Marx and Engels on Karl Kautsky

.
That Vladi­mir Len­in and his fel­low re­volu­tion­ar­ies of 1917 con­sidered the So­cial-Demo­crat­ic lead­er Karl Kaut­sky a ped­ant and a phil­istine is well known. Len­in pin­pointed the reas­on for Kaut­sky’s post-1914 reneg­acy in his di­lu­tion of Marxi­an dia­lectics. “How is this mon­strous dis­tor­tion of Marx­ism by the ped­ant Kaut­sky to be ex­plained…??” the Bolshev­ik asked rhet­or­ic­ally in a sec­tion of his 1918 po­lem­ic, The Pro­let­ari­an Re­volu­tion and the Reneg­ade Kaut­sky, “How Kaut­sky Turned Marx in­to a Com­mon Lib­er­al.” “As far as the philo­soph­ic­al roots of this phe­nomen­on are con­cerned,” he answered, “it amounts to the sub­sti­tu­tion of ec­lecticism and soph­istry for dia­lectics.” In an­oth­er chapter, Len­in ac­cused Kaut­sky of “pur­su­ing a char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally petty-bour­geois, phil­istine policy [ти­пич­но ме­щан­скую, фи­лис­тер­скую по­ли­ти­ку]” by back­ing the Men­shev­iks. Need­less to say, Len­in’s im­mense re­spect for the so-called “Pope of Marx­ism” be­fore the war had all but evap­or­ated.

What is less well known, however, is that Karl Marx and Friedrich En­gels shared this ap­prais­al of Kaut­sky. But this would only be re­vealed in 1932, sev­er­al years after Len­in’s death, in ex­tracts pub­lished from their cor­res­pond­ence. En­gels con­fided to Eduard Bern­stein in Au­gust 1881 that “Kaut­sky is an ex­cep­tion­ally good chap, but a born ped­ant and hair­split­ter in whose hands com­plex ques­tions are not made simple, but simple ones com­plex.” Marx, for his part, sus­pec­ted that En­gels’ fond­ness of Kaut­sky was due to his ca­pa­city to con­sume al­co­hol, as he re­cor­ded in a note to his daugh­ter Jenny Longuet from April that same year:

[Jo­hann Most, grand­fath­er of le­gendary Bo­ston Celt­ics an­noun­cer Johnny Most,] has found a kindred spir­it in Kaut­sky, on whom he had frowned so grimly; even En­gels takes a much more tol­er­ant view of this joker [Kautz, pun­ning on Kautz-ky] since the lat­ter gave proof of his con­sid­er­able drink­ing abil­ity. When the charm­er — the little joker [Kautz], I mean — first came to see me, the first ques­tion that rose to my lips was: Are you like your moth­er? “Not in the least!” he ex­claimed, and si­lently I con­grat­u­lated his moth­er. He’s a me­diocrity, nar­row in his out­look, over-wise (only 26 years old), and a know-it-all, al­though hard-work­ing after a fash­ion, much con­cerned with stat­ist­ics out of which, however, he makes little sense. By nature he’s a mem­ber of the phil­istine tribe. For the rest, a de­cent fel­low in his own way; I un­load him onto amigo En­gels as much as I can.

Le­on Trot­sky was caught off-guard by the ca­su­istry Kaut­sky dis­played after 1914, re­mem­ber­ing the praise he had showered on the Rus­si­an work­ers’ move­ment a dec­ade or so earli­er. “Kaut­sky’s re­ac­tion­ary-pedant­ic cri­ti­cism [пе­дант­ски-ре­ак­ци­он­ная кри­ти­ка Ка­ут­ско­го] must have come the more un­ex­pec­tedly to those com­rades who’d gone through the peri­od of the first Rus­si­an re­volu­tion with their eyes open and read Kaut­sky’s art­icles of 1905-1906,” de­clared Trot­sky in his pre­face to the 1919 re­is­sue of Res­ults and Pro­spects (1906). “At that time Kaut­sky (true, not without the be­ne­fi­cial in­flu­ence of Rosa Lux­em­burg) fully un­der­stood and ac­know­ledged that the Rus­si­an re­volu­tion could not ter­min­ate in a bour­geois-demo­crat­ic re­pub­lic but must in­ev­it­ably lead to pro­let­ari­an dic­tat­or­ship, be­cause of the level at­tained by the class struggle in the coun­try it­self and be­cause of the en­tire in­ter­na­tion­al situ­ation of cap­it­al­ism… For dec­ades Kaut­sky de­veloped and up­held the ideas of so­cial re­volu­tion. Now that it has be­come real­ity, Kaut­sky re­treats be­fore it in ter­ror. He is hor­ri­fied at Rus­si­an So­viet power and thus takes up a hos­tile at­ti­tude to­wards the mighty move­ment of the Ger­man com­mun­ist pro­let­ari­at.”

Continue reading

Malcolm Christ, or the Anti-Nietzsche

Review: Malcolm Bull,
Anti-Nietzsche (2011)

Untitled.
Image: Photograph of
Friedrich Nietzsche (1882)

untitled2

Like most ‘Marxists,’ Wolfe’s problem is that he’s really a Nietzschean. He sees everything in terms of war and winning.

— Tim Morton, author of Ecology
Without Nature
, “On Ross Wolfe”

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche once authored a virulent polemic against the Christian religion titled The Antichrist. Two years ago, Malcolm Bull offered a long overdue rebuttal in the form of his book Anti-Nietzsche. If Nietzsche = Antichrist and Bull = Anti-Nietzsche, though, it stands to reason that Bull = Anti-Antichrist. Applying the principle of double negation to this last equation, the following conclusion proves irresistible: Bull = Christ. Hence, “Malcolm Christ.”

Of the theorists and historians who have contributed to this growing body of anti-Nietzschean literature over the last couple decades, Bull is perhaps the most unique. Surveying the criticisms of Nietzsche’s work that have appeared to date, the British art scholar finds them all lacking in at least one crucial respect. He claims that in their attempt to expose Nietzsche’s “rhetorical strategy,” his critics unwittingly reuse it.[6] Their eagerness to discredit Nietzsche’s character (his ethos) or indict his philosophy as leading straightaway, by its own internal logic (its logos), to political reaction, falls prey to the Nietzschean conceit that “one must be superior.”[7] Bull proposes a completely different method of critique. Rather than attack Nietzsche himself or overmaster his arguments, what must instead be changed is the way one reads these arguments (their pathos).

Bull contends that the truly radical move is to take Nietzsche as a man of his word and accept the validity of his claims. The difference here would consist in the act of reading his texts from an opposite angle to the one its author intended. Since Nietzsche urges his readers to identify with the strong, the creative, the victorious, Bull offers an alternative: “reading like a loser.”[8] “Reading like a loser is interpreting the world to one’s own disadvantage,” Bull explains, in one of the book’s pithier formulations, “so that the interpretation results in loss to the interpreter.”[9] Here the “loser” he has in mind is not the archetypical representative of late ’90s slacker culture, however, but the forgotten, the misbegotten — in a word, the downtrodden — of history. To put it differently, we are to identify with the philistine, the subhuman, the herd-animal.[10] “Rather than being an exhilarating vision of the limitless possibilities of human emancipation,” writes Bull, “Nietzsche’s texts will continually remind us of our own weakness and mediocrity.”[11] Continue reading