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“”Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.
“”State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.
Left communism is the name given to an oeuvre of Marxism which, while encompassing a variety of different viewpoints, commonly distinguishes itself by rejecting Marxist-Leninism (though not always Lenin himself or his works entirely) as a counter-revolutionary ideology.
Generally, the communist left insists that with a careful reading of Marx and Engels, it should be understood that the proletarian revolution must occur all at once across the world (or at least as quickly as possible), and rejects the Marxist-Leninist dichotomy of socialism and communism — that is, the premise that the emergence of communist society requires a so-called "socialist" "transitional" stage based in state capitalism to develop post-scarcity before it can abolish the conditions of capitalism (i.e. the law of value, generalized commodity production, wage labor, and private ownership of the means of production). Rather, they are presupposed to be done away with as part of the immediate program of the revolution.
Also known by critics within the Marxist tradition as "impossibilists" or the "ultra-left", Lenin considered the communist left enough of a problem that he wrote a whole book on the subject disavowing it, titled Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Dutch council communist Herman Gorter responded to it in an open letter.
The present left-communist outlook about communism in the 20th century is that the most significant attempt at a "real movement" to date ended in the early 1920s, after the German Revolution failed,[note 1] left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks were suppressed, and the resulting isolation of the Soviet Union drove Stalin and the post-Lenin party bureaucracy to pivot even further towards pseudo-socialist state capitalism, with Marxism-Leninism as the ideological basis for reinforcing state power.
Common views among the communist left
- Rejection of the socialist/communist dichotomy and of transitional state capitalist "socialism"
- Views of the so-called Marxist-Leninist "actually existing socialism" (past and present) as state capitalism
- Views of the mainstream left (Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, social democracy, etc.) as part of the bourgeois apparatus, or as the "left-wing of capital"
- Rejection of parliamentarism and unions (except for a few Bordigists who feel they can in certain circumstances be used tactically)
- Rejection of national liberation and "anti-imperialism" as nationalism
- Intransigent internationalism, meaning one does not pick sides on wars between bourgeois states
Dutch and German left-communism
A branch of left communism originating in both nations. They denounced the Bolsheviks as far back as the Lenin years, disagreeing with the role a communist party should have in the broader communist movement. Their tradition was heavily inspired by Rosa Luxemburg (despite her assassination taking place before the schism itself became apparent) and the Spartacists, and would resume where her organization failed. These organizations grew until political infighting caused the organizations to split and crashed by 1933. The final nail in the coffin of the German branch was the rise of Nazi Germany, which secretly hunted down any opposition to their movement. Any still alive Germans fled to the Netherlands, which were also eventually conquered by Germany. The Dutch-German branch of left communism never really got off the ground. Their disdain for political parties naturally proved a problem when they set out to build one.
The Italian communist left
The most familiar left communist movements is the Italian school, which placed more emphasis on the party, and insisted on centralism. They sported Lenin, but broke from the rest of the movement around the time Stalin came to power. They furthermore did not support Trotskyists. It survived WWII and continued in leftist circles, and also expanded left communism around the world. The school was opposed to both Soviet authoritarianism and American imperialism at the time.
Post-World War II developments
Left communism and historical revolution
While left communists do not regard communism as something that is established in such a sense that the state of the Soviet Union after 1924 or the foundation of the People's Republic of China may be thought of as successes, many still cite some of the revolutionary activity following World War I to be the most potent examples in action since the Paris Commune of 1871 of what Marx called the "real movement":
- The Russian Revolution, until the suppression of left-wing uprisings and the establishment of a state capitalist system under the New Economic Policy in the early 1920s.
- Rosa Luxemburg never directly called herself a left communist, although she was completely against vanguardism and possibilism. The German revolution she was part of was brought down by right-wing "Freikorps" groups acting at the behest of the Weimar government.
- The Bavarian and Bremen Soviet Republics of 1919
- The Kronstadt rebellion, 1921
- The Shanghai Commune and Guangzhou Uprising in 1927 are considered some of the last examples of real proletarian activity during this period.
Left communists have also been known to defend the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against the mainstream Marxist-Leninist characterization of the event as reactionary. More recent events that were influenced by what may be broadly termed the ultra-leftist sphere of thought include:
Although left coms dismiss the idea of revolution being motivated or led by specific ideologies or tendencies, the above are most commonly linked with explicitly ultra-left schools of thought, although analyses and inspiration being drawn by other events are widespread.
Examples of left communist parties
- International Communist Party
- International Communist Current
- Internationalist Communist Tendency
- Socialist Party of Great Britain
- World Socialist Party of the United States
- Early after the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, Lenin himself even opined about Germany having key importance in a world revolution:
“”But history has taught you a lesson. It is a lesson, because it is the absolute truth that without a German revolution we are doomed—perhaps not in Petrograd, not in Moscow, but in Vladivostok, in more remote places to which perhaps we shall have to retreat, and the distance to which is perhaps greater than the distance from Petrograd to Moscow. At all events, under all conceivable circumstances, if the German revolution does not come, we are doomed.
—V.I. Lenin, Extraordinary Seventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.), Political Report Of The Central Committee, 7 March 1918.
- Karl Marx, The German Ideology, Part I: Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook.
- Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring: Part III: Socialism.
- ICC International Review, Lenin's State and Revolution: Striking Validation of Marxism
- Andrew Kliman, The Incoherence of “Transitional Society” as a Marxian Concept.
- “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder by Vladimir Lenin (1964 ) Progress Publishers.
- Herman Gorter, Open Letter to Comrade Lenin by Herman Gorter (12 March-11 June 1921) Workers’ Dreadnought.
- Mouvement Communiste, Hungary 1956: “the proletariat storming heaven”