From Anarchy in Action
Council Communism advocates a social revolution based on self-management, workers' councils, and spontaneous strikes. They take inspiration from the workers councils organized in the 1917 Russian Revolution, the 1918 German Revolution, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Major contributors to Council Communist theory include Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick.
As a libertarian tendency of Marxism, Council Communism opposes the bureaucratic and centralist ideologies of reformist social democracy and "revolutionary" Leninism alike (Lenin dismissed Council Communism as "an infantile disorder").
Anton Pannekoek summarizes the outlook of Council Communism in contrast to Leninism: "The goal of the working class is liberation from exploitation. This goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting the bourgeoisie. It can only be realised by the workers themselves being master over production."
Council Communists oppose the state-dominated societies of both "State-socialism" and bourgeois "democracy." "Middle-class democracy has proved the best camouflage of the political dominance of big capital," writes Pannekoek.
Compared to many Anarchists, Council Communists do not necessarily spend a whole lot of time worrying about decision-making procedures. Seeing the core task of revolution as the implementation of communism, the Council Communists warn that even direct democratic self-governance would not intrinsically liberate people from capitalist economic relations. In a text drawing heavily from Council Communist theory, Gilles Dauvé and François Martin elaborate:
Political groups come and explain that the alternative is real democracy, or workers' government, or even anarchy: in other words, they wish to alter the decision- making apparatus, not the social relations which determine it. They always reduce social aspirations to the problem of power: everything will change once this is solved.
In Council Communism, workplaces self-managed by factory committees elect delegates to workers' councils. The factory committees can immediately recall the delegates at any time who coordinate in order to plan the economy. As the name implies, Council Communists advocate a communist economy in which all people have access to whatever goods and services they need.
The Council Communists' economic arrangement closely resembles Anarchist and Marxist theories of syndicalism. There are some differences, however, that stem partly from the fact that the tendencies draw on different theoretical literature. First, while syndicalism does not intrinsically imply an end goal of economic communism, Council Communism does. Second, while syndicalist strategy centers around organizing revolutionary unions, Council Communists historically rejected trade unions.
For the Council Communists, the main tactic of a revolution is the spontaneous strike, in which workers go on strike independently of trade union or party leaders. Workers form strike-committees made of delegates from each striking workplace. In revolutionary conditions, the strike committee would take on the form of the workers' council and run the economy according to Council Communist arrangements. This form of strike constitutes the "strongest form of fight against the capitalist class," according to Pannekoek.
Council Communists reject political parties as instruments of control and representation. Historically, Council Communists also rejected trade unions for the same reason. Pannekoek argues, "The Trade Unions grow into instruments of mediation between capitalists and workers; they make treaties with the employers which they try to enforce upon the often unwilling workers."
Today, Council Communists are more likely to work within trade unions, albeit from a critical perspective and with a goal of agitating people to organize beyond these structures, as Libcom notes: "However, in modern times, though keeping a very critical view of trade unions and their undemocratic nature, those inspired by council communists generally believe in forming autonomous class struggle organizations that agitate in and beyond the unions."
- Anton Pannekoek, "Theses On The Fight Of The Working Class Against Capitalism," 2001 (originally 1947), Marxist Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1947/theses-fight.htm.
- Pannekoek, "Theses On The Fight Of The Working Class Against Capitalism."
- Gilles Dauvé and François Martin, Eclipse and re-emergence of the communist movement, Libcom (originally Black and Red Press, 1974), https://libcom.org/files/Gilles%20Dauv%C3%A9%20and%20Fran%C3%A7ois%20Martin-%20Eclipse%20and%20re-emergence%20of%20the%20communist%20movement.pdf.
- Pannekoek, "Theses."
- Pannekoek, "Theses."
- Pannekoek, "Theses."
- "Council Communism- an introduction," Libcom, https://libcom.org/thought/council-communism-an-introduction.