Kautsky, Karl

views updated May 11 2018

Kautsky, Karl



Karl Kautsky (1854–1938), socialist theoretician and social scientist, was born October 16, 1854, in Prague, the son of a Czech painter and an Austrian actress and novelist. Kautsky was throughout his life, by temperament and interests, above all a social scientist. His social science was not the politician’s tool in his drive for power; rather, he became influential in politics only to the extent that his approach and findings met needs existing in the socialist movement.

While attending the University of Vienna and working as a journalist for the small Austrian Social Democratic party, Kautsky, influenced by the works of J. S. Mill, H. T. Buckle, and especially Darwin, groped for a theory of history along natural science lines. In 1880 he joined some German socialists, in exile in Zurich, as a writer and as a student of the writings of such anthropologists as Herbert Bancroft, J. J. Bachofen, and Lewis Henry Morgan. He became a Marxist under Eduard Bernstein’s guidance, and in 1881 he visited Marx and Engels.

In 1883, Kautsky founded the monthly (weekly from 1890)Die Neue Zeit in Stuttgart, an event that marks the beginning of Marxism as a school of thought. As its editor until 1917, he published contributions from socialist thinkers all over the world as well as hundreds of his own articles. From 1885 to 1890, he worked in London in close con-tact with Engels. HisEconomic Doctrines of Karl Marx (1887), in numerous German and foreign editions, made Kautsky largely responsible for Marxism’s early spread. He also applied the Marxian method in some original historical studies— Thomas More and His Utopia (1888), Foundations of Christianity (1908), and a study of the precursors of modern socialism (1895). A book on class conflicts during the French Revolution (1889) stressed the complexity of social conflicts and modified the concept of the class struggle by emphasis on divisions within classes, a recurring theme in Kautsky’s thought, somewhat akin to the interest-group approach of modern political science.

In 1891, Kautsky drafted the “theoretical part” of the German Social Democratic party’s (SPD) Erfurt program. This first major Marxist party program and his widely translated commentary, Das Erfurter Programm (1892), established him, after Engels, as the leading Marxist theoretician in the Socialist International. He moved to Berlin in 1897.

Kautsky was one of the first Marxists to formu-late theories of imperialism (beginning in Die Neue Zeit in 1898) and agricultural development (Die Agrarfrage 1899a; see also 1919a). Unlike Rudolf Hilferding and Lenin, but more like Schumpeter, Kautsky saw imperialism as the product not of industrial capitalism but of preindustrial, especially aristocratic, elements that remained strong in modern society. He traced these elements back to pre-historic times when nomadic conquerors of peasant societies sought unlimited territorial expansion. In agriculture, Kautsky could, at the turn of the century, find no general tendency for large enterprise to replace small enterprise, but he considered large enterprise to be potentially more productive. He therefore favored a socialist program that advocated conversion of large estates into communal or cooperative enterprises, and he expected that individual peasant enterprises would eventually voluntarily join such cooperatives.

When Bernstein attacked the SPD’s “revolutionary” doctrine, Kautsky became the chief defender of “orthodox” Marxism (see his Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische Programm 1899b;The Social Revolution 1902). He advocated reformist practice and revolutionary, but not insurrectionary, goals. Such a program served to integrate those German and other Continental socialist parties which, de-spite their sharp conflict with their militarist-bureaucratic regimes, appealed to the working classes by demanding reforms. With the Revisionists, Kautsky believed that socialism could be realized only through parliamentary democracy (see his earlier Parlamentarismus und Demokratie 1893), but unlike them he did not expect democracy to grow peacefully in the German empire (The Road to Power 1909). He insisted on a “revolutionary,” i.e., oppositional, strategy, because compromises with the so-called bourgeois parties sup-porting the imperial regime would endanger labor’s political unity. In the same period, Kautsky edited Marx’s manuscript notes for a fourth volume of Capital, entitling the volume Theorien tiber den Mehrwert (1905–1910)

In 1910, Kautsky, in the “Marxist center” of the SPD, attacked as impatient and reckless the radical advocates of revolutionary mass strikes, led by Rosa Luxemburg. Their polemics (reviewed in Kautsky 1914a) foreshadowed the clash between the social-democrats and the communists. The former saw the party as an instrument to prepare the workers for their inevitable rise to power, while the latter saw it as a revolution-making “shock troop.”

During World War i, Kautsky opposed both the SPD majority’s support of the German government and the Spartacists’ call for revolution against all “bourgeois” governments. Although resisting a party split as long as possible, he did join the new In-dependent Social Democratic party (USPD), to oppose the SPD’s war policy. Between 1915 and 1918, in studies of the problem of nationalities, he advocated national self-determination and rejected the inevitability of imperialist expansionism under capitalism. After the German revolution at the end of the war, he served as a secretary of state for foreign affairs in the SPD-USPD coalition of November-December 1918. He collected the German documents on the outbreak of the war (1919b; see also his book on the origins of World War I, 1919c) and was chairman of the government’s socialization commission. Kautsky’s views of the political and economic transition to socialism (The Labour Revolution 1922) became the basis of the reunited SPD’s Heidelberg program.

Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution, Kautsky denounced all attempts to introduce socialism in a backward society by violent minority action as a betrayal of Marxism and democracy that would lead to dictatorship and eventual collapse (The Dictatorship of the Proletariat 1918). Called a renegade by Lenin and Trotsky, he replied inTerrorism and Communism (1919d) and in a book on democracy, dictatorship, and forced labor (1921a; see also 1925; 1930). In late 1920, Kautsky visited Menshevik-governed Georgia to study an underdeveloped country with a strong intelligentsia and a substantial urban working class (1921 b).

At 70, Kautsky returned to Vienna to engage in research. He had always been interested in anthropology, ecology, and demography, fields straddling the social and natural sciences; and he aimed at developing a conceptual framework encompassing both these areas of science. He attempted this in his first, as yet non-Marxian book on the influence of population growth on the progress of society (1880), in his later work on reproduction and development in nature and society (1910), inAre the Jews a Race? (1914 b), and also in his natural science explanation of ethics as a response of man and certain animals to the requirements of life in society (1906). Later Kautsky systematized and elaborated his ideas about social and natural science in his monumental work on the materialist conception of history (1927). He regarded the Marxian theory of history as the application, in principle value-free, of the methods of science to the study of society. He rejected the Hegelian dialectic with its teleological overtones and substituted for it, as the basis for the law of development for which he had searched all his life, the process of adaptation to a changing environment. In organic nature, species change to adjust to a slowly changing natural environment; in human society, man adjusts by changing his environment himself, which in turn requires further adjustment by further changes, including both technical and social ones, in an unending process that is history.

With the rise of fascism in Germany and Austria, Kautsky critically analyzed various proposed socialist counterstrategies (1933; 1934). His last major publications were two of four projected historical works on war (Krieg und Demokratie 1932;Sozialisten und Krieg 1937) and an edition of his correspondence with Engels (1935). Of a large-scale autobiography (1960) only the part covering his life until 1883 was completed by March 1938, when Kautsky fled from the Nazis to Amsterdam. He died there on October 17, 1938.

John H. Kautsky

[For the historical context of Kautsky’s work, see the biographies ofBachofen; Bernstein; Darwin; Engels; Lenin; Luxemburg; Marx; Mill; Trotsky.]


1880 Der Einftuss der Volksvermehrung auf den Fort-schritt der Gesellschaft. Vienna: Bloch & Hasbach.

(1887) 1936 The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx. New York: Macmillan. → First published as Karl Marx’ okonomische Lehren.

(1888) 1959 Thomas More and His Utopia. New York: Russell. → First published as Thomas More und seine Utopie.

1889 Die Klassengegensdtze von 1789. Stuttgart (Ger-many): Dietz. → Also published in 1908 as Die Klassengegensdtze im Zeitalter der franzosischen Revolution.

1892 Das Erfurter Programm in seinem grundsdtzlichen Theil erldutert. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz. → Translated into English in 1910 as The Class Struggle (Erfurt Program).

(1893) 1911 Parlamentarismus und Demokratie. 2d ed., rev. & enl. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz. → First published as Der Parlamentarismus, die Volksgesetzgebung und die Sozialdemokratie.

(1895) 1947 Die Vorldufer des neueren Sozialismus. 2d ed., enl. 2 vols. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz. → Reprinted from the second edition of 1909.

1899 a Die Agrarfrage: Eine Ubersicht uber die Tendenzen der modernen Landwirtschaft und die Agrarpolitik der Sozialdemokratie. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz.

1899 b Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische Programm: Eine Antikritik. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz.

(1902) 1916 The Social Revolution. Chicago: Kerr. → First published as Die soziale Revolution.

1905–1910 Marx, KarlTheorien uber den Mehrwert: Aus dem nachgelassenen Manuskript Zur Kritik der politischen Okonomie. 3 vols. in 4. Edited by Karl Kautsky. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz. → Enlarged and revised from Marx’s preliminary manuscript, written between 1861 and 1863, for a fourth volume of Capital. A selection was published in 1952 by International Publishers as Theories of Surplus Value: Selections.

(1906) 1914 Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History. Chicago: Kerr. → First published as Ethik und materialistische Geschichtsauffassung.

(1908) 1953 Foundations of Christianity. New York: Russell. → First published as Der Ursprung des Christentums.

1909 The Road to Power. Chicago: Bloch. → Also published as Der Weg zur Macht.

1910 Vermehrung und Entwicklung in Natur und Gesellschaft. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz.

1914 a Der politische Massenstreik. Berlin: Vorwarts.

(1914 b) 1926 Are the Jews a Race? New York: International Publishers. → First published asRasse und Judentum. Translated from the second German edition of 1921.

(1918) 1964 The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press. → First published as Die Diktatur des Proletariats.

1919 a Die Sozialisierung der Landwirtschaft. Berlin: Cassirer.

(1919 b) 1924 Gsermany, Auswartiges AmtOutbreak of the World War. German documents collected by Karl Kautsky and edited by Max Montgelas and Walther Schiicking. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. → First published as Die deutschen Dokumente zum Kriegsausbruch.

1919cWie der Weltkrieg entstand: Dargestellt nach dem Aktenmaterial des Deutschen Auswdrtigen Amis. Berlin: Cassirer.

(1919 d) 1920 Terrorism and Communism. London: Allen & Unwin; National Labour Press. → First published as Terrorismus und Kommunismus.

192la Von der Demokratie zur Staatssklaverei. Berlin: Freiheit.

1921 b Georgia: A Social-Democratic Peasant Republic; Impressions and Observations. London: International Bookshops. → First published as Georgien: Eine sozialdemokratische Bauernrepublik; Eindriicke und Beobachtungen.

(1922) 1925 The Labour Revolution. New York: Dial; London: Allen & Unwin. → First published as Die proletarische Revolution und ihr Programm.

1925 Die Internationale und Sowjetrussland. Berlin:Dietz.

1927 Die materialistische Geschichtsauffassung. 2 vols. Berlin: Dietz. → Volume 1: Natur und Gesellschaft. Volume 2: Der Staat und die Entwicklung der Menschheit.

(1930) 1931 Bolshevism at a Deadlock. London: Allen & Unwin. → First published as Der Bolschewismus in der Sackgasse.

1932 Krieg und Demokratie. Berlin: Dietz.

(1932–1937) 1946 Social Democracy versus Communism. Edited and translated by David Shub and Joseph Shaplen. New York: Rand School Press.

1933 Neue Programme. Vienna: Prager.

1934 Grenzen der Gewalt. Carlsbad (Czechoslovakia): Graphia.

(1935) 1955 Friedrich Engels’ Briefwechsel mit Karl Kautsky. 2d ed. enl. Edited by Benedikt Kautsky. Vienna: Danubia. → First published as Aus der Frühzeit des Marxismus.

1937 Sozialisten und Krieg: Ein Beitrag zur Ideengeschichte des Sozialismus von den Hussiten bis zum Volkerbund. Prague: Orbis.

1960 Erinnerungen und Erorterungen. Edited by Benedikt Kautsky. The Hague: Mouton.


Blumenberg, Werner 1960 Karl Kautskys literarisches Werk. The Hague: Mouton. → A bibliography listing 1,800 original works and over 900 translations.

Brill, Hermann 1954 Karl Kautsky.Zeitschrift für Politik New Series 1:211–240.

Ein Leben fur den Sozialismus: Erinnerungen an Karl Kautsky 1954 Hannover (Germany): Dietz.

Karl Kautsky: Der Denker und Kdmpfer 1924 Vienna: Wiener Volksbuchhandlung. → Special issue ofDer Kampf.

Karl Kautsky zum 70. Geburtstage. Edited by R. Hilferding. 1924 Berlin: Dietz. → Special issue ofDie Gesellschaft.

Kautsky, John H. 1951 The Political Thought of Karl Kautsky. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard Univ.

Kautsky, John H. 1961 J. A. Schumpeter and Karl Kautsky: Parallel Theories of Imperialism.Midwest Journal of Political Science 5:101–128.

Matthias, Erich 1957 Kautsky und der Kautskyanismus. Volume 2, pages 151–197 in Marxismusstudien. Edited by Iring Fetscher. Tubingen (Germany): Mohr.

Renner, Karl 1929 Karl Kautsky. Berlin: Dietz.

Kautsky, Karl

views updated May 17 2018


KAUTSKY, KARL (1854–1938), Marxist theoretician.

Karl Kautsky was the most important Marxist theoretician from the death of Engels in 1895 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Born to an artistic, German-speaking, middle-class family in Prague, Kautsky grew up and was educated in Vienna. As a young man he participated in the nascent worker-socialist movement in Austria, but then moved on to richer grounds. After a period of exile in London, where he briefly met Karl Marx (1818–1883) and established a much closer relationship with Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), Kautsky became one of the leading intellectuals of the German and international socialist movements. In addition to being the principal author of the German Social Democratic Party's (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland, SPD) Erfurt program (1891), which announced the party's putative basis in Marxian theory, Kautsky was for nearly thirty years editor of the leading Marxist journal, Die Neue Zeit. In this latter capacity, he dealt with all the most important Marxist theoreticians of his time, not only Europeans, but also those in Asia, Australia, North and South America, and elsewhere, who saw themselves as part of the worldwide upswelling of Marxist theory, history, and contemporary political analysis. Kautsky's significance as a theoretician and popularizer of Marxism corresponded to the rise and impressive growth of socialist, working-class parties in Europe and much of the rest of the world.

Kautsky was primarily important in two capacities—as a popularizer of Marxism and as the theoretician of the Marxist mainstream of the SPD. In the first capacity, his works like The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx (1883) and The Erfurt Program (1892) (both of which went through innumerable editions and translations), played a significant role in establishing Marx's critique of modern capitalism as legitimate and useful to the emerging workers' movements. Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) frequently identified Kautsky as one of the major influences that led him to Marxism, and Economic Doctrines was the first full-length Marxian work translated into Chinese. In the second capacity, as theoretician of the SPD, Kautsky served to reinforce the positions of the long-time party leader, August Bebel (1840–1913), and to counterattacks from the right, especially Eduard Bernstein's (1850–1932) revisionism, and the left, especially Rosa Luxemburg's (1870–1919) radical calls for violent action in the streets to bring about the socialist revolution. Time and again, Bebel called on Kautsky to criticize on the theoretical level those elements of the party who would move it to the right, in the direction of pure reformism, or to the left, in the direction of pressing for revolution at every opportunity, which might well have cost the movement dearly in terms of loss of life and legitimacy. The clearest statement of this centrist position came in Der Weg zur Macht (1909; The Road to Power), in which he urged the party to stay the course between outright reformism and reckless activism in the streets.

While not an innovator in Marxian theory, Kautsky did popularize the worldview and language of Marxism. He was heavily influenced both by Charles Darwin's (1809–1882) evolutionary theory and by Engels's inclination to expand Marx's philosophical analysis of modern capitalism into a comprehensive natural-scientific based view that encompassed the whole of natural history and human society. Kautsky would not have been nearly as important as he was if he had not been backed, largely in the person of August Bebel, by the enormous prestige of the German Social Democratic Party. Although no longer held in high esteem, Kautsky should be recognized for what he was, namely, a popularizer of a seductive and alluring theory of modern society.

See alsoBebel, August; Bernstein, Eduard; Engels, Friedrich; Jaurès, Jean; Lenin, Vladimir; Marx, Karl; Second International; Socialism.


Gilcher-Holtey, Ingrid. Das Mandat des Intellecktuellen: Karl Kautsky und die Sozialdemokratie. Berlin, 1986.

Salvadori, Massimo L. Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution, 1880–1938. Translated by Jon Rothschild. London, 1979.

Steenson, Gary P. Karl Kautsky, 1854–1938: Marxism in the Classical Years. Pittsburgh, 1978.

Gary P. Steenson

Karl Johann Kautsky

views updated Jun 08 2018

Karl Johann Kautsky

The German-Austrian Socialist Karl Johann Kautsky (1854-1938) was the major theoretician of German Social Democracy before World War I and one of the principal figures in the history of the international Socialist movement.

Born in Prague, Karl Kautsky was the son of a Czech painter and his actress wife. His studies at the University of Vienna were mainly scientific, however, rather than artistic. Although he considered himself a Socialist by 1875, it was his encounter with Wilhelm Liebkneckt and Eduard Bernstein about 1880 that brought him to Marxism, and in 1883 he became editor of Die neue Zeit, which soon became the leading Marxist theoretical journal in Germany and perhaps the world. In 1887 he published The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx, which did much to popularize Marxist ideas.

Ideologically, Kautsky (along with August Bebel) represented the Socialist "center" which retained its belief in the inevitable—indeed imminent—collapse of capitalism, but which differed from the radical left in holding that socialism was possible only through political democracy. Unlike the Socialist right, however, Kautsky maintained that imperial Germany was too undemocratic for Socialists to participate in governmental coalitions and that therefore they must remain in the opposition. Kautsky was the author of much of the Erfurt program of 1891, strongly Marxist and revolutionary in tone, which was to remain the official program of the party throughout the imperial period, and he strongly resisted the revisionist tendencies associated with Bernstein that subsequently challenged many of the basic assumptions laid down at Erfurt.

Kautsky broke with the majority of the Social Democrats during World War I. Convinced of the war guilt of Germany and Austria, he joined the pacifist Independent Socialists (USPD), which cost him the editorship of Die neue Zeit. Though most of the Independent Socialists came from the radical wing of the prewar party, Kautsky did not share their enthusiasm for the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and he became one of its most vocal Socialist opponents (especially in his Dictatorship of the Proletariat, 1918).

After the German revolution of 1918 Kautsky served briefly in the republican government in the Foreign Office and on the Socialization Commission. In 1919 he helped edit a collection of documents on the outbreak of the war, tending to show the guilt of the Kaiser. But in general Kautsky was without much influence in the post-war Social Democratic party or in the Weimar regime. He moved to Vienna, which he had to flee at the time of the Anschluss, just before his death in 1938.

Further Reading

Extensive material on Kautsky is in George Douglas Howard Cole, A History of Socialist Thought (4 vols., 1953-1958); Sidney Hook, Marx and the Marxists: The Ambiguous Legacy (1955); and J. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (2 vols., 1966). See also Merle Fainsod, International Socialism and the World War (1935), and George Lichtheim, A Short History of Socialism (1970).

Additional Sources

Geary, Dick, Karl Kautsky, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

Kautsky, John H., Karl Kautsky: Marxism, revolution & democracy, New Brunswick, U.S.A.: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

Salvadori, Massimo L., Karl Kautsky and the socialist revolution, 1880-1938, London; New York: Verso, 1990.

Steenson, Gary P., Karl Kautsky, 1854-1938: Marxism in the classical years, Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991. □

Kautsky, Karl

views updated May 29 2018

Kautsky, Karl (1854–1938) A German socialist politician and social theorist. His ‘On the Agrarian Question’ (1899)
argued that small-scale peasant production was doomed to disappear in the face of capitalist development, and that social democrats should not seek to defend peasant interests, their future lying in proletarianization. For Kautsky, the peasantry embodied the ‘backward’ social characteristics of isolation, tradition, and individualism. He was opposed to revisionism; that is, the electoral politics of Edward Bernstein in the 1900s, and adopted a pacifist position in the First World War. He criticized the Bolshevik revolution and its policy of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, attracting the hostility of Lenin, who attacked Kautsky as the epitome of the social democratic betrayal of the working class (see The Road to Power, 1909, and The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, 1918
). See also MARXISM.