Karl Kautsky

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Karl Kautsky
Karl Kautsky 01.jpg
Born Karl Johann Kautsky
16 October 1854
Prague, Austrian Empire
Died 17 October 1938(1938-10-17) (aged 84)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy, German philosophy
School Marxism
Main interests
Political philosophy, Politics, Economics, History
Notable ideas
Evolutionary epistemology, social instinct, active adaption, hyperimperialism

Karl Johann Kautsky (October 16, 1854 – October 17, 1938) was a Czech-Austrian philosopher, journalist, and Marxist theoretician. Kautsky was recognized as among the most authoritative promulgators of Orthodox Marxism after the death of Friedrich Engels in 1895 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and was called by some the "Pope of Marxism."

Following the war, Kautsky was an outspoken critic of the Bolshevik Revolution and its excesses, engaging in polemics with V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky on the nature of the Soviet state.

Life and career

Early years

Karl Kautsky, born in Prague of a middle class artistic family, to Johann Kautsky (a scenic designer) and his wife Minna (an actress and writer), moved with his family to Vienna at the age of seven. He studied history, philosophy and economics at the University of Vienna from 1874, and became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) in 1875. In 1880 he joined a group of German socialists in Zürich who were supported financially by Karl Höchberg, and who smuggled socialist material into the Reich at the time of the Anti-Socialist Laws (1878–1890). Influenced by Eduard Bernstein, Karl Höchberg's secretary, he became a Marxist and in 1881 visited Marx and Engels in England.

Political career

In 1883, Kautsky founded the monthly Die Neue Zeit ("The New Times") in Stuttgart, which became a weekly in 1890. He edited the magazine until September 1917: this gave him a steady income and allowed him to propagate Marxism.[1] From 1885 to 1890 he spent time in London, where he became a close friend of Friedrich Engels. His position as a prominent Marxist theorist was assured in 1888, when Engels put him to the task of editing Marx's three-volume work Theories of Surplus Value.[2] In 1891 he co-authored the Erfurt Program of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) together with August Bebel and Eduard Bernstein.

Following the death of Engels in 1895, Kautsky became one of the most important and influential theoreticians of Marxism, representing the mainstream of the party together with August Bebel, and outlining a Marxist theory of imperialism. When Bernstein attacked the traditional Marxist position of the necessity for revolution in the late 1890s, Kautsky denounced him, arguing that Bernstein's emphasis on the ethical foundations of Socialism opened the road to a call for an alliance with the "progressive" bourgeoisie and a non-class approach.

Wartime years

In 1914, when the German Social-Democrat deputies in the Reichstag voted for war credits, Kautsky (who was not a deputy but attended their meetings) suggested abstaining. Kautsky claimed that Germany was waging a defensive war against the threat of Czarist Russia. However, in June 1915, about ten months after the war had begun and when it had become obvious that this was going to be a sustained, appallingly brutal and costly struggle, he issued an appeal with Eduard Bernstein and Hugo Haase against the pro-war leaders of the SPD and denounced the German government's annexationist aims. In 1917 he left the SPD for the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), which united Socialists who opposed the war.

After the November Revolution in Germany, Kautsky served as under-secretary of State in the Foreign Office in the short-lived SPD-USPD revolutionary government and worked at finding documents which proved the war guilt of Imperial Germany.

Polemics with the Bolsheviks

Kautsky's opening broadside against the revolutionary violence of the Russian Revolution, Die Diktatur des Proletariats (The Dictatorship of the Proletaria), first published in Vienna in 1918.

After 1919 Kautsky's prominence steadily diminished. He visited Georgia in 1920 and wrote a book in 1921 on this Social Democratic country still independent of Bolshevist Russia. In 1920, when the USPD split, he went with a minority of that party back into the SPD. In 1924, at the age of 70, he moved back to Vienna with his family, and remained there until 1938. At the time of Hitler's Anschluss he fled to Czechoslovakia and thence by plane to Amsterdam, where he died in the same year.

Karl Kautsky lived in Berlin-Friedenau for many years; his wife, Luise Kautsky, became a close friend of Rosa Luxemburg, who also lived in Friedenau. A commemorative plaque marks where Kautsky lived at Saarstraße 14.

Vladimir Lenin described Kautsky as a "renegade" in his classic pamphlet "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky"; Kautsky in turn castigated Lenin in his 1934 work Marxism and Bolshevism: Democracy and Dictatorship:

The Bolsheviki under Lenin's leadership, however, succeeded in capturing control of the armed forces in Petrograd and later in Moscow and thus laid the foundation for a new dictatorship in place of the old Czarist dictatorship.[3]

Both Lenin and Trotsky, however, defended the Bolshevik Revolution as a legitimate and historic social upheaval akin to the French Revolution, casting themselves and the Bolsheviks in the role of the Jacobins, and viewing the "opportunism" of Kautsky and similar figures as a function of "social bribery" rooted in their increasing intimacy with the privileged classes.

A posthumous collection of excerpts of Kautsky's writings, Social Democracy vs. Communism, discussed Bolshevist rule in Russia. He saw the Bolsheviks (or Communists) as a conspiratorial organization that had gained power by a coup and initiated revolutionary changes for which there was no economic rationale in Russia. Instead, a bureaucracy-dominated society developed, the miseries of which outweighed the problems of Western capitalism. He stated:

Foreign tourists in Russia stand in silent amazement before the gigantic enterprises created there, as they stand before the pyramids, for example. Only seldom does the thought occur to them what enslavement, what lowering of human self-esteem was connected with the construction of those gigantic establishments.[4]


They extracted the means for the creation of material productive forces by destroying the most essential productive force of all-the laboring man. In the terrible conditions created by the Piatiletka, people rapidly perished. Soviet films, of course, did not show this.[4]

Death and legacy

Kautsky died October 17, 1938 in Amsterdam. His son, de (Benedikt Kautsky) spent seven years in concentration camps; his wife de (Luise Kautsky) died in Auschwitz.[5]

Kautsky is remembered,[by whom?] in addition to his anti-Bolshevik polemics, for his editing and publication of Marx's Capital, Volume IV (usually published as Theories of Surplus Value).

See also


  1. Gary P Steenson at the Wayback Machine (archived May 18, 2008)
  2. Blackledge, Paul (July 2006). "Karl Kautsky and Marxist Historiography". Science & Society. 70 (3): 338. Retrieved 2012-04-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. http://www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1934/bolshevism/index.htm
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kautsky, Karl. "Is Soviet Russia A Socialist State?". Social Democracy vs. Communism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Callinicos, A. Social Theory: a historical introduction.

Works in English

Secondary Works

  • Banaji, Jairus (January 1990). "Illusions about the peasantry: Karl Kautsky and the agrarian question". Journal of Peasant Studies. 17 (2): 288–307. doi:10.1080/03066159008438422.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kołakowski, Leszek (2005). Main Currents of Marxism. Translated from Polish by P.S. Falla. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-06054-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Salvadori, Massimo L. (1979). Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution, 1880-1938. Translated from Italian by Jon Rothschild. London: New Left Books. ISBN 0860910156.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Steenson, Gary P. (1978). Karl Kautsky, 1854-1938: Marxism in the Classical Years. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0822933772.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links