1930s >> 1935 >> no-372-august-1935

Answer to Correspondents

A Defence of Reforms by K. Kautsky.


A correspondent sends us a copy of the New York New Leader, dated May 4th, 1935, containing the last of a series of articles by K. Kautsky in which he reaffirms the view that democracy is essential to the Socialist movement. Our correspondent is interested chiefly in certain conclusions drawn by Kautsky regarding “reformist” and “revolutionary” measures.


The relevant paragraphs are given below: —


   Once it comes into power, all measures undertaken by our Party assume a Socialist tendency. The determining consideration of all social measures and innovations then becomes centred in the question whether or not they contribute to the material and moral well-being of the masses. In evaluating such measures it would be absurd to draw a line of demarcation between “reformist” and “revolutionary” measures, to exclude the first, or to draw a distinction between two kinds of Socialists—to condemn the reformists and to hail the revolutionists. Reformist measures are those compatible with the existing system of production. Revolutionary measures are those designed to promote its abolition.


The extent to which any measures we may undertake are to be regarded as reformist or revolutionary depends at all times upon the historic circumstances. To be sure, it would be ridiculous to remain reformist at all times and on all occasions. But no less ridiculous is it to confine ourselves at all times to revolutionary measures. When we achieve power we shall be called upon to institute both reformist and revolutionary innovations.


Needless to say the S.P.G.B. differs fundamentally from Kautsky on the above-mentioned questions. The point of view expressed well illustrates what it is that divides the Labour and Communist Parties on the one side from Socialists on the other—and this, in spite of the fact that Kautsky’s criticisms are addressed primarily to Communists. What Kautsky and the Labour Parties in general fail to appreciate is that basically there is, and can be, only one revolutionary measure for Socialists: that is, the dispossession of the capitalist class of their ownership and control of the means of production and distribution and the transfer of these to society as a whole. That act once accomplished, all the rest of the adjustments necessary after the abolition of capitalism will fall into line. But if that act is not accomplished then there can be no question of Socialism. Kautsky fails to recognise this vital distinction and does not see that the parties he has in mind, the Labour Parties, have no such purpose. Even if some leaders understand what is required the rank and file of such parties do not, but have been recruited on reformist programmes, “those compatible with the existing system of production.” Parties of that kind cannot in any circumstances whatever serve as instruments for the entirely different purpose of the one revolutionary act for the accomplishment of Socialism. If Kautsky cannot see what is the nature and composition of the Labour Parties, that is no doubt because he has long accustomed himself to cultivating illusions about the real strength and growth of the Socialist movement. He is still living in a fool’s paradise.


One simple test is provided by Kautsky’s statement that “once it comes into power, all measures undertaken by our Party assume a Socialist tendency.” Apply this to the British Labour Party, the German Social Democrats, the Austrian and Scandinavian Labour Parties. Is it true that the mostly futile and often dangerous and hostile acts committed by them “assume a Socialist tendency”? It is transparently untrue.


Moreover, we need not wait until they achieve power to measure up their actions. What a party does in power is only a continuation and repetition of what it has been in the habit of doing out of power. The compromising, vote-catching, and essentially non-Socialist activities of the Labour Parties show the fallacy of Kautsky’s argument.


Despite the weakness of his argument on this question it must not be forgotten that Kautsky has made valuable contributions to Socialist theory in many directions.
Editorial Committee


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J. S., Toronto.—We fail to understand the point of your questions. The real question at issue in the correspondence with J. Hawkins was whether or not Marx constantly stressed the need to gain control of the political machinery. None of your quotations from Socialist Standard and Engels touches on this point. When Engels wrote of the need to suppress any “pro-slavery rebellion,” he envisaged doing so in the only way possible, i.e., through control of the political machinery. That is why the S.P.G.B. throughout its existence, has agreed with Marx and Engels that it is absolutely essential for the working class to gain control of the political machinery, including the armed forces.


Editorial Committee