Left Communism: an anarchist perspective

Left Communism: an anarchist perspective

Wayne Price compares his conception of anarchism with tendencies in left communism. We do not necessarily agree with this article, but reproduce for reference and discussion.

Anarchists are often interested in a minority trend in Marxism (or set of trends) which was neither social-democratic (reformist) nor Marxist-Leninist. These views have been called “libertarian Marxist,” “autonomist Marxist,” “ultra-leftist,” “libertarian communist,” and “left communist.” Lenin wrote a famous pamphlet against these views, “Left-wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder.”

While such views go back to William Morris, the Britisher who knew both Engels and Kropotkin, the people I am writing about were active in the left of the social democratic parties before World War I. Unlike the social democrats, they opposed the imperialist war. They were thrilled by the October 1917 Russian Revolution; they were inspired by Lenin to split from the social democrats; and they formed revolutionary, Communist, parties, affiliated to the Third (Communist) International.

In the Communist International, perhaps most of the revolutionary workers who joined were politically to the left of Lenin and Trotsky (I will soon discuss just what this meant in terms of program). This is why Lenin wrote his pamphlet. Left oppositionists existed inside the Russian party (the Workers’ Opposition, the Democratic Centralists, the Workers’ Truth, etc.), all of which were banned in 1921. Far-left oppositionists existed elsewhere, such as the group around Sylvia Pankhurst in Britain. But the most significant, I think, were the German-Dutch left communists and the Italian left communists (see the historical studies by the International Communist Current, 1992; 2001). Today’s far-left Marxists are still influenced by the traditions of these left communists.

The German-Dutch left was deeply influenced by Rosa Luxemburg (although she would not have agreed with all their opinions). Their most well-known leaders were Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter, and Otto Ruhle. Paul Mattick, Sr., moved from Germany to the US, where he was active in the IWW. Karl Korsch was close to them. The Leninist leadership of the German Communist Party got rid of this left wing by expelling the majority of their own party.

The Italian left communists, or “Italian Fraction,” was led, at first, by Amadeo Bordiga. He was a founder of the Communist Party of Italy, merging his grouping with that around Gramsci. He became the first General Secretary of the C.P.I., supported by the majority of the membership. Under the pressure of the International, Bordiga and his co-thinkers were forced out the party, the leadership being given instead to Gramsci and Togliatti. Under close supervision by the fascist police, Bordiga dropped out of politics for an extended period. But the groupings which followed his teaching were still called “Bordigists,” at least by others.

These two left communist tendencies were expelled from the Communist International. They were to the left of Lenin and also of Trotsky and the Trotskyists (who were also expelled from the International and its parties, not that long after). The two “ultra-left” tendencies had much in common politically, as I shall show. Yet they never merged, because of a major difference, namely that the German-Dutch trend wanted the capitalist state to be replaced by the rule of associated workers’ councils (which led to their being called “council communists”), while the Italian Fraction wanted it to be replaced by the dictatorship of their party (discussed below).

The following is not a history of these two left communist groupings, such as the organizations in which they were incarnated (for that, see the I.C.C. books). Instead, I will discuss some of the major issues raised by the communist left which are of interest to revolutionary anarchists--at least I find them interesting (also see Barrot & Martin, 1974; Goldner, 1997; Mattick, 1978; Pannekoek, 2003; Rachleff, 1976). Naturally this will be a simplification, since individuals differed in their interpretation of common ideas, since they changed their minds over time (over decades of tumultuous events), and since there were splits and (more rarely) unifications within each tendency.

Issues of the Left Communists: The Epoch of Capitalist Decay

Luxemburg, Lenin, and Trotsky believed that they were in the final epoch of capitalism, its epoch of decline and decay. The left communists fully agreed. Not that there could not be periods of upturn or areas of lop-sided growth (Lenin believed that imperialism would cause the industrial development of the colonized countries and the de-industrialization of the imperialist countries, which would become parasitic upon the colonized nations). But the overall direction was downhill, with continuing stagnation, periodic deep economic crises, recurrent wars of great devastation, and political attacks on bourgeois-democratic liberties. (They did not know much about ecological dangers.)

This perspective underlay and justified revolutionary politics. Reformism would no longer work. An international working class revolution was necessary to save humanity.

The left communists had various Marxist theories to explain this decline. Some followed Rosa Luxemburg’s concept that capitalism could not realize its surplus value without exploiting non-capitalist countries. Others followed Lenin and Bukharin’s version of imperialism. Paul Mattick was influenced by the unconventional Stalinist, Henryk Grossman, to focus on the falling rate of profit (Mattick, 1981; Grossman, 1992). Generally they expected a Second World War, if there were no successful revolution. Mostly they did not expect the extended period of apparent prosperity after the world war, but “…in 1945, [Bordiga] had predicted a long period of capitalist expansion and workers’ reformism, due to end in the next world crisis, beginning in 1975” (Goldner, 1997; p. 4)—which I find remarkable. Some lived to see the post-World War II boom and to develop theories about it (especially Mattick, 1969).

As much as they examined the mechanics of capitalist decline, they emphasized that there was no automatic end to capitalism, and certainly no guaranteed workers’ revolution. There was an essential need for class consciousness and political awareness among the workers.

Aspects of the epoch of capitalist decay included the growth of monopolies and of integration of firms with the state. Recognizing this made it possible to understand the Soviet Union, not as a “workers’ state,” but as state capitalism—in which they were basically correct, as opposed to the Trotskyists. The left communists developed various theories of state capitalism, as well as of the nature of the Russian revolution. For example, Bordiga worked out a somewhat peculiar theory in which Soviet Russia was not state capitalist but a form of society developing into capitalism, without a current ruling class as such (Goldner, 1997; van der Linden, 2009).

Elections

In the First International, the main practical difference between Marx and the anarchists was Marx’s advocacy of building working class parties to run in elections. Under certain circumstances, he maintained, such parties could be legally elected into power; but in most cases they will eventually need a revolutionary uprising. The anarchists rejected this whole electoral approach in favor of independent mass action.

Lenin insisted that parties affiliated to the Communist International had to engage in elections to their parliaments. It was one of the twenty-one points required for membership. Not that he expected this to result in peaceful, legal, roads to power, but it would serve as a forum for propaganda and influence.

The left communists all rejected electoralism (the German-Dutch councilists on principle, the Italians more on tactical grounds). Bourgeois democracy, they argued, was a fraud, a form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Electoralism misdirected the workers, giving them the message that even the revolutionaries believed in parliament. It led to passivity for the workers as they voted for someone to “represent” them and be political while they went back to work. Living as parliamentary deputies corrupted elected socialists, no matter how radical they started out. It corrupted radical parties, as they modified their programs to reach the workers at their present, reformist, level of consciousness in order to get elected. Running in elections meant developing programs for managing the capitalist state. All these were lessons from the history of the Marxist social democratic parties. Whatever had been the case in Marx’s day, they said, running in elections and serving in parliament were no longer viable methods. In effect, the left communists had come around to the anarchist position.

Unions

Here the two trends differed. The German-Dutch left communists were opposed to working in the established unions, seeing them as simply an enemy to be destroyed. They recalled how the reformist-led unions had mobilized their workers for the imperialist World War I and then had sabotaged the revolution which broke out in Germany. The unions, they decided, were nothing but (repeat: nothing but) agents of the bourgeoisie for controlling the workers. The leftists either advocated forming new, revolutionary, unions, or rejected unions altogether, expecting workers’ councils to develop in the run-up to the next revolution.

The “Bordigist” left communists disagreed. They supported working in bureaucratic, reformist-led, unions and insisted that their members join them. For example, “Communists have a duty to fight within reformist unions which are today the sole unitary organizations of the masses. But it is on the condition that they must not renounce their activity, which is the safegad of the proletarian struggle, that communists legitimize their presence in these unions” (“Declaration of principles of the Belgian Fraction of the International Communist Left,” I.C.C.1992; p. 182).

This was necessary in order to reach the large number of workers, when in combat with the bourgeoisie, who still had illusions in the reformists —instead of deliberately self-isolating the revolutionaries from the workers (which the reformists were delighted to see happen) by withdrawing from the unions. But they insisted that revolutionaries should raise their intransigent communist program inside the unions and fight for it, against the reformist misleaderships.

On this point, I agree with the “Bordigists” rather than the councilists. Joining unions is not the same as running for parliament (or congress). The latter is part of the state while the unions are working class institutions, however deformed. There is a distinction between the union as such, an organization of workers (and only workers—bosses do not join) and the bureaucratic officialdom, which is an agency of the bourgeoisie within the workers’ organization. However, even the worst bureaucrats must try to win something for the workers, so the membership will support them and therefore they have something to sell to the capitalist class and its state. This is why US unionized workers generally have higher wages than non-unionized workers. (But when the union officials are unable to win anything, then there is a real crisis.)

In any case, history has settled the issue. If the unions were nothing but agencies of the capitalists, then the capitalists would want to keep them around, to serve their useful purpose of controlling the workers. But instead, when the economy weakened, the capitalists have engaged in a bitter class-war attack on even the “best-behaved” business unions. In the US, first private sector unions were whittled down (from a third of the work force to about 7%), and then public sector unions came under a vicious assault. Clearly, while the capitalists might have made the best of it when they felt they had to put up with unions, now they feel that they cannot afford the unions anymore--that (on balance) unions are too much in the interests of the workers rather than the bosses. Naturally the liberal bureaucrats have no idea how to deal with this situation!

National Liberation

The communist left’s focus was almost entirely on the working class and its economic fight against exploitation. They had little to say about non-class issues and oppressions, such as gender or race (except for war, which was impossible to ignore). They did not deal with democratic issues, being focused on exposing the similarities between bourgeois democracy and formal bourgeois dictatorship. They had no conception of seeking to win allies for the working class among other oppressed sectors of society. They did not raise nonclass issues which might also be directed against the state and the ruling class.

A major example, although not the only one, was their opposition to national liberation (self-determination) struggles. They insisted that these were inevitably bourgeois, statist, and capitulatory to imperialism. They agreed with Luxemburg that national struggles could not win in the present epoch of imperialism and capitalist decline. However, this was not literally true; since that time many nations have won political independence from their colonial overlords. There is no absolute guarantee today that Puerto Rico, Palestine, or Tibet might not yet win national independence.

However, no people can win complete national freedom given the dominance of the great powers in world politics and given the domination of the world market by the imperial corporations (multinationals). But this only strengthens the case that libertarian socialists can make that “nationalism,” as a program to create new capitalist national states, will not work. “Nationalism” as a program and ideology is not the same thing as national liberation. Only the program of international revolution by the working class and its allies can really win full national self-determination. That is a reason for revolutionaries to support national struggles, and to find ways of showing solidarity with oppressed peoples, while opposing their nationalist, pro-capitalist, statist, misleaders. (For the history of anarchist involvement in national liberation and anti-imperialist struggles, see Black Flame [Schmidt & van der Walt, 2009], chapter 10, pp. 309—321.)

Oddly, the left communists of the Netherlands, despite their program, gave support to the Indonesian national struggle against Dutch colonialism. They were right to do so.

The United Front and the Popular Front

The communist left was opposed, in principle, to working with other working class political trends, particularly the social democrats. These had betrayed the revolutions in Italy, Germany, and Russia and were therefore, they said, (nothing but) agents of the capitalist class. The “ultra-leftists” rejected any United Front with other working class parties which did not advocate communist revolution. This ignored the reality that millions of European workers, who thought of themselves as socialists, supported the social democratic parties. It should have been a question of how to reach these noncommunist workers.

At the same time, the left communists rejected support for bourgeois democracy, which they regarded as just as bad as fascism. They ignored the reality that bourgeois democracy permitted the existence of workers’ unions, parties, a workers’ press, and other organizations, such as those of the left communists. The fascists would (and did) destroy all of these, while grinding the working class into the dirt. Like the fascists, the social democrats opposed socialist revolution. But unlike the fascists, the social democrats, with their parties and unions, required bourgeois democracy in order to exist. The existence of workers’ organizations laid the basis for workers’ democracy.

How did this work out in practice? In the early 1920s in Italy, with the aid of big business, Mussolini organized his fascist forces. Gangs of former army officers, gangsters, and thugs were given fascist uniforms and sent to cities, towns, and villages, to smash up union halls, socialist and communist party headquarters, and left-wing presses. At first this was unopposed, but former rank-and-file soldiers and others formed a popular militia, the Arditi del Popolo. They included workers from the whole range of the left: anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, communists, socialists, left republicans (opposed to the monarchy), etc. They were effective in defending union headquarters and “red” villages, driving the fascists off the streets and out of town.

But the Socialist Party decided to sign a “Pact of Pacification” with the fascists (which was immediately broken by the fascists) and withdrew its members. And—this is the point—the Communist Party, then led by Bordiga, also withdrew its members from the Arditi (passing up the chance to pressure the social democrats). For reasons, they said that they did not want their workers following non-CP leadership and that the Arditti were for “democracy” but not for communist revolution. No one remained but the anarchists and the syndicalists (and the republicans). They continued to fight against the fascists, as best as they could, but were eventually defeated (Anarchist Federation, 2006; ASP, 1989; I.C.C. 1992, pp. 20-21). And so was the whole of the working class, as the Italian fascists came to power and demonstrated that there was a practical difference between fascism and bourgeois democracy. This was the cost of following the left communist approach.

The German left communists would have repeated the same disaster with the rise of Nazism, if the lefts had been influential enough (I.C.C., 2001). They had the same approach, opposing any United Front with the social democrats against the Nazis and insisting that Nazi rule would not be all that much worse than bourgeois democracy. Instead it was the German Communist Party, under the control of Stalin and his agents, which carried out the “ultra-left” program. As Bordiga had before, they denounced any idea of allying with the Social Democratic Party to fight the Nazi attacks. They denied any distinction for the workers between parliamentary democracy and Nazi dictatorship.

The German anarchists were too weak to speak for revolutionary sanity. Leon Trotsky, then in exile from the Soviet Union, produced a series of pamphlets urging the Communists to call for a United Front with the Social Democrats (Price, 2007; Trotsky, 1971). He proposed a practical, military, working class alliance to fight the fascists, break up their meetings, and drive them from the streets, instead of letting them do this to the left. He was denounced and ignored. (I am leaving aside a broader analysis of Trotsky.) Once again, the strategy of the left communists (if followed by others) led to disasterous consequences for the working class and the world.

After the victory of Nazism in Germany, the Stalinists were shocked by the results. They jumped away from their sectarian, “ultra-left,” stance, right over the United Front of workers’ organizations. Instead they dashed to the right, to the idea of the “People’s Front” (in France, Spain, and elsewhere). This was an alliance of workers’ organizations together with liberal bourgeois parties (which guaranteed that the alliance would stay within the limits of capitalism). Most of the left accepted this. Even the mainstream of the Spanish anarchists, leading the syndicalist union federation, eventually joined the Spanish Popular Front government to fight Franco’s fascism during the civil war/revolution (Price, 2007). In this way, they betrayed their program and the working class.

The left communists, who had not supported the idea of United Fronts, certainly did not support these Popular Fronts. In this they were correct. But the rigidity of their program and their insistence on their sectarian purity, made it impossible for them to combine firmness of principles with tactical flexibility. In the Spanish revolution, they insisted that both the fascist side and the Republican (bourgeois democratic) side were equally to be opposed and urged soldiers on both sides to desert. They did not see the value of fighting on the Republican side (but not supporting the Popular Front government) until the workers were strong enough to overthrow it. During World War II, they opposed the Resistance in France and elsewhere and the Italian partisans, on the grounds that these were furthering Allied imperialism. They did not see the possibility of such forces leading to revolution (as they did, under Stalinist leadership, alas, in several countries). The communist left was extremely isolated after the war.

Democracy, the Party, and the State

The biggest difference between the “Bordigists” and the council communists was over their interpretation of the goal of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” “What really differentiated the two lefts was that one advocated the dictatorship of the party and the other the dictatorship of the councils” (I.C.C., 1992; p.36).

Bordiga always regarded himself as a Leninist, and was accused of being more Leninist than Lenin. Unlike the council communists, “He proudly defined himself as ‘anti-democratic’…. He completely missed, and dismissed, the role of soviets and workers’ councils in Russia, Germany, and Italy….Bordiga…was oblivious to the historical significance of soviets, workers’ councils, and workers’ democracy and…placed everything in the party” (Goldner, 1997; pp. 9, 11, & 18; Goldner admires Bordiga, although disagreeing with his anti-democratic views).

In 1951, Bordiga summed up his views (Bordiga, 2003). The party represented the workers’ class consciousness (some Bordigists declared that the working class did not exist as a class without a party). It is a “unitary and homogeneous party” (p. 8). Its goal is to take power and keep power. Once in power, he wrote, the party would not rely on having a “statistical majority” in elections. It would not rely on “class democracy” or “workers’ democracy” or “abdicate for lack of having a majority of votes….The communist party will rule alone, and will never give up power without a physical struggle” (p. 7). The economy would not be managed through “economic democracy,” but would be organized by specialists who would focus on “general data and…their scientific study” (p. 8). In short, there would be “a revolutionary and totalitarian apparatus of force and power…[instead of] the deceitful cry of Freedom!” (pp. 10—11). Bordiga may have made some contributions in theory and practice , but overall his politics are monstrous. In reality, he was an advocate of state capitalism.

The German-Dutch left communists on a number of issues, but differed on this key matter of workers’ democracy. It was not their original dispute with Lenin but it became their key issue, as they came to oppose the party-state in favor of the rule of the workers’ councils. Since then, history has repeatedly given examples of revolutionary situations where workers’ and popular councils were created by the popular classes as an alternative to the bureaucratic state of capitalism.

Bordiga and some others counterpose the goal of workers’ democracy to the aim of creating a society without the law of value (for example, Gilles Dauve’; Barrot & Martin,1974). But the law of value expresses a chaotic society of commodity exchange on the market. It cannot be abolished unless the freely associated producers themselves consciously organize and plan the economy. That requires the fullest producers’ self-management, which begins as workers’ democracy.

However, the councilists had to deal with the relationship between the revolutionary minority (organized in a party or not) and the workers’ councils. They had already rejected the idea of the party being elected to power in the bourgeois parliament. They came to reject the idea of the party merely using the councils in order to take power. Some continued to see the need, however, for a party, or some sort of organization of the revolutionary minority, which would fight for the councils against various reformist and statist forces. Others decided that there was no need for any sort of party or organization, that any such structure would lead to the party-state. Otto Ruhle influenced a trend with this view. In general, the council communists seem to have waffled in a confused way when dealing with this issue.

Many anarchists have been in a similar ambiguous situation. The anarchist tendency I identify with also rejects the idea of a party as an organization which aims to take power, but believes that there is a need for those revolutionaries who agree on a common program to organize themselves in order to spread their ideas. Organizing helps them to coordinate their activities and to develop their ideas, while opposing trends which advocate party-states or reformism.

Conclusion

As an anarchist, what I like about the left communists is that they used Marx’s economic theory, and other aspects of Marx’s thought, while advocating a program which was close to anarchism (at least the councilists). I find much of Marx’s thought to be useful and see this as evidence that some of it can be integrated with anarchism. However, in many ways left communism is deeply flawed and must be rejected.

In particular, the left communists were right about basing the revolutionary program on the epoch of capitalist decay, and about analyzing the Soviet Union as state capitalist. Strategically, they were right to oppose electoralism in favor of mass strikes and direct action. They were right to oppose the Popular Front strategy of alliance with liberal bourgeois parties. The “Bordigists” were right to advocate working inside reformist unions. The council communists were correct to emphasize the development of the workers’ councils in revolutionary periods and to advocate the replacement of the bourgeois state by the rule of the councils.

On the other hand, the left communists were rigid and ideologically blinded. They did not look for ways for the working class to build alliances and to mobilize the people against all forms of oppression. The councilists were wrong to oppose working in the reformist-led unions. All left communists were wrong to oppose giving solidarity to people in national liberation struggles and to oppose United Fronts. Their sectarian strategy resulted in a disaster for the world’s working class when it held back the fight against Mussolini in Italy, and would have had the same effect in Germany against the Nazis. The authoritarian, state capitalist, politics of Bordiga are not a version of libertarian communism. Meanwhile the councilists have vacillated about whether to form special organizations of the revolutionary minorities to fight for their program. This has greatly weakened their effectiveness. Anarchists can learn from left communists but should not become left communists.

References

Anarchist Federation (2006). Resistance to Nazism; Shattered Armies: How the Working Class Fought Nazism and Fascism. Anarchist Federation Pamphlet.

ASP (1989). Red Years, Black Years; Anarchist Resistance to Fascism in Italy (from Rivista Anarchica). London: ASP.

Barrot, Jean [Dauve’, Gilles], & Martin, Francois (1974). Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement. Detroit: Black and Red.

Bordiga, Amadeo (2003). Proletarian Dictatorship and Class Party. http://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1951/clas...y.htm

Goldner, Loren (1997). Communism is the Material Human Community; Amadeo Bordiga Today. Baltimore: Collective Action Notes.

Grossman, Henryk (1992). The Law of Accumulation and Breakdown of the Capitalist System; Being Also a Theory of Crises (J. Banaji, trans.). London: Pluto Press.

International Communist Current (1992). The Italian Communist Left; 1926—45; A Contribution to the History of the Revolutionary Movement. London UK: I.C.C.

International Communist Current (2001). The Dutch and German Communist Left; A Contribution to the History of the Revolutionary Movement. London UK: I.C.C.

Mattick, Paul (1969). Marx and Keynes; The Limits of the Mixed Economy. Boston: Extending Horizons/Peter Sergent.

Mattick, Paul (1978). Anti-Bolshevik Communism. Monmouth, Wales, UK: Merlin Press.

Mattick, Paul (1981). Economic Crisis and Crisis Theory (P. Mattick, Jr., trans.). London: Merlin Press.

Pannekoek, Anton (2003). Workers’ Councils. Oakland CA: AK Press.

Price, Wayne (2007). The Abolition of the State; Anarchist and Marxist Perspectives. Bloomington IN: AuthorHouse.

Rachleff, Peter J. (1976). Marxism and Council Communism; The Foundation for Revolutionary Theory for Modern Society. NY: Revisionist Press.

Schmidt, Michael, & van der Walt, Lucien (2009). Black Flame; The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism; Vol. 1. Oakland CA: AK Press.

Trotsky, Leon (1971). The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany. NY: Pathfinder Press.

van der Linden, Marcel (2009). Western Marxism and the Soviet Union; A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917 (J. Bendien, trans.). Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Originally appeared: March 21, 2012 at Anarkismo

Posted By

Juan Conatz
Mar 21 2012 01:39

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klas batalo
Mar 21 2012 06:39

wayne, first of all thanks for the concise review of the major trends in the communist left. i think it will benefit many an anarchist unfamiliar with their history.

on the issue of the unions you say:

Quote:
"There is a distinction between the union as such, an organization of workers (and only workers—bosses do not join) and the bureaucratic officialdom, which is an agency of the bourgeoisie within the workers’ organization."

now my question regarding this is, if the unions are organized (if at all) from the top down by the bureaucrats can we really call them workers organizations, or self-organized by the workers themselves?

you go on to say:

Quote:
"However, even the worst bureaucrats must try to win something for the workers, so the membership will support them and therefore they have something to sell to the capitalist class and its state. This is why US unionized workers generally have higher wages than non-unionized workers. (But when the union officials are unable to win anything, then there is a real crisis.)

&

"Clearly, while the capitalists might have made the best of it when they felt they had to put up with unions, now they feel that they cannot afford the unions anymore--that (on balance) unions are too much in the interests of the workers rather than the bosses. Naturally the liberal bureaucrats have no idea how to deal with this situation!"

i can agree that the capitalists want to get rid of them because they at least partially serve the interests of the workers, at the very worst case as a form of business unionism, providing representation and various services. and i am okay with such reforms being defended but when you bring up that when the union officials are unable to win anything, and that the liberal bureaucrats have no idea how to deal with this situation, it makes me wonder if in the current situation the ideas of the council communists were right?

in my study of the council communists it seems to me their rejection of the trade unions in favor of a more general fighting / class struggle / red unionism or at least aspiring to use those methods inside and outside of the current trade unions is what it is going to take to actually fight back against austerity. much like the italian left communists rejected in their situation electoral politics tactically, my reading of the council communists always was that they saw the trade unions on the decline and so started to organize more class wide/ general workers unions the AAUD being very much like the IWW and their syndicalist cousins in the FAUD. later day councilists even eventually warmed up to federalism. you are right to point out that there were disputes that very much echo the debate between current day dual organizationalists and anarcho-syndicalists. in their later years this dichotomy can be seen in the practice of GIKH (dual organizational study/action circles) and the KAUD (communist worker cells).

as a side note i would like to say you've put out your most internationalist take on national liberation struggles and against nationalism i've seen yet.

again thanks for writing this critique. i look forward to further debate.

Spikymike
Mar 21 2012 16:31

'Concise' is stretching it a bit, though to be fair any attempt at such a short introduction was bound to be of limited value.

Wayne is fairly honestly just giving his personal take on the main historical trends in 'left communism' and using this text to again assert his confused anarchist views on 'national liberation' and 'anti-fascist' movements which are by no means accepted by other anarchists - debated on other threads here.

I'll leave it to those who still subscribe to 'left communism' today to contest some of the more specific points in this text.

There is better material than this in some of the links to other library texts including those from Mark Shipway and in the 'Wildcat' pamphlet 'Class War on the Home Front -Revolutionary Opposition to the Second World War'

Operaista
Mar 24 2012 14:11

There's a great deal that is objectionable in this piece, but, for now, I just want to touch on one thing that particularly bothered me in a different sort of way than the rest (the rest of the disagreements being disagreements of analysis and theory, that while serious, do not come across as malicious). I feel that accusing Bordiga of being for state capitalism is not only baseless, but it comes across as both sectarian and a strange falsification for someone as well read as Mr. Price.

The Italian Left, unlike the German/Dutch Left, understood that capitalism is not a management problem. If anyone can be accused of being for capitalism, it would be the councilists, who proposed a system of self-management that continued production for value (albeit use value). With their obsession over accounting, measuring, labor vouchers, and local control of workplaces, they were advocating a system of self-managed capitalism. Much like this piece, they failed to understand the law of value. However, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the councilists were "for self-managed capitalism"; they simply had a serious flaw in their understanding of capital.

The councilists, of course, saw that the Soviet Union was state capitalist. Trotskyist orthodoxy could not see the USSR as capitalist, as they thought the problem was the wrong manager; councilists could see the USSR as state capitalist, but saw the problem as the wrong form of management; only the Italian Left could discern that the USSR was simply capitalist, and that arose because the material conditions dictated that it be so - that socialism in one country was completely impossible, and that no matter how Russia was run or by who, the failure of the world revolution would force it to go through the agricultural revolution.

I would encourage everyone interested in this topic to read Dauvé's note on Pannekoek and Bordiga from The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, Antagonism's introduction to Bordiga versus Pannekoek, Bordiga's Marxism of the Stammerers, and Doctrine of the Body Possessed by the Devil.

Edit: "albeit use value" is my misspeaking - I have no idea what was going on in my head there. Of course, it would be for exchange values.

Nate
Mar 22 2012 06:53

I've bookmarked this to read later. I only got a few lines in so far then glanced further. The reference to “autonomist Marxist" is just inaccurate here. To the best of my knowledge Harry Cleaver invented that term in his book Reading Capital Politically. The term on Cleaver's usage refers to a wide range of currents, few if any of them which are mentioned in this article. More frequently nowadays the term is used to refer more narrowly to Italian marxists from the 1960s and 1970s, some of them known at the time as adherents to a small milieu called operaismo. It's also used narrowly to refer to later writing by some of those marxists (like Antonio Negri) and writers influenced by those currents. So, referring to "autonomist Marxism" in this piece would be sort of like writing about Platformists in an article about 1905.

bastarx
Mar 22 2012 10:49

Wayne trying his hardest yet again to live up to that "circled-A Trotskyist" description some ultra-left weirdoes have tagged him with.

The pro-union and nationalism bits have been done before but I haven't seen the pro-united front stuff from him before.

Without wanting to defend the Stalinist KPD the SPD played a pretty big role in the inability of the German working class to smash Nazism before it took power:

Sergio Bologna wrote:
As you may know, in the Weimar Republic, Mayday was not a holiday. It was Hitler who declared Mayday a national Labour Day, in 1933. Thus the celebration of Mayday became a question of high moral value, and at the same time a problem of public order. On the one hand were the Communists, social revolutionaries and anarchists, who wanted to turn it into a day of struggle - an open, public proletarian festival, a challenge to capital and to the existing order. On the other stood the Social Democrats, wavering between a concern for legality and at the same time a need to make their role and presence felt on such a significant day.

Mayday 1929 in Berlin fell in an atmosphere that was particularly tense, due partly to the onset of economic crisis and partly to the onset of a crisis of the political system.

The police chief in Berlin, a Social Democrat by name of Zorgiebel, had already banned all public demonstrations in Berlin in December 1928. In March 1929 he extended the ban to the whole of Prussia, and then renewed the ban specifically for Mayday 1929, asking the trade unions to abstain from public demonstrations and to organise only indoor meetings. The Communists, however, decided to challenge the ban and to demonstrate in the streets. The Social Democratic trade unions and the SPD organised their Mayday events in theatres, association offices etc. The Communist slogan was: "We do not accept the ban. We shall demonstrate in the streets, and if the police try to attack we shall call a general strike for the next day." And so it was to be.

The police, as has been shown from research in police archives, mounted a deliberate attack, organised by special anti-subversion units. There were violent clashes, which spread to include workers who were coming out of the indoor meetings of the Social Democratic trade unions. The Communist Party called a general strike for the following day, but despite pressure from many militants did not distribute weapons; nevertheless, in the quarters of Neukolln and Wedding the barricades went up and the police had to lay siege to the areas for three days before they were able to restore order.

The final balance was extremely heavy: thirty people dead, all of them demonstrators; 200 wounded; 1,200 people arrested, of whom 44 were kept in custody by the police. The Prussian Minister of the Interior seized this opportunity to ban the mass organisations of the Communist Party.

These events brought about an unhealable fracture between Communist militants, and the Social Democratic party and its organisations. Oral history research has shown that in the memory of proletarian militants (not only communists) this was a turning point, a "point of no return" in their remembrance of their total alienation from anything to do with the SPD. Whereas the killings of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht might possibly have been attributed to the Freikorps and not purely to Noske's policies, the blame for the repression of Mayday 1929 in Berlin lay squarely at the door of Social Democratic ministers and functionaries. This trauma split the working class down the middle, right on the eve of the final clash with the Nazi militias.

From: http://libcom.org/library/nazism-and-working-class-sergio-bologna

Android
Mar 22 2012 12:52
Peter wrote:
The pro-union and nationalism bits have been done before but I haven't seen the pro-united front stuff from him before.

IIRC he goes into it a bit here in a text on trotskyism and anarchism.

bastarx
Mar 22 2012 13:04

I see, I'm not an expert Price scholar by any means more just someone who enjoys mocking his shitty leftist politics.

Android
Mar 22 2012 14:01
Peter wrote:
I see, I'm not an expert Price scholar by any means more just someone who enjoys mocking his shitty leftist politics.

lol, I can appreciate that.

Hieronymous
Mar 22 2012 19:18

A more accurate title for Price's article would be "A Trotskyist Misreading of Left Communism."

Black Badger
Mar 22 2012 21:42

How about "A (Former?) Trostkyist Playing at Being an Anarchist Misreading of Left Communism"?

syndicalist
Mar 25 2012 17:00

erased an immature comment.

TeflonMaster
Mar 25 2012 04:16

wow this was really fucking terrible

scottydont
Mar 25 2012 13:32

Not to bring it down to the level of @news trolling, but this is seriously one of the worst things I have read in quite a while.

Distaste for the turgid writing style and political difference aside, much of what is said seems simply inaccurate. There seem to be many distortions, which either indicate a profound misunderstanding of the texts and history that he references, or a an ill-intentioned and deliberate attempt to warp their meaning to fit his leftist non-sense. Perhaps it should get a standard "this is kinda dumb and should not be taken at face value" disclaimer like some other texts here? Particularly since it is clearly intended as an introduction for anarchist readers who are not previously familiar with the texts referenced?

communal_pie
Mar 25 2012 16:38

I am really displeased at this article, it's really truly a shocking read and typical of anarcho-liberalised americano such and such. I'm tired of seeing stuff like this and I'm surprised it's been allowed to stay in the library.

Hieronymous
Mar 29 2012 06:15

EDIT: removed comment

It's too inaccurate and its distortions are intentional.

ocelot
Mar 26 2012 13:58
Operaista wrote:
The Italian Left, unlike the German/Dutch Left, understood that capitalism is not a management problem. [...]The councilists, of course, saw that the Soviet Union was state capitalist. Trotskyist orthodoxy could not see the USSR as capitalist, as they thought the problem was the wrong manager; councilists could see the USSR as state capitalist, but saw the problem as the wrong form of management; only the Italian Left could discern that the USSR was simply capitalist, and that arose because the material conditions dictated that it be so - that socialism in one country was completely impossible, and that no matter how Russia was run or by who, the failure of the world revolution would force it to go through the agricultural revolution.

Rubbish. Bordiga was a loyal partisan of the Comintern up until his arrest in 1926 and his subsequent explusion in 1930 (iirc?). At no stage in the 1920s and 1930s did he suggest that the Russian Revolution was anything other than a proletarian revolution, overthrowing capitalism. His line, until he fell silent, was that members of the Frazione should try and stay within the Comintern parties in exile, for as long as possible. His disagreement with Stalin was not over turning the USSR into a one-party bureacratic dicatorship - Bordiga was in fully in favour of one-party leninist-style dictatorship - but that the United Front (1922) and 'Bolshevisation' (1925) policies enforced by the Comintern were undermining the (leninist) Communist movement outside Russia. At no point before the late 1940s or early 1950s did Bordiga refer to the USSR as capitalist - partly because this formula was associated with Korsch and the KAPD, who denied the proletarian nature of the October revolution (an article of faith for both Bordiga and the Bilan group).

Operaista wrote:
I would encourage everyone interested in this topic to read [...]

...the Bourrinet book, The Bordigist Current, the author's re-edition of the work originally published by the ICC as The Italian Communist Left.

ocelot
Mar 26 2012 14:01

And as for all the whiners... There's no point calling for an article to be binned or otherwise censored on the grounds of inaccuracies if you can't even point to a single one. Put up or stop crying, basically.

Hieronymous
Mar 26 2012 14:26
ocelot wrote:
And as for all the whiners... There's no point calling for an article to be binned or otherwise censored on the grounds of inaccuracies if you can't even point to a single one. Put up or stop crying, basically.

Let's start with the first lie: Wayne Price is a Trotskyist masquerading as an anarchist and pontificating about left communism (he's written several articles). See the disconnect there?

Then there's the grandstanding for national liberation and all kinds of other Trot politics. That's disingenuous. Rather than on libcom, Juan should be posting this on discussion forums connected to the ISO and other Trot parties. Why do we have to be burdened with the Trotskyist line on left communism?

ocelot
Mar 26 2012 15:23

I don't see you coming up with any inaccuracies in the article so far.

Ad hominem attacks mean sod all, other than reflecting on your own character.

Juan Conatz
Mar 26 2012 21:15

Probably pretty obvious that I don't agree with large portions of what Wayne writes. I think anyone who pays attention to the stuff that I write, either as comments or as blogposts will recognize this. Whether I agree with something or not has little to do on why I'd put in the library though. Often times I will purposefully put stuff I don't agree with on here because I know libcom is a (relatively) popular site that will create discussion or counterpoints.

It's possible I have a different conception on the purpose of the library though. I do not think that it should just be 'stuff that individual left communists/IWA members/whoever think is acceptable'.

I'm not sure how many of you realize how widely visited libcom actually is. To me, and I admit I have a biased view, it seems like nearly everyone I know on the anti-authoritarian left is at least somewhat familiar with the site. A lot of people read through the library or even the forums. Even my dad, no radical, checks out the site because he knows I have writings here. More randomly, someone who now lives in the same cooperative housing in Iowa I did a year ago found the Iowa stuff I've put here. You never know who's reading, and I think its better to take on things you disagree with rather than yell at someone for adding it to the site because a lot of people mostly read what we say on here (I know I did for a couple years before I became more active, in fact, most of what I know about the IWA, IWW and various strands of libertarian communism...the building blocks of that knowledge was reading the contributions of H. and people like him). Does that mean I should put slanted explicit Trot or Stalinist material on here? Probably not, but Wayne's arguments are pretty common from certain platformist crowds, which represents one of the larger organized bloc of class struggle anarchists in the English speaking world...

bastarx
Mar 26 2012 23:38
ocelot wrote:
I don't see you coming up with any inaccuracies in the article so far.

Ad hominem attacks mean sod all, other than reflecting on your own character.

What does calling Dauve a Holocaust revisionist not because he denies the existence of the gas chambers but because he has a different interpretation of it to you say about your character?

syndicalist
Mar 27 2012 00:53
Quote:
"Dauve a Holocaust revisionist"

can someone post a link to where this accusation is made?

usual suspect
Mar 27 2012 01:02
bastarx
Mar 27 2012 01:11

Which was split from the platformist thread:

http://libcom.org/forums/theory/platformism-wider-anarchist-movement-27022012?page=1

In which ocelot wrote:

Quote:
As Dauve talks about in Fascism/Antifascism (although he cant help himself throwing in a sickening bit of holocaust revisionism in passing

By a dictionary definition such as:

Quote:
Revisionsim n: Advocacy of the revision of an accepted, usually long-standing view, theory, or doctrine, especially a revision of historical events and movements.

Dauve may well by a Holocaust revisionist in that he differs from the accepted view but he is certainly not a Holocaust revisionist in the generally accepted sense of someone who denies the Holocaust ever happened.

Black Badger
Mar 27 2012 01:39

While I am loath to open this can of worms, there are several different perspectives that are being casually conflated, and I'd like to impose some more descriptive and distinct camps. There are Holocaust Deniers, who say that there was no concerted and organized campaign that specifically targeted Europe's Jews for annihilation. Those who died in the camps died of typhus, not genocide.

There are Holocaust Revisionists, who say that the facts and figures that were promulgated in the lead-up to and in the wake of the Nuremburg Trials were probably exaggerated to make the Nazis look worse. Those who died in the camps were targeted as enemies of the state, and had to be incarcerated away from those in power -- for their own safety no doubt -- but the total numbers keep shrinking...

There are Holocaust Minimizers or Equalizers, who say that the war crimes of the Allies (the favored examples being the firebombing of Dresden and the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while the Soviet massacres are also often cited) were just as bad as those of the Nazis.

Most of these folks get lumped into the broad Holocaust Revisionist camp, more likely than not because they're almost all antisemites and Jew-baiters, and the Holocaust-is-Unique folks (those whom Finkelstein blames for creating and perpetuating what he calls "The Holocaust Industry" and whom I call Holocaustolaters) find it convenient to keep them lumped. Both sides are wrong.

bastarx
Mar 27 2012 03:01

Fair enough BB.

Hieronymous
Mar 27 2012 05:46
ocelot wrote:
I don't see you coming up with any inaccuracies in the article so far.

Ad hominem attacks mean sod all, other than reflecting on your own character.

Cute. Making an accusation of "ad hominem attacks" by making an ad hominem attack.

As for Price's article:

Juan Conatz wrote:
This was the cost of following the left communist approach.

[...]

Once again, the strategy of the left communists (if followed by others) led to disasterous consequences for the working class and the world.

[...]

In this way, they betrayed their program and the working class.

[...]

The communist left was extremely isolated after the war.

[...]

In general, the council communists seem to have waffled in a confused way when dealing with this issue.

[...]

However, in many ways left communism is deeply flawed and must be rejected.

[...]

1.The councilists were wrong to oppose working in the reformist-led unions.

2. All left communists were wrong to oppose giving solidarity to people in national liberation struggles and to oppose United Fronts.

3. Their sectarian strategy resulted in a disaster for the world’s working class when it held back the fight against Mussolini in Italy, and would have had the same effect in Germany against the Nazis.

Frankly, this article is sloppy, poorly written, and full of fallacies. For example, look at the last 3 quotes:

1. This is simply the position of Lenin in "Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Taking Price at his word, in the early 20th century, groups like the IWW should have followed the Comintern's directive and folded themselves into Sam Gompers' racist, nativist, craft-based and thereby exclusionary AFL. Which would simply have been impossible, since so many of the Wobblies were non-whites and immigrants working in the newly deskilled Taylorist industries. See chapter 7 on the "The Philadelphia Controversy" in Peter Cole's excellent Wobblies on the Waterfront to see how the Comintern sabotaged Local 8 on the Philly docks because the IWW opposed itself to 3rd International cooptation.

2. If you want to see the disastrous results of working in United Fronts, just read the parts in Ngo Van's In the Crossfire to see how after Yalta Stalin gave Ho Chi Mihn the green light to start massacring political rivals to his left, including the same Trotskyists they had just been in a United Front with. It's simply a waste to make libcom a debating society about these homicidal class collaborationist tactics of state bureaucracies.

3. And as Peter points out, it's simply bullshit to blame the Nazis and fascists in Italy on "left communists." This is not only untrue, it's disingenuous to the point of distorting history so much that it's simply a lie.

Overall, Price's article is a bad faith attack on the traditions of anti-Bolshevik communism, using pseudo-anarchism as a foil to promote fairly orthodox Trotskyist positions on things like the United Front, advocacy of statecraft in cheerleading for nationalist liberation, and an anti-imperialism that is so historically inaccurate and un-nuanced that its arguments are anti-intellectual.

ocelot
Mar 27 2012 10:39

See Hieronymous, with a little bit of prompting you can make an effort to pause your screeching for censorship long enough to "Give meaningful post content which gives people something to discuss", to quote the posting guidelines. Why don't you leave the @narchistnews style comments to that forum in future?

First response is, that none of the above amounts to the factual inaccuracies you originally claimed as your reason for your call for censorship. "Fallacies" also usually has a more technical meaning - as in logical fallacies - than the one you're using it for - i.e. interpretations and opinions with which I disagree.

If you had started your commentary with a list of things you disagreed with in the article we could have proceeded to an adult debate without the necessity to remind you that Tea Party style histrionics are not considered an adequate debating style on a libertarian communist forum.

So, for the record, while I think the article is a useful cursory overview of the topic, particularly for a younger audience who may be missing even the most basic historical fact, there are also opinions of Wayne's that I disagree with. For example:

Quote:
In particular, the left communists were right about basing the revolutionary program on the epoch of capitalist decay, and about analyzing the Soviet Union as state capitalist

I disagree with both of these propositions. Firstly I reject the term "state capitalist" as a descriptor for the USSR for two reasons. The first, a practical one - so many different tendencies and individuals have different interpretations of what is meant by that term, and so many of them are mutually contradictory, that the term is hopelessly confusionist. The likelihood of any two people agreeing on the proposition that "the USSR was state capitalist" and understanding the same thing by that are now so remote, that any use of the term can only obstruct communication and clarity.

The second reason for rejecting "state capitalist" as a productive concept, is that I think it muddies the waters on what the specific historical social relations of capitalism actually are. I've had this arguement more than once with Wayne (albeit in a much more comradely way than people seem to manage on forums) and his line, as best I can recall it, is that the USSR was clearly an exploitative class society (and thus neither socialist or communist - agreed) and that it had all the social relations specific to capitalism - i.e. the wage, a market in labour (commodification of labour), generalised commodity production and market relations. There, I do disagree with him, but that's a whole long debate. I would characterise Wayne's position of still being too influenced by the debate of the nature of the USSR in the Trotskyist movement, of which he was once a part. That is that, rejecting the ortho Trot notion of the degenerated workers state, the only two possibilities are either "state capitalism" or "bureacratic collectivism". I think it's possible to go beyond those two alternatives.

Which brings me to the other thing I disagree with in that statement, namely about the whole "epoch of capitalist decay", the falling rate of profit and Mattick & Grossman. Personally I reject Grossman's schema, as passed on by Mattick, of systematic breakdown based on the magic of compound interest as the most absurd objectivism ever. In this I differ greatly from Wayne in the sense that my whole grounding in Marxism has been from a determinedly heterodox direction. However, I do find it delightfully ironic that people who apparently have such violent hostility for Wayne seem to have time for a "fantasy football" Bordiga, that in fact never existed. If the orthodox marxism whose remnants still haunt Wayne's analysis are egregious, then how much more so the ultra-orthodox, Haredi marxism of Bordiga. If the orthos make the mistake of downplaying the role of the relations of production contra the forces of production, then in Bordiga the relations of production disappear altogether. In Bordiga's theory of history the forces of production, "the material condition" assume a monstrously reified mystical power to determine history, in the face of which human agency (and, whisper it, the class struggle) are powerless pawns. This completely un-Marxist deus ex machina is used again and again by Bordiga to explain away incovenient facts without ever stooping to analysis or even, god-forbid, self-criticism. So the social relations of the USSR are essentially unchanged between Lenin's regime and Stalin's? How can we explain the passage from a proletarian state to a capitalist one? Simples - the "material forces of history" as the historical universal (and hence requiring no explanation).

So, finally, one last opinion from the piece above:

Quote:
The authoritarian, state capitalist, politics of Bordiga are not a version of libertarian communism

This is key. And this I agree with 100%* based not on any shared allegiance to an ortho Marxist perspective, but precisely because my reading of Marx is that the relations of production determine whether or not you have libertarian communism, not just the policy disputes of the Bolshevik or Bordigist state socialist dictatorship.

* apart from the use of the term "state capitalist" ovsly, smile

Hieronymous
Mar 29 2012 06:18

[Comment edited]There is nothing original in Price's piece. The parts that are historical distortions are based on the line of those in the RSL who converted to anarchism in the late 1980s, yet retained much of the Trotskyism of their group's origins. I went to the Love & Rage conference in 1993 in San Diego and heard Price's mentor Ron Tabor make the exact same boilerplate arguments for boring-from-within reactionary trade unions, cheerleading for national liberation rackets, and a position on anti-imperialism that has defined the Fourth International since the 1930s.

The only thing useful about this article is to show young people how disingenuous it is to call yourself an anarchist and then preach the dated and flawed ideology of Trotskyism. In regurgitating these ossified ideas, it is so 1980s.

ocelot
Mar 27 2012 15:04

Do you agree or disagree with

Quote:
The authoritarian, state capitalist, politics of Bordiga are not a version of libertarian communism