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The history of the council movement seemed a long outdated history after a myriad of studies in the 1960s and 1970s in both parts of Germany, often under very clear ideological banners: democracy versus dictatorship.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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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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