Karl Kautsky: From Pope to Renegade

Greene, Doug Enaa
Date Written:  2018-10-25
Publisher:  Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
Year Published:  2018
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23120

Once recognized as "The Pope of Marxism" for his popularization and systematization of Marxist ideas, Kautsky fell into obscurity following the Russian Revolution. In recent revival of interest in his politics, in both academia and on the political left, raises questions about the meaning of Kautsky's orthodox Marxism and about what a renewed revolutionary left should adopt from it as their own.



In 1905, revolution erupted in Russia, and Kautsky offered strategic advice on the way forward. Kautsky angered the more moderate Mensheviks (who shared his orthodoxy) by advocating that the workers lead the revolution as opposed to subordinating themselves to the bourgeoisie. Kautsky declared: "The age of bourgeois revolutions, i.e. of revolutions in which the bourgeoisie was the driving force, is over in Russia… As soon as the proletariat appears as an independent class with independent revolutionary aims, the bourgeoisie ceases to be a revolutionary class..." It is no wonder that both Lenin and Trotsky saw Kautsky's positions as endorsements of their own.

That Kautsky could be claimed by Trotsky and Lenin showcased the ambiguity of his own position. For one, Kautsky did not advocate permanent revolution as Trotsky did (the democratic revolution growing over to a socialist one). As Kautsky said, "It therefore seems unthinkable that the present revolution in Russia is already leading to the introduction of a socialist mode of production, even if it should bring social democracy to power temporarily." While Lenin and Trotsky believed that Czarism would not be toppled without an armed struggle (leading them to hail the December insurrection in Moscow), Kautsky argued instead: "the revolution must take place through methods of peace, not of war."
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