The P.R. and the Renegade Kautsky

Marx-Engels |  Lenin  | Stalin |  Home Page





    The Soviets are the Russian form of the proletarian dictatorship. If a Marxist theoretician, writing a work on the dictatorship of the proletariat, had really studied the subject (and not merely repeated the petty-bourgeois lamentations against dictatorship, as Kautsky does, singing to Menshevik tunes), he would first have given a general definition of dictatorship, and would then have examined its peculiar, national, form, the Soviets; he would have given his critique of them as one of the forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    It goes without saying that nothing serious could be expected from Kautsky after his liberalistic "interpretation" of Marx's teachings on the dictatorship; but the manner in which he approached the question of what the Soviets are and the way he dealt with this question is highly characteristic.

    The Soviets, he says, recalling their rise in 1905, created "the most all-embracing (umfassendste) form of proletarian organization, for it embraced all the wage-workers" (p. 31). In 1905 they were only local bodies; in 1917 they became an all-Russian organization.

    "The Soviet organization," Kautsky continues "has already a great and glorious history behind it, and it has a still mightier future before it, and not in Russia alone. It appears that everywhere the old methods of the economic and political struggle of the proletariat are inadequate" (versagen; this German expression is somewhat stronger than "inadequate" and somewhat weaker than "impotent") "against the gigantic economic and political forces which finance capital has at its disposal. These old methods cannot be discarded; they are still indispensable for normal times; but from time to time tasks arise which they cannot cope with, tasks that can be accomplished successfully only as a result of a combination of all the political and economic instruments of force of the working class." (P. 32.)

    Then follows a disquisition on the mass strike and on the "trade union bureaucracy" -- which is no less necessary than the trade unions -- being "useless for the purpose of directing the mighty class battles that are more and more becoming the sign of the times. . . ."

    "Thus," Kautsky concludes, "the Soviet crganization is one of the most important phenomena of our time. It promises to acquire decisive importance in the great decisive battles between capital and labour towards which we are marching.
    "But are we entitled to demand more of the Soviets? The Bolsheviks, after the Revolution of November" (new style, or October, according to our style) "1917, secured in conjunction with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries a majority in the Russian Soviets of Workers' Deputies, and after the dispersion of the Constituent Assembly, they set out to transform the Soviets from a combat organization of one class as they had been till then, into a state organization. They destroyed the democracy which the Russian people had won in the March" (new style, or February, our style) "Revolution. In line with this, the Bolsheviks have ceased to call themselves Social-Democrats. They call themselves Communists." (p. 33 Kautsky's italics.)

    Those who are familiar with Russian Menshevik literature will at once see how slavishly Kautsky copies Martov, Axelrod, Stein and Co. Yes, "slavishly," because Kautsky ridiculously distorts the facts in order to pander to Menshevik

page 42

prejudices. Kautsky did not take the trouble, for instance, to ask his informants (Stein of Berlin, or Axelrod of Stockholm) when the questions of changing the name of the Bolsheviks to Communists and of the significance of the Soviets as state organizations were first raised. Had Kautsky made this simple inquiry he would not have penned these laughter-provoking lines, for both these questions were raised by the Bolsheviks in April 1917, for example, in my "Theses" of April 4, 1917, i.e., long before the Revolution of October 1917 (and, of course, long before the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly on January 5, 1918).

    But the passage from Kautsky's argument which I have just quoted in full represents the crux of the whole question of the Soviets. The crux is: should the Soviets aspire to become state organizations (in April 1917 the Bolsheviks put forward the slogan: "All Power to the Soviets!" and at the Bolshevik Party Conference held in the same month they declared that they were not satisfied with a bourgeois parliamentary republic but demanded a workers' and peasants' republic of the Paris Commune type, or Soviet type); or should the Soviets not strive for this, refrain from taking power into their hands, refrain from becoming state organizations and remain the "combat organizations" of one "class" (as Martov expressed it, embellishing by this innocent wish the fact that under Menshevik leadership the Soviets were an instrument for tbe subjection of the workers to the bourgeoisie )?

    Kautsky slavishly repeats Martov's words, picks out fragments of the theoretical controversy between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and uncritically and senselessly transplants them to the general theoretical and general European

page 43

field. The result is such a hodgepodge as to provoke Homeric laughter in every class-conscious Russian worker who might hear of these arguments of Kautsky's.

    And when we explain what the question at issue is, every worker in Europe (barring a handful of inveterate social-imperialists) will greet Kautsky with similar laughter.

    Kautsky has rendered Martov a backhanded service by developing his mistake into a glaring absurdity. Indeed, look what Kautsky's argument amounts to.

    The Soviets embrace all wage-workers. The old methods of economic and political struggle of the proletariat are inadequate against finance capital. The Soviets have a great role to play in the future, and not only in Russia. They will play a decisive role in great decisive battles between capital and labour in Europe. That is what Kautsky says.

    Excellent. But will not the "decisive battles between capital and labour" decide which of the two classes will gain possession of the power of state?

    Nothing of the kind! God forbid!

    The Soviets, which embrace all the wage-workers, must not become state organizations in the "decisive" battles!

    But what is the state?

    The state is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another.

    Thus, the oppressed class, the vanguard of all the toilers and exploited in modern society, must strive towards the "decisive battles between capital and labour," but must not touch the machine by means of which capital suppresses labour! -- It must not break up that machine! -- It must not make use of its all-embracing organization for the purpose of suppressing the exploiters!

Excellent, Mr. Kautsky, magnificent! "We" recognize the class struggle -- in the same way as all liberals recognize it, i.e., without the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. . . .

    This is where Kautsky's complete rupture both with Marxism and with Socialism becomes obvious. Actually, it is desertion to the camp of the bourgeoisie, which is prepared to concede everything except the transformation of the organizations of the class which it oppresses into state organizations. Kautsky can no longer save his position of trying to reconcile everything and of getting away from all profound contradictions with mere phrases.

    Kautsky either rejects the assumption of state power by the working class altogether, or he concedes that the working class may take over the old, bourgeois state machine; but he will by no means concede that it must break it up, smash it, and replace it by a new, proletarian machine. Whichever way Kautsky's arguments are "interpreted," or "explained," his rupture with Marxism and his desertion to the bourgeoisie are obvious.

    <"p44">Already in the Communist Manifesto, describing what sort of state the victorious working class needs, Marx wrote: "a state, that is, . . . the proletariat organized as the ruling class."[20] Now we have a man who claims to be still a Marxist coming forward and declaring that the proletariat, organized to a man and waging the "decisive battle" against capital, must not transform its class organization into a state organization! Here Kautsky has betrayed that "superstitious belief in the state" which in Germany, as Engels wrote in 1891, "has been carried over into the general consciousness of the bourgeoisie and even of many workers.''[21] Workers, fight! -- our philistine "agrees" to this (as every bourgeois "agrees," since the workers are fighting all the same, and the only thing to do is to devise means of blunting the edge of their sword) -- fight, but don't dare win ! Don't destroy the state machine of the bourgeoisie, don't put the proletarian "state organization" in the place of the bourgeois "state organization"!

    Whoever sincerely shared the Marxian view that the state is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another, and who has at all reflected upon this truth, could never have reached the absurd conclusion that the proletarian organizations capable of defeating finance capital must not transform themselves into state organizations. It was this point that betrayed the petty bourgeois who believes that "after all is said and done" the state is something outside of classes, or above classes. Indeed, why should the proletariat, "one class," be permitted to wage decisive war with capital, which rules not only over the proletariat, but over the whole people, over the whole petty bourgeoisie, over the whole peasantry, yet this proletariat, this "one class," is not to be permitted to transform its organization into a state organization? Because the petty bourgeois is afraid of the class struggle, and does not carry it to its logical conclusion, to its main object.

    Kautsky has got himself completely mixed up and has given himself away entirely. Mark you, he himself admits that Europe is heading for decisive battles between capital and labour, and that the old methods of the economic and political struggle of the proletariat are inadequate. But these old methods were precisely the utilization of bourgeois democracy. It therefore follows?. . .

    But Kautsky was afraid to think of what follows.

    . . . Hence, only a reactionary, an enemy of the working class, a henchman of the bourgeoisie, can now turn his face to the obsolete past, paint the charms of bourgeois democracy and babble about pure democracy. Bourgeois democracy was progressive compared with medievalism, and it was necessary to utilize it. But now it is not sufficient for the working class. Now we must look, not backward, but forward -- to replacing bourgeois democracy by proletarian democracy. And while the preparatory work for the proletarian revolution, the formation and training of the proletarian army were possible (and necessary) within the framework of the bourgeois-democratic state, now that we have reached the stage of "decisive battles," to confine the proletariat to this framework means betraying the cause of the proletariat, means being a renegade.

    Kautsky has made himself particularly ridiculous by repeating Martov's argument without noticing that in Martov's case this argument was based on another argument which he, Kautsky, does not use! Martov said (and Kautsky repeats after him) that Russia is not yet ripe for Socialism; from which it logically follows that it is too early to transform the Soviets from organs of struggle into state organizations (read: it is timely to transform the Soviets, with the assistance of the Menshevik leaders, into instruments for subjecting the workers to the imperialist bourgeoisie). Kautsky, however, cannot say outright that Europe is not ripe for Socialism. In 1909, when he was not yet a renegade, he wrote that there was now no reason to fear a premature revolution, that whoever renounced revolution for fear of defeat would be a traitor. Kautsky does not dare renounce this outright. And so we get an absurdity, which completely reveals the stupidity and cowardice of the petty bourgeois: on the one hand, Europe is ripe for Socialism and is heading towards decisive battles between capital and labour; but, on the other hand, the combat organization (i.e., the organization which arises, grows and gains strength in combat), the organization of the proletariat, the vanguard and organizer, the leader of the oppressed, must not be transformed into a state organization!

*                     *                      *

    From the point of view of practical politics the idea that the Soviets are necessary as a combat organization but must not be transformed into state organizations is even infinitely more absurd than from the point of view of theory. Even in peacetime, when there is no revolutionary situation, the mass struggle of the workers against the capitalists -- for instance, the mass strike -- gives rise to great bitterness on both sides, to fierce passions in the struggle, the bourgeoisie constantly insisting that it remains and means to remain "master in its own house," etc., and in time of revolution when political life reaches boiling point, an organization like the Soviets, which embraces all the workers in all branches of industry, all the soldiers, and all the toiling and poorest sections of the rural population -- such an organization, of its own accord, with the development of the struggle, by the simple "logic" of attack and defence, comes inevitably to raise the question point-blank. The attempt to take up a middle position and to "reconcile" the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is sheer stupidity and is doomed to miserable failure. That is what happened in Russia to the preachings of Martov and other Mensheviks, and that will inevitably happen in Germany and other countries if the Soviets succeed in developing on any wide scale, manage to unite and strengthen. To say to the Soviets: fight, but do not take the entire state power into your hands, do not become state

organizations -- is tantamount to preaching class collaboration and "social peace" between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. It is ridiculous even to think that such a position in the midst of fierce struggle could lead to anything but ignominious failure. But it is Kautsky's everlasting fate to sit between two stools. He pretends to disagree with the opportunists on everything in theory, but actually he agrees with them on everything essential (i.e., on everything that pertains to revolution), in practice.