Born Aug. 10, 1877, in Vienna; died Feb. 10, 1941, in Paris. One of the leaders of Austrian and German Social Democracy and the Second International; Austro-Marxist theoretician.
Hilferding joined the Austrian Social Democratic Party while a medical student. When he graduated he moved to Berlin, where he worked for Neue Zeit, the theoretical organ of German Social Democracy, writing articles on Marxist economic theory. From 1907 to 1915 he was the editor of Vorwärts, the central organ of the German Social Democratic Party. In his major work, Finance Capital (1910; Russian translation, 1912, 1924, 1925, and 1959), Hilferding made one of the first attempts to give a scientific explanation of the new features of capitalism connected with its entry into the stage of imperialism. He summarized large amounts of theoretical material on the appearance and activities of joint-stock companies and the formation of fictitious capital and described the stock exchange; he studied the process of subordination of the small capitalists by the big ones; and he defended the theory of allowing capitalism to mature so that it could eventually be replaced by socialism. However, along with serious analysis, Hilferding’s work contained theoretical mistakes and “a certain inclination on his part to reconcile Marxism with opportunism” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 309): giving the primacy to distribution over production; concealing the permitted role of monopolies under imperialism and the aggravation of all of its contradictions; ignoring such important features of imperialism as its struggle to partition the world, its parisitism, and its inherent decay. During World War I (1914-18), he took a centrist position and became a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. After the war Hilferding openly professed revision of Marxism, advancing the theory of “organized capitalism.” He was hostile to Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat. After 1924 he was a deputy in the Reichstag. In 1923 and 1928-29 he was the minister of finance in the bourgeois government of the Weimar Republic. Hilferding’s opportunism was criticized by V. I. Lenin, who included him among the people who exerted “the bourgeoisie’s influence on the proletariat from within the working-class movement” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 41, p. 296). After the fascists seized power, he emigrated to France (1933). Given up by the Vichy government to Hitler in February 1941, Hilferding died in prison.