Karl Kautsky

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Kautsky, Karl


Born Oct. 16, 1854, in Prague; died Oct. 17, 1938, in Amsterdam. One of the leaders and theoreticians of the German Social Democratic movement and the Second International; an ideologist of centrism. At first a Marxist, but later became a renegade.

In 1874, while he was a student at the University of Vienna, Kautsky joined the socialist movement, and during this period he was close to Lassalleanism. At the end of the 1870’s, and especially after he became acquainted with K. Marx and F. Engels in 1881, he began to shift to Marxist positions. At that time Marx and Engels already noted in Kautsky such negative traits as pedantry and a penchant for scholastic argumentation. From 1883 to 1917, Kautsky was the editor of Die Neue Zeit, the theoretical journal of the German Social Democratic movement. During 1885–88 he lived in London, where he associated with Engels. In 1890 he moved to Germany. During the 1880’s and 1890’s he wrote a number of works and articles that propagated Marxist ideas, such as The Economic Doctrine of Karl Marx (1887; Russian translation, 1956), Thomas More and His Utopia (1888; Russian translation, 1905), Commentaries on the Erfurt Program (1892; Russian translation, 1956) and Precursors of Modern Socialism (vols. 1–2, 1895; Russian translation, vols. 1–2, 1924–25). Kautsky’s The Agrarian Question (1899; Russian translation, 1900) was favorably appraised by V. I. Lenin. However, even at that period Kautsky was making opportunistic errors. After E. Bernstein’s display of revisionism, Kautsky joined in the struggle against him, but only after prolonged vacillation. Kautsky’s book Bernstein and the Social Democratic Program (1899; Russian translation, 1906) in general played a positive role in the fight against revisionism, but it avoided the question of Bernstein’s revision of the Marxist doctrine of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat. After the Second Congress of the RSDLP (1903), Kautsky supported the Mensheviks.

Early in the 20th century Kautsky published a number of works that were written, despite individual deviations, in the spirit of revolutionary Marxism: for example, the article “The Slavs and Revolution,” printed in 1902 in Lenin’s newspaper Iskra, the pamphlets Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution (1906–07; Russian translation, 1907, edited and with a foreword by V. I. Lenin), and The Road to Power (1909; Russian translation, 1959).

During the years preceding World War I, Kautsky departed even further from the revolutionary workers’ movement, following a line of reconciliation with the revisionists, supporting the liquidators in the Russian Social Democratic movement, denying the party spirit of Marxist philosophy, and so forth. In supporting anti-Marxist theories of violence, such as Social Darwinism, Kautsky attempted to demonstrate the compatibility of scientific socialism with non-Marxist philosophical systems. Kautsky became the ideologist of centrism, which combined a verbal acknowledgment of Marxism with an adaptation to opportunistic elements. With the beginning of the war Kautsky made a final break with revolutionary Marxism and justified the alliance with the overt social chauvinists.

Kautsky’s denial of the connection between the rule of monopolies and the predatory policy of the imperialist states, as well as his attempt to reduce imperialism to a variant policy of modern capitalism, as Lenin pointed out (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, pp. 387, 409–20), led to his obscuring the radical contradictions characteristic of the monopoly stage of the development of capitalism. Just as apologetic and reformist was Kautsky’s theory of ultraimperialism, which falsely predicted the onset of a new phase constituting the peaceful development of capitalism and the elimination of its contradictions. Kautsky sowed pacifist illusions and in essence denied the inevitability of proletarian revolution. Kautsky was hostile in his attitude toward the October Socialist Revolution; he opposed the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and defended bourgeois democracy. Kautsky’s desertion of Marxism was exposed by Lenin in his work entitled The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (ibid., vol. 37, pp. 235–338).

In 1917, Kautsky took part in the establishment of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. During the period of the November Revolution of 1918 he actually supported the counterrevolutionary policy of the Scheidemann group and opposed the establishment of friendly relations with Soviet Russia. While he took charge of a commission on socialization, Kautsky in fact pursued the line of preserving the capitalist structure in Germany. In 1922 he heralded the merger of the right wing of the “Independents” with the Social Democratic Party. He opposed the establishment of a unified workers’ front in the struggle against fascism. In 1924, Kautsky moved to Vienna. After the seizure of Austria by Nazi Germany (March 1938) he moved to Prague and later to Amsterdam.

Contemporary right-wing socialist leaders use the opportunist and revisionist views of Kautsky to substantiate their reformist policies.


In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols, l–4, 10, 12. Moscow-Petrograd, 1923–30.
Sotsial’nyi perevorot. St. Petersburg, 1905.
Krest’iane i revoliutsiia v Rossii. St. Petersburg, 1905.
Vozniknovenie braka i sem’i 3rd ed. Petrograd, 1923.
Natsionalizm i internatsionalizm. Petrograd, 1918.
Proiskhozhdenie khristiantsva, 5th ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930.


Marx, K, and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 35, pp. 146, 178–80, 375; vol. 36, pp. 287, 297; vol. 38, p. 133.
Lenin, V. I. “Retsenziia [na knigu K. Kautskogo Agrarnyi vopros’].” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “Retsenziia [na knigu K. Kautskogo ‘Bernshtein i s.-d. programma’]. Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Predislovie k russkomu izdaniu broshiury K. Kautskogo ’Net bol’she sotsialdemokratii!’ “Ibid., vol. 12.
Lenin, V. I. “Predislovie k russkomu perevodu broshiury K. Kautskogo ’Dvizhushchie sily i perspektivy russkoi revoliutsii.’ “Ibid, vol. 14.
Lenin, V. I. “Opportunizm i krakh II Internatsionala.” Ibid., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. “O ‘programme mira.’ “Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Imperializm i raskol sotsializma.” Ibid., vol. 30.
Lenin, V. I. “Patsifizm burzhuaznyi i patsifizm sotsialisticheskii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia,” chap. 6. Ibid, vol. 33.
Lenin, V. I. “Proletarskaia revoliutsiia i renegat Kautskii.” Ibid., vol. 37.
Lenin, V. I. “O ‘demokratii’ i diktature.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Tretii Internatsional i ego mesto v istorii.” Ibid., vol. 38.
Istoriia Vtorogo Internatsionala, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1965–66.