After Hitler's rise to power, the militants of all tendencies were hunted down and imprisoned in concentration camps where large numbers disappeared. In 1945, some survivors were executed, on the orders of the GPU (Russian Military Intelligence) when the Red Army entered Saxony. As late as 1952, in West Berlin, one of the old leaders of the AAUD, Alfred Weiland, was kidnapped in the open street and taken to the East, where he suffered a heavy term of imprisonment.
No trace remained of this movement of workers councils. The men were liquidated and so were their ideas. Commercial expansion and prosperity directed feelings elsewhere. How has this movement enriched our knowledge of the struggle for workers power ?
The Economic Foundations of Worker Power
To understand the fundamental economy of communism, the AAUD had to be freed from the old traditions of the 'organised class', and to understand that the working class could only achieve its real unity in the mass all embracing struggle without the need for a specialised organisation which at best could only represent a fragmentary part of what the total proletarian aspiration consists of. In 1930 it published a study (drawn up by the Dutch Council Communist Group) on Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution.
This analysis did not propose a 'plan' of any kind, to show how it would be possible to build a 'finer', more 'equitable' society. It concerned itself only with the problems of organisation of the communist economy as an organic whole, the practice of class struggle and social administration. The 'principles' give a theoretical idea of the economic consequences of the struggle by the independent mass movement at a political level.
When the workers councils have taken power, they will have learned to 'manage their own struggle' directly, and they will be obliged to give a new basis to their power by introducing new economic laws by which the measure of labour time will be the pivot of all production and distribution of all social products. The workers are able to run production themselves, but only through calculating labour time in different branches of production, and dividing produce by this means.
The 'Principles' examine this problem from the viewpoint of the exploited worker who not only aims at the abolition of private property, but also of exploitation in general. The history of our times has shown that the suppression of private property does not necessarily mean the end of exploitation.
The Anarchist movement understood this fact much sooner than the Marxists, and its theoreticians have given it careful attention. In the last analysis, they came to the same conclusion. But whereas the Marxists (Social Democrats or Bolsheviks) wanted to put capitalism, which had reached the monopoly stage, under the so called workers state, without changing anything fundamental in its mechanism, the Anarchists advocated a federation of free communes and rejected every form of state.
One of the best known Anarchist theoreticians, Sebastian Faure (My Communism, Faure, Paris 1921) stated that the members of a commune would have to take a census of their needs and their productive possibilities; then with 'the whole of needs of consumers and possibilities of producers at the regional level at their disposal. . . . the National Committee could set and make known to each Regional Committee what quantities of products its region can dispose of and what productive total it must provide. Equipped with this knowledge, each Regional Committee can do the same work for its region : set and make known to each communal committee what its commune has to dispose of and what it can provide. The last named does the same with the members of the commune.'
Sebastian Faure had earlier advocated the 'all this organisation has as the basic and vital principle of Free Agreement as its cornerstone.' However, an economic system requires economic principles and not noble proclamations.. One can say with the same with respect to the following quotation from Hilferding, the famous Social Democrat theoretician, for here also economic principle is lacking;
'the communal, regional and national commissioners of the socialist society decide how and where, in what quantity and by what means, new products will be obtained from natural or artificial conditions of production. With the help of statistics of production and consumption covering the whole of society's needs, they change the whole of economic life according to the needs expressed by these statistics.'
Hilferding - Das Finanzkapital.
The difference between these two fundamental points of view is not very noticeable. (Indeed Lenin expresses much the same views in State and Revolution, only in more simple and forceful terms.) However, the Anarchists had the historic merit of advancing the essential slogan - 'Abolition of the Wages System !' In this perspective however, the 'National Committee', the 'office of statistics' etc. that which the Marxists had hitherto referred to as the 'People's Government' is supposed to practice 'natural economics' ie. an economy without money circulating. Housing, food, electric current, transport - all this is 'free'. A certain portion of goods and services remain payable in money (generally indexed upon the relationship between population and consumption).
But despite appearances, this manner of suppressing the wages system does not signify either the abolition of exploitation nor social freedom. In fact, the larger becomes the 'natural' sector of the economy, the more the workers depend on the fixing of their 'incomes' by the apparatus of distribution.
We have an instance of a 'moneyless' economy, where exchange was carried out in great part 'naturally' - in so far as housing, lighting etc. were concerned, all was 'free' - and that was in the period of 'war communism' in Russia. This showed quite clearly that not only was the system not permanently viable, but moreover that it could co-exist with a regime based on class domination.
Reality has taught us :-
First, that it is possible to abolish private property in the means of production without abolishing exploitation;
Secondly, that it is possible to abolish the wages system without abolishing exploitation.
If this is so, the problem of the proletarian revolution is posed in the following terms :-
What are the economic conditions that allow the abolition of exploitation ?
What are the economic conditions that allow the proletariat to maintain power once the latter is won, and to lay the axe to the economic roots of the counter revolution ?
While the 'Principles' study the economic foundations of communism, the point of departure is more political than economic. For the workers it is not easy to seize political power, but it is still more difficult to maintain it. The present day conceptions of socialism and communism tend to concentrate (in fact if not in theory) all powers of administration either in the State or in certain social offices. But, according to the 'Principles', the communist economy is the extension of the revolution and not some desirable state of affairs that may be realised in a hundred or a thousand years. It seeks to define at the level of principles the measures to be taken, not by some party or organisation but by THE WORKING CLASS ITSELF AND ITS IMMEDIATE ORGANS OF STRUGGLE : THE WORKERS COUNCILS. The realisation of communism is not the business of a party, but that of the whole working class, acting and deliberating through its councils.
Production and Social Wealth
One of the great problems of the revolution is how to set up new relations between the producer and social wealth - relations which (within capitalist society) are expressed in the wages system. The wages system is based on an antagonism between the value of labour power (wages) and labour itself (its product). If for example the worker provides 50 hours work for society, the wages are only equivalent to 10 hours. In order to gain emancipation the worker must ensure that it is not the value of labour power which decides the pay that is received as a share of social production, but that this share is fixed by that labour itself. Labour equals measure of consumption : that is the principle that must be established.
The difference between the sum of labour provided and what the worker collects in exchange is called surplus labour and represents unpaid labour. The social wealth produced during this labour time is the surplus product and the value embedded in this surplus product is called surplus value. Every society, whatever it is, and therefore also communist society, rests on the formation of a surplus product, because out of the workers as a whole producing necessary or useful labour, some do not produce tangible goods. Their conditions of life are produced by other workers (the same is true for the health services, the care of the sick and old, the administrative services, education etc.) But it is the manner in which this surplus product is formed, and that in which it is distributed, that constitutes capitalist exploitation.
The worker receives a wage which may suffice a life after and up to a certain fashion. It is known say, that 50 hours work has been done in a time period (a month for example) but it is not known how many hours accrue as wages. The worker is unconscious of the amount of surplus labour. It is known how the possessing class consumes this product : apart from the social services, which receive a part of it, it goes back to capitalise expansion, it enables the life of the exploiters, it pays for the (not inconsiderable) cost of the Government including the police and the army.
There are two particular characteristics of this surplus product: first, the fact that the working class has not, or has almost never, the decision on the product of this unpaid work. We receive a wage full stop. We can do nothing about the production and distribution of social wealth. The class that hold the means of production, the possessing class, is master of the labour process, including surplus labour; it puts us out of work when it deems it necessary to its interests, it bludgeons us with its police or makes us cannon fodder in its wars. The authority of the bourgeoisie rests in the fact that it possesses labour, surplus labour, the surplus product. It is this that makes the working class an impotent class in society; an oppressed class.
It was often said of course, that there was no more exploitation of the workers in Russia, because private capital had been abolished and the whole of the surplus product was possessed and controlled by the state, which distributed it within society through new social laws and new factories etc.
Let us accept this argument for a moment; leaving aside, therefore, the fact that the dominant class, the bureaucracy, has enriched itself by exorbitant salaries, and maintained (and still maintains) itself in power by assuring higher education to its children and by laws of succession that guarantee wealth accumulated 'for the family'. Let even suppose that it is not the case that this bureaucracy exploits the population. It is still a fact that the bureaucracy in Russia remains master of the labour process, including surplus labour. It dictates, through the State unions, the conditions of work, just as much as is done in the West.
If the bureaucracy did not exploit the population, it would only be by its 'goodwill': by its refusal to exploit; by its generosity in not taking advantage of its position. A society on such lines would no longer be subject to social and economic necessity, but depend on the 'good' or 'bad' sentiments of its rulers. The conditions of the workers in so far as their relationship to social wealth was concerned, would be the same, that is it would be arbitrarily fixed; and they could not do anything about it, except perhaps to hope that 'bad' rulers might become more tolerant and become 'good' rulers.
In short the abolition of the wages system is not the ONLY and necessary condition of the workers receiving the share of the social product which accrues to them and which their labour has created. This share can increase; but a true abolition of wage exploitation of any nature is something entirely different. Without this true abolition of wage exploitation, a revolution must degenerate. And the revolution 'betrayed' will lead to a totalitarian capitalist state.
One further conclusion is drawn in the 'Principles'. A revolutionary group of workers that wishes radically to end capitalist exploitation must seek the means to establish economically the power won politically. The time is past when all that mattered was to demand the end of private property in the means of production. It is also not enough to call for the abolition of the wages system. This demand in itself is of no consequence whatever, if nobody knows how to run a society without wages. A group that could not clarify this question has nothing to say about building the new society.
The Measurement of Labour
The 'Principles of Communist Production and Distribution' starts from the following idea : All goods produced by labour are of equal qualitative value, for they all represent a portion of human labour. Only the quantity of different labour which they represent makes them different. The measure of time which each worker individually devotes to labour is the hour of labour. Likewise the measure destined to measure the quantity or time that such and such an object represents must be the hour of average social labour.
It is this measure which establishes the sum of wealth that society has, likewise the relationship between the various enterprises, and fianlly, the share of this wealth per worker. On this basis the 'Principles' develops an analysis and a criticism of the different theories - and also practices - of the different currents which refer to Marxism, Anarchism or Socialism in general. They contain a more precise exposition of the concise principles of Marx and Engels as laid down in 'Capital', 'The Critique of the Gotha Programme' and 'Anti - Duhring'.
Of course the 'Principles' does not only study the unit of calculation under communism: it also analyses the application of this to the production and distribution of the social product, and in the 'public services', examining the new rules of social book keeping, the increase ofproduction and its control by the workers; the disappearance of the Stock Exchange and the application of communism in agricultural co-operatives which themselves calculate their harvests in labour time.
Thus the 'Principles' show that on the taking of power by the proletariat, the means of production lies in the hands of its functional organisations. It is on the communistic consciousness of workers themselves, born out of their own struggle, that the ultimate fate of these means of production will depend; whether the working class keeps them in their own hands or not.
Above all, the proletarian revgolution will fix unalterable relationships between production and producer, which can only be done by introducing the calculation of labour-time into production and distribution. This is the highest demand the proletariat can formulate . . . . . and at the same time it is the minimum upon which it can insist. The proletariat can keep hold of these enterprises only if it makes sure to keep the autonomous direction and administration of them at factory level. It must apply everywhere the calculation of labour time.
Such is the final message left to the world by the German revolutionary proletarian movement of the first half of the twentieth century.
The original pamphlet we produced had 2 Appendices
1 A short history of the international influence of the ideas of the German Left followed by
2 The 'Manifesto of the German Anti - Parliamentarians to the Proletariat of the World'
These follow as Appendix 1 and Appendix 2