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Karl Kautsky

  • Karl Johann Kautsky
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Kautsky, Karl
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Karl Johann Kautsky (; German: [ˈkaʊtski]; 16 October 1854 – 17 October 1938) was a Czech-Austrian philosopher, journalist, and Marxist theorist. A leading theorist of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Second International, Kautsky advocated orthodox Marxism, which emphasized the scientific, materialist, and determinist character of Karl Marx's work. This interpretation dominated European Marxism for two decades, from the death of Friedrich Engels in 1895 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

Born in Prague, Kautsky studied at the University of Vienna. In 1875, he joined the Social Democratic Party of Austria, and from 1883 founded and edited the influential socialist journal Die Neue Zeit. From 1885 to 1890, he lived in London, where he worked with Engels. In Germany, he became active in the SPD and wrote the theory section of the party's Erfurt Program (1891), which became a major influence on other European socialist parties. He briefly left in 1917 to join the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) because of his opposition to the increasing collaboration of the SPD with the war effort, but rejoined in 1922. By the 1930s, his influence and involvement in politics was dwindling, and he died in Amsterdam in 1938.

Kautsky's interpretation of Marxism held that history could not be "hurried", and that politically workers and workers' parties must wait for the material economic conditions for a socialist revolution to be met. Under his influence, the SPD adopted a gradualist approach, taking advantage of bourgeois parliamentary democracy to improve the lives of workers until capitalism was brought down by its internal contradictions. His positions lead to disputes with other leading Marxists, including Eduard Bernstein, who favored a reformist approach; Rosa Luxemburg, who advocated revolutionary spontaneity; and Vladimir Lenin, who Kautsky believed had initiated a premature socialist revolution in Russia in 1917 and led the Soviet Union toward a dictatorship.

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