A Note on the Phrase "Ultra Left"
This article is the preface to the Red & Black Notes edition of Simon's article. To read the entire article follow the link at at the bottom of the page.
The title of this pamphlet Some Thoughts About On-Going Discussions in Ultra-Left Milieus may cause confusion in some circles. After all, ever since Lenin's famous pamphlet Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder the expression ultra left has been used as a synonym for sectarianism hiding behind ultra-radical phraseology.
The charge of ultra-leftism was used against a variety of left communist (as against the Bolshevik orthodoxy) and anarcho-syndicalist revolutionaries indiscriminately. Thus despite quite significant differences the Italian Left and the Dutch-German Left were attacked as ultra-left. What these groups did have in common was a rejection of attempts by the Bolsheviks to impose their model of revolution, as well as strategy and tactics.
Yet this significant disagreement has been overshadowed in recent years by Leninist organisations who have adopted the term ultra-left in order to attack each other for such crimes as not supporting social democratic parties or left union bureaucrats
Never a precise term ultra-left might best be used, not as a pejorative, but as a catch all expression for those revolutionary tendencies which have maintained an opposition to both social democracy and the bewildering variety of Leninist organisations.
Although Leninists are wont to dismiss the ultra -left as tiny irrelevant sectarians - ironic considering the fortunes of Leninism in recent years - contrary to received wisdom those accused of being ultra left at one time represented significant forces, both in German and Italy.
The Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD) and their factory organisation, the General Workers League of Germany (AAUD), were hardly isolated sects. At its founding conference the KAPD was larger than the official Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and the AAUD had over 200,000 workers affiliated to it.
By the 1930's the German and Dutch Left Communists, or Council Communists as they came to be known, were reduced to tiny propaganda groups. Here the council communists broadened their critique of parliament and the trade unions as part of the bureaucratisation of the workers' movement to include so-called vanguard parties. Together with this conception they saw themselves not as developing an alternate leadership, but in a much more modest light: to describe and circulate information about the class struggle and to make contacts between revolutionaries.
The author of the article which follows this introduction is a French comrade associated with the network Echanges et Mouvement, which publishes the bulletin Echanges. Contact information for the network follows the article.