Antonie Pannekoek

Antonie Pannekoek

Infobox Scientist
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name = Antonie Pannekoek

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birth_date = birth date|1873|1|2
birth_place = Vaassen, Netherlands
death_date = death date and age|1960|4|28|1873|1|2
death_place = Wageningen, Netherlands
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nationality = Dutch
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fields = Astronomy, politics
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alma_mater = Leiden University
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Antonie (Anton) Pannekoek (born January 2 1873 in Vaassen; died April 28 1960 in Wageningen) was a Dutch astronomer and Marxist theorist.


Pannekoek studied mathematics and physics in Leiden from 1891. Even before he went to college he was interested in astronomy and studied the variability of Polaris. He published his first article, "On the Necessity of Further Researches on the Milky Way", as a student. Some years after he had finished his study he started work at the Leidse Sterrewacht (Leiden observatory), where he wrote his thesis.

After reading Edward Bellamy's "Equality", Pannekoek became a convinced socialist and started studying Karl Marx's theories. Soon Pannekoek became a well-known Marxist writer, writing for both Dutch and German magazines. Dissatisfaction with his job at the observatory led him to move to Berlin, where he became a lecturer at the school funded by the Social Democratic Party of Germany. His radical opinions soon got him in trouble with both the German government and the unions.

He was on holiday in the Netherlands when the First World War broke out. Prevented from returning to Germany, he started work as a chemistry and science teacher. Though the Leidse Sterrewacht wanted him back, government opposition because of his Marxist sympathies made this fall through. Instead, the Amsterdam city council got him an appointment at the University of Amsterdam in 1925, first as a part time professor, and in 1932 also as a full professor.


In his scientific work, Pannekoek started studying the distribution of stars through the Milky Way, as well as the structure of our galaxy. Later he became interested in the nature and evolution of stars. Because of these studies, he is considered to be the founder of astrophysics as a separate discipline in the Netherlands.

Apart from his theoretical work, he also went on several foreign expeditions to observe solar eclipses and take spectra of stars. In 1926 he undertook an expedition to Java in order to chart the Southern Constellations. He was also interested in the history of astronomy and his book about this, "A History of Astronomy", was published in Dutch and English.

His work in galactic structure, astrophysics and the history of astronomy was of international renown and won him an honorary degree from Harvard University in 1936, as well as the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1951. Perhaps the greatest honour he received was when Pannekoek crater on the Moon was named after him. The asteroid 2378 Pannekoek is also named after him.

The Astronomical Institute at the University of Amsterdam, of which he had been a director, still carries his name.

Council communism

As a recognized Marxist theorist, Pannekoek was one of the founders of the council communist tendency and a main figure in the radical left in the Netherlands and Germany.

He was best known for his writing on workers' councils. He regarded these as a new form of organisation capable of overcoming the limitations of the old organs of the labour movement, the trade unions and social democratic parties. Basing his theory on what he regarded as the practical lessons of the Russian revolution, Pannekoek argued that the workers' revolution and the transition from capitalism to communism had to be achieved by the workers themselves, democratically organised in workers' councils.

He was a sharp critic of anarchism, social-democracy and Lenin and Leninism. His analysis of the failure of the Russian revolution was that after Lenin and the Bolsheviks came to power, they crippled the soviets. Instead of workers' councils, the Bolsheviks had instituted the rule of their party, which in Pannekoek's view is what led to the institution of the Bolsheviks as a new ruling class. He put his views forward in his 1938 book, "Lenin as Philosopher".

External links

*K. van Berkel, [ "Pannekoek, Antonie (1873-1960)"] , in "Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland".
* [ Anton Pannekoek texts at Libertarian Communist Library]
* [ Anton Pannekoek Archive of his political writings] at
* [ Anton Pannekoek and the Quest For an Emancipatory Socialism]
* [ Anton Pannekoek Astronomical Institute]
*Fintan Lane, [ "Contradicting the Bolsheviks: Anton Pannekoek and European Marxism"]

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