February 15, 2015 12:00 am
Kautsky’s Polemic Against Pannekoek
The Pannekoek in question was Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960) a Dutch Marxist who in later life became one of the leaders of “Council Communism” a tendency which developed out of the “Left Wing Communism” considered by Lenin to be an infantile disorder. However, long before this, in 1912, he published an article in Neue Zeit called “Mass Action and Revolution.” In this article he criticised Karl Kautsky’s views on the nature of the state in relation to the coming revolution. He pointed out that workers have to overthrow both the ruling class and their state. “The struggle will not end until, as its final result, the entire state organisation is destroyed.”
Lenin says Pannekoek’s article has defects, is imprecise, and not very concrete but is clear enough in advocating both the overthrow of the ruling class and the state that it controls replacing it with a working class state. But Lenin is really interested in Kautsky’s reply which, he says, betrays Marxism on this issue — i.e., the fate of the bourgeois state.
Kautsky wrote: “Up till now the difference between Social Democrats and Anarchists has consisted in this: the former wished to conquer the state power while the latter wished to destroy it. Pannekoek wants to do both.” Lenin says this distinction is a vulgar distortion of Marxism. (Lenin was not always very subtle in his critiques).
Pannekoek is the one who is correct, not Kautsky and for the following three reasons which differentiate Marxists (M) from Anarchists (A):
1. M– the state withers away after the revolution and the creation of Socialism: A– the state is abolished immediately and permanently after the revolution.
2. M– the state that withers away is the new form of the state, based on the Paris Commune, which the workers create after the revolution to replace the bourgeois state: A– the old state is abolished and nothing is put in its place to direct and channel the newly won power of the working class– the dictatorship of the proletariat (the necessary first form of worker’s power after the fall of the working class) is rejected.
3. M– use the currently existing state (as far as is possible) to educate and train the working people for revolutionary activity: A– reject this notion.
Lenin also objects to Kautsky’s taking of quotes out of context from Marx and using them against Pannekoek when they are not at all germane to the argument (a fate all too soon to befall quotes from Lenin himself).
Kautsky talks about the party being in opposition to the capitalist state now and wants to put off discussions about the nature of the state until after the workers come to power. He doesn’t want to talk about the nature of the revolution- which is one of the main
features of opportunism.
It’s all well and good to make general comments about opposition and democratic struggle but we must always be clear about how this struggle must eventuate. “A revolution must not consist in a new class ruling, governing with the help of the old state machinery, but in this class smashing this machinery and ruling, governing by means of new machinery.”
Kautsky ignores this because he maintains there must be officials and experts just as much after the change of power as before. Lenin agrees but insists, based on the lessons of the Commune, that the officials and experts will be under the direction of the working class and not be responsible to the bureaucratic structures of the old capitalist state which is kept around and is supposedly supervised by the working class.
Capitalism has enslaved the working people and bourgeois democracy, which we may now live under, is, Lenin says, crushed and mutilated by the wages system, poverty and “the misery of the masses.” This fake mutilated pseudo-democracy is the reason why, in our day the Tea Party has such influence and the Republican party can take control of the levers of power in the US. And, Lenin says, it is the source of corruption in the political parties and the trade unions, and fuels the tendency for the “leaders” of the people to turn into bureaucrats- “i.e., privileged persons detached from the masses, and standing above the masses.” This is just the nature of democracy under capitalism and until capitalism is overthrown even the leaders of the working people “will inevitably be to some extent ‘bureaucratized.'”
In attacking Pannekoek, Lenin says, Kautsky is only repeating the views of Bernstein (“the ‘old’ views”) as expressed in Evolutionary Socialism. Bernstein had rejected many of Marx”s positions concerning workers democracy versus bourgeois democracy on the idea that after 70 years or so “in complete freedom” the British union movement had given up on the idea as “worthless” and had settled on a model based on bureaucracy and regular parliamentary practice.
As against this Bernstein-Kautsky assertion Lenin says it is not the case that the British unions have developed “in complete freedom,” but they had rather developed in an atmosphere of “complete capitalist enslavement.” Of course, in such an atmosphere, it made no sense to try to create a working class democracy along Marxist lines that had presumed a post-revolutionary environment in which the working class was the new ruling class.
The two great errors we must avoid are: First, thinking we have to just take over the presently existing state machinery by means democratic elections or parliamentary procedures and then employ it to build socialism, and second, to take the Anarchist position of just smashing the presently existing state and then letting the working people decide what happens next (i.e., no pre-planning for a temporary worker’s state until conditions of socialism are firmly established).
The Anarchist view is not really taken very seriously within the working class, but Kautsky’s view (or some modern day descendent) still has its supposititious appeal. Lenin quotes Kautsky: “never, under any conditions can it [a working class victory] lead to the destruction of the state power; it can lead only to a certain shifting of forces within the state power. The aim of our political struggle then, remains as before, the conquest of state power by means of gaining a majority in parliament and a conversion of parliament into the master of the government.”
Lenin says this is an example of “vulgar opportunism” i.e., of abandoning the principles of Marxism and the real long term interests of the working people and tailoring your program to take ephemeral advantages of historically temporary social and economic conditions. It is a confusion between strategy [the what, the goal, the end result, socialism] and tactics [the how, what must be done, the present step in the democratic struggle].
Of course in the present day and in the non revolutionary conditions temporally instantiated in the US and most of Europe there is no sense in calling for the destruction of bourgeois democracy, of coining a lot of “revolutionary” slogans about the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalists by the armed workers, etc. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
Our current struggle is to defeat the ultra-right politically and work with progressive groups and others to build a meaningful coalition of forces able to protect already existing democratic rights and to extend them, and fight for new ones, for the benefit of the working people and their allies.
Nevertheless, in the realm of theory we should not forget the ultimate destiny of the capitalist system and become so blinded by the present transient stage in history that we become as those “socialists,” condemned by Lenin, who rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat in theory because it “contradicted” democracy. Lenin thought that ridiculous; it contradicted only the pseudo-democracy used by the ruling class to befool the workers, and of those so-called “socialists,” he said there “is really no essential difference between them and the petty-bourgeois democrats.” This may have no sting today, but it may in the nearer than we think future.
State and Revolution ends here and chapter seven, the last (“Experience of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917”) was never written. The October Revolution broke out and Lenin wrote: “It is more pleasant and useful to go through the ‘experience of the revolution’ than to write about it.”
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by Thomas Riggins