Council communism (also councilism) is a current of socialist thought that emerged in the 1920s. Inspired by the November Revolution, councilism was characterized by its opposition to state capitalism/state socialism and its advocacy of workers' councils and soviet democracy as the basis for dismantling the class state. Strong in Germany and the Netherlands during the 1920s, council communism continues to exist today within the greater socialist and communist movements.
Chief among the tenets of council communism is its opposition to the party vanguardism and democratic centralism of Leninist ideologies and its contention that democratic workers' councils arising in the factories and municipalities are the natural form of working class organization and authority. Council Communism also stands in contrast to social democracy through its formal rejection of both reformism and "parliamentarism" (i.e. the compromises and quids pro quo, such as logrolling, normally found in legislative politics).
Council Communists maintain that the working class should not rely on Leninist vanguard parties or hope for reforms of the capitalist system to bring socialism. It is viewed that worker's revolution will not be led by a "revolutionary" political party since these parties will only later create a party dictatorship, many point to the Bolshevik party in the October Revolution as an example, claiming that the party only became the capitalist class that replaced the old aristocratic feudal class. Revolutionary political parties will only agitate for revolution and worker's councils. These worker's councils which form during periods of struggle are believed to be the natural organizations of the working class. Democratic worker's councils will coordinate the functions of a society rather than a bureaucracy found in state socialist societies. Because of these beliefs Council Communists have been compared to Anarchists and Syndicalists.
As the Second International decayed at the beginning of World War I, socialists who opposed nationalism and supported proletarian internationalism regrouped. In Germany, two major communist trends emerged. First, the Spartacus League was created by the radical socialist Rosa Luxemburg. The second trend emerged among German rank-and-file trade unionists who opposed their unions and organized increasingly radical strikes towards the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918. This second trend created the German Left Communist movement that would become the KAPD after the abortive German Revolution of 1918–19.
As the Communist International inspired by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia formed, a Left Communist tendency developed in the Comintern's German, Dutch and Bulgarian sections. Key figures in this milieu were Anton Pannekoek, Otto Rühle and Herman Gorter. In the United Kingdom, Sylvia Pankhurst's group, the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International), also identified with the Left Communist tendency.
Alongside these formal Left Communist tendencies, the Italian group led by Amadeo Bordiga is often commonly recognized as a Left Communist party, although both Bordiga and the Italian Communist Left disputed this and qualified their politics as separate, distinct and more in line with the Third International's positions than the politics of Left Communism. Bordiga himself did not advocate abstention from the unions, although later Italian Left currents developed a critique of the "regime unions", positing that most or all unions had become tools of capitalism by submitting themselves to bourgeois interests and were no longer viable organs of class struggle. Nevertheless, those "Bordigists" who put forward this critique still held out the necessity of "red unions" or "class unions" re-emerging, outside and against the regime unions, which would openly advocate class struggle and allow the participation of communist militants.
These various assorted groups were all criticized by Vladimir Lenin in his booklet "Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder.
Despite a common general direction, and despite sharing the criticism of Lenin, there were few politics held in common between these movements. An example of this divergence is that the Italians supported the Right of Nations to Self Determination, while the Dutch and Germans rejected this policy (seeing it as a form of bourgeois nationalism). However, all of the Left Communist tendencies opposed what they called "Frontism". Frontism was a tactic endorsed by Lenin, where Communists sought tactical agreements with reformist (social democratic) parties in pursuit of a definite, usually defensive, goal. In addition to opposing "Frontism", the Dutch-German tendency, the Bulgarians and British also refused to participate in bourgeois elections, which they denounced as parliamentarism.
In Germany, the Left Communists were expelled from the Communist Party of Germany, and they formed the Communist Workers Party (KAPD). Similar parties were formed in the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Britain. The KAPD rapidly lost most of its members and it eventually dissolved. However, some of its militants had been instrumental in organising factory-based unions like the AAUD and AAUD-E, the latter being opposed to separate party organisation (see: Syndicalism).
The leading theoreticians of the KAPD had developed a new series of ideas based on their opposition to party organisation, and their conception of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia as having been a bourgeois revolution. Their leading figures were Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter and Otto Rühle. Rühle later left the KAPD, and was one of the founders of the AAUD-E. Another leading theoretician of Council Communism was Paul Mattick, who later emigrated to the US. A minor figure in the Council Communist movement in the Netherlands was Marinus van der Lubbe, who was accused of the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 and consequently executed by the nazis after a show trial that marked the beginning of the persecution of socialist and communists in Nazi Germany.
The early councilists are followed later by the Group of Internationalist Communists, Henk Meijer, Cajo Brendel and Paul Mattick, Sr. There was a resurgence of councilist groups and ideas in the 1960s, through the Situationist International, Root and Branch in the United States, Socialisme ou Barbarie in France, and Solidarity in the UK.
Alongside and sometimes connected to the councilists were the early Western Marxists, György Lukács (a council communist himself from 1918–21 or 22) and Karl Korsch (who turned to council communism in the 1930s).
During the Russian Revolution of 1917, councils akin to those advocated by Council Communists were a significant political and organizational force; the Russian word "soviet" itself means council. After the success of the February Revolution, the Bolsheviks sought to capitalize on the influence of the soviets in order to boost their own popularity. Bolshevik leaders advocated the transference of authority to the soviets and the dissolution of Russian Provisional Government by means of a second revolution. When this campaign succeeded and the October Revolution occurred, the creation of the Congress of Soviets marked the beginning of a process of diminishing workers' control of the soviets, and the decisions of the Bolshevik Party acquired the full authority of the State. Thus, the new regime had developed into a one-party system, the Supreme Soviet (successor to the Congress of Soviets) had been relegated to the role of a rubber-stamp parliament, meeting just once a year to ratify decisions already made at higher levels, in most cases with no dissenting votes. Real power was concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
The Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation (APCF) was a communist group in the United Kingdom. It was founded by the group around Guy Aldred's Spur newspaper - mostly former Communist League members - in 1921. They included John McGovern.
The group sent delegates to the Third Congress of the Comintern, but refused to join the Communist Party of Great Britain on the grounds of the latter's parliamentarianism and aim to join the Labour Party. The APCF later declared itself against "Leninism", which it claimed had distorted any gains made by the October Revolution.
The group began publishing Commune, with contributions from left communists across Europe, and moved towards council communism. Aldred left in 1933, claiming that parliamentarianism was finished, and there was therefore no point in an anti-parliamentary group. He later founded the United Socialist Movement.
Adopting an increasingly anarcho-communist outlook, the group supported the Spanish Popular Front, working with Freedom, but later some anarchists in the APCF split away, and the group adopted a more critical approach to the CNT. Ernst Schneider, a seaman and veteran of the German Revolution joined the group following his departure from Nazi Germany in 1939. He was a consistent contributor to the federations journal Solidarity and in 1943 published an account of the Wilhelmshaven mutiny.In 1941, the group renamed itself the Workers' Revolutionary League.
The League opposed World War II, during which it published the Solidarity newspaper, but dissolved in 1945 when the revolutionary upsurge they had predicted failed to occur. Some former members founded a Workers' Open Forum to continue political activity. This continued until the late 1950s.Antonie Pannekoek
Antonie (Anton) Pannekoek (2 January 1873 – 28 April 1960) was a Dutch astronomer, Marxist theorist, and social revolutionary. He was one of the main theorists of council communism (Dutch: radencommunisme).Autarky
Autarky is the quality of being self-sufficient; the term is usually applied to political states or their economic systems. Autarky exists whenever an entity can survive or continue its activities without external assistance or international trade. If a self-sufficient economy also refuses all trade with the outside world then it is called a closed economy. The term "closed economy" is also used technically as an abstraction to allow consideration of a single economy without taking foreign trade into account – i.e. as the antonym of open economy. Autarky in the political sense is not necessarily an economic phenomenon; for example, a military autarky would be a state that could defend itself without help from another country, or could manufacture all of its weapons without any imports from the outside world.
Autarky as an ideal or method has been embraced by a wide range of political ideologies and movements, especially left-wing creeds like African socialism, mutualism, council communism, Swadeshi, syndicalism (especially anarcho-syndicalism) and leftist populism. It has also been used in temporary, limited ways by conservative, centrist and nationalist movements, such as the American system, Juche, mercantilism, the Meiji Restoration, social corporatism, and traditionalist conservatism. Fascist and far-right movements occasionally claimed to strive for autarky in platform or propaganda, but in practice crushed existing movements towards self-sufficiency and established extensive capital connections in efforts to ready for expansionist war and genocide while allying with traditional business elites.Autarky may be a policy of a state or other entity when it seeks to be self-sufficient as a whole, but also can be limited to a narrow field such as possession of a key raw material. For example, many countries have a policy of autarky with respect to foodstuffs and water for national security reasons. By contrast, autarky may be a result of economic isolation or external circumstances in which a state or other entity reverts to localized production when it lacks currency or excess production to trade with the outside world.Classless society
Classless society refers to a society in which no one is born into a social class. Such distinctions of wealth, income, education, culture, or social network might arise and would only be determined by individual experience and achievement in such a society.
Codere defines social class as a segment of the community, the members of which show a common social position in a hierarchical ranking. Codere suggest that a true class-organized society is one in which the hierarchy of prestige and status is divisible into groups each with its own social, economic, attitudinal and cultural characteristics and each having differential degrees of power in community decision. However class organised societies rarely follow this structure, suggesting that a classless society might be better.
Since determination of life outcome by birth class has proved historically difficult to avoid, advocates, such as anarchists, communists, etc. of a classless society propose various means to achieve and maintain it and attach varying degrees of importance to it as an end in their overall programs/philosophy.Communism
In political and social sciences, communism (from Latin communis, "common, universal") is the philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.Communism includes a variety of schools of thought, which broadly include Marxism and anarchism (anarcho-communism), as well as the political ideologies grouped around both. All of these share the analysis that the current order of society stems from its economic system, capitalism; that in this system there are two major social classes; that conflict between these two classes is the root of all problems in society; and that this situation will ultimately be resolved through a social revolution.
The two classes are the working class—who must work to survive and who make up the majority within society—and the capitalist class—a minority who derives profit from employing the working class through private ownership of the means of production.
The revolution will put the working class in power and in turn establish social ownership of the means of production, which according to this analysis is the primary element in the transformation of society towards communism.
Critics of communism can be roughly divided into those concerning themselves with the practical aspects of 20th century communist states and those concerning themselves with communist principles and theory.Marxist communism and social democracy were the two dominant forms of socialism in the 20th century; social democracy advocates economic reform through gradual democratic legislative action rather than through revolution.Communist Workers' International
The Communist Workers' International (German: Kommunistische Arbeiter-Internationale, KAI) or Fourth Communist International was a council communist international. It was founded around the Manifesto of the Fourth Communist International, published by the Communist Workers' Party of Germany (KAPD) in 1921.Communist Workers' Party of Bulgaria
Communist Workers' Party of Bulgaria was a council communist party in the Kingdom of Bulgaria. It was founded in September 1921, and was modelled after the Communist Workers' Party of Germany. It was founded at a conference in the city of Slivnu, a centre of the textile industry, January 7-January 10, 1922. The leadership of the party was based in Varna. The party had around 1000 members, and published Rabotchnik Iskra (Workers' Spark). The party was affiliated to the Communist Workers' International.The party was divided along the same lines as its German counterpart, with a Sofia-based faction close to the Essen group and the Varna-based faction close to the Berlin group. The party was disbanded as a result of repression in April 1925.Communist Workers' Party of Germany
The Communist Workers' Party of Germany (German: Kommunistische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands; KAPD) was an anti-parliamentarian and left communist party that was active in Germany during the time of the Weimar Republic. It was founded in April 1920 in Heidelberg as a split from the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Originally the party remained a "sympathising member of Communist International." In 1922 the KAPD split into two factions, both of whom kept the name but are referred to as the KAPD Essen Faction and the KAPD Berlin Faction.
The KAPD Essen Faction was linked to the Communist Workers International.
The Entschiedene Linke decided unanimously to join the KAPD during its congress of 4–6 June 1927.The party published a paper, Kommunistische Arbeiter-Zeitung.Communist Workers' Party of the Netherlands
The Communist Workers' Party of the Netherlands (Dutch: Kommunistische Arbeiders-Partij Nederland) was a council communist party in the Netherlands. It was founded in September 1921, and was modelled after the Communist Workers' Party of Germany. It was however far smaller than its German counterpart. At most, in late 1921, it had 8 sections with a total membership of around 200. Herman Gorter played an important role in building the party. The party was affiliated to the Communist Workers' International.The membership of the party decreased rapidly as the party was engulfed in internal conflicts.Communist Workers Party (Austria)
Communist Workers Party was an Austrian council communist party. It was founded in 1924, and was modelled after the Communist Workers Party of Germany. Its political influence was however very limited. The party publication was printed in Berlin, and the group had only a handful of members. The party disappeared soon after its formation.General Workers' Union of Germany
General Workers' Union of Germany (German: Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands; AAUD), was the name of factory organisations formed following the German Revolution of 1918–1919 in opposition to the traditional trade unions. The AAUD was formed by the left communists in the Communist Workers' Party of Germany (KAPD) who considered organising based on trades as being an outmoded form of organisation and instead advocated organising workers based on factories, thus forming the AAUD. They were influenced by the industrial unionism of the Industrial Workers of the World. The council communists organised these factory organisations as the basis for region-wide workers' councils.A section of the AAUD led by Otto Rühle, based in Essen, split from the AAUD, forming the Essen tendency of the AAUD, Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union – Einheitsorganisation.Libertarian Marxism
Libertarian Marxism refers to a broad scope of economic and political philosophies that emphasize the anti-authoritarian aspects of Marxism. Early currents of libertarian Marxism, known as left communism, emerged in opposition to Marxism–Leninism and its derivatives, such as Stalinism, Ceaușism and Maoism. Libertarian Marxism is also often critical of reformist positions, such as those held by social democrats. Libertarian Marxist currents often draw from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' later works, specifically the Grundrisse and The Civil War in France; emphasizing the Marxist belief in the ability of the working class to forge its own destiny without the need for a revolutionary party or state to mediate or aid its liberation. Along with anarchism, libertarian Marxism is one of the main currents of libertarian socialism.Libertarian Marxism includes such currents as council communism, De Leonism, Socialisme ou Barbarie, Lettrism/Situationism and workerism/autonomism and parts of the New Left. Libertarian Marxism has often had a strong influence on both post-left and social anarchists. Notable theorists of libertarian Marxism have included Anton Pannekoek, Raya Dunayevskaya, C. L. R. James, E. P. Thompson, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Negri, Cornelius Castoriadis, Maurice Brinton, Guy Debord, Daniel Guérin, Fredy Perlman, Ernesto Screpanti and Raoul Vaneigem.Libertarian socialism
Libertarian socialism (or socialist libertarianism) is a group of anti-authoritarian political philosophies inside the socialist movement that rejects the conception of socialism as centralized state ownership and control of the economy.Libertarian socialism is close to and overlaps with left-libertarianism, and criticizes wage labour relationships within the workplace, instead emphasizing workers' self-management of the workplace and decentralized structures of political organization.It often rejects the state itself, and asserts that a society based on freedom and justice can be achieved through abolishing authoritarian institutions that control certain means of production and subordinate the majority to an owning class or political and economic elite. Libertarian socialists advocate for decentralized structures based on direct democracy and federal or confederal associations such as libertarian municipalism, citizens' assemblies, trade unions, and workers' councils.All of this is generally done within a general call for libertarian and voluntary human relationships through the identification, criticism, and practical dismantling of illegitimate authority in all aspects of human life. As such, libertarian socialism seeks to distinguish itself from both Leninism/Bolshevism and social democracy.Past and present political philosophies and movements commonly described as libertarian socialist include anarchism as well as autonomism, Communalism, participism, guild socialism, revolutionary syndicalism, and libertarian Marxist philosophies such as council communism as well as some versions of utopian socialism and individualist anarchism.List of communist ideologies
Self-identified communists hold a variety of views, including Marxism, Dengism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, council communism, Luxemburgism, anarcho-communism, Christian communism, Islamic socialism and various currents of left communism. The offshoots of the Leninism (Marxism–Leninism) are the most well-known of these and have been a driving force in international relations during most of the 20th century.This list includes ideologies which are or were
communist in the sense of maintaining the ideal of common ownership and control of at least the means of production (and possibly of other property) regardless whether the word "communism" is used by the adherents of the ideology or not; and,
notable enough to be either mentioned in a non-trivial way in more than one scholarly work about history of communism, or to be an official ideology of a party at least represented in a parliament of a country with more than 1,000,000 citizens.Besides the principal communist ideologies (like Marxism or anarcho-communism), the list may contain also branches limited in their theoretical scope (e.g., Lysenkoism) or in their regional extent (e.g., Kádárism), provided they fulfill the above conditions.Open Marxism
Open Marxism is a school of thought which draws on libertarian socialist critiques of party communism and stresses the need for openness to praxis and history through an anti-positivist (dialectical) method grounded in the "practical reflexivity" of Karl Marx's own concepts. The "openness" in open Marxism also refers to a non-deterministic view of history in which the unpredictability of class struggle is foregrounded.The sources of open Marxism are many, from György Lukács' return to the philosophical roots of Marx's thinking to council communism and from anarchism to elements of Autonomism and situationism. Intellectual affinities with autonomist Marxism were especially strong and led to the creation of the journal The Commoner (2001–2012) following in the wake of previous open Marxist journals Arguments (1958–1962) and Common Sense (1987–1999). In the 1970s and 1980s, state-derivationist debates around the separation of the economic and the political under capitalism unfolded in the San Francisco-based working group Kapitalistate and the Conference of Socialist Economists journal Capital & Class, involving many of the theorists of Open Marxism and significantly influencing its theoretical development.Three volumes entitled Open Marxism were published by Pluto Press in the 1990s. Recent work by open Marxists has included a revaluation of Theodor W. Adorno. Those commonly associated with open Marxism include John Holloway, Simon Clarke, Werner Bonefeld, Ana C Dinerstein, Richard Gunn, Kosmas Psychopedis, Adrian Wilding, Peter Burnham, Mike Rooke, Hans-Georg Backhaus, Helmut Reichelt, Harry Cleaver, Johannes Agnoli, Kostas Axelos and Henri Lefebvre.Organization of Communist Left
Organization of Communist Left (in Spanish: Organización de Izquierda Comunista, in Basque: Ezker Komunista Erakundea, in Catalan: Organització d'Esquerra Comunista, in Galician: Organización de Esquerda Comunista, OIC) was a communist political party in Spain founded in 1974. The OIC was a continuation of the existing Communist Workers Circles (COC), whose roots were in the Workers' Front of Catalonia (FOC), the Catalan version of the People's Liberation Front (FLP or FELIPE).Paul Mattick
Paul Mattick, Sr. (March 13, 1904 – February 7, 1981) was a Marxist political writer and social revolutionary, whose thought can be placed within the council communist and left communist traditions.
Throughout his life, Mattick continually criticised Bolshevism, Vladimir Lenin and Leninist organisational methods, describing their political legacy as "serving as a mere ideology to justify the rise of modified capitalist (state-capitalist) systems, which were [...] controlled by way of an authoritarian state".Ultra-leftism
The term ultra-leftism has two overlapping uses. A usage common among Marxist activist groups ("historical ultra-left" below) is as a generally pejorative term for certain types of positions on the far-left that are extreme or intransigent. Another definition historically refers to a particular current of Marxist communism, in which the Communist International repudiated social democratic parties (and all other progressive groupings outside of the Communist Party). Pejoratively, ultra-left is often used by Marxists against other socialists, communists, and anarchists within far-left parties who advocate strategies which some Marxists may consider to be without regard of the current political consciousness or of the long-term consequences that would result from following a proposed course.Ultra-leftism within and outside the Communist International was evident in periods when political groupings pursued council communism and left communism.Workers' council
A workers' council is a form of political and economic organization in which a single local administrative division, such as a municipality or a county, is governed by a council made up of temporary and instantly revocable delegates elected in the region's workplaces.
A variation is a soldiers' council, when the delegates are chosen amongst (mutinous) soldiers. A mix of workers and soldiers also existed (like the 1918 German Arbeiter- und Soldatenrat).
In a system with temporary and instantly revocable delegates, workers decide on what their agenda is and what their needs are. They also mandate a temporary delegate to divulge and pursue them. The temporary delegates are elected among the workers themselves, can be instantly revoked if they betray their mandate, and are supposed to change frequently. The delegates act as messengers, carrying and interchanging the intention of the groups of workers.
On a larger scale, a group of delegates may in turn elect a delegate in a higher position to pursue their mandate, and so on, until the top delegates are running the industrial system of a state. In such a system, decision power rises from bottom to top from the agendas of the workers themselves, and there is no decision imposition from the top, as would happen in the case of a power seizure by a bureaucratic layer that is immune to instant revocation.