Social democracy versus communism! At least according to Kautsky in his Social Democracy Versus Communism. I read that recently, made notes in the book, sat down to type them up and now damned if I can find where I put it. Which is irritating. It’ll turn up (it better, it’s library book) then I’ll make the notes. I’m surprised at how much of it I liked. (Don’t tell the Central Committee, okay?) Big parts of it are clearly just wrong and reactionary, of course, but not all of it. I’m on a bit of a Kautsky kick lately, got several other things by him out the library (including pamphlets which were put out in the US by DeLeon’s people, the Socialist Labor Party). And some other old stuff – Bebel, Lasalle, Bernstein. Old Old Left. Antiquarian even. (Oh hell.)

Among other things I noticed – Kautsky uses the phrase ‘composition of the working class,’ a term I’ve enountered very little (I can’t think of any examples of the top of my head) outside operaismo stuff. Maybe that’s just indicative of the limits of my own education in marxism.

[Unrelated bit of trivia, a friend told me recently that Grace Lee (later Grace Lee Boggs) of the Johnson-Forest Tendency did the first English translation of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts. Someone else told me once that the Bordigists did the first translation of these into Italian.]


Finally home again, finally found the Kautsky I got from out the library. Here’s some notes.

Kautsky writes that “The demand “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” advanced by the men of the French Revolution antedates all written history. It reflects the desire of all oppressed, exploited and their friends ever since there have been oppression and exploitation.” I don’t like this is if it’s LEF sum up all prior historical demands, French Rev as culmination. I do like it as a relativization or deflation of the French Rev – demands for LEF are very old.

“But this demand merely poses a problem. It does not indicate the road to its solution. What this road should be has been variously conceived, depending upon varied social conditions and the classes who have sought to find it. Only under the capitalist mode of production has the solution of this problem, through the establishment of a democratic social economy of the workers, become possible and necessary.” (23.) Nonsense.

I like this very much: The working class “would achieve the power to emancipate itself. To be sure it would have to be educated to this. But this education, as Marx and Engels realized, could not be brought about by men who proclaimed themselves the schoolmasters of the workers, but through the experience of the class struggle, forced upon the wage earners, by the conditions under which, they lived.” (25-26.) I think nearly everything I liked in the Kautsky revolves around this anti-substitutionist point.

A “school of Marxists, who, having captured the state power proceeded to make a state religion, of Marxism, a religion whose articles of faith and their interpretation are watched over by the government, a religion, the criticism of which, nay the slightest deviation from which is sternly punished by the State; a Marxism ruling by the methods of the Spanish Inquisition, propagated by fire and sword, practicing a theatrical ritual (as illustrated by the embalmed body of Lenin) (…) Such a Marxism may indeed be called doctrinaire fanaticism.” (29.)

“[T]he liberation of the working class could be achieved only by the working class itself, that no paternalistic friend from the bourgeoisie, no select proletarian vanguard could accomplish this task for the masses. But (…) the masses were not yet ripe for the struggle. How was this ripeness to be achieved? Through well meaning tutors from above? Grown-up people will not submit to the guardianship of tutors. Where this attempt is made either by Christians or by atheists, it usually degenerates into a loathsome, priestly presumptuousness on the part of the tutor and a hypocritical submission of the tutored. Grown-ups can be taught by life alone. Marx expected the education of the working class to come from life, that is to say, he expected it to come from capitalist development and its effect upon the workers. ” From what position is the ‘ripeness’ of the class to be assessed? And it’s not the effect of capitalism that educates the working class but rather (or, it’s the effect of capitalism only in so far as this includes) the workers’ struggles against capitalism. [Find that Luxemburg quote.] (31.)

“he education required by the proletariat could be made secure not through abnormal circumstances but only as it developed from a phenomenon characteristic of all capitalist states, a phenomenon inexorable in its force and powerful in its effects. This phenomenon was the class contradiction between capital and labor, the class struggle arising inevitably from this contradiction.” (45.) I agree that the contradiction is ineliminable within capitalism, but I don’t see the educative function as inevitable.

Kautksy speaks of “democracy” – and I think one might be able to add also formal organization for Kautsky but I’m not sure – “less as a means of gaining political power and more as an instrument of education of the masses.” (50.)

“[T]he urge for a conspiratory organization with unlimited dictatorial power for the leader and blind obedience of the members continued to manifest itself wherever the organization had to be a secret one, where the masses did not as yet possess their own movement and where the political organization was regarded not as a means of educating the proletariat to independence but as a means of obtaining political power at one stroke. Not the class struggle but the putsch, the coup d’etat is thus brought into the foreground of interest, and together with this a form of militarist thinking there is carried into the party organization the kind of thinking which relies upon victory in civil war rather than upon intellectual and economic elevation of the masses. The latter are regarded as mere cannon fodder, whose utilization can be made all the easier the more obedient they are to any command, without independent thought and will of their own.” (51.)

I liked this as well:

“However internationalist we may be in our sentiments, we are compelled to admit that the national enthusiasm of a people who repels the attacks of foreign adversaries constitutes a tremendous propelling force. A revolution is greatly strengthened when it combines revolutionary with national enthusiasm. This was a factor that proved of great help to the Bolsheviks in 1920, who drew new power from the war with Poland. It strengthened greatly the French Revolution after 1792. Of course, in the end democracy is the loser under such an awakening of the warlike spirit, even when the revolutionists emerge as the victors.” (102-103.)

“The struggle (…) creates a more fertile ground upon which the enlightened working classes, acting in organized masses, continues to develop its powers by means of free action and movement, thus lifting its development to the highest possible degree and rendering itself capable of pursuing successfully the struggle for the final aims of Socialism.” (116.) Struggle as the self-production of the revolutionary class for itself. This isn’t so much what Kautsky means, of course, as he wants to dead-end the class into parliamentarianism.

“It would be nonsensical” to pose an obligation “to use democratic methods under all circumstances. Such an obligation we can assume only with respect to those who themselves use only democratic methods.” Still, though “compelled to meet violence with violence (…) must seek first and foremast to win the support of the majority. This is the essential prerequisite of victory, regardless of whether they apply democratic or other methods. And, furthermore, they must never lose cognizance of the fact that democracy remains always the most valuable instrument Labor can possess.” (120.) To do otherwise is likely to erode one’s base.

“Only the application of extreme pressure will suffice to tackle the monopolists of finance, industry and land ownership, we are told. This is quite true. The capitalist masters in some countries will stop at nothing to maintain themselves when they are confronted with the danger of expropriation. But this does not necessarily involve the use of military force, the raising of a private army by capital. Only in politically backward country does fascism constitute a promising instrument for the exploiters. In the democratic states of Western Europe and in the Anglo-Saxon world the capitalists resort more to economic than military instruments, just as the working class in the great decisive political struggles of the past few decades fought with economic rather than military weapons. The methods pursued by the capitalists are essentially the same as those used by the workers: the strike, the crippling of production. The workers fight by stopping work; the capitalists fight by stopping the circulation of capital. By this means they have succeeded in overthrowing governments which they regard as inimical to their interests.” (122.) False and dated.

Kautsky as thinker of multiples:

“A dictatorship is a state in which authority is centered in one will, in which any criticism of this will is treated as a major crime. A real dictatorship of the proletariat presupposes, therefore, the existence of a united will in Labor’s ranks. Many often assume as a self-evident fact that the working class constitutes a united, homogeneous mass, to be pitted against a homogeneous “reactionary mass.” The truth is, however, that the working class is not a self-evident phenomenon or a uniform, homogeneous, “totalitarian” mass, to use a German expression.

It is naive to conceive of the working class as synonymous with the mass of the poor and needy. Marx regarded the proletariat as consisting only of those workers who do not own or control the means of production they must use in order to live, and who are consequently obliged to sell their labor power. Strictly speaking, the small peasantry or farmers, artisans and petty tradesmen do not belong to the category of the working class, however needy they may be. These elements perceive their salvation not in a Socialist society, but in the rise of prices on commodities they offer for sale. Their ideal is to become bigger peasants or farmers, artisans and businessmen in the society based on private ownership.” (125-126.)

Kautsky as thinker of immaterial labor:

“Salaried employees as compared with wage earners, perform functions of a mainly capitalist character. The productive capitalist is not merely an exploiter; he performs an important economic function. He organizes and directs enterprises, purchases and assembles the means of production and takes care of the disposal of commodities. The element of profit does not emanate from these activities, but depends rather upon the amount of capital, not upon the quantity of labor, furnished by the capitalist. Frequently he has to work much harder in a smaller enterprise than in a big one. But what constitutes the prerequisite of profit is the realization of the tasks of productive capital. This realization is not dependent, however upon the personalities embodied in capitalism. The functions of productive capital are merely transferred to the shoulders of hired help. Such help is required as soon as any given enterprise reaches a certain advanced stage of development. Where an enterprise develops to the size of a shareholding undertaking, the entire activity of the capitalist is transferred into the hands of hired forces, i.e. of wage earners and other employees, who perform capitalist functions.” (130-131.) Kautsky’s wrong to call these capitalist functions. They are functions often played by capitalists, but they don’t need to be.

“[T]he differentiations already mentioned are the most important and make it impossible for the working class to form a solid, homogeneous mass capable, without the intervention of any other forces, of presenting a united mode of thinking and action. What we see, instead, is a heterogeneous mass, composed of variegated and uneven elements. It was the insight of a Marx that discerned the common interests which, in the long run, must animate all these elements. But the realization of their common tasks and interests depends in turn, upon intensive education and enlightenment.

The development of economic and political class struggles does, indeed, facilitate a closer approach of the various elements of the working class to one another, but this process is being constantly interfered with and vitiated by the influx of ever new elements into the body of the working class. Nor does this influx always imply a strengthening of Labor. It invariably complicates its policy and makes its formulation and application more difficult.” (133.)



Kautsky, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Lenin’s response.