Karl Kautsky

The Labour Revolution

I. The Problem

IT is now thirty-four years ago that I was engaged in drafting a programme for the German Social Democracy, which the latter adopted at the Erfurt Congress in 1891, and which received the name of the Erfurt Programme.

Like most Socialist party programmes, the Erfurt Programme was divided into two parts, the theoretical and the practical. The theoretical part defined the objective and indicated the character of the Party, whilst the practical part enumerated the urgent practical demands which would have to be carried out before further progress could be made.

When the Erfurt Programme was being discussed, many comrades expressed the opinion that the programme should contain a third section: a description of the measures which would have to be introduced in the period of transition to Socialism.

I declined to comply with this request, which seemed to me premature. Conditions did not yet seem to me ripe for an immediate transition to Socialism. I stated at the time in a series of articles dealing with the draft programme:

»Whoever would prescribe for us methods whereby the workers may capture political power can only formulate their policy upon the model of revolutions that have occurred in the past. We believe, on the contrary, that only one thing may be asserted with confidence respecting the decisive struggles between the workers and the bourgeoisie : that their features will be quite different from those of previous revolutions, as factors will come into play which have been absent from every previous revolution, which are quite new, and will therefore impart unsuspected forms to the acute class struggles that are coming.«

I went on to say:

»If we cannot forecast the forms of the coming political development, we cannot, of course, specify the features of the period of transition to Socialism, as the latter development is intimately connected with the former. We do not even know what productive forces and productive forms the capitalist mode of production will have developed in the meantime, and are therefore thrown back on vague suppositions with respect to this matter. Not by devising a series of transitional measures, but by a clear perception of the development that is going on before our eyes, shall we be in a position to advocate and to do what is appropriate in every situation that confronts us, whatever its nature may be.«

The last sentence, of course, applies to-day, but not the preceding one. To-day the transitional measures belong to our programme, for we are no longer dependent upon vague suppositions concerning their nature. In this respect we were no farther advanced ten years after the adoption of the Erfurt Programme, when I wrote my book upon the Social Revolution. In that book I attempted to solve problems which might arise during the transition to Socialism, although I was obliged to start from a hypothetical foundation. Consequently, I was far from being able to ascribe the value of a programme to the results at which I arrived. For me their significance was of quite another kind. In the second part of my book, which is called The Morrow of the Revolution, I wrote as follows respecting this point:

»I consider it to be a good mental exercise, and a means of promoting political clearness and consistency of thought, to attempt to draw the logical consequences of our endeavours, and to inquire into the problems which may arise for us out of the conquest of political power. This is also valuable from a propagandist point of view, since on the one hand it is constantly asserted by our opponents that we would be confronted through our victory with insurmountable difficulties, and, on the other hand, there are in our ranks men who cannot paint the consequences of our victory black enough. Already, they say, the day of our victory contains in itself the day of our defeat. Thus it is of importance to see how far this is the case.

»If, however, we are to arrive in our inquiry at definite conclusions, and not lose ourselves in endless discussions, then it is necessary that we should examine the respective problems in their simplest form, in which they will never manifest themselves in reality, and abstract from them all complicating circumstances.

»Only such problems of the social revolution are open to discussion which can be discerned in the way indicated here. Regarding all others, we cannot allow ourselves any opinion either one way or the other.«

Until recently we were unable to see beyond the limits above defined for the solution of the problem of the transition to Socialism. We were obliged »to examine them in their simplest form, in which they will never manifest themselves in reality.«

This has ceased to be the case during the years which followed the collapse in the war, which led first to the Russian Revolution, and then to the Austrian and German Revolutions. At one stroke we have been brought to the threshold of the transition to Socialism, and are able to study its problems in the light of reality. But the disturbing factors which are never absent when we are dealing with realities are exceptionally strong to-day, and the problems of the transition to Socialism are now complicated by the problems connected with overcoming the after effects of the war, which reversed all the laws of economics.

But those who investigated economic laws before the war, and will not allow themselves to be disconcerted or misled by their abnormalities, are in a position to discern with some accuracy the actual problems of the transition to Socialism, and to draw from them practical conclusions to guide the conduct of Socialist Parties.

Although we are now on the threshold of the transition, it would be premature to attempt to pronounce a final judgment upon it. But we can no longer be contented with our former ideas. We must find our feet without delay in the flood of new problems which is breaking over us. Although our experiences, as it seems to me, have not gone far enough to render further investigation superfluous, they have been sufficient to impart greater clearness and certainty to our actions.


Last updated on 27.1.2004