Revolutionary Shop Stewards and Workers Councils in the German Revolution
Kevin E. Van Meter
If Ralf Hoffrogge were writing within an American context rather than a German one, he would be situated between two important developments in the United States. A new cohort of social movement historians is addressing the gaps in anarchist, anti-authoritarian, and left-communist historiography. Neighboring this is a resurgence of interest in workers' councils historically and in the contemporary period. With the recent translation and subsequent publication of Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution: Richard M üller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement in two editions, Hoffrogge enters this discourse with a extremely detailed political biography of a nearly unknown militant whose finest years coincided with the German Revolution and workers' council movement of 1918. Communists of various stripes have laid claim to Rosa Luxemburg and anarchists to Gustav Landauer, both murdered as the revolution was suppressed with the latter yelling "to think you are human" as he was stomped to death. Council communists and autonomists have been gifted Richard Müller, who was forgotten in part because he survived. Revolutions often begin in desertion: sailors, not shop stewards, led the German uprisings of 1918. The end of the Great War steered into the Russian Revolution with soldiers, worn through their boots, joining upheavals rather than returning to their old lives; resulting in the Bolshevik government of October 1917. A year later on October 29th, in a port city 250 miles northwest from Berlin, seamen rebelled, forming sailors councils that later joined with those of workers. Rebellions led by sailors quickly spread across the coast. By November 9th, workers in Berlin left the factories, though daily meetings and shop floor deliberations had begun amongst various revolutionary...
Capitalism's Depleted Reserves
Recognizing and Preparing for Systemic Breakdown
The capitalist crisis of 2008 was rescued by an enormous transfusion of public money into the banks. The system has been on life-support ever since. Despite this, the bourgeois see little prospects of a recovery for their system. Rather, they wring their hands and impotently grimace in anticipation of another slump. Many consider this now a question of "when", not "if". An organism in crisis will begin to burn off its reserves of fat in order to survive. Austerity has been capitalism's economic equivalent of this process. The system has eaten deeply into its reserves, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries. All the accumulated reforms conquered by the working class in the preceding historical period; relatively decent wages, the welfare state, pensions, etc; in order to pay for a system in crisis have been, or are in the process of being, burned away. One particularly rich reserve has been Chinese capitalism, which has been heavily depleted. In the wake of the crisis the Chinese pumped half a trillion dollars into their economy. It was one of the greatest Keynesian interventions the world has ever seen. Rather than merely propping up the banks, the intervention contributed markedly to the real economy. According to the former US treasury secretary Larry Summers, between 2010 and 2013 China poured more cement than America did in the whole of the twentieth century! Up until last summer a city the size of Rome was being built in China every two weeks. This intervention gave a clear impulse to the Chinese and world economy. However, the Chinese reserve is now near exhaustion and the effects of the stimulus are turning into their opposite. Debt has ballooned from $7trn to $28trn - 282% of GDP. Imports and exports are falling. The massive economic stimulus has ended up in a massive crisis of overproduction, provoking a world-wide crisis of steel. In Redcar and Port Talbot in Britain steel works are closing, destroying communities. On the other side of the world, the same course is being taken in China itself.
Understanding Anti-Communism and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat
As the popularity of the idea of socialism surges in the U.S., especially among the younger generations and within the most oppressed communities, such as African American communities, and as the number of 18 to 35 year olds who identify as working class continues to climb, now at nearly 57%, the time is perhaps right for exploring why anti-communism has dominated not only US dominant society, but the Left as well. While it should be expected that bourgeois society would be dominated by anti-communism, it is more troubling to consider the rampant anti-communism of the Left. Anti-communist rhetoric has dominated progressive educational circles in the U.S. since at least the 1930s and 1940s when George Counts (1947) juxtaposed the U.S. as a "liberal democracy" on one hand, and the Soviet Union as "authoritarian communism" on the other. This dichotomy has become deeply entrenched within critical pedagogy, especially in the U.S. It is problematic because engaging the evidence regarding actually existing socialism tells a different story. If the Soviet Union and other workers' states have not, in reality, been the evil empires branded into the American consciousness, then why has the vast majority of the Left been so unable to offer an accurate account? The most common response is to focus on the very real anti-communist propaganda campaign that has been in operation since at least 1917. Americans are raised on anti-communism in schools and in the media, this much is obvious. The Nazi party contributed to these efforts by coopting the social movement aesthetics of communism providing Western propagandists a readily available visualization to say communism equals fascism (Parenti, 1997).
Tinderboxes for Unrest
In late February 2016, renowned economist Vladislav Inozemtsev delivered a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies where he argued that there is little chance of large-scale demonstrations across the Russian Federation in the next few years. Although this is a popular belief, there are an estimated 25 million Russians currently living in localities where one or two industries sustain the city - industries that are at risk of closing suddenly from economic strain. These cities, often referred to as "Monotowns," were constructed during the Soviet Union to take advantage of remote natural resources with Soviet planners caring little to diversify the cities' economies. These cities are now reliant on one or two industries that are often not only the sole employer in these Monotowns, but also the main provider of social services and amenities, ranging from health care and schools to electricity and heat. As economic distress deepens across Russia, these Monotowns have the potential to become hotbeds of discontent with the potential for mass social unrest. Even though many prominent analysts do not foresee mass protests occurring across Russia, this report analyzes the growing potential Monotowns have for breading social unrest. What exactly constitutes a Monotown remains ambiguous with official Russian government data from the Ministry of Economic Development in 2014 listing over 300 locations. Separate independent analysts have categorized over 315 monotowns spread across the country with one in ten Russians living in this sort of community. The pace of economic decline in these remote Monotowns has accelerated as the Russian economy falters. Continuing Western sanctions and near record low oil prices have caused poverty to reach critical levels. According to Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, the number of poor people has reached over 22 million.