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The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky
In October-November, 1918, when Lenin was writing his 100-page pamphlet, "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky," the Soviet revolution was ending its first year. Already, they had faced physical uprisings from within and invasions from outside their new nation. Intellectuals and activists all over the world were criticizing the revolutionary government and taking sides. Splits were under way in old organizations, and new organizations were being formed. The American CPUSA was not even fully formed until the following year.
Karl Kautsky was a leading German intellectual who had been an ally of the Bolsheviks when their theories were only theories, but had taken a considerable distance away when faced with a real revolution in progress. His criticisms were included in a work he titled, "The Dictatorship of the Proletariat."
V.I. Lenin, leader of the revolution, branded Kautsky a "renegade" because he had switched from the Russian Bolshevik (majority) positions to those of the Mensheviks (minority) on major issues facing the revolution. Lenin went so far as to say that Kautsky effectively advocated a continuation of the "dictatorship of the capitalists."
Lenin devoted the first pages of his work, "How Kautsky Turned Marx into a Common Liberal," primarily to an examination of democracy. Kautsky had condemned the Bolshevik revolutionaries as not advocating a "pure democracy." Lenin, scoffed at the idea of an abstract "democracy" without consideration of class. The only form of democracy that had been known at that time was a democracy operating for the benefit of the capitalist class.
Democracy is a method of government that may be selected by whatever class is in power. Whatever method they choose to employ, the state is still theirs, and they still use it to subordinate the interests of any opposing class. In America today, capitalists use democracy to advance their own interests at the expense of the working class and the middle class. Workers constantly fight for more freedom, and capitalists constantly oppose them.
Lenin pointed out that even in the most benign capitalist democracies, provisions for the suppression of strikes, martial law, and the use of soldiers against workers remain constitutional and legal. A consideration of "democracy" cannot be separated or removed from the class in power.
This idea of "capitalist democracy" as a reality while "pure democracy" as a myth did not originate with Lenin, but was quite common in the writings of Marx and Engels. On page 17, Lenin writes, "How Engels would have ridiculed the vulgar petty-bourgeois (middle class person) ... who took it into his head to talk about 'pure democracy' in a class-divided society!"
On page 20, Lenin quotes Frederick Engels, "In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy."
Kautsky seemed to be arguing that "all persons are equal" is the highest form of democracy, but Lenin pointed out that persons are not and never have been equal in class society. "The exploiter and the exploited cannot be equal," he points out on page 29.
Lenin asserted that a workers democracy would be hundreds of times more free than capitalist democracy. He accuses Kautsky of advocating for the capitalists and attempting to confuse the workers about democracy.
As a case in point, Kautsky argued that the Bolshevik revolutionaries should not have dispersed the Constituent Assembly in Russia. After the Russian Tsar was dethroned, but prior to the October revolution, both the parliament Constituent Assembly and the Supreme Soviet vied for power. One was a parliament similar to those in Europe at the time, and the other was a new form of direct representation from factories, neighborhoods, and groups of soldiers. "Soviet" is Russian for "committee."
Here is one major difference: the Constituent Assembly attempted to keep Russia in the World War, while the Supreme Soviet, reflecting the true will of the ordinary people, demanded peace.
Soon after the Bolsheviks and their allies took power, they did away with the parliamentary form and ruled through their majority of deputies in the Supreme Soviet. Kautsky said they were not practicing pure democracy. Lenin said that the workers and peasants knew real democracy when they saw it.
The argument between Kautsky and Lenin continued throughout the existence of the Soviet Union and was thoroughly re-hashed when it imploded. Lenin wrote on page 57: "In Kautsky's opinion, the Bolsheviks should not have taken power, and should have contented themselves with a Constituent Assembly."
Although Lenin hoped that workers would help the Soviet Union and carry out their own revolutions, he knew that there was no timetable. On page 69, he writes, "Not only the general European, but the world proletarian (worker) revolution is maturing before the eyes of all, and it has been assisted, accelerated, and supported by the victory of the proletariat in Russia. All this is not enough for the complete victory of socialism, you say? Of course it is not enough. One country alone cannot do more. But this one country, thanks to Soviet government, has done so much that even if Soviet government in Russia were to be crushed by world imperialism tomorrow, a a result, let us say, or an agreement between German and Anglo-French imperialism -- even granted that very worst possibility -- it would still be found that Bolshevik tactics have brought enormous benefit to socialism and have assisted the growth of the invincible world revolution."
Lenin did not continue to lead the Bolshevik revolution for long. He was crippled by an assassin even before he died. The socialists of the Second International, like Kautsky, continued to argue against the Soviet Union during its entire 70+ years of existence and took particular pleasure in seeing it end.
From the viewpoint of American workers, democracy is certainly in decline as this is written in 2011.
Even the most dedicated communists do not argue that the Soviet Union produced a flowering workers' democracy that measured up to Lenin's claims. Many of them opposed the Soviet Union all along. Some argue that it was because Lenin did not remain the leader and that others, particularly Joseph Stalin, corrupted the state. Others argue that continuous invasions, blockades, slanders, and other attacks from imperialism made an open society impossible. It is instructive to study the development of other socialist and anti-imperialist states relative to the hostile actions of modern imperialism.
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