Council communism

Council communism, or councilism, is a current of socialist thought that emerged in the 1920s. Inspired by the November Revolution, councilism was characterized by its opposition to state capitalism/state socialism and its advocacy of workers' councils and soviet democracy. Strong in Germany and the Netherlands during the 1920s, council communism continues to exist today as a small minority in the left.

Chief among the tenets of council communism is its opposition to the party vanguardism and democratic centralism[1] of Leninist ideologies and its contention that democratic workers' councils arising in the factories are the natural form of working class organization and authority. Council Communism also stands in contrast to social democracy through its formal rejection of both reformism and "parliamentarism".[2]

Ideas and theory

Council communists maintain that the working class should not rely on Leninist vanguard parties or hope for reforms of the capitalist system to bring socialism. It is viewed that worker's revolution will not be led by a revolutionary political party since these parties will only later create a party dictatorship. Worker's councils which form during periods of struggle are believed to be the natural organizations of the working class. Democratic worker's councils will coordinate the functions of a society rather than a bureaucracy found in state socialist societies.[3]


As the Second International decayed at the beginning of World War I, socialists who opposed nationalism and supported proletarian internationalism regrouped. In Germany, two major communist trends emerged. First, the Spartacus League was created by the radical socialist Rosa Luxemburg. The second trend emerged among German rank-and-file trade unionists who opposed their unions and organized increasingly radical strikes towards the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918. This second trend created the German Left Communist movement that would become the KAPD after the abortive German Revolution of 1918–1919.

As the Communist International inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia formed, a left communist tendency developed in the Comintern's German, Dutch and Bulgarian sections. Key figures in this milieu were Anton Pannekoek,[4] Otto Rühle and Herman Gorter.

They were criticized by Vladimir Lenin in his booklet "Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder.

In Germany, the left communists were expelled from the Communist Party of Germany and formed the Communist Workers Party (KAPD). Similar parties were formed in the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Britain. The KAPD rapidly lost most of its members and it eventually dissolved. However, some of its militants had been instrumental in organising factory-based unions like the AAUD and AAUD-E, the latter being opposed to separate party organisation (see syndicalism).

The leading theoreticians of the KAPD had developed a new series of ideas based on their opposition to party organisation, and their conception of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia as having been a bourgeois revolution. Rühle later left the KAPD, and was one of the founders of the AAUD-E. Another leading theoretician of Council Communism was Paul Mattick, who later emigrated to the United States. A minor figure in the Council Communist movement in the Netherlands was Marinus van der Lubbe, who burned the Reichstag in 1933 and consequently executed by the nazis after a show trial that marked the beginning of the persecution of socialist and communists in Nazi Germany.

The early councilists are followed later by the Group of Internationalist Communists, Henk Meijer, Cajo Brendel and Paul Mattick. There was a resurgence of councilist groups and ideas in the 1960s through the Situationist International, Root and Branch in the United States, Socialisme ou Barbarie in France and Solidarity in the United Kingdom.


  1. Pannekoek, Anton. "State Capitalism and Dictatorship". International Council Correspondence. III (1). January 1937.
  2. Ruhle, Otto. "The Revolution Is Not A Party Affair". 1920.
  3. "Council communism - an introduction". Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  4. Anton Pannekoek (1936); Anton Pannekoek (1938). Lenin as Philosopher: A Critical Examination of the Philosophical Basis of Leninism.


Further reading

Primary sources

  • Anton Pannekoek, Anton Pannekoek Archive
  • Herman Gorter, Sylvia Pankhurst, Otto Rühle, Non-Leninist Marxism: Writings on the Workers Councils. St Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9791813-6-8.
  • Collective Action Notes A collection of Council Communist and other anti-authoritarian Marxist literature
  • Communism or Reforms two articles by Sylvia Pankhurst and Anton Pannekoek, first published in the Workers Dreadnought in 1922. First published as a pamphlet in 1974 by Workers Voice, a Communist group based in Liverpool.
  • Lenny Flank, 'Philosophy of Revolution: Towards a Non-Leninist Marxism'. St Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9791813-8-2.
  • Kurasje ”The Council Communist Archive”
  • Paul Mattick, Paul Mattick Archive

Secondary sources

  • Baum, Felix (2018). "The Frankfurt School and Council Communism". In Best, Beverley; Bonefeld, Werner; O'Kane, Chris (eds.). The SAGE Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. Los Angeles: SAGE. pp. 1160–1178.
  • Bock, Hans-Manfred (1969). Syndikalismus und Linkskommunismus von 1918 bis 1923: Ein Beitrag zur Sozial- und Ideengeschichte der frühen Weimarer Republik. Meisenheim am Glan: Verlag Anton Hain.
  • Bock, Hans-Manfred (1976). Geschichte des linken Radikalismus in Deutschland: Ein Versuch. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
  • Bock, Hans-Manfred (1988). "Neuere Forschungen zur Holländischen Marxistischen Schule". Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung. 24 (4): 516–538.
  • Bock, Hans-Manfred (1992). "Die Marx-Dietzgen-Synthese Pannekoeks und seines Kreises". In van der Linden, Marcel (ed.). Die Rezeption der Marxschen Theorie in den Niederlanden. Trier: Karl-Marx-Haus.
  • Bonacchi, Gabriella M. (1976). "The Council Communists between the New Deal and Fascism". Telos (30): 43–72.
  • Boraman, Toby (2012). "Carnival and Class: Anarchism and Councilism in Australasia during the 1970s". In Prichard, Alex; Kinna, Ruth; Pinta, Saku; Berry, David (eds.). Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 251–274.
  • Bourrinet, Philippe (2017). The Dutch and German communist left (1900-68): 'Neither Lenin nor Trotsky nor Stalin!", "All workers must think for themselves!". Chicago: Haymarket.
  • Bricianer, Serge (1978). Pannekoek and the Workers' Councils. St. Louis: Telos Press.
  • Challand, Benoît (2012). "Socialisme ou Barbarie or the Partial Encounters between Critical Marxism and Libertarianism". In Prichard, Alex; Kinna, Ruth; Pinta, Saku; Berry, David (eds.). Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 210–231.
  • Dingel, Franz (1976). "Rätekommunismus und Anarchismus: Zu einigen neueren Arbeiten und Nachdrucken". Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung. 12 (1): 71–84.
  • Eagles, Julian (2017). "Marxism, Anarchism and the Situationists' Theory of Revolution". Critical Sociology. 43 (1): 13–36.
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  • Gerber, John (1988). "From Left Radicalism to Council Communism: Anton Pannekoek and German Revolutionary Marxism". Journal of Contemporary History. 23 (2): 169–189.
  • Gerber, John (1989). Anton Pannekoek and the Socialism of Workers' Self-Emancipation, 1873-1960. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
  • Gombin, Richard (1975). The Origins of Modern Leftism. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  • Gombin, Richard (1978). The Radical Tradition: A Study in Modern Revolutionary Thought. London: Methuen.
  • Harmsen, Ger (1986). "Le marxisme et la revue 'De Nieuwe Tijd'". Sepentrion. 15 (3): 57–62.
  • Harmsen, Ger (1990). "Le communisme des Conseils ouvriers de Pannekoek et Gorter". Sepentrion. 19 (2): 47–51.
  • Herrmann, Friedrich Georg (1972). "Otto Rühle als politischer Theoretiker". Internationale Wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung. 17: 16–60.
  • Herrmann, Friedrich Georg (1972). "Otto Rühle als politischer Theoretiker". Internationale Wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung. 18: 23–50.
  • Kool, Frits (1978). "Die Klosterbrüder des Marxismus und die Sowjetgesellschaft: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Rätekommunismus". In Ulman, G.L. (ed.). Society and History: Essays in Honor of Karl August Wittfogel. The Hague: De Gruyter. pp. 259–280.
  • Malandrino, Corrado (1987). Scienza e socialismo: Anton Pannekoek (1873–1960). Milan: Franco Angeli.
  • Memos, Christos (2012). "Anarchism and Council Communism: On the Russian Revolution". Anarchist Studies. 20 (2): 22–47.
  • Mergner, Gottfried (1982). Schmeitzner, Mike (ed.). Die Gruppe Internationaler Kommunisten Hollands. Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt. pp. 7–15.
  • Mergner, Gottfried (1973). Arbeiterbewegung und Intelligenz. Starnberg: Raith.
  • Mergner, Hans-Gottfried (1992). "Der Politiker als Dichter: Herman Gorter. Die Marxismusrezeption in der Dichtung Herman Gorters". In van der Linden, Marcel (ed.). Die Rezeption der Marxschen Theorie in den Niederlanden. Trier: Karl-Marx-Haus. pp. 124–149.
  • Morrien, Joop (1984). "Marx and the Netherlands—The Dutch Marxist School". In Galanda, Brigitte (ed.). Marxismus und Geschichtswissenschaft: Linz, 6. bis 9. Jänner 1983. Vienna: Europaverlag. pp. 414–421.
  • Pinta, Saku (2012). "Council Communist Perspectives on the Spanish Civil War and Revolution, 1936–1939". In Prichard, Alex; Kinna, Ruth; Pinta, Saku; Berry, David (eds.). Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 116–142.
  • Pozzoli, Cláudio (2016). "Paul Mattick e o Comunismo de Conselhos". Marxismo e Autogestão. 2 (5): 77–101.
  • Rachleff, Peter (1979). Marxism and Council Communism: The Foundation for Revolutionary Theory for Modern Society. New York: Revisionist Press.
  • Roberts, John (2013). "The Two Names of Communism". Radical Philosophy (177): 9–18.
  • Roth, Gary (2015). Marxism in a Lost Century: A Biography of Paul Mattick. Leiden: Brill.
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  • Shipway, Mark (1988). Anti-Parliamentary Communism: The Movement for Workers' Councils in Britain, 1917-45. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
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