Karl Kautsky

The Road to Power

Chapter VI
The Growth Of Revolutionary Elements

We have seen that the Marxists have shown themselves to be by no means as poor prophets as some people would like to make them appear. Many of them, to be sure, have been wrong in some ONE point, as, for example, the setting of a date for the great revolutionary struggle that shall bring about important political alterations of power in the interest of the proletariat.

What reason have we to expect that now, at last, the long expected time is drawing close when the ban of political stagnation will be broken, and that once more the fresh, joyful life of battle and victorious progress on the road to political power will appear?

In his introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France, to which reference has already been made, Engels quite properly pointed out that, under present conditions, a great revolutionary struggle can be carried on only by great masses who know what they intend to do. The times are past in which a small minority, by a sudden energetic action, can overthrow a government and erect a new one in its place.

This was possible in a centralized state where all political power was concentrated in a capital city which dominated the entire country, and where the villages and smaller cities had no trace of political life and no power of co-operation. Whoever was able to cripple the military forces and the bureaucracy of the capital, or to win it to their side, could seize the powers of government, and, if the general conditions were favorable to a social revolution, use them for that purpose.

To in the age of railroads and telegraphs, of newspapers and public assemblages, of countless industrial centers, of magazine rifles and machine guns it is absolutely impossible for a minority to cripple the military: forces of the capital, unless they are already completely disorganized. It is also impossible to confine a political struggle to the capital. Political life has become national.

Where these conditions exist a great transfer of political power that shall destroy a tyrannical regime is only to be expected where all of the following conditions exist:

  1. The great mass of the people must be decisively hostile to such a regime.
  2. There mast be a great organized party in irreconcilable opposition to such a regime.
  3. This party must represent the interests of the great majority of the population and possess their confidence.
  4. Confidence in the ruling regime, both in its power and in its stability, mast have been destroyed by its own tools, by the bureaucracy and the army.

During the last decade, at least in Western Europe, these conditions have never existed simultaneously. For a long time the proletariat did not form a majority of the population and the Socialist Party was not the strongest party. When in previous decades we looked for the early appearance of the revolution, it was because we calculated, not alone upon the proletariat, but also upon the small capitalist democracy to help make up the mass of the revolutionary party, and upon the small capitalists and the farmers to form a party of the masses that would stand behind such a revolution. But the small capitalist democracy has completely failed in this respect. In Germany it no longer constitutes an opposition party.

On the other hand, however, the uncertainty as to conditions which prevailed in 1870 has disappeared in the great cities of Europe outside of Russia. The governments have entrenched themselves and grown in strength and security. They have learned how to gain the confidence of the mass of the nation arid to convince it that they stand for its interest.

So it was that in the first decade of the rise of a permanent and independent labor movement, during the ‘60s of the last century, the possibilities of revolution were constantly less. At the same time the proletariat was ever in more and more need of such a revolution, and, because of the example of the decades just passed, believed such a revolution near.

But gradually conditions changed to favor its coming.

The organisation of the proletariat grew. Perhaps this was most striking in Germany. During the last dozen years this growth has been especially rapid. We have seen the organization of the Social Democrats reach a half million members. Closely united to it in spirit is a trade union movement with two million members. Simultaneously has grown its press as a work of the organization and not of private enterprise. The political daily press now has a circulation of nearly a million, and the trade union press, composed mostly of weekly papers, reaches an even greater number.

That is an organized power of the laboring. subject masses such as the world has never seen before.

The domination of the ruling class over the subject class has hitherto rested in no small degree on its control of the organized means of governmental power, while the subject class was almost wholly without organization, at least of any organization extending over the field of the entire state. The working class has never been wholly without organization. Through antiquity and the middle ages and up to recent times these organizations, however, were confined either to single, narrow BRANCHES OF INDUSTRY or to single, narrow LOCALITIES – either guild or municipal corporations.

Under certain circumstances these could exercise a strong restraint over municipalities. There can be no greater mistake than to confuse state and community without distinguishing between them, and to designate one and the other as organizations of the same class domination. A community CAN be, and often is, the same as the state. A community, within the state, may also represent the subject class, if this constitutes a majority and asserts itself. During the last century it performed this function in the most striking manner in the municipality of Paris. This municipality came to be the organization of the lowest classes of society.

But in no great state of today is it possible for a singly municipality to maintain its independence in opposition to the power of the state. It is therefore all the more necessary that the subject classes should be organized in great organizations extending over the entire scope of the state and embracing all branches of industry.

This has been most successfully accomplished in Germany. Not only in France, but also in England with its old trade unions, is the economic as well as the political movement very much divided. But however much the proletarian organizations may grow, they will never in normal, non-revolutionary times include the whole of the laboring class within the state, but only an elite, that through either trade, local or individual peculiarities are raised above the mass of the population. On the other hand, the attractive power of a class organization in revolutionary times, in which even the weakest feel themselves capable of and willing to fight, depends upon the numerical strength of the classes whose interests it represents.

It is therefore noteworthy that the wage workers constitute a majority, not only of the POPULATION, but even of the electorate, in the German Empire.

The exact figures of the laboring population from the census of 1907 are not yet available. We must therefore take those for 1895. When we compare these with the election of 1893 we obtain the following:

In 1893 the number entitled to vote was 10,628,292. On the other hand, there were in 1895 15,506,182 persons active in industry. Subtract from this figure the number of those under twenty years of age, ands one-half of those between twenty and thirty, and we have 10,742,989, as the nearest figure obtainable of the male industrial workers of voting age. This number is almost identical with the number of those entitled to vote in 1893.

Of the male industrial workers of voting age in agriculture, industry and trade (reckoned in the same manner) there were again 4,172,269 independent producers and 5,590,743 wage workers and salary force. If we consider, however, that in business (trade and industry) alone, that of the 3,144,977 heads of business more than one-half, 1,714,351, a single person was both employer and employee, and that therefore the overwhelming majority of these fall within the circle of interest of the proletariat then we are not exaggerating when we accept the statement that in 1895, while there were three and a half million such “independent” producers who were interested in private property in the means of production, there were more than six million proletarians who were interested in the abolition of this private property:

We may take it for granted that in the remaining strata of the population that are to be considered, while insignificant in numbers, is divided in about the same way. This is especially true of those who are classified as “independent without occupation”, and who are composed upon the one side of rich capitalist landlords and on the other of needy invalids and recipients of old-age pensions.

If we take the total population engaged in productive industry, the preponderance of the proletariat is much greater than among those entitled to the suffrage. Those active in industry who do not vote are nearly all child laborers.

The figures are as follows:




18-20 years



20-30 years



On the other hand:




30-40 years



40-50 years



Over 50 years



Altogether in agriculture, industry and trade there are 5,474,046 “independents” and 13,438,377 employed. If we deduct from this first class a portion composed of home-workers, and similar “independents” who are really disguised proletarians, we can safely say that in 1895 scarcely one-fourth of the productive population was interested in the maintenance of private property in the means of production, while the proletariat composed fully one-third of the electorate.

Thirteen years earlier, in 1882, the conditions were not yet so favorable. If we compare the figures of the occupation statistics of 1882 with those of the election of 1881, and use the same method of calculation we have just applied to the figures for 1895, we obtain the following:


Total Voters


Voting Laborers













The number of individual industries was almost as great in 1882 as in 1895 – 1,877,872. But the number of those classified as “independent” who led a non-proletarian existence was certainly higher in 1882 than in 1885. We can also certainly take it for granted that the number of those interested in the maintenance of private property in the instruments of production was proportionately greater in 1882 than in 1895, when it was in the neighborhood of three and one-half million. The proletarian element, on the contrary, included about five million. The defenders of private property have, therefore, remained practically the same from 1882 to 1895. The number of their opponents in the electorate, on the contrary, has increased a million.

The number of Socialist votes grew at an even more rapid rate during this period, increasing from 31,901 to 1,780,989. To be sure, the number of Socialist votes in 1881 was artificially decreased by the anti-Socialist laws.

Since 1895 capitalist development, and with it the growth of the proletariat, has made yet greater progress. Unfortunately the statistics of 1907 that would give us the desired enlightenment on these points are not yet available for the whole empire.

According to some preliminary statements the number of male “independent persons” in agriculture, industry and trade, during the period from 1895 to 1907 increased but 33,084 – practically not at all. The number of male clerical workers and wage workers, the proletariat, increased 2,891,228, or almost a hundred times as much.

The proletarian element that in 1895 was already the dominant element in the population and in the electorate, has since then enormously increased its preponderance.

If we take it for granted that the proportion of those entitled to suffrage among the “independents” and the laborers remained the same as in 1895, then we can carry forward the table already given in the following manner:


Total Voters

“Independent” Voters

Laboring Voters













The lion’s share of the increase in the number of voters falls to the proletariat and this in a higher degree than in the period from 1882 to 1895.

The figures of the census of 1905 are also strikingly significant as showing industrial progress.

As a general thing the cities are much more favorable to the political life and organization of the proletariat and to the extension of our teachings than the open country. It is therefore highly significant that the population of the latter has retreated before that of the cities,

How swiftly this change is proceeding is shown by the following table. The country population includes all those living in communities having less than 2,000 population, and the city population those living in communities of more than 2,000.



Rural Population


City population



Per Cent


Per Cent


























In a period of thirty years the city population has more than doubled, while the country population has not only relatively but absolutely decreased. While the city dwellers have increased more than twenty millions, the number living in the country has decreased nearly one million. At the time, of the establishment of the German empire the latter formed almost two-thirds of the population; today they form but a little over two-fifths.

So the economic development operates to continuously increase the revolutionary element among the people, that element that is interested in the abolition of the present property and political institutions, and to give it a greater preponderance in the state, and this at the expense of the conservative elements.

To be sure, these revolutionary elements are only revolutionary as a possibility, not as a reality. They constitute the recruiting ground for the “soldiers of the revolution”, but not all are at once such soldiers.

To a large degree hatched out of the small capitalist and small farmer class, many proletarians long carry the shells of these classes about with them. They do not feel themselves proletarians, but as would-be property owners. They live in the hope of getting a little strip of land, or of opening a miserable little store, or of becoming “independent” by establishing a tiny hand industry with a couple of unfortunate apprentices. Others have given up hope in these directions, or recognize what a miserable existence these things really mean, but they are still unwilling to fight for a better existence in co-operation with their comrades. Such become strike breakers and yellow trade unionists. Others, again, have gone further, and have come to recognize the necessity of fighting the capitalists that stand in antagonism to them, but do not feel themselves secure enough and strong enough to declare war upon the entire capitalist system. These look to capitalist parties and governments for relief.

Indeed, even among those who have become thoroughly conscious of the necessity of the proletarian class struggle, there are still plenty who cannot escape from the influence of present society, and who doubt or despair of the victory of the proletariat.

Just so much the more rapid the economic development, and therewith the proletarianization of the population proceeds, the more numerous the hordes that stream from the country to the city, from the East to the West, out of the ranks of the small possessors into the ranks of propertyless, just so much the more numerous within the ranks of the proletarians is the element that have not yet comprehended the significance of the social revolution, indeed that do not even understand the significance of the class antagonisms in our society.

To win these to the idea of Socialism is an indispensable, but, under ordinary conditions, a very difficult task, that demands the greatest sacrifice and skill, and never proceeds as fast as we wish. Our recruiting ground today includes fully three-fourths of the population, probably even more; the number of votes that are given to us do not equal one-third of all the voters, and not one-fourth of all those entitled to vote.

But the rate of progress increases with a leap when the revolutionary spirit is abroad. It is almost inconceivable with what rapidity the mass of the people reach a clear consciousness of their class interests at such a time. Not alone their courage and their belligerency but their political interest as well, is spurred on in the highest degree through the consciousness that the hour has at last come for them to burst out of the darkness of night into the glory of the full glare of the sun. Even the laziest becomes industrious, even the most cowardly becomes brave, and even the most narrow gains a wider view. In such times a single year will accomplish an education of the masses that would otherwise have required a generation.

When such a situation has arisen, when a stage has been reached where internal conflicts threaten a collapse, and if there is within such a nation a class that is interested in attaining, and has the power to take political power, then the only thing that is needed is a party that possesses the confidence of this class, and which stands in irreconcilable antagonism to the tottering regime, and which clearly recognizes the existing situation, in order to lead the aspiring class to victory.

The Socialist party has long been such a party. The revolutionary class is also here, and has for some time constituted a majority of the nation. Can we also reckon upon the moral collapse of the ruling regime?


Last updated on 25.12.2003