The workers' councils in the theory of the Dutch-German communist left
“Es lebe das revolutionäre internationale Proletariat.”
To Serge BRICIANER (1923-1997), Council Communist.
The workers’ councils in the theory of the Dutch–German Communist Left
The decisive importance of the Workers’ Councils for the New Workers’ Movement, born from the ruins of the First World War, was still noted before the revolutionary wave of 1917-1921, which let grow up these organisations from huge proletarian earthquake in so different countries as Germany, Hungary, Austria and Russia. It is in this last country, where appeared in 1905 the first Workers’ councils, that that last organisation’s form seemed to be the final form of the first Workers’ self-government since the Commune of Paris.
The contribution of the Dutch Left, or rather of the Dutch-German Left, for the theoretical reflection on the Workers’ councils, is not only a simple recognition of this form of revolutionary praxis of the proletariat on the way of its emancipation. It holds initially in the recognition of the spiritual factor, i.e. factor consciousness, to give life to the struggle’s forms of the proletariat.
Initially, without any philosophy of action, the proletariat should be unable to emancipate itself. The objective factors (those of the crisis), those of organisation (trade unions and party) of leading minorities were not enough. Was absent an essential factor: the factor of the masses, animated by consciousness of its revolutionary aim.
For that the contribution of Dietzgen is fundamental to explain the birth of the Dutch Communist left and the development of the theory of the Workers’ Councils by Pannekoek.
The influence of Dietzgen
For the Dutch left, the revolution is not a product of rough material forces, like in the physical field, but primarily a question of development of the spirit: there is initially a victory of the spirit before all material victory.
This is the reason why its adversaries often presented it as an "idealist current".
The Dutch Left was a Marxist current which, like all the "radicals", such as Rosa Luxemburg, underlined importance of the consciousness factor in the class struggle, factor that in these times was defined –according to the terminology– as "spiritual factor".
The intellectual guide of the Dutch Marxists, throughout their first fights against the Revisionism and the mechanicism of the "Vulgate-makers" of the Marxism, was incontestably Joseph Dietzgen.
The socialist philosopher Josef Dietzgen (1828-1888) had been greeted, after the publication of his book The Nature of Brainwork [Das Wesen der Kopfarbeit]1 in 1869, as one of the major inventors of the dialectical materialism, as well as Marx, and Engels, in his famous booklet Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1888). Engels greeted the methodological identity between him, Marx and Dietzgen: "And this materialist dialectic, which for years has been our best working tool and our sharpest weapon, was, remarkably enough, discovered not only by us but also, independently of us and even of Hegel, by a German worker, Joseph Dietzgen.". 2 In spite of this compliment by the author of the Anti-Dühring, thephilosophical Works of Dietzgen met a weak echo from the principal theorists of the IId International. Those judged Dietzgen’s philosophy as a pale repetition of Marx, in the worst case a suspect emanation of idealism.
Franz Mehring criticised a dialectics "deprived of knowledge", victim of a certain "confusion". 3Plekhanov found no any original contribution to the materialist theory and rejected with scorn the "confusion" of a theory which seemed to him too idealist, and even a retreat comparing it to the "Materialists" of the XVIIIth century. He believed to detect at Dietzgen an attempt "to reconcile opposition between idealism and materialism". 4 This mistrust could be explained partly by the broad echo met by Dietzgen, among certain idealist circles, which tried to work out together with the son of Dietzgen the so-called "Dietzgenism". 5 In full theoretical fight against the misadventures of the "Dietzgenism" and the "Machism" (theory of the physicist Mach) the Russian and German left-wing Socialists transfer the dressing-up of a neo-idealism there. This opinion was far from being shared by Lenin and the mass of the Bolshevik militants 6, who, like the Dutch Left, would find in Dietzgen a spiritual "Master" vis-à-vis a fatalistic and mechanicist vision conveyed by the so-called "historical materialism" underestimating the activity of consciousness in the class struggle.
The interest of the Marxist Left for Dietzgen consisted not only in the materialist critic of the speculative philosophy (Kant and Hegel), but also in the rejection of the vulgar materialist conception of the mind, defined as a simple reflection of the Matter. Dietzgen rejected the rigid distinction made by the idealists and the vulgar materialists of the XVIIIth century between "mind" (Geist) and "matter". The brain was not a simple external receptacle of the tangible world, but before all the field of the activity of the thought. The spiritual (geistig) work of the brain appeared with the elaboration of the sensitive objects under the form of concepts gathering it in an indissociable totality and unity. From where a rejection of empiricism, which thus, joining the idealism, considers that the Matter is eternal, imperishable, and immutable. Actually, for dialectical and historical materialism "the Matter consists in the change, the matter is what changes and the only thing which remains is the change". 7 It follows that any knowledge is relative knowledge; it is not possible outside "given limits". Lastly, this relative knowledge of material substance can take place only by an active intervention of the consciousness. This consciousness, called "spirit" (Geist), establishes dialectical relations with the matter. There exist a permanent interaction between "mind " and "matter ": "The spirit is a matter for the things and the things a matter for the spirit. Spirit and things exist only by their relations." 8
The Dietzgen’s theory was not in contradiction with that of Marx and Engels. Often, at the price of awkwardness of terminology, it prolonged it by developing a "science of the human spirit ". This "spirit " was a complex of indissociable qualities: consciousness, unconsciousness, moral, psychology, and rationality. From a revolutionary point of view, the contribution of Dietzgen had been characterised by triple insistence: a) importance of the theory, as apprehension and radical transformation of reality; and consequently rejection of any reductionist empiricism ; b) the relativity of the theory changing with the change of " the social matter"; c) the active role of the consciousness upon reality, of which it is not the reflection but the contents itself. Such a systematisation of the essential lessons of Marxism constituted in fact a tool against any reduction of Marxism to pure economic fatalism and against any fossilisation of the assets of method and results of the historical materialism.
All the Dutch Tribunist chiefs, Gorter, Pannekoek and Roland Holst were filled with enthusiasm for Dietzgen at the point to study it thoroughly, to comment on it and to translate it 9. Insisting on the role of the "spirit " and in the class struggle was a direct call to Workers’ spontaneity overflowing the rigid framework of the social democrat and labour bureaucracy. It was a direct call to the fight against the Revisionist doubts and the fatalism which regarded capitalism as "eternal" and "imperishable", like the matter. It was especially a call to energy and enthusiasm of the working class in its fight against the existing system, fight which required consciousness, spirit of sacrifice and has its cause, in short in moral and intellectual qualities. This call to new proletarian ethics, the Dutch Marxists found it or believed to discover it in the Writings of Dietzgen 10. By the critic of the traditional bourgeois materialism and popularised and simplified Marxism, the Dutch theorists developed in fact a new form of "proletarian" morals and class-consciousness. Dietzgen was for them only one revealing direction of Marxism, whose concepts had been distorted by the Reformist vision.
In the Dutch Left, however, the interpretation of the role of the "spirit" in the class struggle diverged. Interpretation of Dietzgen by Roland Holst was nothing less than idealist mixture of enthusiasm and morals, a religious vision minimising the recourse to violence in the fight against capitalism. 11. Gorter, much more "materialist", was more voluntarist, giving an interpretation, centred on the subjective conditions of deed, defined as "spiritual": "The spirit must be revolutionised. The prejudices, cowardice must be extirpated. Of all the things, the most important is spiritual propaganda. Knowledge, spiritual force, here take precedence and are essential as the most necessary thing. Only knowledge gives a good organisation, a good trade-unions’ movement, right policy and by that improvements in the economic and political leadership." 12And Gorter, qualified sometimes of idealist and "Illuminist" 13, took care to give especially militant contents in the "spiritual" factor, by excluding any fatalism: "The social force which pushes us is not a died destiny, an disobedient matter mass. It is the society, it is an alive force... We do not make the history of our own will, but let us do we it. "14 For Pannekoek, on the other hand, the spiritual factor results in the development of the theory. This one is as much a method of economy of the thought, in pure "knowledge", that a conscious and rational knowledge, whose role is "to withdraw the will from the very powerful, direct, instinctive impulse, and to subordinate it to conscious and rational knowledge. The theoretical knowledge allows the worker to escape the influence of immediate and restricted interest for benefit of the general proletarian class interest, to align its action on the long-term interest of socialism.". 15 For Pannekoek the role of the "spirit" fits into the "spiritual science", which means development of critical and scientific weapons against the bourgeois ideology.
Forms of class consciousness in the Dutch Left
The power of the proletariat, according to the Marxist Left, lies not solely in its number (concentration) and its economic importance. It becomes a class for itself (in oneself and for oneself) [in sich and für sich] as it becomes aware not only of its force, but of its particular interests and aim. Consciousness [Bewusstsein] gives the working class existence in the history. Any consciousness is self-consciousness [Selbstbewusstsein]: "It is only thanks to its class consciousness that the great number transforms into a number for the class itself and that the latter manages to seize that it is essential to the production; it is only thanks to it that the proletariat can satisfy its interests, to achieve its aim. Only the class-consciousness allows this huge and musculous body to reaching existence and to being capable of action. " 16
In a traditional way, in the Marxist movement, Pannekoek and the current of the Dutch Left analysed the various degrees of class-consciousness, in their historical dimension. At the start, there is no completed allocated consciousness or class consciousness, to take again the formulation of Lukacs17 –such as it would be conditionally and ideally if it had arrived at maturity. The primitive form of the class-consciousness, essential to the fight, lies in "the instinct of the masses "or "the class instinct". While showing that this instinct, which appears in the spontaneous action, is one "to act given by feeling it immediate, in opposition to acting it founded on an intelligent reflection ", Pannekoek affirmed that "the instinct of the masses was the lever of the political and revolutionary development of the humanity". 18 In a way somewhat Sorelian, this aporia had the appearance of a glorification of "the sure instinct of class". It of it was nothing. For Pannekoek, this instinct was "the immediate class consciousness ", not trimmed, not yet arrived at its political and socialist form. In its polemic against the Kautskyist Revisionists, in connection with the spontaneous actions of the masses, it was frequent for the Dutch Left to underline "the healthy one and sure " instinct of class. This one was actually the interest of class of the workers, paralysed by the bureaucratised apparatuses of the trade unions and the party.
The Dutch Marxism, comparable often with the spontaneist current 19, did not have the worship of spontaneity: the class-consciousness did not have anything "spontaneous"; it was not connected with "an irrational mystic" of action, as at Sorel. Stressing that this class-consciousness was neither a social psychology of group nor an individual consciousness, the Dutch Marxism gave a definition very far away from any spontaneism:
• the consciousness in the proletariat is a collective will, organised like a body; its form is necessarily the organisation which gives unity and cohesion to the exploited class: "Organisation gathers within a single framework individuals who before were atomised. Before the organisation, the will of each one was directed independently of all the others; organisation means unity of all the individual wills acting in the same direction. As a long time as the various atoms are directed in all directions, they neutralise each one other, and the addition of their actions is equal to zero." 20
• this consciousness was not a pure reflection of the economic struggles of the proletariat. It took a political form, whose most worked out highest expression and, was the socialist theory, which made it possible the proletariat to exceed the "instinctive" and still unconscious stage of fight to reach the stage of mature action, tensing itself towards the Communist aim:"It is the setting in work of the socialist theory, fundamentally scientific, which will contribute as well to give to the movement a quiet and sure course as to transform unconscious instinct into conscious act of the men. " 21
With this organisation and this theory, which he sometimes calls "knowledge", Pannekoek added the discipline, freely authorised, like cement of the consciousness.
This conception of the Dutch Marxist Left was to the antipodes of the Lenin’s substitutionism expressed in What is to be done?, in 1903, according to which the consciousness was injected outside by "bourgeois intellectuals ". It diverged as much from the spontaneist current, rejecting all form of organisation. It was not any doubt for the Dutch Left that the class-consciousness had two indissociable dimensions: theoretical profundity, that of the "knowledge" (qualitative aspect) accumulated by the historical experience, and its extent in the mass (the transformation of quality into quantity). For this reason, the Dutch and German Marxists stressed the decisive importance of the mass strikes, at the same time "spontaneous "and "organised ", for the massive development of the class consciousness.
This position was in the right path of the Marx ‘s theory of the consciousness.22 After 1905 and the first Russian revolution, contrary to appearances, it differed (until 1917) little from that of Lenin, which at that time wrote that "class instinct", "spontaneity" and socialist education of the proletariat were indissolubly dependent: "The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Socialist and more than 10 years of activity of the Social Democracy made much to transform this spontaneity into consciousness." 23 In the Marxist Left before 1914, there was still a real convergence in the apprehension of the question of the class-consciousness.
2. The mass strikes and the united organisation of the proletariat
The mass strike was the form, finally found, of class-consciousness. This one would depend on the vacuum, if it were not concretised finally by building the organisation of all the proletarians and by fighting for all the economic and political power against the Capitalist State.
The debate on the mass strikes in the IId International before 1905
Until the beginning of the century, before the first Russian revolution of 1905 does burst, the debates in the IId International on the revolutionary means of action of the proletariat were limited and inserted in the vice of the congress resolutions on the general strike. The general strike recommended by the Anarchist currents was rejected as contrary to the tactics and the strategy of the Workers’ movement. Defended as an "ill-advised" method "to make the revolution" in the absence of working-class political organisations, it became the prerogative of the revolutionary syndicalism 24. Rejecting any parliamentary tactics and any long-term strategy of organisation for the Workers’ movement, the revolutionary syndicalism made of it a theory of "acting minorities" and a "revolutionary gymnastics" necessary and sufficient to maintain, by "the direct action", the spirit of rebellion of the working masses. For Sorel and his partisans, the general strike was at the same time a brutal catastrophe ("the Great evening ") putting an end to capitalism in only one decisive action, and an idealistic myth giving to the masses a quasi-religious faith in the achievement of the revolution. Upon the departure, the debate on the general strike was a fight between two opposite currents: Anarchism or Revolutionary Syndicalism and Marxism, whose stake was the organised political activity of the proletariat to prepare the subjective conditions of the revolution. Waves of generalised and mass strikes, starting from the beginning of the century, allowed that the debate on the "general strike" ceased being a theoretical fight between Marxism and Anarchism and became crucial debate on the course of the revolution within the Marxist camp, and the splitting point between Marxists and Reformists or Revisionists.
The general strike, as fight policy against the capitalist system, was since the beginnings of the Workers’ movement in full centre of its concrete concerns. It was used for the first time in 1842 by the English Chartist movement. At the end of a long economic depression, reducing the wages of the workers, and in the context of a Chartist Petition, for the universal vote, a movement of spontaneous strikes, extending from England to Scotland and Wales, spread during three weeks, concerning 3 million workers. Without true organisation, without leadership, but also without clear political prospects, the strike failed. In a characteristic way, this general "strike", which was rather a generalised strike, was double: economic and political. It was a spontaneous, massive action, without preliminary organisation.
At the time of the First International, the general strike was recommended in 1868, during the international congress of Brussels, like political mean to prevent the future wars. But this decision of the congress did not have any practical effect.
In the IId International, the question of "the general strike" arose under a double aspect: of conclusive strike for the political and economic rights of the proletariat; and of means of antimilitarist fight against the danger of war. In 1892, the general strike was used for the first time as policy of conquest of the universal vote; second general strike, called by the Belgian Workers’ Party (POB), allowed to obtain the plural vote for the male people. Consequently, the use of the general strike will be practically posed during all the congresses of the IId International.
The congresses of Brussels (1891), Zurich (1893) and London (1896) marked a final demarcation with anarchism. This one, which recommended "the universal general strike" as a universal panacea against the war and for the revolution, was expelled, and its theses on the general strike were rejected. The International initially recommended partial strikes, as means of realising the economic and political tasks of the proletariat, and in order to accelerate the organisation of the proletariat, preliminary for setting an international movement. In one period marked by fights for reforms, for the organisation of the proletariat into a conscious class, the conditions for an international revolutionary mass action were not given. This position was always that of the Marxist Left until the first symptoms of a new historical period of revolutionary fights appeared as clear as day. The conditions of the time before 1905, where coexisted revolutionaries and Reformists in the same organisational framework, allowed the Revisionist elements to prevent all basic debate on the means of action of the proletariat: partial strikes, general strike, mass strikes. In 1900, with the congress of Paris, the Revisionist chief of the German trade unions Karl Legien could proclaim, without any discussion: "As a long time as strong organisations are not present there cannot be for us discussion on the general strike." 25.
From 1901, the concrete problem of the mass strikes of the workers, and either the abstract problem of an international general strike, arose in the reality of the class struggle, on the economic terrain as on the political terrain. In 1901, in Barcelona, the strike of the railwaymen burst; to difference of other categorical conflicts, leaded by trade unions, this conflict extended to the metallurgists. In 1902, burst strikes for the right of universal suffrage as well in Sweden as in Belgium. In, 1903 mass strikes spread in Russia, little time after the generalised strikes of the railways in the Netherlands. But especially in 1904 in Italy , the mass strikes give on the agenda the discussion on general strikes and mass strikes. At the autumn 1904, a series of workers’ uprisings overwhelmed whole the Mezzogiorno. A terrible repression led the Chamber of work of Milan to proclaim the general strike at once. This one was propagated in all Italy, and during four days, the workers occupied the factories, and for the first time in the history of the Workers’ movement, in several large industrial towns of the North 26, were formed workers’ councils. Soon all would return in "the order ". This spontaneous movement of the workers, left without watchword of the trade unions and the socialist party, by its generalisation and its organisation preceded the Russian Revolution of 1905. The question of "general strike" and "mass strikes" from now on could be apprehended only in all its international significance.
In front of the huge wave of international class struggle, the Dutch SDAP was charged to present for the international Congress of Amsterdam (1904) a report on the general strike. The first reason was the experience of the Dutch Workers’ movement, becoming hardened which two mass strikes the same year 1903. But, especially, within the SDAP, two tendencies had crystallised, which were found in the parties of the International. The Revisionist tendency, expressed by Vliegen and Van Kol and supported by Troelstra, rejected the general strike as political weapon of fight; it saw there "an act of despair" of the proletariat, from which the consequence would be to isolate it from the middle-classes; it proposed to stick only to the parliamentary action. The Marxist tendency, grouped around the review De Nieuwe Tijd (Van der Goes, Gorter, Roland Holst, Pannekoek) presented a report for the congress of Dordrecht (1904), of extreme importance for the clarification of the concept of "general strike". It proposed to replace it by that of "political strike": "The term of general strike is incorrect. That of political strike expresses our intentions better." 27This congress came out a resolution of compromise, written by Henriëtte Roland Holst, and which will be useful for the international Congress of Amsterdam.
The resolution of the international congress, introduced by Roland Holst, was a step ahead insofar as it proclaimed "possible" the bursting of general strikes like "a supreme means to carry out decisive social changes or to defend oneself against all reactionary attempt perpetrated on the rights of the workers". Very classically, the resolution invited the workers to reinforce their "class organisations", precondition of the success of the political strike, and warned against the use of the general strike by the Anarchists in an "ill-advised" direction. But, concession to the Revisionist tendencies, Roland Holst declared – in advance – "impossible the complete suspension of any work at a given and impracticable time", "because such a strike would return the existence of each one – like that of the proletariat ". 28 But, a few months later the great general strike in Italy contradicted this forecast.
In fact, the presentation of the resolution by Roland Holst much more clearly posed the problems set by "the general strike". She used the term of "mass strike", by showing that this one did not have "an economic goal" in oneself, but was used, in a defensive way, " against the Capitalist State ".
Nevertheless, sign of confusion of the time, she employed the term of "general strike" to proclaim that this one "could not be the social revolution".
A few months hardly after the congress closure, the Russian Revolution swept in practice all the old formulations and all the forecasts. The movement of mass strikes in Russia, distinct from the general strike, showed that a massive fight of the proletariat was as much on an economic terrain as political. It was as well defensive as offensive; the general organisation of the workers was not the precondition but the consequence of the deepening of the movement. Directed "against the capitalist State", it was necessarily a stage of "the social revolution".
At the same time, in January 1905, the minors of the Ruhr Revier entered massively and spontaneously in strike, without following any trade-union instruction. The leadership of the trade unions prevented any extension of the strike. In May 1905, at the trade-union congress of Cologne, the trade-union leader Bömelburg decided against the mass strikes and declared: "To build our organisations, we need calm in the Workers’ movement". 29 Thus, in the country where the proletariat was the best organised throughout the world, the practical movement of the workers ran up against the organisations which it had patiently built; to affirm itself it was to carry out the fight outwards and even against those, without any preliminary and permanent organisation to direct it. The year 1905 posed for the whole of the Workers’ movement not only the problem of the form (generalisation, self-organisation, and spontaneity) but also that of the contents of the mass strikes: reforms or revolution.
The Dutch-German Left and the mass strikes. Roland Holst and Rosa Luxemburg
The analysis of the phenomenon of the mass strikes started well before 1905 in the left-wing Marxist movement. Initially initiated by Rosa Luxemburg, it was continued by Roland Holst, in the Dutch Left, in 1905, then taken again, with a depth increased by Luxemburg and finally Pannekoek. The positions of the Marxist Left in Germany and in the Netherlands, which appear most coherent, cannot be considered independently of those of the Russian Left, of Trotsky in particular, with whom an obvious theoretical convergence appears.
The first to use the term of "political mass strike" was precisely the Russian Parvus 30, who in 1905 recommended the mass action as means of defence of the proletariat against the State, of which could rise the social revolution. Recommended in reaction against the practical Revisionism of the German party, "the political mass strike" was rejected by the leadership of the SPD and the "left wing" too, represented then by Kautsky and Mehring. But it is Rosa Luxemburg who, since 1902, - at the time where the general strike was proclaimed by the Belgian Workers’ Party, and carried out within a strictly legalist framework, to be finally stopped -, considered all the consequences of its use by the proletariat. Defending the "political general strike" as an "extra-parliamentary" action not having to be sacrificed to the parliamentary action, she showed that such an action was without real effect if there were not behind it "the threatening spectrum of the free rise of the popular movement, the spectrum of the revolution". 31 While condemning the Anarchist slogan of "general strike " as a "universal panacea", she stressed that it was about one of "the oldest watchwords of the modern Workers’ movement". The general strike corresponded in fact to an "accidental political strike ", not being able to be issued nor controlled. Like for the revolutions of the past, one had to understand it as one of "the elementary social phenomena produced by a natural force having its source in the class character of the modern society ". As such, she raised the question of the necessary use of class violence as "irreplaceable means of offensive", "as well in the various episodes of the class struggles as for the final conquest of the State power". And, in a prophetic forecast, she concluded that if Social Democracy "were really warned to give up in advance and once for all violence, if it warned to urge the Workers’ masses to respect the bourgeois legality, all its political struggle, in first place parliamentary, would collapse piteously, soon or later, to take place to the domination without end of the reactionary violence ".
The Russian revolution in 1905, starting as mass strike, and culminating into the December insurrection, allowed the Marxist Left in Germany and the Netherlands to specify the revolutionary conception, vis-à-vis the rejection or tepid acceptance of the mass strike by the social democracy. Rejected by the Revisionists, mass strike had been reluctantly accepted by the Iena congress of the SPD in September 1905. The resolution presented by August Bebel, which was however greeted as "a victory" by the Left, recommended the mass strike only as "defensive weapon" and supported that the Russian events could not be used as example for the Workers’ movement in Occident 32. A few months after, in February 1906, a secret conference of SPD and trade unions were held to prevent any propagation of the mass strikes by the German proletariat.
Vis-à-vis such an attitude which showed through already in 1905, Kautsky, who represented the left of the SPD, required of Roland Holst to write a booklet onGeneral Strike and Social Democracy. This one appeared in June 1905, prefaced by himself. This booklet gave political conclusions on the revolutionary mass strikes in Russia, which will be taken again by all the Left:
• ”there is no rigid border between partial strike and general strike ";
• "the political strike is the combination of the political and economic struggles, the mobilisation of the economic power of the proletariat with aim of achieving political aim";
• the mass action is "the form corresponding to any revolution in which the conscious factory proletariat constitutes the force of the largest mass".
• "…the political mass strike becomes the form of decisive fights for the political power, the domination on the State";
• "…in the fight for the State power, violence will be able to constitute a factor of victory".
Lastly, Roland Holst specified the subjective and objective conditions of such a mass strike: organisation, as self-education of the proletariat, discipline, class consciousness, qualities whose compost is the concentration of the proletariat in large factories. All these qualities necessary to the success of the revolution will be always underlined by the Dutch Left, Pannekoek more particularly.
But Roland Holst showed also a certain "centrist vision" near to Kautsky, in what she did not see yet " contradiction between parliamentarism and political mass strike", while announcing the decline "of bourgeois parliamentarism contradictorily ". She saw especially the danger –in contradiction with its analyses– that the mass strike run towards insurrection: "There is the danger that the masses do not recognise clearly the political goal of the strike, which is demonstration or pressure, and will conceive it as a final fight, oriented towards the destruction of capitalism." 33
The question was in fact to know whether the revolutionary mass strike in Russia had opened a new revolutionary historical period, whose lessons were universally valid, including for the best organised Workers’ movement of the Occident, whose struggles had always been defined by Social Democracy as purely "defensive".
The booklet of Rosa Luxemburg Mass strike, party and trade unions, published in 1906, but victim of censure 34, was a scathing attack launched against the Reformists of the SPD and trade unions leadership. It converged with the conclusions of Roland Holst. But the theoretical framework of Rosa Luxemburg was much fuller. Animated by a true revolutionary passion, more critical towards the SPD and trade unions bureaucracy than Roland Holst, much more critical towards the parliamentary activity, this booklet can be regarded as the first revolutionary Manifest of the Dutch-German Left-wing Current. The most decisive points were the following:
• There was no "Western way" to socialism, defined by a parliamentary strategy and a peaceful evolution of the Workers’ movement. The lessons of the Russian Revolution were universal, valid for all the countries, including the most developed ones: "The mass strike seems thus not like a specifically Russian product of the absolutism, but a universal form of fight of the proletarian class determined by the present degree of capitalist development and the classes’ balance. A backward country... shows to the proletariat of Germany and to the most advanced capitalist countries the coming ways and methods of class struggle." 35
• The mass strike was neither an accidental phenomenon –term used by Rosa Luxemburg in 1902– nor a single action, like the general strikes, but a "whole period of class struggles spreading over several years, sometimes over decades".
• The historical period of mass strikes revealed the new revolutionary age in a sudden appearance: "The mass strike is simply the form taken by the revolutionary fight... It is the alive pulsation of the revolution and at the same time its most powerful engine". And in a very affirmative way, Luxemburg sustained that the revolutionary process was present at the start in any mass strike: "actually it is not the mass strike which engenders the revolution, but the revolution which engenders the mass strike".
• The mass strike, as alive phenomenon, could not be dissected, it did not break up itself in rigid categories, to draw a diagrammatic picture of classification; it embraced all forms of class struggle, economic and political, which give an united fighting proletariat, of which the categories and divisions are erased for the benefit of whole the working class: "economic and political strikes, mass strikes and partial strikes, strikes of demonstration or fights, general strikes concerning particular sectors or whole cities, specific wage claims or street battles, fights on the barricades, all these forms of fight cross or are close, are crossed or overflowed one on the other: it is an ocean of phenomena eternally new and fluctuating... "; "there are not two species of fight distinct from the working class, one of political nature, and the other of economic nature, it exists only one big fight there aiming at the same time limiting the effects of the capitalist exploitation and at the same time at removing this exploitation as the bourgeois society."
• The class consciousness was not generated and did not develop solely in the mould of the already existing organisations (parties and trade unions), by a long "education", but more especially in the course of the revolution, where it becomes "concrete and active": the revolution accelerates the awakening of the proletariat and gives quickly to it the best "education", that of the struggle, which requires "sums of idealism".
• It was an error to believe that the organisation (trade union and party) could bureaucratically and mechanically generate the class struggles. On the contrary, the fight gives birth to the general organisation of the proletariat: "It is alive dialectical evolution... given birth to the organisation as a product of the struggle ". If reorganisation of the proletariat as a whole was born from the fight, it did not give there " spontaneist" rejection of the political organisation. This one remained "the most enlightened and the most conscious avant-garde of the proletariat". Only, its role and its function changed; they not existed any more "to educate", organise and lead technically the class struggle, but to orientate it politically: "... the task of the Social Democracy will consist not in the preparation or the technical leading of the strike, but in the political leading of the whole the movement."
This booklet incontestably was used as theoretical and political basis for the current of the German and Dutch Marxist Left, and later of the Left-wing Communism, as from 1919. The significant "absent" one, as well at Roland Holst as at Luxemburg and Pannekoek, ever mentioned in all the texts, was the Workers’ Soviet of Petrograd, whose role had been huge in the first Russian revolution; never role and function of The Workers’ Councils were analysed. Within the framework of polemics against Revisionism and Reformism, Luxemburg quoted only the example of the creation of the Russian trade unions in 1905, to oppose it to the trade unions leaded by the German Reformists. Only, and in an isolated way, Trotsky –and without having echo in the Dutch-German Left before 1914 – underlined the fundamental role of The Workers’ Councils as "the self-organisation of the proletariat ", of which the goal is the fight "for the conquest of the revolutionary power" 36. In addition, hardly mentioned by Roland Holst, the question of the State and of its destruction, as Capitalist State, at the end of the revolution, was not approached by Rosa Luxemburg. When the discussion took place again, as from 1909, Pannekoek, for first time, analysed the most clearly this question.
Offensive or defensive. The fight against the Kautskyist \"Centre\"
The revolutionary mass strikes in Russia had had a considerable echo in Occident, contrary to the assertions of the Reformists. In 1905, in Germany, there had been 500.000 strikers, more in one year that during the decade 1890-1900; more than any year between 1848 and 1917.37 The SPD electoral failure of 1907, after the nationalist wave of elections known as the "Hottentot" ballot, –of the name of a tribe of the African South-west crushed by the German imperialism -, the weakness of the class struggle from 1907 to 1909 allowed Reformism to publicly reinforce in Germany. This phenomenon of reinforcement of the Reformist wing and of the Revisionist currents was of international nature. The Marxist Left in Holland had made the bitter experience of it. In Russia, in the POSDR, rose a so-called "Liquidationist" current, favourable to legalism and common action with the liberals (K.D.). The international Congress of Stuttgart (1907), in spite of the very radical amendment suggested by Lenin, Luxemburg and Martov for the transformation of a possible coming war into revolution, showed a very clear evolution of the leadership of the social-democrat parties towards capitulation on all the principle questions.
From 1910, the debate on the mass strikes and the revolution, that the leadership of the SPD believed to have buried, will re-appear. Initially, under the effect of starting unemployment and collapsing wages, the strikes rise again massively. In the second place, with the threats of world war increasingly more precise, the question of the use of mass strike as weapon mobilising the proletariat against these threats arises in all seriousness. Lastly, in a general way, the social-democrat leaders, refusing to use as "weapon" the mass strike recommend a policy of peaceful demonstrations and general strikes for electoral reforms and universal suffrage. This policy of demobilisation on the parliamentary terrain was practised since 1909 in Germany, since 1911 in the Netherlands (the so-called "Red Tuesdays") 38; and in 1913 in Belgium.
At this time the ideological splitting within the orthodox Marxist Current in Germany was effective. Kautsky adopted the Bebel’s Reformist positions and approached Bernstein who, on the mass strikes’ question, defended a "centrist" position, suggesting restricted use of this form of fight as "defensive weapon". In fact the future tendency of the Independents, which will constitute the USPD in 1917-, is growing up there, facing to the "radical" left-wing current symbolised by Rosa Luxemburg and Pannekoek.
The debate on the mass strikes was reopened in 1910 by Rosa Luxemburg, who published an article 39 which was refused by the daily newspaper Vorwärtsand the Kautsky’s Neue Zeit, who considered that the question was already "overcome"; and that public polemics "allowed the adversary to know our own weak points" 40. In fact, after 5 years of delay, Kautsky took again the exactly same arguments that the Revisionists had formerly used against the Radical Left.
For Kautsky, it was clear that the mass strike in Russia was specific to this country, an economically "backward" country. The action of the Russian workers was the expression of "desperate conditions" that the Western proletariat was far away to living. Moreover, he affirmed, by manipulating the historical truth, "such decisive strikes never yet took place in Western Europe"41. The conception of the revolutionary mass strikes should be "absolutely incompatible with the conditions of an industrialised country", enjoying "political rights" and better living standards. The economic crisis, whose "Radicals" stressed the importance in the sudden appearance of spontaneous class movements in Occident, was unfavourable to the revolution and the mass strikes; the proletariat needed only for claiming street demonstrations. The mass strikes in Occident should be more specific to fill with enthusiasm the workers in period of economic prosperity: "... in period of crisis, the proletariat does not show much fighting capacity and in period of prosperity much revolutionary dash. In period of crisis, it is easier to make huge street demonstrations than mass strikes. In times of prosperity, the worker can be filled with enthusiasm more for a mass strike that in times of crisis. " 42.
Kautsky conceded that there can be "local decisive strikes", but never generalised strikes. Mass strike in Occident is purely defensive and would be exerted as "means of coercion" against the government. The only possible strategy was an "erosion strategy" against the power, "nibbling" the positions of the bourgeois ones, and not "a strategy of destruction" of capitalism. To justify his argumentation, Kautsky referred not to the history of the period of mass strikes before and after 1905, but to the Ancient history... that of Hannibal, in fight against Rome. Drove to the wall by Rosa Luxemburg and Pannekoek, Kautsky used the same arguments that he had denounced at his old Revisionist adversaries:
• the parliamentary tactics are preferable to the revolutionary mass action and even to the political strikes: "an electoral victory produces an impression much stronger"; 43
• the mass actions are street actions of an "unconscious crowd". Taking as starting point the Crowds’ psychology of the reactionary French sociologist Gustave Le Bon, Kautsky affirmed as follows: "The mass actions can be as well reactionary, even straight forwardly absurd";
• finally, any action of an unorganised mass, not controlled by Social Democracy and trade unions, threatened the quiet existence of the Workers’ revolutionary movement: "The unforeseeable character of the unorganised mass actions was often fatal for opposition movements and parties, in particular the revolutionary ones. " 44.
In response to Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg included all her former argumentation, exposed in Mass Strike, Party and Trade Unions, by accentuating it. She showed the need for the proletariat for "marching resolutely to offensive"; decision could spout only out the masses themselves. The arguments of Kautsky were actually smoke screens "to slow down " the movement 45, as she underlined it in an article which was a whole program: "Erosion strategy or fight?".
In the article "Theory and practice" 46, she underlined three fundamental points concerning the debate on the mass strike:
• by its gigantic proletarian concentration in Petrograd and Moscow, Russia announced the revolution in Europe. Russia far from being backward from the strict point of view of capitalist growth showed a "high level of capitalist development ";
• the mass strikes did not disorganise and did not weaken anymore the Workers’ movement. On the contrary, it was "profitable". The Russian mass strikes had allowed "more conquests on the economic, social and political plan that the German trade-unionist movement during its four decades of existence ";
• the strikes in Occident came again in force; the danger, which threatened those, was the capacity of Social Democracy " indeed to paralyse the most perfect mass action by adopting an oscillating tactic and without energy ". And in optimistic way, Rosa Luxemburg concluded that it was not a question of carrying out the fight against the party and trade unions leadership; the masses themselves would take care "to draw aside its leaders who go against the current of the tumultuous movement ".
Often in this debate, Rosa Luxemburg remained on the terrain chosen by Kautsky and the leadership of the SPD. She invited to inaugurate demonstrations and strikes for the universal suffrage by mass strikes and proposed as transitory watchword that, more "mobilising", of "fight for the Republic". On this side, Kautsky could retort to her that "to want to inaugurate electoral fight by mass strike, is nonsense". Moreover, taking the thrown ball, Kautsky affirmed that, basically, the contents of Social Democracy were other than abstract "socialism ": "Social Democracy will continue to mean by itself Republic." 47
Very different was the terrain chosen by Pannekoek, who, between 1910 and 1912, launched out, with the Left of Bremen and the Dutch Tribunists, a fundamental debate against Kautsky. Since 1909, the relationship of the Tribunists with this last had notably worsened, initially because of the scission of March 1909, then especially because of the publication of the Pannekoek’s book on the Tactical Divergences in the Workers’ movement. This book, in addition to its general theoretical framework, trained on Revisionism, was one of the first stages of the break-up of the Marxist Left with parliamentarism and trade unionism inside the IId International.
[h23. State and left: two obstacles [/h2]
New tactics of mass action. – The question of the State
Prudently, in preliminary, Pannekoek stressed that parliamentarism had played a considerable role in the history of the proletariat: "Parliamentarism has [...] metamorphosed the proletariat, born of the enormous development of capitalism, in a conscious and organised class, fit to fighting." 48 Quickly, he stressed that it could not be used as instrument of domination of the proletariat; it was rather "the form of normal political domination of the bourgeois". And he warned against the electoralist manoeuvres ("Nur-Parlamentarismus", i.e. "Nothing-that-Parliamentarism") developed inside the Social democracy. In that, the position of Pannekoek and the Tribunists were in the right path of Marx and Engels, who denounced "the parliamentary cretinism". On this point, Rosa Luxemburg and the Dutch and German Left had a concordant view.
On the trade unions’ question, the position of the Dutchmen was much more radical than that of Rosa Luxemburg. While recommending, like her, the submission of the trade unions to the party and revolutionary program, and the fusion of the political and trade-union struggle "in a unified fight against the ruling class", Pannekoek judged impossible of carrying out any revolutionary fight in the trade unions framework. Structurally, the trade unions move not on the class struggle terrain but that of the bourgeois State, and consequently could not be revolutionary struggle organs: "... trade union is by no means an adversary of capitalism, but is located on the same terrain... trade unions are not the direct organ of the revolutionary class struggle; they don’t aim at overthrowing capitalism. Far away, they constitute a necessary element for the stability of a normal capitalist society." This analysis, extremely contradictory besides, announced the rejection of the trade union structure as tool of the fight, and even of any revolutionary trade-union "structure". Defined as "Syndicalist " by Kautsky 49, the Left of Pannekoek contained in germ the antisyndicalism by principle of the Communist Left after 1920.
The criticism of Pannekoek against Kautsky, fully matured in 1912 in his textsMass Action and Revolution and Marxist Theory and Revolutionary Tactics 50, revealed a political and theoretical vision deeper than that of Rosa Luxemburg, who, in this debate, did not come out of the terrain chosen by Kautsky.
First of all, Pannekoek showed the convergence of the former radicalism of Kautsky with the Revisionism; "the passive radicalism " of the Kautskyist Centre had a quite precise aim, to diverting the revolutionary fight on the parliamentary and trade-union terrain: "This passive radicalism converges with the Revisionism in the sense that it leads to the exhaustion of our conscious activity in the parliamentary and trade-union fight." From a theoretical point of view, the Kautskyism was a not-will of action and somewhat fatalist, converging with the apocalyptic and catastrophist vision of the revolution of the Anarchists, waiting for the "miracle" of the "Great evening": "(passive radicalism) envisages revolutionary explosions which are presented in the form of cataclysms suddenly appearing, like out another world, independently of our will and our action, and which rise to give the coup de grâce to capitalism." 51
The major points of the revolutionary criticism of Kautskyism by the Dutch Left, were the following:
• the Capital, at the epoch of imperialism an, with its great capitalist coalitions, cannot grant durable reforms any more to the proletariat, which is condemned to defensive actions against the deterioration of its living conditions. Mass strike is the typical form of the class struggle at the time of imperialism and it becomes impossible to fight for reforms: "…The class struggle grows in acuity and tends towards spreading. The driving force of the fight is not any hope to improve its situation, it is, in an increasing way, the sad need for facing the deterioration of its living conditions. The mass actions are a natural consequence of the transformation of modern capitalism into imperialism; they are unceasingly more the fight form which seems essential to confront it."
• sometimes the mass action seems "a corrective measure to the parliamentary action", sometimes " a politically extra-parliamentary activity of the organised working class ". 52 It is especially a spontaneous active and conscious action, gathering the majority of the workers, and thus endowed with its own organisation and discipline. Without giving precise name to this organisation, Pannekoek underlined a major fact: the capacity of self-organisation of the proletariat, fighting massively by extra-parliamentary means: "the (mass) was passive, it becomes an active mass, an organisation with its own life, cemented and structured by itself, equipped with its own consciousness and its own bodies. "
• in the mass action, the role of the party is decisive; it is an active factor, catalysing the revolutionary action which it leads and organises, "because it is carrying a great part of the capacity of action of the masses". But this role of leadership is more spiritual than material; the role of the party is not to control the proletariat, as a military staff does it: "(the party) is not carrying all the will of the proletariat as a whole. It cannot thus order it to march, as if one gave orders to soldiers. " 53.
• The violent confrontation of the proletariat with the State, carrying all the means of repression, cannot stop the proletariat; the ruling class can destroy the form of proletarian organisation, not its "spirit ", which remains in the working masses educated in the organisation, discipline and cohesion spirit. Also, "(the State) can destroy only the external envelope of the proletarian organisation, not its soul". That is confirmed fully in the revolutionary action where the organisation is growing stronger, and, in the fire of the experience, becomes "solid like steel ".
• finally, Pannekoek will affirm that the political party cannot rise as mass organisation, but as a solid and compact nucleus which cannot substitute for the will of the masses: "But "we" are not the masses; we are only a small group, a nucleus. It is not what we do want, but what the mass do, which determines the course of the events." 54. This conception will be largely developed by the Dutch-GermanCommunist Left in the years 1920, particularly by the KAPD.
Nevertheless, the essential contribution of Pannekoek in the debate on mass strike surpasses his analysis of the role of the party, conception largely shared by Rosa Luxemburg. It takes place in defining the finality of the revolution. If each great mass strike, as Pannekoek noted it in 1912, "now took aspect of explosion, a revolution into small " 55, it is because it fell under a long-term process, of confrontation and finally of destruction of the capitalist State: "The fight (of the proletariat) ceases only with the complete destruction of the State machinery."
This new conception of relationship between proletariat and State was to the antipodes of that shared by the official Social Democracy and Kautsky. For this last, there was no change in the tactics of Social Democracy, in spite of the Russian Revolution. It was a simple question of seizing the State power, such as it existed, by the means of a parliamentary majority, and not the point to destroying the State power and its machinery: "...the goal of our political fight remains the same as it was before: to seize the State power as a conqueror the majority at the Parliament and to ensure the pre-eminence of the Parliament on the government. But the destruction of the State power never... Never this process cannot lead to the destruction of the State power, but always on a displacement of the balance of forces inside the State power". "The conquest" of the State, according to Kautsky, was thus a gradual, peaceful process, by the parliamentary way, "nibbling" inside the State apparatus.
Seven years before Lenin does begin again in 1917 this debate on this question in The State and the Revolution –while using very largely and with delay the Pannekoek’s pamphlet56 – Pannekoek in its booklet The power means of the proletariat 57, 1910, approached with surprising clearness the problem: "The fight of the proletariat is not only a fight against the capitalist class for the State power, but a fight against the State power." 58 If, according to Lenin, the booklet of Pannekoek, missed "clearness and precision", it contained in germ the idea, already developed by Marx and Engels, and constantly taken up after 1917 by the Marxist Left, that the proletariat could not be satisfied to just conquer the old State power, it had to demolish all the machinery (police force, army, justice, administration) to replace it by a new State apparatus.
Of which nature would be this new State power; how would rise the "dictatorship of the proletariat" which should be built on the ruins of the bourgeois State power: On these questions Pannekoek and the Dutch Left remained vague, through lack of significant historical experience. The answer was however not –what claimed Kautsky 59 – that of the anarchism: destruction of any State power, without any conquest of political power. In a booklet published in 1906 (Upheavals in the future State), Pannekoek affirmed that the necessary conquest of the political power by the proletariat was "a long-term process, which can perhaps spread over decades with ups and downs". Approaching the Transition period from capitalism to socialism, he strongly also affirmed that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" could be confused neither with nationalisation nor with "socialisation" nor with any form of "State capitalism". 60
In fact for Pannekoek, the Transition period depended on the realisation of three conditions:
• "political domination of the working class" on class society and economy;
• "workers’ democracy";
• "raising and improvement of the daily living of the labouring popular mass", by "a powerful rise in the productivity of work", and "the rise of the cultural level". Socialism was less one "violent suppression of the private property" and an upheaval of the legal relations of property that initially and before a whole "suppression of poverty and misery" .
The State in the Transition period, such as it was considered before 1914 by the Dutch "radicals", could remain perfectly with a communal Parliament and councils. It would be at the same time a government, an administration, a Parliament, but especially based on "committees for all kinds of object". Without using the term, this State would be reduced to be only one half-State whose tasks would be primarily economic, and from which the political domination would tend to disappear: "The State will be a body with economic functions, which does not need more to exert its own domination." The Dutch Left did not go further in its analysis of these complex problems. That of which it was sure, it is that socialism would mean the final exit of "the animal time of humanity".
Party, Councils and Revolution. \"Masses or chiefs?\"
The war and the Revolution of the councils in Russia, Germany and Hungary will modify and enrich the conception by the Dutch left. Basically the revolution in Russia exclusively raised the question of the real detention of the power by the Workers’ councils, and thus of antagonism between the party supposed to represent them (the party Bolshevik or any other party) and the latter. The total substitution of the power of the councils by the party dictatorship to the service of the State capitalism as of (and even front) March 1918 posed in a clear way the question of the role of the revolutionary parties in the councils. The German Left, represented by the KAPD and Unions (AAU and AAU-E) in Germany embodied in practice this radical tendency which put ahead the role of The Workers’ Councils as inalienable forms of proletarian power. The Unions represented the political-economic nucleus of the radical workers with the transformation of the economic fight organisations into political bodies of power: the Workers’ councils.
In the German and Dutch Communist left, there was, nevertheless, a great importance given to the role of the party, as well before during the revolution. Vis-à-vis Bolshevism, preaching the party dictatorship, on the place of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" exerted by the whole working class gathered in the Workers’ councils, the Dutch-German Left replied in 1920 with the writings of Gorter and Pannekoek, Reply to the comrade Lenin, and World Revolution and Communist tactics of Pannekoek.
A Communist Party acting in the councils' movement had another finality, very different from that assigned by the Bolshevik and social democrat parties. Taking up again the conception of Rosa Luxemburg, the Dutch theorists affirmed that the Communists "plan to prepare their own decline" 61 in the Communist society.
The Communist Party could be only a tool of the revolution, even if it played a decisive part in the crystallisation of the revolutionary mind and deed of the proletariat:
"The Party has the task to propagate in advance clear knowledge, so that appear within the masses, in those moments, elements able to know what it is advisable to do and to judge the situation by themselves. And, during the revolution, the party must establish the program, the watchwords and the directives that the masses, acting spontaneously, recognise right, because they find there, in an accomplished form, their own revolutionary object and arrive, thanks to them, to view there the things more clearly." 62
The function of the party was thus not only to elaborate the program; its function was an active function of propaganda and agitation. Even if the working masses rose spontaneously, the party was not spontaneist; it could not accept blindly any spontaneous action of the workers. The party was not dissolved in the mass but a lucid and bold avant-garde by its watchwords and its directives. In this acceptation only, the party directed and "led the struggle ". This role of "leadership" was not that of a staff, ordering the working class like an army, conception theorised as much by Bolshevism as by social democracy. The revolution was not decreed; but was "spontaneously" "the work of the masses themselves". If certain actions of the party could be a starting point of the revolution –"that does not arrive but rarely"– the decisive factor was self-development of the class consciousness, which emerged in the form of spontaneous actions. "The psychic factors deeply hidden in the unconsciousness of the masses" gave an apparent spontaneity to the revolutionary activity. The function of the party was precisely "always to act and speak so as to awake and strengthen the class-consciousness of the workers". (Underlined by Gorter.) 63
This function of the party determined the structure and the operating mode of the Communist organisation. Instead of gathering enormous masses, at the risk of sweetening the principles and even of opportunist gangrene, the party had to remain "a nucleus as resistant as steel, as pure as the crystal". This idea of a nucleus party implied a rigorous selection of the militants. But the Dutch-German Left did not preach the virtues of insulation and minority:
"If... we have the duty to still remain for a time in a small minority, it is not because we appreciate this situation with an particular predilection, but because we must endure it before becoming stronger."
In a rather awkward way, Gorter –at the price of paradoxical argumentation– felt into a vain polemics against the Executive of the Comintern, which judged the Communist Left like "sects":
"A sect, then? will say the executive Committee... Perfectly, a sect, if you understand by that term the initial nucleus of a movement which claims the conquest of the world."
Following the KAPD, Gorter opposed "the chiefs’ party "and "the party of the masses", ‘dialectics’ that Pannekoek besides refused to adopt. It is clear that all the Communist Left had been shocked by the scission in October 1919, in Heidelberg, where the minority, manoeuvring with a non representative leadership of the KPD, exerted its dictatorship on the party, and expelled at last the majority of the party. This self-designated leading, so Levi, Brandler and Clara Zetkin, was opposed to the will and the political orientation of the working masses in the party. By "Party of the chiefs" the Left mean the party which nourishes not the internal democracy in the party, but the clique dictatorship, from top to bottom, while adopting the conception of Lenin: "an iron party" and "an iron discipline". "The party of the masses"–and not the mass party, on the contrary, must be built "upwards" by the revolutionary workers of the party.
Gorter, Pannekoek and the KAPD did not deny the need for a united work in the party, necessarily centralised and disciplined. Gorter, who is often and wrongfully presented, like Don Quichote, as the hero of "the fight against the chiefs", wanted in fact true chiefs, true centralisation and true discipline in the party:
"... we are still searching true chiefs who do not seek to dominate the masses and do not betray them, and as a long time as we will not have them, we want that all will be done upwards, and by the dictatorship of the masses themselves... That is also worth with regard to the iron discipline and the strong centralism. We want it well but only after having found true chiefs, not before."
In fact, in an intuitive way, Gorter developed an idea which will be that one of the whole international Communist Left, Italian included, after the Second World War. In the revolutionary parties, rose no more, as in the IId and IIId Internationals, ‘great men’ having a crushing weight at the point to dominate the entire organisation. A revolutionary organisation became more impersonal and more collective. Gorter noticed this fact in 1920, in a country as developed as Germany:
"Didn’t you notice that, comrade Lenin, there are not ‘great’ chiefs in Germany? All are very ordinary men."
The existence of "great men" in the movement and the personalisation of this last (Leninism, Trotskyism, "Luxemburgism", "Bordigism") were in fact a sign of weakness and not of force. It characteristised economically underdeveloped countries –where the consciousness and the maturity of the proletariat remain in an embryonic state, from which the need for "charismatic chiefs" to balance this weakness. In the great capitalist countries, the historical traditions of struggle give class-consciousness much more worked out and structured. The importance of the "chiefs" is indirectly proportional to the real consciousness of the working masses.
New tactics of the proletariat
The triumph of the Workers’ Councils on a world scale required a complete inversion of the former praxis of the proletariat, Social Democracy and Bolshevism included.
For the Dutch Left, the tactics of the Comintern in Occident were too "Russian" and thus inapplicable. The tactics of Lenin "could only lead the Western proletariat to its loss and terrible defeats". Contrary to the Russian revolution, which had been built on the revolt of the poor peasants, the revolution in Occident would be more purely proletarian. The proletariat in the advanced countries had not potential allies, neither the farmers nor the urban petty bourgeois. It could count only on its number, its consciousness and its own organisation. The proletariat was alone facing all the other classes: