I’m not a councilist. Of the two major streams of left-wing communism within the Third International, the German-Dutch current formed around spontaneous workers’ councils and the Italian current formed around organic party centralism, my preference is definitely for the latter. Though most modern left communist groups synthesize elements from each, I consider Bordigism far more compatible with orthodox Trotskyism than councilism after 1930. Even more so than Bordigism and Trotskyism, I find Bordiga and Trotsky to be closer to one another than to any of the major representatives of council communism.
Nevertheless, I digress: By the end of the 1920s, the council communist movement led by Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter, and Otto Rühle had taken its critique of Bolshevism so far that it rejected the party-form of organization. Paul Mattick only emerged as a prominent figure within this movement after this point, during his career in the United States. Although I do not find his political positions all that compelling, particularly his anti-Leninism, I find his theoretical work to be of exceptional quality. His short 1959 article on “Nationalism and Socialism” deserves special mention for insights like the following:
The second World War and its aftermath brought independence to India and Pakistan, the Chinese Revolution, the liberation of Southeast Asia, and self-determination for some nations in Africa and the Middle East. Prima facie, this “renaissance” of nationalism contradicts both Rosa Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s positions on the “national question.” Apparently, the time for national emancipation has not come to an end, and obviously, the rising tide of anti-imperialism does not serve world-revolutionary socialist ends.
However, what this new nationalism actually indicates are structural changes in the capitalist world economy and the end of nineteenth-century colonialism. The “white man’s burden” has become an actual burden instead of a blessing. The returns from colonial rule are dwindling while the costs of empire are rising. Individuals, corporations, and even governments still certainly enrich themselves by colonial exploitation. But this is now primarily due to special conditions — concentrated control of oil-resources, the discovery of large uranium deposits, etc. — rather than the general ability to operate profitably in colonies and other dependent countries. What were once exceptional profit-rates now drop back to the “normal” rate, and where they remain exceptional, it is in most cases due to a hidden form of government subsidy. Generally speaking, colonialism no longer pays, so that it is in part the principle of profitability itself which calls forth a new approach to imperialist rule.
Mattick’s book-length essay on Marx and Keynes: Limits of the Mixed Economy is also a classic. Whatever their tendency, Marxists stand to learn a great deal from Mattick’s ideas and work. You can download some of his books, articles, and reviews below. Felix Baum’s review of Gary Roth’s Marxism in a Lost Century appears underneath. Roth’s biography of Mattick can be downloaded via LibCom.
Much has been written over the years about the similarity between and compatibility of Marxian sociology and Freudian psychology. Here is not the place to evaluate those claims. Suffice it to say, for now, that both social critique and psychoanalysis have seen better days. Both doctrines have lost whatever pretense they once had to scientific status and today are relegated mostly to the humanities. One is more likely to hear Marx and Freud mentioned in the halls of the academy than shouted in the streets or whispered in clinical settings.
Tomorrow or the next day I plan to post PDFs of the complete works of Wilhelm Reich in English, German, and possibly Spanish. I will perhaps devote a few lines to the question of Marxism and Freudism, to the way each approaches and interprets irrationality. Whether as social ideology or psychopathology, this is their shared concern and primary motivation. Each aims to render that which is unconscious conscious, to master the forces of nature (external or internal) in a more rationally ordered life. “Just as Marxism was sociologically the expression of humanity becoming conscious of the exploitation of a majority by a minority,” asserted Reich, “so psychoanalysis is the expression of humanity becoming conscious of the social repression of sex.”
Freudian analysis tends to fall back on biological explanations of irrational behavior, whereas Marxist theory places more emphasis on the historical dimension. Yet both of them ultimately fall under the heading of materialism, even if somewhat “idealistic” strains. Psychoanalysis gives too much priority to sexual factors, important though these doubtless are. Vulgar Marxism is quite often guilty of reducing everything to economic factors. Desires and drives are a major part of psychoanalysis, while needs and motivations are a major part of Marxism.
A word about these texts. Korsch’s article first appeared in the councilist periodical Living Marxism in February 1938. Its main point of reference, besides Freud’s work, is Wilhelm Reich, whose writings were virtually unknown in America at the time. Reuben Osborn’s 1937 book on Marx and Freud: A Dialectical Study is also dealt with, but Reich is the one Korsch for the most part has in mind. He is generally appreciative of both Freud, whose postulates about the unconscious Korsch calls a “genuine discovery,” as well as Reich’s efforts to understand the rise of fascism on its basis. Oddly, Korsch — who by then had long since abandoned Leninism and increasingly considered Marxism a lost cause — had recourse to Lenin’s arguments against the Economists in defending Marxist methodology.
Lukács’ review of Group Psychology by Sigmund Freud appeared even earlier, in the German communist paper Die rote Fahne [The Red Flag] in 1922. For whatever reason, Lukács never struck me as someone interested in Freud. Victor Serge had described him as “a philosopher steeped in the works of Hegel, Marx, and Freud” in Memoirs of a Revolutionary, so maybe I just forgot. Either way, Lukács makes very clear that he considers Freud “a researcher of integrity,” and even after criticizing psychoanalytic interpretations of military psychology insists: “We did not quote this example in order to expose an otherwise meritorious researcher to deserved ridicule.” Interesting stuff. Continue reading →