Council communism or councilism? - The period of transition

Jan Appel

Book review of Philippe Bourrinet “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.

This book in fact is based on a master thesis in French language, defended at the Sorbonne University Paris, 1988. Since then editions in several languages appeared, with or without permission of the author, or of the International Communist Current, who claims to be its ‘collective author’. Therefor it is unfortunately that this new edition by Brill doesn’t explain the differences with the master thesis. For readers that know the Porcupine Press English language edition, I found two additions. A fragment preceding chapter 1, on Religion, Capitalism and colonial Empire: From the ‘Golden Age’ to the Decline, gives a short overview of the history of the Netherlands before industrialization. A text added to chapter 11, International Council-Communists up to the 1970s adds interesting information of studies since 1987, which can be found in the bibliography. On the other hand, some of the more recent works are missing here as well as in the 58 pages long section ‘Further reading’: for example, Gerber’s and Boekelman's biographies of Anton Pannekoek.

No doubt this study is impressive for many reasons, of which its international scope and its internationalist approach are the most important. No coincidence the author identifies with the Communist left, consisting mainly of the German-Dutch left and the Italian left, having published several studies on the latter as well. Bourrinet not only presents the debates within the German-Dutch left, but also takes position in his studies, often from the perspectives of the Italian left. Such a debate between both lefts is far from complete and actually many misunderstanding from both sides obstruct a real debate. Bourrinet is not free from these misunderstandings, as nobody is.

In this review, I will show how Bourrinet develops a much subtler approach of the German and Dutch left than Authier/Barrot did for the German Left. This did not prevent Bourrinet to encounter in his approach certain contradictions in analyses of ‘councilism’ that might be explained in part by a certain bias for the Italian left. In order not the go beyond of the limits of a book review, I’ll concentrate on the question of the period of transition. Because the Communist Left developed its positions of the period of transition on base of the experiences of the Russian Revolution, I’ll pay some attention to this subject as well.

For continuation, see attached PDF

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