The first text in this section, 'APCF Aims', was published in 1935, and thus predates the first issue of the journal Solidarity by three years. 1 Nevertheless it is a good summary of the political outlook of the APCF throughout World War II. The main points in APCF Aims are that the APCF opposes both parliamentarism and trade unionism, and that it does so within the framework of an analysis of the 'permanent crisis of capitalism'. This in itself is enough to place the APCF firmly within the tradition of council communism.
The ideas of council communism were developed by the left wing of the Dutch and German communist movements, before, during and after the First World War. 2 Their most well known exponent was Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960). The impetus for council communism came from the need to explain the betrayal of the working class by its parliamentary and trade union leaders, during the First World War and the post-war revolutionary wave, as well as the defeat of the revolutionary wave itself. According to council communism, 3 the parliamentary party and the trade unions were forms of organisation which could only be used by the working class during the period of capitalist ascendancy in the second half of the 19th century. They were the 'natural' forms of working class organisation during this period, when the stability of capitalism made revolution impossible, but workers could win many improvements in their living and working conditions by struggling within capitalism.The outbreak of the First World War showed that this period was over, and capitalism had entered into its decadent phase. Henceforth workers could gain nothing by struggling within capitalism. On the contrary, so long as capitalism survived, workers only prospect was increasing poverty, unemployment, and death in inter-imperialist war. Revolution was on the historical agenda, and with it a return to the earlier working class tradition of insurrectionary struggle.This was proved by the Russian revolution, during which the working class also developed the new form of organisation by which it seizes power and transforms society: the workers councils, or soviets.
According to the council communists, it is futile to expect parliamentary and trade union leaders to ever be 'won over' to the cause of revolution. They have a vested interest in defending their own organisations which are now part of the capitalist state. These organisations, parliamentary parties and trade unions, as well as their reactionary leaders, will have to be destroyed during the revolution along with the rest of the state apparatus.The failure of the revolutionary wave was explained by the failure of the working class to free itself from these outmoded traditions of parliamentarism and trade unionism. The primary task of revolutionaries is to combat influence of these traditions within the working class. Hence council communists reject any form of participation either in parliament or trade unions.
Council communism developed the ideas of pre-war left-wing marxists, notably Rosa Luxemburg. Council communists always consider themselves to be marxists. Thus the introduction to the longest article in this section, the 'Principles And Tactics of The APCF', which presents the ideas of the APCF as 'Anarcho-Marxism', is rather misleading.
As noted in our 'Brief History of the APCF', the organisation arose of a 'fusion' of the Glasgow Anarchist and Communist Groups during First World War. At the time of the Russian Revolution, many people considered that the Bolsheviks represented a fusion of Anarchism and Marxism. After all, hadn't Lenin's State and Revolution adopted the anarchist slogan of smashing the state in opposition to marxist orthodoxy at the time? In fact, this slogan has its origins in Marx just as much as in Anarchism. The vacillating attitude of the marxist movement towards the state is briefly discussed in two articles in this section: 'The Peoples Convention' and 'Workers V the State'. But in any case, anarchists were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Bolsheviks during the first months of the revolution. It was to express solidarity with the Bolsheviks that the Glasgow Anarchist Group renamed itself the Glasgow Communist Group in 1920.
Anarchists were soon disillusioned by the development of events in Russia. The left communists in Europe, from whom the council communists were to emerge, 4 also confidently expected support from Lenin and the Bolsheviks in their struggle against the treacherous social-democratic leadership, and of course also against social democratic ideas and traditions.They too were quickly disappointed. Lenin's 'Left Wing' Communism, An Infantile Disorder, published in 1920, rejected the arguments of the left communists in favour of collaboration with the social democrats in order to 'keep in touch with the masses'.
The largest left communist organisation, the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD), was expelled from the Communist International in 1921. Although the Glasgow Communist Group was not part of the main stream of European left communism, they went through the same process of disillusionment with Bolshevism. In 1921 they formed the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation as a direct challenge to the Communist Party of Great Britain, which had been set up in 1920 along the lines advocated by Lenin (participation in elections and Parliament and affiliation to the Labour Party).
However, in their struggle against Bolshevism, the council communists also set themselves apart from anarchism. Anarchists saw the failure of the revolution as being the logical result of the authoritarianism and statism inherent to Marxism.The council communists, on the other hand, blamed the failure of the marxist movement and the working class as a whole to adapt to the new conditions of decadent capitalism -- while seeing themselves as the true inheritors of the best, revolutionary traditions of Marxism. All council communists, including the APCF, accepted the need for some kind of transitional workers state immediately after the revolution, although in a very different sense from that understood by the Bolsheviks. Above all, council communists distinguished themselves from anarchists by basing their analysis on marxist historical materialism, which sees economic development as the motive force behind social change, and class struggle as the means by which these changes are brought about.
In the text, 'Principles And Tactics Of The APCF', written after the withdrawal of most of the anarchists from the organisation (see the Introduction to the section on 'The Civil War in Spain'), the line of argument is essentially a marxist one. This text is the APCF's distinctive restatement of the basic ideas of council communism. It was first published in Solidarity number 12/13 in June-July 1939, 5 and reprinted in one of the very last issues of the paper to appear, in 1944. This is a testimony to the theoretical consistency maintained by the core of the APCF during this period, despite the wide range of political views held by the various contributors to the paper.
One of the best features of this text is the very clear and simple way the arguments are presented. This is particularly the case in the final sections, from 'Towards Workers Soviets' to the end. The APCF envisages communism growing out of the defensive struggles of the working class. A 'defensive workers state' will be necessary during the 'transition stage' after the revolution.
The 'revolutionary vanguard' will inevitably consist of a number of different parties, who should co-operate with each other, while aiming ultimately at their 'complete liquidation into workers' soviets'.
In the earlier sections of the text, the APCF is much less clear than the German and Dutch council communists in tracing the obsolescence of parliament and the trade unions back to its origins in the conditions of class struggle under 'decadent capitalism'. The reason for this can be found in the history of British Socialism. Due to the prosperity of nineteenth century British capitalism, there was no strong marxist social democratic movement of the type exemplified by the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) -- i.e. based on parliament and the trade unions, while claiming to be revolutionary. The only such organisation in Britain, the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) never grew beyond a few thousand members. In Britain, therefore, the vast majority of working class representatives in the trade unions and parliament were openly opposed to revolution. There arose, therefore, at a much earlier stage, a small marxist movement rejecting both parliament and the trade unions whose best known spokesman was William Morris.
British 'anti-parliamentarians' did not have to justify their break with the entire pre-war marxist tradition, as did the German and Dutch council communists. On the contrary, they could see themselves as a continuation of the pre-war anti-parliamentary tradition. This is explained in the first paragraph of the article 'To Anti-parliamentarians', which goes on to argue why in 'the present period of capitalist decline' the name council communist is more appropriate. Despite this, the APCF continued to draw most of its anti-parliament arguments from the pre-war movement. Indeed, the dual influence of European council communism and British anti-parliamentarism largely accounts for the distinctive character of the group.
While the APCF were opposed on principle to 'the trickery, insincerity and futility of the bourgeois anti-democratic parliament', the council communists such as Pannekoek argued that parliamentary struggles were a necessary part of the working class movement under 'ascendant capitalism', when the working class 'is not yet capable of create organs which would enable it to control and order society . . . may change when the struggle of the proletariat enters a revolution phase . . . As soon as the masses start to intervene, act and take decisions on their own behalf, the disadvantages of parliament struggle become overwhelming'. 6
The difference between these two approaches accounts for one of the most important weaknesses of the British 'anti-parliamentary' tradition. In Britain 'anti-parliamentarism' has generally been associated with a withdrawal from current political life altogether. This has taken a number of forms. Syndicalists concluded that the problem with parliament is that 'politics' itself is reactionary. They simply advocated an escalation of the existing 'purely economic' struggles waged by workers in the trade unions, failing to see that unions themselves should be the object of the same kind of radical critique they had made of parliament. Other tendencies, known collectively as 'Impossibilists' more logically withdrew participation in any day-to-day activity, in favour of educational propaganda work.
'Socialist Industrial Unionism', mildly criticised in the 'Principles And Tactics' text, was the movement of followers of the American socialist, Daniel DeLeon, organised in the Socialist Labour Parties of Britain and America. The SLP advocated seizure of power by the working class organised in revolutionary 'industrial unions', which were to come into being as a result of the propaganda work of the SLP. Until then they opposed not only the existing trade unions but also all day-to-day class struggle. In the September 1944 issue of Solidarity, for example, there is a debate with a Scottish supporter of DeLeon who argues that all strikes are ... reactionary.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain belonged to the 'Impossibilist' tradition. Then as now, they advocated the election of socialist MPs, who will however abstain from parliamentary action until the time when socialism is brought about by the election of a socialist majority, as a result of SPGB propaganda. The SPGB rejects day-to-day class struggle along with the trade unions as being 'irrelevant' to the struggle for socialism. Paradoxically this allows the SPGB to adopt a quite uncritical attitude towards unions, which it considers make a good job of defending workers' immediate interests, until such time as a majority of them are convinced of the need for socialism.
What all these tendencies had in common was an inability to understand the links between economic and political struggles, and between workers struggles today and the future struggle for socialism.
The council communists saw socialism coming through the culmination of a process in which the existing day-to-day 'economic' struggles are transformed into a political, revolutionary struggle. They were therefore much more aware of the active counter-revolutionary role played by parliament and the unions -- this role being precisely to maintain the artificial separation between political and economic issues, and thereby prevent this process of transformation from taking place.
British Impossibilists dismissed parliament and the trade unions as 'irrelevant' -- since in the end everything was irrelevant except their own propaganda. The council communists, with their ideas firmly rooted in working class experience, were able to see that parliament and the trade unions were anything but irrelevant. It was the duty of revolutionaries to attack and expose them.
On this question, the APCF, basing its ideas on council communism, was far in advance of other British organisations which attempted to oppose the Labour Party and Communist Party from a revolutionary standpoint (with the exception of Sylvia Pankhurst's short-lived Workers Socialist Federation).
The APCF advocated independent working class action, organised by the workers themselves, in opposition to the trade unions. However their enthusiastic support for workers' struggles sometimes led them to take an uncritical attitude towards radical trade unionism, especially towards the end of the war. In 1943 Solidarity supported the attempted revival of the Clyde Workers' Committee, on the basis of a programme which amounted to a call to radicalise the existing trade unions.
Criticism of the CWC was limited to the comment that 'We hope, however, that unlike its predecessor in the last war, it will not only fight a rearguard action against capitalism and war but will ultimately pass to the attack and participate in the final victory of the working class' (Solidarity number 61/62, June-July 1943).
In 1944, members of the Workers Revolutionary League, as the APCF was by then called (see the Introduction to the section on The Second World War), participated at the first conference of the Scottish Workers' Congress Movement, a radical trade union movement
which put forward a programme for the revitalisation of Scottish industry under 'democratic workers' control'.These examples reflect the more diverse political views which began to appear in Solidarity as a result of the WRL's participation in the Workers Open Forum. 7
The Capitalistic complex of the working class movement with its multifarious Social-democratic prejudices hindering rather than developing the initiative of the masses in the struggle for Communism exposes the need for a working class party free from self-seeking and desire for office under Capitalism. Parliamentarism leads to revisionism and betrayal, and must be expunged from the programme of the revolutionary working class movement. To this end the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation describes the function of a sincere and intelligent revolutionary organisation in that it:
(1) Stands for the revolutionary overthrow of the Capitalist system of exploitation, and privilege, and advocates in its stead the Workers' Industrial Republic.
(2) Preaches the class war, recognising that the present struggle between the classes can only be solved permanently in the triumph of the working class.
(3) Advocates the overthrow of the present parliamentary system of government and urges the boycotting of the ballot box as the initial challenge of the workers in the fight for economic power.
(4) Declares that the permanent crisis of Capitalism has rendered obsolete the official trade union and industrial union movements but recognising the inevitability of struggle, urges the General Strike as the only effective method of industrial action.
(5) Holds that unemployment is a chronic and expanding feature of Capitalist conditions and constitutes a real menace to Capitalism; therefore urges collaboration of employed and unemployed in the fight for emancipation, and supports all demands that further the class struggle.
Principles and Tactics of the APCF
The Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation is an Anarcho-Marxian organisation holding none of the prejudices which orthodox 'Anarchists' and 'Marxists' harbour towards each other. In its mission -- to aid the workers to overthrow Capitalism and its watchdog the State -- it draws its inspiration from Anarchists and Marxists alike. It admires and would emulate the ardour, courage and initiative suggested by names like Bakunin, Malatesta, Durutti -- the brilliance and perseverance associated with Marx. On the other hand, it equally condemns irresponsibility -- common to many 'Anarchists' -- and arrogance and intolerance common to so many 'Marxists'. Without prejudice but also without hero worship, we would synthesise from the best in the way of analysis, precept and practice, to which so many worthy pioneers and martyrs -- Marxist and Anarchist included -- have contributed their all. Our final aim is 'the Abolition of the Wages System'; the end of all exploitative and authoritative society. With the inauguration of the Socialist Commonwealth with universal peace and plenty, there will ensue practically a Utopia on Earth, and the absence of all government of man by man.
THE PROBLEM: DECADENT CAPITALISM
(I) Capitalism, whether Private, Industrial, Financial, or State (or any combination of these) is the cause of poverty, disease, and premature death for millions, with riches, indolence, extravagance and debauchery on the part of the privileged few. Divorced from the means of production, the workers are compelled to accept wage slavery. They must yield the entire product of their labour and accept in return a pittance corresponding, not to its value, but to an average subsistence wage.
The workers therefore have nothing in common with their exploiters.The class struggle -- forced upon them -- must continue until by the act of Social Revolution the workers make an end of all class society by abolishing the wages system once and for all.
(II) Fascism is but the last resource of degenerate Capitalism, wherein the outright violence, previously reserved mainly for the natives in colonies, 'protectorates', etc., is practised on the home proletariat.
It receives a mass basis by recruiting the middle strata into anti-working class armies.
The so-called democratic countries, like Britain, France and the USA, all use fascist measures in their empire outposts. And now, under cover of the war danger, are perfecting a technique which, at the first real crisis, can parallel in its repression anything done in the Fascist countries. During the last war, the 'treat-em-rough' measures used against the IWW, pacifists and socialists, were fascist in all but name. Fascism must be opposed and exposed, but its parent, Capitalism, is the real enemy to be destroyed.
(III) WAR is an atrocious evil, but like Fascism, is a consequence of Capitalism. The murder, disease and horror of war are paralleled on the industrial battlefield where the unnecessary diseases of industry, high accident rate and premature death is the corollary of the scramble for profits. Improvements have taken place, it is true, but only because of mass pressure, or because it was found to be 'bad business' to kill the geese that lay the golden eggs -- the workers.
War has its roots in Capitalism, and the difference between aggression and defence is the difference between the burglar with the swag (Empire, etc.) and the thief or 'hijacker' out to relieve him of some of the booty.The Versailles Treaty was equal in its vindictive and brutal extortion of the helpless German people, to any action of their vile militarists. And the callous blockade of Austria and Germany, etc., carried out for months during the 'armistice' period illustrates the mentality of the Capitalist 'Statesmen' when they are drunk with power. Assisted by the vacillations of the 'socialists', they thus paved the way for Hitler and helped to create the Frankenstein monster of Fascism.Though a potential danger to themselves, they have subsidised and fed it -- to keep the workers of Europe from successfully raising the standard of revolt. Now, in order to defend the last remnants of their iniquitous 'peace', they expect their docile 'hands' to become even more obedient 'cannon fodder'.The Pygmalion retort is the only fitting rejoinder to this insolent demand.
Our rulers in their hatred and fear of Russia (which, though not a Socialist Republic, is still too anti-capitalist to suit high finance) deliberately betrayed their Czech allies. Fearful of a Socialist Italy or Germany, they have repeatedly propped up Hitler and Mussolini. Finally, they callously abetted the assassination of Republican Spain to prevent its development along Revolutionary Socialist lines. Now, their Axis rivals immeasurably stronger as a result of their own policy, they Conscript the men of 20-21 to fill the gaps in their balance of forces. And the labour movement took this last insult lying down! The young men should have been encouraged to boycott the register.The entire labour movement should have backed them up with a general protest strike -- however short -- to indicate the taking up of the insolent challenge to the workers. The crisis is theirs and they should have been left to face it. The business of a real labour movement is to destroy Capitalism and Imperialism: not to fight for it -- or to make others do the fighting.
THE SOLUTION: LIBERTARIAN SOCIALISM
(I) Since 'all else is illusion', a Workers' Socialist Industrial Republic is the only hope of the proletariat. The means of wealth production and exchange, once under the control of the workers, we can have virtually a millennium on Earth. Just consider the immense untapped reservoirs for the production of almost unlimited supplies of every imaginable form of useful wealth. Think of the scores of millions of unemployed, not forgetting the useless drones at the top of the social ladder. Estimate also the millions of officials, attendants, whose potentially valuable time is wasted under this system. Consider the wealth that could be created by the huge army of needless advertising agents, commercial travellers, club-men, shop-walkers, etc., not to mention the colossal army of police, lawyers, judges, clerks, who are only 'necessary' under capitalism: Add now the scandalous waste of labour involved in the military machine: soldiers, airmen, navymen, officers, generals, admirals, etc. Add, also, the terrific consumption of energy in the manufacture of armaments of all kinds that is weighing down the productive machine. Properly used, these boundless supplies of potential wealth-creating energy could ensure ample for all -- not excluding 'luxuries' -- together with a ridiculously short working day. Likewise, there would be pleasant conditions of labour, and recreation and holidays on a scale now only enjoyed by the rich.
The State (Government)
(II) THE STATE -- engine of class rule -- is used by the Capitalist Class to keep the workers in subjection. The Chattel System and Feudalism also required the oppressive State. But Socialism, being a class-less form of society wherein no one is exploited, requires no government of man by man, and the State can disappear for ever into the limbo of the dead past.
(III) With the reorganisation of society on the basis of useful production, and the disappearance of the State, National and Colour fears, prejudices and hatreds will quickly disappear, many of them having been wiped out prior to the Revolution. The ever-increasing annihilation of Space, by means of radio, television, 'plane, and the all round quickening and extension of means of inter-communication will spread the healing balm of education, sport, science, and culture to every corner of the globe. International collaboration and co-ordination will destroy the remaining legacies consequent on decades of capitalist competition and war. Industrial 'parliaments of the world' will wipe out all such evils quite naturally without the aid of any special pleading such as is indulged in today by religious and other quacks.
Religion and Superstition
(IV) Fast on the heels of racial and national prejudices and fears, will follow the religious and other superstitions that have hitherto cursed and beclouded the mind of man. Economic and social justice obtaining here on earth, there will no longer be any excuse for the illusory substitute, 'pie in the sky'. Not in all the realms of fantasy, but on the bedrock of economic interest and mutual aid and usefulness, will be based the new social order to which have aspired however limited their vision -- all the most far-seeing, courageous and 'inspired' men of every age and clime. The ideal 'do to others as you would have them do to you' -- the basic moral appeal of all religions -- will at last be realisable, not because mankind will suddenly become saints, but because they are no longer compelled by economic circumstance to be 'sinners'. At last will be possible -- because practicable -- the precept 'from each according to his ability; to each according to his need', and 'Each for all and all for each'!
TACTICS TOWARDS THE SOCIALIST GOAL
Before outlining our view of the tactics to be used to achieve the goal of Socialism, let us first examine several of the alternatives propounded by others, to expose their basic weaknesses.
(I) The fundamental flaw in all Co-operative schemes is that the consumer - who is often but a parasite -- and not the producer, is catered for. This can be seen at a glance by referring to Co-operative advertising. Products are eulogised that few workers can afford to buy -- like the magnificent electric appliances displayed in the Municipal show-windows. Again, Co-operative institutions all pay tribute to the Capitalist State, the landlords and the financial sharks. They operate on the wages system and their workers, like the rest of the proletariat, are exploited at the point of production. The Co-op bureaucrats are often as ruthless and exacting as private employers, hence the apparently contradictory fact that workers are compelled to go on strike to enforce even reformist demands against the same economic overlordship that typifies Capitalism in general
(II) Labour-power being a commodity under Capitalism, the worker must try to get the best price (wages) he can. He cannot fight the boss alone, hence the formation of Trade Unions in a feeble attempt to parry the blows of Capitalism. But the unions were formed on a craft basis and only around the commodity -- not the Class -- struggle. With the development of trustified Capitalism, Trade Unionism is now lacking. Sensing their inability to successfully challenge Capitalism -- except by risking their all -- the leaders have gone over to class-collaboration and have 'dug themselves in' for the duration of the system. They are now only concerned with maintaining their own status and are not interested in the class struggle. To them the word Socialism is only a platitude.
(III) Many workers, sickened and in disgust at their trade union mis-leaders, are seeking in Industrial Unionism, a new weapon of struggle. It must be stressed, however, that Industrial Unionism can also be purely reformist -- like the NUR here and the much-boosted CIO in America. These accept in practice -- though they may qualify this acceptance in their dead letter preambles -- the system of Capitalism. Noisy John L. Lewis goes out of his way to accept the system of production for a 'fair' profit. Again, how can Industrial Unionism grapple with the armament or the luxury industries from a class struggle standpoint?
Socialist Industrial Unionism
(IV) Realising the force of the above criticisms we now have the advocacy of Socialist Industrial Unionism. But the power of the Capitalist propaganda press, pulpit, etc. makes the growth of such unions on a practicable scale impossible until we arrive at a period of deep economic crisis such as 1926, when the workers become drawn into the struggle in spite of themselves. While the advocacy of Socialist Industrial Unionism does no harm, the practical realisation of even an approximation of this laudable objective will not take place until the eve of Revolution. Even then, the form will probably be the Workers' Councils of Action or Strike Committees embracing also the unemployed workers.
(V) Much has been advocated from time to time in the way of Direct Action, but like Industrial Unionism, it is usually -- though a step in the right direction -- mainly reformist. Direct Action is useful practice for the proletariat, and tests the calibre of delegates, etc. But we must make it clear that revolutionary Direct Action is the ultimate objective, if we are to cease chasing the tail of Reformism.
Industrial Workers of the World
(VI) We have also much in common with our comrades of the Industrial Workers of the World. They often meet gangster Capitalism with its own weapons. This is understandable and justifiable. But the real object should not he mere reforms by destructive methods. When the commodity struggle is superseded by the class struggle for the destruction, not of wealth, but the power of the rulers, then 'ca'canny', sabotage, etc., will no longer be necessary. Under Socialism we must produce as much, not as little, as possible, for the product will return to the workers.
The danger, in attempting to set up large organisations this side of the Revolution, is that Reform replaces Socialist objectives, the quantitative supplants the qualitative.
(I) We are anti-Parliamentarian, because parliamentarism is anti-working class and anti-Socialist. The worker, who sees beyond economic reformism, should likewise dismiss the trickery, insincerity and futility of the bourgeois antidemocratic parliament.
It should be noted in passing, that all parliamentary measures that have ever conceded anything to the workers, were the result of outside pressure, demonstrational, insurrectional or industrial. Our rulers concede when they are compelled to. Sops are thrown to quieten the awakening giant of Labour -- to lull him back to sleep.
The SPGB claim that Parliament is not a gas house, but a Power House. This is a half-truth that results in a delusion. Even for Capitalist purposes, Parliament is more and more being 'consulted' after the event; when irretraceable steps have been taken by our own particular type of Führer in conjunction, of course, with the financial powers behind the scenes. But the main point to recognise is that the State draws its sustenance from taxation, that is, from the ruling class. Is it conceivable, then, that these people -- as an entire class -- would finance a genuinely revolutionary parliament, elected expressly to dispossess them? Surely Franco supplies the answer to such a childish notion?
Out of the profits wrung from the workers, the ruling class finances the Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Service, etc. If a revolutionary electorate after overcoming the handicap of a corrupt press, controlled wireless, pulpit propaganda, plural voting, etc., elected a Socialist (not a reformist) majority, our Winston Churchills, supported by our British Noskes and Kerenskys, would find a method to declare such a majority 'unconstitutional'. Behind a suitable puppet, there would be instituted a Plutocratic dictatorship operating via Orders in Council, EPA, etc.
We do not say they would succeed in their plan to smash the workers; they would fail. But they will only fail in proportion as the workers learn in time that they can rely only on their own industrial and social strength outside of parliament -- in the street, factory, workshop, mine, railway, etc. And when the workers send out the call as a class and not as a section -- they will be supported in every barrack and every military establishment.
Parliament as 'Shield'
(II) Many socialists agree that Socialism can never be achieved via parliament, but argue, like the SLP, that the Political weapon can be used as a shield to protect the rising industrial organisation necessary for the inauguration of Socialism. This seems strange logic. How can the non-substantial 'weapon' protect the real -- the only powerful weapon of direct industrial, etc., action? And are the Capitalists so easily hoodwinked? If our final weapon is extra-parliamentary, let us use all our resources of propaganda developing it, and not fritter time and substance on shadows.
As a 'Sounding Board'
(III) It is also alleged that parliament can be used as a revolutionary sounding board. Leaving aside the fact that parliament tends to act as a lightning arrester, and that few genuine revolutionaries could stomach the necessary preliminaries (such as oath-taking, kow-towing procedure, etc.) if the speeches are revolutionary, who is going to report them? The Capitalist Press? Surely this is expecting too much. If you reply, the Socialist Press, then obviously that press can print propaganda and report speeches made in a better place -- the street corner or the workshop gate. Instead of appealing to the 'Executive committee' of the Capitalist class, our revolutionists -- they are all too few -- are urgently needed at the points of contact with the workers, there to help generate the only force that will finally be of any use.
TOWARDS WORKERS' SOVIETS: WHAT WE ADVOCATE
The 'Day to Day Struggle'
Although against mere reforms and excluding them from our own programme, we are willing to give the workers every assistance we can when they are in combat with the capitalist. Whatever their demands are, they are of necessity less than justice; in that sense the workers are always more than right, and should be supported without question.
(I) Workers' all-in Soviets or Councils of Action are the only democratic organs capable of facing up to the problems ahead. There the right of recall can operate and will prepare the way for the workers themselves to bring about their emancipation.
As the T.U. bureaucrats more and more refuse to countenance even reformist strikes the workers are compelled to act unofficially. For aid in their need, they can turn only to such allies as workers in the same plant or industry. Hence the weapons likely to be used are: (a) The industrial direct action strike; (b) The supporting Sympathetic Strike, fought, not for a long period on funds, but for a shorter period and on a bigger scale on solidarity; (c) The Stay-in Strike, as widespread and general as possible.
Even if repeatedly defeated, the permanent crisis of capitalism leaves the workers with no alternative. Sooner or later, by such training, they must pass to the attack and destroy the coercive power of the ruling class. In another 1926, the issue must become a challenge for power. The workers, united as a class, can defeat Capitalism once and for all and form a Workers' Socialist Industrial Republic. Though our masters try to use sections (whether in uniform or not) against the mass, they can be defeated by universal solidarity. Those who attempt to force us back into submission will have to be met with the same argument, plus intensive anti-militarist anti-capitalist propaganda.
Once Capitalism is overthrown, these soviets, Councils, Syndicates, or Industrial Unions -- the label does not matter much -- allow the workers to control production on the job -- the only real democracy. They will adapt themselves to the new requirements and must be thoroughly co-ordinated to prevent waste.
The Transition Stage
(II) Around the factories and workshops there must be set up Workers' Militias to defend the conquests of the people, until it is certain that no counter-revolution is possible. These Workers' Red Guards should be organised like the famous Durutti Columns, not on a militarist, but on a basis of strict voluntary discipline. In co-ordination, these will form, not a repressive ruling class state for oppression, but a purely defensive weapon to guarantee freedom from sabotage or pro-capitalist restorations. When the erstwhile rulers, now turned useful citizens, have definitely thrown up the sponge, then this defensive workers' State -- if our Anarchist friends will excuse the term -- will have no further function. It will wither away as it ceases to be necessary, and its members return to useful employment. Classless, Stateless, human society will have replaced all robbery, all government, all oppression. Mankind will be free!
Our Revolutionary Bigots
Many good comrades, who believe essentially in the foregoing, are divided into competing, uncoordinated parties. This is to be deplored. It comes partly out of the material interests that arise because we are subject to capitalist limitation, geographical, language, etc. It is also due to differences in principle. These differences, however, are often more imaginary than real; more of terminology and angle, rather than substance. Unconscious egotism also operates and leads to the obsession that unless they lead, the proletariat must of necessity go wrong! Just as there are hundreds of 'religions' and several interpretations of Christianity, so do we have innumerable brands of Marxism and Anarchism. It would be amusing, if it were not tragic! Consider, for instance, the numerous groups in America who believe they are the only genuine forerunners of the new Fourth International -- the only true vanguard!
The Revolutionary Vanguard
We also believe we have the most correct position, but we are dialectical enough to salute other groups. Though in error on this point or that, we recognise that they are, on the whole, doing as much -- or even more for Socialism as we are. Again, who is the infallible judge as to who is the most correct? What party can honestly say it has always and on all questions been right; that can guarantee in the future to be like-wise correct?
It is sheer Utopianism to imagine that any one party, however 'correct', will ever have in its ranks all the best elements in the working class. Apart from that Capitalism will not allow the time for even an approximation of that state of affairs.
Workers' Revolutionary Alliance
Instead of numerous competing bodies all playacting at being the vanguard, let us realise we must pool our experience, abilities, and our resources in a Revolutionary Alliance. We can thus develop a greater potential Vanguard that will be able to make the best use of the crisis when it comes.
We oppose the conception of a single party 'leading' or dictating to the workers; this way lies bureaucracy and dictatorship. Instead of struggling for supremacy, revolutionary parties should aim as far as possible at complete liquidation into the workers' soviets, where they can advance their policies by courage, initiative and example. Practical, instead of abstract problems, will be on the order of the day, and the best solutions, irrespective of who advocates them, should be adopted without prejudice. We will find, in practice, that the Vanguard interpenetrates and overlaps all existing parties; and that workers, previously of no party at all, are able to contribute in a surprising degree and to overshadow many who were previously considered as indispensable and of the elite!
By James Kennedy
'Between capitalist society and communist society lies the period of revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding with this will be a period of political transition during which the State can be nothing other than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.' -- Critique of the Gotha Programme
Marx made this declaration when he criticised the reactionary policy of the German Social Democratic Party, in 1875. To understand its significance it is necessary to take into consideration the economic and historical conditions prevailing in Germany at that time.
First of all, in Germany among 'the working people' there are more peasants than proletarians.
Bismarck, whose policy was to unify the separate German States (without proletarian revolution) made overtures to the SPD which could only lead to confusion and the consequent disruption of the movement. To escape this situation, it was necessary that the proletariat should overthrow its ruling class, and owing to the backwardness of the country concessions would require to be granted to the peasants inside and the capitalists outside; through the medium of proletarian dictatorship.
In Russia, Lenin did nothing more than call for the dictatorship of the proletariat where the peasants comprised the vast majority of the workers and the real force of the revolution. In the front line of the Revolution was 'the proletariat grown upon the soil of great industry', and struggling for the control of the means of production, whereas the demands of the peasants did not exceed land distribution. To yield concessions could only be of momentary significance, as 'the class struggle is national not in respect of substance but in respect of form.' The tocsin for World Revolution, sounded by the Russian proletariat, failed to echo in Western Europe. The defeat of the proletariat in Germany in 1919 and 1923 was instrumental in abandoning the idea of World Revolution, and the Russian Dictatorship of the proletariat was supplanted by the Dictatorship of the Communist Party Bureaucracy.
The CPSU being the strongest section of the Communist International it was natural that the headquarters of the CI should be Moscow. The policy of the CI was concentrated in developing the internal and external interests of Russia, and parties were set up throughout the capitalist world for that purpose. Reactionary policies e.g. reformist and religious expediencies were instituted to win the masses in opposition to the Second International, and the slogan 'all power to the Soviet Union, the Socialist Fatherland' came to the fore. The triumph of the Bolshevik Party in October 1917, seemed a safe pretext for all counter-revolutionary activities.
The CPSU played for time so as to maintain its bureaucratic hierarchy. With the collapse of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, financial, commercial and military pacts with foreign powers, peace in order to perfect its military machine, State exploitation of the workers, the execution of the old Bolsheviks, have all been done in the name of the 'Socialist Fatherland'. The policy of the CI in making national and international concessions to the capitalist class in defence of the USSR has brought about a reversion calculated to make Russia 'the last stronghold of capitalist reaction' chiefly directed against the international Proletariat.
Lenin's utopian idea of a 'Workers' State' is in essence State Capitalism. The NEP is capitalist economics, through and through. Wage labour is the basis of capitalism. Russian society is no exception -- high or low wages have no bearing on the question. The productivity of labour increases out of all proportion to wages which means a relative decline in the value of labour-power and the abject pauperisation of the working class as a whole. To say that unemployment in Russia is non-existent is to reveal that industrial development has not reached that stage where the agrarian population has been completely absorbed in wage labour.
Wage labour gives rise to commodity production and capitalist relations, therefore, the control of the means of production and exchange in the hands of the state and not the proletariat. State Capitalism presupposes wage slavery, and a slavery that becomes more brutal in character as the productive forces of labour develops. The Russian proletariat is learning why failure followed the initial success of the Bolshevik Party. The CI in exploiting Bolshevik traditions to divert the proletariat from the International character of the revolution cannot always succeed. The impetus once set in motion will raise the Marxian slogan: Abolition of the wages system!
For many years the left communist groups have been spoken of as Anti-Parliamentarians due to their opposition to parliamentary activity. We, as a matter of fact, have the title APCF. During the reformist era of capitalism this title although long-winded was quite correct. It differentiated us from the parliamentary socialists in the labour movement.
During the upswing period of capitalism, when it was developing and expanding, it was possible to grant concessions to the working class because of the increase in productivity and the resultant increase in profits. These reforms however, were seldom granted without much struggle. There were victories and defeats in both wings of the movement.
The present period of capitalist decline is one in which no concessions are possible for the working class. Further, we have definitely left the era of democracy, the era of free competition. This democracy which served the conflicting interests of small capitalists during the developing stage, is now no longer compatible. Monopoly capitalism in a period of permanent crisis and war finds dictatorship and terror the only means to ensure it a tranquil proletariat. The abolition of the right to strike and its 'fifth column' activity -- despite the fact that it has completely captured the official Trade Union and Labour Party organisation -- demonstrates this excellently.
Democracy, Parliamentarism and the Parliamentary organisation become obsolete and cannot be tolerated. Britain follows Germany in putting forward only one candidate for election. Fascism is being introduced with the aid of the Labour Party which is completely incapable of taking an independent working class position.
This development renders the controversy of the parliamentarians in the movement with the left communist groups obsolete. The name anti-parliamentary therefore is historically outdated and should be discarded. In its place the better title council communism should be used as it designates as a name the major principle difference between the old and new labour movement. This difference on the role that organisation plays in the class struggle and in the revolution is of increasing importance, while the question of parliamentary activity is of very much decreasing importance.
In contradistinction to the old form of party organisation, universally common to the parliamentary politicians in the old labour movement, the new labour movement holds that the workers' committees, the soviets, the workers' councils of action, are the real fighting organisations of the working class.
Therefore let us pass the name APCF into the keeping of history.
Let all similar groups likewise discard their sectarian labels and unite under a common banner. Co-ordination is becoming a vital necessity to make the best use of our combined resources. Meantime, with group autonomy, let us all adopt, say, the name The Council Communists, so that under this banner the scattered revolutionary groups can gather together as groups of council communists capable of aiding the workers in the struggle. When a lead is necessary, giving a lead; where criticism is necessary, giving criticism. But all the time remembering that this is a class struggle and the class needs of the workers transcend all.
The banner of revolutionary non-compromise is the banner of the successful social revolution. To this banner we recall the old Anti-Parliamentarians, whose experience of the past and whose comradeship is now so necessary. To this banner we call the youth who suffer the effects of capitalist war.
Now is the time to build the shock troops of the coming socialist revolution. Pending the final showdown with capitalism there will arise many issues on which all revolutionaries, irrespective of section, should agree. For such objects we ought to put our party loyalty second to class loyalty which all profess, in order to attain the maximum possible striking power. To do otherwise, as is all too common, is a dereliction of class duty.
The People's Convention
'Against the proletariat class rule is no longer able to disguise itself', Marx
Never before in the history of the working class movement has there been a greater need for political clarity and understanding of the situation which confronts us. Yet in the face of the most acute crisis we find instead of clarity nothing but political bankruptcy and confusion.
Socialist theory and ideology have been successfully 'blacked out' and in their place has been substituted the most blatant opportunism and reaction An opportunism which finds its highest expression in the latest brainstorm of the CP The People's Convention for a People's Government.
Quite apart from the Marxian conception of the state and its function one would have thought that the collapse of German social democracy, the experience of the French popular front, and the Fascist uprising in Spain would have been sufficient to kill, for all time, the belief in parliamentary action as the road to working class power.
Apparently however, the CP are reluctant to shed their illusions and profit by past experience. So, in the face of the most ruthless manifestations of class rule the proletariat are urged to participate in a convention to achieve that historical impossibility, a People's Government.
Why do I say a People's Government is a historical impossibility? Marx, in his analysis of Capitalism, defined the state as an instrument of class rule. He perceived that the state machine was not an entity existing by itself, free from the conflicting interests of both Capital and Labour and so amenable to the interests of both that it could be taken over and used by either class according to majority rule. He realised that the state machine despite the democratic trappings was essentially an integral part of the capitalist system, a weapon of capitalist domination and oppression serving solely the interests of capital and never those of the workers.
Moreover, once it had outlived its usefulness, it would be immediately scrapped and superseded by something more ruthless and more suited to the job of bludgeoning the Proletariat.
A nation at war has no time for playacting. Capitalism in crisis cannot afford to indulge in democracy. The insoluble contradictions of the system are so manifest that it is no longer possible for the ruling class to find even a breathing space within the framework of the old parliamentary regime. In order to stave off for a time at least the inevitable collapse it renounces its so-called democratic rule and resorts to the most flagrant and unabashed methods of class domination, otherwise fascism.
The proof was only too regrettably evidenced by the recent Spanish tragedy. There the people, weighed down by poverty and oppression, endeavoured by purely constitutional means to obtain some slight amelioration. To achieve this they returned to parliament not a Red but only a reformist Government. Yet the incensed ruling class repudiated even their own bourgeois legality and unleashed the most bloody butchery of the proletariat the world has ever witnessed.
In the face of such savagery the Spanish people were compelled to go beyond their initial demands and engage in a life and death struggle in open class conflict. Here indeed, 'against the Proletariat class rule was no longer able to disguise itself'. For over three years the heroic workers of Spain, isolated and betrayed by the workers of the world, fought on, until battered and exhausted they went down to defeat before the onslaught of international capitalism. Despite their differences the capitalists are ever ready to unite against the rebellious Proletariat.
The tragedy of Spain is that of the world proletariat. The increased tempo of the class struggle brings with it increased measures of repression. Yet so great is the political myopia of the 'organised' labour movement that this intensification of the class struggle passed unnoticed by all but a few. Even those who are aware of the need to prepare resistance to the capitalist onslaught are so hidebound in political orthodoxy that they are incapable of seeking a way out beyond the orbit of conventional political activity. To them, parliament is the supreme arbitrator. The theatre of struggle is the ministerial benches and not the workshop.
Even assuming that it was possible to bring about the defeat of the National Government, and vote a government prepared to accede to the workers' demands, can we believe for one moment that the British Ruling Class would continue to respect their own institution and jeopardise the war effort upon which their very existence depends? Certainly not! At the first threat of resistance to their will, they would immediately establish a military dictatorship and by sheer force of arms smash any attempt at progressive legislation.
To the Bourgeoisie the class struggle is very real. The spectre of communism forever haunts them, and to exorcise that spectre they will resort to any measures which will protect their interests and ensure the continuation of their hellish system. Against such despotism the workers' resistance must take a form more revolutionary in character than ordinary parliamentary action, and anyone who advocates this limited type of struggle is nothing short of a traitor to communism.
As Lenin said when answering Kautsky on this point:
'Kautsky has stated that "the aim of our political struggle is the conquest of power within the state by the gaining of a majority in parliament, and the conversion of parliament into the master of the government."'
This is nothing but the most vulgar opportunism, a repudiation of revolution in deeds while upholding it in words. Kautsky's imagination goes no further than a government willing to meet the proletariat half way. Kautsky will have to realise his beloved unity with the reactionaries of the social democratic movement. All that lot will agree to fight for a government "meeting the proletariat halfway".' But we shall go forward to a break with these traitors to socialism. We are working for the complete destruction of the old machinery of government in such a way that the armed workers themselves shall be the government.
- 1 The 'APCF Aims' appeared in 'The Bourgeois Role Of Bolshevism' and 'Leninism Or Marxism', two pamphlets published by the APCF in 1935.
- 2Apart from the APCF, in Britain left or council communism was also represented by Sylvia Pankhurst's Workers Socialist Federation, which evolved in a similar direction to Dutch and German left communism before disappearing in 1924. See Communism And Its Tactics, by Sylvia Pankhurst, available from the publishers.
- 3The APCF's ideas were closest to those of Pannekoek in his earlier works. See for example: 'World Revolution and Communist Tactics' (1920) in Pannekoek and Gorter's Marxism, ed. D.A. Smart, Pluto Press, London, 1978, pages 93-148. This text is also in Pannekoek and the Workers' Councils, by Serge Bricianer, Telos Press, Saint Louis, 1978, pages 175-210. However there was never an 'orthodox' council communism. Pannekoek's ideas, and those of other council communists, notably Paul Mattick, developed and changed over the years. See for example: Bricianer, op cit and Anti-Bolshevik Communism by Paul Mattick, Merlin Press, London, 1978.
- 4 It might be helpful to explain at this point that, historically, council communism developed out of left communism. The left communists had originally supported the Bolsheviks, but argued that the methods of the Russian revolution would be inappropriate in Western Europe. The disagreements between the left communists and the Bolsheviks were thus seen initially as tactical ones, as the term 'left' communist suggests. Later, when they no longer regarded the Bolsheviks as communists, the left communists ceased to so readily define their politics as a tactical variant of Bolshevism. and became known instead as council communists.
- 5Issues of Solidarity were numbered as if they appeared every month. Double issues covered two months.
- 6From: 'World Revolution and Communist Tactics'
- 7The Workers Open Forum was established in Glasgow in October 1942 to organise regular exchange of views between all bona fide revolutionary organisations. The WOF's slogans were: 'A Workers Council for eliminating error. All parties invited. Let the Truth prevail!' Towards the end of the Second World War the activity which the APCF/WRL carried out independently in its own name was steadily reduced in favour of increasing participation in the Open Forum. The WRL and Solidarity thus both seem to have disappeared at the end of the war; the Workers Open Forum continued to be held in Glasgow well into the nineteen fifties.