Communism, too early? Or from delay to abandonment?

On ‘Fundamental principles…’ and the period of transition

By Fredo Corvo

Dutch original, German, Spanish translation

Left: Back to work (‘Ameisen’ by Grosz). Right: Land of Idleness (Pieter Bruegel the Elder)

Of the many texts by the so-called Dutch-German Communist Left, also called the party movement within council communism, its most important work, Fundamental principles of communist production and distribution1 has evoked the greatest misunderstandings, fiercest reactions, and most serious accusations, especially from the point of view of the Italian Communist Left. Recently some texts have appeared that willingly or unwillingly intervene in this controversy:

  1. Hermann Lueer, The transition to communism: An Intellectual Confusion, with German, Spanish and Dutch translations.2
  2. Aníbal, A confused intellectual? A detailed critique of Hermann Lueer’s text The transition to communism: An intellectual confusion.3
  3. The last two chapters of Ph. Bourrinet, Les Conseils Ouvriers dans la théorie de la gauche communiste germano-hollandaise. This text dates from 1999 and has been slightly modified and expanded by the author on the occasion of a recent translation into Dutch, which will appear in volumes on the site Arbeidersstemmen in 2023. An older English translation is also available.4

These three texts have their own perspectives, limitations, and peculiarities, as do Fundamental Principles. In the interest of an enlightening discussion, these should be considered.

Issues posed after 1917-1923

Fundamental Principles were written as a partial answer to the questions posed by the Communist Left regarding the counter-revolution in Russia:

  1. The question of the proletarian bastion in Russia, surrounded by imperialist powers and a world market on which it partially depended.
  2. The transition of power from the workers’ councils to the Bolshevik Party and the state. The crushing of the Kronstadt uprising.
  3. The relationship between the working class and the peasants, and in a more general sense, the petty bourgeoisie.
  4. The questions of compromise in foreign trade, foreign policy, and war to defend or extend the proletarian bastion.
  5. The question of the tasks of communist parties and their relationship to the Communist International.

Following the distinction made by Gorter and the KAPD between social relations east and West of the Danzig-Triest line,5 for the GIC the agrarian question was the key to understanding the Russian enigma. With the failure of the proletarian revolutions in the West, the workers’ councils in Russia could not sustain themselves, and all that remained of the bourgeois revolution carried out by the proletariat was a bourgeois course. This analysis of the revolution in Russia as (partially) bourgeois was common at the time but contrary to the real development of world capitalism and imperialism. Among the Bolsheviks, these theoretical errors contributed to their role in the internal counter-revolution in Russia. In turn, the Communist Left drew wrong lessons from the period of revolutions and counter-revolution.6 Because the GIC regarded the revolution in Russia, based on what had come of it, as a bourgeois revolution, and because class relations in the West were different from those in the East, Fundamental Principles were not intended as an alternative to counter-revolution in Russia, even though many critics have suggested this.[a] Fundamental Principles were intended for a situation where “working class rule in an industrial country had become a reality”.7 This certainly did not mean Russia. The GIC draws the negative lessons from the economic policies of the Bolsheviks and contrasts them with proletarian planning of the economy.

I will argue here that Fundamental Principles are favorable to the power of workers’ councils, to the relations within the working class, between the proletariat and petty bourgeoisie, and the development of world revolution and the dying off of the (semi-)state. In doing so, I also touch on issues that the GIC left out in Fundamental Principles to focus on the essence of communism.

1. The tale of the land of milk and honey as an ideology of the transition period

Fundamental Principles focus on economic measures in the transition period from capitalism to communism. To this end, they dispense with a variety of other issues. Such an abstraction of not covering everything in one text is a common practice. This also applies to economic topics, as we can see in the volumes of Capital, in which Marx always approached capitalist development from different angles.

Hermann Lueer is, therefore, not to blame when he focuses on the economic measures proposed by the GIC in his text on the transition period. He contrasts these with the practice of Marxism-Leninism, and its ideological justification with an assumed long-term development of the (technical) productive forces after which – with the sacrifice of entire generations of workers – scarcity would be eliminated in a kind of land of milk and honey. Lueer also points out that libertarians of all kinds, on the other hand, demand an immediate land of milk and honey: everything for free. Both, however, ignore the necessary and possible measures the GIC proposed after workers’ councils in an industrial country took all the power.

The GIC regards the provision of more and more products free of charge as normative for the development of a higher form of communism. Lueer makes a unique contribution by emphasizing that developing a higher form of communism is unthinkable without conscious individual and collective consideration of the labor effort required to produce use values and satisfying these needs. Lueer objects:

“Therefore, in order to prevent the communist economy from developing in the direction of the Soviet system[Lueer refers to Russian state capitalism]

, workers must defend the communist principle of individual labor as the measure of the share of the social product against unnecessary attempts of socialization. Otherwise they end up in State Capitalism – even if workers could democratically set the wage level. Or in the words of the GIC: »Production centralized in one hand defines a new form of domination. As a result, the state cannot wither away. Democracy cannot wither away either. Democracy remains the fig leaf to conceal oppression.«.[8]

This is the position of the GIC that runs through their entire paper from beginning to end… Only in the small section – in chapter 10 h. The growth process of communism – do they contradict themselves. Here they fall into the idealist trap common within the left by claiming that the phrase – ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’- would be an expression of the development of the communist economy”.9

Against the Bolshevik narrowing of the development of productive forces

Indeed we find in all kinds of forms of Leninism10 an interpretation of the slogan “each according to his ability, each according to his need” in which one-sidedly emerges the necessity of a prior development of technical productive forces for a future production of abundance. This came in handy in the electrification of the Soviet Union according to the GOELRO plan signed by Lenin in 1920. The plan was the model for subsequent five-year plans, all aimed at forced industrialization at the expense of the workers and peasants whom the state claimed to represent. Thereby, the development of productive forces, obviously only in the technical sense, served as an excuse for a future increase in availability of consumer resources and leisure time, whether or not combined with the idea that then all products and services could be “taken” for free, with no labor in return. This is not an inappropriate argument in view of a very distant future, but the point Lueer is making is that this line of reasoning has been used to ideologically justify the exploitation of several generations of workers under (state) capitalist relations with a promise of a ‘milk and honey’ communism in a distant future.

Leninism gives a one-sided interpretation insofar as productive forces are understood in a technical sense, at the expense of the human labor power. But the development of communism requires that the workers in particular, as bearers of human labor-power, be able to develop in the sense of emancipation during a process of self-liberation in which they throw off all remaining characteristics of an oppressed and exploited class. But they cannot do so when their oppression and exploitation, when the capitalist relations of production between labor and capital, are continued, even if it is under “leadership” by a bourgeois state and a party that calls itselves “communist”.

The one-sided Leninist conception of the development of the productive forces criticized here, we also find among libertarians of all kinds, who, following the autonomist slogan “We want everything” (and now), can take for free and demand the immediate abolition of labor. Hence the idealization of looting during riots or of an equally distant communism, which Bruno Astarian, for example, has to admit he does not know how to achieve.11

Against both variants of a one-sidedly technical conception of the development of the productive forces and of the transition period from capitalism to communism, it is necessary to re-emphasize the abolition of wage labor as a condition for the self-liberation of the proletariat as with Marx and the GIC.

In his booklet paying tribute to Fundamental Principles, Lueer argued as early as 2020 that Marx’s expression – “each according to his ability, each according to his need” is not a hollow phrase — as in Leninism in the quote above — but becomes a fundamental principle of communist production and distribution when on the economic basis of the labor-time account, both individually and collectively, the consideration of labor effort against the fulfillment of needs through production of use-values is made. Thus, based on the labor time account, each person can decide for himself on his labor time and the corresponding consumption. As an argument for the communist principle of the labor-time account, Lueer emphasizes, “distribution without an economic measure, does not mean ‘taking according to need’ but allocation by a superior authority”.12

Anyone who takes the trouble to follow in Fundamental Principles how the GIC builds an argument that culminates in free taking will discover that it begins by breaking up the repressive organs of the bourgeois state and detaching from these public utility companies and, for example, health and educational institutions. In doing so, the GIC encounters the then poorly understood phenomenon of services. A key feature of services is that their production, for example, in healthcare, coincides with their use, and stockpiling is impossible. Then the GIC gets caught up in the metaphor of a warehouse where manufactured goods are assembled. For services, this is impossible, and it is for this reason, among others, that the GIC proposes to make them available free of charge. However, the right to consume services can very well be done in return for payment with “labor certificates”. Why should services such as a visit to the hairdresser, a cab ride, plumbing, or language lessons be provided for free – i.e., without reference to the social effort required – while the expenditure on food or other consumer goods is settled with “labor money”? I refer further here to Lueer’s arguments in his recent article.13

Toward a food bank socialism?

For example, the free provision of education and health care only appears at the periphery of the GIC’s argument, which focuses on the labor time account and the direct relationship between the worker and his product. Nor does what the GIC wrote about free services have the character of proposals for socio-political measures by workers’ councils. This subject can only be dealt with when the concrete circumstances of a future council force are known. As such, it was beyond the scope of Fundamental Principles. But was the subject unimportant, and could nothing be said about it? Yes, it was not, it is important, and the broad outlines of an answer are known. But treatment of these socio-political measures requires an understanding of the essence of Fundamental Principles. Since only this essence is at issue here, I limit myself to a few very general remarks.

From an in itself correct emphasis on the production of use values (for consumption) rather than exchange values (for profit) in communism, it has been erroneously concluded that there is a preference for planning and distribution in kind.14 The workers should recognize that in Russian reality this “communist distribution in kind” strikingly resembles the soup kitchens of the 1930s crisis and today’s food banks. For the planning of production in kind, the disastrous Bolshevik policy during Russian “War Communism” is the model. Inflation and the economic stagnation of large parts of economic life expanded poverty among the workers, and they were faced with the choice of submitting themselves again:

  • as needy poor or as workers in the urban factories subordinate to the one-headed company management, which had been restored by order of Lenin;
  • by enlisting in Trotsky’s Red Army, where the latter restored military discipline;
  • by returning to the countryside with its partly subsistence agriculture, partly an agrarian proletariat subordinate to the peasants whom the revolution had put into their hands a larger piece of land than they could cultivate themselves.

In a future transition period from capitalism to communism, providing free services and products could lead to indifference within the working class to the results of their labor so that certain circles could regain control of them and thus restore capitalism. Hermann Lueer warned against this in his article The Transition Period to Communism: an Intellectual Confusion.

In this context, he pointed out that in the case of free consumption of services, for example of, public transport and inter-firm transportation, of supply of electricity, gas, and water, wastefulness becomes rational because the consumers (and producers) cannot weigh up the labor effort required. It is not a question of morality, but of economic rationality. For example, if the water works did not charge a social cost, it would simply be irrational not to cool the bottle of beer under the running tap in summer.

Earlier, I pointed out that workers’ councils could adopt social policies to rectify undesirable side effects of entitlement to consumption based on the number of hours worked. In this regard, measures of the “social state” in capitalism can serve as an example, provided that this involves a consideration between:

  • in the instance of child-rich families, combating the undesirable side effects;
  • the communist objective of equality, namely working class unity;
  • side effects and capitalist intentions of a measure such as a child benefit, for example, that women are reduced to machines for reproductive labor or soldiers;
  • the effort to create an individual right to consumption for women and young people, for example, and to solve the economic restrictions that maintain the bourgeois family.

Free child care can be considered in this context.

Against a different right to consumption of workers with different levels of education, the GIC suggested free education,15 pointing out that differences in pay between highly-skilled, skilled, and unskilled workers in capitalism are related to the payback time of the training period. In addition, the GIC pointed out:

“… this ideology, which makes the skilled look contemptuously at the unskilled, while at the same time, it runs counter to their legal sense that the holders of the intellectual professions, such as doctors and engineers, should not receive a larger share of the social product. There is a certain conviction that the difference is too great today, but … a doctor is not a garbage collector. The extent to which the workers change this ideology in the course of the revolution remains to be seen. So much is certain that this change must take place quickly after the revolution because an unequal distribution of the product always leads to disputes within the working class itself”


Later in this text, I will return to the political aspect of disproportionate shares in the social product. What is important here is that if communism is to abolish the separation between school and business – from the age when vocational education is possible – and with it the introduction of work-based learning and learning-to-work, then the separation between learning and work can also be abolished, and it is also conceivable that the same right to consumption exists for both. This would create an opportunity for young people to build an independent existence instead of being forced to be part of the parental family, as in capitalism. This is one of the aspects in which changes become possible that herald the end of the bourgeois family.

In free housing, one has to consider the aspect of petty-bourgeois ownership of one’s own home, as well as house ownership for commercial rental. Of course, this depends entirely on the political balance of power between the classes in the transition period and the perspective that workers’ council power can bring to society. Under council power, the housing industry can solve the capitalist problems of unaffordable housing, the housing shortage, and the stagnant flow of residents moving to other types of housing depending on age and forms of (consumption) households. But freedom of choice is probably a better policy to solve these problems than free rent.

Thus, more transformation issues can occur in the transition period, and the communists will then make more concrete proposals to the workers’ councils; issues of which they can only give broad outlines now.

Leisure time versus working time

The fairy tales of communism as a land of idleness where each can take as he pleases, without relating the desire to consume to the social labor required, often invoke Marx. However, a careful reading of his Critique of the Gotha Program and the excerpts on the abolition of the capitalist mode of production in his Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, present an entirely different picture. In the Grundrisse, Marx describes how by developing productive forces, capitalism creates available time to transform the latter into surplus labor. In the inter-capital competition, the periodic overproduction crises of capitalism arise in which surplus labor can no longer be transformed into surplus value:

“The more this contradiction develops, the more it turns out that the growth of the productive forces can no longer be bound to the appropriation of foreign surplus labor but that the working mass itself must appropriate its surplus labor. Once it has done so—

and disposable time thus ceases to have a contradictory existence—

then, on the one hand, the necessary labor time will have its measure in the needs of the social individual, and, on the other hand, the development of social productive power will grow so rapidly that, although production is now calculated on the wealth of all, the disposable time of all will grow. For, real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. It is then by no means the working time but the disposable time that measures wealth. The working time as a measure of wealth sets the wealth itself as founded on poverty and the disposable time as existing in and through the contrast to the surplus labor time or setting the whole time of an individual as working time and degradation of the same, therefore to the mere worker, subsumption under labor”.17

Thus, Marx emphasizes that in the appropriation of the means of production by the working masses, wealth no longer consists of socially necessary labor time as the measure of value, but, on the contrary, disposable time will be the measure of wealth. For the capitalist goal and its method of adding value to invested capital through the appropriation of other people’s labor, the constant extension of socially necessary labor time is the means of value production. In contrast, with the abolition of wage labor, socially necessary labor time remains the measure of effort associated with needs. The form of working time remains, the content to which it relates changes fundamentally. In relation to the given needs, the reduction of socially necessary working time or, conversely expressed, available leisure time now becomes the measure of society’s wealth. Misunderstanding this substantive change, the GIC and the calculation of working time promoted by it are regularly accused of maintaining or reintroducing the products of value. [b ] In reality, establishing individual working time as a measure of the share of the product of socially necessary labor disallows the possibility of appropriating others’ labor. Instead of being subordinate to the goal of value production, members of society are now empowered to determine their own labor time and consumption.

This centrality of available time has been erroneously understood as “free time” and opposed to “working time” as the GIC made it the measure of production. At the beginning of the transition period, however, there is the possibility of choosing both individually between more free time and more consumption and collectively, through the association of free and equal producers, i.e., workers’ councils. This raises the highly practical question of how, in the transitional period, the working people can decide individually and collectively about their free time when they do not know the labor time that production and service in the service of satisfying needs occupy of their available time?

Marx does not lose sight of the contradiction between working time and leisure, which communist society in its first phase bears as one of the “birthmarks of the old society, from whose womb it sprung”:

“The real economy — saving — consists in the saving of labor time; [minimum (and reduction to the minimum) of the production costs]; but this saving is identical with development of the productive power. So not at all renunciation of enjoyment, but development of power, of abilities for production and therefore of abilities as well as of the means of enjoyment. The ability of enjoyment is condition for the same, thus first means of the same, and this ability is development of an individual ability, productive force. The saving of labor time equals the increase of free time, i.e., time for the full development of the individual, which itself, as the greatest productive force, acts back on the productive force of labor. It can be regarded from the standpoint of the immediate production process as the production of capital fixe; this capital fixe being man himself. That, by the way, immediate labor time itself cannot remain in the abstract opposition to free time — as it appears from the standpoint of bourgeois economics — is self-evident. Labor cannot become play, as Fourier wants, who has the great merit of having expressed the abolition not of distribution, but of the mode of production itself in a higher form as ultimate object. Free time — which is both leisure time and time for higher activity — has naturally transformed its owner into another subject, and as this other subject, he then also enters the immediate production process. This is at the same time discipline, considered with reference to the becoming man, as exercise, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, with reference to the man as he has become, in whose head the accumulated knowledge of society exists. For both, as far as the work requires practical hands-on and free movement, as in agriculture, at the same time exercise.

As the system of bourgeois economy only gradually develops, so does the negation of itself, which is its final result”.18

In these notes for his own use, Marx develops in dialectical terms his insights about the changes that the worker and society will bring about and undergo in the transition period from capitalism to communism. Following Owen, Marx understands that the machinery in capitalism places itself as constant capital against and above the worker. Similarly, Marxist-Leninist productivism places the technical forces of production above the human productive force and its bearer, the worker. According to Marx, in revolution, the workers reappropriate the machinery that results from labor power exploitation. This revolutionary “conquest of the machines” takes place in mass struggle and cannot but be a collective appropriation. Individual leisure time as opposed to individual labor time is a legacy of capitalism. The revolution brings forward collectively available time as social time that can be spent as labor or leisure, according to choice. With the increase of leisure time and its use not only for the recovery of labor power but also and increasingly for higher activity, the worker as subject-object of the proletarian revolution transforms himself into another human being. By developing his unique individual disposition, he increases his productive power as deployed in the production process to ultimately eliminate in greater part the contradiction between leisure time and labor time.

With this understanding of the subjective and objective changes in the transition period, one can also better understand what Marx meant by “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!” in a higher phase of communist society. In that higher stage, there is no longer any question of the “these defects [that] are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic form of society, and the cultural development conditioned [bedingte] by it”. These shortcomings include the merely formal equality of the workers in introducing an equal right to consumption based on the number of hours worked, which Marx demonstrated amounted in reality to inequality and a disregard for the differences between individuals and their life situations; a recognition, by the way, that the GIC fully shared. But this inequality is also unnecessary, so it can be partly rectified by measures by the workers’ councils similar to social legislation in capitalism. Marx, in his Critique of the Gotha Program, complains that he had to dwell so extensively on representations of equality “that in a certain period had some meaning but have now become obsolete verbal rubbish, while again perverting, on the other, the realistic outlook that it cost so much effort to instill in the party, but that has now taken root in it, using ideological nonsense about right and other nonsense common among the democrats and French socialists..” And he continues:

“Quite apart from the analysis so far given, it was in general a mistake to make a fuss about so-called distribution and put the principal stress on it.

At any given time, the distribution of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself.”

Lenin seized upon Marx’s remarks about two phases in the transitional period to divide this period into two, one socialist and one communist. However, Marx speaks of the first phase of communist society as emerging from capitalist society, and a higher phase. Marx and Engels also made no distinction between a socialist and a communist period.[c] Lueer points out that Marxism-Leninism used the continued existence of the bourgeois right based on the economic structure and the limited cultural development of society as an ideological justification for its generations-long stranglehold on the society of real-existing socialism, with the prospect in a distant future of From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs! interpreted as the land of milk and honey.19 Marx, however, was very clear about the conditions of this higher phase of communist society:

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and thereby also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime desire and necessity [erste Lebensbedürfnisse]; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly, only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be completely transcended [überschritten] and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!” 20

Indeed, what we see here is the dissolution of the contradiction in the existence of working people between working time and leisure and the parallel development of unique individual personalities. There is no question with Marx of “taking for free.” That all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly cannot mean that too much will be produced and wasted like the proverbial free tap water in 19th-century Amsterdam tenements, which ran all day over a bottle of Amstel lager. What is clear, however, is that a higher stage is the result of a transition, a development, a proletarian self-liberation process based on the labor time account in the first stage of communism.

2. Marx and Engels on politics and economics

It is common, both in Leninism and among its libertarian counterparts, to dress in a Marxist cloak by citing a longer or shorter quotation from Marx’s Preface of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) in which he explained the conclusion to which the study of political economy had led him:

“At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or — what is but a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.
Then begins an epoch of social revolution”.21

In doing so, Marx refers to a:

“… manuscript [The German Ideology], two large octavo volumes, had long ago reached the publishers in Westphalia when we were informed that owing to changed circumstances it could not be printed. We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice all the more willingly since we had achieved our main purpose — self-clarification….”

The German ideology

This manuscript concerns The German Ideology (1845-1846), from which emerges a different picture from the Leninist contradiction of productive forces and property relations in the period of imperialism, a false interpretation that led to the idea of a period of decline of capitalism — narrowed down to private capitalism — whose contradictions in Russia would have been overcome by a state capitalist or state “socialist” or state “communist” management of the means of production along the lines of the reformist Hilferding or that of the ever-timely German railroads. Here are the characteristic quotations from the excerpt from which Marx derived his Preface of 1859 — that is, in the year after the Grundrisse:

  1. “In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer productive but destructive forces (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth,” the working class “which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class.”

So if one wants to speak of a period of decline, then from the emergence of capitalism that crushes the living workers under the dead productive power of machinery and capital or money. Throughout his life, Marx speaks only of periodic crises of capitalism and not of a permanent or final crisis, although Marx and Engels had the hope with each periodic crisis, it would initiate social revolution. The favorite Leninist quote from the Preface of 1859 —”No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself” — means no more than “Too bad, better next time.”

  1. “The conditions under which definite productive forces can be applied are the conditions of the rule of a definite class of society, whose social power, deriving from its property, has its practical-idealistic expression in each case in the form of the State …”. So much for the false opposition of state capitalism and private ownership of means of production.
  2. “In all revolutions up till now the mode of activity always remained unscathed and it was only a question of a different distribution of this activity, a new distribution of labour to other persons, whilst the communist revolution is directed against the preceding mode of activity, does away with labour, and abolishes the rule of all classes with the classes themselves, because it is carried through by the class …” .in short, the working class, the first revolutionary class which is also an exploited and oppressed class. The abolition of labor involves, first, the class-like unequal distribution of labor and the enjoyment of its results, that is, wage labor. And in the longer term, the transition period largely abolishes the opposition between labor and leisure by elevating labor to the development of each individual’s unique characteristics.
  3. “Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew”.22
    The revolution is understood not only as the moment of seizing political power but also as the transition period from capitalism to communism. Only during this transition period, the working masses will come to a communist consciousness, which previously developed only sporadically (as in point 1).

The Poverty of Philosophy

In “The Poverty of Philosophy,” Marx uses the term productive force to include the revolutionary class as the main productive force.”

“An oppressed class is the vital condition for every society founded on the antagonism of classes. The emancipation of the oppressed class thus implies necessarily the creation of a new society. For the oppressed class to be able to emancipate itself, it is necessary that the productive powers already acquired and the existing social relations should no longer be capable of existing side by side. Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself. The organization of revolutionary elements as a class supposes the existence of all the productive forces which could be engendered in the bosom of the old society”. 23

After the fragment that I have put in italics, the Stalinist editors of the Moscow editions of the works of Marx and Engels have added a note. Shocked by Marx’s statement of the revolutionary class as the most significant productive force, which hardly could be used to justify Stachanovism24 they noted that here Marx would not yet make a sharp distinction between instruments of production and productive forces, which Engels would have pointed out in his Introduction to the 1891 reissue of Wage Labor and Capital. There, however, Engels addresses the important distinction between the value of labor and the value of labor power. Marx’s 1847 statement, moreover, echoes what we have already seen in the Grundrisse and in his 1875 description of “a higher stage of communist society.”

Critical Notes on the Article by ‘a Prussian’

In the Dutch original of this text, I had to give some pages of quotes from Marx’s article, because it has never been translated into Dutch. The quotation here is more limited, but readers who are not familiar with this article by Marx may have to study it extensively.

In his conclusions of Critical Notes on the Article: “The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian”, Marx elaborated on the characteristics of the proletarian and bourgeois revolutions in fundamentally different relations between the revolutionary class and the exploiters’ state, of great importance for understanding the proletarian or social revolution. As a reminder, with retrospective wisdom, in the bourgeois revolution, the bourgeoisie takes over the feudal exploiters’ state, and in the proletarian revolution the organized working masses smash the bourgeois state. This insight is already present in this article by Marx.

“The ‘Prussian’ brings his essay to a close worthy of it with the following sentence:

‘A social revolution without a political soul (i.e., without a central insight organizing it from the point of view of the totality) is impossible.’

We have seen: a social revolution possesses a total point of view because – even if it is confined to only one factory district – it represents a protest by man against a dehumanized life, because it proceeds from the point of view of the particular, real individual, because the community against whose separation from himself the individual is reacting, is the true community of man, human nature. In contrast, the political soul of revolution consists in the tendency of the classes with no political power to put an end to their isolation from the state and from power. Its point of view is that of the state, of an abstract totality which exists only through its separation from real life and which is unthinkable in the absence of an organized antithesis between the universal idea and the individual existence of man. In accordance with the limited and contradictory nature of the political soul a revolution inspired by it organizes a dominant group within society at the cost of society.

We shall let the ‘Prussian’ in on the secret of the nature of a ‘social revolution with a political soul’: we shall thus confide to him the secret that not even his phrases raise him above the level of political narrow-mindedness.

A ‘social’ revolution with a political soulis either a composite piece of nonsense, if by ‘social’ revolution the ‘Prussian’ understands a ‘social’ revolution as opposed to a political one, while at the same time he endows the social revolution with a political, rather than a social soul. Or else a ‘social revolution with a political soul’ is nothing but a paraphrase of what is usually called a ‘political revolution’ or a “revolution pure and simple.” Every revolution dissolves the old order of society; to that extent it is social. Every revolution brings down the old ruling power; to that extent it is political.

The ‘Prussian’ must choose between this paraphrase and nonsense. But whether the idea of a social revolution with a political soul is paraphrase or nonsense there is no doubt about the rationality of a political revolution with a social soul. All revolution – the overthrow of the existing ruling power and the dissolution of the old order – is a political act. But without revolution, socialism cannot be made possible. It stands in need of this political act just as it stands in need of destruction and dissolution. But as soon as its organizing functions begin and its goal, its soul emerges, socialism throws its political mask aside. 25

For those who know Marx only from the Communist Manifesto, the conquest of the exploiter state proposed therein and the implementation of proletarian measures through this state, and the Leninist interpretation of it to the Bolshevik practices in the revolution in Russia, will be greatly surprised to read that for Marx, politics — even in the sense of the overthrow of the bourgeois state and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat — that is, this politics is the shell and socialism is the content. Socialism, Marx says in the following excerpt about the Commune, is the liberation of labor, the content of revolution, and the Commune is merely the form.

Of course, the above 1844 article reiterates many points we have pointed out in previous excerpts, which we will not repeat here.)

First draft of the The Civil War in France

I have previously written at length about Marx’s remarks during the Commune of 1871. With reference to that article26, I can limit myself here to the summary that Marx regarded the Commune as the political form of social emancipation, of the liberation of labor through the reconquest of the means of production. The Commune is not identical to that liberating proletarian movement, but its organized means of action. The Commune creates “the rational medium in which that class struggle can run through its different phases in the most rational and humane way”. If the Commune included all of France (which it did not), the danger of counter-revolution would have been reversed without disappearing entirely. From that moment, as an essential means of maintaining the power of the Commune, this “finally discovered” form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Marx posited “the spontaneous action of the laws of the social economy of free and associated labor” which he described as the result of a long process of development of new conditions, which did not prevent “great strides may be [made] at once through the Communal form of political organization and that the time has come to begin that movement for themselves and mankind.” This economic transformation would concern not only distribution but above all production, “or rather the delivery (setting free) of the social forms of production in present organized labour (engendered by present industry), of [read from] the trammels of slavery, of [read from] their present class character, and their harmonious national and international co-ordination”.27A first major step was not taken by the Commune, the seizure of the National Bank, located within Commune-controlled Paris, still the bank from which “Versailles” unopposedly financed the counter-revolution.

As is well known, Marx considered the Commune premature, an accident of history, and he expected more from the rise of big industry in Germany than from petty-bourgeois France with its small business. And indeed, the big-industrial proletariat of Russia, Germany, and Hungary in 1917-1923 would revive the Commune organization as the workers’ councils.

Engels and Marx on labor time accounting

In its chapter on the measure of account in communism, the GIC opposes the Bolsheviki’s attempt at planning in kind and opposes it to labor time as a measure of both production and, in the first period of communism, individual consumption. To this end, they refer to Engels in the Anti-Dühring, Marx in Capital Part 1 and Part 2, and in the Critique of the Gotha Program. I consider it unnecessary to repeat or summarize the GIC’s lucid argument. Instead, I draw attention to two points.

First, I would like to emphasize that concerning the beginning of the transition period, the GIC, like Marx, presupposes the following by quoting him as follows:

“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundation, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society (highlighted by Marx); which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society— after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society, that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another


The GIC directed this quote against the supporters of state capitalism. Still, it applies equally well to those who give the impression that the first phase of communism can only begin when society is completely stripped of all the “birth characteristics” of capitalism: scarcity, unequal distribution, wage labor, classes, and the state, including the “half” state or Commune-state or the dictatorship of the proletariat by workers’ councils.d

Second, the GIC comes up with an interpretation of Marx that he would have proclaimed the free provision of means of consumption at a higher stage of communism.

“… that Marx saw full-fledged communism as a ‘take as needed,’ with working time not being the measure of individual consumption. This measure would only be valid for the transitional period from capitalism to mature communism. This is clearly expressed in the so-called Randglossen“.29

The so-called Randglossen is Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, from which the GIC translates the well-known slogan: “Each one gives according to his strengths and takes according to his needs!” We previously gave the following translation after Marx’s German manuscript “Each according to his abilities, each according to his needs!” pointing out that Marx does not speak of free to all. For Marx and us, the abolition in a bigger part of the opposition between labor time and leisure time in the free development of the unique characteristics of each individual is the core of a higher stage of communism. Then there is not only the abolition of wage labor but a new quality of the labor as such.

Socialized labor from capitalism to communism

To the neo-Leninists who accuse the GIC of “economism” because of its focus in Fundamental Principles on the essence of communist production,30 I gladly refer to the fragments as mentioned earlier in Capital by the apparently also “economist” Marx. And specially, I refer to the previously cited fragments from Marx’s Grundrisse, on which both the neo-Leninist and libertarian critics of the GIC rely.

Marx did not fail to point out how capitalism, in its development, socializes labor until, in periodic overproduction crises, it no longer fits within the constraining capitalist relations of production between wage labor and capital. Speaking of the contradiction between socialized labor and wage labor, he says:

“The more this contradiction develops, the more it turns out that the growth of the productive forces can no longer be bound to the appropriation of foreign surplus labor, but that the working mass itself must appropriate its surplus labor.. (…) As the system of bourgeois economy only gradually develops, so does the negation of itself, which is its final result”.31

This is nothing other than the periodic crisis of overproduction mentioned in the Communist Manifesto and the need to eliminate the mutual competition of the workers and, thus, of wage labor.32 How this could be done, Marx could only indicate in broad terms in his time, on the one hand, on the basis of his understanding of social labor and its opposition to capitalist relations of production, and on the other hand, on the basis of the extremely limited and unfortunate experiences of the premature Paris Commune. Only the experiences of the workers’ revolutions of 1917 – 1923 enabled the GIC to deal more concretely with the question of the transitional period. For the GIC, the abolition of wage labor was a necessary measure if the class did not want to lose its power to a small minority of “specialists” and so-called revolutionaries, united in the top of a new state, as was the case after October 1917. Indeed, in the way as Marx described the abolition of wage labor, that of the labor time account, the workers both individually and collectively gain access to the “available labor,” that is, the labor socialized by capitalism, and can begin the process of transformation from capitalist to communist society, and from themselves as labor slaves in capitalism, through a first stage of “free and equal producers” to people who develop their unique characteristics in an activity that used to be only labor.

The following deals with the first stage of the transition period as the GIC saw it. Thereby an attempt to elaborate on the political aspects.

3. The political power of workers’ councils understood as the beginning of the period of transition

ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-3982206578 includes GIC,  Marxism and state communism. The withering away of the state.

According to the GIC, the economic transformation of society begins “in an industrialized country,”33 Following Marx, the GIC calls the political power, or dictatorship of the proletariat, a “state” or “workers’ state”, the working class — organized in councils — destroys the bourgeois state and exercises political power over society (dictatorship of the proletariat). In addition, the GIC — because of the provision of food — assumes the existence of an agrarian sector that, while retaining petty-bourgeois ownership of the means of production, is wholly incorporated into the social division of labor. As with Marx, however, it is not this state that controls economic life but the association of free and equal producers. In this, a council government has the task of proclaiming the formation of this association in the form of measures:

“Of course, the united power of armed workers must crush the bourgeoisie, because only in this way the concentrated power of the bourgeois state can be vanquished. But here it’s the workers themselves, armed on the basis of the enterprises, who constitute the new state power.

The political unity of the workers’ state, led by Councils or Soviets, whose head constitutes the Council Government, is a necessary consequence of this struggle. The abolition of private ownership of means of production and its declaration to “State” – or more accurately: social property, has to be effected by the proletarian State, thus by the government.” 34

An earlier text by Jan Appel spoke of a council government assuming the political task of announcing the introduction of the Fundamental Principles before the whole society. The control of the economy from then on was to be the task of operational organizations (Betriebsorganisationen) and councils:

“Thus, although production and distribution rest entirely in the hands of the producers and consumers, economic life has the most ideal summary, which comes about only through the cooperation of the productive forces and is therefore no different. Society then is the association of free and equal producers, which politically finds its highest expression in the council government, while economically it finds its highest expression in the giro office”.35

Another text is more specific about the announcement, and now a Councils Congress is taking on this task:

“The Group of International Communists sees in the implementation of new laws of movement for the circulation of products the actual task of social revolution. The revolution establishes general rules to which all enterprises independently conduct their calculation of production. (…)

The establishment of the new law of movement is therefore the essential aim of the revolution. The victorious working class, through its Council Congress, calls upon all class members in town and country to take all enterprises under its own control and management under the following points of view:

1. Money is declared worthless from a certain date and the labor hour is introduced as the new unit of account.

2. All enterprises shall fix the production time of their products.

3. Similar companies immediately join together, to establish the social average production time of their product.

With this, the economy has transformed into communist production, all means of production have been socialized: they have passed into the hands of the community”.36

In the same text, an appeal toward farmers appears to act as a point 4:

“However, the social revolution which communism sees as laying down a new law of movement for the circulation of products has something to offer the peasantry. Besides the liberation from all rents, mortgages and business debts, the equal distribution of the social product brings the direct complete equality of town and country, which in practice ends up favoring the peasant. However, the agricultural proletariat, these pariahs of capitalist society, makes a tremendous leap forward, so that it has every interest in including agriculture in communist production”.37

PIK, ISBN: 978-3-949036-01-9, contains ‘Entwicklungslinien in der Landwirtschaft’ (1930)

What to do in difficult circumstances?

Against the above idea that the transformation of society begins after the seizure of power in an industrial country, it has been argued, among others by Bourrinet and Aníbal, that Pannekoek in The Workers’ Councils raises the possibility of a difficult, chaotic time in which productive capacity must be recovered from the damage of imperialist and civil war and in which measures such as rationing and provisions in kind as in times of war and disaster must be taken.38 This is an essential addition by Pannekoek to Fundamental Principles, which, out of the need to outline the essence of socialist economics, excluded such a situation. Bourrinet and Aníbal have added to the difficulties mentioned by Pannekoek, the need to defend oneself against imperialist attacks by the capitalist states in the rest of the world, the need for armsproduction, etc. This, too, is entirely justified.

What is essential here for the political preconditions of Fundamental Principles is that what are merely emergency measures are being seized upon by both libertarian and Leninist advocates of economic planning and/or distribution in kind to pursue them further as a direct route to full communism. This would mean a repeat of the fatal War-“communism” of the Bolsheviks, pointed out under the heading Food Bank Socialism. Pannekoek has opposed state socialist thinking that will emerge in the transition period in the next chapter.39 At Facebook, it has recently been suggested that Pannekoek in 1936 (like earlier Lenin) would regard state capitalism as an instrument of the working class or an intermediate stage on the way to communism. However, Pannekoek rejected state capitalism in 1936 as he did in 1946.40

These kinds of critiques of Fundamental Principles with references to difficult conditions in the initial period after the revolutionary seizure of power also seem to assume that the communist mode of production based on the labor time account is less effective. In this, the question is: less effective than what? Planning in kind? Bringing together supply and demand through the detour of the market? Or state capitalism, after all? In all these alternatives, workers’ power is under severe pressure and will eventually succumb to it. But this question of workers’ power and the management of economic life under such difficult conditions, critics give two unacceptable answers:

  1. A world revolution simultaneously in all countries, supposedly made possible by “globalization”. Globalization is now being partially reversed in preparation for WW3 between the USA and China.
  2. To declare that these difficulties will last very long.

In other words, the proletarian revolution is impossible or doomed to failure. But proletarian revolutions do not care about this kind of theoretical reasoning, as the Commune of 1871 and the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 proved.

The first phase of the period of transition

Contrary to what some think, Fundamental Principles is hardly about what Marx called “a higher phase of communism.” In the foregoing, we have already sufficiently discussed the meaning of this higher stage, its misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and falsifications.

From the 1935 edition, it appears that the GIC takes into account the fact that in the first stage, the social ownership of means of production does not apply to the entire economy of the area controlled by the councils:

“It is obvious that several parts of the agriculture will not directly comply with the rules of communist operational life [Betriebsleben], i.e. will not join the communist community. It is also probable that some workers will interpret communism in such a way that they will want to run the operation units [Betriebsorganisationen] independently, but not under the control of society. In stead of the private capitalist of the past, the business organization [[Betriebsorganisation] acts as a ‘capitalist’.” 41

This is a political problem of relations within the working class, part of which poses as “capitalist,” and between the working class and the land-owning peasants, i.e., part of the classical petty bourgeoisie, owning means of production. The latter allows us to extend this political problem to the attitude of council dictatorship to the entire classical petty bourgeoisie and the GIC’s approach to it:

“In social accounting, we find the recording of the flow of goods within the communist economy. This means nothing else that that those who are not members of the social accounting cannot receive raw materials. Because in communism, nothing is ‘bought’ or ‘sold’. Producers can only receive goods and raw materials from the community for further distribution or processing. However, those who do not want to include their work in the socially regulated work process exclude themselves from the communist community. In the way, the economic dictatorship leads to the self-organization of all producers, regardless of whether they are small or large operational units”.42

And then the GIC explains what this means for the dying of the state, in the sense of dictatorship of the proletariat:

“In fact, this dictatorship is immediately lifted as soon as the producers include their work in the social process and work accordingly to the principles of abolishing wage labor and social control. It is, therefore, a dictatorship which ‘dies’ of its own accord as soon as the whole of social life is placed on the new foundations of the abolition of wage labor. It is also a dictatorship which is not carried out by bayonet, but by the economic laws of movement of communism. It is not ‘the state’ that carries out this economic dictatorship, but something more powerful than the state: the laws of economic movement”.43

This approach to the GIC is in line with my earlier interpretation of what Marx put forward in his First Draft of the Civil War in France: the dictatorship of the Commune does not lean on bayonets but bases its political power on the economic preponderance and obviousness of the economy of the association of free and equal producers. This, by the way, does not exclude the working class as the only armed class — for the GIC through the places of work — and that it will use those weapons if necessary. One can even argue that Marx presupposed for this economy that the Commune extended to all of France, which would have immediately earned him the posthumous reproach of “socialism in one country” on the part of Leninists of all kinds, among others. More on that later.

First, a word about the relation to the vast majority of the present small bourgeoisie, which is without possession of means of production, the wage-earning part, plus those among the workers who count themselves among this group. I refer to the four paragraphs above the heading “Leisure and Working Time.”

To summarize, about the initial period of the transition to communism, the GIC makes the following distinctions:

1. An imperialist world composed of states and blocs of states. These will want to destroy the proletarian bastion by any means possible but must also consider their own proletariat.

2. A proletarian bastion with an economic life dominated by the association of free and equal producers. Wage labor is abolished. Freedom and equality are still only negative in nature; free from oppression and exploitation, only formally equal to each other as a unified proletariat vis-à-vis other classes, which persist. The bourgeois law horizon has not yet been transcended because of the lag of consciousness over being, the influence of bourgeois ideology, and the persistence of classes and imperialism.

3. Within the bastion stands the communist workplace controlled by the workers. There reigns the association of free and equal producers. Wage labor has been abolished by using labor time accounting.

4. Within the bastion, there is also still a business community according to market principles, consisting of companies controlled by the possessing petty bourgeoisie and workers who manage “their” business like the capitalist in the past.

5. Within communist workplaces, we distinguish on the one hand the workers who are entitled to an equal right of consumption, and …

6. On the other hand ‘higher qualified’ (largely the former wage earning petty bourgeoisie), who may have enforced a higher right to consumption.

It is the continued existence of classes and their interrelationships that necessitate the dictatorship of the proletariat, and which may crystallize into state structures but may also be dissolved again as class relations decline to disappear finally. The inter-class relations are shown here graphically:

The right half of the inner circle contains the communist economy (3), consisting of a segment in which equal pay applies (5) and a segment in which pay is unequal (6). The “economic dictatorship” (GIC) or “the dictatorship of the proletariat” using the economy of association (Marx) consists of the boundary between the communist economy (3) as a whole (including 5. and 6.) and the market economy (4) that persists between the enterprises of workers who do not wish to participate in the communist economy and of petty-bourgeois property owners. The relations between the proletarian bastion (2) and the surrounding imperialist world, concern at best trade, and, less favorable, war. The importance of the segments and their mutual power relations may constantly change. Without going into all these possibilities, let me point out the parallels with the isolated Russian bastion after the October Revolution and some main differences with the politics of the Bolsheviks and proposals for a different political stance. I assume the politics of the Bolsheviks to be known.

Theses for discussion

  • The armed workers in the places of work exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat using a superior economy based on industrial large-scale units of production and economic planning of production and distribution based on the social average labor hour.
  • Relations with the petty bourgeoisie and the agrarian sector are regulated as far as possible by their voluntary transition to the communist economy for their benefit, if necessary with (barter) trade, and only where unavoidable with proletarian class violence.
  • Differences of opinion and attitude within the working class are bridged in peaceful consultation. Only where workers support the counter-revolution of imperialism and/or the old big bourgeoisie or the continuing petty bourgeoisie, are these workers stopped with proletarian violence.
  • Relations with foreign countries are determined by a new Communist International, in which the communist party or parties of the proletarian bastion have a merely advisory voice.
  • Relations with foreign countries involve barter and questions of war or peace. The formation of a Red Army is inevitable but composed of foreign volunteer battalions, governed by soldiers’ committees and councils.

Of course, these differences from Bolshevik practices do not guarantee the success of the world revolution. They are merely a starting point for discussion that may clarify future political issues. This provides a preliminary answer to the problem statement, which consisted of the questions posed by the Communist Left regarding the counter-revolution in Russia.

A final word on “socialism in one country.”

The allegation of ‘socialism in one country’

In the 1930s, the Italian communist left in exile in France and elsewhere had close contacts and discussions with the Trotskyist opposition. The GIC also had discussions with Trotskyists because, unlike the Stalinists, they were open to discussion with dissenters in the absence of a large organization. In particular, the Trotskyist rejection of Stalin’s bluff of socialism in one country provided an angle for discussion. However, the GIC knew from the experience of the damaging role Trotsky had played in the Comintern and within Russia itself that his advocacy of world revolution was just as much a bluff in his struggle with Stalin for a return to positions of power within the Soviet Union. Those who invoke the Italian Left, sometimes themselves drawn from Trotskyism after World War II, often employ in discussions the false Trotskyist arguments along the lines of “What would you have done if you were in the Soviet government?” In this context, “socialism in a country” is a common accusation against Fundamental Principles. Neo-Leninists like to avoid the problems of the first phase of communism with a flight forward to the ideal situation of a victory of world revolution, and libertarians flee into a more developed communism. Council communists have been accused of not wanting to get their hands dirty, of assuming an ideal situation. But this argument turns like a boomerang against the critics of the GIC.

In these reproaches to the GIC, the critics forget that the concept of the transitional period refers to the period of transformation of a capitalist society into a communist society by the adoption of socialist or communist measures: the introduction of the labor time account, the abolition of wage labor, the establishment of the association of free and equal producers, with all the restrictions on the survival of classes, bourgeois ideology, threatening imperialism, etc. which are inevitable for a society which in all respects, economic, moral, spiritual, is still afflicted with the birth characteristics of the old society, from whose womb it stems. They also forget that in the period of transition we are not dealing with a ruling party, but with a working class which only in a revolution can succeed in freeing itself from the whole of the old mess and be able to put society on a new basis. It is useless to define now for a future situation whose fine details we do not know when we will or will not speak of a communist society. I am happy to leave that to the future protagonists in the controversies of that moment. I can only express the hope that these are neither repetitions of Stalin nor Trotsky.

Fredo Corvo, 28-2-2023


    1 Several versions and translations of this text have circulated. I refer here to the last edition edited and expanded by the Group(s) of International Communists (GIC) in 1935 (in Dutch, by Lueer translated for the first time into German and published in 2020, as well as an English translation. Among other things, the 1935 edition contains GIC’s responses to earlier criticisms, responses that were, however, disregarded. For more on that, see F.C., The G.I.C. and the economy of the transition period, part 1, part 2

    2 Text by Lueer, in English, in German, in Spanish (machine translation), in Dutch. Lueer, like the GIC, concentrates on the meaning of the labor hour as a measure, supplementing it with a critique of the Bolsheviki’s “idle time” interpretation of communism, to point out the dangers of making products and service available free of charge before separation of labor and leisure has been eliminated (in my words). It will soon become clear to the reader that I share this view and that I continue to discuss some of the consequences of the positions of the GIC and Lueer

    3 Text by Aníbal, written in Spanish, with machine translations in Portuguese and English, all at INTER-REV. Internacionalismo – Revolución. Foro político-social internacionalista. Aníbal has peppered his text with insults and imputations against Lueer (HL) and personalizes a debate about it in a non-serious manner, similar to what Troelstra, Kautsky, Lenin, and Trotsky used to do against the left wing of their parties or the Comintern. In the case of Aníbal’s text to which this note refers, I will only refer to it occasionally in endnotes

    4 Text by Bourrinet: revised version in French, old version in English, translation in Dutch. At the time of writing, it appeared that Bourrinet in 2023 had republished unchanged the last two chapters relevant to our subject. I subsequently provided my translation into Dutch with a large number of critical notes. Faced with that, Bourrinet refers to a revised French version of his main work. A relevant chapter of it, can be found for free on the site Pantopolis: La question de la période de transition communiste, des KAPD-GIC aux «communisateurs». If necessary, I will address it later.
    Unfortunately, Bourrinet never replied to my critiques of the chapter on the Fundamental Principles in his main work, The Dutch and German Communist Left (1900-68); “Neither Lenin nor Trotsky nor Stalin!”, “All workers must think for themselves!”, Leiden/Boston (Brill) ISBN 978-90-04-26977-4. I keep my criticisms in full application to Bourrinet’s text on the same subject to which this note refers. Rather than tiring the reader with repetition, I will confine myself here to explaining Fundamental Principles and their implications for some issues not addressed by the GIC. Unfortunately, the “Bordigist” biased interpretations of what the GIC wrote continue to circulate because they satisfy the demand in a mainly French-speaking “milieu” for confirmation of their Bolshevik doctrines that move around the diametric opposition of “politics” and “economics,” the preeminence of “proletarian violence,” etc. Only occasionally will I refer to Bourrinet in endnotes. From here on, I refer in footnotes mainly to sources.

    5 Aníbal and Fredo Corvo, Movaut and ICT on the proletarian revolution in Russia

    6 F.C., The fatal myth of the bourgeois revolution in Russia. A critique of Wagner’s ‘Theses on Bolshevism’. F.C., The inter-imperialist war in Ukraine. From Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Gorter and Lenin to “Council-Communism”

    7 GIC, Jan Appel/ Hempel / GIC, Marxism and state communism. The withering away of the state

    8 GIC, Marxism and state communism. The withering away of the state.

    9 Comment by Hermann Lueer to a recension of Fundamental principles, 19-9-2022.

    10 So-called Leninism does not consist of everything Lenin put forward, but it is a collection of choices from his statements that serve as ideological justification for the survival of capitalism after the October Revolution. Marxism-Leninism is the variety in the interests of Stalin and his faction; Trotskyism is the variety in the interests of Trotsky and his faction. The council communists designated both variants of Leninism with the overarching term Bolshevism. The latter term also applies to Bordigism in the sense of Bordiga’s turn to Trotskyism after the break with Onorato Damen. But also within the non-Bordigist current that refers to the Italian Communist Left, such as the Damenist ICT and the Chirik sect ICC and offshoots of the latter such as the IGCL, a nostalgic yearning for 1902’s What to Do? and a metaphysical opposition of the economic and the political, which we call Neo-Leninist, prevail

    11 La valeur et son abolition. Entretien avec Bruno Astarian. September 2017.

    12 Hermann Lueer, Grundprinzipien kommunistischer Produktion und Verteilung, p. 60.

    13 Hermann Lueer, The transition to communism: An Intellectual Confusion.

    14 GIC, Fundamental principles … Ch. 2d. Distribution of means of production and consumer goods in kind as a Bolshevik ideal.

    15 GIC, Fundamental principles … Ch. 7g. The value of labor in capitalism according to Marx.

    16 GIC, Fundamental principles … Ch. 9h. The pricing policy in Hungary.

    17 Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie,(1857-1858), Heft VII, Das Kapitel vom Kapital — Aufhebung kapitalistischer Produktionsweise. Berlin 1974, p. 596. Our translation.

    18 Marx, idem, p. 599/600. Our translation.

    19 For the origins and many interpretations of this saying, see Wikipedia, De chacun selon ses moyens, à chacun selon ses besoins (with references to other languages) and Trotsky in his The Revolution Betrayed with his and Stalin’s interpretations.

    20 Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program. Translated and annotated by Kevin B. Anderson and Karel Ludenhoff. With a new introduction by Peter Hudis. PM Press, 2023. This translation replaces wrong translations of essential fragments produced under the influence of Leninism, also in languages other than English, as we have discovered for a Moscow-produced Dutch version. The same is true for the Grundrisse and even Pannekoeks Workers Councils in french.

    21 Marx, Preface of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)

    22 Karl Marx, The German Ideology under the header The Necessity of the Communist Revolution

    23 Karl Marx, (1847). The Poverty of Philosophy, Ch. 2, The Metaphysics of Political Economy. Strikes and Combinations of Workers. Italics by F.C.

    24 Wikipedia, Aleksej Stakhanov

    25 Marx, Critical Notes on the Article: “The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian”

    26 F.C., The economy of free and associated labor. How Marx characterized the transitional period and its economic laws of motion during the Commune uprising of 1871

    27 Marx, The Civil War in France. First Draft. La Commune, 2. The Character of the Commune

    28 Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, quoted here as did the GIC in Fundamental principles … Ch. 3b. The socially average working time by Marx and Engels. The source for the GIC was a German edition of the 1920-ties or 1930-ties

    29 GIC, Fundamental principles … Ch. 7g. The value of labor in capitalism according to Marx

    30 GIC, Fundamental principles … Ch. 1b. The Marxist explanation of the domination of the working class

    31 Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie,(1857-1858), Heft VII, Das Kapitel vom Kapital — Aufhebung kapitalistischer Produktionsweise. Berlin 1974, p. 596 and 600

    32 Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Ch. 1

    33 GIC,  Marxism and state communism. The withering away of the state.

    34 Idem.

    35 Conclusion of Aantekeningen over communistische economie / by Piet de Bruin [Jan Appel], 1928.

    36 GIC, De ontwikkeling van het boerenbedrijf – ontwikkelingslijnen in de landbouw (1930). In 2021 a German translation was published, Entwicklungslinien in der Landwirtschaft, (1930). This preliminary study examines the agrarian question posed by the revolutions in Russia and Germany. It also critiques Rutgers’ “The Peasant Question in Soviet Russia, Europe, America, India, China” (1929) from modern developments in agriculture

    37 Idem

    38 Anton Pannekoek, De Arbeidersraden (1946), part I, Ch. 4 Maatschappelijke organisatie

    39 Anton Pannekoek, De Arbeidersraden (1946), Part I, Ch. 5 Bedenkingen

    40 F.C., Pannekoek en Lenin over het staatskapitalisme. Pannekoek, Staatskapitalisme en dictatuur (1936), State capitalism and dictatorship

    41 GIC, Fundamental principles … Ch. 16. The economic dictatorship of the proletariat

    42 Idem.

    43 Idem.


    a For example, Bourrinet assumes the unsubstantiated assertion, “The basic premise of the GIC is that the failure of the Russian Revolution and its development toward state capitalism can only be explained by ignorance, if not by denial of the need to economically transform the new society.” Where he tries to outline Fundamental Principles, he puts them against the yardstick of the revolution in Russia. The GIC “assumed an ideal situation, in which the victorious proletariat took over the productive apparatus in highly developed countries that had not endured the agonies of the civil war (destruction, significant part of production devoted to military needs); where, on the other hand, no peasant problem arose, as a brake on the socialization of production, because, according to the GIC, agricultural production was already fully industrial and socialized.” On this last point, Bourrinet refers to the GIC’s study, Lines of Development in Agriculture, where the GIC showed, on the basis of rich statistical material, that although agriculture in the West had remained on a smaller scale than Marxist theorists had assumed, it had been completely socialized and industrialized in the development of capitalism. On these grounds, the GIC could propose a completely different policy toward the peasantry for the West than the Bolsheviks. But about this, Bourrinet is silent. Questioning the results of the GIC’s study requires more than suggestive language.

    Furthermore, the GIC assumed a proletarian revolution in an area with highly developed industry, clearly not Russia. How does Bourrinet estimate the chances of a proletarian revolution in a non-industrial country?

    And then we have military production, which the GIC abstracts in its study, as well as many other issues. Military production will indeed be necessary if a proletarian bastion in a highly industrialized area is to defend itself against imperialist attacks. Is private capitalism, state capitalism, or war economy with planning in kind superior to planning based on the average social labor hour? The fact that the Bolsheviks experimented with various forms of capitalist planning of the economy – with negative results – does not prove their superiority to Fundamental Principles, does it?

    b Bourrinet believes, “The ultimate weakness of Fundamental Principles appeared precisely in the accounting of labor time, even in a developed communist society no longer burdened by scarcity. Economically, this system could reintroduce the law of value by assigning to the labor time necessary for production an accounting and not a social value. The GIC was thus opposed to Marx, for whom the measure in communist society was not labor time, but available time, that of available leisure.” The argument of an imminent reinstatement of value has previously been put forward by Jean Barrot, pseudonym of Gilles Dauvé, and is among one of the few theses shared by Communisators. David Adam demonstrated in 2013 that this thesis rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of Marx’s concept of the value and that the GIC’s proposals are entirely consistent with Marx’s. Dauvé readily admitted this (be it in a footnote, nr. 12). But this does not yet seem to have dawned on Bourrinet. Bourrinet does refer in a note to a quotation from Marx’s Grundrisse to derive from it the above argument of available leisure time. This quote, in translation from French to English, reads as follows: “Working time will be tailored on the one hand to the needs of the social individual, while on the other hand, the productive forces will increase in such a way that leisure time for all will increase, while production will be calculated with a view to the wealth of all. Since true wealth is the entire productive forces of all individuals, the measure will not be labor time but available time. To adopt labor time as the measure of wealth is to base it on poverty; it is to want leisure to exist only in and through opposition to labor time, it is to reduce all time to labor time only…” (Marx, Grundrisse, Gallimard, coll. La Pléiade, tome 2, p. 308). Note that the French translation is incorrect where available time (disposable time, after Owen) from the German original has been translated with leisure time.

    c Bourrinet uncritically adopts Lenin’s dichotomy in De arbeidersraden in de theorie van de Nederlands-Duitse communistische linkerzijde, Ch. 4, as also on p. 355 of the French version of his main work.

    d Aníbal, A confused intellectual?: A detailed critique of Hermann Lueer’s text. The transition to communism: An intellectual confusion. Mensaje Anibal 6/2/2023, 4:00 pm. In his Part 2, Aníbal cites the following quote from Lueer from an excerpt noted against Marxism-Leninism:

    “The abolition of wage labor can only take place if the separation between the worker and the product of his labor is abolished, if the right of disposal over the product of his labor, and thus over the means of production, is returned to the workers as a result of the enforcement of the working hour as the standard in all economic life. For this, contrary to what most Marxists who rely on Marx think, there is no need for a long and complicated transition under the leadership of the party.” (Lueer, The transition to communism: An Intellectual Confusion)

    To this, Aníbal states:

    “The first is correct, it is the old and correct approach to genuine Marxist communism. The second is wrong, because it requires a transition that finds conditions to take a long time, and although it does not have to be led by “the party” but by the organized class, centralized and coordinated on a world scale in its councils and self-organizing structures in the economic units in production, distribution and social services and in the territory, it requires a struggle to eradicate and overcome the capitalist forms of property, the division of labor that emerges from civilized class societies and that of its particular capitalist form ( urban-rural and head-hand), the consequences of the uneven development of capitalism, the consequences of wars and revolutions, the human degrading consequences of the effects of capitalism on a global scale, the sexist division of roles, the existential and ideological degradation brought about by capitalism and its habitual reproduction, and all this in appropriate metabolic relations regarding the nature of the processes of production and distribution, of the species that works and consumes and provides for those who cannot and fights for better environmental conditions.”

    The list of conditions listed by Aníbal is much longer, and the text repeats and reiterates the need for a long period of revolutionary struggle before the transition period can begin even in its first phase. In this gigantic verbiage, however, nowhere among the invective and accusations against Lueer have I found the answer to the question the GIC was asking: how can the workers keep control of society? Nor have I seen anywhere among the many quotes from Marx and Engels with which Aníbal intersperses his texts, his comments on Marx’s remarks at the beginning of the Commune revolt to which I have referred. Statements by Aníbal as in his Part 3 are also not illuminating:

    “Marx and Engels held that for socialism-communism there must be neither the state, nor wage labor, nor the rule of the capitalist division of labor, nor the law of value and other categories of the capitalist mode of production.” Yes, but which phase are we talking about now?

    All in all, I cannot escape the impression that Aníbal evades the problems posed by the birth characteristics of capitalism with verbiage that merely brings the transitional period from postponement to postponement. He can easily dispel this impression with an attempt to briefly outline what he believes are the phases of the revolutionary process from the moment the working class seizes power in a highly industrialized region and what conditions each phase fulfills.

    3 Comments on “Communism, too early? Or from delay to abandonment?

    1. Pingback: Communisme, te vroeg? Of van uitstel naar afstel? | Left wing communism

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