Gilles Dauvé / Denis Authier

The Groupuscular Phase

Appendix I

Table of Contents:



The disagreements between the KAPD and Rühle and between the AAUD and the AAUD-E, Mattick writes, “had no practical meaning... The more one thought in collective terms, the more isolated one became. Capitalism, in its fascistic form, appeared as the only real collectivism...”[1]

The reduction of the great organizations of the German Left to the status of sects was the consequence of both the end of the revolution in 1921 and of the willingness of a certain number of German Left Communists to preserve their organizations during a period when they no longer played any real role at all in the practical struggles of a working class which had turned in its entirety towards reformist action. Their activity, however, was not reproduced or permanently revived by the real movement. The groups ossified, and nothing was left of them except a skeletal apparatus composed for the most part of old leaders from an intellectual or petty bourgeois background. The mass of workers who had joined these organizations oriented towards revolutionary action returned to “normal life”, since, for the proletariat, the revolution is a moment of “normal life” which arises when this “life” becomes too intolerable, and when the capitalist mode of production, which assures the conditions of this life, itself enters into crisis. The revolution is not a myth, an ideal which must become reality. The revolution is not “made” by “making it”, even when everyone enjoys making it.

In the Communist Workers International (1923), Gorter expounds the idea that the revolution’s worst enemies (for a limited, but extensive period) are all the workers of all countries. Despite his own inclinations, this recognition obliges him not only to reject the willingness to attach oneself “to the masses” in such a period, but also to reexamine traditional revolutionary activity (“agitation”, “propaganda”) among the workers. On the one hand, the understanding of this point undermines the workerist tendency present in the German Left. On the other hand, it prohibits trying to exhort the workers to make the revolution. This is what Marx thought after 1850, and Bordiga after 1945: but a good part of the left did not take this into account and persisted in its activism.

To speak of sects is not merely to indicate the small size of organizations such as the KAPD after 1923, or the fact that all of the left groups taken together, which counted hundreds of thousands of members between 1920 and 1921, and 20,000 in 1923, had only a few hundred members when Hitler seized power. The word sect also characterizes a whole range of political practices.[2] People get together, for example, “on the basis of certain ideas” and work to spread them (in this case the idea of the councils, the idea of the self-activity of the masses, the idea of unitary organization, etc.). Sects have a whole organizational ritual, congresses where speeches are made, resolutions adopted, schisms of historical importance take place, etc. After its decline in the early 1920s, the left did “practically” nothing, that is, its impact on immediate reality was null. Its theoretical activity primarily consisted of repeating some ideas which had been produced by the German revolution; Pannekoek and the Group of International Communists of Holland (GIKH), however, did undertake some theoretical elaboration of these basic themes.


The KAI and the Schism in the KAPD

The birth of the KAI coincided with the decomposition of the KAPD and the AAUD. In reality, it was still-born. Trotsky was unaware of just how correct he was by prophesying at the Third Congress: “The danger that it would grow larger is the least of the problems which would confront a Fourth International, should the latter ever be founded.”[3]

On July 31, the Central Committee of the KAPD appointed a committee to prepare the foundation of a new international by establishing contacts with various leftist groups in other countries. Two tendencies soon confronted one another over this issue, to which was added the question of participation in wage struggles. The first conflict was between the political and ideological leaders in Berlin (Schröder, Goldstein, Sachs) and the KAPD “administrative committee” (Geschäftsführender Hauptschuss), also in Berlin. In effect, in order to “assure democracy within the organization”, two party leaderships overlapped with one another: the administrative committee and the Zentrale or central committee. The administrative committee was elected by the party congress in order to attend to day-to-day affairs between congresses. The central committee included, in addition to the administrative committee, one delegate from each party district, and met whenever a political problem arose which had not been addressed by the preceding party congress. The administrative committee was elected by a simple majority of the congress: since the Berlin district represented the majority of the KAPD’s membership, only Berliners were elected to this committee, especially since the great majority of the party’s vital centers were in Berlin. This arsenal of statutes would allow the “intellectuals” room to maneuver in order to get their viewpoints accepted in the party, since the majority of the administrative committee did not necessarily agree with the central committee: this would lead to a split.

The group centered around Schröder, who was the leading spirit behind an “international office of information and organization for the KAI”, came into conflict with the party majority, who judged the construction of an international to be inopportune before the establishment of the KAPD on a more solid footing, whose cadres and general capabilities had been steadily diminishing since the 1921 defeat. This anti-KAI majority also wanted the party, as such, to participate in wage struggles and economic struggles in general, which had, with the ebb of the revolution, come to occupy a preferential place. The minority, known as the “intellectuals”, rejected this kind of compromise. While they were maneuvering to get their line adopted at the March 1922 session of the central committee, they were excluded by the Berlin district. The former leaders of the party then moved their office to Essen.

After this, there were two KAPDs, two Communist Workers Newspapers, two AAUDs and two Kampfrufs (Call to Struggle), which was the organ of the AAUD. The Essen faction regrouped the old leadership and a few small districts. The Berlin tendency represented the majority of the KAPD and the Berlin district in particular: the latter would survive longer than any other district. Its membership was also much more working class than the other districts.

For the Essen tendency, building the KAI was its only activity. Having become ill during the time of the factional struggles, Gorter then supported the KAI in his pamphlet, The Necessity of Reunifying the KAPD. Once the theoretician of the SDP, then of the KAPD, he became the theoretician of the KAI, together with Schröder. At an April 1922 conference attended only by the KAPD and the Dutch Left, the KAI was founded. This conference adopted the KAI “Guidelines”.[4] The Bulgarian Communist Workers Party, a representative of the Russian left communists, a delegate from the KAPD youth group, a representative of the Amsterdam group and a delegate from the AAUD also attended the second conference (October 1922). Contacts were also established with Pankhurst’s party.

After September 1921, the Dutch Left formed the Communist Workers Party of the Netherlands, but neither Pannekoek, nor Gorter, nor Roland-Holst was among its members. When the KAPD split took place in Germany, the Dutch party’s majority opted for the Essen tendency. Its August 1922 Congress voted to join the KAI. The Bulgarian party, with its 1,000 members, was undoubtedly the strongest party in the KAI. It was linked to AAU districts in four cities. Strongly influenced by the KAPD schism, it also split into a Varna tendency (analogous to the Berlin tendency) and a Sophia tendency (analogous to that of Essen). The latter rapidly broke up, and, paradoxically, it was the Varna tendency which attended the Second Congress of the KAI. In Russia, the KAI was represented by a much-reduced group, the Revolutionary Workers Opposition, which was illegal and distributed KAPD propaganda. Despite the hopes of the Germans, the Bulgarian Communist Workers Party did not thrive, and soon disappeared. Pankhurst had to content herself with sending greetings to the Second Congress. After the Third and last Congress (November 1924), the KAI existed merely as an idea periodically propagated by an office staff.[5]-[6]



The AAUD-E spawned numerous factions. Until 1925, its leadership was in the hands of Rühle, Pfempfert and J. Broh (who had left the USPD). There were many expressionist artists on the editorial committees of Die Aktion and Die Einheitsfront (the United Front), the main journal of the AAUD-E. One tendency wanted to unite with the FAUD. Another wanted to participate in wage struggles and the elections for the legal works councils—this faction was excluded. Another tendency, the so-called Heidenau or “smokestack autonomy” tendency, defended absolute autonomy. Finally, the “council communist” or “centralist” tendency fought to make the resolutions approved by the AAUD-E’s Congress compulsory for all the organization’s members.

The latter tendency emerged victorious and made the AAUD-E into an organization which was no longer opposed to the KAPD and the AAUD on the issue of “organizational principles”. The efforts of the Berlin KAPD to achieve reunification were rejected until 1925. The Heidenau tendency moved in 1923 towards resolutely anti-organizational positions of principle, mixed with anti-intellectualism: it dissolved itself in December 1923.

“All organizations pursue their own survival. The united front of all the creators cannot be realized in the factories and in the countryside unless the organizations rid themselves of all their defining characteristics, since they smuggle the bacillus of schism and therefore the absence of unity into the workers movement with their programs, their leaders and their factory walls. They constitute an obstacle to progress. The comrades of Heidenau have arrived at the necessary conclusions and, first of all, destroy their own organization.”[7]

K. Guttmann, a member of the AAUD-E, declared: “In the German proletariat, whatever does not teach organization is not revolutionary” (Los von Moskau!, published by the AAUD-E of Hamburg).[8]

In 1925, Rühle, judging that the reaction was too powerful to justify the continuation of revolutionary activity, resigned from the AAUD-E. According to the historians of the GDR,[9] he rejoined the SPD. This seems quite improbable, especially since these Documents from East Germany do not document Rühle’s departure from the AAUD-E. In addition, he was to continue to make theoretical contributions within the left tradition.

The AAUD-E joined two other groups in 1926 to form the Spartacus League of Left Communist Organizations (or “Spartacus No. 2”) under the patronage of Pfempfert and Die Aktion. The other two groups in this organization were the Industrial Union of Transport Workers and Ivan Katz’s group, which had recently been excluded from the KPD for “Trotskyism”. This fusion earned the ridicule of the KAPD, but the Berlin tendency would do the same thing a few months later (cf. below). Despite this cartel of organizations, the AAUD-E’s membership was falling towards zero, and had no more than 31 members when it fused with the AAUD in 1931 to rejoin the KAPD.


The KAPD (Essen tendency)

The Essen tendency was at first the weakest of the KAPD organizations. In 1923, a tendency concentrated in Leipzig, the Council Communist League, broke with the Essen tendency, and also moved towards anti-organizational and anti-leadership positions of principle. It moved closer to the Heidenau tendency of the AAUD-E. J. Borchardt (cf. Chapter 4) had already arrived at such a position at the war’s end. Such attitudes were also to be encountered in the FAUD’s Die Schöpfung tendency; the FAUD’s anarchosyndicalist leadership reproached this tendency for its “individualism”. It was an important current within the German Left. These groups and individuals felt the need to theorize their withdrawal from the “life of the militant”, which the working class base of the leftist organizations had accomplished without having posed any philosophical problems. Principled anti-intellectualism is a problem for intellectuals. Similarly, the principled rejection of any organization is also the inverted expression of what Luxemburg called “organizational cretinism” (yet without understanding it: cf. Chapter 4). It was Schröder, himself a lawyer and a KAPD leader, who set the tone at the August 1920 KAPD Conference: “Something very important has come up in the debate: the proletarian instinct to feel that it is necessary to free ourselves from the intellectuals.” (This may be an allusion to Rühle, whom the Congress had decided, however, not to exclude). It is this instinct which issues the warning: “Don’t take advantage of us! Think of the millions of dead sacrificed for the slogans of the leaders! And under no circumstance are you to take advantage of us in the interests of any kind of theory!”

Two years later, these statements would return to haunt Schröder and his comrades: they would be accused of playing a role within the revolutionary organizations which could not even be attempted within the bourgeois parties.

“The idea that knowledge is superior to all the other manifestations and functions of human life has a basis which is easily explained by historical materialism: the development of mechanical thinking within the capitalist economic form. Accounting and calculation, which only present knowledge, have become vital laws for the capitalist economic form, which are reflected in the spiritual life of bourgeois society through the glorification of the intellect, of knowledge” (Die Revolution, journal of the Heidenau tendency, No. 20, 1922).

It was the rejection of scientism, of the dictatorship of theoretical knowledge and “consciousness” (preceding action) which is brought by knowledge and science, as this latter trend was manifested in the socialist movement (Kautsky): but this rejection would in effect be based upon the framework of a false opposition between intellect and spontaneity.

In 1925, the principle leaders of the Essen tendency (Schröder, Reichenbach, and Goldstein) returned to the SPD. Others, like Sachs, abandoned all political activity. The timing of this exodus, which coincided with Rühle’s departure from the AAUD-E, can be explained by the repression of leftist organizations and the KPD after the conclusion of the 1923 crisis, from which neither the KAPD nor the AAUD would recover. Furthermore, for all those who still wanted to “be political”, the KPD, in the midst of “Bolshevization”, was not the ideal location. The Red Combatants group (Die Roten Kämpfer) carried out agitation within the SPD: after 1923, it went underground and undertook resistance activities. Its members were arrested and imprisoned in 1936. After the war, Schröder unsuccessfully attempted to form a leftist group. We should also note that at the same time that Schröder and his friends returned to the SPD, the SPD (which was in power in Prussia) forced the AAUD and the KAPD into a long-anticipated clandestinity. Gorter, meanwhile, died in 1927. The Communist Workers Newspaper (Essen tendency) appeared regularly until 1929, and was largely dedicated to a critique of the reformism of its fraternal groups on the left.


The KAPD (Berlin tendency)

Together with the Berlin AAUD, the Berlin KAPD was the most working-class of all the surviving left groups. Its leadership was for the most part anonymous. It was, in brief, more activist than the other groups, launching numerous calls for insurrection in 1923, but it was also non-existent outside Berlin.

The Fifth Congress of the KAPD (Berlin tendency) elaborated a Second Program which was more detailed than the first. It attempted, in particular, to provide more depth to the idea of the “death crisis” of capitalism, which had until then remained more or less just a slogan. During the groupuscular phase, this idea was converted into a pseudo-theory to justify the organizations’ continued existence, since the “death crisis” was linked to the immanent resumption of the movement. This notion, however, had remained relatively unchanged since the war. In their attempt to theorize a bold new formulation of the death crisis, the Berlin KAPists relied on Luxemburg. They conceived of the crisis as a crisis of the market, which found all the outlets it needed in neither wars, nor in growing state demand. This conception was shared by all the left currents during this period, with the exception of a small minority which formed in 1924 within the Berlin group, as well as a few Dutch leftists close to Pannekoek, who had already attacked this thesis prior to the war (cf. Chapter 3). These elements were to comprise the nucleus of the future Dutch GIKH and of the KAU in Germany.

In 1926, the “grenade affair” took place, as well as the schism of the Berlin KAPD. The English press had revealed that the Russians were contributing to German rearmament, offering Germany the use of training camps on Russian soil. The SPD took advantage of the scandal to attack the KPD. The KAPD called attention to the affair by publishing From Revolution to Counterrevolution: Russia Arms the Reichswehr (Berlin, 1927). The KAPD found itself in agreement with a recently-excluded KPD faction (E. Schwach and K. Korsch).[10] Schwach, who was a parliamentary deputy, participated in the campaign by denouncing the collusion between the “Soviet” and German governments. He formed the group called the “Determined Left” (Entschiedene Linke), which eventually fused with the KAPD-Berlin, after having lost most of its members. This merger posed some delicate problems, because Schwach did not want to resign his seat in parliament.[11] The KAPD rank and file, who had not been consulted throughout this affair, underwent a schism, which led to the creation of two new press organs: Kommunistische Arbeiter (the Communist Worker), Organ der KAPD-Opposition, and Klassenfront, Organ der AAUD-Opposition. They denounced the opportunist parliamentarism of the leadership, which accused the opposition of being manipulated by the Dutch (a small group which split from the Dutch Communist Party and whose theses had some influence on part of the Berlin KAPD; see below).

Although part of this opposition returned to the party in 1928, the wound was healed only by means of an extreme weakening of the organization, since their return coincided with the departure of the AAUD-Opposition tendency. After 1928, this KAPD tendency was no longer any more important than its Essen counterpart. One of its members, Weiland, was arrested in 1933 for having been in contact with Marinus Van der Lubbe, the Reichstag arsonist (cf. below). Other members of the KAPD formed clandestine resistance groups after 1933, the “Revolutionary Shop Stewards” and the “Group of International Socialists”, which still existed in Berlin after 1945. They published the journal Neues Beginn (New Beginning) in Berlin from 1945 to 1950. They were involved with the journal Funken during the 1950s, and published From the Bottom Up, Pages for Direct Democracy in Berlin.


The AAUD (Berlin tendency) and the KAUD

The AAUD-Berlin underwent a schism at its Seventh Conference in 1927, when the majority declared their support for participation in the partial struggles of the working class, the sole proviso being that the workers themselves must conduct the struggles. The AAUD urged its members to form “action committees” in the factories to prepare wildcat strikes. For the first time in its history it would therefore conduct an economic struggle: the struggle of the North Sea fisherman in 1927. The theses of the Eighth Conference also no longer spoke of the need for a separate party, and consequently for the KAPD, undoubtedly as a result of the Schwach affair. A little later the AAUD declared that it would henceforth assume the tasks of the KAPD. Thus, there was no longer any principled opposition to the vestiges of the AAUD-E, which led to the creation of the KAUD, into which the two organizations fused: at the moment of its founding (Christmas 1931), the KAUD had 343 members. This unification took place, in part, on the advice of the GIKH, with which the AAUD had been in close contact since 1927. The acronym itself, KAU (Communist Workers Union), contrasted with the old name (General Workers Union), indicating that the Germans for their part accepted one of the principle conceptions of the GIKH: the working class must organize itself, no one can attempt to be the pole of this process of self-organization:[12] after 1933 the KAU clandestinely distributed the bulletin Rätekorrespondenz, printed with the help of the GIKH in Holland, calling upon the radical workers to form communist workers groups and to carry on the struggle independently of democratic anti-Nazism.

During the crucial years 1920-1930, the Netherlands took up the torch of council communism. After 1945, however, the remnants of this current were relatively strong in central Germany (which became East Germany). All the leftists who resumed their activity or who were recognized by the KPD, a total of several hundred, were arrested.[13] The 1953 workers uprisings in this part of Germany assumed the forms of the council movement, in consonance with the relative backwardness of East German capital during that era.[14]


Council Communism in the Netherlands

The Dutch Communist Workers Party subsisted until the 1930s, holding fast to the positions of the KAPD-Essen. A small minority, however, including H. Canne Meijer (with whom Pannekoek sympathized) broke with the party due to the issues of the death crisis and day-to-day practice. This group, which represented only a few individuals, established contacts with some members of the Berlin tendencies of the KAPD and AAUD. In 1927 it set up a Press Service of the International Communists. In 1930 the AAUD published a text composed by the GIKH: The Fundamentals of Communist Production and Distribution,[15] one of the basic texts of the councilist left.

The essential idea of the text is that the “communist economy”, like any other, needs an accounting unit to respond to society’s needs without resorting to commercial accounting and economic regulation by way of the law of value. This unit is social average labor time. This thesis takes it for granted that communism will still have an economy, and that average social labor time would be a measure on a par with the liter or the kilogram. The theory has the merit of posing the question of communism; but, by introducing the general accounting unit—a unit of average labor time not determined by the market—it preserves the value relation, the general equivalent, even though it destroys its apparent forms: money, etc. Communism, however, as Bordiga was alone in repeating for many years, is the supersession of all kinds of commercial value; if this kind of value must be counted, it is in physical quantities, but not in order to quantify and regulate an exchange which no longer exists.[16]

The Dutch leftists, however, had reinvented a thesis which had already been criticized by Marx in his critique of Proudhon.[17] The idea of a conscious and direct calculation of abstract average labor time, without passing through the mediation of money, is foreign to the communist perspective, which eventually only counts in physical quantities (in the fullest sense of the term).[18]

The GIKH was quite consistent and became very influential, since it had the merit, in comparison to the remnants of the KAPD, of not wanting to “make the revolution”, and devoted its efforts to small tasks imposed by reality. Just as the Dutch Left had initially possessed a more accurate perception of reality than the Germans, who were attached to the illusion of action (SPD, etc.), the Dutch councilists, after 1930, also had a more realistic and, ultimately, more effective vision than the vestiges of the movement in Germany itself. The GIKH would publish pamphlets by Pannekoek (Lenin as Philosopher, for example), a German language journal (Rätekorrespondenz) with contributions from people outside its group (Korsch, Mattick—a former KAPist—Wagner). Its Press Service, in Dutch and German, was replaced in 1938 by Raden Kommunisme. There was also an organ published in Esperanto: Klas Batalo. All of these journals hosted numerous political and theoretical debates (cf. Appendix II). In addition, the GIKH “intervened without intervening” in everyday struggles, somewhat like the ICO in France after the war (cf. below).


The Reichstag Fire

There was also a much more workerist group in Holland during this period: the Linksche Arbeideroppositie, which had been excluded from Sneevliet’s semi-Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialist Party, whose organ was the journal Spartacus. This group, in the person of one of its members, Van der Lubbe, seems to have had to its credit the burning of the Reichstag in February of 1933. In any event, the group applauded this action and claimed Van der Lubbe as one of its own. Under the name of the International Van der Lubbe Committee,[19] the group published a Red Book (in response to the Brown Book published in Basel by “fellow-travelers” of the USSR in 1933). This book explains that this symbolic critique of parliamentarism (which was actually a symbol of such a critique, however powerful the act) was intended to make an impression on the German workers, and to convince them that the struggle against National Socialism would never succeed on the terrain of parliament. The GIKH energetically rejected all such methods.[20] The Linksche Arbeideroppositie later published the journal De Arbeidersraad.

The numerous small councilist groups of the 1930s went into hiding at the time of the German invasion. In 1940, however, Sneevliet created the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front, with the journal Spartacus, “Organ of the Third Front”, which was joined by many former members of the GIKH. When Germany attacked the USSR in June of 1941, the MLL Front majority rejected “any defense of the USSR”. When the leaders of the Front were arrested in 1942, and eight of them were executed, the council communists abandoned this organization and joined the Communistenbond Spartacus, rejecting any kind of collaboration with either side in the conflict, since both merely represented different forms of the rule of capital. This group still contained ex-trotskyists who had not freed themselves from the virus of activism, which led to a new split in 1947, when the leadership decided to create a new version of the AAU, at a time when no revolutionary factory organizations actually existed. What remained of the Spartacus Bond experienced the same phenomenon in 1964: the anti-activist minority founded the journal Daad en Gedachte (Action and Thought), to which C. Brendel contributed.[21]


Developments in Bulgaria

Although there is a paucity of information on the subject, it was in this country that the leftist movement (of the German type) was actually strongest. In June of 1923, Stamboulisky (cf. Chapter 17) was overthrown by a military coup d’état. The Bulgarian Communist Party assessed the situation in accordance with the Russian experience of February-October 1917, and fully assimilated this military coup with the Kornilov affair. Rejecting the united front “from above” with the Peasants Union, it remained neutral in the face of what it assessed to be two equally bourgeois camps. The Communist International was aware of this and urged the Bulgarians to change course, and not to follow this “leftist” orientation but to launch an insurrection, which failed, in September. In this instance the anarchists played an important role. In the end, the cities had been less involved than the countryside. Considering the army’s weakness (reduced to 20,000 men by the postwar treaties), the Bulgarian Communist Party’s strategy was by no means absurd: to strike a hard blow in Sofia after having dispersed the forces of the State by means of a generalized agitation. But this “offensive” was also just a putsch like the one in Hamburg the following month, although the social base was much more extensive in Bulgaria.[22]

The evolution of the Bulgarian groups and tendencies then became extremely complicated, but was nonetheless of some significance. N. Sakarov, who had abandoned the “narrows” in 1908, and was a patriot during the war, led the socialists who joined the Communist Party in 1920, presided over the parliamentary group of eight Communist Party deputies elected in November of 1923, and announced at the end of December in parliament that he condemned the Communist Party’s insurrection, and that he was committed to legality.[23] He was also against the alliance with the peasants which the Communist Party was then implementing. The exiled Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party then excluded him. Nonetheless, Sakarov himself published, in November of 1924, the first issue of Proletarii as the organ of the Bulgarian section of the KAI. According to Rothschild, this journal, which defended Marxist principles against the two Internationals, viewed Russia as “a second variant of capitalism” and insisted upon the opposition between the interests of workers, peasants and artisans, and that it would be vain to try to create a united front.

Meanwhile, Ganchev, leader of the Bulgarian Communist Workers Party in 1920, who had nevertheless returned to the official Communist Party after June of 1923 with a small group of followers, published, with the approval of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, the journal Lach (Starlight: always the proletarian Aufklärung) in October 1923. Ganchev wanted to facilitate a Sakarov-CP rapprochement and opened the columns of Lach to the two currents without initially favoring one or the other. He later grew increasingly critical of the Central Committee, without entirely taking Sakarov’s side. He was eventually excluded, and would fall victim to the white terror in 1925. The Central Committee emerged victorious, and Sakarov was reduced to the leader of a small sect. Some of his supporters, as elsewhere, became “Trotskyists” (S. Zadgorski, who started in the Bulgarian Communist Workers Party and later returned to the Communist Party). The Communist Party would have great difficulty in controlling the unexpected adventurist tendencies of some of its members, and would not achieve complete control over its organization until the mid-1930s.

Ambiguity and confusion were so characteristic of the Left that one cannot easily oppose a “communist left” to a degenerate Communist Party. Sakarov’s position (as well as Ganchev’s to some extent), rejecting a compromise with non-working class elements, was, on the one hand, a distorted proletarian demand (Gorter had correctly written that the workers stand alone, but he was talking about Western Europe). But it was also a direct defense of the interests of the working class qua socio-professional category. This position could lend itself to integration within a reformism which would pit workers and capital against the other social groups.


Other Countries

We shall only deal briefly with some offshoots of the German Left. Issue No. 101 of ICO mentions the existence of groups in Greece, Romania, Yugoslavia, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Denmark. In Belgium, prior to World War Two, one group published the Bulletin de la Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes.[24] There was a Flemish group in Ambers after the war.[25] In the United States, Mattick published the journals Council Correspondence, Living Marxism and New Essays[26] between 1934 and 1943. Other German immigrants in Melbourne (Australia) published the Southern Advocate for Workers Councils and reprinted Pannekoek’s postwar book Workers Councils.

In France, a group linked to the GIKH published L’Internationale.[27] A “Spartacus Group” was formed in Paris in 1931, composed of German émigrés (A. Heinrich) and A. Prudhommeaux. This group published several issues of L’Ouvrier Communiste and, later, the journal Spartacus, propagandizing for the councils and presenting the first description of the German council movement to a French audience. This group also published the Open Letter to Comrade Lenin, both in its journal as well as in pamphlet form.[28]

The group which founded the ICO at the end of the 1950s came, in part, from L’Internationale.[29] Another, much smaller, group, founded in 1959 and still in existence, published the bulletin Lutte de classes, which is quite workerist but offers profound analyses of capitalism and workers struggles.[30] In this sense it recalls the GIKH. The journal Socialisme ou Barbarie, born of a split in the Fourth (Trotskyist) International, which rediscovered or re-employed old formulations of the German Left, without vindicating themselves by ever clearly mentioning their affiliation with that current, succumbed to council fetishism, only to end, in the 1960s, with self-management, democracy and group dynamics.[31] For all of these groups,[32] “the councils are the parliaments of the working class”, in accordance with the definition provided by Karl Roche, one of the founders of the AAUD in 1919.[33]



[1] “Otto Rühle and the German Labour Movement”, pp. 107-108.

[2] Cf. Marx’s letter of October 13, 1868. Cf. also Chapter 14, Note 9.

[3] La nouvelle étape, pp. 113-114.

[4] La gauche allemande...

[5] Between 1925 and 1927, one finds, for example, the bulletin Vulcan, “Organ of the KAI”, published by a second KAI which was a rival of the first. The bulletin proclaimed “the death crisis” and called upon the proletarians to join the KAI. It also outlined an analysis of the development of society towards a pyramidal structure which would fuse the classes, anticipating the theses of S ou B during the 1960s, and of Invariance during the 1970s. It took into account the contacts made in the east.

[6] Compare with the first issue of Bilan (Brussels, 1933), at that time the organ of the PCI left, pp. 2-3.

[7] Quoted by Bock, p. 322.

[8] Ibid., p. 320.

[9] Dokumente und Materialen zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee of the SED, 1957 and 1966.

[10] For this period, cf. S. Bahne, Cahiers de l’ISEA, December 1972, “Entre le ‘Luxembourgisme’ et le ‘Stalinisme’: l’opposition d’ ‘ultra-gauche’ dans le KPD”; R. Fischer’s (extremely biased) book; and S. Bricianer’s Introduction to Korsch, Marxisme et contre-révolution.

[11] The Italian Left would also renounce its anti-parliamentarism for several years, claiming that it was not a question “of principle”. Cf. the documents collected in the Bulletin d’Étude et de Discussion of Révolution Internationale, June 1974, No. 7; and Bordiga et la passion..., pp. 223-224.

[12] C. Meijer: Le mouvement des conseils en Allemagne, ICO, supplement to No. 101, p. 18.

[13] Bock, p. 348.

[14] B. Sarel: La classe ouvrière d’Allemagne orientale, ed. Ouvrières, 1958.

[15] Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, English translation available online at

[16] Structure économique et sociale de la Russie..., pp. 191 et seq., p. 205, passim.

[17] Fondements de la critique de l’économie politique, Anthropos, Vol. I, 1967, Part 1.

[18] On the “estimation of costs” in communism, cf. Un monde sans argent, OJTR, 1975, Vol. II.

[19] This committee published M. Van der Lubbe: prolétaire ou provocateur?, 1934, reprinted by La Veille Taupe, 1972. Tried by the Nazis at the same time, one of the leaders of the Communist International, Dimitrov, denounced Van der Lubbe as a “provocateur”, and asked “that he be condemned for having acted against the proletariat”. Dimitrov’s wish was granted: Van der Lubbe was executed... Cf. Bilan, No. 3 (January 1934), pp. 81-87.

[20] Kool: p. 530.

[21] For a critique of certain aspects of this group, cf. the Revue théorique of the International Communist Current, No. 2.

[22] Rothschild: p. 143, et seq.

[23] Ibid., p. 152.

[24] On Belgium, cf. also Chapter 16, Note 1.

[25] According to Kool.

[26] The entire collection of these three journals (1934-1943) was published as a reprint by Greenwood Corp., Westport, Connecticut, 1970. Cf. the anthology, La contre-révolution bureaucratique, which places too much emphasis, as its title indicates, on the “anti-bureaucratic” aspect.

[27] Extracts from this group’s text, in French, can be found in La légende de la gauche au pouvoir. Le Front populaire, Le Tête de Feuilles, 1973.

[28] A selection of texts from Bilan on the Spanish Revolution is available in Bilan: Contre-révolution en Espagne, 1936-39, 10/18, 1979.

[29] The ICO disappeared in 1973, but now exists in the form of Echanges et Mouvement. For a critique of this current and of certain aspects of the German Left, see Leninism and the Ultra-Left in Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, Antagonism, 1998.

[30] Cf. also its collection Contre le courant.

[31] S ou B’s error was rooted from the very beginning in its definition of capital as a system of management: cf. Communisme et “question russe”, pp. 15-20, and P. Guillaume’s postscript to Rapports de production en Russie.

[32] We will not deal here with the currents which, among other things, have tried to “synthesize”, if one can speak in this manner, the German and Italian Lefts. Particularly, after 1945: Internationalisme (later Révolution Internationale), and then Invariance.

[33] Was wollen die Syndikalisten?, p. 6.