The renegade Kautsky II

Posted on Jun 4, 2022

The debate between Kautsky and Lenin can be traced on/attributed to the revolutionary potential of the global north:

“…Such is the position both in France and in Great Britain. Comrade Crispien does not regard the split like a Communist, but quite in the spirit of Kautsky, who is supposed to have no influence. Then Crispien went on to speak of high wages. The position in Germany, he said, is that the workers are quite well off compared with the workers in Russia or in general, in the East of Europe. A revolution, as he sees it, can be made only if it does not worsen the workers’ conditions “too much”. Is it permissible, in a Communist Party, to speak in a tone like this, I ask? This is the language of counter-revolution. The standard of living in Russia is undoubtedly lower than in Germany, and when we established the dictatorship, this led to the workers beginning to go more hungry and to their conditions becoming even worse. The workers’ victory cannot be achieved without sacrifices, without a temporary deterioration of their conditions. We must tell the workers the very opposite of what Crispien has said. If, in desiring to prepare the workers for the dictatorship, one tells them that their conditions will not be worsened “too much”, one is losing sight of the main thing, namely, that it was by helping their “own” bourgeoisie to conquer and strangle the whole world by imperialist methods, with the aim of thereby ensuring better pay for themselves, that the labour aristocracy developed. If the German workers now want to work for the revolution they must make sacrifices, and not be afraid to do so.

Lenin’s argument to me seems insane. Lenin is asking western workers to sacrifice their consumption standards for global revolution. Similar arguments are raised by quite a few “climate emergency” or de-growth proponents.

In a similar vein, in another classic text, Lenin attacks Kautsky for thinking that that European revolutions would come by a specific date (but nevertheless they are to come soon):

“…Kautsky has confused tactics based on the expectation of a European revolution in the more or less near future, but not at a definite date, with tactics based on the expectation of a European revolution at a definite date. A slight, just a very slight forgery!”

It’s been more than 100 years since the October revolution, countless events have taken place since, but European uprisings are nowhere in sight. I think this is a fundamental problem in Lenin’s appraisal – nothing will ever take place in the centre unless it somehow promises to improve living standards (in tangible terms) here and now.