What was the USSR? Part III: Left communism and the Russian revolution


In the third part of their analysis of the USSR, Aufheben examine left communist characterisations of the soviet union as "state capitalist".

Submitted by libcom on April 9, 2005

What was the USSR? Aufheben
- What was the USSR? Part I: Trotsky and State Capitalism
- What was the USSR? Part II: Russia as a Non-mode of Production
- What was the USSR? Part III: Left communism and the Russian revolution
- What was the USSR? Part IV: Towards a Theory of the Deformation of Value

In the previous articles we examined various Trotskyist and neo-Trotskyist positions on the nature of the USSR.

We now turn to the theories of the less well known but more interesting Communist Left, who were among the first revolutionary Marxists to distance themselves from the Russian model by deeming it state capitalist or simply capitalist. The Russian Left Communists' critique remained at the level of an immediate response to how capitalist measures were affecting the class, whereas in both the German/Dutch and Italian Lefts, we see real attempts to ground revolutionary theory in Marx's categories in a way distinct from Second International orthodoxy.

What was the USSR?

Towards a Theory of the Deformation of Value

Part III: Left Communism and the Russian Revolution

Any analysis of the USSR necessarily involves an underlying conception of what the Russian Revolution was. The Trotskyist approaches that we have previously considered are all based on the conception of the Russian Revolution as being an essentially proletarian revolution that somehow degenerated. By contrast a consideration of Left Communist theories allow us to question this underlying assumption, and as a result provides vital insights into the development of a theory of what the USSR was.

The Russian revolution seemed to show for the first time that workers could actually overthrow a bourgeois capitalist state and run society themselves. After almost all of the socialist parties and trade unions of the mainstream Second International workers movement patriotically supported the slaughter of the first world war, the Bolsheviks it seemed had reasserted an internationalist revolutionary Marxism. But if the Russian revolution was initially a massive inspiration to proletarians across the world, being a first outbreak in the revolutionary wave that ended the war, its impact after that is more ambiguous. The word 'communist' became associated with a system of state control of the means of production, coupled with severe repression of all opposition. The workers movement across the world was dominated by this model of 'actually existing socialism', and the parties who oriented themselves to it. The role of these regimes and parties was to do more to kill the idea of proletarian revolution and communism than ordinary capitalist repression had ever been able to. So those in favour of proletarian revolution had to distinguish themselves from these official communist parties and to make sense of what had happened in Russia. A group that did so was the Left Communists or Communist Left.

Who was this communist left?

The Communist Left emerged out of the crisis of Marxist Social Democracy that became acutely visible during the war. Left Communist currents emerged across the world. Those with politics that we and Lenin could describe as left communist were generally the first revolutionary militants from their respective countries attracted to the Russian Revolution and to the Communist International (Comintern) set up in 1919. In some countries notably Germany, Italy a majority of those who formed their respective communist parties had left communist politics. However their experience was - sooner or later - to find themselves in disagreement with the policies promoted from Moscow and eventually excluded from the Communist International.

Two main wings of the Communist Left managed to survive the defeat of the revolutionary wave as traditions: the German/Dutch Left1 (sometimes known as Council Communists) and the Italian Left (sometimes referred to as Bordigists after a founding member). While their analyses were not the same on all points, what really defined them was a perception of the need for communist revolutionary politics to be a fundamental break from those of Social Democracy. Such a break necessarily implied an attempt to overcome the dichotomy between the political and the economic that was central to the theory of the Second International.

Although they disagreed at what time it occurred, their perception was that the Bolshevik party slipped back into, or never quite left Social Democratic positions. Identifying themselves as revolutionary and as Marxist the common problem for these currents was to understand what had happened in a way that was true to both. While saying the Soviet Union was capitalist allowed a revolutionary position to be taken up against it, they found it necessary to do this in a way that made sense in terms of Marx's categories and understanding of capitalism. Out of their different experiences they developed very different theories of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and of the capitalism that developed in the USSR.

However these oppositions to the Moscow line were largely eclipsed by the strength of Stalinism in the workers' movement and by a later opposition to this that grew up around Leon Trotsky, the exiled leader of the Russian Communist Party and state. Due to the revolutionary credentials and prestige of its founder, Trotskyism established itself as the most visible and numerous opposition to the left of the official 'Communist' movement. Particularly in Britain, which has not really generated its own left Marxist tradition, it managed to plausibly present itself against Stalinism as the genuine revolutionary Marxism. For this reason we devoted the previous articles to a presentation and critique of theories of the USSR coming out of Trotskyism: the orthodox Trotskyist theory of the degenerated workers state, Tony Cliff's version of state capitalism, and Hillel Ticktin's recently influential theory of Russia as a specifically distorted and untenable society.2

We argued that a weakness of all these theories was that they moved within a certain kind of orthodox Marxism. Identifying with the Soviet state under Lenin and Trotsky, they assumed that, on the basis of the traditional Marxist premise that socialism is the abolition of private property in the means of production through its wholesale nationalisation by the state, that there had been a successful socialist revolution in Russia which in some way had degenerated. They disagreed on what type of system had emerged, but they generally saw it as hinging on the lack of workers' democratic control of nationalised property. For Trotskyism, Leninism is the revolutionary alternative to the Second International, and Trotskyism was the revolutionary continuation of Leninism against Stalinism. The existence of a Communist Left threatens this picture. It shows that Trotskyism was by no means the only Marxist opposition to Stalinism. In fact, as we'll see, it questions whether Trotskyism has been a 'revolutionary' opposition at all.

However while Trotskyism, through the flexible tactics it was willing to adopt, could exist on the fringes of a Stalinist and social democratic dominated workers' movement, the left communists, their politics fundamentally oriented to revolutionary situations, were reduced by the thirties to a far smaller and more isolated existence. It was only after Stalinism's hold on the revolutionary imagination began to break in 1956 and with the wave of struggles beginning in the sixties that there was a resurgence of interest in revolutionary tendencies to the left of Trotskyism, like the Communist Left. The focus on Councils and workers' self-activity that was basic to the German Left was taken up by groups like Socialism or Barbarism (and its linked British group Solidarity) and by the Situationist International.3 The German Communist Left which declared itself anti-Leninist was more immediately attractive to those rejecting Stalinism and the critical support given it by Trotskyism than the Italian Left which, because it emphasised the party, seemed like another version of Leninism. However after '68 partly due to a perceived weakness of a merely 'councilist' or 'libertarian' opposition to Leninism, there was a renewal of interest in the Italian Left which was the other main Communist left to have handed down a tradition.4

In this article we shall look at the various theories of the Russian, German/Dutch and Italian Communist Left. We shall ignore certain other communist lefts because either they have not managed to pass down any theoretical writings on the question or because as, say, with the British Left they largely followed the German/Dutch left on the question of the Russian Revolution.5 Our point of departure is that Communist Left which developed within the Russian Revolution itself and which received Lenin's wrath before the rest. Though the Russian Left cannot be said to have developed the same body of coherent theory as the other two, its very closeness to the events gives its considerations a certain importance.

The Russian Left Communists

What is striking about the Russian Left Communist current is that it emerged out of an environment that was both dissimilar and similar to the their European counterparts. As we will see in the following sections, the German and Italian Communist Lefts emerged as an opposition to social democracy's accommodation with and incorporation into bourgeois society. In Russia the situation was somewhat different. Still being an overwhelmingly agricultural and peasant country under the autocratic rule of the tsar, bourgeois society had not become dominant, let alone allowed the establishment of social democracy within it. In fact, the very repressive character of the tsarist regime meant that the gradualist approach of stressing legal parliamentary and trade union methods that prevailed in Western Europe was largely absent in Russia, and there was a general acceptance of the need for a violent revolution. This need was confirmed by the 1905 revolution, which saw mass strikes, the setting up of soviets, wide-spread peasant uprisings - in general a violent confrontation of revolutionary workers and peasants with the forces of the state. But whilst this context set the Russian Social Democrats apart from their European counterparts, there was also an underlying continuity between the two. In fact, Lenin throughout tried to stay true to the orthodoxies of Second International Marxism, and accepted Kautsky, the chief theorist of German social democracy, as an ideological authority.6 Basic to this form of Marxism was the notion of history inevitably moving in the right direction by concentrating and centralising the productive forces, so that socialism would be simply the elimination of the private control of those forces by the capture of state power and social democratic administration of them in the interest of the whole of society. But whereas the developed character of West European capitalism meant that in these countries this theory dove-tailed with a gradualist and parliament centred approach, due to the backwardness of Russian society, it took a revolutionary form.

The revolutionary side of Lenin's Marxism, as against other European social democrat leaders, was expressed most clearly when he took an uncompromising position of revolutionary opposition to the war.7 On this fundamental issue Russian left communists had no reason for disagreement with Lenin. Nevertheless, this was to occur on other issues, such as Lenin's position on nationalism, and his view (until 1917) that Russia could only have a bourgeois-democratic revolution. Consequently, an opposing left fraction around Bukharin8 and Pyatakov formed within the Bolsheviks. They contended that the war had prompted great advances of finance capital and state capitalism in Russia that made socialist revolution a possibility.. Fundamentally they saw the issue as one of world revolution of which Russia could be part. A key text for them was Bukharin's Imperialism and World Economy. In it he drew heavily on the essentially reformist Hilferding to argue that world capitalism, including Russia, was moving in the direction of state capitalist trusts where the state became appropriated by a finance capital elite. However, he took a much more radical interpretation of the political significance of these developments. The 'symbiosis of the state and finance capital elite' meant that the parliamentary road of Social Democracy was blocked and socialists had to return to the anti-statist strand in Marx's thought. The state had to be destroyed as a condition of socialism. However for the Russian situation, what was key about Bukharin's analysis of imperialism and state capitalism was that it allowed Russian left communists to abandon the classical Marxist line (held by both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks) that Russia was only ready for a bourgeois-democratic revolution..

But despite Lenin's initial hostility to the heretical ideas coming out of this left fraction,9 after the February revolution he showed that he would not let his orthodoxy prevent him from being open to events. Just as the Bolshevik leadership thought that a long period of development of bourgeois society was on the horizon, it was clear from the continuing actions of the workers and peasants that the revolutionary period was by no means over. Workers were setting up factory committees and militantly contesting capitalist authority at the point of production; peasant soldiers were deserting the front and seizing land. Responding to this, and against the Bolshevik leadership, Lenin in 1917 seemed to take up all the essential positions of the left communist tendency within the party. In the April Theses he called for proletarian socialist revolution. To give this a Marxist justification, he argued in The Impending Catastrophe and How to Avoid It that the war had revolutionised Russian society by developing state capitalism. Meanwhile, he was writing State and Revolution, which saw him at his most un-social democratic; he even acknowledged the Dutch left communist, Pannekoek. Due to the now clearly revolutionary line of the Bolshevik party, it consequently became the pole of re-groupment for revolutionary Social Democrats and for radicalised workers. All those against the war and for taking the revolution forward were drawn to the Bolsheviks: Trotsky's followers, many left Mensheviks, but most importantly vast numbers of radicalised workers. Thus revolutionaries with politics closest to the European left communists were not as with them, fairly small minorities fighting within Social Democratic parties against their clearly non-revolutionary politics, but instead were a sizeable part of a party - the Bolsheviks - whose leader Lenin seemed to accept many of their theoretical positions, and what's more brought the party to act on these by overthrowing the provisional government and declaring 'All Power to the Soviets'.

Organic Reconstruction: Back to Orthodoxy

But if the revolutionary side of Lenin seemed in 1917 to break from social democratic orthodoxy - if it seemed to the left that he had become one of them - soon after October, they were to doubt it. A dichotomy between political and economic aspects of the revolution became apparent in his thinking. For Lenin, the proletarian character of the revolution was assured in the political power of a proletarian party; 'economic' issues, like the relations at the point of production, were not of the essence. More and more Lenin's attention returned to Russia's backwardness, its unripeness for immediate social transformation and thus the paradoxical notion that state capitalist economic developments under the proper political guidance of the party might be the best path towards socialism. This turn in Lenin's thinking was obscured at first by another question: how to respond to Germany's terms for peace at the Brest Litovsk negotiations. Whilst the group known as the Left Communists were for rejecting these conditions and turning the imperialist war into, if not an outright revolutionary war, then a defensive revolutionary partisan war,10 Lenin insisted on accepting Germany's terms for peace. Peace, he argued, was needed at any price to consolidate the revolution in Russia; to win 'the freedom to carry on socialist construction at home'.11

The Left responded again by stressing the internationalist perspective, and argued that an imperialist peace with Germany would carry as much danger as the continuation of the imperialist war. Such a peace, by strengthening Germany - which had faced a massive wave of wildcat strikes in early 1918 - would act against the prospects of world revolution. Hence, Lenin's apparent choice of temporarily prioritising the consolidation of the Russian revolution over spreading the world revolution was, for them, a false one. By taking a limited nationally oriented perspective at Brest Litovsk what would be consolidated, they argued, was not 'socialist construction' but the forces of counter-revolution within Russia. As such, the left communists were then the earliest proponents of the view that you cannot have socialism in one country.

But whilst the Left Communists position initially had majority support from the Russian working class, this support faded as Germany launched an offensive. Lenin's arguments, which he pursued with vigour, then prevailed leading to the treaty of Brest Litovsk, under which the Bolshevik government agreed to German annexation of a vast part of the area in which revolution had broken out including the Baltic nations, the Ukraine and a part of White Russia.12

The sacrifice of pursuing world revolution for national 'socialist construction' became all the greater as it became clear exactly what Lenin meant by this term. In face of the Bolsheviks not having a very clear plan of what to do economically after seizing power, the first five months were characterised by the self-activity and creativity of the workers. The workers took the destruction of the provisional government as the signal to intensify and extend their expropriation of the factories and replacement of capitalist control by forms of direct workers control. This process was not initiated by the Bolshevik government, but by the workers themselves through the Soviets and especially the factory committees. The Bolsheviks reluctantly or otherwise had to run with the tide at this point. This period was a high point of proletarian self activity: a spontaneous movement of workers socialisation of production, which the Bolsheviks legitimized (one might argue recuperated) after the event with the slogan 'Loot the Looters', and their decrees on Workers Control and the nationalisation of enterprises. The workers were euphoric with the communist possibilities of abolishing exploitation and controlling their own destinies.

However, by spring (as the treaty of Brest Litovsk was signed), Lenin pushed the Bolsheviks to initiate a different economic policy called the New Course involving a more conciliatory attitude towards "creative elements" in the business community'. While Lenin didn't disown entirely what the workers had done, there was the clear message they had gone too far. Their acts should now be curtailed and controlled. In their place, he talked of setting up joint state/private capitalist trusts. The basic idea seemed essentially to be a mixed economy with co-operation between public and private sectors. Although the Mensheviks welcomed these measures as the abandonment of the 'illusory chase after socialism' and a turn to a more moderate realistic path, Lenin still tried to differentiate himself from the Mensheviks, by stating that as long as the state remains in the hand of the proletarian party, the economy would not degenerate into normal state capitalism. Significantly, the other side of this focus on the 'proletarian state' was that Lenin, while wanting a return to capitalist methods of economic organisation saw no need for the other main Menshevik demand: for independent workers organisation. As Lenin put it, "defence of the workers' interests was the task of the unions under capitalism, but since power has passed to the hands of the proletariat the state itself, in its essence the workers state, defends the workers interests.'

It is this New Course which the Left Communists were to oppose in their theses13 published in response to the peace treaty. In it they identified the peace treaty as a concession to the peasants, and as a slide towards 'petty bourgeois politics of a new type'. They saw bureaucratic centralisation as an attack on the independent power of the soviets, and on the self-activity of the working class, and warned that by such means something very different from socialism was about to be established. The New Course talk of accommodation with capitalist elements in Russia was seen as expressive of what had become clear earlier with Lenin's willingness to compromise with imperialism over Brest Litovsk, namely an overall drift towards compromise with the forces of international and internal capital. The left communists warned that behind the argument for saving and defending Soviet power in Russia for international revolution later, what would happen was that "all efforts will be directed towards strengthening the development of productive forces towards 'organic construction', while rejecting the continued smashing of capitalist relations of production and even furthering their partial restoration." [10] What was being defended in Russia was not socialist construction, but a 'system of state capitalism and petty bourgeois economic relations. The defence of the socialist fatherland' will then prove in actual fact to be defence of a petty bourgeois motherland subject to the influence of international capital." [9]

Lenin's Arguments for State Capitalism Versus the Left Communists

It is not surprising that Lenin was forced to reply to this accusation of pursuing state capitalist economic policies. What is revealing though is that when he did so in Left Wing Childishness and Immediate Tasks, it was not by justifying the recent measures as a form of socialism, but by fully endorsing state capitalism and arguing it would be an advance for Russia. He now brought into question his prior arguments that Russia was part of a world state capitalism and thus ripe for socialism, which had seemed necessary to justify proletarian revolution in 1917. Lenin again returned to the notion of Russia's backwardness. A theory of transition based on the Second International acceptance of unilinear 'progressive' stages came to the fore. He noted that all would agree that Russia being in transition meant that it contained elements of socialism and capitalism, but he now said the actual situation was even more complicated. In a model that we will see was key to his understanding, Lenin argued that Russia's backwardness meant it actually combined five types of economic structure:

(1) patriarchal, i.e. to a considerable extent natural, peasant farming;

(2) small commodity production (this includes the majority of those peasants who sell their grain);

(3) private capitalism;

(4) state capitalism;

(5) socialism

Russia, he claimed, while having advanced politically was not economically advanced enough for direct advances towards socialism. The state capitalism, that he had earlier seemed to agree with the left communists had arrived in Russia was, now he said only a shell pierced by the lower forms of economy. The real battle in Russia, he contended, was not that of socialism and capitalism, but of state capitalism and socialism on one side versus all the other economies on the other. Economic growth and even economic survival he contended depended on state capitalist measures. The ones he argued for included the paying of high salaries to bourgeois specialists, the development of rigid accounting and control with severe penalties for those who break it, increased productivity and intensity of labour, piece work and the 'scientific and progressive' elements of the Taylor system.

The overarching repeated demand from Lenin was for 'discipline, discipline, discipline' and he identified this with the acceptance by the workers of one-man management - that is 'unquestioned obedience to the will of a single person.' The arguments of the left that this was suppressing class autonomy and threatened to enslave the working class was just dismissed by Lenin with the insistence that there was "absolutely no contradiction in principle between Soviet (that is, socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals." [ p 268] All it was apparently, was a matter of learning "to combine the "public meeting" democracy of the working people - turbulent, surging, overflowing its banks like a spring flood - with iron discipline while at work, with unquestioning obedience to the will of a single person, the Soviet leader, while at work.'" [ p 271] The point for Lenin was that as long as it was a proletarian state that introduced these measures it could prevent regression down the rungs of the ladder and prepare for the eventual movement up towards socialism.

Left wing opposition to Lenin's line at this point had two main thrusts, which in part reflected a division in the 1918 left communists. One side we might call 'technocratic', emphasised opposition to precisely what the Mensheviks welcomed, namely the suggested compromises with private capitalists. They argued that whoever controlled the economy would control politics, capitalist economic power would dissolve the power of the Soviets and 'a real state capitalist system' and the rule of finance capital would be the result. The other thrust of left communist criticism was against the re-employment of authoritarian capitalist relations and methods within production. As Ossinsky in particular argued, one man management and the other impositions of capitalist discipline would stifle the active participation of workers in the organisation of production; Taylorism turned workers into the appendages of machines, and piece-wages imposed individualist rather than collective rewards in production so installing petty bourgeois values into workers. In sum these measures were rightly seen as the re-transformation of proletarians within production from collective subject back into the atomised objects of capital. The working class, it was argued, had to consciously participate in economic as well as political administration. In this best tendency within the 1918 Left Communists, there was an emphasis on the problem with capitalist production being the way it turned workers into objects, and on its transcendence lying in their conscious creativity and participation, that is reminiscent of Marx's critique of alienation. It is the way the Russian left communists arguments expressed and reflected workers reactions and resistance to the state capitalist direction of the Bolsheviks and workers aspirations to really transform social relations, that there importance lay. Such sentiments ran through the left oppositions, even if until 1921 their loyalty to the party generally stopped them supporting workers practical expressions of resistance. As Ossinsky put it:

"We stand for the construction of the proletarian society by the class creativity of the workers themselves, not by the ukases of the captains of industry. If the proletariat itself does not know how to create the necessary prerequisites for the socialist organisation of labour, no one can do this for it and no one can compel it to do this. The stick, if raised against the workers, will find itself in the hands of a social force which is either under the influence of another social class or is in the hands of the soviet power.. Socialism and socialist organisation will be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not be set up at all: something else will be set up - state capitalism."14

These arguments of Ossinsky represented the best element in the left communists' positions: a recognition that the mass creativity and autonomy of the workers was essential to any move towards communism, thus that nationalisation or statisation of production was not enough. Lenin's view was that direct workers control of their own activity was an issue for the future and that in the meantime iron discipline was required.

'War Communism'

The conditions of civil war and imperialist invasion that Russia fell into in the second half on 1918, altered the conditions of debate and broke the Left Communists as a cohesive opposition. On the one hand, where the alternative to the Bolsheviks was White armies committed to the restoration of the old order, criticism by workers and peasants of the measures the party was taking, was tempered. But apart from this pragmatic issue, the civil war also exposed the inadequate foundation much the left communist criticism had been based on. Considering that, for many left communists, their critique of the New Course, and the consequent accusation of state capitalism, was based mainly on the notion of compromise with private capitalists, and perceived concessions to the peasantry, in the face of what was to be called 'war communism' they had very little left to criticise. Not only did a whole wave of nationalisations take place, virtually wiping out the previous role of the private capitalist, but if there was one thing war communism was not, it was system based on concessions to the peasants. It consequently became difficult for them to describe Russia as state capitalist.

In fact, the technocratic wing of the Left Communist even went as far as welcoming 'war communism' as a real advance to communism. And when war communism resulted in mass inflation virtually wiping out money, they equally saw it as a general move to an economy in kind with all sorts of transactions, even wages, ceasing to use money. The self-emancipatory wing, (which was to provide both the original arguments as well as personnel of the later left oppositions of the Democratic Centralists and the Workers Opposition) took a more cautious stand. They had tended to focus their criticism on the excessive centralisation of power and the bureaucratic capitalist methods of the state economy, to which they counter-posed a restoration of power and local initiative to the soviets and other workers' bodies. But without the other components of their earlier critique, and considering that Lenin himself had described state capitalism - with all its management methods - as playing a progressive part, the left oppositions ceased to describe it as such.

The mistake of confusing the war-time measures as a step in the direction of socialism became clear as the war came to an end and the Bolsheviks tried to step up the war economy measures.15 The fallacy of associating state-control with socialism, despite the intensification of capitalistic production relations, became clear as workers and peasants reacted to their material situation with a wave of strikes and uprisings. The Kronstadt revolt in particular showed the giant gulf between the state and the working class. Despite this general discontent, both outside and within the party, Lenin responded with, on the one hand, the New Economic Policy (NEP), and on the other, the banning of factions with the famous statement that was to characterise the regime thereafter: 'Here and there with a rifle, but not with opposition; we've had enough opposition'.

New Economic Policy: New Opposition

It is important then to grasp that the NEP, which was essentially a return to the moderate state capitalism championed by Lenin in the New Course debate, did not mark an abandonment of communism, but merely a change in the form of state capitalism. Central to the New Economic Policy (NEP) was a changed relation to the peasantry with a progressive tax in kind replacing state procurement and leaving the peasants free to trade for a profit anything left above this. Free trade which had not disappeared was now legal. On the industrial front small scale production was totally denationalised and many, though not the largest factories, leased back to their former owners to run on a capitalist basis. For the working class there was reintroduced payment of wages in cash and charges for previously free services. The command economy of the 'war communism' years was abandoned in favour of the running of the economy on a commercial basis. Nevertheless the commanding heights of the economy remained under state control and the basis for systematic state planning in terms of forecasting etc. continued to be developed. In fact, the very continuity between the New Course and the NEP also showed up in the fact that Lenin, in trying to justify the NEP in the pamphlet Tax in Kind, reprinted large parts of his earlier critique of the Left Communists, including the '5 socio-economic structures' model of the Russian economy.

In 1921 Lenin gave the same reply to Workers Opposition accusations of state capitalism as he had to the Left Communists in 1918, namely that state capitalism would be a tremendous step forward from what Russia actually was, which was a 'petty producer capitalism with a working-class party controlling the state.'16 The key thing about the regime developing at the time of NEP was that, accompanying economic concessions to private capitalism, was intensified political repression, the banning of factions in the party, and non-toleration of any independent political tendencies in the working class. As Ciliga later observed, before the NEP the intensity of repression of left opposition had varied, after this date all opposition was repressed on principle and the treatment of prisoners grew worse.17

It was in this context of political repression and economic re-imposition of capitalist forms that a number of small opposition groups emerged, which again took up the notion of state capitalism. What was common to these new groups was that, unlike the previous left communist tendency and the later left opposition of Trotsky, these groups did make a decisive break from the Bolshevik party. One such group that emerged was the Workers Truth centred around an old left adversary of Lenin, Bogdanov. In issuing an Appeal, starting with Marx's famous 'the liberation of the workers can only be the deed of the workers themselves', they argued that the Bolshevik party was no longer a proletarian party, but rather the party of a new ruling class, and thus they called for a new party.18

With at first a little less theoretical clarity, it was however, the Workers Group, centred around Miasnikov, that made the biggest impact on the class. The main opposition strand had been the Workers Opposition, which while appearing to support the working class, had essentially been demanding a transfer of power from one party faction to another, namely that organised in the trade unions. Miasnikov and his supporters had at this point rejected both the state economic bodies and the trade unions as bureaucratised forms, and in arguing for a return of power to the soviets, had implicitly questioned the party. Miasnikov stood out even more by not supporting the repression of Kronstadt, which he described as an abyss the party had crossed. This willingness to break with the party was crucial because oppositions until then, though reflecting discontent outside the party, had remained wedded to it seeking refuge in organisational fixes that failed conspicuously to deliver.

In 1923 they produced a Manifesto appealing to both the Russian and international proletariat. Rather than theoretical considerations their description of the NEP as standing for the 'New Exploitation of the Proletariat' simply tries to express the conditions that the workers were facing. They denounced the attacks on the working class the Bolshevik regime was carrying out making a point that echoed Luxemburg:19 "the bourgeoisie has, and will have, no better advocate' than the 'socialists of all countries' because they have the ability to disorientate the proletariat with their phrases. Or again: 'a very great danger threatens the achievements of the Russian proletarian revolution, not so much from outside as from inside itself.' Expressing this emphasis on the world proletarian movement the workers group took a resolutely internationalist line. They were sure that the Russian proletariat's only hope lay in aid from revolution elsewhere. They argued that the Bolshevik policies of a 'socialist united fronts' and workers governments were acting against that hope of world revolution.20

However, the real significance of the group was the fact that they took their criticism of the state capitalist direction of the Bolsheviks to its logical conclusion of supporting proletarian opposition to the regime. In late '23 a wave of strikes broke out and the Workers Group became involved gaining an influence for their Manifesto among the proletariat and prompting their suppression by the secret police. Soon their existence was relegated to the prison camps or in exile. It was here that they moved away from their focus on the NEP, and started to question war communism. There their state capitalist analysis became more and more influential in the camps where, as Ciliga observed, a political life repressed elsewhere continued. They extended their critique to the sort of 'socialism' that the Bolsheviks had tried to create even before NEP, arguing that because it was based on coercion over the working class and not the free creation of the class, was in reality a bureaucratic state capitalism.

We have looked then at those arguments of the Russian Left most illuminating for an understanding of the Revolution. The importance of the 1918 Left Communists was not just the fact that they right from an early stage argued that there was a danger that not socialism, but capitalism would emerge from the revolution, but also because in his battles with them, Lenin most explicitly revealed his own support for 'state capitalism'. The importance of Miasnikov's Workers Group lay in them being the most significant of the post 1921 groups who took their criticism of the state capitalist direction of the Bolsheviks to its logical conclusion of supporting proletarian opposition to the regime. Their confrontation with the Russian state was far more consistent and coherent than that of Trotsky's Left opposition. However we cannot say that they provided the theoretical arguments to solidly ground a theory of state capitalism. We will turn now to the tendencies in Europe, with whom they made contact, to see if they had more success.

The German/Dutch Communist Left

In Germany the beginning of the century was characterised by a tension between official and unofficial expressions of working class strength. On the one hand, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which had founded and dominated the Second International, had grown to an unprecedented scale (almost becoming a 'state within a state'), and was receiving steadily larger proportion of votes in elections. On the other, there was also an increased militancy and radicalisation of class struggle, manifesting itself in more and more strikes and lockouts21 - struggles that in many cases went beyond economic demands and took on a mass and political character. While a left radical current within the SPD was to see these as a way the class was developing towards revolution, the mainstream party and trade union leadership set itself against these new forms of class struggle. In the years to come these two expression of the working class were to drastically clash. Indeed the direct struggle between class and capital would become that of revolutionary tendency of the proletariat and social democracy siding with and representing capital.

The counter-revolutionary character of the gradualist practice of the SPD first came brutally to light when, in the interest of preparing for the next election, the party stepped in to demobilise a wave of industrial struggles and suffrage agitation that swept Prussia in 1910. Although leading to some fierce arguments over strategy between Kautsky and the emerging radical left tendency, it was only with the war that these oppositions made moves towards a split with the party. Despite always having had a position of opposing imperialist wars, the SPD and the unions turned to social patriotism - the party voted for war credits and the unions signed a pact to maintain war production and prevent strikes. As a result, two main opposition tendencies emerged: the left-communist tendency that split from the party, and the Spartacists that at first tried to stay within the party and reform it from within. However, their different responses to the SPD's turn to social patriotism, was emblematic of what was to follow. Whilst the left communists throughout put themselves on the side of revolution, the Spartacist leadership never entirely managed to break from social democratic conceptions.

The German Revolution: Breaking from Social Democracy

But whilst SPD's support for the war was important in generating a radical left tendency, it was only in the face of the German Revolution that the overtly counter-revolutionary character of social democracy became clear to large numbers of workers. The Russian Revolution had been a massive inspiration for revolutionaries and the class struggle in Germany. In early 1918 there was a wave of mass wildcat strikes. And although the SPD put a lid on these struggles, the opposition kept growing. Finally in November, revolution broke out when sailors mutinies and a generalised setting up of workers councils ended the first world war. The ruling class, knowing that it could in no way contain the revolutionary wave, turned to social democracy to save the nation, and appointed the SPD leader as chancellor. Knowing that direct confrontation would get them nowhere, they set themselves to destroy the councils from within. The Spartacists, trapped within a 'centrist' faction of social democracy, could only watch while it helped the SPD in this task. The SPD thus managed to get a majority vote at the first National Congress of Workers and Soldiers Councils in favour of elections to a constituent assembly and for dissolving the councils in favour of that parliament. At the same time the trade unions worked hand in hand with management to get revolutionary workers dismissed and to destroy independent council activity in the factories. Councils against parliament and trade unions became the watch word of revolutionaries.

Recognising the depth of their failure, the Spartacists broke from social democracy and joined the left communists to form the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). And in January 1919, within days of this founding conference, the KPD was tested in combat. Prematurely provoked to action by the government, revolutionary workers in Berlin attempted to overthrow the SPD government in favour of a council republic. The KPD put itself on the side of the insurrection, which was crushed by the SPD minister Noske's freicorps - a volunteer army of proto-fascist ex-officers and soldiers. The Spartacist leaders, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, were arrested and murdered. Over the next months revolutionary attempts in Bavaria, Bremen, Wilhemshaven and other places, were likewise defeated in isolation. Social democracy, through armed force when necessary, but more fundamentally through the ideological hold it and its trade unions had over the working class, had defeated the revolution and saved German capitalism.

However, within the class there was also a process of radicalisation. Large numbers of workers, recognising the counter-revolutionary role of the SPD and the unions, and having fought SPD troops and police on the streets, rejected the parliamentary system and left the unions. As an alternative they formed factory organisations to provide a means for united proletarian action, and to be ready for the re-formation of revolutionary council power. While the majority of the KPD, including the rank and file Spartacists, supported these developments, the Spartacist leadership still wanted to participate in elections and the trade unions. In mid-1919, by a series of bureaucratic manoeuvres they managed to exclude the majority from the party. The Bolsheviks essentially sided with this rump leadership. The basis of the split between the German communist left and the Bolsheviks was prepared.

In March/April 1920 the split in the KPD was to become permanent. At this time the freicorps that the SPD had used to crush the revolution, turned on their masters and launched a coup: the Kapp putsch. The trade unions called a general strike, which the working class responded to solidly, bringing the country to a stop. The coup collapsed, but workers were now mobilised across the country. In the revolutionary stronghold of the Ruhr the workers had formed a 80,000 strong Red Army that refused to disarm. Although having been saved by this revolutionary upsurge, the SPD saw their role as the same as it had been a year previously, namely to make sure than the struggles did not develop into full scale revolution. Only this time, they did not have the same working class credibility that had previously allowed them to control the situation. Faced by this, they chose a dual strategy: to re-establish their socialist credibility they talked of forming a government composed only of workers parties, whilst at the same time sending in their - now loyal once more - troops to attack and disarm the Ruhr.

The two sides of German 'communism' reacted totally differently to these events. The excluded majority of the party put themselves with the working class reaction from the beginning and supported the Red Army in the Ruhr when the SPD troops attacked it. The rump leadership of the KPD, while it had initially said it would not 'lift a finger' for the SPD government, quickly changed its position to total support. It offered itself a 'loyal opposition' to the proposed 'workers government', and called on the armed workers to not to resist the SPD troops. Thus the revolutionary potential of the situation was defeated by social democracy with the support of the Moscow supported KPD, who claimed to be a revolutionary break from social democracy. The left communist side of the KPD, feeling no rapprochement was possible with a group that had tacitly supported the violent suppression of the class, formed itself as the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD), orientated totally towards the councils. The question is of course how these lessons affected their view of the Russian Revolution.

The German Left and the Comintern

For these revolutionaries the history of the German workers movement had shown the fundamental opposition between the methods of social democracy and revolution. It had seemed to them that 'Bolshevik principles' such as the suppression of bourgeois democracy and its replacement by the dictatorship of the proletariat through workers councils, were key to overcoming the opportunism of the SPD and winning the revolution in Germany. It was in this sense that 'Bolshevism' had helped their break from Social Democracy. The fact that the line coming out of Moscow seemed to favour some of the social democratic elements the left communists were breaking from, was merely seen as being based on their unfamiliarity with the West European situation. They thought the Bolsheviks were falsely generalising from the Russian situation, in which the use of parliamentary methods etc. might have been necessary, to the west European situation where the break with parliamentary practices, and the emphasis on councilism was essential for the revolution to succeed. Even when Lenin launched Left-Wing Communism - An Infantile Disorder a vicious polemic against them and in support of the KPD line, they still thought it was a matter of Lenin not understanding the conditions for revolution in the West. Even when [Otto] Ruhle, their delegate to the Second Congress of the Comintern, returned arguing that Russia was 'soviet' only in name, the majority opposed his view. However, Ruhle's councilist argument that what Russia showed was that party-rule was a bourgeois form, that 'revolution was not a party affair', but a matter of councils and unitary factory organisations only, was later to become the dominant position of the remains of the German Left.

However, at this time, it was only when the Comintern adopted a line of a 'united front', and ordered the KAPD to liquidate and re-join the KPD, which had by then merged with left social democrats, did they start to rethink their position. By late 1921 - as a result of hearing about the NEP, the suppression of strikes, as well as Russia's willingness to make commercial and military treaties with capitalist powers - they decided that the Bolsheviks and the Comintern had left the field of revolution. They began to consider that there might have been internal conditions forcing the counter revolutionary policies abroad. The White counter-revolution had failed, yet Russia was acting in a capitalist way both at home and abroad. What was the explanation for this?

The spectre of Menshevism: October, a bourgeois revolution?

In 1917, when the German Social Democrats had supported the Menshevik line that Russia was only ready for a bourgeois revolution, the German Left had welcomed October as the first crack in bourgeois power - the start of world revolution. Now with it appearing that the Bolsheviks were retreating from the proletarian socialist path, the German Left started a move back to orthodoxy. Starting with a revised notion that October was a dual revolution, they were to end by deciding it was a bourgeois revolution through and through. Key to their understanding was the perceived dominance of the peasants in Russia.

This first manifested itself when, in the Manifesto of the International they tried to set up as a revolutionary alternative to the Comintern, they not only qualified their previous view of the socialist character of the revolution by going for a notion of dual revolution, but drew the further conclusion that the end result had not been socialism, but state capitalism. As Gorter put it, "in the large towns it was a change from capitalism to socialism, in the country districts a change from feudalism to capitalism. In the large towns the proletarian revolution came to pass: in the country the bourgeois revolution."22 The reference to the passing of the socialist side of the revolution was a reference to how, as they argued, the NEP had not merely been a 'concession' to the peasantry, as the Bolsheviks talked of it, but had been a complete capitulation to the peasant - for them, bourgeois - side of the revolution. The effect was that the proletarian side of the revolution had been sacrificed, and what had been put in its place was instead a form of state capitalism.

Back to Luxemburg?

It was the central, if implicit, role of the Agrarian Question and the Internationalist perspective was to play in their theories that led them to return, ironically to Luxemburg. In 1918 she wrote a text - The Russian Revolution - in which, while declaring solidarity with the Bolsheviks, she made some deep criticisms of their actions in Russia, nearly all of which the German Left were to take up as their own. Written before the German Revolution, her condemnation of the Bolsheviks was, however, secondary to her condemnation of the passivity of the German Social Democrats for not following their revolutionary example. She had no time for the Menshevik line echoed by the Social Democrats in Germany that Russia was only ready for a bourgeois revolution. Instead she insisted that the problems of the Russian Revolution were "a product of international developments plus the Agrarian Question' which 'cannot possibly be solved within the limits of bourgeois society' and thus that the fate of the revolution depended on the international proletariat, especially the German proletariat without which aid the Russian Revolution could not fail to become distorted, becoming 'tangled in a maze of contradictions and blunders.' (p. 29) The German Left - not guilty like the Social Democrats of betraying the Russian revolution - could see itself as theoretically untangling these contradictions and blunders which the failure of world revolution had led the Russian Revolution into.

The blunders Luxemburg criticized the Bolsheviks for were: their line on national self determination; their suppression of the constituent assembly and voting; their tendency towards a Jacobin Party dictatorship rather than a real dictatorship of the proletariat involving the masses; and their land policy which she said would create 'a new and powerful layer of popular enemies of socialism on the countryside, enemies whose resistance will be much more dangerous and stubborn than that of the noble large landowners." [p 46] Giving this last point decisive importance, the German Left supported all of Luxemburg criticisms except for her position on the Constituent Assembly.

In fact the importance they attached to this last point became even clearer when Gorter, in drawing upon Luxemburg's assessment of the party dictatorship, nevertheless put a different slant on it. This came out when in The International Workers Revolution,23 started by quoting her statement: "Yes: dictatorship... but this dictatorship must be of the work of the class and not that of a leading minority in the name of the class: that is to say, it must, step by step, arise from the active participation of the class, remain under its direct influence, and be subordinated to the control of publicity and be the outcome of the political experience of the whole people." In other words, Gorter agreed with Luxemburg that the dictatorship of the proletariat was not the undemocratic dictatorship of the party, but rather the quite democratic dictatorship of the whole class. However he added that what she 'did not understand' was 'that all this could not happen in Russia; that no class dictatorship was possible there, because the proletariat was too small and the peasantry too mighty.' This orientation to the need for a majority proletariat had thus taken him to question the possibility of socialist revolution in Russia.

Gorter moved to the view that the bourgeois measures the Bolsheviks had made were being forced by Russia's backwardness. He argued that the minority status of the proletariat in Russia had forced a 'party dictatorship', and stated that despite not being organised, the 'elementary power' of the peasantry 'forced the Bolsheviks - even men like Lenin - to stand against the class from which it had sprung, and which was inimical to the peasantry.' But what he did criticise the Bolsheviks for, however, was their programme and the action they had prescribed to the proletariat in advanced countries, which had blocked the world revolution, and hence made the building up of world capitalism possible. It was only because of the latter that the bourgeois measures in Russia had become unredeemable.

Ruhle was to go even further than Gorter in this fatalistic direction. Going away from Gorter's notion of a dual revolution, he argued that the revolution had been bourgeois from the start. He grounded this view on what he called 'the phaseological development as advocated by Marx, that after feudal tsarism in Russia there had to come the capitalist bourgeois state, whose creator and representative was the bourgeois class.'24 So considering the historical circumstances, the Russian Revolution could only have been a bourgeois revolution. Its role was to get rid of tsarism, to smooth the way for capitalism, and to help the bourgeoisie into the saddle politically. It was in this context that the Bolsheviks, regardless of the subjective intentions, ultimately had to bow for the historical forces at play. And their attempt to leap a stage of development had not only showed how they had forgotten the 'ABC of Marxist knowledge' that socialism could only come from mature capitalism, but was also based 'the vague hope of world revolution' that Ruhle now characterised as unjustified 'rashness.'

But whilst this move to a semi-Menshevik position was indeed a move back to the exact same position they had previously criticised the Social Democrats for having, it also had its merits. Where the earlier German Left focus on the New Course and NEP as a reversion to capitalism had the deeply unpleasant implications that both war communism and Stalin's 'left turn' was a return to socialism, the rigidly schematic position of Ruhle's theory allowed him to question the measures of nationalisation used in both these periods:

'nationalisation is not socialisation. Through nationalisation you can arrive at a large scale, tightly run state capitalism, which may exhibit various advantages as against private capitalism. Only it is still capitalism. and however you twist and turn, it gives no way of escape from the constraint of bourgeois politics'.

It was Ruhle's semi-Menshevik and fatalistic interpretation of Russia that, like his full blown councilism, was at first resisted, but then largely accepted by the German Left. This came out in what was its closest to a definitive statement on the Russian question: the Theses on Bolshevism.25

Theses on Bolshevism

The position the German Left was arriving at, and which came out in their Theses, was that the class and production conditions in Russia, first forced the dictatorship to be a party rather than class one, and second forced that party dictatorship to be a bourgeois capitalist one. But where this general idea, in Ruhle, had been solely confined to describing the historical forces that were at play behind the backs of the Bolsheviks, and regardless of their subjective intentions, in the Theses it took a more conspiratorial form. The Bolsheviks had not merely been forced into a position of unwittingly carrying out a bourgeois revolution, but had done so intentionally. From the very start they had been a 'jacobinal' organisation of the 'revolutionary petty bourgeoisie', who had been faced with a bourgeoisie that neither had the collective will nor strength to carry out a bourgeois revolution. So by manipulating the proletarian elements of society, they had been able to carry out a bourgeois revolution against the bourgeoisie. Consequently, 'the task of the Russian Revolution [had been] to destroy the remnants of feudalism, industrialize agriculture, and create a large class of free labourers'. But despite this rather conspiratorial element of the theory of the German Left, they escaped arguing that if the revolutionary proletariat had just realised the true nature of the Bolsheviks, they could have avoided the fate that was awaiting them. Rather, the fact that the Bolsheviks had taken the form of a revolutionary bourgeoisie was precisely because of the backwardness of Russia, and the consequent development had been inevitable.

It was this notion of the Bolsheviks taking the role of the bourgeoisie that allowed them, like Ruhle had done, to avoid seeing Stalin's 'left turn' as a step in the right direction, and instead they saw it as an attempt by the Soviet state to master the contradictory tension of the two forces it had been riding: a 'bolshevistic, bureaucratically conducted state economy' based on a regimented terrorised proletariat, and the peasant economy which 'conceals in its ranks the private capitalist tendencies' of the economy. [57] Or in other words, not as with Trotsky's Left Opposition, a tension between the socialist and capitalist sectors, but between the state capitalist and petty capitalist sides of the economy.

So like the Russian left communist current, the German Left was to end up characterising Russia as state capitalist, or as they called it 'state production with capitalist methods.' Whilst the commanding heights of the economy were bureaucratically conducted by the Bolshevik state, the underlying character was essentially capitalist. This they grounded by arguing that 'it rests on the foundation of commodity production, it is conducted according to the viewpoint of capitalist profitability; it reveals a decidedly capitalist system of wages and speedup; it has carried the refinements of capitalist rationalisation to the utmost limits.' Furthermore, the state form of production, they argued, was still based on squeezing surplus value out of the workers; the only difference being that, rather than a class of people individually and directly pocketing the surplus value, it was taken by the 'bureaucratic, parasitical apparatus as a whole' and used for reinvestment, their own consumption, and to support the peasants.

These arguments were a statement of the classic state capitalist case: Russia was capitalist because all the categories of capitalism continued to exist only with the state appropriating the surplus value and the bureaucrats playing the role of capitalists. And in keeping with the notion of state capitalism postulated by Marx and Engels, they ended up grasping it as a higher stage of capitalism. As they argued, 'The Russian state economy is therefore profit production and exploitation economy. It is state capitalism under the historically unique conditions of the Bolshevik regime, and accordingly represents a different and more advanced type of capitalist production than even the greatest and most advanced countries have to show.'[58-59]

However, the problems with grounding the accusation of state capitalism on the basis that all the capitalist categories continued to exist soon became apparent. To say that production was oriented to capitalist profitability seemed questionable when the immediate aim seemed to be the production of use-values, particularly of means of production with no concern for the immediate profitability of the enterprise. Also to say that goods were produced as commodities when it was the state direction rather than their exchange value which seemed to determine what and how many goods were produced, also required more argument. While the state unquestionably seemed to be extracting and allocating surplus products based on exploitation of surplus labour, to say that it took the form of surplus value seemed precisely a point of contention. It was these apparent differences between Russian and western capitalism that led them to use the terms 'state capitalism' and 'state socialism' interchangeably. And it was these theoretical problems of the German Left that Mattick was later to try and solve. However, the main direction of German Left theoretical effort in relation to the Russia question was not to analyse the system in the USSR, but to build alternative models of transition to the statist one they identified as responsible for the Russian disaster. On the one hand, they were tempted by a mathematical model of labour accounting that was supposed to overcome money and value,26 on the other, they made elaborate plans of how workers councils could run society instead of the a party-state.27

Mattick: Its capitalism, Jim, but not as we know it

Seeing his role as one of continuing the German council communist tradition, and preserving its insights, Mattick first made explicit what had been implicit in their assessment of Bolshevik policies.28 Recognising that Leninism was merely a variant of Kautskyist social democracy, he made it clear that the Bolshevik conception of socialism was from the start very different from, and in opposition to, the one coming out of the councilist left. The reality of what Russia turned out to be was not merely a reflection of the particular historical circumstances it was faced with, but was embedded in the very ideology of the Bolsheviks. This essentially Second International ideology had seen the fundamental contradiction of capitalism as consisting in it being, on the one hand, an anarchic system in which the law of value regulated the market 'behind people's back' and, on the other hand, having a tendency towards the socialisation of the productive forces, and the development of more and more centralised planning and control. Socialism was thus seen as the rational solution to this anarchy through the appropriation, by a workers party, of the planning and centralisation that capitalism was itself developing.

Mattick, following the councilist tradition, saw this statist vision as having entirely lost the perspective of socialism as the abolition, by the workers themselves, of their separation from the means of production; of the abolition of the capital/labour relation and their consequent ability to control the conditions of life - to establish a society based on the free association of producers, as Marx had called it. It was this perspective that allowed him, like previous left communists, to say that the Bolsheviks, by taking the means of production into the hands of the state, had not achieved socialisation, but only the 'nationalisation of capital as capital' ownership by government rather than private capitalists. It was in this way that he, against Trotsky and Stalin, could make the obvious point that the means of production were not controlled by society as a whole, but still existed vis a vis the workers as alien capital, and as such Russia had not abolished the capital/labour relation fundamental to capitalism. However, while this point was important, it was not enough proof in Marxian terms of the existence of capitalism. The questions remained: how did the system operate?, what was its drive or regulating principles?, what laws governed it? And on these questions he was orthodox enough a Marxist to accept that complete statification of the means of production was a modification of capitalism with serious implications for the validity of fundamental value categories.

Specifically the problem consisted in to what extent the law of value still governed the economy in Russia. As Marx had argued, one of the main defining characteristics of capitalism is that the market is governed by the law of value. This means that instead of having a system in which production is consciously planned so as to meet people's needs, we have a system in which these needs are only meet indirectly through the exchange of commodities on the market. And the only regulatory principle on the market is that of supply and demand. Against the previous left communist tendency to classify Russia as state capitalist without trying to ground it in the categories of value, Mattick even made the further point that "to speak of the law of value as the 'regulator' of the economy in the absence of specifically capitalist market relations can only mean that the terms 'value' and 'surplus value' are retained, though they express no more than a relation between labour and surplus labour." [321] The problem for Mattick was of course that, considering he took Russia at face value and thought it was a genuinely planned system, it became difficult to at the same time call it capitalist. Considering that the market would no longer be run along the lines of indirect forms of commodity exchange governed by the law of value, but would be directly planned according to need, it would be problematic to say that the law of value existed at all.

Ultimately, this led Mattick to concede that state capitalism in Russia lacked what was a defining feature of capitalism, namely the law of value. No longer having this option open to him, Mattick reverted back to his previous reasons for calling Russia capitalist, coupled with the vague point that it was 'a system of exploitation based on the direct control of a ruling minority over the ruled majority.'[321]. But while he still insisted on the continuity of exploitative social relations, the fact that Mattick thought that the law of value had ceased to exist, led him to affirm the argument of the previous German Left that Russia was an advanced form of capitalism. This even to the extent that it had overcome some of the main problems of private-property capitalism, namely competition, crises and, as a result of the consequent stability, to some extent class antagonisms.

The notion that Russia could not have a problem with crisis sounds ironic today. There is also the further irony that while the main point of Mattick's book - on which it succeeded pretty well - was to attack the view, so prevalent in the post-war boom, that Keynesianism had resolved capitalism's crisis tendency. But a more pressing problem with his theory of Russia lies exactly with what he set out to prove, namely that Russia, despite its apparent differences from western capitalism was still capitalist in Marx's terms. Although trying to say that what he was describing was just a change in the form of capitalism, from 'market' to 'state-planned', this was open to the objection that value relations such as those that occur through the market are not incidental - they are of the very essence of the capital relation. And although Mattick rightly pointed to the fact that Russia was still based on the exploitation of the majority by the minority, one could easily argue that the defining point about capitalism is exactly that this exploitation occurs through the indirect form of commodity exchange with all its mystifications. Indeed, it could be argued that Mattick virtually implied that Russia was a non-capitalist form of exploitation that used capitalist forms to cover up the arbitrary nature of its exploitation. It is in the light of the major concessions to the differences between the state system and normal capitalism Mattick was willing to make, that critics would be justified in doubting the validity of the term at all. Hence instead of solving the problems of the theory of the German Left, that led them to use the terms 'state capitalist' and 'state socialist' interchangeably, he merely exposed them.

In a 1991 interview, his son Paul Mattick (Jnr) speculated that the collapse of the USSR might have indicated that his father was wrong and:

whether it wasn't a mistake of all the people, members of this ultra-left current, among whom I would include myself, to think of the Bolshevik form, the centralized, state controlled economy, as a new form, which we should think of as coming after capitalism, as representing, say, a logical end point of the tendency to monopolization and centralization of capital, which is a feature of all private property capitalist systems. Instead, it seems to really have been a kind of preparation for capitalist, development, a pre-capitalist form, if you want. '

This is exactly what the leading thinker of the Italian Left had argued.

The Italian Left


We now turn to the other main left communist position, that of the Italian left. Like the German and Dutch Lefts the Italian Left originated, in the years before the first world war as a left opposition within a Second International party, in their case the Socialist Party of Italy (PSI). But whereas German social democracy had exposed itself as both reactionary and actively counter-revolutionary, the very radicality of the Italian working class, and consequent strength of the Left, meant that reformism in the PSI was not as hegemonic as in the SPD. In 1912 the party even expelled an ultra-reformist wing over its support for Italy's Libyan war, and when the world war broke out and the Italian working class responded with a Red Week of riots across the country reaching insurrectionary proportions in Ancona, the PSI alone among the western Social democratic parties did not rally to the nation. Their apparent difference from the SPD further came out when in 1919 the PSI affiliated to the Comintern. The enemy of the Italian Left was thus not an obviously counter-revolutionary party, but one dominated by the revolutionary posture of 'Maximalism', that is, combining verbal extremism with opportunist economic and political practice, or more to the point, inaction. This discontinuity between the social democracy in Italy and Germany was to greatly influence their theoretical developments. Where the German Left had very quickly reacted to the current events by making a final break with social democracy and going for a full blown councilist line, the Italian Left remained much more favourable to partyism. In a sense we could say that while the German Left tendency was to overcome the social democratic separation of the 'political' and 'economic' struggle by putting their trust in a revolutionary 'economic' struggle, the solution that the Italian Left moved to was an absolute subordination of political and economic struggles to a genuinely communist 'political' direction.

The determination to decisively politically break from all reformism developed in the context of Italy's experience of the revolutionary wave - the Biennio Rosso (Red Two Years). This was a period in which workers set up factory councils, poor peasants and demobilised soldiers seized land, and where demonstrations, street actions, rioting, strikes and general strikes were regular occurrences. From the summer of 1919, when the state nearly buckled in the face of near insurrectionary food riots and syndicalist forms of redistribution and counter power, to the Occupations of the Factories in September 1920, revolution seemed almost within their reach. However, instead of taking an active part in this revolutionary wave, the PSI and its linked unions refused to act and at times even actively sabotaged the class struggle. However, where the German Left had reacted to similar occurrences by breaking with the SPD and identifying with the council movement, the reaction within the Italian party was, on the one hand, the Abstentionist Communist Fraction around Bordiga struggling to eliminate the reformists from the party, and on the other hand, the L'Ordine Nuovo (L'ON) centred around Gramsci and orientated to councils, but who saw no need to break from the 'Maximalism' of the PSI.

The adequate basis for the break with 'Maximalism' was finally provided when, in the context of this intense class struggle, the Italian PSI delegates, including Bordiga, went to the 2nd Congress of the Comintern in mid-1920. Key to this Congress was the setting of 21 conditions for membership of affiliating parties. Although Bordiga's group had to renounce their abstentionism, the overall target was the 'centrist' and opportunist tendencies of the PSI. Seeing that the overall tendency within the Comintern was in their favour, Bordiga even managed to beef up the disciplinary measures so that complying with the directives given by the Comintern was a condition for affiliation. Consequently, the Second Congress turned out to be massively helpful to them in their battle with the centre/right, and as such their attempts to forge a genuinely revolutionary communist party in Italy. They came away strengthened in their fight with the PSI by Lenin's authority, and felt that their fight for a revolutionary party was in convergence with the Bolsheviks. Consequently, the ideas beginning to emerge within the German Left - that Bolshevik prescriptions for the Western proletariat were not necessarily appropriate; that there might even be a contradiction between Bolshevism and revolutionary politics; and that the good of the World Revolution was being sacrificed to the national needs of the Russian state - not only failed to resonate with the Italian Left, but quite the opposite seemed to be the case.

With this reinforcement from Moscow the Italian Left finally made their break with the PSI. This was prompted by the movement of factory occupations, that exposed the bankruptcy of the PSI and its CGL unions. As a wage dispute by members of the Metal workers union developed into a massive wave of factory occupations, and everybody could see that the situation was critical and had moved beyond economic demands, the PSI and the unions responded by exposing their absolute inability to act for revolution. Instead of taking any revolutionary initiative, the PSI passed the bug to the CGL, who had a vote on whether to go for revolution or not. The outcome was 409,000 for revolution and 590,000 against. But where the break from social democracy had led the Germans to a full blown councilist approach, in Italy the defeat of the factory occupations also marked the end of the councilist approach of Gramsci's L'ON group. Bordiga's analysis on the need for a principled break with PSI's 'Maximalism' was now accepted by nearly all revolutionaries in the party, and in early 1921 they formed the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) under his leadership.

However, the coming together of the communist elements came too late. Not only was the Bienno Rosso a failed revolution, but a fascist counter-revolution was on the cards. With the tacit support of the democratic state, fascist squadrista moved from their rural strongholds to attack workers neighbourhoods and worker organisations. Although communist and other workers formed armed detachments to fight back, the sort of working class reaction that in Germany defeated the Kapp putsch did not materialise, and by the end of 1922 Mussolini was in power.

Revolutionary setbacks, however, were not just confined to Italy, but was a general international phenomenon. But instead of recognising this as being the result of social democracy (or the failure of these parties to lead the struggles in a revolutionary direction, as the Italian Left saw it), the Comintern responded by imposing its policy of a 'united front'. For Italy the 'united front' line meant demanding the PCI fuse with Serrati's PSI, only asking that it first expel its right wing around Turatti. For Bordiga and the PCI, after their hard fought battle to disentangle themselves from the pseudo revolutionary maximilism of Serrati, the demand they unite with him was anathema.29 They felt that in the turn to these flexible tactics, the communist political programme they had arrived at was in danger of being diluted or lost.

But where this, in Germany, led to the final break with Bolshevism, in Italy it resulted in a total Bolshevisation of the PCI. Ironically it was the Italian Left that had not only fought to make the Italian Party Bolshevik (in terms of their perception of the meaning of that term), but had also insisted on the Comintern's disciplinary role on national sections. But now they were to become one of the main victims of that discipline. Their insistence that socialism was only possible if carried out on a world-scale and led by an international revolutionary party, as well as their failure to see that the Comintern was largely dominated by Russia and used for its own national purposes, meant that they still perceived the Comintern as this international and revolutionary agent. Ultimately, this meant that they were willing to accept the rigors of discipline to policies they totally opposed and indeed felt were betraying the communist programme, in order to hold on for as long as possible. This even to the extent that Bordiga, despite his overall majority in the PCI, conceded leadership to a small faction of the party led by Gramsci, which was willing to obey Moscow and impose 'Bolshevisation' on the party. Later Bordiga and the fraction around him were forced out of the party they had created.30 Still, it would be many years before would fully identify Russia as capitalist.

Bordiga's theory

So where the Germans, in their councilism, had taken an outright anti-Leninist stance, the Italian Left took a much more Leninist approach. Indeed when the Italian Left had finally, in exile, started to question the nature of Russia, it was in a manner that seemed at first closer to that of Trotsky's, rather than the theories coming out of left communists elsewhere. Against the German left communists, they had insisted that the argument that the Russian Revolution had been bourgeois from the start, was a loss of the whole international perspective that had been shared by all the revolutionary fractions at the time. But whilst this point certainly allowed the Italians not to lose the revolutionary significance of October, their logic that if the revolution had been a proletarian revolution, the state was a proletarian state that had degenerated, had the down-side of appearing to be a version of Trotsky's theory of a degenerated workers state.

The 'Leninist' side of the Italian Left became especially clear with Bordiga when, in his attempt to gain an understanding of the nature of Russia, put great emphasis on the very text that Lenin had used to attack the Russian Left Communists, namely the Tax in Kind pamphlet. By returning to the Agrarian Question Bordiga bypassed a lot of state capitalist concerns. Looked at economically, he argues, Russia did not have the prerequisites for socialism or communism, and the tasks that faced it were bourgeois tasks, namely the development of the productive forces for which resolving the Agrarian Question was essential. However, the war that Russia was part of was an imperialist war that expressed that the capitalist world as a whole was ready for socialist revolution and Russia had not only a proletariat who carried out the revolution, but a proletarian party oriented to world revolution had been put in power. Thus on the 'primacy of the political' October was a proletarian revolution. But insofar as Bordiga assumed that, economically speaking, there was no other path to socialism than through the accumulation of capital, the role of the proletarian party was simply to allow but at the same time keep under control the capitalist developments necessary to maintain social life in Russia.

Ironically however, it was exactly in emphasising Lenin's notion that capitalism under workers control of the party was the best Russia could have, that Bordiga could go beyond not only the Trotskyism, that the Italian Left theory of Russia had initially seemed close to, but more importantly maybe, the theory of the German Left. As was shown in the previous article of this series, Trotsky took the nationalisation of land and industry as well as the monopoly on foreign trade, as evidence for Russia in fact having the socio-economic foundations for socialism - hence his notion that the revolution was congealed in 'property forms'. And relying on Preobrazensky's contrast between what he saw as the 'law of planning' of the state sector versus the law of value of the peasant sector, he argued that one of the main obstacles that had to be dealt with before arriving at socialism proper, was the capitalist features of the peasant sector. As such he argued that Russia was a more advanced socialistic transitional economy. The German Left, although differing from Trotsky's view in the sense that they maintained that the revolution had been bourgeois from the start, was in essence very close to it. This was insofar as they, in line with the traditional state capitalist argument, saw Russia as a more advanced, concentrated version of capitalism, leading Mattick virtually to a third system conception.

Bordiga, exactly by returning to Lenin's emphasis on the political, could avoid going down that path. The clashes between the state industrial sector and the peasant sector was not, as Trotsky and Preobrazhensky had argued, the clash between socialism and capitalism. Rather, as Bordiga argued, it was the clash between capitalism and pre-capitalist forms. And here lay the real originality of Bordiga's thought: Russia was indeed a transitional society, but transitional towards capitalism. Far from having gone beyond capitalist laws and categories, as for instance Mattick had argued, the distinctiveness of Russian capitalism lay in its lack of full development.

This was grounded on Russia's peripheral status versus the core capitalist economies. In a period when world capitalism would otherwise have prevented the take off of the capitalist mode of production, preferring to use underdeveloped areas for raw materials, cheap labour and so on, Russia was an example of just such an area, that through extreme methods of state protectionism and intervention secured economical development and as such prevented the fate of being assigned a peripheral status on the world market. It is this role of the Bolsheviks as the enforcer of capitalist development that explains why the USSR became a model for elites in ex-colonial and otherwise less developed countries.

The failure of both Trotsky and the German Left to see this also showed up in their confusion with regard to Stalin's 'left-turn'. Never having accepted the Primitive Socialist Accumulation thesis of Preobrazhensky, Bordiga could make the rather obvious judgement that what Stalin carried out in the thirties - the forced collectivisation of peasants and the 5 year plans - was a savage primitive capitalist accumulation: a 'Russian capitalism Mark 2'. Stalin's 'left turn' was then neither a product of his impulses nor represented him being forced to defend the 'socialist' gains of the economy'. Rather it came from the pressing need for capital accumulation felt by Russia as a competing capitalist state. And the Stalinist excesses of the thirties - "literally a workers' hell, a carnage of human energy."31 - were but a particular expression of the "general universal conditions appropriate to the genesis of all capitalism." For Bordiga once the proletarian political side went, what was striking was the continuity of the problems facing the emerging capitalism in Russia whether its government be Tsarist or Stalinist: that of attempting to develop the capitalist mode of production in a backward country facing world imperialism. In 1953 he states: "The economic process underway in the territories of the Russian union can be defined essentially as the implanting of the capitalist mode of production, in its most modern form and with the latest technical means, in countries that are backward, rural, feudal and asiatic-oriental." [43]

Indeed, as Bordiga recognised, the problems involved with the crash course in capitalist development that the Bolsheviks imposed, also resulted in certain measures that were to obstruct the full expressions of a capitalist development. He centred this on its inadequate resolution of the sin qua non of capitalism: the Agrarian Revolution. Despite its brutality, Bordiga noted that the collectivisation process involved a compromise by which the peasants did not become entirely property-less, but were allowed to retain a plot of land and sell its produce through market mechanisms. This, as Bordiga saw it, re-produced the capitalist form of the small-holder, but without the revolutionary progressive tendency to ruin and expropriate these producers, because 'the little that belongs to him is guaranteed by law. The collective farmer is therefore the incarnation of the compromise between the ex-proletarian state and the small producers past on in perpetuity.'[25-6] While collectivisation did produce the proletarians necessary for state industry, Soviet agriculture remained a hybrid form, an achilles heel of the economy never attaining full subordination to capitalist laws.

This view of the Russian state being in the service of developing capitalism in Russia also allowed Bordiga to go beyond the focus on bureaucracy of Trotsky's theory, and its mirror in most state capitalist theories, such as the Germans, of identifying these new state officials as a new ruling class. Bordiga felt that the obsession with finding individual capitalist or substitutes for capitalists had lost Marx's understanding of capital as above all an impersonal force. As Bordiga said 'determinism without men is meaningless, that is true, but men constitute the instrument and not the motor.'32 Such a point also applies to the state: as Bordiga argued, 'it is not a case of the partial subordination of capital to the state, but of ulterior subordination of the state to capital'[p.7] State despotism in Russia was at the service of the capitalist mode of production pushing its development in areas that resisted it. However, a weakness of Bordiga's analysis was that whereas he looked under the surface of the Soviet claims about agriculture, he tended to base his view that the state sector was governed by the law of value simply on the appearance of forms, like commodities and money, and on Stalin's claims that value exists under socialism. So although the Italian Left seemed at first closer to the Trotsky's notion of a degenerated workers state, it was through Bordiga's literal interpretation of Lenin on the Russian economy, he could go beyond both Trotsky and the German Left.


As stated in the introduction, any analysis of the Russian revolution and the society that emerged from it cannot be separated from a conception of what communism is. Indeed one way in which all the left communists, unlike Trotsky, could go beyond Second International Marxism, was by insisting that neither the transition to communism nor communism itself should in any way be identified with state-control of the means of production. Indeed nothing short of their proper socialisation or communisation would do. It was this perspective that allowed them to distance themselves from, and criticise Russia as being state capitalist or, as Bordiga put it, simply capitalist.

However, with regard to their specific answers to the question of what a genuine communisation process would have consisted in, the situation was slightly more ambiguous. The Germans (and to some extent the Russians), in their focus on the economic sphere, ultimately ended up with a notion of communism consisting in workers' self-management. The important differentiation between capitalism and communism was correctly seen to lie in workers overcoming their separation from the means of production. The idea was that only in the factory, only at the point of production could workers overcome the domination maintained by bourgeois politics, cease to act as isolated bourgeois individuals and act as a socialised force, as a class. This slipped into a factoryism which neglected the fact that the enterprise is a capitalist form par excellence and that if the class is united, there it is united as variable capital. It was this councilist approach that led them to work out rather mathematical accounting schemes33 for how the transition to communism could work and elaborate schemes for how the councils could link up.

The problem with this self-management approach was of course that it seemed to imply that as long as the enterprises were managed by the workers themselves, it did not matter that capitalist social relations continued to exist. It is in this sense that the German Left never managed to make a full break from Second International Marxism's identification with the development of the productive forces and with the working class as working class.

It was in this respect that the importance of the Italian Left came out. In emphasising the 'primacy of the political', they could take a more social and holistic standpoint. Communism was not just about replacing the party with the councils, and state-control with workers control.34 Communism, they argued, was not merely about workers managing their own exploitation, but about the abolition of wage labour, the enterprise form and all capitalist categories. The fundamental question was not so much that of 'who manages?' but about 'what is managed?'

But whilst the German Left's focus on the economic had led them into the self-management trap, one thing it did allow them to do was to emphasise the subjectivity of the working class as an agent of change. This notion of subjectivity was, if not entirely absent in the theory of the Italian Left, then reserved only for the party.

The absurdities involved in rejecting any notion of working class subjectivity became especially clear in the Italian Left's assessment of Russia. There, they argued, communism could be represented in the correct political line of a ruling party managing a system of capitalist social relations - a ridiculously unmaterialist position - arguing that what mattered was not the social relations in a country, but the subjective intentions of those in power (a perfect justification for repression based on the notion that 'it was for their own good they were massacred'). And it was in this respect that the Italian Left had not completely broken from the politicism/partyism of the Second International.

Indeed, it was the blind spots in each theory that led to their mutual incomprehension: whilst the Italian Left saw the Germans as nothing more than a Marxoid form of anarcho-syndicalism, the Germans in turn merely saw the Italians as a bunch of Leninists. But if the dogmatic sides of their respective theories merely served to push them further apart, it was ultimately the one-sidedness of their respective approaches that resulted in them not breaking entirely away from the dogmatism of the Second International. Whilst the Italian Left had arrived at a more adequate notion of the content of communism, it was the German Left that was to provide the form through which emancipation could be reached.

In different ways, both the German and Italian left communist currents managed to maintain a correct political perspective. While the German Left emphasised workers' self-emancipation, the Italian Left provide a better angle on what communism would consist in. Yet, in terms of a 'scientific' account of the kind of society developing in the USSR, both fell down.35

On the one hand, the German Left slipped into a conception of 'state capitalism' that was not grounded in value. Without this essential category they tended, like Tony Cliff and the Trotskyists, to see the USSR as a 'higher', crisis-free type of economy. Bordiga's theory, on the other hand, did not fall into the trap of seeing the USSR as a more advanced form of capitalism. Instead he recognised that Russia was in transition towards capitalism. As we shall see, this is an important insight into understanding the nature of the USSR.

But Bordiga did not really concern himself with value categories. He largely assumed that the obvious signs of capital accumulation must be based on commodities, money and wage-labour, all playing the same role as in the West. It is thus Mattick who exposed the issue more conscientiously. And if we are really to grasp the capitalist nature of the USSR, both before and since the fall of 'communism', we must, on the value question, provide a different answer than his. This will be explored in our final Part of this article in the next issue.

  • 1 The German and Dutch Communist Lefts were theoretically and practically intertwined. Two of the most prominent theorists of the German Communist Workers Party - Pannekoek and Gorter - were Dutch. Exiled German Left activists often took refuge in Holland. In what follows we will generally use the term' German Left to indicate the whole political current.
  • 2 'Trotsky's theory of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state',and 'The theory of state capitalism from within Trotskyism' in Aufheben 6,1997,and 'Russia as a non mode of Production' in Aufheben 7,1998.
  • 3Surprisingly perhaps the most interesting and dynamic appropriation of the Communist Left has not been made in Germany or Italy but in France. After '68 in particular a modem 'ultra left' tradition has emerged there in a way unlike other countries. Within this a different less 'partyist' appropriation of the Communist left has been made. The recently republished Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement (Dauve & Martin, Antagonism Press) is an example of this.
  • 4A main way the Communist left is known in Britain is through the publications and activities of groups emerging in the early seventies, which claimed to defend the positions of the Communist Left. These groups on the surface appear to the uninitiated as Party oriented groups not so different from some of the smaller Trotskyist sects. In most other countries where it has a presence the Communist left has a similar type of existence
  • 5 The history and positions of Communist lefts that developed in some countries have been effectively destroyed, e.g. those of the Bulgarian left. The British communist left was represented by Sylvia Pankhursts group around the Workers Dreadnought (previously the Woman's Dreadnought) and the Spur group in Glasgow of whom Guy Aldred was the leading spokesman. They largely following the German left on the Russian question so we will not treat them here.There is a good account of them in Mark Shipway's Anti- Parliamentary Communism: The Movement for Workers Councils in Britain, 1917-45 (Macmillan, 1988)
  • 6 In Leninist mythology the clear sighted Lenin split with the Russian Social Democratic Party on the question of organisation and by so doing created a line of revolutionary Marxism that foresaw and would be immune to the betrayal of revolution that both the Mensheviks and European social democrats would fall prey to. However, as both Debord and Dauve, has pointed out, Lenin was always a loyal Kautskyist - even when he accused his master of betrayal.
  • 7 Lenin's clear line on this led to an alliance of the Bolsheviks with European left communist - the Zimmerwald left - this broke down because of Lenin's refusal to work with those who rejected the right
  • 8Bukharin is better known for the right wing positions he took in the twenties. Up to '21 he was however a leading figure of the left of the party, in many ways closer to European Left communists than to Lenin's very Russian perspectives.
  • 9 Lenin particularly scorned the position that Pyatakov painted of revolution: "We picture this process [the social revolution] as the united action of the proletarians of all [!] countries, who wipe out the frontiers of the bourgeois [!] state, who tear down the frontier posts [in addition to 'wiping out the frontiers'?], who blow up [!] national unity and establish class unity." {Lenin's 'comments' } To which Lenin replies 'The social revolution cannot be the united action of the proletarians of all countries for the simple reason that most of the countries and the majorities of the world's population have not even reached, or have only just reached, the capitalist stage of development... Only the advanced countries of Western Europe and North America have matured for socialism. The social revolution can come only in the form of an epoch in which are combined civil war by the proletariat in the advanced countries and a whole series of democratic and revolutionary movements... in the undeveloped, backward and oppressed nations. "Lenin 'The nascent trend of Imperialist Economism October 1916 p 50-52
  • 10The Left Communists reason for changing their position from one of proposing revolutionary war to that of defensive revolutionary partisan war, in fact resides in the openness for Lenin's arguments, when he pointed out that it would be a rather unrealistic to go for revolutionary in the face of massive war weariness and peasant desertion of the front this was a quite unrealistic position.
  • 11Speech 28/7/18: CW vol.28, p29.
  • 1260 million people, half the industrial firms, three quarters of the steel mills and nearly all the coal mines were in this area.
  • 13Theses on the Current Situation (1918), Critique, Glasgow,1977. Also in Daniels Documentary History of Communism. References are to these numbers.
  • 14'On the Building of Socialism' Kommunist no2,April 1918,in Daniels p 85.
  • 15Trotsky's support for militarisation of labour is a classic example. See Terrorism and Communism.
  • 16"The Tax in Kind (NEP)' CW 32 pp.329-369 here he analyses relation of petty producer capitalism to state capitalism in 1921. This text will be key to Bordiga's understanding of the USSR
  • 17In fact at some of the worst times in the civil war the Bolsheviks gave other socialists and anarchists more freedom. The changing relation to Makhno's partisans being a case in point. See Ciliga in his The Russian Enigma p251
  • 18Appeal of the workers truth Group in Daniels Documentary History of Communism p 221
  • 19Luxemburg referring to the German SDP says 'the troops of the old order, instead of intervening in the name of the ruling classes, intervene under the banner of a 'social-democratic party."' The workers group were making the obvious and necessary extension of this critique of the SDP to the more radical Social Democracy that the Bolsheviks were turning out to represent.
  • 20As they so eloquently put it: 'why does Zinoviev offer Scheidman and Noske [social democrats responsible for defeating the German revolution] a ministerial seat instead of a gibbet.'
  • 21Between 1890 and 1899, 450,000 were involved in strikes and lockouts; between 1900-04,475,000. In 1905 alone, 500,000.
  • 22In 8/10/21
  • 23In Workers Dreadnought Feb 24
  • 24From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution,p 7
  • 25This text was written by the GIK in 1934 and published in English by the APCF as the The Bourgeois Role of Bolshevism.References are to these numbers.
  • 26Fundamental principles of Communist Production and Distribution
  • 27Pannekoek's Workers Councils
  • 28See Anti-Bolshevik Communism and Marxism: Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie
  • 29When a fusion was eventually forced through the PSI demoralized by fascism only comprised 2000 members confirming the Italian left argument that it was an exhausted tradition
  • 30Bordiga,either imprisoned or under surveillance by the fascist police,withdrew from politics at this time. The Banner of the Italian Left was upheld by the fraction in exile in Belgium and France
  • 31Quoted in Camatte's Community and Communism in Russia,p 9-10
  • 32See Fundamentals of Communist Production and Distribution (Apple & Mejer, 1990, Movement for Workers' Councils).
  • 33See Dauve 'Leninism and the Ultra Left' (Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement. Op. Cit.)
  • 34One is not saying that communism can exist in one country or area before world revolution has generalised but that we can only say that revolution has triumphed there if a process of suppression of capitalist relations has begun.
  • 35Camatte has attempted to synthesise the positive sides of both theories. By engaging in a detailed study of what Marx meant by the party', he argued that this should not be identified with the traditional formal party associated with Leninism and social democracy. The 'party' was in no way something external to the working class introducing it to a communist consciousness and organisation it was incapable of generating by itself. Rather, the 'party' should be understood as an expression of the class, its production of a communist consciousness of those people who identified with and tried to act for communism. Rather than in the Leninist vision where spontaneity and organisation/consciousness are rigidly opposed Camatte returned to Marx's understanding that the party is something spontaneously generated out of the class. It was by relativising this Leninist notion of the party-form that Camatte could return to the notions of working class subjectivity of the German Left, whilst as the same time adopting the more holistic standpoint of the Italian Left. That is, he managed to overcome the dichotomy between the economic and the political, which had not only led to their mutual incomprehension, but more importantly in this context, to very different perception of the nature of Russia. It is by taking away the foundations on which the German and Italian Left based their theories of Russia, that Camatte's discussion of the party-form did have an indirect relevance for left communist theories of the Russian Revolution. (Camatte 1961 The Origin and Function of the Party Form).



14 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spassmaschine on April 15, 2010

Anyone know what the page references in the section "Bordiga's theory" refer to?