Kautsky and History of Socialism - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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I just got History of Socialism by Kautsky as a birthday present from a friend of mine (the finnish translation, to be exact).

My question is - has anyone read it? Any analysis concerning it? I have to admit that my knowledge of Kautsky and his writings are more or less minimal. I'd be interested to hear some comments - preferably concerning the book I got.
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By Mikolaj
I don't know anything about it. What is the main idea?
@ Lokakyy
Ten years ago I read "Der Weg zur Macht" by Karl Kautsky. It is one of his most fascinating and influential books, together with "Das Erfurter Programm". Kautsky has written this book in 1909, when the SPD had actually already changed into a reformist party. Due to the revolutionary composition he has trouble to get "Der Weg zur Macht" published. He argues in his book, that the SPD should not form a coalition with the bourgeois parties, because these persist in their conservatism. The contrasts are too large. He advocates to organize mass action of the proletariat. The social democracy can appear as the natural speaker of the proletariat. The proletariat is indispensable for the economy, and therefore it will in the end be able to seize power. Kautsky predicts that this revolution will certainly come, and calls her a historical inevitability.

For the proletariat continues to grow, while the capitalists will reduce to a small elite of super rich. According to Kautsky the concentration of the richness is the reason of existence for the social democracy. Others have called his vision fatalistic, but he does acknowledge the existence of the free will. However, the individual can not escape from the historical developments. The social relations push the will into a certain direction. If one knows the social processes, and its tendencies, then purposeful actions can be taken. But the revolution has her own vigour, that unfolds itself in an economic, legislative and moral pressure. So the aim is not a violent coup d'etat, for the military forces are too strong to be conquered. The SPD must gain the trust of the people, and in that way get the army on her side.

Unfortunately a large part of the proletariat does not get over the consciousness of the countryside. The migrant workers remain reactionary as well. Moreover Kautsky expects, that the trade unions will weaken by the rise of the economic combinations like trusts and cartels. Nonetheless Kautsky thinks that a revolution is possible, namely in case that a war erupts. And this chance is considerable, since the states have become imperialistic, and therefore they regularly come into conflict with each other. This is the nasty perspective, that "Der Weg zur Macht" offers, and that unfortunately has in part been realized. But the SPD has been wise enough to use the revolutionary moment only for the extortion of the universal suffrage. After that she has wisely given up power again. Kautsky ignores in his book that democratic process. He believes that the people can only bring a new regime to power, and that it will subsequently delegate the transformation completely to the elite.

The ideologists (including yours truly) pass fairly often through a young period and an old period. While for instance V.I. Oeljanov (nicknamed Lenin) becomes radical during the war, Kautsky turns towards more moderate insights. Thus he is disillusioned by the Russian october revolution in 1917. From that moment onwards he polemises with an increasing vigour against Leninism. On the other hand Lenin is indignant at the refusal of Kautsky to put his former text into practice! Henceforth Kautsky argues that the social democracy aims to liberate the people from all oppression. Both the democracy and socialism are only instruments for this aim, and Kautsky gives already in 1918 priority to the former. In the same text he asks to protect the rights of minorities, including the political opposition. With that Kautsky is converted to the pluralism of Schumpeter, albeit a bit late.

In 1928 Kautsky states that the social democracy strives for the liberation of the working class by her own force. The proletariat must lift up itself with regard to its morals, intellect and organization. In the pamphlet "De dictatuur van het proletariaat" from 1932 Kautsky states on p.14, that the proletariat should first rise to a higher development, and that will happen in the struggle for the realization of the democracy. On p.17 he states: "A dictature is a state where only one will can be expressed. (...) However, the proletariat is by no means a self-evident phenomenon, nor a united, homogeneous mass". The course of life of Kautsky illustrates how in her first period the social democracy propagates still out of date views from the middle of the nineteenth century. Only in her second period her views change into a more pluralist direction.

I have read several other books by Kautsky, among others the volume "Kautsky gegen Lenin" and "Sozialisten und Krieg". It is interesting material, but out-of-date.
Thank you, MeMe, that was very interesting.

I am pretty unread in Kautsky, with the exception of a few articles here and there.

Do you consider yourself aligned with social democracy?
@ MeMe
Well said. Kautsky was one of the fathers of the early social democrat program, which then is still fundamentally marxist. He tried to advance the theory of Marx. One of the additions to this theory is the threat of imperialism, which around 1900 became a popular topic, especially among socialists. A part of the social democrats believed that imperialism would be a continuous source of war. However, Kautsky states already in 1913, that ultra imperialism may come into existence. In ultra imperialism the capitalists unite on a global scale in order to exploit the production factor labour. You mention "Sozialisten und Krieg", which is indeed fascinating. In that book Kautsky states that WWI erupted more or less by accident. So the cause was not imperialism. This is highly relevant, because Lenins has tried to justify his terror in part as a means for averting capitalism and thus for keeping the peace. Incidentally it is worth mentioning that Lenin refers to "Das Finanzkapital" by the Austrian R. Hilferding. Hilferding wrote his book in 1910, also in an effort to advance the theory of Marx. The body of "Das Finanzkapital" is scientific, but it ends with some rather speculative remarks about imperialism. In these final pages he provides Lenin with the arguments to underpin his wild revolutionary fantasies and delusions of grandeur.

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