infantile disorder

Richard Harris rhh1 at
Fri Jul 25 10:46:55 MDT 2003

"i'm sorry to have to do this, especially since i am working under the
assumption that those whom i am directing this to are probably older and
"more experienced" than i, which makes it all the more disappointing that
i, of all insignificant people, should have to shove this in anyone's face.


V.I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder"

Xenon pointed us to this text of Lenin's, Lenin's attack on Pannekoek and
Bordiga, the 'ultra-lefts.'

John Gerber, in New Politics #5, describes Pannekoek's position so:
Starting in late 1919, however, Pannekoek began to openly challenge the
rapidly consolidating Leninist communist movement. Pannekoek's criticism of
Leninism was twofold. On one level, he accused the Leninist communist
movement of attempting to restore the "old leadership politics" of the
Second International by resuming the use of traditional parliamentary and
trade union tactics. He argued instead, that the main tactical problem in
Western Europe was to eradicate the ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie
and replace it with an independent proletarian hegemony. This task, he felt,
could not be accomplished by the use of historically outdated parliamentary
and trade union tactics, but through a long, arduous revolutionary struggle,
waged by a militant and class-conscious working class organized from below
on the basis of new democratic structures of proletarian rule. On a second
level, Pannekoek rejected the elitist vanguardist model of party
organization being propagated by Lenin and the Comintern as incompatible
with a genuine proletarian democracy and inadequate for the task of
radicalizing the consciousness of the masses. The logic of this position led
Pannekoek to raise the possibility that Leninist communism might at some
future point become a major obstacle to the development of a genuine
emancipatory socialism. (15) Pannekoek soon extended these formulations to a
critique of the Russian Revolution itself. By 1921, he had reached the
drastic conclusion that the Soviet regime had been transformed into a
repressive and counter-revolutionary bureaucracy that had reduced the
proletariat to a new condition of servitude.(16)

Following his expulsion from the international communist movement in 1921,
Pannekoek began to turn his attention to developing a new theory of council
communism, which marks his major theoretical achievement. Working in
collaboration with the small Dutch Groepen van Internationalen Communisten
(GIC) and the American Groups of Council Communists (GCC), Pannekoek sought
to provide the framework for the emergence of a new type of revolutionary
workers' movement based exclusively on workers' councils. Pannekoek's
starting point was his belief that a new revolutionary workers' movement
based on the principle of workers' self-management could arise only after
the working class discarded the entire heritage of traditional socialism and
adopted a completely "new orientation." His point of departure for this "new
orientation" was a penetrating critique of the "statist" and
"leader-oriented" politics of both social democracy and Leninism:

"Socialism as inherited from the nineteenth century was the creed of social
mission for leaders: to transform capitalism into a system of state directed
economy without exploitation, producing abundance for all. It was a creed of
class struggle for workers, the belief that by transforming government into
the hands of these socialists they could assure their freedom . . . Now it
is seen that socialism in the sense of state-directed planned economy means
state capitalism and that socialism is possible only in a new orientation.
The new orientation of production is self-direction of production,
self-direction of the class struggle by means of workers' councils. (17)

In theorizing the revolutionary role of the workers' councils, Pannekoek
stressed that while the councils represented a higher stage of proletarian
organization, they were not simply replacements for the old organizations,
but the very negation of the principles underlying these organizations.
Pannekoek remained firmly convinced that the councils would resolve the
conflict between leaders and followers by eliminating the professional
leadership bodies which had gained power over the rank-and-file. He insisted
that, in the councils, the entire function of leadership would be abolished
and the whole class actively incorporated into the leadership process.
Although Pannekoek viewed the councils as the central agent of socialist
transformation, he steadfastly maintained that they could not be
mechanically proclaimed or arbitrarily willed into existence by
revolutionary groups. At the most, such groups could only propagate the idea
and necessity of council organization.(18) Rather than being tactical
objectives in themselves, the councils represented merely the transitory
organizational form of the class struggle and the embodiment of the
principle of workers' control over production:

Workers' councils does not designate a fixed form of organization whose
lines have been established once and for all, and for which all that remains
is to perfect the details. It is concerned with a principle-that of workers'
self-management of enterprises and of production. This principle can never
be realized through a theoretical discussion of the best actual form it
might take . . . In our era "workers' councils" is synonymous with the class
struggle itself . . . Thus the idea of "workers' councils" has nothing in
common with a program of practical objectives to be realized tomorrow or
next year. It serves solely as a connecting thread for the long hard fight
for freedom that still lies ahead for the working class. (19)

15. Pannekoek, Weltrevolution und Kommunistische Taktik (Vienna: Verlag der
Arbeiterbuchhandlung, 1920). For an English translation see: "World
Revolution and Communist Tactics," in: Smart (Ed.), Pannekoek and Gorter's
Marxism, op. cit., pp. 93-173.

16. Pannekoek, "Rusland en het Kommunisme," De Nieuwe Tijd, 1921, pp.

17. Pannekoek, Workers' Councils (Melboume: Southem Advocate for Workers'
Councils, 1951), pp. 230-231. Parts one and two of this work have been
reprinted in: The Rise of the Workers' Movement (Cambridge: Root and Branch,

18. Pannekoek [pseudonym John Harper], "Workers' Councils," New Essa-i,s
(April 1936).

19. Pannekock, " Uber Arbeiterate, " Funken (June 1952).

(end of quote)


I cannot see that it would be right to expel anyone with these views from
the movement.  I think a failure of the council communist tradition is a
rejection of using organisations as a vehicle to drive change.  One can do
this without adopting a Kautskyist theory of the party.  The Bolsheviks up
to the time their party seized power in Russia seemed to me to be fine as a
party.  Pannekoek's concerns about party as such stem from the fusion he saw
in Russia between party and state.  He overreacted to fear organisation as
such.  Of course, Lenin wrote that the matters that troubled Pannekoek were
his fears to.  Yet we still had the 10th party congress and Lenin's role in
it.  I suggest Pannekoek's criticism of the path the Russian party-state
leadership were following in their isolation was insightful.  This is not to
detract in any way from Lenin's great achievements.  It is to wonder, as
Bordiga proposed, that the Russian movement might well have progressed
better if the leadership of the Russian state was given to the international
movement, rather than the Russian party leadership.

That's why I don't think this text of Lenin's is a trump card at all.


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