Karl Kautsky

The Hanover Congress


Source: The following article is taken from the Social Democrat, 1899, Vol. 3, No.11. pp.344-346, the monthly journal of the Social Democratic Federation which ran from 1897-1911.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford, January, 2003.
Translated and condensed: From Die Neue Zeit, October 28 [1899].

The defining of our frontiers was, in fact, the duty which the party in Hanover had to fulfil. Since 1891 the boundary-trenches of our party had been here and there neglected and had got worn away. A number of remarks had fallen which tended to show that there was arising a party whose object was to render our boundaries indistinguishable. Mistrust took possession of one side, on the other many sayings under the influence of this spirit might appear more suspicious than they were meant to be. Under these circumstances the Congress met at Hanover. The outcome is the party has found that it can rely upon its representatives, and that its belief in itself is a; firm and strong as ever. The whole proceedings, especially the voting on Bebel’s resolution, clearly show that. Certainly those who hoped that the proceedings would show how strong the Bernstein tendency in the party is, are disappointed in this respect by the action of its representatives in voting for the resolution. But the blame cannot be attached to the wording of the resolution, nor have we any cause to be dissatisfied with the voting. Babel’s resolution declared as clearly and decisively as possible that the criticisms and discussions up to date have given no ground for altering in any way the nature or the form of our party. If Bernstein and those who agree with him take the same view, and show it by their vote, we have every reason to be glad. One might, indeed, have wished that year-long discussions had produced a more positive result, that they had added to our knowledge in this or that point. But if so keen and protracted discussions have only intensified the conviction that we are on the right way, and that we have no need to change our position, so is this a lesser gain theoretically, but, from the practical point of view, an achievement the value of which can hardly be estimated. The participation in the Prussian Diet elections is, according to our opinion, not yet decided, but the way is mapped out for future discussion, and the discussion can no longer turn on generalisations, such as compromise, class war, and the like, but on concrete considerations, such as whether under existing conditions success is possible, whether a bourgeois opposition exists with whom an agreement might be possible, whether by the peculiar condition of the participation in the elections the disadvantages would not outweigh the advantages. The Congress has decided nothing on these questions, but left them over to the next.

As regards the attitude of the party towards co-operative societies, the practical advantages of the distributive co-operative societies are so great that the opposition which they have met in the ranks of the Social-Democrats is not at first sight to be understood. This, however, explains itself, when one remembers that the private co-operative societies were recommended to the working class by the Liberals to tempt them from the founding of an independent political party, and from the acceptance of Socialist ideas. Thus naturally the battle for the latter two objects led to an antagonism against the bourgeois illusions of the co-operators, which only too easily developed into hostility against the co-operative movement itself. The co-operative movement has since shown itself unable to draw away the workers from an independent political attitude, or to attract them to Liberalism, whose members therefore gave up the attempt to use it as a weapon against Social-Democracy. The Social-Democratic Party has learnt to view the co-operative movement more amiably, and begin to regard especially the distributive societies with sympathy. But the “Perfect being” Anarchists [I take this from “W.H.’s” article in the Social-Democrat, October, as the only expression I know to cover the term “Edelanarchisten” - Translator] and Social Liberals at once attempt to bring the distributing societies into antagonism with Social-Democracy, and to set over against the struggle of the latter to obtain for themselves political power the little-noticed conquest of capitalism through co-operation a theory, by the way, not unlike the theory of the “ undermining of capital” which David developed in Hanover. No worse service could be rendered to the distributive co-operative societies than that that theory should find sympathy among their supporters or be propagated by them. The old antagonisms between the political party and the distributing; society would again be awakened and be stronger than ever. In the interests of the distributive societies themselves it is strongly recommended that they content themselves with the modest rôle which the Bebel resolution (this said that the party, as such, stood neutral in the matter of the founding of these societies) and cease to put themselves forward as on an equal footing with or even as superior to true political struggle for the emancipation of the workers. Our position to the distributing societies is to a large extent dependent on our attitude towards the small middleman. Not the large capitalist is expropriated by the co-operative societies, but the small middleman. The first does a good business with them, the last is ruined. Where the middleman and the proletariat stand opposed to each other, out of this conflict arises a strong impulse towards the co-operative movement, as Austria shows us. But just now must political considerations there check the foundation of distributing societies where the small dealers are a recruiting-ground for Social- Democracy. And that is often the case. The small dealers, not only for the casting of Socialist votes, but also for Socialist feeling and thinking, are much easier to win than the peasant proprietor. And it is this class we should drive into the ranks of our opponents. Now, certainly we cannot go against the stream of economical development. However much we regret the painful circumstances under which the death-struggle of the small trader takes place, we cannot prevent the founding of co-operative societies. Put at least there, where the middleman and industrial proletariat do not stand antagonistic to each other, but wage hand in hand the fight against capital, our party has no ground to identify itself with the founding of distributing societies, and it dares nowhere to encourage the belief that we are preparingthe expropriation of capital when we have expropriated a pair of poor pedlars and shopkeepers.


The Klatteradatsch (Social Revolution) Prophecies of Bebel and Engels

That these two in 1891 cherished optimistic expectations which have not been fulfilled is allowed by Bebel. That is, however, not the chief point, but the interpretation that our two foremost fighters in 1891 laid down a specific date for the outbreak of the revolution. We should be doing a wrong against either if we interpreted their utterances in this respect. That their enthusiasm and optimism led both “youths,” as Bebel called himself at Erfurt, astray is not to be denied. But people far overshoot the mark if they wish by appealing to that to proscribe all discussion of our prospects.

Political activity means working for the future; the more we look into the future the more far-sighted will our policy be - so much the more clear and decided. The less far we try to see into the future, the more we content ourselves with the daily routine (Alltäglichkeit), the more weak and uncertain will be our policy of to-day. Every politician of note must, therefore endeavour out of the present to conclude what the future will be, and, if he wants to win the masses to his politics then he must attempt to make his expectations of the future plausible – he must prophesy. Such prophecies are only dangerous if they pretend to be anything more than hypotheses, when they destroy independent thought and distract attention from the study of reality, or induce people to stake everything on the one card of the fulfilment of the prophecy. The kind of prophecy as uttered by a fanatic, whom a believing mob blindly follows, we of the German Social-Democracy have never yet had. A good example of false prophesying was offered by Buckle, who prophesied from the twenty years’ peace which followed on the Napoleonic wars that the warlike spirit had disappeared in Europe and that we were entering on an era of peace. This he wrote just before the era of the great wars began. A like prophecy was uttered by Proudhon, who a few weeks before the February Revolution joyfully declared the period of revolutions was for ever closed. Anybody who prophesies must always conceive the possibility of his prophecies not being fulfilled. Nevertheless, we should lament it if people in our party were to cease to entertain expectations about the remoter future and to give expression to thorn. It would mean nothing less than that people in our party had ceased to care seriously about the future, that they lived entirely in the present, that they had no more great ideals, and with thorn the inspiration was gone which only a great ideal can produce.

Karl Kautsky


Last updated on 23.11.2003