Preface to the Russian Translation of K. Kautsky’s Pamphlet: The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 408-413.
The progressive workers of Russia have long known K.Kautsky as their writer, who is not only able to substantiate and expound the theoretical teaching of revolutionary Marxism, but also to apply it intelligently, with a thorough analysis of the facts, to the complex mid knotty problems of the Russian revolution. And now, when the attention of the Social-Democrats is sometimes almost entirely taken up with the pointless prattle of the liberal Petrushkas and of their conscious and unconscious echoers, when for many people petty “parliamentary” technicalities overshadow the fundamental questions of the proletarian class struggle, and when despondency often gets the better even of decent people and impairs their intellectual and political faculties—now it is trebly important for all Social-Democrats in Russia to pay close attention to Kautsky’s opinion on the fundamental problems of the Russian revolution. And not so much to heed Kautsky’s opinion as to reflect on the way he presents the question—for Kautsky is not so light-minded as to hold forth on specific questions of Russian tactics with which he is but slightly familiar; and not so ignorant of Russian affairs as to dismiss them with commonplace remarks or uncritical repetition of the latest fashionable pronouncements.
Kautsky answers the questions which Plekhanov addressed to a number of foreign socialists. And in answering these questions—or rather, in selecting from these badly formulated questions the points that can be usefully discussed among socialists in all countries—Kautsky begins with a modest reservation. “In regard to the Russian comrades, on matters that concern Russia, I feel that I am in the position of a pupil.” This is not the mock modesty of a Social-Democratic “general” who begins with the mincing manners of a petty bourgeois and ends with the haughtiness of a Bourbon. Not at all. Kautsky, in fact, confined himself to answering only those questions by analysing which he could help thinking Social-Democrats in Russia to work out for themselves the problems connected with the concrete tasks and slogans of the day. Kautsky refused to be a general who issues commands: “Right turn!” or “Left turn!” He preferred to adopt the position of a comrade standing at a distance, but a thoughtful comrade, indicating where we ourselves should seek for a solution of our problems.
Plekhanov asked Kautsky: 1) What is the “general character” of the Russian revolution: bourgeois or socialist? 2) What should be the attitude of the Social-Democrats to wards the bourgeois democrats? 3) Whether the Social-Democratic Party should support the opposition parties in the Duma elections.
At first sight these questions would seem to have been chosen with great “finesse”, but as the saying goes: “If a thing is too fine, it breaks.” In fact, any more or less competent and observant person will at once see the fine ... subterfuge in these questions. A subterfuge, firstly, because they are fine specimens of the metaphysics against which Plekhanov is fond of declaiming so pompously, although he is unable to keep it out of his own arguments on concrete historical questions. Secondly, because the person questioned is art fully driven into a small and exceedingly narrow enclosure. Only those who are entirely, one may even say virginally, innocent in questions of politics can fail to notice that Plekhanov deliberately starts out remote from the subject and gently but firmly pushes the person he is questioning into the position of justifying ... blocs with the Cadets!
To drive a simple-minded interlocutor into justifying blocs with a certain party, without naming that party; to talk of a revolutionary movement and not distinguish the revolutionary from the oppositional bourgeois democracy; to hint that the bourgeoisie is “fighting” in its own way, i.e., different from the proletariat’s way, and not say plainly and clearly what the difference really is; to try to catch the interlocutor like a young jackdaw with the bait of the Amsterdam Resolution so as to conceal from the foreigner the real points at issue among the Russian Social-Democrats; to deduce concrete rules concerning definite tactics in a definite case, in regard to the attitude to be adopted towards the various parties of the bourgeois democrats, from a general phrase about the “general character” of the revolution, instead of deducing this “general character of the Russian revolution” from a precise analysis of the concrete data on the interests and position of the different classes in the Russian revolution—is not all this a subterfuge? Is it not open mockery of Marx’s dialectical materialism?
Either “yea, yea—nay, nay, and whatsoever is more than these comes from the evil one.” Either a bourgeois revolution or a socialist revolution; the rest can be “deduced” from the main “solution” by means of simple syllogisms.
It is Kautsky’s great merit that in answering such questions he at once grasps the point and goes to the root of the mistake contained in the very way they were formulated. Kautsky virtually answers Plekhanov’s questions by rejecting Plekhanov’s formulation of them! Kautsky answers Plekhanov by correcting Plekhanov’s formulation of the question. And the more gently and carefully he corrects the initiator of the questionnaire the more deadly is his criticism of his formulation of the question. Kautsky writes: “We should do well to realise that we are moving towards totally new situations and problems, for which none of the old patterns are suitable.”
This exactly hits the mark in relation to Plekhanov’s question: Is our revolution bourgeois or socialist in its general character? This is the old pattern, says Kautsky. The question cannot be put in that way, it is not the Marxist way. The revolution in Russia is not a bourgeois revolution, for the bourgeoisie is not one of the driving forces of the present revolutionary movement in Russia. And the revolution in Russia is not a socialist revolution, for it cannot possibly result in the sole rule or dictatorship of the proletariat. The Social-Democrats can achieve victory in the Russian revolution and must strive to do so. But victory in the present revolution cannot be the victory of the proletariat alone, without the aid of other classes. Which class then, owing to the objective conditions of the present revolution, is the ally of the proletariat? The peasantry: “stable, common interests during the whole period of the revolutionary struggle exists only between the proletariat and the peasantry.”
These propositions of Kautsky’s are a brilliant confirmation of the tactics of the revolutionary wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Party, i.e., the tactics of the Bolsheviks. And this confirmation is the more valuable because Kautsky, putting aside the concrete and practical questions, concentrated all his attention on a systematic exposition of the general principles of socialist tactics in our revolution. He shows that Plekhanov’s threadbare method of argument: “the revolution is a bourgeois revolution, therefore we must support the bourgeoisie”, has nothing in common with Marxism. He thus recognises the main error of our Social-Democratic opportunism, i.e., Menshevism, which the Bolsheviks have been combating ever since the beginning of 1905.
Further, Kautsky’s analysis, which proceeds not from general phrases but from an analysis of the position and interests of definite classes, confirms the conclusion which the yes-men of the Cadets in our ranks considered “tactless”, namely: that the bourgeoisie in Russia fears revolution more than reaction; that it hates absolutism because it engenders revolution; that it wants political freedom in order to stop the revolution. Compare this with the naive faith in the Cadets professed by our Plekhanov, who, in his questions, has imperceptibly identified the struggle of the opposition against the old order with the struggle against the government’s attempts to crush the revolutionary movement! Unlike the Mensheviks with their stereotyped views, Kautsky reveals the revolutionary and non-revolutionary elements of “bourgeois democracy”, reveals the bankruptcy of liberalism, and shows that as the peasants become more independent and more politically conscious, the liberals will inevitably and rapidly turn to the right. A bourgeois revolution, brought about by the proletariat and the peasantry in spite of the instability of the bourgeoisie—this fundamental principle of Bolshevik tactics is wholly confirmed by Kautsky.
Kautsky shows that in the course of the revolution it is quite possible that victory will fall to the lot of the Social-Democratic Party, and that that Party must inspire its adherents with confidence in victory. Kautsky’s conclusions completely confound the Menshevik fear of a Social-Democratic victory in the present revolution. Plekhanov’s ridiculous efforts to “fit” the tasks of our revolution “into the Amsterdam Resolution” seem particularly comical when compared with Kautsky’s cleat and lucid proposition: “It is impossible to fight successfully if one renounces victory beforehand.”
The fundamental difference between Kautsky’s methods and those of Plekhanov, the leader of our present opportunists, is even more striking when the former states: to imagine that “all the classes and parties which are striving for political freedom have simply to work together in order to achieve it," means “seeing only the political surface of events”. This sounds as though Kautsky were directly referring to that small band of Social-Democrats who have deserted to the liberals: Portugalov, Prokopovich, Kuskova, Bogucharsky, Izgoyev, Struve and others, who are committing the very error Kautsky points to (and are dragging Plekhanov with them in the process). The fact that Kautsky is unacquainted with the writings of these gentry only enhances the significance of his theoretical conclusion.
Needless to say, Kautsky fully agrees with the fundamental thesis of all Russian Social-Democrats, that the peasant movement is non-socialist; that socialism cannot arise from small peasant production, etc. It would be very edifying for the Socialist-Revolutionaries, who are fond of asserting that they “also agree with Marx”, to ponder over these words of Kautsky’s.
In conclusion just a few words about “authorities”. Marxists cannot adopt the usual standpoint of the intellectual radical, with his pseudo-revolutionary abstraction: “no authorities”.
No. The working class, which all over the world is waging a hard and persistent struggle for complete emancipation, needs authorities, but, of course, only in the way that young workers need the experience of veteran fighters against oppression and exploitation, of those who have organised many strikes, have taken part in a number of revolutions, who are wise in revolutionary traditions, and have a broad political outlook. The proletarians of every country need the authority of the world-wide struggle of the proletariat. We need the authority of the theoreticians of international Social-Democracy to enable us properly to understand the programme and tactics of our Party. But, of course, this authority has nothing in common with the official authorities in bourgeois science and police politics. It is the authority of the experience gained in the more diversified struggle waged in the ranks of the same world socialist army. And important though this authority is in widening the horizon of the fighters, it would be impermissible in the workers’ party to claim that the practical and concrete questions of its immediate policy can be solved by those standing a long way off. The collective spirit of the progressive class-conscious workers immediately engaged in the struggle in each country will always remain the highest authority on all such questions.
Such is our view on the authoritativeness of the opinions held by Kautsky and by Plekhanov. The theoretical works of the latter—mainly his criticism of the Narodniks and the opportunists—remain a lasting asset for Social-Democracy all over Russia, and no “factionalism” will blind any man who possesses the least bit of “physical brain power” to such an extent as to make him forget or deny the importance of this asset. But as a political leader of the Russian Social-Democrats in the Russian bourgeois revolution, as a tactician, Plekhanov has proved to be beneath criticism. In this sphere he has displayed an opportunism a hundred times more harmful to the Russian Social-Democratic workers than Bernstein’s opportunism is to the German workers. And this Cadet-like policy advocated by Plekhanov, who has returned to the fold of Prokopovich & Co. whom he, in 1899-1900, expelled from the Social-Democratic Party, we must most ruthlessly combat.
That this tactical opportunism of Plekhanov’s is an utter negation of the fundamentals of the Marxist method is best shown by Kautsky’s line of argument traced in the essay here presented to the reader.
- Petrushka—a character in Gogol’s Dead Souls, a serf valet who read books by spelling out each word without delving into their meaning. He was solely interested in the mechanical process of reading.