Centralism and local autonomy.
During the German revolution Otto Ruhle defended (in 1920-1923) the aaud-e, a system of proletarian ideological militant organizations in the factory. I would say that this is one of the possible forms of a proletarian social-revolutionary "party", but perhaps the word "party" sounds reactionary today, and may be it sounded reactionary in 1920.
Ruhle explains in his works why the centralized party and the trade-union are the reactionary bourgeois systems then he had in mind and held before his eyes the social-democratic and leninist structures. It's because management makes decisions about all the behavior of ordinary members, and they have little or no control over managers.
Ruhle emphasizes that centralized party and the trade-union are part of the bourgeois machine of the factory, which they copy, and so they psychologically prepare the proletariat to submit to the bosses. Centralized parties paralyze proletarian self-organization and initiative and do not allow the proletariat to fight for its own interests. But there is something else here.
The central bureaucracy of the party is a system of exploitation. The leadership manages party funds and uses the results of the work of ordinary members. The party and the trade-union usually have also the instruments of violence to use funds for the benefit of the bureaucracy and expel heretics. In other words, parties and trade unions are the same or similar bourgeois machines of suppression and exploitation as the capitalist factory. This is a deep and correct thought, and it clearly shows why leninism, bordigism (if we are talking about centralized structures, not about some heretical groups and individuals), and trotskyism are the enemies of the social revolution.
As for the councils of workers ' delegates Ruhle saw them as a revolutionary form of class struggle and believed that any revolutionary organization was structurally similar to their association (I don't mind calling it a party, but this creates a threat of verbal confusion). And you know what? At least the Soviets are still the only form of mass revolutionary workers ' organization that we know of.
Yes, of course, so far no communist social revolution has won. But the argument "neither the soviets nor the parties allowed the creation of a communist society" is erroneous as it distorts the real historical situation. The Soviets was often a real step towards creation of communist society . And the parties and trade unions were a step AGAINST the Soviets. It was the parties and trade-unions that destroyed and undermined the activity of the Soviets in Germany 1918-1923, Russia 1917-1921, Italy 1920, Italy 1967-1977, France 1968... Centralized parties and trade unions, controlled by the apparatus of the bureaucracy, can play no role other than reactionary, because they are bourgeois exploitative systems.
Does this mean that Councils always make the right decisions? Of course not. However, as russian left s-r Maria Spiridonova (She, who tried to cooperate with the ultra-left factions of the Comintern) wrote, the Soviets are a giant laboratory where the working class sends its delegates. The working class often makes mistakes, but development is impossible without mistakes. The Soviet system allows to workers assemblies to recall those delegates whose work does not suit the working class, replacing them with others. It is, as Spiridonova wrote, "sensitive, barometric" power.
The councils of working delegates are a giant social laboratory. The experiments that are being conducted there can lead to disaster, but without the Soviets, social revolutions have not been possible until now. Perhaps some exceptional and unique organizations that called themselves "parties" were built on the same principle. Perhaps this applies to a certain extent to the German KAPD as Gilles Dove thought. If so, then Ruhle was not right in criticizing this party. However, it should be noted that in the vast majority of cases, his criticism of centralized bureaucratic party machines was correct. May be KAPD just was different from them?
The issue of centralism and local autonomy should be highlighted separately. Resistance to the machine of capitalism may require a concentrated effort - a strong structure to coordinate local efforts. Nevertheless, a broad local autonomy of the Soviets of workers ' delegates (or revolutionary proletarian groups) is necessary. The reason is: the more functions are concentrated in the hands of the center, the less likely it is that ordinary workers will be able to control the center. Even if the workers regularly elect and re-elect the center, its petty control and dominant power will doom them to total submission in the intervals between elections. This will lead to the paralysis of the most active elements and groups of the working class and will ultimately transfer all power to the hands of the bureaucratic Central apparatus. All activists who are capable of independent activity will be shackled by orders or thrown out, the party will be cleared of heretics, the elections will become an empty formality or a competition of bureaucratic factions. This is exactly what is happening in the social-democratic and leninist parties and in the trade-unions. And we can't ignore this one. Greater local autonomy is necessary. Without it, it is impossible for ordinary workers to control the policy of the center. This is another important element of Ruhle's ideas.
Ruhle's criticism forces us to pay close attention to the nature of bureaucracy (the power of professional specialists).
The social division of labor is precisely what communism abolishes, so anti-bureaucratism is still a correct stance.
Although an absolute pure form of government without bureaucracy is impossible, the bureaucracy (the apparatus of professional managers) can play a relatively weak role, while regular assemblies of workers make the most important decisions and have the opportunity at any time to remove delegates and replace them with others. As author sympathetic to Situationists wrote in the American magazine "Anarchy": "Absolute equality is impossible, but a qualitatively different society is possible in which non-hierarchical relations will prevail."
The right of ownership is nothing more than the right to govern things, money and the labor process. The exploitation means the appropriation of the results of someone else's labor. The bureaucracy of the USSR was an exploitative class precisely because it made decisions about the use of the result of workers ' labor. The role of the bureaucracy, then it rules (and the working class does not have power) is the role of the collective exploiter and owner. If you make decisions about how to use factory machines and the product I produce, while I am not involved in making that decisions, you are an exploiter.
It is impossible to perform the function of exploiters if it is not supported by power repressive mechanisms. In a factory, the boss can call a police officer if the worker protests. In a centralized party where the Bureaucracy control the General finances and decisions making, they simply expel the heretic, and then order other party members, loyalists, to remove him forcibly from the meeting.
Otto Ruhle lived in an era when it seemed the crisis of capitalism was final. We know today this opinion was a mistake and it would be a mistake to repeat it. Perhaps new forms of revolutionary class organization are in demand today, such as ideological groups linked to global production chains, or something else. You can even call it a party if you like... And Yes, we need an ideological organization that pushes workers forward by word and deed but at the same time spreads the belief that not the party, but only the workers ' assemblies and councils of delegates have the right to determine the fate of the planet.
But the absence of a final crisis and revolution does not mean that Ruhle was mistaken when he criticizing the reactionary forms of the centralized bureaucracy - the bourgeois factory, the leninist or social-democratic party, or the trade-union.