Leon Trotsky

Terrorism and Communism

Chapter 9
Karl Kautsky,
His School and His Book

The Austro-Marxian school (Bauer, Renner, Hilferding, Max Adler, Friedrich Adler) in the past more than once was contrasted with the school of Kautsky, as veiled opportunism might be contrasted with true Marxism. This has proved to be a pure historical misunderstanding, which deceived some for a long time, some for a lesser period, but which in the end was revealed with all possible clearness. Kautsky is the founder and the most perfect representative of the Austrian forgery of Marxism. While the real teaching of Marx is the theoretical formula of action, of attack, of the development of revolutionary energy, and of the carrying of the class blow to its logical conclusion, the Austrian school was transformed into an academy of passivity and evasiveness, because of a vulgar historical and conservative school, and reduced its work to explaining and justifying, not guiding and overthrowing. It lowered itself to the position of a handmaid to the current demands of parliamentarism and opportunism, replaced dialectic by swindling sophistries, and, in the end, in spite of its great play with ritual revolutionary phraseology, became transformed into the most secure buttress of the capitalist State, together with the altar and throne that rose above it. If the latter was engulfed in the abyss, no blame for this can be laid upon the Austro-Marxian school.

What characterizes Austro-Marxism is repulsion and fear in the face of revolutionary action. The Austro-Marxist is capable of displaying a perfect gulf of profundity in the explanation of yesterday, and considerable daring in prophesying concerning to-morrow – but for to-day he never has a great thought or capacity for great action. To-day for him always disappears before the wave of little opportunist worries, which later are explained as the most inevitable link between the past and the future.

The Austro-Marxist is inexhaustible when it is a question of discovering reasons to prevent initiative and render difficult revolutionary action. Austro-Marxism is a learned and boastful theory of passivity and capitulation. Naturally, it is not by accident that it was just in Austria, in that Babylon torn by fruitless national antagonisms, in that State which represented the personified impossibility to exist and develop, that there arose and was consolidated the pseudo-Marxian philosophy of the impossibility of revolutionary action.

The foremost Austrian Marxists represent, each in his own way, a certain “individuality.” On various questions they more than once did not see eye to eye. They even had political differences. But in general they are fingers of the same hand.

Karl Renner is the most pompous, solid, and conceited representative of this type. The gift of literary imitation, or, more simply, of stylist forgery, is granted to him to an exceptional extent. His May-Day article represented a charming combination of the most revolutionary words. And, as both words and their combinations live, within certain limits, with their own independent life, Renner’s articles awakened in the hearts of many workers a revolutionary fire which their author apparently never knew. The tinsel of Austro-Viennese culture, the chase of the external, of title of rank, was more characteristic of Renner than of his other colleagues. In Essence he always remained merely an imperial and royal officer, who commanded Marxist phraseology to perfection.

The transformation of the author of the jubilee article on Karl Marx, famous for its revolutionary pathos, into a comic-opera Chancellor, who expresses his feelings of respect and thanks to the Scandinavian monarchs, is in reality one of the most instructive paradoxes of history.

Otto Bauer is more learned and prosaic, more serious and more boring, than Renner. He cannot be denied the capacity to read books, collect facts, and draw conclusions adapted to the tasks imposed upon him by practical politics, which in turn are guided by others. Bauer has no political will. His chief art is to reply to all acute practical questions by commonplaces. His political thought always lives a parallel life to his will – it is deprived of all courage. His words are always merely the scientific compilation of the talented student of a University seminar. The most disgraceful actions of Austrian opportunism the meanest servility before the power of the possessing classes on the part of the Austro-German Social Democracy, found in Bauer their grave elucidator, who sometimes expressed himself with dignity against the form, but always agreed in the essence. If it ever occurred to Bauer to display anything like temperament and political energy, it was exclusively in the struggle against the revolutionary wing – in the accumulation of arguments, facts, quotations, against revolutionary action. His highest period was that (after 1907) in which, being as yet too young to be a deputy, he played the part of secretary of the Social-Democratic group, supplied it with materials, figures, substitutes for ideas, instructed it, drew up memoranda, and appeared almost to be the inspirer of great actions, when in reality he was only supplying substitutes, and adulterated substitutes, for the parliamentary opportunists.

Max Adler represents a fairly ingenuous variety of the Austro-Marxian type. He is a lyric poet, a philosopher, a mystic – a philosophical lyric poet of passivity, as Renner is its publicist and legal expert, as Hilferding is its economist, as Baner is its sociologist. Max Adler is cramped in a world of three dimensions, although he had found a very comfortable place for himself with the framework of Viennese bourgeois Socialism and the Hapsburg State. The combination of the petty business activity of an attorney and of political humiliation, together with barren philosophical efforts and the cheap tinsel flowers of idealism, have imbued that variety which Max Adler represented with a sickening and repulsive quality.

Rudolf Hilferding, a Viennese like the rest, entered the German Social-Democractic Party almost as a mutineer, but as a mutineer of the Austrian stamp, i.e., always ready to capitulate without a fight. Hilferding took the external mobility and bustle of the Austrian policy which brought him up for revolutionary initiative; and for a round dozen of months he demanded – true, in the most moderate terms – a more intelligent policy on the part of the leaders of the German Social-Democracy. But the Austro-Viennese bustle swiftly disappeared from his own nature. He soon became subjected to the mechanical rhythm of Berlin and the automatic spiritual life of the German Social-Democracy. He devoted his intellectual energy to the purely theoretical sphere, where he did not say a great deal, true – no Austro-Marxist has ever said a great deal in any sphere – but in which he did, at any rate, write a serious book. With this book on his back, like a porter with a heavy load, he entered the revolutionary epoch. But the most scientific book cannot replace the absence of will, of initiative, of revolutionary instinct and political decision, without which action is inconceivable. A doctor by training, Hilferding is inclined to sobriety, and, in spite of his theoretical education, he represents the most primitive type of empiricist in questions of policy. The chief problem of to-day is for him not to leave the lines laid down for him by yesterday, and to find for this conservative and bourgeois apathy a scientific, economic explanation.

Friedrich Adler is the most balanced representative of the Austro-Marxian type. He has inherited from his father the latter’s political temperament. In the petty exhausting struggle with the disorder of Austrian conditions, Friedrich Adler allowed his ironical scepticism finally to destroy the revolutionary foundations of his world outlook. The temperament inherited from his father more than once drove him into opposition to the school created by his father. At certain moments Friedrich Adler might seem the very revolutionary negation of the Austrian school. in reality, he was and remains its necessary coping-stone. His explosive revolutionism foreshadowed acute attacks of despair amidst Austrian opportunism, which from time to time became terrified at its own insignificance.

Friedrich Adler is a sceptic from head to foot: he does not believe in the masses, or in their capacity for action. At the time when Karl Liebknecht, in the hour of supreme triumph of German militarism, went out to the Potsdamerplatz to call the oppressed masses to the open struggle, Friedrich Adler went into a bourgeois restaurant to assassinate there the Austrian Premier. By his solitary shot, Friedrich Adler vainly attempted to put an end to his own scepticism. After that hysterical strain, he fell into still more complete prostration.

The black-and-yellow crew of social-patriotism (Austerlitz, Leitner, etc.) hurled at Adler the terrorist all the abuse of which the cowardly sentiments were capable.

But when the acute period was passed, and the prodigal son returned from his convict prison into his father’s house with the halo of a martyr, he proved to be doubly and trebly valuable in that form for the Austrian Social-Democracy. The golden halo of the terrorist was transformed by the experienced counterfeiters of the party into the sounding coin of the demagogue. Friedrich Adler became a trusted surety for the Austerlitzes and Renners in face of the masses. Happily, the Austrian workers are coming less and less to distinguish the sentimental lyrical prostration of Friedrich Adler from the pompous shallowness of Renner, the erudite impotence of Max Adler, or the analytical self-satisfaction of Otto Bauer.

The cowardice in thought of the theoreticians of the Austro-Marxian school has completely and wholly been revealed when faced with the great problems of a revolutionary epoch. In his immortal attempt to include the Soviet system in the Ebert-Noske Constitution, Hilferding gave voice not only to his own spirit but to the spirit of the whole Austro-Marxian school, which, with the approach of the revolutionary epoch, made an attempt to become exactly as much more Left than Kautsky as before the revolution it was more Right. From this point of view, Max Adler’s view of the Soviet system is extremely instructive.

The Viennese eclectic philosopher admits the significance of the Soviets. His courage goes so far that he adopts them. He even proclaims them the apparatus of the Social Revolution. Max Adler, of course, is forn – a social revolution. But not for a stormy, barricaded, terrorist, bloody revolution, but for a sane, economically balanced, legally canonized, and philosophically approved revolution.

Max Adler is not even terrified by the fact that the Soviets infringe the “principle” of the constitutional separation of powers (in the Austrian Social-Democracy there are many fools who see in such an infringement a great defect of the Soviet System!). On the contrary, Max Adler, the trade union lawyer and legal adviser of the social revolution, sees in the concentration of powers even an advantage, which allows the direct expression of the proletarian will. Max Adler is in favor of the direct expression of the proletarian will; but only not by means of the direct seizure of power through the Soviets. He proposes a more solid method. In each town, borough, and ward, the Workers” Councils must “control” the police and other officials, imposing upon them the “proletarian will.” What, however, will be the “constitutional” position of the Soviets in the republic of Zeiz, Renner and company? To this our philosopher replies: “The Workers’ Councils in the long run will receive as much constitutional power as they acquire by means of their own activity.” (Arbeiterzeitung, No.179, July 1, 1919.)

The proletarian Soviets must gradually grow up into the political power of the proletariat, just as previously, in the theories of reformism, all the proletarian organizations had to grow up into Socialism; which consummation, however, was a little hindered by the unforeseen misunderstandings, lasting four years, between the Central Powers and the Entente – and all that followed. It was found necessary to reject the economical programme of a gradual development into Socialism without a social revolution. But, as a reward, there opened the perspective of the gradual development of the Soviets into the social revolution, without an armed rising and a seizure of power.

In order that the Soviets should not sink entirely under the burden of borough and ward problems, our daring legal adviser proposes the propaganda of social-democratic ideas! Political power remains as before in the hands of the bourgeoisie and its assistants. But in the wards and the boroughs the Soviets control the policemen and their assistants. And, to console the working class and at the same time to centralize its thought and will, Max Adler on Sunday afternoons will read lectures on the constitutional position of the Soviets, as in the past he read lectures on the constitutional position of the trade unions.

“In this way,” Max Adler promises, “the constitutional regulation of the position of the Workers’ Councils, and their power and importance, would be guaranteed along the whole line of public and social life; and – without the dictatorship of the Soviets – the Soviet system would acquire as large an influence as it could possibly have even in a Soviet republic. At the same time we should not have to pay for that influence by political Storms and economic destruction.” (ibid.) As we see, in addition to all his other qualities, Max Adler remains still in agreement with the Austrian tradition: to make a revolution without quarrelling with his Excellency the Public Prosecutor.

* * *

The founder of this school, and its highest authority, is Kautsky. Carefully protecting, particularly after the Dresden party congress and the first Russian Revolution, his reputation as the keeper of the shrine of Marxist orthodoxy. Kautsky from time to time would shake his head in disapproval of the more compromising outbursts of his Austrian school. And, following the example of the late Victor Adler, Bauer, Renner, Hilferding – altogether and each separately – considered Kautsky too pedantic, too inert, but a very reverend and a very useful father and teacher of the church of quietism.

Kautsky began to cause serious mistrust in his own school during the period of his revolutionary culmination, at the time of the first Russian Revolution, when he recognized as necessary the seizure of power by the Russian Social-Democracy, and attempted to inoculate the German working class with his theoretical conclusions from the experience of the general strike in Russia. The collapse of the first Russian Revolution at once broke off Kautsky’s evolution along the path of radicalism. The more plainly was the question of mass action in Germany itself put forward by the course of events, the more evasive became Kautsky’s attitude. He marked time, retreated, lost his confidence; and the pedantic and scholastic features of his thought more and more became apparent. The imperialist war, which killed every form of vagueness and brought mankind face to face with the most fundamental questions, exposed all the political bankruptcy of Kautsky.

He immediately became confused beyond all hope of extrication, in the most simple question of voting the War Credits. All his writings after that period represent variations of one and the same theme: “I and my muddle.” The Russian Revolution finally slew Kautsky. By all his previous development he was placed in a hostile attitude towards the November victory of the proletariat. This unavoidably threw him into the camp of the counter-revolution. He lost the last traces of historical instinct. His further writings have become more and more like the yellow literature of the bourgeois market.

Kautsky’s book, examined by us, bears in its external characteristics all the attributes of a so-called objective scientific study. To examine the extent of the Red Terror, Kautsky acts with all the circumstantial method peculiar to him. He begins with the study of the social conditions which prepared the great French Revolution, and also the physiological and social conditions which assisted the development of cruelty and humanity throughout the history of the human race. In a book devoted to Bolshevism, in which the whole question is examined in 234 pages, Kautsky describes in detail on what our most remote human ancestor fed, and hazards the guess that, while living mainly on vegetable products, he devoured also insects and possibly a few birds. (See page 122.) In a word, there was nothing to lead us to expect that from such an entirely respectable ancestor – one obviously inclined to vegetarianism – there should spring such descendants as the Bolsheviks. That is the solid scientific basis on which Kautsky builds the question? ...

But, as is not infrequent with productions of this nature, there is hidden behind the academic and scholastic cloak a malignant political pamphlet. This book is one of the most lying and conscienceless of its kind. Is it not incredible at first glance, that Kautsky should gather up the most contemptible stories about the Bolsheviks from the rich table of Havas, Reuter and Wolff, thereby displaying from under his learned night-cap the ears of the sycophant? Yet these disreputable details are only mosaic decorations on the fundamental background of solid, scientific lying about the Soviet Republic and its guiding party.

Kautsky depicts in the most sinister colors our savagery towards the bourgeoisie, which “displayed no tendency to resist.”

Kautsky attacks our ruthlessness in connection with the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, who represent “shades” of Socialism.

Kautsky Depicts th Soviet Eeconomy
as the Chaos of Collapse

Kautsky represents the Soviet workers, and the Russian working class as a whole, as a conglomeration of egoists, loafers, and cowards.

He does not say one word about the conduct of the Russian bourgeoisie, unprecedented in history for the magnitude of its scoundrelism; about its national treachery; about the surrender of Riga to the Germans, with “educational” aims; about the preparations for a similar surrender of Petrograd; about its appeals to foreign armies – Czecho-Slovakian, German, Roumanian, British, Japanese, French, Arab and Negro – against the Russian workers and peasants; about its conspiracies and assassinations, paid for by Entente money; about its utilization of the blockade, not only to starve our children to death, but systematically, tirelessly, persistently to spread over the whole world an unheard-of web of lies and slander.

He does not say one word about the most disgraceful misrepresentations of and violence to our party on the part of the government of the SRs and Mensheviks before the November Revolution; about the criminal persecution of several thousand responsible workers of the party on the charge of espionage in favor of Hohenzollern Germany; about the participation of the Mensheviks and SRs in all the plots of the bourgeoisie; about their collaboration with the imperial generals and admirals, Kolchak, Denikin and Yudenich; about the terrorist acts carried out by the SRs at the order of the Entente; about the risings organized by the SRs with the money of the foreign missions in our army, which was pouring out its blood in the struggle against the monarchical bands of imperialism.

Kautsky does not say one word about the fact that we not only repeated more than once, but proved in reality our readiness to give peace to the country, even at the cost of sacrifices and concessions, and that, in spite of this, we were obliged to carry on an intensive struggle on all fronts to defend the very existence of our country, and to prevent its transformation into a colony of Anglo-French imperialism.

Kautsky does not say one word about the fact that in this heroic struggle, in which we are defending the future of world Socialism, the Russian proletariat is obliged to expend its principal energies, its best and most valuable forces, taking them away from economic and cultural reconstruction.

In all his book, Kautsky does not even mention the fact that first of all German militarism, with the help of its Scheidemanns and the apathy of its Kautskies, and then the militarism of the Entente countries with the help of its Renaudels and the apathy of its Longuets, surrounded us with an iron blockade; seized all our ports; cut us off from the whole of the world; occupied, with the help of hired White bands, enormous territories, rich in raw materials; and separated us for a long period from the Baku oil, the Donetz coal, the Don and Siberian corn, the Turkestan cotton.

Kautsky does not say one word about the fact that in these conditions, unprecedented for their difficulty, the Russian working class for nearly three years has been carrying on a heroic struggle against its enemies on a front of 8,000 versts; that the Russian working class learned how to exchange its hammer for the sword, and created a mighty army; that for this army it mobilized its exhausted industry and, in spite of the ruin of the country, which the executioners of the whole world had condemned to blockade and civil war, for three years with its own forces and resources it has been clothing, feeding, arming, transporting an army of millions – an army which has learned how to conquer.

About all these conditions Kautsky is silent, in a book devoted to Russian Communism. And his silence is the fundamental, capital, principal lie – true, a passive lie, but more criminal and more repulsive than the active lie of all the scoundrels of the international bourgeois Press taken together.

Slandering the policy of the Communist Party, Kautsky says nowhere what he himself wants and what he proposes. The Bolsheviks were not alone in the arena of the Russian Revolution. We saw and see in it – now in power, now in opposition – SRs (not less than five groups and tendencies), Mensheviks (not less than three tendencies), Plekhanovists, Maximalists, Anarchists ... Absolutely all the “shades of Socialism” (to speak in Kautsky’s language) tried their hand, and showed what they would and what, they could. There are so many of these “shades” that it is difficult now to pass the blade of a knife between them. The very origin of these “shades” is not accidental: they represent, so to speak, different degrees in the adaptation of the pre-Revolutionary Socialist parties and groups to the conditions of the greater revolutionary epoch. It would seem that Kautsky had a sufficiently complete political keyboard before him to be able to strike the note which would give a true Marxian key to the Russian Revolution. But Kautsky is silent. He repudiates the Bolshevik melody that is unpleasant to his ear, but does not seek another. The solution is simple: the old musician refuses altogether to play on the instrument of the Revolution.

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Last updated on: 24.12.2006