V. I.   Lenin

Book Review: Karl Kautsky. Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische Programm. Eine Antikritik

Written: Written at the end of 1899
Published: First published in 1928 in Lenin Miscellany VII. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 193-204.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
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Karl Kautsky. Bernstein tend das sozialdemokratische Programm. Eine Antikritik[1]

... In the introduction Kautsky gives voice to some extremely valuable and apt ideas on the conditions that must be satisfied by serious and conscientious criticism if those undertaking it do not wish to confine themselves with in the narrow bounds of soulless pedantry and scholasticism, if they do not wish to lose sight of the close and indestructible bonds that exist between the “theoretical reason” and the “practical reason”—not the practical reason of individuals, but of the masses of the population placed in specific conditions. Truth, of course, comes first, says Kautsky, and if Bernstein has become sincerely convinced of the error of his former views, it is his plain duty to give definite expression to his convictions. But the trouble with Bernstein is his lack of precisely this directness and definiteness. His pamphlet is amazingly “encyclopaedic” (as Antonio Labriola has remarked in a French magazine); it touches on a mass of problems, an agglomeration of questions, but not on any one of them does it provide an integral and precise exposition of the critic’s new views. The critic merely expresses his doubts and abandons difficult and complicated questions without any independent analysis after having scarcely touched upon them. This brings about, Kautsky notes sarcastically, a strange phenomenon: Bernstein’s followers understand his   book in the most diverse ways, whereas his opponents all understand it in the same way. Bernstein’s chief objection to his opponents is that they do not understand him, that they do not want to understand him. The whole series of newspaper and magazine articles that Bernstein has written in answer to his opponents has failed to explain his positive views.

Kautsky begins his counter-criticism with the question of method. He examines Bernstein’s objections to the materialist conception of history and shows that Bernstein confuses the concept of “determinism” with that of “mechanism,” that he confuses freedom of will with freedom of action, and without any grounds identifies historical necessity with the hopeless position of people under compulsion. The outworn accusation of fatalism, which Bernstein also repeats, is refuted by the very premises of Marx’s theory of history. Not everything can be reduced to the development of the productive forces, says Bernstein. Other factors “must be taken into consideration.”

Very well, answers Kautsky, that is something every investigator must do, irrespective of what conception of history guides him. Anyone who wants to make us reject Marx’s method, the method that has so brilliantly justified itself and continues to justify itself in practice, must take one of two paths: either he must reject altogether the idea of objective laws, of the necessity of the historical process, and in so doing abandon all attempts at providing a scientific basis for sociology; or he must show how he can evolve the necessity of the historical process from other factors (ethical views, for example), he must show this by an analysis that will stand up to at least a remote comparison with Marx’s analysis in Capital. Not only has Bernstein not made the slightest attempt to do this, but, confining him self to empty platitudes about “taking into consideration” other factors, he has continued to use the old materialist method in his book as though he did not declare it to be wanting! As Kautsky points out, Bernstein, at times, even applies this method with the most impermissible crudity and one sidedness! Further on Bernstein’s accusations are levelled against dialectics which, he alleges, lead to arbitrary constructions, etc., etc. Bernstein repeats these phrases (that   have already managed to disgust also the Russian readers) without making the slightest attempt to show what is in correct in dialectics, whether Hegel or Marx and Engels are guilty of methodological errors (and precisely what errors). The only means by which Bernstein tries to motivate and fortify his opinion is a reference to the “tendentiousness” of one of the concluding sections of Capital (on the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation). This charge has been worn threadbare: it was made by Eugen Dühring and Julius Wolf and many others in Germany, and it was made (we add on our part) by Mr. Y. Zhukovsky in the seventies and by Mr. N. Mikhailovsky in the nineties—by the very same Mr. Mikhailovsky who had once accused Mr. Y. Zhukovsky of acrobatics for making the selfsame charge. And what proof does Bernstein offer in confirmation of this worn-out nonsense? Only the following: Marx began his “investigation” with ready-made conclusions, since in 1867 Capital drew the same conclusion that Marx had drawn as early as the forties. Such “proof” is tantamount to fraud, answers Kautsky, because Marx based his conclusions on two investigations and not on one, as he points out very definitely in the introduction to Zur Kritik (see Russian translation: A Critique 01 Some of the Propositions of Political Economy[2]). Marx made his first investigation in the forties, after leaving the Editorial Board of the Rheinische Zeitung.[3] Marx left the newspaper because he had to treat of material interests and he realised that he was not sufficiently prepared for this. From the arena of public life, wrote Marx about himself, I withdrew into the study. And so (stresses Kautsky, hinting at Bernstein), Marx had doubts regarding the correctness of his judgement of material interests, regarding the correctness of the dominant views on this subject at that time, but he did not think his doubts to be important enough to write a whole book and Inform the world about them. On the contrary, Marx set out to study in order to advance from doubtings of the old views to positive new ideas. He began to study French social theories and English political economy. He came into close contact with Engels, who was at that time making a detailed study of the actual state of the economy in England. The result of this joint work, this first inquiry, was the   well-known conclusions which the two writers expounded very definitely towards the end of the forties.[4] Marx moved to London in 1850, and the favourable conditions there for research determined him “to begin afresh from the very beginning and to work through the new material critically” (A Critique of Some of the Propositions, 1st edition, p. xi.[5] Our italics). The fruit of this second inquiry, lasting many long years, were the works: Zur Kritik (1859) and Das Kapital (1867). The conclusion drawn in Capital coincides with the former conclusion drawn in the forties because the second inquiry confirmed the results of the first. “My views, however they may be judged ... are the result of conscientious investigation lasting many years,” wrote Marx in 1859 (ibid., p. xii).[6] Does this, asks Kautsky, resemble conclusions found ready-made long before the investigation?

From the question of dialectics Kautsky goes over to the question of value. Bernstein says that Marx’s theory is unfinished, that it leaves many problems “that are by no means fully explained.” Kautsky does not think of refuting this: Marx’s theory is not the last word in science, he says. History brings new facts and new methods of investigation that require the further development of the theory. if Bernstein had made an attempt to utilise new facts and new methods of inquiry for the further development of the theory, everybody would have been grateful to him. But Bernstein does not dream of doing that; he confines himself to cheap attacks on Marx’s disciples and to extremely vague, purely eclectic remarks, such as: the Gossen-Jevons-Böhm theory of marginal utility is no less just than Marx’s theory of labour-value. Both theories retain their significance for different purposes, says Bernstein, because Böhm-Bawerk has as much right, a priori, to abstract from the property of commodities that they are produced by labour, as Marx has to abstract from the property that they are use-values. Kautsky points out that it is utterly absurd to regard two opposite, mutually exclusive theories suitable for different purposes (and, furthermore, Bernstein does not say for what purposes either of the two theories is suit able). It is by no means a question as to which property of commodities we are, a priori (von Hause aus), entitled to abstract from; the question is how to explain the principal   phenomena of present-day society, based on the exchange of products, how to explain the value of commodities, the function of money, etc. Even if Marx’s theory may leave a number of still unexplained problems, Bernstein’s theory of value is a totally unexplained problem. Bernstein further quotes Buch, who constructed the concept of the maximum density” of labour; but Bernstein does not give a complete exposition of Buch’s views or make a definite statement of his own opinion on that question. Buch, it seems, gets entangled in contradictions by making value depend on wages and wages depend on value. Bernstein senses the eclecticism of his statements on value and tries to defend eclecticism in general. He calls it “the revolt of the sober intellect against the tendency inherent in every dogma to constrict thought within narrow confines.” If Bern stein were to recall the history of thought, retorts Kautsky, he would see that the great rebels against the constriction of thought within narrow confines were never eclectics, that what has always characterised them has been the striving for the unity, for the integrity of ideas. The eclectic is too timid to dare revolt. If, indeed, I click my heels politely to Marx and at the same time click my heels politely to Böhm-Bawerk, that is still a long way from revolt! Let anyone name even one eclectic in the republic of thought, says Kautsky, who has proved worthy of the name of rebel!

Passing from the method to the results of its application, Kautsky deals with the so-called Zusammenbruchstheorie, the theory of collapse, of the sudden crash of West-European capitalism, a crash that Marx allegedly believed to be inevitable and connected with a gigantic economic crisis. Kautsky says and proves that Marx and Engels never propounded a special Zusammenbruchstheorie, that they did not connect a Zusammenbruch necessarily with an economic crisis. This is a distortion chargeable to their opponents who expound Marx’s theory one-sidedly, tearing out of con text odd passages from different writings in order thus triumphantly to refute the “one-sidedness” and “crudeness” of the theory. Actually Marx and Engels considered the transformation of West-European economic relations to be dependent on the maturity and strength of the classes   brought to the fore by modern European history. Bernstein tries to assert that this is not the theory of Marx, but Kautsky’s interpretation and extension of it. Kautsky, however, with precise quotations from Marx’s writings of the forties and sixties, as well as by means of an analysis of the basic ideas of Marxism, has completely refuted this truly pettifogging trickery of the Bernstein who so blatantly accused Marx’s disciples of “apologetics and pettifoggery.” This part of Kautsky’s book Is particularly interesting, the more so, since some Russian writers (e.g., Mr. Bulgakov in the magazine Nachalo) have been In a hurry to repeat the distortion of Marx’s theory which Bernstein offered in the guise of “criticism” (as does Mr. Prokopovich in his Working-Class Movement in the West, St. Petersburg, 1899).

Kautsky analyses the basic tendencies of contemporary economic development in particularly great detail in order to refute Bernstein’s opinion that this development is not proceeding in the direction indicated by Marx. It stands to reason that we cannot present here a detailed exposition of the chapter “Large- and Small-Scale Production” and of other chapters of Kautsky’s book which are devoted to a political-economic analysis and contain extensive numerical data, but shall have to confine ourselves to a brief mention of their contents. Kautsky emphasises the point that the question is one of the direction, by and large, of development and by no means of particularities and superficial manifestations, which no theory can take into account in all their great variety. (Marx reminds the reader of this simple but oft for gotten truth in the relevant chapters of Capital.) By a detailed analysis of the data provided by the German industrial censuses of 1882 and 1895 Kautsky shows that they are a brilliant confirmation of Marx’s theory and have placed beyond all doubt the process of the concentration of capital and the elimination of small-scale production. In 1896 Bernstein (when he himself still belonged to the guild of apologists and pettifoggers. says Kautsky ironically) most emphatically recognised this fact, but now he is excessive in his exaggeration of the strength and importance of small-scale production. Thus, Bernstein estimates the number of enterprises employing fewer than 20 workers at several hundred thou sand, “apparently adding in his pessimistic zeal an extra   nought to the figure,” since there are only 49,000 such enterprises in Germany. Further, whom do the statistics not place among the petty entrepreneurs—cabmen, messengers, gravediggers, fruit hawkers, seamstresses (even though they may work at home for a capitalist), etc., etc.! Here let us note a remark of Kautsky’s that is particularly important from the theoretical standpoint—that petty commercial and industrial enterprises (such as those mentioned above) in capitalist society are often merely one of the forms of relative over-population; ruined petty producers, workers unable to find employment turn (sometimes temporarily) into petty traders and hawkers, or rent out rooms or beds (also “enterprises,” which are registered by statistics equally with all other types of enterprise!), etc. The fact that these employments are overcrowded does not by any means indicate the viability of petty production but rather the growth of poverty in capitalist society. Bernstein, however, emphasises and exaggerates the importance of the petty “industrial producers” when to do so seems to him to serve his advantage (on the question of large- and small-scale production), but keeps silent about them when he finds it to his disadvantage (on the question of the growth of poverty).

Bernstein repeats the argument, long known to the Russian public as well, that joint-stock companies “permit” the fragmentation of capital and “make unnecessary” its concentration, and he cites some figures (cf. Zhizn, No. 3 for 1899) on the number of small shares. Kautsky replies that these figures prove exactly nothing, since small shares in any companies might belong to big capitalists (as even Bernstein must admit). Bernstein does not adduce any evidence, nor can he, to prove that joint-stock companies increase the number of property-owners, for the joint-stock companies actually serve to expropriate the gullible men of small means for the benefit of big capitalists and speculators. The growth in the number of shares merely shows that wealth has a tendency to take on the form of shares; but this growth tells us nothing about the distribution of wealth. In general, Bernstein’s attitude to the question of an increase in the number of wealthy people, the number of property-owners, is an astonishingly thought less one, which has not prevented his bourgeois followers   from praising precisely this part of his book and announcing that it is based on “a tremendous amount of numerical data.” And Bernstein proved himself skilful enough, says Kautsky ironically, to compress this tremendous amount of data into two pages! He confuses property-owners with capitalists, although no one has denied an increase in the number of the latter. In analysing income-tax data, he ignores their fiscal character, and their confusion of income from property with income in the form of salary, etc. He compares data for different times that have been collected by different methods (on Prussia, for example) and are, therefore, not comparable. He even goes so far as to borrow data on the growth of property-owners in England (printing these figures in heavy type, as his trump card) from an article in some sensational newspaper that was singing the praises of Queen Victoria’s jubilee and whose handling of statistics was the nec plus ultra of light-mindedness! The source of this in formation is unknown and, indeed, such information cannot be obtained on the basis of data on the English income tax, since these do not permit one to determine the number of tax-payers and the total income of each tax-payer. Kautsky adduces data from Kolb’s book on the English income tax from 1812 to 1847 and shows that they, in exactly the same way as Bernstein’s newspaper data, indicate an (apparent) increase in the number of property-owners—and that, in a period of the most terrible increase in the most horrible poverty of the people in England! A detailed analysis of Bernstein’s data led Kautsky to the conclusion that Bernstein had not. quoted a single figure that actually proved a growth in the number of property-owners.

Bernstein tried to give this phenomenon a theoretical grounding: the capitalists, he said, cannot themselves consume the entire surplus-value that increases to such a colossal extent; this means that the number of property-owners that consume it must grow. It is not very difficult for Kautsky to refute this grotesque argument that totally ignores Marx’s theory of realisation (expounded many times in Russian literature). It is particularly interesting that for his refutation Kautsky does not employ theoretical arguments alone, but offers concrete data attesting to the growth of luxury and lavish spending in the West-European countries;   to the influence of rapidly changing fashions, which greatly intensify this process; to mass unemployment; to the tremendous increase in the “productive consumption” of surplus-value, i.e., the investment of capital in new enterprises, especially the investment of European capital in the railways and other enterprises of Russia, Asia, and Africa.

Bernstein declares that everyone has abandoned Marx’s “theory of misery” or “theory of impoverishment.” Kautsky demonstrates that this is again a distorted exaggeration on the part of the opponents of Marx, since Marx propounded no such theory. He spoke of the growth of poverty, degradation, etc., indicating at the same time the counteracting tendency and the real social forces that alone could give rise to this tendency. Marx’s words on the growth of poverty are fully justified by reality: first, we actually see that capitalism has a tendency to engender and increase poverty, which acquires tremendous proportions when the above-mentioned counteracting tendency is absent. Secondly, poverty grows, not in the physical but in the social sense, i.e., in the sense of the disparity between the increasing level of consumption by the bourgeoisie and consumption by society as a who]e, and the level of the living standards of the working people. Bernstein waxes ironical over such a conception of “poverty,” saying that this is a Pickwickian conception. In reply Kautsky shows that people like Lassalle, Rodbertus, and Engels have made very definite statements to the effect that poverty must be understood in its social, as well as in its physical, sense. As you see—he parries Bernstein’s irony—it is not such a bad company that gathers at the “Pickwick Club”! Thirdly and lastly, the passage on increasing impoverishment remains perfectly true in respect of the “border regions” of capitalism, the border regions being understood both in the geographical sense (countries in which capitalism is only beginning to penetrate and frequently not only gives rise to physical poverty but to the outright starvation of the masses) and in the political-economic sense (handicraft industries and, in general, those branches of economy in which backward methods of production are still retained).

The chapter on the “new middle estate” is likewise extremely   interesting and, for us Russians, particularly instructive. If Bernstein had merely wanted to say that in place of the declining petty producers a new middle estate, the intelligentsia, is appearing, he would be perfectly correct, says Kautsky, pointing out that he himself noted the importance of this phenomenon several years before. In all spheres of people’s labour, capitalism increases the number of office and professional workers with particular rapidity and makes a growing demand for intellectuals. The latter occupy a special position among the other classes, attaching themselves partly to the bourgeoisie by their connections, their outlooks, etc., and partly to the wage-workers as capitalism increasingly deprives the intellectual of his independent position, converts him into a hired worker and threatens to lower his living standard. The transitory, unstable, contradictory position of that stratum of society now under discussion is reflected in the particularly widespread diffusion in its midst of hybrid, eclectic views, a farrago of contrasting principles and ideas, an urge to rise verbally to the higher spheres and to conceal the conflicts between the historical groups of the population with phrases—all of which Marx lashed with his sarcasm half a century ago.

In the chapter on the theory of crises Kautsky shows that Marx did not at all postulate a “theory” of the ten- year cycle of industrial crises, but merely stated a fact. The change in this cycle in recent times has been noted by Engels himself. It is said that cartels of industrialists can counteract crises by limiting and regulating production. But America is a land of cartels; yet instead of a limitation we see there a tremendous growth of production. Further, the cartels limit production for the home market but expand it for the foreign market, selling their goods abroad at a loss and extracting monopoly prices from consumers in their own country. This system is inevitable under protectionism and there are no grounds for anticipating a change from protectionism to Free Trade. The cartels close small factories, concentrate and monopolise production, introduce improvements, and in this way greatly worsen the condition of the producers. Bernstein is of the opinion that the speculation which gives rise to crises weakens as the conditions on the world market change from unforeseeable to foreseeable   and known conditions; but he forgets that it is the “unforeseeable” conditions in the new countries that give a tremendous impetus to speculation in the old countries. Using statistical data, Kautsky shows the growth of speculation in precisely the last few years, as well as the growth in the symptoms indicating a crisis in the not very distant future.

With regard to the remaining part of Kautsky’s book, we must mention his analysis of the muddle people get into through confusing (as does Mr. S. Prokopovich, op. cit.) the economic strength of certain groups with their economic organisations. We must mention Kautsky’s statement to the effect that Bernstein ascribes to purely temporary conditions of a given historical situation the dignity of a general law— his refutation of Bernstein’s incorrect views on the essence of democracy; and his explanation of Bernstein’s statistical error, in comparing the number of industrial workers in Germany with the number of voters and overlooking the mere trifle that not all the workers in Germany (but only males over the age of 25) enjoy the franchise and that not all participate in the elections. We can only strongly recommend to the reader who is interested in the question of the significance of Bernstein’s book and in the polemic around it to turn to the German literature and under no circumstances to believe the biased and one-sided reviews by the proponents of eclecticism that dominate in Russian literature. We have heard that part of Kautsky’s book here under review will probably be translated into Russian. This is very desirable, but is no substitute for an acquaintanceship with the original.


[1] Karl Kautsky. Bernstein and the Social-Democratic Programme. A Counter-Critique.—Ed.

[2] Zur Kritik — Marx’s Zur Kritik der politisehen Ökonomie (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy). Lenin’s references are to the Russian edition of the book published in 1896.

[3] Rheinische Zeitung für Politik, Handel und Gewerb (Rhenish Gazette for Politics, Trade, and Manufacture)—a daily newspaper that appeared in Cologne from January 1, 1842, to March 31, 1843. The paper was founded by representatives of Rhineland bourgeois who were opposed to Prussian absolutism. Certain Left Hegelians were invited to contribute to the paper. Marx became a collaborator in April 1842 and was one of the paper’s editors from October of that year. The Rheinische Zeitung also published a series of articles by Frederick Engels. Under Marx the paper began to take on a more definite revolutionary-democratic character. The course taken by the Rheinische Zeitung, and the great popularity it achieved in Germany, caused alarm and discontent in government circles and led to the vicious persecution of the paper by the reactionary press. On January 19, 1843, the Prussian Government issued an order to close down the Rheinische Zeitung from April 1, 1843, and to establish a particularly strict, double censorship for the remaining period of its existence.

[4] Lenin refers to the Manifesto of the Communist Party.

[5] Karl Marx, “Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 365).

[6] See Note 78.

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