Refutation of a communist slander. (Background details below)
The ''Populaire" of September 4 reports on a conference which the Spanish comrade Largo Caballero held on August 12. I have read the lecture with great interest. But as remarkable as it is in my view, I must still correct it on one point, which concerns me personally as the author of the so called "Erfurt Program" which German Social Democracy adopted in 1891 on its Party congress in Erfurt. The correction seems necessary to me because the statements on this point of the by me (and by my party) estimated Spanish comrade are apt to denigrate me in the eyes of my friends and the International.
Caballero undoubtedly came to speak on the Erfurt program because just now a Spanish translation of my commentary to it was published. He explicated that Engels had addressed a letter to me as the author of the program, in which he condemned it as "opportunist''. Only 10 years later this letter was published, despite the fact that it contains most important explanations. In the Spanish edition too nothing was mentioned of this letter.
These declarations would surely cast a very bad light on me, if they were true. That however they are not. Comrade Caballero has become victim of a deception. This deception arose from the following situation: The Party conference of 1890 authorized the executive of German Social Democracy to prepare the draft of a new program. This order was fulfilled by the party executive in June 1891. Its draft was sent to various comrades, including of course foremost Engels. The letter, of which Caballero spoke, represents the critique which Engels exercised on the draft of the party executive. Engels addressed it end June to Wilhelm Liebknecht. Without knowing this critique, I felt myself also not yet satisfied with the draft. I worked out a counter-draft and sent it to Engels. He wrote to me on September 28, 1891: "Your draft programme is far better (underlined by Engels) than the official one and I note with pleasure that Bebel will propose it be accepted." The Erfurt Congress then did not adopt the draft of the party executive criticized by Engels, but accepted my draft which had been approved by him.
The critical letter, which Engels addressed to Liebknecht, I did not know back then. It was not until 1901, after Wilhelm Liebknecht's death, that it was found in his estate. The heirs of Liebknecht made it available to me and I published it then instantly, in the by me edited "Neue Zeit" (5-13 p., 2 October 1901, XX).
In an introduction at the time I explained the whole just described situation. No one, who has read this first publication of Engels's letter, can be in doubt that Engels's critique did not apply to me. Neither in German Social Democracy nor in the International did the letter of Engels in the slightest disparage the Erfurt Program or my book about it.
After the publication of the letter we still have had very sharp clashes between Marxists and revisionists. The most violent attacks were hurled at me, but it occurred to no one to base himself on Engels's critique against me.
That happened first after the world war, when the matter was forgotten for the old generation, and completely unknown for the younger and when the antagonism between the Bolsheviks and Social-Democrats emerged. These hate me grimly, for them no means seem bad enough to tear me down. So they stumbled on the idea of equating my draft for the Erfurt program with the one of the party executive and thus to prove, that Engels had rejected my draft and had seen me in the same bad light, in which today the Bolsheviks want to put me before the international proletariat.
Already repeatedly I have in German party papers corrected this falsification of the facts. But there are lies which appear to be ineradicable. The Communists again and again rely on the sentence: Calumniere audacter semper aliquid haeret. So it was possible that even such a conscientious comrade as Largo Caballero unconsciously yielded to the spread of the communist slander against me.
But I agree completely with Caballero that Engels's letter is very important, and indeed for the Social Democrats of all countries. I would be very happy if our discussion here would lead to it that Engels's analysis - 8 pages long – would be translated into French and Spanish - though with my introduction, not with one by the Communists.
Vienna, 7 September 1933. Karl Kautsky.
I add some background details to the above article.
In the same sense Friedrich Engels explained in his already cited article of 1891 on the draft Social-Democratic program:
'The democratic republic is the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat.' (p. 11)
Those who advocate dictatorship in contrast to democracy can not base themselves on Marx and Engels. Of course with this is not yet proven that they are wrong. They simply have to look for other arguments.
A large number of comrades from all parts of Germany has adopted the following guiding principles that represent an application of the Erfurt Programme to the current problems of international socialism.
Theses on the Tasks of International Social-Democracy (annex to Junius Pamphlet)
This article appeared in the socialist journal Le Populaire (Paris) as Engels et Kautsky. Réfutation d'une calomnie communiste on 21 September 1933. My translation is based on the document in the Karl Kautsky Papers Zurückweisung einer kommunistischen Verleumdung (Eine Berichtigung über Friederich Engels). The point is that Engels's critique was not directed at Kautsky's draft for the Erfurt program. Kautsky quotes Engels's letter of 28 September 1891 in order to show Engels's approval of his draft. Kautsky did not know Engels's critique until after Liebknecht's death, whereupon he published it in the Neue Zeit (without appendix, which wasn't found yet). In the introduction there Kautsky quoted a letter from Engels to him on 29 June 1891 pointing to the key issue:
I have come down here to take refuge with P. for a few days, having been inundated with an intolerable amount of work. No sooner had I become happily engrossed in group marriage than I was landed with the party programme, which had to be attended to. I meant at first to try rewriting the preamble in rather more succinct form but want of time prevented my doing so, besides which I thought it more important to point out the shortcomings, some avoidable, others not, of the political part, as this would provide me with an opportunity to lash out at the conciliatory opportunism ... [of the Vorwärts] and the clean-devout-joyous-free ‘ingrowing’ of the old canker ‘into socialist society’. I have since heard of your proposal that there should be a new preamble; so much the better.
Kautsky also added some footnotes showing how the party executive changed its draft in response to Engels's critique. The draft of the party executive which was published in the Vorwärts on 4 July 1891 (Entwurf eines Programms der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands, in MEW B. 22) was thus written with the awareness of Engels's critique. The draft which was sent to Engels and is the actual target of his critique was first published in 1968.
In the 1933 article Kautsky explains that he hadn't been satisfied with the party executive's draft. And he still was not happy with the draft in the Vorwärts. The Neue Zeit published four articles giving a detailed critique of it (and some other counter-proposals). The first three articles (24 August to 7 September), dealing with the theoretical section of the programme, were by Kautsky, the fourth (14 September), analysing the practical demands, was by Bernstein. The various criticisms were summarised in the form of a new draft programme, given in the concluding part of the fourth article.
"Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another" (Communist Manifesto). The expression of "class-state" as the designation of the present state seems to us a hapless choice. Is there then any other state? They tell me about the "people's state" (Volksstaat), understanding it as the state conquered by the proletariat. But it also will be a "class-state." The proletariat will rule the other classes. There will be a big difference to the present state: the class-interest of the proletariat demands the abolition of all class-distinctions. The proletariat can use its domination only for abolishing, as quick as possible, the bases of class-division, which is to say, the proletariat will conquer the state, not to make it into a "true" state, but to abolish it; not to fulfill the "true" purpose of the state, but to render the state "pointless."
Thus, Nieuwenhuis asked, did not Kautsky implicitly combat Liebknecht? Clearly Liebknecht opposed the term dictatorship of the proletariat (on this point Nieuwenhuis likely would have agreed with him). In 1869 Liebknecht said:
Because of the hateful associations connected with the word “bourgeois,” the expression “bourgeois democracy” has become a term of abuse for many workers. But is the bourgeoisie democratic? On the contrary. It is well aware of the close connection existing between democracy and socialism, it hates democracy and is national-liberal. And strange to relate, the same people who with passionate fury attack Jacoby, the enemy of the bourgeoisie, as a “bourgeois democrat,” are politically hand in glove with the bourgeoisie and help it to uphold its social privileges. This proves that those who shout against “bourgeois democracy” are either very short-sighted or very dishonest.
(Liebknecht afterwards explained: The emphasis which I put on the indivisibility of democracy and socialism was called forth by Schweitzer’s tactics of arousing doubts about democracy among the workers;[...]).
At the Halle congress (12-18 October 1890) Liebknecht spoke of the present class-state in contrast to a future socialist state (p. 169) and about 'ingrowing' (p. 204). "Liebknecht's report in Halle utilized extracts from Marx's critique in part unceremoniously as his own property, and in part as objects of attack without mentioning the source. Marx would certainly have confronted this rehash with the original and it was my duty in his place to do the same (Engels to Kautksy February 23, 1891)." This neutralisation of Marx's critique was the problem for Engels and Kautsky (supposedly in his letter of 9 January 1891 to Engels, not online). Or was it? The fact is that Liebknecht criticized the Gotha programme and called for a new programme. "In Halle the Gotha Programme was given up even by its creators as altogether inadequate (foreword Engels)." A lot has been made of what Liebknecht said at Halle. Liebknecht touches on the question of the demand for a democractic republic, saying it was almost redundant to include because of its obviousness (p. 179). For him a bourgeois republic remained a (capitalist) class-state. He criticizes the idea of a 'free state' (p. 166-7) making an analogy to a crab breaking its shell, which in fact is an analogy repeated by Engels in his critique of the party executive draft!
These are attempts to convince oneself and the party that “present-day society is developing towards socialism” without asking oneself whether it does not thereby just as necessarily outgrow the old social order and whether it will not have to burst this old shell by force, as a crab breaks its shell, and also whether in Germany, in addition, it will not have to smash the fetters of the still semi-absolutist, and moreover indescribably confused political order.
The controversial phrase about 'ingrowing' is used when Liebknecht denounces the misuse of the word "present-day state" and the misconception of "paving the way" (p. 204). He probably is thinking along the lines of Marx that "What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges", and that "between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other", etc.
After the publication of Marx's Gotha critique the conservative member of Reichstag Bachem (a nasty fellow) returned to Liebknecht's phrase about 'ingrowing' both to try to show that for socialists the dictatorship of the proletariat was merely a temporary phrase to fanaticize the masses, as well as that socialists didn't really hold to an 'ingrowing' but believed in a transition to a socialist state from one day to the next.
At the Erfurt congress (protocols of Erfurt, p. 342) Liebknecht explained that when he spoke about ingrowing at the previous congress, he only meant that the nature of the development of society should be seen more as something organic instead of machine-like (i.e. a stress on the subjective factor). So here then is Liebknecht's infamous statement at Halle (p. 204):
One error of our programme, which yesterday I only touched upon, consists of the fact that it is divided into different parts in a manner that is rather arbitrary and illogical. Instead of being of one organic cast or figure, it is mechanically cut into 3 parts, which dissolves the organic coherence and is not logically, scientifically justifiable. It says e.g. after the declaration of the general principles: "The Socialist Labor party of Germany, in order to pave the way to the solution of the social question, demands the establishment of "socialistic productive associations". From whom is this demanded? It cannot be from the "future state", but must be from the present-day state. And where will this resolution be "paving the way"? It also cannot be in the "future state", where it has already been achieved, but must be in the present-day state. Then however at the conclusion of this part of the programme comes a second clause: "The Socialist Labor party of Germany demands within the present society". You see, this division is completely arbitrary and it constitutes one of the biggest errors of this programme. Who can sharply divide the present-day state from the future state? The present-day state grows into the future state, just as the future state already resides in the present-day state. It doesn't go like the case with the Anti-socialists laws, at 12 o'clock midnight the old state ends and the new one starts (cheeriness.). Of this childish understanding, which our opponents pay homage to when they fear that we desire to make tabula rasa - as if that were possible! - we must not make ourselves guilty; but we would be, if we wanted to draw a definite border between the present and the so-called future state.
Now let's turn to the draft for the new programme by the party executive. It did contain a plank against state socialism, which Kautsky himself thought was one of its best and clearly written parts (7 September 1891, Neue Zeit). With regret he claimed however that it should be dropped, because a programme can contain only the most essential. Otherwise, why not also include rejections of anarchism or antisemitism in the programme? Of course some people would still confuse Social-Democracy with state socialism, but that is what the "commentary" (of 270 pages) to the programme is for:
The state will not cease to be a capitalist institution until the proletariat, the working-class, has become the ruling class; not until then will it become possible to turn it into a co-operative commonwealth.
From the recognition of this fact is born the aim which the Socialist Party has set before it: to call the working-class to conquer the political power to the end that, with its aid, they may change the state into a self-sufficing co-operative commonwealth.
Kautsky later in Unser Verhältnis zum Staat (Neuer Vorwärts, N. 151, 3 May 1936) had to recall, against attempts by the SPD-right to claim Liebknecht for their own state-jubiliation, that when the first point in the Eisenach Program declared; The Social Democratic Workers' Party strives for the establishment of a free people's state - the term "people's state" was used as code for the democratic republic.
In his critique of the Erfurt programme Engels cites Liebknecht's words on the Reichstag being the fig-leaf of absolutism. Incidentally, this may be the source of the confusion (why speak of Liebknecht in third person - if it were a critique directed at him).
In the 1933 article Kautsky is responding to a speech held by PSOE president Francisco Largo Caballero on August 12 at the Torrelodones Summer School of the Socialist Youth. The Summer School marked the "bolshevisation" of the young socialists. Its secretary was Santiago Carillo (later Stalinist and founding father of euro-communism).
According to Kautsky the mistake made by Caballero is a consequence of the slander of the communists, meaning Lenin's mistake in State and Revolution, which was corrected by Kautsky already in Die proletarische Revolution und ihr Programm (1922).
The error seems indeed ineradicable as even in our time J. I. Ramos repeats it in the Spanish introduction to Engels's critique. Our republic by Jack Conrad (Weekly Worker, N.650, 23 November 2006) is an exception.
Caballero's lecture was a plea for a radical turn. This converted him into an idol for the Socialist Youth. It was put out as a brochure by the Socialist Youth under the title Posibilismo Socialista en la Democracia (1933) and can also be found in Discursos a los trabajadores. Paul Heywood's gloss is probably accurate since it repeats Caballero's error:
(Caballero) aimed at rebutting Besteiro's continued criticisms of Socialist ministerial participation. Largo cited in his defense the criticism leveled at Kautsky (sic) by Engels over the SPD's 1891 Erfurt Programme. This was clearly a calculated response to the fact that Besteiro had just written the prologue to a translation of (Kautsky's book on) the Erfurt Programme by Francisco Ayala, though it is likely that the significance was lost on his audience. Engels, he reminded them, had repudiated Kautsky (sic) over his readiness to seek reforms under the Bismarck regime; a minimum requirement for the use of state institutions against the bourgeoisie was the existence of a democratic republic. However, since in Spain a democratic republic did exist, then the PSOE was justified in collaborating with it to improve the position of the working class. After two years, though, Largo had come to realise the hopelessness of trying to use the institutions of the Republic against the reactionary Right […] From this point on, Largo was to adopt an ever more revolutionary rhetoric until confronted with genuine revolution in the Civil War. Julian Besteiro, meanwhile, had written in his prologue that the Erfurt Programme explained 'the fundamental principles of the Marxist idea'. Kautsky was praised effusively as a defender of Marxist orthodoxy against 'reformist opportunism', a clear reference to the PSOE's ministerial collaboration with the Republic. (in Marxism and the failure of organised Socialism in Spain)
Caballero defended his post as minister of labor. The "Spanish Lenin" could not shut up about the dictatorship of the proletariat. Caballero's advocacy of the dictatorship of the proletariat meant in practice the anti-facscist front with Stalinism. Is this what Engels would have wanted to achieve with his critique of Liebknecht's draft of the Erfurt programme? Julián Besteiro on the other hand claimed: Besteiro
If we remain in power, in the long run we either allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by others or we have to exercise a strong hand and become dictators. I fear a Socialist dictatorship more than a bourgeois dictatorship. We could defend ourselves from the latter; with the former we would ourselves be committing suicide.
(July 1931 congress, in Payne: Spain's first democracy)
Besteiro had met Kautsky during his stay in Berlin in 1909-1911 (source) and kept a correspondence with him (7 letters from 1932-33 and one from 1936 stored in the Kautsky Papers). It was on Besteiro's initiative that a translation was published of Kautsky's book on the Erfurt program. His prologue is partly in Saborit's 'Julian Besteiro'. He promoted the publications of other classics such as Die historische Leistung von Karl Marx. In the prologue to the commentary on the Erfurt programme Besteiro made much the same point as Wilhelm Liebknecht had done earlier: Wilhelm Liebknecht
I do not hesitate to repeat my former declaration that a practical surrender of our party principles appears to me far more dangerous than all of Bernstein’s theoretical will-o’-the-wisps put together.
The SPD's 1925 Heidelberg programme (written by Kautsky and Hilferding) included the demand of a democratic republic: "The democratic republic is the best ground for the struggle of the working class for liberation and thus for the realisation of socialism." This renders the point which Ben Lewis makes here somewhat void.
The collapse of the Weimar republic polarized the socialists internationally in a very reactionary direction. Kautsky understood the Paris congress of the Socialist International in late August 1933 (Neue Programme: Eine kritische Untersuchung) to be an expression of this rightward shift. Kautsky's hope of writing the introduction to a Spanish and French translation of Engels's critique was not realized.