Sunday, September 21, 2014

“Class-Consciousness” (1906)

From the July 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

No point in the Socialist philosophy arouses such controversy as that of the “class-struggle” and “class-consciousness.”

The confusion prevailing is only intensified by the use of these phrases by those who, while claiming to be Socialists, have altogether failed to grasp the meaning of the term. For example, the Rev. Conrad Noel recently filled the better part of a column in the Daily Chronicle with a criticism of that “over-insistence ” upon the “Marxian Dogma” which has “done the cause of Socialism so much harm.”

This criticism formed part of an article on the S.D.F., and the one thing the Rev. Conrad most objected to was the use of this term “class-consciousness.”

“In the mouths of S.D.F. speakers it always means ‘artizan-consciousness,’” he argued. This may well be—but it only proves, what readers of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD know quite well, that the S.D.F. speakers do not understand the Socialism they profess. The S.D.F. uses Marxian phrases and fails to comprehend them; it employs the words of Revolution and the tactics of Reaction—the language of the proletariat and the deeds of the bourgeoisie.

[And it is as well to note that the Rev. Conrad Noel has since announced his intention of applying to become a member of the S.D.F.—“though not a ‘class-conscious’ one.”]

His objection to the word “class-conscious” is twofold.

Firstly, it is, he thinks, impossible to reconcile the conflicting interests of the various sections of the working-class (clerks, artizans, labourers, &c.) and secondly, that “converts to Socialism from the ranks of the upper and middle-classes are a trifle puzzled—of what class are they to become conscious?”

The point here raised is crucial. Those who hold to the conception of the class-struggle logically deduce therefrom their revolutionary policy; those who deny or (what in practice comes to exactly the same thing) fail to comprehend it must adopt the attitude and policy of Reform and Compromise. What then is the meaning of this term “class-consciousness?”

At a certain stage in the life of every individual he acquires a “consciousness” of personal identity. He becomes aware of his distinctiveness, physically and mentally, from the external conditions which progressively stimulate his susceptibility to impressions, and possessed of a power to recall, combine, and analyse by successive stages of mental presentation these said impressions and emotions.

This sense of individuality, this power of ordered thought (briefly “consciousness”), is the result of the development of the requisite brain-organ; and, as each individual from conception to maturity successively reproduces the stages through which the species as a whole has passed, by comparison we can ascertain the relative degree of development reached by any individual.

When an individual has become “conscious”—has, that is, arrived at that stage of growth at which he perceives both the distinction and relation between himself and the rest of creation—he has acquired a power of reacting upon his environment; a power (limited but real) of “self-determination,” within, of course, the possibilities set by his physical powers and the said environment.

Society is an organism progressing through stages of development.

The present stage is that in which classes have been differentiated within the Social organism: the propertied bourgeoisie and the propertyless proletariat.

Whether they are aware of it or not their interests are conflicting. The workers fulfil the function of production, i.e., their associated labour adapts all natural resources to human use; the Bourgeois or Propertied Class retain ownership of the tool of production, appropriate the products and control the function of distribution.

Hence the social function of production the prime necessity for social existence and development is fettered and hampered by the survival of the obsolete Bourgeois system of exchange—Bourgeois control of the social function of distribution.

Just as the chicken developing within the shell is compelled as a condition of further existence and development to burst the shell which had till then served as a necessary condition of further growth, so the working-class will sooner or later become conscious of this hindrance to their development—become conscious that they are the only useful class and progressive force in Society—conscious that they are potentially, the Society of the Future, and bursting the shell of Bourgeois political control and consequent economic domination, act themselves (and Society) free to commence a new and higher stage of evolution.

In a word: when conditions are ripe the working class will acquire, with the recognition of their place in Society, and of their constraint and that which constrains them, and a perception of the vital organic force impelling them to struggle, their consciousness as a class—their power of “self-determination.”

To make the working class thus “conscious,” it is necessary to make it understand the relation between it and the rest of (i.e., the other classes in) Society.

To achieve this result in the class, an effective of the individuals composing it must acquired the capacity of seeing, behind apparent diversity of interests (as clerks, spinners, hammerers, and diggers) their real community of interest as a class—must have recognised their common subjection to the necessity of selling their abilities in a common labour market; their consequent common exploitation, and their common interest to emancipation as a class.

Such distinction as still survives between “skilled” and “unskilled” labour is being rapidly abolished by the extension of education on the one hand and the introduction of machinery on the other. And few know this better than the “skilled” workmen themselves.

Hence Conrad Noel’s objection concerning the diversity of interests among the working class has no foundation. With regard to the vague use of Marxian terminology by Reformers posing as Revolutionists it must be noted that the stage at which a worker is brought to recognise that he is exploited by his particular employer, or he and his fellow-workers in their particular industry by their particular group of employers, is not the stage of class-consciousness—it is but the stage of class instincts; the rudimentary possibility of subsequent consciousness.

Class-consciousness on the part of any one worker thus entails the recognition by him of his place as a unit in a class, at present politically ruled and economically enslaved, whose historic mission it is to carry Society forward into a higher stage of development: the recognition that the interests and therefore impulses of the individuals composing either ruling or ruled classes respectively are mutual and those of the two classes antagonistic, and consequently that the development of Society more and more produces a class-struggle for the possession of political power as a necessary pre-condition on the one hand for rule and on the other for emancipation.

The working-class-consciousness will express itself in a political organisation for the purpose of accomplishing this emancipation. That worker is class-conscious who has seen the duty of enlisting under the banner of Revolution—in the Political Party of the workers —the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

With regard to the Rev. Conrad Noel’s second objection little need be said. The Capitalist-class will only be converted to Socialism by the Social Revolution; the middle class by the Official Receiver—any isolated individuals from these classes who may enlist under the banner of Social Revolution by so doing desert their own class-standpoint for that of the working-class. They must accomplish the feat of lifting themselves intellectually above their own class-environment to the height from which, comprehending the process of social-development as a whole, they can foresee the inevitable triumph of the despised proletariat—a feat that few have the intellectual power to accomplish.

The middle-class man “converted” to Socialism is generally a source of grave danger to the working-class movement. Fastening upon the cruder manifestations of working-class instinct—he gives this instinct a Bourgeois Reformist turn and so hampers its growth. As “breadth of thought” and “toleration” he conceals the shallowness and superficiality common to his class: under the name of Socialism he preaches State-Capitalism. In place of Revolution he urges Reform. Upon the half-hearted and partially conscious efforts of the workers to organise the political party of their class he fastens as a “leader”—and all development is arrested.

Hence we are not concerned about “middle-class converts” to Socialism.

Socialism is possible when the workers, organised in the Socialist Party, proceed to establish it. When they do that, the whole of the “upper and middle” classes will be powerless to prevent them. Without the workers so consciously organised nothing can be done.

The first thing then is to make the working-men “class-conscious.”
T. A. Jackson

Benn: the heir apparent (1981)

Editorial from the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British Left has taken a new hero to its heart. Though born into the English peerage with an inheritance that he did not throw aside with his title, this man is said to represent the true and radical voice of the working class. Though a Minister in a government under which the number of unemployed doubled and Britain's stockpile of nuclear weapons increased enormously, we are told that this man will ban bombs and create jobs if only he gets the chance. Although a professional Christian, our hero is considered to be a Marxist. Having supported the last government's five per cent incomes policy, we are informed that the unions have no truer friend than this man. It is true that the People's Friend served in a government which presided over an increase in the concentration of wealth owned by the richest one per cent, but then, he does stand for a fundamental redistribution of wealth, doesn't he?

At bus stops up and down the country old ladies are quivering at the thought of the impending Bennish Revolution. Writing in The Sun (4/6/81), Paul Johnson makes it clear that 'unlike any of his rivals, Benn knows exactly what he wants and how he is going to get it. His is not interested in office . . . (Why, of course not. If he were he would have accepted a Ministerial post, wouldn't he?) . . . He wants power—the power to change the nation fundamentally.' So Sun readers be warned. Vote for TB and your nation will be changed fundamentally. Don't bother to ask what that means. Just shake with fear. After all, most of us are so deliriously happy in this best of all possible worlds—with its poverty and bombs and dole queues—that fundamental change is simply not playing cricket. The media loves to have a bogey man to feel threatened by, especially when the threat of real change is a fiction and personified in such a gentlemanly soul as a lapsed Viscount.

Just as some workers are led to fear this imaginary threat, so others are led to regard it as their greatest hope of salvation. Tony has come to redeem the children of Labour from the tyranny of the Right-Footed monster (who used to be a Left-footed monster until he met the pastry chef at Number Ten). The Socialist Workers' Party has announced that a victory for Benn will be progressive. The International Marxist Group has taken the next logical step and urged its members to join the Labour Party and do what must be done for the heir apparent. Followers follow with all of the passion of next week's roast mutton. It is radicalism gone flat, with ears to the keyhole of the NEC taking the place of any thought of self-emancipation.

History is not made by great men. Indeed, there are no great men. Great men are the inventions of politically myopic journalists and indolent historians who cannot be bothered to look for real causes. There are great myths and often men and women are motivated to put great faith in them. One such myth is that leaders can create democracy while those who want it need do no more than cheer from the sidelines and drop mental blank cheques into the ballot box. As if liberation can be achieved while the minds of the liberated are still chained to the illusions of class society. As if the mighty are high for any reason but that the meek are holding them upon their shoulders. A leader cannot lead unless there are followers to follow.

Socialism—which is what Brother Benn claims to stand for—can have nothing to do with following. You cannot be a socialist and have a leader. You cannot be a socialist and be a leader. Socialism means self-emancipation of the working class by the working class. Only when a majority of workers understand and want it will socialism be a practical possibility. It is all a question of consciousness allied with democratic political action.

Good or bad intentions do not enter into it. Maybe Leader A is a nicer bloke—or less of a swine—than Leader B. It is irrelevant. It is possible that Benn will try hard to do what he thinks will be in the interest of 'the people'. Good motives do not stand a chance against the limits of historical possibilities. Capitalism cannot be reformed into Benn-evolent socialism, even if Tony does say his prayers before he goes to bed every night. Similarly, if the press is correct and our gallant hero is a Phony Tony, that is no concern of the working class. Leaders can be good, bad or indifferent, but they will still do the same thing. They were elected to run capitalism for the capitalist class. That is what they will always do for as long as they are allowed to.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never had time for leaders who aim to come into the working class political movement and get socialism on our behalf, especially when such leaders are jumped-up moralists from the bourgeoisie. In July 1906 The Socialist Standard had the following words to say on the subject:
The middle-class mean 'converted' to Socialism is generally a source of grave danger to the working class movement. Fastening upon the cruder manifestations of working class instinct—he gives this instinct a Bourgeois Reformist turn and so hampers its growth. As 'breadth of thought' and 'toleration'  he conceals the shallowness and superficiality common to his class: under the name of socialism he preaches State-Capitalism. In place of Revolution he urges Reform. Upon the half-hearted and partially conscious efforts of the workers to organise the political party of their class he fastens as a 'leader'—and all development is arrested. Hence we are not concerned about the 'middle-class converts' to Socialism.
Maybe Benn will displace Foot. If he does, it will not take him long to shock his fans and pacify his critics by acting in just the way that every useless Labour Prime Minister has done in the past. Then he too will be rejected as a traitor and another radical hero will emerge to stab him in the back. Opportunist leaders come and go, and while they plot and intrigue and pat themselves on the backs, the followers, on whose backs they have been riding, should be taking a tip from Prince Charles's horse.

Material World: The Bottom Line on Climate Change (2011)

The Material World Column from the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

As predicted in January’s Material World about international climate change meetings, more business opportunities have unfolded within the framework of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but when the facts are out there has been no advance in reducing those emissions.

December sees the seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP17) taking place in Durban, South Africa, a city which has had massive coverage from CNN TV, for one, promoting a super-green city with a host of wonderful big green business opportunities in and around it. This view is totally at odds with that of Patrick Bond, South African activist and scholar, writing that the ASSAF report (Academy of Science of South Africa) totally plays down or omits to mention some of the worst of recent decisions and builds in the city. There is also no mention of the 'national context' of the world's third and fourth biggest coal-fired power plants under construction in South Africa but the report is full of “greenwash attempting to disguise high carbon economic policies with pleasing rhetoric.” Lead negotiators for South Africa at the Durban meeting are representatives of Eskon, electricity producers and the country's single largest polluter.

June 2012 will be the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of these meetings and a return to Rio de Janeiro where, in 1992, at the first “Earth Summit” UN members signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which is still the governing treaty. It states that members promise to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions in time “to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change” (but without any specific targets). Who will be there next year to remind them of this broken promise? Perhaps ‘dangerous’ is not a word that can easily be agreed upon explicitly even if ‘anthropogenic’ (originating in human activity) is accepted.

Wasted Years
If you think that too much time has been wasted in those 20 years, consider this: in 1896 a Swedish chemist, later to win a Nobel prize, first calculated that continued burning of fossil fuels would lead to a hotter earth; in 1904 the USA's first solar-powered electrical plant was built in St Louis and the second soon after in the Mohave Desert – the company to be driven out of business a few years later by cheaper coal and gas plants.

COP17 runs from 28 November to 9 December but there are alternative meetings to look out for – African women farmers of La Via Campesina, 30 November to 2 December; a Global Day of Action on 3 December; and a Mobilisation Day for Agroecology and Food Sovereignty in Durban and worldwide on 5 December. Associations such as these of small farmers clearly understand that they, their descendants and the great majority of the world's population are under serious threat from agreements reached (or not) at 20 years of international climate meetings by the very nations which profit most and which produce the largest volumes of harmful emissions on their own soil or outsourced for their own consumption as food, biofuels and products of industrial factories.

How bad is it after 20 years of non-binding, ineffectual, voluntary agreements? Most people will have heard the latest statements following a number of recent scientific studies which are pointing to similar conclusions: that new findings are more than 20 times more likely to show that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected” rather than 'not as bad as previously expected.' Recent reports confirm that from 2009 to 2010 worldwide emissions increased by 6 percent. At a London conference in October over 100 medical and military professionals, including the chairman of the BMA, were signatories to a statement saying that lower carbon use would save vast amounts of health care money and they submitted a list of demands to all governments.

Wars and climate pollution
The Pentagon, the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy, is not subject to any international agreements nor is its total use transparent. The US air force is the world's single largest consumer of jet fuel at 25 percent. The Stratocruiser uses as much fuel in 10 minutes as an average driver in a year. Studies done by Oil Change International looking at the climate pollution of war found that the full cost of the Iraq war would cover all the global investments in renewable power generation needed up to 2030 to reverse global warming trends, and that between 2003 and 2007 this war generated more CO2 equivalent each year than 139 countries release annually. With figures like these it's easy to see how hollow and ironic are the calls for individuals to make green lifestyle changes.

The worldwide industrial food system, change of land use entailing massive deforestation for monocrop production and biofuel plantations, production of crops as commodities rather than food, all cause huge but unnecessary additional emissions. With big investors around the world looking for profitable returns, capitalist politics takes no heed of public opinion on any topic, from Canada's tar sands, Australia's coal, USA/NATO's wars, to misappropriation of indigenous land and common wealth.

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor measures four main impacts of climate change: health, weather, habitation and the economy. The most intransigent states at the last meeting were those least under threat and most committed to strong economic growth. The bottom line to this business as usual with foreknowledge of the chaos, disruption and necessary flight of hordes of homeless and hungry as a result of inundation and drought – impacts caused by continuing stubbornly along this road to ruination – is surely premeditated murder of billions from sheer hypocritical self-interest.
Janet Surman

War Requiem (2014)

Film Review from the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Written and Directed by Derek Jarman, Music by Benjamin Britten, Poetry by Wilfred Owen, Production Design by Lucy Morahan, Video editor/montage by John Maybury.

Cast: Nathaniel Parker (Wilfred Owen), Tilda Swinton (Nurse), Laurence Olivier (The Old Soldier),

Patricia Hayes (Mother), Sean Bean (The German Soldier), Owen Teale (The Unknown Soldier)

Derek Jarman's War Requiem is a cinematic representation of Benjamin Britten's oratorio War Requiem, op 66, a non-liturgical setting of the Requiem Mass which had been written for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962. The war poetry of Wilfred Owen inspired Britten's music, and Britten included nine of Owen's poems in the oratorio. Jarman had read the 1988 John Stallworthy biography of Wilfred Owen, and referred to his film as 'the three queers War Requiem' (Jarman, Britten, Owen). The film includes a video montage by John Maybury of newsreel of the horrors of twentieth century capitalist wars culminating in the mushroom cloud of the Atomic bomb explosion.

The film is structured as the memories of Olivier's character, the Old Soldier in a wheelchair, attended by his nurse, Tilda Swinton. Olivier recites Owen's Strange Meeting in the film's prologue: 'It seemed that out of battle I escaped, Down some profound dull tunnel.' Immediately the emotion of Britten's music, Owen's words and Olivier looking straight into the camera in close-up, all anguish and aged memories of the horror of the First World War and the prospect of death are overpowering. This would be Olivier's last film, he died in July 1989.

Owen was killed in the last week of the First World War aged 25. He wrote 'My subject is the war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.' Jarman portrays Owen and soldiers' lives sacrificed for wealthy bankers, the bourgeoisie or capitalist class and this is compared to the Abraham and Isaac biblical story, a ram caught in barb wire, Abraham slits Owen's throat. Owen's poem The Parable of the Old Man and the Young: 'Caught in a thicket by its horns, A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead But the old man would not so, but slew his son, And half the seed of Europe, one by one' follows the wording of Genesis 22:1-19 very closely.

Owen believed in an Anglican Evangelical Christianity, and from 1911-13 had an unpaid post as lay assistant and pupil in Dunsden near Reading. During this period his sympathies for 'the underdog' became apparent; he helped the old and the sick, the illiterate, and the poor rural workers enduring an agricultural depression. But his dislike of the narrow evangelicalism practised at Dunsden would prepare Owen for his later indignation at the support which the Churches gave to the First World War.

Jarman employs Christian iconography; the Unknown Soldier with a barb wire crown akin to Christ's crown of thorns at the crucifixion. Jarman wrote 'the immaculate side of Christ's life, nothing to do with the Church, the person who actually went out and brought in all those who were considered unclean in Jewish society, a very fantastic story and a very fantastic achievement, whether or not he is the Son of God.' In the Owen biography, Stallworthy had written 'Christ said 'Love one another' and 'Love your enemies' despite the exhortations of Church and State. Owen perceives that 'Pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.' Owen wrote in At a Calvary near the Ancre: 'bawl allegiance to the state, But they who love the greater love lay down their life: they do not hate' which echoes John 15:13: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'

A five minutes scene of interpretative acting to Britten's music by Tilda Swinton dressed in a Neo-Classical look à la Canova, plaiting her hair by the mausoleum of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier runs the gamut of emotions from laughter to anger, anguish, despair, and reflection. Swinton was Jarman's muse: 'Woman as sister, nurse, and grieving', making eight films with Jarman.

The final scene of Jarman's film and the climax of Britten's oratorio sees the German Soldier with a wreath of red poppies coming to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which is now a tableau after Pierro della Francesca 15th century Renaissance painting The Resurrection with Owen Teale in the central position of the tableau. Aldous Huxley called it 'the greatest painting in the world.' The Mother (Hayes) and Sister (Swinton) arrive with a basket of white poppies in a very moving and heart-bursting scene. The use of white poppies was deliberate; Swinton said 'white poppies, a living white flower', and on the AIDS crisis of the time; 'We had many friends being diagnosed, becoming ill and dying. We felt like we were in a war of our own.' The white poppy established by the Peace Pledge Union in 1934 disassociates the memory of war from the militaristic aspects of Remembrance Day. In 1986 there was controversy over the white poppy when it was given approval by the Bishop of Salisbury which caused Thatcher to express her 'deep distaste' for the white poppy in the House of Commons.

Jarman was the son of a RAF Lancaster bomber pilot in the Second World War, and his father's despair and depression is attributed to the high number of fatalities that bomber crews experienced and the killing of civilians in German cities. Swinton herself is from a military family; daughter of a Major-General, and sister to a Lieutenant-Colonel. Tilda joined the Communist Party of Great Britain while at Cambridge in the 1980s but is now a member of the Trotskyist Scottish Socialist Party.

Jarman's War Requiem followed his politically angry The Last of England which re-interprets Ford Madox Brown's pre-Raphaelite painting, and tells of the death of England ravaged by internal decay, capitalist restructuring, greed, AIDS, homophobia and repressive morality. Village Voice described it as 'wrenchingly beautiful, the film is one of the few commanding works of personal cinema in the late 80's, a call to open our eyes to a world violated by greed and repression, to see what irrevocable damage has been wrought on city, countryside and soul, how our skies, our bodies, have turned poisonous.' Jarman himself said 'I was brought up by a generation who fought the war and established the welfare state, and I perceived that everything my parents had fought for was being taken away.' Following War Requiem Jarman would make the political Edward II, seen as a landmark film in the New Queer Cinema.
Steve Clayton

Kautsky’s Work for Socialism (1939)

From the January 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

The passing of Karl Kautsky removes from the International Labour Movement one who, for more than half a century, was one of its most outstanding figures.

He was born eighty-four years ago, in what later became Czechoslovakia, at a time when the clash of growing capitalist rivalries in Central Europe expressed themselves in national struggles, particularly between Austro-Germans and the Czechs. Kautsky came under the influence of these struggles. The Paris Commune of 1871, however, exerted the profoundest influence and induced Kautsky to make a study of the early French Communist writers and social and historical questions. As a result, he joined the Austrian Social Democratic movement, through which he became acquainted with Marx and Engels, who exerted an influence on that movement from London.

His meeting with Marx and Engels in the early ’eighties undoubtedly dictated the course of Kautsky’s interest in social and political questions for the rest of his life. He spent five years in London, studying under their guidance. From then on he was “Marxist”, and when Engels died in 1895, he became literary editor of Marx’s and Engels’ works. He fulfilled this task with prodigious energy. His books and writings covered the whole fields of Marx’s work and thought. As an exponent of Marxian theory he was supreme. His clarity and simplicity of expression were rare. Besides his work as literary executor he was an active journalist and edited Social Democratic newspapers for more than thirty years. His writings include works of an independent kind. Foundations of Christianity, for example, is a classic on the subject. It traces the origin of Christian beliefs to their social and historical roots, and as a Marxian analysis of the question it stands alone.

But it was in the transition from the theoretician to the practical politician that the value of much of Kautsky’s great work was undone. In his work as a practical politician in the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Marxist principle was forsaken for political expediency. When the Social Democratic Party arose in Germany in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, little criticism could be made of Kautsky for his support of it. But when, with the passing of time, it evolved a purely reformist purpose, showed, in fact, that it was fulfilling the need of German capitalism for a reformist party, then Kautsky’s position as a Marxist and as a member of the Social Democratic Party were in flat contradiction.

In 1900 he was responsible for the “Kautsky resolution” at the 1900 International Socialist Congress. That resolution stated that a Socialist could accept a gift of a seat in a capitalist cabinet in a national emergency. This was only a short step from supporting the German capitalist class in 1914, which he did, though certainly without the enthusiasm of the jingo. He apologised for this attitude on the grounds that Socialism is a power for peace, not against war. An apology which prompted the scathing comment from Rosa Luxemburg that the famous appeal of the Communist Manifesto should now read, according to Kautsky’s revision: “Workers of all lands, unite in peace and cut one another’s throats in war!”

When the Russian upheaval occurred, and the issues connected with it were being debated, Kautsky was to the fore in the controversy. His differences with the Bolsheviks he brought out in one book in particular, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, to which Lenin replied with The Proletarian Revolution. In this controversy it was Kautsky the Marxist and theoretician that was in evidence. He took his stand upon the sound Marxist position that Socialism could not be established in a country where the material conditions for its accomplishment did not exist. Those conditions are highly developed means of production, social in character but privately owned by a minority of the population (the capitalist class) and the existence of a large section of the population who are dispossessed of ownership in the means of production and depend upon the sale of their labour-power to the owning-class in order to live. Socialism as a practical question could only arise, therefore, where the workers were the majority of the population, and where the social character of production presented social ownership (Socialism) as a proposition which depended upon the desire by the workers for it. The desire for Socialism could not arise where the population were largely peasants who lived by ownership of small-scale means of production. Kautsky stated the position as follows:

“Every conscious human action presupposes a will: the will to Socialism is the first condition of its accomplishment. This will is created by the great industry . . . small production always creates the will to uphold or to obtain private property in the means of production which are in vogue, not the will to social property, to Socialism”.
Kautsky’s analysis is the sound Socialist position, based on irrefutable logic. Its logical sequence led to unqualified support for democracy and democratic institutions. The “will” to Socialism depending upon the workers being a majority of the population, then only democratic institutions and methods would serve the real interests of the workers. In the absence of large-scale industry which would create the “will” to Socialism, then democracy would foster the growth of that industry; dictatorship would hamper it.

Strange as it may seem to-day, when erstwhile supporters of dictatorships are enthusiastic democrats, Kautsky’s position did not meet with support even among those who were outside the controversy and who called themselves Marxists. It brought out the worst side of Lenin as a controversialist. Kautsky’s reformist political recorded provided some excellent “Aunt Sallies” for Lenin’s abuse, and he certainly made use of them with effect—though they had nothing whatever to do with the merits of the debate. Kautsky’s arguments were answered with epithets. The quotations Kautsky used from Marx to support his arguments were largely evaded. Lenin attempted to interpret an isolated use by Marx of the phrase “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, approval for the Bolshevik dictatorship. Kautsky’s analysis of the Russian question was scholarly and objective. It was never answered by Lenin or his associates. Kautsky gave Lenin credit for being Marxist. In fact, in Lenin’s favour it can be said that Socialism was not introduced in Russia simply because the absence of the material conditions made it a sheer impossibility. Lenin erred in interpreting Socialist theory to fit Russian experience. In doing so he misinterpreted Marx and obscured the meaning of the real place of the Bolshevik Revolution in history. Had Lenin placed the Bolshevik Revolution in its proper perspective as an object-lesson in history he would have contributed in a larger degree to working-class understanding, would have saved many from disappointment and disillusion when the high hopes they had placed in the movement failed to materialise.

Kautsky on the Russian question, as on social and historical questions in general, took his stand upon scientific objective analysis, in sharp contrast to the position he took up as a reformer and politician in the Social Democratic movement in Germany. Inside that movement he was like the scientist in church—he left his scientific weapons outside. It is not idle to speculate that had Kautsky applied the scientific methods to his practical politics, he might have had some influence on the course of recent German history. He might have fought reformism, coalitions and expediency politics. The support he would have received might not have measured well in comparison to the millions behind the Social Democrats, but, quite conceivably, it could have meant a virile, independent and uncompromising Socialist Movement. As it was, the tragic end of the great German Social Democratic Party is eloquent testimony to the unsoundness of a movement which for fifty years based its activities upon reformism, compromise and expediency politics, with which Kautsky was associated.

Kautsky’s life and work might perplex future historians of the working class. Yet, when against all his reformist politics is balanced the enormous work he did in spreading Socialist knowledge, it would lead to false conclusions to judge him on his political record. After Marx and Engels his name will live. His works will guide the class-struggle in the future. He will be read with respect long after the respectable mediocre preachers who masquerade as leaders of the British Labour Movement are forgotten.

Kautsky’s place in history is assured.

Harry Waite