council communism-library

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Devrim
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Sep 29 2007 18:48
council communism-library

Could you please change the entry on council communism from 'libertarian communism' as none of the council communists would have referred to themselves as such, and correct these inaccuracies:

Quote:
Following from this, council communists argue that society and the economy should be managed by federations of workers’ councils, made up of delegates elected at workplaces and can be recalled at any moment by those who elected them.

The council communists argued for centralism not federalism

Quote:
It’s sometimes been thought that council communists have maintained an ‘outside and against’ position on bureaucratic reformist trade unions, seeing them as a break on workers’ militancy and believing that the leadership, who’s role is seen as little more than ‘cops with flat caps’, will always eventually sell out the membership. It is true that, historically at least, council communists have been anti-trade union. However, this has largely been due to the context in which council communists were writing. For instance, German council communists of the 1920s were fully aware of the German trade unions’ role in betraying the attempted workers’ revolution in 1918. However, in modern times, though keeping a very critical view of trade unions and their undemocratic nature, council communists generally believe that having a union is better for workers than not having one.

.

Really, give one example of a council communist group arguing this.

Devrim

nastyned
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Sep 30 2007 07:55

Though historically council communists would not have described themselves as libertarian communists it is common nowadays to use libertarian communism as a term that lumps together anarchist communism and council communism. I guess meanings change over time. To me a stranger example is the poster on libcom who says they've not a Bolshevik or even a Marxist but still describes themselves as a left communist! wink

ernie
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Sep 30 2007 10:55

Nastyned the point is that the council communists did not see themselves as anarchists and certainly would not have wanted to be brought under some common heading. Council Communism always maintained its defense of Marxism. I would have thought that Anarchist would have not liked to have been grouped together with a bunch of die hard Marxists? You cannot have your cake and eat it!

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Sep 30 2007 11:51

Yeah, that was written by me when I had first started reading bits of council communism (but obviously not enough to really write something!). Been meaning to go back and rewrite it for a while but not really had time. Dev, do you reckon you could suggest some re-edits and then I'll just cut, copy and paste in? Coz to be honest, there's other stuff I want to be doing on libcom right now but it does irk me a little bit to see that page..

Also, you're talking about the German/Dutch tradition of council communism right?

nastyned
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Sep 30 2007 12:17
ernie wrote:
Nastyned the point is that the council communists did not see themselves as anarchists and certainly would not have wanted to be brought under some common heading.

Acutally I don't think some of them would have minded. And like it or not the term 'libertarian communism' is used by many people today to group together anarchist communism and council communism, whatever its historical origins.

lem
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Sep 30 2007 12:28

what exactly do these "anarchists" wink draw from cc then out of interest?

smile

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Sep 30 2007 18:17
Devrim wrote:
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council communists generally believe that having a union is better for workers than not having one.

.

Really, give one example of a council communist group arguing this.

Devrim

Paul Mattick, Sr and his circle were active in their labor unions until the mid-60s. Mattick would write articles for the Machinist's local union paper.

Leo
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Sep 30 2007 19:01

Can you give more details and a source?

I can hardly believe that Mattick was neither in nor encouraged others to join the AFL-CIO. It is well known that he was in the IWW and he even tried to link the IWW with the KAPD. Of course it didn't work. So if Mattick is to be counted an example, he can very well be the only example. Also, I would find it very hard to believe that he believed any union, again such as the AFL-CIO, to be better than no union.

Regardless, I don't know when he split from the IWW. I remember hearing about him starting to work with some ex-IWW people in the thirties, which leads me to believe that he split sometime in the thirties. I can't imagine Mattick joining the AFL-CIO after leaving the IWW. Still, it would be very hard to classify the IWW as a truly functioning union at all after twenties.

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Sep 30 2007 20:30

Agree completely with Devrim and Leo. Council communism was brave enough to argue that the working class no longer needs trade unions, and that they are not 'better than nothing', but worse than nothing.

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Sep 30 2007 21:09

Well, Mattick, Sr. was on a very close socially and politically to the Worlld Socialist Party (US), the US companion party of the SPGB. If you go through the marxism.org archive of Mattick's writings, you'll see many articles published in the "Western Socialist" our publication at the time. Mattick, Jr. lived with WSPUS comrades during his High School years as the schools were better in Boston than in Nashua, New Hampshire where the Matticks lived.

I was curious about the connection being a long time Mattick fan. I looked up his correspondence files in the Boston WSPUS archive. I found letters there where Mattick discussed going to IAM (Machinists) union meetings, being threated with violence if he continued to be overtly against WW2 at union meetings, etc. There are articles re-published in the "Western Socialist" originally published in the New Hampshire IAM publication, so my conclusion is that they almost certainly came from Mattick, Sr.

One of my comrades in the WSPUS was Mattick, Jr's big 'sister' during HS and remembers Mattick, Sr. quite well. Much of this was informed by what she's uncovering in WSPUS archives while writing a biography on her grandfather, one of the main animators of the WSPUS.

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Sep 30 2007 22:17

Interesting information but what does it show? Mattick went to union meetings? What's the problem with that?

nastyned
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Oct 1 2007 08:00

confused But you ban your members from joining unions.

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Alf
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Oct 1 2007 08:14

It's not a 'ban' because there are job-situations where individuals are not given a choice. It's a general policy aimed at making our position clear. But we are certainly not opposed to going to union meetings to speak, and have done so on many occasions, whether or not we belonged to that particular union. In any case, this isn't a thread about the ICC and the unions, it's about the council communist position, which has definitely been watered down in the passage that Devrim quoted.

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Oct 1 2007 08:23
nastyned wrote:
confused But you ban your members from joining unions.

But they don't. Where did you hear that?

fnbrill, your posts give examples of one man going to union meetings. I don't think that that is an example of a council communist group advocating unionism.

However, you may be right on the politics of the group around Mattick, and while it may make my bluster about name one group look foolish, I don't think that it justifies this statement:

Libcom wrote:
council communists generally believe that having a union is better for workers than not having one.
Ed wrote:
Also, you're talking about the German/Dutch tradition of council communism right?

Is there another one?

nastyned wrote:
Acutally I don't think some of them would have minded.

I don't know what you are basing this on. A look at council communists writings on anarchism would suggest otherwise.

nastyned wrote:
And like it or not the term 'libertarian communism' is used by many people today to group together anarchist communism and council communism, whatever its historical origins.

I don't. I think that is used by anarchism to lay claim to the political heritage of council communism. This would actually annoy me less if they didn't claim this heritage whilst abandoning nearly all its politics. Of course there is nothing wrong to anarchists drawing things from the council communists. It is part of the historical struggle of the class, but to try to relabel them as something they weren't is going a bit far. Revol would call it 'grave robbing'.

Ed wrote:
Dev, do you reckon you could suggest some re-edits and then I'll just cut, copy and paste in? Coz to be honest, there's other stuff I want to be doing on libcom right now but it does irk me a little bit to see that page..

I will have a look when this thread winds down, and people have had their say.

Devrim

nastyned
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Oct 1 2007 10:36

I have argued in the past that 'liberatarian communism' is a synomym for 'anarchist communism' so those that say they aren't anarchists they're libertarian communists are talking rubbish but the fact is:

nastyned wrote:
... like it or not the term 'libertarian communism' is used by many people today to group together anarchist communism and council communism, whatever its historical origins.

The meaning of words can change over time and at the moment 'libertarian communism' is generally used as a pretty broad term.

As to council communists' take on anarchism some were very hostile but not all, Otto Rühle for example talked of 'the workers movement of Marx and Bakunin' suggesting he would be happy with the modern broader use of libertarian communism.

Leo
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Oct 1 2007 11:14

Can you give some sources?

Marx and Engels were in the same "workers' movement" (for a while) so Ruhle could have defined it that way but I would like to see the rest of it. I would hardly believe that he, being a marxist and being someone who studied and wrote about Marx's life would have called for - or even thought of - uniting Marx's and Bakunin's thoughts in any way under the term "libertarian communism".

nastyned
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Oct 1 2007 11:21

Can't remember which pamphlet - the revolution is not a party affair maybe? II suggest you get googling if you really must see it. Rühle was also very critical of Marx's behaviour towards Bakunin in the first international.

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Oct 1 2007 11:47
nastyned wrote:
The meaning of words can change over time and at the moment 'libertarian communism' is generally used as a pretty broad term.

Yes, but including the council communists in it is quite dishonest in my opinion.

Devrim

nastyned
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Oct 1 2007 11:56

It's how most people us it nowadays. I don't think they're being dishonest when they do this.

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Oct 1 2007 11:58

Ruhle's account of the Marx-Bakunin conflict can be found here. It is incredibly hostile to Marx, basically reducing the whole episode to Marx's personal failings. While undoubtedly a factor, the basic political principles involved were far more important.

This paragraph in particular is quite revealing though:

"Marx was justified in promoting the adoption of a policy which, he was convinced, could alone lead to the liberation of the proletariat. He was right, too, in insisting that the International must free itself from Bakunin, seeing that Bakunin was a declared opponent of this policy, and was doing all he could to counteract it. But that Marx, in order to secure this concrete triumph, should have stooped to personal calumny, is a condemnation, not of Bakunin, but of Marx himself. We have here a deplorable demonstration of the disastrous trait in his character which made him regard all the problems of politics, the labour movement, and the revolution, from the outlook of their bearing on his personal credit. A council of international revolutionaries, whose main business in life is to blow to smithereens the world of private property and bourgeois morality, is induced by its leader to pass a vote of reprobation and a sentence of expulsion upon one of the most brilliant, heroic, and fascinating of revolutionists the world has ever known on the grounds that this revolutionist has misappropriated bourgeois property. Is it possible to point to anything more painfully absurd in the whole story of the human race?"

Here Ruhle appears to concede that the opposition to Bakunin was justified but that the methods to secure his expulsion were not. This may be fair enough but Ruhle betrays his own anti-organisational tendencies when he seems to claim that - leaving aside the validity or not of Marx's accusations - theft between revolutionaries is a non-issue. This is simple absurd.

Nonetheless, he goes to try and explain the conflict in the context of the period, one of bourgeois intellectualism and that Marx can be seen as summing up both the strengths and weaknesses of the workers movement in that epoch.

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Oct 1 2007 14:03
nastyned wrote:
It's how most people us it nowadays. I don't think they're being dishonest when they do this.

I am not saying that individual's are being dishonest when they use this word. I am saying the word itself is a dishonest description of things.

If people do use it like that, I will argue that they shouldn't because it is inaccurate.

Devrim

nastyned
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Oct 1 2007 15:08

You're fighting a losing battle.

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Oct 1 2007 16:13
ernie wrote:
Nastyned the point is that the council communists did not see themselves as anarchists and certainly would not have wanted to be brought under some common heading. Council Communism always maintained its defense of Marxism. I would have thought that Anarchist would have not liked to have been grouped together with a bunch of die hard Marxists? You cannot have your cake and eat it!

Well, personally I would rather be grouped together with council communists, die hard Marxists or not, than with most of what is passing for anarchism these days. I'm really not that concerned whether people call themselves anarchists, Marxists, "libertarian communists", or whatever. What matters is what they actually stand for, not what label they prefer to use.

Also, as others have pointed out: While many council communists were hostile to anarchists and syndicalists, others, like Otto Rühle and the AAU-E, were quite friendly. And some of the hostility towards syndicalism seems a bit misplaced considering that the same people often looked favorably at the IWW.

Otto Rühle on trade unions in 1924 (my emphasis):

Quote:
In the building up of capitalism after the war, in the re-enslavement of the masses through capital organised in trusts and connected internationally, in the Stinnes-isation of the German economy, in the struggles over Upper Silesia and the Ruhr, in the retrenchment of the 8-hour day, the demobilisation orders, the forced economy, in the elimination of the workers' councils, the factory committees, control commissions, etc., during the terror against syndicalists, unionists* , anarchists -- always and everywhere they stood ready to help at the side of capital, as a praetorian guard ready for the lowest and most shameful deed. Always against the interests of the proletariat, against the progress of the revolution, the liberation and autonomy of the working class, they used and use the far greater part of all accretions to funds to secure and materially provide for their existence as boss-men and parasites, which -- as they well know -- stands and falls with the existence of the trade union organisation that they have falsified from a weapon for the workers into a weapon against the workers.

(...) As long as the trade unions still exist, they will remain what they are : the most genuine and efficient of all the White Guards of the bosses, to whom German capital in particular owes a greater debt of gratitude than to all the guards of Noske and Hitler put together.

Such generally harmful, counter-revolutionary institutions, inimical to the workers, can only be destroyed, annihilated, exterminated.

* Unionists here refers to the Workers' Unions (Arbeiterunion) (AAUD and AAUD-E).

from http://www.geocities.com/~johngray/borpro07.htm

lem
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Oct 1 2007 16:32

Unionists here refers to the Workers' Unions (Arbeiterunion) (AAUD and AAUD-E)

even i knew that: were they traditional unions? smile

Leo
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Oct 1 2007 16:43
Quote:
II suggest you get googling if you really must see it.

I already had actually - nothing came up.

Quote:
the revolution is not a party affair maybe?

Hardly - that's too early for such an attitude.

Quote:
Well, personally I would rather be grouped together with council communists, die hard Marxists or not, than with most of what is passing for anarchism these days.

That's, of course, very good. It doesn't make council communism "libertarian" however just as it doesn't make anarchism, and yes even the good anarchism, centralist.

Quote:
Also, as others have pointed out: While many council communists were hostile to anarchists and syndicalists, others, like Otto Rühle and the AAU-E, were quite friendly. And some of the hostility towards syndicalism seems a bit misplaced considering that the same people often looked favorably at the IWW.
Quote:
during the terror against syndicalists, unionists* , anarchists

Well, I don't think any revolutionary would actually celebrate any state repression of against anarcho-syndicalists. That doesn't make him "quite-friendly" to trade-unionism.

This said, I would actually believe that Rühle was sympathetic to the IWW. He was a bit of a disgrace to the council communists already with his behavior at the Communist International Congress tongue grin

So okay, Rühle and Mattick are two dubious examples. The rest of the council communists, who numbered around, well, more than a hundred thousand, are a more reliable source for defining council communism in my honest opinion.

nastyned
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Oct 1 2007 17:16
Leo Uilleann wrote:
Quote:
II suggest you get googling if you really must see it.

I already had actually - nothing came up.

Quote:
the revolution is not a party affair maybe?

Hardly - that's too early for such an attitude.
So okay, Rühle and Mattick are two dubious examples. The rest of the council communists, who numbered around, well, more than a hundred thousand, are a more reliable source for defining council communism in my honest opinion.

I've just googled this from 'From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution' so maybe there's more in that:

Otto Rühle wrote:
In conclusion, Marx, Bakunin, Rosa Luxemburg and others were intellectuals, whose scientific labours have rendered the most valuable services to the liberation struggle of the proletariat.

You're wrong to call Otto Rühle or Paul Mattick 'dubious examples' of council communism. Like it or not they were leading lights of council communism.

Leo
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Oct 1 2007 17:42

No, of course I am not calling them dubious examples of council communism, you have misunderstood (or I have phrased it badly). I am calling their positions on trade-unions and anarchism dubious, meaning not very clearly proving the point that even according to them, workers were better with any union than no union and that anarchism and council communism should be considered "libertarian communism" together.

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Oct 1 2007 17:45
Demagorg wrote:
Ruhle betrays his own anti-organisational tendencies when he seems to claim that - leaving aside the validity or not of Marx's accusations - theft between revolutionaries is a non-issue. This is simple absurd.

A different conception from the ICC's of how the working class organises itself is not necessarily 'anti-organisational'. wink And Ruhle is referring to theft of 'bourgeois property' (in this case, iirc, Bakunin's non-repayment of an advance to a bourgeois publisher) rather than 'theft between revolutionaries'.

On the general topic; where does Guy Aldred fit in these boundaries? Holding communist left positions around WWI alongside Sylvia Pankhurst & co, yet an anarchist-communist valuing equally the contributions of Bakunin & Marx. Karl Korsch was another left communist who, like Mattick, took an active interest in syndicalism;

Quote:
Manifestations of proletarian independence through direct actions for working class objectives, however fleeting and localised at first, Korsch now perceived as so many signs pointing to a revival of proletarian class consciousness within the totalitarian expansion of authoritarian controls over always larger spheres of the social life. Where independent working class actions were still to be found, revolutionary Marxism was not dead. Not ideological adherence to Marxist doctrine but actions by the working class on its own behalf was the decisive point for the rebirth of a revolutionary movement. This type of action was to some extent still the practice in the anarcho-syndicalist movement. Korsch turned to the anarchists without giving up his Marxist conceptions; not to the petty-bourgeois anarchists of laissez faire ideology, but to the anarchist workers and poor peasants of Spain who had not yet succumbed to the international counter-revolution which now counted among its symbols the name of Marx as well.

Anarchism found its place in Marxist doctrine, if only, as is sometimes claimed, to pacify the anarchist elements who shared in the formation of the First International. The anarchist emphasis on freedom and spontaneity, on self-determination, and, therefore, decentralisation, on action rather than ideology, on solidarity more than on economic interest were precisely the qualities that had been lost to the socialist movement in its rise to political influence and power in the expanding capitalist nations. It did not matter to Korsch whether his anarchistically-biased interpretation of revolutionary Marxism was true to Marx or not. What mattered, under the conditions of twentieth-century capitalism, was to recapture these anarchist attitudes in order to have a labour movement at all. There was the closest connection, Korsch pointed out, between Russian totalitarianism and Lenin’s conviction that working class spontaneity had to be feared, not fostered — that it was the function of non-proletarian layers of society — the intelligentsia — to carry revolutionary awareness into the masses, which were unable to become class conscious on their own accord. But Lenin only spelled out, and adapted to Russian conditions, what had since been long, if silently, accepted in the socialist movement, i.e. the rule of the organisation over the organised and the control of the organisation by its leading hierarchy. (Mattick, 'Karl Korsch: His Contribution to Revolutionary Marxism' 1962)
http://www.marxists.org/archive/mattick-paul/1962/korsch.htm

I agree some articles on libcom need rewriting for the sake of accuracy, but as Felix Frost says, it's what people stand for now and how they act that counts, not formalities of strict bloodlines or ideologies.

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Oct 1 2007 17:55
nastyned wrote:
You're wrong to call Otto Rühle or Paul Mattick 'dubious examples' of council communism. Like it or not they were leading lights of council communism.

Fair point, but what evidence have we had of their political support for the unions. Mattick went to union meetings. That is it.

Let's look at that Rühle quote again (my emphasis):

Rühle wrote:
In the building up of capitalism after the war, in the re-enslavement of the masses through capital organised in trusts and connected internationally, in the Stinnes-isation of the German economy, in the struggles over Upper Silesia and the Ruhr, in the retrenchment of the 8-hour day, the demobilisation orders, the forced economy, in the elimination of the workers' councils, the factory committees, control commissions, etc., during the terror against syndicalists, unionists* , anarchists -- always and everywhere they stood ready to help at the side of capital, as a praetorian guard ready for the lowest and most shameful deed. Always against the interests of the proletariat, against the progress of the revolution, the liberation and autonomy of the working class, they used and use the far greater part of all accretions to funds to secure and materially provide for their existence as boss-men and parasites, which -- as they well know -- stands and falls with the existence of the trade union organisation that they have falsified from a weapon for the workers into a weapon against the workers.

(...) As long as the trade unions still exist, they will remain what they are : the most genuine and efficient of all the White Guards of the bosses, to whom German capital in particular owes a greater debt of gratitude than to all the guards of Noske and Hitler put together.

Such generally harmful, counter-revolutionary institutions, inimical to the workers, can only be destroyed, annihilated, exterminated.

Devrim

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Oct 1 2007 19:16
Ret Marut wrote:
I agree some articles on libcom need rewriting for the sake of accuracy, but as Felix Frost says, it's what people stand for now and how they act that counts, not formalities of strict bloodlines or ideologies.

It is not about 'formalities of strict bloodlines or ideologies'. For me it is about where people stand today. It is mostly about people who are complete leftists claiming to be council communists, or council communist influenced, and having no connection with council communist politics whatsoever.

It would be nice to have historical accuracy too though. Historically, I think you can say that the council communists are those whose origins are in the German/Dutch left and the Communist Workers' International.

Ret Marut wrote:
]On the general topic; where does Guy Aldred fit in these boundaries? Holding communist left positions around WWI alongside Sylvia Pankhurst & co, yet an anarchist-communist valuing equally the contributions of Bakunin & Marx. Karl Korsch was another left communist who, like Mattick, took an active interest in syndicalism;

I don't think that he was a council communist by the definition I gave above.

Devrim

Mark.
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Oct 1 2007 20:21
Devrim wrote:
Let's look at that Rühle quote again (my emphasis):
Rühle wrote:

(...) As long as the trade unions still exist, they will remain what they are : the most genuine and efficient of all the White Guards of the bosses, to whom German capital in particular owes a greater debt of gratitude than to all the guards of Noske and Hitler put together.

Such generally harmful, counter-revolutionary institutions, inimical to the workers, can only be destroyed, annihilated, exterminated.

Devrim

Rühle also wrote:
The old parties and trade unions established their structure as follows : a few people who considered themselves as leaders from the beginning, arranged a congress, drew up a programme, composed a founding resolution and gave themselves a name -- then members were recruited. First the officers were there, then the soldiers -- the influencing and conferring of blessings on the people followed from above according to the authoritarian principle.

In the structure of the factory organisation it is exactly the other way round. First of all the masses are there, getting together, organising and deliberating their affairs. If people are needed to carry out the decisions taken, then delegates are chosen to whom the decision is conveyed as a binding mandate. If the delegates meet at a conference with the delegates of other factory organisations (Betriebsorganisationen), the conference does not have to deliberate and conclude, it has only to establish the will of the factory organisations (Betriebsorganisationen) represented. The assertion of this will is the decision. Now, it is the task of the conference to deliberate how it will carry out the decision with greatest expediency. Thus the delegates become executive organs discharging the will of the factory organisations (Betriebsorganisationen). They stand last in line, not first. For the movement goes from below upwards. The main emphasis lies in the masses, not with the leaders.

The combining of the factory organisation in a larger and stronger unity is called a Workers' Union (Arbeiterunion). The leadership of the Workers' Union (Arbeiterunion) is formed by those at the top of the regional organisations. In its organisational structure the Workers' Union (Arbeiterunion) is neither federalist nor centralist, but both and also neither. It lets freedom and independence go on existing in the substructure, as guaranteed by the federalism of the factory organisations (Betriebsorganisationen), but adds in the superstructure the unifying factor of concentration, deriving from centralism. But as federalism is present without its weakness of fragmentation and lack of unity, so the centralism is without the disadvantage of paralysing and smothering individual initiative and mass will. In the Workers' Union (Arbeiterunion), then, federalism and centralism appear in a higher unity, in a synthesis. Therein lies the great superiority of the Workers' Union (Arbeiterunion) over every other organisation. It is more complete than every merely federalist or merely centralist association ; it is both without the disadvantages of one form or the other.

http://www.geocities.com/~johngray/borpro09.htm

I'm not any kind of expert on the council communists but in the passage from Rühle I've quoted above he seems to be advocating a form of unionism based on workers' committees and making a distinction between this and trade unionism. It isn't obvious to me that this is very different from arguments put forward by some syndicalists and anarcho-syndicalists. For instance the Marxist syndicalist J.T.Murphy writing on workers' committees in 1917 or the form of organisation proposed in the aims and principles of the Syndicalist Workers Federation

The SWF wrote:
ORGANISATION To achieve a free, classless society the workers must organise. They must replace the hundreds of craft and general trade unions by syndicalist industrial unions. As an immediate step to that end, the SWF aids the formation of workers' committees in all factories, mines, offices, shipyards, mills and other places of work and their development into syndicates, federated nationally. Such syndicates will be under direct rank-and-file control, with all delegates subject to immediate recall.