Councilist letters

Haven’t done a post in a while, so to fill a gap here is an obscure letter from 1974. I know the letter won’t interest many, but it shows there was some contact between councilist groups in Australia and NZ. The letter is from the Brisbane Self-Management Group to Compass, an Auckland based councilist group. Actually the Compass group, also funnily enuf known as the ‘Revolutionary Committee of the CPNZ (Expelled)’ (!), was quite Maoist to begin with – they believed all sorts of weird stuff like ‘Chairman Mao is the greatest thinker’ etc even though they had been expelled by the Maoist CPNZ – hence SMG questioning the group as to what they actually believed in. The letter is a bit debateable in parts – eg. saying ‘class anarchism’ is the same tradition as council communism, and I’m no fan of councilism and its support for equal wages (thus those with greatest needs will be penalised) and its fetishisation of decision making, but it is heartwarming for me to realise that there have been at least some non-Leninist revolutionary socialist groups in Australasia. I like their swaggering anti-Leninist tone. Occassionally this tendency pops up from beneath the Leninist muck, and then disappears again. Given the continued dominance of Leninist groups among revolutionaries, their critique of Leninism is well worth revisiting – it is something to be built upon.

In NZ, in terms of anti-Leninist revolutionary Marxist/socialist groups, I have only heard of Compass (late 1960s, early 1970s), Mass Subversion (late 1990s) and Third Eye (early 2000s). All of these Auckland based groups were tiny and did very little, apart from produce magazines. There was also maybe the KAT (Kensington and Aro St Times) group in the late 1970s, a situationist-anarchist group. The main person from Third Eye promptly became a Leninist! At least Compass was quite prolific – producing at least 38 issues of their gestetnered magazine (see front cover of one issue below), making it probably the longest running publication in terms of issues produced on the ‘libertarian left’ in NZ, anarchists included (The State Adversary and Thrall only ran for 20 odd issues – anyone know of a longer running anarchist magazine? There was one in Christchurch called i think Fuse, published by the Anarchist Round Table that got up into the thirties perhaps, but it was just a two-page newsletter).

Anyway, enough about the history of tiny and irrelevant little groups and their positions and lines! A flippant comment that needs much more nuance: in the end what really matters is the broader movement of the working class, how we organise to fight capital in our daily lives, not the manifestos of groups of intellectuals. Yet theory is important…

In the future I plan to post some more rare historical texts here, but since I don’t have easy access to scanning and OCRing anymore, that will have to wait a while. Compass produced some interesting material that I plan to reproduce here (stuff on women’s liberation particularly).


Dear Comrades,

We were really please to receive a copy of your newspaper, and thereby learn about the existence of your group. You seem to be a pretty sound group of libertarian (believing in freedom) socialists, and despite a few differences between us, it seems that you, like us, are fighting for a society based on workers councils, on equal wages, equal power. You can correct us if we’re wrong.

To understand the differences between us, so we can hopefully resolve them and begin fighting for a communist society together, it’ll best if we describe our group and what we stand for. [Also: see their manifesto].

Historically our nucleus was formed from Industrial Workers members of the CPA [Communist Party of Australia] and a group of new Left student revolutionaries. At the time the CPA was trying to recruit the students into its organisations and it encouraged its members to work with them. Like you we had a series of bad experiences with the CP, in which we learned that, like all capitalist institutions, it was dominated from the top down, it was hierarchical. We started to try and build an egalitarian organisation, one in which everyone would have equal say, where decisions would be made by everyone affected by those decisions.

At the same time we became aware, thru ‘Solidarity’ of the Council Communist (libertarian communist, class anarchist whatever you want to call it) tradition. Like all totalitarian ‘thought-control’ groups, the Bolshevik, Marxist-Leninist, groups (Trots, Maoist etc) have invented huge historical myths. The greatest one ever invented was that the working class could never make a revolution for itself and that the Russian Revolution was ‘made’ for the working class by the great ‘leaders’ of the Vanguard Party. The truth is that the working class started the revolution long before the Bolsheviks joined them by seizing factories and organising production for themselves. That only by threatening to resign unless they supported the insurrection did Lenin force the rest of the Party to adopt a more revolutionary stance. The Bolsheviks never supported workers running society thru workers councils but always stood for the capture of state power by an elite party. Once in power they instituted the campaign for ‘one-man management’ and set about sabotaging the efforts of the workers councils to federate and thus begin the process of the destruction of working class autonomy. If Lenin and Trotsky hadn’t smashed the autonomous movement of the working class and their creations, the workers councils, Stalin wouldn’t have been able to lord it over an already cowed and coerced working class. (All this is documented in Solidarity’s ‘The Kronstadt Commune’ and ‘The Bolsheviks and Workers Control’.)

For us then the crucial question is whether you argue for the capture of state power by a ‘revolutionary’ party or whether you argue for a society based on workers councils and this is the point your group must clarify its position on. We argue that workers must take over their factories and institutions and run them democratically with everyone having an equal vote. Decisions will be made by those workers who are affected by that decision. Everyone will receive an equal wage and the workers councils will co-ordinate regionally. If large decisions are to be made by a regional workers council, then revocable delegates will be elected from each workers councils. It will meet to nut out the problem but they must have any decision they make endorsed by their workers councils. As much as possible decisions must be ratified at a grass-roots level with no elite group making decisions for the rest of society.

John Bogus

University Cell

SMG [Self-Management Group]


Note in reply

In reply to the request above that we clarify our position we believe in the supremacy of workers’ councils and we reject the concept of a supreme party.  The truth finally dawned on us in our struggle with the CPNZ [Communist Party of New Zealand] that it wasn’t Party policy which was wrong but the Party itself, its very existence and political form. We realised that it was totally parliamentary in its very nature, a creature of parliamentary political machinery, and that as privilege was its internal principle (its members are privileged individuals, not elected delegates) it can only serve a class of privilege. In our next issue we shall give a fairly specific political analysis. – ed

from Compass June 1974 (no 6 vol 7) pp14-16 , journal of the Revolutionary Committee  (expelled from CPNZ)


Note: in the next issue of Compass they stated they rejected the Leninist vanguard party form and, indeed, all political parties. Instead, they called for “Soviets not parliaments!” and “Socialism will demand all power to the soviets, and no power to the parties” (Compass, Sep./Oct. 1974: 22). They stated, “Revolution will have to go outside the parties to create a new consciousness in the people. The parties are full of people scrambling for authority in parties which have none” (Compass, Sep./Oct. 1974: 16).


~ by vomitingdiamonds on 10/05/2011.

4 Responses to “Councilist letters”

  1. Wow, I’d never heard of Compass, that’s real interesting. Be curious to see some more of their stuff.

    In terms of anti-Leninist Marxist groups, you’re forgetting the Impossibilists (World Socialist Party of NZ, formerly the Socialist Party of New Zealand, founded in 1930 and still going, at least in the vaguest of senses).

    • Actually they are covered in the book Rabble Rousers and Merry Pranksters, they get a couple of pages. Also known as Revolutionary Committee. I will publish on this blog their major pamphlet by Steve Taylor called ‘Anatomy of Decision’.

      Yes forgot about the ‘impossibilists’ – are they self-described Marxists? I thought they just called themselves ‘socialists’. But yes they are definitely anti-Leninist. Just in case you didn’t know, the impossibilists had some influence in the late 1910s and early 1920s, and in the early CPNZ, to the extent (i am led to believe) that the CP of Australia had to send over an Australian to sort them out and take the right line! And also in the late 1960s and 1970s, the SPNZ (not the CPNZ) put out an interesting magazine, that i think Sandra Lee (ex MP) wrote for. She was probably a member. if i remember right, they had 30 or so members, i read in some right-wing book on ‘communism’ right wingers used to fund to keep an eye on all the ‘communists’ around the world during the cold war (it had membership numbers etc).

  2. If they were in the book I did know then, and just forgot I guess! Woops.

    As far as Impossibilist politics go, I think you’re right that they don’t directly refer to themselves as Marxists, but they certainly do acknowledge Marx and take a lot of influence from his writings.

    Interesting re: Sandra Lee, I didn’t know that. That’s quite a jump from Impossibilist to Alliance politics – certainly far bigger than some of the ex-Leninists in the Alliance made.

  3. Thanks for posting this up. It’s always nice to see rare radical documents come to light.


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