Karl Kautsky as Critic of Bolshevism – IV

Image: Cyrus Saurius

By Rubens Pinto Lyra*

The fog that envelops the socialist movement in the XNUMXth century is much thicker than is supposed.

“The task of socialism in relation to communism is to ensure that the moral catastrophe of a certain method of socialism does not become the catastrophe of socialism in general, and that this distinction is clearly present in the consciousness of the masses” (Karl Kautsty, terrorism and communism.

Kautsky's legacy to XNUMXst century socialism

Kautsky's theoretical production is Sui generis, broad, current, and of great interest to fundamental issues of our time, such as those related to socialism and democracy. He, with greater prominence than that of other authors, victims of the anathema launched by the communists, has much to contribute to unveiling the supposedly democratic dictatorship (for the proletariat) of the Leninist regime.

In the words of the eminent historian Rui Fausto, rare bird in the fauna of Brazilian Marxist intellectuals, sympathetic to Kautsky’s theses on the Russian Revolution: “The mist that envelops the socialist movement in the 2001th century is much thicker than is generally supposed, and there are important materials buried under the weight of still-powerful mythologies. . There are authors that one does not read, parties and organizations that have hardly left traces, there are events that are almost forgotten” (290:XNUMX).

One of the main conditions for the “mist” that envelops the socialist movement” to dissipate. it is the deepening of the debate on the relationship between Leninism and Stalinism, which could lead authors, as was the case of Fausto, to establish a relationship of continuity between both: “Stalinism would not have come to light if Leninism had not existed” (2017 : p.20).

A good part of the last twenty years of Kautsky's life, ranging from 1918 to 1938, were devoted to criticizing the Soviet regime, considered by this theorist to be economically backward, unjust, socially and politically dictatorial: in short, a parentheses in the history of the development of the mode of production. Therefore, it has characteristics opposites that of a socialist regime, which is only historically justified by the superiority of its economic system compared to capitalism, by the growing promotion of social equality and by its democratic character. Moreover, for Kautsky, the Soviet regime, based on repression, is even more negative than capitalism, with totalitarian characteristics, similar, from this point of view, to fascism.

The aforementioned conception of transition to socialism, Kautsky simply borrows from Marx. It is ontologically inseparable from Marxian theory itself and is at the root of all other components of the Kautskian legacy, related to his understanding of Bolshevism, democracy and socialism, these last two concepts understood in their “dialectical complementarity”. But we cannot forget that Lenin fully identified himself with the conception of transition to socialism in question, even when the Bolsheviks, under his leadership, concluded that Tsarist Russia was viable.

To this first singularity – that of being a Marxist (more than that: Marxian) critique of Bolshevism, add a second one: the questioning of the dissociation established between Russia under Lenin, which would have followed the course of socialism according to the Marxist canons, and the one directed by Stalin, which would have led the Soviet regime to a process of degeneration.

In the Kautskian view, quite the contrary, Stalinism would have been “the culmination of needed of Bolshevism”. In Salvadori's synthesis

“(…) It was Lenin, in fact, who had destroyed the possibility of democratic development opened in Russia in February 1917 and had forced social-economic conditions, not ripe for socialism. The price of this forcing was the armed dictatorship of the minority, which Lenin had vainly tried to reconcile with a Soviet democracy, impossible in itself. It was Stalin who definitively eliminated the contradiction, thus becoming, at the same time, Lenin's heir and the one who purged his work of the unsustainable contradiction between party dictatorship and Soviet democracy (...)” (SALVADORI, 1986:290-291 ).

It can be seen that Kautsky was the only major Marxist theorist who identified Lenin as the one who laid the foundations of the real socialism and he was also the only one to predict its inevitable volatilization. He had already indicated, since 1919, in Terrorism and Communism, the impossibility of the Bolshevik regime building socialism. Later, in 1930, in the work bearing the suggestive title of Bolshevism in the deadlock, goes further, stating that

“(…) This crazy experiment will end in a resounding failure. Not even the greatest genius can avoid it. It results naturally from the unrealizable character of the undertaking, under the given conditions, with the means used. The bigger the project, the greater the violence to obtain results, which could only come from a magic lamp, like Aladdin's (...)” (1931:21).

Such predictions – it should be emphasized with emphasis – were made, the first, almost a hundred years ago, and the second, sixty years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nevertheless, what the “renegade Kautsky” predicted in that already distant period – in the beginnings of the Russian Revolution – caused a general surprise in everyone, in 1989, when the Soviet “crazy experiment” collapsed like a house of cards, concluding turned into a "disappointing failure".

Another equally unique aspect of the analyzes of the most prominent Marxist theorist of the Second International was his unshakable, consistent and reiterated conviction of the indissociability between socialism and democracy, which left him, in this respect, isolated within social democracy itself, from which he had been the undisputed mentor. But it is important to emphasize the close relationship between this thesis and the nature of the socialist transition, already mentioned, genetically carrying these three ingredients: advanced capitalism, workers' protagonism and political democracy.

Even social-democratic theorists and political leaders of the first magnitude, such as Otto Bauer – whose analyzes were carried out at the height of the Stalinist era – considered it possible to build socialism first, then democracy, in countries with a backward economy and a still incipient proletariat. Based on such conceptions, Bauer justified the Stalinist dictatorship, even lamenting its iniquities, considering that such countries, before reaching socialism, would have to walk a path "that could not be built with the bricks of political democracy” (SALVADORI: 1986:300).

Under the aegis of Stalinism, Kautsky was an isolated voice among Marxists – and even among socialists in general – placing himself in a position of equidistance between Bolshevism and capitalism, advocating a Third Way, as effectively socialist and democratic. In fact, in that period, among the socialists, there were those who did not share the prevailing Manichaeism. There were rare exceptions, as in France: the “anti-Atlantist socialists”, critical of both “American imperialism” and “Soviet totalitarianism”.

For the vast majority, there were only two possible options: the “communist paradise” under construction or the capitalist “free world”, based in the United States.. (LYRA: 1978, p. 46-47).

On the other hand, not even Norberto Bobbio – who had, among many other merits – that of contributing to the most expressive western communist parties abandoning Leninist positions refractory to democracy in Western Europe – understood, like Kautsky, that his absence in a political regime, also meant that of socialism. Not just that of the desirable, but that of socialism . The overwhelming influence of Leninism, until the XNUMXs, prevented this understanding of socialism from finding an echo, which meant that the reconversion of European communists to democracy was late and incomplete. In fact, when, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, they realized this incompleteness, they ceased to be “communists”.

The fifth innovative aspect of Kautsky's contribution to Marxism concerns his criticism of Marx's conceptions, analyzed at the beginning of this work, such as the theory of the collapse of capitalism and its “rotten” character, which Marx supposedly considered rotten. It is situated between those that justified the labels of “renegade” and “revisionist”,                

This theory was invoked by communists of all stripes, until the end of the fifties of the last century; that of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as understood by Lenin, and the thesis of the extinction of the State, as conceived by Marx.

Finally, Kautsky exalted, against the substitutionism Leninist, the role given to all workers in the revolutionary process; the democratic, procedural and pedagogical character of the workers' struggles, developed under capitalism, generating a maturation in the conscience and in the praxis of the subordinate classes, who act as conditio sine qua non for the advent of a new hegemony.

Reasons for the silence on Kautsky's contribution to socialism

In the interpretation of Carlos Nelson Coutinho, Gramsci's theses, applied to the present, coonerate the procedural character of the implantation of socialism and the possibility of the peaceful transition to this regime, with the rise to power of socialists through a democratic way, in contrast to the Leninist thesis of the “explosive” character of the Revolution.

Carlos Nelson Coutinho also reexamines Marx's theses on the extinction of the State. However, the review of all these concepts had already been carried out by Kautsty, to whom the essentials in this matter are owed, without deserved credit having been attributed to him (2000, ps.63-68).

It was up to Valério Accary to “kill the charade”:

“The recent converts to democracy as a universal value could not resort to Kautsky's texts as a theoretical foundation because they came from a tradition in which, at least in words, it was necessary to maintain the reference to the October Revolution. Poor Gramsci was left with the role of official theorist of Eurocommunism” (2002, p. 101).

For Accary, what was said above “It could also be said about the Gramscian masks used by the majority current of the PT in Brazil” (ACCARY:2002, 101). This is why “although few thinkers and political leaders have been or are as influential as Kautsky is, almost nobody claims it. He was condemned to silence. It is rarely published” (ACCARY: 2002, 1001).

In fact, the argumentative fragility of his critics goes beyond the repairs made by Accary, since they support proposals and sustain government policies and programs that have no socialist pretensions. Unlike Kautsty's posture, when Under-Secretary (Minister) of State for Foreign Affairs and President of the first Socialization Commission of the Weimar Republic, he implemented, through nationalization, several reforms with a clear socialist bias.

At that time, he was part of the government led by the German Social Democratic Party, SPD), which had, on his left, the extinct Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), in which he was active (BERGOUNIOUX AND MANIN: 1979, p. 75).

For these reasons, the pioneering spirit of the theorist of the Second International, regarding the prediction of the inevitable collapse of Stalinist regimes (COGIOLA, 1994, 323-324) was ignored, in favor of that of another “renegade”, Trotsky (so considered by Stalinist communists).

But this Bolshevik leader's analyzes on the subject only surfaced well after the Kautskys, and did not question, as he did, the supposed socialist character of the Soviet regime, but only its bureaucratization.

Indeed, Trotsky always bet on the possibility of the Soviet statist regime regenerating itself, depriving the bureaucracy of its power and “returning to the councils, not only their free, democratic form, but also their class content” (TROTSKY, 1998, 49-50).

For Victor Serge, an independent member of the left-wing opposition in the former Soviet Union, “le trostskisme faisait preuve d'une mentalité symétrique à celle du stalinisme, contre fanl il s'était dressé et qui le broyait” (SERGE, 1978, 371).

Leonardo Padura, in The man who loved dogs, makes, in the literary field, a devastating critique of the “socialism” existing in Cuba. But, for not knowing the limits of Trotsky's criticism, he erroneously attributes to the Bolshevik leader the merit of having foreseen the fall of bureaucratic-statist regimes, stating that "Trotsky's prophecies ended up being fulfilled" (2013, p.505).

Also the historian Roy Medvedev, in his work Was the Russian Revolution inevitable? ignores Kautsky, even expelled from the Soviet Communist Party, due to the fact that his analyzes hurt orthodoxy, Medlevev commits the feat of not referring to him on any occasion, despite the critical analysis of the themes of his book having already been pioneered by “ renegade” Kautsky (1976, p.7-130).

Another author, USP professor Evaldo Vieira, in his article entitled Social democracy and the long road to the Third Way, also does not mention Kautsky once, ignoring his vast contribution to the subject (VIEIRA: 2013).

Once again, Kautsky was not given the credit he deserves for renewing Marx's thought, when he identified, in a pioneering way, his “dead parts” and updated them.

His analyzes in this regard, and in so many other themes, were now ignored; now accepted, but without referring to it and only in a fragmented way, accompanied by all sorts of restrictions.

The same happened with Kautsky's concepts about Bolshevism and its historical failure, which remained in limbo, almost as if they had not existed, when his identification of the nature of Bolshevism should have given him enormous credibility.

Considered renegade by the communists – hegemonic for a long time on the left – very few, under his influence, in the West, sought to know his works as works that, in the so-called communist regimes, simply did not circulate. This explains why many who have acquired a critical bias towards these regimes never mention them.

Thus, the pioneering character of his critique – his greatest merit – which should do justice to his status as one of the great Marxist theorists, contributed, on the contrary, to placing him in limbo, since this critique profoundly contradicted the establishment communist.

Other eminent scholars formulated even more scathing criticisms of Soviet communism, including first-line revolutionaries, such as Victor Serge, who considered it a totalitarian regime (1971: p. 404). But not really, they were accused of being renegades, or traitors because, at that point, Inês was already dead. Victor Serge, from the top of his long militancy as a Bolshevik, felt in his own flesh – even when the former Soviet Union was led by Lenin, the intrinsically repressive character of Bolshevism. In his words:

“Nous avions, sans nous en rendre compte, construit la plus térrifiante machine totalitaire qui se puísse concevoir. Et quand nous en apercevions avec révolte, cette machine, dirigée para nos frères et nos camarades, se retounait contre nous et nous écrasait” (1971, p. 404).

Kautsky therefore paid the price of being the first to denounce the intrinsically evil character of Bolshevism, long before any other critics.

This explains why, despite his robust, erudite and multifaceted contribution to Marxism, he was not even, regardless of the tacit acceptance of a large part of his theses, rehabilitated as an intellectual and as a socialist militant.

The main theoretician of German social democracy died in exile, consistent, until the last moment, with his Marxist and radically democratic convictions, while his wife, Louise Katsky – a close friend of Rosa Luxemburg – died in Nazi concentration camps.

But there are other elements that explain the silence about Kautsky on the part of social democracy, which still maintains a socialist rhetoric. In this case, not because of the revisionist Kautsky, but because of his supposed radicalism: “for post-1917 social democracy, his writings are uncomfortable because they are full of references to the class struggle and even the legitimacy of the revolution” (ACCARY: 2002,101, XNUMX) .

However, the incompleteness – to use a euphemism – of the criticism of orthodox Marxists, but also that of those who do not profess communist orthodoxy, in relation to Soviet communism, can also be explained by the fact that they did not free themselves from the legitimizing premise of Leninism, the know: who expressed the interests of the working class in the Russian Revolution, were the Bolsheviks. Therefore, this “vanguard” could be right or wrong, but it was the one with the legitimacy to lead the revolution, and only it.

Based on this axiom, everything was allowed to the communists, including establishing, under the condescending gaze of socialists of different stripes, in Kausky's diction, the dictatorship of one part of the proletariat over another, and that of a minority over the majority of society .

Accepting the premise of the infallibility of the “vanguard”, acts such as the closing of the Constituent Assembly by the communists, for example, would at best be nothing more than an “error'” practiced by a legitimately revolutionary government. There is therefore, consciously or not, a rejection beforehand of any analyses, such as that of Kautsky, that intends to question the legitimacy of the power exercised by the vanguard, and of the regime commanded by it.

That is why the criticisms made by socialists influenced by Leninism, as explained by a former leader of the French Communist Party

“(…) never focus on the internal mechanisms of the bankrupt system, its founding principles, the unfolding of its logic. The historical failure of “real socialism”, however, imposes the obligation to carry out such an examination, in order to let oneself, once and for all, take refuge behind external impositions (…)” (BOURDERON, 1990).

It is also necessary to consider that the political cost, for many Marxists, of recognizing the pertinent Kautskian analyses, has a psychoanalytical component: the censorship of the Super ego inhibiting a mea culpa in that matter. Indeed, it is difficult to support the inconsistency of theses that are considered unquestionable, on which many base their political careers, if not their lives.

In the words of Victor Serge:

“(…) voir clair en important circumstances, c'est plutôt question d'um certain courage à surmonter l'influence du milieu et une inclination naturelle à fermer les yeux sur les faits, inclination que resulte de notre intêret immédiat et de la crainte que nous inspiring les problèmes. J'ai discerné dans la révolution russe les germes de maux profonds. Ils provenaient d'um sentiment absolu de posséssion de la vérité centeré sur la rigidité doctrinale. Ils aboutissaient au mépris de l'homme différent, de ses arguments dele, de sa fazon d'être”. (1978, 398 p.)

For all these reasons, it is necessary to recognize that the disappearance of Soviet communism did not confirm the hypothesis raised in 1979 by the French scholars Bergounioux and Manin, according to whom Kautsky's perceptive criticism of Bolshevism, proven in practice by the historical failure of its successor, O real socialism, would lead to the recognition of their theses.

But the understanding that the bureaucratic-statist regimes that foundered were not just deformed – they simply weren't socialist – continues to be shared by a small minority of Marxists.

Thus, credit was not given to those who, for decades, against all odds, demonstrated to the fullest extent the unsustainable nature of the contradictions that undermined, from its origins, the Bolshevik regime, whose substitutes are the former regimes of Eastern Europe.

However, by questioning the alleged socialism of the Bolshevik regime, the Second International theorist introduced yet another original contribution to socialist reflection. It is the need, pointed out by Kautsky, to build a Third Way, socialist, but as far from capitalism as from Bolshevism.

Here are some of its characteristics: the progressive character of the transition to socialism; working class as the central political protagonist of this transition, in alliance with the “middle strata”, having social movements as their driving force; parliamentary democracy, coexisting with mechanisms of direct democracy, under the aegis of a representative government, elected by universal suffrage, with the management of state bodies shared between the latter, workers and consumers.

No effectively socialist party would currently deny the value of this proposal as a strategic goal to be achieved in the medium and long term. But the anathema it suffered -together with the liquidation of communism- removed, in almost all countries, from the agenda the proposal of a transitional program, towards socialism from government programs.

Recognizing the pertinence of much of what Kautsky proposes does not mean not denying the need to update many of his analyses, almost ninety years after their formulation.

Today, it is necessary to pay attention to the diversity of forms of ownership and work to be implemented in a post-capitalist regime, in which individual and remote work will pose enormous challenges to the new and diversified proletariat. On the other hand, the fight for the construction of a new hegemony, already important in itself, will play an even more relevant role in the fight for the inversion of the current correlation of forces, in Brazil and in many other countries of the world, favorable to the neo-fascist hosts, demanding new forms of political action. (FAUSTO, 2017, 182-183).

Another issue that did not appear in the last century on the agenda of changes for the construction of a society moving towards overcoming capitalism is ecology, today a central aspect of any program of economic and social transformation. There are even socialist parties, more to the left, with the France insoumisse, of Jean Mélechon, who consider that socialism is necessarily ecological: the ecosocialism.

Finally, it is worth remembering the theses that the theorist of German social democracy presented, at the time of Bolshevism, for the change of this regime: transition from the prevailing state capitalism to a mixed economy, with the readjustment of the productive structure to the level of economic development of that country.

Therefore, the state character of property in fundamental sectors of the economy would be preserved and those that should remain, by their nature, as private property, would be returned to individuals. Or even those whose early or undue nationalization, carried out by the Bolsheviks, has proved disastrous (SALVADORI, 1987:178). On the political level, according to Kautsky, it was imperative to call a Constituent Assembly, which would aim to consecrate the economic and social pillars of support for a new society: democratic and socialist.

However, such a transition, with characteristics close to those proposed by Kautsky, was only attempted later in Russia by Gobarchov, through the glanost and peristroika, when the Soviet economy was in frank obsolescence, as well as the ideology that supported the bureaucratic statism in force.

But there was no longer any way to avoid the realization of Kautsky's own prognosis, according to which not even the greatest sorcerer could pull Soviet communism out of the impasse in which it had become entangled.

Tearing down ideological walls to rethink socialism

For Kautsky, the task of socialism is to ensure that the moral catastrophe of communism does not become the catastrophe of socialism itself and that this distinction is clearly present in the consciousness of the masses. Indeed, the death of Leninism (or its agony) could not mean the death of emancipatory socialism. However, in the collective imagination, Marxism and Soviet-style communism, in the middle of the XNUMXst century, continue to be confused.

This is due to the survival of the semantic imposture that goes by the name of “Marxism-Leninism”. But, above all, the fact that the catastrophe to which Kautsky alluded, back in 1918, and which occurred in 1989, was not restricted to the moral plane: it reached all the dimensions of a mode of production under whose aegis more than a third of the world lived. humanity.

As Quiniou shows us, the crisis of socialism, provoked by the collapse of Soviet communism

“it is the moment of the most extraordinary collective nonsense that history has ever known – perhaps only the temporal history of Christianity can provide us with an equivalent of this crisis – and which prolongs an older nonsense about the relationship between Marx and Lenin: it is perceived, thought transmitted and finally internalized as the death of Marxism and Communism” (1992:131).

However, for this inconsistency not to last, a consistent and broad self-criticism of the intelligence of the left and its militancy: a self-criticism that until now has not come. As Robin Blackburn teaches, "For any doctrine, the capability of full self-correction is as important as its starting point."

This would be a prerequisite for a new beginning “from a socialism willing to face history and commit itself to a more accurate critique of the socialist project”. (1993:107;111p).                                 

However, the positions of the leftist parties and their leaders, as well as the socialist literature, show how far we are from a broad, serene debate about what is conventionally called really existing socialism.

Therefore, it is necessary to build debate spaces that remove the limits imposed by a certain intelligentsia from the left to those who want to unveil the myths on which the understanding of socialism and its real (or supposed) realization are historically based.

Those who claim that the dissociation between Marxism and Leninism remain a condition sine qua non for the revitalization of socialist ideals, without which the West itself is at risk, with the rapid progression of right-wing populism, with a neo-fascist bias, with the progressive withering away of the democratic regime.

This dissociation is a precondition for strategies for renewing changes to be elaborated, allowing, in the medium and long term, their success. Among these cannot be lacking, not only institutional democracy and the rules of the game on which it is based, but also the deepening of praxis participatory, for the peaceful deconstitution of the legal order, interacting with the power of the State and contributing to its effective control.

State management, with the active participation of society, is not just an idea, and (or) a socialist ideal, but an objective as inseparable from the realization of an emancipated society as democracy itself.

The main obstacle to achieving this objective, within the scope of the left, is undoubtedly its tendency to accentuate the clash between its currents, with the imminent danger of its self-destruction.

As it shows, hello! this provocation, which remains current, by Boaventura dos Santos, made in 2016:

“the left, when they are not in power, divide internally to define who will be the leader in the next elections, and their reflections and analyzes are linked to this objective. This unavailability for reflection, if it was always pernicious, is now suicidal” (DOS SANTOS: 2015, p.20).

To use Machiavelli's concept, the emergence of a "new Prince" with a "progressive" configuration in Brazil will depend, among other requirements, on this essential one: the capacity for articulation, for unity in the joint struggle of the lefts, around proposals susceptible to to express the yearnings for democratic renewal of broad sectors of the Brazilian population.

Otherwise, they will have to suffer the need to “start over”, under a dictatorship, albeit in disguise, sending the construction of a socialist and democratic project to the Greek Kalends.

* Rubens Pinto Lyra He is Professor Emeritus at UFPB. Author, among other books, of Le Parti Communiste Français et l'intégration européenne (Centre Européen Universitaire).

To read the first part click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/karl-kautsky-como-critico-do-bolchevismo/

To read the second part click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/karl-kautsky-como-critico-do-bolchevismo-ii/

To read the third part click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/karl-kautsky-como-critico-do-bolchevismo-iii/



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