Karl Kautsky

The Road to Power

Chapter I
Growing Gradually Into Tiie Co-Operative Commonwealth

There is no such thing as politics without prophesying. The only difference is that those who prophesy that things will always remain the same do not know that they are prophesying.

Naturally there can be no proletarian politician who is satisfied with present conditions and does not strive fundamentally to conditions them. And there is no intelligent politician, of whatever faction, who possesses even a remnant of freedom of judgment who is not forced to recognize that political conditions cannot remain as they now are in the midst of the present rapid rate of economic transformation.

But if in spite of this he refuses to recognize the possibility of a political revolution, that is, of a decided rearrangement of political power in the state, then there is nothing left for him to do but to seek in some way gradually and imperceptibly to do away with class antagonism without any great decisive battle.

The reformers dream of the establishment of social peace between the classes, between exploited and exploiters, without abolishing exploitation. They would bring this about by having each class exercise a certain self-restraint toward the other, and by the giving up of all “excesses” and “extreme demands”. There are people who believe that the antagonisms which exist between the individual laborer and capitalist would disappear if they confronted each other in ORGANIZED form. Wage contracts are to be the beginning of social peace. In reality organization simply concentrates the antagonisms. The struggle becomes less frequent, but more violent, and disturbs society far more than former little individual conflicts. The antagonism of conflicting interests becomes much harsher. Because of the existence of organization the conflict tends to drop its character of a momentary conflict of individual persons, and takes on the fore, of a NECESSARY conflict between whole CLASSES.

It is impossible for a Socialist to share the illusion of the reconciliation of classes and the coming of social peace. That he does not share it is what makes him a Socialist. He knows that if social peace is to come it will be not by a chimerical RECONCILIATION, but by the ABOLITION of classes. When he has lost faith in a revolution, however, there is nothing left for him but to await the peaceful and imperceptible disappearance of classes through economic progress – through the growth and increased power of the working class, which gradually absorbs the other classes.

That is the theory, of the gradual growth into (hineinwachsen) the socialist society.

This theory contains a germ of truth. It is supported by facts of economic development that show an actual growth toward Socialism. It was Marx and Engels who first set forth these facts and explained the scientific laws that govern them.

We are growing from two directions. One of these is through the development of capitalism, and the concentration of capital. When, in the competitive struggle a larger body of capital is brought into conflict with a smaller the latter is first pressed, then oppressed, and finally suppressed. This fact, wholly apart from the rage for profits, compels every capitalist to increase his capital and to extend his undertakings. Ever larger grow the industries, ever more and more industries are concentrated in a single land. Today we leave reached the point where banks and promoting organizations control and direct the greater part of the capitalist undertakings in the various countries. So it is that the road is being prepared for the social organization of production.

Hand in hand with this centralization of business goes the growth of great fortunes, something that is in no way hindered by the appearance of the corporation. On the contrary, the corporation not only makes the control of production by a few banks and industrial combines possible; it also furnishes a means by which the very smallest fortunes can be transformed into capital and thereby be made to contribute to the centralizing process on capitalism.

Through the corporation the savings of even the poor are placed at the disposal of the great capitalists, who are enabled to use those savings as if they were a part of their great capitals. As a result the centralizing Power of their own great fortunes is increased still more.

The corporation renders the person of the capitalist wholly superfluous for the conduct of capitalist undertakings. The exclusion of his personality from industrial life ceases to be a question of possibility or of intention. It is purely a question of POWER.

This preparation for Socialism through the concentration of capital is meanwhile only one side of the process of gradual growth into the future state. Along with it there is proceeding an evolution within the working class that is no less of an indication of growth in the direction of Socialism

With the growth of capital goes also an increase in the number of proletarians within society. They become the most numerous class. Simultaneously grows their organization. The laborers create co-operatives that abolish the middle men and establish production directly for their own use. They organize unions that restrict the absolute power of the employers and exercise an influence in the productive process. They elect members to the representative bodies in the municipalities and states who seek to secure reforms, to enact legislation for the protection of laborers, to make state and municipal industries model businesses and to increase the number of such industries.

These movements go on continuously, so that our reformers say we are in the midst of the social revolution, indeed some of them would say in the midst of Socialism. All that is needed is further development along these lines, with no catastrophe – indeed, anything of the kind would only disturb this gradual growth into Socialism. Therefore, away with all such ideas, let us concentrate on “positive” work.

This outlook is certainly a very alluring one, and a person would have to be a regular fiend to wish to destroy such a magnificent “gradual reformist ascension” by any sort of catastrophe. Were the wish father to our thought we Marxists would all become inspired with this idea of a gradual growth.

It has only one little defect: The growth that it describes is not the growth of a SINGLE element, but of TWO elements, and, moreover, of two very ANTAGONISTIC elements – Capital and Labor. What appears to the “reformers” as a peaceable growth into Socialism, is only the growth in power of two antagonistic classes, standing in irreconcilable enmity to each other. This phenomena means nothing more or less than that the antagonism between Capitalist and Laborer, which, in the beginning, existed only between a number of individuals, constituting together but a minority in the state, has now become a battle between gigantic, compact organizations that dominate and determine our whole social and political life.

So it is that this gradual growth into Socialism is really a gradual growth into great struggles that shatter the very base of the state, that is growing ever more violent, and that can end only with the overthrow and expropriation of the capitalist class. It must so end, because the working class is indispensable for society. It may be temporarily defeated, but it can never be destroyed, The capitalist class, on the contrary, has become superfluous. The first great defeat that it receives in the struggle for control of the state must lead to its complete and final collapse.

Those who do not recognize that this gradual growth into Socialism includes these consequences must be blind to the fundamental fact of our society – the class antagonisms between capitalists and laborers.

This growth into Socialism is only another expression for the steady sharpening of class antagonisms, for the growth into an epoch of greater, more decisive class struggles, such as we have described under the name of the Social Revolution.

To be sure, the revisionists do not grant this position. But up to the present time none of them has been able to bring any convincing argument against it. The exceptions that they offer, when of any importance, indicate not a “growth into” Socialism, but a “growth away” from Socialism. Such is the case, for example, with the acceptance of the idea that Capital is not concentrating but the reverse. This logical contradiction is bound up with the very essence of revisionism. It must accept the Marxian theory of capitalism in order to prove the growth toward Socialism. It mast discard this theory in order to make credible the peaceable, progressive development of society and the softening of class antagonisms.

A glimmering of this idea is beginning to penetrate the heads of the revisionists and their neighbors, and they are beginning to see that the idea of a peaceable growth into the future state has a catch in it.

In this connection an article by Nauman, published in the October number of the Neuen Rundshau (1908) and later in the Hilfe, on The Fate of Marxism, is very significant. It is a pretty rough fate that the former leader of the National Social party pictures for us. He concludes that the concentration of capital and the formation of Employers’ Associations have surprised us Marxians, and placed us in an unexpected dilemma. This good man has no suspicion of the fact that it was Marx who first set forth the existence of these very things upon the continent of Europe, and that he recognized their significance long before even other Socialists.

But we have become accustomed to ignorance of such things on the part of these gentlemen, and it does not require further attention here. It is worthy of notice, however, that Nauman, in his article, discovers the superiority of concentrated capital so that, according to him, economic evolution is not leading to Socialism, but to a “new feudalism, with inconceivably powerful economic means”. Against the Employers’ association, he says, co-operatives and unions cannot prevail.

“For any conceivable time the leadership of industry must be located where the trusts and the banks work together. There is growing up a rulership that cannot be thrown from the saddle by any social revolution, so long as there do not come times of unemployment that shall release the hunger rage of the masses, that will blindly throw everything overboard without being able to erect anything better in its place. The idea of a social revolution is practically at an end. All this is very painful for the old-style Socialists, and also for us social ideologists, who have been hoping for a swifter gait in the progress of Labor. But it makes no difference how much we may have deceived ourselves – the future belongs to the industrial combinations.”

That certainly does not look like growing into Socialism, and least of all like a peaceful growth. Nauman, himself, can suggest no other way of overthrowing this feudalism than a “popular rage” (Massengroll), that shall “throw everything overboard” – that is a revolution, and he reaches this conclusion by a logical somersault. First he asserts that the employers’ associations can be overthrown only by a revolution. Then he avoids the idea of this sort of a revolution by the simple assertion that it must be a hunger revolt, which “would simply throw everything overboard, without being able to erect anything better in its place.” Why this must be so, why the revolution is doomed beforehand to barrenness remains Nauman’s secret.

After having killed the idea of a revolution with a stroke of his pen, without any reason, he by no means sinks into complete hopelessness. On the contrary, he arises filed with joyous faith, He then discovers that the employers’ associations are invincible only to Marxians who recognize economic necessity and deny free will. We have only to recognize this will and we can handle the employers’ associations, and the “inconceivably great power” of the “new feudalism” loses its invincibleness.

What is not possible to the uprising of the masses can be accomplished by the recognition of the free will of the individual-of his “personalit”. The proof of this is furnished by “practical politics”.

Nauman tells us

“Marx cared little for appeals to free will, since he looked upon all events as determined by natural necessity. At least, it sounds that way in his theory. As an individual man, to be sure, he was a personality with a powerful will, who aroused to energetic action. Today there is with the thinking portion of the Socialist movement a certain wandering back from this philosophy of nature to a philosophy of the will, and consequently to the fundamental philosophy of the Socialist movement. Edward Bernstein has spoken the plainest on this point, calling for a return to the feet of Kant. In the anarchist or half-anarchist movement that accompanies Socialism we find this same tendency away from the belief in a blindly ruled natural history in economic life, toward the view that the will can form things as it wishes. This return to the idea of the will is a result of the fact of the permanence of the new industrial domination. One is forced to recognize that it will not overthrow itself, but that concessions can be obtained from it through acts of the will.”

The “ones” who have recognized this are just those worshipers of the gradual growth into Socialism. We Marxists do not really need this knowledge. For the revisionist, as well as their anarchist and National Social assistants, on the contrary, this is a wonderful discovery. But they are bees that know how to get honey out of every flower, and they are therefore able to see, even in this discovery, a complete overthrow of the Marxian position, and the same is true of their liberal, National Social, anarchist and half-anarchist intellectual brothers. They all complain that Marx recognized only a “blindly ruled”, “automatic”, economic evolution, and knew nothing of the human will. And it should be our main task to arouse this will.

So teaches, not alone Nauman, but also Friedeberg. So teach all those elements within the Socialist movement that are vibrating between Nauman and Friedeberg, and so teach also the theoreticians of revisionism Tugan-Baranowsky:

“The author of Capital overvalued the significance of the elementary side of the historical process, and did not comprehend the tremendous creative role of the living human personality in this process.” – Der Moderne Socialismus, p.91)

All this shows clearly that the theory, of the “gradual growth into” Socialism has a large hole that is to be stopped up by the tremendous creative role of the living human personality and its free will, But this free will that is to bring about the “gradual growth” really means its abolition. If Nauman. is right, and the will is free and can “shape things as it wishes”, then it can also “shape as it wishes” the direction of economic development. Then it is absolutely impossible to discover any guarantee that we are growing into Socialism. It is, moreover, impossible to determine any line of historical development whatsoever, and no scientific knowledge of society is possible.


Last updated on 25.12.2003