4b. The theory of council communism: The Inheritors

The heritage, as we have seen, was that provided by 'autonomist' conceptions of the revolution and of the running of socialist society. It was also embodied by the conception of the organization process as developed by Rosa Luxemburg, Anton Pannekoek and the propagandists of a form of neo-anarchism. Finally, it represents the whole of that historical experience 'discovered' through leftist journals and pamphlets.

How was this inheritance received and interpreted by its legatees ? This depended, in the first place, on the particular background and history of each separate group; secondly, on the particular interpretation placed on social realities; and finally, to some it was a question of projecting into the future the theoretical and practical store of experience of the past half century : to these groups, the important thing was to synthesize and innovate, in short to give free reign to the theoretical imagination.

It has been shown that the theory of councils related both to the content of socialism and to what have come to be called 'organizational' problems. It is indubitable that to many leftists this last preoccupation became an urgent one, especially after 1968. We shall therefore pursue the discussion within the ranks of the leftists through the medium of the various theories of organization, while remembering that the question of ends and means cannot be so conveniently compartmentalized.

Two extreme 'poles' may be discerned in this respect : on the one hand there is the 'organizational pole', which while it declares itself in favour of the introduction of councils, does not disguise its attachment to the existence of a party. Then at the other end of the spectrum, there is the 'spontaneist pole' which rejects absolutely all pre-conceived and pre-established forms of organization. Between the two poles, there are a number of intermediate currents which at once reflect different shades of practical experience and different projections.

The organizational conception of P. Chaulieu, who is at the one extreme of the leftist movement, is fairly closely related to that of Lenin. What separates them is Chaulieu's analysis of capitalism, socialism, and their course of development. In this sense, his organizational model supposedly applies to a completely different reality.

Chaulieu asserts that the fundamental division in the capitalist system is not that between capitalists and proletarians. between those who own wealth and those who have nothing to sell but their labour; the decisive division today is between those who give orders and those who carry them out. This imposed separation between productive functions is the one that must be abolished. The abolition of private property is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the advent of socialism. In the Soviet Union, for example, exploitation continues, the division into classes is still a reality. In that country, the separation between executives and operatives, rulers and ruled, far from having disappeared, has actually been reinforced. Therefore socialism means the end of this separation : the management of production will, in the socialist society, be organized on a collective basis. On these premises, the organization of socialist society hardly differs in principle from Pannekoek's vision. The workers' council will be the principal organ of political, social and economic administration. Where Chaulieu diverges from Pannekoek is in the design of the precise shape of socialist society, which he describes with a wealth of detail that leaves nothing to chance. He foresees a central assembly, a government of councils, workers' councils at the shop-floor level, their precise coordination and, to crown the economic edifice, a planning factory with the task of planning, coordinating and managing the economy at national level. [1] This attention to detail in his projection arises from Chaulieu's view of the modern economy : complex, diversified, requiring centralized direction and control.

Whatever the truth may be about such an emphasis on planning, this kind of socialism differs from Lenin's, according to Chaulieu, to the extent that the proletariat will run its own affairs through the medium of its own organs, democratically elected, removable, etc. No provision is made for a party separate from the masses, playing the part of an external leadership. The organizational pattern is also dictated by this consideration. Chaulieu thinks that the revolution can only be made by the workers themselves, with workers' councils being set up in the initial stages. Therein lies, in his view, the crucial divergence from the Trotskyist or Leninist view : it is not the party, a separate formation, but the workers' councils who will be the architects of freedom for the workers. However, Chaulieu adds, in the pre-revolutionary period and on the very threshold of the revolution some central revolutionary organization will be essential. Once the revolution has begun, it will be necessary to protect the organization of the councils against possible 'take-overs' by Leninist parties, for the struggle within autonomous organizations would be 'bitter'. The organization of revolutionaries will have to fight to ensure that the councillist viewpoint prevails . [2]

This revolutionary organization (which is not yet in existence) is seen by Chaulieu as an avant-garde, the organization of a 'conscious minority', which could only be a fraction of the class, and distinct from the class itself. For in a non-revolutionary period the proletariat is not and cannot be its own leadership. The avant-garde would be made up of revolutionary intellectuals and of workers; it would itself determine its own organizational structure. But Chaulieu does not hide the fact that a certain degree of centralization will be necessary. [3] The new organization, which will be a 'fusion of the experience of the working class and the positive elements in modern culture,' [4] will set itself a certain number of aims which will be designed to make the class more conscious (in particular of the level of consciousness it has reached), and better able to form a general conception of the problems of society and of socialism. Consequently, the revolutionary organization will have to propagate the notion of workers' councils, while making sure it develops an ideology and defines a programme in advance, so as to supply the working class with the means of self-expression. To this end, the organization will decide on the orientation and the methods of action of the class, and endeavour to get them adopted by 'ideological struggle and example'. [5] Finally, the avant-garde will help the workers to protect their immediate interests.

If one examines it closely, the 'universal, minority, selective and centralized' body [6] bears a certain resemblance to the Bolshevik type of party. Chaulieu defends himself against this charge by introducing a distinction which is, in his eyes, of capital importance. The party model he puts forward first of all is set up in support of a self-governing concept of society, and secondly is not a bureaucratic organization; it is not capable of setting itself up as a ruling body. All organizations have hitherto degenerated into bureaucratic parties because they all reproduced the fundamental relationship of capitalism : the director/ operative relationship. In its struggle, which is also a struggle against bureaucracy (which has penetrated the State, industry and labour organizations), the proletariat will create for itself an organization which will specifically not reproduce this relationship. [7] It will be based on an anti-bureaucratic ideology.

In this form, Chaulieu's conception in the matter of organization has not failed to provoke powerful opposition within the leftist movement, and even within the ranks of his own group, Socialisme on Barbaric. The objection has been raised, among others, that it is idealistic to suppose, in advance, that at the moment when councils appear the revolutionary organization will dissolve itself to merge with the autonomous organizations so created. [8] Chaulieu has also been accused of trying to crystallize, in an authoritarian manner, the modes of social organization, struggle and propaganda. Finally, it is certain that Chaulieu and his friends, when they spoke of the 'avant-garde', were thinking of their own group, and that they regarded it as the 'nucleus' of the future party. [9] This is entirely in keeping with the tradition of the Trotskyist groups from which Socialisme ou Barbaric had originally sprung.

Chaulieu's conception, however 'Leninist'it may have been, clearly marked itself off from the Bolshevik tradition, if only by breaking with the traditional idea of the party and by advancing class autonomy and spontaneous organization in the form of the workers' council. In addition, it had the merit, at the time it was first expressed, of arousing discussion within the framework of the councillist theory itself. This discussion took place, initially, inside the group, and brought about the departure of the 'minority' faction. It is this minority view of organization that must now be examined, for it is diametrically opposed to the previous one : it expresses the 'spontaneist' viewpoint and has had considerable influence on the whole 'spontaneist' wing of the leftist movement.

The most perfect expression of this viewpoint is contained in the writings of Claude Lefort, who campaigned for it within the Socialisme on Barbarie group on many occasions. Lefort considers that all parties, of every kind, constitute a form of leadership, regardless of the principles of their internal organization. To him, the counter-revolutionary position of the CPSU after 1917 consisted in the very fact of its existence as a party, and not in its 'centralism'. Moreover, he considers that the party is the product of a bygone age in the history of the proletariat, a stage when it expressed the weakness and subjugation of the class. It corresponded to the latter's modest estimation of its own revolutionary powers. Unable to carry out the revolution itself, it placed the burden of this task on to a group that was external to itself. [10] Lefort thus introduces a concept of proletarian history that is far removed from the objectivism of Marxist writers. The historically important factor is working-class awareness of its own struggle and objectives. The greater this level of awareness, the less inclined the proletariat will be to entrust the task of liberation to external forces. But where Lefort parts company completely with Chaulieu is in doubting that this consciousness can be aroused or transmitted from the outside. The proletariat's consciousness results from its experience of its own development and the struggles it has fought. Thus Lenin's socialist consciousness was entirely abstract, its content determined by elements foreign to the working class, and of which it had had no practical experience. Nobody can solve the proletariat's problems for it : if it does not find the answers to problems of organization and programme, the reason is that it is insufficiently mature to be able to do so. The question of the class's ability to run society is one which Marx underestimated, even ignored. It is a 'subjective' element, to which Lefort attaches the greatest importance. He considers that the behaviour of the proletariat is not solely the result of its living conditions, any more than economics can be separated from politics for that class (unlike the case of the bourgeoisie) : changes take place because conditions demand that they take place. In other words, politics is not an abstract knowledge of events, but a reality resulting from its day-to-day experience, 'such as is engraved, at least as a tendency, on the life and behaviour of the workers'. [11]

If the party is condemned as attempting to introduce consciousness 'from outside', there is still no question of rejecting every form of organization. While it is true that the proletariat does not acquire an awareness of the universal tasks of the revolution until it actually accomplishes those tasks itself, it is perfectly conceivable that organizations might exist to propagandize the economic benefits of these objectives. Claude Lefort is thus posing the problem of activism, and in doing so he sets himself apart from the extreme wing of spontaneism on the question of organization. The idea of autonomy of struggle, he writes, may be sustained and propagated both by groups of enterprises and by groups united on a purely ideological basis. These latter groups, which will also include intellectuals, would formulate the revolutionary scope of the battle in progress; supporting, amplifying and clarifying the struggles carried out by the militants in the factories. But it is not their function to develop an ideology, since it is the spontaneous actions of the workers which alone contain, 'in the highest degree', the proletarian ideology, that is to say the rationalization of their own practice. [12] In these conditions, the programme, of the avant-garde must be to ensure leadership of the working class by itself. The avant-garde, that 'provisional, purely ad hoc detachment of the proletariat', will have to dissolve itself in the 'representative power' of the class. This power may be constituted by the workers' council, but Lefort, in contrast to Chaulieu, is careful to avoid defining in advance the structures which the class will create for itself.

While these two systems represent, broadly, the two poles around which the various leftist groups have tended to assemble, there is no lack of intermediate positions, and even some more 'extreme'. It is impossible to enumerate them, let alone analyse them all. I shall confine myself therefore to mentioning a few of them, which have the advantage of being immediate, whereas the internal debate within Socialisme ou Barbaric is today of largely historical interest.

The problem which provides the chief bone of contention of leftist theory, that of organization, interests the movement from various angles, but basically it is the conception of militancy which needs to be formulated, and secondly the degree of independent awareness on the part of the proletariat that need to be brought out.

The first point hardly requires further elucidation : the various aspects of militancy have always been in the forefront of the preoccupations of any leftist group, especially since 1968. The second point, that of the consciousness of the proletariat is important because it touches both the question of organization and that of the meaning of the historical process. Both are intimately linked. If it is thought that the working class is capable of a large 'dose' of class consciousness then there is less need to insist on the avant-garde. On the other hand, if the proletariat is thought to be incapable of freeing itself from the material and moral strait-jacket imposed on it by the system then there would be more tendency to emphasize the importance of an organization able to help the workers to throw off their chains.

Hence the two conceptions reflect one another, in principle. Some groups have been able to deal with the two problems independently, which has tended to render their system of thought somewhat incoherent.

Of the groups closest to Chaulieu, the first to be considered is the 'Workers' Power' group (Pouvoir ouvrier'). This came into being as a result of a split in Socialisme ou Barbaric in 1963, due in fact to a dispute entirely unrelated to the question of organization. [13] Pouvoir ouvrier was a journal founded by the Socialisme ou Barbaric group, aimed at workers on the shop floor. From that time on, it was to propagate views relating to questions of programme and theory that borrowed heavily from P. Chaulieu's articles of the nineteen-fifties. [14] Pouvoir ouvrier remains in favour of the power of 'elected and replaceable' workers' councils; but holding the view that the traditional organizations had abandoned the struggle to achieve this object, it declared that the group was going to fight to construct the new revolutionary organization that was lacking. [15] This would be fundamentally traditional and classical in style, combining an avant-garde of manual workers and intellectuals with the object of 'helping' the workers to realize their own destiny. A group performing the functions of orientation, coordination and struggle, the party is indispensable 'to ensure that the struggle of the proletariat results ... in the establishment of working-class power'. [16]

The group does not hide its predilection for centralism as a principle of organization and favours tactics of 'infiltration' which place it fairly close to Trotskyist groups. It even seems that, by comparison with the views of Socialisme ou Barbaric, Pouvoir ouvrier has developed towards a more Leninist stance, which places it at the extreme end of the spectrum of the leftist movement. [17]

Situationist groups and those inspired by the situationist philosophy occupy an intermediate position on this spectrum. In its early days, the Situationist International regarded itself as a restricted group, having the object of developing theory. In imitation of surrealist practice, the group vigorously wielded the weapon of exclusion. Above all, it was important to it to preserve intellectual homogeneity among its member, so that the radical critique of society would preserve a degree of cohesion. In other words, the Situationist International did not regard itself as a 'revolutionary organization', nor did it yet raise, on a historical level, the question of the mass implementation of the critique of everyday life. The political vehicle of the radical critique had not yet been identified organizationally. In this field, the situationists were oddly orthodox, holding to a kind of Marxism tinged with Trotskyism. In all probability their political development (in the narrowest sense of the word) took place in contact with the Socialisme ou Barbaric group. [18] However that may be, it is true that from 1961 onwards, the Situationist International attached itself to 'the most radical current', that which campaigned under the slogan of 'workers' councils'. [19] Over the years, the profile of the 'new organization' became more clearly defined : first and foremost, the councils were not intended merely to change the juridical form of private property or the social origins of society's leaders, but to clear the way for the new revolution. At that time, [20] the conception of organization tended to waver somewhat, since the situationists considered that the new organization could only achieve its ends by abolishing itself, its role being rather that of a detonator. Did the question of councils already arise ? Or merely of a pre-councillist movement ? It is at all events the case that from 1963, the International recommended the formation of a revolutionary movement which would disappear on the outbreak of the revolution, since the 'free explosion' should not be monopolized by any centre.

In the course of the nineteen-sixties, the IS ended up by identifying the content of socialism with the realization of the aims of the critique of everyday life, and the latter's conscious transformation. The proletariat will be able to realize art by generalized workers' control : workers' control meaning control of the whole of society (and not merely of the political and economic sectors) . [21] It clarified to some extent its conception of councils by basing itself on the historical experience in the course of which these had appeared. The present revolutionary organization should include all those organizations which pursue 'in a consequential manner' the realization at international level of absolute power to the workers' councils.

Internally, this organization must not reproduce 'the hierarchical conditions of the dominant world' and the limits of total democracy will only be defined by the acceptance by all its members of the coherence of its critique. Its aim should be, finally, to disappear as a separate organization the moment the councils make their appearance. [22]

On the eve of May 1968, the Situationist International had reached the point of recommending the establishment of a revolutionary organization. By April 1968, Guy Debord was proposing that the International shed its skin, and move from the construction of theories to the stage of 'communication'. Foreseeing revolutionary events 'in the streets', Debord invited his friends to enlarge the circle of supporters so that they would be in a position to embark upon a revolutionary praxis. [23]

In the course of the 'events' of May-June 1968, the situationists were given the opportunity of applying their ideas, both on fundamental issues and on the question of organization, initially in the first occupation committee for the Sorbonne, and subsequently in the committee for maintaining the sit-ins (CMDO). Their point of view was to be confirmed, firstly in their conceptions of workers' councils, establishing workers control in every field and constituting the new type of social organization which was to put an end to the proletarianization of all. It was also an opportunity for the permanent achievement of subjectivity, which would not be limited to factory workers (with the inclusion of 'workers' wives, people from the area, and volunteers'). [24] Secondly, the question of the need for a revolutionary organization in a pre-revolutionary situation was raised : the formation of 'councillist organizations' was proposed. For the situationists were intent on opposing a 'quasianarchist spontaneism', the stirrings of which they thought they detected after May 1968. Councillist organizations were to develop a unitary critique of the dominant society and reject the separation of politics from economics (as all 'councillist' organizations had done in the past). Whereas they were neither supposed to constitute a general staff that would produce councils 'to order', nor to express a councillist ideology, a kind of councillism that could produce ready-made answers, councillist organizations would nevertheless certainly be set up, and the presence of 'conscious' councillists in the future councils would only increase the latter's chances of survival. The councillist theory would be indispensable if the workers' councils were to last. [25]

Within the councils, the councillists would act individually to combat and denounce the presence of any bureaucrats who might infiltrate them. They would also have to guard against 'phoney' or 'reactionary' councils (councils of policemen, for example). In short, the councillists would be the guardians of revolutionary purity. Their struggle was to aim at the abolition of all power external to the councils themselves. No details are given as to their composition, except to state that any councillist organization would of necessity consist of at least two thirds workers. [26]

All in all, specifications as to actual councillist organization are kept to a minimum : total democracy within it, majority of the membership workers, councillist programme, but only in principle since the cohesion of the council would be defined objectively by the practical exigencies of its revolutionary task. Only historical practice will indicate the precise organizational forms and the programmatic content of the councils. The revolutionaries, on the other hand, will have the function, as from now, of formulating the fundamental principles of councillist organizations.

This is a kind of middle course, in relation to the two poles defined earlier : the form and content of the workers' councils are not specified in advance, the present revolutionary organization is not supposed to resemble a real party. This programme has been followed or imitated by several groups inspired by situationist ideas or close to the IS in their theoretical approach. The tendency after May-June 1968 was to return to the concept of a Revolutionary Councillist Organization (ORC) or a Councillist International. The way was prepared by the theoretical and practical efforts of autonomous groups, who did not, however, emerge fully formed, but were born of the need for struggle and created as the expression of that need. [27] The very praxis of the group (total democracy, free theoretical discussion, etc.) was to highlight the positive aspects of the workers' council. In this sense the group constituted, by its very existence, an initial exemplary action programme. The ORC is supposed to go beyond what was actually ever experienced in the way of workers' councils, particularly in Germany, in that it constitutes the point at which the total unification of revolutionary praxis will be achieved (non-separation of the diverse functions of de-alienation), for the proletariat's ability to lead the revolution itself cannot be resolved into a technical ability to direct production. [28] The motivation lying at the root of this 'organizational voluntarism' is a refusal to 'wait, as if for the Messiah, for councils to form themselves'; the duty of the revolutionary is to fight for their formation, in line with the current movement of history. The only criterion of revolutionary authenticity for an autonomous group will be the degree of congruence between its critical theory and its practice.

This said, attempts at organization nevertheless actually come out as precise and obligatory schematic designs : most such initiatives start from the assumption that the theoretical groundwork has been done and that it is time to emerge from 'contemplation'. [29] They likewise end up with notions which are not intended to limit the activity of the group to the mere provision of information, but demand that the organization intervene as an organization, while still retaining the objective not of seizing and exercising power, but of struggling to further the seizure and exercise of power by the whole working class. The proponents of the organizational models quoted do not consider the revolutionary organization as either the 'conscience' of the proletariat, nor as its general staff nor, finally, as its representative. Its role is intended to consist in contributing to the auto-organization of the class through the 'development and diffusion of revolutionary theory and day-to-day participation in the class struggle' [30]

The last category of groups favourable to council communism is that most closely wedded to spontaneist ideas. Here again, there are discernible nuances of difference, relating to the level of revolutionary consciousness attributed to the proletariat. To these groups, all organization is useless and even mischievous, to the extent that consciousness cannot be introduced from the outside. The only reality accepted and supported is one of groups formed spontaneously at the place of work, notably at times of industrial or political action. But to some, the workers' struggle does not necessarily carry with it a sufficient consciousness -- this must exist before the appearance of workers' councils. This tendency, which may be termed 'ethical', looks upon the revolution as something of a moral duty that it is incumbent upon the proletariat to perform. The proletariat may bring it about, or it may 'betray' it. Workers' councils, which express the revolutionary consciousness of the class, must, if socialism is to be realized, first accept the socialist ethic. [31]

This acceptance is not a passive, but a deliberate and voluntary thing. The revolutionary act requires a revolutionary will. This will and consciousness are not capable of being 'transmitted'; nor can any avant-garde or organization substitute itself for the workers. [32] It is true that the process of this coming to awareness, this awakening of consciousness, is unclear the moment it ceases to be related to the development of economic factors (forces and relationships of production). The objection has been raised within the council socialism group, and the question has been asked : 'How can the proletariat acquire an awareness of the inhuman nature of bourgeois institutions ?' A study also needs to be made of the views of a group which has resolved this problem of the 'birth of revolutionary consciousness' in a different manner and has pushed the spontaneist thesis to the limits of its potential.

The group 'Informations correspondance ouvrières' (ICO) is the result of a split in Socialisme on Barbaric. The 'minority' faction were opposed both to the highly 'Leninist' organizational theories of the majority group and to the internal organization of the group, which they maintained ought to be more flexible. In October 1958, the split became final and the minority faction formed the 'Informations liaison ouvrières' group, which changed its name in June 1960 to 'Informations correspondance ouvrières'. Originally there were two parallel formations -- a discussion group and an 'inter-factory' group. After 1962, only the latter survived, since the tasks of liaison and information seemed more important to some activists than attempts at theorizing.

The rejection of all 'prophetic' thinking stemmed from a very literal interpretation of the slogan, 'the emancipation of the workers must come from the workers themselves', and from a particular attitude to the class struggle. To the ICO group, the class struggle will inevitably result in the running of factories and of society by the workers. It is therefore up to the workers, and to them alone, to defend their interests and fight for their own emancipation. [33] Their deeds and their exploits, their victories and their defeats, are the very stuff of the class struggle. This may be seen as the saga of the working class, which outside interference will only distract from its objective. In the past, the working class fought for a number of claims intended to satisfy the economic needs of the workers and ensure them a minimum of well-being and security. It was then a question of a 'life or death' struggle leading to social victories which have now become institutionalized. The transformations of the modern world, the increase in knowledge and welfare have rendered most of the conceptions we have inherited from the past obsolete. The behaviour of the workers is now governed by new conceptions, it is the result of transformations in modern capitalism, of fundamental divisions between directors and operatives, of the alienation of consumption. [34] Today, the struggle has taken new forms and is directed towards new objectives. The new opposition questions the whole principle of working for a wage, all hierarchies, all authority. Thus to the militants of the ICO it is the process of struggle which brings about an evolution in the mentality of the working class, itself linked to the structures of capitalist enterprises. The behaviour of the workers is in a sense 'stimulated' by the socio-economic environment, to which it responds by a series of confrontations (wildcat strikes, across-the-board claims by-passing the hierarchy) which in turn provoke further reactions and new developments. [35] This 'dialectical' progress of the workers' struggle combines, in their experience of production, both actual social structures and their own consciousness, which develops in step with the changes that occur within capitalist society. They are therefore obliged to struggle against the parties, trade unions and splinter groups which litter their path. They in fact pursue the fight alone, and they pursue it on the shop floor. Social and cultural structures will result from the suppression of the exploitative system, and the alienations that weigh on the worker in his everyday life cannot be singled out for separate attack. [36]

This view of the class struggle leads on to a critique of working-class organizations which is a logical extension of it. The parties, it is claimed, operate according to criteria and towards objectives that are foreign to the class struggle. As for the trade unions, they are organs of administration and not of struggle. They are 'dispensers of advantages' and are treated as such by the workers. They cannot be said to have 'degenerated', since they never fulfilled any function other than that of social conservation. To the I C O, the main thing is that the workers should be aware of the real nature of the unions and not take them to be something they are not. From this assertion, the reasoning is extended to all working-class organizations that hope to 'play a part' in the struggle. This ambition appears absurd, for the conceptions of the workers cannot be formed arbitrarily by trade-union, party or other propaganda. They are the 'natural' product of the present form of the class struggle, on the basis of which the workers will project the future form of their organizations of struggle. [37] In these circumstances, there is no room for a permanent revolutionary organization. Such organizations inevitably adapt to the ambient state of capitalist society. The struggle is pursued day by day in a multitude of forms; in the last analysis, it fuses with the everyday life of the worker on the shop floor. The formation of autonomous fighting committees would indicate that the revolution had already started. To agitate for the creation of such committees would amount to advising the workers to start a revolution... [38]

The spontaneist ideas of the ICO would seem to lead to an 'organizational void', and they have been reproached with encouraging 'non-organization and disenchantment'. [39] However, militancy is not excluded in itself, and the very existence of the group bears witness to this. It is designed on an individual basis to help the workers 'to do what they want' and to prevent anything being organized at factory level without their agreement. The militant is therefore supposed to act towards workers' self-determination. Any other form of militancy would result in pure activism, identical with that of traditional organizations. To hope to 'play a part' entails becoming an agent of change in present society, but not of its liberation, whatever the 'subjective' intention governing such a project. [40] In other words, militancy should not consist in sharing certain ideas held to be 'true' or 'good' but in acting in such a manner as to help the workers to 'understand where their interests as workers lie'. The militant must pursue the struggle as a worker, not as a member of an organization, even a shop-floor organization. Shop-floor organizations can only exist within limited periods of struggle, and must be set up by the workers themselves, from the inside. [41] Outside the factory, the only form of organization conceivable is horizontal coordination designed to facilitate links between isolated workers and publish 'shop' information. Within such a group (incarnated, for example, by the ICO) the participants provide information on what is going on in their respective places of work, 'condemn the manipulations of the trade unions', discuss their common claims and provide mutual aid . [42]

The class struggle as conceived by ICO should result in workers' control of society. Is it possible to foresee its precise forms ? Certainly the ICO is attached to the historical councillist movement, to the extent indeed that it publishes historical texts, discusses them and endeavours to re-enact them. [43] It has also happened that some of its members have supported the notion that the proletarian struggle must of necessity result in a specially privileged form of council, the purest expression of that struggle. [44] But it would seem that the group as a whole, refusing to 'anticipate the society of the future', is reluctant to pronounce upon the forms which the revolution and future society are to take, and hence to make propaganda in favour of council communism. This is the main feature distinguishing it from another group, otherwise very close to it, which considers the historical forms of the council movement to be the ones that must be adopted in the coming revolution. Whereas to the ICO the council movement was one of the forms of autonomous struggle historically adopted by the labour movement, the 'Communisme de conseils' group is by contrast attached to the councillist movement on the grounds that it is in itself the incarnation of communism. It therefore aims at 'relating' theory to practice by analysing recent events in the light of councillist theory as handed down by O. Rühle, H. Gorter, A. Pannekoek and others. Council communism would thus be more than a history lesson -- it would be the theory, which needs both to be propagated and enriched. [45]

The theory of council communism, therefore, is far from homogeneous. We have examined the principle notions which subtend it, from the ideas of Socialisme on Barbarie which, at one extreme, lie at the boundary between councils and party, to those of the ICO which has managed to dissolve the theory itself into the spontaneity of struggle and the conceptions which arise from it. The very source of council communism (a segment of Marxism, variously interpreted) has exercised different influences on the heirs of the historic movement. Some dissociate themselves from the tradition, others less so. Some accept and adopt the critique of everyday life, others, like ICO, regard it as secondary to the critique of the system of economic exploitation. But all the trends mentioned unite in condemnation of the Marxist-Leninist movement. In addition, all have certain ideas regarding the degree of autonomy necessary to the working-class struggle, and its spontaneity. Although with varying degrees of emphasis, they have also extended their ideas into the field of organization, both of the revolutionary movement and of the future socialist society.

Above all, however, all these trends, whether surrealist in origin or Marxist (Trotskyist or ultra-left), acknowledge and identify with the contestation movement of the last five years. And all new theoretical work has revolved around the contest being fought out in modern society.


[1] P. Chaulieu : 'Sur le contenu du socialisme', in Socialisme ou Barbarie, 22 (July-September 1957). Cf. also the basic text, Socialisme ou Barbarie, in particular section II : 'Bureaucratie et prolétariat', in No. 1 of March-April 1949.

[2] 'Réponse au camarade Pannekoek', by P. Chaulieu, Socialisme ou Barbarie, 14 (April-June 1954).

[3] 'Bilan, perspectives, tâches' (unsigned editorial presumably by P. Chaulieu), Socialisme ou Barbarie, 21 (March-May 1957).

[4] 'Prolétariat et organisation', by P. Cardan (a pseudonym of Chaulieu's)in Socialisme ou Barbarie, 27 (April-May 1959), p. 77.

[5] P. Chaulieu : 'Discussion sur le problème du parti révolutionnaire'. Socialisme ou Barbarie, 10 (July-August 1952).

[6] ibid., p. 16.

[7] P. Cardan, 'Prolétariat et organisation', Socialisme ou Barbarie, 27 (April-May 1959).

[8] Theo Massen (an activist in the Dutch 'Spartacus' group) : open letter to Chaulieu in No. 18 of Socialisme ou Barbarie (January-March 1956).

[9] In fact P. Chaulieu never disguised the fact that he reserved for his own group 'a privileged role in the constitution of the avant-garde'; see 'Discussion sur le problème du parti révolutionnaire', Socialisme ou Barbarie, 10 (July-August 1952).

[10] . C. Montal (pseudonym of Lefort's) : 'Discussion sur le problème du parti révolutionnaire', Socialisme ou Barbarie, 10 (July-August 1952).

[11] Cl. Lefort, 'Organisation et parti', Socialisme ou Barbarie, 26 (November-December 1958).

[12] 'L'Expérience prolétarienne', unsigned editorial by Lefort in Socialisme ou Barbarie, 11 (November-December 1952).

[13] Those who left accused Chaulieu of having broken with his own

traditional analysis of capitalism, in particular in underestimating economic alienation. It does seem, in fact, that in 1961-2 Chaulieu adopted some of the ideas of Marcuse and the situationists.

[14] Those who remained in Socialisme ou Barbaric subsequently accused the dissidents of Pouvoir ouvrier of 'conservatism', to the extent that the latter had not accepted the group's theoretical innovations. Cf. the circular issued by Socialisme ou Barbaric on 28 October 1963, announcing the split.

[15] 'Pourquoi nous luttons', a proclamation reproduced on the back of Pouvoir ouvrier.

[16] 'Plate-forme politique de Pouvoir ouvrier', Pouvoir ouvrier, 90 (May 1968 -- printed edition).

[17] On the group's participation in trade-union activity, cf., for example, No. 59 of April 1964, p. 4. After May-June 1968 Pouvoir ouvrier, like most of the extremist groups, directed its energies towards the construction of an avant-garde organization; cf. the article : 'Peut-on former Maintenant le parti révolutionnaire ?', Pouvoir ouvrier, 93 (October 1968).

[18] A joint text was drawn up which was to provide a platform for discussion in the IS : G. E. Debord and P. Canjuers : 'Préliminaires pour une définition de l'unité du programme révolutionnaire', a tract published on 20 July 1960. For vague references to Marx, see A. Frankin 'Esquisses programmatiques', in No. 4 of Internationale situationnist, (June 1960).

[19] 'Notes éditoriales', Internationale situationniste, 6 (August 1961).

[20] ibid., No. 8 (January 1963), pp. 13 and 28.

[21] 'Adresse aux révolutionnaires d'Algérie et de tous les pays', in Internationale situationniste, 10 (March 1966).

[22] cf. the 'Définition minimum des organisations révolutionnaires' Adopted by the seventh conference of the IS (July 1966); Internationale situationniste, 11 (October 1967), pp. 54-5.

[23] G. Debord : 'La question de l'organisation pour l'IS'(April 1968), reproduced in No. 12 of Internationale situationniste (September 1969).

[24] R. Vaneigem : 'Avis aux civilisés relativement à l'autogestion généralisée', in Internationale situationniste, 12.

[25] René Riesel : 'Préliminaires sur les conseils et l'organisation conseilliste', ibid.; cf. also Vaneigem's article, quoted above.

[26] ibid. The council is composed of the 'grass roots', not of delegates.

[27] cf., for instance, the programme of one such group : Pour l'organisation conseilliste, 1 (June 1970), p. 18.

[28] ibid., p. 23.

[29] 'Thèses provisoires pour la constitution d'une Internationale conseilliste', in Conseilliste, No. 0 (April-May 1970). Cf. in the same issue the organizational principles of the projected Councillist International, pp. 38-40.

[30] Révolution internationale, 3 (December 1969), p. 36. For a situationist-inspired attempt at 'councillist' organization, read the Contribution à la prise de conscience d'une class qui sera la dernière (Contribution to the Awakening to Consciousness of a Class which will be the Last), published by a 'Councillist revolutionary agitation group for the formation of the Councillist Revolutionary Organization' (Paris, January 1970).

[31] Cahiers de discussion pour le socialisme de conseils, 3 (October 1963), p. 18 (emphasis in the original); cf. also 'Les Conseils ouvriers' in the same issue. Front noir, a journal with surrealist origins, shares this Attitude : 'The workers will only act for the revolution by becoming conscious of the human values of socialism.' The motivation for this acceptance of consciousness can only be ethical; Front noir, 4-5 (May 1964), p. 12.

[32] Cahiers de discussion pour le socialisme de conseils, 7 (November 1966), 'Notes sur le progrès de la richesse et de la misère'. Front noir, which starts from the same assumptions. does not reach the same conclusions as the Cahiers with regard to organization : 'SR' asserts that a revolutionary organization can, without exercising any 'authoritarian function', play a part in the creation and development of revolutionary consciousness; see Nos. 4-5, quoted above.

[33] cf. the declaration of intent reproduced on the back of the journal Informations et correspondance ouvrières : 'Ce que nous sommes, ce que nous voulons'('What we are, what we want').

[34] Simon : 'Travailleurs, syndicats et militants', Noir et Rouge, 19 (November 1961). This gives a fairly full summary of the ICO position, defining at the same time the group's 'line'; Informations et correspondence ouvrières, 29 (May 1964), p. 13.

[35] 'Organisation et mouvement ouvrier'. in Informations et correspondance ouvrières,79 (March 1969).

[36] cf. the discussion with the Noir et Rouge group in the report of activities reproduced in Informations et liaison ouvrières, 41 (17 September 1959).

[37] Informations et correspondance ouvrières, 36 (February 1965), p. 15.

[38] 'Travailleurs, syndicats et militants', art. cit.

[39] cf., for instance, the article by a member of the ICO entitled 'La Différence', Informations et correspondance ouvrières, 81 (May 1969), pp. 18-19.

[40] ibid, No. 80 (April 1969), 'Organisation et mouvement ouvrier', p.15. Cf. also the issue published as a supplement to No. 55 (December 1966), entitled : 'Qu'est-ce que l'organisation ?'

[41] Informations et correspondance ouvrières, 36 (February 1965), p. 18.

[42] 'Ce que nous sommes, ce que nous voulons', quoted earlier.

[43] cf., for example, the issue devoted to the 'Mouvement pour les eonseils ouvriers en Allemagne' ('Workers' Councils Movement in Germany'), 42 (August-September 1965), which also contains a discussion of this subject. Reprinted in No. 101 (February 1971).

[44] cf., for example, in No. 42, quoted above, p. 4 of the Appendix : 'Correspondance-Discussion'.

[45] cf. the Cahiers du communisme de conseils, No. 1 (October 1968), 'Notre tâche'; No. 5 (March 1970), 'Éditorial' and 'Bolchevisme et communisme de conseils'; and No. 6 (June 1970), 'L'auto-mouvement des travailleurs').