The Classics, Revolution, Part 9b
The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky
Note: Our review of the Marxist classics includes original material from before and after the proletarian Russian Revolution of October 1917, but no account of the revolution itself.
One famous eye-witness account is that of John Reed, called “Ten Days that Shook the World”, first published in 1919.
Lenin’s Introduction to Reed’s book says: “With the greatest interest and with never slackening attention I read John Reed’s book, Ten Days that Shook the World. Unreservedly do I recommend it to the workers of the world. Here is a book which I should like to see published in millions of copies and translated into all languages. It gives a truthful and most vivid exposition of the events so significant to the comprehension of what really is the Proletarian Revolution and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. These problems are widely discussed, but before one can accept or reject these ideas, he must understand the full significance of his decision. John Reed’s book will undoubtedly help to clear this question, which is the fundamental problem of the international labor movement.”
The Renegade Kautsky
Karl Kautsky had gone as a young intellectual from Germany to visit Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in London. This was in 1881, two years before Marx’s death. Kautsky subsequently became a principal leader of the German Social Democrats at a time when the German party was far larger and more highly-developed than any other socialist party in the world. Kautsky procured himself a reputation as the “Pope” of communism. Lenin called him “the ideological leader of the Second International.”
Lenin had difficulties with the German Social-Democrats in the early 1900s as we have seen in this course already. Among these German Social-Democrats, the person who was bold enough to challenge Lenin openly was Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin answered her directly. They remained comrades. Lenin later quoted Rosa in “The April Theses”, in a very critical moment. Rosa and the Spartacists, like Lenin and the Bolsheviks, opposed the Imperialist war.
Kautsky was less prominent during those earlier controversies but in 1914 he was one of those mainly responsible for the open betrayal of anti-Imperialist working-class internationalism when the German Social-Democrats under his leadership backed their bourgeois-Imperialist government in its catastrophic war against England and France, whose equally craven Social-Democrats in turn also backed their bourgeois-Imperialist governments. Lenin called this kind of betrayal “Social-Imperialism”.
“The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky” (a downloadable compilation of Chapters 1, 2 and 3 is linked below) is a response to a 1918 pamphlet written by Kautsky called “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, which was an attack on the Russian Bolsheviks, as well as a betrayal of Marx.
In Chapter 1 of “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”, Lenin takes Kautsky’s general argument, deals with it, and then makes the following definitions:
“Dictatorship is rule based directly upon force and unrestricted by any laws.
“The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is rule won and maintained by the use of violence by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, rule that is unrestricted by any laws.”
In other words, the Revolution does not ask permission, and it does not apologise. The Revolution breaks the old rules, and it makes new, revolutionary rules. This is the part of revolution that the bourgeoisie particularly dislikes, as we can see in South Africa, today. In Chapter 2, Lenin notes:
“Kautsky takes from Marxism what is acceptable to the liberals, to the bourgeoisie (the criticism of the Middle Ages, and the progressive historical role of capitalism in general and of capitalist democracy in particular), and discards, passes over in silence, glosses over all that in Marxism which is unacceptable to the bourgeoisie (the revolutionary violence of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for the latter’s destruction). That is why Kautsky, by virtue of his objective position and irrespective of what his subjective convictions may be, inevitably proves to be a lackey of the bourgeoisie.”
We still have many such “Marxists”, of the Kautsky kind, even in South Africa.
In Chapter 3, Lenin sharpens the point as follows:
“If the exploiters are defeated in one country only—and this, of course, is typical, since a simultaneous revolution in a number of countries is a rare exception—they still remain stronger than the exploited, for the international connections of the exploiters are enormous. That a section of the exploited from the least advanced middle-peasant, artisan and similar groups of the population may, and indeed does, follow the exploiters has been proved by all revolutions, including the Commune (for there were also proletarians among the Versailles troops, which the most learned Kautsky has “forgotten”).
“In these circumstances, to assume that in a revolution which is at all profound and serious the issue is decided simply by the relation between the majority and the minority is the acme of stupidity, the silliest prejudice of a common liberal, an attempt to deceive the people by concealing from them a well-established historical truth. This historical truth is that in every profound revolution, the prolonged, stubborn and desperate resistance of the exploiters, who for a number of years retain important practical advantages over the exploited, is the rule. Never—except in the sentimental fantasies of the sentimental fool Kautsky—will the exploiters submit to the decision of the exploited majority without trying to make use of their advantages in a last desperate battle, or series of battles.
“The transition from capitalism to communism takes an entire historical epoch. Until this epoch is over, the exploiters inevitably cherish the hope of restoration, and this hope turns into attempts at restoration.”
Not even Lenin’s Great October Soviet Socialist Revolution was automatically permanent.
This classic work is easy to read and is full of lessons that are applicable today.
Please download and read the text via the following link:
The State and Revolution, Chapters 2 and 3, 1917, Lenin (11279 words)
The April Theses, 1917, Lenin (1773 words)