Karl Kautsky

The Labour Revolution

III. The Economic Revolution


CERTAIN primitive types of Socialism object not so much to capital as to money. This seems to be the root of all evil, and its dethronement bound to bring salvation.

Moreover, this idea is not confined to socialist circles. Long before their existence, even long before the rise of any system of capitalist production, the masses of the people saw in money, not a machine which facilitated, accelerated, and extended the economic process, but a hellish invention to bring evil into the world.

And this was not a mere superstition, but was based upon very just observations.

The production for use which preceded money was almost only concerned with products for personal consumption, the means of production were as yet relatively

insignificant, and required little labour. Most of these means of consumption were not fit for long storage, and had to be rapidly consumed. Those members of the community who, by reason of their social position, obtained more of them than the others did not know what else to do with the surplus than to divide it among their friends and followers, Liberality, even extravagance on the part of the great, is the characteristic of this epoch. Conditions of exploitation, slavery, and serfdom were already known, but as there was no alternative but to distribute the surplus, the impulse to intensify exploitation was not strong.

Social feeling towards the members of one’s own community – not towards an alien community – was very strong at that time. Nobody could then maintain himself in society unless he was backed by a strong community, which protected him and assigned him what he needed. With less division of labour, the needs and inclinations of individuals were as little various as production itself lacked variety. And almost all consumption, material and artistic, was in common. Thus the intellectual and material life of the individual was completely determined by the community in which he lived. It was a portion of his self, and he was completely absorbed in it. Next to liberality, self-effacement, joyous devotion to the community, was the most striking characteristic of that epoch.

This was all changed by the rise of money, especially when money took the shape of an indestructible metal, silver or gold.

Money may be used at all times and for all purposes. It retains its use-value and its value – exception being made of the paper currency of recent times. Nobody is obliged to consume it. It can be saved, and the more one has of it, the more power one has over other people. Consequently, with money incomes, the liberality of yore gradually ceased. A new personality emerged, hated by the multitude, namely the miser, who spared himself and others no pains in order to accumulate money.

But other methods, more effective than diligent labour, abstinence, and saving, could be adopted in order to obtain and accumulate money. One could live a life of idleness and yet heap up treasures, provided one had the necessary means for coercion. Robbery and stealing among the small people, and bloody wars of plunder among the great ones, now became rife.

Crusades to acquire land were embarked upon formerly, but they found a natural limit in the opportunities of productively utilizing newly-acquired land.

The thirst for money, on the other hand, is boundless, and rapacity is as boundless as greed. The same remarks apply to the impetus towards the exploitation of the subjugated people. Slavery now assumed its worst forms.

At the same time, the advancing monetary system more and more dissolves the surviving communities. Social relations assume more and more the forms of mere money relations. The traditional communities, the gentes, mark communes, and guilds, cease more and more to fetter or to protect the individual. The socially strong became ever stronger, the socially weak ever weaker. The individual thought only of himself. Greed, rapacity, and the exploiting proclivity were linked with egoism and harshness towards other members of the community.

There is no wonder that, in view of this result, money used to be hated as the source of evils.

In the section of Capital upon money, Marx quotes the following description of the effects of money written by Sophocles in the fifth century B.C.:

“Nothing has done so much as money to sustain bad laws and bad morals; it is that which arouses dissensions in cities and hunts the inhabitants from their dwellings; it is that which turns the most beautiful souls towards all that is shameful and fatal to man, and teaches them to extract evil and impiety from everything.”

Yet that is only one side of money. The other side we have already revealed. It first facilitated the greatest development of the division of labour, and consequently of the productive forces, which eventually reached such a level that general equality of conditions of life is no longer, as was once the case, only possible with general intellectual barbarism, but is compatible with a high degree of general civilization.

Socialism is called upon to remove the degrading effects of money. They arise from private property in the source of life and in the socially created wealth, which has hitherto been closely bound up with money. The abolition of this private property will make an end of the curse which has hitherto attached to money.

But we must avoid going so far as to abolish the great things which money has created, the extension of the division of labour, variety of production, and freedom of personality.

Socialism must connote an advance upon, and not a retreat from, Capitalism. A relapse would not be tolerated by individuals of the present who have passed through the school of capitalist production, with its great variety of products and its great independence of personality.

Apart from primitive communism, there were communistically organized societies in past centuries. In this connection we may mention the communistic settlements of the Anabaptists of Moravia, which existed during the whole period of the Reformation, from the end of the Peasant War (1526) to the Thirty Years War, to the victory of the counter-Reformation at the Battle of the White Mountain (1620), lasting an even longer time in Hungary, and later appearing in the United States, where a number of colonies existed until a short time ago (1908), and may exist even yet.

They were based upon a communism not only of production but also of consumption, involving the complete abolition of freedom of personality, as the “elders” assigned to each individual not only his work and his food rations, but also his pleasures, even his wife. Science was spurned by them.

Upon the same principles was based another successful communistic organization, that of the Jesuits of Paraguay, which lasted from 1612 to 1768, and was only destroyed by the brute force of the Spanish soldiery.

Finally we must not omit to mention the religious communistic settlements, which were founded by various European sectaries from the middle of the eighteenth century onwards in the United States, and which have survived into our own time. We have already referred to them in our observations upon the socialization of agriculture. These communities were of a character similar to the households of the Anabaptists.

They were all formed from among economically backward sections, which were devoid of any trace of modern thought. This was mostly the case with the Indians of Paraguay, but the handicraftsmen and peasants, by whom the communistic institutions of the Anabaptists and the Sectaries in America were founded, were also quite outside the modern world.

These organizations were small, comprising as a rule no more than a few hundred people. Only the communistic state of the Jesuits numbered in the days of its greatest expansion 150,000 inhabitants, who lived in thirty pueblos (villages). Most of these communistic settlements were located in the wilderness, remote from other men. Those of the Anabaptists in Moravia were German settlements in the midst of a Czech population.

As soon as any of the communistic organizations of this type came into close contact with the civilized world, they usually lost their internal cohesion. The young people especially felt repelled by the monotony and strictness of the regime, and were very difficult to retain.

It is quite impossible to project the foundation of a great State with modern large-scale production, modern communications modern science, modern intellectuals, and modern workers, on the basis of this type of communism. Soviet Russia was the first and will doubtless be the last attempt of this kind. In Western Europe matters will not get so far as the attempt.

For us, however, even Utopian constructive proposals of a socialist organization offer a certain danger. For life is always richer and more varied than theory, which can only take account of the general and must lose sight of the particular. Every Utopia, therefore, simplifies too much the problems of reality, and if strictly followed, signifies a relapse from variety to monotony.

Society is not a mechanism which may be put together according to arbitrary predetermined plans, but an organism which grows and unfolds according to definite laws. It is an organism whose cells are thinking beings who consciously labour at its construction but who cannot shape this construction to their own desires. Their freedom consists only in the voluntary execution of what they have recognized as necessary.

This freedom will be accorded us in ampler measure, the better we recognize the laws which govern realities, and this knowledge will be all the more complete, the more we investigate the economic functions of society.

Besides this freedom which is based on scientific perceptions, the modern man possesses another kind of freedom: the freedom of his personality as against other personalities, the greatest possible independence of them in the choice of his mode of life. This is impossible in connection with the production of the material things of life, which necessitates the systematic co-operation of the many. But even under present-day conditions, it is possible as regards most kinds of personal consumption, and it is possible in the realm of personal creativeness through the increasing curtailment of the labour devoted to business, though the constant increase of leisure, which the individual may utilize for his free activity.

Extending scientific knowledge to the reach of all, the greatest possible curtailment of working time, the complete freedom of the individual in all activities outside his business, so far as other individuals or society are not thereby injured – such are the objects which must guide modern Socialism, in contrast to its communistic predecessors who had no suspicion of them, who conceded to the individual sufficient bread and security of existence, without science and without freedom. We want both the latter and the former, for we stand on the shoulders of industrial capitalism, and it is our task to bring to the whole of the people the benefits which have hitherto been monopolized by a small section.

Whatever shape the socialist society may take, it will not be able to maintain its existence or prove adequate to its great historical task-the development of the achievements of capitalism to higher forms of life-unless it brings to the whole of humanity not merely bread and security of existence, but also civilization and freedom.


Last updated on 27.1.2004