real Kautsky

Greg Nowell GN842 at CNSVAX.Albany.Edu
Tue Sep 8 14:40:51 PDT 1998

Comment from lbo-reader:

Kautsky, on the other hand, argued that monopoly would develop to global cooperation of capitalists rather than competition, and that therefore capitalism had overcome all internal contradictions; and therefore the time for revolution had passed, the critique of capitalism and been reduced to a MORAL rather than a material critique, etc. etc.


Actually the very short ultra-imperialism argument article, printed back in the 70s in Monthly Review, is a rather pessimistic document. It makes the point that a world-wide capitalism which jointly exploited the "3rd world" would be very difficult to get rid of, and particularly oppressive to the third worlders. I think the article was published BEFORE WWI. If you read some of the "great cartels" that were being patched together at the time, it is a logical conclusion to reach. The Lenin/Bukharin refutations comes AFTER the outbreak of the war 1917, and 1915 respectiverly. The Hilferding thesis antedates the war and points to the theoretical possibility of administered economies, run by giant cartels.

Anyhow a case can be made that the Kautsky thesis--such as it is, in 5 pages or so--makes more sense in the nuclear transnational age. That there is a more or less unified "core" jointly exploiting an undeveloped "periphery" and that the revolutionary potential of the "core" is limited (to easy to buy off the dissatisfied). What's amazing is that the vilification Lenin threw at Kautsky seemed to far outweigh the provocation--of that one article--but it is true that Kautsky's lifelong work tended to see the development of socialism as a gradual process with no revolutionary end for capitalism. So it was more the vilification of a lifelong opponent. On the other hand, looking backwards, it is hard to say that the Kautsky/Hobson reformist positions were entirely wrong--the development of the European welfare state did coincide witht he defeat of Nazism (a form of Imperialism) and British, French, and Dutch imperialism. BUT, this de-fanging was ALSO accompanied by another huge war of the Leninist variety (tho' Hobson was pretty explicit about this as well, and his re-issue of the book in 1939 made no major modifications--nor did it need them).

As a purely theoretical debate, I call it a draw. Lenin - Hobson win on the forecasts of global conflict. Hobson-Kautsky win on forecasts of welfare state and its potential to blunt revolution. Kautsky scores a win on forecast of joint exploitation of 3rd world by 1st world (post WWII) but a loses big time in thinking that the world resource cartels of 1911 were the immediate precursors to such evolution. Lenin loses big time in thinking that world war leads to world revolution, underestimating the capacity of workers to use their military service as justification for getting bigger social welfare from the state (Kolko thesis). Lenin's economic model lacked the Hobson/Keynesian thesis that an increase in the marginal propensity to consume of the poor would actually boost system output and help it "resolve" its own accumulation contradicition. He knew Hobson's work so he must not have considered it likely that the working class would by able to prise additional net consumption possibilities from the dominant capitalists.

-- Gregory P. Nowell Associate Professor Department of Political Science, Milne 100 State University of New York 135 Western Ave. Albany, New York 12222

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