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Marxism after Marx: Karl Kautsky’s Disputed Legacy

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Today, Karl Kautsky (1854–1938) is mainly remembered for his polemics against the young Bolshevik regime or as the ‘renegade’ in Lenin’s The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918), which pillories him for his wavering stance in opposing World War I and his (later) outright hostility to the Russian Revolution of October 1917. Kautsky’s authority as a Marxist theoretician was seriously called into question ever since Lenin’s polemic. During the Cold War in particular, a consensus emerged which suggested that Kautsky’s views of democracy, organisation and revolutionary change had little or nothing to do with the political practice of Russian Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Recently, however, several studies have challenged this consensus. They highlight the profound impact which Kautsky had on the development of Russian Bolshevism and make the case that – prior to his renegacy in 1914 – thinkers such as Lenin and Trotsky viewed Kautsky as the legitimate intellectual heir of Marx and Engels. This article introduces an autobiographical essay written by Kautsky in 1924 and calls for closer engagement with his œuvre as a whole.

Affiliations: 1: Wolfson Scholar, Department of Germanic Studies, University of Sheffield


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1. Blumenberg Werner 1960 Karl Kautskys literarisches Werk: eine bibliographische Übersicht The Hague Mouton & Co.
2. Day Richard, Gaido Daniel 2009 Witnesses to Permanent Revolution: The Documentary Record Historical Materialism Book Series Leiden Brill
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6. Kautsky Karl 1971 The Class Struggle with an introduction by Robert C. Tucker New York W.W. Norton
7. Lewis Ben 2011"‘Kautsky: From Erfurt to Charlottenburg’" Weekly Worker 10 November
8. Lih Lars T. 2006 Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What Is To Be Done?’ in Context Historical Materialism Book Series Chicago Haymarket Books
9. Lih Lars T. 2014"‘True to Revolutionary Social Democracy’" Weekly Worker 17 April
10. Salvadori Massimo 1990 Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution 1880–1938 London Verso
11. Stalin Joseph 1939 History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course Moscow International Publishers
12. Steenson Gary P. 1978, Karl Kautsky, 1854–1938: Marxism in the Classical Years, Pittsburgh University of Pittsburgh Press.
13. Trotsky Leon 1938"‘Karl Kautsky’" New InternationalVol 5 2 50 51

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