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.