trotsky – the failed Stalin presents the analysis elaborated by the council communist Willy Huhn at the beginning of the 1950s of the role of the Bolshevik party, its leadership and of Trotsky in particular in these key events, with regards to the later political current of “trotskyism”.
Our translation is followed by a brief editor’s note on some historical inaccuracies by Huhn.
Last updated: April 22, 2021
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From: ‘De Nieuwe Tijd’ (Vol.21 #5, May 5, 1916)
By way of an introduction
For a critique of the theory of the decadence of capitalism, Pannekoek is important because he has always opposed the view that capitalism would automatically and irreparably collapse. In “The Economic Necessity of Imperialism” (1916) he summarizes his critique of Luxemburg’s underpinning of the saturation of the markets at the hand of Marx’s reproduction diagrams. We will not go into this further, but do point out that the ICC’s theory of decadence relies on Luxemburg’s argument. Further, Pannekoek has taken down the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as a theoretical underpinning of Grossman’s and Mattick’s crises theory as well. Instead of an automatic and irreparable collapse of capitalism and an economic necessity of imperialism, Pannekoek argues that the periodic crises arise from the imbalance between economic factors inherent in capitalism. Instead of an economic necessity of imperialism, he posits a social and political necessity that follows from the power of big capital. Only at the margins of his reflections Pannekoek speaks of an end to capitalism in a then – in 1916 and 1946 respectively – distant future: through the exhaustion of the “material” conditions for the expansion of production. In 1916 these are “unlimited quantities” of raw materials in nature; in 1946 he already speaks of “the raw adventurous methods of capital – which on all continents are in the process of destroying the fertility of the earth”. Not unimportant, and even highly topical in the light of the current environmental and health crises. The second material condition mentioned by Pannekoek that capitalism would no longer be able to fulfill, is that of a labor force in “sufficient” quantities to expand production.
F.C., January 2021
(Last edited: March 15, 2021)
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An Introduction by Ph. Bourrinet, October 2019
In A Free Retriever’s Digest Vol. 4 Issue #2, April – June 2020 (April 21, 2020) we have presented Anton Pannekoek’s classic work on Marxism, Darwinism and their thorny relationship at the hand of a summary written for its recent French translation. ()
In the following we continue with the elaborate introduction to Pannekoek’s synthesis by its French translator, which endeavors a critical evaluation of this work and its reception in diverse quarters.
We wholeheartedly support this effort to review the ‘classics’ of historical materialism in the light of the lessons taken from the historical experiences of the working class struggle and in that of the evolution of science – not limiting ourselves to saving them from the “the gnawing criticism of the mice”, nor to simply repeating them – and hope this review contributes to a meaningful discussion among the political minorities that lay claim to proletarian internationalism.
Due to the length and scope of this contribution and its extensive annotations, we publish our translation on the portfolio pages. The following presents the contents at the hand of excerpts, with links to the full text.
H.C., September 7, 2020
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A contribution to a debate between council communists
(Roi Ferreiro, August 17, 2020)
The following essay is a discussion contribution on the (trade- or industrial) union question from the perspective of overcoming the latter’s inherent limitations, which has been proposed in a recently emerging, council communist discussion forum.
Departing from the radicalizing tendencies that openly combated the official trades’ unions during the revolutionary upsurge in Germany 1917-1923, the essay takes care to reestablish the vision of Marx and Engels on the possibilities and limits of ‘unionism’, both in their own time and in general. It subsequently attempts a terminological clarification, relating the ‘union’ or ‘syndicalist’ types of organizations and struggles to their historical period and respective aims and origins. Based on these preliminary considerations, the essay engages in an investigation of the limitations and pitfalls in the conceptions, slogans and practices embodied by the K.A.P.D. and the Arbeiter-Unionen, as the most advanced expressions of a workers’ struggle for class autonomy at the time. Limitations and pitfalls that can also be found in more recent manifestations of proletarian struggles since the 1960s, albeit in a profoundly altered political-historical context, engaging very different force relations. A series of reflections is advanced that amount, a.o. to situating the workers’ struggles of the past decades as marked by a decline of ‘unionist’ illusions, and to re-calibrating the question of self-organizing in workers’ struggle. It appears that the old theses defended by the GIC in the 1930s are considered as still of use.
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The first complete German and English editions (2020)
“Habent sua fata libelli.”
(Books have their fates.)
Anti-critique of a leftist book review of
The Dutch and German Communist Left (1900-1968)
In Vol. 1#2 (Try-out issue, May 2017) of this Digest, we briefly presented this elaborate work of political history in its first English translation, that has appeared with Brill (Leiden/Boston) in 2016. This was followed by the introduction of a review on Libcom titled “Council communism or councilism? – The period of transition”.
Since, we have had occasion to present its 3rd, revised Edition in French (June 2018) in Vol. 2#4 (August- September 2018) and on pages of this blog, in a more extensive way.
Unfortunately, serious reviews of this important work, in either language, and notably by adherents of the communist Left, or of proletarian internationalism in a broad sense, are very rare. When we discovered a rather extensive review of the English edition in a bourgeois left-wing, Trotskyist, periodical appearing in the Netherlands, our curiosity was raised. What follows is the result of a considerate examination.
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