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Sal S.


Anton Pannekoek Has Died

(Spring 1960)

From Fourth International (Amsterdam), No. 9, Spring 1960, p. 68.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In Wageningen, on April 28, Anton Pannekoek died at the age of 87 years. Though almost forgotten by the younger generations, for many years he had been an internationally known Marxist theoretician, especially before the First World War.

In 1902 he entered the Dutch Social-Democratic Workers Party (SDAP), and soon (together with Wijnkoop, Gorter, Henriette Roland Hoist, Frank van der Goes et al.) belonged to its Marxist left wing.

In 1906 he was appointed as a teacher at the Central Party School (Zentrale Parteischule) of the SPD, the German social-democratic party, and later on at the Arbeiter Hochschule (Workers University) of the same party in Bremen. In those years, as a teacher of the working class cadres, he worked under the leadership of Rosa Luxemburg.

He contributed to the German Marxist theoretical magazine Die Neue Zeit, and polemicized with Karl Kautsky about the question of the State, a discussion quoted by Lenin in State and Revolution in a way which was favorable to Anton Pannekoek. In this book, Lenin wrote about him:

“Pannekoek acted against Kautsky as a representative of that ‘left radical’ tendency which counted in its ranks Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Radek and others, and which, as a representative of revolutionary tactics, was united in the conviction that Kautsky was going over to the ‘Zentrum’ and that he was unprincipledly wavering between, Marxism and opportunism. The correctness of this opinion was completely confirmed by the war, when the tendency of the ‘Zentrum’ (which by mistake was called Marxist) of ‘Kautskyanism,’ exposed itself in its full horrible misery.” (Translated from the German edition)

During the First World War, Anton Pannekoek remained an internationalist. In 1919 he joined the Communist International. He participated in the left-wing tendency, developed by Gorter, which was criticized by Lenin and Trotsky at the Second World Congress of the Communist International, and by Lenin in his book on Left Wing Communism. In 1922 Pannekoek left the Third International, and, in reality, gave up his activity as a militant communist, whilst dedicating himself completely to his scientific work as an astronomer, in which field he also distinguished himself internationally.

He still wrote some ultra-left books. Under the name of Horner he attacked Lenin as a philosopher. In this book he tried to deny the working class character of the Soviet Union.

When Sneevliet, in 1936 – during the infamous Moscow Trials – asked Pannekoek to come out in defence of Leon D. Trotsky, Pannekoek refused to do so with the argument “that the revolutionary honour of Trotsky could not be smeared by the Trials.” It was then the well known communist mathematician Mannoury who, in Holland, was at the head of those revolutionary intellectuals who fought against the Stalinist slanders against Leon Trotsky and the Bolshevik Old Guard.

Anton Pannekoek was a typical representative of the Dutch Marxist school, about which Karl Kautsky, still being a revolutionary Marxist, once jokingly said to Henriette Roland Hoist, that he had set his hope in the Russian and Dutch Marxists. Having lost its intimate ties with German Marxism, however, in 1914, after the collapse of German social-democracy, the Dutch Marxist school began to develop a series of peculiarities, in which dogmatism began to predominate and which finally led to its disintegration.

Henriette Roland Hoist, who once belonged to those Marxist intellectuals, tried to explain their fate in poetical words by the contradiction between the broad horizons of their flat country and the narrowness of its frontiers. As long as the problems of Revolution belonged to the domain of theory, the school, represented by Pannekoek, was able to understand. It had no profound roots, however, in the world of catastrophes and revolutions, which began with the First World War, and which had only feeble echoes in a country like Holland. At that moment, Kautsky’s words appeared to be prophetic as regards Russian Marxism (though Kautsky had become a renegade then), and a joke as regards the Dutch Marxists.

But even in a joke, there is an element of truth. Before and during the First World War, the Dutch school made a valuable contribution to international Marxism: before the war by its fight against revisionism, during the war by its internationalism and by its solidarity with the Russian Revolution.

The degeneration of Marxist theory and practice under Stalin, delivered the final blow to the Dutch Marxist school. It was the Russian “school,” led by Leon D. Trotsky, which profoundly understood the ups and downs of Revolution, and which laid the basis for the victorious revival of revolutionary Marxism on a world scale, as it is embodied now in the programme and practice of the Fourth International.

This fact does not diminish the duty of the Fourth International to pay a last tribute to the memory of Anton Pannekoek, who dedicated the most fruitful part of his life to the defence of revolutionary Marxism.

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