above: A lithograph of the 'Red Pope' Karl Kautsky
What follows is an essay which attempts to identify the defensible and valuable legacy that the democratic Marxist Karl Kautsky provided for the Left during the pre-1914 period. It is largely based upon a reading of his seminal ‘The Road to Power’. (1909)
The author further attempts to discern what ramifications Kautsky’s works during this period might have also for the current day – around 100 years later.
The following essay also compromises a brief, edited segment (in-progress) of the author (Tristan Ewins’) (as yet uncompleted) PhD thesis on Third Roads and Third Ways on the Left 1848-1948.
Debate is very welcome!!!
work-in-progress; Feb 2013
There are many themes addressed in Karl Kautsky’s work that provide the basis for a defensible legacy; and others that are perhaps less defensible. This brief essay is mainly derived fro a reading of Kautksy’s 1909 work ‘The Road to Power’, with some consideration of ‘The Erfurt Program’ (The Class Struggle), as well as ‘On the Morrow of the Social Revolution’, and “The Social Revolution’. (1903) However we do not draw here upon Kautksy’s seminal debate with Lenin which occurred following the 1917 October Bolshevik Revolution. (including Kautsky’s ‘The Dictatorship of the Proletariat’; and Lenin’s “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky’)
If ‘revisionism’ takes not the form of necessary adjustment to changing circumstances, but rather abandoning crucial insights for the sake of ‘intellectual fashion’, then perhaps there is something to be said for ‘orthodoxy’. Kautsky’s championing of enduring Marxist concepts and categories therefore remains a defensible legacy even today. Though nonetheless it would be fair to suggest that the Marxists of Kautsky’s time could not possibly predict the future trajectories of modern capitalism’s development. Some basic, vital systemic dynamics – as identified by Marx and promoted by Kautsky – remain. (as we have just observed above) But in other ways capitalism keeps evolving, adapting, mutating – surviving where Marxists assumed socialist transition was necessary, ‘inevitable’; for Kautsky “the only thing possible”..
Writing in opposition to “the violence of Austrian anarchists” (we observe, here, the philosophy of ‘the propaganda of the deed’, the policy of assassinations etc) Kautsky once wrote;
“Social Democracy is a Party of human love, and it must always remain conscious of its character even in the midst of the most frenzied political fights”. (Kautksy in Steenson, p 80)
But that would involve a deeper assessment - beyond the frame of this short excerpt from my developing PhD thesis. It is enough for now to note a complexity in Kautsky that is often unrecognised in works condemning his “passivity” – stemming from his philosophical materialism. ‘Fatalism’ was sometimes a consequence of Kautsky’s interpretation of historical materialism. But in practice no man did more than Kautsky to popularise Marxism in the pre-1917 period. Rather than ‘writing Kautsky off’, perhaps it is better to let him speak for himself. And while we have not quoted him at length in this excerpt, it is to be hoped I have provided an accurate impression of his work, and that work’s relevance – especially those works of the pre-1917 period. (though his later works were of equal historical imporantance…)
Kautsky, Karl “The Class Struggle” (Erfurt Program), The Norton Library, Toronto, 1971
Kautsky, Karl “On the Morrow of the Social Revolution”, The Twentieth Century Press, Clerkenwell, 1903
Kautksy, Karl, “The Road to Power – Political Reflections on Growing into the Revolution, Humanities Press,
, 1992 New Jersey
Kautsky, Karl “The Social Revolution”, The Twentieth Century Press, Clerkenwell, 1903