real Kautsky

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Wed Sep 9 09:06:23 PDT 1998


I agree substantially with your hypothesis below. I have been saying for a while now that because we have not had the world socialist revolution in Lenin's era, we missed that possibility. imperialism HAS gone on and developed a sort of Kautskyian ultra or super-imperialism. As I have discussed it some, I changed to the term "neo-imperialism" so as not to be confused with "Kautskyists" or opportunist social democrats. Lenin's polemic against Kautsky was not that ultra-imperialism could not develop, but that it would not automatically, without revolutionary intervention by the working class develop into socialism.

Actually, Kautsky was not a lifelong opponent of Lenin. That's why he called Kautsky a "renegade". For example, in _Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder_ written after Lenin had denounced Kautsky's national chauvinism during WW I, he quoted Kautsky from about 1903 approvingly ( "how well Karl Kautsky wrote 20 years ago").

Lenin didn't "lose' to Kautsky and Hobson on the issue of the ability of imperialism to blunt revolution with reform, sort of with a vaccination; and worse, to rebuild itself and take back those reforms. Lenin was correct vis-a-vis the reformist/evolutionists in his understanding of the viciousness of the bourgeoisie.. Lenin didn't say it couldn't happen , but was against "giving in" to it, and especially against portraying the revolution blunting reforms as Marxist or desirable, as Kautsky did. And Lenin was correct, in that those ultimately anti-revolutionary reforms have contributed significantly to forestalling revolution, and left the workers of the world vulnerable to the current, vicious takeback of those reforms. The reforms allowed the bourgeosie to regain their feet and mount the current horrendous international counterrevolution. That is exactly the problem with reforms. They preserve the bourgeois system and allow it to carryout arch betrayals of reactionary countereform when the bourgeois have regained their strength. Lenin was correct that the workers should have slit the bourgeoisie's throat when they had the opportunity in Lenin's era.

Lenin doesn't " lose big time" in underestimating the ability of capitalism to coopt workers and effectively blunt revolution. This is exactly what he was warning against !! In _Imperialism_ Lenin warns against the opportunist labor lieutenants of capital and the use of the booty of imperialism to buy off labor "arisotocrats" within the advanced capitalist countries. Kautsky profoundly betrayed the cause of the workers of the world by encouraging exactly this central weakness in the world workers movement, this division between workers in advanced and colonial countries, between white workers and workers of color.

The stark reality of history as it has gone down is that socialist revolution has occurred significantly in the colonial and socalled "backward" countries and not in the "advanced " countries. The workers of the West have not carried out their historical responsibility , leaving the workers of the Rest in the lurch, a la Kautsky. This has forced the workers of the Rest into the current worldwide retreat, because of the enormous material advantage of the West based significantly on its imperialist booty stolen from the Rest.

Charles Brown


Workers of the West, it's our turn.

>>> Greg Nowell <GN842 at CNSVAX.Albany.Edu> 09/08 5:40 PM >>>
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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