The 'Renegade' Kautsky and his Disciple Lenin


 This article is the preface to the Red & Black Notes edition of Gilles Dauvé's The Renegade Kautsky and his Disciple Lenin to read the entire article follow the link at the bottom of the page.


The collapse of ‘actual existing socialism' in the years 1989-92 has meant many things to the old left. For the social democratic parties it has meant the end of their hollow mouthing of words of opposition to the capitalist world order. In past decades the social democratic parties, who long ago abandoned any presence of a final goal of socialism, spoke of a kinder gentler capitalism bathed in the language of Keynesianism. Hereafter social democrats speak exclusively in the language of neo- liberalism and the market. This newspeak has taken many forms, be it ‘Blairism' in Britain, the ‘Third way' in continental Europe or even in the case of the Canadian New Democratic Party, the ‘Canadian Way.' Since capitalism no longer requires Keynesian solutions, it has dispensed with the services of those who espouse that ideology. Thus it is comical that while the social democrats have jettisoned the reform of capitalism in order to preserve their physical existence, certain Trotskyist ‘revolutionaries' operating within the shadow of social democracy continue to argue that the party will disappear unless they adopt ‘socialist' measures. (i.e. retain their neo-Keynesianism).

On the other hand a new lease on life has been granted to the old Leninist groups: Partly because conditions within the former Soviet bloc have become so awful that they have actually succeeded in making the former state-capitalist regimes look appetizing. Partly because many Leninist groups can now argue that what collapsed in the Soviet union was Stalinism not communism; even though many of them had argued the Soviet experiment represented a higher stage of society.

Pointing to the old Soviet Union, the Trotskyists argue that its collapse has been a defeat for the workers' movement. This defeat can only be overcome by rallying to their banner and the revolutionary party which will lead the workers to victory. What is not acknowledged is the link between social democracy and Leninism. Both sought, in different ways, to manage the workers. The ‘workers' movement is reaching the end of a stage whereby the state was seen as a possible means for creating a new society. For the social democrats this goal was to be accomplished through a parliament, although as noted they had long ceased to believe in the promised land. For the Leninists through the dictatorship of the proletariat, or in reality the dictatorship of the Bolshevist party acting in the ‘interests' of the workers.

Though Marx expected the British working class to create the first mass workers party , it was the German movement which achieved this task. In the Social- Democratic Party of German (SPD) there was an almost perfect division of labour. After the repeal of the anti- socialist laws in 1890 the party acted in parliament to secure reforms, while the unions managed the working class. Both of these factions were simply incorporated into the governing body - not to say that the unions and the party were now simply agents of the bourgeois state, but their primary identification was with the nation-state. Much is made of the betrayal by the Second International in 1914, which was described by some as an instrument of peacetime, but not of war. In fact the International did not betray, but followed the logical conclusion of its identification with the bourgeois state in its respective members countries.

Today Karl Kautsky is virtually unknown out side of left-wing circles, but a century ago he was the authoritative voice of ‘Marxism' in the European context. Editor of the SPD's journal Die Neue Zeit, Kautsky represented the tradition of orthodox Marxism. While today Kautsky is virtually unknown his greatest disciple Lenin still enjoys a fame and renown. Kautsky's views are mostly known through the polemics Lenin and Trotsky hurled at him during the years after the Bolshevik Revolution: Lenin in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky and Trotsky in Terrorism and Communism. Eighty years later the term ‘Kautskyism' occasionally rears its head as a term of abuse, used in the same way ‘ultra left' is employed: reviled but seldom understood by those who employ it.

Yet despite the break, it should be remembered that Lenin was once Kautsky's most loyal follower. Many of Lenin's early Lenin's defenders argue that Lenin broke with Kautsky in deed if not in actuality prior to 1914 and his actions after then serve as proof of the break. Yet while Lenin broke from Kautsky politically he retained Kautsky's views on many theoretical questions.

Much of Lenin's What is to Be Done? is drawn directly from Kautsky who also believed that ‘socialist consciousness' would have to be injected into the working class from outside. As a result Lenin was to be deeply suspicious of the unbridled spontaneity of the Soviets of the 1905 revolution. While Lenin cried "All Power to the Soviets" at times in 1917 it is clear his actions meant "All Power to the Soviets so it may be given to the Bolshevik Party." Despite his defenders' rejection of the crude formulas of What is to Be Done?, Lenin himself never repudiated the book.

A second point made by Lenin's defenders as evidence of Lenin's rejection of ‘Kautskyism.' is State & Revolution, which is offered as Lenin's rediscovery of the revolutionary Marxist tradition. While Lenin concedes that anarchist critics and the Pannekoek were right against Kautsky, he did not uncritically endorse all of their views. Lenin may well have written that under socialism under any cook can govern, but in State & Revolution he still admitted a fondness for the German postal system and suggested it might represent a model for socialism organisation. While organising Russian society on the same structure as the German post office might have produced some advances, it was certainly not socialism.

But more than Lenin's fine words in State & Revolution, what were the actions that followed it? The ways in which the Bolsheviks undermined, crushed or co- opted the factory committees, the Soviets and the genuine organisations of workers' power in Russia have been well documented elsewhere and need not be recapitulated here. For those who argue the Lenin of State & Revolution, there is also the Lenin of one-man management, and of the suppression of factions inside and outside the party, and of Kronstadt. All in the name of the working class. What Kautsky could not or would not do with reformist measures, Lenin did with revolutionary ones.

The article which follows this introduction originally appeared under the name Jean Barrot, a pen name for Gilles Dauvé. The article The Renegade Kautsky and His Disciple Lenin was written as a preface for a French Edition of Kautsky's article The Three Sources of Marxism: The Historic Work of Marx. (Spartacus, serie B, no. 78) This edited translation was first published in English in 1987 by Wildcat (UK) as Leninism or Communism. Kautsky's article was the inspiration for Lenin's article The Three Sources and the Three Component Parts of Marxism. It is hoped that the republication of Dauvé's will serve as a small warning to who seek to discover a revolutionary theory in Leninism.


D. E. 8/00


The 'Renegade' Kautsky and his Disciple Lenin


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