"Anti-Bolshevist Communism in Germany" - Mattick

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Cardinal Tourettes
Joined: 1-04-06
May 11 2007 23:12
"Anti-Bolshevist Communism in Germany" - Mattick

Just read Paul Mattick's "Anti-Bolshevist Communism in Germany" posted in the library by Ret Marut.
Haven't really read Mattick before and interested to know what other people think of him.

My own preferred view of the German revolution is that its revolutionary possibilities were basically snuffed out by the confusion caused by the just emerged Bolshevik model, as well as by the more obviously counter-revolutionary role of the reformist official labour movement.
Mattick thinks the Bolsheviks were essentially counter-revolutionary (in relation to the advanced western working class) but takes a more pessimistic view than the one I'd like to believe, basically suggesting that the workers just werent fundamentally interested in revolution - "The fact was that the broad German masses inside and outside the labor movement did not look forward to the establishment of a new society, but backwards to the restoration of liberal capitalism without its bad aspects, its political inequalities, its militarism and imperialism. They merely desired the completion of the reforms started before the war which were designed to lead into a benevolent capitalistic system."
Ok hes saying "masses" not workers, but he still sees the above as the fundamental reason why the revolution failed.

He says a couple of quite surprising things: downplaying the influence of the Russian revolution - "The effect of the Russian Revolution upon Germany had hardly been noticeable"; and suggesting a radical German revolution would have practically inevitably have been isolated and crushed by lack of solidarity from the workers of the Allied countries - "Nor was there any reason to expect that a radical turn in Germany would have any greater repercussions in France, England and America. If it had been difficult for the Allies to interfere decisively in Russia, they would face lesser difficulties in crushing a German communist uprising. Emerging from the war victorious, the capitalism of these nations had been enormously strengthened; there was no real indication that their patriotic masses would refuse to fight against a weaker revolutionary Germany. At any rate, aside from such considerations there was little reason to believe that the German masses, engaged in getting rid of their arms, would resume a war against foreign capitalism in order to get rid of their own." Seems very fatalistic that.

He also says one thing which is clearly false - 'Only no one really knew what a socialist society would be like, what steps ought to be taken to usher it into existence. "All power to the workers’ and soldiers’ councils," however attractive as a slogan, still left all essential questions open.'
Of course the Bolsheviks employed this slogan while doing just the opposite, but clearly it doesn't leave all essential questions open if you actually try to put it into practice.

Just noting down some initial thoughts really, need to read more of him to suss him out. Does not come across as an ideologue or a fool though, so far.

Joined: 29-12-04
May 15 2007 12:59

From what i've read about the German revolution, not enough people wanted a council republic. That's why the revolution failed.

Joined: 25-07-05
May 15 2007 15:22

my theory is that the revolution was too much about the strength of the movement, and not enough about... well i don't know.

anyway, i think that it would be false to model it by superimposing the bolsheviks as an external agent onto a sound revolution. if an advanced revolutionary situation arises again, are you going to be able to clearly identify counter-revolutionary currents? if not, then such a model of russia would not be useful. in additition it probably doesn't do justice to the fact that the bolsheviks weren't capitalists, esp. important if you think that totralitarian russia is essentially (in theories, 'epistemologically' maybe) different to other capitalist countries.

sound flaky tongue ?

Joined: 29-12-04
May 15 2007 15:46

I think it's stupid to blame the whole failure of the German revo on the (small) KPD though, isn't it?

Red Marriott's picture
Red Marriott
Joined: 7-05-06
May 16 2007 14:35

Mattick's view obviously reflects the disappointment of a radical communist worker who lived thru a failed revolution.

CardT wrote:
He also says one thing which is clearly false - 'Only no one really knew what a socialist society would be like, what steps ought to be taken to usher it into existence. "All power to the workers’ and soldiers’ councils," however attractive as a slogan, still left all essential questions open.' Of course the Bolsheviks employed this slogan while doing just the opposite, but clearly it doesn't leave all essential questions open if you actually try to put it into practice.

The majority of German workers councils were easily co-opted into state structures and progressively legislated out of existence. Mattick does tend to account for the failure of revolution as partly lack of will on the part of proles; others are determinist and say (in hindsight) it didn't happen cos it couldn't have. I tend to think that revolutions can happen that could succeed, but don't. I think the domestication of the working class into bourgeois society by social democracy in the preceding period was a main factor - capitalism was saved partly by the workers' acceptance of their 'own' representation. It wasn't, as Lenin said, that Kautsky and the SDP were 'renegade' - their pro-war counter-revolutionary role was a natural outcome of their function as part of the capitalist state. (As to why this could be achieved - another question.)

the proletariat adopted capitalist forms of organization and capitalist ideologies. The parties of the workers, like those of the capitalists became limited corporations, the elemental needs of the class were subordinated to political expediency. Revolutionary objectives were displaced by horse-trading and manipulations for political positions. The party became all-important, its immediate objectives superseded those of the class. Where revolutionary situations set into motion the class, whose tendency is to fight for the realization of the revolutionary objective, the parties of the workers "represented" the working class and were themselves "represented" by parliamentarians whose very position in parliament constituted resignation to their status as bargainers within a capitalist order whose supremacy was no longer challenged. (Mattick, Masses & Vanguard)http://libcom.org/library/the-masses-and-the-vanguard-mattick
... the great mass of workers confused the political with the social revolution. The ideology and organizational strength of the Social Democracy had left its mark; the socialization of production was seen as a governmental concern and not as the task of the working class. Although rebellious, the workers were generally so in a reformist social democratic sense. "All power to the workers councils" implied the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it would leave the nonworking sectors of society without political representation. Democracy was still understood, however, as the general franchise. The mass of workers demanded both the workers councils and the National Assembly. They got both--the councils as a meaningless part of the Weimar Constitution, and with the latter the counterrevolution and, finally, the nazi dictatorship.(Paul Mattick - The New Capitalism And The Old Class Struggle)http://www.kurasje.org/arkiv/1600f.htm

I think Mattick is well worth a read. And considering he apparently only learnt English in adulthood he writes with more clarity and style than most native-speaking political hacks.

Cardinal Tourettes
Joined: 1-04-06
May 17 2007 21:50
capitalism was saved partly by the workers' acceptance of their 'own' representation

Yeah definitely.

Thats what I meant by "revolutionary possibilities were basically snuffed out by the confusion caused by the just emerged Bolshevik model, as well as by the more obviously counter-revolutionary role of the reformist official labour movement ".
Your characterisation of it as "domestication" is probably better than my "confusion", on the whole.

Mattick takes this to the point, in this essay anyway, where the workers fundamentally had no real appetite for revolution at all - not just partly lack of will on the part of proles, but this basically being the essential explanation for the failure of the revolution. He may not have been wrong about this, I dont know.
(How serious have the workers ever really been about revolution? How much of the failures of past revolutions are down to confusion, error, historical limitations of one kind or another, the enormity of the task etc, and how much just a lack of desire for revolution? It'd be handy to know.)

Yeah, I quite like his style too - fairly to-the-point isn't he?

Joined: 29-07-05
May 18 2007 15:15

Whatever the weaknesses of the revolutionary wave in Germany, and they are many, the German proletariat played a big part in bringing the first world war to an end - the Entente had battle plans drawn up going well into 1919. The conditions in Germany after the war ended were not good for revolution: the betrayal by Social Democracy and the trade unions was fresh and a major source of confusion, the ideology of the "vanquished", the physical attacks on the working class. Nevertheless, the struggle of the German proletariat was supreme, even down to the workers of the Ruhr organising their own artillery and a small air force.
I will return on Mattick - out of time.

Joined: 29-07-05
May 22 2007 11:55

A few words in defence of Paul Mattick as part of Left Communism.
Mattick ended up defending the idea of 1917 as a 'bourgeois revolution', thus bringing Menshevism in through the back door. The German and Dutch left were important in bringing out the lessons of the failure of the Russian revolution but to write off the whole thing as 'bourgeois' was to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Grossman/Mattick economic analysis of the falling rate of profit has brought, through the front door this time, a questioning of the decadence of capitalism and thus the possibility and necessity of revolution. These positions of Matticks, particularly the former, are the result of political degeneration.
Mattick's group in the US in the 30s, International Council Correspondence, for all its weaknesses, saw itself as an element of international clarification within the revolutionary milieu, not limited to America. It constituted a revolutionary pole, along with Bilan (forerunner of the ICC) and the council communist group, GIC, as important international revolutionary currents holding left communist positions and rejecting participation in WWII in support of democracy or of 'anti-fascism'.
In the run-up to the war, a group around Mattick was formed inside the IWW in Chicago. Mattick was active in the small Proletarian Party of America and, as editor of the Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeitung, was active in the German immigrant community and among the unemployed. In the early 30s Mattick was far from rejecting the idea of a party, calling for unity between the KAPD (Communist Workers Party of Germany) and the KAU (Communist Workers Union): "The Party organises all consistent revolutionaries, even those of bourgeois origins who join us. It regroups all revolutionary forces that do not base themselves on the place of work..." The idea was that the party would dissolve when the workers' councils took power, but the party was still seen as a necessity for working class revolution.
In 1935, Mattick was still fighting for a political vanguard, international work and centralisation of common activity. He rejected the "false conception" (fear of centralisation and federalist 'working groups') "of the Dutch", which was "not only not marxist, but impossible in practice". Clearly federalism and 'working groups' were the kiss of death in the clandestine situation of Nazi Germany, where rigourous centralisation and organisation were the order of the day.
Often the ICC is accused (see other topics) of seeing a 'fatalistic', mathematical collapse of capitalism - a 'final automatic crisis' as it were. In fact the ICC sees the revolution, which is not inevitable, as a social question with the role of the proletariat within it. One could argue that the view of the 'mechanical collapse' of capitalism is held by the IBRP who take up the Grossman/Mattick equasion of the falling rate of profit (there are numerous ICC arguing against this). In fact, in 1933, the US councilists around Mattick, in contradiction to Grossman, insisted on the "mortal crisis" of capitalism, posing the "alternative: communism or barbarism". And Mattick forcefully stated that capitalism had entered its "decadent phase" from "the absolute, general and continuous pauperisation of the proletariat". There was nothing inevitable about the revolution though, depending on the consciousness of the proletariat: "The mortal crisis of capitalism means only that the objective conditions for the proletarian revolution have been laid down. For the proletariat there is only one way out of the crisis... (towards) the disappearance of the capitalist system". And "in the period of decadence (all strikes) have a truely revolutionary significance".
After WWII to today, particularly in the 70s and 80s, council communism developed into a travesty of the clarifications of the Dutch and German Lefts, torn apart on the irreconcilable contradiction of being an 'anti-organisation organisation'. Through its activism, localism and tendencies to rank and file trade unions (something the German Left was particularly clear on in the revolutionary wave), it propagated the limits of theoretical weakness and isolation against the necessity for theoretical deepening and the generalisation and extenstion of struggles.

All quotes from the "The Dutch and German Communist Left", published by the ICC.

Joined: 1-08-06
May 23 2007 13:50

The idea that the "Bolshevik" revolution was bourgeois not only allows Menshevism in by the back door, it allows Stailinism in as well.

It means that the Communist International was wrong to declare the era of "wars and revolutions", because there were still tasks for a "progressive" bourgeoisie. Stalin was right, in this case, when he (and Kamenev) supported Kerensky and the war (much to Lenin's disgust and annoyance, I seem to recall).

It also means that the revolutionaries who supported the October revolution - Lenin and Trotsky, or Berkman, Goldman and Maximov as one prefers - were also wrong.

If Russia needed a bourgeois revolution (to develop capitalism, because that was all Russia was ready for) then support for the Provisional Government was the 'best' option. So the aspects of the revolution that Anarchists in Russia and Bolsheviks (as well as Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Aldred, Makhno, Pankhurst, the KAPD and others, later) saw as progressive were all a mistake.

Of course, Stalin's later development of Russian capitalism, the return of Russia to the imperialist stage as a world power etc, were all that was on the cards. Nothing else was historically possible, according to Mattick's theory. So criticising the turn the revolution took would be a bit pointless, really. The Kronstadt Rising? A silly error by "revolutionaries" who hopelessly overestimated the situation. "World revolution"? A nonsense (or a lie put about by radical demagogues like Trotsky).

I don't believe it myself, I'm afraid - I think the October revolution was a genuine attempt at proletarian revolution, the opening of the world revolution, that went hideously wrong and was drowned in blood, not a bourgeois revolution with some good PR.

I also think Mattick, and Pannekoek who shared the same idea in "Why past revolutionary movements have failed" http://libcom.org/library/why-past-revolutionary-movements-have-failed-pannekoek (I hope that worked), had become dispondent with the failure of the world revolution, and were looking for reasons to explain it. I think their explaination is terribly terribly wrong though.

Joined: 6-01-07
May 23 2007 20:52

Linking in to the Mattick line and other threads on the EKS on theories of decadence, I still think the short article entitled ' The Limits of Matticks Economics - Economic Law and Class Struggle' by Ron Rothbart is a good summary of the interconnection between 'the tendency of the rate of profit to fall' seen as an abstract/independent force, and the effect of class struggle on the rate of profit ( the relation between 'objective' and 'subjective' factors), as represented in the theories of Mattick, Zerowork and others.

Its probably worth a reread?

I cannot just lay my hands on it at present but it is on one of the regular web site libraries.

Try: http://geocities.com/cordobakaf/rothbart.html ?

By the way Mattick may have gone too far in his characterisation of the Russian Revolution but he still provideds some insight into the Social Democratic weaknesses of bolshevism - he just needs reading critically like everything else.

Joined: 29-07-05
May 25 2007 11:03

I think that Mattick and his groups, as part of the communist left, definitely provided insights into the revolutionary perspective.
Within the defence of Mattick's left communist positions on the party and defence of forms of international centralisation and organisation, a few points from the Communist group of Holland's Rate Korrespondenz publication, which shows that this council communist current was far from adopting the idea of "bolshevism = counter-revolution" or that the "Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution" - positions that the remnants of the German and Dutch Left eventually degenerated into.
Helmut Wagner's "these on Bolshevism" is considered to be council communism's rejection of Bolshevism as "foreign body" within the working class. But the discussion within that political trend was far from finished, as the texts from the above publication show.
Reading them, one can glean the following positions: the Russian revolution was proletarian and Stalinism had nothing in common with the revolution; that the USSR was state capitalist - the development of an important political analysis for left communism; capitalism was never really eliminated in Russia, and that the Bolsheviks were "irreconciliable opponents" of Stalinism - for them, the Bolsheviks being the "foreign body" within the development of Russian state capitalism.
These are all major beacons of clarity within the left/council communist movement of the 1930s and the "Bolshevism = counter-revolution" idea within this trend, despite Wagner's book, didn't really take hold until after WWII. Even then this latter framework of the Russian revolution being "bourgeois" was far from shared by elements of the Dutch and German left who maintained their clarity (Jan Appel, for example).
There are weaknesses in the publication's articles, for example on the lessons of the counter-revolution and certain economic measures of Stalinism. But the articles show that the Dutch and German left, the elements of council communism, were far from throwing out the Bolshevik baby with the bath water of counter-revolution.
(see the articles in the ICC's International Review no. 105, Spring, 2001).

Devrim's picture
Joined: 15-07-06
May 25 2007 11:40

Baboon, I would likes to read your comments on Mattick's relationship to the IWW.

Joined: 29-07-05
May 30 2007 13:27


Joined: 29-07-05
May 30 2007 13:34

Sorry. That above was a test - I keep losing the link this end.

Once again.
I've looked it up over the weekent Devrim but can find nothing. Does anyone have any info on this?
Even though the IWW degenerated from its generally revolutionary syndicalist framework, I can see how Mattick, still defending internationalism, the centralisation of revolutionary forces and the concept of the decadence of capitalism in the 30s, could make an identification with the historical strengths of the IWW. Despite the weaknesses and hesitancy of the latter, it did represent the working class through its militant activity and defence of internationalism and centralisation.
Mattick went on to develop (apparantly) the idea of "new workers' movement" (?). The ICC's US publication had a lot of stuff on the later Mattick, particularly in relation to the group 'Root and Branch' I think.