Revolution or War n°16

(Biannual - October 2020)

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Some Elements of Response and Status of a Discussion

We recently had interesting discussions with comrade Fredo Corvo on the transition period, especially on the work of the Dutch council communists on this particular issue. The reader can refer to the latest issues of our journal to pick up the thread of the discussion from the beginning. Otherwise, to summarize the main points, comrade Corvo has translated into English some texts written in the 1930s by the Dutch group GIC, including one we published in Revolution or War, which he believes shed new light on the theoretical contribution of this group. For the comrade, the Italian left (the journal Bilan) has thrown the epithet of councillism over the work of the GIC without understanding its real essence, thus distorting the debate from the 1930s to the present.

Our response to comrade Corvo was very simple. The new translations of texts by the GIC bring nothing new to the table and in fact reinforce in every respect the historical criticisms that the ’Italian left’ has brought to the council communist current. Having set the context, let us now answer the questions and arguments of comrade Corvo contained in his last letter of January 10, 2020.

The comrade challenges us on three main aspects: state capitalism, the role of the Bolsheviks and democracy.

Corvo warns us against defending state capitalism and the dangers of such a position. However, we do not defend state capitalism as an abstract principle that is valid at all times. Certain measures that take the form of economic centralization under the aegis of the state are necessary under specific conditions. These conditions were the outbreak of proletarian revolution in a momentarily isolated and economically underdeveloped country. What historical examples do we have? Germany in 1848 and Russia in 1917, among others. These two examples are comparable to the extent that these two different historical periods had similar aspects: economy lagging behind the countries of the most developed capitalism, a cowardly bourgeoisie delaying its revolution, the birth of a modern proletariat. The result was a single tactic: to push for the development of capitalism while advocating revolution and its extension in the advanced capitalist metropolises. State capitalism was not only necessary for these two historical examples, but it was the only revolutionary and Marxist tactic.

But this tactic was never intended as an end in itself. Indeed, Lenin is clear that state capitalism is not socialism [1], a distinction that Stalinism will later erase with the mystification of socialism in a single country. That said, the conditions of the time are now absolutely exhausted in that capitalist industry has managed to invade probably the entire globe. Therefore, today, state capitalist measures are no longer on the agenda. By the way, in parentheses, Corvo asserts that state capitalism was not a necessity to remedy isolation, a position we defend, but the consequence of a theoretical weakness. If this is the case, and to be consistent with the logic of the comrade’s arguments, he would have to repudiate the Communist Manifesto and, why not, abandon Marxism! In fact, if the tactics of state capitalism are the result of a theoretical error, it should not be attributed to poor Lenin. Already, in the Manifesto, this ’theoretical error’ appears since Marx and Engels put forward a ’state capitalist’ orientation for Germany in 1848 [2].

Concerning the Bolsheviks, Corvo ventures to say that they paved the way for counter-revolution as early as 1917 by eliminating the control of proletarians over factories. Here we find again the classic theme of councillism: Lenin only paved the way for Stalinism. We will not bother here to respond to this myth propagated as much by liberalism as by anarchism. It is easy to find in our pages and in the pages of other groups of the communist left (ICC, ICT, ICP) a refutation of this tenacious myth that refuses to die, among other things because it is defended by elements within the proletarian camp itself, such as comrade Corvo. And if the Bolsheviks are no longer internationalists as early as 1917, what about the 3rd International founded in 1919? Was it born counterrevolutionary? To judge Bolshevik policy, we do not restrict ourselves to what was happening within the four walls of the factories in Russia. This is quite secondary and is the result of a rather anarcho-syndicalist concern [3]. The central aspect of Bolshevik politics was the program of extending the revolution to the world level. On this point, the Bolsheviks were again and again in the vanguard.

It should be noted in passing that Comrade Corvo uses the term ’state communism’. From the Marxist point of view, the union of these two terms is a political oxymoron. But its use here is revealing. Indeed, the terms ’state communism’ or ’authoritarian communism’ have a very precise origin. They were used by the Bakuninists in their struggle against the Marxists in the First International. To what can ’state communism’ be opposed if not… libertarian communism?

Finally comrade Corvo asks us to take a stand on democracy. We cannot agree with Fredo Corvo’s tendency to oppose dictatorship and authority on the one hand and democracy and freedom on the other. This has more to do with the anarchist tradition, which is only the radical version of the great political family of liberalism. For us, the revolution does not get its legitimacy from a majority of votes [4]. In the same way, the workers’ councils should not be the proletarian version of parliaments. In other words, the proletarians did not copy the parliamentary rules and then label their actions ’proletarian democracy’. For us, the revolution must be massive in numbers to ensure that it can materially destroy the old world. But the massive aspect is enough. The revolution does not have to stop at every moment to check whether the majority of proletarians are behind it. This is the difference between a materialist conception of revolution and a democratist conception.

For us, democracy is neither a principle nor a fetish. It is therefore necessary to be very careful in its use, all the more so because the counter-revolution will always be able to hide its intentions under the deceptive garments of democracy [5]. In spite of everything, it is ridiculous to think that the proletariat will be homogeneous and purely revolutionary on Day 1 of the revolution. There will inevitably be diverse tendencies, disagreements and even contradictions within the class. In the absence of unanimity and in the presence of disagreements, settling debates in general assemblies, making decisions, appointing delegates to workers’ councils can often require votes and the use of the means of ’proletarian democracy’. As such, this use of proletarian democracy is not a principle but a means and a moment in the struggle for the generalization of workers’ struggles and the revolutionary unity of the proletariat.

Robin, July 2020



[1. "Nor, I think, has any Communist denied that the term Socialist Soviet Republic implies the determination of Soviet power to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the new economic system is recognised as a socialist order" Lenin, « Left-wing » Childiness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality,

[2. We make a reference to the following part of the Communist Manifesto : "Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State."

[3. See our texts on the journal Kommunist which criticize the famous ’workers’ control’ in Revolution or War issues #13 and #14.

[4. Whose caricatured expression can be found in Spartacus’ 1918 program : "The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power except in response to the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian mass of all of Germany, never except by the proletariat’s conscious affirmation of the views, aims, and methods of struggle of the Spartacus League."

[5. "As to pure democracy and its role in the future I do not share your opinion. Obviously it plays a far more subordinate part in Germany than in countries with an older industrial development. But that does not prevent the possibility, when the moment of revolution comes, of its acquiring a temporary importance as the most radical bourgeois party (it has already played itself off as such in Frankfort) and as the final sheet-anchor of the whole bourgeois and even feudal regime. At such a moment the whole reactionary mass falls in behind it and strengthens it; everything which used to be reactionary behaves as democratic" (Letter from Engels to Bebel, december 11th 1884).