V. I.   Lenin

The Collapse of the Second International



It is in a wholly philistine spirit that Kautsky speaks of the “lessons” of the war, presenting those lessons in the light of a moral abhorrence at the misery it causes. Here, for instance, is how he argues in the pamphlet entitled The National State, etc.:

It stands beyond doubt and needs no proof that there are strata of the population that are greatly interested in universal peace and disarmament. The petty bourgeoisie and the small peasants, and even many capitalists and intellectuals, are not tied to imperialism by any interests that outweigh the damage suffered by these strata as a result of war and armaments” (p. 21).

This was written in February 1915! The facts show that all the propertied classes, down to the petty bourgeoisie and the “intelligentsia”, have joined the imperialists en masse, and yet Kautsky, like Chekhov’s man in a mufller[2] shrugs off the facts with an air of extraordinary smugness and with the aid of saccharine phrases. He judges of the interests of the petty bourgeoisie, not by their conduct, but by the words of certain petty bourgeois, although at every step   such words are refuted by the deeds. It is exactly like judging of the “interests” of the bourgeoisie in general, not by their deeds, but by the benevolent speeches made by bourgeois clergymen who avow that the present-day system is imbued with the ideals of Christianity. Kautsky applies Marxism in a way that voids it of all content, so that what remains is the catchword of “interests”, in a kind of supernatural, other worldly meaning, for it implies, not real economics, but pious wishes for the common weal.

Marxism appraises “interests” according to the class antagonisms and the class struggle which find expression in millions of facts of daily life. The petty bourgeoisie prattle and dream of the abatement of antagonisms, whose aggravation, they “argue”, leads to “harmful consequences”. Imperialism means the subjugation of all strata of the propertied classes to finance capital, and the partition of the world among five or six “Great” Powers, most of which are now involved in the war. The partition of the world among the Great Powers means that all their propertied classes are interested in possessing colonies and spheres of influence, in oppressing other nations, and in securing the more or less lucrative posts and privileges that stem from belonging to a “Great” Power and an oppressor nation.[1]

Life cannot go on in the old way, in the comparatively tranquil, cultured and peaceful conditions of a capitalism that is smoothly developing and gradually spreading to new countries. A new epoch has arrived. Finance capital ousts, and will completely oust, a particular country from the   ranks of Great Powers, will deprive it of its colonies and spheres of influence (as Germany, which has gone to war with Britain, threatens to do), and it will deprive the petty bourgeoisie of their dominant-nation privileges and additional incomes. This has been proved by the war. It is the outcome of that aggravation of antagonisms which has long been admitted by all, including Kautsky, in his pamphlet The Road to Power.

Now that the armed conflict for Great-Power privileges has become a fact, Kautsky wants to persuade the capitalists and the petty bourgeoisie to believe that war is horrible, while disarmament is beneficial, in exactly the same way and with exactly the same results as the Christian churchman, speaking from the pulpit, would persuade the capitalist to believe that love of one’s fellow-men is a Divine commandment, as well as the spiritual yearning and the moral law of civilisation. What Kautsky calls an economic trend towards “ultra-imperialism” is just a petty-bourgeois exhortation to the financiers that they should refrain from doing evil.

The export of capital? But more capital is exported to independent countries such as the United States of America, than to the colonies. The seizure of colonies? But they have all been seized, and nearly all of them are striving for liberation. “India may cease to be a British possession, but as an integral empire it will never fall under the sway of another foreign power” (p. 49 in the pamphlet quoted). “Any attempt on the part of any industrial capitalist state to acquire for itself a colonial empire sufficient to make it independent of other countries in regard to raw materials must cause all other capitalist states to unite against it and involve it in endless and exhausting wars, without bringing it nearer to its goal. Such a policy would be the surest road towards the bankruptcy of the entire economic life of that state” (pp. 72-73).

Is not this a philistine attempt to persuade financiers to renounce imperialism? Any atternpt to frighten capitalists with the prospect of bankruptcy is like advising against speculating in shares on the Stock Exchange because many fortunes have been lost in this way. Capital gains from the bankruptcy of a rival capitalist or of a rival   nation, because in this way capital becomes more concentrated. Hence the keener and “closer” economic competition becomes, i.e., the economic driving of a compctitor towards bankruptcy, the more the capitalists strive to add military pressure in order to drive the competitor in that direction. The fewer the countries to which capital can still be exported as advantageously as to colonies or to such dependent states as Turkey—since in such cases the financier reaps a triple proflt as against capital exports to a free, independent and civilised country like the United States of America—the fiercer is the struggle for the subjugation and partition of Turkey, China, etc. That is what economic theory reveals about the period of finance capital and imperialism. That is what the facts reveal. But Kautsky turns everything into a trite petty-bourgeois “moral": it is not worth while getting worked up and certainly not worth while going to war over the partition of Turkey, or the seizure of India, since they cannot be held for long anyway, and, moreover, it would be better to develop capitalism peacefully... . It would be better still, of course, to develop capitalism and expand the home market by increasing wages; this is quite “conceivable” and it is a very fitting topic for a churchman to preach on to the financiers. ... The good Kautsky has almost succeeded in persuading the German financiers that it is not worth while waging war against Britain for the colonies, because these colonies will soon secure their liberation in any case!

Britain’s exports to and imports from Egypt between 1872 and 1912 have not kept pace with the overall growth of British exports and imports, whence the “Marxist” Kautsky draws the following moral: “We have no reason to suppose that British trade with Egypt would have been less developed as a result of the mere operation of economic factors, without mi]itary occupation” (p. 72). “Capital’s urge to expand ... can be best promoted, not by the violent methods of imperialism, but by peaceful democracy ” (p. 70).

What a remarkably serious, scientific and “Marxist” analysis! Kautsky has splendidly “rectified” unreasonable history; he has “proved” that there was no need for the British to have taken Egypt from the French, that it was absolutely not worth the German financiers’ while to have started the war, organised the Turkish campaign, and taken other measures   to drive the British out of Egypt! All this is merely a misunderstanding—it has not yet dawned upon the British that it would be “best” to give up forcible methods in Egypt, and adopt “peaceful democracy” (so as to increase exports of capital à la Kautsky !).

Of course it was an illusion on the part of the bourgeois Free Traders to think that Free Trade would entirely eliminate the economic antagonisms generated by capitalism. Neither Free Trade nor democracy can eliminate these. We, in all respects are interested in having these antagonisms eliminated by a struggle waged in such forms as will impose the least amount of suftering and sacrifice on the masses” (p. 73)

The Lord help us, the Lord have mercy on us! “What is a philistine?” Lassalle used to ask, and answered by quoting the words of the well-known poet: “A philistine is a gut void of everything but fear and hope that God will have mercy on him.”[3]

Kautsky has degraded Marxism to unparalleled prostitution and has turned into a real churchman. The latter tries to persuade the capitalists to adopt peaceful democracy—and calls this dialectics: if at first, he argues, there was Free Trade, and then arrived the monopolies and imperialism, why should there not he “ultra-imperialism”, and then Free Trade again? The churchman consoles the oppressed masses by depicting the blessings this ultra-imperialism will bring, although he has not even the courage to say whether it can be “achieved"! Feuerbach was right when, in reply to those who defended religion on the ground that it consoles the people, he indicated the reactionary significance of consolation: whoever consoles the slave instead of arousing him to rise up against slavery is aiding the slaveowner.

All oppressing classes stand in need of two social functions to safeguard their rule: the function of the hangman and the function of the priest. The hangman is required to quell the protests and the indignation of the oppressed; the priest is required to console the oppressed, to depict to them the prospects of their sufferings and sacrifices being mitigated (this is particularly easy to do without guaranteeing that these prospects will be “achieved”), while preserving class rule, and thereby to reconcile them to class rule, win them away   from revolutionary action, undermine their revolutionary spirit and destroy their revolutionary determination. Kautsky has turned Marxism into a most hideous and stupid counter-revolutionary theory, into the lowest kind of clericalism.

In 1909, he acknowledged, in his The Road to Power, the fact of the unrefuted and irrefutable intensification of antagonisrms within capitalism, the approach of a period of wars and revolutions, of a new “revolutionary period”. There can be no “premature” revolution, he said, and branded as “a direct betrayal of our cause” any refusal to count on the possibility of victory in an uprising, even though, before the fighting began, the prospect of defeat could not be denied.

With the advent of war, the antagonisms have become still more bitter. The sufferings of the masses have assumed tremendous proportions. The end of the war is not in sight and the hostilities are spreading more and more. Kautsky is writing pamphlet after pamphlet and, meekly submitting to the dictates of the censorship, refrains from quoting the facts on the land-grabbing, the horrors of war, the scandalous profiteering of the war contractors, the high cost of living and the actual slavery of the workers mobilised in the munitions industries; instead, he keeps on consoling the proletariat. He does so by quoting the instance of wars in which the bourgeoisie was revolutionary and progressive, in regard to which “Marx himself” desired victory for one bourgeoisie or the other; he consoles it by quoting rows and columns of figures to prove that capitalism is “possible” without colonies, without the plundering of others, without wars and arruaments, and to prove that “peaceful democracy” is preferable. Not daring to deny that the sufferings of the masses are becoming more acute and that a revolutionary situation is arising before our very eyes (one must not talk about this, since it is not permitted by the censor!), Kautsky, in his servility to the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, depicts the “prospect” (he does not guarantee that it can be “achieved”) of forms of struggle in a new phase, which will entail “less sacrifice and suffering”... . Franz Mehring and Rosa Luxemburg were quite right when, for this very reason, they called Kautsky a street-walker (Mädchen für alle ).

*     *

In August 1905 a revolutionary situation existed in Russia. The tsar had promised convocation of the Bulygin Duma[4] in order to “console” the masses who were in a state of unrest. If the abandoning of armaments by the financiers and their agreeing to a “lasting peace” can be called “ultra-imperialism”, then the Bulygin regime of consultative parliamentary representation may be described as “ultra-autocracy”. Let us assume for a moment that tomorrow a hundred of the world’s biggest financiers, “interwoven” as they are in hundreds of colossal enterprises, will promise the peoples that they will stand for disarmament after the war (we make this assumption only for a moment in order to draw political conclusions from Kautsky’s foolish little theory). Even if that happened, it would be downright treachery to the proletariat to dissuade it from taking revolutionary action, without which all promises and all fine prospects are only a mirage.

The war has not only brought the capitalist class huge profits and splendid prospects of fresh plunder (Turkey, China, etc.), new contracts worth thousands of millions; and new loans at increased rates of interest; it has also brought the capitalist class still greater political advantages in that it has split and corrupted the proletariat. Kautsky is encouraging this corruption; he sanctifies this international split among the militant proletarians in the name of unity with the opportunists of their “own” nations, with the Südekums! And yet there are people who fail to understand that the unity slogan of the old parties means the “unity” of the proletariat of a given nation with the bourgenisie of that nation, and a split among the proletariat of the various nations....


[1] E. Schultzu states that by 1915 the value of securities in the whole world was calculated at 732,000 million francs, including state and municipal loans, the mortgages and shares of commercial and manufacturing corporations, etc. Of this sum, Britain’s share was 130,000 million francs, that of the United States 115,000 million, France 100,000 million and Germany 75,000 million, i. e., the share of all four Great Powers being 420,000 million francs, over half the total. From this one can realise ths advantages and privileges accruing to the leading Great Powers, which have outstripped other nations oppressing and plundering the latter. (Dr. Ernst Schultze Das französische Kapital in Russland in Finanz-Archiv, Berlin, 1915, 32nd year of publication, p. 127.) To a Great Power “defence of the fatherland” means defence of the right to share in the plundering of foreign countries. In Russia, as is common knowledge capitalist imperialism is weaker than military-feudal imperialism is. —Lenin

[2] The man in a muffler—a character in Chekhov’s story of the same name, typifying a narrow-minded philistine who is afraid of innovations and any initiative.

[3] The quotation is from Goethe.

[4] The Bulygin Duma—a consultative Duma, the laws for the elections and convocation of which were drafted by a commission headed by A. G. Bulygin, Minister of the Interior, and published on August 6 (19),1905. The Bolsheviks boycotted the Bulygin Duma, and the government failed to convene it. The Duma was swept away by the October general political strike.

  IV | VI  

< backward     Contents     forward >
Works Index   |   Volume 21 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index