On class autonomy and organization

Eight discussion theses by Aníbal and Fredo Corvo

Masereel: the passion of a human (1918)

In Spanish, in Portuguese, in German, in Dutch

1 Form

The revolutionary autonomy of the proletariat against capital implies that the proletariat conducts its own liberation struggle on a massive scale. The decisions on the course of this struggle are taken by the working and unemployed workers’ masses, preferably in general assemblies at their workplace and/or in the streets. In particular, those coordinating tasks that the masses cannot perform themselves they delegate with a well-defined mandate to elected and always revocable representatives. These representatives unite in committees, and when the struggle covers a whole region, in workers’ councils. Whenever possible, these representatives consult publicly before general assemblies, especially in negotiations with representatives of capital and/or the state, and owe full responsibility to the workers’ masses who elected them.

2 … and content

The mass self-organization of the workers which thus arises in the class struggle itself, constitutes the highly flexible form of organization which fits seamlessly into the dynamic substantive development of mass consciousness of the ends and means of this struggle. When the struggle develops toward revolution and then toward communism, the masses choose more radical representatives instead of moderate ones. When the dynamics of the struggle stagnate or even deteriorate, conservative and reactionary representatives can promote further deterioration. In that case, a moment arises when the representative bodies no longer represent the independent class interests of the working class. In any case, when the mass struggle ends, the independent struggle organization loses its function of representation in coordination and possibly negotiation.

3 The most conscious and militant workers

The independent organization of the struggling working masses ensures that it can fight as a unified class for self-determined goals and self-chosen means of developing power against capital and the state. The proletarian struggle develops workers’ power in particular by extending the struggle over the proletariat as a whole, regardless of the divisions by industries, professions, and education, language, nationality, worldview, and so on that the bourgeois mode of production impose on it. The most militant and revolutionary class-conscious workers promote this workers’ power in word and deed. They do this both in and outside periods of struggle, opposing the bourgeois attitudes and practices of the state trade union movement and the bourgeois political parties and groups, including the so-called workers’ parties. They organize as conscious and combative minorities based on their views to orient the workers’ struggle toward the common interests of the class. Individual members of other classes who defend these basic positions may also be part of these minority groups. These minority class organizations do not put themselves in the place of the working masses. When members of these minority organizations are elected as representatives in the autonomous class organization, they act according to the mandate they received from the masses and not according to the directives of the minority. This is true not only in the period before the conquest of political and economic power but also in the period when the workers’ councils exercise all power.

4 ‘Unionen,’ Party, economic and political

When significant sections of the working class, out of an understanding of the necessity for revolutionary struggle, separate themselves from the state trade union movement and form new organizations in which even the most conscious and militant minorities are welcome, this is equivalent to the creation of a communist workers’ party, regardless of the name this organization gives itself. Depending on the circumstances, we are then dealing with an international party or an international of local parties. Because this party, like the minority organizations mentioned above, is not identical to the working class, it cannot put itself in the place of the working masses. This principle is even more important because the party thus created has real influence on the course of the class struggle because its positions in word and deed are followed with interest by broad working-class masses, and these recognize their struggle as a class in the positions of the party.

The formation of autonomous organizations of the mass struggle and the establishment of one or more communist workers’ parties are closely related aspects of the development of a seemingly merely economic workers’ struggle into an openly manifested political struggle in defense against the attacks of capital and the state. By necessity, this struggle ends in the destruction of the state and the abolition of wage labor and thus of capital and the market.

5 Destruction of the bourgeois state

The destruction of the bourgeois state by the workers’ councils means the elimination and dissolution of the state organs engaged in the repressive functions of the state. The government, representative bodies, parliamentary parties, the state trade union movement, employers’ unions, and bourgeois political organizations, all of which functioned as instruments of the state, are dissolved. The state organs concerned with the social functions of the state (especially health care, education, and other public services) are torn out of the state and brought under the control of the economy run by workers’ councils. As part of the economy led by the working masses, their work becomes focused on satisfying human needs and no longer on profit and maintaining the power of capital.

6 Dictatorship of the proletariat and the half-state

The workers’ councils destroy the bourgeois state as the best way to defend themselves against its attacks. In doing so, the councils simultaneously seize power over society to transform it to their proletarian class ends. This massive exercise of workers’ power over the minority of the old capitalist class and over all those who seek to restore capitalism and the bourgeois state is the dictatorship of the proletariat, also called the dictatorship of the half-state because besides fulfilling a number of important functions in a different way from the bourgeois state (which is an autonomized structure of society to impose on it the interests of the ruling and exploiting class), this dictatorship is extinguished with the disappearance of all classes and their remnants. The power of the councils is based on the fact that the workers are the only class armed and, above all, on the management of the economy by the working masses themselves. For this workers’ self-government, the measure of the social average labor hour is an indispensable means that replaces money and capital and puts an end to wage labor by establishing a direct link between labor and consumption transparent for all.

7 Centralism and Federalism

Just as the opposition of political and economic struggle and power is historically outdated, the opposition of centralism and federalism is also false. Those issues that can only be addressed by the entire working class in the struggle against state and capital or that the class must decide on in its working-class self-government as a whole deserve central decision-making. All other matters that can be decided at lower levels will be decided at lower levels.

The same applies to decision-making in minority organizations, centrally with respect to matters on which all agree, for example, because they belong to their basic positions. In addition, the possibility of forming fractions applies to issues in which the discussion or the experiences of the workers’ struggle have not yet brought clarity and unanimity.

8 The relations between the proletariat and other non-capitalist classes

Autonomy, in all phases of the struggle, has the meaning of proletarian class autonomy both in its organizational form and in terms of its content. In relation to other non-capitalist classes, given the dynamics outlined above, the working class can enter into a temporary alliance with other non-capitalist classes only in situations of struggle in which it has the upper hand. In the period following the seizure of power by the workers’ councils, the working class can bind these other classes to itself by opening up the self-managed economy to them.

12-7-2022

4 Comments on “On class autonomy and organization

  1. Pingback: Über Klassenautonomie und Organisation – Arbeiterstimmen

  2. Pingback: Sobre a autonomia e organização da classe | Left wing communism

  3. A good text, thank you. May i ask if you have already written or propose to write anything containing more specific proposals for the working class to implement in the early stages of taking power ie in the period of transition. I am interesting that there are lessons to be learnt from the Russian and German experience in the period of 1917/18. I agree with you that the political minorities or the party do not take power, power resides in the class a whole in its councils, but it seems to me that we should have proposals to the class as a whole regarding necessary steps. I include in this measures regarding credit, money, property ownership, working hours, waste/unproductive industries, press, food management and so forth. I am also certain that the new organisation of society will have to deal with the dangerous environmental conditions that capitalism has created so there will need to be, as a priority, specialists who can propose plans for reversing or managing the conditions of global warming and its consequences. Finally in terms of organisation of the working class, i agree with what you say about centralisation and federalisation in that i cannot see a single world structure can cope with measures needed to improve conditions in all areas of the world, the variations are just too great and too specific, so regional councils will be very important. Again i feels some proposals and the functioning of the councils will be appropriate, again based on the errors in Russia. Also the role of the party is an issue, the bolsheviks allowed their party to increase enormously in size which i suggest is wrong and their members also became administration/state officials whereas i would suggest the party should focus on conjunctural analysis and proposals for developing communist society. I do wonder too if the party should grow to include all of society over the long term or whether it should wither away in the same way the state must. These are just my broad thoughts at present and i am not proposing anything as demands or fixed positions, so am interesting to hear what you are thinking on these issue. I note that, as far as i can see, little thought has been given to the period of transition in the recent period when it appears to me to be precisely the time this should be happening.

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    • Thank you for your comment.

      You have written about “proposals for the working class to apply in the first stages of the seizure of power in the transition period.” We didn’t mention ‘period of transition.’ Following the tradition of the Italian and German-Dutch communist left, we limited ourselves to the lessons of the historical experiences of the revolutions in Russia, Germany, and Hungary. We believe these lessons coincide with and concretize Marx’s understanding of capitalism in his time: the class struggle and, in particular, the Paris Commune.

      The current environmental crisis deserves the attention of today’s revolutionaries. Many contributions can be found in current publications concerning the communist left. And more are still needed. Therefore, your contributions are welcome. We in our respective milieus have contributions. The environmental imbalance has two kinds of features: some of which can be alleviated and solved with a huge effort that will take a long time, and others which can only be alleviated at the most radical level and in the shortest possible time, but capitalist degradation has come to generate such climatic and environmental chaos that it puts us in a situation that is far from simple.

      We should “have proposals for the class as a whole on the necessary measures. I include in this measures relating to credit, money, property, working hours, waste/improductive industries, the press, food management, etc.”? Yes, but the capacities of today’s tiny revolutionary minorities are limited. And interest in these issues within the working class is little, as the proletarian struggle is limited. We defend the general measures on production and distribution of the GIC, along with others which are always a function of the level of self-clarity and self-organization of the proletariat on an international scale. The sooner the economy is detached from capitalist categories and relations, obviously the better, but as in the case of climate, it is a tremendous task that will take many years. The question of the uneven development of capitalism at different levels everywhere is important and also poses a major axis of action.

      On the party, the position of the Communist Left is clear. The party is the organization of the most militant and conscious minority, not a mass party as social democracy and Bolshevism in power wanted to be. Even when classes have disappeared and the semi-state or the dictatorship of the councils is dead, and when the government over people has been transformed into the government over things, in the discussion about the future of society, there will be minorities who will formulate proposals to associate humanity. We cannot foresee whether these minorities will be continuations of the old party.
      On the party, unfortunately, the position of the communist left is not clear; the Bordigists still mostly defend the dictatorship of the party, to give the most striking example. What there is, is some common ground.
      It is possible that the party in communism will be transformed into an entity producing initiatives and solutions without interests opposed to those of the proletariat. But this question is not closed in advance.

      Since the workers’ power is not identical to the power of a party, it is not necessary to legitimize the party’s power with its supposed mass character. The party’s task is not the formation of a state bureaucracy but the formation of a minority as part of the growing power and consciousness of the proletarian masses.

      Aníbal and Fredo Corvo

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