Today we have added to the site The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, a book produced by the Dutch GIK (Group of International Communists) in 1930, putting forward a vision of communist society totally different from that of the many failed state-socialist experiments. Below we reproduce the foreword written in 1989 by Mike Baker, who translated this important work into English.
The volume whose pages lie before us will doubtless be considered by some as forming something of a literary curiosity in the history of revolutionary ideas, a quaint theoretical remnant washed ashore as a mere fragment amongst the mountains of intellectual flotsam, some positive in content, some negative, left behind by the retreating tide of the European revolutionary movements which followed in the wake of the First World War, only to ebb away gradually during the years of defeat which followed.
To those of us possessed of some modicum of insight into the objective processes underlying revolutionary change, however, and in particular to those who are concerned to establish by means of scientific enquiry and rational analysis exactly “what went wrong” in 1917-21, I would hope that the following text will stand some chance of being recognised for what will come – and for this I at least am convinced – in future decades and by future, hopefully even more steadfast and determined Communist revolutionaries than those of any previous generation, as being the first scientific investigation into the economic foundations of the future Communist socfetjlto be based, not upon mere Utopian speculation \r the voluminous compilation of lists of sterile statistics, but upon the secure theoretical foundation provided by the temporality of the labour process.
For it was in clear opposition to the mechanically deterministic perspectives projected by the theoreticians both of the old Social Democracy of the Second International, the Hilferdings and Neuraths of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, as also by those of the then new
left variant of Social Democracy represented by Russian Bolshevism, the Lenins and the Vargas, each with their pragmatic vision of a direct growth of capitalist monopoly into a socialism the economic regulation of which would be the province of arbitrary subjective decree exercised by a privileged administrative intelligentsia organised in an all-powerful dictatorial party and armed with powers of decision over life or death for millions of working people, that the proletarian authors of the work now before us were able to distil out of their entire life-experience as wage-workers the vital truth that it is the quantum of labour-time expended by the producers in the labour process through which alone all economic activity by social man in the production of his means of life can be measured, and which alone can regulate its movement and underlying development.
The first to give theoretical expression to the need for a fundamental temporal measure of the economic dynamic of a Communist society was none other than the founder of the science of social and historical development in general and of the revolutionary transition to Communism in particular, Karl Marx. The relevant work in which this latter contribution was made was a short, aphoristically pithy polemic which history, first handed down to us as the “Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers’ Party”, but which is more commonly known in the Anglo-Saxon world as the “Critique of the Gotha Programme”. It is the first draft outline given in this work of the most essential formative principles on whtch a future Communist society would be based which justifies its evaluation as one of the most profoundly insighted of all the texts produced by the founder of scientific Communism, just as it must also rank as one of his most misunderstood and neglected. As we shall see, this latter was not merely the result of historical accident but the outcome of quite definite, consciously motivated steps taken by the custodians of “Marxist” orthodoxy in the leaderships of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and other member-parties of the Second International at or around the turn of the century.
In the literature of revolutionary theory, therefore, the historic document now for the first time placed before the English-speaking world may with some justice be claimed as the highest theoretical achievement of the German and Dutch revolutionary movement – that historically premature yet heroic onslaught upon the bastions of an already mature world capitalist system which may have begun in 1917-18 as the qualitative outcome of the imperialist war through which that maturity and its accompanying heightened contradictions were signalised, but the last dying embers of which were only extinguished some fifteen to twenty years later in the torture-chambers and death camps of National Socialism or in the Gulags and liquidators of Stalin’s “first land of victorious socialism”. Of these, the first was the counter-revolutionary response of German and international capital to the final defeat of the proletarian revolution in Europe and the intended guarantee against Its future recurrence; the latter the murderous outcome of the defeat of the proletarian revolution In Russia and the final and consolidated imposition of the monstrous, totally sterile and creativity-denying relations of state socialism, perhaps the highest and most concentrated form of social alienation to have emerged so far 1n the history of human society and one which, hopefully, the working class of all lands will in the not too distant future see to it 1s the last.
It should always, be borne in mind, however, that the achievements In theory and practice of the revolutionary movement of the European working class of that time also represent a heritage even the memory of which the manipulative ideological strategies not only of world capital, but also of international state socialism, had rendered it expedient virtually to expunge from the annals of history. It was not enough that the proletarian revolution in Europe should have been crushed; not enough that as many as possible of its most selflessly dedicated fighters should been hunted down and made to pay for their revolutionary courage and daring not merely with their lives, but through their horrific and protracted deaths under conditions of unspeakable sadism years and sometimes even decades after the last revolutionary skirmishes had been fought and lost; these were merely the diseased form of retribution exacted as a matter of routine by a remorseless and implacable class enemy. Of far greater strategic import was it to the butchers of the counter-revolution on both sides of the Danzig Corridor that in the longer historical view all knowledge, even the faintest recollection, of the intellectual and scientific heritage of the German Revolution and its brave class fighters should be buried so deep under such mountains of intellectual deceit or patronising cant dressed up in revolutionary phraseology that not even the most indefatigable researcher after the truth would ever be able to dig so deep as to succeed in uncovering it.
And here it must be recognised that the perpetrators of this act of historical and scientific effacement were not Gen. Maercker’s Freicorps, nor yet Ernst Rohm’s brownshirted thugs, but the leaders, official and unofficial, of the “International Communist Movement” and their careerist sycophants and hangers-on in the “Communist” Parties of Western Europe. These were the alumni of that fundamentally counterrevolutionary projection of the international interests of the Russian professional intelligentsia – turned – party dictatorship whose political instruments of dictatorial control and ideological manipulation were the Bolshevik Party and the “Communist International” – just as, in its turn, the chosen ideological vehicle according to whose deceptive pseudo-proletarian and pseudo-revolutionary slogans that bogus “vanguard party of the victorious workers and peasants” was erected was that peculiar vulgarisation of the scientific world outlook and method of Marxism which is indelibly associated with the name of V.I.Lenin.
For all that the revolutionary movements of the German and Russian proletarians suffered the fate that history, pitiless as it is in the objective outcome of its complex workings, always reserves for those social and class movements which dare to appear upon her mercilessly critical stage before all the dramatis personae on the revolutionary side of the drama have adequately learned their parts, this was not before their pioneering struggle had produced Its most significant achievement: it gave birth to that fully autonomous organisational form which is the basic unitary kernel of the dictatorship of the proletariat in its world-transforming task of constructing the Communist society and the guiding and directing organ in the implementation of the Communist economy based upon the Average Social Hour of Labour: the Workers’ Council, or Soviet.
revolutionary proletariat, its construction of the and organisational
If, theti, the work here presented stands as the most advanced theoretical expression of the aims and interests of the European scientific guide to the Communist society, its material foundation may with equal validity be said to have rested upon the Council Movement, that most fundamental organisational expression of the proletarian revolution and its most typical creative product. It is, therefore, to the memory of the brave class fighters of the German Revolution who manned those pioneering organs of the proletarian dictatorship struggling to be born – the unknown and unsung heroes of the Wedding and Neukolln barricades, the proletarian shock-troops of the Red Army of the Ruhr, the embattled defenders of the Bavarian Soviet Republic – that this English translation of a work which the counter-revolution once thought it would succeed in burying, but which is here born anew, is in all humi1ity dedi cated.
It would be fitting at this point to address a few words to the work of translation itself. This is totally straightforward, and will probably be criticised by Anglo-Saxon purists for being too literal. It is true that, if anything, I have tended quite consciously to err on that side rather than at aiming to produce a piece of stylish English prose – a task which in any case probably lies beyond my somewhat limited literary capacities 1 My two aims have been, firstly, to render the precise meaning and content of the original as closely and accurately as possible; and, secondly, to catch and express the spirit and colour of the writing. Of these two, the first was relatively straightforward. The latter, however, has rarely been easy of achievement, more usually because the frequently abstract meaning of German words and the – contrary to popular belief – often intellectually extremely concentrated syntax underlying the construction of the sentences of which they form the conceptual building-blocks only rarely allow of a simple and direct rendering into the equivalent English form. In the particular case of the text here translated, however, it also quite frequently occurs that the content of a passage is expressed in a highly original and idiosyncratic style, one which directly reflects the wholly proletarian class origins of its first drafting author, and possibly of his Dutch co-workers as well. The result is an extremely fresh and lively style – one which, while complex and intellectually close-knit where it needs to be, is also refreshingly devoid of any and all academic gloss or scholarly convention.
In deference to these unique literary qualities, of which it may be said that the authors succeeded in finding the perfect organic form through which to express the equally unique scientific content of their work, I have nowhere and in no single instance allowed myself to make any concessions whatsoever to Anglo-Saxon taste, either by inserting some fashionable, but in the longer run damaging!y dateable, popular colloquialism, or by precising or summarising a passage or sentence into a shorter form than that employed in the original. In a very few places, however, where it has proved wholly impossible to render adequately the original meaning directly through an equivalent English phrase of roughly similar brevity or conciseness, I have done the opposite and added a few words of text of my own. Wherever this occurs, the reader is advised of the addition in a footnote.
To embark upon the task of translating and publishing a work of economic science in a format and finish which does justice to the perhaps incalculable value of the original is a daunting task forming, by any standards, a formidable challenge for any small organisation, with its slender – a more accurate word in our case would be miniscule ! – resources in both financial means and manpower. In the truest sense of the word, the complex and often unavoidably wearisome work associated with preparing the finished text for publication has been a collective effort amongst our Comrades in the Movement for Workers’ Councils and the broader Council Communist Movement. Amongst those whose generous contributions to our col 1 ecti ve efforts have earned them a deserved place of honour, internationalist courtesy demands that I name first our Cdes. Paul Ankers (of Christchurch, New Zealand), Hartmut Eckert (of Bremen, Germany) and Guy Robinson (ex-USA). After thus using these tributes as an excuse for showing off the impressive international ramifications of our Movement, we move back closer to home to add to the list my old friend Ray Gibbon – like myself, a relatively recent convert to Council Communism with the same skeleton in the cupboard of his political history as the one I am condemned to do penance for: years of misguided devotion to the Old Whore of King Street. Without the unflagging efforts of these four in that most dreaded of all publishing chores, the monotonous and exacting task of preparing the Index, we would all probably be still finding ourselves waiting for the book to appear !
Next for mention must come our old veteran, Cde.Joe Thomas, upon whose seemingly inexhaustible treasurehouse of knowledge concerning both the British and the international workers’ movements since World War I, from the most personal of reminiscences to the most profound of judgements, and including the myriad personalities associated with them, I have so often had occasion to draw. I have also reserved a special place of honour for our Cde. Terry Liddle, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of Russian and Soviet history has been frequently placed unstintingly at my disposal, particularly in the preparation of many of the Glossary notes, and often at the most inconvenient times and occasions. Here it is also fitting that due tribute should be rendered to the enduring patience of my daughter Helga who, in spite of her own. pressing academic commitments, frequently stepped in to act as advisor in all matters and problems pertaining to computer technology and the practical exigencies of type-setting by Word Processor. Without her expertise, often given in the early hours of the morning, I would undoubtedly have lost many more pages of work than I actually did to that capricious and unpredictable neurotic which our word-processor so often becomes when under my clumsy fingers, but which she was always able to coax over the most mind-bending and nerve-wracking of problems. And finally, it is only fitting that I should reserve my weightiest accolades at the end of this “Honours List” to my long-suffering wife and lifelong co-worker, Maureen Scott, for it has been she who has worked at my side through so many months of endless drudgery discharging the numberless – and sometimes mindlessly pettyfogging – tasks which no other Comrade was prepared to take on: proof-reading, pasting up of “art-work”, typesetting, textual corrections – the list is endless. Incredibly, after all this devotion to the ceaseless monotony unavoidably associated with a small Publishing House, she also found time to devote her talents as an internationally renowned artist to designing the front cover ! Greater revol uti onary zeal hath no woman than thi s…
Although it was my intention to bring this Foreword to an end some three pages ago, I feel constrained to add the point that we are reminded in the short Preface inserted by the AAUD that 1t was Jan Appel’s wish, as he lay in his cell in the Remand Prison at Düsseldorf well over half a century ago, that the book “Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution” should, as the AAUD’s brief “In Place of a Preface” puts it, “open up the possibility of a broad arena of discussion within the working class movement”. I can do no better than to invoke the same wish for this English translation today. Of one thing we may be certain: never in the history of Communist ideas and the struggles of the workers of all lands to realise them in practice has the scientific clarity and insight which informed the work of Jan Appel and his Comrades been more crucially needed than today. Even as these words are being penned, the international prison-house of state socialism is beginning to fall apart in Eastern Europe, in Asia and, above all, in the “Soviet” Union itself. Since the imposition of state socialism at the hands of the Bolshevik party dictatorship has had as its consequence the forestalling of the achievement of the formal political freedoms associated with bourgeois democracy, it is perhaps natural that the first and most universal demand of the Russian working people, as indeed that of their class brothers throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, should be for that great gap in their modern history to be bridged. For here, as always, the broad focus of the struggle for greater social freedom always moves from the ideological to the political, and only then from the political to the full material reality of economic freedom – Communism. So long as any of the bourgeois-democratic tasks remain to be fulfilled, either because the bourgeoisie reneged on its historical responsibilities or the proletariat was at the time too weakly developed as to be capable of subsuming them within the broader context of the revolutionary struggle for that highest of all freedoms, freedom from economic enslavement, exploitation and alienation – and both of these lacks in fact pertained both in the Russian October and its post-World War II aftermath in Eastern Europe – their achievement will undoubtedly come to form a part of the overal1 revolutionary programme of the future proletarian revolutions which now lie just around history’s next corner.
When that day of mankind’s fullest liberation finally comes, it will bring not only freedom from political domination by the state and the brutal forms of social dictatorship which are its highest expression, but also from wage-slavery, the heaviest of all humanity’s burdens up to the historical present, and so open up the long-overdue dawn of Communism. It will also be then that the full revolutionary import of the scientific work for Communism achieved nearly sixty years ago by that small group of German and Dutch Communists will be borne home to those coming victors in the cause of the liberation of working humanity from the toi1s of wage-1abour, ali enati on and enslavement to either capitalism or state socialism, for they will find within its pages that undogmatic, conceptually profound and rationally scientific guide to the construction of Communist society which, as the continuation and enrichenment of the work of Karl Marx, will enable them to avoid the pitfalls their class brothers of an earlier era were both too inexperienced and too theoretically blinkered to avert.
As for the present, we are now witnessing the fruitless attempts to fight off the inevitable day of state socialism’s collapse and to reform the unreformable stage-managed by the arch-pragmatist Gorbachev. That which his efforts have above all succeeded in achieving has been to split the ranks of the various ruling party and state elites,in the various countries of state socialism between those Don Quixotes of the state socialist world who believe that the forms of total state subjection characteristic of the past can be maintained more or less indefinitely into the future, and those more far-sighted pragmatists who, like Gorbachev himself, believe that the best guarantee of saving for the future something of their ramshackle Empire of Alienation, unstable as it already is to the point of disintegration, is to mix in with the principle of State Monopoly, which remains the fundamental one, a few shoddy capitalist-type economic incentives and fundamentally the same type of parliamentary deception as prevails in the established capitalist countries. What these superficial and facile tinkerings prove above all else, however, is the fundamental emptiness and bankruptcy of neo-leninism, with its clumsy prescriptions aimed at papering over the gaping cracks in the facade of state socialism with a vulgar wallpaper made up of a combination of crude “incentive schemes” clearly borrowed from capitalism and a thoroughly ineffectual and potentially corrupt parliamentarism. Throughout the “Socialist Third of the World”, as it once so arrogantly and inaccurately described itself, more and more millions of workers, students and intellectuals are beginning to stand up and to challenge the blind and mindless party and state bureaucracies which are the only tangible and practical embodiments of the lem’nist concept of state socialism – a “socialism” which cannot even feed the very worker-citizens on whose behalf the ruthless machinery of party and state is supposed to be exercising a benevolent and protective dictatorship !
In the hands of those to whom will fall the task of carrying through the Communist Revolution, not only in those lands where leninism has inflicted its destructive and debilitating “social experiments”, but also in the capitalist countries, both young and long-established, where the social and class antagonisms engendered by the growing difficulties encountered by capital in expanding and reproducing itself are causing ever greater social poverty, misery and bloodshed as capitalism uses up at an ever faster rate the resources which up till now have helped it to some degree to stave off the truly cataclysmic crises which now lie not so far ahead – in both these socially distinct sectors of the world the work here presented represents the only clear scientific guide to the construction of the classless, and hence truly rational and harmonious, Communist society which is the only real alternative to the mindless irrationality and barbarism which underlie, despite their otherwise qualitative distinctness from each other, the production relations of both capitalism and state socialism alike. My parting wish, therefore, is that the work of Jan Appel and his German and Dutch revolutionary Comrades may in the not too distant future receive its most fitting tribute of all: that, following upon this English-language version, it may be translated into every major language of the world, and so at last be brought to bear in its task of ensuring that never again may an alien, unscientific ideology disguising itself as revolutionary Marxism and acting on behalf of a new counter-revolutionary and exploitative class formation be permitted to frustrate the construction of the Communist society of the now no longer so distant future, and that the successful discharge of the negative tasks associated with the revolutionary destruction of capitalism and state socialism may at last be crowned with the triumph of mankind’s most creative and liberating achievement, the one self-emancipating act which forms the culminatory phase of the entire revolutionary transition from capitalism to Communism, when the negation of human freedom which is wage-slavery itself becomes negated by the revolutionary abolition of capitalist or state-socialist property in the means of life. Then is also abolished what Friedrich Engels called the dividing line between mankind’s primitive prehistory and the point of commencement of its real history: the establishment of the classless, objectively regulated and fully harmonious social relations of Communism. On the day on which the sun of Communism finally arises to shine upon a humanity wearied by thousands of years of class oppression and exploitation, its dawning will in no small measure have been due to the slender volume whose pages now lie before you awaiting your study.
London, July 1989