Karl Kautsky

The Two Tendencies


Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.III No.1, July 1902.
Written: Berlin, February 16 1902.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for, June, 2002.

DEAR COMRADE FERRI: It gives me the greatest pleasure to receive the news that you intend to publish a review, which will certainly be very useful to our cause and of importance not only for Italy but for international socialism.

Everywhere in our party the same divergence manifests itself: in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Russia and Belgium. There is not, fundamentally, any antagonism between reform and revolution, for the revolutionists also desire reforms. Neither is it an antagonism between theoretical and practical Socialists, for each are found on both sides. It is therefore ridiculous presumption for some to claim the distinction of “critics of socialism,” in opposition to us, who are to he regarded as “bigots of dogmas and phrases, lacking critical judgment.”

Instead, the divergence, which exists throughout international socialism, has for its basis the different position of the two tendencies in relation to the middle class.

This is the nucleus of the question which causes all the differences. Is the antagonism between the middle class and the proletariat so great as to prevent the proletariat from allying itself with certain factions of the middle class against other groups of the middle class? Or are there within the middle class enmities greater than the hostility which exists between the middle class and the working class, so that in some circumstances it is possible and even necessary to establish by the alliance of the working class with certain factions of the middle class a great reform party, a new party of such strength and stability as to be able to share in the government? Is this alliance of the proletariat with parties of the middle class for the purpose of forming a government party a necessary stage in the march of the proletariat to the conquest of political power?

Or is it an occasional act made possible or even necessary by exceptional contingencies, rather than simply a normal stage of the evolution through which the party in all countries should pass?

This is the question which is the basis of our dissensions. But unfortunately it is not usually stated so precisely; therefore it is obscured by secondary questions which are principally of a theoretical nature. And this is true, especially in countries where there is a deep gulf between the Socialist and the other parties, excluding presumptively every practical application of the new method; in such cases the antagonism is reduced to small and trivial contentions which cause bitterness instead of obtaining a solution.

On the other hand, the divergence manifests itself with clear and precise outlines only in countries where it can have a practical influence on the life of the party; that is, where there is a government which has good sense enough to recognize the great strength of socialism and enough craft and courage to try to subdue it – by yoking it to the chariot of the government. This was the case in France, where the new tactics have had the opportunity to show of what use they really are. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” says the Bible, and we can judge the new tactics also by their fruits.

In Italy the new tactics have not been put on trial as in France. However, the recent parliamentary situation has prepared a soil favorable to their development. More than elsewhere, except in France, the divergence within the party finds in Italy the possibility of leaving purely theoretical grounds to assume a concrete form, after the evolution of French socialism, that of Italy will be in the near future very instructive for the international proletariat.

Therefore I consider the new review Il Socialismo (Socialism) of great importance and feel honored in defining and elucidating, in its columns, the internal controversies of the party; so much the more, as it is preferable that the discussion should be published in reviews, rather than take up too much space in periodicals devoted to propaganda. It is indeed true that this is possible only in a case where the dissension does not exceed certain limits, a matter which depends on circumstances more than on the good will of persons.

The divergence exists to be silent about it or to conceal it, is to increase the malady and delay its cure.

But we heartily wish that the present controversy could he ended without disturbing the unity and strong concord of the party. Being caused by a transitory situation, the present antagonism in the party can and ought to pass away. We wish that the Socialist parties of other countries could be saved from the bitter experiences of the ministerialism of the Socialists of France, and that the class struggle could everywhere animate the united forces of the proletariat and thus enable them to resist the disintegrating effects of ministerialism.

May your review co-operate strongly in such a movement! I wish it long life and prosperity!

Cordially yours,
Karl Kautsky


Last updated on 23.11.2003