Editors’ Note: Central to Lenin’s theoretical work was the battle against the right opportunism infecting the parties of the Second International. Karl Kautsky, the German Social Democrat and the major theorist of the Second International, rejected the legitimacy of the October 1917 revolution in Russia by distorting of Marx’s real position on the nature of the transition to socialism in his book The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1918) . Lenin challenged Kautsky’s distortion in a polemical pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918), part of which is excerpted below. The full text is at <<www.marxists.org.>>
“Nearly nine-tenths of Kautsky’s book is devoted to a general theoretical question of the utmost importance, the question of the relation between the dictatorship of the proletariat and “democracy”. And it is here that Kautsky’s complete break with Marxism is particularly evident.
“Kautsky assures his reader-in a perfectly serious and extremely “learned” tone-that what Marx meant by “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” was not a “form of governing” that precludes democracy, but. a state, namely, “a state of rule”. And the rule of the proletariat, as the majority of the population, is possible with the strictest observance of democracy, and, for instance, the Paris Commune, which was in fact a dictatorship of the proletariat, was elected by universal suffrage. “The fact that Marx thought that in England and America the transition [to communism] might take place peacefully, i.e., in a democratic way, proves” that when he spoke of the dictatorship of the proletariat Marx did not have in mind a “form of governing” (or a form of government, Regierungsform) (pp. 20-21).
“Incredible, but there we are! That is exactly the way Kautsky argues and he angrily accuses the Bolsheviks of violating “democracy” in their Constitution and throughout their policy; and he takes every opportunity to energetically preach “the democratic instead of the dictatorial method”.
“This is a complete desertion to the opportunists (those like David, Kolb and other pillars of German social-chauvinism, or the English Fabians and Independents, or the French and Italian reformists), who have declared more frankly and honestly that they do not accept Marx’s doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the ground that it runs counter to democracy.
“It is a complete reversion to the views of the pre-Marxist German socialists, who used to claim they wanted a “free people’s state”, to the views of the petty-bourgeois democrats, who did not understand that every state is a machine for the suppression of one class by another.
“It is a complete renunciation of the proletarian revolution, which is replaced by the liberal theory of “winning a majority” and “utilising democracy”! Kautsky the renegade has completely forgotten, distorted and thrown overboard everything Marx and Engels taught for forty years, from 1852 to 1891, demonstrating the need for the proletariat to “smash” the bourgeois state machine.
“To analyse Kautsky’s theoretical mistakes in detail would mean repeating what I have said in The State and Revolution.
There is no need for that. I shall only say briefly:
“Kautsky has renounced Marxism by forgetting that every state is a machine for the suppression of one class by another, and that the most democratic bourgeois republic is a machine for the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie.
“The dictatorship of the proletariat, the proletarian state, which is a machine for the suppression of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat, is not a “form of governing”, but a state of a different type. Suppression is necessary because the bourgeoisie will always furiously resist being expropriated.
“The argument that Marx in the seventies allowed for the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism in England and America is completely fallacious, or, to put it bluntly, dishonest in that it is juggling with quotations and references. Firstly, Marx regarded it as an exception even then. Secondly, in those days monopoly capitalism, i.e., imperialism, did not exist. Thirdly, in England and America there was no militarist clique then—as there is now—serving as the chief apparatus of the bourgeois state machine.
“You cannot have liberty, equality and so on where there is suppression. That is why Engels said: “So long as the proletariat still needs the state, it does not need it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist.
“Bourgeois democracy, which is invaluable in educating the proletariat and training it for the struggle, is always narrow, hypocritical, spurious and false; it always remains democracy for the rich and a swindle for the poor.
“Proletarian democracy suppresses the exploiters, the bourgeoisie—and is therefore not hypocritical, does not promise them freedom and democracy—and gives the working people genuine democracy. Only Soviet Russia has given the proletariat and the whole vast labouring majority of Russia a freedom and democracy unprecedented, impossible and inconceivable in any bourgeois democratic republic, by, for example, taking the palaces and mansions away from the bourgeoisie (without which freedom of assembly is sheer hypocrisy), by taking the print-shops and stocks of paper away from the capitalists (without which freedom of the press for the nation’s labouring majority is a lie), and by replacing bourgeois parliamentarism by the democratic organisation of the Soviets, which are a thousand times nearer to the people and more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois parlaiment.
“Kautsky has thrown overboard … the “class struggle” as applied to democracy! Kautsky has become a downright renegade and a lackey of the bourgeoisie.”