Comrades from the German-speaking blog Communaut continued their historical debate about organisational forms – check out the translations of the first contributions here. Although there are no direct references, this debate forms part of a wider international grappling, e.g. in the US amongst the DSA Communist Caucus, the Marxist Unity Group, but also in the UK amongst comrades from Notes from Below. The following text is a second reply by comrades who defend the concept of a ‘mass party’ to the criticisms they received – to read the critical positions see link above. We have published the comrades’ previous reply here.

Dilemma With No Way Out?

In the first part of this reply we dealt with the historical points of contention and once again tried to explain our position on the basis of our understanding of the historical material. In this second part we now want to shed more theoretical light on the question of organisation. In doing so, we will 1.) underpin our basic thesis that the working class must organise politically in order to be able to act as a class. 2.) We will elaborate on the fundamental dilemma of class organisations in capitalism and argue that this dilemma cannot be circumvented by simply not organising, but should instead be answered through organisational means. In this sense, we want to 3.) clarify once again our critique of the spontaneist hopes in our milieu and finally 4.) define more precisely our idea of party, programme, and strategy.

Class Organisation as Necessity

In the first part we already repeated the basic observation that the capitalist mode of production is based on an indissoluble antagonism of interests between capital and labour. At least within our milieu, this will hardly have met with opposition – but a disagreement about the consequences to be drawn from this basic determination seems very much to exist. In our view, the significance of the class antagonism in capitalism is not simply rooted in this antagonism per se, but results from the peculiar position of the proletarianised. They are in a state of fundamental precariousness, which Marx called “absolute poverty”: a poverty that does not consist in one lack or another, but in the complete exclusion from the means of their own reproduction (cf. MEW 42: 217f.). According to Marx’s analysis, the wage-dependent class has no choice but to unite if it wants to defend and assert its interests as a class – and not simply as competing individuals. Since the individual worker “as a ‘free’ seller of his labour power, succumbs without resistance once capitalist production has reached a certain stage of maturity” (MEW 23: 316), he or she must organise with others. The wage-dependents “begin to form coalitions against the bourgeoisie” (MEW 4: 470). The fact that since the beginning of the capitalist epoch the wage-dependent, despite all adverse conditions, internal competition, division, atomisation and repression, have united again and again to fight over their interests, illustrates this assessment. The impossibility of realising its interests on an individual basis makes the proletariat a universal class. Every previous one could “not liberate itself as a class, but only in isolation”. The proletariat, on the other hand, because of its position, must “abolish the very condition of its existence hitherto (which has, moreover, been that of all society up to the present), namely, labour” (MEW 3: 76f.).

The Marxist hypothesis is thus that the working class – as a class separated from the means of production – must necessarily organise itself in order to be able to improve its situation in the long term. This is not a historico-teleologically bourgeoisified automatism, but requires wilful, collective action. (1) Class consciousness arises as an effect of this organising. Only this contains the possibility of forming the isolated proletarianised individuals into a class for themselves. (2) Class struggles at the point of production cannot play this role alone because of their episodic and minoritarian character. It is precisely because workers are separated from the means of their reproduction – and not merely because they can exercise power at the point of production by refusing to work – that they can function as a revolutionary subject for Marx and Engels. (3) In this perspective, struggles, strikes, etc. are not considered valuable in themselves, but only from the perspective of further organisation: “the actual result of their struggles is not immediate success, but the ever-widening unification of the workers” (MEW 4: 471). Accordingly, it is a gross simplification when Felix Klopotek reduces the “real movement” of communism to the “tendency of increasing socialisation in capitalism”, socialist theories, and spontaneous movements. (4) For Marx and Engels, it was not only in the increasing integration of production and exchange processes that the material conditions “for a classless society could be found latent” (MEW 42: 93). At least as important for them was the increasing political organisation of the proletarianised into a party. Various statements and resolutions by Marx and Engels show that this by no means meant only a historical party or philosophical concept of whatever kind, but a formal, political party, with membership lists, a programme, and with the aim of being represented in parliaments. (5) For example, the programme of the French Workers’ Party, written by Marx in 1880, states “that collective appropriation can only proceed from a revolutionary action by the class of producers – the proletariat – organised in an independent political party” (MEW 19: 238).

Klopotek, on the other hand, considers the organisation of the proletariat as a politically independent party to be a “phantasm”; as such, in his view, it would “always already be integrated into democracy.” (6) Marx and Engels, on the other hand, were firmly convinced that it is only through association in a political party that wage-dependents learn what is necessary to be able to administer a future society on their own. In their eyes, the degree of organisation of the class gives information about how much the class has already gained in maturity. (7) Kautsky summed up this view in the statement that the proletariat “in and through struggle” should organise and enable the most advanced and at the same time the most backward elements of the wage-earning class to lead “that tremendous economic transformation which will finally put an end to all misery arising from servitude, exploitation, ignorance on the whole face of the earth.” (8) For the centre-wing within the SPD [The German Social Democratic Party], these remarks formed the basis for the critique of the mass strike strategy. (9)

Class Organisation as Dilemma

By the time of the Second International, the pitfalls associated with the necessary organisation of the working class had also become so obvious that they demanded theoretical and strategic clarification. The tendencies towards bureaucratisation and reformist degeneration were already becoming slowly visible in Marx’s time. (10) In this phase of the development of the workers’ movement however the dispute over the question of organisation was predominated by the partly anti-democratic, partly anti-political ideas of Lassalle, Bakunin, or Proudhon and their followers. (11) It was only in the mass strike debate – which was to a large extent also a debate about the question of opportunism and bureaucratisation, as can be seen above all in Luxemburg’s contributions – that these new problems associated with the social democratic mass organisations became the subject of a decisive debate.

In this context, the dilemma with regard to trade unions had already been clear-sightedly formulated by Kautsky: “We look away from the other advantages which the trade unions offer to the workers. But strangely enough, the stronger they become, the more they improve the situation of the workers, the more cautious they become in every strike movement – but of course, the more violent and tenacious the struggle becomes once it comes to one. That is to say, it seems strange only at first sight that as the strength of the organisation grows, its desire to take up every struggle does not increase in the same measure. If one looks more closely, this phenomenon is quite natural. The organisations now have something to lose: the gains they have hitherto wrung from the employers, the war treasure on which a good part of their ability to fight rests, and finally, and most importantly, the confidence of their members.” (12) According to Kautsky, it is only through a powerful trade union that provides strike funds and the necessary know-how that strikes can become “powerful” and “tenacious” – but only if they occur. It can be observed however that increasing organisational capacity and size are often precisely not accompanied by self-confident militancy, but rather the opposite occurs: the more formidable the organisation, the more timidly it launches an open conflict, the more likely it is to avoid decisive confrontations or serious strikes, and the more it relies on negotiation and moderation.

The reason for this, as Kautsky writes, “strange” development has not been theorised by anyone as thoroughly as by Claus Offe and Helmut Wiesenthal. (13) They explain the opportunism which, in their view, develops sooner or later by necessity as a fundamental dilemma of working class organisations. Wage earners, because of the heterogeneity of their life situation and the competition among themselves, could not simply add up their interests, but have to coordinate and to a certain extent redefine them in a dialogical process in order to arrive at a collective class interest. First of all, therefore, they emphasise that in order to find these collective interests, the formation of organisations and the creation of a culture of solidarity and collective identity are essential. (14)

Such an organisation goes through several stages in its development process. In the first stage, the workers’ organisation is still at a low level of organisation, a dialogical form of balancing interests between leadership and the rank-and-file dominates, and the internal bureaucracy is still barely developed and has therefore not yet been able to become independent. At this level, militant conflicts with the side of capital still have to be conducted in order to gain concessions. In the second stage of the organisation’s development, however, this form of exercising power is already receding into the background. The mobilising capacity and membership of the organisation have reached a point where the threat of strikes and direct actions – and not their actual implementation – is sufficient to get the other side to give in. The potential of power functions as if it were the application of power and thus the exercise of power at the negotiating table can remain purely virtual. However, the strength of the organisation at this stage is thus based on its control over its rank-and-file, whose spontaneity now becomes a threat to it. This problem exists both for trade unions and political parties, which also face the temptation at a certain point to use their voter base merely as a threat to achieve short-term goals by reformist means. This also results in what Robert Brenner has called the paradox of social democracy (15): the trade unions and parties tend towards reformism in the long term and are forced to hem in the struggles of the rank and file. By demobilising them, however, they simultaneously hollow out the potential for exercising power and thus the basis of their organisation’s strength. According to Offe and Wiesenthal, the solution for the trade union or party in the third stage is the opportunist path, which consists of the organisation decoupling itself from its base. It now tries to institutionalise and legalise the positions it has gained through its members’ willingness to act, in order to make itself independent of this willingness to act. At the same time, it is changing its internal structure in such a way that it maximises the independence of the functionaries from the collective expression of the will of the members. It achieves this by bureaucratising and professionalising its internal processes and procedures, and by individualising its members. Offe and Wiesenthal thus describe this strategy not, as usual in the Leninist tradition, as betrayal by a labour aristocracy bribed by imperialist surplus profits, but as a organisational practice that becomes rational once they have reached a certain point in their development.

This development is further facilitated by the tendency towards bureaucratisation of workers’ organisations. The trend feeds on the class relation itself: since, due to the social division of labour, workers under capitalism are deprived of technical and intellectual skills and the time necessary to advance their interests beyond temporary actions such as strikes and demonstrations, the obvious way to do this is by freeing up special functionaries who can devote themselves fully to organisational and political activities. This layer of paid functionaries, however, also develops subjective interests at the same time, which accommodate the opportunist strategy: they live off the organisation and they are at the same time much more directly involved in labour relations with the class enemy. (16)

In their critique (17) ARS therefore correctly emphasise that “mere bureaucracy” is not the only force that binds workers’ organisations to the existing and that the integrative tendencies go much deeper: the dilemma is structural. There is a tendency within proletarian organisations towards opportunist strategies and these are encouraged and ideologically flanked by the political and legal institutions of the bourgeois state.

As shown in the first part of this reply, Kautsky and the centre wing of social democracy had no solution to this dilemma. Rosa Luxemburg saw before her the problem clearly, but was only able to confront it in appearance, through an evasive movement. Instead of opposing opportunism and its bureaucratic support layer within the organisation, the means to solve it was outsourced to the spontaneous movements. The cost-benefit calculations that organisations make at a certain point to weigh up whether uprisings, strikes, or the like were in the party’s or union’s best interest would, according to Luxemburg, be rendered superfluous by spontaneous struggles: “the moment a real, serious period of mass strikes begins, all these ‘calculations of cost’ become mere projects for exhausting the ocean with a tumbler.” (18)

Spontaneity as a Way Out?

In our opening text, we tried to show that for all the scepticism about naïve spontaneity – the belief that “the movement” will surely find its way – the dilemma of class organisation is not really recognised within our milieu. The tendencies towards opportunism described above are seen as irreparable. Hence the conclusion that one must keep a distance from existing organisations, such as the big trade unions or workers’ or left parties, and join together in communist circles instead.

These circles could then – at least according to the hope – exert a radicalising influence on spontaneous mass movements in the course of their upsurge. Following Luxemburg’s thoughts, the organisational dilemma is to be circumvented in this way. Unlike her, however, who hoped for a revival of bureaucratised social democracy through the mass strike, the spontaneous movement is harshly opposed to the old institutions of the workers movement. (19) We have already addressed the fundamental doubts we harbour about this orientation in the first text. Off the back of Felix Klopotek’s critique, who in turn positions an extreme version of spontaneism against us – a position which in turn is probably not shared by all those we addressed with our first text – we want to try again to outline the spontaneous movement’s limits.

According to Klopotek, the “momentum of mass movements” (20) is supposed to guarantee against any tendency towards bureaucratisation and integration. With that said, according to this view this momentum is both a tender plant and a raging river at the same time. It usually comes unexpectedly and hesitantly at first, it must be defended against any attempt to make it organisationally permanent, and will eventually, when it has reached a certain size and momentum, clear away everything that could stand in the way of revolution. As soon as the mass movement has reached an adequate level of intensity, “everyone does the right thing as if by themselves” (Klopotek). Klopotek’s thesis of spontaneous-organic self-organisation may still have some plausibility with regard to riots, but it already proves untenable when considering a simple demonstration or strike: a minimum of organisation is necessary for the preparation and successful planning, coordination, and implementation of such actions. First of all, someone has to get the ball rolling, start a call, inform colleagues, convince them, decide on the aims and implementation, etc. etc. During a strike, you are also in a constant political confrontation with the other side, which requires that morale is kept high and finally, at a certain point, a decision has to be made about escalation or withdrawal. All this requires reasonably complex processes of decision-making and organisation. Sometimes there may be mass dynamics that make the process seem self-propelling, but these are often the result of previous organising processes. The tenacious work of persuasion or the initiative of individual activists, often trained in the organisations themselves, who drive the struggle forward and create optimism against spreading doubts, becomes invisible in the course of such dynamics. The result of their activity appears to be completely decoupled from it. This could be called spontaneist mystification: the mediating movement disappears in its own result.

Klopotek’s “idealisation of spontaneity” (21) becomes even more untenable when applied to a revolutionary situation. In such a process, presumably extremely chaotic, which would almost certainly last for months if not years, and in which political coordinates and social relations are fundamentally shaken up, it will be incredibly difficult to determine what “the right thing to do” is, what the right tactics are, the right slogans, the right next steps. The problem of organising described above would be complicated many times over. In such a situation, nobody does the right thing “by themselves”. The opposite assumption seems more plausible: under such circumstances, many things will go wrong and it would be necessary to create structures that are able to correct mistakes and adapt actions to changing situations.

It seems obvious to us that spontaneous processes of self-organisation reach definitive limits where it is no longer a question of coordinated action within the framework of a demonstration or at the level of a company on strike, but where a revolutionary movement is to work together at the level of a city, a region, a country, a continent or even globally. For purposeful, collective action to be possible at this level, organising is essential and some difficult questions arise: how can multiple interests be coordinated? How can broad democratic participation and control be realised under conditions of revolutionary turmoil? How can politically effective decisions be made without undermining discussion, participation, and collective decision-making? In the absence of an appropriate organisational framework, the energies of the mass movement will simply fizzle out. They may have within them the forces of destruction and immediate appropriation – as was said, a riot may succeed spontaneously – but to set the transformation of society in motion requires a planned and coordinated approach with organisational structures that are up to the task. This is why we have criticised the idea formulated by the comrades from Kosmoprolet, according to which the revolutionary transition can only be imagined as a “wild movement of occupations.” (22) Here, too, the problem of coordination and decision-making is left out in favour of the hope of a self-reinforcing and self-organising process which, starting from individual appropriations, should proceed to the reorganisation of production on a communist basis.

With the organisational tasks facing the movement of the working class, however, only a first barrier to the spontaneist hopes for the self-organising forces of movements is addressed. A second barrier results from the conflict over the political and ideological sovereignty of interpretation within class struggles. These do not of themselves bring about the negation of the existing order. The struggles of workers to secure and improve their material existence are open to different and sometimes contradictory political evaluations, which lead to different and sometimes contrary political actions. As Offe and Wiesenthal’s reflections above make clear, the working class is confronted with the complex task of reconciling the heterogeneous interests in its ranks, defining a common interest and overcoming the adversities associated with collective action. (23) In their attempts to organise and in their struggles, workers are always exposed to the influence of antagonistic political forces that struggle to determine the interpretation of the dispute, to adjust the demands of the workers, and to fit them into the framework of the prevailing order. This ideological confrontation can already be observed in every major strike: when the media and politics mobilise against the strikers, (24) for example, when management tries to demoralise the strikers, and when finally the trade union leadership steps in to break up the dispute. This ideological confrontation is also reflected in major politics, where parties with different programmes compete to define the lines of social and political development. Fredo Corvo describes this quite aptly: “The causes of each of these problems [of workers], as well as possible solutions, are the subject of all kinds of circulating opinions, picked up by traditional and ‘social’ media, filtered for ‘popularity’ and selected by bourgeois political and trade union organisations according to bourgeois ideologies and the bourgeois interests behind them.” (25) At present, the party and media landscape here presents itself as a “plural version of a single party” (Agnoli) that organises and legitimises the “trampling and crushing” of the proletarianised as an inevitable fate.

In the face of this ideologically as much as practically integrating machinery, the working class can only establish its self-understanding as a class and its independence vis-à-vis the other social classes politically. For this, it needs the development of organisational forms and structures of collective decision-making that allow workers to unite as a class and act as a class. The name we chose for this in our first text, following Marx and Engels, was the party: “In its struggle against the collective power of the owning classes, the proletariat can only act as a class if it constitutes itself as a special political party in opposition to all the old parties formed by the owning classes.” (MEW 18: 149) The function of the party would be the intervention of the working class as a class – as a whole, not individual segments – in major politics, in order to represent the “interest of the movement as a whole” (MEW 4: 43) and to develop and propagate a proletarian position on all the problems that arise in a society at a given moment. The name to which this organisation answers is secondary: “If the working class is to take power, it must lead society as a whole. To do so, it must address all questions animating politics in the society as a whole and all its elements. To do so is to become a political party even if you call yourself an ‘alliance’ or ‘unity coalition’ or whatever. To fail to do so is to fail even as an ‘alliance’ or ‘unity coalition’.” (26)

But the organisations of the class are also objects of a constant political struggle between proletarian autonomy and state-loyal integration into the ruling order. With opportunism we have outlined above a central integrative tendency within the workers’ movement, the cause of which is structurally inherent and develops naturally out of the class relation. Therefore, we consider it crucial that communists participate in the classes’ attempts at self-organisation and work against bureaucratisation within their organisations. The function of an avant-garde located in this context could be to work out the “concrete analyses of concrete situations” called for by ARS and – analytically armed and with its own organisational capacities as well as the political capacity for initiative, persuasion and mediation – to play a role that is both unifying and radicalising. An urgent task would be to support the search for strategies of collective action so that class action and a common class identity can take the place of individual adaptation to seemingly overpowering conditions. In order for the subordination of wage earners to the interests of capital to give way to a class-struggle orientation, the widespread resignation with the status quo and the feeling of hopelessness and lack of alternatives would first have to be overcome. Another essential task would be to formulate a political alternative to the bourgeois-capitalist order and establish it as a point of reference for class action, i.e. to frame the particular demands and struggles as moments of a comprehensive striving for social and political liberation. This would mean linking the experience of and resistance to exploitation and domination with a plausible programme for overcoming them, in order to open up a new communist horizon for individual and collective action. (27) It would have to be possible to expose class antagonism in everyday struggles, on the basis of “continuous agitation against (and hostile attitude to) the politics of the ruling classes” (MEW 33: 332f.), so that the working class does not simply remain a “plaything” in the hands of the bourgeois class. In this respect, we agree with Fredo Corvo when he writes: “Only when workers recognise their own interests as a class vis-à-vis other classes in the constantly changing and shifting phenomena of crisis can a spontaneous struggle emerge.” However, we are less convinced by his suggestion that the task of political intervention and enlightenment should be handed over to a “conscious minority” organisationally separate from the unconscious majority. (28)

Elite Party as a Way Out?

Corvo opposes our “Bolshevism” with the position of the KAPD [German Communist Workers’ Party] as the “party of the most conscious workers, i.e. a minority of the working class.” (29) According to him, the “most conscious workers” could have a “real influence on the proletarian struggle and decision-making in the councils”. At the same time, this organisation would be immune to the tendencies towards bureaucratisation and opportunism described above. Not through democratic mechanisms of control from below, but solely through the “self-activity of the members”. If we accept his claim, which is not substantiated further, and assume that such an organisation would indeed be resistant to the described dangers of bureaucratisation, then everything stands and falls with the question of whether such an elite party would actually be able to exert a decisive influence on an unfolding class movement and what the relationship between party and movement would be in this respect. It would also be necessary to define more precisely what is meant by a party of the “most conscious workers” – the Angry Workers suggest in their text Insurrection and Production that such a party would have to comprise 30-40% of the working class (30) and saw its task as “gathering the most advanced elements of the workforce.” (31) Their [KAPD] policy in favour of their maximum programme of rejecting any “reformist and opportunist methods of struggle” (32) did not bring them closer to their goal of pushing the German soviet movement forward. On the contrary, after the mass movements around 1917 and the spread of resignation among the radicalised sections of the workers’ movement, it lost its membership base and suffered from its own fragmentation due to internal political conflicts. (33) In the constant search for the truly revolutionary organisation, one process of splitting was followed by another. Concerned with the purity of its principles, it was less and less able to influence the real class struggles and the consciousness of the mass of workers: “they thought they could swim against the current and carry it with them, but the result was their isolation in tiny sects quarrelling with each other over the right faith.” (34) Where Corvo gets the certainty that the “most conscious workers” would exert their influence on the fighting organisations of the class is therefore not clear to us. As we showed in the first part, this hope also contradicts developments in Russia, where it was the broad organisation of the Bolsheviks that enabled them to exert influence on the council movement. What is interesting is the theoretical justification he holds out to us, which seems to us to be somewhat characteristic of the council communist position. It was no longer the development of the consciousness of the great mass of workers about social conditions and their historical task that was to be decisive, but rather the unconscious, as for example Anton Pannekoek explained in 1920: “The determining forces lie elsewhere, in the psychic factors, deep in the subconscious of the masses.” (35) The mass organisations of the working class had only led to their pacification. Instead, the KAPD now aimed at a different relationship between party and class: the party would organise only a small but conscious minority of the class, which in turn is to provide knowledge and orientation at the moment of the spontaneous movement of the masses. In the process of revolution and its self-activity, the majority of the workers would then also come to consciousness. Fredo Corvo is completely aligned with this theorisation when he quotes Paul Mattick: “If capitalism develops and lives ‘blindly’, then the revolution against capitalism can also only take place ‘blindly’. Another view breaks through historical materialism. And more, it turns against all historical facts. To count on a moment when the masses already know exactly what they have to do before the action is nonsense. Their compulsive action creates the possibility of a conceptual grasp of the new situation only with success.” (36) With Mattick, workers appear as stimulus-response machines: “The compulsion to action must be stronger than capitalist ideological influence.” (37) But is this really the view of historical materialism? In terms of theoretical history, we understand this view as going back less to Marx and Engels than to their contemporary opponents. Hence Bakunin saw the masses as “moved only by their momentary, more or less blind passions.” These passions, and not their consciousness, were in turn what would give them their revolutionary orientation. In this sense, he also declared that “Marx […] corrupts the workers by turning them into rationalists.” (38) Accordingly, it was necessary to unleash the passions of the masses and lead the resulting “popular storm” as “invisible pilots” of the revolution. Bakunin was convinced that what was needed was a conspiratorial clique of revolutionaries capable of leading a revolution. Instead of a leadership determined and recallable by the organised masses, there should be the secret, unbound, and therefore undemocratic leadership of “really strong men” who are “sufficiently seriously ambitious for the victory of their idea, not that of their person.” (39) Does the conception of the elite party of the “most conscious workers” not recall the thoughts formulated here? And when Pannekoek declares: “During the revolution, the party must draw up the programmes, slogans and directives which the spontaneously acting masses recognise as correct, because in them they find their own aims in the most perfect form and lift themselves up by them to greater clarity” (40) – is he not thus in line with Bakunin, for whom “the hundred international brothers as ‘mediators between the revolutionary idea and the popular instincts'” (MEW 18: 346) were enough to carry out a revolution? This does not make the reflections wrong per se, but it is a questionable reference in terms of theoretical history to present them as an expression of “historical materialism”. The assumption that the revolution could take place “blindly” in this sense, that it is based on the “subconscious of the masses” rather than on their conviction and conscious will, leads strategically to the extensive abandonment of the political terrain in favour of the bourgeois forces in and outside the workers’ organisations. On the one hand, by the fact that their leadership is no longer challenged at all via the established trade unions, for example, but on the other hand, by the quantitative weakness of the communist circles alone, which find no reach for their pronouncements. The argument hinges on the hypothesis that during a phase of crisis the struggles would come to a head and then there would be greater receptivity to one’s own ideas, these would then spread through a process of the radicalisation of the class and would guide action.

Marx and Engels, in any case, advocated the development of a broad organisation of the proletariat, which they hoped to establish through a process of self-education. In contrast to Mattick and Bakunin, they emphasised the ability of the proletariat to gain clarity about its own situation and saw this process of mass enlightenment as a condition for a successful revolution: “Where it is a question of a complete transformation of social organisation, the masses themselves must be involved, must themselves have already understood what it is about, what they stand up for with life and limb”. (MEW 22: 532) According to Engels, there can be no question of a blind process of revolution. Rather, he and Marx – and in this they were followed by the SPD centre around Kautsky, but also by the Bolsheviks – saw the attainment of a political majority as their fundamental task even before a future revolutionary uprising. (41) Fredo Corvo reverses this connection and sees the majority as an effect of the exercise of power: “only when the workers as a class exercise all power over society can communist consciousness develop on a large scale.” (Corvo) The Angry Workers also clearly express this outlook in their text Insurrection and Production. There they write that in the course of a communist revolution, “30-40% of the working class, formed in previous struggles” (42) would have to seize the key industries in a coordinated act, and only in the course of this, and following the takeover of the economy, would the masses turn to the communist course. However, in our view, such a revolution by a decisive minority is neither legitimate nor covered by historical experience, let alone particularly promising. For if this minority of the class, which is an even smaller minority in relation to the whole of society, proceeds to such an appropriation movement before a political majority exists for such an upheaval – how can it be assumed that such an attempt would not be put down by the troops still loyal to the government and with the support of large sections of the population? While the Angry Workers declare that it is necessary to “split the forces along class lines”, (43) such a process does not happen overnight and not through an exemplary offensive by militant nuclei, but requires a preparatory, patient agitation within these forces. And – this now addressed to the comrades of Kosmoprolet, who adopt this consideration of the Angry Workers (44) but not their organisational ambitions – would this not require an organisation that can carry out such a delegitimising agitation in a coordinated and consistent way and actually bring about such a split before such an uprising breaks out? (45)

Addressing the Dilemma

If the overcoming of the bourgeois mode of production is to take place as the self-liberation of the working class, and if it is to be overcome in favour of a conscious, democratic, cooperative regulation of social affairs, then this requires an active majority of the class and at least acceptance by a majority of the population in general. Neither can the collective self-liberation of the working class take place “blindly”, nor can it be enforced by a decisive minority against an active or passive majority. Therefore, from our point of view, it is necessary for communists to influence the consciousness-raising process of the majority with their programme before the social contradictions come to a head, to promote the class-formation process of the wage-dependents, and to prove themselves as their propulsive part within the organisations of the class. For this reason, we see the necessity for communists to strive for political connection with other communists and to organise themselves on this basis with class comrades and to begin to challenge the ideological supremacy of the capital-loyal forces within the existing class organisations today.

Hence, we agree with those comrades who consider political intervention by communists in class struggles as necessary. In our conviction, however, this intervention would also have to be extended to all forms of class organisation (trade unions, neighbourhood associations, cooperatives, etc.), even if their leadership – as in the case of the DGB trade unions [Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund – the German Trade Union Confederation] – is entirely in favour of class compromise. Whether this is sensible and promising in each case must be decided on the basis of a concrete assessment of the possibilities of work in these institutions. We are not categorically attached to these organisations, but they are first of all the places where many wage-dependents are organised and fight out their extremely limited (workplace) disputes with capital. It therefore seems to us at least nonsensical to ignore the organisations per se and only work beyond them or against them. On these grounds, strengthening or building alternative, class-struggle trade unions would not be opposed in principle. It has to be weighed up, however, whether such work is more effective than the struggle within the already existing trade unions. It should be noted that if the above analysis of opportunism as a natural tendency of workers’ organisations is correct, the task and the problems in the medium term will change little. In any case, one would be confronted with the task of defending a class-struggle orientation against this development and establishing democratic modes of organisation that consciously counteract these organisations’ tendencies towards [bureaucratic] independence and integration.

In our view, however, in order to actively participate in the process of class consciousness-building within existing organisations or in more spontaneous confrontations, an organisational basis is needed that goes beyond the prevailing small group system. Neither these nor the involvement of isolated communists could have any real influence on the development of consciousness within, for example, trade union institutions.

As a reference point for a political organisation which overcomes the coexistence of such micro-groups, we have chosen the name party. We are well aware that overcoming small groups does not and cannot create a mass party of the working class, but at best a political association of communists of different colours on a more binding level. The concept of the party is therefore not the immediate goal for us but a strategic point of orientation which we have gained from the above considerations on the necessity of an independent organisation of the working class. Here, as was said, the name is secondary; what is decisive is the function of the political organisation: its aim is to intervene in major politics in order to represent the “interest of the whole movement” (MEW4: 46) and to develop a proletarian position on all social questions, with the claim to lead society as a whole. This overall interest is not itself a given, but the object of theoretical and political analysis and can only be determined in the process of continuous discussion and propagated by means of political intervention within class struggles.

The guiding principle for us is the idea of unification around political goals – laid down in a political programme – which allows for a relative plurality within the organisation. An organisation that takes up the real diversity of the proletarian way of existence today in such a way that it leaves room for diverse tactics and views that can only be discussed through an open, democratic process and cannot be dogmatically unified.

Party and Programme

ARS object that we have left our concept of the party undefined. According to our comrades, whoever speaks of a “party” “can be sure nowadays that the other person understands something that is not only to do with political camps or currents, but with legal form, party book, statutes, and participation in the parliamentary game.” (46) From our point of view, formal regulations such as statutes and membership cards would naturally be elements of a party-like organisation. Even if we do not see a party as an achievable goal in the near future, a political organisation of communists should even today distinguish itself from the unstructured small groups that currently define our milieu and establish a structure of membership and decision-making that allows it to work together with a larger number of people in a democratic and disciplined way and to take collective decisions. This requires a certain degree of procedural formalisation, which is expressed in, among other things, the regulations mentioned. We do not know what criticism ARS might have of these things. Do they reject formalised structures and procedures all together? If they reject such organisational forms for the political organisation of communists, what about the coordination of interests at the level of society as a whole? In our view, this debate is crucial because it determines the possibility of the self-government of the working class: does it succeed in developing political forms that make it possible to take decisions democratically at the local, regional, national and ultimately global level and to exercise effective control from below over those who are entrusted with responsibility? As the working class takes responsibility for exercising central political authority, the accountability of that authority will become increasingly important. Communists today should already be able to find organisational forms that answer these questions on a small scale. In any case, the unstructured group that decides questions by consensus in person does not solve this problem. On the contrary, they reproduce hierarchies that commonly result from the social i.e. class-based as well as gendered division of labour, instead of counteracting them. (47)

As far as participation in parliamentarianism is concerned, we left a definite answer open-ended in our text. We did this because we do not consider the question of our presently purely hypothetical party’s possible participation in elections to be a question of principle, but rather a purely tactical one. (48) This means that on the basis of a concrete analysis of the situation, it would have to be determined whether participation in elections would help or hinder the long-term, strategic goal of building a fundamentally oppositional party. The intention should not be to “join in the parliamentary game” (49) but to make our principled opposition to the existing visible, i.e. “to oppose the bourgeois majority in the government at every turn.” (50) However one may feel about parliamentarism, a Marxist construction of a party is not primarily about contesting elections, but about developing and propagating a proletarian position on all the problems that arise in a society at a given time. It would not be an electoral association, but “a grouping that can develop political self-consciousness in the oppressed classes, assert it in actions, and thereby expand it. Participation in electoral campaigns and activity in parliaments (such as defending the rights of parliament against the executive) is only a means of a socialist party’s work, not its main task.” (51) No syndicalist grassroots union, no mosaic of social movements or “plural forms of organisation”, and no conspiratorial Leninist sect with a strictly bureaucratic-centralist structure can ever fulfil this function, since they lack the structured openness and reach that only a thoroughly democratically organised mass party can have. In our view, the party would be conceived as a link between the organisations that the class creates for self-defence (trade unions, tenants’ associations, cooperatives, etc.) and a programme that formulates the tendencies therein into a comprehensive alternative to the capitalist order. In doing so, we think that relevant sections of the class would have to organise themselves in such a party-shaped political association in the long term in order to be able to serve as a centre of gravity for the broader workers’ movement. This could support the propulsive moments in the spontaneous struggles of the class and help orient them towards a communist upheaval and reconstruction of society. The reason for the central role we attribute to the revolutionary social democracy of the pre-war period lies in having represented such a party, which enabled the proletariat to form a comprehensive view of society as a whole and thus also to form itself subjectively into a class.

With regard to the movements of recent years that reject political representation by a majority, such as the gilets jaunes in France, ARS write: “To want to satisfy these movements with the very form of organisation [the party] that they have rejected is not a promising strategy.” Our strategic reference to the party as a form of organisation is apparently understood by them as if we henceforth want to convince the masses of the idea of the party as preachers. We wrote, however, that we do not see ourselves at the beginning of party building, but first of all want to emphasise the political significance of the party and rehabilitate it as a point of orientation for the activity of communists. In any case, we would not be concerned with propagating a form of organisation that would solve any problem as such, but with the question of how the idea of a communist revolution could become a material force. In this respect, it makes no sense from our point of view to act as propagandists for “the party”. On the other hand, a successful intervention in such movements would presuppose a higher level of organisational and ideological coherence on the part of communists – a political organisation that would be able to have a radicalising effect on such spontaneous class movements. This would presuppose a relationship of interaction between the spontaneous movements, which develop their own forms, which communists can more or less influence, and the party of communists, which argues for its programme within the broader class movements. [53] Far from attributing magical abilities to the programme in terms of consciousness-raising, as the comrades accuse, it is simply a matter of concretising the political goals of communists as – according to their own claim – the propulsive part of the class movement. We are aware that we do not have any rousing class movements at present and that the remnants of the communist tradition are currently incapable of playing such a role, but this does not mean that this alone is the raison d’être or, more specifically, the function of communists as a special part of the workers’ movement. The programme can, however, have a consciousness-raising effect in two ways: on the one hand, by the fact that in the daily struggles the formulated goals are recognised as being in agreement with our programme (we are the party that takes on these problems), and on the other hand, by the fact that it actually presents an alternative to the prevailing order as a concrete perspective of struggle (we are the only party that stands up for a radical solution). That is, by defining the steps to be taken on this road as tangible goals and thus being able to serve as a rallying point for those in struggle.

In order to establish the connection between the spontaneous struggles of the class and a communist programme, a mediating practice of clarification, education, agitation, and organisation is obviously needed at the same time. Clarification would have to be provided on the social and political conditions, lines of conflict, and developmental tendencies. The intellectual, social, technical, and political abilities of the members and sympathisers of the communist movement must be developed. For this we need an independent press, ideally also at the local and workplace level, leaflets on current events, theoretical journals, independent research, our own spaces for events and meetings and for collective and individual discussion with comrades and colleagues.

Agitation aims at making our aims known to many people, for example, by taking a stand on urgent questions of the day or by advocating a particular partial aim. In these debates, it could become clear to a wider public what we stand for, and sympathisers would be given a place where they can join forces with like-minded people.

Finally, the political work would aim for growth by recruiting new members, expanding financial and material resources, and increasing the organisation’s reach and local roots as well as its international network. At the same time, it would also mean engaging in the reconstruction and renewal of the wider workers’ movement and encouraging its tendencies towards self-organisation, since what matters in the end is the ability of large sections of the class, not just the party, to act politically. How this can be done most effectively must itself be the subject of theoretical and political understanding.

There is agreement between us and our critics that within the workers’ movement, and especially within its organisations, there is a strong tendency towards integration into the ruling order. The mass organisations that still exist, such as the DGB trade unions, and here especially the apparatus of full-time officials, are capital’s pillars within the workers movement, oriented towards making politics for the workplace and perpetuating the wage workers’ role. We also agree that the problem is not just the bureaucracy of these organisations, but grows structurally out of the class relation. In this respect, we believe that these are obstacles that could be removed by specifically working towards appropriate institutional forms of organisation and decision-making structures. We have to find a way of dealing with such forces and tendencies in the organisations of the class – at the latest by the point at which a spontaneous mass movement breaks ground in the hoped-for way, and, contrary to our expectations, actually proceeds to wild appropriation, because structures for coordination would emerge which would be subject to the same kind of dangers. Then, too, it would be a matter of establishing decision-making mechanisms that would allow the working class to organise its struggle and then democratically regulate the concerns of society as a whole.

In our view, however, we should work to establish such forms today and think that they are instruments that can counteract the self-sufficiency of a layer of professional activists or politicians. By this we mean measures that would make the leadership and officers accountable to the membership. As we wrote in our initial text: “In our view, what is needed are effective mechanisms of democratic control from below, which would allow the rank and file to challenge decisions of the leadership, a limitation of salaries of key officials to an average wage, and forums for free discussion among the members of the organisation.” Democratic control, it should be added here, means election at any time by the membership. In addition to limiting salaries, the most frequent possible rotation of posts, especially among higher officials, would limit the independence of a leadership layer from the grassroots. Furthermore, each local section as well as each interest group (youth, women’s, or minority organisations) should be given the opportunity to organise independently and to publish their own positions, which can also be openly directed against the line of the leadership. The possibility of forming permanent and temporary factions within the party structures is a prerequisite for a party in which the working class, and not a group of bureaucrats, can exercise power. However, in all this, the binding nature of international as well as national, democratically made, programmatic decisions must be guaranteed. For many comrades, this may sound authoritarian. In reality, however, it was the right wing of the SPD’s overruling of valid decisions by the International that expressed itself in the approval of war credits and the shift towards truce and bellicism. A certain democratic centralism and a measure of party discipline are therefore necessary to contain the reactionary and reformist elements which necessarily emerge from the workers’ movement. In all this, however, there is still no guarantee that this containment will succeed. However, we have no choice but to try to fight against these objective tendencies through institutional mechanisms and political principles, since we only have the choice between disorganised insignificance and the struggle for democratic forms of organisation of the class.

With these remarks, we want to respond to the view that the concept of party remained too indeterminate in our first text. However, we see the considerations outlined here on mechanisms of democratic control from below as also relevant to the struggle with existing organisations, be they our own groups or broader alliances of sections of the class.


We hope that these more detailed explanations have made the sometimes apodictic initial theses more comprehensible, and have cleared up some of the confusion and questions on the part of the comrades. In summary, we would like to briefly outline our basic conviction and possible further tasks.

From our point of view, the necessity of political organisation in the sense described here has not changed fundamentally through all the changes in bourgeois society in the course of the last century: what has transformed are the conditions under which the proletarianised have to organise themselves, which of course also affects the forms in which such organising takes place. For example, under the condition of the welfare state and the cultural integration of the proletarianised into the ruling order, it seems unpromising, at least for the moment, to build an alternative culture around a separate universe of workers’ associations, choirs, support funds, pubs, etc. The old workers’ milieu has been transformed. The old workers’ milieu with its counterculture was a spontaneous product of a proletariat that was also politically excluded from the polity. An attempted re-enactment of this development phase is unlikely to radiate beyond a nostalgic communist milieu. On the other hand, the development of communication technologies offers new possibilities for aggregation, discussion, and decision-making, some of which – as in the “digital parties” – have challenged established practices and structures within political organisations. (52) The supersession of Fordist mass production and culture has also set in motion a process of class recomposition and individualisation, which is reflected in a decreasing concentration of wage earners on the one hand, and on the other has strongly differentiated the class socialisation process. In addition – and this probably weighs most heavily – the workers’ movement has suffered devastating and profound defeats and continues to find itself on the defensive. Collective resistance and class power has given way to individualisation and resignation. The old organisations do not appear to be a point of reference for many discontented people, and when their anger is discharged it often currently seeks other means. (53) There is thus much to support ARS’s thesis that we will continue to have to deal with a variety of different organisations and ways of organising in the future. The spontaneous forms of self-organisation start from a low level of social and political cohesion. (54) This does not mean that we should consider organisational plurality as a value in itself, but rather that we need to understand how the working class organises itself in the given circumstances and can exercise power through these organisational practices, and promote and further the process of class formation that is expressed in it.

Nevertheless, the basic fact that wage earners, because of their separation from the means of production, have to unite in order to improve their situation as a class has not changed. In our view, all the social and political metamorphoses that the anti-authoritarian milieu like to cite as justifications for the necessary end of party and organisation are aggravating conditions under which the still necessary political organisation must take place today: the global growth of a surplus population, the unprecedented fragmentation between mental and manual labour, the atomisation of the proletarianised, the integration mechanisms of the bourgeois-democratic state, the problem of a socialist transformation against the background of the climate problem, etc. etc. – all these are, in our opinion, arguments for party and organisation, since the solution of those problems presupposes national and international association, proletarian political autonomy, and coordinated decision-making mechanisms. The “transformation of society requires a positive programme and the organisational capacity to present an alternative to the present order.” (55) Finally, the conscious and democratic regulation of social concerns should replace the dynamics of the capitalist mode of production which dominate people. This goal cannot be achieved at the given level of development of the productive forces – the global division of labour – through disparate and local movements of appropriation, but requires the conscious and purposeful interaction and coordination of the processes of appropriation at the national and transnational levels. It seems to us, therefore, ultimately unavoidable that before a potentially revolutionary crisis of bourgeois society comes to a head, a democratic, international, communist mass party be able to formulate a real alternative and bring it to bear in the social struggles. Against this horizon, which lies at an indeterminate distance, we want to conclude with some concrete tasks which, from our point of view, could be usefully tackled today. The prerequisite for this, which is certainly not currently given within the blog context, would be that we would agree on the principles formulated here. In this respect, we currently see these as merely hypothetical developmental steps. Nevertheless, we hope that our practical perspective will become somewhat clearer. These would be small steps, but in them perhaps also steps pointing the way towards overcoming the communist circles’ inertia and absence of practical orientation, in favour of a concrete working perspective. In the medium term, this work would be measured by whether it succeeds in making a modest contribution to the reconstruction of a socialist workers’ movement in the 21st century.

In view of the mainly theoretical working circles within the milieu, it would be a step forward in our perspective if the currently purely spontaneous development of work projects could be superseded in favour of a common understanding of pressing questions and problems of Marxist theory, and of a research and work programme to be drafted on this basis and to be approached through a division of labour. (56) The aim of such an undertaking should be to practically bundle and focus weak capacities, to gain a clearer understanding of the present political and social (class) relations in terms of content, and to try to identify realistic possibilities of political intervention for communist political and organisational work with a long-term orientation. Long-term politics means: no campaign work that consumes time and energy, but patient but consistent attempts to support or form class organisations and to interweave them with one’s own educational and agitational work.

As a precondition for such intervention and organisational work, the prevailing informal mode of organisation would have to be overcome in favour of transparent, formalised structures with a functioning division of labour and delegation of tasks. This would require the clarification of fundamental political and organisational issues, which could serve as the foundation for a renewed political practice.

From our point of view, it would be even better than an amalgamation of the modest groupuscules in the milieu – which, according to the current state of the debate, nobody wants anyway – if it were possible, on the basis of the political principles and objectives mentioned, to enter into discussion with other groups that share these principles and to sound out the possibility of joint actions, a longer-term collaboration, or even a union. The guiding principle should be to unite on the basis of shared political goals and to maintain an openness to the clarification of theoretical and tactical differences, with the aim of preparing for the long-term construction of a democratic communist party.


(1) The unfortunate circumstance that class formation is not an automatic result of the class relationship becomes tangible in the so-far only sporadically arrested trend towards the dissolution of class organisations, class identity, and thus of collective class action. The historical background of this process is, on the one hand, the terrorist smashing and integration of the workers’ movement under fascism and its bureaucratic atomisation under Stalinism. On the other hand, as a result of the crisis of 1973 and in the course of the continuing downturn of the world economy, capital has succeeded in largely dissolving even the social-corporatist positions of the working class. Collective class power and resistance has given way to individual adaptation. At the same time, however, this development shows the coherence of the Marxist diagnosis of the necessity to act as a class. For the weakening of class organisations correlates with an increasing class polarisation, which is reflected on the part of wage earners in precariousness, the loss of real wages, and increased labour intensity, among other things.

(2) See also Marx’s programmatic remarks in The Poverty of Philosophy: “Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance – combination. Thus combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist. If the first aim of resistance was merely the maintenance of wages, combinations, at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups as the capitalists in their turn unite for the purpose of repression, and in the face of always united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages […] In this struggle – a veritable civil war – all the elements necessary for a coming battle unite and develop. Once it has reached this point, association takes on a political character.” (MEW 4: 180)

(3) Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution. Volume II: The Politics of Social Classes, New York 1978: 40.

(4) Felix Klopotek, Ungenau und Dogmatisch [Inaccurate and Dogmatic], 2021.

(5) cf. Monty Johnstone, Marx and Engels and the Concept of Party, 1967. In the German debate on Marx these positions are often blamed on Engels and Marx’s clear statements in this regard are either ignored or removed from his theoretical edifice as exoteric, ideological, or philosophical remnants. Thus, even the homeland of academic Marxology has not yet produced a work on Marx’s political writings that even comes close to the quality of Hal Draper’s comprehensive study of Marx’s theory of revolution.

(6) Klopotek, Ungenau und Dogmatisch

(7) Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory, Vol. II, New York 1986, 53.

(8) Karl Kautsky, The Road to Power, Chapter 9, 1909.

(9) See Mike Macnair, Revolutionary Strategy, 2008, 54f.

(10) In a circular letter to Bebel, Liebknecht, and Bracke in 1879, Engels already addressed the first opportunist tendencies in the party – namely the break with party discipline by voting for a government budget. Marx blamed this on the “parliamentary idiotism” (MEW 34: 413) rampant in the party, and the efforts to abandon the proletarian programme in favour of appealing to the petty bourgeoisie and in the end to declare socialism a distant final objective for the reassurance of the ruling class (ibid.: 394 onward).

(11) cf. Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. IV, New York 1990. LK History of the Workers’ Movement, Die internationale Arbeiterassoziation [The International Workers’ Association], 2021.

(12) Karl Kautsky, Der politische Massenstreik [The Political Mass Strike], Chapter 1, 1914.

(13) cf. Claus Offe, Helmut Wiesenthal: Two Logics of Collective Action. Theoretical notes on social class and organisational form, 1980.

(14) This element of class organisation was already mentioned by Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy, when he reported on the astonishment of the English economists at the fact that “the workers sacrifice a large part of their wages in favour of associations which, in the eyes of the economists, have been established only for the sake of wages” (MEW 4: 180). Direct individual economic interests are set aside in favour of political class interests, which can only become rational on the basis of a culture of solidarity. Endnotes emphasise this function of a cultural class identity in their text on the history of the workers’ movement, A History of Separation, arguing that the workers’ “moral community” was ultimately an “ad hoc construction” (Endnotes 4, Unity in Separation, 102, 2015). We are more sympathetic to Vivek Chibber’s view, who describes the creation of a solidaristic class identity as a “social intervention”, but at the same time states that it is by no means a construction, but is always grounded in material interests (cf. Vivek Chibber, Rescuing the Class from the Cultural Turn, in The Catalyst, Vol. 1, 2017).

(15) Cf. Robert Brenner, The Paradox of Social Democracy, 2016.

(16) “With the development of an apparatus, one of the central features of class society is transferred to workers’ organisations: the social division of labour. In capitalism, this assigns the work of immediate production to the working class, while the production and appropriation of culture – as well as all the tasks of accumulation – are virtually the monopoly of other social classes and strata.” (Ernest Mandel, Organisation and the Usurpation of Power, in Power and Money. A Marxist Theory of Bureaucracy, London 1992, p. 60) “The emergence of a new division of labour between apparatus and member leads almost inevitably, at the level of mentalities (ideology), to phenomena of organisational fetishism. Given the extreme division of labour that generally prevails in bourgeois society, the fact that people are trapped in a tiny sphere of activity tends to manifest itself in a consideration of that activity as an end in itself. This is especially true of those who identify with an apparatus, who live permanently within it and derive their livelihood from it: the full-time employees, the potential bureaucrats.” (Ibid. 66)

(17) Aaron Eckstein, Ruth Jackson, and Stefan Torak, Kein Mystik in Zeiten der Schwäche [No Mysticism in Times of Weakness], 2021.

(18) Rosa Luxemburg, Mass Strike, Party and Trade Unions, Chapter 4, 1906.

(19) Endnotes, Spontaneity, Mediation, Rupture, in Endnotes 3, 2013.

(20) Klopotek, Ungenau und Dogmatisch

(21) Robert Schlosser, Anmerkungen zur Organisations- und Strategiedebatte [Notes on the Organisation and Strategy Debate], 2021.

(22) Friends of the Classless Society, Umrisse der Weltcommune [Contours of the World Commune], in Kosmoprolet 5, 2018.

(23) By this we mean the fact that each individual depends on his/her wage income for better or worse and is structurally at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the individual capitalist and the capitalist class. Collective resistance is therefore associated with high risks for wage workers (loss of wage labour with all its consequences, etc.), risks that are more likely to be taken on the basis of a collective identity and must be practically cushioned by organisation. Otherwise, it is much easier to bow one’s head, push upwards and kick downwards.

(24) cf. Johannes Hauer, Das alte Schmierenstück. Zur Mythisierung eines Arbeitskampfes [The Old Rag. On the Mythification of a Labour Struggle], 2014.

(25) Fredo Corvo, Bolschewismus als alternative zu selbstgewählter Ohnmacht? [Bolshevism as an alternative to self-imposed powerlessness?], 2021.

(26) Mike Macnair, Revolutionary Strategy, 2008, 118.

(27) To exercise such an avant-garde function is not to be above mistakes, but a self-commitment to correcting mistakes, to develop one’s own capacities, and to maintain a fundamental openness to the “innovations in the class struggle” through spontaneous mass practice.

(28) Fredo Corvo, Bolschewismus als alternative zu selbstgewählter Ohnmacht?, 2021.

(29) Ibid., also all other quotations in this section not shown.

(30), which would put us on the level of the old SPD for Germany. Fredo Corvo’s point of reference, however, is decidedly not this form of mass political organisation, but the KAPD, which organised a much more modest circle of very conscious workers. We find it difficult to share his optimism about this approach. Historically, at any rate, there is little to suggest that such an organisational practice and the strategy it entailed would be successful. The KAPD saw itself as representing a “purely revolutionary line.” KAP und Union, in KAZ (Berlin), quoted in Arnold, Volker (1985), Rätebewegung und Rätetheorien in der Novemberrevolution [Council Movement and Council Theory in the November Revolution], 166.

(31) Programm der KAPD [Programme of the KAPD], 1920

(32) Ibid.

(33) The conflicts within the KAPD/AAU [General Workers’ Union], which led to numerous splits and expulsions, revolved above all around the party’s relationship to the workers’ union and the question of participation in day-to-day non-revolutionary struggles. The first split took place in the East Saxon Workers’ Union around Otto Rühle. Rühle was an advocate of unitary organisation, based on the idea that the conventional separation of party and trade unions in the workers’ movement was outdated. Strong opposition was formed, especially in Saxony and Hamburg, to the party-like organisation of the KAPD in general and to the subordination of the AAU to its directive. After Rühle’s expulsion from the party, these unions founded their own federation, the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union Einheitsorganisation (AAUE) [Unitary General Workers’ Union], in October 1921. This not only challenged the KAPD’s claim to leadership, but also split the workers’ unions. Six months later, the party was again in crisis: the Berlin KAPD fell out over the question of participation in wage strikes and several members, including the co-founder of the KAPD Karl Schröder, who saw participation in wage strikes as a slide into reformism, were expelled. This process of splits continued both within the KAPD/AAU and in the AAUE, most particularly up until 1923.

(34) Henry Jacoby (1971), Utopie als Gegenbild [Utopia as Counter-Image], in Rühle, Otto, Baupläne für eine neue Gesellschaft [Blueprint for a New Society], p. 253.

(35) Anton Pannekoek, World Revolution and Communist Tactics, 1920.

(36) Paul Mattick, quoted in Corvo.

(37) Ibid.

(38) Michael Bakunin, quoted in Franz Mehring, Karl Marx. Geschichte seines Lebens [Karl Marx. The Story of his Life], Chapter 5.

(39) Michael Bakunin, Letters to Albert Richard on the Alliance 1868/1870, in Michael Bakunin, Gesammelte Werke [Collected Works], Vol. III; Berlin 1924. 97 onward.

(40) Anton Pannekoek, World Revolution and Communist Tactics.

(41) Such a political majority need not, however, be identical with a parliamentary majority, see Mike Macnair, Revolution and Reforms, 2019.

(42) Angry Workers of the World, Insurrection and Production, 2016.

(43) Ibid.

(44) Friends of the Classless Society, Umrisse der Weltcommune

(45) To once again tie the argument back to history: Rabinowitch’s study highlights the Bolsheviks’ successful struggle for influence in the Petrograd Garrison for the later success of the revolution. All parties struggled for influence over the soldiers stationed in Petrograd: “But more than any other party, the Bolsheviks devoted attention and an enormous effort to this cause. (…) The sustained Bolshevik campaign to gain influence in the garrison began almost immediately after the emergence of legal Bolshevik party organisations. (…) The Bolsheviks’ attempts to gain a foothold in the Petrograd garrison were by no means immediately successful. In March such efforts were hampered by a shortage of trained agitators (and in any case the troops were probably content to follow the Soviet). (…) From then on, the revolutionary programme of the Bolsheviks found an ever-growing following. (…) By the middle of May the effect of this propaganda must already have been noticeable. (…) Party cells had been founded in most of the larger units of the garrison.” (Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution, Bloomington 1991, 49 onwards)

(46) Eckstein et al, Kein Mystik in Zeiten der Schwäche.

(47) Cf. Macnair, Revolutionary Strategy, 28.

(48) Rosa Luxemburg, Eine taktische Frage [A Tactical Question], 1899

(49) Eckstein et al, Kein Mystik in Zeiten der Schwäche

(50) Wolfgang Abendroth, quoted in Richard Heigel, Wolfang Abendroths Parteitheorie [Wolfgang Abendroth’s Theory of the Party], in Utopie kreativ, No. 187, 2006, 415.

(51) Beyond this, however, we should support every development in the direction of a political unification of workers and, if possible, participate in it.

(52) See Paolo Gerbaudo, The Digital Party. Political Organization and Online Democracy, London 2019.

(53) translib’s Gilets Jaunes working group, 100 Euros und ein Mars [100 Euros and a Mars], 2020.

(54) An approach to thinking about organisational change and the interaction of multiple organisations and ways of organising can be found in Rodrigo Nunez: Neither vertical nor horizontal. A Theory of Political Organization, London 2021.

(55) Donald Parkinson, Nothing new to look at here. Towards a critique of communization, 2015.

(56) On this point, there seems to be some agreement at least with Klaus Klamm, who in his recent contribution to the debate suggests a more systematic orientation for theoretical work.