Kautskyism in the Theory of Imperialism - II

(From the Theory of the Evolution of the Social Democratic Centre)

E. Leikin

From the Editors [of Under the Banner of Marxism]. This is an article for discussion. In the critique of Kautsky, Comrade Leikin over-estimates the moment of unity of the world economy in the shortcomings of the Kautskyian theory of imperialism.

Part III
The Triumph of Sobriety

The following definition of imperialism, put forward by Kautsky on the eve of the war, is well known:

“Imperialism is a product of highly developed industrial capitalism. It consists in the striving of every industrial capitalist nation to bring under its control or to annex all large areas of agrarian territory, irrespective of what nations inhabit it. In order to understand this desire, one must first of all understand the relation between agriculture and industry under the capitalist mode of production. In order to simplify this consideration, we will distance ourselves from the extraction industry - mining, which occupies a middle position between agriculture and manufacturing.” 1

So, the years of 1907-1909 are buried! And could it have been otherwise after the Red Rosa made a statement about the non-realizability of the surplus value? No, no - not in the disintegration of the “third parties”, which constituted the basis of the Kautskyian constructions of 1907, the constitutive aspect of modern capitalism. The root cause is in “the relation of agriculture and industry under the capitalist mode of production.” But excuse me, because only the first blind and insecure steps of Kautsky in the primordial fog of the “new industrial system” passed under the sign of industrial-agrarian counterfeits of the capitalist mode of production! After all, this is similar to the old man’s return to infancy! Let it be so, but let’s not forget that new times bring new things. In 1901, Kautsky believed that “One should not, however, think that here it is a question of a very distant future.” That soon enough “the basis for the division of labour between the industrial and agrarian state will turn out to be a narrow one.” And before the war the “settled-down” Kautsky comes to the conclusion that “the theories that have already established prospects for such an end have been decisively mistaken^”

The core of Kautsky’s pioneering of imperialism has been, since 1910 (the article in Neue Zeit on Hilferding’s book), the idea of uneven development of agriculture and industry under capitalism. More precisely: the idea of insufficient growth of agriculture for the needs of industrial development forced by capitalism. This theory was best formulated shortly before the war in the following words about imperialism:

“In order for the industry to grow, agriculture must equally expand its production and its population, it must increase the mass of raw materials and vital products in the same measure as the demand for them on the part of industry increases, and it must equally consume more industrial products through which agricultural products are bought. How is it possible if the accumulation of capital happens much faster in industry than in agriculture?

“What Malthus considered to be the natural law of population ... is an economic law of capitalist accumulation, and no less, however, painful than Malthusianism itself. This law says that the industrial population of the given region grows in ratios 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, while the agricultural population remains unchanged or decreases. And at the same time the commodity mass per worker grows faster in industry than in agriculture. Indeed, the accumulation of capital would be if not impossible, still very difficult and restricted if the capitalist industry of a city, industrial region or state was limited to that rural area that was suitable for the industry originally. Only in that case can capital accumulation in industry go forward without hindrance and develop freely if the agricultural territory that serves it as a supplier and buyer constantly grows.” (Neue Zeit, 32-2, p. 916)

The method of proving this new version of the old theory is very instructive.

1) First of all, there are a number of well-known provisions about the agriculture lagging behind the industry. At the same time (so typical!), natural and technical reasons are stated as the primary reasons for the organic nature of agricultural production2 and the limited nature of the land, as a result of which the expansion of one agricultural crop must mean a simultaneous and corresponding amount of narrowing of another agricultural crop, since the number of agricultural workers cannot increase3. Only in “Reproduction and Development” (1910) is there a Marxist analysis of the lag in agriculture under capitalism (private ownership of land, rent, wage labour). In an article on imperialism (1914), unexpectedly, the idea that agricultural produce is much less diverse than industrial produce and is not subject to trends suddenly acquires the significance of one of the decisive factors. (p. 915).

2) But the consequences of agriculture lagging behind are especially difficult because “when industry is free from agriculture, the latter remains the basis of the entire economic process. Without a constant influx of new agricultural products, one could not live for a single moment. On the contrary, we can go for a long time in the absence of a variety of industrial products in case of hard times.” (pp. 914-915)

3) And so, “A significant factor of capitalist production - competition, the struggle between various enterprises for sales, retains only a small value in agriculture. The industrialist must struggle much more for the sale of his products than the rural owner. Since the latter is confronted with difficulties in sales, they concern more a reseller than other farmers. The situation is deteriorating more and more for the industry since its capital accumulates faster and faster. Meanwhile, agriculture is increasingly lagging behind because industrial population that requires more and more means of power and raw materials is increasing while, on the contrary, the rural population and its aggregate demand for industrial products is decreasing.” (p. 915)

Conclusion: “The intensity of industrial competition is a consequence of the desire for capital accumulation and expansion of production, as well as the possibilities for this, are much greater in industry than in agriculture. As a result, this driving force becomes in turn one of the powerful reasons that increase the disparity between industry and agriculture.”

That’s all. So the theory of agrarian appendages is proved and derived by the author himself.


Meanwhile, a close examination of Kautsky’s argument (which we outlined in full above using the author’s own words) shows that the theory did not fulfill its assignment. In fact, in order to prove the necessity of agrarian appendages under capitalism, it is necessary (and sufficient) to prove the following two propositions:

First: That agriculture under capitalism inevitably lags behind industry.

Second: There is a stable proportion between industry and agriculture in the nature of the capitalist reproduction process that is disturbed by this lag. This situation, in turn, creates two independent problems: first, it is necessary to prove the existence of such a proportion, and, secondly, if it is proved, it remains to prove that the capitalist mode of production does not have any means to recreate this proportion.

There is, of course, much to argue against the justifications of Kautsky for the first of these two propositions. In the article devoted to Hilferding, Kautsky hopelessly confuses two things - the lag of agriculture during the industrial cycle and the lag of agriculture throughout the history of the capitalist mode of production. Then, the thesis that “agriculture remains the basis of the entire economic process” is just absolute vulgarity. Further, what is the cost of this fashionable argument, written from a bourgeois textbook on “economics of industry, commerce and agriculture.” And this “Marxist” concept of capitalist agriculturalists unaware of competition, and the sinful competitive intensity of industrialists, as a consequence of the heavenly innocence of rural owners. And so on.

But this is not the pseudo-theorizing that interests us here. The lag of agriculture is the immutable law of the capitalist mode of production. Moreover, capitalist industry is developing not only faster than agriculture, but also largely due to the underdevelopment of agriculture. Agriculture can catch up with industry only in a transitional period from capitalism to socialism; the correct economical direction of this lengthy process constitutes one of the most difficult tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat. As long as capitalism exists, any movement forward means a deterioration of the agricultural situation, and not its improvement, as the “Marxist” and “theorist”Kautsky believes, who forgot his 90’s in 1914 (The Agrarian Question). Does this lag of agriculture create difficulties for capitalist development? Of course, it does.

Firstly, the specific conditions for the reproduction of organic substances are one of the factors of the crisis. Secondly, the underdevelopment of agriculture inherent in the capitalist mode of production represents an impressive limitation of possible areas of capital investment. But both of these difficulties do not mean that “capitalist accumulation in industry can only go forward without difficulty if it constantly expands the agricultural territory that serves it as a supplier and buyer.” To prove the theory of agrarian appendages, it is required to prove the second of the above provisions. That is, it is required to prove that the immanent to the capitalist mode of production constant proportions between industry and agriculture, which are lagging behind in agriculture, and the incorrigibility of such a condition. Of course, Kautsky sees that it is not enough to talk about the lagging of agriculture in order to prove the necessity of agrarian appendages. And so, he does not hesitate to say: “In order to explain how the capitalist mode of production can restore the balance between production and consumption, we must make a further separation of the products produced according to their material characteristics4, we must also add the distinction between industrial products and agricultural products.” (from the article on Hilferding, “The Main Problems^”, 2nd edition, pp. 448-449)

Very proudly said, indeed. No less proudly than the revisionists said (and are saying), embarking on “supplementing” Marx. But, dear god, what a misery for such grandeur! After all, it is worth only serious consideration to understand that the method of dividing social production which Marx chose in Volume 2 of Capital represents a method of synthesizing the material and value elements of the capitalist production (and reproduction) process taken on a social scale. Is it not clear that sectors I and II represent, on the one hand, the main categories of the production process as such and, on the other hand, the main categories of the value-forming process in capitalist society? How is it possible to put functional categories of the capitalist production process next to the division into industry5 and agriculture, that is, the division that has absolutely no relation to the specificity of capitalist production, neither in its material content, nor in its value form?

Kautsky undertakes to substantiate his “supplement” to Marx’s analysis. The above abundant extracts from his 1914 article contain all he has to say. Even a cursory examination of this evidence of the need for agrarian appendages reveals the three only techniques of the author. Let us give them some attention.

First technique. “The economic law of capitalist accumulation” is declared the law of population, which is that “the industrial population of this region increases in relation to 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, while its agricultural population remains unchanged or decreases.” Truly an ignorant perversion of Marxism! The well-known attraction of population growth to the explanation of capitalist accumulation, produced by Otto Bauer in the debate with Rosa Luxemburg, should be qualified as a deep understanding of Marxism alongside this Malthusianism of the patented Marx scholar. How does this law of population become the economic law of capitalist accumulation? Easy: the valuable mass of commodity that flows between industry and agriculture is considered as a function of the rural population (but not rural economy).6 We have seen above how, on the basis of this theory of population and in inseparable connection with it, the idea is preached that under capitalism “agriculture remains the basis of the whole economy.” Unbelievable, but true: according to Kautsky, the Russian peasantry is a much better market for urban industry than the less numerous peasantry of the United States.

Second technique. Mining industry is excluded from Kautsky’s analysis. “To simplify consideration, we further distract from the mining industry, which occupies a middle position between agriculture and manufacturing.” The following reasoning is built based on this distraction. The abundance of capital, technical conditions and conditions of competition drive industry forward. But in its unrestrained pursuit, it runs into a sedentary border in the form of lagging production of agricultural raw materials. And here we are at the desired goal - the need for agrarian appendages triumphantly appears even before the blind. But... This victory was bought at the price of a triple sin. Firstly, it is impossible to find any meaning (theoretical, or simply sound) in all possible senses of this “middle position” of mining.7

Secondly. Suppose that there is an economic sense in the allocation of mining, as some kind of average industry. But can this average industry be thrown overboard when analyzing the conditions of the social reproduction process? It is impossible, in fact, to abstract from one of the three terms when the laws governing their sum are investigated. This is no longer a scientific abstraction, but it seems to be a conscious perversion and a fraud.

And thirdly. The most significant thing in this whole story, however, is that solely thanks to his distraction from mining, Kautsky could so calmly deduce the theory of agrarian appendages. Meanwhile, just nowadays, the economy of which this theory is intended to explain, there is an exceptionally intense increase in the share of raw materials in the mining sector compared to agriculture. This phenomenon is in close connection with the now increased growth of the organic composition of social capital, and in particular - the main part of constant capital. But in the field of the turnover of the latter, the modern chemical industry is to take only one treatment of coal (paints, oils, medicines)! - and the metallurgy of light metals (aluminum), which opens up broad prospects for replacing wood, etc., represent the latest stages of the process of “liberating man from the dominion of the organic world”. Sombart, who owns the last expression, and who has perfectly studied the factual side of the matter, rightfully asserts: “Inorganic matter is an omen of our time.”8

And Kautsky allows himself to theorize about the raw material problems of our time, having thrown out mining beforehand! And the fruits of this “theorizing” are given as Marxism! It is amazing how easily people learn to cover their bad faith with innocence. You see, we want to simplify consideration and therefore we will not bother you, dear reader, by attracting such purely intermediate industries as minings

These are the three features of the second technique, with which Kautsky is trying to substantiate the theory of agrarian appendages.

Third technique. Let us recall the following phrase, twice quoted by us: agriculture “should increase the mass of raw materials and vital products to the same extent as the demand grows for them from industry; and it should equally consume more and more industrial products, through which agricultural products are bought?” In the words underlined by us is the third technique of Kautsky. Kautsky here establishes that there must be equality (in value terms) of what agriculture gives to industry and what it receives from industry. This argument compares favourably with the first two in its undoubted indisputability.

Indeed, hardly anyone would ever think to object to the “thought” that, in order for the balance between industry and agriculture to remain intact, the value equivalence of the commodity masses moving between them should not be disturbed. And this, of course, applies not only to agriculture and industry. Equally, this truth remains valid in any other division of the social economy, for example, in assigning to one group only the engineering industry, and to the other the rest of branches of the economy. Unfortunately, this idea is as fruitless as it is indisputable. Its drawback is insignificant: the idea is just touched upon without explaining what is going on. Speaking about the need to balance commodity flows between industry and agriculture, it ignores the question of the patterns to which changes in the value of flows are subject and, thus, refuses to understand the law of development of this balance.

But it was precisely on the line of the last question that Kautsky’s analysis would have been necessary if he had a serious intention to think over and substantiate the theory of agrarian appendages. For the presence in nature of the capitalist mode of production of stable proportions between industry and agriculture, without which capitalist accumulation cannot take place, is not proved, in fact, by a truism about the equivalent of exchange. But, without proving the existence of proportions, it is impossible to prove the necessity for agrarian appendages for capitalism.

The tragic comedy of Kautsky’s theory is that the original thesis, without which it cannot be built, is unprovable for the simple reason that it is incorrect. Immediately after the above phrase, Kautsky asks: “How is this [i.e., the notorious equality of sales and purchases] possible if capital accumulation in industry goes much faster than in agriculture?” Very simply. Poor (cunning) Kautsky does not notice (i.e. does not want to notice) a detail that, parallel to the more intensive accumulation in industry, commodity circulation within the industry itself is growing more and more, therefore, the share of manufactured goods is bought and sold, bypassing agriculture....

We have examined the theoretical content of the Kautskian idea of the agrarian appendages rather fully. In a number of significant provisions, this theory in its new edition represents a complete departure from Marxism - according to the method, according to the conclusions, even by word usage. In other parts of it, it tries to outweigh the simplest laws of formal logic by the deliberate grandeur of presentation and the self-confidence of conclusions. Even in the other parts it hopes to remove a decisive, but insoluble, question with a clever manoeuvre. In general the new edition of the old theory does not go deeper than the older edition.

But if the mistakes of the latter are partly redeemed by the novelty (for that time) of the phenomena studied, the broad, total coverage and revolutionary freshness of the scientific approach, in which the traditions of Marxism sound, the absurdities of the 1910-1914 edition are generated and exacerbated by senile forgetfulness, professorial pedantism, cynical self-confidence, “infallible authoritativeness”, the petty dishonesty of the official theoretician, and eclecticism natural to revisionism, which

Kautsky surprisingly successfully absorbs at just the time in question. But above all this reigns that special kind of hypocrisy, which, in the quiet of the cabinet, processes the “real politics” of opportunism into flimsy designs, and hides them behind pompous, almost revolutionary declamation, and which in essence deceives itself and is so pitifully powerless in the face of living life. He willingly replaces the latter with a system of abstract categories, since they are much easier than the complex reality, they tolerate all sorts of combinations that the theorist exposes to, justifying opportunistic practice. This kind of hypocrisy constitutes the scientific character of theorists of Social Democratic centrism.9


We found out the inconsistency of Kautsky’s attempt to bring theoretical and economic evidence to defend the ideas of agrarian appendages. In order to “rationalize” it, he needed to unbelievably distort the facts and undertake a formal distortion of the main tenets of Marxist political economy. Is it surprising that the resulting theory of such exercises is in conflict with the phenomena that it is intended to explain? Lenin says quite rightly: “The characteristic feature of imperialism is precisely that it strives to annex not only agrarian territories, but even most highly industrialised regions (German appetite for Belgium; French appetite for Lorraine)”; Kautsky “arbitrarily and incorrectly advances the annexations of the agrarian areas.” (Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism)

But and this should always be remembered - the main task of the official theoretician of the Second International is to prove that imperialism is no more than one of the possible politicians of capitalism, preferred by some capitalist groups, but contrary to the vital interests of the entire capitalist system as a whole.10 He builds the economic theory of agrarian appendages as a scientific substantiation for this political task. For Kautsky, the question is as follows:

“Does imperialism constitute the last possible form of manifestation of capitalist world politics or is there another form possible? In other words: does imperialism offer the only possible form in which mutual circulation between industry and agriculture can take place within the framework of capitalism?” (N.Z., 33-2, pp.919-920, emphasis ours)

And a few pages earlier it is explicitly stated: “The constant striving of capitalist industrial nations to expand the agricultural field with which they have exchange relations can, however, take many different forms. Proving that this striving constitutes the vital condition of capitalism is far from proving that any of these forms mean the inevitable necessity (unerlassliche Notwendigkeit) for the capitalist mode of production. Imperialism is a particular form of striving. It was preceded by another form, free trade. Half a century ago, the latter, just as now imperialism, was regarded as the last word of capitalism.” (ibid., p. 917)

Below we will say a few words about the incredible jumble of ideas condensed in these few lines. And now let’s finish the train of thoughts of Kautsky. In essence, it is quite simple. Since imperialism is no more than one of the various forms of capitalist striving to agrarian countries, since “imperialism is the striving of every major state to expand its own colonial empire as opposed to other similar empires, and represents only one of various means to contribute to the expansion of capitalism”, since the imperialist conflicts are thus a clash of the big imperialist powers only on the basis of their attitude to third countries, to countries external to capitalism, then is it already inconceivable that big powers accept their joint actions against this external but equally hostile and equally barring their way, power?

With inspiration, the thought of the philistine begins to work here. Firstly, the “imperialistic form” is the most unfavourable from the commercial side. What is the price of arms race, and then the war!" Secondly, this is the most dangerous form for capitalism. Take, for example, the growth of discontent in more developed agrarian countries, which is directed not against a particular imperialist power, but against all of them taken together. What about the growing resistance of the workers of industrial countries against new taxes? And so on_

The philistine is convinced that capitalist policies depend on the common sense of the capitalists. He will help them to understand their “genuine” interest which so successfully coincides with his petty-bourgeois interest: fewer taxes, less weapons, peace and peaceful subordination of the colonies. The philistine believes that the common sense will triumph, because “from a purely economic point of view, it is possible that capitalism will live to one new phase, transferring cartel policy to foreign policy, to the phase of ultra-imperialism.”

“Pure-economic point of view” is the commodity exchange of industry in capitalist countries with agriculture of backward countries. It honestly fulfilled its assignment. It justified the possibility of ultra-imperialism! But here we must pay attention to one important circumstance.

Let us ask the reader to once again review Kautsky’s above-stated tirade about the possibility of various forms of economic communication between industrial and agrarian countries. Speaking of the incredible confusion reigning in these phrases of Kautsky, we meant the following:

Assume that the theory of agrarian appendages is correct. Let us assume, therefore, that the foreign policy of capitalism at all stages of its development is determined by the attitude of an industrial country to an agrarian one.12 For a Marxist in this case, it was indisputable that there are various forms of capitalist policies, corresponding to different stages of capitalist development. The Marxist would take the criterion of the need for a particular form of capitalist foreign policy from a preliminary study of the production features of the respective stage of capitalist development. Without such a study it would have been impossible to understand the change of various types of relations between an industrial and an agrarian country, that is (assuming the idea of Kautsky) a change of forms of foreign policy of capitalism. Kautsky, on the other hand, distorts this statement for granted to a Marxist. With pathos, he attacks the one who considers it possible to prove that “any of these forms may mean the inevitable necessity for the capitalist mode of production.” Delighted pathos, for who claimed such nonsense, as if imperialist politics had accompanied the capitalist mode of production throughout history?13

Kautsky needed to replace the Marxist formulation of the problem, for it does not allow ultra-imperialism to be justified even through the theory of agrarian appendages. The possibility of ultra-imperialism could be proved only by justifying the possibility of a new economic form of capitalism, to which a new, peaceful form of exploitation of the colonies would correspond, that is, a form not accompanied by the struggle of the exploiting powers with each other. This means that the theory of agrarian appendages itself, even if it is a holy truth, is still insufficient to substantiate the possibility of an ultra-imperialist phase of capitalism. But Kautsky finds a way out! He produces a completely “trifling”, almost imperceptible, shuffling. He replaces the question of the different stages of the capitalist system (both economic and political) with the question of various forms of capitalist policy. “We have no reason to believe that without Egypt’s military occupation, trade with it would have grown less under the influence of the simple weight of ‘economic factors’.” “Capital’s aspirations for expansion can best be achieved not by violent methods of imperialism, but by peaceful democracy.” Thus, Kautsky, in his terminology, declares that ultra-imperialism is possible because, from a “purely economic point of view,” the policy of economics, having turned its theory of agrarian appendages into a “purely economic” theory it is not possible!

We are at the end of the last theoretical economic flight of the ideologist of the Second International. His results are humiliatingly deplorable. It took the most absurd and most perverted of all those who know the history of Marxism, the theoretical scheme of the vital necessity for capitalism of agrarian appendages. And when the scheme was built, it turned out to be necessary to erase pitiful hints of real relationships that it could still hide in itself. It was declared a “pure economic theory”, that is, a pure abstraction.14 After that, the scheme no longer offered any resistance to the exercises for which the theorist of ultra-imperialism intended it for. But, turning into a lifeless abstraction, it cruelly avenged itself — it proved suitable for justifying only the possibility of ultra-imperialism, and even Kautsky could not expose it to such an additional transformation in which it would give the right to talk about the inevitability of ultra-imperialism.

Could Kautsky be satisfied with these bitter fruits of his theoretical expedition? Of course not. Soon the philistine thought started working again but this time in a completely different direction. However, before addressing this new theoretical route, one more side of Kautsky’s economic views should be noted.


It is noteworthy that the work of Hilferding remained without influence on the main views of Kautsky. This is especially remarkable because it consisted of rich sources for building a theory of ultra-imperialism. It is known how skillfully Hilferding himself used them after the imperialist war. But the severity of theoretical thought is not one of Kautsky’s strengths — meanwhile, it is precisely such logical rigour in the deployment of the theoretical scheme that goes through the whole book of Hilferding. However, the position of “financial capital” in general did not take root in the Social Democratic ranks, and the generally accepted, so to speak, party theory of modern capitalism, both before the book of Hilferding and after it, remained Kautsky theory, which, as we could see, possessed an indispensable property – to rebuild and change its appearance in accordance with the dominant party “spirit”. As far as Hilferding’s book remained alien to social democracy, the fact that, in 1915, not some ordinary party member, but Cunow (in a controversy with Kautsky) could forget (or pretend to forget) about its existence, and declare that he does not know of a single Social Democratic attempt to research modern banks!

Need I say that Kautsky elevated Hilferding’s work to the skies? But the extent to which it remained from his understanding is already shown when he considered his theory of agrarian appendages “perhaps, in many ways, a complement the course of Hilferding’s thoughts” (Basic Problems of Political Economy, 2nd edition, p. 438).15 We should take a closer look at this side of Kautsky’s evolution, having stopped at least on the basic questions of the book of Hilferding.

First. – The core of Hilferding’s book is the idea of organizational development and improvement of the capitalist mode of production, which is in the form of financial capital its highest level. Meanwhile, Kautsky in 1918 (Bemerkungenzur Ubergangswirtschaft, 163) considers: “The height of a capitalist organization is uneven with the height of the capitalist mode of production. The latter reached its highest point in England. On the contrary, the dominance of cartels and banks developed much more strongly in other countries.”

Second. – Kautsky had most of all to talk about financial capital in National State^ in 1915. Here is what we read there: “Whoever wants to find out for himself the historical actions of capital must clearly distinguish between certain types of it.” “Industrial capital, a class of industrial entrepreneurs, initially showed other trends than commercial and financial capital.” “But financial capital, a class of large lenders and bankers, stands for an increase in absolute state power, for forcibly16 carrying out its demands concerning domestic and foreign policy.” (pp. 25-26) The merchant “achieves his goal most easily by uniting with financial capital – the union is much older than the union between industrial and financial capital.” (p. 33) So, for Kautsky, financial capital is not a universal form of capital in a certain historical epoch, but one of the three types17 of capital (that is, bank capital), which in our time has become particularly important.

Third. – In the same 1915, Kautsky was appealed several times to the question of monopolies. He seeks to prove, firstly, that monopolies are not necessary, and, secondly, that, in any case, they should not lead to wars at all. His method is to contrast modern times to the epoch of primitive accumulation! He exclaims indignantly: “The views that we developed for ourselves before the war on the basis of the facts of the last decades, are going to be disproved as “obsolete”, with views that are appropriate to the XVII or to the XVIII centuries.” (Neue Zeit, 34 – 1, p. 23, “Aussere u. innerePolitik”) His idea is this: if early capitalism lived at the expense of plunder of the village, etc. and applied monopolies and wars for this, then “capital gains now flow from the labour of wage labourers. They are now possible without violating the law of value. Here international trade does not need monopolies and war for its expansion and protection. They can only delay due to the gigantic proportions and the rapid pace that modern world circulation has adopted. In former times, international trade needed monopoly and war.” (ibid)

The same idea is developed in National State....18 And in one of the articles against Cunow (“Zwei Schriften zum Umlernen”, N.Z., 33 – 2, p.40), the same idea is examined using the example of England. “There is nothing wrong,” Kautsky writes, “than to think that in the present war it is a matter of preserving the English industrial monopoly. The present war, since we are talking about England, revolves in a circle of rivalry in armaments, around the prevalence of the English fleet.”

Fourth. – It is known that in the book of Hilferding one of the most important places is occupied by the theory of modern protectionism. The latter is presented to Hilferding as a problem of the economic territory of modern capitalism, by protecting the national economy, which capitalism is forced to use in the process of organizing the world economy. For Kautsky, the whole question is exhausted by its social formulation. At the end of 1911, he writes (N.Z., 30 – 1, p.464, “Konsumenten u. Produzenten”): “The security system at its first stage of industrial and educational duty represents the means of the class struggle of profits against and land rent against wages.” It is clear that Kautsky has little in common with the Hilferding production. But this gives him the opportunity to call for the destruction of protectionism in the framework of modern capitalism.

Fifth. – As for banks, it may seem that, at least by 1918, Kautsky had adopted Hilferding’s views on this issue. In any case, in “Soz.-dem. Bemerkungen etc.”, Kautsky speaks more than once about “bankocracy” (especially on p. 160), about the omnipotence of modern Berlin banks19, about the predominant importance of banks (compared to cartels) in the fight against anarchy of production (p. 138). However, this thought is quite far from Hilferding. Kautsky, in contrast to Hilferding, does not come to this theory of modern banks on the basis of an economic analysis of the current stage of capitalism, it is not tied to formulating elements of this particular stage – it is not even a theory of banks, it is simply a literary programme of what he “knows” and what every man on the street is talking about in our time. It is worth looking through the relevant places from the indicated work of Kautsky (1918) in order to see it with your own eyes.

Thus, the fruits of Hilferding’s theoretical work were not adopted by Kautsky even to the smallest extent. But this circumstance deprived him of the “valuable” theoretical and economic material for substantiating the theory of ultra-imperialism. The path that led Hilferding in the postwar years to the idea of “organized capitalism” was closed to Kautsky. On the other hand, he had to abandon his exercises with agrarian appendages after 1914 – so they were (among other things) cumbersomely unprofitable. In National State... (1915) we meet the last, rather dull echoes of the unfortunate theory.

And Kautsky talks less and less about the economic factors of ultra-imperialism and more and more often he stops and lingers longer on a factor of a completely different order — the growing power of democracy. If from time to time he advances his arguments from economics, then there are sudden separate thoughts that have come to mind, which do not pretend to the value of a complete theory, are usually read in current bourgeois literature and are erroneous20. This is Kautsky before putting an end to the economic rationale of super-imperialism and admitting, therefore, its powerlessness to give such, makes desperate attempts to come up with at least something that could pass for an argument from the economy.

IV. In the Quiet Pier (1915 - 1918)

“He only has the cruel pleasure to contemplate his dying.” (Frans, Tais)


It has been pointed out above that, as it becomes impossible to give a theoretical and economic rationale for ultra-imperialism, Kautsky increasingly turns to the theory of the general (if I may say so) development of capitalism, that is, not to a special economic theory, but to a theory encompassing the economy plus social relations plus politics.

This turnaround is made easier and more inconspicuously, as Kautsky’s theoretical and economic evidence in essence, as we have seen, should have been reduced to argumentation by bare abstraction, that is, simply to eliminate any real economic evidence and move the issue into the political plane. So, beginning in 1914, with a fair amount of contradictions and petty-bourgeois “common sense”, the theory destined to become the main wisdom of the Second International in the era of the birth of socialism processed by Kautsky in pieces in various ways and for the most varied reasons. This is the theory of the growing power of democracy. The theory, representing ultra ratio of opportunism, had a “brilliant: honor – to serve as the foundation for the idea of peaceful super-capitalism.

Undoubtedly the “deepest” substantiation of the theory of the growing power of democracy is presented in a pamphlet “Serbia and Belgium” written in the period between the Russian and German revolutions. In the second issue of the brochure (“Belgium”, Moscow 1919, p. 72 et seq.), we read: “It would be completely wrong to regard imperialism as the only product of modern capitalism, and leave democracy without attention... In modern states they see only imperialism but not the need for democracy – the need in all senses of the word, as an indispensable demand of the proletariat and as the inevitable result of the very mechanism of the capitalist production process^ Democracy is the result of not only the proletarian class struggle, but also the very mechanism of the capitalist production process. It is growing uncontrollably with this mechanism, in defiance of all temporary interference... From a purely economic point of view, the position of the proletariat is hopeless. Only democracy, and with it the political power of the proletariat, grows constantly and uninterruptedly. Only democracy is able to cope with the united forces of entrepreneurs and liberate the proletariat both economically, through the intervention of a democratic state power.” This is crowned with the following thesis on trends: “The desire for democracy grows among the masses of modern states under any circumstances, while the desire to expand the state embraces capitalist circles only under certain historical conditions”.

If we add that this idea of peaceful parliamentary development seems to Kautsky to be a special case of the general theory of the continuous democratic development of mankind2^, namely, a deterministic form of uninterrupted democratic development in the capitalist and pre-socialist era, then our theory of the growing power of democracy in all its “scientific” content will appear to our eyes. One the example of this theory shows what a rough departure from Marxism leads the equipment to a completely abstract position in explaining the laws of a particular historical segment. Having portrayed the whole matter in the form of a mechanical “productive-political” development, Kautsky brought down a complex problem to the vulgar wisdom of the narrow-minded, that production improved and the political system improved. And thoughtfully weighing the chances of democracy (the broad masses of people strive for it and, moreover, “under any circumstances”) and imperialism (it’s only “well-known capitalist groups” and, moreover, “only under certain historical conditions,” strive for it), Kautsky cunningly substitutes the Marxist problem of the objective limits of democratic development under capitalism22 by petty-bourgeois optimism, which reduces to obscuring the insoluble contradictions of the capitalist system.

For Kautsky, the political history of mankind is a movement towards the realization of the principles of democracy; this realization takes place in the form of a gradual and continuous quantitative accumulation of democratic elements. At the same time, the capitalist mode of production using its mechanism implements this abstract category of democracy (“pure democracy”) quite fully, so that socialism will only have to finish up some details. From this point of view, the political reaction, which characterizes modern capitalism, represents nothing more than an unnatural violation of the normal political development of modern society, its delay or deviation from the path along which it is pushed by the capitalist production mechanism. But the genuine political tendency of capitalism, that is, the democratic tendency, of course, will pave the way for itself “in defiance of all temporary interference”! Democratic capitalism must come, since really-unfolding, fully realized its tendencies, capitalism is democratic capitalism! Is there ever a stupid metaphysics in the literature that claims to be Marxist? To turn social development into a kind of snowball, harmlessly reaching the ideal (whose ideal?) size of “pure democracy”, to call upon primitive peoples, the shadow of the Middle Ages, for this purpose, the XVIII century, to draw philistine truism from them on improving production and political life and by doing so, to erase one detail: the internal contradictions of this “perfection", the class essence of this development – have you seen a greater vulgarization of Marxism? The ideologue of the Second International, under the guise of continuous democratic development, pulls through the bourgeois little idea of a steady political process, which is that the cultural and educational level of the majority of the population grows (what is the place of class here?), and he substitutes this idea for the main law of modern democratic development, which reads: “The more developed a democracy is, the closer it is at every deep political discrepancy dangerous to the bourgeoisie, to a pogrom or to a civil war” (Lenin’s wording, Vol. 15, p. 460).

And, of course, Kautsky should have forgotten this final political stage of capitalist development as something going against his scheme of the crisis of parliamentarism. In his best years, Kautsky taught, as we have seen, that the “policy of violence” constitutes the essence of the new “industrial system”. Now he tries to prove that democracy is the cumulative interest (Gesamtinteresse) of the whole bourgeois society.23 Now he refuses to understand that “imperialism ‘logically’ contradicts the whole of political democracy in general”. There is a “contradiction between the economy of modern capitalism (namely, monopoly capitalism) and political democracy in general.” (Lenin, Vol. 13, p. 356) That is why the victorious socialism will have to restore democracy (Lenin, ibid, p. 401), and not just finish the political inheritance received from capitalism.

This dialectical complexity of the process is hidden from the philistine, who believes in continuous democratic development. Bounded in his outlook by cozy parliamentary walls, he was unusually brave while he was inside this cell. Here he builds the proud theories that imperialism is a “question of power”. Kautsky is fighting against the Right (Cunow and others), who see the need for imperialism and worship it. Imperialism is not an economic necessity, but only a matter of the correlation of forces within a capitalist society — such is the leitmotif of Kautsky’s entire argument about imperialism. This should be read: the fate of imperialism is decided in a parliamentary struggle that does not affect the capitalist mode of production.

The theory of the self-contained nature of the state, this perversion of Marxism, to which Kautsky so glorified himself, necessarily grows on the basis of the theory of the growing power of democracy, and occupies a prominent place in it. Capitalism can be politically democratized nonstop. Moreover, capitalism must continually democratize its state system, for the democratic aspirations of the people represent the direct function of the production improvement of capitalism, and the state is the realization and absorption of the power of the democratic aspirations of the people. And the petty bourgeois appeals to the wisdom of the future state power (he cannot doubt his good wishes and power!): “It is absolutely necessary that the only factor that interferes with them [trusts, etc.] now in economic strength, which, at least within its territory, represents, in opposition to the private interests of individual economic groups, the common interests of all bourgeois society: the state”, Kautsky writes in 1918, reflecting on post-war economic prospects (Soz.-dem.Bemerkun- genetc, p. 28 ff.).24

But, maybe, the meaning of the Kautsky schema (theoretical and political) appears in a brief tirade from an article devoted to our February revolution (April 1917): “The proletariat urgently needs two things: democracy and socialism... Proletariat needs both in equal measure. Social production without democracy could become one of the most oppressive shackles. Democracy without socialism leaves the economic dependence of the proletariat in force.” (N.Z., 35 –  2, p. 11, “Die Aussichten d. russischen Revolution”)

Here a few words said a lot. First of all, that the democracy needed by the proletariat is feasible within the capitalist system. Second. That the proletariat achieves one of its two strivings of life (absolutely equal in value) under capitalism. Thirdly. That socialism and “pure” democracy do not represent an inseparable whole, so that the existence of one without the other is unthinkable; but that, on the contrary, they are conceivable separately and one can speak of the realization of one of them before the other. Fourth. That real development will go in such a way that at first one of these aspirations will be realized: namely democracy, and only after that, on its basis, using its benefits, the working class will approach its second goal – socialism. Or, to put it in current terms, political democracy opens the door to economic democracy.

Such is the theory of the growing power of democracy, which serves as the last, and in the second half of the war – the only – justification for the necessity of ultra-imperialism. This theory, which considers imperialism to be a deviation from the normal capitalist path, claims to prove the inevitability of ultra-imperialism, and not only its possibility. It is characteristic that as the argument from democracy takes place at the fore, obscuring, and then clarifying, the “economic” arguments, Kautsky’s confidence in the triumph of ultra-imperialism grows. For three years (1914-1917), Kautsky’s ultra-imperialism has come a long way: from one of the possible perspectives of capitalist evolution (which, moreover, has the least chance for itself) through the likely development of capitalism (repeated statements in 1915 that the fate of imperialism will be decided after war) – to the inevitable, the only natural stage, which the capitalist mode of production must pass before, we will come the historical hour of socialism.

So, the idea of ultra-imperialism, that is, the idea of democratic, peaceful capitalism, as the last, highest form of capitalist mode of production, follows directly from the theory of the growing power of democracy, or, if you like, is included in it as part. Kautsky, however, is not limited to general reasoning and tried to detail it, naturally in connection with questions of war. The causes of the war, the significance of the war and the national question — these are the three directions along which Kautsky’s reasoning about the 1914 war is located. Objective: to prove that war is not necessary for capitalism and that therefore it will not happen again.

1. The main reason for the war. Above (when comparing Kautsky with Hilferding) we could see that Kautsky refuses to recognize the connection between modern trade policy and war. Modern expansive aspirations, he wrote, should not be confused with the same aspirations of the epoch of primitive accumulation. There they were in the armed struggle of monopoly companies, but now they themselves suffer from the use of weapons. Then what is the cause of world war? Kautsky’s most complete answer was set forth and substantiated in National State in 1915:

“Imperialism is the culprit of the world catastrophe insofar as it serves as an incentive for arms race, naturally drawing all major powers into its circle, regardless of whether or not imperialistic motivations prompted them to do so. This condition would inevitably lead to war, if it had not been suspended on time, even under the condition that all the disputed imperialist points could be settled through peace agreements... The events followed a path completely opposite to the usual one. Usually, states first formulated demands, then declared war and began to mobilize. This time, the mobilization was declared not because of the war, but war because of the mobilization, but the outcome of the war will determine the establishment of goals, because of which it was fought and which they would like to impose on the enemy. How to achieve peace under such conditions? As long as the struggle does not go beyond certain requirements, but because of vague fears [!] that have no limits, until then every country will make all its efforts not to be defeated. If a country knew exactly what its adversary required, it might have come to the conclusion that the continuation of the war, even in the event of victory, could do more harm than an agreement on the exhibited demands.” (National State, p. 74)

One might think that Kautsky is impersonating a layman here, perhaps even slightly caricaturing them. Nothing like this! This ideologue of the Second International speaks on his own behalf, masterfully capturing his philistine way of thinking. The reluctance to rise above the level of the average man, the inability to take phenomena in their objective content, his confusion in the face of the “unusual” appearance of events, so wild and contrary to conventional notions, and with all that hidden behind a slight bewilderment, full of pathos and stupidity, faith in the triumph of good and common sense, so cozy, so reassuring! Isn’t that all it takes from a good philistine? And did not Kautsky prove by his interpretation of the imperialist war that he is a good philistine?

The rivalry of armaments is what Kautsky sees as the real cause of the 1914 catastrophe.25 Frightened by the horrors of war, the philistine shouts that, at the end of it, they will stop the competition in armaments, and with indignation his helpless “common sense” casts off the slightest doubt in the fulfillment of this demand. “It would be simply meaningless if the war, born of rivalry in armaments, with all the terrible devastation that it carries with it, did not lead to the elimination of the cause of the war, but to its preservation and thus would ensure in a short time a new, even more terrible, global war.” (N.Z., 32 – 2, p. 878, “Die Vorbereitung d. Friedens”) “It would be simply meaningless!”^ No joking, this is the scientific method of the Marxist Kautsky.

2. The value of the war of 1914 for the fate of capitalism. On the one hand, as a result of the war, imperialism will become “morally bankrupt even faster than Manchester after the great crisis of ‘73.”(N.Z., 32 – 2, pp. 114-115, “Imperialismus u. reaktion. Masse”) “This will happen, firstly, because the broad masses will be disappointed in it, and secondly, under the influence of military materialism,” the impression of which “will not be so easily erased” after the war (N.Z., 32, p. 981, “Wirkungen d. Krieges”) On the other hand, war will destroy the material basis of future wars. “The burden of war would be so incredible that it would be financially difficult, if not impossible, to add to it after the conclusion of peace the burden of new competitions in armaments, precisely in view of the competition of economically intact and possible America.” (N.Z., 32, p. 845, “Der Krieg”)

So, the war of 1914 is the last war. It clears the way for peaceful capitalism. “We are expecting the bankruptcy of imperialism and the policy of armaments, a powerful upswing in democracy. Thus, Europe is entering this new political and social transformation as soon as possible. This is the side of the war that, in the midst of general need, fills us with the most joyful expectations.” So Kautsky wrote in May 1917 (N.Z., 35 – 2, p. 145, “Die Befreiung d. Nationen”). By this time, the last scraps of his former revolutionism had time to rot. The programme which he proposed to the working class was completely covered by the senilely fearful and sentiently selfish slogan: “War should not make any changes to the policy of social democracy.” (National State, p. 90)

3. The national question in connection with the war. The national question in Kautsky’s scheme constitutes a whole chain of arguments in favour of the theory of the “last war”. First, it is used by Kautsky in the matter of proving the most important thesis that the war of 1914 is not at all entirely imperialistic. Real war, says Kautsky, “is a struggle not only between different imperialisms, but also between imperialism and democracy, between more or less democratic and more or less imperialist and militaristic states.” (“Serbia and Belgium”, Issue 2, Moscow 1919, p. 73) Secondly, by putting forward the national question as one of the causes of the war of 1914, Kautsky cleverly explains that, since war will resolve the national question, it will eliminate one of the possible causes of future wars. Thirdly, Kautsky is building evidence that war will indeed lead to the resolution of the national question.26 We dwell briefly only on the latter.

“The union of states, not the state of nationalities or the colonial empire, is the form of big empires that capitalism needs to achieve its last, highest degree of development, when the proletariat accomplishes its ultimate goal. This union can result in different forms – it may even become union of unions. This form is the most elastic and capable of infinite expansion, up to the world union.” (National State, p. 87, emphasis added)27

It is said quite categorically, but where is the proof? Why would you need any evidence, when there is such a pledge as democracy, which blossoms like a flower: “In the direction of historical development lies primarily the independence of nations.” (N.Z., 32 – 2, p. 877, “Die Vorbe- reitung d. Friedens”) True, the path to the bright ideal is littered with various forms of national oppression. The scientist puts on his glasses and looks at world history with a thoughtful eye. You see, three main combinations of national oppression are possible, “the differences of which are based on the difference between ordinary and modern democracy.” Namely: (a) primitive peoples are enslaved by democracy – such is the colonial state; (b) the modern nation subjugates to itself a race with a primitive democracy — such is the colonial state; (c) various modern nations with a developed political life are united into one state — this will already be a state of nationalities.

If it had occurred to someone to publish a reader of philistine thinkers, it would be impossible for him to find another such example of the absolute absence of dialectics, as in this argument of “Marxist” Kautsky. One must be able to force such stupid fetishist forms on to Marxism, which in this form not only ignores reality, but which, moreover, erodes the very reality offorms, that is, their historical conditionality^

But why, after all, is “the union of states, and not the state of nationalities or the colonial empire” is the form of big empires that capitalism needs? One might think that Kautsky is engaged in a special analysis of the capitalist mode of production, since otherwise the “need” of capitalism in the alliance of states built on the “voluntary entry”, cannot be proved. Kautsky, however, did not forget his misadventures with the economic rationales of ultra-imperialism. This time he chooses a less troublesome way. He offers negative evidence, namely, he declares false the fact that “the capitalist mode of production for economic reasons deprives a small state of political viability, just like a small enterprise in industry.” (“The Unification of Central Europe”, Moscow 1916, p. 31) After all the above, we will not be surprised at this new manifestation of formal thinking. The ideologue of the Second International cannot (organically!) distinguish between the formal independence of a state from its ability to conduct its own, independent policy. The singer of democracy does not want to think about the inevitable contradictions of the “democratic system” under capitalism. Not far away from the scholastic realists of the long-gone century (so often used by him to witness the phenomena of modern capitalism), Kautsky religiously believes in the reality of democratic terminology. Once it says: “voluntary membership”, it means that it is. Since it is said: “the equality of a great and small nation in the capitalist union of states” – do not dare to doubt it.28

The same formal method of Kautsky applies in the colonial question. That is why he is unable to understand the problem of semi-colonies, this most characteristic problem of modern capitalism. “Turkey is not India... In India, all high posts in state administration and in the army are replaced by British, that is, by foreigners... It may be surprising that Delbruck calls Turkey the colonial sphere of Germany. After all, she is an ally of the German Empire.” (“Bismark u. d. Imperialismus”, N.Z., 34 – 1, p. 365) Or: “The time has already passed when it was possible to treat Mexico as one’s own colony.” (“The Unification of Central Europe”, p. 45) Or: “China has ceased to be the object of European colonial policy. The world war allowed it to strengthen politically and economically and to improve financially.” (“S.-d.Bemerk. etc.”, pp. 100-101)

By means of the idea of continuous democratic development, Kautsky proves that war will lead to the resolution of the national question. In turn, this theory of the national question carries its special service in the main enterprise of Kautsky, in substantiating the idea of the last war and the paradise of peaceful capitalism that awaits us. And now, after so long and patiently staying in the purgatory of “pure democracy”, we have the right to glance into this capitalist paradise, which looks like the imagination of the philistine.

One would be mistaken thinking that the realm of peaceful capitalism would be based on the increased power of the working class. A person who would understand Kautsky so clearly would have discovered the sheer ignorance of Kautskyism, whose art is in fact to preach about abstractions and to subtly replace them with liberal ideas when it comes to practice. The salt of ultra-imperialism consists precisely in the fact that in practice, politically, it is not at all expected from the growth of the power of the proletariat, but from the pacifism of the bourgeoisie.

Thus, the view that Kautsky’s mistake is in his conviction that the working class can fulfill its demand for peace even under the capitalist system is only partly true and incorrect in the main. Despite the fervently preached theory of increasing of the political influence of the working class, Kautsky does not bet on the working class, but on the bourgeoisie. His reasoning about this is strikingly reminiscent of his other idea, so soon and shamefully faded, the idea of a new liberalism, proclaimed by him in 1910-1912. In 1917, he writes: “After the war, we should expect a big fight within the bourgeois class itself, between supporters of war and pacifists, supporters of disarmament and supporters of rivalry in armaments, opponents and defenders of duties on vital supplies and raw materials”. (“Imperialismus u. reaktionare Masse”, N.Z., 35 – 2, 114 – 115) On this bourgeois opposition to imperialism (Kautsky has a special term for it: “the moral bankruptcy of imperialism”) Kautsky builds his political calculations about the beginning of the era of ultra-imperialism. And here he tries to argue from the objective ground of the opposition (without specifying, however, what this objective basis actually consists of): “Template politicians who believe that if something happens, it stays forever, scoff at this desire of bourgeois pacifism to disarmament and arbitration courts... They do not notice the real conditions, short before the war made bourgeois pacifism in some states by force, forced imperialism to concessions.”29

Thus, almost ten years before the Marseilles Congress of the Second International and before the programmatic article of Hilferding30, the theorist of centrism formulated quite fully the idea of “realistic pacifism” of the modern bourgeoisie. The same applies to the other formulation of this idea, which pressed a seat at the Marseilles Congress, to the judgment of the old thesis of social democracy: “capitalism is war, socialism is peace.” “We should work in favour of the eternal world already in the present society, and we should not make fun of this eternal world as an unrealizable utopia”. (N.Z., 34-1, p. 562, “Mitteleuropa”, in the Russian edition of 1916 this chapter is omitted)

And this is how it all looks in the political platform proposed by Kautsky in 1918, when the war was clearly nearing its end: “And from the bourgeois governments and parties, we must demand that with the conclusion of peace, the state of war should cease in perpetrated form, so that international relations would resume based on the equality of all nations, that the conclusion of peace takes the form that would ensure that the peace of the world takes the form that would protect all nations from violence, that would make possible not only peace but also friendship with all people.” (“S.-dem.Bemerk. etc.”, p. 6)31


The idea of ultra-imperialism was born in the struggle against the radical left formula: “imperialism or socialism”. Its purpose was to justify a reformist party policy based on another formula: “war or disarmament”. But when history decided in favour of war, proving the uselessness of centrist spells, the formula of the left of 1910-1912 re-occupied the foreground. However, the disposition of the party forces was now completely different, largely due to the mercy of the military political regime. The right wing of the party, which emphasized its solidarity with the centre during its struggle against the left, now spoke frankly. The provocations accepted the formula of the left “imperialism or socialism”, but only in the sense that it is imperialism that should bring humanity to socialism. The right, continuing now the struggle against the centre begun by the left, naturally, led it in the opposite direction, substantiating the opposite perspectives.

The left argued the socialist maturity of mankind during the period of imperialism and declared it a period of revolution. They argued that socialism means a new, different direction of development that can be started at any time of the imperialist era, but only under the condition of proletarian power. The rightists saw in imperialism a legitimate method of preparing the prerequisites for socialism, and, denying the revolutionary character of the imperialist era, saw socialism as an economic state that would gradually mature as the imperialism fulfilled its prerequisites. Thus the rightists put forward a statement on the forthcoming long period of imperialism.

David, in his acclaimed little book Die S.-Demokratie im Weltkrieg (Berlin 1915), expresses the following main thesis: “The inclusion of the entire terrestrial sphere in the latest technical and industrial development is an unstoppable, necessary and useful process. It is being done now and can now be accomplished, as a rule, only by means of capitalist entrepreneurship^. Least of all, we are fundamentally opposed to world economic expansion, as such. We are fighting not against the content (das Was) of such ‘imperialism’, but only against the methods (das Wie) that it uses, against its tendency to man-destroying methods to achieve quick and high profits at the expense of natural life and human happiness.” (p. 64)

Another ideologue of social-imperialism, already known to us from the left-wing, radical Lensch (his transformation took place at the beginning of the war), believes that “the capitalist era reaches incredible strength through a real world war, its triumphant march is not at the end, but only at the beginning for most of the globe.” (“Hamd. Echo”, 1915, cited in N.Z., 33-2, p. 275)

However, the struggle being waged by Kautsky is not against these open imperialists. It was directed against Cunow, in his book Partei-Zusammenbruch? (1915) expressing the new direction that the main part of the Social Democratic centre takes from the beginning of the war and which, not significantly different from open social imperialism, was prepared, of course, even before the war. Cunow raises the following thought:

“Imperialism is only developed, potentiated capitalism”, an “economic phase”, the essence of which is a far-gone concentration of capital. It is therefore absurd to fight against imperialism. The fight against imperialism has as much meaning and the same chance of success as the fight against machines at the dawn of capital. Imperialism is necessary as a transitional stage to socialism. “I reckon with a new, financial-capitalist economic era, at the beginning of which we stand. Only this era, in my opinion, will create the prerequisites of socialism.” (N.Z., 32-2. 204, “Illusionen-Kultus”) “We must reckon with the financial-capitalist economic period and the capitalist policy that flows from it for another decade.” (Ibid, 208)

Kautsky directs the main objection against the “necessity” of imperialism. We know his reasoning in sufficient detail. But one has to say that Cunow saw the reality much more accurately than Kautsky. Cunow understood that imperialism is not politics, but the newest economic, and therefore political system of capitalism. Cunow, further, came close to the constructive signs of a new, in his words, “economic phase”.32 In contrast to Kautskyian identification of imperialism with colonial politics, he believes that imperialism (since it is politics) is the same thing as “world politics”. Cunow, like David and Lensch, looked at modern capitalism through the bourgeois glasses, which saw the tremendous positive work that financial capital is developing in terms of creating a world economy and organizing a derivative process. But bourgeois glasses shaded the internal contradictions of modern capitalism from them, putting the limit to its abilities to organize world production, and the laws of growth of these contradictions. All three of them were inspired by the organizational development of capitalism, prophesying decades of further improvement. The differences between the three theoreticians are nothing more than differences of temperaments. Rough-practical, with a confident little smile David, enthusiastic without measure Lensch (remember Lensch of the left), professorial-pedantic and professorial-arrogant Cunow – all three, in essence, worked on one field – bourgeois ideas about imperialism, although not looking to the future but with all their complacency and limitations, coming from the real present.

At the same time, all three popularized their bourgeois ideas with arguments that could gain access to the worker’s head. Kautsky, fighting with the right, failed to rise above the epoch, that is, he did not know how to see its objective regularity. He directed his criticism from the past, thus making it even more scientific than the apologetics of the present in David – Lensch – Cunow. In one place, Lenin compares Cunow’s position to “the caricature of the Russian Marxists which the Narodniks drew in 1894-95. They argued: if the Marxists believe that capitalism is inevitable in Russia, that it is progressive, then they ought to open a tavern and begin to implant capitalism!” (Imperialism) It is known that this caricature of the Marxists was not so far from the true portrait of our “Marxist” bourgeoisie, who had announced themselves quite soon. One can continue the analogy with that epoch and compare the Kautskian criticism of imperialism with the Narodnik criticism of capitalism.

We have seen above that the internal rottenness (theoretical, and to a large extent political) of the views of the Kautsky period of youthful impulses was due to the fact that they were the product of an analysis of imperialism from the point of view of the national economy. But the same is true of the views of the Kautsky period of senile pacification. Kautsky has always sought to justify imperialism with the colonial policies of modern states. The starting point of his analysis, which at the same time constitutes the basis of analysis and his criterion, is a separate capitalist state (Kautsky even says: “nation”). It seeks expansion, just as it sought expansion from the first days of its existence. Imperialism is only a form of expansion, and, moreover, a worsened form.33 But this concerns the world economy, but it remains no more than the sphere of action of national economies.

Kautsky does not see that in our era the attitude of the national capitalist economy and the world economy is essentially, fundamentally different than in the era of classical capitalism. Kautsky is worn with the old scheme, while new capitalism means precisely the development of the old form of world economic relations into a completely new type, fundamentally different from the old. While classical capitalism consolidated a number of national capitalist economies while the rest of the globe represented the economic reserves on which this grouping of national economies rested – then imperialist capitalism is above all world capitalism that dictates its economic laws to individual national economies and modern state-economic organisms in their agents. That is why the strongest of these agents should strive to become the masters of the modern world economy. For the time when the capitalist national economy was an independent entity was forever eternal, it was itself a master and could independently and quietly develop alongside its neighbours, only occasionally engaging in economic conflicts with them. As far as business is concerned, the economic problem of the present is not the expansion of the national economic territory of the main capitalist states, but the creation of a single world economic territory.

Split into national economic entities, developing in political isolation, which is consolidated in the imperialist period by the convergence of state power with the monopoly groups dominating the country – capitalism has only one approach to solving this pressing problem of our time: one capitalist state (or a combination of states) put at the head of the world economy, subjecting the rest to its national economy. That is why the small capitalist states cannot conduct an independent policy in our era, which, as we have seen, Kautsky does not understand. That is why the largest capitalist states (or groups of states) are engaged in the fiercest battles with each other for domination of the world, which Kautsky also does not see.

Is ultra-imperialism possible? From the point of view of the national economy, it is quite possible. Why, in fact, not to unite all major capitalist powers for concerted action to expand their territory? From the point of view of the world economy, as defined in the beginning of the era – it is impossible because capitalism would organize the world economy (if it could!) only in the form of the domination of the strongest over the rest. From the point of view of the world economy, only short-term agreements between rival imperialists are possible, only a truce between periods of struggle.

<> As an economic category, ultra-imperialism of Kautsky is nothing more than the incorrect transfer of the laws of the capitalist national economy to the world economy. In essence, Kautsky knows no different approach to the world economy than to a national economy that is territorially expanded to the size of the entire globe. All the possibilities that capitalism has discovered within the framework of the national economy, Kautsky, without hesitation, extends to the world economy. Financial capitalism united the main capitalist groups (industrial, agricultural, financial) in each country, creating a kind of economic sustainability within national economies; so why shouldn’t financial capital unite and economically merge the main capitalist states?

From dialectics, Kautsky has forgotten a little nuance: that quantity turns into quality. If Kautsky had remained a Marxist, he could not have limited himself to a purely quantitative understanding of the distinction between national and world economy. He would have thought about the question whether the expansion of the national economy to the size of the world economy (through the ultra-imperialist agreement of all the main capitalist powers) would qualitatively bring about different elements and provisions compared to the old system of several large-capitalist national economies? And would not these new properties of the fused world economy go against the conditions necessary for creating a sustainable capitalist economic organism?

If Kautsky had been a Marxist, he would have studied the specific reasons for allowing financial capital to “organize” the national economy, before stating that the world economy could also organize financial capital. And such a study would show him that, firstly, capitalism created an “organized” national economy in such a way that within the national economy a monopolistic group dominates, subordinating and putting the entire economic life of the country at its service. And that, secondly, the stability that this group achieved in the “organization” of the national economy, that is, simply the stability of its domination is based on the instability of world economic relations. For in order to maintain this internal economic sustainability, the monopolists of each country are forced to continuously expand the sphere of their external exploitation, inevitably crowding each other and inevitably trying again and again to destroy the existing global economic equilibrium in order to change it in their favour.34

But can capitalism, in this case, organize the world economy at least in the same way as it “organized” the national economy? No, it cannot because two prerequisites that capitalism has for the national economy, it does not have for the world economy. First, the modern world economy represents the sum of several state-monopoly groups and none of them intend to submit to the dominance of the other. Secondly, the ultra-imperialist agreement of these state-monopoly groups could not fail to shake the intra-national stability of some of the state monopolists participating in the agreement, since it would close the way to them for sufficiently large expansion of the external sphere of exploitation. If the ultra-imperialist agreement were the result of the victory of the strongest among the state-monopoly capitalisms, which forced the rest to come to terms with it, the latter would have directed all efforts to blow up the agreement that was constraining them. If, on the other hand, an ultra-imperialist association was formed as a result of a contract of equals (this is the most incredible of the incredible cases Kautsky expects), then as a result of uneven economic development under capitalism (which is more drastic under the rule of monopoly) would, and the ultra-imperialist agreement would be a burden for the capitalist states that had stepped forward.

In both conceivable cases, the vaunted ultra-imperialism turns out – at most – a temporary shell for the ongoing struggle of the largest groups of capitalist state monopolists for real and inseparable domination over world economy. In this deadly struggle of state monopolists with each other for domination over the world is the highest stage of capitalism. In the third volume of Capital, Marx wrote that the creation of a world market is one of the three “main facts of the capitalist mode of production” (along with the socialization of the labour process and the socialization of the means of production). We live in an era when capitalism has fully accomplished this historical mission.35

But Kautsky takes on the resolution of the further task – the organization of the world economy. He, of course, never succeeds. Socialism is put by history on the order of the day since the tasks of the epoch are solvable only by the methods of socialism. One of the main tasks is the rational organization of the world economy. With his theory of ultra-imperialism, Kautsky erases the basic question of modernity, for he admits that capitalism can organize the world economy.

Kautsky, with all his ideas about imperialism, is stuck in the old capitalism, when several capitalist nations went to conquer territories not yet subject to capitalism. This deep reactionary nature of the Kautsky notions thickly permeates its reasoning that this country is more imperialistic, that country is more democratic, to prove that imperialism is by no means obligatory at the modern stage of capitalist development. Or he suddenly declares that the formation of a triple alliance and a threeway agreement is already a “substantial” modification of imperialism, for here “tendencies towards agreement between imperialists of different countries” have been realized. (“Der imperialist. Krieg”, N.Z., 35-1, 48283) Or he sticks out a national problem as one of the main problems of modern war. And so on. In a word, for Kautsky, imperialism is the policy of individual nations, and not the world economic problem^

But what is especially characteristic of this is the different results to which Kautsky leads his “national” point of view in the early years. If at

the dawn of imperialist relations, his point of view of national economy caused a naive underestimation of the positive work of modern capitalism, then in the period of the beginning decomposition of imperialism (and, consequently, the capitalist mode of production in general), this point of view leads to a cowardly denial of the despair of capitalist contradictions at the very moment when the over-ripeness of capitalism puts the socialist revolution on the order of the day. Turning now to conclusions from our consideration of the views of Kautsky, we will also dwell on the real foundations of this instructive dialectic in the development of Kautskyism.

V. Lessons

“The questions as to whether it is possible to reform the basis of imperialism, whether to go forward to the further intensification and deepening of the antagonisms which it engenders, or backwards, towards allaying these antagonisms, are fundamental questions in the critique of imperialism. Since the specific political features of imperialism are reaction everywhere and increased national oppression due to the oppression of the financial oligarchy and the elimination of free competition, a petty-bourgeois democratic opposition to imperialism arose in the beginning of the 20th century in nearly all imperialist countries. Kautsky not only did not trouble to oppose, was not only unable to oppose this petty-bourgeois reformist opposition, which is really reactionary in its economic basis, but became merged with it in practice, and this is precisely where Kautsky and the broad international Kautskian trend deserted Marxism." (Lenin, Imperialism, emphasis added)

These lines of Lenin indicate not only the socio-political position of Kautskyism and not only the social roots of his theoretical constructions. They contain the key to the basic theoretical (if you prefer, methodological) error of the Kautskian theory of imperialism. The blindingly bright light of social and political de-fetishization which Leninism throws on the main economic categories of modernity, closes our eyes to the deeply laid down theoretical structure that has not yet been needed directly for the struggle of the working class. Having traced in detail the entire development of Kautsky’s theory of imperialism, we could see that its reactionary nature consists not only in practical-political conclusions, but also in its main methodology and in the core theoretical principles. This applies equally to the views of Kautsky of all periods, which gives the right to speak of Kautskyism in the theory of imperialism. Summarizing our consideration, let us highlight three major points in the design and development of Kautskyism in the theory of imperialism:

  1.  What forms did Kautskyism take in different periods?
  2.  What is the basic theoretical and economic formulation of Kautskyism?
  3.  Why and in what ways the reactionary theory of Kautskyism, beginning with its opposition to the opportunist current, ultimately, theoretically and practically inevitably merges with it.

To understand Kautskyism, it is extremely important to note that its theoretical forms have changed in close connection with the political evolution of Kautsky. That is the new stage in the development of the theory of imperialism of Kautsky is associated with a new stage in the struggle of Kautsky against the right, at the same stage with the struggle against the left. There were five such stages:

First stage. On the verge of two centuries. A trend appears in the party (albeit, seemingly not particularly strong), seeking to turn the party into the path of “national” economic policy. There is no shortage of arguments. They all boil down to the fact that the working class is interested in expanding the markets of “its own” domestic industry, and, therefore, in protectionism. The grudge of the day – the renegotiation of trade agreements – and around the “trade policy” is played out in German social democracy, the first tournament about the newest capitalist phase. The leader of the opposition is Max Schippel. The Stuttgart Congress of 1898 gives a friendly rebuff to the bourgeois opposition. The main speaker is Kautsky. We saw his argument: a) protectionism is a venture of certain capitalist groups, namely, the (predominantly) farmers and the cartelled industry; it goes against the real interests of national development. And b) the cartels and trusts themselves are a harmful phenomenon generated by the unbridled desire of the capitalists for profits and incredibly intensifying the exploitation of the working class and consumers.

Second stage. 1905 – 1909. We examined this period in sufficient detail. Politically, the main thing in it is the struggle around the so-called socialist colonial policy. The right pulls the working class on the path of the imperialist policy of their homelands. On the right, as Lenin noted already in 1907, the qualified elite of the European working class is fed by super-profits from the colonies. Kautsky reveals his understanding of modern capitalism in the controversy with this “workers’” imperialism. Above, we have shown in detail that the verbal revolutionism of Kautsky’s argumentation is imbued with theoretical reactionism, which is that the economy of modern capitalism, which has become a world system, is viewed from the perspective of the laws of old capitalism, which sought to become a world system. We have seen that the theoretical basis of Kautsky’s “revolutionism” was not defended precisely by the main factor: modern capitalist development.

Third stage. 1910 – 1912. Around the discussion of repulsing the oncoming war, precisely around the disarmament slogan, the fight with the left wing of the party lights up. The struggle is linked to the general political struggle in the ranks of Social Democracy – in connection with the new tactical orientation proposed by the left. The struggle reveals the unsuitability of the Kautsky concept of 1905-1909 to justify centrist tactics. The idea of ultra-imperialism is born, but its rationale is empty. A theoretical proof of the need for peaceful capitalism is required. The result: a failed attempt to attract the contradictions between the development of industry and agriculture to the substantiation of the theory of super-imperialism.

Fourth stage. The imperialist war (especially in 1915). The fight is against the right. It is in connection with this struggle that the idea of ultra-imperialism finds its worthy justification. Kautsky, finally, attaches his theory to the only “scientific” shelf suitable for it, named “faith in the growing power of democracy” or – which is the same thing – “faith in the triumph of prudence and goodness in the human race.” Rosa Luxemburg has perfectly defined the historical place of the theory of ultra-imperialism in the following words: “As liberalism in the twilight of its days appealed from a little enlightened to a more enlightened monarchy, so the “Marxist centre” wants to appeal from the bourgeoisie which is not amenable to advice, to the bourgeoisie susceptible to suggestions, from the course of imperialist catastrophes to international disarmament treaties, from the struggle for world dictatorship to a peaceful federation of democratic national states. The general battle to destroy the world historical contradiction between the proletariat and capital turns into a utopia of the historic compromise between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in order to “soften” the imperialist contradictions between capitalist states.” (The Accumulation of Capital, Antarctica pub., 1922, p. 106)

Fifth stage. 1918. War is ending. Kautsky writes a book about the economy in transition (Soz.-dem.Bemerkungenzur Ubergangswirtschaft), in which he is trying to give a Social Democratic programme for healing military wounds. He believes that the main task is to establish a peaceful economic life. By transitional economy, he relates the transition from a military economy to a peaceful one. This transition, admits Kautsky, can become the basis for the economic transition from capitalism to socialism, he does not expect more. But, hearing the peals of the approaching revolution, Kautsky once again, for the last time, ignites with the fire of almost-revolutionary phraseology. He angrily opposes the fully formed reformism which already won decisive party positions.

He decides to do this now all the more easily since the end of 1916, when he has organizationally broken with the Social Democratic Party. The latter wrote on its banner the peaceful entry into the realm of socialism on the back of organizationally improving capitalism. In essence, Cunow, in 1915, exhaustively formulated the theoretical substantiation of this programme. In a pamphlet on the party crisis, he wrote: “The economic phase of imperialism is a historical prelude to the implementation of socialism. More and more transferring the most important branches of production into the hands of large capitalist associations, detaching production management from ownership of the means of production, uniting technically related enterprises and speeding up and concentrating the expropriation process, this economic phase creates certain organizational prerequisites for the socialist mode of economy." (p. 15) Kautsky declares war precisely on the last position we have emphasized.

“Capitalism does not in any way prepare the organizational course of the new mode of production in which the proletariat, after its victory, could quietly settle down_. From the struggle for a socialist ideal, and not from the practice of cartelled entrepreneurs and financial magnates, socialism arises^. The strength and maturity of the proletariat, and not the specific height of a capitalist organization through trusts and banks, is the decisive prerequisite for the realization of socialism.” (p. 162)

We see that in 1918, Kautsky was powerless to give dialectical criticism of reformism. In the end, he contrasted the economic prerequisites of socialism with political ones, so that, leaving the economic arguments in the hands of the right, to hide under the shadow of political hopes.

So, theoretically, Kautsky was never able to defeat the right. They proceeded from the real relations of the imperialist system, which they embellished in a bourgeois manner, and in this form extended to the whole future up to socialism. Kautsky proceeded from relations that looked out of the past and, idealizing them, extended them to the whole future, down to socialism. Neither the right nor Kautsky saw the internal contradictions of modernity, the actual contradictions condemning imperialism to destruction. The rightists argue with facts from real life, like our bourgeois, understanding and interpreting these facts free from intractable antagonism. Kautsky “looks through the eyes of the long dead or lives in ghosts of books”, because he does not understand the transitional nature of the modern economic system and therefore does not see the prospects it opens for the struggle for socialism.

The reaction of Kautsky’s views is obvious. But in what form does this reactionism manifest itself in its theoretical constructions and its theoretical methodology? It seems to us that we have the right, on the basis of the detailed consideration to which we subjected Kautsky’s views, to give the following formulation of the theoretical content of Kautskyism: Kautskyism in the problem of imperialism is a criticism of imperialism, conducted in terms of the pre-imperialist development of capitalism. Kautskyism portrays the imperialist stage of capitalism as an error of history, not justified either by the “interests” of capitalist development itself, nor by the interests of the transition to socialism. On the contrary, the transition to socialist organization of production (if it has already matured) can occur only from capitalism in its classical form, which is the only normal (natural) state of the capitalist mode of production. At the same time, the peculiarity of the theoretical methodology of Kautskyism is the method of representation that the modern system of world capitalism thinks in terms of the old, national capitalism, that is, capitalism only still striving to embrace the whole world.36

<> What is the path of Kautskyism and what is its tendency? Kautsky- ism in the theory of imperialism begins its first steps with a sharp opposition to opportunism to itself. The opportunists take modern forms of capitalism, we reject them – such is the political and theoretical motive of Kautskyism of the first formation. We have seen how this is tied to Kautsky’s general “revolutionism” of 1905-1909. We have shown that the weak point of this revolution is on a theory that ignores the basic laws of modern economic development. We showed that the enticing theory was unprotected from real relationships, which the theory regarded as an
evil disease of capitalism.

Recall that Lenin said that this period will open the greatest hopes for Kautsky’s design as a Marxist revolutionary. This is a wonderful deep thought. In order to justify these hopes, Kautsky would have to, among other things, “re-equip himself ideologically”. Instead of denying the progressive role of the “new industrial system”, he should think about the content of this progressive role, for only by following this way one can understand its boundaries. But that would mean the death of Kautskyism. This did not happen. And the coming years of lulls and reactions return Kautsky from left-wing doubts to the centre, while cen- trism does not need scientific justification for a revolutionary policy — it requires an ambiguous justification of revolutionary phraseology. The Kautsky theory of modern capitalism seems to be tailored for this purpose.

In fact, on the one hand, it opens up vast possibilities for “revolutionary” eloquence. On the other hand, being cleared of the “extremes” of 1907-1909, it shies away from answering the question of whether the time has come for socialism, and thus opens a wide path to opportunistic practice. The Kautsky theory with perfect sharpness exposes the malignancy of the newest capitalism, and it also promises with perfect faith the destruction of the newest plagues of capitalism even under the capitalist mode of production. Is it surprising that Kautskyism is the official theory of the party dominated by centrism? Is it surprising that at the 1912 party paper (Chemnitz), the speaker on imperialism from the party leadership – Haase – develops the purest Kautskyan ideas?

The evolutionary line of the Kautskyian theory of imperialism coincides with the development of his centrism. The internal contradiction of centrism is in the inability and unwillingness to move party politics onto the path of preparation for revolution in an era when the proletarian revolution is knocking on the door, in an era when the use of old, traditional methods of work and struggle inevitably turns into support for capitalism in its desire to prolong its existence. The inner contradiction of the Kautskyian theory of imperialism, as we have seen, lies in the lack of understanding of the transitional nature of the modern economy and in an effort to prove the need for a return to the old capitalism, because allegedly only it will ensure the transition to socialism. The tendency of centrism: through a gradual practical approach to opportunism – until complete merger with it. The tendency of the Kautskyian scheme of imperialism is: through a series of theoretical defeats in the struggle against opportunism — to abandon the economic criticism of imperialism, and from here to a complete theoretical dissolution into the opportunist concept of growing into socialism.

In essence, the rejection of the economic criticism of imperialism, expressed in the justification of ultra-imperialism by the argument from democracy and marking a turning point in the development of the Kautskyian concept, represents the beginning of the end of Kautskyism. There is nothing unexpected in this refusal, of course. On the contrary, its roots come from the core of Kautsky’s ideas of capitalism. We have in mind the problem of the economic frontiers of capitalism, which Kautsky never knew how to resolve in a Marxist way.


It is known that revisionism of the 1890s declared war on the theory of the collapse of capitalism. Bernstein (in the controversy against Bucks), in the “crash theory” that was prevalent in the then Social Democratic environment, said that capitalism would perish as a result of the inevitable and acute economic crisis, which would turn into a crisis of the entire capitalist system and lead the working class to power. Kautsky, who led the fighters against revisionism, denied Bernstein’s assertion that the crash theory dominated social democracy. He showed that the crash theory is a theoretical libel, whose goal is to present the Marxist understanding of capitalist development in ridiculous contradiction with reality. How, then, does Kautsky imagine a genuine Marxist concept? “The theory of Marx and Engels sees in the capitalist mode of production a factor that pushes the proletariat to the class struggle against capitalists, which more and more increases its numbers, cohesion, intelligence, self-consciousness and political maturity, which more and more increases its economic significance, makes equally inevitable as his organization into a political party, and his victory, but just as inevitably it causes the emergence of collectivist production as a result of this victory.” (Anti-Bernstein, Moscow 1922, p. 53)

That is literally all that Kautsky has to say in defence of Marxism. However, this is completely inadequate and therefore wrong. For the problem of the economic frontiers of capitalism is here removed, it is replaced by the problem of the political frontier prepared by capitalist development. When Kautsky has to raise the question of the economic limit of capitalist development, he doesn’t get far from them because of the ridicule of Bernstein’s falsification of Marxism. These are – we have seen – his views of 1901 (“Trade Policy, etc.”), 1902 (“Theories of Crises”), 1907 (“Colonial Policy”), 1910 (“Financial Capital and Crises”). But such are the views of Rosa Luxemburg and partly Parvus (“Professional Movement and Social Democracy” – the end of the 1890s; “Colonial Politics and the Collapse of Capitalism”, 1907), although all three have different ideas about the causes of the collapse.

Indeed, Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg are searching for the mechanical frontier of the capitalist mode of production and find it – one in the reduction of agrarian areas inevitable with capitalist development, the other in the impossibility of realizing surplus value in pure capitalism. The death of capitalism will come with a sufficient approximation to the limit indicated by them. As for Parvus, he is waiting for the collapse of capitalism from the general industrial crisis, which will hit the entire world economy and free it from the yoke of capital.

On the other hand, the Social Democrats, who did not want to correct (“complement”) Marx in this question, refused to raise the question of the economic boundaries of capitalism. Such is Hilferding, who did not recognize the economic frontier of capitalism. He built the perspectives of a single global cartel, arguing that “economically” such a cartel would be possible, but it is impossible for political and social reasons. (“Financial Capital”, St. Petersburg, 1918, p. 435)

One of the greatest theoretical achievements of Lenin was that he gave a truly Marxist theory of the destruction of capitalism, which social democratic thought was not able to do. For him it is absolutely indisputable that a Marxist cannot reduce the problem of transition from capitalism to socialism to purely political factors. A Marxist must understand the political factors of the transition from economic factors. But for Lenin it is also indisputable that it is impossible to look for these latter in separate flaws in the capitalist mode of production, as Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg do. Marx never made a decisive problem for the fate of capitalism out of individual shortcomings of the capitalist production mechanism, so Rosa and Kautsky had to openly declare that they “complement” or purify Marx. Lenin, like Marx, takes capitalism as a whole, and he deduces the death of capitalism not from refusing to serve on any particular spring of the capitalist production apparatus, however important this spring may be, but from the deformation of the entire economic system of capitalism that inevitably begins on the well-known and well-defined stage of capitalist development – domination of monopolies and fully divided world.

This economic deformation, or as Lenin calls it ‘decay of capitalism’ stretches across the whole historical era – the era of imperialism, and represents the soil from which the political and social decay of the capitalist system grows. Thus, for Lenin, the collapse of capitalism is not anticipation of the approaching mechanical frontier of the capitalist mode of production, but the completion of a whole historical epoch during which, so to speak, economic irrationalization of the capitalist form of social production takes place. In short: Lenin does not give the theory of the collapse of capitalism, but the theory of decay, which leads to collapse, and this collapse is, of course, not a single mechanical failure, but is composed of a series of revolutionary socialist breakthroughs, each time more and more narrowing the sphere of capitalism, thus deepening its contradictions and exacerbating its instability. This is the only way the Marxist can understand the death of capitalism.

One side of the crash theory is of particular importance. By focusing on the tipping point of capitalism, this theory excludes the movement of the capitalist production system towards this point.37 Thus, it opens wide opportunities for ignoring (blurring) the growing inconsistency of capitalist development. That is why the crash theory gets along perfectly with opportunistic practice. This, at first glance, paradox found the best incarnation in Cunow in 1915, who in defence of the imperialist tactics of social democracy argued that the collapse of capitalism was still far away. On the other hand, willingly moralized about the contradictions of imperialism, Kautsky’s crash theory allowed him to shy away from the scientific analysis of these contradictions. He did not see the inevitability of these contradictions and the inevitability of their growth.^’8

However, in his polemics with Cunow, Kautsky said: “I fully agree with Cunow that, if it is at all necessary to reckon with this kind of [that is, economic] collapse of capitalism, then it stands in an unimaginable distance. The theories for the near future prospects for such an end are being established. In any case, prudence led us to this conclusion even before the war.” (N.Z., 33-2, p. 267, “NochmalsunsereIllusionen”) And it is explained a little above: “Cunow mistakenly believes that the difference between him and me is that he considers the collapse of capitalism to be a distant business, but I think it is close^. Cunow assumes that the social revolution will be the product of the economic crisis of capitalism. I expect it from other factors.”

So the problem of the economic frontier of capitalism was crucified. In the decisive problem – the limits of capitalism – the first, but fundamental, bridge between Kautskyism and open opportunism (social-im- perialism) turned out to be erected even when Kautsky was preparing for a political break with the right. And, starting from that moment, Kautsky only completes this bridge, never leaving it39, until the theory of economic growing into socialism becomes a solid conqueror of Kautskyism – but the conquered here assimilates and enslaves the conqueror. Finally, in 1919, it was Kautsky who gave the best formulation of the theory of economic growth into socialism, which was ever given: “Capitalism is nothing more than an abstraction obtained from observing numerous individual phenomena and constituting a necessary auxiliary tool when one tries to trace these phenomena in their economic connection. But abstraction can only be overcome theoretically and not practically. In practice, we can overcome only individual phenomena.” (“How the World War Started”, Moscow, 1924, p. 50)

The logic of development is deadly for centrism. At the beginning of our century, Parvus described opportunism with these words: “Just as it capitulates to the capitalist mode of production with a theoretical erasure of the boundaries between capitalism and socialism, it covers its submission to the capitalist state with references to the tireless democratization of the state”. We see now that this characteristic can be literally attributed to the Kautsky war period: on the one hand, economic growth into socialism, on the other, the idea of continuous democratic development. And could it be otherwise? If the economic divide between capitalism and socialism is falling, if capitalism is an abstraction, then where is the reason that will revolutionize political and social relations on the eve of the transition to socialism? It does not exist, and after the economic side, the political one inevitably falls. The decisive, critical point of political struggle is the struggle for “pure democracy” within capitalism itself, and the victory of socialism is only the conquest of the Social Democratic parliamentary majority on the basis of pure democracy.40 The revolution turns into the traditionally used word, which is neutralized by unlimited fatalism, presented with a deliberately learned kind as Marxist determinism. In 1918, Kautsky writes: “Even the most ardent appeal cannot bring a victory one step closer; and the most convulsive spell, like the most brutal violence against single people, cannot delay it for one hour.” (S.-dem.Bemerk. etc., p. 167)

So development is completed. History teaches that reactionary criticism is always impotent. She shines with tempting intransigence at the dawn of a new relationship, while the latter have not yet taken shape. But over the years, new phenomena are getting stronger. A sceptic is forced to leave the proud heights of non-recognition of the relations he has condemned. Life turns out to be much richer and more optimistic than the sceptic expected. It seems to him that he saves his scheme as a whole, if he slightly corrects it in parts. So, perhaps, imperceptibly for him, the former principal purity is clouded by a touch of “supplements”, reservations, interpretations. In the end, there is only a verbal suit left from the irreconcilable. But, dear god, is it worth arguing about words?

It always has been. Let us recall the sceptics of capitalist development — Sismondi, the Russian populists. Only the classic differs from the modernist in theoretical honesty, which the latter does not have. That is why the classic enters the history of mankind with a big, tragic figure. But the Narodniks, the theorists of “artificiality” of Russian capitalism, and Kautsky, the theorist of the “artificiality” of imperialism, give a picture of self-satisfied, sometimes hypocritical, verbal rattling in petty wagging in theory and in actions.

The dialectic, which painstaking Kautsky expelled from the theory of imperialism, evilly outwitted him. She threw Kautsky into one bag with the Rights, in whose struggle he acquired his ideas about imperialism. Philistine critic gave hand to imperialist apologists. In this merger of the former enemies, the main reasons and the main ways of which we considered, the joint struggle of those and others against the critics of imperialism from the left also played a significant role. But whatever weaknesses of the left criticism (even if they were fair), these shortcomings of the left were at that time the inevitable continuation of their merits. In their criticism of imperialism, there was a bold look forward, there was a determination to take great actions, and — most importantly — a correct understanding of the fundamental tasks of the era. In any case, Kautsky’s infantile disease of the leftism of the proletariat, awakening to the consciousness of its historical task, could only be countered by senility and cowardice of the petty bourgeoisie, hiding under a cozy wing of hopes of correcting lost capitalism. “Oh, wonderful grounds for hopelessness, you will base it!” ... But, really, these words of Shakespeare’s

Antonio (The Tempest) sound too significant for the philistine’s dreams.

The path of Kautskyism outlined by us is completed in 1918. The coming revolution excites only Kautsky’s “revolutionary” eloquence, but does not awaken its former revolutionism. But this is temporary. The revolutionary wave rolls back, and Kautsky forgets even his “red” phrases. In word and deed, he is again with opportunism, which at the end of 1920 returns the “centrists” to its bosom, which had split in 1916 due to a misunderstanding. From now on, Kautsky is the official theoretician of the “workers’” national liberalism. Kautskyism, as an independent concept, has died. If Kautsky still has to speak about imperialism, it is only about the “red imperialism” of the first proletarian revolution. But this already lies outside our topic.

Under the Banner of Marxism No. 12, December, 1926, pages 144-184.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1cidHwOC_u6lnO5wUkvNxhk2sWL _flJH/view?fbclid=IwAR1LvbTh

Translated from the Russian by Polina Brik, edited by Kevin Connolly.


  1.  Neue Zeit, 1914, 909, Sept. 11, 1914; cf. 1915, 2, p. 107.
  2.  In 1910, article about Hilferding; in 1914, article about imperialism
  3.  In 1914, article about imperialism
  4. From Capital, Volume 2
  5. Kautsky considers only one manufacturing industry!
  6. Recall two places already cited above. “In order for industry to grow, agriculture must equally expand its production and its population; it must increase the mass of raw materials and life products [read: increase its production] to the same extent that it grows to consume from industry; and it should equally consume more and more industrial products [read: increase the number of buyers] by which agricultural products are bought.” This idea is even brighter: the consumer of urban goods in the village is the population, but not the economy, is expressed by a page earlier: “The rural population is declining, and in this connection its total demand for industrial goods.”Kautsky does not even see that, despite the decrease in the rural population, the commodity mass of agricultural products may grow.
  7. Does this mean that the agricultural product passes through the intermediatefurnace of mining before entering the factory? Or that the “population” of mining (miners) is growing faster than rural, but slower than urban? Or that mining in the process of social reproduction does not have an independent function, but fulfills partly the role of the manufacturing industry, and partly the function of agriculture?
  8. <>If we approach the organization of the production process and the combination of elements of the production apparatus, then from this point of view Marx contrasted mining with the manufacturing industry and modern agriculture, which he thus put on a par. In Volume 1 of Capital we read: “With the exception of the extractive industry, which, like mining, hunting, fishing, etc., finds its subject of labour in nature, all branches of industry deal with such items as raw material, that is, the subject of labour, already filtered by the labour process, which are themselves products of labour. Seeds in agriculture would be one example.” (1923, p. 152)
  9. “Political-economic Manufacturing”, Enlightenment Publishers, p. 19
  10. This hypocrisy can be seen in the next zigzag of the Kautsky’s idea of the agrarian appendages, which quite stylishly completes the picture. “Indeed, the accumulation of capital,” Kautsky writes in a quoted article in 1914, ^“would be, if not impossible, then still very difficult and confined to narrow borders, if the capitalist industry of a city, industrial area or state were limited to that rural area, which was at the service of this industry when it arose.” The reader is at a loss. How, in fact, is one supposed to understand this unexpected “if not impossible, it is still very difficult,” after all theoretical work is aimed at proving precisely the impossibility of capitalist development without agrarian areas? Meanwhile, there is nothing extraordinary in this course of Kautsky: the centrist prepares his rear positions to retreat with his theory, if this forces the pressure of real life. We will see that Kautsky did not have a chance to use spare positions: the pressure of life turned out to be stronger than the rubber formulations of the centrist theory could withstand.
  11. It would, of course, be half the trouble if Kautsky meant to prove that thereare some layers of capitalists who are not interested in imperialist politics, which could possibly even ruin them, but that the pivotal, decisive capitalist groups that embody and the main “interest” of the modern capitalist system, need an imperialistic policy, which they preach and which they bring to life. This kind of theoretical structure should be scolded for the insufficient deepening into the economic nature of modern capitalism, for the non-Marxist protrusion of politics when it comes to an entirely new and peculiar economic system. Authors of this kind of construction should indicate a dangerous tear, which is present in their constructions and in which, with ill-will, you can drag the opposition of imperialist politics to the new economy. But the official theoretician of the Second International is not among these authors.
  12. “Ever since the Balkan war, the arms race, like colonial expansion, has reacheda height that threatened the rapid growth of capital accumulation, and therefore the export of capital, that is, the economic basis of imperialism.” (N.Z., 33-2, p. 920)
  13.  The fact that this is exactly what Kautsky imagines to be is very well seen, forexample, from his explanation of the rise of imperialism in the same 1914 article.
  14.  As is known, only those bourgeois scholars who classify imperialism at theexpense of human nature did this, but after all, they thus equate capitalism with all previous social formations. Kautsky’s fire is not against them.
  15.  “If the purely economic point of view is meant to be a “pure” abstraction, thenall that can be said reduces itself to the following proposition: development is proceeding towards monopolies, hence, towards a single world monopoly, towards a single world trust. This is indisputable, but it is also as completely meaningless...” (Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism)
  16.  And the extent to which Kautsky was prepared for the understanding of Finance Capital can be shown by the defence that Kautsky put forward against the accusation of Hilferding for underestimating the main production processes. This protection is literally a masterpiece. It is succinctly formulated by the author in the following words: “The forms of capital change under the influence of the circulation process much faster than under the influence of the production process.” (p. 430) An illustration of this “thesis” that serves at the same time as the only evidence is as follows: “The production process at a factory can remain unchanged, while it moves from the individual capitalist’s ownership to a joint-stock company or from an independent individual enterprise becomes a cartel member, trust enterprise or passes into the possession of the bank.” (ibid., p. 431) Is it not pleasant to consider a Marxist a man who, studying the role of the production process in changing the historical forms of capital, takes it exclusively to the production and technical process in a separate enterprise?
  17.  In the Russian edition of 1917, from which we quote, the word “forcibly” is incorrectly translated. In original – “gewalltatig”. (Nurnberg 1915, pp. 22-23)
  18.  In the original, it is said – “Gattungen”, pp. 22-23.
  19. “True, the last decades have created, thanks to the ever-growing unification offinance capital with industrial capital, new monopoly aspirations. But they are no longer limited to national trade monopolies or the need for wars in defence of these monopolies and for the destruction of foreign trade. New monopoly aspirations have a goal [here in the original there is the word skipped by the translator – vorAllem] economic domination over the largest means of communication and sources of means of production. Since these aspirations also encompass maritime trade, they must be international in scope because of its size and its nature. In the steamship lines and lines formed, the English and German shipowners work together to raise freight. Trade in and of itself, regardless of shipping companies, is not in the least interested in the success of monopolistic aspirations, which narrow it as much as industry.” (National State..., Moscow 1917, p. 37)
  20. “Nine of Berlin’s large banks determine the path that industry takes for all of Germany.” (p. 27)
  21. Let us cite one of these thoughts: “The main reason for the war was the imperialistic tendencies of various states, caused by an excess of capital or intelligentsia or one of these two factors. Italian imperialism, for example, comes without a doubt mainly from an excess of intelligentsia who did not find themselves in their homeland, and not from surplus of capital.” One of these two sources of imperialism – an excess of capital – began to deteriorate before the war, but the war would end the export of capital from Europe, perhaps forever. Well, the second source of imperialism can be shut down quite easily: one has only to lead a broad “cultural policy” on the money that the state spends on armaments and war. It will not be socialism yet, but it will mean “an incredible and inevitable step forward in comparison with imperialism.” So, dear reader, Kautsky says in 1915.
  22. Many pages, written with love, are devoted to this theory in National State...,as well as in the brochure on the dictatorship of the proletariat of 1918.
  23.  Kautsky, in love with the “purity” of democracy, inadvertently makes the very same mistake that all bourgeois democrats always make: it is he who takes formal equality (through false and hypocritical under capitalism) as actual! Trifle! (Vol. 15, p. 466) This nature of capitalist democracy was well understood by Anatole Frans, who wrote: “The law is fair, it equally allows begging for the rich and needy, and it does not equally prohibit a homeowner and some homeless tramp under a rainy autumn night.”
  24.  Kautsky’s expression in Soz.-dem.Bemerkungenetc, p. 28
  25. How do we come to such an ideal state power, especially as a result of democratic development? “Anti-democratic tendencies are able to delay this development only from time to time, until the disorders caused by this delay become so strong that they become visible to wide layers of even uneducated and falsely informed. The final overcoming of the delay will then occur as a result of Dammbruch, a catastrophe, be it the fall of the government, the party split, or anything like that.” (N.Z., 35 – 2, p. 182, “Die Befreiung d. Nationen”)
  26. <>This “terrible” Dammbruch, this parliamentary catastrophe, will lead, according to Kautsky, to the realization of the political tendency of the capitalist mode of production – to the “transformation of the government into ordinary (blosse) authorized parliament.” (“S.-d-ieu.national-liberate Taktik”, N.Z., 35 – 1, p. 542)
Is it surprising that the negation of revolution and dictatorship by the proletariat is a logically necessary component of this theory of uninterrupted democratic development. “The proletariat can become the governing class only means of democracy,” writes Kautsky in March 1917! (Ibid., P. 542) In 1920, in one of the most characteristic articles for post-war centrism, he explains:
“We strive for democracy not because it seems to be an idyll, but because it represents the best ground for gradually eliminating class contradictions between capital and the proletariat... Where the question says: the equality of all or the full rights of one class only, democracy or aristocracy, we must speak out for democracy, even in opposition to the proletarian aristocracy.” (Der Kampf, 1920, June – “Demokratie u. Demokratie”)
  1. In Western Europe, at the time of the outbreak of war, there were no controversial imperialist points. They were all settled before.” (National State, p. 74) “The fact that the local conflict between Austria and Serbia immediately inflamed the whole world is explained in the last analysis by the fact that the rivalry system of armaments turned the whole of Europe into two hostile military camps.” (N.Z., 32 – 2, p. 878, “Die Vorbereitung d. Friedens”)
  2.  In politics, the protrusion of the national question serves Kautsky to further endow the Second International. In former local imperialist conflicts, ^“the line of conduct of the International was clear and elementary.” “In this world war, imperialistic problems mixed with democratic ones and in this complication the reasons for the great confusion that it has brought and still continues to bring to the socialist parties of almost all countries are rooted in the same way.” (“Serbia and Belgium”, p. 73)
  3. A year later (1916), the idea of “the emergence and long-term, fruitful functioning of such a union of the state, as the average European state, on the basis of voluntary joining its members,” develops. (“The Unification of Central Europe”, Moscow 1916, p. 80-81)
  4. The dialectic of the national question in the era of imperialism was formulated by Lenin in the following words: “The imperialist era does not destroy either the aspirations for the political independence of nations or the ‘feasibility’ of these aspirations within the world imperialist relations.” (Vol. XIII, p. 363, Lenin’s italics and quotes)
  5. What Kautsky understands under the concession of imperialism to pacifism can be seen, for example, from the following entertaining place from his 1917 article (“Der imperialist. Krieg”, N.Z., 35-1, 482): “The imperialists of each of the great powers were forced, despite some initial friction, to confront the imperialists of one or several other great powers, and to conclude an alliance. But by doing so, they have already embarked on the path of a very significant modification of imperialism.”
  6. Hilferding’s article on “realistic pacifism” was published in Gesellschaftin 1924.
  7. Let us conclude with a rarely expressive place from the article of Kautsky of October 1914. Two months after the start of the war, the ideologue of cen- trism was sweetly rambling pious philistine speeches: “We have the right to expect that a real war in just a few months will cause exactly the same need for a lasting peace as two decades of war a hundred years ago. It is possible that, as then, the peace will be reached at an international congress. Already, we have a lot of warring; one of their congresses would represent the international congress. This time it would be engaged in the decade not only of Europe, but of the whole world. Here, even neutral countries would require their participation. Governments today would not have been independent of the nations as they were a hundred years ago. They could not simply ignore their desires. Under such circumstances, it would not be excluded that this congress, supported by universal longing for peace, would create such a work that would at least be as durable as the work of the Vienna Congress. But the peace for fifty years must become a long, eternal peace.”
  8. The following three mistakes are considered by Cunow as the main ones in the definition of Kautsky’s imperialism given by us, even if we understand imperialism as a policy:
  9. <>(1) Kautsky identifies imperialism with colonial politics (“Illusionen-Kultus”, N.Z., 33-2. 202-203). At the same time, ^“the characteristic mistake of Kautsky’s definition is precisely that it is a definition, which, after all, should explain the nature of imperialism, leaves out just the modern imperialist features of the newest colonial policy.” (p. 199) (2) “Colonial politics has its source not in the aspiration of every industrial nation, but in the aspiration of the capitalist states.” (p. 199) (3) “The main driving force of the current colonial policy is not industrial capitalism, but financial capital.” (p. 199) Hence: “Kautsky’s definition is too narrow. It covers only a part of those political phenomena that are already now, at the very beginning of the imperialist era, designated as “imperialist”. For example, Japan is in China; or the desire of large financial consortia to supply foreign countries with railways and, thus, make them financially dependent on themselves (cf. the Baghdad road); or, for example, an attempt by any state to annex neighbouring ore and coal basins in order to deliver cheap raw materials to its large-scale industry; or building marine stations in remote parts of the world to provide for certain trade or colonial plans; or the construction of canals in foreign territory (cf. the Panama Canal) in order to achieve hegemony (Oberherrschaft) in adjacent waters, and, perhaps, with the aim, on occasion, to expand their colonial possessions; according to Kautsky’s definition, all such aspirations and enterprises do not refer to the concept of imperialism, because they do not fall under the rubric of accession of agrarian regions.” (p. 200)
  10. Kautsky writes: “You can prove that, firstly, imperialism is not the only incentive for the expansive policies of the powers; secondly, that the colonial policy — and in its most important manifestations — is not of imperialist origin; thirdly, that the aggressive policy of imperialism is far from necessary for the economic development of capitalism. Even of all modern methods of capitalist expansion, aggressive policy is the most costly and most dangerous method, but far from the most valid, since along with this policy usually come others playing much greater role in economic terms.” (National State, p.24)
  11. Lenin deeply understood imperialism when he attached particular importance to the fact that for imperialism, the desire to seize land was not so much for its own benefit but to weaken the enemy and undermine his hegemony (Germany – Belgium is especially important as a strong point against England; England – Baghdad as a strong point against Germany, etc.) (Imperialism)
  12. Marx wrote: “Actually, the task of bourgeois society is to establish a world market, at least in general terms, and establish production based on it.” (Letters, ed. Adoratsky 2nd ed., p. 91)
  13. It is highly characteristic that it solves Kautskyism and the problem of socialist revolution from the same national point of view. For Kautskyism there are nations mature for socialism, and not a mature world economy for socialism. Hence: the route of socialism begins necessarily from the advanced capitalist country. “The socialist mode of production can come as little from the economy of backward countries as it is from the economically backward branches of production,” writes Kautsky in 1907 (“Soz. u. Kolonialpolit”, p. 59). And literally the same thing is repeated in 1918: “The starting point of proletarian society can, of course, be only a country in which the proletariat not only forms the overwhelming majority of the population, but also which in decades of struggle has grown to the most developed politically and most capable of organizing from all democratic classes.” (S.-D. bem. Zur Ueber- gangsw, 163) But this same “national” point of view is also characteristic of a number of Kautsky’s theoretical propositions: take at least his laid out interpretation of the Marxian theory of the impoverishment of the proletariat.
  14. Rosa Luxemburg writes: “Consideration of cartels and trusts as a specific phe nomenon of the imperialist phase on the basis of internal competition between individual capitalist groups, due to the monopolization of the existing areas of accumulation and due to the division of profits, lies outside the scope of this work.” (The Accumulation of Capital, Moscow, 1921, p. 328)
  15. <>Only in 1907, Kautsky tried to characterize specific forms of the modern economy.
  16. “Kautsky’s theoretical critique of imperialism has nothing in common with Marxism ... precisely for the reason that it evades and obscures the very profound and fundamental contradictions of imperialism: the contradictions between monopoly and free competition which exists side by side with it.” (Lenin, Imperialism)
  17. In the same 1915, Kautsky wrote: “The growing elasticity and adaptability of capitalism do not give it, however, the ability to grow and exist infinitely and endlessly, but they are the reason that even a displacement of the balance of forces of classes that can lead to political and social catastrophe must also have an economic catastrophe, and that the transition from capitalism to socialism can take place without an economic ‘collapse’.”(Naljonal State, etc., Moscow, 1917, p. 122). See also (N.Z., 33-1, p. 679, p. 682, “Zur Frage der Steuern u. Monopole”)
  18. <>And in 1918, Kautsky was already directly preaching the campaign for “the introduction of socialist institutions.” (S.-d. Bemerkung. etc., p. 18)
  1. “The political victory of social democracy”, as Kautsky calls it in one article in 1915.
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