Skip to Content

K

Kautsky, Karl (1854 - 1938). Born in Prague, he became a Social Democrat while a student at the University of Vienna. Kautsky was the leading theorist of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Second International. He wrote the theoretical section of the Erfurt Programme adopted by the SPD at its Congress in 1891. The Socialist Party of Great Britain translated and published in 1906 and 1908 the first three parts of this work but, on learning the contents of the fourth, refused to publish it. The sticking point was his reformism. At the Lubeck Congress of 1901 he opposed Bernstein’s ‘revisionism’ (that is, the rejection of Marxism in favour of gradualism). This controversy was misleading, however, since Kautsky’s writings showed that he did not oppose reformist activity and had a state capitalist conception of ‘socialism’.

Kautsky, nevertheless, was an outstanding populariser of Marx’s ideas. He edited Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value (1905 – 10) for publication, and gave his own introduction to Marxian economics in the very popular Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx (1925). He also applied the materialist conception of history in his Origins of Christianity (1908) and other works. Kautsky opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917, and he criticised Lenin’s interpretation of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as a distortion of Marxism. Lenin then publicly denounced him as a ‘renegade’. But Kautsky’s analysis in Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1918) shows a much better understanding of Marx’s views on democracy and socialism than did anything Lenin ever wrote, despite Kautsky’s reformism. (See also DICTATORSHIP; INTERNATIONALS; REVISIONISM.)

Reading

Dick Geary, Karl Kautsky, 1988

Kautsky online: www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/index.htm

Obituary of Kautsky in the January 1939 Socialist Standard:

www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/archive/kautsky%281939%29.pdf

 

Keynes, John Maynard (1883 - 1946). Born in Cambridge, educated at Cambridge University, he became Baron of Cambridge in 1942. Keynes’ main work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, was first published in 1936. His chief concern expressed in this book was the revolutionary consequences of heavy and sustained unemployment. His fear was that capitalism would not survive the mass unemployment of the 1930s. As Keynes wrote:

It is certain that the world will not much longer tolerate the unemployment which, apart from brief intervals of excitement, is associated - and, in my opinion, inevitably associated - with present-day capitalistic individualism.’

He believed that free market, individualistic capitalism had to be replaced by a more corporate form of capitalism if capitalism as a system of society was to survive. He therefore advocated greater government intervention in the economy to cure unemployment, and held that this was justifiable as ‘the only practicable means for avoiding the destruction of existing economic forms in their entirety’. Keynes described Marx’s Capital as ‘an obsolete economic textbook, which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world’ (A Short View of Russia, 1925). But it is Keynes’ views that have not fared well. Despite the fact that Keynes was a Liberal and an avowed defender of capitalism, the Labour Party and most of the left-wing organisations are still Keynesian in their economics. (See also INFLATION; KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS; UNEMPLOYMENT.)

Reading

J.M. Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936

(online at: www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/general-theory/)

Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes, 2004

Michael Stewart, Keynes and After, 1991

 

Keynesian economics (or Keynesianism). The branch of capitalist economic theory associated with J.M. Keynes. In general, Keynesian economics argues that:

  • Depressions and high unemployment are caused by insufficient aggregate demand in the economy.

  • Aggregate demand can be most easily increased by increasing government expenditure.

In his main work on economic theory, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), Keynes argued that increased government expenditure need not be inflationary and that, indeed, the long term policy of governments should be to ‘allow wages to rise slowly whilst keeping prices stable’. He thought the real enemy was the revolutionary potential of mass unemployment.

After the Second World War the Labour, Liberal and Tory parties all became Keynesian. Their common outlook was expressed in the policy adopted by the Labour Party at its Annual Conference in 1944:

If bad trade and general unemployment threaten, this means that total purchasing power is falling too low. Therefore we should at once increase expenditure… We should give people more money and not less to spend.’

All the main political parties pledged themselves to maintain ‘full employment’ and prevent inflation. In the years immediately following the war unemployment was unusually low, but this was mainly due to the post-war reconstruction and some of Britain’s competitors being temporarily knocked out of the world market. The Keynesian economist Joan Robinson admitted that the post-war boom would have happened anyway and for those reasons.

However, from the mid-1950s onwards unemployment had been on an upward trend, rising to 1.5 million in 1976 under a Labour government. It was in 1976 that the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, told the Labour Party Annual Conference:

We used to think you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that this option no longer exists.’

Not only did Labour and Tory governments fail to secure ‘full employment; they also failed to prevent inflation. Under the Labour government of 1974-79 the general price level rose by 112%. The Tory government elected in 1979 had formally abandoned Keynesian economics. But they still inflated the currency to pay for government spending, and in the following decade prices rose by over 100%. During the same period unemployment increased to over 3 million.

Inflation is caused by governments - Labour and Tory - financing their increased expenditure by printing and putting into circulation hundreds of millions of pounds of excess paper money. They did this in the vain hope that it would prevent unemployment rising, ignoring the fact that unemployment generally is caused by a failure of profitability. (See also INFLATION; KEYNES; MONETARISM; UNEMPLOYMENT.)

Reading

Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes, 1971

 

Kropotkin, Peter Alexeyevich (1842 - 1921). Born in Moscow into a noble family, he was educated at an elite military school and served as an army officer. He resigned his commission in 1867 and became an anarchist in 1872. Kropotkin was imprisoned for his propaganda activities in Russia in 1874, but escaped two years later and lived in Western Europe until 1917. In France he founded and edited Le Révolté, was arrested again in 1883, but was released early, in 1886. He then went to England and helped found the anarchist paper, Freedom, in London. A prolific writer, Kropotkin is an example of a thinker in the anarchist trend called ‘anarcho-communist’. His books can be recommended: The Conquest of Bread (1892), Fields, Factories and Workshops (1899) and, above all, Mutual Aid (1902). (See also ANARCHISM.)

Reading

Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, 1902

(online at: http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/kropotkin/mutaidcontents.html)

Martin Miller, Kropotkin, 1979