Independent scholar Lars T Lih introduces excerpts from Karl Kautsky's 'Republic and social democracy in France', published in English for the first time
Storming of the Bastille in July 1789: proletarian and petty bourgeoisie then exert their power, according to Kautsky
At the end of 1904, Karl Kautsky began a series of articles under the general title of Republic and social democracy in France. Kautsky’s reflections on the proper Marxist attitude toward the republic arose out of a dispute among European socialists about the propriety of socialist participation in a bourgeois government, as exemplified by the case of Alexandre Millerand in France. Orthodox Marxists such as Kautsky opposed Millerand’s presence in the French cabinet. Their criticism of the “bourgeois” Third Republic in France was so vehement that some German Social Democrats concluded that the Marxists were prejudiced against the republic as a political form. Perhaps the Marxists were politically indifferent - perhaps they even preferred a monarchy, such as Germany.
Kautsky took pen in hand to reject these suspicions and to clarify the somewhat complicated Marxist attitude toward the republic. The Marxists were far from politically indifferent, Kautsky asserted: they strongly supported the republic, and in particular saw the democratic republic as the only possible form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the bourgeois Third Republic was not particularly democratic - in fact, it was accurately described as a “monarchy without a monarch”.
One of the tasks of Social Democrats in countries like France and the USA was to struggle against “republican superstitions” that led workers to underestimate the fierceness of the class struggle even in a parliamentary republic. At the same time, French workers could and should look back with pride at certain episodes in the republican tradition: the First Republic (1792-1804) and the Paris Commune (1871).
To make his case, Kautsky first went through the history of the class struggle in France, starting from the 1789 revolution and going on to the Third Republic that had arisen from the smoking ruins of the Paris Commune in the 1870s. Then, in the second half of his series, he mounted a full-scale critique of the institutions and policies of the “bourgeois” Third Republic from the point of view of proletarian socialism. The resulting 90-page treatise made an impact at the time. In Russia, for example, a translation was issued shortly after the original German publication. In the early years of Soviet Russia, when works by Kautsky continued to be published in large editions, Republic and social democracy in France was again made available.
Today, Kautsky’s treatise is forgotten except for brief discussions by Kautsky specialists, but there are good reasons to bring it back into circulation. Extended treatments by leading Marxists on strictly political questions are not so common that we can afford to neglect one of this calibre. Kautsky’s Marxist approach to French revolutionary history and his analyses of French political institutions retain their value, both for content and method. Ben Lewis is therefore much to be commended for undertaking the task of rendering Kautsky’s treatise into English. The first fruits of his labours are published here. The finished result, I am sure, will quickly be seen as the major Marxist statement on the republic as a political form.
There is one more reason why I find Kautsky’s treatise to be a fascinating historical document: it was not cited by Lenin in State and revolution (1917). The rest of my introductory remarks will be devoted to explaining the significance of this absence.
Lenin’s critique of Kautsky
Lenin had a life-long love/hate relationship with Kautsky. Most of us are familiar with the hate side - one that found expression after 1914 in Lenin’s almost obsessive denunciations of Kautsky as a “renegade” who betrayed socialism. Current research is steadily revealing the other side of the relationship.
For Lenin, as for almost all Russian Social Democrats, Kautsky’s writings were the gold standard of Marxist orthodoxy. All Russian Social Democrats constantly invoked Kautsky as an almost unimpeachable authority during ideological disputes within Russian Social Democracy. But the intensity of Lenin’s relationship to Kautsky’s writings goes way beyond this. Indeed, Kautsky was an ideological mentor for Lenin at all stages of his career, at least up to 1917. Paradoxically, even Lenin’s programme in 1914-1917, when he was loudly denouncing Kautsky’s current position, was explicitly based on Kautsky’s pre-war writings. Lenin made no secret of this fact and indeed continually emphasised the merits of “Kautsky, when he was a Marxist”: that is, before 1914.
Only once did Lenin make a public criticism of anything written by “Kautsky, when he was a Marxist”. This criticism came in the concluding section of Lenin’s State and revolution. Yet this section also shows Lenin’s ambivalence about Kautsky in all its glory. The section opens with an effusive (and historically accurate) compliment to Kautsky’s role as a mentor to Russian Social Democracy. Although Lenin goes on to attack Kautsky’s Social revolution (1902) and Road to power (1909) for their “evasions” about the state, Lenin still cannot help remarking that the books contain “a great deal of valuable material” and reveal “the high promise of German Social Democracy before the war”.
For the most part, Lenin’s critique in State and revolution is aimed not at what Kautsky said, but at what he did not say. Lenin’s case is that Kautsky avoided any discussion of the state in certain influential works written specifically to refute “opportunism”. In particular, Kautsky did not talk about the radical democratic institutions of the Paris Commune nor about the necessity of “smashing the state”, although these topics formed a prominent part of the legacy of Marx and Engels.
Proving a negative - in this case, that Kautsky did not talk about certain topics - is always a difficult undertaking. Lenin wrote State and revolution in 1917 while in exile in Switzerland and after his return to Russia. He had neither access nor time to do a search of Kautsky’s writings. He therefore entitled the relevant section of his critique ‘Kautsky’s polemics against the opportunists’: that is, he restricted his case to a few major works. But this self-limitation is never noted, and most readers came away from State and revolution with the idea that Kautsky explicitly repudiated the democratic ideals of the Commune and that he was opposed to any form of “smashing the state”.
So the question arises: did Kautsky ever address these questions in other works, and, if so, what were his views? Trying to answer this question is what led me in the first place to dig up Kautsky’s long-forgotten treatise on the French Republic. I am sure that Lenin read Kautsky’s work back in 1904-05 when it was first published, although there are no specific references to it in his writings. Nevertheless, he seems to have forgotten about it when he wrote State and revolution in 1917. What does Kautsky’s text tell us about his attitudes toward the political institutions of the Paris Commune or about the need to “smash the state”?
The ‘Commune ideal’
In the excerpts translated on the following pages, we find Kautsky’s account of the Second Republic (1848-50) and the Paris Commune (1871). At the end of this section, Kautsky writes: “to set out the political ideal of the Commune is not so easy, since various different tendencies clashed within it. But fundamentally all the practical demands and organisational efforts of the Commune arose from the same type of democratic republic that had already been established by the Great Revolution [of 1789].” Kautsky then gives a page-and-a-half quotation from Marx’s Civil war in France, in which Marx eulogises the political institutions of the Commune.
Among the specific points mentioned by Marx in this citation are suppression of the standing army, short terms for elected officials, local democratic control of the police, workmen’s wages for bureaucrats, and decentralisation. Marx ends by saying: “While the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority usurping pre-eminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible agents of society.” For Kautsky, these political institutions were the ideal democratic republic that “the Parisian proletariat created as a tool for its emancipation”.
During for the rest of his discussion, Kautsky uses these features of the ideal democratic republic as a template for a critique of the institutions of the French Third Republic. In every way, he finds, the actual republic fell far short of the standard created by the Paris Commune. After an extensive discussion of the corruption and decadence of actually-existing “parliamentarianism”, Kautsky concludes:
“Russian bureaucratic corruption or American republican corruption: these are the two extremes between which the life and being of all large capitalist states moves and must move. Only socialism can put an end to this by means of a [state] organisation such as the one the Paris Commune started to create: that is, by means of the most comprehensive expansion of self-government, the popular election of all officials and the subordination of all members of representative bodies to the control and discipline of the organised people. Already today, the best way to counter parliamentary corruption is through the formation of a large, strictly disciplined proletarian party ... Thanks to its basic constitution, today’s French republic can enjoy all the advantages of uniting parliamentary with bureaucratic corruption.”
Thus we must conclude that, contrary to the impression left by State and revolution, Kautsky subscribed to the Commune ideal, presented it to his readers (including Russian readers), and used it as a foundation of a scathing critique of the existing “bourgeois republic” in France.
Before moving on, a conceptual clarification will be helpful. In 1917, Lenin called for a “soviet republic”, but this political ideal should not be set in opposition to the democratic republic. Soviet-style democracy is an institutional form of the democratic republic. Whether or not it is the most expedient form is, of course, a matter of debate. Lenin contrasted soviet-style democracy to “bourgeois democracy” and to “bourgeois parliamentarianism”, but he was certainly not rejecting the ideal of representative democracy.
Similarly, although Kautsky stoutly defended the “democratic republic” as a goal and defended representative democracy, he was explicitly not endorsing current republics and current parliaments. For obvious reasons, Kautsky does not use the vocabulary of “soviet democracy” in 1904. Nevertheless, Kautsky is calling for a radical democratisation of existing political institutions in all European countries, both monarchies and republics. We should not let conceptual sloppiness obscure the large overlap in the political ideals of Lenin and Kautsky, however significant the remaining differences.
‘Smash the state’
Before embarking on the topic of ‘smash the state’, some preliminary clarification will again be helpful.
This resonant phrase has at least three principal meanings. Making these distinctions is not just a matter of logic-chopping. Each meaning represents a separate scenario of revolution, and these scenarios can be advocated by people with strongly conflicting agendas. There is no logical contradiction between advocating one or more of these scenarios and rejecting the rest. These possible meanings of ‘smash the state’ need to be clear in our minds before turning to the texts.
- The anarchist scenario. According to the anarchists, the state is the source of all evil, and therefore the first duty of a socialist revolutionary was to raze all centralised authority structures, including democratic ones.
- The democratisation scenario. If we define the state as a tool of class exploitation that sets one part of society above another, then full democratisation that overcomes the alienation between society and its decision-making organs is equivalent to smashing the state.
- The ‘art of revolution’ scenario. One of the lessons drawn by Marx and Engels from the failed revolutions of 1848 was the necessity of preventing counterrevolutionary forces from using the repressive apparatus of the state to crush the revolution. Leaving these old structures intact was extremely dangerous. They needed to be smashed.
There is another important meaning of ‘smash the state’ that I call the “breakdown and reconstitution” scenario, but this meaning is irrelevant to our present discussion. The very brief descriptions of different scenarios given here are meant primarily to show that ‘smash the state’ can be understood in sharply distinct ways.
What was Lenin’s position on these various scenarios as of 1917? If we put State and revolution alongside everything else Lenin was saying in 1917 (a necessary procedure not always followed), we find that Lenin energetically rejected the anarchist scenario about the immediate destruction of the state. One writer on Lenin, Neil Harding, equates ‘smash the state’ with anarchism and says that, in 1917, Lenin inscribed the war cry of the anarchist icon, Mikhail Bakunin, on his banner. This assertion is utterly misleading. Rather, when Lenin talked about ‘smashing the state’, he had in mind both of the other two scenarios: the democratisation and the ‘art of revolution’ scenarios - although he did not always take sufficient care to separate these two meanings.
We turn now to Kautsky. No-one will dispute that Kautsky rejected the anarchist scenario. In previous sections, we have seen that he also strongly advocated a programme of a wide-ranging and radical democratisation of existing political structures. What about the ‘art of revolution’ scenario about breaking up the state repressive apparatus? Kautsky’s 1904 article provides documentation of his views on this issue as well.
Kautsky argues that the “petty bourgeois” Jacobins of the French Revolution were able to accomplish as much as they did because they “destroyed [zerstört] the means of rule of the ruling classes”: namely, the church, the bureaucracy and the army. He then draws the lesson for later proletarian revolutionaries:
“The proletariat, as well as the petty bourgeoisie, will never be able to rule the state through these means of rule. This is not only because the officer corps, the top of the bureaucracy and the church have always been recruited from the upper classes and tied to them with the most intimate links, but also because the very nature of these bodies as means of rule includes a striving to raise themselves above the mass of the people in order to rule them, instead of serving them. They will always be for the most part anti-democratic and aristocratic ...
“The conquest of state power by the proletariat, therefore, does not simply mean the conquest of [the existing] ministries, which then, without further ado, use these previous means of rule - an established state church, the bureaucracy and the officer corps - in a socialist sense. Rather, it means the dissolution [Auflösung] of these means of rule.”
The two key words in Kautsky’s discussion are zerstört and Auflösung. My German-English dictionary defines zerstoren as “wreck, ruin, destroy” and Auflösung as “dissolving, disappearance, dispersal, disbandment”. So, while Kautsky may not have used the word ‘smash’, his feelings about these bourgeois “means of rule” are hardly ambiguous.
Once we are aware of the positions staked out by Kautsky in his 1904 treatise on class struggles and the French republic, Lenin’s 1917 critique of “Kautsky, when he was a Marxist” loses a good deal of its sting. The political positions of the two men overlapped to a much greater extent than any reader of State and revolution would expect. No doubt very substantive differences remain. But, as Great Britain celebrates (if that’s the word) a “royal wedding”, perhaps we should focus on the political programme common to the Marxist left during the early years of the previous century: a republic with radically democratic institutions of the Commune type.
- Very similar points are made by Kautsky’s mentor, Friedrich Engels, in his influential Critique of the Erfurt programme (1891). He writes: “If one thing is certain it is that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution has already shown.” Further: “So, then, [we should support - LTL] a unified republic. But not in the sense of the present French republic, which is nothing but the empire established in 1799 without the emperor” (marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1891/06/29.htm).
Republic and social democracy in France
For the first time in English, an extract from Karl Kautsky's 'Republic and social democracy in France', translated by Ben Lewis
Karl Kautsky: former 'pope' of Marxism
The International Congress has had an unexpected aftermath. Following a series of statements they made in Amsterdam, Bebel and Guesde have been accused of indifference to the republic, even of a certain preference for the monarchy. It was not surprising that the bourgeois press seized on this - it does not know any better. The fact that Jaurès and his friends spread this interpretation of events was less edifying, but understandable from their point of view. But eventually, after I had examined the reasons why social democratic republicanism differs from bourgeois republicanism in the Neue Zeit, even Vorwärts began to sing from the same hymn sheet.
A polemic which consequently unfolded between comrade Eisner and myself soon went in a direction which made me realise that an understanding between us would not be achieved in this manner. I thus broke off the polemic - not because I could admit defeat in this way, as Eisner so kindly pointed out - but in order to continue the debate on a different, and in my opinion more productive basis by setting aside all polemics as much as possible. Urgent work on the publication of Marx’s Theories of surplus value prevented me from finishing this series of articles earlier. But its postponement was not the end of the world. The issue does not become outdated that quickly.
Above all we must clarify which points are actually disputed.
First I can only first repeat what I said in the Neue Zeit (XXII, 2, p675): “We are republicans for the very reason that the democratic republic is the only political form which corresponds to socialism. The monarchy can only exist on the basis of class differences and antagonisms. The abolition of classes also requires the abolition of the monarchy.”
To be sure, there has been talk of ‘social kingship’. But the monarchy can never abolish classes. At most it can strive to ensure that the classes balance each other out, that no class dominates another too much. The most important proponent of the idea of social kingship, Rodbertus, therefore did not demand the abolition of capital and landed property. Nor did he demand the abolition of the wage system, which he considered indispensable for centuries to come. He merely demanded a configuration of the working wage which would ensure that it shared in the increasing productivity of labour in the same way that profit and rent do.
As the power of the monarchy is at its greatest when the different classes balance each other out (ie, when the monarchy is least dependent on any one of the classes and controls each class through the other), under certain circumstances it can be in the monarchy’s interest to oppose a strong class in order to protect a weaker one. For this reason royalty has often supported the rising bourgeoisie vis-à-vis the feudal aristocracy. But for the same reason, the monarchy has to strive to sustain a weakening class, even if this comes at the cost of economic development or opposing an ascending class. The very same monarchy, whose interests demanded that it protect the weak bourgeoisie against the strong feudal bourgeoisie, later saw it as its task to keep the economically degenerate feudal nobility above water at the cost of the nation, curtailing the development of the bourgeoisie as much as possible.
Thus, from time to time the monarchy has also granted the proletariat political rights or other concessions in order to play it off against the bourgeoisie. But the ascendant proletariat always finds the monarchy amongst its opponents.
And from the outset the monarchy always views the fighting proletariat with suspicion - more so than any other class. Because, whatever class it may be advancing through its political interests at any given moment, it is always separated from the proletariat by the gulf that separates the propertied from the propertyless. Both the monarchy and papacy can undergo the most variegated of transformations, but they always remain members of the propertied classes - and as such opponents of the emancipation of the proletariat.
This also explains the opposition of the fighting proletariat. Both the worker’s class movement and his ultimate goal make the class-conscious worker a republican. Whilst this or that propertied class can be driven to republican sentiment here or there in special circumstances, only the proletariat becomes republican in principle due to its position among the classes of the modern state. Surely, we all agree on that. But this does not eradicate the dispute. It merely defines its sphere.
Insofar as the republican form of government and the proletariat come into consideration, the matter is, of course, very simple. The difficulty comes about through a third factor, which we unfortunately cannot ignore: the bourgeoisie.
This class holds power in today’s economic and social life. With this also falls to it the power of the state, albeit a power which is not always direct and undivided. The bourgeoisie is far more adaptive than the proletariat.
If, in accordance with its class position, the proletariat can only come to power in the republic, if the republic is the only possible form of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, then the bourgeoisie is able to seize state power in every political form. In this the bourgeoisie is like the Catholic church, with whom it shares a robust digestive system. The bourgeoisie is most directly able to exercise its rule in a parliamentary republic or a parliamentary monarchy, whose head is merely decorative. The parliamentary form of government is the one which most corresponds to its class interests.
Thus, the same republic which forms the basis for the emancipation of the proletariat can at the same time become the basis for the class domination of the bourgeoisie. This is a contradiction, but one which is no stranger than the contradictory role played by the machine in capitalist society: the machine is both the indispensable precondition for the liberation of the proletariat and at the same time the means of its degradation and enslavement. These contradictions are particular to all social institutions in a society built on class contradictions. Identifying them only appears as a contradiction in terms to those who are not clear about the contradictions in real society. Those who have identified these contradictions will no more deduce the glorification of the monarchy from a critique of the bourgeois republic than they will perceive Marx’s remarks in Capital on the degrading tendencies of machinery as a glorification of machine-free petty production.
Whether one recognises the contradiction which lies in the role of the republic in civil society or explains it as the product of an error in reasoning thus depends on whether and to what extent one recognises the effects of class contradictions on political life. In praise of the republic, Kurt Eisner stated in Vorwärts “that in bourgeois democracy, from the conditions of its own existence the proletariat must be far more intensively courted by the various groups of the ruling classes than in a monarchy, and that in a republic the class struggle appears to be more obscured ... hence the interest in luring the workers”.
I do not dispute that at all. Rather, in my article on the Amsterdam congress I explicitly recognised it. However, I differ from Eisner in that that I dispute the possibility of such a courtship constantly disguising the class struggle. I also differ from him in that it is impossible for me to discover an advantage for the proletariat in the class struggle being obscured.
Whoever accepts the former must be of the opinion that between “the various groups of the ruling classes ... far more intensive” antagonistic interests exist than between the propertied classes on the one hand and the proletariat on the other. Whoever accepts the latter must be of the opinion that the class struggle is an evil - perhaps an unavoidable one, but an evil nonetheless. If this evil can be weakened and obscured as much as possible in order to benefit the proletariat, then the republic is to be preferred to the monarchy.
This is indeed the view of Jaurès and his friends - and in this they are in stark contrast to the Marxists, who explain that the class antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat is a fundamental and irreconcilable one, which goes far deeper than any clash of interests within the propertied classes.
To be sure, the propertied classes have every reason to engage in “luring the workers”, but only in the rarest and most transitory cases do they concede real concessions for this purpose - concessions which make the proletariat stronger and more fit for action. As a rule, these are pseudo-concessions made to split the proletariat, to lull it, to lead it astray or to corrupt it - in short, to weaken it. In the long run, however, these cannot overcome class contradictions anywhere. Sooner or later these contradictions break through again and again, and, the more concessions the bourgeoisie has previously made to the proletariat, the more the bourgeoisie must feel threatened when the proletariat begins to apply these democratic achievements in its own class interest instead of in the service of the bourgeoisie; the more energetically every attempt at repression by the bourgeoisie must fail, since, as soon as the proletariat stands on its own feet and has enough of the game, in the republic the bourgeoisie is far more directly threatened than under a monarchy.
We Marxists see an advantage of the republic precisely in the fact that under these circumstances class contradictions burst asunder more directly and starkly than at the same level of economic development in a monarchy. Were the republic, as Eisner eulogises, to really “obscure class contradictions”, then in our eyes this would have to been considered a serious disadvantage of the republic. As long as society is based on class contradictions, we see in these contradictions the driving force of social development - not in the categorical imperative of Kantian ethics, nor in the intoxicating power of the slogans of bourgeois democracy.
The issue is now clearly defined. It is not about whether the proletariat should favour the republic or not. We all agree on this. The question is whether the republic mitigates the class antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and proletariat or whether it exacerbates them. In the republic, is the bourgeoisie driven to be friendlier to the workers, to promote the liberation of the proletariat more or to obstruct it less than in the monarchy?
And on the other hand: is it the task of social democracy to support the undeniable striving of the bourgeois republicans to obscure class differences? Is it social democracy’s task to promote the belief that the republican bourgeois is friendlier to the workers than the monarchist bourgeois? What is it about? If this defines the matter at hand, then it also defines the area it applies to. The question can only arise in a republic: it is virtually irrelevant in a monarchy. The question can only occupy us in Germany because of our international relations, because of the necessity of clarifying differences with the French comrades. For Germany (with the exception of the few Hanseatic cities which are not democratic republics) the republic does not in any way signify a form of the class rule of the bourgeoisie. For us, only the other side of the republic comes into consideration: ie, the republic as a means of the emancipation of the proletariat.
The American republic
One can explain our matter of dispute in two ways. One way is to abstractly investigate the essence of the republic, the republic of the bourgeoisie and of the proletariat and its class contradictions - a very cumbersome path, which is all the more tiring for not leading through very well known territory. For our practical purposes it is certainly shorter and less fatiguing to investigate not an abstract republic, but a concrete one, the one around which the whole controversy revolves - the French.
Simply in order to highlight that we are not dealing with a specifically French issue, however, but a problem particular to each and every bourgeois republic, let us quickly deal with the American republic, which represents a very different type to that of the French. In the French republic we see the extensive centralisation of administration as well as intellectual and political life in a huge capital, the greatest possible limits on the autonomy of the municipalities and departments and all the means of class domination - military, police and state church - highly developed. All of these are absent in the United States. There, class antagonisms have been particularly weak for a very long time.
The basis of capitalist exploitation is formed by separation of the mass of the population from their means of labour, especially from the most important of these means - land. But for a long time in the US there was more than enough land for all who demanded it. Thus not only could anybody become an independent farmer: the internal market grew too, as did the demand for intellectuals - lawyers, administrators, etc. The most brilliant careers were opened up to anybody who was sufficiently energetic and intelligent, even those who began without means. Especially to workers who were best placed to take advantage, the position of a wage worker simply appeared to be a transitional phase. This prevented the workers from obtaining proletarian class-consciousness just as much as it held the capitalists back from harassing the proletariat - or at least its most militant layers - and challenging it to fight. The republic did not seem to allow class struggle and socialism to develop.
But, as is well known, this has changed enormously in recent decades. As Hillquit puts it, “In 1870 strikes and lockouts were hardly known in America; between 1887 and 1894 the country witnessed 14,000 disputes between capital and labour, in which about four million working men participated.” But, the more the American proletariat grows and class contradictions increase, the more the bourgeoisie is anxious to use all means the republic offers it to suppress the proletariat. It engages in the much-vaunted “luring the workers” on the most tremendous scale - not through social reforms (those which have been passed recently are not worth talking about), but through systematic corruption of the masses, by flooding the country with a commercially bribable press, through buying votes in elections, through the extraction of influential labour leaders.
Today, in every country, they are trying these methods to confuse and corrupt the workers. Even absolutist Russia saw the attempts of the police officer, Zubatov, to create a workers’ movement kept on a lead by the police. But nowhere are these experiments carried out on such a scale and with such tenacity as in the republic, precisely because of the power of the ballot paper, the press and the trade unions. But these efforts are nowhere more successful than in the republic.
The traditions of the past live on in the American worker, traditions where each one of them carried a marshal’s baton in their satchels. The American workers still believes that thanks to his democracy he its better off than workers living under monarchies, and that he has no need of socialism, which is a mere product of European despotism. He still believes that in democracy there are no classes and no class rule, because the whole people hold political power. The main task of our American comrades today is to destroy this republican superstition, to make the worker see reason, to point out that he is no less exploited and enslaved than his comrade living in a monarchy and that, just like in a monarchy, democracy has become a tool of class rule, that democracy can only again become a tool to break this class rule when he has overcome its republican superstitions.
That is what our American comrades’ agitation consists of today - and they would mockingly laugh at anybody who wanted to make them believe that any benefits for the proletariat arose from the republican bourgeoisie “luring the workers”.
In their agitation against the republican “luring the workers”, the American socialists are strongly supported by the fact that in using this means to hold down the proletariat, the American bourgeoisie does not stand still. As much as it would like to, the American bourgeoisie is unable to permanently “obscure” class contradictions: the veil it attempts to throw over them tears again and again, and, the more zealously it attempts to tame the working class using the carrot, the more angrily it employs the stick when the carrot fails. One has only to remember what happened in Colorado to show how brutally the bourgeoisie uses all the instruments of power made available by the republic if it is necessary to crush recalcitrant workers.
In America, therefore, republican superstitions have very little resonance in party circles. In France, however, the matter is not so simple.
The First French Republic
In one of his Amsterdam talks and again recently in a series of articles in L’Humanité, Jaurès explained that the peculiarity of proletarian tactics in France was justified by the French Revolution. These tactics had to be the precise opposite of those German tactics inaugurated by Marx and Lassalle
because Germany had unfortunately never known a proper revolution. Jaurès’s tactics are indeed the opposite not merely of those of Guesde, but also of Marx, Lassalle and German tactics more generally, whereas those of Guesde and the Germans are based on the same reasoning - that much is true.
But this is only something incidental. What comes into consideration here is Jaurès’s thesis that the French Revolution has proscribed different tactics to the French proletariat than those of the German proletariat. Thanks to the revolution and the republic, since its beginning the proletariat has played a great historical role “by initially supporting the revolutionary bourgeoisie and then dragging them along with it” (L’Humanité September 14 1905).
Here too there is a kernel of truth. No doubt, thanks to the revolution (which itself was a consequence of a particular economic development and severe exacerbation of class conflict) the proletariat achieved great political significance in France earlier than in any other country. But this was only in part due to it “initially supporting the revolutionary bourgeoisie and then dragging them along with it”. For the most part it was achieved through the proletariat coming to loggerheads with the bourgeoisie and fighting it.
At the end of the 18th century the feudal monarchy had led France into a situation comparable to that in Russia today: defeats abroad, corruption and economic ruin at home. Completely bringing down the system of government had become a vital question for the entire nation, something in which all classes who did not have a direct share in the existing state administration were interested. But even back then this overthrow of the system of government would not have been possible without the intervention of the lower classes: petty bourgeois, peasants, proletarians. They armed themselves, stormed the Bastille, burned down the castles of the nobility, abolished feudal burdens and began the self-administration of their communities.
The National Constituent Assembly merely confirmed what the people had carried out. The law/decree of December 14 1789 recognised the complete self-administration of the municipality. No government official stood above it. The municipality also received its own armed forces in the form of the armed citizens, the national guard, which elected its own officers; the law/decree of December 22 laid down the self-administration of the départements: on May 5 1790 the election of judges by the people was established, on July 12 it was finally determined that every municipality would elect its own pastor, every département would elect its own bishop.
This upheaval of the constitution corresponded to an upheaval of taxation. The ruling class always knows how to offload state debt - a state which both protects the ruling class and is exploited by it - onto the exploited and suppressed classes. One can therefore recognise the social character of a state by looking at how the ruling class does this.
Of course, the Great Revolution eradicated the tax exemption of the privileged classes, but it also eradicated indirect taxes - taxes on salt and drinks, the tobacco monopoly, internal tariffs and the municipal octroi. In addition to the national tariffs and the proceeds from state and municipal property, which were increased enormously by church assets, state revenue was to be set through a single direct tax on net income. This, according to the prevailing physiocratic teaching at the time, was seen exclusively in ground rent. In this way the people had made the instruments of class rule their own: the state administration, the judiciary, the army and the church. They also shifted the burden of maintaining the state from themselves onto the upper classes: a tremendous achievement indeed, accomplished by the supportive and propulsive intervention of the proletariat in the bourgeoisie’s struggle against the monarchy.
But even then, as conceited harmony existed between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the class contradictions between them at most came to light in sporadic food riots devoid of political significance, the class instincts of the bourgeoisie warned them against granting excessive political concessions to the proletariat. As it could not even dare to directly confiscate the proletariat’s newly won freedom, it attempted at least indirectly to monopolise this freedom by creating a distinction between the active citizen and the passive citizen.
It was not the people who were armed, but only the active citizens; only they could elect the municipalities, representatives, judges, priests, etc and (eventually) the deputies to the national assembly. But, according to the decree/law of December 22 1789, only those who were over 18, had lived for a year in the district and paid a direct tax to the sum of at least that of three normal day labourers were active citizens. The number of active citizens was four million in a population of 26 million. Furthermore, all these elections were indirect ones, and since the bourgeoisie still did not feel sufficiently protected by this, they made election to the national assembly contingent on the possession of property and the payment of a direct tax to the sum of one silver mark (50 francs).
The rampart protecting the census politically was joined by the professional army. With regiments it had often recruited from abroad, the old army remained in force alongside the national guard. In part, these old army regiments could still be used against the people and remained subjected to the discipline of aristocratic officers. Ultimately the monarchy remained as a rampart of the bourgeoisie. Although the monarchy was subordinate to the parliament, the national assembly, it did retain its command over the army, its appointment of governing ministers and its right, at least for a certain period of time, to withhold consent from decisions of the national assembly, without which these decisions could not become law (the veto).
The big bourgeoisie clung to the monarchy and the army as the last bulwark against the storm of the revolutionary people - the petty bourgeois and proletarians. And when Louis XVI attempted to flee abroad from Paris in order to draw on the help of foreign monarchs to prop up his tottering throne, his capture led to the first hostile encounter of the two classes in the revolution. Whereas the masses demanded that the king abdicate, the majority of the national assembly defended him. The extent to which this majority was conscious of its class interests in doing so is shown by what Barnave said back then: “The revolution must pause: one more step along the path of freedom and we will see the abolition of property.”
When on July 17 1791 a petition was launched on the Champ-de-Mars demanding the abdication of the king and the people flocked in droves to sign it, the ‘freedom fighter’ Lafayette moved in with the bourgeois national guard of Paris and violently dispersed the crowd in a bloody massacre. That was a worthy introduction to the class struggle of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
Barnave had been right: the bourgeoisie needed the revolution to come to an end. The bourgeoisie had achieved what it needed. Every further step on the path of the revolution had to turn against property: ie, against the bourgeoisie itself.
But in the struggles of 1789 and 1790 the subordinate masses, especially those in Paris, had recognised their power. They had won, but the fruits of victory had fallen to the propertied bourgeoisie. They could not be content with this. They had to strive to march further along the path of freedom and equality to work their way out of poverty and misery. And, since the bourgeoisie resisted the masses’ attempts to drag the bourgeoisie along with them in this, it soon had to come to heavy fighting between the two classes.
Their conflicts were further intensified by the war conducted by the allied monarchies of Europe against revolutionary France - a war in which France could only assert itself through the most energetic mobilisation of all its resources, as well as the mobilisation of the inconsideration the lower classes felt for property. Now (in 1792 and 1793) the monarchy was smashed to pieces, universal suffrage was proclaimed, the old army was completely dissolved and replaced by the arming of the whole people; now the wealth of the rich was used to feed the army and the poor. But this happened at a time of terror - a time of terror for the bourgeoisie, which felt neither ‘supported’ nor ‘dragged along’ by this regime. They did not at all consider acts such as the execution of the Girondists to be products of the “cooperation of the classes”.
The reign of terror, this dictatorship, even if it was not the dictatorship of the proletariat alone, necessarily arose from the prevailing circumstances. But it was equally necessarily doomed to fail. The possibility of social production was still not present, but the possibility of restricting society to the individual production of petty proprietors had already disappeared. The rule of capital had become a social necessity. As it has done everywhere in the last century, the war strengthened the tendencies propitious to capitalism, creating a huge demand for mass production and trade. As soon as the war took a turn towards victory, it created the demand for capitalism alongside capital and capitalists. Immeasurable riches of the neighbouring countries, especially of their churches, aristocrats and royal courts, filled the pockets of the victors and their exploiters. This, along with supplies for the armies, created new capitalists again and again.
Since commodity production remained intact, the reign of terror also remained subject to providing the most important of the modern means of war: money, money and more money. And since indirect taxes had almost completely been repealed and direct taxes did not yield enough, the government’s main source of income came through selling confiscated ecclesiastical and aristocratic goods to people who could pay cash - ie, not to proletarians, but to capitalists. Land speculators bought immense areas cheaply and sold them as small plots - mainly to peasants and day workers. This was another way that the war created a vast and rich capitalist class.
With victory, the predicament which the regime of terror had made into a necessity for all revolutionary classes disappeared. Its forcible interventions into economic life became ever more unbearable - except for the proletariat. But the war robbed the proletariat of its most militant elements - not only through disease and enemy weapons, but also through booty and the fortunes of war, which lifted many a poor wretch up into the ranks of those in command and the rich. It was precisely through this that a new caste was created, separated from the people. This caste of officers had capitalist instincts and interests, taking the place of the old feudal officer corps.
Thus the balance soon had to fall back onto the side of the bourgeoisie. Thermidor 9 (July 27) 1794 - the fall of Robespierre - was the turning point. The overthrow of the suburbs of Paris in a series of bloody street battles from Germinal 12 to Prairial 4 (April 1 to May 23) 1795 was the ultimate disaster. The execution of Babeuf on May 27 1797 was the final act in the tragedy of the defeat of the lower masses of the people by the revolutionary bourgeoisie. Step by step, one instrument of power after the other was taken from it.
At first, of course, this meant the weapons of physical struggle: the national guard turned into the armed bourgeoisie again. The army started to separate itself from the people again. Its officers even dared to field this army against the people. Likewise, the weapons of organisation were taken from the people: its associations were dissolved (the Jacobin Club on November 12 1794) and finally it was robbed of the ballot paper. The new constitution of year III (1795) bound the right to vote to the payment of a direct tax and residency in the constituency for at least a year. Instead of the direct elections introduced by the constitution of 1793, indirect elections were reintroduced through electors.
With this the rule of the lower classes was broken. But the fate of the republic was sealed too. The bourgeoisie had once again detached the army from the people, placed it above the people and deployed it against the people. Now the bourgeoisie itself became subjected to the head of the army.
Following his coup of Brumaire 18 (1799), Napoleon completed the work of the republican bourgeoisie in forming the new state administration into an instrument of class rule. Administration through centralised bureaucracy replaced self-government of the municipalities and the départements.
The government-appointed prefect became the soul of local administration. He was placed at the head of the département and appointed the local councils of all municipalities in the département, as well as the mayor in communities with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. The mayors of the bigger municipalities were under direct orders from the government.
Instead of a head of state elected by the people, the head of state was appointed. Admittedly this was done by judges supposedly independent of the government. But the judges, the most active elements in the judicial process, were set to one side in favour of the public prosecutor - a government official who got his orders straight from the government and had to carry them out!
Finally, the church hierarchy was also restored and incorporated into the newly created state apparatus by the concordat of 1801.
This concordat still exists today. Right at this moment it is the object of fierce struggles. But it is not merely the concordat which remains intact today. The entire constitutional structure created at the turn of the 1800s, the structure which so closely corresponded to the interests of the bourgeoisie, has in all significant aspects remained unchanged.
And what is true of the constitution is also true of tax legislation. Direct taxes again decreased in significance alongside indirect taxes, which were re-introduced and modernised. The empire renewed taxes on beverages, salt, the tobacco monopoly and the octroi of the municipalities, and also increased duties on imports. According to Adolf Wagner’s Finance part III, the French budget expected the revenue to be [as in Fig 1 above].
The bourgeoisie had no objections to any of that. The only thing it felt uncomfortable with in the constitution of the empire was the lack of parliamentarism. This is the form which best corresponds to the bourgeoisie’s class rule. It strives for this form wherever it has gained economic power. In the decades after the rise and the collapse of the empire, this was the sole thing around which all the political battles of the individual layers of the bourgeoisie revolved (high finance, big and small industrial capital, wholesale and intermediary trade): the establishment of a representative system, the increase in the rights of parliament, the configuration of the right to vote.
The lower classes of the people, on the other hand - or at least the petty bourgeoisie and proletariat in Paris - remained faithful to the idea of the republic, the only form of government through which they had ruled for two years (1792-94) and through which they had intervened decisively in the fate of Europe. The republic had been the form of their class rule. They hung onto it. They were joined by all the various ideologies, which in part more or less consciously represented the interests of the lower classes and in part became intoxicated with the greatness of the memories of 1793, without being clear on the class differences competing with each other back then.
As long as the struggles of the bourgeoisie with royalty, the junkers and the church came to such a head that the lower classes became stirred and driven to political action, republican tendencies emerged which the bourgeoisie was at pains to suppress - in its memory, the republic was synonymous with the regime of the lower classes as well. In 1830, after banishing the Bourbons,
the bourgeoisie also succeeded in spiriting the threatening republic away and helping Orleans onto the throne.
But it was not so lucky in 1848, when government provocations in response to agitation for electoral reform all of a sudden led to a struggle against the dynasty and its overthrow. This time the lower classes so thoroughly commanded the field that the republic became unavoidable. In order to save what could be saved, the bourgeois politicians had no other choice but to convert to the republic in the blink of an eye, so that they could form their government. This is how the Second Republic came about.
- The text is the first of a seven-part series of articles published in 1905. Translation work on the other six parts is ongoing. Many thanks to Maziec Zurowski for proofing the translation, and Jacob Richter for his technical assistance in accessing the original German files.
- This refers to the sixth congress of the Second International, held in Amsterdam from August 14-18 1904. Amongst other things, the congress discussed the question of socialist participation in government and the general strike. There is an interesting account of the congress by Daniel de Leon, chairman of the Socialist Labor Party of America’s delegation. It is available online at: www.archive.org/details/ flashlightsOfTheAmsterdamInternationalSocialistCongress1904
- August Bebel (1840-1913) was a worker and Marxist revolutionary who co-founded German social democracy with Wilhelm Liebknecht in 1869 and was its leader until his death. Bebel was a member of the Reichstag from 1867 and was sentenced with Liebknecht to two years’ imprisonment for “treason” (opposition to the Franco-German war) in 1872. His fiery parliamentary speeches - from 1868 he was continuously a member first of the North German and later the German Reichstag - are part of the history of German social democracy, as are also his books, above all his autobiography, From my life and Woman and socialism.
- Jules Guesde (1845-1922) was a French socialist and leader of the Marxist wing of the French workers’ movement. From 1877 onwards he published the socialist paper Égalité (Equality). In 1879-80, together with Paul Lafargue and others, he founded the French Workers’ Party (Parti ouvrier), whose programme was largely written by Marx in Engels’ front room in London. In the 1880s and 90s Guesde led the fight against the ‘possibilists’ and came out decidedly against Millerandism (socialist participation in government), but in the 1890s he was already beginning to retreat to social-chauvinism and reformism. Later he was one of the most prominent centrist leaders in the Second International, during the war a social-chauvinist and in 1914-15 a member of the French government.
- Jean Jaurès (1859-1914): French socialist, founder of the socialist daily L’Humanité and leader of the French section of the Second International. He was a gradualist, a non-Marxist socialist who felt that Marxism gave undue weight to the role of material interests in history. He was assassinated by the extreme nationalist, Raoul Villain, in 1914.
- Die Neue Zeit (New Times) was a weekly journal of German Social Democracy published between 1883 and 1923. Kautsky, who edited the magazine from its inception, was removed from his position as editor due to his oppositional activity in the party during World War I. In October 1917 the editorship then went over to the rightist, Heinrich Cunow. It was a hugely influential journal both in Germany and abroad - particularly in Russia. It published key texts such as Marx’s Critique of the Gotha programme and Engels’s ‘Criticism of the draft Social Democratic programme of 1891’.
- Vorwärts was the central publication of the German Social Democratic Party, published daily in Berlin from 1891 until 1933.
- Kurt Eisner (1878-1919) was an editor of Vorwärts in 1898, working as a literary critic. He was a revisionist. In 1914 he opposed war on pacifist grounds, joining the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) split in 1917. He organised a network of delegates in Munich factories. He was sentenced to eight months in jail after the strikes of January 1918. The leader of the Bavarian revolution in November and new prime minister of Bavaria, he was assassinated on February 21 1919.
- Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein were the literary executors of Marx and Engels. In the 1860s Marx had worked on composing three large volumes, Theories of surplus value. This work, commonly known as ‘The economic manuscripts’, was published posthumously under Kautsky’s editorship. It is often seen as the fourth volume of Das Kapital.
- Karl Johann Rodbertus (1805-75) was a German economist who held socialist views. He championed Prussian Junker development along bourgeois lines, believing that the contradictions between labour and capital could be resolved through reforms carried out by the Prussian Junker state. He maintained that all economic crises resulted from low national consumption.
- This is a polemical point. Kautsky is drawing attention to Kurt Eisner’s rejection of dialectics and his espousal of Kantian ethics.
- M Hillquit History of socialism in the United States - English taken from www.archive.org/stream/cu31924022571701/cu31924022571701_djvu.txt
- This refers to the miners’ strikes of 1903-04 in the Cripple Creek District. The all-out walkout turned into what is now known as the ‘Colorado labour wars’. The anti-union Republican governor, J H Peabody, declared martial law, with the state militia crushing organised labour and sending many of its leaders into exile.
- When the French socialist movement split over their attitude towards the Third International at the Tours congress of 1920, L’Humanité went into the hands of the French Communist Party (PCF). The newspaper is still published daily today.
- Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-64) was a unique and controversial figure in the German workers’ movement. He founded the General German Workers’ Association (ADAV) in 1863, a group which sought to win universal suffrage through peaceful means. Lassalle was of the opinion that the workers’ movement could ally with the Prussian aristocracy against the emergent bourgeoisie, even if this meant cutting deals with the ‘iron chancellor’, Otto von Bismarck. Given these obvious shortcomings, he has rightly been heavily criticised by Marxists both of his time and since. However, his historical contribution to the German workers’ movement should not be underestimated. For a generally positive take on his life, see Rosa Luxemburg’s short essay, ‘Lassalle’s legacy’ (1913): www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1913/xx/lassalle.html
- The original French is : “... la Révolution à la française, l’assaut donné aux anciens pouvoirs par une bourgeoisie révolutionnaire qu’assiste d’abord, qu’entraîne ensuite un prolétariat toujours plus hardi et plus fort - “... French-style revolution, the assault against the former powers by a revolutionary bourgeoisie which was assisted at first, and dragged along afterwards, by a tougher and stronger proletariat.”
- An octroi is a local tax collected on various articles brought into a district for consumption. It stems from the French ‘octroyer’ - to grant, authorise.
- Antoine Barnave (1761-93) was one of the most influential orators of the early French Revolution. He was one of the founding members of the Feuillants, a splinter from the Jacobins which opposed the overthrow of the monarchy in favour of a constitutional variant.
- This is an extremely important passage for the Second International debate around ‘permanent revolution’, in which Kautsky played a key role. The debate revolved around what strategy the workers’ movement should adopt for revolution in countries like tsarist Russia, which were dominated by pre-capitalist social relations. For both Kautsky and Lenin, the idea was to carry out the democratic revolution to the end (do kontsa in Russian), not allowing the bourgeoisie to stop the revolution halfway before things got out of hand for them and their propertied interests. This strategic debate remains controversial to this day. For an interesting series of contributions from Marxists at the time of the discussion, see D Gaido and R B Day (eds) Witnesses to permanent revolution - the documentary record Leiden 2009.
- In the French Revolution, the Girondists were the representatives of the big bourgeoisie in the Convention of 1792-94, the parliament set up to replace the monarchy. The Girondists were ‘the party of order’, vacillating between democratic measures and compromise with the royalists. Their opponents were the Montagne, the ‘mountain’, representing the most consistent democrats based among the petty bourgeoisie and the poor. The terms ‘Girondists’ and ‘Montagne’ were also used during the revolutionary events of the 19th century to identify opposing currents, by analogy with the parties of the 1790s. This is the division which is the origin of the terms ’left’ and ’right’.
- Maximilien Robespierre was the leader of the left Jacobins and head of the revolutionary government between 1793 and 1794. He fell from power on Thermidor 9 of the new revolutionary calendar.
- Francois Babeuf (1760-97), known as Gracchus, headed the Conspiracy of Equality in the French revolution. He and his followers wished to provoke an armed uprising of the plebeian masses against the bourgeois regime of the directory and to establish a revolutionary dictatorship as part of a transition to “pure democracy” and “egalitarian communism”. For their activities, he and other leaders of the Conspiracy were executed.
- At its height, the Jacobin Club had about 420,000 members. It was responsible for implementing the Reign of Terror. The club was closed after the fall of Robespierre.
- An agreement signed between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII, re-establishing the Roman Catholic church as a major institution in France.
- The House of Bourbon ruled over France from 1589 until 1792.
- A branch of the Bourbon dynasty that came to power during the July revolution of 1830 and was overthrown by the revolution of 1848.
- The French Second Republic was the brief period of republican government between the revolution of 1848 and the 1850 coup by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, which initiated the second empire.