Vladimir Lenin

The Proletarian Revolution And The Renegade Kautsky

Written: 10 October, 1918.
First Published 11 October, 1918 Pravda No. 219,; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1974, pages 104-112
Translated (and edited): Jim Riordan
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters
Online Version: V.I. Lenin Internet Archive, 2002

This is the title of a pamphlet I have begun to write in criticism of Kautsky’s pamphlet, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which has just appeared in Vienna. But as this work is taking longer than I had anticipated, I have decided to ask Pravda to find space for a short article on the subject.

Over four years of a most exhausting and reactionary war have done their work. One can feel the impending proletarian revolution in Europe—in Austria, Italy, Germany, France and even in Britain (very significant, for example, is the article “Confessions of a Capitalist” in the July number of the arch-opportunist Socialist Review, edited by the semi-liberal Ramsay MacDonald).

And at a time like this, Mr. Kautsky, leader of the Second International, comes out with a book on the dictatorship of the proletariat-in other words, on the proletarian revolution—that is a hundred times more disgraceful, outrageous and renegade than Bernstein’s notorious Premises of Socialism. Nearly twenty years have elapsed since the appearance of that renegade book, and now Kautaky repeats this renegacy in an even grosser form!

Only a very small part of the book deals with the Russian Bolshevik revolution as such. Kautsky repeats every one of the Mensheviks’ pearls of wisdom in a way that would make the Russian worker split his sides laughing. Just imagine, for example, what goes by the name of “Marxism": the argument—peppered with quotations from the semi-liberal works by the semi-liberal Maslov—that the rich peasants are trying to appropriate the land (novel!), that they find high grain prices profitable, and so on. Then our “Marxist” makes the following contemptuous, and utterly liberal, statement: “The poor peasant is recognised here [that is, by the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Republic] to be a permanent and wholesale product of the socialist agrarian reform under the ’dictatorship of the proletariat’.” (P. 48 of Kautsky’s pamphlet.)

Fine. Here is a socialist, a Marxist, who tries to prove to us the bourgeois nature of the revolution, and who at the same time scoffs at the organisation of the poor peasants, quite in the spirit of Maslov, Potresov and the Cadets.

“The expropriation of the rich peasants only introduces a new element of unrest and civil war into the production process, which urgently needs peace and security for its recovery.” (P. 49.)

Incredible, but there we are. These are the very words, not of Savinkov or Milyukov, but of Kantsky!

Kautsky does not surprise us since we in Russia have seen so many cases of “Marxism” being used as a screen by defenders of the kulaks. For the benefit of the European reader, I should perhaps dwell in greater detail on this despicable kowtowing to the bourgeoisie and the liberal fear of civil war. But for the Russian worker and peasant it is enough to point one’s finger at Kautsky’s renegacy—and pass on.

* * *

Nearly nine-tenths of Kautsky’s book is devoted to a general theoretical question of the utmost importance, the question of the relation between the dictatorship of the proletariat and “democracy”. And it is here that Kautsky’s complete break with Marxism is particularly evident.

Kautsky assures his reader-in a perfectly serious and extremely “learned” tone-that what Marx meant by “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” was not a “form of governing” that precludes democracy, but. a state, namely, “a state of rule”. And the rule of the proletariat, as the majority of the population, is possible with the strictest observance of democracy, and, for instance, the Paris Commune, which was in fact a dictatorship of the proletariat, was elected by universal suffrage. “The fact that Marx thought that in England and America the transition [to communism] might take place peacefully, i.e., in a democratic way, proves” that when he spoke of the dictatorship of the proletariat Marx did not have in mind a “form of governing” (or a form of government, Regierungsform) (pp. 20-21).

Incredible, but there we are! That is exactly the way Kautsky argues and he angrily accuses the Bolsheviks of violating “democracy” in their Constitution and throughout their policy; and he takes every opportunity to energetically preach “the democratic instead of the dictatorial method”.

This is a complete desertion to the opportunists (those like David, Kolb and other pillars of German social-chauvinism, or the English Fabians and Independents, or the French and Italian reformists), who have declared more frankly and honestly that they do not accept Marx’s doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the ground that it runs counter to democracy.

It is a complete reversion to the views of the pre-Marxist German socialists, who used to claim they wanted a “free people’s state”, to the views of the petty-bourgeois democrats, who did not understand that every state is a machine for the suppression of one class by another.

It is a complete renunciation of the proletarian revolution, which is replaced by the liberal theory of “winning a majority” and “utilising democracy"! Kautsky the renegade has completely forgotten, distorted and thrown overboard everything Marx and Engels taught for forty years, from 1852 to 1891, demonstrating the need for the proletariat to “smash” the bourgeois state machine.

To analyse Kautsky’s theoretical mistakes in detail would mean repeating what I have said in The State and Revolution. There is no need for that. I shall only say briefly:

Kautsky has renounced Marxism by forgetting that every state is a machine for the suppression of one class by another, and that the most democratic bourgeois republic is a machine for the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie.

The dictatorship of the proletariat, the proletarian state, which is a machine for the suppression of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat, is not a “form of governing”, but a state of a different type. Suppression is necessary because the bourgeoisie will always furiously resist being expropriated.

(The argument that Marx in the seventies allowed for the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism in England and America[1] is completely fallacious, or, to put it bluntly, dishonest in that it is juggling with quotations and references. Firstly, Marx regarded it as an exception even then. Secondly, in those days monopoly capitalism, i.e., imperialism, did not exist. Thirdly, in England and America there was no militarist clique then—as there is now—serving as the chief apparatus of the bourgeois state machine.)

You cannot have liberty, equality and so on where there is suppression. That is why Engels said: “So long as the proletariat still needs the state, it does not need it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist.[2]

Bourgeois democracy, which is invaluable in educating the proletariat and training it for the struggle, is always narrow, hypocritical, spurious and false; it always remains democracy for the rich and a swindle for the poor.

Proletarian democracy suppresses the exploiters, the bourgeoisie—and is therefore not hypocritical, does not promise them freedom and democracy—and gives the working people genuine democracy. Only Soviet Russia has given the proletariat and the whole vast labouring majority of Bussia a freedom and democracy unprecedented, impossible and inconceivable in any bourgeois democratic republic, by, for example, taking the palaces and mansions away from the bourgeoisie (without which freedom of assembly is sheer hypocrisy), by taking the print-shops and stocks of paper away from the capitalists (without which freedom of the press for the nation’s labouring majority is a lie), and by replacing bourgeois parliamentarism by the democratic organisation of the Soviets, which are a thousand times nearer to the people and more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois parlaiment. And oi on.

Kautsky has thrown overboard ... the “class struggle” as applied to democracy! Kauisky has become a downright renegade and a lackey of the bourgeoisie.

* * *

I must mention, in passing, a few gems of his renegacy.

Kautsky has to admit that the Soviet form of organisation is of world-wide, and not only of Russian significance, that it is one of the “most important phenomena of our times”, and that it promises to acquire “decisive significance” in the future great “battles between capital and labour”. But, imitating the wisdom of the Mensheviks, who have happily sided with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, Kautsky “deduces” that the Soviets are all right as “battle organisations”, but not as “state organisations”.

Marvellous! Form up in Soviets, you proletarians and poor peasants! But, for God’s sake, don’t you dare win! Don’t even think of winning! The moment you will and vanquish the bourgeoisie, that will be the end of you; for you must not be “state” organisations in a proletarian state. In fact, as soon as you have won you must break up!

What a marvellous Marxist this man Kautsky is! What an inimitable “theoretician” of renegacy!

Gem No. 2. Civil war is the “mortal enemy” of “social revolution”, for, as we have already heard, the latter “needs peace [for I lie rich?] and security” (for the capitalists?).

Workers of Europe, don’t think of revolution until you have found a bourgeoisie who will not hire Savinkov and Dan, Dutov and Krasnov, Czechs and kulaks to wage civil war on you!

Marx wrote in 1870 that the chief hope lay in the practice in arms that the war had given the French workers.[3] What Kautsky the “Marxist” expects of four years of war is not the use of arms by the workers against the bourgeoisie (Heaven forbid, that wouldn’t really be “democratic"!), but ... the conclusion of a nice little peace by the nice little capitalists!

Gem No. 3. Civil war has another unpleasant side to it: whereas “democracy” provides for the “protection of the minority” (as-we might note in parenthesis-those in France who stood up for Dreyfus, and people like Liebknecht, Maclean or Debs in more recent times, have learned so well from their own experience), civil war (mark that!) “threatens the vanquished with complete annihilation”.

Well, isn’t this man Kautsky a real revolutionary? He is heart and soul for revolution ... provided there is no serious struggle threatening annihilation! He has completely “overcome” the old errors of old Engels, who so enthusiastically lauded the educational value of violent revolutions.[4] Like the “serious” historian he is, he has completely renounced the delusions of those who said that civil war steels the exploited and teaches them to build a new society without exploiters.

Gem No. 4. Viewed historically, was the dictatorship of the workers and petty bourgeoisie in the 1789 Revolution great and beneficial? Certainly not. For along came Napoleon. “The dictatorship of the lower sections of the population paves the way for the dictatorship of the sword” (p. 26). Like all liberals, to whose camp lie has deserted, our “serious” historian is firmly convinced that in countries which have not known the “dictatorship of the lower sections"-Germany, for example-there has never been a dictatorship of the sword. Germany has never been distinguished from France by a grosser and viler dictatorship of the sword-that is all slander thought up by Marx and Engels, who brazenly lied when they said that there have so far been a greater love of freedom and a greater pride of the oppressed among the “people” in France than in England or Germany, and that it was precisely her revolutions that France has to thank for this.

But enough! One would have to write a whole pamphlet to enumerate all the gems of renegacy of that despicable renegade Kautsky.

* * *

I must say a word or two about Mr. Kautsky’s “internationalisni”. He inadvertently cast light upon it himself by his most sympathetic way of portraying the internationalism of the Mensheviks, who, dear Mr. Kautsky assures us, were also Zimmerwaldists and, if you please, are “brothers” of the Bolsheviks!

Here is his lovely little picture of the “Zimmerwaldism” of the Mensheviks:

"The Menshevilcs wanted universal peace. They wanted all those in the war to accept the slogan: no annexations or indemnities. Until this would have been achieved, the Russian army, in their opinion, should have maintained itself in a stale of fighting readiness But! the wretched Bolsheviks “disorganised” the army and concluded the wretched Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty .... ..And Kautsky says as clear as clear can he that the Constituent Assembly should have been preserved, and the Bolsheviks should not have taken power.

So internationalism means supporting one’s “own” imperialist government, as the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries supported Kerensky, it means concealing its secret treaties, hoodwinking the people with fancy phrases, such as that we “demand” the savage beasts be tame, we “demand” the imperialist governments “accept the slogan of no annexations or indemnities”.

That, in Kautsky’s opinion, is internationalism.

In our opinion it is sheer renegacy.

Internationalism means breaking with one’s own social chauvinists (i.e., defence advocates) and with one’s own imperialist government; it means waging a revolutionary struggle against that government and overthrowing it, and being ready to make the greatest national sacrifices (even down to a Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty), if it should benefit the development of the world workers’ revolution.

We all know very well that Kautsky and his friends (Strobel, Bernstein, and the rest) were greatly “put out” by the Brest-Litovsk Peace: they would have liked us to have made a “gesture” ... that would at once have turned over power in Russia to the bourgeoisie! These dim-witted but all too nice and kind German petty bourgeois were not interested in the proletarian Soviet Republic—the first country in the world to overthrow its imperialism by revolutionary means—maintaining itself until the revolution took place in Europe, fanning the flames of the conflagration in other countries (the petty bourgeoisie dread a conflagration in Europe, they dread civil war, which would disturb “peace and security"). No, what interested them was to maintain in all countries the petty-bourgeois nationalism which calls itself “internationalism” because of its “moderation and propriety”. If only the Russian Republic had remained bourgeois and ... had waited ... then everybody on earth would have een a good, moderate, non-predatory, petty-bourgeois nationalist—and that, in fact, would have been internationalism!

That is the line of thought of the Kautskyites in Germany, the Longuetists in France, the Independents (I.L.P.) in England, Turati and his “comrades” in renegacy in Italy, and the rest of the crowd.

By now only an utter idiot can fail to see that we were not only right in overthrowing our bourgeoisie (and their lackeys, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries), but also in concluding the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty after our open appeal for universal peace, backed by the publication and annulment of the secret treaties, had been rejected by the bourgeoisie of the Entente. In the first place, if we had not concluded the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, we would at once have surrendered power to the Russian bourgeoisie and thus have done untold damage to the world socialist revolution. In the second place, at the cost of national sacrifices, we preserved such an international revolutionary influence that today we have Bulgaria directly imitating us, Austria and Germany in a state of ferment, both imperialist systems weakened, while we have grown stronger and begun to create a real proletarian army.

From the tactics of Kautsky the renegade it follows that the German workers should now defend their homeland together with the bourgeoisie and dread a German revolution most of all, for the British might impose a new edition of the Brest-Litovsk Peace on it. There’s renegacy for you. There’s petty-bourgeois nationalism.

We, however, say that while the loss of the Ukraine was a grave national sacrifice, it helped to steel and strengthen the workers and poor peasants of the Ukraine as revolutionary fighters for the world workers’ revolution. The Ukraine’s suffering was the world revolution’s gain, for the German troops were corrupted, German imperialism was weakened, and the German, Ukrainian and Russian revolutionary workers were drawn closer together.

It would of course he “nicer” if we could overthrow both Wilhelm and Wilson simply by war. But that is utter nonsense. We cannot overthrow them by a war from without. But we can speed up their internal disintegration. We have achieved that on an immense scale by the Soviet, proletarian revolution.

The German workers would do it even more successfully if they began a revolution disregarding national sacrifices (that alone is internationalism), if they said (and backed their word by actions) that they prize the interests of the world workers’ revolution higher than the integrity, security and peace of any national state, and of their own in particular.

* * *

Europe’s greatest misfortune and danger is that it has no revolutionary party. It has parties of traitors like the Scheidemanns, Henaudels, Hendersons, Webbs and Co., and of servile souls like Kautsky. But it has no revolutionary party.

Of course, a mighty, popular revolutionary movement may rectify this deficiency, but it is nevertheless a serious misfortune and a grave danger.

That is why we must do our utmost to expose renegades like Kautsky, thereby supporting the revolutionary groups of genuine internationalist workers, who are to be found in all countries. The proletariat will very soon turn away from the traitors and renegades and follow these groups, drawing and training leaders from their midst. No wonder the bourgeoisie of all countries are howling about “world Bolshevism”.

World Bolshevism will conquer the world bourgeoisie.

N. Lenin


[1] Marx referred to this possibility in his letter to Kugelmann of April 12, 1871 (Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 318-19), and in his speech on the Hague Congress delivered at a meeting in Amsterdam on September 8, 1872 (Marx/Engels, Werke, Pd. 18, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1962, p. 160). See also Engels's preface to the English edition of Volume I of Capital (Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1959, p. 6). p. 107

[2] Man and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 357.

[3] Ibid., p. 307.

[4] Engels, Anti-Duhrlng, Moscow, 1959, pp. 253-54. p. 109