The new tactic - Karl Kautsky

Pannekoek Kautsky
Kautsky's Controversy with Pannekoek (commented on by Lenin in his State and Revolution)

Controversy with Anton Pannekoek.

Submitted by Noa Rodman on May 16, 2016

Die neue Taktik. Source: Die Neue Zeit, Jahr. 30 (1911–12), 2. Bd., H. 44 (2 August 1912) pp. 654–64, H. 45 pp. 688–98 and H. 46 pp. 723–33. Overhauled version of a translation by K.O.

I. The method

1. Introduction

The last few months have seen somewhat much polemical activity in the party. Even so the debate with comrade Pannekoek is not unwelcome for me. It promises to clarify our objective differences, more so than the other polemics in the past time have.1

The starting point of Pannekoek’s criticism is a series of articles about The action of the mass which I published last autumn in Die Neue Zeit (XXX. 1, Nr. 2,3,4), prompted by the unrests which had shortly before played out in England, France and Austria, in connection to the enormous strikes (in August in England), as well as to the demonstrations against the rise in prices (in September in France and Austria). These unrests consisted largely of unorganised masses. This prompted me to explore whether alongside the struggles of the organised workers in the coming time not also 'that special type of mass action known as street action,' again could play a role and what type it might be.

I came to the conclusion, that with the constant sharpening of the class contradictions, the rise in prices and the threat of war, an occasional collaboration between the organised proletariat and strong unorganised masses in large, sudden, spontaneous actions promised to play a large role. With the unpredictability of the unorganised masses a catastrophic element would enter political development, similar to that which gave it its character between 1789 and 1871 in Europe. From this particularity of the situation however there does not yet follow the necessity of a new tactic for our party.

Pannekoek contests this. He wants to demonstrate, that a new tactic is necessary. For this reason he criticises the method of my article and dismisses it. In addition, he develops the concepts of organisation, mass action, and state power, in order to substantiate the new tactic, which he considers necessary.

To be sure the tactic sought by Pannekoek has not yet been presented by him with the desirable amount of clarity. Much remains obscure, much misunderstanding is still possible. But all the same what Pannekoek presented is enough to show, that the difference between his friends and me, as some of them have maintained, arises not out of an about-turn on my part, but from entirely new demands on their part. But admittedly, in one point also Pannekoek finds, that I have betrayed my Marxism: in the method, which I use for my analysis of the action of the mass.

2. Class and mass.

It is this method which shall presently concern us.

It provokes Pannekoek's most serious objections. And that it is entirely bad appears for him strikingly already from one single fact: that I reach no result. My 'result is no result.' 'The analysis has remained without result.'

Indeed, that is a considerable deficiency. How is Pannekoek justified in saying that I reached no conclusion? Did I possibly say such a thing myself? Not at all. I have very specifially formulated the outcome of my analysis to the effect, that the unorganised mass, which I examine, is of a highly unpredictable nature.

Pannekoek does not consider this to be a result.

An analysis thus in his opinion does not yet yield a determined result when it leads to a determined viewpoint, but only then, when it leads to a viewpoint of something determined, fixed. Accordingly the analysis of a sand-desert leads only to a result, when it arrives at the conclusion, that here is present solid granite ground. If it concludes that there is present merely loose sand, upon which no buildings can be constructed, then it is "no result," and it proves in itself already that the researcher of the desert has not employed the correct method!

Having so brilliantly proven that my method must be false, Pannekoek shows also what constitutes its falsity:

Kautsky has left his Marxist armour (Rüstzeug) at home, and therefore he achieves no result. The particular class-character of the masses is nowhere mentioned in his historical exposition.

The actions of the lumpen-proletariat, wage workers, petty bourgeois and peasants are fundamentally different and can only be grasped through a consideration of their class conditions. (-> Kautsky's recap of Pannekoek)

Aye, does comrade Pannekoek really believe, that I have forgotten the ABC of Marxism, ideas to whose gaining acceptance I have spent the best part of my life? Has Pannekoek not felt himself disposed, to even only one minute reflect about, why I on this one occasion did not extensively speak of the 'particular class-character of the masses’?

I have in no way forgotten to examine, out of what classes is recruited that crowd which I analysed in my article; those who find themselves together in unorganised spontaneous street actions: and only of them is it here the question, which I also in the following entreat the reader to keep in mind. On page 45 of my article I investigated, which elements today in Germany in such actions could be accounted. I concluded that, excluding children and the agricultural population, there would be about 30 million, of which roughly one tenth are organised workers. The rest is formed by unorganised workers, a large part of which is still infected with outlooks of the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and the lumpen proletariat, and finally not a few members of those last two layers themselves.

Also now, after Pannekoek's rebuke, it is still not clear to me, in what way I would be able to discover a unified class character in such a colourful and mixed crowd. The "Marxist armour" thereto I have not "left at home," but never possessed. Comrade Pannekoek here evidently maintains, that the essence of Marxism consists of, wherever there is talk of mass, understanding it to mean a certain class, in fact today the industrial class-conscious proletariat.

Had I done this, then I would admittedly have come to a different conclusion, then the mass would not have appeared to me as unpredictable, but very determined in its tendencies and resolute. Everything would have worked out delightfully, only one detail would have lacked: the correspondence with reality. The real, unorganised mass in spontaneous street unrests would have fit the above picture like a fist on the eye.

3. The instinct of the mass.

Pannekoek thinks that today the masses are proletarian, where formerly they were bourgeois. Therefore I should also not take for description of actions of the mass those from the time of the French Revolution, where it was "bourgeois."

To this I must first retort, that it is just as incorrect, to simply label today’s "mass" as proletarian, as it would be to label those of the French Revolution as bourgeois. Certainly, the wage workers amongst the masses of the Parisian street actions in the time of the great Revolution were much less represented than today, but the lumpen proletariat was immensely strong and the craftsmen themselves in their great majority were dispossessed solitary workers, very close to the waged proletariat. The class composition of the mass was just as colourful then as it is today, admittedly with the difference, that the large-industrial proletariat that today dominates in it, was at that time almost entirely non-existent. Things are not so simple as Pannekoek imagines them to be – erstwhile bourgeois, now proletarian.

But it is certainly true that the transformations of the classes are not without effect on the character and the action of the mass, and that they are in many ways different today than previously, I myself have emphasised in the section on The historical transformations of the mass action.

When I nevertheless take into consideration also the experiences from the French Revolution, this was above all else due to the fact, that precisely these experiences are always exhibited by the uncritical admirers of the mass as evidence of its infallibility. And still today comrades, who are very close to Pannekoek, present the instinct of the mass, whether "bourgeois" or "proletarian," as the best compass of any revolutionary movement.

One single issue of the Bremer Bürger-Zeitung (BB-Z), that of 12 April of this year, contains at once two articles, in which the infallibility of the instinct of the masses is praised. One of these, entitled The revolutionary instinct of the masses, says:

Proletarian masses are a steadfast people and are less easily deceived by appearance than the pliant theoretician.

A very convenient means, to reject outcomes of theoretical research, against which one does not know to bring arguments. Only I must point out that the "instinct of the proletarian masses" does not always tilt in the direction of radicalism. In the United States for example, it are precisely revisionist comrades, who invoke the instinct of the masses against the theoreticians, in order to gloss over their hostility towards proletarians of colour. And the Czechian separatism, how can it justify itself, if not by the “instinct of the proletarian masses”?

In the same issue of the BB-Z it is however not only the instinct of the proletarian masses which is raised above scientific insight, but the instinct of the masses in general, with explicit reference to the French Revolution, yes to the peasant war, thus also to the instinct of the, as Pannekoek would say, "bourgeois mass."

In the article A day of remembrance 'Lassalle’s views on the significance of the masses in history' is recalled and the following sentences from Lassalle’s letter about the tragic idea of Franz von Sickingen2 are cited with enthusiastic approval:

Indeed, however difficult it becomes for the intellect to admit this, it almost appears as if there existed an insoluble contradiction between the speculative idea, which constitutes the strength and authority of a revolution, and the finite intellect and its cleverness. As any dedicated reader of history will have to admit, most revolutions that have failed, have failed due to this cleverness, or at least all those have failed, that invested too much in this cleverness. The great French Revolution of 1792, which succeeded under the most difficult of circumstances, succeeded only because, it understood, to put the intellect aside.

Herein lies the secret of the strength of the most extreme parties in revolutions, herein lies the secret, why the instinct of the masses in the revolutions are as a rule so much more accurate than the insight of the educated. “And what no logician’s logic can see, the child-like mind does in its simplicity”3 Precisely this lack of education, which is inherent in the masses, wards off the taste for diplomatic negotiation and keeps it away from the precipice of clever-minded procedures.

The BB-Z emphasises in bold-print, that in “the revolutions” the instinct of the masses is as a rule so much more correct than the insight of the educated. Lassalle carried this view over as tradition of bourgeois democracy from the French Revolution. It is still championed by party comrades today. When I now examine, whether this view conforms with reality, that the instinct of the masses is always and at all times more correct than the insight of the educated, and come to the conclusion, that this is not the case, Pannekoek does not know to refute the facts that I put forward. So of course there is nothing left for him than to believe, that I am the one, who equates the revolutionary masses of the eighteenth century with those of the twentieth century, and to think, that the facts of the past prove nothing for the present, the earlier masses had been bourgeois, those of today proletarian. Now he may argue about this with the BB-Z and berate it for its lack of Marxist armour.

Here about this only still be noted, that the expressions of Lassalle in their context are not so extraordinary, as they shorn out of this context appear to be in our Bremen journal. That a lack of education in revolutionary times is an advantage, that the revolution of 1792 'only succeeded because it understood to put the intellect aside,' that revolutions fail because of intellect and cleverness – this appears to be a plea for ignorance and senselessness, which definitely does not deserve that enthusiasm, which is afforded to it in Bremen.

However these expressions acquire a different character when seen in their context. Lassalle explains that the strength of the revolution comes from its enthusiasm, from the 'unmediated trust of the idea in its own strength and infinity.' But this enthusiasm is based on overlooking the difficulties involved in realising the idea. And yet it must overcome these difficulties.

Under these circumstances it appears to be a triumph of overarching realist cleverness on the part of the revolution's leader, to calculate with the available limited means, to conceal the true and final purpose of the movement from others (and, incidentally, frequently from themselves as well) and by this intended deceit of the ruling classes, indeed by the usage of it to win the possibility for the organisation of the new forces, to thus by this cleverly obtained piece of reality defeat the reality itself then.

Lassalle addresses himself against this type of cleverness, setting above it the instinct of the masses, whose lack of education keeps them back from this cliff’s edge.

Against this certainly nothing can be objected. Such manoeuvring, which seeks to deceive its opponent with regard to its own motives, is for a party, whose strength is based on the enthusiasm of the masses, always an evil. It does not disarm the opponent, who will not allow himself to be so deceived, but rather confuses and discourages only its own ranks.

But Lassalle expressed himself very unfortunately in those sentences, which the BB-Z approvingly cited, when he lets this particular type of cleverness of the revolution's leader, which attempts to deceive the opponent about the ultimate aims of the movement, appear as effects of intellect and education and perceives in lack of education the best defence against this politics of the "revolution's leader." As if "peasant cunning" were a privilege of the educated and entirely lacking among the uneducated! Precisely a deep knowledge of the political and social conditions and contradictions will be surest to protect us from this "cunning," which Lassalle fights in this place. Only special kinds of education, ideologies, that do not explain the reality, but obscure the real contradictions, could require a correction by the instinct of the masses.

Finally it is also not correct to say, that "the most of the revolutions, that failed ... did so because of this cleverness."

In a revolution the actual power relations of the classes are decisive. If individual leaders rely on subterfuge during the revolution and this kind of maneuvering influences the course of the revolution, then this is a symptom and not a cause of the weakness of the revolutionary mass. On the other hand one cannot say, that the radicalism of the victorious masses in 1792 was merely the result of the instincts of the illiterate. At that time journalism formed a power, which greatly effected the masses. One would be doing the journalists of that time, such as Marat etc., a gross injustice if one were to ascribe to them a "lack in education." These passages from Lassalle give us thus no reasons to let theoretical insight capitulate before the instinct of the masses. We stand, as before, on the ground of the Communist Manifesto, which declares of the Communists – today one would say Marxists:

Theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

And it is precisely because they oppose this theoretical insight to the instinct of the remaining mass of the proletariat, that they prove themselves to be 'practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others.'

Certainly: Respect for the proletarian mass, only it can lead us to victory. And it is intellectually and morally far superior to all other masses today. But respect for its views only there, where it is filled with class-conscious, independently thinks and weighs up arguments, not however respect for blind instincts!

4. Mass strike and war

I do not know whether Pannekoek shares the BB-Z’s worship of the mass instinct. In any case it seems that he not only equates today's popular mass entirely with the proletariat, but that he also regards the entire proletarian mass itself as being already fully class conscious.

Only thus is explainable his view of the prevention of a war by the mass strike.

In my article from May of last year I have dealt with this and argued, that it would be impossible, to determine in advance, how our action in the case of war would be shaped. It would be equally rash, to declare, that a mass strike for obstruction of the war is impossible, as, that it is inevitable. Everything depends on the conditions, under which the war comes, and on the disposition of the population. Should it view the war as the result of a wrong policy of its government, then I would regard it as futile and evadable, when the government is replaced by another; if it believes at last, that the country would not be endangered by its mass strike, then it has chance for success. In contrast, it is hopeless there, where the mass of the population sees the cause of war not in the policy of its government, but in the machinations of the enemy state, feels itself threatened and pressured by the latter, and where finally the danger looms, that a mass strike will not lead to a condition of peace, but only to the facilitation of an enemy invasion. In this case it should be expected that the mass of the population will be seized by the wildest war fever and any attempt, to oppose the war armaments by a mass strike, will be strangled at birth.

Comrade Pannekoek is absolutely horrified by this argument. He exclaims: How could a Marxist come to such a conclusion? He would never believe that I could write such a thing, if not already my remarks on the action of the mass lamentably showed, that I shed any Marxist armour. Marxism knows nothing of the "population" and its moods. Marxism sees the bourgeoisie here and the proletariat there. With the start of a war it is about a 'struggle between the war-will of the bourgeoisie and the peace-will of the proletariat.' In this struggle the latter has no choice at all.

In a highly capitalist country, where the proletarian mass feels its power as the great power of the people, it will simply be forced to act when it see the greatest catastrophe about to unfold over itself.

The mass strike in case of war is thus a categorical imperative for the mass. Things for those Marxists sharing Pannekoek’s view on the outbreak of war are so simple, that it is the most superfluous thing in the world, to consider, in which situations the peace-willing proletariat can come to this. It will in all circumstances be compelled to do the same thing, whatever the causes and conditions of the war may be.

Notabene. We are not talking here about whether or not Social Democracy is always obliged to do everything in its power to prevent a war. In the era of imperialism this is beyond any question. What we are dealing with here, and what Pannekoek disputes, is my statement that the employment of a determined means for the prevention of the war, namely the mass strike, is not under all circumstances appropriate, that it is to a great degree dependent on the mood of the popular mass, which can vary greatly in different circumstances. In situations where it is gripped by a chauvinistic war fever, it will be impossible to implement a mass strike.

A Marxist according to Pannekoek should by popular mass understand always only the proletariat, and the latter represents in all circumstances in its totality only the most decisive peace-will and will always go into a mass strike for it. That even in the German Empire the Social Democrats count for only one third of all the votes, two sevenths of the electorate, that thus besides it still other layers of the people become decisive for a mass movement, comes just as little into his view as a contemplation about, whether there can not be also situations, in which of that third of the population, which votes socialist, in case of a war still a considerable part becomes captured by patriotic enthusiasm. Such problems do not exist for Marxists of Pannekoek's type. They are all solved by the simple knowledge, that there exist a class contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, that the wage workers always struggle against capital.

5. War and invasion

I have suggested, that namely then, when by the mass strike an enemy invasion would be facilitated, it would face the strongest condemnation even by wide proletarian layers.

Pannekoek counters that this is an outdated understanding, won from the experiences of earlier wars, when the population consisted mostly of peasants and petty bourgeois. For them the enemy invasion there, where it occurred, was a terrible affliction. Where the enemy did not impose itself, there one had not much to suffer. Today it is the proletariat which constitutes the majority of the population, and the sufferings, caused by an invasion, pale in comparison to those which arise from the crisis, the collapse of the complete economic life, which a war entails for a capitalist country. Therefore the goal of the action of the masses today should not be to fend off enemy invasion, but to prevent the war.

This is correct in the sense, that an enemy invasion primarily affects the peasant population, who today constitute a smaller portion of the population than before, and that for the urban population the ravages of war will predominantly take the form of an economic crisis.

It follows therefrom, that today not only the rural population has the strongest interest in the maintenance of peace, but also the urban population. But it in no way follows, that protection from an enemy invasion has become an indifferent matter for the mass of the population. Pannekoek seems to forget that, in a war, what comes into consideration is not just one state by itself, but two states. If of two war-ready states only one of these is hindered in its mobilisation by internal movements and not the other, that in no way leads to a prevention of the war. It can on the contrary encourage the attack from the enemy.

The invasion itself is however still today not such a trifling matter, as it appears to Pannekoek. On the contrary, it must be all the more devastating, the more all encompassing the armies and the more deadly their means of destruction, the wider the battlefields, the more populated the cities, which serve as fortresses.

But if we were to accept, that the fear of the horrors of an invasion is an outdated petty bourgeois prejudice, Pannekoek surely cannot deny, that it today still dominates the mindset of the masses. Their views of war and its attendant devastations are of course not based on Pannekoek's speculations concerning the coming war, but on experiences of past ones. It is only these experiences which can determine their thoughts and actions in any war to come. Pannekoek can say what he likes, the fear of a German invasion is widespread among the popular masses in France as well as England. This is the likely reason, more so perhaps than the imperialist tendencies of the bourgeoisie, that the arms race meets with so little resistance there, simultaneously however also the idea of international disarmament finds ever stronger approval.

If Pannekoek is of the opinion that the popular mass will seek to prevent mobilisation, under any circumstances, even when their own state is under attack and not itself the aggressor, then I can point out to him that even among the Social Democracy itself he will not find many comrades who share his standpoint.

At the Party congress in Essen in 1907 for example Bebel declared:

When we really once must defend the fatherland, then we do so, since it is our fatherland, as the land, upon which we live... And therefore we must if necessary defend the fatherland, when an attack comes. (Protokoll, p. 255)

In France, Guesde voiced a similar opinion. I had at the time already developed in a series of articles about Patriotism, War and Social Democracy in the Neue Zeit the same view as now and wrote amongst other things:

An invasion of a hostile army causes so much indescribable misery for the whole country, that it automatically rouses the entire population to arms against it and no class can exempt itself of the powerful current. (Neue Zeit, XXIII, 2, p. 369)

I thus apparently already at that time abandoned my whole Marxist armour, to revert to some obsolete petty bourgeois prejudices.

Would things be as simple, as they appear to Pannekoek: here the absolute peace-will of the proletariat, there the war-will of the bourgeoisie; had we under all circumstances to count with certainty, that the mass will always rise up against any war, so that any further contemplation about this would signify a relinquishment of all knowledge of the modern class contradictions – then one could expect though, that the last wars have already shown us samples of this unfailing mass instinct.

These wars occurred under conditions, which for the manifestation of the peace-will of the mass were most favourable. Nowhere in these cases was the own country threatened with invasion if the mobilisation would have been obstructed, and nevertheless, nowhere do we see that the masses are immune to the poison of chauvinistic appeals. Everywhere the opponents of war, as soon as it comes to blows, became a hopeless minority, which was unable to organise a vigorous mass action against the war. So it was in England at the outbreak of the Boer War, also in Italy at the beginning of the surprise attack on Turkey. We are pointed to Russia as the promised land of the mass strike. But not the slightest attempt was made there to only even timidly protest against the war with Japan. The powerful mass strikes which eventually occurred did so, not as a means of preventing the outbreak of war, but rather as a result of the war.

“The unavoidable attempt of the proletariat, to prevent war,” as Pannekoek puts it, has until now distinguished itself by its unavoidable absence.

This certainly need not be the case for all eternity. We are growing in strength every day, and much will be possible for us tomorrow, what yesterday still was impossibility. And the situations, from which wars arise, are of manifold nature and can play out in the most various manners.

I do not think it is very likely that we will ever come to a point where a war, planned by a government which feels it has the support of the populace, can be obstructed by a mass strike, but we need not completely rule this out.

6. Simplified Marxism

What I oppose is that position which seeks to derive for our individual actions, independently of all study of the respective balance of forces, situations and moods of the various population classes, a one-size-fits-all blueprint by mere speculations on the class contradiction between wage labour and capital and claims this method to be the Marxist one, since it is based on the Marxist theory. It forgets that a theory is an abstraction, not a complete, but a simplified picture of reality. Exactly this simplification allows the theory to bring out order and sense in the chaos of phenomena and to orient oneself in this labyrinth. But it remains only an Ariadne’s thread through the labyrinth, becomes never that itself, becomes never identical with reality, demands rather its constant further observation.

It is not first today, that I have come into conflict with this simplified form of Marxism. To oppose it, I wrote among other things already in 1889 my study on The class contradictions in the period of the French Revolution (Die Klassengegensätze im Zeitalter der Französischen Revolution). In the foreword to the second edition (1908) I mentioned a vulgar Marxism, which may suffice where it contents itself to popularise what Marx and Engels found, but which fails when it wants to leave the beaten path. I continued:

To oppose the in 1889 rampant vulgar Marxism, which believed it held the key to all wisdom, when it knew that social development is a product of the class struggle, and that socialist society arises out of the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat – to counter the danger that Marxism became reduced to some mere die-cast formula, that was the task, which amongst others also the present work had to serve. It wanted to show the wealth of insight, which can be derived from the application of the principle of the class-struggle in history, but also the wealth of problems, which arise from it. It wanted therewith to counteract not merely the flattening of the theory, but also that of the praxis of the class struggle, by showing that socialist politics should not content itself with observing the antagonism between capital and labour in general, but that it must explore the entire social organism in all its details, since besides this great antagonism there are still countless others in society which, though of lesser importance, should however not be ignored and the understanding and exploitation of which can significantly facilitate and greatly enrich the proletarian tactic. (pp. 4–5)

And in the introduction I wrote then:

One is all too often inclined, when an historical development is boiled down to class contradictions, to assume, that in society are present just two camps, two classes, which fight each other, two solid homogeneous masses, the revolutionary and the reactionary mass, that “only a hither and yonder exists."4 If this really were the case then the writing of history (and also practical politics) would be a fairly simple affair. However in reality the relations are not so simple. Society is and becomes increasingly a highly complex organism with the most diverse classes and the most diverse interests, who, depending on the state of things, could group themselves into the most diverse parties. (p. 9)

Those comrades, whom I then had in mind as “vulgar Marxists," since they were overly simplifying Marxism – Max Schippel, Hans Müller, Paul Ernst and others, began just in 1889 the fight against the Party Executive and its “officious journalists," against Bebel and Liebknecht, Singer and Auer, Engels and me, whom they accused of abandonment of the revolutionary and proletarian character of the party and its transformation into a petty bourgeois-possibilistic reform party. The points of denunciation finally were the slogans during the election runoffs in 1890, the participation of the representatives in the proceedings of a worker-hostile parliament, the failure of the the 1 May event, and the rejection of a military strike in the case of war, which the Dutchman Domela Nieuwenhuis demanded at the International Congress in Brussels in 1891.

More than two decades have passed since. Today's generation no longer knows the struggles, that we fought out then. Simplified Marxism however is so accessible, graspable, popular, that it ever resurfaces, when the conditions to it are favourable and make the mass instincts for it receivable.

The excitations of the struggle to bring down the Anti-socialist legislation had from 1889 until 1893 uplifted the radical vulgar Marxism. The era of prosperity since 1895 paved the way for the revision of the vulgar Marxism.5 The intensification of the class contradictions since 1907 awakes again mass instincts, who make the Marxism in its crudest, most absolute and simplest form acceptable.

Thus we must once more attend discussions, that we two decades ago believed to have attended already more than enough.

But we may at least be sure, that this time no new revisionism will come out of the super-Marxism. The era of growing class contradictions is not conducive for that.

II. The organisation

1. Organisation and character

Pannekoek succeeds admirably when it comes to presenting Marxist modes of thought in an as simple and clear way as possible. However once it is about the appreciation of the concrete phenomena, his speculative extrapolation of the simple thoughts occasionally comes into contradiction with reality.

Thus he portrays very well how the factors of social revolution develop. He comes to the conclusion:

Organisation is the most powerful weapon of the proletariat. The great power which the ruling minority possesses due to its firm organisation, can only be overcome by the even greater strength of the organisation of the majority.

Through the constant growth of these factors: economic importance, knowledge and organisation, the power of the proletariat eclipses that of the ruling classes. First with this is the precondition for social revolution in place (p. 544).

This is put very well. But for Pannekoek one runs astray, if one now regards the real concrete organisations of the proletariat to be those, which to maintain, develop and perfect constitutes our most important task, along with the spreading of knowledge. Under no circumstance! For the real organisations Pannekoek shows little interest. He accustoms himself to the thought, that they will collapse in the coming struggles. The proletarian organisation, he thinks, will all the same grow. He says:

There is a widespread fear, that in these dangerous struggles the organisation of the proletariat, its most important means of power, could be destroyed; and on these thoughts rests above all else the aversion against the employment of the mass strike with those, whose entire work relates to the management of the present great proletarian organisations. (p. 548)

Pannekoek thinks then, that when the working class organisations begin the struggle, the state certainly will not be reluctant, to arrest the leaders and seize the funds.

But such act of force will not be of help to it, it can therewith only destroy the external form, but not its internal essence.

The organisation of the proletariat, which we regard as its most important means of power, is not to be confused with the form of the present organisations and unions, wherein it is expressed under the circumstances of a still fixed, bourgeois order. The essence of this organisation is something spiritual, is the complete revolution of the character of the proletarian. (p. 548)

Pannekoek himself emphasises this line, so noteworthy appears to him his conclusion, that organisation in reality is not organisation at all, but something else entirely – the character of the proletarian.

Having completed this feat of social alchemy, it is an easy job for him to show, that the mass struggles, which lead to the destruction of the organisation, wake up the masses of workers and perfect their character, so that miraculously just the destruction of the organisation is the way, 'to raise the internal firmness of the organisation' and 'to increase the power of the proletariat, as much as is necessary for domination over the society.'

At the end of the revolutionary process,' when all the proletarian organisations have dissolved themselves, there stands 'the entire working population as highly organised ... mass and can proceed, to take over the organisation of production. (p. 550)

It never occurs to Pannekoek, to want to show, something he could also hardly do, that in place of 'the form of the existing organisations and unions' in the progression of the struggle eventually others would step, better suited to the new conditions. Such a thing is possible, but should it come to that, then it would be one of the areas, on which the activist must go in advance of the theorists. Thereof Pannekoek then also does not speak at all. Since the real organisation of the proletariat stands in the way of his theoretical conclusions, it simply gets dismissed. For it is nothing else, when one declares: the essence of the organisation is the revolution of the character of the proletarian.

No doubt, the organisation revolutionises the character of the proletarian. But this revolution is surely the effect and not the essence of the organisation.

2. The means of power of the organisations

One of the main effects that the organisation has on the character of the worker consists in the confidence on the material support of the collectivity, which the individual finds. This support finds a very strong expression in the resources which the unions muster and collect for emergencies and the struggle. That character could replace these resources, the revolutionary syndicalists no doubt have long imagined, but they too begin to see the error of this assumption. Of course also conversely resources cannot replace character; and like in war the mental and physical state of man is more important than his material equipment, the same holds for the class struggle. Cowards by the best weaponry do not become good soldiers, and gutless lads by full union tills do not become class fighters. But on the other hand, even the loftiest heroism and the greatest strength succumbs, when it stands unarmed against a well-armoured and battle-ready opponent. And even the most enthusiastic class fighter must give up the strike, when there are no more means at hand, to sustain his and his fellows' life.

This aspect of organisation, which admittedly does not fully exhaust the meaning of character, is not touched upon by Pannekoek. For him the essence of organisation is the discipline, the solidarity. And these qualities will survive its destruction.

The same spirit, the same discipline, the same cohesion, the same solidarity, the same habit of organised action remains (after the dissolution of the hitherto existing organisations) as lively amongst the workers as before, and this spirit will create for itself new forms of activity. May such an act of force even deal a heavy blow, the essential power of the proletariat is not thereby touched, just as little as socialism could be affected by the Anti-socialist law, which obstructed the usual associations and agitation methods. (p. 549)

Of what consists however the discipline, the "habit of organised action"? Of submission to a collective leadership, without which an “organised action” of a large mass is entirely impossible. The essence of a democratic organisation consists therein, that this leadership is chosen by the masses themselves, and that also the goals and methods of struggle at least generally, if not always in detail, are set by the mass. This is however only possible "under the present form of the organisations and unions," which come about "under the circumstances of a still fixed, bourgeois order." If these forms are rendered impossible, if the masses no longer can assemble regularly, to deal with the collective affairs according to set rules, then the democratic organisation becomes impossible. It will then, just as in spontaneous mass actions, become a pure matter of chance, who brings himself up to be their leader, or, as was the case under the Anti-socialist law, the leaders who had until then been recognised by the masses, continue their accustomed functions. Or, and this happened for local affairs also under the Anti-socialist law, a small minority organises itself in secret and guides the large unorganised mass.

A militant proletariat will also under such circumstances remain an estimable force. But a strengthening and improvement of the organisation of the proletariat above that which is obtained under more free circumstances, nobody as of yet has discovered in such circumstances.

The proletariat will, when its organisation succumbs to a suppression, cling the more stubbornly to its traditions and “habits” the more useful to it the organisation had been, the more precisely therefore the latter was attacked, because it increased its power. By contrast, the proletariat would mistrustfully turn away from its organisation and its “habits” if it only ever brought about for it defeats, which weakened it. Pannekoek sees only one reason for the by him expected demise of the present organisations of the proletariat; a suppression by the opponent. But there is still another reason possible: an incorrect tactic, which in frivolous fashion, with bad underestimation of the strength of the opponent and highest overestimation of the own strength of the organisation sets tasks, at which it is bound to fail miserably. If the organisation involves itself without any immediate need in struggles, that through a correct assessment of the balance of forces were avoidable, if it herewith poses the highest demands on the self-sacrifice of the members, without any sort of success, if it completely expends its strength, so that it eventually must unconditionally capitulate – then the demise of the organisation will lead not to an increase in the fighting spirit of the proletarian, not to a durable adherence to its leaders and to the voluntary discipline, but to discouragement, indifference, indeed mistrust against any future “organised actions” for a long time to come. Here fits the sentence of Pannekoek:

On these thoughts above all else rests the aversion against the employment of the mass strike with those, whose entire work relates to the management of the present great proletarian organisations.

We will however further see, that precisely the type of action which Pannekoek is suggesting, necessarily conjures up the danger of this kind of failure of the organisations. He feels it himself, and therefore he, the materialist, must console himself with the spiritual contemplation, that only the body of the organisation is mortal, but its soul immortal, and that the soul constitutes the essence of the organisation.

We however know that a person without a body is no longer a person, and an organisation without organs is no organisation.

3. The endangering of the organisations by the opponent

Certainly, the intensification of the class contradictions and class struggle brings with it the danger, that the opponent will try to smash the proletarian organisations. But this we must not counter with the view, that that would be a rather inconsequential event, as long as only the immortal soul is saved, but must counter it therewith, that we profoundly establish the recognition in the proletariat, that its organisations, and namely their existing forms, above all party and trade union, are for its struggle and for its assertion indispensable; it has to most zealously strengthen them, to most jealously protect them; it should not subject them to any frivolous adventures; it has however also, once great struggles come, to hold tight to them with all tenaciousness and strength; the right of association and coalition are its most important right, to whose preservation it must put in all, property and blood (Gut und Blut).

Pannekoek reckons therewith, that the proletarian organisations being destroyed, right and legality will be abolished for them, as with a self-evident consequence of the intensification of the class contradictions. This appears to me not so self-evident. Here too we should not take tendencies as unalterable results. The tendency, the striving, to destroy the proletarian organisations, grows certainly to the extent, in which these organisations become stronger and more threatening to the existing order. But to the same extent grows also the resistibility of the organisations, yes frequently their indispensability. To cut off the proletariat from all posibility of organisation, has today in developed capitalist countries already become impossible, and the ruling classes themselves show the tendency to organise those proletarians who remain faithful to them, in order to strengthen their power, something which would be impossible, if any possibility of proletarian organisation is abolished. A destruction of proletarian organisation can today only be a temporary, nowhere anymore a permanent one – even if one takes the word organisation in its real, not Pannekoekian sense.

But also a temporary destruction of a proletarian organisation means a serious setback for the proletarian class struggle, and the working class has to muster all caution, but also all energy, to prevent such a destruction.

What results the struggle of the opposing tendencies will bring, cannot be said in advance. Theory can predict only the intensification of class struggles, not their outcomes in each individual case. That depends on situations, which nobody can even guess; of imponderables, which nobody is capable of considering; finally however also on the cleverness and determination of both sides. On the energy, with which we fight each battle, once we are involved in it; on the cleverness, with which we avoid, to let ourselves be tempted by the opponents or by impatient elements within our own ranks into confrontations, for which we are not yet a match.

Pannekoek and his friends can turn up their noses up at this cleverness and equate it to the type of cleverness, which Lassalle rejected in his letter about Sickingen but not in his practice. The cleverness, which we recommend, is the one, which Friedrich Engels recommended to us in his final publication, his political legacy.

III. The mass action

1. What does the new tactic mean?

Pannekoek’s simplification of the Marxist method and his spiritualisation of the organisation are only preludes to his main theme:

A determined new form of activity of the organised workers. The development of modern capitalism has imposed these new forms of action on the class consciousness proletariat. (p. 586)

New forms of action – this is certainly a very important thing. However, he who discovers or suggests such, is above all obliged, to speak clearly and plainly. Unfortunately just at this point Pannekoek abandons his usual clarity. Therefore I cannot say with certainty, whether I succeeded in correctly understanding him.

Above all we must ask ourselves the following: Where lies the necessity of the new form? What are the new conditions, which give rise to it? On this we do not do get a clear answer. Pannekoek offers as elucidation of the just cited sentence only the following:

Threatened by imperialism with great dangers, in struggle for more power in the state, and more rights, the proletariat is compelled, in the most energetic way to assert its will against other powerful forces of capitalism – more energetic, than through the speeches of its representatives in parliament is possible. It must itself act, engage in the political struggle and by the pressure of its masses influence government and bourgeoisie. When we talk about mass actions and their necessity, what we mean is an extra-parliamentary political activity of the organised working class, where it itself influences politics directly through its own political activity instead of through representatives.

How the necessity of a new tactic is justified by these remarks, is not quite clear. Is not the proletariat always 'compelled, in the most energetic way to assert its will against other powerful forces of capitalism'? Why must it today for this purpose more than previously resort to extra-parliamentary methods? Are our representatives in parliament today weaker than they were in earlier times?

A very compelling justification of a new tactic by new conditions is certainly not given in these remarks. But what is even less clear is the presentation of the new tactic itself. I have explicitly asked the advocates of this tactic, to set out, what they understand by it. Before one discuss about it, 'one must know, whether one desires new tactical principles or new (tactical) measures.'

What does Pannekoek reply?

At this is simply to be retorted, that we need not make any proposals. The tactic, which we consider correct, is already the tactic of the Party: without proposals being necessary for that, it has practically carried itself through in the mass demonstrations. Theoretically the Party already recognised it in the Jena resolution, in which the mass strike was said to be a means for conquering new political rights. (p. 592)

And so Pannekoek comes to the conclusion:

When we sometimes speak about a new tactic, it is not in the sense of new principles or measures to be proposed ..., but in order to bring clear theoretical insight about that, which is actually taking place. (p. 592)

In the previous chapter we have seen that Pannekoek declares the organisation to be the most important means of power for the proletariat, then however discovers, that the essence of the organisation is not the organisation at all. Now he declares: A new tactic has become necessary, we must discuss about it, we must agree about it – and lo and behold, this tactic was six years ago nearly unanimously adopted at a Party congress and has been duly observed by the party all this time, without any objections from any side, so that Pannekoek finds it highly unnecessary, to set it out more closely. If one asks Pannekoek, what is the special tactic that he represents in opposition to the Party Executive, to me and to many other comrades, instead of an answer he refers to the Jena resolution, which was passed with 287 votes to 14. Almost all of the revisionists voted for it, Bernstein, David, Peus, Südekum. Have they all already "theoretically" accepted Pannekoek’s tactic, in fact in such unambiguous way, that he can spare himself any further presentation of it?

Meanwhile, when Pannekoek also is very thrifty with positive expressions about the new tactic, so he is all the more generous with his negation, with his critique of my tactic. And this after all he cannot carry out, without also occasionally letting slip some hints about his own tactical outlook.

I had in my own essay about the action of the mass arrived at the conclusion:

The development of the organisation, the conquest of all positions of power, which we are capable of seizing and maintaining through our own strength, study of State and Society and enlightenment of the masses: other tasks we also today cannot yet consciously and orderly set ourselves and our organisations. (p. 117)

One would think that Pannekoek would completely agree with this view. After all, as he says himself:

Through the constant growth of these factors: economic importance, knowledge and organisation, the power of the proletariat eclipses that of the ruling classes.

Now however the tasks of the organisation and enlightenment of the masses and struggle for single positions of power, appear to him as something entirely insignificant. He describes my position in the following way:

Until this point (until the end-catastrophe, whose theory Pannekoek discovers in my work. – K.) the workers movement has to simply continue following its previous practice: elections, strikes, parliamentary work, everything goes on in old fashion in ever expanding scope, without changing something essential about the world. (p. 591)

My position appears to Pannekoek to be pure revisionism:

Kautsky agrees with revisionism therein, that our conscious activity expends itself in the parliamentary and trade union struggles; and therefore it is not strange, that his practice all too often – as recently with the final ballot agreement (Stichwahlabkommen) – shows a rapprochement to the revisionist tactic. (p. 592)

I do not need to get myself too exercised over this statement. What Pannekoek here calls revisionism, that is the hitherto practice of the party! Having claimed the Jena resolution, for which nine tenths of the revisionists voted, as the sufficient justification of his own tactic, he condemns the hitherto tactic of the party as revisionist tactic! What a mess! But here comes the explanation from Pannkoek:

Kautsky distinguishes himself from revisionism therein, that the latter expects from such activity itself the change, the transition to socialism and therefore directs it onto reforms, whereas Kautsky does not share this expectation, but foresees revolutionary outbreaks as catastrophs, which without our will and our intervention, like from another world suddenly irrupt and put an end to capitalism. It is “the old tried and trusted tactic” which in its negative point, is raised to the status of a system. It is the catastrophe theory in the form, in which we hitherto knew it only as bourgeois misunderstanding, now advanced as party teaching (p. 592).

Fortunately we have comrade Pannekoek, who exposes my “bourgeois misunderstanding” just as clearly as the “revisionism”, to which the entire German Social Democracy has yielded itself soon since half a century, with the approval of Marx and Engels.

2. Passive radicalism

It is actually not necessary for me to go into much detail about my "catastrophe theory." I have debated about it already two years ago very thoroughly with comrade Luxemburg. Pannekoek says so himself:

It is the same theory, which Kautsky expressed during the debate on the mass strike two years ago – the theory of the mass strike as a one-off revolutionary act, with the purpose of bringing down the capitalist ruling class with one blow, which re-emerges here in a new form. It is the theory of actionless biding of time… the theory of passive radicalism. (p. 591)

I have neither time nor desire, to extend the anyway already long flourished debate with Pannekoek still through a repetition of the arguments, that anyone, who is interested, can read in the already cited discussion (Neue Zeit, XXVIII, 2). Just to briefly note that I neither ever have said, that the mass strike would be an event that would overthrow the capitalist ruling class in one blow, nor that must we wait idly by until a mass strike should suddenly come "as if from another world." I merely maintained that, under the present conditions in Western Europe, where there are real proletarian organisations, and not just those in the Pannekoekian sense, a mass strike every time becomes a test of strength, which normally results in either a decisive victory or a decisive defeat, wherewith the energy on both sides becomes so exhausted that, that a prompt resumption of the struggle is not to be expected. A period of chronic mass strikes is most likely in backward states like Russia and, even there, only under certain conditions.

Secondly I claimed, that a mass strike can only hope to succeed in Western Europe if a series of conditions are met, which could be exploited by us, but not created of our own accord. Where by such conditions a mass movement is called forth, we have to most energetically encourage it and use it to strengthen the proletariat, which we can do all the sooner, the stronger our organisations and the better trained their members are. For the accomplishment of such mass actions were decisive a high-grade, all dams breaking excitation of the proletarian masses. Such an excitation can only arise out of great historical events. I have in mind here something similar as that which the Leipziger Volkszeitung expressed in its leading article on Russia from 31 May, when it quoted Lassalle:

The masses will be dragged not only practically, but also intellectually into flux and motion only by the cauldron of actual events.6

To here further defend these thoughts, I have no reason. Pannekoek makes not the weakest attempt to discredit them. It is easier to strike them down when one represents them in the most absurd form.

In order to avoid misunderstandings I would just still like to point out, that in my polemic with comrade Luxemburg I spoke of political mass strike (Massenzwangsstreik), in my article on The action of the mass I spoke of street unrests. Of them I claimed, that they could under circumstances lead to political disasters, are however unpredictable and can not be arranged at will.

I spoke there not of mere street demonstrations. These are usually not an unpredictable factor and can very well be prepared and arranged by political and trade union organisations without any participation of unorganised masses. There are enough examples for this. However the arrangement of street demonstrations signifies least of all a "new tactic." The English have been doing it since the days of the Chartists, also in America they are long since normal. In Austria they have been an effective form of demonstration since 1890. I am no more opposed to the arrangement of street demonstrations than any other comrade is. Opinions can reasonably differ as to the time at which such a demonstration is appropriate. We are not dealing with that here, where only fundamental questions are debated.

Probably for reasons of heightened clarity, Pannekoek mixes together street demonstrations, street unrests and mass strikes in the same stew of mass action and lets me, what I say about the unpredictability of street unrests, also apply to street demonstrations. My theory would be the theory of the praxis of the Party Executive, to as rapidly as possible bury street demonstrations.

In reality I already in 1885 participated in the for Pannekoek so new tactic of street demonstrations, which already then were a very old tactic, and I have never yet in any country, in which I was, missed a street demonstration which was arranged, quite the best proof, that I also demand it theoretically. Pannekoek has no right, to attribute to me a theory and a practice of street demonstration which is not mine.

I repeat: my theory of “passive radicalism,” i.e. the waiting for the appropriate opportunity and mood of the mass, both of which cannot be calculated or brought about in advance by organisational decision, applied only to street unrests and mass strikes, which want to force a political decision – thus not to street demonstrations and also not to demonstration strikes. Those we can very well occasionally be brought about by party or trade union decision without needing to depend on the mood of the unorganised mass, require however also no new tactic, so long as they remain only demonstrations. To operate by demonstrations, has always been a tactic of our party. The technique of demonstration changes with the changing forces, legal conditions and other circumstances, no modification in the principles of the tactic thereby occurs.

3. The revolutionary activity

There is no fundamental opposition between myself and Pannekoek in our attitude towards demonstrations. Where then does the opposition lie?

It is not easy to lay bare. With all restraint in presenting his own tactic Pannekoek can after all not avoid, to counterpose to my “negative” tactic at least a hint of his positive tactic. In opposition to my “theory of passive radicalism” he speaks of his 'doctrine of the revolutionary activity of the proletariat, which in a period of increasing mass actions builds up its dominance and increasingly carries away the power of the class state.' (p. 592)

He turns against my 'theory of action-less biding of time – action-less not in the sense, that normal parliamentary and trade union work would not continue, but in the sense, that one passively lets the great mass actions draw near like events of nature, instead of actively giving them form or driving them on at any and every appropriate moment.' (p. 591)

The previous mass actions constitute only the beginning of a period of revolutionary class struggle, in which the proletariat, instead of waiting passively for external catastrophes to shake the world, must itself build up its power and its freedom, through constant conflict and forward-pushing in difficult and sacrificing work. That is the "new tactic," which one also with full right can call the natural continuation of the old tactic according to its positive side. (p. 593)

And Pannekoek further talks in his section on the Struggle against the war about 'a class struggle increasing from one action to the next to highest intensity, that results in the severest weakening of the power of the state, the strengthening of the power of the proletariat.' (p. 616) And finally Pannekoek points to 'the process of revolution, wherein by the active presence of the proletariat its own strength gradually builds up, and the rule of capital crumbles bit by bit.'

All this is abundantly unclear and mysterious, reminds one more of the Delphic oracle and Sybilline books than the substantiation of a new tactic.

But it obtains some definiteness, when one considers, that this tactic is contrasted to mine, which calls for the development of the organisations, the seizing of all positions of power which we are able to achieve and secure through our strength alone, the study of State and Society, the exploitation of every event which stirs the masses for demonstrations, the use of the mass strike (Zwangsmassenstreiks), however only in the most extreme and rarest of cases, only there and then when the masses can no longer be restrained.

Pannekoek demands, that the Party Executive should arrange a series of mass strikes, which rapidly follow on from one another, without regard for whether or not they bring defeats, shatter the organisations. He counts thereon, that the struggle itself embitters the workers, perpetually draws in new squads, fills them with growing revolutionary passions, as much or even more by defeat as by victory. Thus grow the squads of fighters by the struggle itself and grows their organisation in the Pannekoekian sense, increases the intensity of the class struggle from one action to the next into the process of revolution.

This is, when I correctly understand,
the viewpoint of this eminent hand.7

If I have misunderstood Pannekoek, then that is his own fault. He should express himself then more clearly. But his entire criticism of the tactic which I champion becomes only intelligible, if we interpret his position in the way I have described.

Then however his tactic boils down to the demand, that the Party Executive should “arrange” the revolution, admittedly not directly, as in the old days of the conspirators in the era of barricades, but indirectly, by the arrangement of mass actions not just there and then, when they promise a particular effect, but by arrangement of mass actions, even when they lead to defeats and collapse of the organisations, with the object, of stoking the embitterment of the masses to its highest point – of course bitterness against the ruling classes and not for instance against the advocates of this splendid tactic.

If this is not the Pannekoekian tactic, then he may say more clearly, what he understands by his 'doctrine of the revolutionary activity of the proletariat in a period of increased mass actions.' If I have not correctly grasped his view, then it is pointless, to criticise it. This doctrine will not find resonance with us.

IV. The conquest of state power

1. The destruction of the state

Whatever Pannekoek may understand by the continuously increasing mass action, he evidently assumes, that it should replace and oustrip the type of activities which we have undertaken until now, such as education, the organisation, the political and trade union activities:

Similar to previous political and trade union struggles, the mass struggles increase the power of the proletariat, only, in a much more all embracing, more powerful and more fundamental way. (p. 548)

What is the goal of this action however? As high as Pannekoek may acclaim the results of mass action for proletarian education and organising (in his sense), such actions will never carry the masses along, if they are nothing more than mere exercises in higher proletarian moral. The action must have a tangible goal. In accordance with our previous politics also Pannekoek defines the highest goal of proletarian action as the conquest of state power.

But even here he finds a way to nitpick. He maintains:

The struggle of the proletariat is not simply a struggle over state power as an object, but a struggle against state power. (p. 544)

This may at first seem mere Talmudic hair-splitting. However, he says further:

The content of the revolution is the destruction and dissolution (Auflosung) of the instruments of power of the state with the aid of the instruments of power of the proletariat.

And later on:

The struggle only ends, when the end result, the complete destruction of the state organisations is enacted. The organisation of the majority then has proven its superiority thereby, that it has destroyed the organisation of the ruling minority. (p. 548)

Up to now, the antithesis between the Social-Democrats and the anarchists has been that the former wished to win the state power while the latter wished to destroy it. Pannekoek wants to do both. Unfortunately also here again without any detailed explanation. So detailed he becomes, when it is about proving the necessity of his new tactic, so brief and obscure – a new Heraclitus – he becomes when it is about describing the essence and goal of the new tactic.

So he shifts the task over to us, to crack our brains, trying to figure out what he actually may have meant. This is difficult already due to the fact that he nowhere adequately explains, what he actually means by state power. One time he says:

The organisation of the ruling class is state power. It acts as the entirety of officials, who everywhere as authorities scattered amongst the masses, are lead from the central seat of government in a particular way. The uniformity of the will, which emanates from above, constitutes the inner strength and essence of this organisation (p. 543)

What of this so characterised organisation does Pannekoek want to destroy? Its centralism? Also a federated republic is a state and possesses state power. Should we strive for the dissolution of the state into independent municipalities?

In the year 1850 the Central Committee of the Communist League (to be sure meaning essentially Marx and Engels) declared of the revolution, which they then expected:

The democrats will either work directly towards a federated republic, or at least, if they cannot avoid the one and indivisible republic they will attempt to paralyze the central government by granting the municipalities and provinces the greatest possible autonomy and independence. In opposition to this plan the workers must not only strive for one and indivisible German republic (to which one at that time also counted German-speaking Austria – K.), but also, within this republic, for the most decisive centralization of power in the hands of the state authority. (Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League)

If Pannekoek is of the same opinion, then what does he want when he talks about the “complete destruction of the state organisations”?

Perhaps he want to abolish the state functions of the officials? But our party and trade unions cannot function without officials, let alone the management of the state. Our program then also does not demand the abolition of state officials, but that they be elected by the people. This demand can apply only to the election of the higher officials. It would hardly be possible to arrange a ballot for the appointment of each and every scribe.

Certainly we must strive for a alternative application of the statist officialdom. But we will hardly reduce their number and social importance, at least not in the context of the present society. We are discussing here not the form which the administrative apparatus of the "future state" will assume,8 but whether our political struggle abolishes the state power before we have captured it.

Which ministry with its officials could be abolished? That of education? Surely not. We desire even more schools and teachers, than the present state, and nor do we wish to transform schools into private schools. We want to change only the dependency of the schools on the church and on the present ruling classes – this however should happen not by the destruction of state power, but thereby, that the legislation and the government is pressed into the service of the proletariat.

Or the Ministry of Justice? We must ensure, that the present system of class justice comes to an end, but not that there is an end to justice itself. Civil trials will not be abolished by the strengthening of the proletariat, but also ordinary crimes will not stop, so long as there is a capitalism and its effects are still in evidence.

But the Finance Ministry! No, we cannot abolish the taxes. On the contrary. The stronger the proletariat, the more social reforms it demands, which require money and therefore taxes. Our goal is not the removal of taxes, but rather a different assessment of them, the most extensive taxation of the rich is our goal. This will become one of the most effective means of the expropriation of the expropriators. Therefore we also cannot dispense with the tax officials. And the Ministry of the Interior, the police? No, here too our goal is not to dismantle but merely to transform its functions. Certainly we want no longer a political and vice police. But all the more health-inspectors, building-inspectors, police for the persecution of food forgeries, for guarding the factories, for enforcement of the labour protection laws, police against the rich, instead of against the poor.

The War Ministry stays. Then, do we not demand the militia? How is it possible to organise armaments without officials, which take care of the equipment, without general staff, without instructors for personnel and officers?

No, not one of the present ministries will be removed by our political struggle against the government. If there are some of the present government functions, that we would like to abolish, so we also like to add quite a few to the already existing ones. I repeat, in order to prevent misunderstanding: here it is not about the configuration (gestaltung) of the "future state" by the victorious Social-Democrats, but about the configuration of the present state (Gegenwartsstaat) by our opposition.

2. State power and mass strike

When Pannekoek supposes, that the class struggle of the proletariat in its progression leads to the destruction of state power, he cannot have arrived at this by an investigation of the concrete conditions and the real State, but also here again by simple speculation about abstractions. He reduces the entire coming political activity of the proletariat to mass strikes – a period of chronic mass strikes. A mass strike can only succeed where it cripples the state institutions, inhibits the means of state power, – from this follows evidently the logical conclusion, that the period of chronic mass strikes can only come to an end through the complete destruction of state power!

Pannekoek assumes that, in the struggles to come, state power will initially smash the proletarian organisations. Then the embittered proletariat annihilates the state institutions through its mass actions, and thus through the destruction of institutions hither and yonder the socialist organisation is built!

Pannekoek forgets, that also in the future, mass strikes will always be mere episodes of the proletarian class struggle, never can be its entire content. To be sure a mass strike can succeed only when it has crippled the means of state power, but this crippling can only be temporary, just like the mass strike itself. Its task cannot be to destroy state power, but only, to make the government yield on a particular question, or to replace a government which is hostile to the proletariat with a more conciliatory one.

3. Government and parliament

Pannekoek’s expectation that the proletarian class struggle will destroy the state power would be false, even when we with him equate the instruments of authority9 of the government simply to the state power. But the instruments of authority of the government are just as little the government, as the hands are the head; and the government itself is still not the state power, but only a part of it.

Already Montesquieu knew, that the statist functions were threefold and devolve upon three different powers; the legislative, the administrative or governing (executive) and the judicial. For him, freedom rests on the balance of these three powers.

In reality such a balance is nowhere to be found. Everywhere one of these powers dominates the other two. In most states the government. In the United States the judiciary. In England the legislative body.

The relation of these three to each other and their authority (Macht) in the state depends on the interests and forces of the individual classes. Not all of these powers are equally accessible to each class. Each class seeks to strengthen those of it, by which it believes its class interests best served; those, which is either easiest for itself or least easy for its opponent to access.

So long as the bourgeoisie recognised in the legislative body that power, to which it had the most access, it tried, to raise this body's share of the state power at the expense of both the government and the judiciary. Nowadays it fears the encroachment of the proletariat into the legislature, so it supports the pretensions of the government, when the latter is not overly brazen or stupid, or, where the government is too weak, as in the United States, it supports the courts.

The proletariat has every reason to resist this; it must strive to make the legislative body the master of both the government and the judiciary. Simultaneously it must however also strive to facilitate entry of its representatives into the legislative bodies, and also get rid of those legislative bodies from which it is excluded (Upper Houses, Houses of Lords, Senates).

It is this which is the political task of the proletariat and not the destruction of state power. These solutions may perhaps occasionally encounter difficulties, which can only be overcome through mass actions, whereby occasionally a government which is hostile to the proletariat will be checkmated. But this can never ever lead to a destruction of state power, but always only to a shift of authority-relations (Machtverhältnisse) within the state power.

4. The decline of parliamentarism

That is certainly not at all the opinion of Pannekoek, since he reckons with growing powerlessness of the parliament. Here we meet the second root of his conception, that conquest of state power is synonymous with its destruction. The first root we found in the opinion, that in the future an era of chronic mass strikes would replace the methods of struggle we have so far employed.

SInce the idea of a growing powerlessness of parliament, the decay of parliamentarism today plays a large role in party discussions, it will be considered more deeply here.

The phenomena, on which this idea supports itself, are clear, and nothing is more easy, than to observe them. The legislative achievements of parliaments become ever more lamentable, their significance vis-à-vis government power ever lesser. No one can deny this. From this many comrades conclude that we should focus less and less on parliaments and instead lay more emphasis on the extra-parliamentary actions of the mass. Parliamentarism would become increasingly irrelevant in the battle of liberation of the proletariat.

Nothing can be more erroneous than this conclusion.

Where does this so-called decay of parliamentarism come from? When parliaments increasingly fail in legislative matters, this is not somehow because their mechanism becomes ever more unsuitable to perform great legislative achievements, but because the bourgeois parties, which today constitute their majority, have lost the interest for such achievements. They have their revolutionary times long behind them, have shaped the state according to their needs. To be sure the bourgeois majority subdivides into very diverse groups with diverse conflicting interests, who therefore feud with each other.

But great new, sweeping political goals none of these have anymore. Their antagonisms of interest can still become of significance when it is a question of obstructing a great innovation, which should come to the benefit of one of the ruling cliques. Yet nowhere do antagonisms any longer inside the ruling classes constitute an impetus of energetic pushing in favour of great innovations. Such an impetus is formed today in parliament, just as in society, only still by the proletariat. This situation is reflected in parliaments, since parliamentarism is only an image of the temporary interest- and power-relations of modern society. It is not it, that fails as mechanism, but the bourgeois majority, which is throwing ever more obstacles in the way for its functioning. With a different kind of majority, the mechanism would again get going.

The bourgeois majority it is however also, which effectuates, that the governments win strength and significance vis-à-vis the parliaments. Despite all the obstacles which mitigate against the entry of proletarian representatives into parliament, they can no longer be kept away from it, and everywhere they inexorably press forward. The governments are on the other hand everywhere in the hands of the ruling classes. “Socialist Ministers” are occasionally allowed into a government, however not as fighters for the proletariat, but as wage workers for the bourgeoisie, who can be fired at any moment, should they fail to fulfil the expectations of their employer.

Governments appear to be less accessible to the proletariat by its own strength than parliaments. The bourgeoisie is hence as a rule disinclined, to strengthen the power of the parliament vis-à-vis the government.

To be sure it still comes to conflicts between bourgeois parties and a government; since not one can satisfy all the different sometimes quite conflicting interests of the various propertied elements or create well-paid positions for all careerists of all parties. But no conflict between a government and a bourgeois parliamentary party will ever be so harsh that such a party would take up an energetic struggle to strenght the parliament vis-à-vis the government.

Does this however mean that the proletarians should from now on contemptuously reject and belittle the parliamentary struggle, in order to seek their objectives through mass action?

5. Direct action

Pannekoek seems to assume this. He reminds us of the evils of modern capitalism:

The taxes, the rise in prices and the danger of war make a bitter resistance necessary. But they find their origins only partly in parliament and can hence only partly be combatted in parliament. The masses themselves must appear on the scene, make themselves directly relevant and exert a pressure on the ruling classes. These obligations are accompanied by possibilities due to the increasing power of the proletariat. A contradiction is ever more growing between the powerlessness of the parliaments as well as our parliamentary factions to combat these phenomena, and the increasing consciousness of power of the working class. Mass actions are therefore a natural consequence of the imperialist development of modern capitalism and ever more constitute the necessary form of the struggle against it. (p. 542)

This does after all look like a plea for direct action, since the parliaments and our parliamentary factions show themselves to be powerless. “Extra-parliamentary activity,” as Pannekoek has named it elsewhere, thus this direct action, is first of all demanded in remarkable fashion with the reference to the fact, that only a part of the evil of modern capitalism originates in parliamentary resolutions and can be remedied by them. But the purpose of "direct action" is after all, to replace or to repress the parliamentary resolutions. Evils of capitalism, that cannot be removed through political actions, are in part those, that also cannot be removed by some "pressure on the ruling classes," for example failed harvests, technical progress in gold production etc. Others, such as low wages, can be dealt with by non-political actions. Direct wage struggles with the employers have hitherto never yet been described as "direct action," they in no way constitute some new tactic particular to the era of imperialism.

So as reason for the new tactic still remains the growing contradiction between the “increasing power of the proletariat” and the “powerlessness of the parliament including our faction within it” to combat the evils of capitalism.

In truth, however, the present majorities of the parliaments are not powerless, but unwilling, to tackle these evils. The only ones willing to do it are our parliamentary factions. Pannekoek as a matter of fact observes, that they are powerless. And he evidently assumes, that they must remain so.

Here would indeed be a gross contradiction: the working class becomes ever stronger and its parliamentary representatives ever weaker. The conclusion must be the replacement of the parliamentary struggle with direct mass action, which alone promises tangible results. Pannekoek also on this does not clearly speak out, but this seems to be his conception, since he speaks 'of the historical significance of the parliamentary method of struggle, from a time when the proletariat was weak, engaged in its first ascent.' (p. 546) Hence one may likely conclude, that Pannekoek thinks, that this method no longer fits a strong proletariat; it has now only an "historical significance."

The powerlessness (perhaps growing powerlessness?) of the socialist parliamentary factions and the growing power of the proletariat would no doubt be a great contradiction – but fortunately it does not exist in reality. The power of the proletariat inside parliament and outside parliament stand in the closest reciprocal relation, they can at best temporarily diverge, but not permanently move in opposite directions. The one strengthens the other.

Pannekoek assumes, that mass actions of the proletariat exert an ever stronger pressure on the ruling classes and thus make the growing powerlessness of the parliamentary factions the rule. In what way can this happen, when it is about things, that are determined by parliamentary resolutions? By forcing the passage of those resolutions. Mass action, such as the mass strike, exerts such a pressure on the bourgeois majority in parliament, that the latter feels compelled, to pass resolutions in favour of the interests of the proletariat. In this way we perhaps following Pannekoek need to conceive the through mass actions growing power of the proletariat.

What role does the socialist parliamentary faction play in all of this? The one of a helpless onlooker? That, which the bourgeois majority accepted due to the mass strike, is something, for which the socialist faction has most strenuously fought. The victory of the mass action is also its victory. The masses cannot strengthen in political power, without there not being also a simultaneous growth of the power of their representatives in parliament.

One can speak of a powerlessness of the socialist parliamentary faction only there, where also the mass action of the proletariat is still powerlessness. It is an absurdity, to imagine the mass action in irresistable progress and the parliamentary faction in complete powerlessness.

If however mass actions are no doubt capable of lending the socialist parliamentary factions increased forces, also the converse is taking place. Let us look at England, where the influencing of parliament through mass actions right now is most highly developed and where we can best study the essence of modern mass actions, much better than in the Russia of the revolutionary period with its from Western Europe so different circumstances, its lack of any proletarian mass organisations, any right of coalition, assembly, press etc.

Let us consider for example England's latest coal miners’ strike. Through their mass movement the miners had forced the Liberal majority in parliament and its government, to concede to them by an act of legislation. When upon closer examination the latter proved to be very insufficient, this is above all due to the unsatisfactory situation of the Labour party. Had the Labour faction in the lower house been more numerous, better disciplined and more stiff-necked in opposing the Liberals, then the workers would have achieved more.

So not the force of the mass action alone determines the parliamentary resolution, but also the force of the socialist parliamentary faction. The coal miners had achieved better results, if the English workers had been more intent on independent representation in parliament.

On the other hand also already their hitherto representation, as imperfect as it is, has had very positive repercussions on the force of the proletarian masses. The latter are in no way a priori such a unified stratum, as Pannekoek seems to assume. They consist of workers from the most diverse trades with very different work and living conditions and very different interests. The trade union organisation has first of all the tendency to push these differences to the fore, less to let the common interests reach consciousness. The organisation of a special workers party, which finds its most visible expression in a socialist parliamentary faction, by contrast has the opposite effect: it develops in the masses the consciousness of their common class interests, all the more, the more vigorously the parliamentary faction involves itself in independent fashion in the parliamentary activities and the more these interest the population. Theoretical treatises on class consciousness are read only by a small minority. The object lesson of parliamentary praxis has an effect on the entire population. Even in places where the powerlessness of the socialist faction is so profound that it cannot change legislaton and state administration even in the slightest, it still has a great practical effect thereby, that it most powerfully awakens the consciousness in the different layers of the proletariat of the commonality of their interests and thus lays the ground for a real mass movement. Without parliamentary faction there is no common mass action of all proletarian layers in countries with developed trade union organisation.

Trade union particularism was hitherto one of the greatest weaknesses of the English labour movement. It begins to be overcome. The trade unions start to coalesce into larger industrial associations, like in Germany, on the other hand organised and unorganised, educated and uneducated workers start to find one another in common actions – all this first, since there exists a special workers party. For this reason, despite all its shortcomings and errors, the latter should be happily greeted, not as a complete entity in itself, but as the only means, to unite the proletarian masses, who in their common work already will learn, to also counter-influence their faction and purposefully form it – admittedly following English method a lengthy process, with many hard lessons to be learned; but the methods of each country evolved historically and cannot be changed at discretion. We will make more progress when we seek to understand them, than when we turn our nose up at them.

In any case, however one looks at it, the closest reciprical relation exists between the action of the proletariat outside and inside of parliament, the one demands the other, the one grows with the other, and it is an absurdity to maintain that on the one field grows the powerlessness, on the other the power.

6. Parliamentary and other cretinisms

Of a growing powerlessness of the socialist parliamentary factions one can only speak then, when they completely isolated themselves, lost any connection to the proletarian movement as a whole, when they devoted their entire interest only to parliamentarism, in short, when they succumbed to that one-sidedness, which Marx described as parliamentary cretinism.10 This isolated parliamentarism of socialist factions is condemned to being increasingly powerless in the face of the growing aversion of the bourgeois majorities and governments, to make even the most necessary concessions to the proletariat.

The same holds however today also for any other isolation of a part of the proletarian movement as a whole from the other parts. Also the trade unions of very important industrial branches no longer can succeed by isolated action against the growing business associations.

On the other hand the cooperative movement, to ward off its growing enemies, requires the support by party and trade union.

And always new tasks open up for the activity of the class-conscious proletariat, which require the collaboration of the most diverse of its components – we recall just the youth movement.

The forces of the opponent are growing; their wealth increases through the rise of exploitation. Their convergence becoming ever tighter through the growing centralisation of capital. In the face of this it is necessary also to converge the forces of the proletariat into organisations and actions of the masses. One of the most important forms of this convergence is the synchronisation of parliamentary and trade union action, as we have recently seen in England in certain very important practical cases.

In this process we do not have to expect a growing unimportance of either the trade unions or the parliamentary factions, but much more a giant increase in their tasks and their struggles and therewith also their importance. Individual results of these struggles cannot be predicted, their total result must be the strengthening of the power of the working class, therewith however also of the trade unions and the socialist parliamentary factions.

And the goal of our political struggle stays therewith what it was up until now: conquest of state power through the winning of the majority in parliament and elevation of parliament to mastery over the government. Not however destruction of state power.

How does Pannekoek propose to introduce the socialist means of production, if not with the help of legal measures on taxation, protection of workers, housing, nationalisation and communalisation of industries, reintroduction of common property of land, beginning with urban sites, the mines, large agricultural concerns, leased land?

By what means does Pannekoek want to settle these relations, if not by a proletarian state power? And where shall the latter come from, if any state power was destroyed by the action of the mass? The view, that the best organisation of the proletariat would be no organisation at all; the action of the mass in the form of political mass strikes would be the permanent and normal situation of the coming workers movement, and the Party Executive would be at all times obliged to configurate such actions; is just as untenable as the view, that the struggle over state power would mean a struggle for the destruction of state power.

This is the substance of the new tactic which Pannekoek represents and, although it is only by his meagre hinting that we can guess at it, we must reject it decisively. I stand by the conception which I formulated last year in my series of articles on mass actions:

The development of the organisation, the conquest of all positions of power, which we are capable of seizing and maintaining through our own strength, study of State and Society and enlightenment of the masses: other tasks we also today cannot yet consciously and orderly set ourselves and our organisations.

Political mass strikes and street unrests can in exceptionally agitated times unleash a considerable force for the facilitation of certain of our demands. The larger the class contradictions, the bitterer the masses, all the sooner and often such explosions are to be expected. But they remain unpredictable and cannot be regarded as regular and normal methods of the proletarian class struggle.

To focus the entire workers movement on mass actions of this type, is nothing else than to replace the earlier cretinism, for which Marx coined the term parliamentary cretinism, with a new one, which, if we retain the metaphor, can be described as cretinism of the mass action.

  • 1Pannekoek's article Massenaktion und Revolution, to which Kautsky here responds, has no English translation.
  • 2Aufsatz über die tragische Idee des Franz von Sickingen, appended to a letter to Marx, 6 March 1859.
  • 3Schiller. Die Worte des Glaubens.
  • 4"Hüben und Drüben nur gilt" is a line from Freiligrath's poem Am Birkenbaum (The Battle at the Birch Tree).
  • 5The people Kautsky lists (Max Schippel, Hans Müller, Paul Ernst, etc.) became rightwing. Kautsky often had to fight with the now rightwinger Schippel.
  • 6Letter to Marx 1854.
  • 7Don Juan, canto XV, stanza 38. ..This he (as far as I can understand) meant. 'T is not my purpose on his views to dwell, Nor canvas what "so eminent a hand" meant..
  • 8"Zukunftsstaat" was a mocking term created by opponents of socialism to refer to the future ideal society. Cf. Pannekoek's 1906 Umwälzungen im Zukunftsstaat. There is possible confusion between dictatorship of the proletariat and the class-/state-less (full communist) society. – N.R.
  • 9Machtmittel. I avoid here the more literal translation "instruments of power", since the word "power" is also used with the translation of Staatsgewalt ("state power"). – N.R.
  • 10The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, chapter 6.



7 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on May 16, 2016

Hey, just to say thanks for your continued contributions, we really appreciate them! (Are you translating them yourself?)

Noa Rodman

7 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Noa Rodman on May 18, 2016

From German and Russian, yes (with help from google-translate).

Since this controversy is best known from Lenin's commentary on it in State and Revolution, permit me to give some earlier notes by Lenin.

Lenin in a 1912 letter to Kamenev about Pannekoek's article:

Why do you return the letters ... and don’t give us an answer about the Pannekoek article....

(the letter is partly damaged)

It is possible that Lenin wanted a Russian translation of Pannekoek's article (certainly what is meant is Pannekoek's "Mass action and revolution"). Consider Lenin's positive review of a Pannekoek 1909 brochure: Die taktischen Differenzen in der Arbeiterbewegung (actually referred to by Pannekoek in his article). I know of 2 other articles by Pannekoek that were translated in Russian: in Sotsial-Demokrat 5 VII 1910, nr. 14, S. 6-7 an article appeared on the mass strike debate. Plus, one titled Раскол в Голландской Социал-Демократии (on the split in Dutch Social Democracy).

Lenin's next letter:

Dear L. B. [Kamenev], Can you get Neue Zeit, the latest issues, with the Pannekoek and Kautsky articles? If not, write, and we’ll send them over. It is necessary to read them before going to Chemnitz [SPD congress] and there to look up Pannekoek and make closer contact with him: Kautsky replied to him on some cardinal issues in an extremely opportunist way. It is very desirable to make closer contact with the Left (especially Pannekoek, who now lends a hand in the cheap “game” played by Tyszka) and to carry on agitation among them for a principled rebuff to Kautsky. It’ll be disgraceful if they do not revolt against such opportunism! Unfortunately they are short of people: Radek is practically a luminary among them...."

Let's not go into detail about Tyszka (Jogiches), it's unclear to me what it precisely means.

The first thing to note is that Lenin had not one, but several problems with Kautsky's article.

One of the problems for Lenin was Kautsky's passive response in event of war (more on this here).

I claim another problem Lenin (already at that time) would have with Kautsky's article, is the question about the state. I cannot prove this directly, but it seems quite plausible.

Pannekoek article's 'Imperialism and the tasks of the proletariat' was published first in July 1915 in Russian. In it Pannekoek repeated his 1912 claim on the destruction of the state:

But State-power is not just a neutral object of the class-struggle, a but weapon and fortress of the bourgeoisie, its strongest prop, without which it would never hold its ground. The struggle of the proletariat is therefore first of all a struggle against state-power.

Pannekoek's article was published with Lenin expressing full agreement "in all essentials":

We fully agree in all essentials with Comrade A. Pannekoek’s excellent article, but find its last lines too pessimistic. We have the rank and file behind us: the opportunists, social-chauvinists and Kautskians have a minority, often a negligible minority consisting of officials, aristocracy, petty bourgeois and philistines. Given correct tactics against the opportunists, i.e., if they are expelled and a consistent struggle waged against them, we shall have the support also of the big organisations, of the legal and illegal apparatus of the revolutionary party.

However, we also know from Lenin's letter to Kamenev, that Lenin did not have confidence in the ability of the Bremen Left to adequately respond against Kautsky. Lenin didn't fully agree with Pannekoek.

In an unpublished article (dated late 1916) about Maximalism, Lenin remarked:

“mass action”?? It would be better to put this otherwise, without using this word which has the fault that, being largely caused by the German censorship (a pseudonym for revolution), it tends to obscure the concept of revolution. (There will have to be a reckoning on this later with Pannekoek + Radek & Co.!! Here is an example: there is no German censorship in Switzerland and here the term “mass action” has already brought about confusion which the reformists find useful.)


7 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Jimmy on November 6, 2016

Hey, just to say thanks for your continued contributions, we really appreciate them! (Are you translating them yourself?)

Noa Rodman

From German and Russian, yes (with help from google-translate).


Hold on a second. You didn't just translate this or "Mass Action" yourself. My brother translated it and I emailed it to you. You then decided a to publish it individually after making some, in my opinion, minor and on the whole inferior changes. Irrespective of one's opinions on the quality of said changes, it is extremely disingenuous and disrespectful to claim you translated them yourself.

Noa Rodman

7 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Noa Rodman on November 6, 2016

My reply was in reference to Steven's question to "your continued contributions" to libcom. In the intro to this particular text I stated: Overhauled version of a translation by K.O. . To be clear, my initials are not K.O.

For the sake of convenience, my own translations to libcom are listed here:
(I refer there also to this Kautsky text, but again refer to it as translated by someone other than myself).


7 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Jimmy on November 6, 2016

That's fair enough so.