Saturday, December 04, 2021

Tony Pancakes

 Pannekoek is Dutch for pancake

 Anton Pannekoek died on the 28th of April of 1960.

Pannekoek is an oft neglected Marxist theorist (others being Paul Mattick and Karl Korsch),marginalised by the Left and dismissed by the Leninists and who found it difficult to have his ideas disseminated. The Western Socialist, the then journal of the World Socialist Party of the United States, a companion party in the World Socialist Movement and sister organisation of the Socialist Party published a number of his essays. The Socialist Party issued one of his earlier works, Marxism and Darwinism".  

Many anarchists are sympathetic to his Marxist version of Council Communism, particularly what they perceive as his anti-partyism and his argument that the working class should organise into workers councils for the purpose of capturing power.

However, further reading demonstrates that Pannekoek was not so far apart from ourselves as it might first appear.


A May 1942 Socialist Standard article summarised Pannekoek's position:-

“Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch writer on Marxism, states his position in the bluntest of terms. Writing in an American magazine, Modern Socialism, he says: 'The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working-class . . . Because a party is an organisation that aims to lead and control the workers'.
Further on, however, he qualifies this statement:
'If . . . persons with the same fundamental conceptions (regarding Socialism) unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarification through discussion and propagandise their conclusions, such groups might be called parties, but they would be parties in an entirely different sense from those of to-day'.
Here Pannekoek himself is not the model of clarity, but he points to a distinction which does exist.”

The article went on to say that it was not parties as such that had failed, but the form all parties had taken “as groups of persons seeking power above the worker” and continued:

“Only Socialism can guarantee the conditions of a life worth living for all. Because its establishment depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for Socialism as they do for reformist parties and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. To put the matter in this way is to show its absurdity . . . The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its fellow parties therefore reject all comparison with other political parties. We do not ask for power; we help to educate the working-class itself into taking it”.

Pannekoek wished workers' parties to be “organs of the self-enlightenment of the working class by means of which the workers find their way to freedom” and “means of propaganda and enlightenment”.

Similar to the role and purpose as seen by the Socialist Party.

Also to be recommended is Anton Pannekoek's Lenin As Philosopheran analysis of Leninism as a non-Marxist theory, the ideology of the development of capitalism in Russia in the form of state-capitalism.

For a flavour of Pannekoek is one of the articles he wrote for the Western Socialist, "Public Ownership and Common Ownership", where he differentiates between the two:

The acknowledged aim of socialism is to take the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist class and place them into the hands of the workers. This aim is sometimes spoken of as public ownership, sometimes as common ownership of the production apparatus. There is, however, a marked and fundamental difference.

Public ownership is the ownership, i.e. the right of disposal, by a public body representing society, by government, state power or some other political body. The persons forming this body, the politicians, officials, leaders, secretaries, managers, are the direct masters of the production apparatus; they direct and regulate the process of production; they command the workers. Common ownership is the right of disposal by the workers themselves; the working class itself — taken in the widest sense of all that partake in really productive work, including employees, farmers, scientists — is direct master of the production apparatus, managing, directing, and regulating the process of production which is, indeed, their common work.

Under public ownership the workers are not masters of their work; they may be better treated and their wages may be higher than under private ownership; but they are still exploited. Exploitation does not mean simply that the workers do not receive the full produce of their labor; a considerable part must always be spent on the production apparatus and for unproductive though necessary departments of society. Exploitation consists in that others, forming another class, dispose of the produce and its distribution; that they decide what part shall be assigned to the workers as wages, what part they retain for themselves and for other purposes. Under public ownership this belongs to the regulation of the process of production, which is the function of the bureaucracy. Thus in Russia bureaucracy as the ruling class is master of production and produce, and the Russian workers are an exploited class.

In Western countries we know only of public ownership (in some branches) of the capitalist State. Here we may quote the well-known English “socialist” writer G. D. H. Cole, for whom socialism is identical with public ownership. He wrote:-

“The whole people would be no more able than the whole body of shareholders in a great modern enterprise to manage an industry . . . It would be necessary, under socialism as much under large scale capitalism, to entrust the actual management of industrial enterprise to salaried experts, chosen for their specialized knowledge and ability in particular branches of work” (p. 674).

“There is no reason to suppose that socialisation of any industry would mean a great change in its managerial personnel” (p. 676 in An Outline of Modern Knowledge ed. By Dr W. Rose, 1931).

In other words: the structure of productive work remains as it is under capitalism; workers subservient to commanding directors. It clearly does not occur to the “socialist” author that “the whole people” chiefly consists of workers, who were quite able, being producing personnels, to manage the industry, that consists of their own work.

As a correction to State-managed production, sometimes workers’ control is demanded. Now, to ask control, supervision, from a superior indicates the submissive mood of helpless objects of exploitation. And then you can control another man’s business; what is your own business you do not want controlled, you do it. Productive work, social production, is the genuine business of the working class. It is the content of their life, their own activity. They themselves can take care if there is no police or State power to keep them off. They have the tools, the machines in their hands, they use and manage them. They do not need masters to command them, nor finances to control the masters.

Public ownership is the program of “friends” of the workers who for the hard exploitation of private capitalism wish to substitute a milder modernized exploitation. Common ownership is the program of the working class itself, fighting for self liberation.

We do not speak here, of course, of a socialist or communist society in a later stage of development, when production will be organized so far as to be no problem any more, when out of the abundance of produce everybody takes according to his wishes, and the entire concept of “ownership” has disappeared. We speak of the time that the working class has conquered political and social power, and stands before the task of organizing production and distribution under most difficult conditions. The class fight of the workers in the present days and the near future will be strongly determined by their ideas on the immediate aims, whether public or common ownership, to be realized at that time.

If the working class rejects public ownership with its servitude and exploitation, and demands common ownership with its freedom and self-rule, it cannot do so without fulfilling conditions and shouldering duties. Common ownership of the workers implies, first, that the entirety of producers is master of the means of production and works them in a well planned system of social production. It implies secondly that in all shops, factories, enterprises the personnel regulate their own collective work as part of the whole. So they have to create the organs by means of which they direct their own work, as personnel, as well as social production at large. The institute of State and government cannot serve for this purpose because it is essentially an organ of domination, and concentrates the general affairs in the hands of a group of rulers. But under Socialism the general affairs consist in social production; so they are the concern of all, of each personnel, of every worker, to be discussed and decided at every moment by themselves. Their organs must consist of delegates sent out as the bearers of their opinion, and will be continually returning and reporting on the results arrived at in the assemblies of delegates. By means of such delegates that at any moment can be changed and called back the connection of the working masses into smaller and larger groups can be established and organization of production secured.

Such bodies of delegates, for which the name of workers’ councils has come into use, form what may be called the political organization appropriate to a working class liberating itself from exploitation. They cannot be devised beforehand, they must be shaped by the practical activity of the workers themselves when they are needed. Such delegates are no parliamentarians, no rulers, no leaders, but mediators, expert messengers, forming the connection between the separate personnel of the enterprises, combining their separate opinions into one common resolution. Common ownership demands common management of the work as well as common productive activity; it can only be realized if all the workers take part in this self-management of what is the basis and content of social life; and if they go to create the organs that unite their separate wills into one common action.

Since such workers’ councils doubtlessly are to play a considerable role in the future organization of the workers’ fights and aims, they deserve keen attention and study from all who stand for uncompromising fight and freedom for the working class.

Western Socialist, November 1947

Friday, December 03, 2021

Where we stand


As wage workers, the vast majority of us have endless economic problems to worry about - prices, rents and mortgages, sickness, unemployment, old age.

Even more worrisome can seem the large and perhaps overwhelming problems facing us as human beings: war, poverty and the compulsive destruction of our own planet by those who seek to persuade us they can do our thinking for us. There are numerous other problems, like racism or sexism, which distort human judgment and reinforce a system that thrives on human misery. Many people look to leaders to solve these intractable problems, sometimes through union action, more often by demanding social, political and economic reforms.

Come election time, all the parties suddenly grow excited, urgently recommending laws they will introduce if they gain control of the government. But they don't regard it as their business to deal with the basis of any of those problems, where the cause actually lies. Neither Right, Left nor Center has any intention of tackling and dealing with the core of our troubles: the system of employment, known traditionally as wage labour, and the associated use of capital to produce all of the wealth we depend on. This system, we maintain, generates massive artificial scarcities in a society with the technological means to afford us abundance.

We, in the Socialist Party, hold that the social system needs to be changed fundamentally: we advocate the abolition of social classes through production based solely on meeting people's needs, democratically administered. This goes much deeper than a mere change in government, but it also assumes a widespread understanding of what needs to be done. We are members of the working class, which includes everyone around the world who must sell his or her working abilities to some employer to stay alive, not just people whose collars are blue. We understand capitalism has gone as far as it can go; the time has come to put it behind us and start with a system of society that really works for everyone.

If you agree generally with arousing the rest of the world's workers to an understanding of how easily within our grasp it is to achieve a world of abundance and peace -- and a world we can pass on intact to the coming generations, join us.

Those of us in the Socialist Party seek a world without:
Poverty; War; Sexism, Racism, Nationalism, Bigotry and other forms of hatred; Environmental devastation; Bosses and politicians telling everyone else what to do

Socialism is for anybody who thinks the world would be a better place if:
Democracy meant more than an election every few years; Freedom meant real freedom, and respect, for everybody; People cooperated to satisfy human needs

Socialism is for anybody who wants real solutions, not repeated failures. The Left, Centre, and Right haven't solved anything that counts - and they can't.
Real solutions may take a while, but that's better than never. Real solutions require rational thought, not hype. Real solutions require people to work for them

We reject the idea that socialism has been tried in countries sometimes referred to as socialist. Look below at our definition of socialism and ask yourself if this in any way describes the state capitalist, police states of modern China and Cuba or the old regimes in Russia and eastern Europe, or the past and present "social-democratic" governments in many countries.
We reject the idea of socialism in one country. National socialism equals non-socialism. The capitalist system is global and so must the system which will replace it.
We reject the idea that people can be led into socialism. Socialism will not be established by good leaders or battling armies, but by thinking men, women and children. There can be no socialism without socialists.

The Socialist Party:
1. claims that socialism will, and must, be a wageless, money-free, worldwide society of common (not state) ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution
2. claims that socialism will be a sharp break with capitalism with no "transition period" or gradual implementation of socialism (although socialism will be a dynamic, changing society once it is established)
3. claims that there can be no state in a socialist society
4. claims that there can be no classes in a socialist society
5. promotes only socialism, and as an immediate goal
6. claims that only the vast majority, acting consciously in its own interests, for itself, by itself, can create socialism
7. opposes any vanguardist approach, minority-led movements, and leadership, as inherently undemocratic (among other negative things)
8. promotes a peaceful democratic revolution, achieved through force of numbers and understanding
9. neither promotes nor opposes, reforms to capitalism
10. claims that there is one working class, worldwide
11. lays out the fundamentals of what a socialist society must be, but does not presume to tell the future socialist society how to go about its business
12. promotes a historical materialist approach - real understanding
13. claims that religion is a social, not personal, matter and that religion is incompatible with socialist understanding
14. seeks election to facilitate the elimination of capitalism by the vast majority of socialists, not to govern capitalism
15. claims that Leninism is a distortion of Marxian analysis
16. opposes all war and claims that socialism will inherently end wars, including the "class war".
17. noted, in 1918, that the Bolshevik Revolution was not socialist. Had earlier, long noted that Russia was not ready for a socialist revolution and was the first to recognize that the former USSR, China, Cuba and other so-called "socialist countries" were not socialist, but instead, state capitalist
18. claims a very accurate, consistent analysis since 1904 when our United Kingdom companion party was formed

World socialism can only be brought about democratically. Socialism means a global system of social organization based on:

Common Ownership: All the productive wealth of the world will belong to all the people of the world. No more transnational corporations or small businesses and therefore nobody will own the world. It will be possessed by all of its inhabitants.

Democratic Control By All: Who will run a socialist society? We all will. There will be no more government and governed. People will make decisions freely in their communities, in regions and globally. With the existing means of information technology and mass communication, this is all possible.

Production For Use: Instead of producing goods and services for sale and profit, the sole reason for production will be to satisfy needs and desires.

Free Access: A society in which everyone owns everything, decides everything and only produces anything because it is useful will be one in which all will have free access to what is produced. Money will cease to have any function. People will not work for wages or salaries, but to give what they can and take what they need.

The Socialist Party consists of ordinary people who have organised themselves democratically with one objective; to bring about a complete change in world society. Although small, we are made up of members in several countries.


Everybody in the Socialist Party has equal value and equal power. Real democracy is fundamental to socialists. The revolutionary transformation of society must be brought about by the will of the great majority of the people if it is to succeed. We have no leaders. Every member can take part in making decisions. Our democracy works both locally and party-wide. All our meetings are open to the public.

The Task

All the necessary conditions of production and communication now exist for establishing a world socialist society. What is lacking is the understanding and will among those men and women who would most benefit from it. The task for socialists is to spread the necessary information as widely and thoroughly as possible. This often involves correcting a great deal of misinformation put out by those who want society to remain as it is, with all its poverty, oppression, and war. We have a thorough analysis of the workings of present society, how it is developing, and what needs to be done to make changes that would be beneficial for the human race. Discussion and debate are essential to the progress of the movement. We welcome them. Everyone is encouraged to put their point of view.

Thursday, December 02, 2021



As we begin to approach that time of year where Christians celebrate the birth of the man they call the Christ, perhaps it is an apt time to reflect upon religion.


Primitive mankind was surrounded by natural forces that manifested themselves both to their detriment and benefit. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed, splitting the rocks and trees. Floods, fires, droughts, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes gave testimony to the existence of great destructive power, always near, never seen, yet omnipotent and was beyond mortal comprehension. Early mankind depicted these terrors and malignant forces often into a human-like form, making God in its own image.  This super-being took delight in causing sorrow and distress. It was the Evil One, who needed to be appeased by offerings of good things. Other forces manifested themselves in an opposite direction. The warmth of the sun, the fruitfulness of the earth, the cooling breeze, the rain refreshing the parched earth, and numberless other agreeable effects could only be the results of the activity of an opposite nature to that of the Evil One. This Good One had to be thanked, and when storms calmed and famine gave way to plenty, what was more natural than to ascribe it to the victory of the Good One over the Evil One? The former was to be prayed to for success in the hunt and for protection from the Evil One, while the latter had to be appeased by sacrifices.


 Thus arose the ideas of God and the Devil, Light and Darkness, founded on mankind’s ignorance of the laws that govern the forces of nature. Religion is a manifestation of humanity’s ignorance of Nature’s workings and its mastery over mankind. As rites and ceremonies, it is a legacy of the relatively changeless forms of ancient society, and of the supreme importance of mysterious and venerable custom to the existence of the primitive community.

The socialist point of view rests solidly on the materialist conception of history. Religion divides the universe into spiritual and physical realms and all religions offer their adherents relief from their earthly problems through some sort of appeal to the spiritual. Socialists see the problems that wrack human society as material and political, and their solutions as likewise material and political, not supernatural. 


A materialist is someone who understands the world by discovery and observation and does not postulate things without any bearing in fact. Some religious leaders may rebel against what they deem injustice, even suffering imprisonment or worse for their efforts. But where this means they seek their solutions within the framework of the system socialists aim to abolish, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the development of social evolution, and socialists cannot endorse their views.


More importantly, membership of formally defined religious denominations (or adherence to their beliefs) can defeat people's best intentions unawares. The doctrines of organised religions traditionally locate the solution to society's problems in the individual's salvation and remain fundamentally indifferent to the fate of the human social community. At their most progressive, they seek only to modify the existing institutions of a class-divided society, and at their most reactionary they openly obstruct even that desire. Such confusion over goals in an organisation claiming to practice scientific socialism would sooner or later undermine its revolutionary character, for the tendency of such thinking is to confine discussion of capitalism's problems to the horizon of existing society, blindness fatal to the socialist viewpoint. 


One cannot understand the development of social evolution by resorting to religious ideas. Socialists do not hold beliefs. They have an understanding of the world based on the evidence available. Socialism isn't a dogma, it is a correct way of thinking about the world, and socialists learn to think correctly and accept the logical results of their own arguments.


The Socialist Party is a materialist organisation, that is we believe that ideas, etc. have no independent existence from human beings, and that ideas are determined by the material world in which we live. This is an important idea for our case, and its refutation would amount to the annihilation of our case.

Science cannot prove the non-existence of God. Neither can it prove the non-existence of pixies at the bottom of the garden. But it does not seem very likely that God has a place as part of objective reality although, it obviously exists as an idea in society.


It's true that belief in God is not synonymous with belief in a particular religion. But the fact remains that there is no concrete evidence for God's existence. If you believe in god, doesn't it follow that you believe that it has some influence in human affairs? If there's no such influence, there can't be any evidence for God's existence. If there is such an influence, then are we supposed to pray, or what?

The history of humanity and the growth of scientific thought through the ages has changed religious conceptions. And as scientific knowledge grows, "God" is relegated more and more to the background. The "God" of the modern capitalist is a different "God" than the feudal lord or slave owner of ancient times. And the "role" that "God" plays in the explanation of the working of the material world has changed. The role of "God" has changed from that of belief in predestination to God as a "personal God", from "God" as the first creator of the world and the "cause" to "God" as an afterthought (agnosticism) who has no control and the question of belief in him as irrelevant. The point being in this is that religion, belief in "God" and our own beliefs as Socialists arise from the material world, how we produce it, how we interact with it. And the primacy is the material world, of matter, yet as matter and mind (spirituality as some say ) that interact. 


Socialism, as the science of society, is an essential part of a scientific view of all phenomena regarded as an interdependent whole; and such a monist view of the universe, with each part in inseparable causal relation to the rest, can leave no nook or cranny for "God".

As materialists, we apply the laws of thermodynamics (that neither energy nor matter can be created nor destroyed). Now, in the cases of 'God' or 'the soul', they all imply things existing beyond matter and energy - which is fine enough, although utterly unprovable and thus irrational. the point though, comes, when claims to an interaction between this spiritual world and the material world occur, that is, that a non-matter, non-energy 'entity' may be able to cause effects in the material world. Such an intervention would require, to all intents and purposes, the creation of energy.

Our case is that religion is not a personal/private matter, but a social and scientific matter. In religion, gods are products of the human imagination given powers to dominate the lives of those who create them. Throughout the history of class society religion performs two essential functions: it buttresses the established order by sanctifying it and by suggesting that the political order is somehow ordained by divine authority. Its sanctification of the existing social order makes it a counter-revolutionary force. Yet it consoles the oppressed exploited by offering them in heaven what they are denied upon the earth. By holding before them a vision of what they are denied, religion plays at least partly a progressive role in that it gives the common people some idea of what a better order would be. But when it becomes possible to realise that better order upon the earth in the form of communism, then religion becomes wholly reactionary, for it distracts men from establishing a now possible good society on earth by still turning their eyes towards heaven. We invent religions that denigrate our humanity, and which offer a solution in the promise of mythical, never-never land of the future.

This is how religion works. You generalise from real conditions, keep the generalisation and discard the reality. The generalisations are now an ideal world, to which reality must conform. As our knowledge of the real world changes, the generalisations become outdated. At first, this seems to mark them as eternal truths, a divinely simple and regular account of a disordered and chaotic world. As time goes on, those people who live in the new, more complex world express their lives in new generalisations, and a new system confronts the old. The scientific worldview attempts to overcome this, it is, at least in principle, the permanent revolution of ideas. The generalisation process is continually subjected to experimental testing: does the theory match up with the real world? You can generalise as much as you like, as long as you can verify or falsify the idea, i.e. that you test it with relation to the real world. The post-modern retreat from reality denies this faculty of judgement; it says that there is no way to compare ideas against each other.


Each person comes up with their own way of generalising the world; their “narrative”. So someone who thinks that the Earth is flat and the moon is cheese has just as much claim to a correct account of reality as, say, an astrophysicist. The logic of our existence as real, capable men and women who need no gods and masters to rule us is denied.

The socialist case against religion is a simple one. We understand that, as ideas are the result of the historical movement of society, and the premises of religion thus concur with specific forms of society, religion is a social matter and not, as protestant sectarians would have it, a matter of individual conscience. Religion, as we know it today, is a part of a social process of acquiring and understanding knowledge leftover from a bygone age, one in which the imagination of humanity outstripped its capacity to understand and control the world. Knowledge is inextricably linked with the process of acquiring it, with the practice of thinking. Since we, as workers, live in a world that has acquired the capacity to control its own material environment, we must reject those guides to behaviour and analysis based upon premises of human powerlessness, and the practices of thinking that go along with them. Belief in religion – any religion – warps and handicaps the ability to think objectively, particularly about social and political issues. Socialism is the application of science to the relations between men, in effect, a branch of natural history.

The Socialist Party has been castigated for insisting that socialism and religion are incompatible. To us, it is obvious that "render to God what is God's and Caesar what is Caesar's", "servants be subject to your masters", together with the focus on the "better life hereafter" are totally at odds with the emancipation of the exploited. Religion has always been used as an excuse for leaders' excesses. Everyone knows about the tortures and burnings of so-called heretics by the Inquisition and the selling of "Indulgences" and that the Crusades were not about the freeing of the Holy City of Jerusalem but rather the pillage, subjugation and rape not only of the Infidel but any Christian on the way.

There has sprung up a set of ideas, loosely related in content but closely tied by form, referred to collectively as the "New Ageism", crystal healing, aromatherapy, holistic remedies, along with a host of offshoots from the more conventional religions. These themselves are associated with a general "change of consciousness", in the main anti-technological and pro-"spiritual". We as socialists often appear alone in standing against this seeming tide of goodwill, good vibrations, and wholesomeness. Our position on organised religion is that religion is debilitating to the mind of the worker and thus to the progress which we wish to make as workers in advancing our interests. But the New Age? What could be bad about "healing"? Who could protest against the benefits of goddess worship in empowering women?


Surely this New Age is at worst harmless fun and at best a route to a new, gentler society? Our answer is that the New Age religion is merely the old age religion in a new, modern form. New Age's powers are all developed on the side of "spiritual energy", "psychic transformation", etc. If the old religion was the opium of the people, then this is the heroin; no longer extracted by chance from nature but refined, even artificially manufactured, and all the stronger for the process. The chants and prayers of the old religion have become commodified into tarot cards, crystals, and psychic healing workshops with incense burners, and scented candles. New Age is not different from religion - it is the perfection of it. The old religions are dying in the West because the actual experience of the modern world has ripped them asunder, and as dogmas, they must break instead of bowing to this change. The Pope cannot end the Catholic Church's stance on abortion, for example, even though every Catholic with a rudimentary scientific education knows that there is no divine spark at conception. Rather than obeying a priest, we choose the form of our own mental domination.


The pagan backdrop of Catholicism is filled by that of Hinduism or Buddhism removed from their own social contexts of native exploitation; all generating a thousand and one cults and sects. What all these have in common is the flight from reality into a magical world where the evils of the material world are transcended in thought. They are not revolutionary, as some might suppose, from their content of peace, love and contentment, they escape, the only escape of the life prisoner staring through the bars of a jail cell window.

Should socialists really worry about religion and New Ageism wiping out all scientific progress and knowledge, plunging the world into the long night of ignorance and superstition? Religion has had to do all the hard work of accommodating more and more scientific progress, which is why mature religions tend to become ever vaguer and more metaphorical. Successive modifications of religion have been the reflexes of changed conditions and interests.

To abolish religion is not to end exploitation. Since religion is ever used as a weapon by the ruling class against the workers, no socialist in the struggle for working-class emancipation can avoid refuting religion.

Banish Gods from the Skies, and Capitalists from the Earth