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Libertarian Socialism, organisation, Russian Revolution etc.

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magnifico
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Mar 28 2006 20:11
Libertarian Socialism, organisation, Russian Revolution etc.

This is a thread on the recent Socialist Forum meeting on 'libertarian socialism for the 21st century', and subsequent discussion on what a revolutionary organisation should look like. I've edited this first post and the title to make it more representative of what is actually being discussed.

mk12
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Mar 28 2006 21:09
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last Socialist Forum discussion meeting on 'libertarian socialism for the 21st century'

Bollocks. If i'd known that was the title i'd have made a special effort to get to it. How did it go?

magnifico
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Mar 28 2006 21:16

The discussion was a bit more specific than the title suggests - the speaker was a guy from a small council communist group, and it was basically about council communism, its history, ideas etc. I didn't agree with everything he said, but then that's the point of a broad based group. We had about 10 people there and had a good discussion afterwards of the subject we were talking about as well as what we were going to do next, which included setting up this forum! They also do good beer at the borough club, so overall in answer to your question i'd say it went pretty well.

Dave Green
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Apr 20 2006 16:40

The last Socialist Forum Meeting – Libertarian Socialism.

I thought the discussion was ok and interesting even if it could have been structured a little better and more focused. Alan who’s obviously been around for some time covered a lot of history and associated theory and didn’t have time to do them all justice. I suspect many of us would have appreciated more detail about the council communist movement in the Germany of the post World War 1 period and exactly how it differed in its work from the German CP affiliated to the Comintern. I and I suspect many others, not just newcomers to the socialist movement, don’t necessarily know this history and would probably appreciate an overview given in these sort of talks.

Anyway - my understanding was that the council communists rejected parliamentary activity almost totally and concentrated on building councils of action and in engaging in direct action in the workplace and communities. In that sense then they have links as Alan acknowledged with Syndicalism and movements like the IWW of America. Alan seemed to be saying that where they differed from Syndicalism was that they did believe in the need for a party based on Marxist and class struggle ideas but not a Leninist type organisation that can or may substitute itself for the self-activity of the Working Class. This debate around the question of the party, its type and conception, is something of interest to me and I would like to have learnt more about what were the council communists conceptions of a party and how it would operate.

It seems to me that this question of the party, Leninist or otherwise is one that has bedevilled the socialist and Marxist movement for the last century and I would certainly draw the conclusion that the Leninist model is not appropriate for the world we live in, especially for western bourgeois democracies with a large working class. I’d argue as well that the Leninist model for revolutionary change has been shown to be counterproductive in achieving socialism as evidenced by the totalitarian non socialist experience of Russia and Eastern Europe, and by the sectarian experience of leninist and trotskyist parties in the west.

I believe that Leninism as argued and interpreted by past and present followers represents a break from the Marxist analysis that it is the working class that makes socialism and that socialists and communists do not separate themselves off from the working class movement. Leninism it seems to me substitutes itself, its centralised organisation and leadership cults for the self activity of the class with the belief that socialism is brought to the Working Class by educated intellectuals from outside of that class and by the assertion that the working class movement can only reach a trade union consciousness if left to its own devices. To believe that there is a straight line from 1903 and Lenin’s ‘What is to be Done’ (where he outlined his ideas on the party and which brought into creation the Bolshevik Party) to the success of the Russian Revolution is nonsense. The argument that this model represents a template for all the world’s socialist movements to follow has proved totally erroneus and been shown to be a key factor in the collapse of socialist renewal and development, as these all knowing parties and leaderships ossified and held back democratic change in their own parties and the societies they controlled.

But the question remains how do we develop the movement for socialism in the present period and what role do parties play in that movement. At the moment I would argue that the left sects like the SWP, SP and others are blockage on the road to the development of a real socialist/marxist movement in the UK and elsewhere. Their insistence in putting their own interests before that of the movement (sectarianism), their lack of interest in learning from what’s going on around them and their distortion of history means that sooner or later they become deeply unattractive to those they work with. We need to work to develop a different tradition and methods of work that can isolate these Leninist cults.

I do accept, unlike some anarchists (and note I say some) the need for socialists and marxists to organise, exchange ideas, attempt to learn from what’s going on in the struggles taking place within capitalist society and to campaign and organise for our ideas within the movement for change. But the thorny question remains of how, concretely, that’s done and how a socialist/marxist party or organisation should operate.

Any thoughts?

Dave Green. red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star

magnifico
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Apr 20 2006 22:08

Hi Dave, welcome to libcom! 8)

I agree with you that the council communist attitude towards 'the party' was something I was quite interested in, what Alan said about it sounded different from what I thought their position was and he didn't seem to answer anyone's questions on this topic very clearly.

As for organisation, I definitely agree with you on the Leninist stuff. My idea of what a revolutionary organisation should look like is fairly clear (though maybe that's just cos I'm youngish & naive), - an anarchosyndicalist union red n black star it's how to get there from where we are now is the problem sad I guess just trying to set up rank and file initiatives and places where we can debate these things is the start, but it doesn't seem to be getting us very far. That said, I think the Socialist Forum's going pretty well.

mk12
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Apr 21 2006 12:32
Quote:
Alan seemed to be saying that where they differed from Syndicalism was that they did believe in the need for a party based on Marxist and class struggle ideas but not a Leninist type organisation that can or may substitute itself for the self-activity of the Working Class. This debate around the question of the party, its type and conception, is something of interest to me and I would like to have learnt more about what were the council communists conceptions of a party and how it would operate.

Anton Pannekoek (dutch council communist) dealt with this, here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1936/party-working-class.htm

I have an interest in the leftwing critiques of Leninism during that historical period, so its a shame I didn't know about this meeting as I would definitely have come.

Dave Green
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Apr 21 2006 13:26

Thanks for that reference. Just had a very quick look and it obviuously is of relevance to this debate. I'll read it properly and come back to possibly discuss with others.

Dave.

Pat
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Apr 28 2006 10:55
Dave Green wrote:
The last Socialist Forum Meeting – Libertarian Socialism.

I do accept, unlike some anarchists (and note I say some) the need for socialists and marxists to organise, exchange ideas, attempt to learn from what’s going on in the struggles taking place within capitalist society and to campaign and organise for our ideas within the movement for change. But the thorny question remains of how, concretely, that’s done and how a socialist/marxist party or organisation should operate.

Any thoughts?

Dave Green. red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star

How an organisation should operate?

Well, democratically for a start.

At the last Socialist Forum meeting I had to argue that the discussion after the film was chaired - on the basis that discussion with a chairperson was more democratic than a free for all!

In his post, Dave raises a lot of points. So this is an initial response.

Dave - you used to argue against the idea that Leninism bred Stalinism. You would have supported Trotsky who put it well when he said that a river of working class and socialist blood separated Stalinism and Bolshevism. What do you now think?

You also used to believe that the defeat of the Russian Revolution was as a result of the defeat of revolutionary movements in Europe and the subsequent isolation of the Russian Revolution. What do you now think?

And far from arguing now that Leninism 'substitutes itself ... for the self activity of the class...' you used to believe that the Bolshevik Party, by its leadership and farsightedness, enabled the working class - for itself - to reach a level of mass action never seen before. Regardless of whatever criticisms can be made of the Bolsheviks, I think your former position was correct.

Pat

magnifico
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May 2 2006 16:22
Pat wrote:
Dave - you used to argue against the idea that Leninism bred Stalinism. You would have supported Trotsky who put it well when he said that a river of working class and socialist blood separated Stalinism and Bolshevism. What do you now think?

You also used to believe that the defeat of the Russian Revolution was as a result of the defeat of revolutionary movements in Europe and the subsequent isolation of the Russian Revolution. What do you now think?

And far from arguing now that Leninism 'substitutes itself ... for the self activity of the class...' you used to believe that the Bolshevik Party, by its leadership and farsightedness, enabled the working class - for itself - to reach a level of mass action never seen before. Regardless of whatever criticisms can be made of the Bolsheviks, I think your former position was correct.

Pat

wink

magnifico
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May 2 2006 20:53
mattkidd12 wrote:

Anton Pannekoek (dutch council communist) dealt with this, here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1936/party-working-class.htm

Thanks for this Matt, only just got time to read it, very interesting. So he seems to be arguing that the only workers' organisations that should be set up in non-revolutionary periods are those for "education and enlightenment", which we can call parties if we want to but are actually completely different from the Leninist/Trotskyist visions of the Party. This is obviously good news for Northampton Socialist Forum 8) .

I don't quite understand what his objection to the setting up of democratic workers' organisations is, however. He seems to be arguing that until the revolution comes we should only attack capitalism spontaneously, never in any organised way however democratic, and that our only planned activities should be educational. This quote seems particularly strange:-

Anton Pannekoek wrote:
The workers are not to adopt the slogans of any group whatsoever, not even our own groups; they are to think, decide and act for themselves.

I admire his rejection of the Leninist vision of the Party as a new ruling class but I still don't understand why we can't have any active workers' organisations this side of the revolution.

knightrose
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May 2 2006 21:24

There's a load of stuff about the German Revolution at this address, it's on the Subversion site. http://www.geocities.com/knightrose.geo/ger_int.htm

mk12
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May 3 2006 12:52
magnifico wrote:
mattkidd12 wrote:

Anton Pannekoek (dutch council communist) dealt with this, here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1936/party-working-class.htm

Thanks for this Matt, only just got time to read it, very interesting. So he seems to be arguing that the only workers' organisations that should be set up in non-revolutionary periods are those for "education and enlightenment", which we can call parties if we want to but are actually completely different from the Leninist/Trotskyist visions of the Party. This is obviously good news for Northampton Socialist Forum 8) .

I don't quite understand what his objection to the setting up of democratic workers' organisations is, however. He seems to be arguing that until the revolution comes we should only attack capitalism spontaneously, never in any organised way however democratic, and that our only planned activities should be educational. This quote seems particularly strange:-

Anton Pannekoek wrote:
The workers are not to adopt the slogans of any group whatsoever, not even our own groups; they are to think, decide and act for themselves.

I admire his rejection of the Leninist vision of the Party as a new ruling class but I still don't understand why we can't have any active workers' organisations this side of the revolution.

Yeah, he seems to take it a bit too far on the slogan idea. It seems his view of a party or a group is to provide information, literature and education. In that sense it is 'augmenting' the struggle and taking an active part in the class struggle, rather than attempting to lead it or direct it. Which is good.

I wasn't aware he rejected the intervention of groups in struggles though, this seems odd. Especially as other council communists (like Karl Korsch, Paul Mattick, Herman Gorter) support syndicalism in Spain and took an active part in the German revolution.

magnifico
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May 3 2006 14:16
knightrose wrote:
There's a load of stuff about the German Revolution at this address, it's on the Subversion site. http://www.geocities.com/knightrose.geo/ger_int.htm

Thankyou, Gentle Sir Rose of the North. Feel free to stay and enlighten us further about council communism if you have the time. I've a feeling that what you were saying on that AF-SF thread has relevance here, particularly the stuff about the working class in/for itself which I wouldn't mind hearing more about if you think it's relevant. I haven't read as much Marx as I would like.

mattkidd12 wrote:
I wasn't aware he rejected the intervention of groups in struggles though, this seems odd.

This is how I read it, do you agree? He seems to be saying that the working class or the 'masses' should act as a class based on shared circumstances and experiences, not in groups based on political viewpoints. Which I think sounds great in theory, but he seems to also be saying that in non-revolutionary periods communists should do nothing except educate, discuss etc. - no trying to organise for the future or win improvements in the here and now - to 'intervene', as you say. I might be misunderstanding though.

mk12
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May 3 2006 14:23
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in this transitional period, the natural organs of education and enlightenment are, in our view, work groups, study and discussion circles, which have formed of their own accord and are seeking their own way

He makes that clear! It's a bit too ultra-left for me.

Pat
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May 7 2006 20:56

Matt - in relation to Anton Pannekoek on party organisation, you write:

'It seems his view of a party or a group is to provide information, literature and education. In that sense it is 'augmenting' the struggle and taking an active part in the class struggle, rather than attempting to lead it or direct it. Which is good.'

I'm not sure what you mean here. For example, if a struggle developed against the job losses in the health service, everyone - from Tony Blair to the Tories - and all left groups, rank and file groups, etc, would take a position about the prospects for such a struggle, what healthworkers can do, and what solidarity work is possible. It that sense, all would attempt to offer some sort of lead and/or direction. Why is that a problem? Or have I not understood your post?

Pat

mk12
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May 8 2006 09:56
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It that sense, all would attempt to offer some sort of lead and/or direction. Why is that a problem? Or have I not understood your post?

I don't think having a view on what the workers could do, and discussing these proposals with the workers, is trying to 'direct' the struggle. I believe, unfortuntaly, some parties on the left try to take control of struggles and broader groups in order to control and direct them. I'm sure you'd agree with that. That's what Pannekoek was arguing against I believe - the need for ONE party to attempt to became the representative of the whole class.

Pat
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May 8 2006 14:34

If Pannekoek was arguing against left groups parachuting in to a struggle in order to recruit to their organisation rather than build the struggle - then I'm with Pannekoek. That kind of opportunism and sectarianism has been, and is, too typical of sections of the left - it gives the left a bad name, and it is to be opposed. I don't think that is in dispute in this thread. It strikes me that Pannekoek was arguing something else though, more of which another time.

But if, say, I was a steward at Peugeot, I might be arguing for industrial action across Peugeot to defend jobs, and calling for solidarity from the labour and trade union movement. In effect, I would be trying to 'direct' the struggle. I'm not sure what would be wrong with that.

Pat

mk12
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May 8 2006 14:47

But you're a steward at Peugeot, you're part of that factory. You are simply a worker with a view on what to do. So when Pannekoek argues that 'the workers are not to adopt party's slogans' because the workers in this or that dispute should decide themselves, he is referring to the workers at Peugeot.

I don't fully agree with him on the 'slogan' thing, as I said. I interpret his article as criticising the "left groups parachuting in to a struggle in order to recruit to their organisation rather than build the struggle," as you said. I always believes he may be criticising those who have perfectly coherent formulas, already written out (some trotskyist groups have done this). He believes in the workers' own self-organisation, rather than them placing their trust in this or that party which will 'represent' them - social-democratic or Leninist.

Pat
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May 8 2006 17:25

'But you're a steward at Peugeot, you're part of that factory. You are simply a worker with a view on what to do. So when Pannekoek argues that 'the workers are not to adopt party's slogans' because the workers in this or that dispute should decide themselves, he is referring to the workers at Peugeot.'

But what if I wasn't simply a worker? What if I was one of a dozen supporters of a left group who worked at Peugeot? And what if our group's slogan was 'occupy the factory!'.

My group would be trying to 'direct' the struggle.

Is that wrong in principle?

Pat

mk12
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May 8 2006 19:35

Are you trying to take control of the struggle? Or are you simply putting forward your view, to enter into debate?

Pat
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May 8 2006 20:34

'Are you trying to take control of the struggle? Or are you simply putting forward your view, to enter into debate?'

Neither. I'm trying to give a hypothetical example of how socialists relate to struggle. It just strikes me that if you are an activist at Peugeot right now you would be putting forward a strategy to stop the redundancies. I would argue that such a strategy has to involve the workforce in that decision making, through the existing workplace union structures, or something better than that if the existing structures are insufficient.

So the workers would control the struggle after the debate had taken place.

Pat

mk12
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May 9 2006 11:38

I don't know if Pannekoek would agree with that (i think he would?), but I don't see anything wrong with that. You are acting part of the class, entering into the discussion. You're not outside the class, trying to bring 'consciousness' to them.

It seems that the differences between Pannekoek and Lenin (for example) are mainly around why a group acts in the way it does - to assist and help the independent struggle of the workers, or to recruit to the party which can then struggle for power. Obviously in 2006 Britain, this Pannekoek-Lenin debate isn't entirely relevant. Hopefully it will be some day.