Revolution or War n°18

May 2021

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Contribution  : Leftist “Anti-Capitalism” against the Proletariat

We publish below an individual contribution by a comrade which aimed to denounce the bourgeois character of the "anti-capitalism" advocated by many left and leftist parties. It also wanted to point out the use and recuperation by leftism of today’s councilist theses, based on the fetishism of self-organisation and on the opposition to the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat and to the leading role that the communist party must play in it. Unfortunately, apart from being difficult to read at times, the contribution has two major weaknesses: the first is the use of formulas that are often imprecise and, on several occasions, make political concessions to leftism, which weakens its denunciation; the second is that it equates councilism with leftism, as illustrated in particular by the title of the contribution.

Indeed, formulations such as “ the anti-capitalist movement (... ) cannot resist the confusion between anti-liberalism and anti-capitalism ”, the NPA (a leftist group of French Trotskyist origin) would ’distort’, “ theoretical distortion ”, Marxism or its “ ’thinking-acting’ of a thousand and one Marxisms is nothing other than the abandonment of Marxist principles ”, or “ leftist infantilism ” suggest that contemporary leftism would have had, or would still have, something ’Marxist’; that the NPA, in this case, would have defended, or would still defend, Marxist principles since it could ’abandon’ them...

Moreover, it is a mistake to equate the councilist current of the 1920s and 1930s, the ’council communism’, with the gramscist current. The former was a reaction, ’infantile’ but class-based to use Lenin’s expression, to the betrayal of social democracy and the opportunism winning over the Communist International, whereas Gramsci was the agent and actor of the Zinovievist Bolshevisation first, and then of the victory of Stalinism, within the CP of Italy. Secondly, and if councilism maintained itself as a current of the Communist Left until the 1970s and 1980s, and could still serve as a reference and bridge for the generations of that time to the positions of the Communist Left, it is undeniable that it has since become, particularly since the disappearance of formal ’councilist’ groups, a vector of the democratic ideology within the proletariat, thus allowing "modern" leftism to claim to Rosa Luxemburg, Pannekoek and councilism against Lenin. Articles on both of them multiply in leftist publications, especially in the United States and Europe, trying, among other things, to assimilate them to... Gramsci [1], by underlining their link with the fetish of self-organisation and their opposition to... Lenin, and behind his figure to the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia. However, this "recuperation" does not make today’s councilism, even if sclerotic, a bourgeois current as such.

We have proposed political corrections to the writer. In case he was not convinced of their validity, we told him that we would publish the article with a critical presentation, thus opening a public confrontation. Initially, the comrade accepted some corrections which he incorporated; this is the version we publish here. But then, after having expressed our remarks to him, the comrade broke all links with our group overnight, to the point that we can no longer contact him; and without giving any real explanation for his gesture, apart from a "no doubt you will feel frustrated by a more political argument which could be a vector for overcoming".

Despite this unfortunate and incomprehensible decision from a militant point of view, we decided to maintain the publication of the article. The fact remains that the banner of anti-capitalism and movementism is being waved more and more by leftist movements and parties, especially in the US and Europe. In fact, we are now witnessing an adaptation, and a preparation, of the political forces of the left to the exacerbation of class antagonisms produced by the crisis. In doing so, in the name of a so-called radical "anti-capitalism", leftism is preparing to occupy the terrain of workers’ struggles, to sabotage them, and to divert them onto the democratic terrain, whether in the name of anti-racism or identity theories, as we have seen in the United States from May to December 2020 until Biden’s election, or of... self-organisation or assemblyism in the workers’ struggles themselves, as we saw during the massive workers’ mobilisation in France from September 2019 to January 2020, and the two months of strikes, mainly in transport, in December-January. It is therefore time for the Communist Left to be even clearer and to denounce as clearly as possible the counter-revolutionary character of all forms of leftism. Above all, don’t let our guard down!

Revolution or War, April 2021

Leftist “ Anti-Capitalism against the Proletariat
From the Democratic Myth of Council Communism to the Democratist Mystification of Councilism _(Benjamin)

In a previous article in our journal Revolution or War No. 17 [2], we denounced identity politics and the theorisation of intersectionality as a production of dominant thought. This article on leftist anti-capitalism, council communism and councilism today is above all the fruit of reflections and debates which animate the discussion and highlight the contradictions which ultimately run through the objective history of the workers’ movement, so it is not in itself definitive or sententious; on the contrary, it invites us to prolong the debate, particularly within the Communist Left. Leftist anti-capitalism, whose strategy is none other than that of invalidating the class dimension of the proletariat as the historical subject of emancipation, is reduced to the democratic and identitarian dimension of sociological categories, whose modernity is expressed through a so-called experimentation with specific struggles (anti-racism, anti-fascism, feminism, ecology, degrowth, etc.) against the struggle of the proletariat, against the self-organisation of the class. In this sense, leftist anti-capitalism is nothing more than an appendage of the bourgeois camp whose strategy must be fought, along with its political dimension, by the proletariat, by its self-organisation and by its centralised class organ, the party. The anti-capitalist movement, however heterogeneous it may be, through its Trotskyist and anarchist components, cannot resist the confusion between anti-liberalism and anti-capitalism, it nevertheless finds its homogeneity as soon as it is a question of undermining at the base any organisational strategy aiming at the unity of the proletariat, any strategy of workers’ struggles as a revolutionary political practice; this homogeneity is the historical definition of its belonging to the bourgeois camp, it is its leftist expression. Democracy, pluralism, the real credo of the assembleist fetishism which characterises leftist anti-capitalism and alterglobalism which is its international dimension (it is easy to understand the difference we make between the international dimension and internationalism, in the first instance it is a pure formalism separated from the political and strategic dimension of the class, in the second, it is the class, the proletariat which, on the terrain of history, appropriates and defines itself as an emancipating and revolutionary class without distinction or national reference), the proletarian camp is an organised all fighting for the seizure of power and not for a redefinition of a right improving the living conditions of the exploited, implying that capitalism would be reformable and therefore likely to be humanised; the proletarians know that capitalism is the opposite of humanity and of the free historical and egalitarian development of each and every one. The humanity of proletarians is the practical translation of the fight they lead against the capitalist class for the construction of the communist society, the proletariat as an internationalist historical subject subjectives itself, realises itself in and through the class struggle.

Leftist anti-capitalism, as real parliamentary or extra-parliamentary backing of the bourgeois left and consequently anti-proletarian, is reduced to an organisational conception tinged with universalism referring to the ideology of human rights, whose key words are: pluralism and democracy. But democracy only makes sense for domination, it is historically linked to the bourgeois class and its capitalist system, which accommodates it very well in order to perpetuate the exploitation of the working class; democracy is also, by semantic slippage and by the diffuse use that is made of it, a mummification of the social contract which is often translated by pluralism. Pluralism is the moral backing of democracy, this democracy being historically and politically only the expression of the absolute reign of the bourgeoisie, of the capitalist class. We said heterogeneity in form but homogeneity in substance, differentiated ideologies in form (between a thousand and one Marxisms, Keynesianism and libertarian-style federalism) but theoretical-practical agreement around democratism and pluralism; All this is the real strategy of leftist anti-capitalism where interclassism, which is its pathology and poison, is not only a blow against the proletariat, it is also the pure and simple negation of the class struggle as the motor of history. An economic struggle is generally defined by its specificity in terms of demands relating to wages, working conditions, etc., but it cannot be reduced to this simple dimension which separates it from its other dimension which is political. If the current struggle, by its uneven development, does not always allow to valorise the intrinsic political content of the struggle that the proletariat is leading, it is the principle of it and conditions the extension, the expansion of this struggle; all economic struggle is a political struggle, all economic struggle is a movement of the working class in the making for its emancipation. Leftist anti-capitalism, through its different forms of fragmented strategies, is at the service of categorical, identitarian, isolation; in this sense, it is mechanically an act of separation and reification of struggles. The leftist anti-capitalist milieu is the armed weapon of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, it is entirely at its service.

This is how the difference between the party of the proletariat, its programme, its avant-garde role of political leadership within the class from which it cannot be separated because it is dialectically linked to it, and anti-capitalist leftism which, in the name of democratism and pluralism, does not operate a strategic overtaking of struggles under the cover of particular experimentations (as if particularism could be revolutionary), but politically acts against the class, is not on the terrain of workers’ struggles but objectively on the terrain of the bourgeois state. Leftist anti-capitalism as a negation of the historical task of the proletariat, in the name of democratism and its pluralist avatar, is situated on the bourgeois terrain of separation, it is from this point of view the field of activity separated from the objective conditions, i.e. from the class political dimension whose strategy is the conquest of power by the crushing of the bourgeois state and the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat

After the completion of the experience of the misnamed ’real socialism’, whose political translation is none other than Stalinism referring to socialism in a single country against the Marxist invariant universalising internationalism, the proletariat finds itself confronted with the ferocious assaults of the bourgeoisie, with its strategy of eradicating communism and Marxist principles. A real leaden blanket hangs over the working class and the disintegration of its organisational possibilities is going to be concretised by the emergence of new forms of contestation that the left of capital is going to put in place. In the continuity of the eradication of communism in the 1930s and the Stalinism which is its consecration, the world bourgeoisie will only complete, in the name of democracy and sacrosanct human rights, the destruction of the Marxist corpus reducing the class struggle to an obsolete form whose history must be that of a past which has become unnameable. The proletariat, as the only revolutionary class and historical subject of human emancipation, must be reduced to a simple societal abstraction whose concept is based on the interaction of different factors of domination, which, by their particular and identity-based multiplicity, no longer refer to the class struggle and to the violent confrontation which must characterise the seizure of power by the proletariat but to the intersectional ideology (see our article on intersectionality RG#17).

Whatever its form or name (party or movement), leftist anti-capitalism, with its quasi-religious cult of assembleism, is an instance where the heteroclite is combined with the ’unitarian’ gesture. Trotskyists, anarchists, feminists, antifas, anti-racists, ecologists and other perfectly integrated elements of the left of capital, publicists of informal and spontaneous ’meeting mania’, of local action without centralised consultation, of direct democracy, etc., are all leftist arguments which constitute the breviary of the tenors of immediatism and interventionism. "We want the NPA to be fully democratic, in the image of the society we want. This implies that everyone has a place in it, whatever their level of commitment. This implies that we are all equal when it comes to making decisions, that the governing bodies are clearly mandated and duly controlled and revocable, that a political formation is organised, that the plurality of points of view is guaranteed in the same way as the right of the majority to act on behalf of all." [3] Whether this is the case with the founding principles of the NPA in France or any other similar organisation around the world does not interest us at all, we can only observe that what characterises this or these alter-globalisation organisations is their unity to carry out anti-proletarian actions in which identitarianism, when it is not individualism, is a factor and a reason for pluralism and democracy

The language of the class struggle, and this is not insignificant, must disappear in the name of event novelty, conjunctural, there is this working class "which has not disappeared but which has become invisible", and the unpronounceable dictatorship of the proletariat assimilated to the Stalinist dictatorship. So it is with this theoretical distortion animated by the Jesuits of modernity whose intellectualism of a ’thinking-acting’ of a thousand and one Marxisms is nothing other than the abandonment of Marxist principles, the rhetoric of the ’intellectualised committed’ to use a formula that the founder of the LCR and the NPA Daniel Bensaïd liked, is an illustration of this

If it is not our intention to stigmatise the anti-capitalist militant who is often inhabited by the best intentions, the fact remains that anti-capitalism, as conceptualised, does not educate itself with ineffable paradoxes but with a paradigmatic conception built on the appearance of an untraceable unity from which the artifice of unitarianism emerges, it is openly anti-proletarian in its practice. The abstention, which has been exponential for several years now, the game of political alternation which does not coincide with the aspirations of the ’popular strata’, to use a bourgeois terminology referring to sociological positivism; a formal stratification of civil society, subsumed by the citzenship ideology (ecology, feminism, defence of public services [4] and therefore of the omniscient state, localism, cooperatives and other self-management nonsense, etc.), denatured of its class nature, the proletariat (people in the mouth of the worldly anti-capitalist leftist), which has become unnameable as a class and revolutionary subject of human emancipation, is reduced to the mere contingency of separate formal experiments

Anti-capitalism, as a bourgeois production of contestation through its informal structuring, co-opts everything that leftism (Trotskyists, Maoists, anarchists, degrowth ecologists, feminists, antifas, anti-racists, etc.) and its various associative satellites develop in terms of strategy or rather interventionism in struggles. Whether on the local level by demanding the creation of economic sectors with local production, a localist economy where production and distribution are geographically determined with the aim of developing local trade, the refocusing of activity around the place of life, or whether on the scale of a country, a continent and, beyond that, on the global level. For there is an international dimension to anti-capitalism, alterglobalism, this "other" world of "united nations", which is not a new form of internationalism but exactly the opposite of internationalism, which can only be proletarian. Note that there are several worlds, anti-capitalism gives itself the appearance of a nascent universalism at the service of all the exploited. To accompany this oft-tested slogan ’another world is possible’ and more recently ’other worlds are possible’, on the nationalist and left-wing terrain (nationalisation, etc.), one can hardly do worse than Mélenchon, the chauvinist franchouillard movement. The usual reference is to the French Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, and, closer to home, to the declarations of the National Council of the Resistance (CNR) after the Second World War. Thus alterglobalism is this nebulous grouping of the radical left and its petty bourgeois leftist dross. What characterises this grouping is its unity against the proletariat beyond the apparent and false divergences of a class point of view and its consensual recasting in all forms of activism and spectacular interventionism, notably during European summits or other global institutional manifestations. A simple academic definition is sufficient to understand its meaning: "alterglobalism refers to movements that promote the idea that another organisation of the world is possible and that, without rejecting globalisation, propose to regulate it. The heterogeneity and diversity of alterglobalist associations leads one to speak more of alterglobalist movements in the plural than of a movement in the singular. In general, the movement opposes economic liberalism and the economic globalisation of financial practices in favour of a more social and better distributed economy. These demands translate into a search for global and systemic alternatives to the international order of finance and trade. Marked by a culture that could be linked to the libertarian tradition or to radical ecology, the movement oscillates between reformism (for example through the demand for a Tobin Tax proposed at the creation of Attac) and radicalism." [5]

If there is a fundamental unity within the anti-capitalist movement, it is that of gathering around an anti-proletarian strategy that does not hide its real intentions, the perpetuation of the capitalist system whose development is not dissociated from the reforms acquired through hard struggle, a kind of ’capitalism with a human face’. "Thus, the alterglobalists can speak of another world without even once referring to two centuries of struggle and theoretical construction by the working class about precisely this other world." [6] (L’altermondialisation : un poison contre la perspective révolutionnaire, Révolution Internationale n° 339, French journal of the ICC).

Experimentation rather than experience, this confers to suppress the historical dimension of the revolutionary subject and of its principal task, the seizure of power and the exercise of its dictatorship. This confers to distort the very meaning of the working class struggle by subordinating it to economism, the paragon of the ’alter’ organisations and other anti-capitalists in the pay of the bourgeois state, it sends back to the dustbin of history the controversy between reform or revolution, freezing the struggle of the exploited in a purely economic dimension, denaturing it from its political dimension; this ’other possible world’ of the alterglobalists and other anti-capitalists is nothing other than this world as it is, where we preach rather than fight, where we get drunk on ’human rights’ discourse, where we aspire to a return to the welfare state and to strategies of nationalisation of the sectors most affected by the crisis. The old Stalinist remedies, under the guise of protectionist measures, are the breeding ground of this left of capital. "The claim of a ‘real left’ can thus find its way in, and exploit its old recipes, especially the criticism of the excesses of capitalism, avoiding criticism of capitalism itself." [7]

The operational and strategic field of alterglobalism and its anti-capitalist component generally finds its most spectacular expression at European summits and other social forums, thus on a totally bourgeois terrain, which is not that of proletarian struggles. In this sense, it is not the terrain of the atomisation of struggles, but of their negation. The emergence for several decades of what sociologists call the new social movements (NSM), "In a context marked by the decline of the classic figure of the workers’ movement, the expression ’new social movements’ (NSM) refers, from the mid-1960s onwards, to all forms of collective action that developed outside the industrial sphere, suggesting a significant and widespread change in the logic of mobilisation. The fight for the rights of black Americans and the rise of environmentalist, regionalist, feminist, pacifist, student and homosexual demands seem to augur, for some observers, a period characterised by the emergence of relatively specific issues, opposed to the traditional political and social system. The proponents of this thesis point to a number of distinctive dimensions, foremost among which is the identity of these actors, which largely escapes the class cleavages on the basis of which the conflicts of industrial societies have been progressively structured and regulated since the end of the 19th century. While the right-left axis is the dominant political translation of this historical situation – which constitutes the framework and matrix of the democratic debate – these struggles refer to different principles and are most often based on a limited sense of belonging to a particular group, whose properties are sometimes defined ascriptively. Based on a circumscribed community and cause, these mobilisations generally seek to preserve the autonomy of the actors concerned and to facilitate the individuation of behaviour... ” [8] Rid of the "classist" dimension, which in the eyes of the actors of these NSM marks the end and ultimately the negation of more than a century and a half of workers’ struggles, whose strategy, class against class, oriented the political struggle towards the seizure of power by the proletariat after the destruction of the bourgeois state, these new social movements are nothing more than a strategy of refocusing bourgeois democracy in the debate and action where the emancipating and revolutionary class, the proletariat, is relegated, as we said above, to the expression of a becoming citizen in the best of all worlds; a reformed capitalism, in the sense that capitalism would be reformable and in the end the one and only possibility of evolution, since democracy and its parliamentary corollary would be its guarantors. This is the case with the denunciation of the financialisation of the economy, which takes the place of the global critique of political economy led by Marx and Engels, nothing more than a political will of the left of capital which does not say that finance is a consequence of the logic of the market and of abstract labour. The multitude is the expression of these movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Podemos or Nuits Debout without forgetting Syrisa in Greece, and whatever their organisational form, parties or movements. They are the expression of the bourgeois offensive against the proletariat, the revolutionary class, they complete, by claiming a right and a citizen consciousness, the democratic mystification at the service of parliamentarianism, even in the participation in the elections under the cover of a grasp of reality which does not come from the class but from the institutional game allowing this contestation, including sometimes in its violent outbursts. Where the historical awakening of the revolutionary proletariat in its struggle for the seizure of power is the only condition for the overthrow of capitalism, anti-capitalism, even if it claims to be of the people and sometimes of the class, is only a pure mystification whose only strategy coincides with the defence of capital. The question of emancipation, so present in the soothing discourse of the so-called radical left and its alter leftist satellites, Trotskyists, Anarchist and degrowth ecologists, does not escape this other question, "what emancipation is it about? What conditions follow from the nature of the emancipation being demanded? " To use Marx’s words in The Jewish Question, even if the question refers to the assimilation of the Jew as a citizen, it nevertheless poses the centrality of human emancipation that only political emancipation can guarantee, the real emancipation of proletarians. This is the conscious recognition of the class as a revolutionary subject historically determined by objective conditions.

Nevertheless, and since it is not a question of a simple posture but of an argued analysis of the various and confused strategies of the anti-capitalist sphere, the rest of this article has the ambition, not to reformulate a history of the different councilist experiences of the workers’ movement, which is not the object of this one, but to approach the critical dimension developed by the Communist Left, and in particular the ICC in the 1980s, in order to raise this other question which is not the least important: the denaturation of class boundaries and the semantic and practical shift towards assemblerist mystification and its anarchist corollary, a real poison for the working class [9].

The Democratic Myth of Council Communism

Council communism is a component of the objective history of the Communist Left. If the object of the development which follows is not to retrace the critical history of the various contradictory debates which for decades have opposed what we call "councilists" and "partidists", retaining only the Manicheism of an all or nothing, at least we are obliged to dialectically identify the insufficiency of such an approach leading to the worst theoretical aberrations. The argument can only feed the sophism so dear to the enemies of the proletariat whose only ambition is to instil the poison of democratism into the organisation of the class by sending it back to the illusion of its own consciousness as separate and thus separating it from its historical becoming. It is the illusion of a spontaneity of independent consciousness relying on the particular and the fragmentary to the detriment of a global analysis which aims at the final goal and whose seizure itself is done by the political struggle of the proletariat. Councilism as a particular and particularising expression is an obstacle to the development of consciousness, it is a disfigurement of the possibility of this consciousness whose general movement is inscribed in the objective necessity of the gathering of the proletarian camp as a whole, an appropriation in and for itself of the class by the class; the realisation of a historical subjectivity knowing itself for itself and by itself.

The origin of the councilist strategy or rather council communism (we will see below that councilism is and constitutes the ideological dimension of council communism) is closely linked to the experience of the German revolution in 1919; the revolutionaries conscious of the opportunism of the trade unions and the social democracy openly passed into the camp of the bourgeoisie consciously and practically organised their organs of struggle by reappropriating and defining the class boundaries necessary for the strategy of the overthrow of capitalism through insurrection and the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat under the political leadership of the organisation, the party. “ However, it’s not enough merely to reappropriate class positions on the theoretical level. Without a clear concept of revolutionary organization, all these groups and individuals are condemned to the void... It’s not enough to proclaim yourself a revolutionary in words and in a purely individual manner; you have to defend class positions collectively, in an organized framework. The recognition of the necessity for and organization that has an indispensible function in the class and that operates as a collective body is the precondition for all militant work. Any hesitation or incomprehension about the necessity for organization will be severely punished and result in a disintegration of political forces. This is particularly true for the ‘councilist’ groups today. ” [10]

To attempt to criticise council communism without criticising the myth of democratic experimentation is simply to evade the Marxist principles which define the class struggle in terms of a radical break with everything that could contingent the old world. The proletarian revolution not only abolishes the old social relations, it also abolishes any illusion of a social organisation whose democratic principle, as historically tested in the class struggle, would be the guarantor of the free fulfilment of each individual, because being the free fulfilment of all, bourgeois domination only guarantees the free fulfilment of its domination over the immense majority. If there is a break, and there is, the organisation of the councils makes a mistake by reappropriating democratism as a mode of operation and in fine can only reproduce the alienating conditions of the expression of the workers’ struggle subjected to a bourgeois conception of its fulfilment, notably by claiming rights whose legitimacy does not call into question the capitalist system, let’s listen to Lenin: “ The workers know perfectly well, too, that even in the most democratic bourgeois republic “freedom of assembly” is a hollow phrase, for the rich have the best public and private buildings at their disposal, and enough leisure to assemble at meetings, which are protected by the bourgeois machine of power. The rural and urban workers and small peasants—the overwhelming majority of the population—are denied all these things. As long as that state of affairs prevails, “equality’, i.e., “pure democracy’, is a fraud. The first thing to do to win genuine equality and enable the working people to enjoy democracy in practice is to deprive the exploiters of all the public and sumptuous private buildings, to give to the working people leisure and to see to it that their freedom of assembly is protected by armed workers, not by heirs of the nobility or capitalist officers in command of downtrodden soldiers. ”

“ Only when that change is affected can we speak of freedom of assembly and of equality without mocking at the workers, at working people in general, at the poor. And this change can be affected only by the vanguard of the working people, the proletariat, which overthrows the exploiters, the bourgeoisie. […] Another theoretical and political error of the Socialists is their failure to understand that ever since the rudiments of democracy first appeared in antiquity, its forms notably changed over the centuries as one ruling class replaced another. Democracy assumed different forms and was applied in different degrees in the ancient republics of Greece, the medieval cities and the advanced capitalist countries. It would be sheer nonsense to think that the most profound revolution in human history, the first case in the world of power being transferred from the exploiting minority to the exploited majority, could take place within the time-worn framework of the old, bourgeois, parliamentary democracy, without drastic changes, without the creation of new forms of democracy, new institutions that embody the new conditions for applying democracy, etc. ” [11]

The genuine question implies to think bourgeois democracy, not as a method of undifferentiated functioning, adaptable in any point and universally recognised as such (participative, direct and even popular democracy, reference made to Stalinism, whether it is of liberal or state form), but to think it as a strategy of the bourgeoisie, as a dictatorship of the ruling class, that is to say as a negation of democracy in law and in fact for the dominated, the exploited; it is in the name of democracy, equality and freedom that the capitalists send millions of workers to be massacred on the war fronts.

We start from the Marxist principle that every historically realising subject must eliminate itself, the proletariat, the revolutionary class has the political task of realising communism and it is through the withering away of the state during the transitional period and the exercise of its dictatorship that it creates the conditions of a classless society and thus the conditions of its own disappearance as a class. What is the formula for this realisation of communism is the formula of a praxis (development of Marxist revolutionary tactics and strategy), the communist programme. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not only the single necessity after the seizure of power by the class, it is upstream the tool of struggle which dialectically defines the relationship of the class and its political leadership, the party. The question is therefore not to be anti-democratic or democratic but to return the ’category democracy’ to its own historical, political and semantic development, to finish with this figure of an unsurpassable logos. It is a misuse of words to speak of democracy being realised through the political conquest of power when the only conquest is not so much a transition of a democratic type, even if it were to be called workers’ democracy, but the establishment of the conditions for the disappearance of this form of pseudo-universalism, which is replaced, because it is outdated, by communism at last realised, or what Marx called Gemeinwesen, the human community at last realised. The only reality of the transition period is the proletarian dictatorship, the only organisational reality of the councils is the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat under the leadership of the communist party. In the dictatorship of the proletariat, communism is not reduced to its becoming, it is already conscious of its becoming, the movement which produces it is already the moment of its possibility. This means that the communists present in all the soviets or workers’ councils have the task of assuming the leadership in order to exacerbate the internal contradictions with a view to their overcoming, only the party, as a centralised organisation and emanation of the class at its most conscious and therefore most advanced degree, is able to maintain the revolutionary programmatic principles, the Marxist invariants. There is no exteriority of the party to the class, the party is in the class and represents the highest conscious expression of the stakes and strategy in the revolutionary period.

The objective history of council communism and councilist ideology which is an emanation of it, is from the start a victim of its own weaknesses and the leftist recuperation of councilism today is one of the symptoms. The confusion and mechanical grasp of the party-class relationship led to the worst theoretical aberrations, considering that the class organised in councils in the mode of a form of democracy glorifying the spontaneity of the masses thus achieved workers’ democracy. The step was taken to undo the central organisation of its principal task, to be the political direction of the proletariat by the intervention of the communists in these same councils and to bring to the class a strategy faithful to the Marxist invariants. It is this mechanical grasp that made people say that the party is outside the class, and that its constituted vanguard is only represented by some intellectuals who only theorise the action, reducing it to a simple executory dimension of fixed principles. These are the same weaknesses that led to a false interpretation of Lenin’s What is to done? seeing it as the elaboration of a leadership separated from its revolutionary object to the point of falsifying its intention, to the point of disqualifying the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat and transforming it into a kind of quasi-military leadership. “ ... The Marxist party cannot, on the other hand, reduce the question of insurrection to a military plot... ”. Lenin argues only in this sense, on the necessity of centralised organisation and the no lesser necessity of rallying the proletarian camp. “ These accusations are the result of a twofold misunderstanding. First, the history of the revolutionary movement is so little known among us that the name “Narodnaya Volya” is used to denote any idea of a militant centralised organisation which declares determined war upon tsarism. But the magnificent organisation that the revolutionaries had in the seventies, and that should serve us as a model, was not established by the Narodnaya Volya, but by the Zemlya i Volya, which split up into the Chorny Peredel and the Narodnaya Volya. Consequently, to regard a militant revolutionary organisation as something specifically Narodnaya Volya in character is absurd both historically and logically; for no revolutionary trend, if it seriously thinks of struggle, can dispense with such an organisation. The mistake the Narodnaya Volya committed was not in striving to enlist all the discontented in the organisation and to direct this organisation to resolute struggle against the autocracy; on the contrary, that was its great historical merit. The mistake was in relying on a theory which in substance was not a revolutionary theory at all, and the Narodnaya Volya members either did not know how, or were unable, to link their movement inseparably with the class struggle in the developing capitalist society. Only a gross failure to understand Marxism (or an “understanding” of it in the spirit of “Struveism”) could prompt the opinion that the rise of a mass, spontaneous working-class movement relieves us of the duty of creating as good an organisation of revolutionaries as the Zemlya i Volya had, or, indeed, an incomparably better one. On the contrary, this movement imposes the duty upon us; for the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat will not become its genuine “class struggle” until this struggle is led by a strong organisation of revolutionaries. ” [12] (underlined by us) A re-reading of What is to done? is never a waste of time.

To close this first part concerning council communism without mentioning the Luxemburg-Lenin polemic would be a mistake, as it has fed the leftist palaver that Rosa is the theoretician of mass spontaneity and the muse of council communism, and Lenin the infamous hyper-centralising partyist with a barrack mentality. The problematic of Lenin’s text deals with opportunism and the split with the Mensheviks, but beyond that it raises the question of the party and its political leadership, the reader might think that this takes us away from the question of councillism, but to see things like that would be reductive, the implications of this text go far beyond their own object and pose the problematic of a centralised leadership in the face of the rout of a form of spontaneity that Rosa Luxemburg develops. It is in her article Organisational Questions of The Russian Social Democracy [13], that Rosa Luxemburg makes a critical and acerbic commentary on Lenin’s One Step forward, Two Steps Back [14], criticising the organisational principles advocated by Lenin in the struggle that the party must lead against opportunism. It is out of the question in our article to go into the details of this controversy, but it is of interest to anyone who looks at the problematic of councillism and contradicts the a-historical and dialectically inconsistent manicheism, namely councillism or party. When reproaching Lenin for an essentially mechanistic approach to the development of the party forced to fight against opportunism by a strategy imposing a firm discipline within it, is not Rosa Luxemburg herself in her contradiction the victim of a mechanicist process? Resolutely opposed to the ’discipline’ dimension in the period, she qualifies it as counter-productive in the case of the position of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, she denounces a purely formal measure reduced to statutory principles which the historical movement can only disqualify. Thus it poses the question of the development of consciousness, stressing that this is inseparable from the proletarian dynamics in the struggles, that the fluctuations of these struggles are concomitant with the development of this consciousness; there is nothing shocking in this assertion, and no doubt we could learn from it, but it shows an insufficient analysis. The proletarian dynamic cannot be separated from the inescapable goal which characterises it, communism, the struggle in itself, at the moment when it takes place, cannot be considered only as a punctual fact relativised by its dimension, the extent of its demands, it is a moment of the fight which leads to the emancipation of the proletariat and the exercise of its dictatorship. There is thus a reductionist dimension to Rosa Luxemburg’s argument, which considers the development of consciousness and its heterogeneity as a function of the objective conditions of the period, of the particular situations inherent in the uneven development of capitalism. This too is not wrong, but how is it reductionist? In what way do the objective conditions alone not determine the consciousness of the proletariat, class consciousness, consciousness of consciousness within the class. To understand this, it is not a question of referring to a metaphysics of consciousness subordinating analysis to abstract speculation, but of thinking of the substance of the class not as a sociological category but as a political category whose strategic reality rests on its organisation and the internationalist consciousness which characterises it, necessity obliges: only the partyist dimension answers this problematic. The moment of the party is also the moment of the class, for the first as a vanguard in its organisational dimension as a political leadership, for the second, not as a simple executor of orders coming from above, but as a revitalising dimension of the moment of the indissociability of the struggle of the proletariat and of its centralised organisation. The party is not external to the class, it is the organisational principle which guarantees the Marxist invariants, i.e. the political content to which the class is organically linked. To Rosa Luxemburg’s conclusion, which must be considered with great care, that is to say by not separating it from its context as leftists and other anarchists do: “ Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee. ” Let us add these few lines from Lenin in response to Rosa Luxemburg: “ Comrade Luxemburg says that in my view ‘the Central Committee is the only active nucleus of the Party’. Actually that is not so. I have never advocated any such view. On the contrary, my opponents (the Second Party Congress minority) charged in their writings that I did not sufficiently uphold the independence of the Central Committee, that I made it too subordinate to the editorial board of the Central Organ and the Party Council, bodies located abroad […] She repeats naked words without troubling to grasp their concrete meaning. She raises bogeys without informing herself of the actual issue in the controversy. She puts in my mouth commonplaces, general principles and conceptions, absolute truths, and tries to pass over the relative truths, pertaining to perfectly definite facts, with which alone I operate. And then she rails against set formulas and invokes the dialectics of Marx! It is the worthy comrade’s own article that consists of nothing but manufactured formulas and runs counter to the ABC of dialectics. ” [15]

The Democratist Mystification of Councilism

The figure of Gramsci, and his Ordinovism, is today a legendary and charismatic figure for all leftist, anarchist and other apologists of councilism. However, it is politically necessary and right to distinguish between council communism as a political strategy of the German-Dutch Left, clearly affirming class boundaries, and Gramscian councilism, which is reduced to the dimension of the factory council, where only immanentism is a vector of consciousness (consciousness is not the result of the overcoming of contradictions, but the dimension of an absolute ideality in which experience recognises itself as the principle of this absoluteness, the seizure of reality is nothing other than the seizure of the quasi-revealed consciousness in the theological sense of the term); this culture of democratism and localist experimentation, where immediatism is combined with assemblyism with a thousand interclassist virtues. All the ingredients of class collaboration are gathered there under various terms such as: self-management, advanced democracy, anti-party councillism and all this in the radiant light of a thousand and one Marxisms so dear to the Trotskyists without forgetting the self-management fetishism, the real Grail of Anarchists and other anarcho-councilists. A councilist myth, no doubt about it, but also a democratist mystification at the service of a petty bourgeois councilist ideology driven by the sole contingency of evolutionism, of gradual transformation, or even of the seizure of power which would be the sublime act of the spontaneity of the masses; so many political and strategic incurabilities which characterise the movementist dimension of struggles atomised by the discrediting of the centralised organisation of the class, the party, by the repudiation of the proletariat itself as class consciousness and revolutionary subject. “ It can truly be said that Gramsci synthesised and formulated with the greatest relief, at successive moments, the respectively leftist, centrist and right-wing aspects of opportunism (immediatism), aspects which nevertheless mutually imply each other and therefore coexist in power. It is easy to understand why ’historiographers’ have fought so much over the ’real Gramsci’ (claimed by Stalinists and de-Stalinists alike, by Trotskyists, anarchists, social democrats, liberal-socialists, radicals...), each time succeeding in presenting the ’real Gramsci’ in a different light. ) succeeding each time in presenting the image of a Gramsci ’different’ in tone, emphasis, particular proposals, but always and necessarily characterised, in all these interpretations, by democratism and pragmatic and voluntarist concretism.” [16] Councilism today (and the anarchist roseola which is its fabric) by its democratist dimension and by the cult of assemblerism is, in fact, a gateway to leftist infantilism: today’s anti-capitalism and its alter-globalism is the finished expression of this, and it must be fought as a real poison by the class. The Communist Left, confronted with its objective history through the historical expression of the German-Dutch Left and the Italian Left, must lead the fight against councilism, which today has become the ally and the gateway to the penetration of the movement of leftist anti-capitalism, and reappropriate the invariance of Marxism developed by the Italian Left, the only one that has known how to lead a real revolutionary struggle, which was and is at all the barricades.

Benjamin , April 2021



[1. For instance, the Americain journal The Jacobin : : “ However, Pannekoek differed from many other “ultra-lefts” by predicting that this revolutionary struggle would be protracted. In a way that was reminiscent of Antonio Gramsci’s later argument in his Prison Notebooks (…) While Pannekoek eventually found himself overtaken by history, his earlier insights into spirit, self-organization, and the importance of the socialist goal remain valuable contributions to the movement for working-class emancipation”

[2. (Intersectionality: an Ideological Product of Capitalist Thought)

[4. The defence of public service is intrinsically linked to citizenship ideology, it is consubstantial with it. Citizens’ rights are nothing more than the dictatorial nomenclature of dominant thought, always in contempt of the real and essential needs that condition human life. Public service is nothing but the institutional mechanical function of social organisation which reduces human rights to the mere expression of duty towards the authority of the bourgeois state.


[8. Dictionnaire des mouvements sociaux, Nouveaux mouvements sociaux, Didier Chabanet, 2020, pp. 403 à 410.

[9. It should be noted that the ICC of today, sclerotic with its theory of decomposition and labelling as parasites those who denounce its theoretical and intellectual imposture, has turned its back on the ICC of the 1980s.

The conception of organization of the German and Dutch Left). The reader will refer to our position, in this same issue, concerning the platform of the ICC adopted at its first congress in 1976, and he/she will appreciate in what measure the ICC disqualifies itself as regards a critique of councillism (and this well before its speculative elucubrations on parasitism crowned by its theory of decomposition), in what, as we point out, this organisation, unable to overcome its congenital weaknesses, remains mired in the morass of its blindness which leads it to reduce the necessity of the party to a mere rhetorical and agreed dimension; in what the ICC has been unable to appropriate the communist critique of the Italian left on the necessity of the party and its political leadership as the most conscious vanguard of the proletariat.

[11., Thesis and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Lenin, March 4th 1919.

[12. What is to be done? IV. The Primitiveness of the Economists and the Organization of the Revolutionaries, Lenin,, 1902.

[15. (Reply by N. Lenin to Rosa Luxemburg) One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

[16. Programme communiste n° 71, 1976, translated by us.